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Through the Eyes of Minerva's Owl

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One more word about teaching what the world ought to be: Philosophy always arrives too late to do any such teaching... When philosophy paints its gray in gray, then a configuration of life has grown old, and cannot be rejuvenated by this gray in gray, but only understood; the Owl of Minerva takes flight only as the dusk begins to fall.” - Hegel, “Preface” The Philosophy of Right

 

Prologue

 

The garden at the back of their cottage was a peaceful sanctuary to Fleur. With hedges of jasmine and roses and a single, sturdy oak, it was nicely shaded and closed off from the rest of the world. She'd even planted a few flower beds and the chrysanthemums, orchids and irises that had sprung up filled the space with a spray of colour and scent. In the back corner, several blackberry bushes grew – her mother had always told her that every young couple needed a blackberry bush in their garden and, since Fleur loved blackberries, she was hardly going to argue.

 

She'd never thought of herself as a gardener, but motherhood had brought out in her a desire for being surrounded by the sweetly-scented quiet now found in her garden.

 

Fleur smiled as she looked down at her son, Frederick, who looked up at her with a large smile from within the blanket-lined woven basket he was nestled in. She and Bill hadn't wanted children just yet, but she'd gotten pregnant anyway. Her mother had laughed at that, saying a veela's first child can never be prevented, but second children become difficult to conceive. A boy had been even more of a surprise.

 

Her little Freddy was simply full of surprises. At least he'd had the sense to wait until over a year after Voldemort had been defeated to be born.

 

Suddenly, Fleur felt warmth infuse her. She frowned and looked up. The sun was shining down merrily, but that wasn't what she was feeling. This warmth, this... happiness, was coming from within, as though something was sending it directly into her skin and her bones. She closed her eyes and savoured it.

 

Love. Joy. Welcome.

 

Tears sprang to her eyes at the intensity of the emotions. Someone, somewhere was being welcomed - someone wonderful. Surely, they would have to be to merit such a welcome.

 

Beside her, Freddy erupted in loud squeals of laughter, his little hands clapping together happily.

 

 


 

 

Dudley Dursley checked his watch again and gave an irritated sigh. She was ten minutes late and he was getting hungry, the Tesco bag full of groceries he was holding only serving as an additional reminder of the homemade dinner he'd been promised.

 

His mobile made an electronic crashing noise and Dudley dug it out of his jacket pocket. She'd sent him a text.

 

Sorry, traffic is a nightmare.

 

Yup, that was definitely from Emma, his English major girlfriend and one of the only people he knew who bothered to use full sentences and punctuation while texting. He sent a simple 'k' back. He looked at the street, where the traffic was indeed bumper to bumper, moreso than was usual for central London. So, yes, he'd noticed the traffic, it just didn't make him any happier to know it was the reason she was late.

 

Finally, the familiar red Audi came into view. He walked up to the road and it stopped in front of him. The woman inside reached over to unlock the door and pushed it open. It was an older car whose passenger seat didn't like being opened from the outside.

 

“Quick, hop in,” she said and Dudley slid in, shutting the door behind him.

 

He turned to place the groceries onto the back seat. Then he kissed her quickly on the cheek before reaching for the seatbelt. “What the bloody hell's up with this traffic?” he asked.

 

“Some sort of accident,” she answered. “Radio said some idiot rammed a lorry or something. Wasn't really paying attention. Hang on.”

 

Emma abruptly spun off into a side street. She was a Londoner born and bred, the only sort of person capable of navigating the city's many intricate side streets and alleyways without a detailed map and GPS. It helped that as a driver she was more or less fearless. Dudley preferred taking public transport in the inner city.

 

He watched her as she drove. Her long, wavy dark brown hair fell down her back, obscuring the tattoo Dudley knew was there: a string of mugwort with a small, black spider dangling off its end. It was a bit of an unusual choice, but it somehow fit her in a way something like a butterfly or a rose wouldn't have. Large sunglasses obscured the dark blue eyes that had first captivated him and her full, red lips curled in disgust at whatever the idiot driver in front of her had just done.

 

He let his eyes wander down the shape of her light cotton sundress. It was white with red polka-dots. And had a neat row of big red buttons all the way up the front. He knew from experience he would only need to undo five of them, before the rest of that dress slid down her body easily...

 

She snorted. “Why do I get the impression that's not my cooking you're looking forward to?”

 

“Well, I am starving,” Dudley drawled.

 

His stomach growled on cue and Emma laughed.

 

“Alright then, first one appetite then the other,” she said.

 

“Oi, I can multitask!”

 

“But I can't. Not without burning the flat down, anyway.”

 

It took them altogether too long to finally reach the apartment. They were climbing out of the car when Emma suddenly gasped and steadied herself by grabbing the hood of the car.

 

“Emma?” Dudley asked, dashing around the car to her side. “Alright there?”

 

“C-can you feel that?” she asked, her eyes closed.

 

“Feel what?”

 

She opened her eyes and looked up him and Dudley felt his breath hitch. The depth of love, joy and wonder in her eyes was breathtaking.

 

“Home, it's welcoming him home,” she whispered, clearly awed by whatever she was feeling.

 

“Emma, I don't know wha-”

 

Suddenly, she reached up and grabbed his head with both hands, slamming him back against the car as she kissed him feverishly. She pulled away just as abruptly, leaving him dazed. He could do nothing but let himself be pulled along as she grabbed the front of his shirt and dragged him up to her flat.

 

“So, I take it dinner'll be a bit?” he asked.

 

She paused in the middle of the stairwell and turned to look down at him with a devilish gleam in her eyes.

 

“Something like that,” she said.

 

Emma did eventually get around to cooking dinner.

 

 


 

 

He'd felt it as soon as the plane hit the tarmac of the runway. That first bump of its wheel had sent such a spark of pleasure up his spine that Merlin nearly gasped at the sensation. Albion often welcomed him when he returned from his travels, but it had been centuries since it had been so strong.

 

Passing through customs was a long, torturous process and he was certain the Border Force all thought he was a bit addled thanks to the wide smile he couldn't seem to wipe off his face.

 

He really shouldn't have been surprised by the land's enthusiastic welcome. After all, he'd heard its summons from all the way in Tokyo. That had been less than a week ago. He felt a twinge of guilt at the confusion he'd caused the university students he'd been living with because of his abrupt departure. The fox spirit that lived in the shrine at the top of a nearby hill had also been sad to see Merlin go, but he'd understood.

 

Albion came first. Always.

 

Merlin wondered what was wrong. He tried to push back the hope that attempted to bubble up inside him. Albion had never called to him like this before, but that didn't mean anything. Perhaps it had something to do with that wizarding war. He knew it was over, but that didn't mean everything was fine.

 

With a sigh, he collected his luggage. He supposed he was going to have to venture into Diagon Alley to gather information. He hated Diagon Alley and was fascinated by it in equal measure. Visiting it always made him feel incredibly old and weary.

 

Finally, he weaved his way out of Heathrow and walked out to meet the bright sun. He looked up at it and closed his eyes, basking in its warmth as he let go of his magic and sending tendrils of it into the land underneath the pavement, echoing its greeting.

 

“I'm home,” he whispered.

 

Reluctantly, he opened his eyes again, knowing he had to look like a complete ejit just standing here like this. Merlin finally found himself a cab to take him to the house he kept in London.

Chapter Text

PART 1: MAGIC

 

Chapter 1

 

Merlin walked out of his flat feeling amazingly refreshed. It was a beautiful day – or at least the chorus of birds that had dragged him out of sleep had certainly thought so. As he basked under the warm spring sun, he looked up and down the street, trying to pick out all the small changes that had taken place since he'd last stepped foot here, five years ago.

 

He was fairly certain the cobblestoning on the road had been redone and it looked like there was someone new living in the house across the street. Or else the old lady that had lived there before had undergone a drastic lifestyle change.

 

Merlin adjusted the satchel slung across his shoulder so that it didn't pull as much on his light cotton jacket and set off. He remembered when he'd first purchased his small house, how going out had required a top hat and gloves just to be considered presentable. He'd hated it and tended to forget his hat in random places, until the people around him began to remind him of it.

 

Not that any of them would've truly cared if he'd stopped wearing a hat altogether. Merlin had never been short of money, in fact it could be argued he was rather well-off, but high society had never held any sort of appeal to him. No, he'd preferred the musicians, artisans, blacksmiths and bakers. He'd even spent time in the pubs by the docks, plying sailors with rum as he listened to their stories.

 

Which wasn't to say he hadn't done enough travelling of his own. The amount of time he'd spent outside of Albion likely surpassed the amount he'd spent living within its borders. The world was simply so incredibly vast. And it kept changing.

 

He set off in his converse trainers, jeans and the t-shirt of some Japanese rock band his roommates in Tokyo had dragged him to see. Yes, his house was small, but it wasn't the hole he'd shared for the past three years or the large hiking backpack he'd lived out of before that.

 

A few blocks later, Merlin came across a cafe that hadn't been there five years ago. Although, the bright green-painted Frog Prince didn't really give Merlin much hope, it at least had outdoor seating. He was also rather hungry by now.

 

After ordering a full English breakfast from an astonishingly familiar-looking waitress – he forced himself not to react when he read Vivienne on her name tag – Merlin flipped open his satchel and took out his ipad. He opened up the Telegraph's website as he sipped his coffee.

 

'Traffic Accident: Minister's Son in Coma' read the main headline. Merlin skimmed the article briefly, before rolling his eyes and moving on. There was more insurgence in Syria and Egypt's new government were contemplating tearing down the pyramids – Merlin's eyes narrowed as he read that article from top to bottom. If Albion hadn't called him, that was likely where Merlin would've headed next. The pyramids were surrounded by powerful magic: to destroy the centre of that power... he didn't even want to contemplate what would happen as a result.

 

His breakfast arrived just as his eyes found a small headline tucked away in the sidebar: 'Fire in Oxford Arts Building'. He took in a sharp breath and tapped the headline to reveal a small article that said very little other than to inform him two students had been treated for smoke inhalation and a senior lecturer was in hospital with minor burns and a leg injury.

 

Merlin minimized the browser and opened Facebook. Archie hadn't posted anything in over a month, so Merlin tried Elena, whose status was much more helpful.

 

My supervisor is insane! In hospital because he tried to save research materials from getting destroyed in the fire!

 

Merlin chuckled. Yes, that sounded about right. He took out his mobile, an incredibly slim thing he'd picked up while in Japan. A little green dragon charm dangled off it, swaying as he typed his text message.

 

Is he alright?

 

He then turned to his breakfast, realizing he'd now passed hungry into ravenous. The food was surprisingly good and he was pleasantly surprised to find the bread homemade. He was nearly finished eating when his mobile vibrated. He looked at the message.

 

Hes fine leg brkn not 2 bad shld b out in 1 wk

 

Merlin quirked an eyebrow at the message. When exactly had the English language become this? He texted back.

 

Which hospital?

 

John Radcliffe

 

Thanks

 

Merlin pocketed his mobile and picked up his ipad again. A quick browser search found several flower shops that delivered. Merlin accepted a refill for his coffee as he looked through his options. He grinned when he found a shop that delivered not only flowers, but also a range of stuffed animals, including a lovely gray owl wearing wire-rimmed spectacles. He entered his selection and typed 'Professor Archimedies' into the addressee field.

 

He left the 'sender' info blank.

 

Then Merlin finished his coffee, paid for his breakfast and left. Now that he was back, there were things that required his attention.

 


 

 

Kingsley Shacklebolt looked down at the scroll in his hand and sighed. He was rather glad he was bald, because he was certain he would otherwise be pulling at his hair in frustration right now.

 

He'd known when he'd accepted the position of Minister of Magic that it wouldn't be an easy job. Restoration and rebuilding after the war and rounding up remaining Death Eaters along with the scores of trials and repeals of some of the more ridiculous and detrimental laws the ministry had come up with during the last year of Voldemort's reign, were all going to take time. What he hadn't counted on was just how persistent some of Voldemort's supporters were going to be. Nearly two years later and there were still those, who wanted to show their support for their Dark Lord by continuing his work.

 

Luckily, they didn't seem organized enough to take on a large target. Kingsley knew it was only a matter of time before that changed, though.

 

The knock on the door came as a welcome interruption. At least, it was until he saw the almost panicked expression on his aide's face when the blonde-haired woman poked her head in.

 

“What is it?” he asked with a sigh.

 

“A Mordsmore has been spotted above Richmond Park,” she said. Kingsley was up and out of his seat before he'd given it conscious thought. “Aurors have gone to investigate.”

 

“And when was this?”

 

“About ten minutes ago, minister.”

 

Kingsley clenched his teeth. He wasn't an auror anymore, he knew that, but that didn't change his desire to go out and physically do something to help. He took a deep breath.

 

“Tell the Head Auror to come see me as soon as he's back,” he said.

 

“Yes, sir,” the woman said, looking mildly relieved.

 

Kingsley went back to his desk and picked up the scroll again. He stared at it and wondered if there was any point in him studying a report, whose accuracy and information was about to be challenged and changed quite shortly. No, he decided, there probably wasn't, so he stood up again and went to make himself some tea.

 


 

 

Dudley always thought Emma looked like she belonged outside. No matter if she was sitting in a park reading, walking through an outdoor farmer's market or helping out in her grandmother's garden, she just seemed at home there, comfortable. She never looked like that when she was surrounded by books in the library or in her flat. Even a laptop seemed somewhat foreign in her hands, though she knew how to use it as well as anyone else.

 

As they wandered along the pathways of the Isabella Plantation, he was once again reminded of this. The flowers just seemed so much brighter when she was there. Although, the garden didn't quite suit her. It was too... tame. He remembered the hiking trip they'd gone on in the fall. Hiking and nature had never appealed to Dudley, but he'd gone to impress her.

 

In that wild, untamed forest, she'd come alive in a way the forest seemed to echo back.

 

If he'd known how to contact his cousin, he would've asked Harry if it was magic. Because he'd certainly felt enchanted. They'd spent two nights in the forest and it had been wild and fantastic and Dudley was already planning their next hiking trip in May, after finals.

 

It was Saturday and Richmond Park was full of people, their voices carried into the plantation and every once in a while Dudley and Emma found themselves moving out of the way of running children.

 

The shadow that fell over the park was noticeable in its suddenness and the hush that followed even more. When Dudley looked up into the sky and saw the dark, shadowy mark in the sky, his blood froze.

 

A grinning skull with a snake slithering out of its jaws looked back at him.

 

“Emma,” he said quietly. “We have to get out of here. Now!”

 

“Dudley, wha-?” she began, but Dudley grabbed her hand and took off.

 

They ran along the pathway until they reached a clearing. There was a family with two toddlers and a baby strapped to the man's chest looking up at the sky, looking confused and a bit worried.

 

“Don't just stand there,” Dudley called to them. Their heads snapped to him, startled. “Get out of here, move!”

 

He saw the parents' eyes widen in fright and that was enough for him. He and Emma ran on.

 

“You know what that thing is?” Emma asked, gasping a little as she ran.

 

“Yes,” he said. “It-” He paused, wondering how the hell he was supposed to explain this and not sound crazy. “It's bad, really bad.”

 

They'd just left the Isabella Plantation behind and were dashing towards where Emma had parked her car, when he first saw them. They seemed like dark-robed villains out of a fantasy novel as they popped into existence. But this wasn't fiction and Dudley knew the wooden sticks they carried were real magic wands.

 

By now, most people in the park had figured out the shadowy sign in the sky wasn't a good thing. Black-robed figures popping up out of nowhere clued the rest of them in. Dudley and Emma weren't the only ones running away anymore. Behind them they heard screaming. Out of the corner of his eye, Dudley saw a green light flash by and he turned just in time to see it hit a man running beside his dog. He fell down without a sound. The dog stopped and returned to the man and sniffed him, nudging him with his nose. Then it sat onto its haunches and howled.

 

Another spell hit it and it went silent, slumping gracelessly next to its master.

 

A red flash of light hit a clump of bushes to Dudley's left and they burst into flames.

 

“Shit!” he hissed as he looked behind him. There was a dark-robed figure looking directly at him and grinning maliciously.

 

“Quick, this way!” Emma yelled, grabbing him and pulling him to the right.

 

His legs were burning by the time they managed to take cover behind a particularly large tree.

 

“This isn't going to deter him, you know,” Dudley gasped out at her.

 

When she didn't answer, he glanced at her. She was crouched down, peering out at the wizard from between the 'v' of the branches. There was an odd sort of curiosity on her face instead of fear. Dudley followed her gaze and saw the wizard raise his wand at their hiding place.

 

Incendio!” he heard him incant.

 

The tree burst into flames. Dudley cried out and grabbed Emma again. She allowed herself to be dragged to her feet and away from immediate danger of the flames, but no further.

 

“Emma, come on!” he yelled, desperate to make her understand this was not something she could do anything about.

 

“No,” she said.

 

Her voice was cold and finite. She shook off his hand and walked forward, so that she could see the wizard, but kept the burning tree a safe distance away. She observed the burning tree with that odd curiosity again; it wasn't awe, it wasn't horror and it certainly wasn't fear. She reached out her hand towards it, palm open as if to grab the flames.

 

“I will not run from such weak magic,” she finally said. “So lifeless, so tethered.”

 

She looked at her open palm and as her hand closed into a fist, the fire surrounding the tree, burned out.

 

Dudley stared at her. The wizard stared at her. Emma cocked her head at the wizard.

 

“Weaklings like you used to come to me for counsel, for help,” she said. She smirked. “To grovel at my feet.”

 

She raised her hand at him.

 

Forbaerne,” she said and her eyes lit up with a soft, golden light.

 

The wizard screamed as he was encased in a tower of flames. It took a matter of moments for the flames to consume him completely. Dudley forced his eyes away from the gruesome spectacle and he turned to his girlfriend.

 

“Emma?” he asked.

 

Emma turned to him and blinked. She swayed forward slightly and Dudley caught her by the arms before she fell.

 

“What happened?” she asked weakly.

 

“You don't remember?”

 

She shook her head. Then she noticed the flaming wizard and her eyes widened with horror. Dudley decided explanations could wait 'till later.

 

“Come, let's get home first,” he said.

 

Somehow they managed to get to Emma's car while avoiding both the black-robed wizards and the red-robed ones, who eventually showed up to fight them. Dudley somehow didn't think it would be good for Emma if they were to run into either group. In the parking lot, Emma handed her car keys over to Dudley without any fuss and he drove them to her flat.

 


 

 

Merlin loved Highgate Cemetery even if being here made him feel his years more than most places did. It was a peaceful place and he'd made sure long ago that it would stay that way. Most people wouldn't notice the subtle markers of the Old Religion, nor would they feel the magic infusing the grounds. The wards around the perimeter hadn't been there originally, but he'd put them up after a rouge vampire tried to make his home here.

 

It was the one place he always took the time to visit when he was in London.

 

The last time he'd been here properly, the cemetery had been half-closed, the wilderness having grown over the memorials erected within. He'd thought it rather fitting at the time, as the new growth pushed aside and obscured the past, hiding it from sight. And yet he'd given generously to the fund established later to help retake the graveyard and restore the markers to their former glory.

 

Here and there, he paused at a grave, sometimes to simply remember and acknowledge an old acquaintance and sometimes to linger and say a proper 'hello'. He had friends buried within these grounds and also a few of his children – the little ones he'd pick up every once in a while and adopt when the loneliness of the years became too much. Of course it was becoming more and more difficult to do that in this modern world and in some, small way Merlin was glad for it.

 

He was standing by one of these memorials – a sweet angel whose wings were overgrown with ivy and its toes hidden by tall rushes - when he felt a familiar presence. Merlin smiled.

 

“Hello Anhora,” he said.

 

A tall man in a long, white cloak walked out from under the shade of the surrounding trees.

 

“Emrys,” he said with a small bow.

 

Merlin bowed back to the old man.

 

“You have returned,” the Keeper of the Unicorns continued.

 

“I felt Albion calling to me.” He raised an eyebrow at the older man. “Don't suppose you know what that's about?”

 

Anhora shook his head.

 

“The waters of time have become clouded again and I am not much of a seer. You would do better to ask your soul bonded, his sight is better than mine. Those born into this world of late no longer have the power to part the curtains as before.”

 

“Bloody wonderful,” Merlin muttered.

 

“However,” Anhora said, ignoring Merlin's mutterings as though he hadn't heard them. He looked away, out towards the city. “Those of us of the Old Religion can feel something stirring. There is a darkness on the horizon, a shadow if you will.”

 

Merlin sighed and ran a hand through his hair.

 

“This doesn't have anything to do with that blasted wizarding war does it? I thought that was over with.”

 

“It does not. Though wizards are magic users, they have very little connection to the Old Religion. You know this, Emrys.”

 

Merlin could tell Anhora was about to leave, but something had been bothering him.

 

“Anhora?” he called out.

 

He stopped and turned around. “Yes, Emrys?”

 

“I... I've been seeing some familiar faces lately, ones I haven't seen in a very long time. Do you suppose Albion's Darkest Hour finally approaches?”

 

Anhora's eyes widened for a moment.

 

“It is possible,” he eventually said. “Though you would be the one to know this better than any other. Have you felt the presence of the Once and Future King?”

 

Merlin shook his head.

 

“No, not at all.” Merlin's right hand clenched into a fist. He knew better than to give into false hope, knew better than to allow that hope room to manifest... He sighed and forced his fist to unclench. “Thank you, Anhora. 'Till we meet again, old friend.”

 

“Until then, Emrys.”

 

Merlin didn't bother watching as the Keeper of the Unicorns melted back into the tree line. He had one more place to go to today and he'd put it off for long enough.

 

Though he still took his time wandering back through the cemetery.

 


 

 

Diagon Alley looked like it had taken quite the beating during the war.

 

There were a few obvious patch-up jobs, where magic had been used to mend some of the exterior, enough to keep the rain out and give the interior a look of something that wasn't about to fall on top of a person's head. A few crooked roofs, slanted windowsills and mis-matched coloured paint demonstrated their owner's lack of skill and lack of either money or time to get it done by someone else before they opened again. Knowing wizards, Merlin suspected some of those insults to proper architectural design would remain there until the owner's grandchildren finally got fed up with having to double charm the windows against water leaks and glue their flowerpots down so they didn't keep sliding off. In fact, it was likely some of those patches had been there before the war.

 

More telling, to Merlin, however, was the residual magic that hovered in corners and under foundations. Many of the buildings still carried hefty warding charms that wouldn't normally be necessary in a shopping district. People hadn't yet stopped being afraid.

 

After wandering around for a bit, Merlin eventually got tired of being the walking curiosity in his muggle atire. He stopped at a newspaper stand and bought himself a copy of the Daily Prophet and one of the Quibbler. Then he stopped at the first tea shop he found and ordered himself an iced tea and a sandwich while he read through the papers.

 

Even with the war over, the papers still found plenty to write about. The trials weren't over yet and many old Dead Eater residences were being sold off to pay for damages done by Voldemort (both newspapers referred to him as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, but Merlin refused to even entertain such a ridiculous title). There were also rumours that remaining factions of his followers still remained at large and were determined to continue their late master's work.

 

The Quibbler had an amusing piece on Syrian Umtabeasts, which made Merlin laugh. He briefly wondered whether to write to the editor and inform him that these so-called Umtabeasts were in fact a group of wild, shape-shifting faeries that called themselves simply 'the Umta' and were native to Wales...

 

An hour later, Merlin was reasonably caught-up on news in the Wizarding World, full of tea, but no closer to figuring out why Albion had called him back. With a sigh, he got up and left, leaving the newspapers behind for whomever came after him.

 

He walked by a pet store and wondered whether he should get an owl. After a moment of thought, he decided against it; Archimedes might get jealous. And there were enough stray cats running around London should he ever desire feline companionship. As for magical creatures... well, they tended to approach him on their own. He'd travelled around with a griffin once, a serious yet oddly sensitive beast he'd called Lance.

 

As he passed by the wand shop he was once again reminded of his wand, which was being held for him at Gringotts. The potion's supply store doors opened just as passed by. The smell of dried herbs and preserved animal parts immediately took him back to Gaius' workshop and the many hours he'd spent working in it and of his own small hut in the forested hills of Romania where he'd lived as a healer for many years. The sudden nostalgia was so strong he almost wanted to enter the shop just to bask in its presence.

 

So lost was he in his memories that he wasn't prepared when the door from the shop was suddenly flung open again and a blonde woman stormed out. With Merlin's mind far from the present and her eyes facing the ground, neither of them was prepared of the other's sudden presence. She let out a small yelp of surprise and Merlin was thankful for every bit of instinct he possessed that allowed him to swing around and catch her before she went tumbling down to the ground.

 

“I'm so sorry, are you alright, my lady?” Merlin asked as he helped her stand.

 

The woman blinked in surprise and Merlin mentally kicked himself. This was the danger of him letting his mind wander into memories... no one used 'my lady' anymore. Oh well, she looked old enough to pass as his mother, so perhaps she might think he was being 'cute'.

 

“Oh, um, yes, I'm fine,” the woman finally said. She looked shaken, but quickly straightened herself and stepped away from him in order to smooth out her robes – which, Merlin couldn't help but notice were of a rather fine material and perfectly cut. A pureblood then, he guessed, from old money no doubt.

 

It actually took her very little time to compose herself again and the next time she looked to Merlin it was with a perfect expression of cool disdain, which only intensified when she finally took note of his very un-wizardlike appearance. She had likely been beautiful once, but time had not been kind to her. Or perhaps it had been the war. Her skin was a shade too pale, her cheekbones a little too prominent and, around her eyes, Merlin saw lines born of grief, but she held herself proudly.

 

This woman had been battered, but she had not broken.

 

Merlin smiled at her.

 

“I apologize,” he offered. “I'm afraid my mind was miles away. I really should stop daydreaming in front of shop doors.”

 

The woman's eyes widened slightly in surprise, but it was only a flash. However, some of the haughtiness seemed to relax from her posture.

 

“It is a rather dangerous place to stop,” she said after a pause. “However, the fault does partially lie with me. I admit I wasn't entirely paying attention to where I was going.”

 

“Mother!” a voice called out.

 

Merlin barely had time to react before there was a young man pulling the woman out of Merlin's reach. He caught a flash of light blond hair and a black hair tie.

 

“Mother, are you alright?” the young man was asking. He looked back to Merlin with a suspicious glare. “This mudblood wasn't bothering you was he?”

 

Merlin raised an amused eyebrow at the slur. He supposed that, technically, he was a mudblood - or halfblood in any case seeing as how Balinor did have magic. Merlin heard a few gasps and looked around, noticing for the first time that they'd managed to draw a few spectators. Merlin sighed, wondering who the woman was.

 

“Draco, stop fretting, I'm quite alright,” the woman said, the small smile on her lips indicating she was equally amused and irritated by the attention. “And, no, mister, um...” She raised an eyebrow at him.

 

“Merlin. Merlin Kingsman, my lady.” Ah well, might as well make her think he was a bit strangely old school than let on just how strange he was.

 

He could just feel the disapproving stares shift over to him. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes.

 

“Definitely a mudblood,” the son said with a sneer. “No self-respecting magical family would name their son 'Merlin'. It's hardly proper. Not that the clothes didn't give your heritage away already.”

 

This time Merlin did roll his eyes.

 

“I do apologize if my name and my clothes offend you. I'm afraid I simply haven't had the chance to acquire new robes after just returning from a three-year stay in Japan yesterday. My wardrobe is a tad out-of-date at the moment. And I'll have you know a merlin is a rather elegant bird of prey.”

 

Of course what he didn't mention was that his newest set of robes was also likely getting a tad moth-eaten as it hadn't seen the sun in close to twenty years.

 

The son looked a bit stunned as though he had expected Merlin to get insulted and angry. Apparently, he didn't quite know how to handle a calm retort. He had a lot to learn.

 

“Apology accepted,” he finally said.

 

Merlin snorted. “That's the best you can come up with?”

 

The blond's eyes lit up with anger and Merlin saw him reach for his wand. Out of the corner of his eyes, Merlin also saw others reach for theirs. He had a feeling he wasn't the one those were going to be aimed at. And here he'd been trying to pass by mostly unnoticed. If the aurors got called he'd be sunk.

 

The young man's mother also seemed to realize this, because she stepped up to her son and placed a calming hand on his arm.

 

“Draco, perhaps we should go...”

 

Draco ignored her and sneered at Merlin instead.

 

“You've been gone for three years, so obviously you have no idea who I am.”

 

Merlin grinned. “Oh, but I do know who you are.” He paused. “You're a prat.”

 

Snickers broke out around them as Draco gaped, his repetoir of retorts apparently spent. His pale skin lit up a bright shade of red. Thankfully, his mother decided she'd had enough of this nonsense and grabbed him forcefully by the arm, dragging him away.

 

“I think we're done here, Draco,” she said. “Come along. It would be horribly common of you to make a scene with someone so beneath your notice.”

 

As they disappeared around the bend of an alley, the grin disappeared off Merlin's face. He felt the deep yearning being in Albion always brought out in him.

 

“A prat,” he whispered. “But not a royal one.”

 

Good mood gone, Merlin ignored the rest of the crowd as he turned to head back towards the Leaky Cauldron.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

 

Dudley was relieved to see Emma finally emerge from the bedroom at a quarter past nine. He'd been up since seven, unable to sleep. He keep seeing Death Eaters in his dreams, chasing him, casting spells at him and Emma. At one point he'd been the one burning and Harry had been there laughing at him. And Emma had stood there watching with that same smirk on her face, the one that should've looked foreign on her, but somehow didn't.

 

He'd already gone though nearly an entire pot of coffee, but his headache wasn't even close to abating.

 

He poured the last of the coffee into Emma's Eco-friendly charity beaker, added a generous dose of cream and handed it to her. She smiled tiredly at him and took a sip. He sat back down at the round second-hand oak table and watched her for a few moments. A part of him wanted to grab her and shake some answers out of her. Another part wanted to run away.

 

She'd certainly scared him yesterday: transforming into some crazy alternate magical personality and then essentially crashing. He'd had to practically carry her up the steep stairs to her flat and then she'd been dead to the world as soon as he'd deposited her on the bed. This was the first she'd stirred since.

 

Emma was about half-way through her coffee when she finally sighed and put the mug down. She didn't meet Dudley's eye.

 

“Look, about yesterday...” she began and then stopped and frowned. “I-I don't really know what happened. With me, I mean. Not that I'm entirely sure what the rest of it was...”

 

She trailed off, so Dudley decided that sort of made it his turn.

 

“They were wizards,” he said. Emma's wide eyes snapped up to meet his. He winced, wondering if the wizarding ministry or whatever could tell if someone unmagical was talking about them. “Bad wizards.” He paused. “You've heard me talk about Harry, yeah?”

 

“Your cousin? The one your mum really hates, because she couldn't stand her sister?”

 

“Yeah, him. He was a wizard. It's why mum hated him so much, because his mum was a witch too and went to magic school and then there was a war and both her and Harry's dad were killed, so they sent him to my mum because she was family.”

 

“They sent a magical orphan to a woman, who hated magic?” Emma asked, the look on her face clearly doubting those people's intelligence.

 

Dudley shrugged. He'd never quite understood it himself.

 

“Anyway, apparently there's this entire magical community out there, living separately from the rest of us. And they have shops and schools and even a government, I think. And I know a of couple years ago there was a war. A Dark Lord or something tried to take over. Those black-robbed blokes in the park yesterday, they're his minions. Though, I thought the war was over...”

 

“Don't suppose you could call your cousin and ask?”

 

Dudley shook his head, wincing as he ran a hand through his hair.

 

“Ah, truth is I was a bit of shit to him when we were kids. I mean... I was a real bully-”

 

“You, a bully? Really?”

 

“Oi!”

 

Dudley scowled at her mock surprise, making her giggle.

 

“Anyway,” he continued. “After going out and watching Lord of the Rings with my mates, I suddenly though that maybe being a wizard wasn't so bad. I mean, Gandalf was pretty cool. I thought maybe Harry could be too. Only by then he was pretty much at his magic school all year and I barely knew him. And he sort of hated me. I tried to make peace that last summer he was here, but, well, he wasn't at home for very long. I'm not sure he really noticed to be honest.”

 

“So, in other words, you have no idea how to contact your cousin?”

 

Dudley nodded. Silence reigned in the small kitchen for a few moments.

 

“How are you doing?” he finally asked.

 

Emma shrugged.

 

“Better now that I know that wasn't a hallucination. It's just... odd. I remember everything that happened. And I remember knowing almost immediately that they were using magic. There was no, 'oh my god lasers' or 'cool special effects' moment. I just knew that was magic. And then I remember feeling angry that such weaklings were threatening me. The fire... it wasn't, I mean...” She took a deep breath. “I didn't think about it, not really, it was as if suddenly my brain decided to upload some new program and I just had the information I needed without trying to find it.”

 

She looked at him with a sardonic smile.

 

“I know it must've looked like I was suddenly a different person, but I wasn't. I just... knew more. Or something. Of course, now I can't remember any of what I'd apparently known, but I do remember that feeling of knowing what I could do and how to do it.”

 

They sat in silence for a few minutes. Dudley looked out the small window above the sink where he could see the beginnings of another beautiful day. The silence was interrupted by Emma snorting.

 

“You know I really didn't need another reason for your mother to hate me,” she said and Dudley couldn't quite tell whether she was annoyed or amused by this.

 

“Don't worry, she'll come 'round,” he said.

 

“Not in this lifetime she won't.”

 

Dudley didn't quite know what to say to that. His mother had never seemed particularly fond of any of the girls he'd brought home before – tolerated was probably a better word for it and that only came after he'd used his savings to buy her a persian kitten for her birthday and told her she could treat it however she wanted to, but if she didn't start treating him like a person instead of a pet, he'd leave, get himself a flat in the city and never speak to her again. However, she had seemed to take an especially instant dislike to Emma.

 

“Well I'm not going to tell her you sort of have magic if you don't,” he said instead. Then he looked outside at the beautiful spring sky and stood up. “Know what, let's go out for breakfast. My shout.”

 

Emma looked surprised for an instant before grinning.

 

“Who am I to argue with being wined and dined? Even if the wine is coffee – actually, come to think of it, especially if the wine is coffee. Let me throw some fresh clothes on.”

 

Dudley tried very hard not to think of how worried he was. And wondered if there was any possible way his mother would know how to contact his cousin...

 


 

Getting the room number from reception had actually been quite easy. Navigating the John Radcliffe Hospital less so. Merlin was well aware of the irony in the situation. He, who never got lost in a forest, desert or mountain range, getting hopelessly lost inside a building.

 

When Merlin realized he'd managed to wander into the neurology ward, he finally gave up and grabbed the first nurse he could find. The nurse rolled her eyes at him and directed him to the stairwell with precise instructions. On his way to the stairwell, he passed by a closed door with a burly black-suited man standing guard outside it. He raised an eyebrow and wondered which celebrity happened to be having their head examined. Elena would know.

 

Merlin felt very proud of himself when he finally found the room he was looking for.

 

It was a four-person room with a large window. One bed had the curtains drawn around it and two of them were empty – though one of those showed definite signs of recent habitation. The forth bed contained a man in his late thirties typing away at a laptop. The bedside table contained a glass of water, a package of Ferrero Rocher and several books with a small stuffed owl wearing wire-rim spectacles perched on top of them.

 

Merlin smiled fondly at the sight and slowly walked towards the bed in question, his converse quiet on the tile floor. He stopped at the foot of the bed and observed the man, making note of the wrapping around his left forearm and left leg – which was slightly elevated by a row of pillows - and the tubes running into his right arm. There were bags around his eyes and the few freckles left on his face stood out more than usual in contrast with the paleness of his skin. His mane of curly brown hair looked like it could do with a wash, but at least it was combed out and tied back with an elastic.

 

In this man, Merlin could still see the anxious boy he had taken in all those years ago, bitter with the world and angry at fate.

 

It only took about a minute for him to notice Merlin's presence, looking up through his own pair of dark blue wire-rimmed glasses, his blue eyes widening in surprise. Merlin grinned at him.

 

“So here lies our hero,” he said cheekily. “Saved any good books lately?”

 

The man scowled at him.

 

“They were research documents, not books,” he snapped. “And what are you doing here anyway? Aren't you supposed to be living knee-deep in people and cockroaches somewhere in Tokyo?”

 

“I'll have you know my apartment was completely cockroach free!”

 

“Yes, and I'm certain your neighbours all wanted to know your secret.”

 

“I told them I prayed regularly at the shrine.”

 

The man snorted and Merlin pulled up a chair to sit down. As he did, he noticed the bedside table again and frowned.

 

“What happened to the flowers I sent you?”

 

“They don't permit flowers on this ward, which you would've known had you bothered to check.”

 

“Oh. Well at least you got the owl then.”

 

He got a sarcastic “Thank heaven for small mercies” in reply.

 

Once Merlin settled in his grinned dimmed to a smile.

 

“So, how've you been, Archimedes?”

 

Archie shrugged. “Busy mostly. I consulted on a medieval movie for some American production studio. Or rather they paid me an exorbitant amount of money to give them advice so they could ignore it. It was a rather frustrating, if well-paying job.”

 

“Oh, what's the movie called?”

 

“I'm not telling you. You'd just go out and watch it and then I'd have to listen to your ranting on about just how badly they got it all wrong.”

 

Merlin felt a bit insulted at that. “You know, sometimes I find that sort of thing highly amusing.”

 

“Not this one you wouldn't, trust me. Not with how much emphasis they seem to put on the proper maintenance of armour and weaponry in an effort to be – and I use this term incredibly lightly – realistic.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“So, how long have you been back?” Archie asked after a short pause. The question and tone of voice seemed casual enough, but Merlin knew the boy – no, man – too well.

 

“Two days,” he replied with a chuckle. “Sorry I didn't call and let you know, it was a bit of a sudden decision.”

 

Archie scowled at having been seen through so easily.

 

“So what made you decide to come back then?”

 

Merlin sighed and looked out the window. “Albion called for me.”

 

Archie's eyes widened. He straightened, wincing slightly as the movement jarred his bandaged arm.

 

“Do you suppose it's finally time? That Albion's Darkest Hour is coming?”

 

Merlin shook his head sadly. “I honestly have no idea. I can't sense anything more than a residual darkness from that wizarding war that ended two years ago and I've spoken to Anhora and he seems to know less than I do. I even went to Diagon Alley yesterday and there doesn't seem to be anything going on in the Wizarding World.” He paused thoughtfully. “Not that the Prophet is necessarily the best source of information in that regard.”

 

“That is a severe understatement,” Archie scoffed. The corner of Merlin's mouth twitched.

 

“Most importantly though... I can't sense Arthur anywhere and I think I should be able to.”

 

“Hmm, unless he's being hidden from you.”

 

Merlin looked at Archie with a blank face and blinked. That hadn't even occurred to him.

 

“But... why would the Old Religion hide Arthur from me?” he asked.

 

“Perhaps, because if you can't find him, then no one else can either.”

 

Merlin thought about this.

 

“That would imply there's someone Arthur needs to be protected from,” he finally said.

 

“Well, yes, I would imagine so. If Albion's Darkest Hour does indeed approach then it stands to reason someone must be ushering it in.”

 

Merlin frowned. He really hoped that wasn't the case.

 

Anymore thoughts on the matter were derailed when a brightly-coloured blonde walked into the room. Rainbow-coloured leg warmers were the first things that caught Merlin's eye, but the long cherry red sweater wasn't far behind. Nor were the big blue stars dangling from her ears. Her eyes lit up when she saw Merlin.

 

“Merlin, you're back!” she exclaimed, before cringing as she suddenly realized she was in a hospital. Thankfully, she hadn't managed to wake up the room's other occupant, but she did wait until she was standing next to Archie's bed to say anything else. “Blimey,” she said. “I thought you'd just read my facebook status; I didn't realize you were actually back in England. When'd you get back then?”

 

“Less than 48 hours ago. It was a bit of a sudden decision. Archie didn't even know until now.”

 

“Bloody 'ell.”

 

“Elena, did you bring the books I asked for?” Archie said with a sigh.

 

“Yes, Doctor Kingsman.”

 

Merlin hid his grin. He knew how much it irked his son that he got on so well with Elena, but he couldn't help it. From the moment he first met her, he simply couldn't leave alone the fact that she looked identical to the Princess Elena Arthur had nearly married once. And Merlin had liked Princess Elena, once she'd stopped being possessed by a sidhe.

 

Merlin wondered if Elena had any idea how much of Archie's agreeing to take her on as a Phd student had been thanks to Merlin.

 

Although, thinking of sidhe... that gave Merlin an idea. Even if Anhora didn't know anything, the fae might. They were much more closely linked to the land and to the Old Religion than even he was sometimes. Besides, spending a few days wandering the forests of Albion would do him some good. Let him feel the land and its magic more closely.

 

Mind made up, Merlin stood.

 

“Well, it's been good to see you again, Elena,” he said, smiling at the girl. Then he turned to Archie. “I should be off now, have a few things to check up on. Should be back to see you in a few though, so don't go gallivanting off.”

 

“I somehow don't see myself going questing for mythical swords anytime soon,” Archie said dryly.

 

Merlin grinned. “Not without me anyway.”

 

Archie snorted. “Good-bye, Merlin.”

 

“Bye, Archimedes.”

 


 

Harry was delighted to see the vibrancy of Diagon Alley slowly returning to it. He remembered being here during the war and how desolate and gray it had all seemed, how fear had clung to everything like an invisible mist. Now there were colours and outdoor stands and people were laughing in the streets again instead of muttering in hushed voices. It made him happy to know he'd been part of bringing about this change.

 

It made him even happier to know he was so close to surviving his first year of auror training.

 

“Bloody 'ell where is he?” Ron grumbled beside him.

 

“Ron, don't swear,” Hermione said immediately. “He's probably just running late. Being an apprentice isn't exactly a structured environment, you know. If his master needed him to do something before he left, he'd have to do it.”

 

“Yeah, but you're studying with the Department of Mysteries and you managed to get 'ere on time!”

 

“The Department of Mysteries is right here in London, Ron. Neville's in Ireland.”

 

“He can apparate!”

 

Harry sighed. He really wished Ginny could've come. Not that he didn't love his friends, but when they got into one of their snippy moods they did get a bit irritating. He kept scanning the crowd, willing the familiar face he was looking for to appear. When it finally did, it was followed by another familiar face.

 

“Sorry I'm late,” Neville called out. “But look who I ran into when I was passing by the Cauldron!”

 

“Seamus!” Harry exclaimed, holding his hand out.

 

Seamus shook his hand heartily. “Well didn't fancy I'd be meeting you lot, but it's good to see the auror academy lets you out among regular fokes every once in a while.”

 

Harry laughed.

 

“Good to see you too,” he said. “How's the food industry doing?”

 

“Not a clue. I left that months ago. Am apprenticing at Blishen's now; going to be a master firewhiskey brewer one day. Mum wasn't too happy about it, but da thinks it's brilliant.”

 

I think it's brilliant, mate,” said Ron with a grin. “But you'd better be planning one 'ell of a party when you finally make it.”

 

Seamus grinned, a glint of mischievousness in his eyes. “Aye, it'll be one to remember that's for certain.”

 

They continued to chat, catching up on over a year's worth of news – Seamus, it turned out, had a lot more contact with their former classmates than either Harry, Ron or Hermione did, so he was a wealth of news and information. Eventually, they began to make their way towards the Leaky Cauldron so they could sit down instead of clogging up the street.

 

They'd paused at Quality Quidditch Supplies to glance at the newest broom design, the Firebolt Express, when they were approached by a young woman.

 

She was beautiful. Long, dark wavy hair parted down the middle and pale skin that accentuated her full, red lips and green eyes. She was dressed in elegant, emerald green robes with gold detailing along the hemlines that fit perfectly along her curves. Harry was a bit ashamed to realize he was staring.

 

“Oh, I-I'm so sorry to interrupt,” she said, looking nervous and a bit embarrassed.

 

“Don't worry, a pretty woman like you is never interrupting,” said Seamus, instantly appearing at her left with a wide smile.

 

She giggled. “That's so sweet of you.”

 

“Why thank you. I'm Seamus Finnigan, by the way.”

 

“Then it's good to meet you Seamus Finnigan.” She smiled at him. Then she turned to look at Harry. “And you, you're Harry Potter right?”

 

She took a step towards him and Harry couldn't help but see the annoyance flash across Seamus' face. He nearly groaned. It had gotten much better lately, but every once in a while someone still approached him in order to shake his hand or thank him. He hated it.

 

“Er, yes, I am,” he said, trying to muster up a smile for the woman. Okay, so admittedly that wasn't actually so difficult – she was very pretty.

 

“Oh good.”

 

And suddenly, the woman was no longer nervous or embarrassed.

 

“You see, you have something I want,” she said, smirking. “And I've come to take it.”

 

Harry automatically went for his wand. The woman held up a hand.

 

“Wha-”

 

Ástríce.”

 

Harry went flying. He couldn't help the cry of pain as he hit the stationary shop with a thud that sent shots of pain flying up his spine. He crumpled to the ground and gritted his teeth, willing away the spots that seemed intent on dancing in front of his eyes.

 

“Harry!”

 

Then there were hands touching him, checking his pulse and he felt a familiar rush of magic, which meant someone was checking for injuries. Finally, he managed to open his eyes and recognize Hermione. Who wasn't looking at him. Harry followed her gaze as he sat up – slowly, because his back wouldn't let him otherwise. Then he heard the screaming.

 

Ron, Neville and Seamus had obviously taken their wands out to confront the woman. But now they were screaming in terror as the stone road of Diagon Alley rose up and wound around each of them like a snake, encasing them each in a topless column of stone. The woman walked around the columns casually, her eyes glowing gold, as she headed towards Harry.

 

Hermione stepped in front of him, her wand drawn and pointed at the woman.

 

“Who the hell are you?” she demanded. “Why are you doing this?”

 

“Why am I doing this?” the woman repeated, mockingly. “Why I've already told you that. I've come to take what I want.”

 

Harry gritted his teeth against the pain in his back as he went to stand. Then panicked when he couldn't find his wand. Quickly looking behind him, he realized it must've fallen out when he'd hit the wall. Not daring to take his eyes off the woman, he walked backwards, until he felt the wall behind him, then he crouched down to retrieve his wand.

 

Petrificus totalus!” Hermione shouted.

 

The woman easily ducked out of the way of the curse. Then she smiled and, with a flick of her wrist, both Hermione and Harry went sailing through the air again, landing in a heap in the middle of the street. Immediately, he looked back and saw the woman evading a spell fired by a bystander. Harry was relieved: surely she couldn't defend herself against a large group of adult wizards?

 

The woman, however, only looked annoyed.

 

Forbaerne yfel,” she incanted, flinging her hands out to the sides.

 

Her eyes glowed golden and suddenly they were surrounded by a circle of flames. Harry was hit almost instantly with oppressive heat that beat at him from all sides, covering him in sweat. From beyond the flames, he could hear screams. Hermione looked a bit unsteady when she got to her feet, but her face was determined. Harry scrambled after her.

 

Confringo!” Hermione called out.

 

Sectumsempra!” Harry added a second later.

 

The woman put a hand out in front of her and her eyes glowed. Both spells hit some sort of barrier just before reaching the woman. Harry's eyes widened in horror. Not only was the woman not using a wand that he could see, but she could also cast non-verbally?!

 

“What sort of magic is this?” Harry hissed to Hermione.

 

“I have no idea,” Hermione whispered back through her teeth, sounding terrified.

 

Not that he blamed her. Voldemort had been evil and deluded, but at least he had been, at his core, a wizard and had cast magic as a wizard. Whatever this was, it wasn't normal.

 

The woman raised her left hand and aimed it at Hermione.

 

Swefe nu.”

 

Protego!” Hermione immediately countered.

 

Harry raised his hand in order cast his spell, but suddenly found himself unable to get the words out. In fact, breathing seemed to be a bit of a problem as well. Slowly he felt himself being raised off the ground until he could almost see above the circle of flames. The woman looked at him, amused, as he struggled to breathe. His wand fell out of his hand as he clutched at the invisible hand holding him.

 

Then her head snapped to the side and she raised her left hand to once again, deflect a spell. As soon as the spell bounced off, she flicked her wrist and Harry heard Hermione cry out as she crashed into something.

 

There were white spots in front of his eyes again. And then he was falling. Something snapped when he hit the ground and Harry screamed as pain exploded in his left knee and travelled up his leg.

 

Onbregdan widférendeum drýcræft cjrnegyrd toágend Harry.

 

Harry had no idea what the woman had just incanted, but it was longer than most spells he knew or any the woman had used before. There was a wave of what Harry could only describe as wild magic and he braced himself for what would happen as he patted the ground around him, hoping against hope to find his wand.

 

He nearly whooped for joy when his hand felt the familiar wooden shape, though it somehow seemed heavier than usual. The pain that exploded in his knee whenever he moved any part of his left leg told him standing up simply wasn't going to happen. But he could still cast.

 

Blearily he looked up – only to find the woman was much closer to him than he'd originally though. He lifted his wand up towards her, but suddenly there was a foot coming at his face and Harry was falling backwards, which jarred his knee so violently he came very close to passing out from the pain.

 

He felt pressure on his right hand and slowly turned his head to look at the high-heeled boot standing on it.

 

Onbregdan,” she said softly.

 

Harry cried out as his hand jerked and he lost his grip on his wand, which went sailing straight into hers. She looked at it triumphantly and grinned. Then she looked back down at Harry and smiled sweetly.

 

“Thank you, Harry, you've been a big help. Maybe I'll see you again sometime.” She turned to walk away, but paused and looked back over her shoulder. “Oh, and if you happen to see Emrys, tell him I said 'hi'.”

 

Harry barely had the energy to raise his head and watch as a big gust of wind surrounded her before she disappeared. Then he let his head fall back onto the cobbled road of Diagon Alley and finally gave into oblivion.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

 

Draco Malfoy sat at the dining room table and sipped his tea as he tried not to stare at the Daily Prophet on the table. The headline on the front page screamed 'Wizarding Hero and Friends Attacked in Diagon Alley!' He'd already read the article three times, unable to believe its words.

 

Golden Boy Potter had not only been attacked, he'd been beaten and left shattered. And the ministry aurors had absolutely no idea by whom or why. In fact, they were apparently baffled by the very magic used and those, who'd witnessed it, claimed the woman hadn't used a visible wand. It just didn't make sense: who spelled their wand invisible? And why?!

 

Draco sighed and took another sip of tea. The plate of food in front of him looked as though someone had made a valiant effort of nibbling at it, but his stomach felt too heavy for anymore. Finally, he gave up and simply pushed it away.

 

He looked around the room. This was the smaller dining room, the one used for private family dinners, though it was no less elegant than the larger one. The table was a polished dark mahogany with grape vines carved into its legs. Above it hung an elaborate crystal chandelier brought from Prague some two hundred years ago. Its base was made of blue-coloured glass with tiny embossed flowers lining its upper part, just below a strip of gold-painted detailing from which eight twisted crystal glass arms grew out. Each of the arms ended with cups of the same blue glass as the base and with similar flower and gold detailing. Within each cup stood a candle and, from its rim, several long beads of cut crystal caught the morning sunlight streaming in from the large widows as they dangled.

 

There were paintings on the walls. The largest depicted a legendary battle between two wizards – Taurin the Fire-master and Draconis the Watersnake. It had always been Draco's favourite in the entire manor – and not just because he shared the same name with one of the wizards. It was so old no one could quite remember which Malfoy had originally acquired it and as such its movements were a bit sluggish. Yet he used to love coming into the dining room and sit on a chair watching the two great wizards fight the same battle, cast the same spells and wishing that one day he too could be as great as them.

 

Of course, that was hardly going to happen. But perhaps he could take the painting with them when they left.

 

Just then the door opened and his mother walked in. Draco immediately straightened, attempting to look more alert and less depressed. At least he and his mother had managed to escape the Dementor's Kiss – unlike his father.

 

Naturally, he didn't fool her for a second.

 

Her eyes softened and her jaw tensed in that way it did when she was gritting her teeth in order to force back tears. She crossed the room and bent down to embrace him. Draco returned the embrace, breathing in her comforting scent. During the last year of the war, it had been as though something in his mother had broken and suddenly she had become more affectionate than he ever remembered her being.

 

Despite knowing its cause, Draco couldn't bring himself to dislike the change.

 

“We'll get through this, Draco,” she whispered into his ear and Draco hated the forced bravery he could hear in her voice.

 

“Of course we will,” he answered, knowing his own determined bravery was likely just as noticeable. “We're Malfoys even if they take this manor away from us.”

 

He could feel his mother shake as she chuckled. Then she relaxed her hold on him and stepped away with a slight smile.

 

“Yes, we are.”

 

Then she spied the newspaper on the table and smile disappeared from her face, replaced by a look of disgust.

 

“Who in Merlin's name could possibly want to start the war again?” she asked.

 

Draco shrugged. “They haven't actually confirmed the woman was a Death Eater. I certainly don't recognize her.”

 

Narcissa picked up the Daily Prophet and sat down as she skimmed the article. Draco waited for her to finish.

 

“No, neither do I,” she finally said. “The description almost sounds like my sister when she was much younger. However Bella is first of all dead and second of all much older than this woman apparently is.”

 

“They'll likely know more when Potter finally wakes up.”

 

She nodded. Her eyes were already skimming some of the other headlines. Draco cast a quick Tempus charm and cursed inwardly. He stood up from the table.

 

“Mother, if you'll excuse me, that idiot from the ministry will likely be here within the hour. There's a trinket I want to retrieve from grand-uncle Lividicus' old study.”

 

His mother's head shot up in alarm. “Draco, it's not anything-”

 

“No, of course not,” he answered, waving off her concern. “It's just... you know that ivory quill rest and ink bottle set he brought back from Africa? I've always liked it and it's such a small thing, but I'd rather not leave it there in case a prospective buyer sees it and decides they really like it.

 

His mother smiled.

 

“Of course dear, go on then. The ministry still hasn't told us how much we'll be able to take with us, so you might as well get what you can out of their sight right away.”

 

Draco nodded to her and left, each step, each minute, taking him closer to a reality and a future he wasn't entirely sure he was brave enough to face.

 


 

 

When George Weasley entered St. Mungo's he was surprised by the sheer number of people in the lobby. The waiting room was fuller than he'd ever seen it, though, oddly enough, many of those sitting in the chairs didn't seem to have any visible ailment. Aurors stood guard by the hallway that led to the hospital wards and beside each entrance several reporters hovered with their parchment and quills ready for the slightest hint of news.

 

George rolled his eyes. Gawkers.

 

“George!”

 

He turned when he saw his name and looked over the crowd, until he finally noticed the hand held daintily up to catch his attention. Well, the part-veela was certainly catching everyone else's attention. Quickly, he walked to her and then let himself be dragged out of the lobby when his sister-in-law evidently decided to forgo any sort of greeting in favour of grabbing his arm.

 

“'arry has just woken up,” she said once they were out of the lobby and inside the much quieter hallways. “The doctors are examining him now.”

 

George let out a breath of relief.

 

“That's good to hear,” he said. “And Ron?”

 

“Awake and hungry.”

 

That was also good news. Though his brother had come out of the attack the best off of all those involved, seeing him pale and exhausted last night (once the aurors had finally managed to get him, Longbottom and Finnigan out of their stone prisons) hadn't been comforting. George had seen part of the aftermath yesterday, having closed the shop and run to see what the commotion was.

 

Some of his worst nightmares featured Diagon Alley burning. It hadn't looked any less horrific when he'd been awake. The fire hadn't been spreading – stone sidewalks didn't exactly burn well usually - but the flames were tall and clearly surrounding the front of the quidditch store. Just in front of the flames stood three tall pillars of stone, which seemed to have grown out of the street.

 

When he asked those around him about them, his horror grew. There were people inside those pillars. They were certainly protected from the flames, but being slowly baked alive wasn't exactly a better fate.

 

He ran to the flames and cast a water spell, the same sort his mother used to water the garden. It did nothing. So, he cast a slightly stronger variation of the spell, which sent a strong spray of water that was more localized. He kept it up for a few minutes, before he realized it too was doing nothing. Several people had joined him in his effort, with similar results.

 

Then he heard the name 'Harry Potter' and his blood went cold. Harry was in the middle of those flames? His brother had been with Harry. Suddenly, he looked at the three pillars and felt the urge to vomit.

 

He remembered somehow managing to pull himself together and finding the strength inside him to realize he had to do something. If they couldn't stop the flames, they had to at least make sure the boys inside the pillars didn't die from the heat. He cast a freezing charm on the outside of the first stone pillar. It worked, but the ice sizzled and evaporated away within seconds. He cast it again. And again.

 

Finally, a fine sheet of ice formed around the outside of the first pillar. George felt exhausted, but turned to the next pillar. Only to find it too was covered in ice. So was the third one.

 

“That was a good idea, boy,” said an older witch George recognized as the owner of one of the charm stalls that usually stood in front of Madame Malkin's. Her wand was out and she looked exhausted. Further away, a stout wizard, who couldn't have been more than ten years his senior, grinned back at him.

 

Then the aurors finally arrived.

 

It took them nearly five hours to douse the flames. Thankfully, they managed to get Harry and Hermione out long before then by flying in from the top on a broomstick. However, Ron and the other two boys weren't so lucky. The pillars, as it happened, weren't sealed at the top, so they could breathe, but they were so narrow they couldn't move.

 

Bill had come down from Gringott's in order to attempt to remove the curse, but after only ten mintues he'd shaken his head and told the aurors the spell used to create the pillars wasn't a curse at all. Several people from the Department of Mysteries then spent nearly an hour, while the flames still raged, trying to figure out just what spell had been used.

 

Finally, a muggle-born auror had decided enough was enough and asked if they couldn't just cut the damn things open. He said he'd seen muggle rescue workers use drills and some sort of jaws in order to get people out of things, so why couldn't wizards simply use a spell to break the stone. No one had any objections and twenty minutes later, a dazed and severely-dehydrated Neville Longbottom was tumbling out of the first pillar.

 

All three boys were exhausted, overheated, dehydrated and likely in possession of a severe dislike for enclosed spaces, but alive.

 

Thank Merlin.

 

All five of them had been put into the same room once the healers were done working on Harry and Hermione. A room that currently looked like it was just as full as the lobby downstairs.

 

Harry was, indeed, awake and George saw his mother sitting in a chair next to his bed while a healer hovered on the other side of it and a group of three aurors spoke to him in quiet tones. Kingsley Shacklebolt stood leaning against the wall next to his father, listening in on the conversation silently. George nodded to them as he entered and then turned to his brother and the others. Fleur had already taken a seat beside Bill, who was apparently also on lunch break. Ginny sat on a chair between Ron and Hermione, although she was watching Harry's bed and hadn't even looked over when George had entered.

 

“Well, you lot are looking better than the last time I saw you,” George said with a grin.

 

“Couldn't imagine how we could look worse really,” said Finnigan.

 

George saw Fred's limp lifeless body in front of his eyes, but quickly shook the image away.

 

“I hear we have you to thank for being here at all,” Neville Longbottom said quietly. “So, thank you.”

 

“Yeah, thanks, mate,” Finnigan echoed.

 

George smiled. “Not sure how much I saved anyone's life, but you're welcome.”

 

“According to the healers, it could've been much worse if you hadn't thought to freeze the outside of the stone things we were trapped in,” said Ron, shivering as he spoke of the 'things'. “It was 'orrible being trapped inside there. Couldn't tell what was going on, but I could feel the 'eat. Felt like I was being baked alive... I'm really glad we didn't die there, so thank you.”

 

“Is it true that none of the usual spells worked against that fire?” Hermione suddenly asked.

 

George welcomed the change in conversation and turned to her with enthusiasm.

 

“No, they didn't. I tried a few and there were a few other witches and wizards that tried some and then the aurors tried even more, but none of them worked. I'm not entirely sure the fire didn't just die out on its own in the end.”

 

“That stone wasn't any normal spell,” Bill added. “Though it did break like regular stone.”

 

“None of what she used were regular spells either,” said Hermione solemnly.

 

Just then, an owl flew through the open window and landed at her bedside, diverting her thoughts for the moment as she reached down to take a small scroll from its leg, apologizing for not having anything for it. The owl flew off while Hermione unrolled the message and began to read.

 

The aurors left a few minutes later, the healer following shortly after that, with a stern look to everyone present to allow her patients to rest. Ginny immediately made her way to the other side of Harry's bed.

 

Kingsley closed the door after the healer and turned to Harry with a worried look.

 

“Is there anything you didn't tell the aurors, Harry?” he asked.

 

Harry shook his head.

 

“No, not that I remember,” he said. “I mean, so much of it is a blur, but I know that whoever she was, she didn't introduce herself and I'm pretty sure she didn't say anything about Voldemort or about being a Death Eater or, well, about anything that might explain why she attacked me.”

 

Harry paused. In the meantime, Ron spoke up.

 

“I don't think she was with You-Know-Who,” he said. “Wouldn't make sense for him to not use her if he had her. She was powerful, real powerful.”

 

“You know, I also don't remember her ever using a wand,” Seamus added. “Not unless it was really well-hidden.”

 

“She didn't have a wand,” said Hermione softly. Kingsley noticed the expression on the girl's face as she stared down at the scroll in her hands and decided he didn't like it one bit.

 

Suddenly, Harry gasped. “Oh God, my wand,” he said with wide eyes. “She took my wand.”

 

Molly frowned. “But Harry, your wand is right here, on the nightstand.”

 

Harry turned to look and, sure enough, there it was. Slowly, he reached over and picked it up. He held it in his hands and turned it over.

 

“This is definitely my wand,” he finally said softly. “But, I know... I mean, I remember that I was holding it and she just sort of took it... at least I think that's what-”

 

“It wasn't your wand she took, Harry,” Hermione suddenly interrupted his confused ramblings.

 

Harry's head shot up to look at her, wincing when the movement jarred something. Everyone else turned to look at the girl as well. Kingsley still didn't like the look on her face and, when she looked up, he liked the fear he saw in her eyes even less.

 

“You were already half-unconscious, I think, so you didn't quite see her, but after she let you fall to the ground, she chanted some sort of spell. A fairly long one.”

 

Harry nodded. “I heard her, but didn't understand a single word. Of course, by then I was also in so much pain I can't really be sure of anything.”

 

“It was a summoning spell of some sort.” She held up the note in her hand. “And this confirms what I was afraid of. I asked Professor McGonagall to check and she's just written back that the Elder Wand is missing from Professor Dumbledore's memorial. That's the wand she took, Harry. She summoned it to you and after you picked it up, she magically disarmed you. Which would now make her its master.”

 

“The Elder Wand?” Neville pipped up into the silence that followed. “Harry was master of the Elder Wand?!”

 

Harry just stared at Hermione with wide eyes.

 

“But it makes no sense,” Fleur's voice cut through the silence. “What did she need a wand for? If she was as powerful as you say without one, why would she want one?”

 

“The Elder Wand is an incredibly powerful wand-” Bill cut his explanation short at the venomous glare he received from his wife.

 

“I know what the Elder Wand is,” she snapped. “But if she 'as that much control over her magic without one, then a wand would only limit her.”

 

“But surely it's dangerous to attempt to control wild magic like that,” said Molly with a frown.

 

“It is not wild magic!” Fleur looked annoyed now. “We have books in the library at my family's. I will floo my mother later and 'ave her send them.”

 

That seemed to solve that problem, though most people still looked sceptical. Kingsley couldn't help but think that what Fleur said made a lot of sense. Why go to all the effort of stealing a wand if you didn't need one at all. Not, he realized, that any of what she'd done had seemed to be much effort to her.

 

“She also needn't have done it so publicly either,” he said out loud. “I wonder if part of it wasn't simply to make a statement, or something to that effect. To show off even.”

 

Harry stared at him. “You think that crazy bitch attacked me and my friends to make a statement?!”

 

Kingsley shrugged.

 

“Like it or not, Harry, you're a symbol, a hero of the Wizarding World. So yes, if this is meant to be a message it's a fairly powerful one.”

 

Whatever Harry's furious response had meant to be, it was cut off when the healer bustled back into the room and threw everyone out. The rest of them dispersed afterwards, but not until after Kingsley promised he'd keep them informed.

 


 

 

Wandering through the forests of Albion never failed to fill him with a sense of tranquillity. Merlin felt a peace here amongst the trees, shrubs and animal life he never managed to find anywhere else. And, like a proper home, it welcomed him with open arms. It had been his home once, too; for almost a century he'd shunned all human contact and lived within the forests, moving around to where the wind blew him.

 

But the heartsickness that had steadily grown like a cancer as the last of his friends disappeared from this life, eventually became a tired ache instead of a piercing pain. So, he'd left the forest and gone to explore the changes the century had wrought.

 

He'd introduced each of his children to the forest and some had taken to it more than others - of course, some had known more about him than others. To a few he'd been nothing more than an enigmatic old man who'd offered them a home out of loneliness and a desire for company and to many he'd been a bit of a magician. There'd once been a sweet little Irish girl named Frances, who'd possessed some talents of her own. He sometimes wondered if she'd guessed the truth.

 

However, none of them knew him as well as Archie did. The angry boy hadn't let him keep any secrets from him and Merlin had laughingly given them away. The man he was now knew Merlin better than anyone, save a lover, ever could (and most of Merlin's lovers hadn't known him half as well). And, as he followed a deep path that ran along a narrow, rocky stream, Merlin wondered if that in and of itself was a sign. That he had somehow, subconsciously, known he would need a stronger ally this time.

 

The fae had been somewhat helpful.

 

They'd felt Albion calling for him. And confirmed that there was some sort of shadow of darkness in the land – a different darkness than the one caused by the Wizard's War. Although, even that, they'd said, had been a bit strange.

 

They'd felt the magic being drawn from the land as the wizards fought. The Dark Wizard had been a poisonous snake, whose darkness was unnatural and cursed. When he'd finally been killed, his dark magic had gone into the land, as magic does. And then it had disappeared.

 

That worried Merlin. Residual dark magic would, over time, be gradually purified and absorbed by the land and its natural magic, but it did not suddenly disappear. Unless someone had purified it... or absorbed it themselves.

 

Wizards didn't generally purify magic. Merlin wasn't entirely sure they knew how, not being connected closely enough to the land to feel it.

 

After speaking to the faeries, he'd then stopped at a pub in Avebury and spent the night at Stonehenge. Being connected to several powerful leylines meant the Druidic monument was often the first place to feel any changes to the land, but he felt nothing unusual.

 

When the sun came up, he'd left for the forest again.

 

This time, the creatures of the forest seemed to sense he had no true purpose but to wander around at will and Merlin found himself accompanied by a choir of songbirds. A family of deer crossed his path at one point and several little fawns approached him curiously while their mothers looked on patiently. Merlin offered each of them a piece of apple from his pack and they accepted it happily.

 

As the sun passed its highest point, Merlin felt a shadow of darkness in the distance. He began to walk in its direction.

 

Now, Merlin felt it close, but he could also sense more than just the darkness. He felt wards, old wards, spells that had clearly been in place for centuries. A wizarding residence.

 

He stopped just in front of the wards; he could feel them attempting to push him away, but the push felt halfhearted at best. He brought a hand up to touch them, gently sending his magic out, to feel their measure. He was surprised to find them undamaged and yet unsteady, fluctuating as though they were ready to collapse. Ah, he realized - suddenly remembering the article he'd read in the Daily Prophet – this must've been a Death Eater's residence. If the master of the land had died and his successor had not been allowed to properly inherit it, because the house was being sold off by order of the ministry, then that would explain the wards.

 

He felt sorry for the land. He could tell even from the outside that it had housed the family on it for quite some time. Judging by the wards, it had probably been several centuries at least and, judging by what he could see of the beautifully lush lawn that sprawled out past the forest, it had obviously been well-cared for.

 

Merlin slipped between the unsteady wards and went to take a look.

 


 

 

Draco knew that gritting his teeth was not helping his headache – in fact, it was probably the main cause of it. Well, no, Eugine Whitman was the main cause of his headache. The ministry bureaucrat currently pretending to know something about real estate and his horde of spectators, who'd shown up to witness the final humiliation of one of the oldest pureblood families in England, were the true cause of his headache. However, the only way Draco could endure their presence with anything resembling dignity was through intense teeth-grinding and copious ignoring of the horrible butchering his family history was going through.

 

He refused to show any of these vultures just how angry, helpless and frustrated he felt by the entire proceedings. And they were vultures. Of the twenty people who'd shown up, only two of them looked like they could afford to buy the manor at all and Draco highly doubted even they could, unless they planned to make some of the money by selling off items from within the manor to make up for the difference.

 

He wasn't entirely sure what was going to happen to everything inside the manor. Draco knew that he and his mother were going to be allowed to keep ten percent of the amount for which the manor was sold for with the rest was going to go towards 'reconstruction'. They were being allowed to take their own personal possessions and one, un-magicked trunk. And by 'personal possessions', Draco assumed they meant clothing, personal documents and photographs, but he and his mother were going to stretch the term as far as they could.

 

So many family heirlooms would have to be left behind: left to complete strangers who knew nothing of their history and would probably not treat them with the respect they deserved.

 

Draco wished he'd been allowed to stay out of the entire process, but the ministry idiot had demanded either Draco or his mother accompany the tour in case anyone had any questions. He refused to let his mother go through this nightmare and therefore ended up trailing along with the idiot and the simpering creatures following behind him. They'd spent three hours inside the manor – the highlight of which had been when one of the griffin statues by the library had bitten one of the women when she'd pet it the wrong way – and were now touring the grounds.

 

The upside to this, was fresh air. The downside, was the absolute knowledge that tomorrow, he'd have to repeat the entire, torturous process.

 

Draco had just turned away from two witches, who were discussing how they would redo the gardens if the property were theirs and what trees and bushes they would tear out and which flowers they would replace, when he saw the approaching figure. He glanced back to the ministry idiot, but the man didn't look like he was expecting anyone. Draco didn't bother saying anything just yet.

 

As the figure got closer, he made out short hair and clothes that most certainly weren't wizard robes. A muggle? How in the world did a muggle get onto the property?

 

Eventually, someone else noticed him as well. By the time the man was within speaking distance, everyone was watching him with open curiosity. His steps had become a bit warier the closer he came and Draco found he could hardly blame him, even if he somehow was a muggle. However, he didn't stop or turn around, but grinned.

 

Draco's eyes widened in surprise. He recognized that grin.

 

“Hello there,” the man called out. “Sorry if I'm interrupting anything. I sort of slipped in from the back, I'm afraid. Been hiking through the forest since yesterday and was wondering if you could maybe let me know exactly where I am.”

 

Draco blinked and then took another look at the young man. His boots were dusty and encrusted with dried mud, his leg-coverings were coated in grass and dirt stains and there were a few leaves stuck into the folds of the thin jacket he was wearing. On his back he carried a pack with a bedroll perched on its top. Yes, the man – Merlin, Draco remembered – certainly looked like someone who had spent the night in the forest.

 

“Through the back?” Eugine Whitman said, surprised. “I thought there wasn't anything wrong with the wards in the back?”

 

He hissed the second part in Draco's direction with an angry glare. Draco grit his teeth again in order to bite down the first thing that sprang onto his tongue.

 

“Oh, there's nothing wrong with the wards,” Merlin said, raising a placating hand. “They're a bit unsteady is all, but that likely has something to do with inheritance not having been done properly. And, well, I'm also very good with wards.”

 

Draco blinked and took another look at the man. Yes, Draco knew the wards were unsteady because his father was... not in a position to be a proper lord of the lands... and a formal succession had never been done in order to pass them onto him as rightful heir. However, it would take someone not just good, but brilliant, in order to be able to tell that in passing without actually attacking them.

 

The explanation appeased the ministry idiot and that just further convinced Draco of the man's utter stupidity. It also helped to prove Merlin wasn't actually the muggle he appeared to be and that was enough for Whitman to introduce himself and explain what it was they were doing.

 

“Oh, I see,” Merlin said, nodding. “Yes, I figured it was something like that. Read about it in the paper a few days ago.” He looked out into the grounds, towards where the lake shimmered under the afternoon sun. “It is a beautiful property, isn't it?”

 

There was something in his eyes that made Draco relax just a fraction, as though he was looking at more than just the trees and flowerbeds.

 

“It's very powerful land,” Merlin continued with a slightly wistful smile. “And it's obviously been well-loved and cared for.”

 

Draco felt his jaw relax for the first time since Eugine Whitman appeared at their door mid-morning. Somehow, knowing that at least one person could see the grounds for what they were, was enough. For now. Sadly, Merlin obviously wasn't in any sort of position to put a serious bid on the property.

 

One of the ladies snorted.

 

“Hardly,” she said, sneering at Draco in the process. “You do realize this is the manor You-Know-Who made his main base of operations, don't you?”

 

“You-Know- oh! You mean Voldemort! No, I didn't know that. Did he really? Hmm... that certainly explains a few things.”

 

Draco stared at the young man. He wasn't the only one.

 

“Of course he did, why it's practically common knowledge,” a middle-aged wizard with a rather sizable beer belly declared, looking rather incredulous. “Where in Merlin's name have you been that you don't know that?!”

 

Draco nearly sniggered at the raised eyebrow the man received.

 

“Japan, actually,” Merlin replied with obvious amusement. “And China before that, with a few months in Nepal in between. Beautiful place, Nepal. Only watch out for the tigers; when they get up close it means they're hungry not trying to be friendly.”

 

The man was ridiculous, utterly ridiculous. The entire situation was. The dirty wizard (or so he claimed, as he had yet to produce a wand from anywhere) dressed in muggle clothes, who'd admitted shamelessly to having spent the night in the forest, following at the end of the procession was simply the icing on the cake. Draco couldn't wait to tell his mother about this: it would give them both something to laugh hysterically over.

 

As they continued past the gardens his mother loved and then around the lake, Merlin somehow managed to side in next to Draco.

 

“What's that over there?” he asked, pointing to the large stone buildings at the opposite edge of the property.

 

“Old dragon stables leftover from a time when it was still legal for wizarding families to own them,” Draco finally answered. “They've mostly got quidditch and gardening equipment in them now.”

 

“Hmm... owning dragons...” Merlin chuckled and shook his head. “What a silly notion. No one owns a dragon. If a dragon likes you, they stick around. That's all there is to it.”

 

“And what exactly would you know about that?” Draco hissed.

 

“Quite a lot, actually.”

 

“I suppose with your lack of knowledge of wizarding attire there must be plenty of room left behind for other, less useful things.”

 

Merlin made a face. “Have you ever tried hiking in the woods in wizard robes? It's a damned nuisance and trees and birds hardly care whether what I'm wearing is of the latest fashion.”

 

“You could've just apparated or, perhaps, used floo powder. Neither are particularly new inventions and I'm certain even China and Japan have heard of them.”

 

“I like the forest,” he said with a shrug. “Besides, if you zip quickly from one place to the next, you miss everything in the middle.”

 

Draco was certain that remark was meant to be profound, but he wasn't in the mood for philosophy. Justice itself was a philosophy and thanks to it he was about to lose his home. With a derisive snort, he took a different path and left Merlin behind.

 

He didn't notice Merlin's eyes following him as he stalked off. He also didn't notice when Merlin's eyes turned thoughtful as he stopped and looked around the manor grounds once more, pausing in a few places as though analyzing them specifically. Eventually, he nodded once and then ran to catch up to the group, which was almost back up to the manor by then.

 

Draco scowled at Merlin as he rejoined the group. He'd been very carefully making sure everyone who'd entered the Malfoy Manor grounds was accounted for so that he could make certain they all left as well. He did not appreciate dawdlers.

 

“Well, now that you've seen the entire property and had a chance to examine it and determine whether it is to your liking,” Whitman was saying – as though any of the vultures were actually going to buy it. “You may, of course, take your time in making your decisions about purchasing this fine example of old wizarding opulence, however do bear in mind that we are conducting similar viewings every day for the next two weeks or until a buyer is found. And, of course, the ministry is willing to send in their best team of curse-breakers in order to rid the house of any remaining, unwanted curses or malicious traps left behind by its previous-”

 

“Oh, that won't be necessary,” Merlin interrupted him. He grinned at the man. “I'll take it.”

 

Draco stopped gritting his teeth in favour of gaping at him. Eugine Whitman gaped at him. The entire pack of vultures turned as one in order to gape at him. Merlin blinked at them, as though wondering what the problem was.

 

“You- you'll take it?” Whitman finally stammered out. “Do you even know how much the asking price is, young man?”

 

Merlin waved him off. “Of course I do, you repeated it often enough. And I'll take it.” Then he frowned. “I am good for it, you know. If you don't believe me we can go down to Gringotts right now and have the goblins confirm it.”

 

Draco swallowed. Well, this was rather unexpected. Not to mentioned sudden.

 

“I'll go get mother,” he announced, before Whitman managed to say anything else.

 

Narcissa Malfoy had paled when Draco had found her and delivered the news. But she'd simply nodded and went to retrieve her travel cloak.

 

Draco was relieved to discover the vultures gone when he and his mother finally came out of the manor – all eager to get home and spread the newest bit of juicy gossip, no doubt. Amusingly enough, Whitman actually sounded like he was trying to talk Merlin out of the purchase, which made Draco wonder whether the ministry had intended the entire viewing process to be nothing but a token gesture to precede something else. If so, he was incredibly happy to know Merlin was foiling those plans even if he was nothing but a mudblood.

 

Narcissa had been warned by her son as to the state of the prospective buyer, but the torn, dirty muggle clothes and messy hair were still a bit of a shock. He'd looked like much less of a vagabond when she'd met him in Diagon Alley. If he absolutely had to trapeze about the woods surely, he could've at least done a quick cleaning charm before entering civilized company?

 

He was, however, looking about as impressed with the ministry idiot as she and Draco had been.

 

“It is rather late, you know,” Eugine Whitman tried again. “And perhaps you would like to take some time to reconsider the offer. It will, after all, still be available tomorrow and a young man like you might want to think about his options, talk it over with your parents, perhaps-”

 

“My parents have been dead for a while now, Mister Whitman,” Merlin finally snapped. “So if you'll stop patronizing me and assuming that, just because I look young, I'm a naive fool.” He paused and narrowed his eyes speculatively. “One would almost think from your attitude that you didn't want me to buy the manor.”

 

Whitman stepped back as if he'd been slapped and Narcissa secretly applauded Merlin. Perhaps there was more to this young man than met the eye. The annoyance disappeared from his face when he spied her and was replaced by a friendly grin.

 

“Lady Malfoy,” he greeted her with a slight bow that honestly surprised her. “We meet again, it seems, though I wish it could've been under better circumstances.”

 

“Mister Kingsman, I must say I hardly expected to see you again,” she replied with a slight smile. “And certainly not under these circumstances.”

 

Merlin looked down at himself and his expression turned sheepish.

 

“Look a right mess, don't I?” he said. “Never quite managed to learn how to dress to impress. Of course I wasn't exactly expecting to buy a manor house when I got up this morning either. Funny where fate takes us, isn't it?”

 

Narcissa raised an eyebrow at him. “Indeed,” was all she said.

 

“Well, if you'll just excuse me for a moment, I need to contact my attorney to let him know to meet us at Gringotts,” Merlin said. “I'll meet you there in ten, if you want to go ahead.”

 

“Y-yes, that will be fine,” Whitman answered. “I, um, I need to stop by the ministry in order to collect the deed of sale.”

 

Merlin nodded and then turned and walked off the property. As soon as he disappeared behind the stone gateway, Whitman turned to her and Draco with a nasty smirk.

 

“Well, it seems all your pureblood heritage will soon be in the hands of a lowly muggleborn,” he said.

 

Beside her, she felt Draco stiffen and she could almost hear him grinding his teeth in frustration. She placed a steadying hand on his arm and held her chin up.

 

“Shouldn't we be heading to the ministry, Mister Whitman?” she asked icily.

 

He sneered at her, but quickly turned to lead the way to the apparition point by the main gate.

 


 

 

Merlin Kingsman was already waiting for them in front of the bank by the time they arrived. He'd evidently taken the time to apparate home as well. He was still wearing muggle clothes, but they were at least cleaner and the dried leaves were gone from his hair. Narcissa looked at the time and wondered whether the goblins would even still serve them. She had a feeling Whitman assumed they wouldn't by the slightly self-satisfied look on his face.

 

It had taken them nearly half an hour at the ministry and Narcissa couldn't help but wonder if that was on purpose. Draco had confided his suspicions to her and, having paid careful attention to Whitman's interactions at the ministry, she couldn't help but agree with him. The ministry hadn't actually expected anyone to want to buy the property where the Dark Lord had taken residence and thus already had their own plans for it.

 

In which case, she was rather happy for Merlin to step in and ruin them. She only wondered why she'd never heard of him before.

 

“I do apologize for our delay,” Whitman began immediately after arriving. “I fear it may be too late to-”

 

Merlin merely waved him off before turning to enter the bank. They followed. Inside, the bank was fairly quiet. Most of the goblins were already closing off their lanes and there were only three wizards in the que and one of them appeared to be waiting for someone to return. A goblin greeted them as they entered.

 

“If you wish to make a withdrawal, you'll have to come back tomorrow,” it said in the usual gruff goblin manner. “We are closing soon.”

 

“Oh,” said Merlin, before looking at some sort of muggle contraption strapped to his wrist. “Damn, sorry, I've gotten so used to muggle hours, I didn't realize you still close so early. Sorry, we've still got a few minutes, though, right?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Then would it be possible for you to please just confirm that my account is good for this sale?”

 

Merlin turned to Whitman and held out his hand. Whitman almost seemed reluctant to hand the scroll over, but he did and Merlin then gave it to the goblin. The goblin unrolled it, eyebrows raising slightly when it realized what it was and then skimmed down to the amount of the purchase. It then looked up at Merlin over and held out a hand.

 

“Your key then, please.”

 

Merlin blinked. “Oh, right.”

 

He dug into his jacket pocket and pulled out an unusually elaborate-looking key. Though the gold had blackened with time, Narcissa could still see the slight embellishments in the metal and the top was made of two pieces that came together and curled inward in a sort of heart shape with a small red stone set at the point of their joining.

 

The goblin's eyes widened and it took the key almost reverently, before looking up to Merlin and giving him a slight bow.

 

“I shall return shortly,” it said.

 

“Thank you,” Merlin answered with a wide smile.

 

Nearly ten minutes passed in silence, during which time the last of the goblin's other customers had been ushered out. They all glanced at them curiously as they passed, but Narcissa held her head high and ignored them. Merlin, meanwhile, was examining the paintings on the walls.

 

Then the goblin returned with a second one in tow. Narcissa immediately recognized the elaborate gold trim on the second goblin's jacket and her eyes widened. It was the bank manager himself. Merlin looked up when they approached and grinned. Then gobsmacked them all by greeting the bank manager by name and launching into a discussion with him in what sounded like perfectly fluent Goblin.

 

The bank manager didn't seem at all surprised by this, which meant he obviously knew Merlin. At first, their conversation seemed mere polite talk and Narcissa could imagine Merlin asking about the manager's wife and children (though why he would care was beyond her) and how business was going. The goblin seemed happy to answer his questions and, in turn, posed a few of his own. Then it seemed the conversation took a turn and Merlin shook his head, while the manager was clearly attempting to persuade him of something.

 

Narcissa glanced beside her and only barely suppressed a smirk at the sweat that had begun to appear on Whitman's brow, although there seemed to be a sliver of hope shining in the corner of his eyes.

 

“No, I insist, Mister Kingsman,” the bank manager finally snapped out in English. “You may use one of our conference rooms. You are not a man to linger once you've made a decision, nor are you going to suddenly change your mind, so there is no point in waiting.”

 

Merlin threw his hands out in defeat.

 

“Alright, fine,” he exclaimed. “Then thank you very much, Crishtook and, if you don't mind, would you please be so kind as to let my attorney in. I believe he's waiting outside the doors for me.”

 

The bank manager bowed and motioned to one of the other goblins, who had gathered around in the meantime to watch the exchange.

 

Said goblin scurried off to open the door and let in a slim figure wearing a deep burgundy cloak, hood drawn over to cover their head despite the lack of any sort of precipitation in the air. As soon as the figure entered, it pushed the hood back to reveal a pale-skinned man with dark blonde hair and a monocle. He looked to be somewhere in his mid-thirties, though it was difficult to tell as he had incredibly smooth skin, yet bore evidence of laugh lines around his eyes.

 

“Good evening,” he said in smooth, cultured voice. “I received your message. You certainly enjoying keeping me on my toes, Merlin. Since when have you been interested in acquiring more property?”

 

“Since this afternoon when I found myself standing on it,” Merlin answered with a grin. He turned to the rest of them and gestured towards the man. “This is my attorney, Barnaby Willows.”

 

The man bowed respectfully at the introduction and then seemed to glide over to Merlin's side.

 

“Well, let's see what you've gotten yourself into this time, shall we?” he said, holding his hand out for the scroll, which the goblin holding it handed to him directly. He unravelled it and rolled his eyes. “Whatever happened to your desire for keeping a low profile? One would almost think you were preparing for something.”

 

“Hm, perhaps.”

 

The man, already a rather still and composed person, froze for several seconds. He raised his eyes up from the scroll to look at Merlin with eyes that were suddenly greener and more piercing than they'd appeared on first glance.

 

“I suppose it would be a good idea for me to close up a few of my outstanding cases then?”

 

“Might be a good idea, yes.”

 

“I see. I'll take that into consideration then.”

 

He returned his eyes to the scroll. Narcissa and Draco exchanged looks, wondering what that exchange had meant.

 

“I will take you to the conference room now,” the bank manager declared and then turned and walked away, leaving them to follow behind him.

 

Out of the corner of her eye, Narcissa saw Merlin place a hand on his attorney's wrist. When the man looked up at him, their eyes met and for a while neither one of them spoke. Finally, Willows shrugged and looked back down at the scroll.

 

“I don't see why not,” she heard him say quietly.

 

Merlin nodded and let go of his wrist, before smiling at Narcissa and following the bank manager. When they entered the conference room, there was a tea setting waiting for them. Amongst the tea cups was a single crystal glass filled with red wine. The bank manager had to know Merlin well indeed, thought Narcissa, if he knew his wine tastes that well.

 

To her surprise, Merlin wasn't the one, who picked up the glass. Barnaby Willows looked away from his reading as he was sitting down and smiled approvingly before reaching for the glass. As he drank, Narcissa realized the liquid was too thick to be wine and coated the side of the glass too thoroughly when he placed it back down. There was a ring of red around his pupils now.

 

Narcissa gasped. “You're a vampire!” She grabbed Draco's hand and squeezed tightly, her heart suddenly beating at twice its usual speed.

 

Willows glanced up. “Indeed I am,” he said with an amused smile and a flash of fang.

 

Whitman yelped and dropped the spoon he was using to heap sugar into his tea cup, splashing tea over himself. He glared at Merlin.

 

“You employ a v-vampire as your attorney,” he said, eyes wide and voice suddenly an octave higher.

 

Merlin merely shrugged.

 

“He's fully licensed,” he said. “And at least he'd honest about the blood-sucking part.”

 

The vampire snorted.

 

“Speaking of which,” he said, rolling the scroll back up and placing it onto the table. “Is the ministry planning on having a lawyer present for this as well?”

 

“Ah, well, no, there weren't any plans of such, no...” Whitman said. He took out a handkerchief and dabbed his face with it. “Our legal office has, of course, gone over the document before and everything should be there in order, unless you want to contest anything...”

 

Willows looked at Merlin, who shrugged.

 

“Not particularly...”

 

Merlin met Narcissa's eyes and smiled.

 

“Lady Malfoy,” he said. “Before we actually sign anything, I was wondering if I might talk to you in private first. I have an additional proposition for you, if you're interested.”

 

Narcissa blinked, surprised. A proposition? Well, she could hardly deny she wasn't curious about whatever this young man had planned.

 

“Very well,” she said and let go of Draco's hand in order to stand up.

 

“Mother?” Draco said, looking up at her anxiously.

 

“Don't worry, child, I'm not going to eat her,” Willows said. “I'm much more interested in plundering chequebooks than arteries these days.”

 

Merlin snorted. “You're very good at that, too.”

 

The vampire smiled proudly. “Of course I am. I have over one hundred years of experience.”

 

Narcissa looked down at her son and smiled.

 

“Don't worry, Draco, I'll be fine.”

 

“You may use the office across the hall,” said the goblin bank manager.

 

Merlin thanked him and the three of them walked across the hall. Merlin closed the door behind Narcissa and then pulled up a chair around the back of the desk, so that he and his attorney were sitting across from her.

 

“Barnaby?” Merlin asked.

 

“Hm?” The vampire was looking through the bunch of quills sitting in a stand on the right-hand side of the desk – apparently he was rather particular about the quills he used. “Oh, you're right, of course, the ministry clearly had no intention of actually selling the property. That deed of sale is the most ridiculously straightforward legal document I've ever read. It's clearly been put together only for the sake of being able to say they have one prepared. That idiot across the hall had evidently been expecting you to back out at the last moment.”

 

He finally selected a quill and then reached for a blank sheet of parchment paper.

 

“Now, while I cringe at the ludicrously vague term of 'personal possessions' and, under normal circumstances, would demand to have that reworded and clarified, I do believe that time is of the essence here. If we give Eugine Whitman the opportunity to confer with his superiors they will no doubt come up with some reason as to why the sale can't happen or at least attempt to stall indefinitely. Which won't benefit either one of you. Furthermore, since you... well, actually this is your idea, so I'll let you do the explaining.”

 

Having said his part – and, in the process confirming what Narcissa had already suspected – Willows sat back and looked to Merlin. Merlin nodded to him and leaned forward across the table, towards Narcissa.

 

“Lady Malfoy, I realize what I'm about to propose is a bit, er, unusual, but after I've bought the manor grounds, I would like you and your son to continue living there.”

 

Narcissa didn't think she could've been more shocked had he suddenly announced he was the Dark Lord's biological son. Which, come to think of it, would explain a few things, so perhaps she wouldn't discount that theory just yet.

 

“What do you mean?” she finally managed to ask.

 

Merlin grinned at her.

 

“Although this is all happening very suddenly, I actually do have a reason for purchasing the property, but I don't suppose I'll be needing it indefinitely, nor will I have anyone to bequeath it to after my death. The only person I have, to whom I would leave anything of such value to, wouldn't want the Malfoy Manor for several reasons. More importantly though, the land knows you. The Malfoy family has lived on that land for so long, your blood is a part of it and it recognizes you. For you to suddenly leave like the ministry wants you to, would weaken the land and I don't want that, especially not now.”

 

He paused, waiting for her to digest the information. She looked at him sceptically.

 

“You're a bit young to be planning on not having children to pass property onto,” she said. At least, he didn't look old, although the way he spoke... If Draco hadn't seen him walking around the manor grounds in broad daylight, she might've wondered if he were a vampire like his lawyer.

 

“I have other property elsewhere,” he said with a shrug. “It's just that none of it's suitable for what I'm going to need just now. And, as I told Draco, the grounds are beautiful and extensive and I'm absolute pants at managing things like that. My small house in London is about as big as I've ever managed to keep organized and well-maintained. You, on the other hand, have had years to learn the household and run it efficiently.”

 

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair.

 

“So, that's my proposal, I suppose. Remain living at the manor and manage the household for me and, in return, I will leave Draco as its heir.”

 

Narcissa could scarce believe her ears. Was this man real or had she accidentally fallen asleep reading? She clamped down on the happiness attempting to worm its way into her expression.

 

“What about Draco now?” she asked.

 

Merlin seemed to think about it. “I was hoping he'd be willing to act as a secretary and companion to me. I mean, obviously, I don't expect you to agree on his behalf without speaking to him first, but I did want you to hear it first without any prying ears about.” He gestured to the vampire, who was busy writing something out onto the scroll. “Barnaby will, of course, write up a legal document for the whole arrangement, which you are welcome to peruse before you sign anything.”

 

Narcissa nodded.

 

“Very well, I would like to talk this over with my son.”

 

Merlin nodded and stood.

 

When they entered the conference room, Willows retook his seat and continued writing – Narcissa could only assume he was writing out the agreement between her and Merlin. Narcissa's hands were shaking when she sat down next to Draco.

 

“Mother?” her son asked immediately. “What's going on?”

 

She looked up at him, embarrassed at the tears she could feel gathering in her eyes. She smiled at him. By the door Merlin was talking to the bank manager quietly. They left a few moments later. Behind her, Eugine Whitman was wheezing steadily. If the ministry truly hadn't intended to sell the property, then he was likely to be in quite a lot of trouble tomorrow.

 

She told her son about Merlin's proposal. Draco's eyes widened as he listened, silently. When she finished, he frowned, looking away as he considered it. Obviously, like any proper Slytherin, he was no doubt analyzing every aspect of the proposal and trying to figure out whether there were any insurmountable problems in it.

 

Someone cleared their throat beside them. Narcissa started and looked beside her to where Willows had somehow managed to silently appear. He held out the scroll he'd been working on out to her.

 

“Here's the written agreement, if you'd like to read it over,” he said.

 

Draco took it from him and began to read. Narcissa nodded to the vampire in thanks and he retreated back to his crystal goblet of blood. Narcissa reached over and poured herself some tea. Whitman looked about ready to have an instant coronary. It made her smile.

 

When Merlin finally returned, Draco placed the scroll in front of him and took a deep breath.

 

“Very well,” he said. “I agree to the terms of this contract.”

 

Merlin smiled widely.

 

“Excellent!” he said. “Then we really shouldn't keep Crishtook any longer than we have to, since he's already been so generous.”

 

“It has been no problem, Mister Kingsman,” the bank manager assured him.

 

Nevertheless, they did get down to business immediately. Narcissa and Merlin both signed the Deed of Sale and then Narcissa, Draco and Merlin all signed their separate agreement, which Willows had entitled simply 'Malfoy Manor Inheritence Contract'. Both documents were witnessed by Eugine G. Whitman, Barnaby Willows and Goblin Crishtook. They were also sealed with magic, for which Merlin finally managed to produce a wand. Legal documents signed, Merlin then signed off on the bank transfer, instructing Gringotts to transfer the sale amount directly into the Ministry of Magic's vault, except for the ten percent, which was to go to the Malfoy Family vault.

 

By the time they were done, it was nearly midnight.

 

Crishtook let them out of the front of the bank, where Whitman disaparated away with barely a mumbled goodnight. Narcissa and Draco nodded to Merlin and then did the same. In the end, Merlin and the vampire attorney were left standing on their own.

 

“Well, thank you for coming on such short notice,” said Merlin, turning to Barnaby.

 

Barnaby smiled. “I would only do it for you, in case you were wondering.”

 

Merlin laughed. “Well then I'm all the more grateful. It was good to see you again, my friend.”

 

“You as well. Good luck, Emrys.”

 

“Thank you. To you as well.”

 

Barnaby nodded, before disappearing into the shadows of Diagon Alley.

 

There was a flash of gold and in a whirl of wind, Merlin was also gone.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

 

It was just after one o'clock in the morning when the CCTV cameras outside Buckingham palace caught several unusual events.

 

At first it only looked as though a very strong wind was blowing against the camera, making it shake, until it became rather obvious it wasn't the camera shaking at all, but the ground itself. Next, water began to bubble up from the ground, somehow finding its way through non-exsitent cracks in the paved road until a rather large puddle formed in an otherwise flat space.

 

The shaking increased and then, suddenly the road slid aside as something gleaming and long rose from the ground. It was the pommel of a sword and was followed by a hilt and then then blade. As the blade continued to rise from the ground, the gently bubbling water suddenly surged, the ground giving way to a boulder that would've come to just above a man's knee.

 

Once the boulder and the sword embedded inside it were out, the ground stopped trembling and the water slowly receded back into the pavement. And, though the CCTV couldn't pick up their cheerful rhythm, the crickets resumed their chirping.

 


 

 

There was a spring in Merlin's step as he bounded up to the hospital carrying a bright green reusable bag featuring round grinning pandas on its sides.

 

Camelot may have been several hundred lifetimes ago, but a servant's instincts of navigating crowded corridors without mishap served him faithfully inside the building. It was how he narrowly avoided running into two black-suited men walking out of neurology. He paused afterwards and looked back, wondering if one of them was the same one he'd seen a few days ago. He couldn't remember.

 

He ran into Elena at the bottom of the stairwell.

“Hello, Merlin!” She greeted him with wide grin, though Merlin couldn't help but notice the bags underneath her eyes before she threw her arms around him. “How are you?”

 

“I'm good, how are you, Elena?” Merlin said with a laugh.

 

Elena stepped backwards and sighed.

 

“Tired, mostly. And stressed. Typical life of a Phd student really. I've taken over Doctor Kingsman's classes for this week on top of working on a paper I'm submitting to a journal and I've got two conferences to apply for. And let's not even start on my actual thesis!”

 

Merlin laughed. He reached into his bright green panda bag and pulled out a small mesh bag.

 

“Well, good luck with all that; I'm sure you'll manage somehow. Here's some sugar to help you get through it. And thanks for covering for Archie while he's out.”

 

Elena took the mesh bag and peered inside.

 

“Oooh, pocky! Did you bring this from Japan?” At Merlin's nod, she grinned even wider. “Brilliant! There is never enough sugar in a Phd student's life. And covering for Doctor Kingsman's no problem. His lesson plans are easy enough to follow.”

 

Suddenly, something occurred to Merlin.

 

“Elena, do you know if there's a celebrity of some sort in neurology right now? I keep seeing bodyguards when I walk by.”

 

“Celebrity? Oh! That'd be the Minister's son. You know the one that was in that car accident in London. He still hasn't recovered from his coma and they've no idea why. There's a doctor on staff here that's apparently a family friend of some sort, so they brought him here.”

 

“Ah. Figured you'd know.”

 

Elena grinned. “Of course. Anyway, I'd best go get ready to force knowledge into young impressionable minds. See you later!”

 

“Bye, Elena!”

 

A nurse was just finishing up taking Archie's vitals when Merlin walked into the room. She smiled at him warmly as she left. This time the bed across from Archie was empty, but a middle-aged woman was sleeping soundly in the one next to him, a plethora of tubes coming out of her arms and a breathing tube in her nose.

 

Archie looked irritated, but smiled when he saw Merlin.

 

“Hello,” Merlin greeted with as bright a smile as he could manage – Arthur had called it his idiot grin. “How're you feeling?”

 

“Better, now that I've finally been told I'll be able to leave in a few days.”

 

“Oh, that's excellent news! I'll come pick you up.” Merlin reached into his bright green panda bag and took out a mesh bag three times the size of the one he'd given Elena. “In the meantime, I brought you this.”

 

Archie took the bag and examined it with a barely veiled look of disgust.

 

“You do realize I'm hardly fifteen anymore, correct?”

 

“You're never too old to have candy while in the hospital. Besides, most of the other souvenirs I brought you are much too delicate or breakable.”

 

Merlin didn't miss the excitement in Archie's eyes despite the man's exaggerated eyeroll.

 

“You and your souvenirs. You should've seen the look on Paul's face when that vase you sent arrived from China.”

 

Merlin frowned.

 

“Ah, yes, Paul,” he said. Archie winced, as though suddenly realizing what he'd said. “Whatever did happen to Paul? You were rather vague about the whole break-up, which is entirely unlike you.”

 

“There was nothing much to say,” Archie tried to shrug nonchalantly.

 

Merlin felt his blood freeze and then begin to boil. “Did he hurt you?”

 

Whatever the look on Merlin's face, it made Archie's eyes widen with alarm.

 

“No! Gods no, Merlin! It was nothing like that!” He ran a hand over his face. “He was a jealous bastard, but not an abusive one.” He looked away with a sigh and then continued quietly. “He was jealous of you.”

 

Merlin blinked in surprise. “Of me? Why would he be jealous of me?”

 

Archie turned piercing blue eyes at him.

 

“Because as much as you think of me as a son and I think of you as a father-figure, you don't actually look like my father anymore. And you're not entirely unattractive either.”

 

The world froze around Merlin. He hadn't thought. Why hadn't he thought? He'd had to do it more than once with his children in the past: fake his own death or leave the country and keep in touch only through correspondence so that they and their spouses and friends wouldn't notice him not ageing normally. He'd always wanted them to have normal, happy lives. It had torn at his heart every single time, but he'd let them go when it came time to.

 

But this was Archie. His Archimedes, who knew about magic, knew who he was, what he'd done, what he could do... And he was ruining his life, his relationships, because Archie had no proper way of explaining him away to others...

 

“Merlin!”

 

Merlin started at the exclamation of his name and the hand that grabbed his arm. His eyes shot back to Archie's. Archie was glaring at him, leaning over in a way that had to be jarring his leg and holding tightly onto his arm.

 

“You really shouldn't be twisting your leg like that,” Merlin said absently.

 

“Damn the blasted leg!” Archie snapped. “I don't particularly care at the moment if it leaves me crippled! Whatever the hell you were just thinking: stop it this instant!”

 

The woman on the bed next to Archie's groaned. Merlin stilled, his eyes snapping to her. He flicked his hand in a circular motion as he cast the spell to prevent others from hearing them.

 

Stilness útanweardes.” Then he turned to Archie. “Archie, I'm so-”

 

“I said stop.” Archie was still glaring at him, though he now let go of Merlin's arm to lean back and alleviate the pressure on his leg with a wince. “I told Paul I'd been adopted into your family, that we were family. He chose to be irrationally jealous of a person he knew was my only living family, who, I might add, was half-way across the world in bloody Asia! I have no patience for a man like that and certainly no desire to be with someone who trusts me so little. So whatever doomsday scenarios you've begun to concoct, drop them right now!”

 

Now it was Merlin's turn to wince. “Sorry,” he said quietly even as warmth finally began to flood back into his veins. “I wasn't thinking-”

 

“Oh you were... and that's the problem. If you don't want to be selfish, then I will!” Archie's eyes were stormy and Merlin let that storm wash over him, lightening and all. “Anyone who can't understand our relationship isn't worth my time, because I'm not letting you go. I know that to describe our relationship as father and son is over-simplifying it, but you are the closest thing I'll acknowledge as a father and-” He looked down at his hands, averting his eyes as the storm there became overwhelmed by a different emotion entirely. “-and, well, most children don't get to live with the certainty that their mentors and parents will always be there for them.”

 

Merlin sucked in a breath. And then he was out of his chair and putting his arms around Archie even as tears began to burn in his eyes. Archie's unbandaged arm came around him and held onto him tightly.

 

“Though it would be nice if you occasionally remembered I'm not a child anymore and thus do not need to be plied with candy.”

 

Merlin chuckled and then pulled away slowly.

 

“Well, I couldn't exactly get you a sushi platter packed up to go,” said Merlin, reaching into his bright green bag again. He held out a plastic container. “So you'll have to make do with take-away from that place by the university.”

 

Archie's eyes lit up. “Oh that'll do just fine, thank you!”

 

Merlin took out his own container and a few moments passed in comfortable silence as they each opened up their lunches and broke apart the chopsticks that came with them. Archie eventually broke the silence.

 

“So, what did you end up getting up to yesterday?” he asked.

 

Merlin shrugged. “I bought the Malfoy Manor.”

 

Archie froze, his mouth open and about to bite into a piece of sushi. Calmly, he blinked, pulled the sushi away from his mouth, closed his mouth and looked at Merlin politely.

 

“I'm sorry, could you repeat that please, I could've sworn you'd just said you bought a very large, very old wizarding residence which most likely cost a not-inconsiderable fortune.”

 

Merlin grinned. “I did. The Ministry of Magic has decided to solve some of its post-war problems by forcing pureblood families convicted of Death Eater activities to sell their properties, with the majority of the profit going directly to the ministry in order to help pay for restoration efforts. I happened to wander onto the grounds when some complete berk was showing the Malfoy Manor and decided it would be perfect. I called Barnaby, he met me at Gringotts and we signed the paperwork.”

 

“I see. Got tired of your quaint little house in London?”

 

“Oh no, I still love the house, but it's not big enough to house a contingent of knights.”

 

Archie's eyes snapped up. “So, you're sure now? I-it's really happening? The Once and Future King will be reborn?”

 

Merlin sighed and looked out the window.

 

“There's a shadow of darkness in the land and the fae seem to think something's going on even if they're not entirely sure what. I'm not sure if I can explain it... but when I was standing on the Malfoy grounds, I just knew it felt right. Seeing isn't really one of my talents, but before Arthur became king, I remember how sometimes, he would say or do something and I'd feel almost overwhelmed by this image of him wearing a crown and emanating, well... greatness. It wasn't anything I could ever explain properly, but when I stood on the Malfoy grounds I felt something similar. Only it wasn't Arthur I saw, but the knights training on the grounds and there was a great Pendragon banner flying from one of the manor's towers.”

 

Archie was staring at him in wide-eyed wonder. Slowly, excitement began to creep into his eyes.

 

“So this means I might get to see the Round Table assembled in my lifetime?” he whispered.

 

Merlin looked back to him and grinned.

 

“But you've already seen the real Round Table,” he said cheekily.

 

“Yes, and while I'll admit that was incredibly exciting, it's not quite the same thing when there's no one sitting at it.”

 

Suddenly, the phone in Merlin's pocket vibrated. The great warlock yelped and took it out.

 

“You know, you're supposed to turn that off before you enter a hospital,” said Archie with a disapproving frown.

 

“Oops, forgot about that,” said Merlin. “It's from Elena.”

 

He opened the text message, which was a link for the London Times. Merlin frowned and tapped on the link.

 

“Merlin?” Archie asked after Merlin had stood frozen, eyes wide as he stared at the image the link opened up.

 

He turned his phone around and handed it to Archie.

 

“Well, I'd say this is definitely a sign worth paying attention to.”

 

Archie gasped.

 

“Bloody hell. And this would, of course, happen when I'm in hospital with a flaming leg injury.”

 

Merlin laughed.

 

“Don't worry, I'll help it along once you're out of here.”

 

“I was counting on it. So when exactly are you moving into this new wizarding residence of yours?”

 

Merlin grinned and thus they passed the afternoon.

 


 

 

It hadn't taken Merlin very long to pack for his move into the Malfoy Manor. He wasn't, after all, giving up his house in London and therefore most of his possessions were remaining there. However, his small collection of wizarding robes, some of his magic books and other magical items were coming with him – not all by any means, but the things he thought he might need.

 

Not that everything he was taking was magical in nature. He fully intended to get an internet connection to work even within the magical protective barrier.

 

Assuming he ever made it into said protective barrier.

 

Merlin frowned at the crowd of aurors, reporters and curious by-standers gathered in front of the manor's wrought iron gates. Apparently word had already gotten around about the new owner. He really should've known better than to expect it all to go quietly unnoticed. But media attention was the last thing he needed or wanted. He was quite happy being the enigmatic fairly well-off man around the corner, thank you very much.

 

As soon as he'd seen them, Merlin had slunk back into the shadows of the forest surrounding the manor. One narrow road led through the forest and turned onto a wide, straight driveway. It was really the only logical way to get into the manor.

 

Merlin placed the front of the large trunk he was wheeling behind him onto the ground and held his hand out towards it.

 

Bebiede þe arisan cwicum,” he chanted.

 

Almost immediately, the trunk sprouted dozens of little legs and lifted itself off the ground. Merlin grinned. He remembered the first time he'd manipulated the spell to do that when Archie had been thirteen and home sick with a particularly nasty bout of the flu.

 

“Well come on then,” Merlin told the newly re-animated trunk. “Let's see if we can't find another way in.”

 

He walked until he felt himself far enough away from the wizards at the front and then he changed directions and walked towards the manor grounds. He was followed by the rustling shuffle sound of dozens of tiny feet as the trunk followed him. Eventually, he came across a tall, stone wall.

 

Tentatively, he put a hand to it and felt the wards. He was relieved to find they recognized him. The signing of the deed and sealing it with magic must've been enough for the wards to switch over. The manor itself might be a different story altogether, but Merlin would deal with that when he came to it. He had to get there first.

 

Merlin stepped away from the wall and turned to his right, facing away from the main entrance. He closed his eyes and gathered his magic into them. Then he snapped them open and suddenly he was seeing everything within a mile of himself. His enhanced eyesight peeked through the underbrush and in between trees and along every stretch of the wall. Unfortunately, he didn't see an entrance of any sort.

 

Sighing, he released the magic and turned back to the wall. Then he brought his hands up and found somewhat adequate hand holds. It took him several minutes to scale the wall and get to the top, where he stopped and turned around in order to levitate the trunk over the wall.

 

Only to gape as the trunk flew past him. It had managed to grow wings.

 

“Well aren't you clever for a giant glorified suitcase,” Merlin muttered.

 

He heard a slight shuffling and turned away from the trunk back to the wall. And met the vacant eyes of a large stone gargoyle – a giant cat with wings that made Merlin smile sadly. It stepped towards him and then sat on its haunches.

 

“Er, well, hello there,” said Merlin with a little wave. “We haven't met yet, but I'm the new owner. My name's Merlin.”

 

The gargoyle inclined its head to the side and Merlin could almost hear it saying: 'Well yes, I know that, but why are you climbing over the wall?'

 

“There's a bit of a crowd gathered at the front and I'd rather like to avoid it if at all possible.”

 

The gargoyle seemed to think about that for a moment, before rising and twisting its body to walk away again.

 

“It was nice to meet you!” Merlin called after it.

 

The gargoyle paused and twisted its neck to look back at him. It nodded at him in acknowledgement, before resuming its journey. Merlin grinned and then climbed down the other side of the wall.

 

Even as dusk was falling, the Malfoy Manor grounds were still impressive. The expansive manicured lawn that surrounded the gardens looked lush and green under the fading light. Merlin cast a slight mist around himself and his trunk to hide them from view as they made their way to the front door.

 


 

 

Draco still wasn't sure what to think of the Malfoy Manor's new owner. He was odd and eccentric and looked far too young to be either. Draco and his mother had seen the crowd of ministry officials and reporters beginning to gather just after breakfast. They'd kept an eye out on them all day, curious to see how Merlin Kingsman would deal with them.

 

Draco's father would've held his head high, sneered at them and given a quick statement to appease the press before he arrogantly intimidated them all out of his way. The wizarding world's hero, Harry Potter, would've blushed, stammered and eventually let himself be dragged through the crowd by a determined Granger.

 

Merlin Kingsman? He avoided them entirely by opting to climb over the stone wall surrounding the open areas of the manor grounds and sneaking in where they weren't looking.

 

Draco wasn't sure whether to be impressed, amused or exasperated.

 

He'd been all too happy to let his mother give Kingsman the tour of the main house, while he sat back and waited for her to come back and tell him where they were being shuffled off to. However, once again, the man managed to surprise them. He didn't want the master bedroom or any of the rooms in the main wing of the house. No, he was quite happy to move himself into the largely unused West Wing of the manor and its smaller guest quarters.

 

On the whole, he was being far more generous than he needed to be and it was irritating Draco to no end. However, the arrangement made his mother happy and he was willing to do whatever it took to make his mother happy. Even if his own part in it left him with a sour taste in his mouth and cold lead in his stomach.

 

Which was why he was now standing in front of Merlin Kingsman's new rooms at the top of the west tower (why in Mer- God's name did he have to choose the remotest rooms possible?!). Draco took a deep breath and knocked.

 

The door sprang open.

 

“Come in!” he heard from inside.

 

Draco swallowed nervously, but held his head high and thrust his chin out as he entered the room. His arrogant swagger went entirely unnoticed as Merlin hadn't bothered to look up at him. Instead he stood in front of his the solid oak wardrobe examining a set of robes in the most obscenely bright shade of purple Draco had ever laid eyes on. He couldn't help but feel thankful there were some rather glaring moth holes in the garments.

 

“The fireplace is over there,” Draco said out loud, pointing to it.

 

Now Merlin looked to him and blinked. “Yeah, they are a bit of a lost cause, aren't they?” he said with a sigh.

 

“If only that colour had been lost.”

 

“Oi, I'll have you know this colour was at the height of fashion when I bought these!”

 

Draco gaped at the man as he pouted.

 

“When exactly was that?!”

 

Merlin looked thoughtful. “You know, I'm not entirely sure.”

 

Draco stared at him. Then he brought his hand up again to point.

 

“Fireplace,” he said.

 

Merlin sighed. “Oh all right,” he said before he - with seemingly great reluctance - tossed the robes into the roaring fire. “Told you there was a reason I was wearing muggle clothes in Diagon Alley.”

 

“One would think that someone with the money necessary to buy a manor on a whim could afford clothes suitable to said manor.” Then he got a glimpse of the brown set of robes Merlin pulled out of his trunk next. “On second thoughts, perhaps it's best you didn't even try on your own. You obviously have the fashion sense of a blind hippogryff. Diagon Alley might not be the best place to purchase good quality clothing, but I'm sure we can find something that doesn't look too atrocious. I will not be seen with someone who looks like some vagabond off the streets.”

 

Merlin raised his eyebrows in amusement.

 

“You mean like a muggle,” he said. Then he looked back at the clothing still in his trunk and shrugged. “Fine, I suppose I already knew my wizarding wardrobe needed updating.”

 

Then he looked at Draco and smiled a sly, gleeful little smile. “You do realize, though, that as revenge I will take you shopping for muggle clothes.”

 

Draco froze, his smile disappearing from his face. “What in Merlin's name would I need muggle clothes for?!”

 

“Well you can hardly wear wizarding robes when you accompany me into non-magical London.”

 

That last sentence was accompanied with such a wide, cheeky smile that Draco could've almost taken it to be a joke had the wizard before him proven himself to be any less unpredictable. At least, he supposed, no one in the muggle world would know him and thus there would be no way for rumours to spread to his mother. He was doing this for her happiness, he reminded himself.

 

“So, you have a place to go to in London?” he asked tentatively, casually placing his hands behind his back and clenching his fists to hide their shaking.

 

“Hm? Oh, yes, I have a small house in London.”

 

Draco swallowed. That at least sounded comfortable. As Merlin lifted several books out of his trunk (and, why exactly was he doing it by hand - did he not realize he could do magic?), Draco took the opportunity to scrutinize him. He was just a smidgen taller than Draco and possibly a few years older. Draco also decided to take some comfort in that he wasn't entirely without social graces and not completely unattractive.

 

It was but a small comfort. Merlin, it seemed, was also apparently not going to bring up the topic Draco wished to discuss with him by his own initiative. Ordinarily, Draco would've been happy to avoid the topic at all costs, to not address it at all, but he was tired of waiting for things to drop, tired of not knowing where he stood. So, he gathered what breaths of courage he could find and steeled himself.

 

“What do you plan on telling my mother?” he asked.

 

Merlin frowned and looked up. “What do you mean?”

 

“About the arrangement... about my role in it.“

 

“Er, she already knows all about it. I mean, I'm assuming she told you everything I told her...”

 

Draco fought to keep his eyes from widening, to keep any reactions off his face. His mother knew?! He was certain she hadn't understood the implications of what she was agreeing to, or rather presenting to him to agree to. Or perhaps she'd known him well enough to realize that regardless the price, Draco would want the opportunity to regain the Malfoy Manor for the family. Or perhaps Kingsman only assumed his mother understood...

 

“Draco?”

 

Draco's eyes snapped up, cursing himself. He hadn't realized he'd looked down. Merlin was looking worried and perhaps a bit nervous.

 

“I realize my explanation was a bit vague and I'm sorry if there's been any confusion-”

 

“No, there's been no confusion,” Draco snapped. “I understood everything perfectly. The words used in our agreement were clean and completely innocent, though their meaning couldn't have been clearer. I was simply hoping my mother was spared knowing the actual price we'd – no, sorry, I'd - be paying.”

 

Merlin was frowning again, as though confused by his anger. And somehow, that only served to make Draco angrier.

 

“Don't misunderstand me, I knew what I was agreeing to and I will not stain what little is left of the Malfoy name by going back on my word now, but don't pretend this is anything other than what it is. The deal was, no is, generous and far more than anyone else would've offered us and probably more than I deserve-”

 

He paused to take a deep breath, to calm his shaking breath and blink back the hysterical tears that were beginning to burn behind his eyes. He hadn't cried when they'd led his father out to the dementors, he wasn't going to now. His own fate was wonderful comparatively. And Kingsman wasn't old and ugly, so things weren't as bad as they could be. When he began again, his voice was quieter.

 

“I have agreed to be your companion and I will do it faithfully, but I want to know exactly how you're proposing this is supposed to work if you're all the way here in this tower. I- it'll be difficult to remain discreet and I would rather my mother not know about me leaving here at all hours of the night. I would like to keep her out of this as much as possible. Obviously, there are secret passageways and if you order them the house elves will keep quiet...”

 

Draco faltered as he noticed the look of dawning comprehension and horror blossom on Merlin's face. And Draco suddenly wondered if, perhaps, he'd been the one, who'd misunderstood.

 

“Draco,” Merlin finally whispered, though in the sudden silence of the room it easily carried. “You thought I meant... that I would... that I wanted a bedwarmer?”

 

He dropped the robes he'd been holding and walked over to Draco, hands reaching out, but hovering as though he was afraid to scare him away. In that moment, Draco wasn't sure whether he wanted Merlin to touch him or stay far away from him. He looked away, feeling his face burning.

 

“Draco, I'm sorry.” Draco's face shot up to meet Merlin's moist eyes. “I've been called an idiot at times and I suppose this is why. It never occurred to me that my words could be interpreted that way. I'm sorry it caused you such distress.” He smiled sadly. “I have done quite a lot that I'm not proud of, things I have at times hated myself for doing, but to force someone into my bed, that's something I'd never stoop to.”

 

Relief left Draco feeling shakier than he had before. He barely noticed when Merlin finally touched him and carefully guided him to a chair. Suddenly, there was a steaming cup of tea being handed to him. It was a peculiar flavour with a hint of mint. After his second sip, Draco decided he liked it.

 

Finally, he looked up at Merlin again. “So, what exactly did you need me for?” Draco asked.

 

“You meant other than superior fashion advice?”

 

Draco snorted. “Yes, other than that.”

 

“Well, part of it is definitely to do with helping me navigate the wizarding world again. It's been... a while... since I had anything much to do with it other than the occasional walk through Diagon Alley or rue de cygne d'or.”

 

Draco raised an eyebrow. “You've been to the French wizarding district?”

 

“Oh, yes. I've actually been to most of the bigger wizarding districts in Europe and several of the American ones. I just haven't lived in any of them in a very long time.”

 

Draco frowned, wondering once again, whether Merlin was exaggerating or whether he looked much younger than he actually was. He didn't talk like someone only a few years out of school – was he using a glamour? He was about to ask him about it, when Merlin suddenly reached into his trunk and took out a bundle wrapped in red-stained leather. He unwrapped it carefully to reveal a large, hardcover tome.

 

“I do, however, have one very important job for you,” Merlin said. “Despite how random my acquiring this manor seems, there is actually a method to my madness even if it might not make any sense to you for a while.”

 

He handed Draco the tome, which Draco took and flipped open, noting with surprise that the pages were blank.

 

“Events are about to take place as the wheels of fate prepare to turn,” Merlin continued solemnly. “Important, life-altering things are going to happen and, I think, the world might come out just a little bit different in the end. I'm not sure when and I don't entirely know how, but it will be soon. And I want someone uninvolved to watch those events and write about them as they happen. I want to make sure history is written correctly.”

 

Draco's eyes widened.

 

“That, Draco, will be your job.”

 

“Do these events have something to do with that crazy bint, who attacked Potter?”

 

“Yes, I think so.”

 

There was a pause and then Draco ran a hand through his hair as he let out a heartfelt breath and whispered “Bloody hell.” Merlin wished he had something comforting to say.

 


 

 

It wasn't a large house, more of a cottage really. It sat at the bottom of a grassy hill surrounded by old gnarled trees of an encroaching forest. Though not far from the glittering lights of a town, its half-broken windows and cracked front step made it seem like something forgotten by those lights of nearby civilization. Its owners certainly didn't seem to give any care to its appearance.

 

The ravens that had perched themselves atop the loose clay shingles of the roof looked up as a black robed shape sailed smoothly on a broomstick into the small clearing in front of the cottage. He limped slightly as he made his way up to the house.

 

“Mudblood scum,” he said as leaned his broomstick against the wall next to the three others already there. The front door swung open. He limped in.

 

Inside, the cottage was brighter, but no less dreary. The floor had at least been cleared of all dirt and grime, but a thick layer of dust covered the fireplace mantle and the shelves of the empty bookcase standing slightly askew at the far end of the front room. A fire crackled in the stone fireplace, casting ominous shadows, which weren't entirely covered up by the four glowing balls of light hovering just below the ceiling.

 

One wall was covered in newspaper clippings, a busy collage of moving figures under screaming headlines including Dark Mark Spotted Above Glastonbury, Panic at World Cup, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named Returns; Minister Fudge Resigns and Disappearances Number 200 According to Ministry among others. The clippings were in various stages of fraying and discolouration, except for one which stood out among them for its pristine condition. It read: 'Wizarding Hero and Friends Attacked in Diagon Alley!'.

 

In the centre of the room was a large, round, rickety-looking wooden table. The four people sitting around it looked up as the man entered.

 

“Good evening, gentlemen,” he said. “I'm sorry I'm late.”

 

As they returned his greeting, he limped over to the table and sat down.

 

“Any news from the Boy-Who-Lived?” one of them, an older gentleman with dark hair and deep wrinkles, asked.

 

“Shouldn't that be Boy-Who-Lived-Again?” a thin, reedy voice asked from beside him.

 

The older gentleman glared at his neighbour and the thin man to whom the thin, reedy voice belonged to, hunched over and away from him.

 

The man who'd just entered grimaced. “Sadly, no. Or, rather, nothing useful. It seems his recollections of the attack are hazy at best, although he maintains he had absolutely no idea why the woman attacked him.”

 

“But it definitely wasn't LeStrange?” a different man asked.

 

“Definitely not. Potter would've recognized her as would his mudblood friend. Not to mention the witnesses. And then there's the issue of the strange magic she used... I managed to catch a glimpse of one of the reports from the Department of Mysteries and it seems they're just as flummoxed by the entire affair as the children involved were.”

 

“Interesting,” said the older gentleman. “It was very impressive, whatever it was. Ingenuous use of magic and an astounding show of control.”

 

“Why thank you, it's so sweet of you to say so.”

 

The men at the table jumped instantly to their feet and pulled their wands, pointing them at the figure now standing in the cottage doorway.

 

Though much of her face was in shadows, it was clear she was a beautiful woman with pale skin and long dark wavy hair that fell to half-way down her back. She wore dark robes with silver embroidery along the hemlines and had a shawl made of what appeared to be wolf fur draped over her shoulders for warmth. She raised her arm and the men stiffened. A crow suddenly flew in to perch on it. She smirked.

 

“I do apologize for interrupting,” she purred. “But my friends told me you were here and so I simply had to stop by and say 'hello'.”

 

“You are the woman who attacked Harry Potter,” said the older gentleman.

 

She smiled. “Why yes, I am,” she said, looking rather pleased at being recognized.

 

“Who are you?” the last man to arrive asked with a frown.

 

“I am a sorcerer,” she answered. “The last priestess of the Old Religion. I am here to restore magic to its rightful place.”

 

She smirked and the men in the room felt the room darken and the air become colder.

 

“My name is Morgana. I believe legends call me Le Fay.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

 

They arrived in Diagon Alley just as the shops were opening. Merlin wasn't thrilled about having to function on as little sleep as he'd had the night before – his body still hadn't entirely acclimatized to the time difference between England and Japan – but could understand Draco's desire to interact with as few people as possible. He didn't exactly want to draw any attention to himself either. It would be best if whoever was behind the presence of the shadows in Albion was in the dark for as long as possible, which meant avoiding reporters. And bureaucrats from the Ministry of Magic.

 

Draco held his head high as he led him out of the Leaky Cauldron, ignoring the looks they were getting from the handful of people wandering about. It was a dreary morning with a light misting of rain and traces of fog, just enough to be unpleasant and keep most people in their houses for a few hours longer. Their first stop was, predictably, Madame Malkin's Robes for All Occasions.

 

Madame Malkin looked up when they entered, her eyes hardening as she spotted Draco.

 

“Mister Malfoy,” she said, her voice lacking any sort of warmth.

 

Draco ignored it.

 

“Madame Malkin, Mister Kingsman here requires several sets of robes,” he said imperiously gesturing towards Merlin, who had entered behind him. “I trust you are up to the task?”

 

The witch blinked in surprise, apparently having not noticed Merlin enter. Merlin stepped forward and smiled widely as she took in his muggle clothes.

 

“Good morning,” he greeted. “I've been away for quite some time and it seems my wardrobe, uh-”

 

“Should have been burned at the turn of the last century?” Draco suggested snidely.

 

Merlin rolled his eyes. “-requires renovation.”

 

Merlin could tell the moment Madame Malkin realized who he was when her eyes widened momentarily. Thankfully, the woman was an experienced shopkeeper and therefore kept the revelation to herself. She smiled warmly at Merlin and immediately led him to a pedestal to be measured.

 

“So you've spent some time abroad, have you?” she asked as she spelled the tape measure. “Where exactly?”

 

Merlin resisted the urge to laugh. To her credit, she was doing an admirable job of pretending she was only doing it to pass the time, instead of gathering the latest bit of juiciest gossip.

 

“I've just arrived back from several years in Japan,” he answered. “Before that I spent a few in China. Beautiful countries, both of them, but very different from England. It's certainly good to be home.”

 

“I can imagine.” She looked at him with a frown. “You must've missed the war then.”

 

Merlin was about to shrug, when he remembered the tape measure.

 

“I was already abroad when it started and most of my family are already gone, so it wasn't like I had anyone to worry about over here. Had already planned on visiting Japan after China, so I did.”

 

Merlin felt proud of himself: he'd gotten much better at subterfuge over the years. And he really hadn't had to worry about Archie while he was away. Archie's house was covered in such an array of wards and spells that Merlin wasn't sure he could break through them if he hadn't laid them down in the first place. And the amulet Archie usually wore around his neck had been made from one of Kilgharrah's scales and was powerful enough to ward off several killing curses as well as the largest fireball Merlin could conjure up (he'd tested it, so he knew that for a fact). The amulet would also alert Merlin if it deflected anything of sufficient power.

 

He may have slightly downplayed just how powerful the amulet was before giving it to Archie. He wasn't entirely certain Archie believed him, but wore it anyway, which was all Merlin cared about.

 

“So why did you decide to return?” Madame Malkin asked him.

 

“You could say I felt England calling to me.”

 

“Aah, finally felt a bit of homesickness then.”

 

“Something like that.”

 

“Still, if you don't mind my saying, Mister Kingsman, you seem a bit young to have spent the entire war abroad after finishing wizarding school.”

 

Merlin laughed.

 

“Oh, I didn't attend wizarding school.” Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Draco perk up. “I was homeschooled by my mother's brother, who had some magical knowledge. He wasn't particularly powerful, but he was a good man and a good mentor. Although, to be honest, a lot of my magic was self-taught out of books up in my room or out in the forest when he wasn't looking.”

 

The tape measure finally finished and Merlin put his hands down as it zoomed back to her.

 

“Of course, China and Japan both helped broadened my horizons, so to speak,” he continued. “Did you know they take an entirely different approach to magic in Asia?”

 

“Oh, I've heard of that! Is it really that much different?”

 

When Draco and Merlin walked out of the shop an hour later, Merlin was wearing dark brown robes with a red trim that had dragons embroidered into it in a lighter brown thread. Two more sets of robes, along with a set of dress robes and a dark red travelling cloak were being altered and then sent to the manor along with his muggle clothes sometime tomorrow.

 

“I'm rather impressed,” said Draco after they'd exited. “You managed to give her just enough to gossip about and then babble on about completely insignificant things without her realizing.”

 

“It's a talent I picked up a long time ago,” Merlin said with an impish grin. “Comes from being friends with people who don't know about my magic.”

 

“Then why didn't you just do that with the reporters yesterday?”

 

Merlin shrugged. “Didn't feel like having my name and picture plastered over the front of the Daily Prophet. It's more fun to be a little mysterious. Keeps people guessing.”

 

They slipped into Flourish and Blotts, where Draco hung back pretending to peruse the magical creatures section while Merlin picked out a selection of the newest releases of books on spellwork and charms. After giving it some thought, he also added a book about the war that looked like it could be rather informative. It would, if nothing else, give him a different viewpoint than Draco and his mother could.

 

The witch behind the counter looked at him rather oddly when he pulled out his bright green panda reusable bag and began piling the books in. Apparently, this was more than Draco could take.

 

“You do realize that you're a wizard and thus can use a spell for that,” came the drawl from behind him.

 

The witch behind counter snapped her eyes away from Merlin to Draco. Her eyes widened slightly with fear and she stepped backwards.

 

“Mixing magic is generally a bad idea,” he said as he finished and lifted the bag and its contents off the counter. “Which is why this bag is spelled to make its contents seem feather-light. Also, it's good for the environment.”

 

He grinned at Draco's annoyed look.

 

“So, was there anywhere you wanted to go?” he asked him as they were leaving the store.

 

“Not particularly,” said Draco.

 

“Hm, oh well, I'm pretty much done as well. Hang on, I don't remember seeing that before.”

 

Before Draco had a change to say anything, Merlin was already heading towards a brightly-coloured shop with 'Weasleys Wizarding Wheezes' written in even brighter, bold letters over the door. Merlin grinned when he saw one poster in the window advertising a new array of fake wands and the other an instant, invisible pool. He needed to get Archie something from here.

 

After all, it'd been nearly five years since he'd given Archie a reason to want to bludgeon him to death with the nearest book.

 

“Good morning!” he called out as he entered.

 

From somewhere in the back, he heard someone return the greeting. Merlin took in the colourful interior of the shop: its shelves looked like a fun tangle of disorder, which made his grin widen. He immediately began to peruse the shelves. So caught up in his examinations was he, that he missed the moment when George Weasley walked out of the back and spotted Draco.

 

“Malfoy,” the redhead growled. “What in Merlin's name do you think you're doing here?”

 

Draco sneered at him. “This is a shop is it not, Weasley? One does not have to be a genius to figure out what a person might be doing in a shop.”

 

George Weasley glared at him, hatred burning in his eyes. Draco glared back, a contemptuous snarl on his face.

 

That was the scene Merlin turned to, when he looked up from the packaging he was reading. He cleared his throat.

 

“Ehem, excuse me,” he called out. The redhead started, his eyes darting to Merlin in surprise. “Sorry, you two can return to your Mexican stand-off in a moment, but I was wondering how long these last.”

 

He held up a box of Canary Creams.

 

“Er, about two minutes or so,” said George. He darted a look to Malfoy, who was staring at the other customer with a look of suspicion.

 

“What exactly are you planning?” Malfoy asked.

 

“Hmm, I'm not really planning anything per say. More like thinking ahead...” Then something else caught his eye. “Skiving snackboxes? Ooh, this looks interesting! Hey, do you happen to sell these fainting candies separately in bulk?”

 

George shook his head, deciding he would puzzle out Malfoy's presence later. He walked up to his customer with a smile.

 

“Yeah, right over there,” he said, gesturing to the bins by the register. “I was getting requests for specific symptom candies, so I started selling them that way a few months ago.”

 

Merlin replaced the Skiving Snackbox he was holding and took a step, paused, then grabbed a second package of Canary Creams, before heading up to the candy bins.

 

“By the way,” he asked George, “do you happen to have anything that does donkey ears?”

 

George blinked. “Donkey ears?”

 

“Yeah, a friend of mine got hit with a spell once that made him grow donkey ears. It was brilliant! Whenever he tried to say anything, it came out as donkey braying.”

 

George snorted. “That sounds brilliant. Never 'eard of that spell. How'd he manage it?”

 

“Ran afoul of a rather malicious forest goblin.”

 

George sniggered. “Poor bloke. Sorry haven't got any donkey ear spells, but I might just decide to make that my next project if you don't mind.”

 

“Oh not at all. Now the sign in the window says you do fake wands?”

 

Draco groaned.

 


 

 

“Oh good, you're back,” Narcissa Malfoy said as soon as Merlin and Draco stepped out of the Malfoy Manor fireplace.

 

“Hello, mother,” said Draco and dutifully walked over to kiss her cheek.

 

“Hello, darling.” She turned to Merlin. “I wasn't sure what you wanted done, Merlin. A muggle vehicle came through the main gates less than fifteen minutes ago. A man and a woman got out and, well, they look like muggles, but obviously they managed to get in through the wards... I've left them there for now, but they almost seem to be waiting for something. Were you expecting anyone?”

 

Merlin frowned.

 

“No, I wasn't,” he said, before brushing past her.

 

He hurried from the front hall to the Blue Study (as opposed to the Green Study, which was further down the hall two floors up), which contained a large window with an excellent view of the front of the manor. He carefully moved the curtains aside slightly to look out. Sure enough, beside a bright red audi, stood a young couple. The young man had short, brown hair and was wearing jeans, t-shirt and a black vest. The woman had long, wavy dark brown hair and was wearing a blue billowy blouse, slim-fit jeans and high-heeled sandals. They were looking away from the manor at first, back towards the main gate. After a few moments, they turned around to look back at the manor doors, the man gesturing towards them as he spoke.

 

Merlin gasped. He recognized them.

 

“You know them?” Draco asked from behind him.

 

“Yes,” Merlin said absently. Then he winced. “Sort of. It's... been a while.”

 

“So, they're friends of yours then?” Narcissa asked.

 

“Er, him? Yes. Her? Not even close. I have no idea...”

 

Merlin paused and thought for a moment. He shook his head, unable to fathom what they were doing here. Letting the curtain fall back, he stepped away from the window.

 

“Draco, Narcissa, please stay inside,” he said quietly. “I'm going to go meet them and I have no idea how things are going to go. If they go badly, then whatever happens, stay inside. If they go well, then, uh, could you please ask the house elves to prepare tea and some sandwiches and cakes for the sitting room?”

 

“Merlin, who are they?” Draco asked, his eyes wide and a trace of fear in his voice.

 

“People I used to know.”

 

With that, Merlin left the Malfoys and hurried to the main doors. He took a deep breath before opening one side and stepping out. As soon as he did, two sets of eyes snapped to him. He walked down the marble steps and smiled.

 

“Hello there,” he said loudly. “I'm the owner of this mansion. Is there anything I can help you with?”

 

“Er, sorry to intrude,” said the man slightly sheepishly as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his eyes widening noticeably as he took in Merlin's wizarding robes. “We uh- I mean, I'm Dudley Dursley and this is my girlfriend Emma Monk. We were sort of driving by and then saw that narrow trail and decided to follow it and then-”

 

Dudley stopped his explanation abruptly as Emma stepped forward in front of him. She met Merlin's eyes and smirked. It was a familiar smirk, one that looked just as infuriating now as it had fifteen hundred years ago.

 

“Why, hello, Merlin,” she said. “It's been quiet a long time.”

 

Dudley's eyes widened. “Emma? You know him?”

 

She looked back at her boyfriend and chuckled.

 

“Why yes, I do. Dudley, meet Merlin-” She met Merlin's eyes. “-the man, who killed me.”

 

“Nimueh,” said Merlin, keeping his voice carefully expressionless. “Didn't expect to see you ever again. Don't tell me you're here for revenge after all these years?”

 

Nimueh laughed. “No, not at all. To be honest, I didn't even know you were what I would find here.”

 

Merlin frowned. “Then how did you find me?”

 

“Hmm...” She looked off into the distance – towards the Malfoy gardens and the forest. “For several days now, I've had this feeling like I needed to be somewhere and then last night, I had a dream and it showed me that path back there and this mansion. When I woke up I knew this was where I needed to be.”

 

Merlin nodded. He noticed Dudley looking between the two of them, as though trying to decide whether or not they were both completely mad. He was looking at Merlin like he was seeing him for the first time, a stranger. Merlin sighed and smothered his disappointment away. He was fairly certain Elena didn't recognize him either (fairly certain, because every once in a while she would say something or do something that made him wonder).

 

“So, where have you travelled from?” Merlin asked, turning back to Nimueh.

 

“London.”

 

He raised his eyebrows.

 

“The city? Hm, I always figured you for a cottage in the middle of nowhere sort of person.”

 

The young woman rolled her eyes.

 

“As you may recall, when you met me I was a bit of an outcast. Being hunted and having most of your friends killed in horrific ways does put a rather large dampener onto one's social life.”

 

Merlin winced. He hated thinking of the Purge. Memories of watching innocent people die horrifically by order of the king were the only reason he'd never spoken out against the wizarding world's segregation. However, he still entertained dreams of a world where magic users could live side by side with non-magic users.

 

Perhaps now...

 

Merlin shook his head, refusing to dwell on dreams. He had a very real part of his past in front of him and didn't need much prodding from the land to realize that meant something.

 

“I suppose we should talk,” he finally said out loud. He gestured towards the manor. “Come on in. I've had some refreshments prepared.”

 

Nimueh smirked as they walked up the stairs. “Well look at you, Merlin, lord of the manor. You've done well for yourself I see.”

 

“Er, well, I've haven't actually had this manor for very long...”

 

She snorted. “And how long exactly is 'not very long' to you?”

 

“Uh, less than forty-eight hours?”

 

“Less than...”

 

Nimueh stared at him, incredulously. Then, as they stepped over the threshold, she burst into delighted laughter. Merlin rolled his eyes and shrugged. Dudley was looking around curiously. He startled when the mermaid painting on the wall winked at him, but quickly recovered his surprise and walked up to it to examine it more closely. Merlin snickered as the young man put his head flat against the wall and attempted to lift the frame slightly away from wall. The mermaid shrieked and he quickly let it go.

 

“What is he doing?”

 

Merlin looked over his shoulder at a very perplexed-looking Draco and grinned. “Looking for hidden mechanisms, I imagine.”

 

“Looking for what?!”

 

“Well, he's a muggle and, to be fair, those new LED televisions aren't any bigger than that portrait.”

 

“He's a muggle.” Draco did not look impressed. “How exactly did a muggle get in through the wards? He should've turned back on his own.”

 

“Oh, is that what that was?” Nimueh asked, her eyebrows raised in interest. “I thought it was rather peculiar that Dudley suddenly seemed so worried about the oven. How very clever. Well, thankfully, I was the one driving.”

 

Now Draco was looking Nimueh over with a critical eye. She crossed her hands over her chest and raised an eyebrow in challenge.

 

Merlin cleared his throat.

 

“Ehem, sorry, I'm being a horrible host. Draco, this is Nim- er, Emma Monk and her boyfriend Dudley Dursley. Emma, Dudley, this is Draco Malfoy. He and his mother live here with me.”

 

“Oh?” The corner of Nimueh's mouth twitched. “How very interesting. And he's blond too.”

 

Merlin froze and then narrowed his eyes.

 

“What?” he asked.

 

She smirked. “Just making an observation. I'm sure it's entirely co-incidence that he's blond just like-”

 

“Don't.”

 

Merlin wasn't ready to hear it. He'd attempted to keep his voice quiet and level, though by the looks on the other's faces he hadn't quite managed to keep the growl out entirely. Draco looked decidedly startled. Merlin took a deep breath and smiled.

 

“Why don't we head to the sitting room,” he suggested. “I'm sure the house elves are ready for us by now.”

 

“House elves?” Dudley asked, excitement in his eyes.

 

Draco muttered something under his breath, but no one paid any attention to him.

 

“Oh,” said Merlin after entering the small dining room. “I'd forgotten that house elves have a very different definition of 'some food' than everybody else.”

 

Draco groaned. “How could you possibly forget that?”

 

Dudley and Nimueh, meanwhile, gaped at the trays of small sandwiches and cheese, bowls of fruit salad and plates of small cakes and pastries. It would've fed a small army easily. Merlin turned to them.

 

“Er, would you like some tea?” he asked.

 

“Do you have coffee?” asked Nimueh.

 

Merlin blinked and then leaned over to peruse the table.

 

“Uh, believe it or not, no. That seems to be missing. I could ask the elves to make some.”

 

Nimueh waved him off.

 

“No, that's alright. I don't exactly fancy seeing just how much coffee they think I can drink.”

 

“Uh, yeah, please don't,” Dudley pipped up. “She'd actually try and drink it all and I do have to drive back with her.”

 

Nimueh glared at him. Dudley didn't see the glare as he was too busy being fascinated by the wizarding duel being depicted in the large painting on the wall. He seemed to be attempting to capture every last detail as fire and water clashed on the canvas. Age had made its movements a bit sluggish, but the colours were no less vivid for it.

 

“Oi, is it stuck or is it supposed to reset like that?” Dudley called out after a few minutes had passed.

 

“Of course it's supposed to do that,” said Draco. “It's a painting. It's only supposed to capture a moment in time.”

 

Dudley turned to look at Draco in annoyance.

 

“Yeah, tips, thanks for that. Wouldn't have figured it was a painting on my own. Was wondering more whether it was like a short video or an animated gif.”

 

“More like a gif,” said Merlin before Draco could snap back a reply. “Anything longer would take too much power.”

 

Dudley looked at him and nodded. Merlin suddenly frowned at him.

 

“You know, for someone, who doesn't have magic you're taking the existence of the wizarding world fairly well.”

 

Dudley blinked.

 

“Oh, uh, well I've got this cousin and he's a wizard. Got a letter to go to some wizarding school when he was eleven.”

 

“Hogwarts,” said Draco. “The school's name is Hogwarts.”

 

“Yeah, that sounds right. Didn't really pay much attention back then and me mum hates magic, so she didn't talk about it unless she had to.”

 

Nimueh made a face.

 

“I'm definitely not winning any awards with that woman,” she said. Then she brightened. “On the plus side, I now know how to turn her into any number of small repulsive creatures. Or summon any number of bigger repulsive creatures to eat her.”

 

“Oi, this is my mother you're talking about!”

 

She smiled sweetly. “I know, darling.”

 

Dudley sighed. “Fine, just don't make it anything too repulsive.”

 

Merlin chuckled.

 

“Well, why don't we sit down and attempt to put a dent in this mountain on the table?” he said. He noticed Draco slip towards the doorway. “Draco, please, feel free to join us. I think we can use all the help we can get.”

 

Draco blinked in surprise, clearly not expecting the invitation, but joined them readily. Merlin picked up the tea pot and began pouring while everyone dug in. While they ate, Emma and Dudley told Merlin about being attacked in Richmond Park and how Emma defended them without knowing she could.

 

“You preformed wandless magic without an incantation when you didn't even know you could do magic in the first place?” Draco asked at the end, gaping.

 

Nimueh frowned. “How is it different with a wand?”

 

“Wands act as a focus point to help channel the user's magic,” Merlin explained. “It's an easier way to do magic.”

 

“My cousin used a wand and that old man that came to visit one time to talk to my mum had one too,” Dudley added thoughtfully.

 

“Old man?” Draco asked.

 

“Uh, yeah, long white beard, silly hat. Think he might've been the headmaster or something.”

 

“Dumbledore came to your home?” Draco frowned in confusion. “What is your cousin's name?”

 

“Oh, Harry. Uh, Harry Potter.”

 

Draco and Merlin both froze at the name. Idly, Merlin wondered whether this was a good time to start believing in coincidences. Draco's eyes widened.

 

“Harry Potter. Your cousin is Harry Potter?!”

 

“Um, yeah? You know him?”

 

“Draco went to school with him,” Merlin answered.

 

Dudley's eyes lit up. “Really? You were friends then?”

 

Draco snorted. “Hardly.” Then he paused. “Hang on, Potter's parents are dead. I remember hearing he was living in the muggle world, which would mean he was staying with his mother's relatives. That was you?”

 

Dudley nodded and Draco smiled gleefully.

 

“So then you must know plenty of embarrassing stories about his childhood.”

 

Dudley grinned. “I'll trade you for embarrassing school stories.”

 

Merlin sighed.

 

“Wonderful, I haven't even met the hero of the wizarding world and already I'm giving him reasons to want me painfully dead,” he muttered, before continuing in a louder voice. “Draco, how about you show Dudley around the manor while the two of you make Harry Potter's worst dream come true – next to Voldemort returning from the dead, of course. Consider it your historic first conversation with an actual muggle.”

 

“I've met muggles before!” Draco protested.

 

Merlin looked at him pointedly, his eyes sliding down to glance at his left forearm.

 

“Would you really like me to comment on that?”

 

Draco paled slightly, before standing and heading for the door. He opened it and then raised an imperious eyebrow at Dudley. Dudley exchanged a look with his girlfriend, who smiled and gestured for him to go on. After they'd left, Nimueh turned to Merlin and smirked.

 

“Well, Merlin, here we are: alone at last. Or should I call you Emrys?”

 

Merlin stiffened. “You never called me that before.”

 

“I didn't realize who you were until after the questing beast bit Arthur.”

 

She sat back and turned her head to look blankly out the window, her eyes haunted and sad. Merlin took another sip of tea as she gathered her thoughts. A few moments later, Nimueh closed her eyes briefly and shook her head.

 

“Sorry,” she said. “It's a bit confusing suddenly having all these memories. But I'm certain that I didn't realize who you were until you came before me to offer your life for Arthur's when he was dying of the questing beast's bite. I think I may have sensed that you had a considerable amount of magic, but I had no idea you were Emrys.”

 

Nimueh cocked her head thoughtfully as she looked at him and her eyes briefly flashed gold. Merlin narrowed his eyes.

 

“Your magic hasn't changed,” she whispered with a trace of awe in her voice. “It's so natural, tied to everything around you that it's like background noise. Like that faint hum a computer gives off. You hear it when you turn it on or when it's doing something like a virus scan, but otherwise it's just a faint hum you mostly ignore. With most people, the noise is much louder, which is why yours is so easily ignored. What I never truly realized until you arrived at the Isle of the Blessed was the depth and scope of the noise.”

 

Merlin shuffled in his seat, uncomfortable with being reminded how powerful he was. It wasn't like he'd ever truly used this supposedly awesome power he had, so really what was the point of being impressed by it? However, thinking of the Isle...

 

“Nimueh, there's something that I've been wondering about for quite some time,” he said.

 

“Hm?”

 

He swallowed.

 

“When you agreed to use magic to essentially conjure up a child for Uther and Ygraine, did you know the Old Religion would take Ygraine as its price?”

 

Nimueh drew in a sharp breath and her eyes pinced together in pain. When she opened them, the sorrow was overwhelming.

 

“No, I didn't.” She paused. “I knew there would have to be a life given for the child, but in my youth and arrogance I thought I could manipulate the Old Religion to take the life of some random peasant or perhaps a bandit, someone who didn't matter.”

 

She took a deep breath and looked away. Her voice was quieter when she continued.

 

“As you probably know by now, it doesn't work that way. The Old Religion will take the price of its choosing, regardless of any human's will.” She looked back to Merlin, her eyes beseeching him to understand. “Ygraine was my friend, Merlin. I never wanted anything to happen to her, I swear. By the time I'd realized what the Old Religion had done it was too late for me to attempt to change it.”

 

Silence stretched on in the dining room.

 

“Why didn't the Old Religion foresee the consequences of taking Ygraine's life as the price for Arthur's birth?” Merlin finally whispered into the silence.

 

Nimueh sighed. “I don't know. Fate is a cold mistress; perhaps she didn't care so long as Arthur was born. And I-” She began, then her eyes darted to Merlin and she stopped herself, shaking her head. “No, I really don't know.”

 

Merlin nodded. Agreeing to Uther's request had undoubtedly been the worst mistake anyone had ever made and a costly one at that. But, it had happened several lifetimes ago. What was important now was the future.

 

“So, if you're not here for revenge, does that mean you're here to help?” he asked with a small grin.

 

She blinked, startled at the sudden change in topic.

 

“Help?” she asked. “Help with what? Oh, wait. You mean, the sword, yeah? I'm assuming that's your doing.”

 

Merlin shrugged. “Not entirely. I mean, it was the first go around, but I had nothing to do with the one in front of Buckingham Palace. What's going on with it anyway?”

 

Nimueh grinned. “Oh, they've tried removing it apparently and it won't budge. Rumour has it, the Royal Family went out to see it and both princesses tried their hand at pulling it out and failed.”

 

Merlin chuckled. “Well, I suppose that means neither one of them is Arthur.”

 

“Don't you know where Arthur is?” Nimueh asked with a frown.

 

Merlin shook his head. “Not a clue. Between you, the sword and Morgana, I can only assume he's languishing around somewhere, but I've no idea where.”

 

“Morgana?”

 

Merlin nodded solemnly.

 

“I think perhaps you should start from the beginning,” she said as she grabbed another small chocolate cake and poured herself and Merlin some more tea. As she poured the tea, she frowned and lifted the cover on the tea pot to peer inside. “And then you can tell me where I can get my own never-ending tea pot and convert it to a never-ending coffee pot.”

 

Merlin chuckled.

 

“That would be Diagon Alley.”

 

She replaced the tea pot and raised an eyebrow. “Diagon Alley? Never heard of it.”

 

“You wouldn't have. It's the Wizarding World's main shopping district.”

 

“Right, so you can start there and then move on to Morgana.”

 


 

 

 

Draco looked out onto the Malfoy grounds. The sun had gone down hours ago, but the day had left him too restless to sleep just yet.

 

His rooms were several stories up, as the entire Family Wing was, to give the best view of the grounds. The master bedroom, naturally, had the widest view, being in the centre of the manor, but Draco's room overlooked the east corner of the gardens with its mermaid fountain and rose terrace. Beyond the garden, he could just make out the outline of the lake, where a willow tree bent over the water's edge and moonlight reflected off the water.

 

He eyes were suddenly drawn to movement below him.

 

A tall, slim figure with short hair strolled into view. Draco felt a twinge of irritation at the muggle clothes. Any irritation was short-lived, though, as Merlin's appearance triggered more confused thoughts.

 

Talking with Dudley had been... interesting. Enlightening in some respects, but puzzling in others. They'd discussed Harry Potter, of course. But then Dudley had asked about Merlin and Draco found he didn't quite know what to say. Because what little he knew about Merlin didn't amount to anything concrete. He asked Dudley what Emma had told him, but the muggle shook his head.

 

“I don't think she knew he'd be here when we started driving this morning,” he'd said. “It's really weird. I'd swear she didn't even remember him until she saw him. Never mentioned him before and I've been with her for nearly a year now.”

 

He'd paused, frowning.

 

“He doesn't call her Emma either. Calls her Nimueh and I've never heard anyone call her that before. 'Course she'd introduced him as 'the man who'd killed her', so for all I know right now she used to be a secret agent and he was her handler.”

 

Draco had then made Dudley explain about the secret agent-handler comment.

 

It seemed the more Draco learned about Merlin Kingsman, the less anything about the man made sense. He watched as Merlin wandered through the gardens before making his way towards the lake. With a sigh, Draco ran a hand through his hair and turned around to look at his desk and the book laying on top of it, open to the first page.

 

He crossed the room and ran his fingertips over the edge of the pages. This was another of many peculiarities. Merlin wanted him to write down events as they happened? Draco wasn't sure what that meant exactly, but he had a feeling that Emma's arrival today had somehow been significant. It was simply too strange not to be.

 

Draco pulled the mahogany chair away from desk, picked up a quill and began to write.

 


 

 

Merlin drank in the cool night air. It was a beautiful, cloudless night of the sort that were so rare in England and completely unheard of in the midst of any modern city.

 

Nimueh and Dudley had left just after dinner. He'd offered them a guest room for the night, but they were both university students and had already missed one day of classes in order to find the Malfoy Manor in the first place. Nimueh as an ordinary English student living in London: Merlin simply couldn't fathom it. But then, he also hadn't met Nimueh until after she'd become bitter, angry and slightly mad with grief.

 

Her arrival had, however, made it all the clearer that something was looming on the horizon. He'd paid attention in Diagon Alley this morning and paused by the site of the earlier attack. The scorch marks on the cobblestone looked and felt like the result of a powerful fire spell. And not a wizard one. Wands added a different flavour to the magic used by wizards. Though it had been fifteen hundred years, Merlin had still felt a cold sort of dread when he'd touched the lingering traces of magic in the cobblestones.

 

Morgana.

 

Which would explain what had happened to the dredges of Voldemort's powers. And made her all the more dangerous, because this time around Merlin knew nothing of her motivations. He could only hope she didn't find Arthur before he did.

 

Merlin left the gardens behind him as he proceeded towards the lake. Nimueh had been able to feel the darkness that shadowed the manor grounds as a result of the dark magic that had been used here. Magic called to its like and Merlin didn't enjoy the thought of Morgana being able to detect his new home.

 

The lake was surrounded by reeds and tall ornamental grass. A single willow tree grew at its shore, its branches dipping towards the water as though preparing to worship its crystalline depths. Merlin sat down between the protective embrace of the willow and closed his eyes.

 

He gathered his magic and then pushed it gently into the land, infusing it with his power, though carefully, not wanting to destroy the family power already there. He searched out the pockets of dark magic and surrounded them, overwhelming them with magic until they dissolved under the onslaught.

 

When he was finished, he opened his eyes and swayed, dizzy with exhaustion. He leaned back against the soft grass beside the tree and fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

 

Narcissa walked out into the bright morning sun with a smile on her face. It felt like a lifetime ago that she'd felt relaxed enough to want to sit out in the gardens to eat breakfast. When she'd first moved into the Malfoy Manor as a young bride, she used to do it all the time and, when he had the time, Lucius would often join her.

 

Lucius would never join her again.

 

Narcissa pushed that thought away for the moment, not wishing to fall into melancholy just yet. The elves had set the outdoor polished marble-top table for several people, which made her softly snort in amusement. They evidently missed all the entertaining the family used to do before the Dark Lord returned. Or did they perhaps have reason to think someone was going to join her?

 

She looked up to the western tower, wondering whether Merlin was awake yet. She was certain Draco wasn't as she'd passed by his rooms on her way down. But Merlin... she knew very little about his habits other than his peculiarity for muggle clothing. She certainly wouldn't object to the young man joining her – assuming he was, indeed, a young man as she wasn't entirely convinced he wasn't in fact an older man, who'd used a spell to give himself the appearance of youth and gone a bit further than he'd intended.

 

Either way, the man was a puzzle and luckily she had plenty of time on her hands to occupy herself with solving it.

 

Narcissa sat down at the table and tapped her wand against the tea kettle. It immediately floated upwards and began to pour tea. Once it was poured, she added some milk to it and then brought it to her nose to revel in its scent. It was a special blend Severus had once mixed for her as a birthday present and she'd later begged him for the composition so she could give it to the house elves. It was the only tea she ever drank out in the gardens.

 

She sighed. Severus. There was another friend the war had taken away from her.

 

She took her first sip of tea as she thought of the man whose hand created it. One of the albino peacocks flew onto an empty chair and helped itself to a danish before flying off again. Narcissa smiled at its antics and reached out for a danish of her own. She looked over the gardens as she ate and wondered whether Merlin would allow her to change the back hedges the way she'd wanted to for some time.

 

She froze as she suddenly noticed slight movement just behind those very hedges. She frowned and put her tea down slowly as she stood, craning her head to see over top of the greenery. Suddenly, the tip of a white head and a horn appeared. Narcissa's eyes widened.

 

Quickly, she stepped away from the table, breakfast completely forgotten, and hurried through the garden. She easily found the gap the in the hedge and stepped out onto the lawn. And gasped.

 

“Mimsy!” she called softly so as not to startle their lawn's visitors.

 

There was a gentle 'pop' beside her as the house elf appeared.

 

“Yes, mistress?” it said.

 

“Go wake my son up and tell him to meet me here immediately.”

 

“Mimsy goes right away, mistress!”

 

There was another 'pop' and the house elf was gone. Narcissa walked out onto the lawn, treading carefully. One of the unicorns lifted its head to look at her curiously, seemed to decide she wasn't a threat and went back to munching on the lush grass. Narcissa relaxed at that and slowly walked towards the herd.

 

She'd never seen a herd of unicorns before, but a herd was definitely what was making itself at home on the manor grounds. She looked around, counting roughly two dozen of them. They were beautiful, their coats so white they practically glowed under the morning sun. She could feel the magic in the air become purer, yet somehow more saturated, as she walked amongst them.

 

Several of them had gone to the lake to take a drink. One had headed to the willow tree and was peeking under the canopy of its branches. It nudged at something underneath. A hand came up and clumsily swatted at the unicorn's nose until the unicorn pushed back at it. Then the hand seemed to realize there was something there and patted around the unicorn's snout as though feeling it out. Finally it began to pet the unicorn up the front of its head to the horn.

 

The hand retreated and Merlin came into view as he sat up. His hair was dishevelled and there was dirt clumped in his hair along with a few leaves. He yawned widely and smiled sleepily at the unicorn. Then he cupped his hands in front of him and said something into them. He held an apple up for the unicorn, which it took with obvious delight.

 

Another unicorn joined them and Merlin laughed.

 

Narcissa couldn't help but smile at the scene despite her complete bewilderment. The man looked even younger than usual in that moment, happy and carefree as he conjured another apple for the second unicorn. If she wasn't watching it happen, she wouldn't have believed it. Unicorns weren't especially violent, unless provoked, but they were relatively shy creatures, not much given to approaching people of their own volition in the slightest.

 

“Mother!”

 

Narcissa winced as her son interrupted the tranquillity of the moment. She saw Merlin's head snap to her and his eyes widen in surprise. She smiled and waved at him in greeting.

 

“Good morning, Draco,” she said as she turned to her son. “We seem to have some guests this morning.”

 

“Y-yes, I saw them from my room...” Draco began before trailing off. He stood at the edge of the lawn, staring at the unicorns before him. “I thought I was seeing things.”

 

“Well, you're clearly not.”

 

Draco's eyes darted to her nervously, before they once again darted to the unicorns. He gulped, looking a little pale as he finally began to cautiously walk towards her. The unicorns paid him no mind and he slowly began to relax.

 

“Where in Merlin's name did they come from?!” he whispered in awe. “I didn't think such large herds existed anymore.”

 

“They tend to sometimes wander away from each other and keep well-hidden,” Merlin's voice answered him. “You'd be surprised how well a herd of unicorns can hide in a forest.”

 

Narcissa and Draco turned to him. He was smiling widely and Narcissa noticed he'd attempted to brush most of the dirt and leaves out of his hair with his fingers.

 

“Good morning,” he said.

 

“Good morning, Merlin,” Narcissa answered with a smile of her own.

 

“Good morning,” said Draco with a frown as he took in Merlin's appearance. “You realize you have an actual bed up in that tower of yours.”

 

“Ah, yes.” Merlin cringed, looking a bit sheepish. “I didn't mean to fall asleep out here. It just sort of, uh, happened.”

 

“Like the unicorns you mean?”

 

“Er, well, in a way. I mean, it's not like anyone ever tells a unicorn what to do. They just sort of go where they want to. And, this morning, they apparently liked the look of the grass right here.”

 

“But I would've thought there had been too much dark magic used on the grounds to attract unicorns,” said Narcissa.

 

Merlin's smile turned a little sly. “Well, yes, there had been. But I took care of that.”

 

Narcissa's eyes widened and she exchanged a bewildered look with her son. He took care of it? Narcissa would've called him a liar except for the obvious proof. The herd of unicorns currently making themselves comfortable on the manor grounds was not a lie.

 

“Any road, I'm actually rather famished at the moment,” Merlin said into their silence. “Don't suppose the house elves have made breakfast yet?”

 

“Wha- oh, yes, in fact they have,” Narcissa answered. “It's been served out in the garden.”

 

“Assuming the birds haven't scavenged it yet, you mean,” Draco muttered.

 

“I dare say the birds could help themselves to half of it and there would still be enough for the three of us.”

 

“Four, actually,” said Merlin. He ignored Narcissa and Draco's confused looks and looked over his shoulder. “You will be joining us for breakfast, won't you, Anhora?”

 

Suddenly, there was a tall man in a long, white robe, holding a tall wooden staff standing beside one of the unicorns. He stepped forward.

 

“I would be delighted to,” he said with a slight bow to Merlin.

 

Merlin grinned at him. As the man approached them, Merlin made introductions.

 

“Anhora, this is Lady Narcissa Malfoy and her son, Draco. Narcissa, Draco, this is Anhora, Keeper of the Unicorns.”

 

“Keeper of the Unicorns?” said Draco. “I've never heard of such a person.”

 

“Of course not, young man,” Anhora replied. “Your kind forgot the origins of magic long ago. You no longer follow the Old Religion and thus all of us, who remain, are unknown to you.”

 

“The Old Religion?” Narcissa asked. “I remember there were books about it in my mother's old library, but I never bothered to read any of them.”

 

“What's the Old Religion?” Draco asked with a frown.

 

“The Old Religion is many things,” Anhora began as they made their way to the garden seating area.

 


 

 

When Charlie exited the fireplace, he was greeted with chaos. It was a familiar chaos, born of too many people in too small a space all trying to do things quickly and at the same time. One would think that it would get better as they all got older and were no longer underfoot, but he had a feeling it had actually gotten worse.

 

It seemed like everyone was at the Burrow today. He saw Fleur sitting in the armchair by the window, holding his little nephew. She'd looked up when he flooed in and he waved to her in greeting. She smiled and waved back. The baby in her arms tilted his head to look at what had caught his mother's attention and Charlie smiled at the big brown eyes that gazed curiously in his direction.

 

“Charlie, you're here!” he heard just before his father grabbed him and dragged him in the direction of the kitchen. “Molly, Charlie's here!”

 

“'lo mum!” Charlie called into the kitchen, where his mum turned away from the oven long enough to beam at him and call out a greeting before a stream of sparks flew out of one of the timers, which sent her back into a flurry of movement again.

 

Charlie backed out again and turned again to the packed living room. Then the fireplace roared to life and George stepped into the room. He took one look around before immediately bee-lining for the small huddle in the corner, where Harry sat swaddled in blankets in his mum's large red comfy armchair. He looked a bit pale and there were dark circles under his eyes, but mostly he looked embarrassed by all the attention he was getting.

 

Charlie chuckled and decided to add to the boy's embarrassment. It was what practically adopted big brothers were for, after all.

 

“Hello, everyone,” he said loudly as he sidled in next to George. He grinned down at Harry. “Well, you look mildly better than death there, Harry. Must be glad to be out of St. Mungos, eh?”

 

Harry smiled in amusement.

 

“Hello, Charlie,” he said. “I do feel a little bit better than death, yes. How are you liking the Welsh Reserve?”

 

Charlie shrugged, trying not to let his feelings of homesickness show. “It's smaller and quieter, although now we've just had a group of dragonets leave their mums' nests, so there's some excitement trying to keep them under control. They're a bit of a handful.”

 

Well, they were a handful, some of the time. Four out of the six of the newly-independent dragons had, for some reason, developed a very real attachment to the old dragon living at the Welsh Reserve. He was called Grandfather Time, because as far back as any records indicated he'd simply always been there. Most of the handlers believed it was a sure sign that the records hadn't been maintained properly over time and thus there were records of deaths and births missing somewhere. They'd found indications of neglectful recordkeeping elsewhere in the books, so this was hardly unlikely.

 

If the dragon was going to keep the young dragonets mostly calm and settled part of the time, Charlie didn't really care how old he was. Baby dragons were lovely and wonderful, but they were more work than most of the adult dragons combined. Not that it was saying much in the Welsh Reserve, which lacked any of the more difficult and dangerous breeds Charlie had gotten used to working with in Romania.

 

He'd gotten a temporary transfer to Wales in order to be closer to his family after the war had taken its toll and he refused to be selfish and resent that choice, but he regretted having to leave. He missed Romania fiercely at times.

 

His thoughts were interrupted as his mum finally finished in the kitchen and lunch was served. Being closer to home did have one distinct advantage, Charlie thought as he dug into his steak and kidney pie. Idle chatter about the attack on Harry and what the Daily Prophet was making of it (which was a lot, considering the aurors still hadn't a clue who the woman was or how she'd done what she had) filled the room interspersed with his mum and Fleur's baby talk.

 

The conversation took a rather unexpected turn when Harry asked how the other businesses were faring after the attack.

 

“Oh, they're doing fine,” said George. “Other than Quality Quidditch, obviously. Every else opened the next morning, though. As bad as it was, the fire didn't spread anywhere, so other than some wicked scorch marks on the street, everything else looks fine.”

 

His eyes lit up.

 

“Which reminds me, you'll never believe, who walked into the store yesterday!”

 

“Who?”

 

“The new owner of Malfoy Manor.”

 

The table descended into a stunned silence.

 

“New owner?” said Hermione. “When did that happen? I thought they were only starting to show it this week.”

 

“The day after the attack,” Bill answered. “I think it was the first day of the showings for the manor. They came to Gringotts and signed the paperwork that very same day. From what I've heard, the bank manager actually stayed and kept the bank open for them until nearly midnight.”

 

“I've never heard of goblins being so accommodating,” said Charlie's mum. “Not even to the ministry.”

 

“They're not. It was the buyer they made the exception for.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Hm, took everyone by surprise at the ministry,” his dad chimed in. “I heard the head of the auror division was furious at Whitman for allowing it to happen. See, apparently, they weren't expecting anyone to actually buy the manor. They were going to go through the motions and then pay the Malfoys off and turn the Malfoy Manor into an auror training site.”

 

“Oh, that would've been brilliant!” said Ron.

 

His dad shrugged. “Well s'not going to happen now. Whitman said he thought the young man was joking and would back out when they really got down to it. And then he didn't.”

 

“Yeah, doesn't surprise me that he wasn't taken seriously,” said George. “The bloke didn't look like the sort who could afford to buy a manor. He was wearing robes when he came to Wheezes, but Madame Malkin says he showed up at her shop wearing muggle clothes.”

 

“Muggle clothes?!” Hermione exclaimed. Then she promptly burst into laughter. “You mean the Malfoy Manor was bought by a muggleborn?”

 

“A muggleborn with a sense of humour,” said George with a twinkle in his eye. “He spent quite a bit of money at mine and gave me an idea for a new product. Though, I'm not sure how much Malfoy minds the muggleborn thing seeing as how he was with him in Diagon Alley.”

 

Bill nodded at that.

 

“Yeah, he and the Malfoys made an agreement after he bought the manor,” he said. “Both Narcissa and Draco Malfoy will live at the manor and taking care of it in exchange for Draco Malfoy remaining its rightful heir. And I think there's something else about him being Kingsman's secretary or something.”

 

“Kingsman?” Ginny asked. “Is that the new owner's name?”

 

“Yes, Merlin Kingsman,” their dad confirmed. “He's a complete mystery, it seems. Apparently, no one's heard of him before now.”

 

“He told Madame Malkin he'd spent the war abroad in Asia,” George interjected.

 

“Well, he obviously exists,” said their mum with a frown on her face. “But honestly, Merlin? Who names their child Merlin? With a name like that he must be muggleborn.” Her eyes widened as she realized what that must've sounded like and quickly turned to Hermione. “Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. It's just that, well, no proper wizarding family would ever name their child Merlin. Merlin the wizard is such an icon, it's just not done.”

 

“Not to mention how annoying it would be walking down the street and hearing everyone calling out your name for no reason,” said Harry.

 

“Or calling for your beard,” Charlie added with a grin. He turned to George. “He didn't have a beard, did he?”

 

George grinned and shook his head. “Nah, wasn't old enough for it. Can't be much older than you if he's a day and he's probably younger. And, no, according to Madame Malkin, he didn't go to Hogwarts or any magic school. Was homeschooled by an uncle of some sort, so he's not completely muggleborn.”

 

“And, to add to the mystery,” their father began, before pausing for suspense. “The attorney he called to help with the sale was a vampire.”

 

“Great Merlin!” their mother gasped. “A vampire? How would a muggleborn get into cohorts with a vampire?”

 

“Voldemort did it,” Harry pointed out.

 

The table went silent. Harry squirmed in his seat as everyone stared at him in horror.

 

“Mum,” said Bill calmly. “I think it might be time to bring out your pudding. We clearly need to stuff Harry's mouth with something to keep him from saying things out loud.”

 

Harry's ears turned beet red.

 

“Cheers, Bill,” said Ron with a strained smile as he clasped his friend on the shoulder. “You obviously need a hobby other than looking for dark lords.”

 

The rest of Harry's face turned red to match his ears. Snickers erupted around the table. Luckily for Harry, their attention was diverted away from him when Mrs. Weasley's puddings made it to the table shortly thereafter.

 


 

 

Covered by a powerful disillusionment charm, Morgana stood just outside the gates of Buckingham Palace, watching as aurors stood guard over wizards from the Department of Mysteries. Spell after spell was cast, but the sword they were examining showed no sign of giving in to the tampering.

 

A detection spell made it, the rock and two metres of surrounding ground light up with a bright blue light. And so the wizards stepped back to farthest point of the light and began to cast at its periphery. There were a few other wizards standing back and watching, one or two seemed to be taking notes. They weren't aurors and so Morgana assumed they were cursebreakers or charms experts of some sort.

 

She smirked. They were all fools. She could feel the magic surrounding the sword from where she stood. It was coming from the land itself. None of their pitiful little spells would break the sword's enchantment.

 

She looked down at the Elder Wand she clasped in her hand, resisting the urge to point it at the sword and blast the stone away. She could feel the power contained in the wand. This wand remembered the Old Religion, even if it wasn't a product of it. Which made it her perfect weapon. The Old Religion had abandoned her once; she'd been its priestess, yet it choose Emrys and Arthur over her. She would avenge that insult.

 

She glared at the sword – Excalibur, she recognized it – hatred burning in her veins.

 

But, no, if the sword was here, then it meant Arthur was nearby. And Emrys was certainly not far behind. This time, she would make him fight her with magic. She would prove she was the more powerful sorcerer.

 

Magic had hidden for long enough.

 

With one, final, sneer at the wizards examining the sword, she apparated away.

 


 

 

Draco couldn't believe it. Well, he couldn't believe several things about the situation, including the fact that he'd allowed Merlin to drag him into the muggle world. However, his main disbelief at the moment was with how little attention he was drawing despite wearing full wizard's robes. True, many people glanced curiously in his direction, but there was no panic, no shouting and no wanting to burn him alive or whatever it was muggles did to magic users.

 

Muggles were clearly idiots.

 

They turned the corner and walked by two muggles with their hair styled upwards into long spikes and dyed bright green in one case, black with yellow tips in the other. Their faces were covered in metal hoops and stones dangled from their ears while their clothes were adorned with heavy chains and several quite prominant rips.

 

Draco instantly came to the conclusion that perhaps he wasn't drawing attention simply because he wasn't the strangest-looking person walking the streets.

 

He looked back to Merlin to find him smirking at him. Draco scowled back.

 

“Oxford's a university town,” Merlin said. “And university students are notoriously strange people. I imagine they all think you're going to some sort of function or theatre practice or doing a cosplay of some sort.”

 

“Cosplay?”

 

“Hm, dressing up in costume for fun. I did some steampunk for a while a few years back. And my roommates in Tokyo dragged me to a convention or two while I was there.”

 

Draco stared at him, realizing perhaps for the first time just how different the world he'd entered was from his own. Merlin noticed his stare and winced.

 

“Sorry, none of that made any sense to you, did it?” He sighed. “That's the problem with this enforced separation. Some things from the muggle world have transferred into the wizarding world, such as cars or the wireless network, but none of the culture has. It's the result of taking children away from their homes at such young ages. Most of them never truly integrate back properly, because they're too busy looking to the wizarding world as their future.”

 

Draco frowned. “Are you saying that's a bad thing?”

 

“Hm, yes, in a way.” Merlin's face turned serious and his eyes took on a faraway, thoughtful look. “The muggle world is catching up to you, you know. To the wizarding world, I mean. It might take another century or two, but soon you won't be able to hide anymore, because muggle technology will have surpassed wizarding magic.”

 

“What? That's impossible! There is absolutely-”

 

“Yes, there is.” Merlin stopped on the corner and turned to looked at him Draco looked above the street and, sure enough, there was one of those traffic lights Merlin had shown him earlier and it was shining red. “Muggle science and technology is expanding in leaps and bounds, but the wizarding world hasn't experienced any significant magical development in well over a century. As muggles understand the world around them more and more, they're coming closer to actually discovering magic for themselves. Magic is a big part of the world around us, an intrinsic part, but it's not everything there is to know about it.”

 

The light turned green and they continued walking. Draco looked around him at the muggles hurrying about and suddenly noticed all the little things they had on them. A lot of them had those same little boxes Merlin had used earlier to send a message to a friend of his and many of them had little wires coming out of their ears and there was a group of people Draco's age sitting on the grass in front of a large, stone building looking at some sort of large book that was open the wrong way and they were touching one side of it.

 

“There are ten billion muggles out there, Draco,” Merlin eventually continued. “And if they were to suddenly discover that they've been purposefully kept in the dark, had their memories tampered with and their lives unknowingly threatened, they wouldn't be happy. And fairly soon, if not already, magic won't be enough to stop them.”

 

Draco's breath caught.

 

“Are you sure about that?” he breathed.

 

Merlin shrugged. “Well, no. We're talking about the future here and for all we know, they'll start a war next year and manage to destroy the world, thus making any worries null and void.” He looked at Draco and smiled. “Don't worry too much, yeah? Don't forget that in end, they're just people. And there are both good people and bad people and everything in between no matter where you go.”

 

They turned another corner and Merlin's face broke into a delighted grin.

 

“Elena!” he called out.

 

A blonde woman leaning against the side of a building looked up and returned his grin as she pushed away from the wall and strode towards them.

 

“Merlin!” she called back.

 

“Thanks for agreeing to help,” he said.

 

“Oh, don't be silly, you're saving my sanity from ruin. A shopping trip is exactly what I needed about now. I can't wait for Senior Lecturer Kingsman to get back to work. To think next year they'll be expecting me to do this all myself.”

 

Draco frowned. Senior Lecturer Kingsman? He looked at Merlin out of the corner of his eyes. Was that a relative of some sort? Perhaps he was the uncle who had taught Merlin magic, but if so why was he living and working in the muggle world?

 

“Draco, this is Elena,” said Merlin. “Elena, this is my friend, Draco. He's from Wiltshire and grew up in a, uh, cult up there and I want to show him the regular world so I was hoping you'd help me get him some clothes so he doesn't look so out of place. Since they didn't really wear regular clothes in this cult of his...”

 

Draco was fairly certain that was a horrible excuse for his robes and by the look on Elena's face she agreed.

 

“A cult,” she said with a raised eyebrow. “Funny, I've never heard of a cult in Wiltshire before.”

 

“Er, well it's a secret cult, doesn't get any publicity.”

 

“Right, of course... so, he's from a secret cult in Wiltshire that wears long robes.” She brightened with a mocking grin. “Oh, so he's a druid then!”

 

She turned to Draco and held out her hand. “It's very nice to meet you Draco the Druid.”

 

Draco blinked at her and then took her hand and shook it.

 

“The pleasure's all mine, Elena,” he said with a smile. “And thank you in advance for your help. You mentioned a Senior Lecuterer Kingsman, who is that exactly?”

 

“Oh, sorry, you've probably heard of him as just Archie,” she said. “Merlin's adopted brother, he's my Phd supervisor. I've taken his classes for the moment as he's in hospital with burns and a broken leg thanks to his taking the librarian's words 'guard those research materials with your life' bleeding seriously!”

 

Draco looked over to Merlin, whose face had gone blank, and smirked. He turned back to Elena and asked her what it was she was studying. Elena happily dove into the topic as they walked, which was thankfully historical in nature and dealt with something akin to the role of women in Medieval literature.

 

They hadn't been walking more than ten minutes when Elena steered him and Merlin into a shop sporting muggle clothings in its window displays. A clerk greeted them as soon as they entered. The tag pinned to her clothings read 'Liz'.

 

“Oh, hello,” Elena immediately responded. “We're in a bit of a pickle here. See my friend Draco there-” She pointed to him and the clerk's eyebrows widened as she noticed the robes. “-well, he's just come down to visit us from Canada for a World of Warcraft meetup and decided that wouldn't it be fun if he travelled in costume for it. Which we thought was absolutely brilliant, of course, except for that would be the time the airline misplaced his luggage. So now his luggage is off to Bangladesh or some other terribly useless place and he's stuck looking like an evil wizard.”

 

Draco froze at her words, but Liz broke into peals of delighted laughter.

 

“Oh bleeding 'ell, that's brilliant!” she said. “I've ne'er 'eard the likes. Bet you'll not do that again, eh luv?”

 

Draco shrugged, not having a clue what the proper response was.

 

“Suppose you'll want to make 'im look like a normal person, yeah?”

 

“That's the plan,” said Elena.

 

The two girls took off into the depths of the store and Draco looked to Merlin.

 

“I think I actually mostly understood your explanation,” he said. “But I take it hers was better?”

 

Merlin winced.

 

“Uh, yeah.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

 

The sun had barely risen above the horizon, when Merlin made his way down from his tower. Usually, the sun rising was nothing more than a signal for him to turn over onto his other side, but not this morning.

 

Merlin felt too restless to lie still, a tingling in his bones wouldn't allow him to stay in bed and the moment he opened his eyes, his mind was already whirling with a thousand thoughts. Or, perhaps just one huge thought that wouldn't go away. Nimueh should've been his first clue. However, it had been Anhora yesterday, who'd privately told him the unicorns had gathered into their herd again, because they felt magic reawakening within the land once more – in a way it hadn't since the age of sorcery.

 

Now, Merlin needed one last confirmation before he acted outright. Or, rather, he wanted his oldest friend by his side when he did.

 

He smiled and sent a mental greeting to the unicorns still gathered on his lawn – though they'd moved to the other side of the lake, where a large copse of rowan and oak trees provided them with some shade. Most of them looked up towards him, before returning to their grazing.

 

Merlin crossed the garden, away from the unicorns, to the side of the manor where the family's rooms didn't quite overlook. Then he looked into the sun and closed his eyes, his head dropping slightly as he searched within himself for that shining well of power that burned with a different sort of flame. He grabbed it and felt it infuse his throat and his lungs.

 

His head snapped up and he could feel the ground beneath him tremble oh so slightly as he roared into the sky.

 

O drakon, e male so ftengometta tesd'hup'anankes!”

 

As always, the silence after the summoning was full of tension as the magic of dragons lingered. Dragon magic was different than other magicks, heavier, though not dark by any means. In fact, it was almost as light as that of the unicorns, only it carried with it the certain potential for destruction and anger.

 

Which was not to say that unicorns weren't capable of feeling anger, nor that an angry unicorn should ever be taken lightly.

 

Eventually, Merlin shook himself out of his reverie and turned to walk back to the gardens.

 

“Mimsy,” he called softly.

 

There was a soft 'pop' and the house elf stood next to him. She blinked when she appeared and immediately looked around, eyes widening with awe as she felt the magic in the air.

 

“Mimsy, I'm expecting some guests,” Merlin said as he looked down at the elf with a smile. “I don't know when exactly they'll be arriving, but we'll be eating outside. Would you please ask the kitchen elves to prepare a few cows or sheep for them? The meat can be cooked rare. I'll wait to eat when they arrive, though some tea would be nice in the meantime.”

 

Mimsy bowed slightly.

 

“Mimsy will tell the kitchen elves,” she said with a squeaky voice. “Master Merlin's wishes will be-”

 

“It's just Merlin,” he interrupted her. The house elf fell silent, looking confused. “I am no one's master and don't wish to be.”

 

He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. There were times when he truly disliked the wizarding world and their ignorance.

 

“I will not sever your ties to this house if you do not wish me to,” he continued. “But you and I, we are both creatures of magic: we are kin.” Mimsy's eyes widened. “I would rather you didn't serve me merely because the magic of this house forces you to.”

 

Merlin stopped, nearly cringing at the teary devotion shining in the elf's eyes. He'd forgotten how emotional house elves were.

 

“Mimsy and the other elves is honoured to serve you, Emrys,” she finally said. Merlin raised an eyebrow in amusement – he had wondered. “We is happy you choose this house to live in. Mas- Emrys came and then darkness from house disappeared. And now we has unicorns and soon we has dragons! We is feeling the magic changing and we is feeling sadness and fear goings away.”

 

“I'm glad you're happy to stay,” Merlin said. “Because, honestly, I have no idea what I'd do if I had to take care of the entire manor on my own.”

 

Mimsy grinned up at him and promptly disappeared with a 'pop'.

 


 

 

If Charlie Weasley could have anything in the world, he'd want two more hours of sleep. Or maybe five, but he'd settle for two.

 

It wasn't that he wasn't used to waking up early; being a dragon keeper made a morning person out of you whether you wanted it to or not. But the celebratory lunch at his parents' had turned into a celebratory supper and then celebratory drinks and... well, he hadn't gotten back to Wales until the wee hours of the morning and his head was feeling it in more ways than one.

 

He sighed and trudged his way to the magically-built cave and clearing where Grandfather Time had made himself at home. Occasionally, a younger dragon would challenge him for the cave, but one growl was usually all it took to chase them away. It puzzled many of the keepers how that worked, because, while it was a rather impressive growl to be sure, he was an old dragon and not the largest by any means.

 

Grandfather Time was most certainly Charlie's favourite dragon at the reserve and he'd gladly taken over his care even though he usually preferred the more dangerous breeds. Well, only two more years to go and then his temporary transfer would be over and he'd be on his way back to Romania.

 

As he approached the dragon's cave, Charlie heard energetic grunts and squeaks and twitters. He groaned. The dragonets were apparently already awake and visiting. He was going to have to have a talk with Scott Toonders, the senior keeper, who was supposed to be taking care of them. This was the third time this week they'd managed to get out of their own enclosure.

 

He stopped at the shed near the clearing to take out a broom in case he had to herd them back to where they were supposed to be. He ran a hand through his hair. Merlin, he didn't have the energy to deal with them this morning.

 

Sure enough, when he entered the clearing, the first thing he spied were the four dragonets frolicking in the middle of it, their scales already rather spectacularly covered in splotches of mud thanks to the rain that had fallen overnight and turned the ground muddy. The ground itself wasn't in any better shape after having four small dragons rolling all over it (small in dragon-size not anything else-size).

 

Though still considered dragonets, all four were over two years old and were the size of horses. Large work horses, with wings. Three of them were Welsh Greens and the forth was a rather peculiar mix between a Norwegian Ridgeback and a Swedish Short-snout. Peculiar in that it had the silvery blue colouring of the short-snout only with a slightly longer nose than would be usual in the species and the black ridges and long, bronze-coloured horns of the ridgeback. It had, however, yet to produce either venom or flames and the keepers had a betting pool going as to which one it would end up with.

 

At the far end of the clearing, with half his body still inside his cave, Grandfather Time lay stretched out in the early morning sun. He cracked an eye open when Charlie entered the clearing and gave him a long-suffering look. Charlie chuckled.

 

“Yeah, they're a handful, aren't they?” he said.

 

The old dragon huffed and closed his eyes again. If anyone had ever wanted proof that dragons were intelligent, all they had to do was spend some time with this particular dragon, thought Charlie. As usual, he was amazed at the level at which he seemed to understand him. Of course, everything about the dragon was amazing. No keeper or dragonologist had ever managed to quite pin down his breed, his colouring being completely unheard of. His scales were green, but with a definite golden sheen to them, which made him shine golden when the sun hit them at the right angle.

 

Charlie pointed his wand at the trough along the edge of the clearing and incanted. Moments later, water began pouring in. The dragonets abandoned their play in favour of practically throwing their faces into the water and greedily gulping the liquid down.

 

Suddenly, Grandfather Time's head shot up. He looked into the distance with piercing, alert eyes as he rose to his feet. Charlie was immediately on alert as well, scanning the skies for whatever it was that had caught his attention. The dragonets had also looked up from the water and were watching the old dragon with steady, unblinking eyes.

 

He turned to them and growled, watching them for a few moments as though to make certain they had received his message. The dragonets drooped slightly under the gaze. Finally, Grandfather Time turned away and spread his wings.

 

Charlie held his breath. The old dragon very rarely flew and he'd yet to actually witness it.

 

With a mighty leap, the dragon took to the skies with an agility that belied his age. Charlie was too busy watching him to pay attention to the dragonets, who had begun to twitter amongst themselves almost instantly. He did, however, notice when they took off after the older dragon. Charlie shook his head. At least they'd be easy enough to find if they stuck to the large dragon and it wasn't like the wards would let them get too far.

 

Then Grandfather Time opened his jaws and a thick stream of orange-red fire shot out. As Charlie's eyes widened, he noticed the air just above the dragon shimmer and then, where the fire had hit the wards, a tear appeared, splitting the wards as though they were made of a thin gauze.

 

The dragon flew through, turning his head backwards once to growl at the dragonets again. They circled him excitedly, but didn't turn back.

 

Charlie gaped.

 

Since when had Grandfather Time been able to breathe fire?! Not to mention being capable of tearing through the wards as though they weren't actually some of the strongest wards known to wizard-kind?!

 

Suddenly, the true horror of the situation made its way to the forefront of Charlie's mind. Cursing in every language he knew, he ran to the tree he'd leaned the broom against and grabbed it. He paused long enough to send a patronus off to the head keeper to let him know what was going on and then he was kicking the broom off the ground and struggling to catch up to the dragons.

 

Grandfather Time had apparently given up on trying to stop the dragonets from following him, which was just as well as it meant they didn't wander off.

 

They flew east. Charlie rode flat against his broomstick, desperate not to lose them. Every once in a while the broom wobbled, reminding him it was far from the firebolt he kept under his bunk. He would've caught up to the dragons by now on that broom. The dragons kept far above the clouds and Charlie wondered whether Grandfather Time somehow knew to keep from being seen. Only once did they duck below the clouds and that was just before one of those huge muggle metal contraptions, that supposedly carried people, flew by.

 

They were above the water when that happened and thankfully, it was still early enough in the morning that there weren't many people about.

 

An hour later, they veered slightly to the south. The dragon seemed to have a destination in mind, Charlie suddenly realized. Thankfully, he'd slowed down to accommodate the tiring dragonets, which had allowed Charlie to gain some more ground on them.

 

Which, of course, begged the question of what in Merlin's name he was going to do when he did catch up to them?!

 

Just then a shadow passed overhead and Charlie looked up, expecting to see another muggle contraption. He gaped, stumbling his grip on the broom, as a large, white dragon sailed past him. It was a female and not of a breed Charlie recognized aside from being an albino, which was incredibly rare in dragons. The dragonets let out chirpy excited roars as she joined their party.

 

The white dragon greeted Grandfather Time with a nudge to his side. The older dragon looked at her and nodded. Then he launched himself slightly higher up and turned his neck mid-flight to look at Charlie.

 

Charlie held his breath, unholstering his wand in preparation of shielding himself from the dragon's fire – or attempt to at any rate. However, the dragon didn't attack. Instead, allowing Charlie to fly in close enough to see his eyes.

 

The dragon's eyes looked amused. His jaws grinned, displaying a magnificent set of very sharp teeth. Then he turned and flew back to the front of the dragon procession.

 

Charlie cursed. He dipped below the clouds long enough to see a large muggle city stretch out below him and sent out another patronus. If he was right, they were heading towards London.

 

A half hour later, they veered south again and Charlie let out a breath of relief. He was fairly certain this was not the way to London. The dragonets were now visibly tiring and the four of them had started taking turns resting on the white dragon's back.

 

Charlie still couldn't understand how such a large white dragon had managed to go completely undetected by the wizarding world.

 

Then, suddenly, Charlie found himself scrambling as the dragons abruptly dived. When he left the cover of the clouds, he saw sprawls of forest, which ended at the edge of a large, grassy field full of grazing horses. They looked up as the dragons flew overhead, but, amazingly enough, didn't panic in the slightest. Which was odd, but quickly became far from his priority as he looked ahead, past a lake and a beautiful, ornamental garden to what was obviously a large residence.

 

Grandfather Time suddenly roared.

 

If there were any wards around the property they did absolutely nothing to keep the dragons out. All six of them descended smoothly onto a large patch of grass to the right of the expansive gardens. Charlie lowered himself flat on his broom and shot past them towards the manor house. He needed to warn the residents.

 

Just as he was about to land, someone stalked out of the manor. Charlie froze as he recognized the person. It was Draco Malfoy.

 


 

 

Draco had woken up to sunlight so bright it had blinded him until he'd managed to fumble his wand into his hand and spell the curtains shut. Then, he had washed and dressed and called a house elf for breakfast to eat in his rooms.

 

“Oh, Young Master Draco will not be eating with the guests?” the house elf asked.

 

Draco froze and looked down with both eyebrows raised and blinked at the nervous-looking creature.

 

“What guests?” he asked.

 

“Em- Master Merlin ask elves to make big feast for breakfast, because guests be coming.”

 

Draco blinked down at it again. A feast? When had Merlin decided to hold a feast? Draco ran a hand through his hair in frustration as he realized he wasn't at all surprised that Merlin was the sort of lunatic to hold a feast for breakfast. Nor would he have been horribly surprised to find that Merlin had sent out invitations to said feast at some ungodly hour of the early morning that likely only barely qualified as morning in the first place.

 

So Draco asked the house elf when these guests would be arriving, to which the house elf had more or less shrugged and told him Merlin had said it might take them a while. Draco sighed and decided on simply having some tea while he completed his entry for yesterday in the leather book from Merlin, having been too tired last night to finish.

 

An hour later, found him hunting down his mother, demanding to know if she knew anything about this feast. She hadn't even heard of it, but did gently remind him that this was now Merlin's house and he could do whatever he wanted to with it and certainly didn't need to consult either of them on it. Draco had not appreciated the reminder at all.

 

It had then taken Draco another twenty minutes and a stilted conversation with the hideously garish portrait of his late great great great aunt Augusta to figure out Merlin was most likely in the gardens waiting for his guests.

 

Which was why he was now stalking towards the outdoor dining area. At least he had been, before a redhead on a broomstick careened into his path.

 

Draco froze mid-stride, startled abruptly out of his thoughts. The man in front of him seemed to stumble off his broom - an old Cleansweep that had clearly seen much better days – in the manner of one who'd just flown for a very long time on an unfamiliar broom, or at the very least one that was complete rubbish. Which his clearly was. As the man looked up to him, Draco's face turned into an automatic sneer at the very familiar facial features.

 

“Lovely, another Weasley,” he said. Then his eyes narrowed. “How exactly did you manage to get past the wards?”

 

The Weasley gave him a cold look.

 

“You might want to be a little more gracious, Malfoy,” he said. “I'm here to warn you about the dragons currently resting at the back of your gardens.”

 

Draco's eyes widened. “Dragons?”

 

“Yes, dragons. Two adults and four two-year-old dragonets. They somehow managed to break out of the reservation in Wales early this morning and I've been following them since. Have been sending messages back to the reserve when I could, but this is the first time they've actually stopped.”

 

Draco stared at him, a horrible, absolutely impossible thought forming in his mind. Absolutely impossible in the way that a herd of two dozen unicorns munching happily on the manor lawn was impossible.

 

The other man must've taken his silence and what was likely a sort of growing horror in his eyes as fear of the dragons – which, it wasn't, but only because he wasn't allowing himself to think of it in terms of anything connected to reality – because he quickly began to reassure Draco that he'd be perfectly safe so long as he stayed inside. Draco dismissed him with a glare as he brushed quickly past him, hurrying towards the garden dining area.

 

“Those had better not be his guests,” he grumbled.

 

He didn't notice the bewildered look on Charlie's face as he swept by. Charlie blinked twice, deciding he must've misunderstood something, somewhere. Then he cursed as he realized the bloody whelp was heading directly towards the dragons. Charlie ran to catch up.

 

It didn't take him long to catch up to the young Malfoy, being much fitter than him, but it took just long enough for them to see the two older dragons towering over top of the tree copse in the corner of the garden. Charlie took his wand out as he grabbed the blond with his other hand.

 

“What the hell do you think you're doing?” Charlie hissed at him. “Dragons aren't domesticated no matter how long they've lived on a reserve.”

 

He was not going to mention to Malfoy that the white one hadn't come from the reserve at all.

 

Malfoy sneered at him. “Of course not,” he said. “No one tames a dragon.”

 

“Then what exactly do you think you're doing?!”

 

The blond opened his mouth to reply when suddenly delighted laughter erupted into the air. It was coming from the corner with the dragons. Charlie stared, stunned. He and Malfoy slowly walked over to the trees. The laughter continued. A low growl vibrated through the noise, but the laughter barely stopped.

 

Draco found the exit in the hedge and led the older Weasley out onto the lawn. He stopped, his mind finally registering that those were real live dragons and oh dear Merlin they were bloody huge! And one of them was glaring down at... Merlin. Merlin, who had a great big dragon glaring down at him and, instead of being at least mildly scared like any normal, sane person, was laughing uproariously.

 

Suddenly, the dragon brought its head down and snapped at something. There was a surprised chorus of yelps and four much smaller dragons scurried to the side.

 

“Aw, Kilgharrah, how can you be so mean to your adoring followers?” he heard Merlin say, amusement colouring his voice.

 

“I neither want them to adore me, nor did I ask them to follow me,” a deep voice rumbled in answer. “In fact, I very much told them to stay where they were!”

 

Draco and Charlie crept closer along the hedge. Both of them had their wands drawn by now and if Charlie noticed Draco's trembled just slightly, he didn't say a word. His eyes and mind were both a bit preoccupied with watching the dragons for any man-eating impulses.

 

Charlie froze, his eyes widening as the dark-haired man suddenly stepped towards Grandfather Time.

 

“It's been a long time, Kilgharrah,” he said. “It's good to see you again, old friend.”

 

The irritation in Grandfather Time's eyes disappeared, softening into an expression Charlie couldn't help but gape at: fondness. The golden dragon brought his head down to the man's torso and nudged him gently.

 

“You as well, young warlock.”

 

The man rubbed the dragon along his forehead as he leaned forward against the dragon's head. Suddenly, the white dragon also leaned down, her head nudging the man from the side. The man yelped in surprise and nearly lost his balance. The he laughed and rubbed that dragon with his other hand.

 

“Hello, Aithusa, it's good to see you too,” he said. “'S been a while since our trip to Africa, hasn't it?”

 

“Yes, indeed it has, Merlin,” a rumbling feminine voice answered him.

 

“I-I'm not imagining this, am I?” Charlie heard Malfoy whisper.

 

It took Charlie a few moments to find his voice. “You mean the talking dragons? Don't think so. If you are, we're both imagining the same thing and I would hate to be imagining the same thing as a Malfoy.”

 

The blond scoffed. “Better than imagining the same thing as a Weasley.”

 

“Hardly.”

 

His equilibrium somewhat restored, Charlie began to move forward again. He and the young Malfoy reached the trees just as the dragonets managed to sneak their way under the older dragon's necks. Their heads suddenly popped up around the man – who, now that Charlie had a better look at him, was surprisingly young – sniffing at him curiously. One of the Welsh Greens licked at the back of his neck. The man laughed and pushed the dragonet's head back.

 

“Right, I think the four of you need something to do,” he said.

 

The two older dragons pulled back slightly and then proceeded to nudge the dragonets back a few steps. Grandfather Time growled at them, though it hardly did anything to subdue the young ones.

 

“Mimsy!”

 

There was a familiar 'pop' and a house elf suddenly appeared. Charlie blinked at the large grin on its face.

 

“Emrys is ready for breakfast now?” it asked.

 

“Yes, er, well it's not exactly breakfast anymore, but I think we're certainly ready for it.”

 

“Then Mimsy will bring it- eep!”

 

The house elf squeaked in surprise as it suddenly found itself surrounded on all sides by four horse-size dragonets. They were looking down at it curiously, not touching, but seemingly examining it from all angles. Mimsy stared back up at them with wide, uncertain eyes. Then there was a 'pop' and the house elf was gone. The dragonets reared up in surprise and then the ridgeback-short-shout mix stepped forward and lowered his neck to sniff at the ground where the house elf had stood. The Welsh Greens quickly joined him, avoiding his horns with an ease born of familiarity and practice. They sniffed around the area, their eyes darting everywhere as they pushed their heads underneath each other's necks, bellies and legs, twisting around as they did so until they looked more like a live-action surrealist painting.

 

It looked so bizarre, Charlie couldn't help himself. The laughter was bubbling up in his chest before he was even aware of it himself.

 

“Weasley!” he heard Malfoy hiss.

 

When he finally managed to get ahold of himself, Charlie looked up to see himself being stared at by four pairs of small dragon eyes (who'd looked up from within their tangle), two much larger pairs of dragon eyes and one pair of amused human eyes. That destroyed any remaining laughter.

 

“Er...” he began.

 

“Draco,” the young dark-haired man called out. “Who's your friend?”

 

Charlie could feel Malfoy bristle without even looking over.

 

“He is most certainly not my friend,” the blond stated. “He's a Weasley of some sort.”

 

“Oh, Kilgharrah, it's that wizard that followed you from Wales,” said the white dragon – and, yes, this time there was absolutely no denying it was the dragon speaking. Charlie could see her lips moving.

 

The man blinked in confusion. “What's a Weasley?”

 

“It's his name: Charlie Weasley,” Grandfather Time answered. “A nice young fellow, introduced himself on his first day, which not all those wizards do. Some of them are actually quite rude, thinking I'm no better than some farm animal.”

 

“A giant, fire-breathing farm animal,” the man added, looking up at the dragon with a grin, which the dragon echoed back, showing a full set of teeth.

 

The white dragon shook her head. “I don't understand why you stay there. Wizards do not have the same sort of respect for magical creatures that magic users of old once had.”

 

Grandfather Time seemed to shrug. “I am old and in my old age it is rather nice not to have to hunt for my food and let someone else worry about cleaning my scales and keeping my cave clear of clutter.”

 

Charlie gaped. Beside him, Malfoy burst out laughing.

 

“So, basically, you're a bit like his house elf, Weasley,” he said in-between gasps for breath. The other young man was also snickering at him.

 

Charlie could feel his face heating up, but he ignored it as best he could.

 

“You can talk,” he said accusingly to the gold-scaled dragon.

 

The dragon raised an eyebrow at him. “Yes, evidently, my boy.”

 

His flush deepened. “No, I mean, you've never talked before.” Then he glared at the dragon. “Nor, have you ever breathed fire.”

 

The dragon's face took on a rather sly, self-satisfied expression. “Hm, I suppose I haven't, have I?”

 

The dark-haired young man laughed at this. “Kilgharrah, you mean you've had them all convinced you were nothing but a docile, harmless old dragon?!”

 

Before any of them could say anything to that, there was a 'pop' and four large platters appeared on the lawn to Charlie's right and just to the left of the dragonets. The young dragons were quick to untangle themselves from their knot as they looked at the platters of steaming roasted mutton with wide eyes.

 

“Yes, yes, that's for you, so go ahead,” the dark-haired man said with a grin.

 

They wasted no time in digging in. Then two more, larger platters appeared with what seemed to be roasted cow arranged on them. The two older dragons eyed them delightedly. As they leaned forward to sniff at the food, the young man walked towards Charlie.

 

“Sorry, I realize this is a bit late,” he said with a smile. “I'm Merlin and I'm assuming you know Draco here.” He motioned behind him. “And, of course, Kilgharrah.”

 

“They called him Grandfather Time at the reservation,” Charlie said, only now noticing Merlin's muggle clothing – which really, ought to have told him right away, who the man was.

 

Merlin chuckled. “It's an appropriate name. Anyway, that's Aithusa.”

 

The white dragon inclined her head and Charlie bowed back respectfully with a smile. Now that the shock was wearing off, his body was being infused with a sort of giddiness. The sort that happens when one suddenly realizes their childhood dreams are being enacted right before their eyes after having been an adult for long enough to realize they were never going to take place. He grinned. There were talking dragons. He was talking to dragons.

 

He'd bet his last knut every single dragon keeper in the world would currently be jealous of him if they knew.

 

“You will join us for breakfast, I'm assuming, Mister Weasley?”

 

“Yeah, definitely,” Charlie answered, still staring at the dragons. Someone cleared their throat. Charlie looked beside him to Malfoy, who was glaring at him disapprovingly. Charlie blinked and then mentally went back over the conversation and flushed again, thinking how hard his mum would wallop him for such a rude reply. “Er, so long as I'm not intruding. Sorry, I uh... Please call me Charlie.”

 

He held his hand out, which Merlin immediately took. “It's nice to meet you, Charlie,” he said, his eyes dancing with amusement. “And it's hardly an imposition. An army would hardly be an imposition in helping to deal with the mountain of food the house elves have undoubtedly prepared for us.”

 

He led the way to the outdoor dining area which was just on the other side of the hedge he and Malfoy had been walking along. As Merlin had predicted, it was piled high with a variety of foods from an array of pastries to devilled eggs, fruit salads and chocolate-drizzled crepes. As they sat down, two large silver tubs appeared on the lawn, one by the dragonets and one by Kilgharrah and Aithusa. Charlie couldn't quite see what the dragonet's one was filled with, but the one for the older dragons smelled slightly fruity. Aithusa sniffed at it before taking a slight sip. She made an appreciative sound and then took a proper drink.

 

Charlie decided to find what the drink was before he left.

 

There were two kettles on the table. Merlin lifted the top off the taller one and sniffed at it. His eyes lit up. “Ooh, looks like they've made coffee this morning. Which reminds me. Mimsy!”

 

There was a 'pop' and the house elf appeared again.

 

“Yes, Emrys?”

 

“Please thank the kitchen elves for me, it all looks wonderful. And would you please find Narcissa and ask her if she'd like to join us?”

 

The house elf grinned happily. “Mimsy will pass on messages!”

 

She disappeared with another 'pop'. Merlin happily poured himself some coffee before offering to pour some for Charlie, who gladly accepted. Draco turned his nose up at the plebian drink and tapped the tea pot with his wand, floating a sugar cube and some milk over as it poured. Charlie frowned at that and looked to Merlin, realizing the man had indeed poured the coffee by hand instead of using magic.

 

“So, Merlin, is this the end of your unusual house guests or are should I be expecting a herd of hypogriffs to show up tomorrow?” Draco asked casually. He raised an eyebrow at Merlin as he scooped a crepe onto his plate. “Or perhaps some threstrals?”

 

Merlin looked slightly sheepish. “Not that I know of. I mean, I did call the dragons, but I'll have you know I had nothing to do with the unicorns! They just sort of... showed up.”

 

Charlie choked on the devilled egg he was eating. He washed it down with coffee. “Unicorns?”

 

Draco shot him an incredulous look. “You flew in from the back, how could you have possibly missed the unicorns on the lawn?!”

 

Charlie frowned. He didn't remember seeing any unicorns. There had been horses on the... He froze. He'd seen white horses on the back lawn. Eyes wide, Charlie dashed from the table, running past the dragons, to where the hedge ended and he had a clear view of the lake and then the grassy lawn just beyond it.

 

He pointed his wand at his eyes. “Aciesum Ablego.”

 

It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the sudden shift in perspective, but suddenly he could see the lawn beyond the lake as though he were standing in the middle of it. Standing right in the middle of the herd of unicorns. Holy bloody hell, he though, there were a good two dozen unicorns grazing on the lawn, drinking at the lake or resting in the shade of the trees nearby. Charlie had never seen anything like it.

 

It was beautiful.

 

Charlie ended the distance-seeing charm. In a daze, he turned around and walked back towards the dragons and breakfast. By the time he arrived, Narcissa Malfoy had joined them and she, Draco and Merlin were conversing with the dragons. The dragonets were curled up into a pile of heads and torsos and tails, soundly asleep. If Narcissa Malfoy had been at all shocked to find half a dozen dragons lounging by her garden – well, technically it was Merlin's garden now, he supposed – she no longer showed it.

 

And Charlie couldn't help but wonder what else Merlin had done to make the two remaining Malfoys only somewhat shocked by the dragons.

 

Charlie greeted Mrs. Malfoy politely as he sat down again and finished his coffee in one gulp. Then he turned to Merlin, who was looking at him with amusement again. Charlie flushed. He supposed he'd earned that.

 

“So, you said you called the dragons here?” Charlie said. “How exactly?”

 

Merlin froze, amusement gone.

 

“Why Weasley, what an excellent question,” Draco drawled. “How exactly did you do that, Merlin?”

 

Kilgharrah and Aithusa both snickered as Merlin seemed to mentally go back and then grimaced when he realized that, yes, he had indeed said that. He sighed.

 

“I'm a dragonlord,” he said.

 

Everyone at the table froze.

 

“You're a what?” Charlie asked, confused. He'd never heard that term before.

 

“Uh, it's sort of like a parselmouth only with dragons,” Merlin explained. “And, well, because dragons are bigger and more magical than snakes it's got a bit of a longer range.”

 

Charlie gaped. “How is it possible that I've never heard of this before?”

 

“Er, well, mostly I imagine because most of the dragon lord lines died out in the Middle Ages. I've searched for information and the last dragonlord I could find was killed along with the Knights Templar in France. It's possible that some of them escaped the massacres and decided to live as normal people, as muggles, and their abilities have remained dormant.”

 

He shrugged. “S'far as I know, I'm it though.”

 

“And no chance of any distant relatives living anywhere?”

 

“Wouldn't matter. The powers of a dragonlord are passed on from father to son upon death. There's only ever one dragonlord in each family.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“Do not worry over the loss of such a power,” the booming voice of Kilgharrah interrupted the silence. “The powers of a dragonlord are great, but they are a relic from an ancient time and no longer needed. The dragons born now do not have the same connection to the Old Religion as those that came before them.”

 

Charlie took a peach danish and looked up at the dragon thoughtfully.

 

“Kilgharrah,” he said. “Just how old are you exactly?”

 

Merlin snorted at the question. Kilgharrah grinned down at him, his long, sharp teeth glistening as the sun reflected off them.

 


 

 

Draco looked up from the leather-bound book, placing his quill gently into its holder in order to stretch his cramping fingers. He looked out the window beside him. It was dark out. When had that happened? He looked across the room, to where Merlin was stretched out on the large leather couch next to the drawing room fireplace, reading.

 

He looked back out the window again. The drawing room was on the lower level, so there wasn't much of a view past the gardens, but Draco could just make out the tops of two slumbering dragons, who had found themselves a spot between the gardens and the lake. Merlin had promised to take a look at the old dragon stables and see what he could do to make them habitable again as a shelter from the rain.

 

A breeze blew in through the partially-open window, making Draco shiver slightly.

 

“Cold?” he heard Merlin call to him.

 

He shrugged. “Not really.”

 

He heard the fire roar to life in the fireplace anyway and within moments, the room was filled with its warm glow. Draco continued to stare out the window for a while longer, thinking about what had transpired. Merlin had certainly been right about strange events happening, though he couldn't yet see how important any of them were individually. Although...

 

Writing them down may have been a task given to him by Merlin, but it was one Draco now did happily. It helped him organize his thoughts and feelings even though he tried to write what happened down as dispassionately as he could. Merlin kept personal information close to his chest, which meant that attempting to puzzle him out was an exercise of sorting through hundreds of little comments.

 

Dragonlord, that one was new.

 

Draco remembered his shock at hearing Potter speak parseltongue for the first time, that creepy feeling of watching him open his mouth and let out an inhuman-sounding, hissing noise. When Merlin had spoken to the dragonets in the dragon tongue in order to convince them to return to the reserve with Charlie, he'd gotten the same feeling, only intensified. And it wasn't just that Merlin voice had suddenly turned to a low, rumbling roar, his eyes had also changed, the pupils narrowed and eyes glowed gold. Draco could feel the magic surround them and infuse the earth. It had made him shiver.

 

To say that a dragonlord was like a parselmouth was apparently like saying that a unicorn was a bit like a horse.

 

Draco took up his quill again and returned to his daily entry. He finished quickly, wanting to visit the family library before retiring for the night. Once done, he replaced the quill in its holder and closed the book.

 

“I am going to retire for the evening,” he announced. “I hope you have a good night.”

 

Merlin looked up and smiled. “Good night, Draco.”

 

Draco pushed the chair in and took the book before leaving. Just as he was opening the door to walk out of the room, something on the corner table beside the door caught his eye. He paused, his eyes then darting across to where Merlin was once again absorbed in his book. He frowned down at the item again, before slowly walking out and closing the door behind him.

 

It had been Merlin's wand.

 


 

 

It was nearly time for the first of Shrewsbury's bakers to wake for the day, when a stone house a little ways off the main thoroughfare, shook with the force of a scream.

 

It wasn't a large house, just big enough for a family, comfortable even. It looked very neat and orderly on the outside, with a small bit of green surrounding it and isolating it from its neighbours and a stone and metal fence around it to keep animals and children from running out into the road. There was truly nothing outwardly remarkable about the house: it was made of red brick with a slanted, dark brown roof. There were lace curtains hanging in the windows and the lawn was well-maintained, though there were no flowerbeds or ornamental plants save a few lilac bushes along the front.

 

Unknown to its neighbours, however, it was covered in powerful magical wards, including a silencing charm around the house itself. Which is why none of them were woken by the scream.

 

Up in her bedroom, a young woman was sitting up in bed, panting heavily. Her eyes were wide and her long, dark hair tangled from tossing and turning. She had a hand to her chest, as though attempting to keep her heart from beating its way out.

 

A crystal vase lay in shattered pieces on the ground, water flowing along hardwood and flowers scattered amongst the debris.

 

The woman in the bed looked out the window. Her eyes flashed golden in the darkness.

 

“Mordred,” she whispered, almost reverently, awed. Then she smirked and pushed the covers away.

 

Reaching out for her bedside table, Morgana picked up the Elder Wand and vanished the mess from the floor.

Chapter Text

PART TWO: STRENGTH

 

Chapter 8

 

Terry sat cross-legged on the bench at the bus stop, his bag lying haphazardly open at his feet. His entire focus was on the Galaxy in his right hand, his thumb flipping through the card list he was looking at. His left hand held a pen and kept the small notebook balanced on his knee from falling. He glanced quickly at the time, relaxing in the knowledge that he still had eleven minutes before the bus was due to arrive – assuming it was on time.

 

He flipped to the next card and paused, considering. It was a good card, not spectacular, but it only cost two mana and he owned one and could possibly borrow another from a friend... He added two of them to his hand-written list with a shrug. He could always decide to take it out later. The qualifier wasn't until tomorrow, so he had all day to build his deck before meeting his Magic-playing friends at eight to practice against each other.

 

Terry was absolutely overjoyed that his parents had allowed him to go to London with the others. He supposed they were happy he was becoming social... even if it was in an odd sort of way they didn't understand.

 

Of all the ways in which being diagnosed with a mental condition was useful... though, technically, Asperger's was a social condition, not a mental one, but he wasn't entirely sure his parents really understood the difference. He still remembered how happy they'd been when he'd been twelve and the doctor told them he was getting better (those weren't the words the doctor used, but his parents hadn't cared for technical jargon).

 

Which was funny, because Terry didn't feel like he was any different. It was just that when they'd moved earlier that year, there weren't as many lights and vibrations distracting him. As a child he hadn't realized no one else could see the faint lights around some of the houses in their neighbourhood or the strange-looking bus that used to drive by and weave through cars as though they weren't there (he used to love watching that bus when he was a kid). And some of the people used to vibrate when they walked by, like there was a haze surrounding them.

 

There was a field just outside Ottery St. Catchpole where his grandmum used to live before she moved in with them and it used to vibrate so strongly it made his body hurt.

 

He still sometimes saw vibrating people, or things surrounded with light, but he was sixteen now and knew better than to stare at them.

 

He flipped to the next card. Ugh, useless. Why did they even bother printing cards no one would ever want to play? The next one wasn't a bad card, but didn't fit into the deck he was building. He scrolled to the next one.

 

Then he felt it.

 

Terry froze, barely daring to breath as the vibrations became steadily stronger, as though whatever was causing them was coming closer. He looked up and blinked at the dark-haired woman approaching him. The black cloak she was wearing shone with dim light and there was a bright line of light coming from her right sleeve. And she vibrated, though the vibrations were different, somehow lower than any he'd ever felt before.

 

He carefully uncrossed his legs and stuffed his notebook back into his schoolbag. He kept his phone out and pretended to be very interested in something on its screen as he exited the deck-builder app. His bus would be here in another five minutes.

 

The vibrations kept getting stronger.

 

Unable to resist, Terry finally glanced up again. The woman was standing in front of him now, no less than three steps away, looking down on him with a fond smile. Terry's mouth went dry. He could see her face now and she was very pretty – in a Liliana Vess sort of way. The air around her was vibrating and he could almost see sparks flying around her fingertips when he squinted.

 

“I've been looking for you.”

 

Terry blinked, tearing his eyes away from the brightness around her. He frowned, looking at her again. She was pretty, much too pretty to be interested in him and older too... a university student maybe? He definitely didn't know her, didn't think he'd seen her before and yet...

 

“Have we met somewhere before?” he asked.

 

That seemed to be the right question. The woman's eyes lit up with delight. “Why, yes, actually.” She raised her right arm and Terry's eyes widened when he saw the slim stick she was holding. She pointed it at him and he had only enough time to vaguely realize the stick was perfectly smooth and wonder that it looked like a magic wand, when her eyes glowed with a golden light.

 

Begeondan weorolddead forelócan ond sylfum ofergietee eftgemyndge!”

 

A ray of light hit him and the world around him exploded, the light and vibrations he'd only felt from afar before now surrounded him, filling his mind with nothing but their constant thrum.

 

He opened his eyes and saw a blond man standing in front of him, his blue eyes full of regret. He was wearing armour. Then, Terry felt pain, sharp, excruciating pain from his chest. He looked down and saw a sword sticking out of his chest... and then he was falling...

 

... and sitting in a cold, dungeon cell. There were tears flowing down his face – he could feel them, but he wasn't sure why they were there... From out side there came a thump and his heart burst. Kara! He screamed and the cell door was thrown off its hinges...

 

... there was screaming. Smoke. He heard thumps and whinnying – horses, he realized. He opened his eyes and saw red cloaks. There was a dark-haired woman, beautiful, but frightened... and there was someone else, a man...

 

... she looked worried, sad. Her gown was beautiful, richly made, like a princess. He sat huddled: something horrible was happening. Then he realized there was screaming. Horrible, pained screaming. Someone was in pain, some man was... his father!

 

But his father was alive, he'd seen him this morning just before leaving for school...

 

The vibrations never stopped, they intensified, growing louder and louder. Terry screamed. And then, everything went silent and Terry sighed with relief as he fell gladly into the peaceful dark of unconsciousness.

 

Morgana knelt next to the boy, smiling as she gently brushed his hair away from his face. He looked a little younger than the last time she'd seen him and there was less hatred and grief in his eyes. Evidently, his life had been much happier this time around. No matter, he would remember.

 

She'd spent the past two days searching. At first she tried using magic, but it turned out magic was less useful when searching for something she'd only seen in a dream. So she'd ventured into her father's old study – the only room in the house she hadn't been able to face touching except to hang his medal of valour above the desk next to a muggle photograph of him decorated with a black sash – and booted up the computer. Remembering how to use it had taken her most of the day. Thankfully, it turned out internet searching was just as easy as her father had always claimed it was.

 

Being of mixed heritage was useful occasionally, it seemed.

 

As she gazed down at the boy, she felt a sense of triumph, as though she'd just found her trump card. She already had a powerful weapon and now she had her oldest friend and ally by her side once more. She smirked, wondering where Emrys was. Had he, perhaps, not remembered yet?

 

Suddenly, she heard the sound of an approaching vehicle.

 

Morgana pointed her wand at the sac at the young man's feet and floated it into his lap. Then she embraced him and concentrated as she apparated them both away and directly into her bedroom. Once there, she quickly reset the wards and sat on the edge of the bed, watching her guest sleep.

 

It was only a few minutes later that the young man's eyes fluttered open and darted around, looking confused as to his surroundings. Then he saw her and smiled.

 

“Morgana.”

 

She smiled warmly at him. “Hello, Mordred. I'm so happy you're back.”

 


 

 

It was a very tired group of wizards that met at the Burrow just after dawn. The war had greatly diminished the ranks of the Order of the Phoenix, but enough of them survived to still make a formidable group.

 

“Ehem, right, so first of all, thank you all for coming,” Kingsley Shackelbolt began, interrupting the few conversations around the room. “I'm assuming you've all heard of the attack on Harry in Diagon Alley.”

 

“Oh, yes, horrible thing,” said Headmistress McGonagall with a frown. Her eyes softened as she looked at Harry. “How are you holding up, Mister Potter?”

 

Harry shrugged. “I'm doing alright, professor. Still not completely well, but getting there. Mrs. Weasley has been taking very good care of me.”

 

Mrs. Weasley smiled proudly at Harry as Ginny squeezed his hand, making him look up to her with a grin.

 

“That's good to hear.”

 

“Yes, it is,” Kingsley continued. “Now, unfortunately, it seems the aurors have hit a bit of a dead end. They've copied Harry's memories of the woman, who attacked him, but have had no luck identifying her. I've brought a pensieve with me and Harry's agreed to put in his memories of her.” Harry nodded in agreement. “I'd like you each to get a good look at her in case any of you recognize her. If you don't, at least you now all know who to look for.”

 

No one seemed to have any objections to the idea, so Kingsley set the pensieve onto a small side table Molly had brought out. Harry placed the tip of his wand to his temple and said the incantation. As he pulled his wand away again, a silvery strip of smoke followed his wand. He carefully placed it into the pensieve.

 

The members of the Order of the Phoenix took turns looking at the images. Minerva went first and Kingsley waited with bated breath, but she shook her head sadly at him when she was done. “I'm sorry, Kingsley, I'm afraid this isn't anyone I ever taught.”

 

He sighed. “I suppose she must've home-schooled by her parents then. Probably a pureblood and old enough to have been done schooling before that mandatory year three years ago.”

 

“That'd make her at least twenty-one,” said Hermione thoughtfully.

 

“Hm.”

 

Unexpectedly, it was Fleur, who stood from the pensive and declared: “I think 'er name is Gorlois.”

 

They all stared at her, but the half-veela didn't notice as she continued staring at the pensieve, deep in thought. Her face suddenly brightened. “Ah, yes! She is Rachel Gorlois. She was in my school house several years below. I think her mother died just before she started, because I remember her being very, uh, sad at first and crying a lot.”

 

“A Beauxbatons student,” Kingsley breathed, suddenly overcome with the inexplicable urge to bang his head against the nearest wall. “No wonder we couldn't find any information on her. If her family's from France and she attended Beauxbatons instead of Hogwarts then the British Ministry of Magic wouldn't have any information about her.”

 

“But 'er English was perfect,” said Ron. “I wouldn't have guessed she was foreign.”

 

“Some people learn accents easier than others, Ron,” said Hermione. She then turned to Kingsley. “However, she would've likely have had to spent a considerable amount of time in England for that to have happened.”

 

“Or one of her parents could be British,” Molly suggested.

 

Kingsley nodded. Then he sighed. “Fleur, would you mind coming down to the ministry and writing an official statement identifying her?”

 

Fleur nodded. “Of course.”

 

“Well, then if that's all, I really should be heading to work,” Bill declared.

 

“Yes, so should the rest of us, I imagine,” Kingsley agreed and the Order of the Phoenix dispersed.

 


 

 

Draco idly wondered just what the rumourmill was saying as he walked alongside Merlin through Diagon Alley for the second time in just over a week. During the past two years he'd become accustomed to the stares that always followed him, though he was somewhat surprised to note there was just as much curiosity in them now as there was hostility. Of course, many of the curious ones were aimed at Merlin. Thanks, no doubt, to Madame Malkin and George Weasley it was quite likely that all the shopkeepers and stall owners setting up for the day guessed accurately who he was.

 

Draco held his head high and ignored the looks, focusing instead on Merlin's continuous babbling. For someone, who normally (unless he was inviting dragons for breakfast, apparently) was quite the opposite of an early riser, the man was being rather chipper this morning. At the moment he was apparently trying to work out the feasibility of outfitting the manor with some sort of muggle wires. And a dish.

 

Draco just walked beside him, letting his voice wash over him. He'd stopped listening when Merlin started talking about connecting some sort of net onto the manor.

 

They arrived at Gringotts just the doors were being opened for the day. There were already three elderly witches waiting in front to get in. One of them gave Draco a nasty look, which he ignored.

 

“That must get really old,” Merlin commented.

 

Draco blinked in surprise and then shrugged. “It was a lot worse right after the war.”

 

“It always is. The victors are never merely content with writing history.”

 

The door nearly hit Draco in the face as he stopped abruptly, eyes wide and staring at Merlin's back as he walked into the bank. Was Merlin showing sympathy towards him as a Death Eater? And was it just towards him or towards Death Eaters in general? Draco couldn't begin to imagine what that sentence meant.

 

He threw the door open and hurried in after him.

 

“What do you mean?” he asked Merlin once he'd caught up with him. Merlin was waiting in line behind one of the witches. The other two were already being served – including the one who'd given Draco the nasty look. “You can't possibly be saying that-” He darted a look ahead and then lowered his voice to a whisper. “-that you sympathize with the Dark Lord.”

 

Merlin snorted. “Absolutely not,” he whispered back. “But, one man is never the cause of a war. One man, in the right place and born at the right time, however, can be. Voldemort never truly cared for any of the ideologies he preached, but he took advantage of them and took advantage of the tensions between old pureblood families and newer mud- er – muggleborn influences. Even if he hadn't been born, someone else would have come along, or something else would've happened. The problems were there and no one was addressing them.”

 

The witch in front of them moved on to be served and Merlin paused for a moment.

 

“So, you're saying the war was inevitable?” Draco asked, surprised to find himself genuinely curious. No one had ever explained it to him like this. In a strange way, it sort of made sense. The Dark Lord had been a monster, no one truly thought otherwise (except, perhaps, for his aunt Bellatrix) and yet so many joined him voluntarily.

 

Merlin winced. “Yes and no. I think something was inevitable, but it didn't have to be anything as horrible as the war. That can be laid solely on Voldemort's shoulders. It's just that, well... my point, I suppose, is that the victors tend to forget that there is more than one reason for any war and like to place blame onto the losers – often simply because they can.” He sighed and ran a hand through his already-messy hair. “A lot of the problems with the wizarding world are likely to eventually be addressed by the ministry once they're finished with all this post-war cleanup. But not all of them.”

 

Draco's head snapped to Merlin, but Merlin was already heading towards the goblin, who was waving them over. At the goblin's till, he once again produced his unusually-elaborate key. The goblin nodded and motioned for them to follow. Merlin seemed to assume Draco would come as well, so he fell into step beside him.

 

Merlin grinned his way through the cart ride to the vaults, which, to Draco, seemed to take hours. He'd been down to the Malfoy family vault hundreds of times and it was further down than most, being number 523. However, by the time the cart screeched to an abrupt halt, Draco was incredibly happy to finally be able to touch solid ground again, his stomach feeling queasy from the ride for the first time since his pre-Hogwarts years.

 

Then he caught sight of Merlin's vault.

 

The double door was made of solid oak with black iron re-enforcing the edges of the wood. The hinges also seemed to be made of the same black iron, though the door handle was silver. There was really nothing much to be said for the door except that it looked solid and like it had stood there looking solid for a very long time. Draco gaped at the number 3 burned into the wood. He stepped forward.

 

“Draco,” he heard Merlin say, a sharp warning in his voice. Draco froze and then his eyes snapped down at the soft thumps he heard.

 

Standing in front of him was a large, stone dog. It wasn't oversized or grotesque in any way, but simply a rather lifelike representation of a breed of large dog. It watched him with blank, stone eyes. Merlin walked past Draco and the dog's attention turned to him. There was a creaking sound and a second dog statue stood from where it had been laying at the left side of the door. It trotted up to Merlin with a series of soft thumps. The first dog joined it and then they both looked up at him expectantly.

 

Merlin placed a hand on each of the dogs' heads and mumbled something. Draco thought he saw a flash of golden light and then the dogs seemed to suddenly come alive: their tails wagging furiously as they licked Merlin's hands with stone tongues.

 

Merlin laughed. The goblin stepped up to the door and placed a hand on it as he put the key into the lock and turned it. There was a loud click and the right hand side of the double doors slid open.

 

“So, out of curiosity, what exactly would happen if someone didn't know the password to get past the dogs?” Draco asked.

 

Merlin looked at Draco with raised eyebrows. “Er, well, they'd grow into giant monster dogs and tear them to pieces.”

 

Draco had rather figured as much. It was a very interesting security system. He knew the manor had animated gargoyles, but none of them were nearly as detailed – or as harmless-looking – as these two dogs. Who were currently frolicking with each other beside Merlin with an agility and lack of noise that really shouldn't be possible for something made of stone. Merlin left them to play and grasped the silver handle to open the door wide enough for him to enter the vault.

 

Draco followed, pausing at the entrance to examine the double doors up close. The wood didn't seem at all unusual, however, if he looked closely, the iron appeared to have tiny runes engraved into it. Draco brought his hand up to run it along the metal. No sooner had he touched it, his hand exploded in white-hot fire that travelled up his arm and seemed to somehow freeze it in place and steal his energy. He was fairly certain he cried out.

 

Suddenly, there were arms around him and he was being dragged away. The burning stopped, but Draco felt disorientated and dizzy. His breath came out in embarrassing gasps, his arm buzzed with the sensation of a thousand pins poking into it and he couldn't seem to get his legs to obey him. He heard a loud scraping sound and he then he was being helped to sit down.

 

“Oh gods, Draco, I'm so sorry,” he heard Merlin saying. “I'm so used to those doors I didn't even think to warn you. Are you alright?”

 

Draco took a deep breath, closed his eyes and nodded. The pins in his arms were decreasing rather quickly and with his eyes closed he could feel his equilibrium returning. “What was that?”

 

“Cold iron.”

 

Draco's eyes snapped open. Cold iron?! No one used cold iron anymore. It was archaic and mostly illegal. In fact, the only reason it wasn't entirely illegal was because no wizard would want to work with a substance that drained magic anyway.

 

“I am incredibly glad the Dark Lord didn't discover that technique,” was the first thing he could think of to say.

 

Merlin chuckled. “With as much dark magic as he was being sustained with, he wouldn't have been able to get anywhere near it.” He shrugged. “If it makes you feel any better, having such a strong reaction means you've got quite a lot of magic.”

 

Draco smirked weakly. “Yes, that does make me feel better. Though I'd rather not test it a second time.”

 

“Yeah, I know. Having your magic drained out of you isn't pleasant no matter how it's done.”

 

Draco frowned, looking up at Merlin sharply. Merlin wasn't paying attention to him, though, but seemed to be remembering something with a grim expression on his face. He knew there were various ways to drain a witch or wizard of their magic, but it was generally thought to be easier to simply kill the person. Or give them over to a dementor. Using cold iron was the only method that wasn't permanent – as far as he knew.

 

The goblin behind them cleared his throat.

 

Merlin winced. “Er, oops, sorry.” He stood and smiled sheepishly at the goblin. “You're probably wanting us to get a move on so you can get on to your next customer.”

 

“Yes, that would be appreciated,” said the goblin. Then it smirked. “Though I confess none of my other clients are likely to be as entertaining as you are.”

 

“So glad to be of service,” Merlin grumbled.

 

Now that he was feeling himself again, Draco finally took the opportunity to look around the vault. His eyes widened at not only the mountain of gold at the back, but also at the ceiling-high wooden shelves that covered the entirety of the wall in front of him. They were full of an assortment of... well, stuff. There were crystals of various sizes, stacks of books that looked like they were being barely held together, statuettes made of wood, stone and every metal imaginable, a few goblets, plates and bowls, several ceremonial daggers, as well as many velvet bags whose contents Draco could only guess at, all haphazardly placed on the shelves. It was as though the collection had been added to piece by piece over a long period of time with the owner caring not a whit at what order the pieces were in so long as they fit on the shelves.

 

Merlin walked over to the shelves and skimmed over them with his eyes. Finally, he touched a small knot in the wood and a set of steps grew out of the wood. Merlin climbed up them and picked up a small leather pouch on a string long enough to fit around a person's neck. He peered inside and smiled before stuffing it away into his robes. Then he climbed down the stairs again. Once he was off them, the stairs once again retracted back into the wood.

 

Merlin walked to the wall behind Draco. Draco stood, griping the back of the chair he'd been sitting on as the world around him spun for a few moments. Once the dizzy spell had passed, he looked in amazement at the further assortment of knick knacks arranged along the other wall. These were all too big for shelves and thus were standing on the ground. Despite their lack of coherency, they somehow managed to look more orderly than their smaller counterparts on the shelves.

 

There was a suit of armour at the back that appeared to be made of solid gold. Beside it was a stand containing an assortment of various canes and staffs – Draco recognized Egyptian symbols on the ends of a couple. A rack of canvas-covered frames sat next to it as well as a coat stand containing a rather odd assortment of muggle attire. There was a brilliant full-length mirror with a heavy gold-gilded frame and the mannequin next to that sported what looked from afar to be a heavy leather cloak covered in gold leaf and decorated liberally with precious gems in geometric designs. There were also a variety of cases that looked like they could contain musical instruments, but the only one Draco could identify for certain was a harp.

 

The most surprising and eye-catching piece was a large wooden table with engraving on its top. It was an unusual table in that it was round and yet large enough for at least a dozen people to comfortably sit around. It was also missing a chair, which Draco realized must've been where the one he had been sitting on had come from. He looked down at it. It was obviously well-made, the sort of piece that would last until it had rotted with time. Yet the design was slightly crude. There was also a thin upholstering on the seat, which was a very faded red with lines embroidered into it in golden thread.

 

It was old, he realized. Very old.

 

“Would it be possible to arrange for this to be delivered to the Malfoy Manor tomorrow?” Merlin's voice interrupted his thoughts.

 

Draco looked up and blinked in confusion when he realized Merlin was pointing to the round table. The Goblin stepped forward. “Certainly, sir. Would you like us to have it sent with a portkey or high-security convoy?”

 

Merlin didn't hesitate for a second. “High-security convoy, I should think. Don't want to risk any damage during transport. Oh, the chest as well, please.”

 

“Very well.”

 

Draco frowned, only now noticing the chest beneath the table. He crossed to stand next to Merlin and looked down at it. Like the table, the chest looked old and large enough to hold a grown man comfortably. By the runes engraved around the lock and along the bottom, he assumed it was magical, though it looked mostly ordinary. It was made of wood and the lock itself was silver. The top of it was painted with a coat of arms: a bright red shield with a golden dragon in its centre.

 

Gryffindor colours, Draco thought with disgust.

 

Then Merlin paused only long enough to gather a handful of gold and they returned to the surface. The bank had filled up quite a bit during the time they'd been in the vault, but Draco couldn't help but notice that, while the goblin helping them was efficient, he made no effort to hurry things along as he presented Merlin with the correct papers to sign and seal with magic.

 

Just as they were leaving, they were approached by the bank manager. He shook Merlin's hand and said something in Goblin. Merlin frowned and answered back quietly. After a few moments of nearly whispered conversation, Merlin nodded and smiled gratefully. Then he motioned to Draco to follow them as the the Gringotts manager led them into the depths of the bank, past the offices of its employees.

 

“What's going on?” Draco whispered to Merlin once they'd left the main area.

 

“Crishtook says there's a mob of reporters gathered out front, so he's taking us 'round the back.”

 

Draco forced himself not to stop and gape. Merlin and Crishtook made a very odd-looking pair as they walked through the bank hallway ahead of him, with Merlin looking like a reedy giant next to the goblin. At least the robes he was wearing this time made him look a little bulkier than the muggle clothes he'd been wearing last time had.

 

Several heads popped out of their offices as the three of them passed by – Merlin and Crishtook conversing away in Goblin, seemingly oblivious to the attention they were drawing. As they passed one particular office, Draco glanced to the side, his blood freezing as he caught a glimpse of red hair and claw mark scars on his face. Greyback had loved to boast about having clawed up one of the Weasleys. To Draco, it had all been part of one, long nightmare.

 

He continued to put one foot in front of the other until he and Merlin walked out into the mid-morning sun. Only then did he let out the breath he was holding. He was even more relieved when Merlin opted to apparate back to the manor rather than walk back to the Leaky Cauldron.

 


 

 

Merlin was running late. He'd gotten so good at being on time for things too. Unfortunately, the trip to the bank had taken more time than he'd thought it would. Gods, how he preferred the simplicity of muggle banking! Even Draco had been impressed by the little plastic card that allowed him to buy things, though he, of course, hadn't actually come out and said so.

 

The John Radcliffe hospital was in the midst of its usual post-lunchtime chaos, so Merlin was extra careful as he weaved his way through the corridors. And yet he still didn't manage to avoid the blonde woman who came careening from around the corner, her head down and a kleenex to her eyes. As Merlin grabbed her to keep her from falling and simultaneously banged against the empty gunnery behind him, he couldn't help but wonder why it was always blonde women lately.

 

“Oh God, I'm so sorry!” she exclaimed as soon as it became clear neither one of them was going to end up sprawled on the ground. “I wasn't looking where I was going. Are you alright?”

 

Merlin smiled down at her as she stepped out of his arms, looking flustered and very embarrassed. Her eyes were heavy with red and her movements jittery. “I'm perfectly fine. Are you?”

 

For the first time, the woman looked up and met his eyes, peering into them intently. Her piercing blue eyes seemed somehow familiar, though Merlin was certain he'd never met the woman before. Somehow, he couldn't help but hate seeing her in pain.

 

“You look like you could use a break,” he said gently. “Why don't I get us both a cup of tea so you can sit down and relax? Or coffee, if you'd prefer.”

 

She frowned at him. “I'm married,” she said bluntly.

 

Merlin laughed. “That really wasn't my intention, but good to know. I really am just being nice; call it my good deed for the day, my way of perpetuating good karma for myself. I'm one of the lucky ones, you see. I get to take mine home today.”

 

The woman relaxed slightly and smiled back at him. “You do realize it's not selfless to do something nice for the purpose of receiving good things in return.”

 

Merlin shrugged. “But the good deeds get done.”

 

“True.” Her eyes darted back towards the hallway she'd come out of and then she looked back to Merlin. “Very well, some tea would be lovely.”

 

Merlin led the way the hospital's cafeteria. He even managed to find it on his first try (and felt very proud of himself for it). While blonde woman went to secure them a table in a tucked-away corner, Merlin went up to the counter and got them both tea and a couple of biscuits. She graced him with a thankful smile when he set them in front of her.

 

“Thank you,” she said, taking a sip and sighing as the warmth travelled through her system. Then she looked up at him and hesitated. “I'm sorry, you've been so kind, but I'm afraid I have to ask: you're not a reporter, are you?”

 

Merlin blinked, startled by the question. “No, not at all. Why would you...?” He frowned. “Though, I suppose, you do look a tad familiar.”

 

The corner of her mouth quirked. “Well, I suppose it would be my husband you would recognize more so than me.” She sighed and took another sip of her tea. Her arms were clenched tightly into her sides and her posture was slightly hunched over - though she didn't look like a woman who ever hunched or slouched - as she sat carefully on the edge of the cafeteria chair. She didn't look up at him as she spoke her next words softly. “My son is up on the neurology ward. He was in an accident eleven days ago and hasn't woken up yet. T-the doctors don't know why.”

 

Oh, thought Merlin. The wife of a prominent politician. Yes, that would explain why she looked familiar. His heart went out to her.

 

“I'm very sorry to hear that,” he said softly.

 

She looked up, uncaring of the tears in her eyes – she'd most likely shed so many of them, she didn't even notice them anymore. “Isn't this the part where you say that I shouldn't worry so much, because everything will be alright and he'll pull through, because he's a strong boy?” she asked, somewhat bitterly.

 

Merlin shook his head. “I've lost too many people to be able to say something like that. All I know is that so long as he's breathing, there's hope.”

 

“Hope,” she said, thoughtfully.

 

“It's a powerful thing. A bit like magic, really, completely intangible and yet very real.”

 

She snorted. “Like a dream, you mean?”

 

“Hm, perhaps. Dreams are powerful things as well. They can scale mountains and discover new places and even land on the moon.”

 

She laughed. It was a small, quiet laugh, but no less genuine. “And write sonatas and plays and give women rights too, I imagine.”

 

Merlin grinned. “Exactly. Perhaps they'll even find time to create world peace somewhere in there as well.”

 

“That would be nice of them.”

 

“It would, wouldn't it?” The woman was looking much more relaxed now and she wasn't sitting as hunched over anymore. Merlin smiled. “Speaking of which, you know there's this little village up in the mountains of Nepal, where...”

 

An hour later, Merlin escorted the blonde woman back to the neurology ward.

 

“Well, thank you, once again for your kindness,” she said when they arrived at the doors to the ward. Then she paused, frowning. “You know, all that time we spent talking and yet I don't know your name.”

 

Merlin smiled. “I'm Merlin.”

 

She smiled. “Merlin? What an unusual name. It has been a pleasure to meet you Merlin. I'm Maggie.”

 

“It's been nice meeting you as well, Maggie. I'm honestly glad I could help.”

 

“I just hope whoever is waiting for you isn't too cross with you for being late.”

 

Merlin shrugged. “I'm fairly certain he rather expects me to be late by now.”

 

She laughed.

 

They parted ways and Merlin made his way to Archie's room. Archie was already dressed in a pair of black yoga pants and an oxford blue t-shirt decorated with the university's logo. He scowled at Merlin when he entered.

 

“You're late,” Archie said. “You were supposed to be here over an hour and a half ago!”

 

Merlin winced. “Sorry, believe it or not I was actually here in the hospital. But, well, I ran into the mother of one of the coma patients in neurology and she looked absolutely wrecked and-”

 

“-and you simply couldn't resist being you and were thus kind and probably got her some tea and let her cry on your shoulder,” Archie finished, rolling his eyes. “Honestly, I sometimes wonder how you've managed to survive in the world and not go utterly mad.”

 

Merlin grinned. He knew Archie wouldn't stay mad with him for long. He was a good man, even if he liked to hide behind sarcastic remarks. “Who says I haven't?”

 

“The fact that you've neither attempted to take over the world, nor lost the ability to string coherent sentences together.”

 

“I could be the world's most secret overlord dictator.”

 

Archie snorted. “In that case, I don't suppose you could use your dictatorial powers to get me out of this damn hospital already.”

 

“Paperwork's done?”

 

“Of course it is. I'm an adult. They let us sign out all on our own without supervision.”

 

“Right, then I'll go get the wheelchair.”

 

Archie made a face, but didn't argue. He knew full well he couldn't walk and using crutches would be rather painful at the moment with the injury to his arm. Merlin had made sure to prepare his ground-floor guest bedroom for him before coming to the hospital in Archie's BMW. Merlin loved driving Archie's BMW. Archie hated Merlin driving his BMW. He claimed he got worried when Merlin tried to use personal transportation that didn't require feeding and watering.

 

In reality, Archie was a good driver, but a nervous passenger. He hated not being in control of the vehicle.

 

Hospital sorted, Merlin helped Archie into the car and settled himself into the driver's seat.

 

“So, how's being the owner of an incredibly vast wizarding estate going for you?” Archie asked after Merlin had weaved his way out of the hospital parking lot.

 

“It's been... interesting. The family – well, the both of them – are staying in the manor to care for it. Saves me trying to and in exchange I'm leaving the son as its inheritor.” He paused, glancing over to Archie for the second he had before the light turned green. Archie was looking out the window thoughtfully. “I didn't think you'd want it.”

 

That seemed to startle the other man out of his daze. “Oh sorry, no, of course I don't want it. I left the wizarding world when I was ten and I've absolutely no desire to return to it. Besides, it's not like you're going to die before me anyway, which makes it a moot point regardless.”

 

“You are welcome to come visit, though,” Merlin said cautiously. “If you want. Anhora and the entire herd showed up out of the blue on Sunday. And I called Kilgharrah and Aithusa, so it's a bit crowed on the grounds, but I'm certain they'd all love to see you. Well, meet you in Kilgharrah's case seeing as how he apparently decided to make use of the Welsh Dragon Reservation as a sort of retirement home.”

 

Archie chuckled. He turned to look at Merlin, amusement dancing in his eyes. “Did he really? Well, I would certainly love to meet the dragon who gave Excalibur its power, not to mention the being, who put the wheels of Camelot's destiny in motion. He must have so many interesting stories about you as a genuinely young man.”

 

Merlin blinked. “You know what, nevermind, maybe you shouldn't come. Invitation rescinded. You'd be horribly bored in a magical manor anyway.”

 

“It's too late, I've already accepted. Besides, knowing you, I've already been added as someone for the wards to let through anyway.”

 

Sometimes, Merlin wished he wasn't quite so predictable.

 

Archie's house wasn't located far from the university, in an older part of the city where the price of housing was too expensive for most of the students to afford. As much as Archie loved his job and loved academia as a lifestyle, he hated dealing with university student life when he wasn't at the university. His neighbourhood was a quiet row of eclectic-looking old stone houses with beautifully-arranged front lawns behind iron fences.

 

Archie had chosen his house partially because of the hedge of holly bushes in the front and partially because of the old well in the back. The old well was in the back corner of the garden, surrounded by wild rushes of ragwood and grass interspersed with foxglove and wildflowers. Archie had told Merlin he'd seen that corner of the garden and immediately fallen in love, not truly caring what the inside of the house looked like so long as the roof wasn't going to fall on top of his head. He tended to the rest of the yard, keeping the grass trim and neat, but that back corner remained wild and untamed, though Archie had planted a small bed of bluebells along one side of the well and an expansive herb garden along the other.

 

Though Archie had never said as much, Merlin also knew he occasionally left offerings of cakes and bread on top of the well. The faeries who lived there had told him.

 

Merlin could feel them now twittering about curiously as he helped Archie up the stairs to the front door. He used magic to open the door and then carefully manoeuvred him to the living room couch. Merlin spent the afternoon with Archie, telling him all about the Malfoy Manor, the wizards he'd met and the dragonets. Then he unwrapped the bandages on Archie's arm and spread his own burn salve on it (the manor, it turned, out had an absolutely delightful potions laboratory) while he whispered a minor healing spell to help it along.

 

Archie then took his painkillers and napped while Merlin made dinner. Unlike Archie, Merlin had never quite taken to cooking, but he could still whip up a decent meal other than stew. After dinner, Merlin helped Archie to the guest bed and then set to tackling his leg.

 

He carefully removed the cast and slathered the burn salve over the injury (though the burns on his leg were not nearly as severe as the ones on his arm). Then he forced his patient to swallow more painkillers. Despite the additional painkillers, Archie still gritted his teeth as Merlin wrapped his magic around the bone in his leg and forced it to knit back together. Delicate healing such as this required precise control and, since his magic naturally wanted to leap forward and throw itself at spells, Merlin spent as much energy holding it back as he did on the healing itself.

 

By the time Merlin was done, he was dripping with sweat and felt like joining Archie on the bed. Or the floor. Merlin would've been quite happy simply dropping off on the floor. Instead he forced himself to bandage up Archie's leg – he threw the cast away as it was no longer necessary. Archie's eyes fluttered open as he finished tucking the blanket around him.

 

“Such a mother hen,” he heard him whisper.

 

Merlin smiled down at him. “How are you feeling?”

 

“Hm, tired, sore... mostly tired.”

 

“Good. I've got something I have to do tonight still, so I can't stay the night, but I'll come first thing in the morning.”

 

“Don't bother. I-I'll come to you.”

 

Merlin blinked. “Oh. Well, then I'll leave your mobile on the nightstand. Call me if you need help with anything, understand?”

 

“Mmhmm.”

 

Merlin smiled fondly down at the boy- no, man – then he leaned over and kissed his forehead. “Goodnight, Archimedes. Sleep well.”

 

He stood up again and drew the curtains shut, closing the window mostly shut, leaving only a crack to let fresh air in. Then he set a glass of water onto the nightstand next to Archie's mobile, which he plugged into the charger just in case. The crutches were set up against the wall next to the nightstand.

 

When he was finished, he glanced to the window. He smiled at the tiny dots of barely-visible light he could see congregated there.

 

“Please watch over him for me,” he whispered.

 

“We do so gladly, Emrys,” the answer came back to him as though whispered on the wind.

 

The sun was just beginning to set when he locked up the house and stepped into the back yard. He placed the single lard cake he'd found in Archie's fridge onto the well, before transporting himself back to the Malfoy Manor.

 


 

 

Kingsley Shacklebolt felt like the entire day had been a 'one step forward, two steps back' sort of day.

 

The auror department were both elated at having finally learned the identity of the mystery woman who'd attacked Harry Potter and resentful that the minister of magic had felt he couldn't trust them with the investigation and gone and done his own research into the matter. The fact that said minister had, until quite recently, been a high-ranking auror himself seemed to make not a lick of difference. And while they were sending out a request to the French authorities for information, they were getting reports of former Death Eaters gathering under a new leader.

 

Kingsley wondered what the odds were that those two things were entirely unrelated.

 

He'd been about to go home when his assistant placed a new stack of scrolls onto his desk. Out of morbid curiosity, he wondered how much worse the day's news could get. Now he wished he hadn't asked.

 

Apparently, there was a dragon missing from the Welsh reservation: an older dragon, who'd somehow managed to tear through the wards using his until-then-unknown ability to breathe fire, which the keepers could only assume had some sort of magical properties. Kingsley stared at the scroll, trying to imagine what Alastor Moody would've said to this report. Apparently, Charlie had been the one to witness the event and then give chase, so he could ask him for more details later.

 

He placed the report back onto his desk and sighed, glancing at the three other scrolls he'd been given. One of them was a background report on the new owner of the Malfoy Manor: Merlin Kingsman. There wasn't much. In fact, most of it sounded like the exact same information he'd already heard from George Weasley. Which meant that other than the bits of personal trivia the man had let slip during his shopping trip in Diagon Alley, no one knew anything about the man. The only proof they had that he didn't just come out of nowhere were his frustratingly good (according to both reporters and aurors) relations with the Gringotts goblins.

 

The second scroll was a request for permission to contact muggle authorities for information on Merlin Kingsman and the third was a request for permission to conduct a search of Malfoy Manor on the grounds that due to his perceived friendship with the Malfoy family, he was likely a Death Eater sympathizer.

 

Kingsley decided, being Friday night, he was going to take the coward's way out and leave it 'till Monday. He'd ask the Order if they'd heard anything during Sunday dinner at the Burrow.

 

Having made his decision, Kingsley quickly tidied up his desk, grabbed his travelling cloak and headed out before any of the aurors managed to corner him and attempt to force him to make a decision tonight. He knew that trick very well, had done it enough times himself after all.

 


 

 

Muggle clothing were constricting, uncomfortable and rough. And they itched. But when Draco complained to Merlin about it, he'd been laughed at and told it was probably some sort of psychotic thing (Merlin had used some sort of complicated-sounding muggle word for it that was probably about as useful as muggles themselves were and thus Draco hadn't bothered to remember it).

 

Currently he and Merlin were... well, he wasn't quite sure what they were doing. All he knew was that it was nearly two in the morning and they were in their seventh muggle London pub – the fourth they'd actually sat down in. The only upside was that the beer was starting to taste better. Or possibly his taste buds had become too numb to taste the difference between muggle beer and the expensive wine from the family cellars.

 

Which reminded him, he was going to have to refill those cellars at some point. Except they weren't the family's cellars anymore, they were Merlin's cellars now. Which meant it wasn't his problem. Good.

 

Draco took another drink of his beer. Then he stared at the last bit of amber liquid inside his pint. It was growing on him, this muggle liquid that wasn't nearly as sweet as butterbeer and didn't have the burn of firewhiskey, nor was it as delicate as wine. No, this was a drink to slowly get drunk with. There were no pretenses with this drink. It was bitter and rough – a bit like life, really. Like muggles too, only, Draco supposed, muggles weren't really bitter or violent. He'd been in the muggle world twice now and no one had tried to burn him alive or throw him into a pit of lions (wait, did muggles do that to witches...?). Perhaps muggles weren't so bad after all.

 

The mob by the bar roared. Loudly. Draco looked over. The first time they'd done that, he'd nearly jumped out of his seat, but they hadn't even looked his way, instead intent on the colourful box in the corner. They shouted at it too, though it never seemed to shout back. It was either a very patient box or else incredibly slow on the uptake. Or perhaps it had simply gotten used to the ruckus like Draco had and ignored most of it.

 

“What's going on over there?” Draco finally turned to Merlin to ask.

 

Merlin looked over to him and raised an eyebrow before looking over to the mob gathered around the box. “Oh, a footie game no doubt. By the crowd I'd guess Chelsea or one of the other local clubs... though, I think this might be Chelsea territory.” He frowned. “I think they're all too drunk to realize it's a repeat.”

 

“Footie? How do muggles play with footies?” Draco frowned. “No, wait. What is a footie?”

 

Merlin chuckled. “Short for football. It's a sport, like quidditch only on the ground and with rules that make some sort of sense. Not that I understand any of it mind, but Archie loves football. Has season tickets at Kassam and everything. I'll ask him to take you to a game some time.”

 

That explanation did not clear anything up for Draco. “Muggles make balls out of feet and play with them?! How... how utterly barbaric!”

 

Merlin threw his head back and roared with laughter. Draco scowled at him. Then he took another drink of his beer and was dismayed to realize he'd just finished it off.

 

“Right, I think it's blatantly obvious I'm not going to find what I'm looking for tonight-” said Merlin, amidst some rather undignified giggles.

 

“Aha, so we are looking for something! You said it was just a night out in the muggle world.”

 

Merlin rolled his eyes. “Well, yes, that was the other purpose, but I was hoping on running into someone along the way.”

 

“So I didn't have to come at all! You-you could've just left me at home.”

 

“What and deprive myself the pleasure of your company?” Merlin snickered. “Hasn't anyone ever told you how amusing you get when you're drunk? You're very poetic about the oddest things. And your brain-to-mouth filter disappears.”

 

Draco scowled at him. How did he know he got poetic when he drank?

 

“Because you say things out loud without realizing it.”

 

Draco scowled harder, hoping to outscowl the heat he felt rushing to his face. He picked up his pint to take a drink, only to realize – again - that it was empty. He put it back down, feeling disappointed and annoyed that he was disappointed at no longer having any muggle beverage to drink. He looked up. The mob of muggles around the strange box were yelling again, telling it to get a move on. Draco scoffed at them. The box hadn't moved yet, why were they expecting it would suddenly move now? Muggles were ridiculous creatures.

 

Merlin broke into peals of laughter. Draco blinked at him, wondering how drunk the man was. He was still gasping for breath when he began to rise from behind the solid wood table. “I think we should call it a night and go home, yeah?”

 

Draco let go of his pint glass and also stood, banging himself on the end of the table in the process. He blinked as the lights in the rooms swayed – oh, were they enchanted? He blinked and they returned to their normal state of lightness. Hm, perhaps he might have overestimated the strength of that muggle beer.

 

“Need a hand?” Merlin asked him.

 

Draco looked up at him and then took a tentative step away from the table. His legs still seemed to be obeying him, so he shook his head. Merlin nodded and then led the way out of the pub.

 

Outside, it had started drizzling. The tiny sparks of water hitting his skin combined with the cool breeze that blew across his face and ruffled his hair, caused some of the haze surrounding Draco to dissipate. Soon he was walking beside Merlin without any unseemly stumbling. He looked around him, amazed at the amount of light the city was still emanating. The stars were barely visible over the tops of the tall buildings – so straight and precise, none of the patched-up or built-upon extremities of wizarding residences were visible in them. No, these buildings were tall, because they were meant to reach towards the sky.

 

Was this what Merlin had meant about seeing the things in-between?

 

A yawn interrupted his musings and Draco was suddenly hit with the reality of his own tiredness. He hoped they reached a place they could apparate from soon or he'd be in serious danger of splicing himself.

 

The street they were walking down seemed to be home to more pubs than Draco had ever seen in his entire life. He glanced at Merlin, who looked like he was out for a casual stroll, but his eyes were darting from side to side. He must've felt Draco's eyes on him, because he glanced towards him and met his eyes and smiled.

 

“Don't worry, I'm not looking for another pub, just a place with less eyes about,” he said.

 

Draco nodded. He'd assumed as much.

 

Just then the door of the pub they were passing by banged open, startling them both. A man with shoulder-length dark hair staggered out, complaining loudly about knowing when he wasn't wanted. A slim red-head with more cleavage than should be legal let alone proper stood in the open door looking anxious.

 

“Look, are you sure you're going to be alright?” she called after the man. “I could call you a cab, you know.”

 

“Cabs are for wusses!” the man declared, spinning around with a dramatic flair of his arms. “I, my dear, am purfunctly capeb... cablpl... capea- fine to walk!” Then he swayed to the side, spying Merlin and Draco as he attempted to keep upright. “And look, these two fine fellows look like they are of the friendly sort!” He staggered the few steps to Merlin and threw his hand over his shoulders. Merlin recoiled from the smell of alcohol on the man's breath. “What are friends for, eh?”

 

The woman shot them an apologetic look. “Sorry, luv, I'll just go call him a cab after all, else he'll get picked up by the coppers.”

 

Merlin snickered and waved her off with a grin. “Don't worry about it. Believe it or not, I actually am a friend of his. I'll make sure he gets home in one piece.”

 

She blinked in surprise. “Oh, well, that's a lucky shot then.”

 

“I seem to have this sixth sense for walking by pubs he's gotten himself utterly pissed in.”

 

“Or else he's got one for knowing exactly when you're passing by so 'e can stagger out of them. Well, I'd better get back. 'ave fun there!”

 

“Thanks.” The pub door shut behind the woman and Merlin adjusted his arms so that he was supporting the staggering muggle, who was now singing softly to himself and not actually paying any attention to Merlin at all.

 

Draco raised an eyebrow at Merlin, but Merlin wasn't paying any attention to him now. Instead he was focused entirely on keeping the stranger upright and mobile. Draco followed behind them, cringing when the man decided he didn't like singing quietly anymore and began belting out the lyrics of what Draco could only assume was supposed to be a song and not just somewhat poetic screeching. He tried to get Merlin to join him, but Merlin refused.

 

Finally, they arrived at a small patch of trees in an area filled with the darkened windows of muggle businesses. Here, Merlin waited for Draco to catch up and grabbed his arm, pulling him in without any warning.

 

As the world spun around him, Draco wondered at how different apparation felt when he was drunk on muggle alcohol.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

 

Draco staggered into the family dining room at some point mid-morning. He wasn't entirely sure what time it was other than 'no longer early'. His head felt as if there was a hippogryff sitting on top while its brothers and sisters danced the polka inside. Thankfully the nausea he'd woken up with at some unspecified time of 'earlier' had passed – between getting up or turning over to die in a cocoon of blankets, he'd decided the latter was the more sensible option.

 

Merlin was sitting at the table, his legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles with one elbow propped up on the table within reach of what looked to be a cup of coffee and the other hand holding a small soft cover book. He looked awake and refreshed. Draco hated him.

 

Draco mumbled something that may have been a greeting. Not looking up from his reading, Merlin simply waved over in the general direction of his usual seat. Draco looked over to the cup and saucer prepared for him despite the time, then caught sight of the vial standing next to it. He blinked, walked over and picked it up. It contained an amber-coloured liquid of a similar colour to a poison Snape used to make out of basilisk venom, though of a much thicker consistency. He uncorked the vial and sniffed at it, his eyebrows raising as high as his skin would permit, surprised by the rather pleasant scent.

 

Draco decided to assume Merlin didn't want to poison him and drank it down in one gulp. Considering it was a potion, it had a rather pleasant taste with an almost sweet aftertaste. It occurred to Draco after swallowing the potion to wonder whether Merlin was actually any good at brewing.

 

By the time he'd finished pouring himself tea, Draco concluded Merlin was brilliant at brewing potions. Or at the very least he was brilliant at making hangover cures. His head still felt like there was something sitting on top of it, but it was more of a large owl now and the dancing hippogryffs had gone home. And the roll he'd buttered didn't taste like bunched up scroll paper.

 

He cleared his throat. “Thank you for the potion.”

 

Merlin looked up and grinned. “I rekoned you'd need it after last night.”

 

Draco grimaced. “I apologize for-”

 

“Oh don't worry about it. As I said last night, it was highly amusing.”

 

“I'm glad I could keep you entertained. Though I do recall you being much more steady on your feet. I suppose you must have a much higher tolerance for muggle alcohol, having spent so much time there.”

 

Merlin laughed. “Oh not at all! I'm a horrible lightweight when it comes to drink, so I've learned to pace myself. I don't think you realized just how much you were drinking, but I'm fairly certain it was nearly twice what I did and then there were those chips I ordered in the one pub, which you refused to touch.”

 

Draco made a face. “They were disgusting. There was more grease than potato in them!”

 

“But that's the point! You don't go to a pub for healthy food, you go for the most unhealthy, artery-clogging fare known to man!”

 

“Muggles are strange.”

 

Merlin laughed. “Well, you've gone from worthless to strange, so I'll take that as an improvement.”

 

Draco had just opened his mouth to defend himself when the door to the dining room opened and his mother walked in. She looked highly amused.

 

“Good morning, mother,” said Draco.

 

“Oh, you're alive,” she said and Draco frowned at the twinkle in her eye. He didn't remember running into her last night... of course, now that he had retained the mental capacity to think about it, he realized he didn't really remember anything about getting home. “Good morning, Draco, Merlin.”

 

“Good morning, Narcissa.”

 

“Merlin!”

 

No sooner had his mother walked fully into the dining room, a dark-haired man bounded into the room and headed straight for Merlin. It was now that Draco finally remembered the stranger they'd run into just before coming home. And, apparently, he and Merlin really did know each other. The man had shoulder-length hair and a short beard and a wide, delighted grin on his face as he reached down and manhandled Merlin out of his chair and into a laughing embrace.

 

“It's been too long, my friend,” the man said.

 

“You remember,” said Merlin echoing the man's delighted grin and returning the embrace.

 

The man pulled away, though he still held onto Merlin's shoulders. “How could I possibly forget your hangover remedy? Don't know how I lived without it all these years.”

 

Merlin burst out laughing. Draco exchanged confused looks with his mother – although his mother still seemed to look mostly amused. However, Draco couldn't help but think it was a rather odd sort of conversation to have with someone you knew well yet hadn't seen in a long time... a one-night stand perhaps? Except that didn't quite seem right either...

 

“It's good to see you again, Gwaine,” said Merlin. For a few moments, he just stood there, taking in his friend, looking just a bit awed at the sight. Then he seemed to remember himself and blinked, turning to Draco and his mother with the grin that had yet to leave his face. “Draco, Narcissa, I'd like to meet Gwaine. He's a very old friend of mine.”

 

Gwaine turned, his hair swishing behind him as he did so. He threw an arm over Merlin's shoulders. “Oh, yeah, we go way back. Ah, the taverns we have seen, the serving wenches we have had...”

 

Merlin rolled his eyes and elbowed him. Gwaine winced and stepped away from him. “I don't know where exactly you're getting this 'we' from. I'm fairly certain that was entirely you. The only time I was ever in a tavern with you was when I was dragging you out of it.”

 

“Hm, that's true. You were always all work, work, work. No fun at all.”

 

Merlin rolled his eyes again. “Gwaine, this is Lady Narcissa Malfoy and her son, Draco.”

 

Gwaine turned his attention to Draco's mother. “Ah, yes, the lovely and graceful Lady Malfoy. We already met in the hall, where she so graciously showed me to this dining room.”

 

Merlin grabbed Gwaine by the shoulders and steered him towards the table. “Gwaine, how would you like some coffee and food?”

 

Draco and his mother excused themselves shortly afterwards, leaving Merlin and Gwaine to get reacquainted. Gwaine watched them go with a grin, but when he turned back to Merlin, his smile was much dimmer.

 

“So, you've come up in the world,” he said. “From manservant to lord of a manor.”

 

“Lord implies a title I don't have,” Merlin answered. “I've never had any titles, Gwaine, you know that.”

 

Gwaine blinked. “No you didn't, you...” His face went blank and then his eyes widened, his expression turning to astonishment. “Oh bloody fuck.”

 

Merlin blinked. Then he frowned, worried. He had no idea how this reincarnation memory worked. Had something gone wrong?

 

“You...” Gwaine began again. “You're Merlin. I remember you as my good friend, Arthur's manservant, but you're Merlin.” Then he threw his head back and laughed. “So much suddenly makes sense! You were right under Arthur's nose! And Uther's!”

 

Merlin relaxed and smiled, watching his old friend laugh. He still couldn't quite believe he was here, in the flesh, a corporeal ghost of the distant past. It was wonderful and painful all at the same time. Eventually, Gwaine finished laughing, poured himself some more coffee and grabbed a pastry from one of the several plates on the table.

 

“So, how is it that you're owner of this manor and yet the lovely Mrs. Malfoy is the lady?” he eventually asked, glancing at Merlin out of the corner of his eye.

 

Merlin sighed. “Because I bought the manor last week, but it's their family's ancestral land. It's complicated. There was a war – a magical war.”

 

Gwaine raised an eyebrow at him. “A magical war? When? I don't remember hearing about any war in these parts...” He frowned and then leapt out of his seat to go peer out the window. “We are still in England, are we not- hang on... Is-is that a blooming dragon – sorry, dragons – out there, napping on the lawn?!”

 

Merlin laughed. “Yes, we're still in England. Yes, those are dragons. And, actually, you did hear about the magical war, you just didn't know it.” Gwaine turned to him enquiringly. “Unexplained windstorms that tore out entire orchards and cleared forested areas? Strange mists in London? A sudden rash of disappearances and the appearance of wild dogs in places there were never wild dogs before? Bridges and roads collapsing for no reason?”

 

Gwaine's eyes widened. “I remember that. It all suddenly ended two years ago.”

 

Merlin nodded. “There was a wizarding dark lord that called himself Voldemort. He was finally defeated two years ago.”

 

“Wizard? As opposed to a sorcerer?”

 

Merlin nodded. “There's a difference. Sorcery is much more elemental, tied to the earth and to the Old Religion. And wizards use wands.”

 

“And there was a war?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“But it was somehow kept secret?”

 

“From the non-magical community.”

 

“Did you fight?”

 

“No.” Merlin looked away from Gwaine, his eyes finding the now-familiar portrait of one of the most impressive wizarding duels in history. “No, I didn't. I stayed away.” He took a deep breath. “I have no illusions about the amount of power I have. Whichever side I'd chosen would have been guaranteed an instant victory the moment I stepped onto the battlefield. But I haven't ever truly been a part of the wizarding world, so I had no right to choose their future for them. Not when it didn't directly concern me.”

 

Gwaine nodded. “Makes sense, mate. Besides, Arthur wasn't involved, was he?”

 

Merlin's eyes flicked back to him. “No, he wasn't. And he is the only one I will ever acknowledge as having the power to command me. My magic is and always will be in his service and no one else's, the same as me.”

 

“Not that the princess even knew that.”

 

“No.”

 

Gwaine sighed and crossed back to sit at the table.

 

“So, where do this manor and its residents fit in?”

 

Merlin poured them some more coffee and then sat back and began explaining.

 


 

 

Merlin felt the inexplicable urge to giggle madly at the expression on Mimsy's face as Gwaine crouched down next to her and began poking at her ears. She'd flattened them down towards her face in an attempt to make them smaller and was looking up at him sideways with an expression caught between cautious and terrified.

 

“Gwaine, leave Mimsy alone,” he said instead, earning himself a look of instant gratitude from the house elf.

 

Gwaine stood and walked back to his side. “I can't believe I've actually managed to encounter a creature with larger ears than yours.”

 

“Piss off, Gwaine.” Gwaine grinned at him. Merlin ignored him. “Mimsy, did you need anything?”

 

“Mimsy to tell Emrys muggle car driving into manor. Mistress Narcissa say it's same one that comes last week.”

 

“Oh. Looks like we'll have a whole party then. Could you please tell the kitchen elves to prepare a late lunch for outside?”

 

“Yes, Emrys.” She disappeared with a 'pop'.

 

“Why does she call you Emrys?”

 

Merlin made a face. “It's my druid name – their idea, not mine – and it was either that or Master Merlin and I refuse to be called master anything.”

 

“Well, shall we go see who's just arrived?”

 

“Oh, I already know who it is. There's only one person, well, two people, one car, that could possibly be.”

 

When they walked out to the front, Draco was already there, talking with Emma and Dudley.

 

“Hello, what brings you out here on such a lovely Saturday?” Merlin greeted them. “Shouldn't you be studying?”

 

Dudley shrugged. “Probably. This sounded like a better use of a Saturday.”

 

“Neither one of us has any finals until next week, so we can afford to waste one day,” Emma added.

 

Merlin laughed. “Well, it's good to see you regardless. By the way, this is Gwaine. Gwaine, this is Emma and her boyfriend Dudley.”

 

Emma's eyes widened. “Gwaine, as in...?”

 

“Yes,” Merlin answered.

 

Gwaine looked between the two of them, before narrowing his eyes in thought as he looked Emma over again. He shook his head. “Nope, sorry, I'm afraid I don't recognize you.”

 

Emma smiled. “You wouldn't. I was before your time.”

 

“Oh hell,” Draco muttered, suddenly.

 

Merlin turned to him and saw him looking back at the gates. Merlin looked over and smiled at the approaching broomstick and the stock of red hair, visible even from a distance. Beside him, Gwaine was silent, busy gaping at the flying broomstick. Dudley, on the other hand, was wide-eyed with excitement.

 

“See, I told you they flew on broomsticks!” he told Emma.

 

“Yes, and I didn't say I didn't believe you,” Emma snapped. “I only asked why the hell anyone would bother trying to balance on a skinny uncomfortable little stick when they can simply transport themselves where they need to go?”

 

Gwaine frowned. “Hm, as cool as the broomstick is, that's a good point. Also, why a broomstick? Why not something more practical, like a carpet or a flying armchair.”

 

“Armchairs aren't very aerodynamic,” said Dudley.

 

Emma snorted. “Neither are carpets.”

 

Charlie finally landed, ending the conversation. He looked around at the assembled group and paused.

 

“Hi Charlie,” said Merlin, deciding to put the wizard out of his misery. “Day off or pretending to search for your missing dragon?”

 

Charlie blinked. “Day off. I'm not a part of the search party.”

 

Draco snorted. “That's bloody stupid. Considering you used to work in Romania, you're better suited to track down a dangerous dragon than most of the keepers in Wales.”

 

Charlie looked at Draco and cocked his head to the side. “Was that a compliment, Malfoy?”

 

Draco froze. “No.” He scowled. “What are you doing here, Weasley?”

 

“Merlin said I could stop by when I had the time to come and chat to Aithusa and Kilgharrah again.” He looked to Merlin now. “Er, I hope I'm not intruding. Didn't know you had company.”

 

Merlin waved him off. “Oh you're not intruding at all. The more the merrier. The elves are making a late lunch for outside. You'll join us, yeah?”

 

“Would love to.”

 

“Excellent,” Emma said with a frown. “Now go back there a bit. Did you just say you popped by to see Kilgharrah?” Charlie nodded and she turned to Merlin. “He's still alive?!”

 

“Yes, somehow he still is.”

 

“Dear gods, he's practically a dinosaur by now!”

 

Merlin snickered then introduced everyone around. “Draco, could you and Charlie please lead the way out to the back. I must go and fetch something and then I'll join you.”

 

He paused and looked over his shoulder. “Oh, and Gwaine? Please don't try to ride the unicorns.”

 

“Aw, Merlin, you horrible spoil- wait. Unicorns?!”

 


 

 

When Merlin rejoined them Kilgharrah and Nimueh were engaged in a staring contest, which Draco was half-watching with a perplexed eye. Neither one of them moved. Aithusa, on the other hand, was chatting amiably with Weasley, Dudley and Gwaine. She'd asked about the little ones that had flown back with Charlie. They were, apparently, perfectly fine and now in Charlie's care. The other keepers had been impressed with how he'd managed to lure them back without any spells or backup.

 

Draco looked over as Merlin approached and both his eyebrows raised as he recognized the leather pouch he carried as the same one he'd taken from his Gringotts vault the day before. Merlin briefly glanced at Nimueh and Kilgharrah as he walked by and rolled his eyes. Both of them finally blinked then and looked to him as he passed.

 

It was Dudley whose side Merlin finally stopped at. Dudley looked away from Charlie's little dragon stories, which he'd been listening to with rapt attention, and smiled at him. Merlin smiled back and waited until Charlie finished his story before speaking.

 

Draco moved closer so he could hear better.

 

“Dudley, I'd like to return something of yours I've been safekeeping.” Merlin held out the pouch and after a few moments, Dudley took it from him with a confused frown. “You could call it an heirloom of sorts.”

 

“Something of mine?” Dudley hesitated for a moment before untying the pouch and peering inside. His face was blank as he emptied its contents into his hand. He held it up to inspect it. It was a ring: a fairly simple, though large, ring with a red stone set in what looked to Draco to be gold. It looked old.

 

Dudley stared at it. “It's... my father gave me this ring. 'S been in the family for generations.” He frowned. “No, was. It was in my family for generations and I gave it to Garreth when he became old enough to use it properly...”

 

Dudley trailed off to stare at the ring in silence. Emma had meanwhile come around to her boyfriend's side and was looking between him and Merlin with wide eyes. Suddenly, Dudley's eyes snapped up to stare at Merlin.

 

“Merlin. Bloody hell, Merlin!” His lips spread into a wide grin.

 

“Gilli?” Merlin asked cautiously.

 

Dudley dropped the leather pouch onto the ground and put the ring onto his right hand. He held it out in front of him and closed his eyes. For a few moments nothing happened. And then the red stone began to glow. Dudley's eyes were glowing gold when he opened them.

 

Draco's eyes widened and he took a step backwards. Eyes glowing gold: the woman, who'd attacked Potter had eyes that glowed gold. Emma gasped. Dudley didn't look at her. His eyes never left Merlin. Slowly, the gold colour in his eyes faded away and the ring stopped glowing.

 

Gwaine stepped forward, looking confused and wary. “Gilli? I don't remember ever meeting a Gilli.”

 

Dudley's eyes darted to him and he seemed to think about the comment for a few moments. “I think was before your time... and then after. Merlin and I met once when we were both very young and then he wandered into the village I was living in years later.”

 

“I see. He never mentioned you.”

 

Merlin rolled his eyes. “Gwaine I've known plenty of people you didn't and never mentioned them.”

 

Dudley shrugged as Gwaine pouted. “And I did rather try to kill the king just after we'd met. Not exactly something you were all that eager to share, I'd imagine.”

 

“Ah, well yes, there was that.”

 

“Which king?” Emma asked.

 

Dudley looked at her and blinked. “Uh, Uther?” He looked to Merlin, who nodded with a quirk of his lips. Dudley turned back to Emma. “Yep, Uther. Wh-mmph!”

 

Dudley nearly fell backwards as his girlfriend suddenly launched herself at him, throwing her arms around his neck and attacking his lips with hers. Before he'd had a chance to get over his surprise, she pulled back and beamed at him.

 

“I knew there was a reason I loved you!” she declared.

 

Merlin burst into laughter. Draco looked to Weasley, who looked back with an equally confused expression on his face. Eventually, Draco looked away and observed Merlin. Nothing about the man made sense. What had just happened looked like a spell being lifted. Weasley didn't know Dudley, but Draco at least knew him enough to know that he was a muggle, had been sure he didn't have any magic.

 

Was the ring somehow enchanted? Did Merlin somehow change him with a spell? Did he do the same with Emma and Gwaine? The stories they told and their interactions didn't seem like those of childhood friends... A chill ran up Draco's spine as he considered the sinister implications of where his thoughts were taking him. But Draco had met the Dark Lord, had dealt with all sorts of nasty people, Death Eater and auror alike and put up with mean-spirited, vengeful bystanders. Merlin was ridiculous and friendly and ridiculously nice. Of all the people he'd ever met, Draco didn't want Merlin to be nefarious or evil. It was a horribly unslytherin thing to think, but, for once, Draco wanted to believe in the sincerity and goodness he saw in Merlin's eyes.

 

There had to be another explanation. And so, Draco stood back from the group and observed.

 

Not five minutes later, a house elf came to announce lunch was being served in the gardens. Draco listened to every word and frowned. Emrys? Did the house elves always call Merlin that? It sounded vaguely familiar...

 

His mother was waiting for them at the table, dressed impeccably in a set of light blue robes he hadn't seen her wear since the war began – they'd been her favourite once. She looked a bit surprised at the large group at first, but covered it up quickly and smiled at them all instead.

 

Draco walked over and kissed her cheek. “Hello mother, have you had a nice morning?”

 

“Yes, dear, I have,” she answered. “I took a turn around the back lawn. You know, I think there are actually more unicorns there now. At least I'm certain there weren't any young there before.”

 

“There are unicorn foals amongst the herd now?” Merlin asked with a frown.

 

“Yes, I counted five, though there might've been more hiding amongst the trees.”

 

“Hmm, that's not actually a good sign. Unicorns tend to hide their young in the forest unless they need to keep them safe from something. I'll have to ask Anhora about it later.”

 

“Anhora's still around as well?” Emma asked with wide, incredulous eyes. “Blimey, if I have time after finals, I'll have to go 'round and see who else is still puttering about.”

 

“Who's Anhora?” Dudley asked.

 

“The Keeper of the Unicorns,” Emma answered.

 

“A unicorn keeper?” said Weasley. “I've never heard of anyone keeping unicorns.”

 

“It's mostly just a title,” said Merlin. “Anhora doesn't keep them in the way you would horses or sheep. He's more like their human representative, their mouthpiece you could say. It's a bit complicated to explain, but their relationship is symbiotic and through them he is in-tuned to the Old Religion and the land in a way he wouldn't be able to otherwise. Unicorn magic is very powerful, after all.”

 

Draco was about to ask how Merlin knew all this – because, really, how did he know so much about old, forgotten magic – when a great horned owl flew over their heads. It circled once and then landed with a slight wobble onto the back of the empty chair next to Merlin.

 

“Oh, hello, you're right on time,” Merlin told the owl.

 

“Bloody hell, it's Archimedes!” Gwaine exclaimed with a laugh. Dudley also burst into laughter. Emma simply stared at the bird with piercing eyes.

 

The owl ruffled its feathers indignantly and hopped down onto the seat of the chair. Then it began to grow upwards and lose its feathers until finally it was a man. He glared at Gwaine with stormy blue eyes from behind blue wire-rimmed glasses.

 

“That would be Doctor Archimedes to you,” he said in a very precise tone. “Though I do prefer Archibald Kingsman, seeing as how it is my given name.”

 

Draco straightened in his chair. The man had long curly brown hair tied back away from his face and his skin looked a bit pale, a reminder that he was just out of hospital. It made the scattering of freckles along his cheekbones stand out more than they likely usually did. He held himself very straight and proud, though there was a delicateness to his movements, in the way he sat back in his chair as though for support and held his left hand close to his body.

 

He was wearing muggle clothes, though they looked slightly more formal than those Merlin usually wore (the dark purple shirt had a collar, which seemed to indicate formality to Draco and the blazer he wore over top of it was of a coarse weave and of a higher quality than what Merlin and Elena had forced Draco into).

 

However, most importantly, Archie was short for Achibald, which meant that this was Merlin's adopted brother.

 

“How are you feeling?” Merlin immediately asked, turning his chair to face him. “How's the arm? I mean, obviously, it's good enough to fly with, but the animal transformation has a slightly different effect on wounds. Did the leg heal properly? It's been a while since I've healed a break like that-”

 

“Oh good Lord, do stop fussing!” Archie snapped. “Your healing salve worked just as well as it always does and the burn is nearly gone, but it's still a bit tender and I've just flown from Oxford, so obviously I'm not feeling fantastic. My leg is feeling much better, thank you, though I do still need a crutch or a cane to get around properly. And as much as I am grateful for not having to wait months to be able to walk again, I do not appreciate you recruiting the faeries in my garden into your motherhenning!”

 

Merlin looked a little sheepish. “Er, well I just thought that since I couldn't be there through the night in case you needed me... What did they do exactly?”

 

“They decided I needed to be surrounded by nature in order to heal. I was woken up by a four-chorus orchestra of songbirds and my bedroom covered in every flower native to England. It's a botanical wonderland. Though how they managed to get the frogs and hedgehogs in I've not a clue.”

 

Merlin gaped. “Oh. Uh, I just told them to watch over you for me.”

 

Archie's glare didn't abate one bit. Beside him, Emma snickered. “You should feel honoured,” she said. “The fae don't do things like that for just anyone. Regardless of anything Merlin told them, they must really like you.”

 

Archie turned to her. “Yes, well, I suppose there aren't many people in this day and age that would recognize a faerie habitation let alone know how to foster any goodwill from it. The family living in the house before me moved out because of the little accidents it seemed plagued with. Apparently, the wife swore it was haunted and the smallest boy claimed to have seen the spirits. I took one look at the garden and realized immediately the problem wasn't ghosts, but angry faeries. The family had obviously attempted to clear out the faerie's home in the back corner to make it look 'pretty'. The fae don't take kindly to attacks against them, which is what this essentially was even if the family didn't realize it.”

 

“There were faeries living in a muggle garden?” Draco asked.

 

“Why not?” said Archie. “It's not as though the land has any less magic within it and the fae have been around for much longer than any modern construction.”

 

“Muggle garden?” said Weasley. He looked at Archie with surprise. “You live in the muggle world?”

 

Archie raised an imperious eyebrow – a slightly haughtier version of Merlin's. “Well I can't very well live in the wizarding world. I am a squib.”

 

Draco blinked, surprised by the revelation. His mother and Weasley looked equally surprised. Suddenly, Draco looked at Archie, realizing what it was that seemed so odd about him. He looked much too old to be Merlin's adopted brother. He wasn't old by any means and Draco would've guessed him somewhere in his late thirties, but Merlin looked to be in his early twenties. Draco had almost expected a younger sibling the way Merlin seemed to dote on him. Except that Elena had said Archie was her supervisor at the university...

 

Another puzzle piece that didn't make any sense.

 

“A squib?” his mother asked. “But you just did magic, we saw you. How can a squib be an animagus?”

 

“Because I'm not an animagus and that wasn't wizard magic. I'd also like to point out that I've been here for a good fifteen minutes at least and have yet to actually be introduced.”

 

Merlin rolled his eyes. “You've already done such a good job of introducing yourself I didn't think you needed it.” He motioned lazily to Archie. “Everyone, this is Archie. Archie, this is everyone.”

 

Archie glared at him. Merlin grinned winningly back.

 

Emma giggled. “Well, since Merlin's going to be difficult and I'm getting hungry, allow me to start.” Archie turned to face her and took her extended hand to shake it. “I'm Emma and this is Dudley, although you might know me as Nimueh...”

 

Archie froze as he shook Dudley's hand, his eyes sliding sideways towards her calculating expression. The corner of his mouth quirked and he nodded to her. “It's a pleasure to meet you both.”

 

At this point, Merlin finally relented and introduced everyone around the table properly. All the while, Draco watched them both carefully and thus noticed how Archie's eyes widened slightly when Gwaine was introduced to him. Then they finally turned to the food in front of them. His injuries and the flight to the manor seemed to have indeed taken a toll on Archie and Draco watched as Merlin served him, obviously picking out his favourite foods to Archie's great annoyance. Draco met his mother's amused look from across the table.

 

And then he looked back to the two of them. Merlin and Archie interacted with the ease of two people who had known each other for such a long time they were comfortable around each other. Their bickering was seamless and Archie's snippier comments slid off Merlin like water. Eventually, Gwaine and Emma joined in to help him jibe at Merlin. Merlin pouted and complained about them ganging up on him. Weasley and Dudley laughed at them.

 

Eventually, his mother decided to come to Merlin's rescue.

 

“So, Archie, you said you were a squib, which of course explains why you're living in the muggle world, but how did you come to be adopted by Merlin's family?”

 

Archie looked up at her and blinked. “Oh, well, I ran away from home, you see, and they found me and took me in.”

 

“You ran away from home?” Weasley asked, looking shocked. “Why? I mean, your parents weren't being, uh... not understanding...?”

 

He rolled his eyes. “Why does everyone always assume the worst?” he muttered and then continued louder. “No, nothing like that. Well, actually, I suppose in a way they didn't understand and thus didn't quite know what to do with a child without any magic. You purebloods may not have noticed just how unfriendly the wizarding world is to anyone who doesn't have magic.

 

“You can barely send a message let alone go anywhere. Even the Knight Bus requires a wand to get on. There were plenty of times I got left behind at home simply because it was easier that way. And then my older brother left for Hogwarts and I knew that was the end of it. I would have to go to a muggle school and then I'd never see my family again. It's a difficult thing for a ten-year-old to realize, you see. So, I ran away. I remember thinking that if muggles could life quite happily without magic, then so could I.”

 

Merlin chuckled. “You make it sound like it was a decision based on reason. You were so angry and bitter then.”

 

“Yes, I remember.”

 

Draco frowned.

 

“But surely, your family would've supported you in the muggle world,” Weasley argued.

 

Archie gave him a pointed look. “I did mention I was ten at the time, didn't I? Small children aren't exactly known for their brilliantly logical thought processes. Having said that, I'm not entirely sure I was all that wrong in my assessment. Yes, I'm sure my parents would've tried to be supportive, but I would never have been able to speak about my family in any detail to the muggle friends I made or invite them over to play and it only would've gotten worse as I grew older. At some point I would have to become a stranger to my own family or else I'd never be able to live a normal life. Or, alternatively, remain in the wizarding world and satisfy myself with the absolute dregs of existence.”

 

Draco could see Weasley get ready to defend the point, but his mother interrupted him. “He's perfectly right, Mister Weasley. It's one of the many reasons witches are terrified of giving birth to squibs. Family shame aside, it means losing one of your children in one way or another. Some families may be able to adapt to circumstance, however most pureblood families would have a difficult time adapting their lives to enable regular interactions with muggles. And even much of that adaptation is hindered by law.”

 

Draco blinked at her and decided not to ask why she knew this.

 

“But Merlin's family-”

 

“If you haven't noticed, Weasley, Merlin is more muggle than wizard,” said Draco, looking pointedly at Merlin's muggle attire.

 

Merlin merely shrugged.

 

“Oh yeah, I remembering thinking that was odd when we arrived,” said Dudley. “The only wizards I've ever seen had robes.”

 

“Oh.” Draco suddenly felt stupid. “Dudley, if you're still looking to contact your cousin, ask Weasley. His family's practically adopted him.”

 

Charlie looked up at that, raising both eyebrows in question.

 

“You know Harry?” Dudley asked, his eyes shining as he sat forward, nearly knocking his glass over in the process.

 

“Harry?” Draco snickered at Weasley's flabbergasted expression. “As in, Harry Potter? You mean you're-”

 

“Dudley Dursley, his cousin.”

 

Weasley gaped. It was a good expression on him, Draco thought. “But-but you don't have magic!”

 

“Er, well, like with Archie 'ere, 's not wizarding magic and I didn't remember I could do it until just now.” He paused and made a face, looking to his amused girlfriend. “Mum's going to have a coronary if she ever finds out about all this.”

 

Emma giggled. Or was her name really Nimueh? Draco admitted he was a bit confused on that score. All Merlin's friends seemed to be more than they appeared to be. And there was Merlin...

 

Draco froze. And then there was Merlin. Who was the most enigmatic of all. Whose background made no sense. Who the house elves called by a different name. Who goblins seemed to respect and went out of their way to help. Who had the power to call dragons. Who dealt with vampires and attracted unicorns and faeries. Who seemed most at home in the muggle world and rarely seemed to use magic unless absolutely necessary and yet did impossibly difficult magic effortlessly.

 

Draco stared at the man. He'd had no reason to lie to them about anything as they knew nothing about him. None of his story made sense, because he looked too young. His mother was certain there was a glamour or polyjuice of some sort involved, but Merlin didn't move like an old man and none of the other signs of potions or spells being used were present.

 

What if the truth was simple? Draco couldn't believe he was considering it, but only one truth made all puzzle pieces come together.

 

Merlin finally noticed his stare and looked at Draco worriedly. “Draco, are you alright?”

 

“Merlin. That-that's not just a name, is it?” Merlin's eyes widened momentarily before his face relaxed and he looked Draco in the eyes, a look of quiet anticipation on his face, urging him to continue. And that was when he realized, incredulously, that he was right. “You're him. You're actually Merlin. The Merlin, one of the most powerful wizards-”

 

“Sorcerer,” Merlin interrupted, the beginnings of a smile on his face, his eyes sparkling with excitement and... pride? “I'm not a wizard, never was. I'm a sorcerer, a creature of the Old Religion.”

 

“Actually, technically-speaking, you're a warlock,” said Emma. She was grinning at Draco. “I'm a sorceress.”

 

Draco gaped at them. “What's the difference?” he finally asked quietly.

 

Emma held out her hand, palm up. “Leoht,” she said. Her eyes glowed a bright gold, which made his mother and Weasley gasp. A bright globe of swirly light slowly came into being just above her palm and hovered there.

 

Gwaine reached over the table to poke at it. Emma flicked her wrist and sent it flying at his face. Gwaine ducked under the sphere with a laugh.

 

Merlin rolled his eyes. “Gwaine, knock it off.” Then his eyes glowed and Draco watched as he floated a plate of biscuits over to him. “Here, have a biscuit.”

 

Gwaine's eyes lit up. “Ah, I love custard creams!”

 

He grabbed one and bit into it. Just as Draco was beginning to wonder at how they looked familiar, Gwaine suddenly let out a rather high-pitched squawk. Draco looked over and gaped at the man-sized canary sitting in Gwaine's chair. It looked around and spread its wings, knocking down a glass of pumpkin juice and whacking Weasley with a faceful of feathers.

 

It didn't last for very long and soon the feathers fell off in a cascade of yellow, leaving behind a wide-eyed Gwaine standing with his arms extended out to his side. “Wh-what the bloody hell was that?!”

 

Everyone looked to Merlin, who shrugged. “You made fun of my ears earlier.”

 

As they all continued to stare at Merlin, Gwaine seemed to get over his sudden transformation. He took another cookie and stepped away from the table and bit into it. There was no surprised squawk this time, but some very concentrated wing flapping and then a leap, which didn't seem to go anywhere. Then there was some more flapping and a second leap, which ended rather quickly when all the feathers molted off again and Gwaine fell back to the ground with a surprised yelp.

 

“Er, what are you doing?” Weasley asked him.

 

“I'm trying to see if I can fly.”

 

“And you realize those only last about 2 minutes, yeah?”

 

“Well, then I'd better hope I'm a fast learner.”

 

“Right,” Weasley said. “I'm going to assume by your relaxed attitude that the rest of you knew about Merlin being, well, Merlin.”

 

“Emrys,” said Emma. She shrugged at Merlin's glare. “Well, if they're going to give you a title of a sort, it might as well be your proper one.”

 

“Except that none of them are druids.”

 

“But they are magic users and you said they practically worship 'Merlin', or you rather. And while Merlin is a charming name and I'm certain your mother was a lovely woman – you did kill me because of her, after all – who you are is Emrys. That is the name the Old Religion gave you.”

 

“Yes, I know that.”

 

“Well then, as magic users, they should properly be calling you Emrys.”

 

“That's what the house elves call you,” Draco said.

 

Merlin made a face. “It's what everyone I can't manage to convince otherwise calls me.”

 

“Still, to think Malfoy Manor is being home to such an incredible wiz- excuse me, sorcerer,” Narcissa said, looking wide-eyed and awed. “Why didn't you tell us?”

 

Merlin smiled slyly. “Oh, but I did. I never lied to you outright. My name is Merlin. And I am the king's man. I was born to help usher in the time of the Once and Future King, to protect him and support him. And now, the time is coming when Albion will once again need her King to rise again and defend this land.”

 

He now turned to Weasley, his eyes solemn, all humour gone. “As you've likely already guessed, the woman who attacked Harry Potter was a sorceress. What you don't realize is just how horribly out of his league poor Harry was. Honestly, he might not think so, but he got off easy. That woman was Morgana Le Fay.”

 

Draco's eyes widened and his blood froze. He carefully ventured a look around the table and saw equally grim expressions on the others' faces.

 

“So, does your lovely speech mean you now know where Arthur is?” Archie suddenly asked.

 

Merlin deflated. “No.”

 

“Then we gather the others so that we're ready for Arthur when you do find him,” said Gwaine, all traces of humour gone from his face.

 

Merlin looked up to him and nodded. “The goblins should be delivering the Round Table later this afternoon.”

 

“Well then, we'd best go find some people to sit around it.”

 

Merlin smiled. Suddenly, he perked up and his smile widened. “Since you now know about me, I can finally do this:” He placed a hand on Archie's shoulder. “I'd like to officially introduce you to my son, Archie.”

 

“Adopted son,” Archie muttered, the tips of his ears turning pink. “The rest of that story was true.”

 

“Is that a glamour or do you not age?” Narcissa suddenly blurted out.

 

“I don't age.”

 

Suddenly Weasley burst out laughing. “Blimey, I almost wish I worked at the ministry right now! Watching them run around trying to figure you out would be hilarious!”

 

Draco grinned. “Just don't give things away too quickly, Weasley. I know your family's quite friendly with the Minister of Magic, but do let them sweat for a little while at least.”

 

At that, Weasley's laughter died. He looked at Merlin. “As much as I hate to admit it, Malfoy does have a bit of a point there. Dad works for the ministry and the minister is a family friend. We all-” He cut himself off, seemingly considering his words for a few moments. “My family were all heavily involved with the Order of the Phoenix, which was a group of witches and wizards working outside the ministry to fight You-Know-Who.”

 

“Nope, sorry, don't know,” said Gwaine.

 

“He means Voldemort, the dark lord that tried to take control of the wizarding world,” said Merlin. “He was defeated by Harry Potter two years ago, so don't worry about him. And, yes, he is most definitely gone. Not, unfortunately, without getting the last laugh, though. I'm fairly certain it was his leftover magic that awoke Morgana's memories.”

 

Draco groaned. Of course it was.

 

“He's just the gift that keeps on giving no matter how much you try to give it back,” Emma commented.

 

“Something like that, yeah. Anyway, sorry Charlie, you were saying?”

 

“Er, right, yes. What I was going to say was that after the attack on Harry in Diagon Alley, some of the senior order members met and they're considering reassembling the Order of the Phoenix.”

 

Merlin nodded. “I think it's a good idea. I personally don't feel comfortable dealing with the ministry directly. And to answer the question you haven't asked yet: yes. I thank you for keeping my secret for as long as you can. It's not entirely that I'm hiding... except that I am. I'd like to remain hidden from Morgana for as long as possible. So long as she's not entirely sure where I am or whether I'm even alive, I can move more freely. But if it comes to it and you think the Order of the Phoenix needs to know about me or that I need to meet them, then tell them, bring them here. I'll leave it up to your discretion. I would rather no one die because of me.”

 

Weasley looked stunned. “Thank you. I'll tell you anything I learn from the meetings.”

 

Merlin smiled and nodded.

 

Just then shadows fell over the group and then disappeared as two dragons landed next to their table.

 

“Archie!” Aithusa exclaimed, craning her neck towards the man. “Merlin said you were injured. Are you healed now?”

 

“Not entirely, but I'm much better than I was, thanks to Merlin,” Archie answered with a warm smile.

 

“Good.” Then the white dragon nudged Kilgharrah to get his attention. “Kilgharrah, this is Merlin's son, Archibald. Although he calls him Archie.”

 

Kilgharrah looked surprised at the announcement and he leaned down, his head only barely above the top of the dinner table as he scrutinized Archie. Archie merely raised an eyebrow in challenge and looked right back at the massive dragon.

 

“Hmm, I see,” Kilgharrah finally said. “Well, it is an honour to meet you, young man.”

 

Archie inclined his head. “The honour is all mine, Kilgharrah. I have heard much about you and it is a pleasure to meet the dragon who gave Excalibur its magic.”

 

Gwaine perked up at that. “Arthur's sword? You mean the one he pulled from the stone was given magic by a dragon?” He frowned and looked at Merlin. “One that you knew! You-you knew about the... Merlin did you put the sword into the stone?!”

 

Merlin shrugged. “Well, it was supposed to keep it safe until Arthur could claim it and then, well, you saw Arthur. It was the easiest way to give him back his confidence. And to everyone else. People like symbols and Excalibur was a bloody potent symbol.”

 

“That it was, my friend, that it was.”

 

“Speaking of symbols, young warlock,” Kilgharrah's voice rumbled from above them. “Have you decided on your next move?”

 

Merlin looked up at the dragon and nodded. “Yes, we will assemble the Knights of the Round Table. Last time we very nearly didn't manage victory because I hadn't been paying attention to the right things. I thought I needed to do everything alone. I was wrong. A philosopher named Hegel once said that Minerva's owl flies only at dusk. Only after something has past can we look back with wisdom. Well, this time we have the advantage, because I have seen the world through the eyes of Minerva's owl and I understand why things went wrong.”

 


 

 

It took them a month. At first it was only Merlin and Gwaine, with Draco tagging along. Emma and Dudley were busy writing finals at their university, but once Archie's leg had healed a bit, he occasionally joined them.

 

First, they found Percival. He was helping an elderly neighbour with her groceries when they came upon him. Gwaine called out and Percival looked up, his eyes widened slightly. Then he smiled, indicating for them to wait. So they waited outside the building while he carried the groceries up the stairs, listening politely as the old lady told him about her grandchildren. Ten minutes later, the door to the building was thrown open and Percy bounded out the door and grabbed Gwaine into a crushing hug. The two knights laughed. He did the same to Merlin.

 

He smiled widely at Draco when he was introduced and shook his hand with so much sincerity he was certain it was about to fall off. Then Gwaine, Percy and Merlin took out their phones and exchanged numbers and addresses - much to Draco's confusion. Gwaine noticed and the result of that was Draco being dragged through the tube to a mobile store, wherein the three of them proceeded to argue over which one was the best.

 

By the end of the day Draco found himself the new owner of an iPhone with only a vague idea of what exactly that meant.

 

The next one they came across found them. Well, sort of. Merlin and Gwaine had taken Draco and Narcissa to the London Eye. Draco was busy looking at the cotton candy in his hand from all sides as though figuring out whether or not it would try to bite him back if he attempted to consume it, when suddenly something ran into his legs and nearly toppled him over. Draco looked down and saw a small child wearing a pink and white polka-dotted dress with bright green eyes that peeked up at him from within a wild mane of reddish-brown curls.

 

Merlin knelt down beside her. “Are you alright?” he asked with a smile.

 

The little girl looked at him and nodded with a shy smile.

 

“What's your name?”

 

“Isabella,” she said softly, looking at Merlin with big, curious eyes.

 

Merlin smiled at her. “Well, it's nice to meet you, Isabella. I'm Merlin. And you are a very sweet little girl. And you know what every sweet little girl needs?”

 

Isabella shook her head, her cheeks dimpling as her smile grew. Merlin held up his hands, palms facing towards her. Then he closed them into fists. He twisted his wrists around, bringing his hands together as he opened his fists to reveal a single pink hibbiscus flower. The little girl gasped, her eyes widening in surprise. She laughed with delight Merlin as handed her the flower.

 

“How did you do that?” she asked.

 

Merlin grinned and winked. “Magic,” he said and she giggled.

 

“Isabella!” a man's voice called.

 

The little girl twirled around and ran towards a tall man with hair that looked almost exactly like hers only browner and slightly shorter. “Daddy!”

 

Her father was frowning as he knelt down so he was closer to her height, but his attempts at scolding her for running off were derailed in the face of her excitement over her magical flower and the nice magician, who said she was lovely. The man finally sighed and looked in their direction. And froze, his eyes widening. Gwaine's eyes lit up. Merlin smiled at the man and waved.

 

“Did you know who she was?” Gwaine asked him quietly.

 

Merlin shrugged. “With a head of hair like that she couldn't possibly have been anyone else's child.”

 

And that was how they found Sir Leon.

 

It took two more weeks and Gwaine getting arrested for being drunk and disorderly for them to find Lancelot. Or rather Detective Constable Lance Knight.

 

It was eight o'clock in the morning when Merlin's mobile blared to life with the Batman themesong. Merlin groaned and reached a hand out to his nightstand where he smacked wood a few times before locating the offending noisemaker. On the other end of the line was Gwaine, who insisted quite strongly that Merlin meet him immediately at the Met. So, Merlin glared at the phone and then got up, dressed and teleported to London – after having backtracked once when he caught sight of himself in one of the hallway mirrors and realized he'd accidentally put on a set of robes and wouldn't that just be fun to explain to the police officers.

 

Merlin easily found Gwaine, who was standing outside the building talking to a dark-haired man in a brown suit. Though 'talking' seemed to be more along the lines of keeping him busy and not allowing him to leave. As Merlin approached them from behind, he could tell by the tense back muscles and clenched fist that the man was highly annoyed at his friend. Merlin sighed, wondering what Gwaine was up to.

 

Then Gwaine saw him and waved enthusiastically. The police officer turned. Merlin froze, his eyes widening. The officer's eyes met his and within moments their expression changed from tired curiosity to incredulous recognition. Merlin began to walk towards him.

 

“Merlin,” the man breathed, holding his hand out.

 

Merlin clasped his hand, his face breaking out in a wide smile. “Lancelot, it's been a very long time.”

 

Lancelot's smile was warm, though he looked a bit dazed. “Too long.”

 

After only a few moments, he managed to shake himself out of his daze and then packed both Merlin and Gwaine into his car and drove them through the twists and turns of London. Merlin sat up front beside him and basked in the presence of his friend. Gwaine beamed at them both from the back seat, though there was a tightness around his eyes that proved the previous night wasn't without consequences.

 

“Are the others alive as well?” Lancelot finally asked when he stopped for a red light.

 

Merlin grinned. “Yes. Percival's working as a stuntman for the BBC, Leon's a retired RAF pilot with an absolutely adorable little girl and Gwaine there's holding the surprisingly respectable job of online stock broker. The only one of the knights we haven't found yet is Elyan.”

 

“Oi! I resent being called respectable! I, my friend, am an utter cad of the highest calibre!”

 

The corner of Lancelot's lips quirked. He cut off whatever Merlin was about to say with a raised hand and then turned back to his driving as the light flipped. Merlin frowned at him and exchanged a confused look with Gwaine, who shrugged and then winced as a car horn blared.

 

Ten minutes or so later, they pulled up into the driveway of a small car repair shop called “Smith Car Repairs”. Lancelot stepped out of the car and walked to the shop doors. Merlin and Gwaine followed. A smaller door next to the large double garage doors opened and a dark-skinned woman in dirty, gray coveralls stepped out.

 

“Lance, you're back,” she said and Merlin gasped. “Did you forget something?”

 

Lancelot turned to face Merlin and Gwaine as he put a hand around the woman's shoulders. “Merlin, Gwaine, I'd like you to meet my wife, Gwen.”

 

Gwen looked to her husband with a confused frown, which disappeared the moment she noticed Merlin. She gasped, one hand coming up to cover – though not touch – her mouth. And then she was leaving Lancelot's side and running to Merlin, eyes shining and a delighted smile on her face.

 

“Oh, Merlin!” she exclaimed as she pulled him into a fierce hug, which Merlin happily returned.

 

He held her tightly in his arms and allowed himself to remember. Gwen had been his first friend in Camelot: the bright, friendly smile that had helped him navigate his first few months as Arthur's manservant when the rest of the servants still resented him for his unprecedented rise in rank and unearned honour (not that he'd considered it such then) and she'd been the patient ear to listen to his complaints about Arthur's unreasonable pratishness. Then later, she'd been the only woman he loved enough not to resent her place at Arthur's side - he could find it in himself to be happy for her.

 

She used to smell of lavender, powder and wood smoke. Now she smelt of shampoo, coffee and engine oil.

 

“I'm afraid Elyan's busy writing an exam on something to do with moulding impressionable young minds into good citizens without the use of a heavy mallet,” said Lancelot when they'd finally broken apart.

 

Merlin looked to him and smiled. Beside him, Gwaine snorted. “Never underestimate the effectiveness of a good mallet, my friend.”

 

And that, Merlin had thought, was the end of it. The knights all found if not quite assembled. Yet. He was certainly not expecting a call from Percival, asking him to come to London to see someone he thought looked familiar. So, Merlin tested out the shiny new ministry-sanctioned floo network connection at his house in London, took the tube and met the knight on Portobello Road.

 

Percival nodded to him in greeting and led Merlin away from the market. “I wanted some custom fittings for my motorbike,” he explained while they walked. “And some blokes at work recommended this place, said the owners really knew their stuff. I finally went yesterday and they were right, the owners were great, but they also looked familiar. Really familiar. Like they should've been wearing soft leather and swords familiar.”

 

Merlin nodded, wondering who it could possibly be.

 

From the outside, the shop was very unassuming, as though it rather wanted to remain hidden from prying eyes. From the front there was nothing but a simple green door with T&I neatly spray-painted onto it in black. Beside the door was a large window, with two motorcycle helmets and a pair of gloves sitting on the sill and a large, greasy black chain hanging from a black iron nail. Merlin peeked around the corner of the small building and saw a large metal fence, which he assumed led to some sort of yard.

 

It was inside this small shop, that he met Tristan and Isolde.

 


 

 

The second Saturday in May saw Merlin usher all the knights and his friends into his small house and show them how to use the floo network.

 

“I know this is all a bit odd, but don't worry, I promise you don't actually need magic to make it work,” he told them. “I've charmed the fire to never burn out, but if it does, call me. You take a handful of this powder here, toss it into the flames and then say the place you're going to. When the flames flash green, you say the password. When they then flash blue, you can enter. The place you'll be going to is called the Malfoy Manor. Password is Camelot. Any questions? Whatever it is, Gwaine, no, you may not.”

 

Merlin demonstrated by flooing to the Malfoy Manor first. Then stepped back and watched as, one by one, the knights, Gwen, Dudley, Emma and Leon's daughter, staggered out of the fireplace. Draco made sure to laugh especially loudly at Gwaine's inelegant landing.

 

Mimsy looked a bit miffed with Merlin for having only asked for 'some' refreshments instead of telling the elves there was going to be a large group of people coming. The never-ending pot of coffee, however, was a huge hit.

 

And then, the ballroom of the Malfoy Manor held witness to the Round Table being sat at for the first time in fifteen hundred years.

 


 

 The second Saturday in May saw Morgana step out of the Forbidden Forest just as the first few stars became visible and gaze upon the magically assembled houses of Hogsmeade. Beside her, Mordred gasped, no doubt feeling their magical presence sing to him like a discordant orchestra of light. She looked at him and smiled encouragingly. He met her eyes and smiled shyly back.

 

It was a pity she had not been able to bring him back more fully. His memories were slightly erratic and incomplete. He still retained some of the innocence this life had afforded him, though thankfully remembered his former anger and bitterness well enough. She'd had to help him with his magic and that had delayed her plans. Not that it mattered. She wasn't exactly on a schedule and Hogwarts hadn't let out for the summer yet.

 

Morgana turned her attention back to the wizarding town. It was the oldest fully-magical town in England. She smirked and pulled out her wand. The Elder Wand thrummed with anticipation. She looked to Mordred and nodded. Mordred smirked and stepped forward, holding out the rowan wood staff he held in his hand.

 

Taking a deep breath, he thrust the staff into the soft soil. His eyes glowed bright gold as he channelled his magic into it. Morgana pointed her wand at the staff and began to incant. She grinned as the dirt around them began to rise up out of the earth and take form.

 

Behind them, the Forbidden Forest fell silent for the first time in living memory as its inhabitants fled to its darkest depths.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10

 

Charlie stumbled through the Malfoy Manor fireplace and immediately grabbed the nearest solid surface. He took several deep breaths as he concentrated on keeping the contents of his stomach from making an appearance onto the dark hardwood floor. He felt dizzy, his mind turning around in circles, unwilling to stop, though the rest of him felt numb as though there were a thick, sheer blanket between him and the rest of the world.

 

“Oh, I thought I heard someone,” an unfamiliar voice swept into his consciousness. Charlie looked up to see a tall man with a mop of wavy reddish-brown hair. The man was frowning. “Are you alright?”

 

Charlie opened his mouth to reassure the stranger he was fine, but nothing came out. He shook his head, unable to lie. “Is Merlin awake?” he croaked instead.

 

“I don't believe so, but we can wake him if it's important. Come on, let's get you to the dining room.” Suddenly, there was a pair of strong arms wrapping around him and holding him up. “You look like you could use a cup of tea – or possibly something stronger, however I haven't a clue where Merlin keeps the spirits.”

 

Charlie barely paid any attention to the journey through the manor. All he knew was that they were walking along carpeted floors and then they were walking through a door and into the manor's family dining room. The table was laid out for breakfast, but to him it all looked like plates full of colourful things that smelled like they should be appetizing. Archie was sitting in one of the chairs, which was turned parallel to the table and frowning down at a queer-looking object on his lap. It looked a bit like a very large book, except there was no paper and he had it open the wrong way. A pained expression crossed his face for a moment as he reached over to grasp the cup sitting on the table within his reach and took a sip – without once looking up from the thing in his lap.

 

“What are you doing?” Charlie blurted out, unable to help himself.

 

Archie's eyes glanced up over the rim of his glasses briefly to meet his. “Despairing over the future of the human race.”

 

“Oh.” Charlie blinked. “So you're reading the news then?”

 

“No, marking research papers.” He took another sip. “My tutor has sent me a list of the essays he's failed and the ones he's given A's to for me to read over and I have foolishly decided to start my day by reading the failed ones first... Good lord, this student is spectacularly dumb! Arthur living in the fifteenth century?! Best mates with Christopher Columbus as well, no doubt. This person doesn't just deserve to fail, they deserve to be excommunicated from the human race!”

 

Suddenly, the door behind him burst open. Charlie turned to see a highly annoyed Draco Malfoy standing in the doorway. His hair looked a bit frazzled and his robes slightly rumbled and askew. He was holding a small rectangular object in his hand. There was noise blaring out, in which Charlie could make out an attempt at melody that was being drowned out by a discordant medley of wails and bangs and some form of reverberated buzzing.

 

“Is Gwaine here?” he growled out.

 

“Er, no, I'm afraid not,” said the tall man who'd helped Charlie get to the dining room.

 

“It's before noon and the first place you decide to look for Gwaine was here?” said Archie, who'd looked up at the noise.

 

Draco made a face. “I wasn't thinking,” he muttered and made to leave.

 

“Draco!” Archie called out to him. As Draco turned to him he held out his hand expectantly. When the wizard did nothing but blink at him, Archie huffed. “I'm assuming your purpose is to put an end to that infernal racket that some tone-deaf individual erroneously labelled music?”

 

That had Malfoy moving and placing the rectangular object in Archie's outstretched hand. Archie took it and began to poke at it with his other hand as the blond looked over his shoulder. Moments later, it went silent.

 

Archie handed it back to him. “There, now you can sit down and have breakfast and turn Gwaine into a toad at your leisure.”

 

“Thank you,” said Draco as he slipped the device into his pocket. It was then that he noticed Charlie and frowned. “Weasley, you look dreadful. Why are you still standing?”

 

That was an excellent question and Charlie answered it by pulling out a chair and sitting down. A cup of tea was placed in front of him.

 

“Thank you,” he said, looking up to find an unfamiliar woman smiling down at him. He blinked blankly at her and then looked around to the rest of the table, only to realize Archie wasn't the only one sitting at it. “Oh, uh, sorry, didn't notice you all there. Good morning, I'm Charlie Weasley.”

 

“It's quite alright,” said one with a kind smile – he had well-tanned skin and short, dark hair. “I'm Lance Knight and that's my wife, Gwen. And this over here is Percival.”

 

“Call me Percy,” said the man next to him with a nod. Though he was sitting on the opposite end of the table, Charlie could tell he was a massively-built tower of a man.

 

“And I'm Leon,” said the man, who'd helped him earlier.

 

“It's nice to meet all of you,” said Charlie. He turned to Leon. “And thank you for your help earlier. I wasn't entirely myself...”

 

“You looked as though you'd seen death.”

 

Charlie froze, the warmth that had begun to seep into his bones by simply being in the presence of people, evaporated. No, he hadn't actually seen death. He'd only heard about it. Behind him, he vaguely heard several female voices calling out a good morning as they entered, but the thick wool was back.

 

“Weasley?”

 

Charlie looked into the worried eyes of Draco Malfoy – ha, a Malfoy worried for a Weasley, his mum'd never believe it! But Malfoy was a wizard. He'd gone to Hogwarts. He'd understand.

 

“Hogsmeade was attacked last night,” he finally said quietly. Malfoy's eyes widened and somewhere to his left, Charlie heard a gasp. “Bill flooed me this morning. The survivors said there were skeletons that couldn't be killed and huge monsters that grew out of the ground an-and there were Death Eaters.” He took a deep breath. “Hogwarts didn't know anything was wrong until the first survivors managed to make it through the gate. Hagrid found them and told McGonagall, but by the time the professors got there, the attackers were gone.”

 

“How many casualties?”

 

The question was asked in a scared whisper and Charlie turned to look at the horrified face of Narcissa Malfoy. He swallowed his suddenly too-dry throat. “Wrong question,” he whispered.

 

There was a heavy, oppressive silence.

 

“How many survivors?” Charlie looked up to see Merlin standing in the door way next to a little girl with wild, reddish-brown curls.

 

Charlie closed his eyes. “Seventeen.”

 

He heard several intakes of breath. He opened his eyes. Predictably, the two Malfoys were taking the news the hardest, with Narcissa looking like she was barely holding back tears. Merlin's eyes were closed and his expression weary and full of grief. The muggles all looked horrified, but confused.

 

“I've never 'eard of Hogsmeade, where is it?” said a woman Charlie didn't recognize. She had long, blonde hair pulled back severely out of her face into a ponytail and was wearing a dark red sleeveless top with skin-tight dark blue trousers and black heavy-looking boots. There was a tiger sprawled down one of her arms and a sword with a long, green dragon wound around it down the other.

 

“It's in Scotland,” Archie answered. “Not very big, I believe, but it's the last entirely magical village in Great Britain. Right next to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”

 

“Oh god, you mean there were children nearby?!” Gwen gasped, eyes wide with horror as her right fist clenched over her heart.

 

“I take it this was a civilian village?” Leon asked with a severe frown.

 

“Do they know who it was?” asked Lance.

 

“I think we know who it was,” said Merlin. At his words, they all fell silent, considering. Agreeing.

 

“Morgana,” Lance finally said. Charlie frowned, wondering how they knew this with such certainty.

 

Merlin nodded. “Yes.”

 

A wide yawn broke the ensuing silence and then Gwaine appeared in the doorway just behind Merlin. He put an arm around Merlin and grinned. “Good morning all! What'd I miss?”

 

“Morgana just declared war,” said Merlin.

 

“Oh, good, so nothing important then?” The grin disappeared off Gwaine's face. “What's the plan?”

 

“We go to war,” said Lance. Around the room, the muggles – Merlin friends, the Knights of the Round Table – nodded.

 

Merlin met Charlie's eyes. “I'm assuming the Order of the Phoenix is meeting?”

 

Charlie nodded. “In two days' time. Aurors have taken over at Hogsmeade and Hogwarts is under lockdown.”

 

Merlin nodded. “I think it's time I met Minister Kingsley Shackelbolt and the Order of the Phoenix.”

 

No one argued against it, which finally thawed some of the ice that had formed around Charlie's heart. He downed the rest of his tea. “I'll be going then. See you in two days!”

 

As Charlie left to see to the dragonets, he paused at door way for long enough to notice Merlin sit down at the table next to Archie, who'd now closed his strange muggle device containing despair-inducing research papers. The others also sat down around the table, the little girl running to her father's side (he had to be her father, the resemblance was too great for him to be anything else). Gwaine poured himself coffee and then poured some for Emma and the blonde woman.

 

The mood surrounding the table was solemn, but determined.

 


 

 

Minerva McGonagall stared out the window in her office. For once, even the portraits behind her were silent, caught up in her mood or else lost in their own shock and bewilderment. Albus Dumbledore had never had a window in the office when he'd been headmaster, but the day after Minerva had been inaugurated as Headmistress of Hogwarts, the window had magically appeared.

 

She liked it: the natural light helped her think. Or at the very least it gave her something less claustrophobic to look at when she wanted to not think at all, which was what she was trying to do now.

 

It felt like years had passed since Hagrid had woken her at nearly midnight. Long, terrible, blood-soaked years. She'd scarce been able to believe it at first; that anyone would attack Hogsmeade of all relatively unimportant places was simply ludicrous. However, one look at the state of the woman who'd managed to make it to Hogwarts on her broom had Minerva waking the professors and prefects. Leaving the Head Boy and Head girl in charge of the school, she and the professors hurried down the path to the gates from where they could apparate. On the way, they met two more Hogsmeade citizens, both of whom were injured and in shock.

 

They hadn't yet been calling them survivors.

 

A small family had managed to stagger to the gates by the time they arrived there and Minerva left Hagrid behind in order to help any others. At the gates, they divided. Madame Hooch and Professor Summers, the current Defence against the Dark Arts professor, both grabbed broomsticks and flew to Hogsmeade, while several others walked in case there were people on route requiring help. The rest of them apparated.

 

There was no sign of the attackers when they arrived. Though, to call what had been done to Hogsmeade an attack would indicate a battle had taken place, a defence put up with at least some degree of success even if over-powered. This had not been an attack. This had been a slaughter.

 

Minerva knew she would never forget the stench of burning flesh and hair combined with flowing blood. The people around them had not died of Avada Kadavra. The killing curse would've been a blessing to them. No, by the limbs strewn about and naked body cavities being aired, the citizens of Hogsmeade had been hacked and slashed at and ripped open. Minerva wasn't the only one who'd retched into the nearest corner.

 

Somehow, she'd gotten through it, managed to ignore the mangled dead human bodies as she and the others searched for survivors. An eternity filled with fire that couldn't be put out and hollow, lifeless stares out of faces frozen into expressions of pain and terror passed and then aurors arrived. She remembered speaking to them, to faces that looked as horrified and disbelieving as she was sure they had when they'd first arrived. Between them, the professors had managed to find another ten survivors in the ruined village. The aurors had taken over, thanking the professors and sending them back to the school, telling them to lock all the doors and seal all the entrances.

 

Minerva had wandered away in a daze before stopping in front of what used to be the Three Broomsticks. She remembered coming here as a student. There was a booth in the back where she and her friends would sit at every Hogsmeade weekend. Some of those friends had died over the years, some simply lost touch, but that booth had always remained, becoming the territory of a new group of students every year. Now the booth was gone, nothing but a pile of burning ashes somewhere underneath the fallen beams of the pub. Even the sign that had hung above the door was nothing more than a warped scrap of metal.

 

Minerva fled Hogsmeade, not daring to breathe until she was once again within the walls of the castle surrounded by the comfort of stone walls and the faces of children who hadn't just witnessed what she had. Her hands had still been shaking at breakfast when she'd announced to the student population what had taken place while they were asleep.

 

A knock on the door broke her out of her reverie. She jumped slightly, but barely blinked. She took a deep breath.

 

“Come in!” she called out.

 

The door opened revealing Kingsley Shacklebolt. He nodded grimly at her. “Good afternoon, headmistress.”

 

“Good afternoon, Kingsley,” she answered with a raised eyebrow. “I thought no one was allowed in or out of the school until the aurors judged otherwise.”

 

He shrugged. “There are a few advantages to being the Minister of Magic.” He closed the door after himself. “How are you coping, Minerva? I've just come from Hogsmeade and, though much of it's been cleared away already, it still looks horrific. I can't imagine what it must've been like directly after the attack.”

 

Minerva sighed. “I don't think there's a word in the English language more adequate than 'horrific' to properly describe it.”

 

He nodded.

 

“Do the aurors know who's responsible yet?” Albus's portrait asked.

 

Kinglsey ran a hand over his smooth scalp. “We're – sorry, they're – more or less certain it was the work of the same woman, who attacked Harry in Diagon Alley a month and a half ago. A few Unspeakables apparated in to take a look at it and they've confirmed the type of magic used was similar, especially in terms of those bloody fires.”

 

“And you're certain the Dark Lord has nothing to do with this?” Snape asked with his usual glower.

 

“I'm not certain of anything! Other than the confirmed presence of Death Eaters, there's nothing to indicate Voldemort had anything to do with this. The attack on Harry had a point to it at least: she got the Elder Wand from him. This, though? There's no strategic value to Hogsmeade except its proximity to Hogwarts and she never touched the castle. Didn't come anywhere near it so far as we can tell.”

 

“Do you know anything about her?” Albus asked once Kingsley had finished.

 

“Not anything helpful.” At Minerva's beckoning, he sat down. “Her name is Rachel Elizabeth Gorlois and she's a half-blood. Her mother was a French witch, who worked for the French Ministry of Magic and her father was a British muggle soldier. The French authorities were helpful enough in sending information over to us, so we know her mother died when Rachel was ten. She was run over by a muggle driver.”

 

“How horrible!” one of the portraits exclaimed.

 

“Yes, well, it's a bit complicated, that one. According to the reports, the muggle was driving recklessly, however her mother had just quickly popped out from the ministry and hadn't wanted to bother changing into muggle clothes, so she'd cast a simple disillusionment charm on herself.”

 

“In other words, the driver couldn't have seen her regardless of his driving,” said Minerva.

 

Kingsley nodded. “Exactly. Anyway, Rachel then went to Beauxbaton like her mother before her and passed her way through school as a fairly good student with a talent for charms and brighter than average, but not exactly brilliant. Two years ago, just before her graduation, her father was killed in action somewhere in the Middle East, though I think he may have been a peacekeeper by then. The muggle government wasn't quite as co-operative as the French Ministry was. She inherited his house in Shrewsbury, but when aurors went to investigate, there was no one home and no one's been back since either.”

 

“Is there any reason to believe she'd been in contact with You-Know-Who?” asked Phineas Black.

 

Kingsley shook his head. “Of course it's possible. It wouldn't make any sense for her to have been, but it's always possible.”

 

“No, if Tom had had someone as powerful as her at his disposal, he would have used her,” said Albus.

 

“That's the general consensus. She did, apparently, spend at least part of her summers here in England with her father when he was in the country. Her mother lived in Shrewsbury as well while she was alive and travelled daily to Paris by special portkey.”

 

“It would appear that something is missing in this young lady's history,” Snape commented.

 

“You mean motive? Yes, we've rather noticed that.”

 

“Hm. And what exactly did she do after graduation?”

 

“That... that we're also not sure of. She was supposed to apprentice with a master amulet designer when she gave notice that, after her father's death, she needed some time to take care of matters in England, which the designer in question gave her. He says he never heard back from her after that. She apparently did take residence in her childhood home in Shrewsbury, but we have no idea what she actually did for those two years until she suddenly showed up in Diagon Alley and attacked Harry.”

 

“Well, it certainly seems like you have your work cut out for you, Kingsley,” said Albus.

 

He snorted. “Not me, the auror department. They're already cross enough at me for not allowing them free access to the Malfoy Manor without the new owner's permission. At least I'm going to make one person happy this week. This attack means I'll have to redirect the Department of Mystery's attention away from that sword in front of Buckingham Palace and concentrate it on figuring out Gorlois' magic. The muggle Prime Minister's been asking I remove them for weeks now. The sword hasn't been harming anything and is apparently good for tourism.”

 

“Sword? What sword?” one of the earlier headmasters asked.

 

Kingsley stood. “Minerva, I'll let you field this one. I'd better get ready for the press conference I've got in an hour.”

 

Minerva stood as well. “Yes, you'd better. And please do keep me informed.”

 

“I will. And I'll see you at the Order meeting. I'm sure this lockdown will be lifted by then.”

 

“I'll see you there, Kingsley.”

 

Kingsley left and Minerva went back to her window-gazing. After a few moments, a soft cough came from behind her. “Ehem, Minerva, I believe there was a sword you were going to tell us about?”

 

Minerva rolled her eyes. She knew exactly what Albus was doing – he was hardly being subtle – and for once she didn't exactly care. Distraction from her own thoughts and memories was exactly what she needed right now. She turned to the row of past headmasters.

 


 

 

While they planned, breakfast somehow turned into lunch – the distinction created by the loud 'pop' with which the breakfast spread disappeared and was replaced with a large 'light' lunch spread of sandwiches, quiches, devilled eggs and salads. Leon's daughter gasped loudly at the sight and then declared she thought this was the most wonderful castle ever (Draco had given up attempting to teach her the distinction between a manor and a castle), after which she sat down and began to tell her father excitedly all about the unicorns and the beautiful white birds in the gardens Narcissa had taken her to see.

 

Narcissa watched her with fond amusement as she sat down next to Draco, who was seated next to Merlin at the head of the table. Draco watched the muggle child with a small frown, as though he wasn't sure whether to be annoyed or perplexed by her interruption. He looked to Narcissa and the frown disappeared.

 

“Hello, mother, how was your walk in the grounds?”

 

Narcissa smiled at him. “It was... surprisingly pleasant.” She looked at the little girl, who was now telling Gwen all about the pretty unicorns and about the dragons that looked big and scary, but are actually very nice – she didn't notice her father pale at the mention of dragons. “It's been quite a long time since there was a child running around the manor and that little one is just so full of energy. Everything's exciting to her... I don't ever remember any of the mudbloods being like that.” Her eyes widened and she glanced to Merlin. “Oh! I'm sorry, I meant muggle-born.”

 

Merlin waved her off. “Don't worry about it on my account. I remember when 'mudblood' was the polite term for someone with at least one muggle parent and there was no half-blood distinction.” He looked over to Isabella and smiled. “But it certainly is a wonderful experience introducing a child to magic, isn't it? When they're still young enough to see the wonder in it and too innocent to think of it as power or a means to power.”

 

“And before they've been completely disenchanted by movie special effects,” Percival added.

 

“Bloody hell, yeah,” said Dudley. “I remember when Emma and I were attacked in Richmond Park. That smokey skull and snake sign appeared in the sky and everyone just looked up at it, like they were wondering what sort of new lightshow it was. Or if there was a movie being filmed nearby. I mean, yeah, it's magic and all, but wouldn't be crazy to think it was a demonstration of some U of L student's science project.”

 

“Oh,” said Draco, sounding stunned. “I always thought muggles were confused by magic, because they're stupid enough to think it doesn't exist.”

 

Archie snorted at this, looking up from what Draco now knew was called a 'laptop'. “It certainly doesn't help that any muggle who accidentally learns of magic has their memories erased by the Ministry of Magic - which is, of course, highly ironic given that the Imperious is considered one of the Unforgivables and yet controlling and modifying a person's memories is no less a form of mind control.”

 

“Remember how I told you that muggle science has progressed far in being able to explain the world and how it operates?” Merlin asked.

 

Draco nodded. “You also said it wouldn't be too long before they discovered magic for themselves...”

 

“Yes, because for now there's still a lot they don't understand and muggle scientists know this, which is why they're still searching for answers. The list of what they haven't figured out yet is long and so when something happens that they don't understand, they simply add it to the list as it were. That list is constantly shrinking and growing longer, but one day some scientist will discover a tiny energy particle or a particularly odd genome and they'll study it, analyze it and end up with 'magic' as their only answer.”

 

“You wouldn't even have to wait that long,” said Elyan from his seat next to Percival. “All it would take is for one teenager to snap a photo and post it on facebook, where all their hundred and whatever random friends can see it and share it with their hundred and something friends who will share it again and, well, you can see where I'm going with this, right?”

 

Draco frowned. “Facebook? What in the world is that? Not a book of faces, I'm assuming.”

 

Within seconds of having asked the question, the blond wizard found himself besieged by a crowd of enthusiastically helpful muggles and their cellphones. Merlin leaned over to Archie and whispered something to him. Archie looked up and the two of them talked quietly for a few moments. Then Merlin looked to Nimueh. She looked up and met his eyes. After a while, she nodded and then turned to Dudley.

 

Archie turned off his laptop and then snapped it shut. “Well, I have a few errands to run, so I'll be off then.” He raised an eyebrow at Emma and Dudley. “Are you two coming with me?”

 

Dudley nodded as Emma finished her latest cup of coffee in one gulp. “Yeah, we're coming.”

 

“Excellent. Draco, why don't you come with us?”

 

Draco's head snapped up from the mobile screens he was attempting to make sense of. He blinked at Archie. “And why exactly should I come with you?”

 

“Because the rest of the gentlemen here are likely to spend the rest of the afternoon knocking each other's heads off with sharp pointy objects and I would like to test whether the Windows 8 interface is really as user-friendly as they claim it is. If you can figure it out, anyone can.”

 

Draco scowled at Archie, but was eventually convinced to go change into some muggle clothes and accompany the group heading back to London. Tristan and Isolde joined them, citing a custom job that had to be finished for a client by the next day.

 

After they'd left, Merlin took the Knights of the Round Table (Gwen having decided to take Isabella up on the girl's offer to show her the unicorns and introduce her to the dragons) back into the ballroom, where the Round Table was set up. Along the side of the room, sat a heavy-looking trunk with the Pendragon crest drawn onto the lid. Merlin ran a hand along it and whispered a spell. The lock popped open and Merlin grasped the lid and lifted it.

 

“I believe, sir knights,” he said with a grin as he stepped away to let them see the chest's contents, “that you will be needing these.”

 

The knights' eyes widened with wonder and delight as they looked inside and spied familiar red material beneath a pile of leather-encased steel.

 

“Our cloaks and swords,” said Leon reverently as he reached inside. He picked one up and felt its weight. He handed it to Elyan. “I believe this one's yours.”

 

Elyan took it and felt it. He pulled it out and nodded. “It is at that, Leon. Good eye.”

 

The rest of the swords were handed out and a cloak given to each knight. They chose a spot to the far left of the gardens for their training, by the old dragon stables, which had been made comfortable for Kilgharrah and Aithusa. Both dragons settled down to watch along with Merlin, Anhora, Narcissa and Isabella. Gwen took the spare sword Merlin had brought for her and joined them.

 


 

 

Diagon Alley felt subdued, quiet. Sombre. Many of the shop windows had hung draps of black in their window displays and there were fewer people about than a sunny and not-too-humid Saturday afternoon would usually entice. And those that had ventured out seemed to be walking about in a daze. Hogsmeade was a fond memory of their school years to many of them, after all.

 

The Daily Prophet's special edition about the 'Hogsmeade Massacre' had come out at noon. That was two hours ago.

 

Harry and Ginny walked the streets slowly, their movements sluggish, their hands linked out of a desire for companionship, a solid confirmation that neither one of them was alone. Their planned romantic outing felt hollow, meaningless. They'd considered calling it off altogether, but hadn't known what to do with themselves otherwise. They weren't needed to help with anything (all auror cadets were being kept well away from the scene) and the Order of the Phoenix wasn't meeting until the next day.

 

And neither one of them had felt like staying inside, surrounded by four walls and nothing to distract them from their thoughts.

 

“Did you want to sit down and have some tea?” Harry eventually asked, more for suggesting something to do rather than any desire for tea.

 

“Tea?” Ginny said, her eyes blinking slowly as though trying to remember what that was. “Yes... yes I think tea would be lovely.”

 

And so they ordered themselves a cup of tea and a bumbleberry scone each and sat outside under a brightly-coloured umbrella. Sipping at their tea and nibbling at the scones at least gave them something to occupy themselves with.

 

“I just don't understand,” Ginny finally said after an age of silence had passed between them. “How can anyone do something like that?”

 

Harry didn't have an answer to that.

 

“I mean, V-Voldemort was mad,” she continued, her eyes remaining locked into the depths of her tea. “But at least we knew why he did what he did. As insane and evil as it was, at least he had a reason.”

 

Harry glared into his own tea. “I can't imagine that any reason would ever be good enough to justify anything she's done,” he hissed angrily. “She didn't even go to Hogwarts. What in Merlin's name could she possibly have against the people of Hogsmeade?”

 

He clenched his fists. He could feel the numbness from his morning slowly melting away as a newly-discovered anger began to burn in his chest. She had attacked him and his friends to get to the Elder Wand. And now she destroyed the village of Hogsmeade... why? To prove that she could? To prove she was worse than Voldemort?

 

“Oh bloody marvelous,” he heard Ginny mutter. He looked up and saw her gazing at the sky forlornly, tears glittering in her eyes. “Now it looks like it's going to rain.”

 

Harry looked up at the sky, which was indeed now covered in light gray clouds. That was quick. “Was it supposed to rain?”

 

“No, but what exactly about this day has gone the way it was supposed to?” And then Ginny burst into tears. “I'm sorry, Harry, I'm sorry. I was so sad to leave Hogwarts, but it was alright, because one day I'd have children and they'd go to Hogwarts and then I'd listen to their stories about sitting at the Three Broomsticks and it would be like I was there all over again and I could tell them about Madame Rosmerta and ask if she was still there. Only now- now the Three Broomsticks are gone and Honeydukes is gone and we don't even know if any of those people we knew are still alive because they haven't released a list of survivors yet...”

 

Harry wasn't sure what to do. He reached over and took Ginny's hand in his and squeezed it. She squeezed back as she wiped at her eyes with her other.

 

That was when the screams began.

 

Ginny's head shot up, her grief forgotten. Harry froze, head snapping around and eyes widening. One look into each other's eyes was all they needed to know they were in agreement. Leaving their tea unfinished, Harry and Ginny leapt to their feet, brandished their wands and dashed towards the screams. They rounded the corner and skidded to a halt as a mass of robes went flying into the display window of Flourish and Blotts, shattering the glass.

 

Ginny gasped and immediately ran to assist the wizard. Harry caught a glimpse of a large shard of glass covered in blood poking through the person's dark blue robes, but he left it to Ginny as he ran past them to see what was going on. Several people ran towards him and past him, looking behind them every few steps like a herd of gazelles being chased by a lion. Harry looked past them and froze.

 

Standing in the middle of the crossroads in front of Gringotts, was the same woman who'd been featuring in his nightmares for over a month. This time her robes were deep burgundy, the hood of her black cloak was pulled back over her face. She laughed as she easily deflected a curse with her wand - the Elder Wand. She raised her other arm and chanted something Harry couldn't hear. Her eyes glowed golden. A family was blown off its feet and into the shadows of Knockturn Alley.

 

She turned the Elder Wand onto Gringotts and cast a spell. A yellow-blue-ish coloured spell sailed towards the building and then dashed apart against the goblin bank. The woman scowled. Apparently, she wasn't expecting it to do that. Harry raised his own wand.

 

Reducto!” Harry cast.

 

The woman whirled around just in time. “Protego!”

 

When she saw it was him she smirked and began to walk towards him. “Why Harry, you came back. How sweet.” She twirled the Elder Wand. “As you can see, I'm putting your wand to good use.”

 

“Why are you doing this?!”

 

Her eyes hardened and the hatred in them made something inside Harry shrivel. It was different from the smouldering maliciousness in Voldemort's eyes. Her hatred was fierce and sharp as a flaming knife.

 

“I will be queen,” she said. “It is my birthright... though legends may say otherwise. Emrys defeated me once before, but this time I will be the one to trample on his bloody corpse. And once he is gone, there will be no one more powerful than I.”

 

Emrys. She'd mentioned that name before... Harry needed to remember to ask Hermione about it. Later. Assuming he survived long enough. This woman was obviously insane.

 

“Then I will not stop until you are dead!” said Harry, the vow coming from his lips before he'd thought about it properly. “I defeated Voldemort and I won't let you take his place.”

 

She smirked. “Oh, but I'm not taking anyone's place, Harry. The place has always been mine. It's simply taken me a while to come claim it.”

 

Just then a small, round green object landed in front of her and burst into a cloud of bright green smoke that continued to steadily expand. Within seconds, the witch was mostly invisible. He could hear her coughing from inside the cloud.

 

Stupify!”

 

Harry looked to where the spell had come from and was relieved to see George running towards him. He lowered his wand slightly, though still kept it pointing towards the cloud.

 

“Harry, what are you doing here?” he said when he reached him.

 

“Ginny and I were having tea-”

 

“Having tea? Bloody hell, you 'ave the worst luck. Have you considered staying at home from now on?”

 

“It's crossed my mind,” Harry muttered. He eyed the cloud wearily. “Do you think the spell actually hit her?”

 

“No idea, though you'd think she'd be out of the cloud by now if it hadn't...”

 

A memory flashed across Harry's mind. “Unless she's using the fact that we can't see her to cast something!”

 

George's eyes widened. They listened. The chanting was barely audible, but it was definitely there. Harry gulped and clenched his hand around his wand.

 

Sectumsemptra!” he cast into the cloud. The spell cut through the green smoke, but nothing happened.

 

Suddenly, a whirlwind ripped out from the centre of the cloud, tearing the smoke apart and scattering it. In the centre of it stood the dark-haired woman, long tresses of hair being whipped around by the wind. Her wand was pointed towards the ground. When she looked up, her eyes were glowing like white-hot embers. She smiled – a malicious smirk that made Harry's blood freeze.

 

The earth beneath them rumbled. And then it began to rain. Harry and George exchanged looks. That had to be a coincidence, right?

 

She cocked her head to the side. “Did you really think petty tricks would be enough to defeat me?”

 

“Was worth a try,” George answered with a shrug.

 

She chuckled. “Indeed. I suppose I should make the difference between us clear then. Bebiede þe arisan ealdu.”

 

“George, Harry, look at the ground!”

 

Harry didn't look back at Ginny, just did as she said. As the water fell onto the ground, it flowed along the cobblestone road and formed puddles – muddy puddles. The creatures that grew out of them were shorter than Hagrid, but not by much. They were shapeless masses with club-like arms and legs that dripped with mud and stank of humid manure. They may have been made from mud, but when one of them swung at the wooden stall that was in its way, it shattered as though the arm had been made of stone.

 

“Bloody hell,” George breathed.

 

Reducto!” Harry cast. The spell hit the creature and some of the mud splattered off only to be replaced by more mud.

 

“Harry, go, get Ginny to safety!” George suddenly said, shoving him backwards with his non-wand arm.

 

“Wait, I can't just-”

 

George grabbed him by the front of his robes and glared into his eyes. “If my little sister gets hurt because you can't help but play the hero, Harry Potter...”

 

Harry took a sharp breath and nodded. Right, yes, Ginny would never leave him here alone, which meant that as long as he was still here, she was in danger. George let him go as Harry took a step backwards, swung around and dashed back to grab Ginny. One of the mud monsters followed him. The street was empty of people and Harry realized that the ones who hadn't apparated away, were likely hiding in the shops.

 

Which meant he couldn't do the same, couldn't lead the monsters to them. Up ahead, he could see another mud monster rising out of the ground. He squeezed Ginny's hand and ran faster, leaping over the arm that tried to take a swipe at him as he passed by. His lungs were beginning to seize up and he didn't dare look how Ginny was doing. The Leaky Cauldron was just up ahead, within their vision.

 

He stopped and ducked, pulling Ginny down with him. He felt the hairs on the back of his head move as something big and fast passed by. Pushing Ginny ahead of him, he leapt forward, keeping his body low to the ground and twisted so that he fell facing whatever had been behind him. The mud monster straightened itself and took a step towards them.

 

Harry cast a freezing charm and that slowed its movements. He scrambled to his feet and saw Ginny cast a second freezing charm at the monster. Once he was beside her, they ran to the Leaky Cauldron. Apparently, they weren't the only people who'd had the same idea, because the pub was packed, the congestion all facing the fireplace, where the flames burned a near-constant green.

 

“Come on,” said Ginny, grabbing Harry's hand and pulling him past the crowd. “We can apparate from an alley. We need to let dad and Kingsley know what's happening as soon as possible.”

 

They found out too late that there was a reason the wizards inside weren't doing the same. As soon as Harry exited the pub, he tripped over something. He looked down and froze in horror at the brain matter he could see peeking out of the witch's skull. In the distance he could hear muggle sirens.

 

He looked up and then threw himself to the side, only narrowly avoiding joining the unknown witch with a shattered skull of his own. He heard Ginny cast another freezing charm and then he was scrambling to his feet.

 

“We're in muggle London!” he hissed at her when he made it to her side. That fact did not stop him from pointing his own wand at the second mud monster.

 

“In case you haven't noticed, so are they!” said Ginny.

 

Just then a car came to a screeching halt behind them. Harry and Ginny both jumped and snapped their heads in time to watch a young woman with wavy dark hair and muggle clothes jump out of the driver's seat.

 

“Quick, get in!” she told them as she opened the passenger-side seat.

 

Harry and Ginny exchanged bewildered looks.

 

“Er, that's very kind of you, but-” said Harry. And it was, but she was a muggle.

 

The woman rolled her eyes. “Unless of course you think you can run faster than my car can drive.”

 

Ginny, meanwhile had noticed the mud monsters were getting closer. “Harry Potter get in the car! We haven't exactly time to be worrying about details!”

 

Harry relented and put his wand away as he began to climb into the car. As he got in, someone else was just getting out of the other back door and into the front passenger seat, which was open because the man who'd been sitting there had gotten out as well. Harry saw him go up to the driver and kiss her quickly before sliding into her place in the driver's seat. He wondered why they were shuffling around.

 

Then the woman stuck her head into the back seat. “Oi, you two, how exactly did she create these things?”

 

That got their attention. “Rainwater and mud,” said Ginny sceptically, as though gauging her reaction.

 

The wavy-haired woman grinned. “Perfect!” She closed the door after them.

 

“Good luck!” the man now in the driver's seat called out the window before putting the car into reverse to get farther away from one of the advancing mud monsters and then swerving around it as the car sped away.

 

Harry looked behind them, panicked. “We're just leaving her behind? She can't fight those things!”

 

“Relax, Harry, Emma knows what she's doing,” a familiar voice said from the driver's seat. Harry's head snapped forward, not quite able to place the voice, but knowing he should.

 

That was when the blond muggle in the passenger seat turned around. “Well, hello, Potter, fancy meeting you at the scene of disaster. It seems you've left your Insane Magic User Repellent at home today.”

 

Harry gaped. “Malfoy?!”

 

“What the hell are you doing here, Malfoy?” Ginny demanded, drawing her wand at him. “Where in Merlin's name are you taking us?”

 

The driver snickered. Malfoy rolled his eyes. “And Weaslette, how charming to see you again too,” he drawled. “As for where we're taking you... mostly away. Then you can apparate away home from there.”

 

“That the girlfriend?” the driver asked.

 

Malfoy nodded. “Yes, this is Ginerva Weasley.”

 

“Ouch. Ginerva? Really? Blimey, how much did your parents hate you? Anyway, I'm Dudley, nice to meet you.” He did a little backwards wave, not taking his eyes off the road.

 

Harry gaped again. No wonder the voice sounded familiar. “Dudley?!!”

 

Dudley grinned at him through the rearview mirror. “'llo Harry, good to see you're still alive. I hear it's a bit of an accomplishment.”

 

Harry said something non-committal that he wouldn't remember later and settled back into the seat to stare out the window. He knew the truth now. He'd obviously been knocked unconscious and this was all a dream. There was simply no other explanation. Any moment now, Dumbledore and Voldemort would twirl by dancing the waltz together.

 


 

 

Nimueh watched as Dudley drove away. They'd been on their way from the shops when she'd felt the spike of magic and immediately redirected the car.

 

She turned and faced the two creatures and smirked. They were conjured from earth and water, destroying them would be simple. She pointed at the sidewalk in front of her. “Forbaerne.” A merry fire sparked to life on the damp cement and steadily grew as she fed it magic.

 

The elemental monsters paused, sensing the fire's presence. Nimueh raised her other hand. “Lyft sy þe in bǽlwylm ac forhienan se wiðere.

 

Where, until now the rain fell gently, a fierce wind blew along the street, twisting itself around Nimueh like an eager puppy and allowing her to direct it to the fire. It blew through the fire, carrying the flames with it as it split into two whirlwinds that engulfed the conjured monsters and covered them with both elements. The creatures wavered and then collapsed in on themselves into identical piles of mud.

 

Then, Nimueh turned to look towards the pub she could now see clear as day. She closed her eyes and stretched her magic into the ground, slipping past the barriers keeping part of it separate from the rest, until she found the source of the powerful magic she felt. She raised her hand up towards the sky.

 

Eorðe, lyft, fyr, wæter, hiersumaþ me. Fyr hiersumaþ me. Fyr áwédest min gúðflán oþ eorðe beflíegest.

 

The sky above her darkened and rumbled in response. There was a slight crackle and then a surge as fire answered her call.

 


 

 

In Diagon Alley, George looked up from where he'd been crouched behind a pillar of Gringotts watching the aurors, who'd arrived shortly after Harry and Ginny had ran off, attempting to destroy the mud monsters and subdue the woman who'd created them. It wasn't going well.

 

He hadn't noticed when the sky darkened. He had, however, heard the first rumblings. The woman orchestrating the attack looked up, apparently surprised by the change in weather. A slight crackle of light danced across a cloud and the woman frowned.

 

Suddenly, the sky lit up as a single lightening bolt surged directly to the ground. George followed its path down, his eyes widening as it landed directly next to the woman. She shrieked in surprise and fell backwards from the blast. The cobblestones were scorched black where the lightening had landed. She rose to her feet, hair looking slightly frazzled and eyes seething with anger.

 

“Where are you?” she screamed into the air. “Show yourself, you coward!”

 

She received no answer. With a cry of frustration, she gripped her wand and apparated away.

 


 

 

Nimueh opened her eyes and pulled back her magic, easing it out of the earth and down from the sky. She turned her head down the street just as two motorcycles rumbled into view. They stopped by her side and Isolde pulled her helmet off.

 

“Was that you?” she asked, sounding awed as she looked up at the sky.

 

“The lightening you mean? Yes, that was me. I just hope it did what I needed it to do, because I'm not sure if I'm up for trying it again.”

 

“Well, those mud demon things seem to have all melted, so I'd count that as a success,” said Tristan.

 

Nimueh frowned. “There were more of them?”

 

“Oh yeah. Just after Dudley texted us, we got a couple more calls about them from some mates.”

 

“Hm, that means Morgana's expanding out into the muggle world as well. I'll have to make sure Draco lets Merlin know about that.”

 

Isolde motioned to the back of her motorcycle with her thumb. “Fancy a lift in the meantime?”

 

“Would love one.”

 

Nimueh grabbed the offered spare helmet and hopped onto the back of the bike. Isolde revved the motor loudly and then took the lead as they sped off through the mostly-deserted London streets.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11

 

Merlin gently moved another branch out of his way. This deep into the forest was farther than most had ever travelled. There had once been a path through it, but both time and the Old Religion had made it disappear. Magic had a stronger hold here, able to make people go in circles and lose their way and able to hide things and places so they couldn't be found.

 

To his right, Nimueh picked her way through the foliage with a grace that had taken him a century living in the very heart of Albion's forests to acquire. Her hair was tied back with a length of hemp string and between her dark green t-shirt, brown hiking vest and many-pocketed khakis complemented with heavy hiking boots, she looked like this was, for her, an ordinary Sunday morning. Though Merlin couldn't see her eyes through her dark sunglasses, he thought she looked happy.

 

Of course it was difficult not to feel happy when the sun was peeking at them from between the thick branches, making the morning dew still hanging to the undergrowth glitter like tiny liquid diamonds. The occasional bird or loud insect broke the morning stillness, but otherwise the only noises came from them.

 

Merlin and Nimueh exchanged smirks as, behind them, Draco stumbled when his robes caught on yet another branch. It wasn't that hiking through a forest in robes was impossible, but Draco had obviously not spent enough time doing so to get the knack for it (which, admittedly, usually involved some degree of magical interference, but Draco had obviously never learned those spells either).

 

“Ready to admit the superiority of muggle clothes for hiking through forests yet?” Merlin called back to him.

 

There were a few moments of silence. “No,” eventually came the sullen response. “I think you're dragging me through the densest part of the forest on purpose.”

 

Merlin laughed. “Well, you're not entirely wrong about that, but we aren't here purly to derive amusement from your struggles.”

 

“Right, of course not. So, where exactly are we going? Your explanation when you dragged me out of my comfortable bed this morning was rather vague.”

 

“I told you where we're going, didn't I?”

 

“'Somewhere cool' is hardly an accurate description.”

 

“Ah, well, it's a true one at least.”

 

Nimueh snorted. “We're going to a sacred site of the Old Religion. It can't be directly transported into except by a high priestess, which is why we're approaching on foot.”

 

“It's also hidden better than Hogwarts with more powerful magic guarding it. A long time ago anyone could find it, but as the Old Religion began to fade in the world, the path began to fade as well. Now, only those who know the path can find it.”

 

“And, I take it you know the path?”

 

Merlin grinned at Draco over his shoulder. “Of course. Also, Nimueh is a former high priestess.”

 

This time it was Nimueh's turn to grin over her shoulder. “The Isle of the Blessed is where Merlin killed me.”

 

Draco froze in his tracks and stared at them. A few moments passed before he blinked and shook his head. “There is something very wrong with you two, I do hope you're aware of that.”

 

Merlin chuckled. “Oh, we're aware.”

 

“Good.”

 

He heard foliage rustle as Draco hurried to catch up to them. “Now, given that there's a rather insane and incredibly powerful witch/sorcerer or something in-between terrorizing the country, I'm going to assume this isn't a mere sight-seeing trip.”

 

“No, it's definitely not,” said Nimueh. The smile was gone from her face. “Feeling Morgana's powers yesterday and using my own made me realize how much weaker I am than I remember being. My mind might have the knowledge, but my body doesn't. And magic is so much more about feeling than about knowing – well, sorcery is in any case.” She paused and frowned. “Which reminds me: Merlin, did you warn Charlie about us running into Dudley's cousin?”

 

Merlin stepped over a fallen tree trunk, all amusement evaporating from him when he thought of Morgana's second – no, third – attack. “Yes, I owled him last night. The Order of the Phoenix is meeting this afternoon, so I wanted him to know. At least they were supposed to meet this afternoon.”

 

“I should think this will make it all the more urgent.”

 

“Mmm.”

 

The forest ended abruptly. One moment all they could see around them were trees and bushes and forest and then suddenly they were standing at the muddy shores of a lake. It was a dry caked mud that looked and felt like something between sand and paste and didn't extend very far. In fact, although the lake was obviously large and none of the shoreline that was visible looked particularly inhospitable, the area they were standing in somehow gave the impression of being the only bit of actual accessible shoreline, the only entrance. There was a large, oarless boat moored at the edge of the lake. In the centre of the lake was a large island with some trees and a large, stone ruin.

 

Nimueh paused at the lake's edge and looked out over the water for a few minutes, drinking in the sight. Merlin joined her. It hadn't been nearly as long since his last visit to the Isle, but it always awed him when he did come. Draco came up beside Merlin.

 

“What is this place?” he asked.

 

Merlin couldn't help but smile at the wonder in his voice. “This is the Isle of the Blessed.”

 

He turned his head as he heard some small splashing sounds and saw Nimueh had already gotten into the boat. He motioned Draco ahead of him and the blond got in after her – though with considerably more splashing involved. Merlin climbed in last. Once he was in the boat, he waved a hand at the rope, sending a small spark of magic at it and it fell away. Then his eyes flashed as he whispered the propulsion spell. The water around the boat bubbled as the boat glided through the water, towards the Isle.

 

Draco looked into the water, curious as to what a sacred lake would have in it. The water was a bright, happy blue colour that sparkled under the sunlight, but its depths were murky. He couldn't see even a single fish.

 

“Does anything live in this lake?” he finally asked Merlin.

 

Merlin shrugged. “I've never seen anything and my magic can't quite penetrate deep enough to know for certain. I mean I could force it, obviously, but that never really seemed like a good idea.”

 

“Some questions are best not asked, some answers best not searched for and some knowledge best unknown.”

 

Merlin and Draco exchanged bewildered looks and then looked at Nimueh. She must've felt their gazes on her back, because she turned half-way to look at them.

 

“The high priestess before me told me that once when I was but a child brought to study with the priestesses,” she said and frowned slightly. “I think I'd asked about the lake as well. Your conversation reminded me of it.”

 

There was nothing either of them could think to say to that, so they stayed silent until the bottom of their boat hit the muddy shore. This time, it was Nimueh who moored the boat with a wave of her hand. Draco cursed as he jumped out of the boat and landed knee-deep in water. His robes were coated with waterproofing charms, but even the best of those were not designed to stand up to being dunked in a lake. His feet sank slightly into the mud and his robes dragged behind him as he walked, clinging to his legs. So focused was he on simply moving one foot in front of the other that he hadn't noticed Merlin overtake him until he bumped into him from behind.

 

Draco looked up and noticed Merlin had stopped and was now frowning at a second boat moored a bit further down the shore. “Oh, that's useful, having a second boat on the island where it doesn't help anyone.”

 

Merlin's frown deepened. “There are only ever as many boats as are needed,” was all he said before continuing to walk towards the shore.

 

As soon as Draco stepped out of the water and onto dry land, he gasped. Magic. It was everywhere: in the air he was breathing, in the earth he was standing on, in the slight breeze that fluttered against his cheek. It surrounded him, enveloped him and burrowed its way into his skin, making it tingle. It was beautiful. It was alive.

 

A solid presence touched his face, something real and warm with life and magic, but heavier. “Draco? Draco open your eyes.”

 

Draco opened his eyes (had he closed them?) and blinked. Merlin smiled and pulled his hand away. “Welcome back. It's a bit overwhelming at first, I know, but don't worry; you'll get used to it.”

 

Draco nodded. “It's...incredible,” he whispered, surprised by how rough his voice sounded. “The magic, it's like a living thing. It's everywhere.”

 

“Magic is a living thing,” said Merlin with a smile. “I know you and your mum – and Charlie as well, no doubt – have been wondering how exactly I managed to teach a squib to use magic. Hopefully, you now have your answer.”

 

Draco blinked and his eyes widened and then darted around what he could see of the area. “You brought Archie here?”

 

“Yes. As Nimueh said, magic is mostly about feeling. All living creatures, be they human, animal or plant, have some degree of magic within them. Some have a lot more magic than others and some have an easier time accessing said magic, feeling it. The thing with a squib like Archie isn't that he didn't have magic, but that he couldn't feel the magic he had. Here he learnt what magic felt like and that made it easier for him to then find it within himself.”

 

“That... that actually makes sense.”

 

“The druids used to do something similar with their own children, who were struggling. Except they generally picked a less prominent sacred site than the Isle of the Blessed.” Merlin looked out and frowned. “Speaking of which, we should probably go catch up to Nimueh.”

 

Draco looked around. Sure enough, there was no sign of the former high priestess. Something suddenly occurred to him. “Was there actually any reason for you to come here?”

 

“Nimueh asked me to accompany her to make sure she didn't get lost.”

 

“I thought you said she was a former high priestess.”

 

“She is and even if she hadn't know the way immediately, she would've found it eventually. The Isle would've led her to it. But we're a wee bit short on time at the moment and this was faster.”

 

Draco nodded and then turned his attention to studying the ruin they were entering. It looked as though there had once been a small castle sitting on the island and Draco could only imagine how grand it had once been even if it looked only about half the size of the Malfoy Manor. He began to wonder why the castle on a magical island didn't have any spells on it to prevent its dilapidation, when he realized it was likely so old that those spells hadn't existed when it was built. He touched the remains of a stone wall with a new sense of awe. These stones were older than anything in the wizarding world – older than the wizarding world itself most likely.

 

They eventually found Nimueh in what was left of a large room with a stone altar. The floor had once been made of stone tiles, but was now overgrown with grass and there was a large tree growing in the far corner, beside an archway that might have been an entrance to another room, or a hallway, or perhaps even out of the castle. The altar had moss covering most of its surface and there was a snake sunning itself at one end.

 

Merlin and Draco carefully climbed down a cracked and overgrown set of stairs and then past the altar to where Nimueh was standing on what looked like the only solid patch of stone tile in the room. She was looking down at a large, black scorch mark in the stone.

 

“This is incredibly surreal,” she said finally.

 

Beside him, Merlin winced, looking paler than usual.

 

“This is it,” she continued. “This exact spot: this is where I died. I can't believe that mark's still there.”

 

“I could never bring myself to clean it off,” Merlin said softly.

 

She looked up at him and nodded. Then she looked out the nearest arch and out onto the lake, which this room had a lovely view of. A breeze blew ruffled the loose strands of hair that had fallen out of the tie during their journey. “I think I'll stay here to connect with the Isle.”

 

Merlin nodded. “We'll wander around for a bit: maybe an hour or two. Then we have to get back to the manor. You'll be fine?”

 

Nimueh nodded.

 

“Well, then good luck.”

 

She turned to him and smirked. “You too. Have fun negotiating with the wizards!”

 

Merlin rolled his eyes and headed for the first archway on his right. Draco followed. Just before leaving the room, he paused and looked back to watch Nimueh as she nimbly hoisted herself up onto the altar and cross her legs. The snake raised its head and hissed softly, its delicate tongue darting out in her direction. After a few moments, it retracted its tongue and laid its head back down onto the warm stone of the altar and continued its sun bath.

 


 

 

Ginny looked up from her tea at the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs. She smiled when a very dishevelled Harry walked into the kitchen. He looked down at her and blinked.

 

“Good morning, Harry,” she prompted, amused at the confusion on his face.

 

That seemed to rouse him slightly and he blinked at her. “Er, right,” he said. “Good morning, Ginny.” He paused and reached up to scratch the back of his neck. “Sorry, it's just I think I had a very odd dream yesterday, only I'm not sure it was actually a dream. You and I were in Diagon Alley having tea and then that crazy woman with the strange magic, who attacked me for the Elder Wand, attacked. And there were these mud monsters that grew out of the ground and we ran through the Leaky Cauldron and then we were rescued by a muggle car being driven by my cousin with Draco Malfoy in the passenger seat. And then, for some reason, Professor Dumbledore and Voldemort were on the sidewalk wearing pink and blue tutus and dancing the can-can.”

 

Ginny giggled. “Sorry to disappoint, but I'm afraid that wasn't a dream. It actually happened.” She paused and made a face. “Except for that last bit. I'm fairly certain Professor Dumbledore and You-Know- ehem, I mean, Voldemort weren't there and if they were I'm incredibly happy I missed that.”

 

“Oh, good. I'm glad that didn't really happen.” Then he, too, made a face. “Though, I think that means my subconscious has a vendetta against me.”

 

“Yes, I'll agree with you there.”

 

Harry had just set about to make tea, when Mrs. Weasley bustled into the kitchen like a cheerful whirlwind. “Oh, good morning Harry, Ginny. You poor dears. How are you doing after such a horrible day?”

 

“Good morning, Mrs. Weasley,” said Harry with a smile. “I'm doing well. A bit bewildered, but otherwise just fine. I was just making-”

 

“Well, of course, it must've been nothing compared to fighting You-Know-Who...” Mrs. Wealsey grabbed the kettle from in front of Harry and began to fill it with water. “Why don't you just sit down and I'll make you a cup of tea. Would you like some crumpets for breakfast, Harry?”

 

“Oh, that's alright, Mrs. Weasley, I was actually just about to... I mean, I can... er, right... yes, I uh suppose I'll just go sit down then.”

 

Harry sat down at the table next to Ginny with a resigned sigh. Ginny smirked at him.

 

“So, what time are the Order members arriving?” Harry asked.

 

Ginny blinked. “Oh, right, you don't know yet. Dad got an owl from McGonagall this morning. After everything that's happened she doesn't feel comfortable leaving Hogwarts just yet, so she's going to host the meeting at Hogwarts after dinner. We're supposed to arrive during dinner so that the students don't notice us.”

 

“Oh, I see. Suppose it'll be good to see Hogwarts again.”

 

“It'll be good to hear Professor Dumbledore's opinion on things too. You can ask him if he's ever danced the can-can.”

 

“Funny.”

 

“Here you are, Harry dear.” Mrs. Weasley placed a steaming cup of tea in front of him as well as a plate of crumpets. “Has Ginny told you about the Order meeting yet?”

 

“Thank you, Mrs. Weasley and yes, she has.”

 

“Good, good. It'll be nice to see everyone again in any case even if it is due to such horrible circumstances. And not even Charlie can possibly be so busy that late. He starts so early, the poor boy. I just don't understand how dragons can take so much time.”

 

“They're big and dangerous, mum,” said Ginny with the sort of annoyed patience that spoke of having already said the same thing before - repeatedly. “Besides, he's taking care of the baby dragons now and you know children are so much more work than adults.”

 

“Yes, I suppose...”

 

Harry blew over the top of his tea and then took a sip, savouring the strong, fruity flavour.

 


 

 

After they'd walked for a bit, Merlin suddenly stepped closer to Draco, one hand gently brushing his. Draco's eyes snapped to the side. The look on Merlin's face was far from playful, though. “Draco, stay sharp,” he said. “I don't think we're alone here.”

 

Draco swallowed and took a carefully controlled breath to keep any reaction from his face. Merlin stopped and knelt down to fiddle with the laces on his shoes. Draco heard him softly whisper a spell and then his eyes snapped up, filled with a soft glow of magic. He stared ahead of them for a few moments. Then he closed his eyes, let out a deep breath and rose to his feet.

 

“I think there are two wizards up ahead,” he said, sounding puzzled.

 

“Wizards? How would they have gotten here? I thought you said the path could only be found by someone, who already knew it.”

 

“Yes, I did say that and it's true. The 'how they got here' bit worries me. The only possible answer is that someone led them here. And there's only one person I can think of, who might associate with wizards and know the path to the Isle.”

 

Draco swallowed and took out his wand. Merlin didn't need to speak the name for Draco to understand who he was referring to and, after knowing what she'd done to Hogsmeade, and seeing the creatures she'd conjured up to attack Diagon Alley, he was absolutely terrified of actually facing Morgana in person. He took a deep breath and reminded himself that he was with Merlin and Merlin had already defeated her once. The harmless-looking, friendly man beside him was a great and powerful sorcerer even if he didn't look it.

 

“There, I've warned Nimueh,” Merlin suddenly announced quietly. “She says she can't feel Morgana's magic, which might only mean she hasn't used any since arriving.”

 

Draco blinked at him. “You warned her? How?”

 

Merlin grinned. It's not that difficult to communicate with other magical beings.

 

Draco's eyes widened and he stepped back, a hand flying to his ears automatically. That wasn't Legilimency, he'd felt that before and was a reasonably accomplished Occlumens himself. “How did you...”

 

Remind me later and I'll teach you.

 

Draco nodded shakily. Suddenly, he remembered Emma and Kilgharrah's staring contest. Oh, he realized. Merlin took a deep breath and began to calmly walk forward through the next arch and into a room that actually had part of a ceiling above it. Then he turned to the left.

 

In the middle of the corridor he'd turned into, he froze, his head snapping around to look at something past the stone wall in front of him. “Well, one bit of good news,” he finally whispered, sounding more unsteady than Draco had ever heard him. “It's not Morgana. Unfortunately it's not much better either.”

 

Merlin then turned to Draco with fierce, determined eyes devoid of any kindness or laughter. Draco gripped his wand tightly, suddenly trembling with fear. “Draco, the magic on this island will shield whatever you do here from the Ministry. You may need to deal with the wizards on your own. If that means using an Unforgivable, then do it.”

 

Draco's breath caught. Merlin was telling him to kill if he had to? There were fifteen hundred years between them, he suddenly remembered. Until now, he hadn't even considered what that meant, how much things had changed over those years. How many people had Merlin killed in that time, he wondered?

 

“I-I can't,” Draco whispered. At Merlin's annoyed look, he lifted his wand. “I'm a convicted Death Eater. My mother and I may have been able to avoid prison and the Kiss, but our wands have magical locks on them to prevent us from casting certain types of spells.”

 

Merlin's eyes widened in horror. “And you didn't think to tell me this before?!”

 

“I thought you knew! It's not exactly a secret: the sentence was published in the Daily Prophet for everyone to see!”

 

“Yes, but I wasn't here for that!” Merlin ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “Right, new plan then.” He grabbed Draco's arm. “Run.”

 

They ran down the corridor and then through a large room overgrown with grass into another corridor. However, this time, instead of following the castle's structure, Merlin scrambled over the fallen stones where a wall had caved in. When he reached the top, he turned back to make sure Draco was following without any trouble. He knew a confrontation was inevitable, but perhaps he could have the blond on a boat and on his way back over the lake before it happened. Thankfully, Draco was young so climbing the rocks to the top of the wall wasn't difficult for him, though the jump down to the soft earth on the other side was a bit clumsy.

 

They scrambled down the hill. Going through the ruin would've been faster and easier, but this was hopefully less obvious. He monitored the other magical presences on the island and pushed Draco to move faster when he felt the most powerful one begin to move.

 

Emrys, why are you running?

 

Merlin grit his teeth and remained silence. If he thought too hard about who it was with him on the island, he was afraid the anger and grief from centuries ago would resurface and cripple his reason. They ran along the foot of the hill and Merlin didn't stop until they reached the side facing the mouth of the muddy beach where the boats floated, waiting for them. He crouched behind a fallen tree and surveyed the area.

 

“Draco, I have to fight them, but I want you to run for the boats and get away from here,” he whispered. “Once you're past the beach on the other side, you can apparate back to the manor.”

 

“But, I can't just-”

 

“Well you can't exactly help either, so I'd rather know you're safe!”

 

“I can cast defensive spells!”

 

“Which is good news, but we need the wizards out of the way, not just unable to hit you.”

 

Merlin caught movement out of the corner of his eyes, but when he looked over, he didn't see anything there. Just as he was looking away, he saw it again. This time he stilled and waited. A twig sticking out of the grass swayed unevenly and Merlin frowned. There was a breeze blowing through the island (there always was), but the twig wasn't moving along with it.

 

He cursed under his breath and pooled his magic into his eyes. Sure enough, he quickly saw the outline of a spell – a disillusionment charm. He cursed his own inattention and grabbed Draco as the figure, whose robe had caught on the twig, realized he'd been seen and raised his wand. Merlin flung them both to the ground and out of the way of the spell, not bothering to try and figure out which one it was.

 

The wizards dropped their disillusionment charms and rushed forward, white masks a bright contrast to their deep black robes. Draco stared at them with wide eyes for a moment before he was on his feet again, his wand out and a spell on the tip of his tongue.

 

“Expelliarmus!” he called and cast at the first wizard. The wizard dismissed the spell easily, while the other cast at Merlin, who jumped out of the spell's trajectory.

 

Then the third member of the group arrived. Merlin felt his presence even before he stepped out into the open. Dressed in muggle clothes with a long, dark cloak held together with a silver clasp, he smirked when he looked upon them. His hair was a bit shorter and his face younger and less weather-worn than the last time Merlin had seen him, but he felt his blood boil with anger nonetheless. He took a deep breath to keep from exploding and rose to his feet.

 

“Emrys, how good to see you again. It's been a quite a long time since you and Arthur betrayed me and killed the woman I loved.”

 

“Mordred,” said Merlin.

 

That one word made Draco's blood freeze. He glanced to Merlin and shuddered. All traces of humour were gone from the sorcerer's face as though they had never been there in the first place and his lips were curled into the beginnings of a snarl. His body was perfectly still, but his eyes were simmering pots of barely-concealed rage. The air around him sizzled.

 

This was the great and powerful sorcerer and for the first time, Draco was frightened of him. The blond wizard took deep breath and slowly breathed it out. He turned his attention back to the wizards. He would have to figure out a way to get rid of them without Merlin's help. Thankfully, they had paused in their attack when Mordred arrived. With half an ear, he listened to Merlin speak as he planned.

 

“Don't speak to me of betrayal,” Merlin spat. “You are the one who betrayed us. You chose to leave. You made yourself our enemy over a woman who was already our enemy and hadn't bothered to hide that fact. If anyone betrayed you, it was her.”

 

“Kara was a friend and I loved her! I begged Arthur to spare her life and he executed her anyway!”

 

“Arthur gave her the chance to repent! It was more than he should have done by law, but he did it for you. Kara wanted to die a martyr - to prove to you that the Pendragon line hadn't changed - more than she wanted to live and be with you! And you fell for it. You let her manipulations bring you to Morgana's side, whose methods you didn't even agree with!”

 

Mordred was staring at him with wide eyes, as though being told this for the first time. It made Merlin even more furious. The three of them were magical lynchpins and the destiny of Camelot - of Albion -

had hung on their choices: Morgana chose anger and hatred, Merlin chose silence and inaction and Mordred... Mordred chose blindness. Merlin's words were quieter when he continued.

 

“You never understood, Mordred, what it meant for Arthur to be king. That he had to uphold the law, to put Camelot and its people before his friends and before himself. Not all kings cared to do things that way, but that Arthur did is the reason he is Once and Future King.”

 

“Arthur was supposed to bring magic back to the land!” Mordred yelled at him, righteous anger flooding his words. “And he never did!”

 

“Yes, he did. Just not in the way everyone expected him to.”

 

Mordred's eyes glowed gold as he raised a hand towards Merlin. Behind him, several large rocks levitated off the ground. “Fleoge.”

 

The rocks flew past Mordred and directly at Merlin. Merlin's eyes glowed gold and his own hand shot up. “Byreas ábíeteaþ!

 

A wind blew out from around Merlin and met the rocks not two steps away from him. It almost became visible as it whipped around them, releasing them only after it had battered them into dust that fell gently to the ground.

 

To his left, Merlin could hear the wizards casting and Draco casting back. His gaze remained on Mordred, who was now seething with rage and magic. “Aledfýr áwielaþ ond fleoge!

 

Slowly a ball of flame swirled together above Mordred's outstretched hand and grew larger and larger, until it was the size of a football. Merlin braced himself, concentrating his magic into his own hand. Mordred released the fireball. Merlin raised his hand and watched as it approached. He sent his magic outwards to meet it, cradling the swirling fire during those last few feet as it raced towards him, infusing it.

 

The fireball glided neatly into the palm of Merlin's outstretched hand. Pitting fire against a dragonlord? Merlin smirked at Mordred's surprised expression. “Lígdracan, fleoge!”

 

The swirling ball of fire unfurled into a dragon that spread its wings and roared as it flew directly towards Mordred. Merlin saw the panic on Mordred's face just before the dragon hit him. He screamed and fell to the ground. The dragon sizzled away into nothingness.

 

Merlin carefully approached the motionless boy. He was still alive, but unconscious. His fireball had been well-conjured, but had lacked the strength to do lethal harm to an opponent. Which meant that wherever Morgana had managed to find the boy, he was still learning.

 

A cry of pain had Merlin leaping to his feet, cursing himself for forgetting about the other battle being fought. He saw Draco on his knees, face pale and pinched while cradling his bleeding wand arm. One side of his robes looked scorched. But, most importantly, he was alive. One of the wizards raised his wand at the boy. Merlin's eyes blazed as his magic flared out and the world froze.

 

Merlin ran towards Draco. Casting such powerful magic on the Isle of the Blessed was doubly draining as the island actively fought against anything that disrupted the natural balance. It was why the Cailleach's presence had been needed to keep the Veil open. By the time he reached Draco he was already feeling the strain. Grabbing the boy, he threw them both out of the way of the wizard's spell and pulled back his magic.

 

Merlin saw a flash of green as the wizard's spell left his wand and harmlessly hit the empty spot where Draco had been. Draco screamed in pain as they landed with Merlin half on top of him. Merlin pulled away from him and swivelled on one knee so that he was facing the wizard. He didn't even bother incanting the spell, just pulled the elements from the world around him. A sharp wind blew around the wizard and mixed with fire to surround him. They descended upon him with an intensity that reduced him to ashes in seconds, not giving him even the time to scream.

 

Then Merlin turned to Draco. “Draco, are you alright?”

 

Draco heard Merlin's voice through a haze of pain, centred in his arm. The wizard's spell had snapped something before cutting it open. He knew the spell. His uncle Rudolphus had loved it, because it created wounds that couldn't be healed by magic. His wand arm was ruined.

 

Draco grit his teeth and opened his eyes, turning towards Merlin's voice. “I'll live,” he rasped. Then he saw something dark move in the shadows of a tree. His eyes widened. “Merlin, behind you!”

 

Merlin's eyes widened, but he wasn't fast enough. The sickly green curse hit him just below the collar bone and he feel to the ground.

 

“Merlin!”

 

Suddenly, Draco couldn't feel the pain in his arm anymore. It had moved to somewhere deeper within his chest. He pulled himself up and crawled to Merlin's side. Uselessly, he checked for Merlin's pulse... except, it wasn't useless. Draco gasped as he realized he could feel a pulse. It was faint, but it was there.

 

The sky rumbled and Draco looked up, surprised by the dark clouds. A few sparks of light illuminated the clouds and then they rumbled again. He heard footsteps approaching and looked over to see the wizard advancing on them, his wand pointed directly at Draco.

 

“You should have died at Hogwarts with them, Malfoy-” said a familiar voice. Draco froze. He knew Gregory's father had never been caught, but he hadn't expected to ever meet him again. Above them, the sky rumbled even louder. “-instead of selling yourself out to Potter. You're a disgrace to the pureblood name. Ava-”

 

A bright light illuminated the sky and streaked towards the ground. Draco watched with wide horrified eyes as lightening hit the death eater. Mister Goyle screamed and then slumped to the ground in a scorched, smoking mound of robes. He stared at the pile, the smell of burnt flesh and hair making him nauseous.

 

Not even the sound of approaching footfalls made the numbness leave him. He turned his head curiously when they stopped just behind them. It was Nimueh. She looked worried.

 

“Sorry for taking so long to get here,” she said. She motioned towards the mound and her next words were spoken quietly. “Was he a friend of yours?”

 

Draco shook his head. “No, but his son was.”

 

Nimueh nodded, eyes shining with sympathy. Then she knelt beside Merlin. “So, what exactly happened to him?”

 

“He was hit with a spell. A... a killing curse. He shouldn't be alive.”

 

“But he is. Emrys is a child of the Old Religion as much as he ever was a child of woman born. He is stronger than this.”

 

Draco looked up at her. “Then why is he still effected by it?”

 

She chuckled. “Because even Emrys needs time to recuperate from a lethal blow.”

 

Just then Merlin's hand moved and grabbed her wrist. Slowly, he cracked open an eyelid. It fluttered uncertainly, as though it was taking every ounce of his power to lift it at all. His lips moved, but nothing came out. Draco and Nimueh both leaned in.

 

“Merlin? How are you doing? Do you need us to do anything?” asked Nimueh.

 

The cave. Take me to the cave.

 

“Cave?” said Draco with a frown. “What cave?”

 

Crystal Cave. Nimueh...

 

“Yes, yes, I remember,” Nimueh said immediately. “I know where it is.”

 

Then she grabbed Merlin and hauled him up so that he was laying over her knees and she was embracing him from behind with her right. With her left she reached out for Draco, who hesitated, but moved into the one-armed embrace and held on to her as she rested his injured arm on Merlin's shoulder.

 

He wasn't sure if Nimueh actually incanted a spell. All of a sudden, a wind surrounded them and he felt a sensation similar to apparation, except not centred in his navel, but rather in his bones in a way that left his skin with a bizarre sort of tingling sensation when he opened his eyes and saw they were no longer on the Isle of the Blessed, but rather at the mouth of a cave.

 

It took quite a lot of time, sweat and grunts for Draco and Nimueh to manoeuvre Merlin into the cave. At first, Draco didn't feel anything out of the ordinary. Merlin had been right: he'd gotten used to the feeling of magic on the Isle of the Blessed. As the numbness from before had worn off, Draco felt the burning pain in his arm return and spent most of the journey through the cave system gritting his teeth against it, unable to stop the occasional cry that escaped him as his arm bumped against something. He refused Nimueh's offers to take a look at his arm. Magic couldn't heal it anyway.

 

They went down a particularly steep tunnel and turned into a cavern that was so bright it made Nimueh's conjured light pale in comparison. Draco squinted against the immediate glare. If the Isle of the Blessed had been alive with magic, this place was bursting with it. Except for a small, flat space in the centre of the cavern, every surface of it was covered in white crystals. 'Crystal Cave' was indeed an apt description, it seemed. The magic that glared from the crystals and infused the air was raw and almost uninviting except that it felt to Draco a bit like coming home.

 

Here they paused for a few moments, before moving to the centre of the illuminated cavern and laying Merlin onto the ground as gently as they could. Draco carefully took off his travelling cloak and handed it to Nimueh, who bundled it under Merlin's head. Nimueh then finally convinced him to sit so that she could look at his arm. She washed the wound with water from the canteen she had attached to her hip and then pulled some white wrappings out of one of her trousers' many pockets and wrapped it tightly.

 

“Draco, stay here with Merlin,” she said once she was done. “I'll go and let the other know where you are and that you're more or less alright so they don't worry. This is the best place for you to heal - both of you. The Crystal Cave has more magic than any other place on Earth – well, than any place in Albion in any case.”

 

Draco chuckled. After her ministrations he was in more pain than he had been before. It was all he could do to stay conscious. He certainly wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. Especially, since- “My wand,” he whispered. He'd dropped it after the spell hit his wand arm.

 

“I'll look for it and bring it to you, don't worry.”

 

She probably said more, but Draco was no longer awake to hear it.

 


 

 

Leon walked out onto the lawn and grinned. It was a beautiful morning. His daughter had disappeared with Lady Malfoy shortly after finishing breakfast, Merlin had been gone when he'd woken up and Lancelot and Gwen had just left to go to work. Which had left him, Gwaine, Percival and Elyan to entertain themselves. They'd chosen to train.

 

During his time at the RAF, Leon had learned to use a variety of weapons, but not until the moment when he had once again held his old sword in his hand, had he realized how hollow they'd all felt. Which was not to say that he wasn't going to collect a few of the ones he had locked away in the basement (combination-locked safe: he wasn't taking any chances with a child in the house). He was fully-licensed, after all, and he'd been to several war zones. He was going to make sure he had every advantage at his disposal when he met Morgana again.

 

The other three knights were already getting started on the lawn between the manor and the gardens. Gwaine was attempting some sort of complex overhead swing that looked familiar, but lacked the steady, practiced arm and necessary footwork to look the way it was supposed to.

 

Leon sighed. It wasn't just Gwaine. Yesterday's practice had been as frustrating as it had been enjoyable. They all remembered holding a sword and using it. Their minds knew what proper swordsmanship meant, but their bodies did not. The posture, the movements, the reactions that had once been instinctive, drilled into them over and over until they were as natural as breathing, were gone. The only one of them who'd held a sword in this lifetime was Percival and carefully choreographed battle scenes were hardly the same thing as actual battles.

 

They had a lot of work to do.

 

So they got to it. Leon led the practice and the others fell in naturally. By the time their first hour was up, their arms were beginning to burn from the strain. Only Percival wasn't covered in sweat and Leon cursed himself for letting his air force training fall away after he'd left. A year and a half ago, this would've been nothing.

 

They paired up and began to spar.

 

“Good lord, you lot look rather pathetically unlike famous medieval knights.”

 

Leon let his sword fall almost gratefully as he turned to glare at the intruder. His glare turned rather quickly into a surprised stare as he took in Archie's appearance. He was wearing a black form-fitting lightweight trouser and long-sleeved top set that looked similar to what professional cyclists wore except with the addition of a thick black vest that covered his torso and blue leather vanbraces and shin guards. It was complemented by chainmail that fell to half-way down his thighs. In one hand he held a sheathed sword and the crook of his other arm, a blue leather helmet with what looked like a grate in front of the face, like a fencing mask.

 

A young, blonde woman, who looked somewhere around thirty stepped up beside him. Her hair was pulled back into a tight bun (or at least as tight as her flyaway hair would apparently allow) and she was wearing similar attire - only in gray and red.

 

Leon frowned. She looked familiar, though he couldn't quite place her. The daughter of one of his air force fellows perhaps?

 

Archie waved towards her with the hand that was propping up his helmet. “This is my Phd student, Elena Fellows.”

 

Elena stepped forward and bowed slightly to them. She smiled brightly at Leon. “Hello, Sir Leon, it's good to see you again.” She then looked past him. “You as well, Sir Percival. I'm afraid the rest of you have the better of me.”

 

Gwaine was happy to rectify that, gallantly swooping past Leon to take her hand and make an exaggerated bow. “I am Sir Gwaine, my lady. If I had known we'd be joined by such a lovely flower I would've polished my armour.”

 

She giggled and rolled her eyes. “Aaah, so you're Sir Gwaine. I should've guessed. Merlin told me so much about you. Did you really battle a giant green man?”

 

“Eh, well, he might've been a wee bit smaller than a giant and perhaps green mostly around the gills.”

 

Archie snorted. “I should've guessed,” he muttered.

 

Elyan cleared his throat and they all looked back at him. He gave Elena a little wave. “Uh, hi, I'm Elyan, by the way.”

 

Elena's eyes widened. She let go of Gwaine's hand and ran to him. “Oh! You're Gwen's brother! It's an honour to finally meet you. She used to speak so fondly of you.”

 

Suddenly an image of a great fireplace surrounded by people and the glow of friendship flashed through Leon's mind. He gasped. “Elena of Gawant! You are – that is were – Lord Godwyn's daughter. You married Sir Kay of Norcastle and-”

 

“And nearly married Arthur Pendragon.” She made an annoyed face. “Believe me, I have already cursed up a bloody storm about that one. To think it could've been Arthur and Elena instead of Arthur and Gwenivere!” She sighed and then shrugged. “Ah well, at least I got to have Merlin to myself for a while.”

 

“That's right, Merlin lived in the town under your castle for quite a while with a friend of his,” Leon remembered. He frowned, searching for the lost information. “What was his name?”

 

“Bloody 'ell, whose BMW is that in the front?!” Dudley called out as he approached.

 

“That would be mine,” said Archie, looking smug.

 

“Blimey, it's-”

 

“Gilli!”

 

“Yes, that was it,” said Leon as the former Lady Elena of Norcastle ran past him again, this time setting the equipment in her hands down before throwing her arms around an astonished-looking Dudley.

 

“M-my lady!” Dudley stuttered, his hands hovering nervously at his sides as though unsure where to settle.

 

Elena pulled back, rolling her eyes. “Gilli, I haven't been a lady in over fifteen hundred years. I think you can drop the title now.”

 

“Er, right, sorry. Uh, not that it's not good to see you again or anything, but what are you doing here?”

 

“Doctor Kingsman brought me. He figured that as these fine knights yonder haven't held a sword in near forever, they may need a bit of help with their training.”

 

“Speaking of which, I do believe we should get on with that,” said Archie.

 

“You can use a sword?” Percival asked.

 

Archie scowled at him. “I am a medieval scholar. It is hardly unusual for one, who studies a certain period in time to endeavour to learn about all aspects of said time period. The knighthood was a large part of medieval life. Besides, you're forgetting who my father is. I've been hearing stories of the Knights of the Round Table since the day I met him.”

 

Leon nodded his head in understanding. Elena snapped her fingers. “Father? Oooh, that makes so much more sense! I always thought there was something strange about the way you two acted around each other: not quite like any siblings I knew at all.”

 

Archie ignored her, instead looking down at the sword he carried with a quiet, determined expression. His knuckles tightened their grip on the sword. “I always knew there was a possibility that the time of Arthur would come within my lifetime and that when it came, Merlin would need all the help he could get. If it happened, I wanted to be of some use to him.”

 

Then, in one smooth motion, Archie pulled on his head gear and grasped the pommel of his sword. “Well, then, gentlemen, shall we?”

 

Leon and the others exchanged looks and then nodded, taking up fighting stances. Gwaine looked at Elena and her outfit. “So, do all medieval scholars take up sword fighting?”

 

Elena laughed. “Oh no, not at all.” She smirked. “I was Britian's junior fencing champion for two years running. Have also been riding horses since I was five and read Lord of the Rings when I was twelve. Took up the broadsword when I entered uni.”

 

They gaped at her. She smirked evilly and then picked up and put on her own helmet. “I certainly hope you don't expect me to take it easy on you.”

 

Suddenly lunchtime seemed a very long way off.

 

In fact, by the time one of the house elves came by to ask whether they would like lunch served outside or in the dining room, the knights felt like their limbs were about to fall off. Although, that could've been wishful thinking, because if they did fall off then they would no longer feel them at all. They were exhausted and covered in sweat, but couldn't help the grins that spread over their faces after they'd all finally collapsed. It was a familiar feeling, this overall, sweaty ache.

 

That was when Isabella bounded up to her father with a wide grin and began to show off her lovely new pink robes. Leon dutifully praised her and the robes. If the child noticed her father's exhausted lack of enthusiasm, she certainly didn't let it ruin her own.

 

Narcissa followed shortly after Isabella with a worried frown on her face. “Do any of you know what time Merlin said he'd be back?”

 

Elyan frowned. “Sometime before noon, he said. Why? Aren't they back yet?”

 

“No, they're not.”

 

“Eh, Merlin's probably just lost track of time,” Gwaine called from his spot on the ground.

 

“Don't worry, Narcissa,” Archie assured her. “If anything should happen, Merlin will protect Draco. There are very few magic users who could stand a chance against Merlin.”

 

Dessert had just made an appearance on the table, when a whirlwind swooped onto the grounds, blowing leaves onto the table and depositing Nimueh beside it. The dark-haired woman's arms shot out to steady herself. There was a single leaf tangled into the top of her hair and her trousers had several prominent dirt and grass stains, especially around her knees. However, what caused a multitude of chairs to be immediately pushed away from the table were the blood stains on the lower part of her shirt and along the tops of her trousers.

 

“Emma!” Dudley cried and ran to her side.

 

Emma looked up and blinked at him in confusion. Then she looked down, her face taking on a look of comprehension, before she looked back up and smiled at her boyfriend reassuringly. “Oh, sorry, blood's not mine. I'm alright, Dudley.”

 

“Then whose is it?” asked Gwaine with narrowed eyes. It hadn't missed anyone's attention that she'd arrived alone.

 

“Draco's.” Her eyes slid to Narcissa, who'd paled and reached out to grab Archie's hand. “Er, sorry, let me start that again. First of all Draco's fine... mostly.”

 

“What do you mean mostly?” Narcissa demanded.

 

Emma sighed. “We ran into some trouble. When we arrived at the Isle, there was already someone there, but Merlin didn't discover them right away.”

 

“Morgana was at the Isle of the Blessed?!” said Elyan, his eyes wide.

 

Emma shook her head. “No, Mordred.” The knights stared at her in stunned silence. “Merlin took care of him, injured him and knocked him unconscious. But meanwhile the two wizards that were with him – I think Dudley called them Death Eaters before – took on Draco.”

 

Narcissa gasped, her eyes widening in horror.

 

“Draco was hurt, but he's still very much alive. His wand arm was injured. I'm fairly certain he had a broken bone and there was a deep cut going along it lengthwise. He did well. Merlin's the one who got careless and managed to get himself hit with what Draco called a killing curse.”

 

“Of course he bloody did,” said Archie, his words laden with sarcasm, despite the worry in his eyes.

 

Leon frowned. “I may not be a wizard, but the words 'killing curse' do sound rather final. However your tone implies that Merlin has somehow escaped the 'killing' part of said curse?”

 

Emma snorted. “Emrys is too powerful for a killing curse to kill, his ties to the Old Religion too strong. I took him to the Crystal Cave to heal. I left Draco with him since it's likely the easiest way to heal his injuries as well. The cut... it seemed to be infused with a curse of some sort. Which reminds me-” She reached into one of her thigh pockets, pulled out a wand and passed it to Narcissa. “-here's Draco's wand. He dropped it on the Isle and I promised him I'd retrieve it for him, but I'd rather not accidentally sit on it or something.”

 

Narcissa took the wand and held it gently in her hands. “Thank you,” she whispered. “I'll make sure he gets it back.”

 

“What happened to Mordred and the wizards?” Leon asked. A tug on his shirt had him looking down at a very anxious-looking little girl. He cursed himself for forgetting he wasn't just a knight of the Round Table anymore, but a father as well.

 

“Both wizards are dead and Mordred... well, he somehow managed to leave while I was taking Draco and Merlin to the cave.”

 

“At least we now know it's not just Morgana we're up against,” said Gwaine.

 

The others nodded. Emma peered at the table and then selected a small round white cake topped generously with whipped cream and strawberries. She nodded to the group. “Sorry, I'm afraid I only dropped by to let you know what's going on. I've got to get back.”

 

After Emma's departure, the table sat in silence for several long moments.

 

“What time was the Order of the Phoenix meeting again?” asked Elyan.

 

“They're now meeting after dinner at Hogwarts,” Dudley answered him.

 

“Let's hope that means they won't come here until tomorrow,” said Leon.

 

“What should we do if they do come before Merlin and Draco come back?” Narcissa asked.

 

“We distract them,” said Archie. “Surely between all of us, a herd of unicorns and two dragons we can find enough topics to distract them with until Merlin does get here.”

 

“Easy enough,” said Gwaine. “We simply offer them some mead and then keep topping them up.”

 

Beside him, Percival snorted. “You know, alcohol doesn't actually solve all problems.”

 

“That, my friend, is a vicious lie!”

 

Elena turned to Dudley. “There's a herd of unicorns somewhere around here?”

 

Isabella perked up from her father's lap where he'd pulled her up to reassure her that Merlin was going to be perfectly fine. “They're way in the back, behind the lake,” she told Elena and grinned. “There are baby unicorns too! Want me to show you?”

 


 

 

Charlie wasn't quite the last to arrive to the meeting, but only because Professor McGonagall and the other professors were at dinner. At first he merely stood in the doorway, marvelling how the headmaster's office had changed, before greeting the room at large. He then took a seat at the back next to Hagrid, who asked him politely about the dragons, though his usual enthusiasm was rather lacking.

 

“Oh, the dragons are doing well,” said Charlie. “I'm actually in charge of a group of young ones now. Three Welsh Greens and a ridgeback-short-snout mix.”

 

“A ridgeback mix? That's rare, that is.” Hagrid's eyes looked decidedly less dull now.

 

“Yeah, it is. He's a beauty too.”

 

“Oh, are those the same four that escaped the sanctuary?” Hermione asked.

 

“Yeah. Apparently, since I did so well to manage to round them up and bring them back, I now get to take care of them.”

 

“'ave they managed to find the one that's still lost?” Ron asked.

 

“Well, I'm not involved in the search personally, but so far none of the people searching have managed to find him, no.”

 

“How exactly does something as big as a dragon manage to hide so well?” his mother asked.

 

Inside the Malfoy Manor grounds, Charlie answered inside his head. An image of Aithusa flashed through his mind and he had to bite the inside of his mouth to keep from chuckling. He really hoped Professor McGonagall arrived soon. Though he wasn't exactly looking forward to revealing to his family and friends just how much he knew about what was going on, he also couldn't wait to be able to tell them all about the amazing things he'd seen and heard.

 

In the meantime, Neville Longbottom entered the room as well, looking a bit unsure until he spotted Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny. He grinned and went over to join them by the paintings where they seemed to be catching up with Professor Dumbledore.

 

A short while later, Professor McGonagall entered along with Kingsley Shacklebolt. The meeting began with the headmistress and Hagrid retelling what had happened at Hogsmeade. Then Harry, Ginny and George told their story of the events from Diagon Alley. Bill had little to add to their story as he'd been inside the bank, except to point out how happy the goblins had been that the improvements to their wards had worked so well (Bill hadn't been aware that anyone had done anything to the wards). Kingsley was next. He told them what the ministry aurors had managed to find out about Rachel Gorlois and Merlin Kingsman.

 

Charlie's head snapped up at the mention of Merlin's name. “Are the auror's assuming they're somehow working together?” he asked, realizing afterwards that perhaps he shouldn't have sounded quite so incredulous.

 

Kingsley frowned at him. “Well, they haven't found any evidence actually linking the two of them together, but it's a bit suspicious that he turned up at around the same time she did.”

 

“I'm actually not so sure about that,” said Bill. “Last week I had to look for something in the archives for – well it doesn't actually matter what I was looking for – the point being that last month Kingman took some rather large items out of his vault and had them delivered by guarded Gringotts transport to the Malfoy Manor. As a Gringotts employee you know I'm under a secret-keeper spell so I can't exactly tell you what it was that was being transported or his vault number, but I can tell you it's a very old vault, incredibly deeply down. It's deeper down than any of the prominent pureblood vaults, deeper down than even the Hogwarts vault and most of the ministry vaults. So, whoever Kingsman is, he didn't come from nowhere. His family has apparently managed to somehow be highly invisible to wizard affairs.”

 

“He could've changed his name,” Hermione suggested after a short pause.

 

“It's possible, but then there'd be a record of it at the ministry,” said Kingsley. “Which there isn't. The aurors have already checked for it. I think.” He frowned. “I'll have to make sure of it tomorrow.” He ran a hand over his smooth scalp and sighed. “Regardless, I've already decided I'm making the auror department happy by authorizing a search of the Malfoy Manor.”

 

“What?! Why?” Charlie exclaimed. He felt his face heat up as the entire room turned to stare at him. “Err...”

 

“Cor, it'd be a shame if 'e actually was working with the evil witch, since he seemed like such a nice bloke,” said George carefully as he eyed his older brother warily.

 

“And he's apparently had a rather good influence on Malfoy by the sounds of it,” said Hermione with a nod.

 

Harry frowned at that comment and then looked at Ginny. “Do you know if I ever bothered to ask how he and Dudley knew each other?”

 

She blinked at him. “No, I don't think so.”

 

“Dudley's girlfriend, Emma, is an old friend of Merlin's,” Charlie answered. “Come to think of it, I think Dudley's an old friend of Merlin's as well. Only she remembered first.”

 

“Hang on! You know Dudley as well?!”

 

“Forget Dudley,” said Ginny. “You know Merlin Kingsman?”

 

“Er, yeah. Merlin helped me with the dragons, actually. See, they flew directly from the Welsh Sanctuary to the Malfoy Manor.”

 

Kingsley frowned. “That wasn't in any of the reports.”

 

Charlie winced. “No, it wasn't. I left that part out. It would've given the auror department an excuse to go searching through the Malfoy Manor and that just... seemed wrong.”

 

He started backwards in his chair when Hermione suddenly marched up to him and pointed her wand at his head. She muttered a few spells and he felt the magic settle around him and then disappear. She lowered her wand, looking confused. “He's not under any sort of enchantment.”

 

Charlie rolled his eyes. “Look, I didn't mention about the dragons because Kilgharrah's flames managed to break through some of the strongest wards used in the wizarding world. He and Aithusa may have been called by Merlin, but they're staying with him of their own free will. If aurors had stormed the manor, they'd have not only Merlin and the Malfoys to contend with, but two large firebreathing dragons as well.”

 

“Now wait a minute, how did we suddenly get two large firebreathing dragons? I thought there was only one missing?” said his father. He looked to Kingsley, who nodded with a deep frown.

 

“I thought the dragon, who escaped was called Grandfather something,” said Neville.

 

“Grandfather Time,” Hermione added.

 

“What do you mean he called them?” said Harry.

 

“It's illegal to keep dragons as pets,” his mum huffed. “No wonder he's getting on so well with the Malfoys, he's obviously made of the same ilk.”

 

Hagrid alone looked anything other than appalled. He leaned over to nudge Charlie, his eyes alight with the same fire Charlie had always found such kinship with. “Are there really dragons at the Malfoy Manor?”

 

Charlie grinned conspiratorially. “You'd love it, Hagrid. There's an entire herd of unicorns living at the back of the Malfoy grounds too. About twenty-seven in all, young ones and everything.”

 

Hagrid's eyes widened. “Unicorns? But unicorns won't go anywhere near dark magic!”

 

He shrugged. “According to Narcissa, Merlin said he purified the land.”

 

“Silence!”

 

The room fell silent and all eyes turned to Professor McGonagall. Once she knew she had everyone's attention, she looked directly at Charlie, her eyes hard and furious. “Mister Weasley, have you intentionally been withholding information from us?”

 

Charlie swallowed. His throat felt like something had lodged itself inside. “Yes,” he finally croaked out and then barely managed not to cringe as a roomful of angry, disappointed glares were aimed at him.

 

“Mister Weasley,” a small, yet no less deep and imposing voice said into the ensuing silence. Charlie looked over at the portraits with surprise. Professor Snape's portrait looked back at him with a single raised eyebrow. “I trust you had a good reason for keeping your silence.”

 

Charlie blinked at him, wondering how it was that Snape was the one giving him the benefit of the doubt. “Yes, I did.”

 

He looked back at the room and stood up, not liking the feeling of being glared down at, at all. He ran a hand through his hair. “Look, first of all, my first impression of Merlin was that he was a good sort. But there was definitely more to him than met the eye. Malfoy hadn't even had him figured out at that point, kept getting this look on his face like he was memorizing the odd little things Merlin said in order to analyze them later. I was afraid that if I reported the truth, the ministry would get involved and Merlin would simply shut everyone out. Later on, I promised him I wouldn't tell you what I knew until the information became important in order to give him time, because the longer he went mostly unnoticed, the more time he had to move freely, gather his allies and prepare. And that was more important than anything.”

 

“So you knew he was planning something and you just him get on with it?!” Harry demanded, face red and eyes burning with fury.

 

“Yes, but Merlin's not our enemy. He's our ally. If anything this is his fight more than it is ours.”

 

“Then why isn't he fighting?” spat Ron.

 

“Because he obviously hasn't been there when the fighting's been happening,” George answered him. “The only ones of us who've been involved are the ones who've been around by accident. Besides, someone did chase her out of Diagon Alley yesterday. With some really impressive magic.”

 

“That wasn't Merlin,” said Charlie. “That was Emma.”

 

“As in Dudley Dursley's girlfriend?” Kingsley asked.

 

“You mean that woman that told us to get in the car and then stayed behind?” asked Ginny, her eyes wide. “But, she looked like a muggle.”

 

“She is, mostly.”

 

“How do you even know about that?” said George. “You weren't anywhere near Diagon Alley, were you?”

 

“Merlin sent me a message early this morning and told me what had happened.”

 

“Oh, so he's keeping you informed and you didn't think to tell us any of it?!” his mum demanded.

 

Charlie felt like he was running around in circles like the dragonets did when they were chasing each other around their clearing. He looked back to Professor Snape, who looked thoughtfully amused. Then he looked around the room. Professor McGonagall was looking at him with disapproval, Harry looked furious and Ron and Ginny looked ready to attack him. Kingsley Shacklebolt was frowning. Only George looked thoughtful. Was it because he'd actually met Merlin?

 

Suddenly, Charlie had had enough. The entire situation was utterly ridiculous!

 

“I can't believe it! Why are you all so convinced he's evil just because you know nothing about him? Do you honestly think that good people can't be mysterious? Harry, you said that the woman who attacked you didn't use a wand and George said the aurors couldn't get the fires to stop or undo the magic of the pillars. Then they couldn't figure out how to destroy those odd mud monster creations of hers.”

 

George nodded.

 

“Do you know why they couldn't figure it out? Because she wasn't using wizarding magic! She's a sorcerer and her name might be Rachel Gorlois, but that's not who she is. She's Morgana. Rachel Gorlois is the reincarnation of Morgana Le Fay. And Merlin Kingsman is Merlin, not just some bloke named after him. He's a warlock and a dragonlord, but he likes the muggle world and his Druid name is Emrys.” He paused to take a breath, noticing with satisfaction that they were all listening quietly to him now. “And, in front of Buckingham Palace there's a sword sticking out of a stone waiting for its master to pull it out.”

 

Harry's eyes went wide. “Emrys... the woman, she mentioned him. Told me to tell him she said 'hi'...”

 

“Well, I'm not entirely certain whether to be jealous or happy to be dead,” said Headmaster Dumbledore's portrait after a pause.

 

Charlie grinned at him. “Oh, I'd go with jealous, professor. Though Albion's Darkest Hour doesn't exactly sound like it'll be a bag of laughs, everything else has been absolutely amazing.”

 

“Mister Weasley, as you seem to be so well-informed-” Charlie's grin vanished as he met Professor McGonagall's gaze. “-why did she attack Hogsmeade?”

 

“I-I don't know. I mean, apart from the sheer effect it's had, I don't know why she chose Hogsmeade in particular to attack. Not that I've actually seen Merlin since that morning, but he didn't say anything about the location being special to her or him or anyone else.”

 

“Then what was Hogsmeade?” Kingsley asked grimly, looking like he had an idea what the answer was, but didn't want to say it out loud.

 

Charlie remembered the cold, angry look in Merlin's eyes when he'd half-jokingly told Gwaine. He remembered the grim determination in Lance's eyes when he'd echoed the sentiment. “It was a declaration of war.”

 

And, for a few, long minutes, no one spoke a word.

 

“I think it's time I met Merlin Kingsman,” Kingsley Shacklebolt announced.

 

Charlie nodded. “He's waiting for you.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

 

Draco awoke gradually to a faint rustling noise and a pleasant warmth that cocooned him in from all sides like the lightest of down duvets along with a steady low humming that he felt all the way to the marrow of his bones. He heard whispers and realized he was not alone, yet didn't feel any danger at the realization. He shifted and was surprised to feel the hardness of the surface he was laying on. Not his own bed, obviously.

 

A gentle hand caressed his forehead and Draco opened his eyes. There was a woman kneeling by his side. She pulled her hand away when he met her eyes and smiled down at him. The warmth in her smile, that infused her hazel eyes and made the skin around them crinkle, looked familiar. She looked slightly older than his mother, with a scrap of faded red cloth tying back light brown hair that showed a hint of grey. The clothes she wore were muggle, but nothing Draco recognized. They were simpler, somehow, just cloth with leather ties.

 

She leaned back as he sat up, wincing when his muscles chose to protest the uncomfortable surface they'd lain on. He looked around at the cave and suddenly remembered what had happened and why he was here. His eyes widened and he brought his arm up when he realized he couldn't feel the pain that should've been there. There was a tear in his robes, but instead of the long cut he knew had been there - or even the bandages Emma had wrapped around it – all he saw was whole, flawless skin.

 

The curse he'd been hit with should've prevented all magical healing...

 

“The magic of the cave helped with your healing,” the woman beside him spoke.

 

Draco's eyes snapped back to her.

 

“Aye, that was some curse you had on you, boy,” said a deep, male voice before Draco had a chance to reply. He looked up to see a tall man with wavy long hair and a beard stand up from where Merlin was still laying very still. “But the magic in here is far stronger than any curse.”

 

Draco looked around, taking in the cave once more. The crystals that filled the cave were glowing faintly – just enough to fill the cavern with light, but not enough to overwhelm the eyes. He gasped as he realized they were the source of the humming.

 

“Th-they're magical,” he whispered, his voice hoarse with dryness and lack of use.

 

“Of course they are,” said the woman. Draco looked to her again. Her eyes were full of fond amusement. “The Crystal Cave is said to be where magic began.”

 

His eyes widened. Such a place existed? “And is it?”

 

“Does it matter?” the man countered.

 

Draco looked around, recognizing the warmth that still cocooned his body for what it was: magic. Not only that, he suddenly realized, this was wild magic – untamed and untainted. “No, it doesn't,” he answered even as he realized the truth.

 

Then he turned his gaze back down and saw Merlin. “How is he?”

 

The man snorted. “Being lazy.”

 

The woman shot him a disapproving look, which turned fond, though slightly sad when her gaze drifted down to Merlin. “He'll be fine. It took him a while to fight off the curse; bringing him here was a good idea. Now his body's resting and recovering his magic.” She looked back to Draco. “It's the problem when you have so much of it. Recovering it takes a while.”

 

“Yes, but he doesn't have a while!” growled the man.

 

“He has time enough,” the woman snapped back at him.

 

Draco blinked at them. “Who are you?”

 

The woman smiled. If Draco hadn't just seen her snap at the man, which indicated a temper, he would've assumed she never did anything but smile. “I'm Hunith and that is Balinor.”

 

Anything else was cut off when Merlin moaned. Hunith immediately rose and hurried to his side. She ran a hand over his face as Balinor hovered over them both and looked on anxiously. Draco slowly stood as well and walked over just in time to see Merlin's eyes flutter open. Then the most powerful magic user ever born blinked as he took in the woman looking down at him, before amazement and joy lit up his entire face and he surged up, pulling the smaller woman into a tight, almost desperate, embrace. Hunith laughed delightedly and returned the embrace just as fiercely.

 

Balinor stood back and watched them with fond – and perhaps somewhat wistful – eyes. Draco no longer had to ask about their identities.

 

Eventually, Merlin and Hunith pulled apart, but remained kneeling on the stone floor of the cave, holding each other's hands, drinking in the other's appearance. Then Hunith reached out with one hand to cup Merlin's face.

 

“Oh my poor boy, you've been through so much,” she whispered. “So much pain, so much sadness... I wish I could-”

 

“Mum,” Merlin interrupted her, raising his own hand to up hers. He smiled gently at her. “It's alright, really. I won't lie and say it was all easy and that my heart didn't break a thousand times over, but there've been plenty of good times too. I've seen the world change and met so many wonderful people and seen more than anyone else has ever seen. There are bits of the world I'd never dreamed existed when I was just a young boy in Ealdor. You should see it all now, mum: you wouldn't recognize the world today. It's so big, but it's smaller than it's ever been-”

 

“Merlin.”

 

Merlin looked up, surprised by Balinor's presence. He then looked between him and Hunith, his grin growing impossibly larger. He stood and Hunith followed, her turn this time to smile fondly as Merlin embraced Balinor. Their embrace was much shorter and didn't linger.

 

“Son, you don't have much time to waste anymore.” Balinor's expression was grave now.

 

Merlin nodded. “I know. Morgana's already made her first move. I have to answer, but I still don't know where Arthur is. If the Old Religion is hiding him then it's done a wonderful job of it.”

 

“Then why don't you look and let it show you?”

 

Merlin frowned for a few moments, before his eyes widened in understanding. “Of course,” he muttered and then looked around the cave.

 

Draco frowned in confusion.

 

He was about to speak up and ask what was apparently so obvious, when Merlin stepped away from Balinor and walked up to one of the larger crystals in the cavern. He then put his arms out as if to grab it from either side, but never touched it. As he stood there, peering into its depths, the crystal shone a bit brighter and something seemed to move inside it, like smoke trapped just beneath the surface. Merlin's eyes glowed.

 

Minutes passed, but Merlin remained frozen as he peered into the crystal. Hunith walked to Balinor's side and he put an arm around her as they watched him anxiously. Draco wanted to ask what was happening, but didn't dare make a sound to break the bizarre silence that had descended upon the cave.

 

Finally, Merlin's eyes stopped glowing and he stepped back from the crystal, looking thoughtful. “Hm, I had wondered...” was all he said, before turning back to face them.

 

He saw Draco and blinked. “Oh, hello, Draco,” he said. “I see Nimueh left you behind to heal as well. How are you feeling?”

 

“Sore from the hard floor,” Draco groused. Then he lifted his arm up for inspection. “But the wound's all healed up.

 

Merlin smiled. “Good. If I'm remembering correctly, it was a rather nasty one.”

 

Draco nodded.

 

Merlin turned back to Hunith and Balinor. “Well, I suppose we should be off.” His eyes became misty and there was a wistful sadness in them again. “I have so much I'd love to tell you. And Archie! I'd love for you to meet Archie! He's my son. Not biological, of course, but in every other way – the ones that matter – he is. You'd love him, mum, you really would.” Now his eyes lit up. “At Samhain, perhaps?”

 

Hunith smiled. “That would be lovely, dear.”

 

Merlin embraced both of them one last time and then turned to leave. Draco nodded at them and followed, but as he passed Hunith, she caught his arm. He looked back at her.

 

“When things get bad, please stay by his side,” she said, her eyes imploring him. “He's always been a kind, gentle soul and hates to see others hurt if he can prevent it. No matter what he says, I know time has been a harsh guide to him. He may have many friends and allies, but he will bottle up his grief and hide his pain in order to not trouble them when in truth he needs them desperately.”

 

Draco didn't hesitate. “I promise not to let him do anything alone,” he said. “And to be by his side when he needs me.”

 

Hunith smiled and let him go. Draco smiled back to her and then hurried after Merlin.

 

The journey back out of the Crystal Cave felt much shorter than it had been going in. Draco was surprised to find himself walking out into sunlight. Had they spent the entire night in the cave? He hoped Emma had told his mother where they were or else she'd have worried herself to death by now.

 

The cave was, unsurprisingly, located at the foot of a rather unobtrusive hill that overlooked a shallow ravine in the middle of a forest. It seemed that the Old Religion liked to hide things in the middle of forests. Not that Draco blamed it as it appeared to work rather well. It was also very peaceful. The overpowering magic he'd felt in the cave was absent, leaving him feeling suddenly lighter and refreshed as though he'd just walked into a cool cellar after hours spend outside under the sweltering, humid sun.

 

There was a loud rustling sound and both Draco and Merlin turned to the noise. A shadow stepped out of the forest. Draco froze, eyes widening. Merlin's face split into a wide grin.

 

“Lance!” he exclaimed and ran towards it.

 

Draco blinked and then relaxed. “You have got to be bloody kidding me,” he groaned.

 


 

 

Charlie felt more than a bit nervous as he raised his wand to tap on the brass dragon-head knocker. It instantly came to life and lifted its head before swinging the large ring in its mouth against the flat disc underneath it three times. Each strike sounded into the manor behind it like a small gong. Then it stilled again. Only the dragon's emerald eyes still moved as they slid down to look at Charlie.

 

The doors moved, opening outward only enough to let them through one at a time. Charlie frowned, wondering why Merlin wouldn't have come to greet them personally. As much as it wasn't customary for the lord of a manor to do so, it didn't seem like Merlin to care about protocols. Nonetheless, Charlie led the way in through the open door.

 

They piled into the entrance way: Kingsley Shacklebolt first, followed by Professor McGonagall, his mother, Harry, Ron, Hermione and George. No sooner had the door closed behind them then they heard the distinct patter of small feet running down a hallway. Charlie looked up just as the little girl he'd seen before dashed into view. She stopped, her wide smile diminishing somewhat, before she turned.

 

“It's not them!” she called back into the hall behind her. Then she ran up to Charlie and grinned up at him. “You look a lot better today, Mister Wizard.”

 

Charlie blinked down at her and smiled. She was wearing pink robes today with a matching pink flower pinned into her hair (he had a feeling there was magic involved, because there was simply no other way it would've held in place).

 

“Thanks, I'm feeling a bit better now that the shock's worn off.” He knelt down and held his hand out. “I don't think we met properly before. I'm Charlie.”

 

The little girl giggled and took his hand, shaking it timidly. “I'm Isabella.”

 

“Well you're looking very pretty today Isabella.”

 

Isabella's eyes lit up. “You like them?” she said, twirling around in her robes. “Lady Narcissa gave them to me! She said I now look like I belong in a magical castle. And Merlin gave me a crystal. He said he'll teach me to make it shine and when it shines all pretty I can make spells and do magic! Maybe I can turn into a bird like Archie!”

 

Charlie burst out laughing. Behind him he could hear snickering.

 

“One does not make spells, Isabella, spells are cast.”

 

Charlie looked up and then stood as Narcissa Malfoy approached the group. Isabella looked up at her curiously.

 

“Can Merlin make spells?”

 

Narcissa gave a soft snort. “I wouldn't be surprised. But Merlin's special; he can do a lot of things other people cannot.”

 

Isabella trotted up to Narcissa. “Like call dragons?”

 

“Indeed.”

 

Narcissa smoothed away some of Isabella's curls and then turned to the Order of the Phoenix, her expression cooling somewhat – though she still smiled at him. “Hello, Charlie, it's good to see you again. Minister Shacklebolt, Professor McGonagall, Mister Potter.” She nodded to each of them as she addressed them. “I'm afraid Merlin hasn't come back yet, but if you would follow me there are refreshments set out in the gardens.”

 

Charlie blinked. “Er, what do you mean Merlin's not back yet? I thought he was planning to stay put to make sure he was 'ere when we came.”

 

He hurried to catch up to her, ignoring the glares he was getting from various family members regarding his familiarity with her. Heated whispers followed them as he fell into step beside her.

 

Narcissa frowned. “I was under the impression he'd told you about their planned trip to the Isle of the Blessed.”

 

“Er, well, yes, he mentioned that. He also mentioned being back before lunchtime.”

 

She huffed and Charlie noticed how eyes momentarily pinched with pain before it was smoothed over with practised indifference. “Yes, well, to say yesterday didn't go as planned is a bit of an understatement.” Her fists clenched. “They were attacked.”

 

Charlie's eyes widened. “Was it Morgana?”

 

“No, thankfully not. However, there were two Death Eaters and a sorcerer called Mordred.”

 

Behind them, there was a gasp and Charlie turned back to look at the horrified look on Hermione's face.

 

“Hermione, you know that name?” Ron asked her.

 

Hermione nodded. “Mordred was the biological son of Morgana and Arthur. He double-crossed Arthur, stole Gwenivere and then killed him.”

 

Charlie frowned. That didn't sound familiar. Beside him, Narcissa also frowned.

 

“I think you might find yourself mistaken there, Miss Granger,” she said. “I'm fairly certain none of them ever mentioned Mordred being Arthur's son.”

 

“Yes, well, it is a muggle legend.”

 

Charlie winced. Narcissa raised an eyebrow and looked backwards over her shoulder slightly, but didn't bother answering the girl. Instead, she turned her attention back to Charlie. “Regardless, Emma says that's what Merlin called him. She didn't see the actual battle, but Merlin did defeat Mordred and was then hit by a curse from one of the wizards whilst defending Draco. They were both injured and Merlin asked to be taken to some sort of crystal cave to heal and recover.”

 

“You mean Malfoy couldn't even take care of one wizard?” Ron asked with a sneer.

 

“Draco Malfoy is a convicted Death Eater and as such has had his wand locked and sealed,” said Hermione primly. “Which means he can't do any offensive magic and only very few defensive spells. Besides, Mrs. Malfoy just said there were two Death Eaters.”

 

“If Mister Malfoy managed to fend off two Death Eaters while Merlin was otherwise occupied, that's actually rather impressive,” Kingsley added. Two strides of his long legs had him coming up just behind Narcissa and Charlie. “If I may ask, you don't happen to know which spell he was hit with?”

 

“Oh, nothing too horrible: it was only a killing curse. I'm not to worry at all. They'll both be perfectly fine.”

 

Charlie blinked, processed and then gaped. The silence behind them proved his to be a general sentiment.

 

“Merlin Kingsman was hit with an Avada Kadavra curse and he's still alive,” said Kingsley, saying each word slowly as though that would somehow make the statement more credible.

 

“Well, naturally, he needs to recover from it first, hence the cave. Draco was also hit by some sort of curse, which sliced his arm open, but apparently the cave will take care of that as well.”

 

“That's, uh, quite the impressive cave,” said George.

 

“Indeed.”

 

Narcissa led them out of the house and over the lawn, taking the roundabout way from the gardens to the dining area. Charlie wondered at this, until he realized she likely didn't want to give them anymore of an idea as to the grounds' layout than she already was. He felt a surge of pride at the realization that he'd been granted access to the gardens and could navigate them just fine. Probably. So long as it was light out.

 

The laughter coming from the outdoor dining area was audible from quite a distance. They came around a hedge and stopped, surprised by the sight before them. For some reason Charlie hadn't actually expected them all to still be here, but didn't know why. Perhaps because he had been envisioning Merlin's meeting with the Order to the Phoenix to be just that: Merlin and the Order of the Phoenix.

 

Just past the far end of the table, Gwaine, Elyan and Percival stood in a line, each holding something in his hand, poised in front of them.

 

“Alright then lads, on the count of three!” Gwaine announced with a wild grin. “One... two... three!”

 

At once, all three of them bit into the things in their hands and began chewing. Percival even managed to take a second bite and finish it off when suddenly all three of them grew feathers and changed into canaries. Charlie gaped. And then continued to gape as all three human-canaries began to flap their wings furiously until they managed to get themselves off the ground. They continued to flap frantically, moving slowly, little chirps of excursion coming out of their beaks. All three of them began to transform back at roughly the same time, their wings continuing to beat even as the feathers fell off them and turned back into arms. The men fell to the ground with identical thumps followed by groans. Elyan was the first one to sit back up. He eyed their positions and then pumped the air with his fist.

 

“Yes! I won!” he exclaimed happily. The other two just groaned some more. At the table, a young, blonde woman Charlie didn't recognize burst into laughter and enthusiastic applause.

 

“I wouldn't get too close if I was you,” said a voice from much closer. “The stupidity might be catching.”

 

Charlie looked to see Archie walking towards them, limping slightly towards them and using a cane for support. He was eyeing the three knights wryly. George came up to Charlie and nudged him. “Were-were they just...racing with Canary Creams?!” he asked, gaping even as his eyes sparkled with excitement.

 

“Yes, I'm fairly certain that's exactly what that was,” Charlie answered with a nod.

 

George grinned widely. “That is the most bloody brilliant thing I've ever seen!”

 

Ignoring everyone else, he ran up to the knights, who had by now noticed them and were warily eyeing them as they stood. George didn't bother acknowledging their suspicious looks and, instead, grasped Gwaine's hand and introduced himself. Gwaine's entire face lit up and soon George was being introduced to the others.

 

“Good lord, that's all they need: encouragement,” said Archie sarcastically.

 

Charlie shrugged. “Well, George is the co-creator of the Canary Creams.”

 

“Wonderful.” Archie then turned and eyed the wizards behind him. His eyes stopped at Professor McGonagall. “Well, this certainly is turning out to be a spring full of things I'd never thought I'd ever do again. Hello, Aunt Minerva.”

 

Charlie's eyes widened. He looked to Professor McGongall, whose wide eyes were trained on Archie. She looked slightly pale, as though she were looking at a ghost. The others were looking between the headmistress and Archie with surprise and incredulity. Whatever the story was, clearly no one had heard anything about a long lost nephew.

 

“Archibald,” the headmistress finally whispered. She stepped forward. “I scarce wanted to believe... you look just like your mother. Your parents looked for you everywhere; they thought you were dead... taken away by...”

 

Charlie noticed as the knuckles on Archie's hand turned white from the pressure of gripping his cane. “Well, they didn't look particularly hard, did they? Merlin's London house might be warded to the nines, however the rest of London is not and Merlin had me enrolled in school within a month of taking me in.”

 

That seemed to shock the professor. “Taking you in?”

 

Archie raised a single, elegant eyebrow. “I do apologize, how inexcusably rude of me. I am Doctor Archibald Kingsman, son of Merlin Kingsman – adopted, obviously.”

 

“Merlin stole you from home, how utterly horrible!” Charlie's mum exclaimed. She turned angry eyes onto Charlie. “How could we possibly ally ourselves with such a horrid man.”

 

“Er, mum...” Charlie began, hoping to minimize damage before Merlin arrived. His mum was a lovely woman, but once she'd made up her mind about someone it was very difficult to change it. And stealing children was likely one of the worst crimes she could conceive of even after everything she'd witnessed during the war.

 

“Merlin most certainly did not steal me,” Archie snapped, the hint of playfulness that usually accompanied his retorts gone from his face as his eyes flashed with anger. “Wherever did you get that idea? I ran away from home all on my own, thank you very much!”

 

His mum looked stunned. “B-but, why would you want to run away from your family?”

 

“It was because you're a squib, isn't it?” said Professor McGonagall quietly. Her right hand was clenched over her heart and Charlie could see moisture around her eyes.

 

Archie looked her in the eyes with a hard, slightly defiant look, ignoring the gasps her statement produced. “Yes.”

 

“Oh, my child, I knew you weren't happy, but I never thought... Your parents tried, you know. It might not have seemed like it, but they did.”

 

Archie's eyes softened slightly at this. “I know that. Even then, I think I knew that. It wasn't that they didn't try, it was that they didn't know how to do more than that.”

 

There was a stunned pause and then: “Everything alright here?”

 

Charlie turned to find Leon watching them carefully. He was wearing a gray sleeveless shirt and baggy pants with some sort of bulky black bands wrapped around his ankles and wrists. He was drenched in sweat and looked tired, though his eyes were alert as he observed the group.

 

“Daddy!” Isabella exclaimed and ran to him. Leon reached down automatically and pulled her up into his arms, though his eyes never left the wizards.

 

“Yes, thank you, Leon, we're perfectly fine,” said Archie smoothly. “Perhaps we should sit and have some tea while we wait for Merlin and Draco to oblige us with their presence.”

 

“An excellent suggestion,” said Kingsley.

 

So they sat. Archie immediately took charge and poured out the tea. The blonde woman stood and sat herself down next to Charlie.

 

“Hello, you must be Charlie,” she said, holding her hand out for him to shake. “I'm Elena. Kilgharrah and Aithusa have been telling me so much about you.”

 

Charlie shook her hand and smiled at her. She was rather interesting-looking to be sure with her short-sleeved bright green dress and tight, black and white polka-dotted leg wrappings. “I'm definitely Charlie. It's nice to meet you, Elena. So, where exactly do you fit into all of this?”

 

Elena smirked. “Well, now that's a rather two-fold question, isn't it?” She grabbed herself a devilled egg and bit into it. Charlie couldn't help but grin at the utter disregard of proper table etiquette. “In the immediate sense, I'm Doctor Kingsman's Phd student. Doctor Kingsman was one of my favourite lecturers when I was a mere lowly undergrad - that's how I met Merlin as well. Though, of course, he was calling him his brother then.”

 

Charlie nodded.

 

“In the past sense, however, I was Lady Elena of Gawant, married Norcastle. My father - and later my husband - were allies of Camelot. A few years after Arthur had been struck down at Camlann, Merlin showed up at Norcastle, because an old friend of his was living there. He lived there for quite a few years afterwards, working as a healer and teaching magic to those who wanted to learn. He refused any official post, of course, but was happy enough to help when he was needed. He travelled sometimes, but always came back within a year or so.” She sighed, propping her head up with her arm, elbow on the table (he could practically feel his mother holding herself back from admonishing her) and looked into the distance sadly. “I'm not really sure when he left for good. I know I was an old woman by then. My husband was long dead and I think Gilli was too. I think it was just after Queen Gwenivere passed away. Yes, maybe that was it: he left for the funeral and then never returned...”

 

“It must be difficult remembering all those people dying,” Charlie said softly.

 

She blinked and turned back to him. “Hm, I suppose, although... it's difficult to explain. In a way, it should be difficult, but it happened in another lifetime. I remember my husband and while it wasn't some grand romantic love, he was a good man and I remember grieving when he died. I can picture his face in my mind, but it's like everything is a bit removed from me, like an old book I once read and loved so much I reread it again and again until I've got it practically memorized, but as much as I love those characters, they're not here and immediate, so any grief over them dying is diminished. Does that make sense?”

 

Charlie thought about it. “A little. A bit confusing, I suppose. I was never the literary type, spent too much time on the quidditch pitch or reading about magical creatures when I read at all.”

 

Elena frowned. “Quidditch? What in the world is that?”

 

Just then a shadow fell over the table. It was followed by gasps, cries of alarm and the screeching of chairs being pulled away from the table as the members of the Order of the Phoenix looked up to find a dragon looming over them. Kilgharrah didn't help by showing off all his teeth when he grinned down at them.

 

Isabella looked up, tilting her head backwards, and giggled. “Hello, Kilgharrah. Is Merlin coming soon?”

 

“Yes, little one, Merlin is on his way.”

 

A wind blew over the table as Aithusa landed on the other side of it. Charlie caught Kingsley's eye and saw the incredulous look he directed at him. The Minister of Magic knew there was a second dragon, but Charlie hadn't actually mention that it was white. Charlie shrugged. He still had no idea how Aithusa had managed to stay hidden for so long. Magic, he supposed.

 

“Kilgharrah, you take entirely too much joy at shocking people,” Archie commented before taking a sip of tea. He, Narcissa and Charlie were the only ones still seated at their end of the table. At the other end, George was staring with his mouth half-open, but had been prevented from leaping out of his chair by four, very amused-looking knights. Though Leon did look like he sympathized.

 

“When one gets to my age, one takes what little entertainment one can get,” rumbled Kilgharrah. The old dragon's eyes danced with amusement.

 

Archie snorted. “Now I know where Merlin gets it from.”

 

The dragon chuckled.

 

“It's talking,” said Ron. He swallowed. “Harry, Hermione, I'm not imagining it am I? It's really talking.”

 

Isabella cocked her head at him. “Of course Kilgharrah's talking. Why wouldn't he be? Even the unicorns talk, you just have to listen harder.”

 

The little girl blinked as she suddenly became the focus of the entire table's attention. She looked to her father, who blinked back at her.

 

“It is a rare gift indeed to be able to hear the voices of the unicorns,” an aged male voice broke the silence. There was an old man in a long, white cloak, carrying a tall staff approaching the table, Emma walking by his side. “Though no less powerful than dragons, their magic is much more... subtle. Not many have the patience to listen for it.”

 

“Good morning, Anhora!” Isabella greeted him. She scrambled off her chair and ran up to him. “Will Boreohaul, Gwynystorm and Ehedtraed be able to play again today?”

 

Anhora looked down at her and smiled. “Yes, I believe they will.”

 

The little girl grinned up at him and then ran to her father and immediately began chattering to him about permission and being safe and promising not to wander into the forest... She ran off as soon as her father nodded and said 'yes'. When Charlie looked back to the old man, he was gone. Emma noticed his gaze and smirked.

 

Elena gasped and then pointed up to the sky. “Doctor Kingsman, do you suppose that's Merlin and Draco there?”

 

Archie raised his eyebrows and looked to where she was pointing to. “Oh, probably. I can't imagine it being anybody else.”

 

Taking one, final sip of his tea, Archie stood and walked up to meet them. On his way, he picked up a long bundle that had been leaning against the table at the far end. Charlie watched as the dot in the distance became bigger and more distinguishable. As it got closer, Charlie's grin became wider. He must've looked the right lunatic when he ran up to Archie's side.

 

The griffin was almost the same size as the dragonets Charlie looked after, but fuller, with none of the scrawniness of youth in its bearing. Its wings were whisper quiet as it landed and the eyes that looked over the humans before it were quick and full of intelligence. Gods above, Charlie thought, how could the wizarding world have gotten it all so wrong – thought magical creatures to be nothing but mindless beasts?

 

Merlin and Draco slid off its wide back, Draco stumbling slightly as he landed. Charlie chuckled. “So, Malfoy, first you're consorting with muggles and now the Gryffindor namesake? Whatever will the noble house of Slytherin say?”

 

Malfoy scowled at him, then huffed. “At least this griffin has impeccable taste, Weasley.”

 

Charlie followed his gaze to the large emerald-encrusted silver band around the griffin's front left paw. He gaped. “Oh now that's just not fair,” he complained.

 

Malfoy's responding smirk was cut off when his mother rushed up to him and embraced him tightly, before demanding to see where he'd been hurt and then taking her wand out to perform her own, magical evaluation.

 

Merlin shook his head at them in amusement and turned back to the griffin. The creature lowered its head and squawked. Merlin smiled. “Thank you for your help, old friend.”

 

Archie walked up to them. “Yes, thank you, Lance, for bringing him back to us in one piece. I shall endeavour to beat into him the necessity of staying that way.” He shoved the long bundle he was holding into Merlin's hands. “Here, I retrieved it from your house last night. You are to take it with you everywhere you go from now on. No exceptions.”

 

Merlin's face lit up. “Thanks, Archie, I've been meaning to get this for ages. Kept forgetting about it.”

 

“Yes, I noticed your age is beginning to get the better of you.”

 

Merlin stuck his tongue out at him. The griffin screeched loudly, before bowing his head slightly to the two dragons and then nudging Merlin with its beak. Merlin rubbed its beak and smiled. “Fare thee well, my friend.”

 

“Yes, good-bye, Lance,” said Malfoy with a slight smile on his face. “And thank you.”

 

Lance, the griffin, inclined his head towards Malfoy and then leapt into the air, its massive feathered wings catching the wind currents with ease. Once it was gone, Merlin turned back to the group with a wide smile.

 

“Sorry, we're a bit late,” he declared. Then he looked to Archie. “Is it lunchtime yet? I'm famished and I'm certain Draco must be too. We haven't actually eaten since yesterday morning.”

 

The tips of Malfoy's ears coloured slightly as he nodded. Merlin walked up and peeked at the spread on the table, which had obviously been fairly picked through over the course of the morning. He snatched up a mini-quiche and popped it into his mouth.

 

“Well, this'll do for a start, I suppose,” he said. “Mimsy!”

 

There came a familiar 'pop' and the house elf appeared next to Merlin. Mimsy looked around with wide eyes at the sheer number of people present. Then she grinned and looked up at Merlin with big, excited eyes.

 

“Yes, Emrys?” she said.

 

Merlin looked at her for a moment with narrowed eyes. The house elf's grin didn't falter, her eyes only growing more delighted by the second. Finally, Merlin sighed. “Alright, fine, please ask the kitchen elves to prepare a feast. Oh, and include some honeyed apples for the unicorns. Unicorns love those.”

 

Mimsy was now grinning from ear to ear. “Mimsy will tell the kitchen elves with pleasure. Emrys not have to worry about a thing.”

 

The elf vanished with another 'pop'.

 

“Did you honestly just give the house elves full reign with dinner preparations?” Draco asked him.

 

Merlin's face looked slightly pained. “I'm going to regret that, aren't I?”

 

“Yes.”

 

Merlin shrugged. “Oh well, I'm fairly certain I can convince the others to come for dinner and Percy eats enough for several men anyway.”

 

Percival grinned at the statement, drawing himself up proudly to his full height. Merlin grinned back and then his eyes caught sight of Elena. “Archie, you brought Elena!” he exclaimed happily.

 

“So good of you to finally notice me,” Elena said, though her grin took away any bite from the comment. She waved at Draco. “Hello, Draco the Druid, I see the airlines still can't manage to keep your luggage straight. Maybe you should consider a new hobby.”

 

Draco snorted. “I don't even understand the first one.”

 

Someone cleared their throat. Merlin turned to the wizards, looking slightly sheepish. Kinglsey Shacklebolt stepped forward.

 

“Merlin Kingsman, it's a pleasure finally meet you,” he said, holding out his hand. “I'm the Minister of Magic, Kinglsey Shacklebolt.”

 

Merlin smiled at him and shook his hand. “The pleasure is mine, Minister Shacklebolt, but please, call me Merlin. Kingsman is a name I made up, Merlin is my true name.”

 

“I thought your true name was Emrys,” said Professor McGonagall. She, too, held out her hand for him to take. “Minerva McGonagall, Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”

 

Merlin froze slightly, his eyes flicking towards Archie, who nodded slightly. Then his smile became warmer. “It's an honour to meet you, Headmistress McGonagall. I haven't stepped foot in Hogwarts since it was founded; I look forward to hearing about how it's changed.”

 

Professor McGonagall's eyebrows rose to meet her hairline. “You were at the founding?”

 

Merlin grinned. “Oh, yes, I was one of its benefactors. I believe you'll find me in the chronicles as Myrrdin of Ealdor.”

 

Hermione gasped, her eyes widening as she evidently recognized the name. Harry and Ron leaned in to question her and then got pulled into a whispered discussion. Charlie looked at Malfoy and exchanged eyerolls. Honestly, he didn't understand why anyone bothered to be surprised by anything Merlin said or did anymore.

 

Introductions continued and not even Charlie's mother ended up immune to Merlin's charm. There was a slight hitch in proceedings when the Order of the Phoenix realized that Elena and the knights weren't just dressed as muggles, but actually were muggles.

 

“B-but that's illegal!” Hermione exclaimed. “You can't just tell muggles about magic!”

 

Merlin looked at her thoughtfully. “Well, technically I didn't actually tell them about magic. They already knew about magic, they just didn't remember that they knew about magic until they met me again and, er, remembered... The rest is down to Albion and the Old Religion and, well, good luck trying to arrest them.”

 

“Besides, we're reincarnated Knights of the Round Table,” said Gwaine with a shrug. “I'm sure that makes us at least somewhat magical.”

 

“The most magical thing about you, Gwaine, is how you manage to drink as much as you do and not be dying of liver failure,” said Elyan.

 

Gwaine grinned. “There, see, I'm totally magic, I am.”

 

Merlin rolled his eyes. “Most muggles are capable of doing magic, you know,” he told the wizards.

 

Hermione frowned. “There's no way that's true. Muggles don't have magic.”

 

A hand reached out to the table between Draco and Leon and picked up a napkin. Confused they watched as Dudley tied the centre of it into a knot, leaving two long trains on either end. Then he held it out. The ring on his finger began to glow.

 

Bebiede þe arisan cwicum,” he said as his eyes turned to gold. The napkin twitched and then the trains on either side spread outwards and began to flap, lifting it out of Dudley's hand, looking a bit like a very long, silky butterfly. It flew gracefully over the table, gliding upwards when a breeze picked it up and carried it for a while. It spun out of the breeze's grasp and flew further up and then to the other end of the table.

 

Suddenly, a dark shape swooped down and grabbed the napkin with sharp, curled talons. With barely a movement of its wings, the great horned owl doubled back and then landed smoothly onto the table next to Merlin. It handed him the now-limp napkin, which Merlin took with a smile. The owl turned and hopped onto the empty chair and folded its wings. Then it blinked and began to grow, wings growing skinnier and feathers disappearing.

 

Archie folded his arms over his chest and sat back, raising a single challenging eyebrow at Hermione. However, Professor McGonagall was the one gaping at him. Meanwhile, Harry was busy gaping at his cousin. Dudley smiled back at him.

 

“Hullo Harry!” he called. “You and your girl get back alright the day before?”

 

“Uh, yeah, we did,” Harry eventually answered, though he didn't look like he'd heard the question. “Where did you learn to do that?” he blurted out.

 

Dudley shrugged. “Eh, when you have children you learn a few necessary tricks to entertain them with. This was Lenora's favourite. Merlin used to get four or five of them going all at once and she loved it.”

 

Harry blinked at him. Suddenly the smile disappeared off Dudley's face. He groaned and slumped into an empty chair on the other side of Draco, burying his face in his hands. “Bloody hell, I'm doing it again: forgetting where and when I am.” He looked down the table at the knights. “Please tell me I'm not the only one who's finding this bloody confusing.”

 

“You're not,” said Percival. “I woke up this morning and was alarmed at first because my wife Darla wasn't by my side until I realized I'm not married in this lifetime.”

 

“I walked into a pub last week and asked for mead,” said Gwaine seriously.

 

Elyan grabbed a biscuit and threw it at him. Emma walked over to Dudley's side and squeezed his shoulder. He brought a hand up and squeezed her hand in thanks.

 

Merlin stood and everyone went silent. The friendly, smiling man was gone. His eyes were void of all humour as he looked over the table's occupants. It was now that Charlie realized with surprise that Merlin hadn't sat at the head of the table, but rather was sitting in the middle – with Archie on one side and Nimueh on the other.

 

“The house elves are likely to have dinner prepared within the hour,” he said. “And Morgana's not about to stop to care about any wizard laws. All at this table are allies, magical or not.” His eyes fixed onto Kingsley. “Now, tell me what you know about Morgana's reincarnated life.”

 

Kingsley chose not to question the request – nor was he foolish enough to think of it as a mere request. Afterwards, he would apologies to Charlie Weasley. The man had been right; Merlin seemed to somehow feel important, like someone he should be paying attention to, without even trying to. Ancient powerful sorcerer or not, there was simply something about him. And when he looked into his eyes, he saw a depth of wisdom he couldn't even begin to fathom.

 

When he spoke, Merlin listened attentively, then asked questions. To his astonishment, the muggles then asked questions. And Merlin answered what he could, with Nimueh (or was her name Emma?) and sometimes even Dudley or Archie answering. When even Draco Malfoy took up a few explanations about the more wizarding details, Hermione Granger joined in and soon the discussion followed around the table. Eventually even the rumbling voices from above stopped startling them.

 

Merlin listened, laughing at a few of the more outrageous comments. It took him perhaps an hour or so, but eventually Kingsley realized this was more than just a meeting.

 

This was a war council.

 


 

 

Archie had been happy to take the excuse to leave the table. He knew he wasn't the only one annoyed by the wizard's attitude towards non-magic users. Treating them as though they would be useless against anyone with magic. Just because they wouldn't be able to defeat a wizard in a fair magical duel didn't mean they were incapable of defending themselves. He'd mostly kept his silence because Merlin by his side did. That and he hadn't failed to notice the calculating looks Leon and the knights were exchanging amongst themselves and with Merlin. He also recognized the signs of communication between Merlin and Emma.

 

Curiously, Emma had actually said very little during the entire proceedings. Though she had roared with laughter when Draco had frowned and asked about those muggle shooting weapons. Apparently, Gwaine and Merlin had taken him to watch an action movie of some sort. Leon had grinned and taken up the opportunity to confuse an entire table of wizards with very detailed explanations of firearms and weaponry.

 

It didn't help that his aunt kept looking in his direction, as though needing to reassure herself that he was really there. It was somewhat understandable, he supposed, but highly irritating nonetheless. It was a part of his life he could've lived the rest of it without ever confronting.

 

Which was why, when the house elf came to announce that there was a vampire to see Merlin, Archie immediately volunteered to go see what he wanted. There was only one vampire who would ever actively seek Merlin out. Archie smirked. One day he might even enlighten Merlin as to why.

 

Draco caught up with him just as he reached the manor. Archie raised an eyebrow at him. “Barnaby made that much of an impression on you?”

 

Draco frowned in confusion. “Barnaby...?”

 

“Yes, Barnaby Willows.”

 

Now Draco's eyes finally lit up with understanding. “Oh, Merlin's attorney. Why would he be here?”

 

“I haven't the foggiest. However, Mimsy said he came through the floo network and given any vampire's natural dislike of fire, I think that means whatever the reason, it's rather important.” As they stepped into the house, Archie turned to Draco. “Why are you here then?”

 

Draco blinked and his skin took on a slight pinkish colour. “I'm coming to get my wand. Apparently, Emma brought it back and gave it to mother, who placed it onto my desk. I, uh, didn't quite realize until a moment ago that I didn't have it with me.”

 

Archie chuckled. “That must be a rather odd sensation.”

 

Draco looked thoughtful. “Yes, it is.” He looked at Archie. “Merlin said he'd taken you to the Isle of the Blessed and that's where you learned to do magic.”

 

“Hmm, yes he did.” He remembered it well. It was his first summer vacation, well, ever as he'd been home-schooled up until then. “It was July and we spent three weeks there. I remember stepping onto the Isle and feeling as though the world was coming up to meet me. There was this great and wonderful energy everywhere around me; I'd never felt anything like it.”

 

Draco smiled. “I've been doing magic my entire life and I've never felt anything like it.”

 

“Well, the Isle is not only magical, but sacred as well. It makes a difference.”

 

Draco frowned at him. “You know, I've never actually seen you do any magic other than transforming into an owl. I don't know anything about sorcery, but animagus transformations are considered fairly high-level wizard magic.”

 

Archie smirked at him. “It's my favourite and most useful bit of magic to be sure.” He shrugged and hesitated. Talking about this was new to him. Merlin and the odd magical creature had been the only people he could talk to about magic before. “But I can do more if needed. It takes a lot of effort for me to be able to pull at the bit of magic I can feel. I suppose if I practised more it would be easier...”

 

“Then why don't you?”

 

Archie stopped and turned to face Draco. The curiosity in the young man's face was genuine; he honestly couldn't understand why anyone wouldn't practice magic if they could. Archie sighed. “Draco, of all the things Merlin has done for me – and this is not including the very fact of taking me in and calling me his son - there are two above all that were most... significant. The first was indeed the gift of magic. After what seemed at the time to be a lifetime of being told I could never do it, it was like suddenly being able to walk. But more importantly, Draco, Merlin also taught me that there was more to the world than magic and that spellcasting was only one form it took. Even if I practised hard every day, I will never become a sorcerer or wizard of any significant power. I simply don't have the talent for it. I do, however, come from a long line of animagi, which is why that spell comes fairly easily to me. And one day, I realized that was enough. The greatest gift Merlin gave me was the courage to turn away from magic and discover where my talents truly lay, to realize my true potential.”

 

Draco stared at him, stunned.

 

“Well, I suppose I should go attend to this vampire before he gets bored. I'll no doubt see you later, Draco.”

 

“Yes, of course.”

 

They separated as Draco made his way up the side stairwell and Archie proceeded to the floo antechamber. He doubted the house elves had allowed Barnaby to leave the room. Personally, Archie was a bit more curious to know when Merlin had given him the password into the manor. Or had he simply guessed? Barnaby had known Merlin for long enough, even if Archie had never quite been able to guess exactly how long that was. Well over a century at least.

 

Barnaby Willows was standing in front of a painting and observing the small people dancing inside it. His black cloak was draped over his right arm and he was wearing a light gray suit with a dark purple shirt, both of obviously good quality. The monocle was in his left eye as per usual. Archie often wondered what his clients thought of the monocle (not to mention what sort of clients employed an attorney who only worked during the night).

 

He turned around when Archie entered, delight flashing through his eyes momentarily. “Hello, Archibald.” He easily flipped his cloak onto his left arm and glided over to greet Archie. “You look more and more beautiful by the year. You should let me immortalize that beauty.”

 

Archie rolled his eyes as he shook Barnaby's hand. “Thank you, but no. I'm still rather attached to life.”

 

“Ah, then perhaps next time.”

 

This was a game the two of them had played since more or less the day Archie had turned fifteen.

 

“I very much doubt it. Follow me, Merlin's just with the Order of the Phoenix at the moment. He says he'll slip out as soon as he can.”

 

Barnaby nodded and followed him out of the room and down several hallways. Archie led him to the Blue Study, where he strode in ahead of the vampire and closed the heavy drapes. Only once they were closed and the room dark but for a few cracks of sunlight, did Barnaby step inside.

 

“I hear you were in an accident a few months ago,” Barnaby began, his eyes raking over him, looking for evidence of injuries. “I trust you are now doing well?”

 

Archie frowned. “How did you – oh, of course, it was in the papers. It was hardly a serious accident and Merlin healed the worst of the injuries.”

 

Barnaby nodded. They made small talk for a while, in the way casual acquaintances do after having gone a period of not having seen each other. Merlin had been gone for five years, after all, and the only time Archie ever saw Barnaby was when he was with Merlin.

 

It took Merlin another half an hour before he managed to slip away. He found them easily enough, having guessed the Blue Study as the most appropriate to entertain a vampire during the day.

 

“Barnaby, it's good to see you again,” he said when he entered. “A bit of an unusual time of day for you to visit, though.”

 

Barnaby rose and smiled, his eyes becoming slightly gentler. “It was imperative that I came to you as soon as possible. I am less likely to draw attention during the day as no one expects me to be anywhere.”

 

Merlin frowned. “What do you mean?”

 

The vampire's face turned carefully blank. “I have had several of my former fellows come find me during the past week. According to them, Morgana has sent her messengers to the darkest corners of Albion. I do not believe she has yet begun specifically recruiting vampires, but no doubt she will before long. She is gathering an army, Emrys.”

 

Merlin took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair. “This doesn't exactly come as a surprise, but I was rather hoping we'd have a bit more time. Do you know if she has a target planned?”

 

“From what I've gathered, London. Though where specifically, I do not know.”

 

“Do you know if it's the magical or non-magical part she's aiming at?” Archie asked.

 

Barnaby glanced at him and shook his head. “I'm afraid I do not. All I know is that it sounds like she's planning to bring it to fruition shortly.”

 

Merlin nodded and looked up at his friend. “Thank you, Barnaby, for taking the risk to tell me this.”

 

Barnaby gave a small smile. “It is not as though I would stand idly by and do nothing when you are in danger. If Albion's Darkest Hour is indeed close at hand, then hesitating is no option at all.”

 

Merlin smiled. “Well, whatever it is that I've done to earn your loyalty, I'm glad. You're a good friend, Barnaby. And I truly mean it when I say: thank you.”

 

Barnaby chuckled. “Merlin, you gave a vampire, who wouldn't have hesitated to tear your throat out, the one thing he'd never expected receive from a living creature: friendship. It is a gift more valuable than anything I could ever repay.”

 

Merlin seemed stunned at first, but then he grinned happily and covered the distance between them in two, large strides. He pulled the vampire into an embrace. Barnaby's eyes widened slight at first as he froze, his arms hovering to either side of Merlin as though he wasn't quite sure what to do with them. He relaxed after a few moments and allowed his arms to settle around Merlin gently, carefully, barely using any pressure at all. His eyes closed and a pained expression flashed across his face only long enough for Archie to see it. There was no trace of it when Merlin pulled away.

 

“Then I'm glad it was my throat you'd planned to tear out that night, my friend,” he said.

 

Barnaby burst into laughter. Merlin blinked with surprise and then grinned. “You are utterly ridiculous, Emrys, utterly ridiculous.” He placed a hand onto the sorcerer's shoulder. “But I, too, am glad you'd caught my attention that night. Now, with your leave, I shall return to London.”

 

He bowed first to Merlin and then to Archie. They both accompanied him to the floo antechamber. As he took handful of green powder from the bowl on the mantelpiece, Merlin stopped him.

 

“Will you be alright?” Merlin asked, worry written all over his face.

 

“You seem to forget, Emrys, before I began plundering chequebooks, I plundered arteries for even longer.” His smile was easy, accompanied with a flash of fang. “And I assure you, I was extremely good at it. I shall be perfectly fine. The London vampires will not join with Morgana, I will make sure of it.”

 

No sooner had Barnaby left, Merlin turned to his son and placed an arm on his shoulder as he scrutinized his face. “I haven't had a chance to ask yet, but how are you holding up? It's my fault you got dragged back into the wizarding world and now...” He sighed. “I'm sorry. I've thought of you as my own for so long that it didn't even occur to me that you might still have living biological family.”

 

Archie hesitated briefly before stepping forward and hugging Merlin. Merlin imediately wrapped his arms around Archie's slightly shorter frame and held on as his boy trembled and took deep, calming breaths. There were no tears, merely a prevailing tension that gradually disappeared.

 

Finally, Archie stepped away, looking embarrassed, but still managing to muster a smile. “Thank you. And please, don't blame yourself. I chose to enter back into the wizarding world, because I want to support you. I knew the risk, I just- I thought I was ready for it.” His smile turned wry. “It seems I was wrong.”

 

“If it helps, I don't think your aunt noticed.”

 

“Oh good. I'd hate to think I'm transparent to a complete stranger.”

 

Merlin chuckled. “You know, the look on her face when you transformed was rather hilarious. Wish I'd thought to take a picture of it.”

 

“What a pity.”

 

Suddenly, the fireplace behind them roared to life. Archie and Merlin blinked as the flames turned from blue to green. Moments later, Lancelot stepped through, followed by Gwen. Both looked startled to find the other two waiting for them. Merlin grinned widely.

 

“Lancelot, Gwen, you're just in time for dinner!” he exclaimed happily. “Tristan and Isolde should be by later too, once they've finished up for the day.”

 


 

 

Merlin waited until the Order of the Phoenix had gone to tell the knights what Barnaby had told him.

 

“Do you think she'll go for non-magical London this time?” Tristan asked.

 

“Would make tactical sense,” said Leon. “She's already attacked the wizarding part twice, which means their forces will be on high alert and probably won't be paying as much attention to the non-magical part.”

 

“There are also more people in regular London,” Gwaine pointed out. “Easier to make an impact.”

 

“What's the plan then?” asked Elyan.

 

“We stay in London,” said Lancelot. “We watch the city. If anyone sees or hears of anything, they message the others.”

 

“And we network,” Gwen added. She looked to Merlin and Nimueh. “Surely there's no point by now in attempting to keep everything completely secret. There's a sword stuck in stone in front of Buckingham Palace and I've heard there's people there everyday guarding it. Civilians, ordinary people, claiming they're there to guard it. There's not a lot of them, just a few people, but they're there and they believe.”

 

Merlin nodded and smiled. “Then network away.”

 

Nimueh smiled. “Dudley and I can get word out around the uni campus.”

 

“Tristan and I 'ave a group we ride with,” said Isolde with a grin. “They'll 'elp with patrols, no doubt.”

 

“You know, it would help if we could get a little bit of magic involved with this,” said Elyan. “Not sure how much we can get done if everyone thinks we're Bedlam outpatients.”

 

“It would have to be something that can't be refuted,” Archie pointed out. “A YouTube video gone viral would be helpful, but not if everyone assumes it's just a fancy bit of graphics.”

 

“Did you just speak an entirely different language there?” Draco demanded.

 

The debate continued long into the evening and it was nearing midnight when they dispersed, the knights all heading home to their own houses in order to begin their individual watches in the morning. Only Elena and Archie remained behind at the manor.

 

Later still, after all the lights had gone out, Aithusa took one, forlorn look towards manor, before spreading her wings and flying off into the night. Merlin watched her leave from his tower.

 

“Good luck, my friend,” he whispered after her.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13

 

Morgana stood in the centre of the stone circle and closed her eyes. She'd been here before once when she was thirteen. Her father had taken her to on a trip around all the ancient mystical sites of Britain. It had been his attempt to find something to bond with her. Now she looked back on it fondly, but at the time she'd thought it a waste of time – she could do real magic, after all, so why waste time chasing what muggles thought of as magic? Of course, she couldn't feel the power in the land then the way she could now.

 

She remembered tall, majestic Stonehenge and feeling ever so slightly awed by it. It had a presence that demanded respect But here in Oxfordshire, the Rollwright Stones had been her favourite. They were smaller and less intimidating: she felt like she could squint and see in them the knights-turned-to-stone legend claimed they were.

 

She took a deep breath and savoured the cool night breeze as it brushed against her cheek and made the rapidly rising humidity endurable. Her feet were bare and she could feel the land beneath her, its power a gentle, steady hum. Behind her, she heard shuffling footfalls and a twig snap as someone approached her. Mordred. He was much noisier in this lifetime, the quiet ways of the druids lost to him.

 

He'd returned from his trip to the Isle of the Blessed much more thoughtful. Morgana was inwardly quite furious at him for having managed to find the Isle; she'd searched for months after having recovered her memories to no avail, but Mordred had been back within a week. His magic had still been a bit unpredictable then, so she'd sent wizards with him. Mordred's injuries when he'd stumbled back were the only thing that had cooled her anger at his success.

 

At least she now knew for certain Emrys was alive. Though why the Isle had allowed him to so much as step foot on it was a mystery to her. He, who'd betrayed the Old Religion and sided with the Pendragons had no right to enter the sacred site of magic. She'd heard of the Once and Future King, of course she had, but Arthur had turned his back on magic as surely as his father had.

 

She would return magic to the land, and through her, it would take its proper place as ruler. Magic's hiding had killed her mother as ridiculous non-magical wars had killed her father.

 

Her fist clenched. She'd offered. She'd told her father how easy it would be for her to apparate into the middle of the enemy camp with a disillusionment spell and then cast a memory charm on their leaders and their army. True, it might not be something she alone could accomplish, but it was possible. They could make the enemy soldiers - the so-called terrorists - forget why they were fighting and then it would all be over. But her father had refused. He'd even called it wrong, which was nonsense. What would it matter anyway if it brought peace?

 

Morgana took a deep breath and forced herself to relax. This was not the time to dwell on the past. She opened her eyes and turned to Mordred, smiling slightly.

 

“How are you feeling?”

 

Mordred leaned against a large stick as he walked, though some of the colour had returned to his face. She'd tried healing his injuries with her wand, but for some reason it didn't heal them entirely and caused him quite a bit of pain.

 

“Better,” he answered. “The potion helped with the pain.”

 

“Good.”

 

She pointed her wand at a small pile of stones and leaves and transfigured them into a chair. Mordred sank onto it gratefully. Then he yawned. She felt sorry for him: despite having slept through most of the day, he still looked unbelievably tired. It was two hours after midnight now and highly unlikely any of them were getting any sleep soon.

 

She felt the change in the land and looked over the fields past the stones. “Looks like they're here.”

 

Mordred started and straightened in the chair, where he'd begun to droop, hissing with pain as the movement pulled at his wound.

 

The first to shuffle her way through the ring of stone was a hag, half-blind and hunched-over, her steps slow but sure. Thin white hair hung down to the small of her back, creating a limp curtain that obscured everything but her rather large nose. When she spoke, she showed a mouth full of vile blackened teeth and tongue.

 

“Morgana Le Fay,” she greeted in a strong, though gravelly voice. “Long have we awaited your coming.”

 

Morgana smiled at her sweetly. “Why thank you. I'm sorry it took so long.”

 

“It took exactly as long as it was meant to.”

 

Morgana frowned, but didn't have time to ask about her meaning as five trolls lumbered into the circle, large stone clubs brandished menacingly in their head-sized fists. One of them wore a massive metal necklace inlaid with coloured rocks that looked as though someone had attempted to crudely shape them into something round-ish, but given up half-way through. A skull dangled off the largest stone, roughly the size of an oversized goose egg. He stepped forward and grunted to Morgana.

 

She nodded back to him. She'd encountered the trolls during her search for the Isle of the Blessed and impressed them with her command of magic. Wizards had banished them as far away as they could and then had the audacity to claim the right to govern magic, to force them into hiding. They'd eagerly agreed to help her.

 

The trolls glared at the wizards who apparated into the circle minutes later. The wizards – many wearing Death Eater robes for tradition's sake – drew their wands. The trolls snarled back.

 

“Peace!” Morgana cried. All eyes turned to her and she smiled, stepping forward between the two groups. “We are all allies here and share the same goals. Together we shall tear the wizarding world apart and subjugate the rest.”

 

There was an uneasy silence and then, slowly, the wizards lowered their wands. The trolls relaxed. Morgana gestured to the young woman who had apparated in last. “Pansy, I've been told your healing spells are rather good. Would you be so kind as to look over Mordred. He's been injured and the Elder Wand doesn't seem to be entirely suitable to such delicate casting.”

 

The dark-haired woman blinked and then bowed slightly. “Of course, my lady.”

 

She then crossed to Mordred, who was still valiantly trying to stay awake. He looked up and watched curiously as she pointed her wand at him and cast a diagnostic spell. She gasped at the damage she saw.

 

“Merlin! Whatever happened to you?” she asked.

 

Mordred looked up at her and frowned. “Well... Merlin actually.”

 

She frowned back, looking confused. “As in, Merlin Kingsman?”

 

That got Morgana's attention. Her head snapped to the young woman. “Merlin Kingsman? Who's that?”

 

Pansy Parkinson shrugged. “The man who bought the Malfoy Manor, apparently. Don't know much about him. Don't think anyone does, really. Apparently he came out of nowhere and bought the manor on the first day it was selling.” Her expression turned bitter. “Even let Draco and his mother continue to live there.”

 

One of the wizards snickered. “Yeah, young Draco Malfoy's there as his companion. Bet the boy's better at that than he was at magic.”

 

More snickers accompanied the statement. Mordred watched as the girl's eyes flashed with anger. He frowned. That didn't sound like Merlin. Merlin would never take advantage of someone like that, he was too good... and since when did he know this? Mordred started when he suddenly felt cool night air directly on his skin. He looked down and saw that his shirt was gone and the dark-haired witch was examining the burn mark just below his collarbone.

 

He looked up and met Morgana's eyes. They were obviously thinking the same thing.

 

“Do you know what this Merlin Kingsman looks like, Pansy?” Morgana asked.

 

Pansy shrugged. “Not really, other than young. I'm not exactly welcome in Diagon Alley right now.”

 

One of the wizards in Death Eater robes stepped forward. “If it would please you, my lady, apparently he is tall with short, dark hair and blue eyes and looks to be in his early to mid-twenties. So say the official auror reports.”

 

Morgana smiled at the man. “Thank you.” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “The Malfoy Manor, you say? I do believe Voldemort corrupted that land quite thoroughly...” She smirked. “I should be able to find it easily enough.”

 

She left Pansy to her healing and turned back to the rest of her assembled 'guests'. To the left she noticed a band of bedraggled-looking humans – no werewolves, the remnants of Fenrir Greyback's pack - who'd meanwhile slid into the circle. There was also a second hag present: this one smaller and more stooped and gnarled than the first, though her hair was shorter.

 

“It seems Emrys has also been reborn,” she announced. She sneered. “The druids thought he would be the one to return magic to its rightful place, but they were wrong. They also claimed he was the most powerful sorcerer ever born. There I'm going to prove them wrong. He did nothing to deserve the druid's regard or their support. Fifteen hundred years later and magic is hidden even deeper than ever before. I'm going to put a stop to that.”

 

Several gasps and whimpers brought Morgana's attention to the werewolves. They were looking up at the sky behind her. She frowned and followed their gaze.

 

The white shade was barely visible amongst the clouds and all she could see at first was movement as it came closer. After a few moments she was finally able to make out wings. Large wings that flew silently through the night sky like a ghost. It came even closer and Morgana gasped in recognition, delighted by the sight. The smile that lit up her face when the large, white dragon landed was genuine and beautiful.

 

“Aithusa!” Morgana exclaimed.

 

Aithusa leaned her head down to Morgana's height and nuzzled her. “Hello, Morgana,” said her rumbling voice.

 

Morgana started and stepped back. “You-you can talk! And you've grown so big!”

 

Aithusa nodded, her eyes squinting slightly as she smiled. “It's been quite a long time since you died. Many things have happened.”

 

“I'm sure they have.” Morgana stepped closer and petted Aithusa's nose. She was well aware of the eyes watching them. A dragon, what a perfect way to get their attention. “Have you come to help me? I'm going to return magic back to the land and restore it to its rightful place.”

 

“Magic never left the land, Morgana,” said Aithusa gently. “Its power and influence waxes and wanes like the moon, but it is always there.”

 

Morgana frowned. She stepped away from the dragon and looked into its eyes. “Magic hides from the rest of the world. Wizards live afraid of stepping into the muggle world.”

 

“But what you call the muggle world is not void of magic, simply unaware.”

 

“Then we will make them aware of it. Magic is power and power should not have to hide.”

 

“Killing innocent people is not the way to make them understand your cause.”

 

“They had no problem killing innocent people when they were magic users!” Morgana spat bitterly.

 

“That was fifteen hundred years ago.”

 

“And what of the witch hunts? The inquisition?”

 

“Most of the innocents that died there were not magic users. And wizards did not help, in fact wizarding magic only made it worse.”

 

Morgana's eyes narrowed. “And how do you know that?”

 

Aithusa looked away and was silent for a long moment. Then she turned pleading eyes back to Morgana. “Please, Morgana, stop this madness. There are peaceful ways to accomplish what you wish. Albion does not need more bloodshed.”

 

Morgana took several steps back. The smile was gone from her face and her eyes glittered with angry tears as she spoke in a quiet voice that made everyone else within the circle shiver. “Has he converted you? You'd take His side over mine? I, who protected you, who suffered for you?”

 

The dragon hesitated and then sighed. “Emrys and I made our peace long ago, Morgana. He healed me and I him. I have known him as a friend far longer than I have known you, but I do remember how you protected and suffered for me. I loved you then and have always remembered you fondly. Please, don't make me choose between you.”

 

Morgana stood perfectly still, like a dark dreadful statue. The hope that had shone in Aithusa's eyes slowly disappeared and her features fell. Not a single sound penetrated the circle.

 

“You've betrayed me.”

 

Aithusa's head snapped up. “No, I-”

 

Crucio!”

 

A normal wand would've done no damage at all to a dragon of Aithusa's size, but the Elder Wand had power beyond any ordinary wand. It remembered the Old Religion. It knew how to hurt it. Aithusa roared in pain.

 

The dragon's wings flew out from her body in such a rush that the wind knocked Morgana and several others back. Mordred cried out as he landed. The curse was disrupted, but Morgana regained her footing quickly. Eyes glowing with fury, she pointed her wand again.

 

Lígdracan, fleoge! Arỳpt ond framátir þone féond!

 

A roaring dragon made of flames flew out of her wand and towards Aithusa. The dragon, still shaken by the casting of the Unforgiveable, didn't move quickly enough and the fiery dragon caught her across the back, right between her wings. Aithusa roared and the ground shook beneath her as pain turned outwardly into anger. The conjured dragon doubled back and tore along Aithusa's flank.

 

Now, truly furious, Aithusa reared up and watched the smaller dragon turn around again. This time she lifted her head and opened her jaws, meeting it head-on with a stream of her own flames. The conjured dragon disintegrated.

 

Aithusa roared again, forcing those in front of her to duck down to avoid her angry flames. Then she took to the skies, ignoring the pain across her flank and back as well as the one in her heart until she was well above the clouds.

 

She wasn't certain how long she'd flown, but eventually exhaustion and pain in both body and soul took its toll. Aithusa flew down into the forest, letting the magic of the land pull her into its embrace. As she lay down amongst the trees she mingled her own with it, hiding herself from prying eyes.

 

Then she laid her head down and closed her eyes and grieved.

 


 

 

The sun had only been up for a few hours and in the London morning rush of traffic and people, no one noticed the oddly-dressed woman wearing a black hood obscuring her face as she walked up to the Thames. Nor did they notice when she pulled a large clay ball out of the depths of her robes and dropped it into the river by the corner of the Strand and Hungerford Bridge.

 

The water bubbled for a few moments where it hit the surface and then went still.

 

They also didn't notice when she suddenly vanished.

 


 

 

The police car sped round the corner and then screeched to a halt. There were people running down the street screaming. Both front doors opened and two detectives climbed out, gaping at the things lumbering down the London street.

 

Detective Sergeant Ian Chalupa had been a tad irritated at his younger partner for insisting on responding to the obviously lunatic woman's report about swamp monsters. But the only thing obvious to him right now... was that the woman was unfortunately no lunatic.

 

“Oi, Lance, I'm not imagining this am I?” he called uncertainly to his partner. When his partner failed to answer, he looked over.

 

Lance Knight was texting on his mobile. Chalupa's eyes narrowed. “Oi, what're you up to there?”

 

“Calling in the cavalry,” Lance answered. He looked at him out of the corner of his eyes. “You might want to call this in to the station.”

 

Chalupa blinked. “Er, right.”

 

As he called the situation in to dispatch, he noticed Knight finish texting and go retrieve something from the trunk. After the operator finally believed that he - first of all, wasn't crazy - and, second of all, desperately needed backup, the detective sergeant climbed back out of the car, took out his taser in one hand and expanded his baton with the other.

 

Detective Constable Knight drew his taser and joined him. Chalupa met his eyes, nodded to him and then looked back to the monsters. He froze and looked back to his partner.

 

“You have a sword,” he said.

 

Lance didn't turn his way, his eyes trained on the swamp monsters. “In case the tasers don't prove effective against those creatures.” He advanced.

 

“That wasn't actually what I meant,” Chalupa muttered. He tightened his grip on both weapons and followed his partner.

 


 

 

“Good morning all!” Elena greeted brightly as she walked into the dining room.

 

“Good morning,” Narcissa greeted, with a considerably less bright smile.

 

Draco looked up with bleary eyes and groaned. “Begone you foul, beastly, morning creature, you,” he said, waving a hand for emphasis.

 

Elena snickered as she grabbed the coffee pot. She didn't bother putting anything into her coffee, drinking it black and grabbing herself the sugariest pastry on the table.

 

Draco sipped his tea and covered up a yawn with his hand. “How can you be so awake?”

 

Elena shrugged. “I'm a student. Sleep and I aren't exactly the most dedicated of bedfellows.” She looked around the room with a frown. “I'm surprised Doctor Kingsman isn't here yet. He's usually a fairly early riser from what I've gathered.”

 

Draco thought about that. “Hm, I suppose he is. At least he's usually here before I am.”

 

“Well his leg was bothering him terribly yesterday,” said Narcissa with a shrug. “It's certainly possible he required some extra sleep.”

 

Elena snorted. “Doubt it. More likely he's already been up for hours and got himself lost somewhere in that library of yours - er, Merlin's.”

 

Just then the door opened and Archie stepped in.

 

“Good morning,” he greeted with a slight nod. The cane he'd had yesterday was gone and the limp barely visible. He was carrying a box in a plastic bag under one arm.

 

“Good morning, Doctor Kingsman,” Elena greeted. She turned to Draco. “Looks like a search party won't be necessary.”

 

Archie raised an eyebrow at her. “Whatever would you need one for?”

 

“To squirrel you out of the depths of the library, of course.”

 

“What in the world are you talking about?!”

 

Draco snickered and then hid the reaction behind his teacup. Archie rolled his eyes at the both of them and then handed the box he was holding over to Draco.

 

“Here, this is for you,” he said and then took a seat next to Narcissa. He poured himself coffee as Draco attempted to figure out the complicated muggle packaging.

 

The door to the dining room opened again just as Elena finally took pity on him and handed him a knife with instructions on where to cut. Merlin staggered into the room, yawning. His hair looked like something feathered had just flown out of it and his clothes were askew.

 

“'Morning,” he said just loudly enough to be heard by Narcissa at the far end of the table and then aimed directly for the coffeepot.

 

Draco grunted back a greeting at him as he was busy wrestling with the odd, unnecessary substance that lined whatever was inside the box and was making it impossible to pull the object out. A few moments more and he gave up, took out his wand and tapped the cardboard. His eyes gleamed triumphantly as it disintegrated from around the white, brittle and unecessary rubbish. Nestled within was a flat shiny black object with some sort of apple engraved on it.

 

“Blimey, that the new Air?” Elena asked with wide eyes.

 

Draco looked up at her and stared. “You will, I hope, explain what that particularly bizarre muggle euphemism means?”

 

She giggled. “As in the Macbook Air. It's the name of that computer.”

 

“I see.” He looked to Archie as Merlin circled around the table in order to look over Draco's shoulder at the laptop. “Uh, thank you.”

 

Archie looked amused. “If you're going to endeavour to join the twenty-first century and learn about things like Facebook and the internet, it's much easier to do so on a larger screen. And Macs are relatively indestructible and the operating system mostly idiot-proof.”

 

Merlin took a sip of his coffee, looking rather amazed. “That's incredibly generous of you, Archie. Especially after Dudley and Gwaine set up a computer in the study.”

 

Archie waved him off. “Well, I can't help but feel a bit like I've somehow acquired a younger brother... and besides I had all this money saved up for a trip to Japan this summer to visit someone I knew there, which is no longer happening.”

 

Merlin's head snapped up at that, his eyes widening. “You-you were going to visit me in Japan this summer?” He pouted. Suddenly, his eyes lit up. “After this is all over I can go back and then you can come up and visit me!”

 

He looked very proud of his plan. Archie rolled his eyes.

 

“Or we could do the more sensible thing and simply go together.”

 

“Ah, yes, or that.”

 

Narcissa and Elena laughed. Draco, meanwhile was staring at Archie with wide eyes. If someone had asked him to describe what he was feeling in that moment, Draco wouldn't have been able to answer them. Well, shock, there was definitely some shock involved, but there was also a rather warm prickly feeling worming its way out from the centre of his body. Archie had referred to him as a little brother (though he really was a bit old to be a little brother) and Merlin hadn't contradicted him.

 

From the other side of the table, Narcissa noticed her son's expression and smiled fondly. Having the manor overrun by mudbloods and muggles wasn't the worst thing that had ever happened to them, she supposed.

 

Draco jumped as a noise suddenly erupted next to his ear. It was an odd, whirly sort of noise that went on for several seconds and then stopped. Merlin dug his mobile out of the pocket of his muggle trousers.

 

“What is it with you and theme songs?” Archie muttered from across the table. He too had his mobile out and was tapping at it (the thing he was tapping at was called a 'touch screen', Draco reminded himself, feeling rather proud of himself at remembering).

 

Merlin shrugged. “I like Doctor Who.”

 

Both Archie and Merlin stiffened at approximately the same time, their eyes widening.

 

“It's from Lance,” said Merlin. “London's under attack.”

 

“Bloody hell, that was quick,” said Elena, her voice trembling slightly.

 

“Yes, it was.” Merlin practically threw his coffee cup onto the table, grabbed a slice of bread and ran to the door.

 

“Merlin, your staff!” Archie called after him.

 

“Er, right.” Merlin paused and looked back. “Draco you're coming with us, right? To watch and stay out of the way, I mean.”

 

Draco stood and nodded. “I can apparate directly there. I-I'll help if I can.”

 

“Good then. Narcissa, could you please let the Order of the Phoenix know what's going on? Either Charlie or Headmistress McGonagall or... well, it really doesn't matter who, just tell them there are-” The same whirly noise as before sounded and Merlin immediately glanced down, tapping as he talked. “-swamp monsters coming out of the Thames and heading for Trafalgar Square and – oh lovely - apparently the skeleton army's making a reappearance going up York Way.”

 

“Skeleton army and swamp monsters at just past London morning rushhour? Must be bloody brilliant,” said Archie sarcastically. He looked up at Merlin over his spectacles. “How are you travelling?”

 

Merlin grinned. “Oh, I'll just bully Kilgharrah into playing horse.”

 

Then he turned and ran. The manor shook slightly as Merlin called for his dragon while he raced down the hall. Draco took a deep breath.

 

“How are we getting to London?” Elena asked.

 

Archie raised an eyebrow at her. “We?”

 

She narrowed her eyes at him. “You don't think you're leaving me behind, do you?”

 

“No, I don't suppose I have that choice. We'll floo to Merlin's house and then Draco can apparate the both of you to the square while I fly.”

 

“Hang on, why am I side-along apparating with her?”

 

“Because I have a mobile with everyone's numbers in it – except apparently for Lance's - and you don't and we'll need it to know what's going on.”

 

Draco made a face as Elena grinned at him. “Fine.”

 

“If that's settled, we should also get our swords,” Archie pointed out.

 

“Oh, right. Flaming hell this battle thing's complicated.”

 

They hurried out the room, calling their good-byes to Narcissa as they left. Narcissa watched them leave with a pale, terrified face. “Good luck,” she called after them.

 

Then she took a deep breath and called for Mimsy. The house elf knew Charlie Weasley well enough. She'd find him.

 


 

 

“But daddy, I want to play with the unicorns!” Isabella whined, her big green eyes filling up with crocodile tears.

 

Leon sighed. “I'm sorry, luv, but I have to stay in London today.” He patted his daughter's head and smiled patiently down at her. “Besides, you haven't seen your grandmama in a very long time. I'm certain she misses you horribly. Don't you want to make her happy?”

 

Isabella seemed to think about this.

 

“The unicorns will be there tomorrow.”

 

Isabella sighed and Leon had to bite back a smile at her oh-so-seriously-put-out face. “Alright, daddy.” Suddenly her face brightened. “Do you think I could take grandmama to see the unicorns? And Kilgharrah's very old, I'm sure he and grandmama would get along really well!”

 

The dragon and the dragon mother-in-law? Oh, yes, Leon could see that going fabulously. Out loud he told her to ask Merlin. Bethany Chambers had never warmed to him, despite how long he and Trisha had been together before she died. Leon was convinced it was because he'd never married her daughter – she couldn't quite get through her head that the reason wasn't because he hadn't asked, but because her daughter didn't believe in marriage. But she loved her granddaughter and took her out once a week without fail.

 

So Leon straightened Isabella's sweater, making doubly certain the buttons were all done up just right and then glanced down at her nicely-polished shoes. Well, Bethany certainly couldn't complain that her granddaughter looked untidy (except for the hair, but even she'd given that up as a lost cause) and Isabella certainly looked happier than she had since her mother died just over a year ago.

 

He did, however, foresee a lecture about the dangers of indulging children's fancies and allowing their imaginations to get the better of them in his future.

 

He put Isabella into his car and drove off. They arrived at Bethany's house with minutes to spare. Grandmama had a wide smile on her face for her granddaughter as she crouched down to hug the girl. Isabella laughed and hugged her grandmother back, disappointment at not seeing her four-footed friends momentarily forgotten.

 

Bethany's expression was considerably cooler when she finally looked to him. “Hello, Leon.”

 

He inclined his head. “Good morning, Bethany. I trust you've been well.”

 

“I have, thank you for asking. And you?”

 

“I've been busy, but well.” He paused. “I assume you're heading to the market as usual?”

 

“Of course. And, provided the weather holds, perhaps a park as well.”

 

“Really, grandmama? Will we really go to the park?”

 

She smiled down at Isabella. “Yes, my darling, so long as it doesn't start raining, then we can go to the park.”

 

Isabella gave a little cheer. Leon smiled. “Then you two have a good day.”

 

“Thank you. You as well.”

 

Leon sighed as the front door closed and he walked down the front steps to his car. Slipping into the driver's seat, he grabbed his mobile to check for messages. His eyebrows shot up when he saw he had six of them.

 

From Lance: Swamp monstrs on Black Prince Rd. Help needed

 

From Tristain: Lads sent msg more coming out of temps 2 Trafalgar Sq

 

From Gwaine: Already? Percy and me going to thames.

 

From Tristain: Problem. Skeletons marching up York Way. Gathering gang.

 

From Merlin: On our way.

 

From Gwaine: Womans seen 2 much pirates of hte carriben.

 

Leon's eyes widened. He immediately texted back. York Way was the closest. He would head there. Though what one person could do against an army of skeletons was debatable. But first he bolted out of his car and up the steps. He pounded on the door, not bothering with any sort of propriety. Bethany looked livid when she answered the door. He didn't care.

 

“Don't go anywhere,” he said, hoping she caught on to his urgency and didn't demand too many answers. “Stay inside. There's danger in London, so don't go anywhere.”

 

“Leon, what in the world are you going on about?”

 

“Look, if you turn on the telly, it should be there soon. I haven't got time to explain. Just please stay inside.”

 

She looked stunned. “Yes, alright, but-”

 

“I'll explain what I can later.”

 

That said and done, Leon dashed off and got back into his car. His tires screeched as he took off, making him wince, but only briefly. Then he was rushing through traffic as quickly as he dared. A few blocks down from York Way, he found cars backed up and traffic grounded to a halt. It seemed no one knew what was going on yet. Leon drove to the side and parked as well as he could, before grabbing his heavy, over-sized gym bag (he had a feeling it was designed to fit hockey gear) out of his trunk. Then he ran.

 

Two men stood outside a deli, watching the backed-up traffic with curiosity. The radio hadn't mentioned anything about an accident. They were dressed in dirty clothes and hard hats and looked to be in their mid-twenties, though it was difficult to tell with the grime smudged across their faces.

 

“Oi, look,” said the slightly taller one.

 

The other one, who was shorter, but more muscled, looked over to where his companion was pointing. They watched as a tall stranger with wavy reddish-brown hair ran by them carrying a large black gym bag. He frowned after him.

 

“Do-do you feel like we shoulda be running after 'im?” he asked the other man.

 

The other man was also frowning. “Yeah, I do.”

 

They looked at each other and then took off after the strange man. Suddenly, the taller man saw the stranger running ahead of them dressed not in jeans and a checkered shirt, but in armour, a bright red cloak flapping behind him.

 

“Sir Leon!” he called, startling his companion out of his own reverie.

 

The man they were following stopped and spun around. He stared at them as they caught up to him. And then his face lit up in a delighted grin.

 

“Sir Bors! Sir Geraint!” he exclaimed.

 

The two knights of Camelot grinned back.

 

“Bloody 'ell, it's good to see you again,” said Sir Bors, before looking to his slightly taller companion.

 

“Yeah, I 'aven't seen you since...” Sir Geraint trailed off with a startled expression, as though suddenly realizing where he was – really was.

 

“My friends, though it is good to see you both again, I'm afraid I haven't much time,” said Sir Leon, his face serious once more. “I'm afraid London is under attack by Morgana's forces. Will you help me save her and her citizens?”

 

That had both knights standing up straighter and their eyes widening.

 

“Of course we will.”

 

“Good.”

 

They froze, eyes wide in terror when they finally arrived and found themselves facing an army of walking skeletons. Around them, people ran in terror and it occurred to all three men that if they were smart, they'd be joining them. Except that not everyone was running quickly enough. And the skeletons had swords – some of them coated in blood.

 

Bors glanced at Leon, who was taking two swords out of his gym bag. He looked up at them. “Sorry, I've only got one spare.”

 

Bors took it, amazed at how familiar it felt. It felt like being a knight. He looked at the approaching skeletons with battled-hardened eyes. “You know I'll fight to the death to protect my city, but there's only three of us, Leon.”

 

“That can be remedied,” said Geraint, his mobile already to his ear. “Oh Will, good. Listen, grab the lads and whatever you can use as a weapon. There's trouble coming up York Way and people are getting hurt... I won't tell you, you'll never believe me. Just get over 'ere quick as you can.”

 

He hung up and immediately dialled another number.

 

“Daniel, you're doing roadwork down by the 'ospital, yeah? Oh, you're repaving? Brilliant! Listen...”

 

Leon and Bors left him to it and walked out to meet the skeletons.

 


 

 

“Blimey, she hasn't got much in the way of artistic skill, 'as she?”

 

Lance looked behind him. “I don't suppose that was the point,” he told Dudley, who was now standing just behind him, sword drawn and watching the swamp monsters approach. “I do hope your girlfriend is somewhere in the vicinity.”

 

“Of course I am, Sir Lancelot,” said an amused voice from somewhere above him. Lance blinked and looked up. Sure enough, there was Emma looking down on him and his partner from the hood of the car they were using as cover (why they were bothering to use cover was a mystery when the monsters weren't shooting anything at them, but it somehow felt necessary to have something to crouch behind). “Wouldn't dream of missing out on the fun.”

 

“Well, then I do hope you have a plan, because our tasers are useless and the sword didn't do much damage either.”

 

“Lance, what the 'ell are you doing, man?!” his partner shouted at him. “They're civilians!”

 

Dudley snorted. “Yeah, but civilians who know how to kill those things.”

 

That got Ian Chalupa's attention even more than the sirens he could now hear approaching. “How?”

 

“Wind and fire,” said Emma.

 

“Oh is that all? Going to rain it from the sky then are you?”

 

The look Emma gave him seemed to say she was seriously doubting his sanity. “Don't be ridiculous, nothing that dramatic will be necessary.” She looked out over the oncoming monsters and her eyes flashed gold. “There are too many for me alone. Wind's the more difficult element to control, so I'll do that. You can take care of fire.”

 

Dudley nodded. “Right.” He turned to Lance. “You still got your sword with you?”

 

“Of course!” said Lance, feeling a bit insulted. What sort of a knight would he be if he left his sword behind?!

 

Dudley nodded. He raised his sword and concentrated. The ring on his finger began to glow. “Fýr bebúgan!”

 

It began as a single lick, a single reflection within the steel of his sword and then it was a blaze surrounding it. Dudley grinned, his eyes reflecting the firelight and making him look just a bit mad. Lancelot held out his own sword and watched as he did the same to it.

 

“Just watch it,” said Dudley. “The flames might be magical, but they're real as can be. Wouldn't be much good otherwise.”

 

Lancelot nodded. “Of course.” He looked to his partner. “Ian, you'd best make sure the backup know what to do. Emma will supply the wind, but they'll haven't to make their own fire.”

 

Ian stared at him. “Uh, y-yeah, sure, make our own fire, of course. Got it.”

 

Lancelot spared a moment to wonder whether Ian would be alright, but then he was charging at the swamp monsters alongside Dudley while Nimueh weaved the wind into a frenzy that blew leaves onto the road and around the swamp monsters.

 


 

 

Elena stumbled against Draco when they arrived, her hand reaching for her navel and rubbing it. Of course there were no physical signs of the magical transport, only a ghost of a feeling, but it was a very odd feeling. She felt Draco freeze and heard his sharp intake of breath. She looked up and her eyes widened.

 

There were about a dozen large golem-like creatures milling about the square. They looked like freshly made primitive sculptures of men – the mud still seemed to be dripping from them, though she could see no obvious puddles anywhere. Nearly half of them were at the fountain, a few inside the pool of water and several just standing there looking at it, as though confused by its presence. They seemed relatively harmless at the moment, but Elena wasn't fooled by their momentary stillness. She could see the bent lamp posts and banged-up cars - some had been thrown to the side and others looked as though they'd simply been shoved out of the way or else walked over. There was an arm sticking out of one of the cars and further away, someone lay on their front, their body twisted into a rather awkward position.

 

Elena swallowed and looked away. She wondered where everyone had gone. Squinting into the distance, she eyed the buildings. Sure enough, she could see huddles of people watching the monsters from behind the pillars of the National Gallery and there were likely more inside. More people were crouching behind parked cars and a few of the shops had people staring out of their display windows.

 

She heard sirens in the distance. Which was wonderful news, but what would the police be able to do about monsters created with magic? Somehow, she doubted guns would do them much good even if they'd had the sense to send for the Firearm Units. She turned to Draco. The young man looked pale, his eyes wide and terrified.

 

“Do you know how to stop these things?” she asked him.

 

Draco blinked and his eyes darted to her. He swallowed. “I-Emma said the last time it was elemental magic. If two elements were used to m-make them, then the other two would destroy them.”

 

Elena raised an eyebrow and scrutinized the swamp creatures. “They came out of the Thames, so I'd guess water and earth. So, that means-”

 

“Fire and wind will destroy them.” Draco took a deep breath. “I can't do fire. M-my wand... there's a lock on it, I can't do any spells that could cause harm.”

 

She stared at him. Then she remembered Doctor Kingsman telling her about the wizard war. Oh. A lot of things suddenly made sense. But this was not the time for explanations.

 

“Can you do wind?” she asked.

 

Draco nodded.

 

Elena looked to the shops behind her. There was a cafe. Excellent. “Then I can get fire.”

 

She ran to it and banged on the door. “Open up!” she yelled.

 

There were several young men in suits looking out the window. One of them ran to unlock the door. “Quick, get in,” he said, pulling her inside. She let herself get pulled in, but stopped him from closing the door behind her.

 

“I need a lighter,” she told him urgently. Then she turned to the occupants of the cafe. They were a varied bunch: a group of girls that looked barely out of school, several older men in trousers and tweed sports jackets, a few women obviously out for a day of shopping and some tourists. They packed the cafe and looked at her with scared eyes. Elena took a deep breath. She'd been the lady of a castle once, helped withstand sieges. She could do this.

 

“Does anybody have a lighter?” she called out. Several people frowned at her, confused by the request. “Look, those monsters are coming out of the Thames and they're crawling all over the area, yeah? We can't count on the police getting here in time to save us. My friend and I, we know how to destroy them. It takes fire and wind. My friend's a wizard; he can conjure wind, but he can't do fire at the same time. So, I need a lighter.”

 

She stared them down, daring any of them to try and argue against magic when there were bloody swamp monsters out there tearing London apart.

 

“Cool,” said a voice to her left and she turned to watch a shadow detach itself from behind a shelf. It was difficult to guess the young man's age due to the amount of facial piercings and the dyed black hair that hung around and over his face like a curtain. He pulled a large butane lighter out of the pocket of his ripped jeans. “I've got a lighter.”

 

“Oi, 'ere, I've got one too,” said one of the young women, who'd been huddled together in the corner. She walked to Elena and handed her a pink lighter covered in rhinestones.

 

Elena grinned. “Thanks!”

 

She reached for the butane lighter, but the man pulled it back. He gave her a lopsided grin. “Sorry, luv, but this is a keepsake. I'm not 'anding it over to anyone. You want it, yer stuck with me.”

 

“The more the merrier!”

 

“Hang on!” A stout woman wearing a sort of uniform with the cafe's name on the apron hustled up to them with a pile of newspapers in her arms. “You'll be needing something to burn, I think.”

 

Elena grabbed the papers gratefully.

 

“Young lady!” She turned to find one of the older men shuffling up to her with a paper bag in his hand. “Here, use this as well.”

 

The man with the facial piercings took the newspapers from her and she took the paper bag and pulled out a bottle. Her eyes boggled when she read the label.

 

“Bloody hell, this-”

 

“-will burn quite nicely, I think.”

 

“Er, well, yeah, definitely.”

 

“Eh, keep your spirits, old man,” one of the younger men in suits said, taking the bottle out of her hand and handing it back to the older man. He then jingled a set of car keys. “We've got cars full of petrol all lined up nicely along the street.”

 

Elena grinned. Suddenly, they all heard a crash. She whirled around and ran out the door. Apparently, the swamp monsters had stopped being confused and had started advancing. Towards Draco. There was a creaking noise and then a second crash as one of the swamp monsters threw off the car that had been on top of it. She looked to Draco, who was pointing his wand at another car and levitating it off the ground. By the expression on his face, this was not an easy task.

 

“We'd better hurry,” she said and ran towards him.

 

“Took you long enough,” said Draco through gritted teeth.

 

She sent him an apologetic look as she and her pierced companion set up the stack of newspapers and set fire to them. They began to burn easily enough.

 

“Right, so how exactly are we supposed to set them on fire?” the man asked.

 

Elena looked around. “Find something we can use as a torch.”

 

“How about this?” a smooth voice asked from behind them. The two of them turned to see a black man in jeans and a red shirt holding several tiki torches in his arms. “I work at the home decor shop over there. Grete from the cafe called to say what you were up to.”

 

Elena grinned. “Well, thanks then, these are perfect.”

 

“Yeah, thanks mate!” said the pierced man. “I'm Aaron, by the way.”

 

“Mwamba.”

 

“Elena and the wizard's Draco.”

 

“Draco? Really? Cool, mate!”

 

“I'm so glad you approve,” said Draco, voice dripping in sarcasm. “Now if you could hurry it up: levitating these muggle vehicles is much more difficult than it looks.”

 

“These what?”

 

“Nevermind,” said Elena grabbing one of the garden torches and sticking its wick into the fire.

 

The other two men did the same. The creatures were approaching rapidly and Elena felt absurdly glad the Thames had been cleaned up and thus no longer the smelly cesspool it had once been. One of the monsters by the fountain rammed its way towards the centre of the square, shattering the head of one of the lions guarding Nelson's Column as it went. The historian in Elena screamed at the destruction. The normal person inside her screamed at her to run away, because that lion was made of stone.

 

She took a deep breath and looked at the closest swamp monster. It was mere steps away now. She heard footsteps running towards them, but didn't look away from the creature approaching her. One of the young men from the cafe ran past them with a canister in his hands. He charged at the monster and then stopped, heaved the canister and splashed its contents all over it. The monster paused and swung at him, but the man was already running off to the side. His friend did the same to the second monster, but wasn't quite as agile. He tripped while backpedaling away.

 

The monster strode towards him, lifting a massive arm.

 

But by then, Elena and her fire crew had already charged. Mwamba grabbed the fallen man under his arms and pulled him away as Elena thrust her torch into the centre of the swamp monster's torso. The petrol exploded into flames, turning the still-advancing monster into a walking roman candle.

 

“Draco, wind!” she screamed behind her as she danced backwards, out of the monster's reach. She glanced to the side only long enough to see the second monster was covered in flames as well.

 

Flabraflatumos!”

 

Elena felt the wind lift her hair with it as it blew past her at the monster. As soon as it touched the flames, the monsters began to collapse in on themselves until all that was left were two piles of foul-smelling, burned mud. She looked to Draco and grinned.

 


 

 

Percy snaked his way through traffic on his motorcycle, taking every shortcut he could think of while Gwaine hung onto him for dear life and continuously reminded himself that his friend was a professional. He finally stopped the bike beside a van that several familiar-looking people were unloading.

 

Elyan smiled at them. “Hello, Gwaine, Percy,” he said, before looking back down to the large fan he was straightening out on top of what looked like a mechanic's trolley.

 

“Oh, good, you can help Elyan with the fans,” said Gwen as she jumped down from the back.

 

Gwaine and Percy exchanged looks. “Why fans?”

 

“Merlin texted, said Nimueh says the swamp monsters can be defeated with wind and fire. Our neighbour down the block had her basement flooded last week when a pipe burst, so she had one of these things in there to dry it out. Dad had the other one. And we've got the portable generator too.”

 

“What about fire?” Percy asked.

 

“What do you mean, 'what about fire'?” a new voice demanded. An older man with dark skin jumped out of the back of the van. He held out a very large propane torch. “We're mechanics!”

 

Gwaine grinned as he hopped off the bike. “So, where are the monsters?”

 

His question was answered by a loud crash followed by a scream and then gunfire coming from around the corner.

 

“About where you'd expect them to be. Now give me a hand with this generator.”

 


 

 

Tristan cursed under his breath. He was not happy in the slightest. It wasn't that he'd expected a skeleton army to be easily defeated, but he had rather hoped for something that felt a bit less like beating his head against a brick wall that hit back.

 

The plan had been simple. He'd sent out a group e-mail to his entire motorcycle gang. Well, they called themselves a gang for laughs, but really they were a group of motorcycle enthusiasts, who got together every Sunday and road out into the countryside or around London. Tristan's true gang days were long gone. Well, mostly. He still had his contacts should the need arise and he and Isolde did the best custom jobs in the city, which meant he knew a lot of the important people in the biker world by name.

 

At his call, most of his gang (and a few of those extras, who owed him favours) assembled, shovels, iron bars, baseball bats and heavy chains at hand and they rode out. There were a lot of skeletons, but motorcycles were fast – very fast. He and Isolde swung their swords as they drove by, cutting a neat line through the skeletons from the side.

 

And then watched the skeletons put themselves back together and march on – except for the ones that turned to their left and saw them where they'd turned. So they revved their engines and went at them head-on.

 

He did notice there were people who'd managed to run away while they were keeping the skeletons occupied, so that was something at least. The amount of blood dripping from some of the swords they were carrying was making his stomach sick and his blood boil.

 

Just then, Tristan's mobile vibrated. He took it out and glanced at it, hoping it was re-enforcements. It was from Leon.

 

Watch out for the rdwork machine coming behind you.

 

Tristan blinked and frowned. What the hell was that supposed to mean?

 

He shook his head. There was no time. The skeletons were coming again and his gang was starting to tire. They'd already had two back out because their wounds were too severe. A third had gone with them to make sure they made it to the hospital and to deliver the old lady they'd rescued from the skeletons to A&E. Her husband hadn't been so lucky, but he and his cane were the only reason she was alive. Isolde had the cane now tucked into the back of her bike.

 

“Alright, mates!” he called to the others. “Look alive there! Help is on the way. Let's show these Disney knock-offs where they can stick it!”

 

A cheer that might've sounded a tad hysterical (if he stopped to think about it) rose up and Tristan swung his sword in the air, grinning as he once more led the charge. He glanced at Isolde beside him and met her eye through their helmets. She nodded to him and then swung her sword.

 

“Half with me!” she cried.

 

They ploughed through the skeletons to York Way and then separated as Isolde spun left and he turned right. The skeletons kept coming and he knew there was only so much longer they could keep this up. But they couldn't stop, couldn't let them get to the rest of the city.

 

He looked up ahead and blinked in astonishment. Then he barked out a laugh. A roadwork machine, Sir Leon had called it. Ha! A street roller was what it was and not one, but two of them were ambling their way down the street crushing skeletons as they went – the bloody things were packed too tightly into the street to properly move out of the way. And dangling from either sides of their cabs (Tristan couldn't quite see how they were holding on) were burly construction workers heaving large hammers, massive pliers and one of them was somehow managing a circular saw.

 

He led his group down into the next alley. They'd take a breather, wait for the rollers to pass and then catch the stragglers, who'd managed to get out of the way in time.

 


 

 

Draco hated admitting it, but he was tiring. He was certain they'd destroyed the dozen or so monsters that had originally been in the square, but more kept coming. He couldn't help but wonder if they somehow knew their fellows were being killed and that was why they'd suddenly started arriving. Were they here for revenge?

 

Fire was no longer a problem. Once the muggles hiding inside the various buildings had seen what they were doing – and more importantly, that it was working - more had joined them. There were a few hastily constructed torches out of pipes and rolled up shirts burning merrily and several people had unlocked their vehicles in order to help keep the petrol supply going.

 

However, he was the only one who could supply wind. And he knew that even some of the ignorant muggles had started noticing it weakening.

 

“Draco, how are you holding up?” Elena asked him. She'd come to his side in order to take a short break. Her hair was mussed and she had some rather impressive bruising going down the length of one arm, where she'd hit the ground after misjudging the reach of one of the monsters.

 

“I've definitely been better,” said Draco. He was breathing heavily and could feel the sweat pooling all over his body. Every once in a while he had to wipe his brow to keep it out of his eyes. “I-I'm not sure how long I can keep this up.”

 

He hated admitting it out loud; his face burned with humiliation. He wasn't this weak, he wasn't! Everything had been fine at first, but then it felt as though suddenly, something had clamped down on his wand, making it feel heavier and smaller, as though he was trying to feed his magic through an ever-shrinking hole. Goddamn the ministry! They hadn't told him the lock prevented long-term use of powerful magic!

 

He'd never hated them quite as much as he did in this moment.

 

That was when he heard the tell-tale 'pop' of apparation. Draco relaxed. Finally, the Order of the Phoenix could take over. He turned to call out to whoever it was that they needed to start conjuring wind, but the words died in his throat. Instead he grabbed Elena's arm and pulled her behind him as the Death Eater raised his wand at them.

 

Protego!” he cast.

 

A spell hit his shield, sending a jolt through his wand arm. He cried out in pain. The shield wasn't going to last more than one more hit.

 

“Oi, leave 'im alone!” he heard Aaron yell.

 

He looked up in time to see the muggle running towards the Death Eater, flaming decorative torch in hand. The Death Eater looked curiously to the side and shifted his wand.

 

“No,” Draco whispered in horror.

 

“Aaron, run, get out of there!” Elena screamed.

 

The sickly green spell hit him square in the chest and Aaron dropped like a stone to the ground. He didn't move again. The Death Eater chuckled. “This is what you get when you play with muggles, Malfoy.”

 

Draco's eyes widened. That voice...

 

The Death Eater raised his wand again. Draco gripped his own and pushed Elena backwards.

 

“Get out of here,” he told her.

 

“No.” He heard the sound of a sword being unsheathed.

 

The Death Eater cast. So did Draco. His shield stood up, but just barely. When it finally collapsed, so did Draco, falling to his knees like a marionette who strings had been cut. He remembered this feeling, this hollowed-out, dizzy feeling, so much like when he'd touched the cold iron on the doors of Merlin's vault.

 

“Draco?” Elena asked.

 

He shook his head. He was done. “Get out of here.”

 

Elena looked down at the blond. He looked exhausted, like he was only waiting for a signal to collapse. She gripped her sword tightly. The black-cloaked, masked wizard before her made her angrier than she'd ever been before – in either lifetime.

 

“You coward!” she screamed at him. “You've been waiting in the shadows this entire time, haven't you? Just waiting for him to tire himself out with fighting!”

 

The wizard scoffed. “You say that as though your opinion matters, muggle.” He pointed his wand at her.

 

A large brown shape swooped down from the sky and grabbed at his hood with its talons. The wizard screamed as they dug into his scalp. Elena reacted and charged. She didn't stop, until her sword was buried deep into the wizard's torso. Then she stepped back and let the body slide off as she pulled it out. It came out covered in blood. Another human being's blood. She'd...

 

Elena dropped her sword and ran to the nearest traffic light. She leaned against it as she retched onto the sidewalk. Gentle hands pulled her hair out of her face and rubbed circles into her back. She stopped retching with a gasping sob.

 

“Elena, you need to get ahold of yourself, now,” she heard the words and recognized the voice instantly. “You need to be strong. There's still a battle to be fought.”

 

She wiped her mouth and turned to her supervisor. His eyes were gentle and understanding and when he held her sword out to her it had been wiped clean. She didn't dare ask with what, just took the sword and nodded.

 

“Right, fight now, freak out later.”

 

Archie nodded. “Exactly.” He looked to the side and grabbed her arm just as a swamp monster got within reach of them. “Merlin certainly is taking his time, isn't he? Well, I might not be terribly good at this, but I can at least do something.”

 

They ran back to Draco's side, where several of their torch-bearers had also gathered. Aaron's body had been dragged to the side and everyone was watching Archie with wide eyes.

 

“Y-you were an owl,” said one of the young suits as he gripped his petrol canister.

 

Archie arched an eyebrow at him. “So I was, but I'm not anymore. Now I believe you need wind?”

 

“Yes,” said Elena.

 

“Good, it's my best element.”

 

Elena grinned. Then she turned to her small band of helpers. “Right, let's got on with those fires!”

 

And they did, like a well-oiled machine. Archie raised his arm out towards the first towering inferno monster and his eyes glowed gold.

 

Lyft, forþ fleoge!” he chanted.

 

An air current spun around his arm and then out towards the first monster, slamming through it with the force of a concentrated gale. The monster collapsed into a pile of mud and the current continued on to the next one. It, too, collapsed.

 

“That was actually rather impressive,” said Draco from beside him. He still looked dreadful, but not like he was seconds from passing out. There was a slight accusation in his voice.

 

Archie snorted. “No, it wasn't. It doesn't take much to force a spell for a moment. A sorcerer's true abilities are shown in the more subtle uses of power, which tend to require control. It's the difference between driving a hammer at a stone and destroying it and clipping away at it with a chisel to create a work of art.”

 

He took a deep breath, raised his hand again and repeated the spell. Draco watched, still feeling hollowed-out, but no longer quite as dizzy. Though he couldn't help but wonder where the aurors were. Had something happened at the ministry? Did the Order of the Phoenix refuse to believe his mother?

 

Draco.

 

Draco started and looked around him. That had sounded like Merlin's voice. “Yes?” he asked hesitantly.

 

Tell them to clear the square. Now!

 

Draco blinked. Then he looked up to the sky and his eyes widened. He ran towards Elena and her fighters.

 

“We have to clear the square!” he called at them. Elena turned to him with a frown. “Merlin and Kilgharrah are here, we have to get out of the square!”

 

Her eyes widened in comprehension. She turned to the men and women with her. “You heard him, it's about to get really hot around here, so everyone fall back!”

 

They looked confused, but did as she said and followed her and Draco out of the square and into the archway of one of the stone buildings. It didn't take the muggles long to realize Elena, Draco and Archie were all looking up at something approaching.

 

“Is that...?” one of the men breathed.

 

“Bloody 'ell, I think it is!” whispered another one in amazement.

 

It was one thing to know academically what sort of destruction a firebreathing dragon could do, but it was altogether another thing to watch as said dragon dived, opened its jaws and spewed out great blasts of flame that covered groups of the monsters at once. Their petrol/torch combination had been clever and effective on a small scale, but it was pitiful next to the instant bonfires the dragon's flames turned the monsters into. It was awe-inspiring and terrifying and Draco's eyes widened when he recognized the familiar feeling wafting over him along with the heat of the flames.

 

He'd known dragons were magical creatures. However, he hadn't realized their flames were also magical, that dragons were capable of creating magic, of using their own magic outwardly. Is this what Anhora, Merlin and Nimueh had been trying to tell him? What Archie had meant by different forms of magic?

 

The dragon twisted in the air and doubled back over the square, only this time it was a bright shining light from atop his back that drew Draco's attention. He could now see Merlin, completely dwarfed by the dragon on whose back he was riding, raising his arm and pointing the light towards the ground.

 

It wasn't just wind that blew through the square, it was the steady force of a hurricane that wound its way across the perimeter and then twisted its way around each of the dozen and more flaming swamp monsters.

 

Yes, Draco realized, as he lowered his hand from where he'd brought it up to shield his face from the dust kicked up by the wind, this wasn't simply destruction. This was power on a leash: this was art.

 

Kilgharrah roared as he dived again, this time following the street the monsters had been coming from. The great winds followed him.

 

Draco walked out from the arches he'd been hiding behind. Beside him he could feel the others doing the same, but he couldn't care less. The square looked devastated. Everything the dragon's flames had touched was scorched, though the wind seemed to have put the fires out, which only made it look more lifeless and desolate. The ground itself was smouldering. Muggle vehicles that had been painted bright, shining colours, were now blackened, their wheels melted and quite a few of the windows blown inwards. Street lights looked like twisted gnarled old trees and the piles of mud left behind by the collapsed swamp monsters were considerably smaller than what the torches and Draco's wind had managed. In fact, they were less like piles and more like puddles.

 

Around him he heard faint chimes sound as the shops around the square opened their doors and people began piling out. There were people slowly walking down the steps of the National Gallery as well.

 

“I wouldn't crowd the centre of the square too much, if I were you,” Archie called out to them.

 

Draco turned along with many of the others with them.

 

“Why's that?” one of the suited men asked.

 

Archie shrugged. “Would you want to drink Thames water?”

 

The man made a face. “Er, no. Right, I suppose breathing fire would leave a person, er, dragon, a bit thirsty.”

 

“That would be my guess, yes.”

 

“Still, bloody hell!” someone else exclaimed. It was one of the girls, who'd been helping them. “That was a dragon! A great big, blooming dragon! I need to tweet this.”

 

Draco frowned. She needed to what?

 

“I can't wait to post these pictures on facebook!” said Mwamba. “My family is never going to believe this!”

 

Draco stared incredulously at how preoccupied all of them suddenly were with their mobiles. He felt the irrational desire to grab his as soon as he returned to the manor and take another look at it. Was it somehow enchanted?

 

Beside him, Elena giggled. “You know, you're adorable when you're confused by muggle technology,” she said.

 

Draco glared at her.

 

“Hey, look, it's coming back!”

 

Sure enough, at that moment, Kilgharrah flew into the square, hovering for a few moments, before landing in front of the water fountain.

 

In that same moment, a series of 'pops' sounded around them. Draco tensed. He spun around towards the nearest 'pop' and pointed his wand at it. Then relaxed.

 

“You're late, Potter!” he barked.

 

Potter blinked owlishly at him and then glared. “Couldn't handle it on your own, Malfoy?”

 

Draco smirked. “Actually, I think you'll find, we did rather well on our own.”

 

That was when Potter caught site of the square. He gaped rather comically.

 

“Draco?”

 

He looked to Elena and nearly burst into laughter at the sight of a bewildered, wide-eyed Arthur Weasley blinking down at the tip of the sword that rested against his windpipe. “You know these people?” she called out to him, her eyes never leaving the wizard in front of her.

 

Draco did snigger when he noticed Ron and Ginny Weasley as well as a wizard he didn't know looking surprised and a bit scared at the angry muggles surrounding them with their still-smouldering torches. Well, the last wizard that had apparated in had attacked Draco and killed one of their own, so the hostility was understandable.

 

“Well, the one you've got there is Charlie's father,” he said. “I imagine this is the Order of the Phoenix to the rescue.”

 

Elena snorted and took a step back as she lowered her sword. “Their timing needs improvement.”

 

The other muggles followed her example and stepped back from the wizards cautiously. Draco shook his head in amusement. But then he saw Merlin approaching them. Archie was already walking out to meet him, so Draco decided to leave the Order of the Phoenix be and went to follow, Elena and several of the muggles behind him.

 

“Sorry we were a bit late,” said Merlin. “Had a bit of a close call with a Boeing 747. I'm afraid I may have traumatized that pilot just a bit.”

 

Draco frowned in confusion, but Elena and several of the muggles laughed. He looked behind them and noticed that more were steadily joining them, obviously curious about their mysterious dragon-riding saviour.

 

“Anyway,” Merlin continued, “We took care of the ones crawling out of the Thames. There won't be any more and it looked like the other shore's well in hand, especially if there are wizards there now helping.” He looked around. “You lot seemed to have done alright on your own though.”

 

“We managed,” said Draco with a shrug.

 

“Oi, don't sell yourself short, mate, you were amazing!” one of the young suited men exclaimed with a grin. Draco stared at him, wide-eyed. He was a pureblood, a former Death Eater... did he just get complimented by a muggle?

 

Several more apparently agreed with the man and presently he was being slapped on the back and smiled at. He felt his face heating up at the attention. “Y-you were all fairly brilliant yourselves,” he said.

 

He met Merlin's amused eyes and scowled at him. Merlin's grinned widened and then he winked.

 

“Ehem, sorry, excuse me everyone!” he called out. Attention turned back to him. “I was just wondering if anyone has any information about what's going on at York Way.”

 

“Something's going on at York Way?” someone asked.

 

“Oh, yeah! My friend posted about that! They're being attacked by an army of skeletons!”

 

“No bloody way?! Seriously?”

 

The mobiles came out again. Out of the corner of his eye, Draco saw Potter and the others looking on with completely perplexed expressions on their faces.

 

“Oh! Me mum's there right now!” a girl with a long, blonde ponytail exclaimed. “She's texted, saying there's a bunch of construction workers fighting 'em off. One of them got 'urt and she's taking care of 'im and 'e's a nice young man and I should definitely meet 'im – nevermind she's got nothing important.” The girl finished with an exasperated eyeroll.

 

“Eh, seems there's a biker gang fighting them off too,” a man from the back called out.

 

“Ha, those construction worker got themselves a set of street rollers to flatten the boney bastards into dust!”

 

More comments came pouring out, some with more details than others. Draco listened in amazement. They were getting all this information about something happening in a different part of the city without even leaving the square. It was incredible.

 

“Er, excuse me,” a petite, dark-skinned girl called out as she pushed her way to the front of the crowd. “I don't know if this is important, but my sister just tweeted that there's a glowing stick in the middle of Caledonian Park.”

 

Merlin froze, his eyes widening for a moment before he grinned and then moved forward to grab the girl by her shoulders. “Tell your sister she's absolutely brilliant and has probably just saved a whole lot of lives. And then tell her to get out of there right now!”

 

The girl's eyes widened and she nodded. Merlin let go of her and walked away. She seemed to hesitate for a moment, before tapping her touchscreen a few times and then putting the mobile to her ear.

 

“Merlin?” Draco called as he rushed after the sorcerer. “What is it?”

 

Merlin turned. “That 'stick' is the centre of the skeleton army spell. It's probably well-guarded. Possibly by Morgana herself. I've got to go put a stop to it.”

 

Draco nodded. “What about here?”

 

A hand landed on his shoulder. He turned to look at Archie, who was looking at Merlin gravely. “We'll handle here, you go take care of the army. Just... do be careful.”

 

Merlin's eyes softened. “Don't worry so much, Archimedes, I'll be fine.”

 

Then his eyes shone gold and a whirlwind surrounded him until he was lost within its depths and then it was gone and he with it.

 


 

 

Merlin stared at the two incapacitated Death Eaters in bewilderment.

 

They'd been on him within less than a minute of his arrival. Decently powerful magic users, but too used to wizard duels and needing to watch their opponents' hand movements. They forgot to pay attention to their surroundings and so the vines that Merlin gently coaxed into being caught them by surprise when they wrapped around their torsos, immobilizing them. A simple sleeping spell later and they were out like a light.

 

That, however, seemed to be the extent of the protection in the park.

 

Merlin closed his eyes and reached his magic into the earth. Like any gathering spot, it carried the imprints of the people who'd been here, where their laughter and their tears had landed and there were a few sizzles of magic here and there. But there were no more magic users save for him in the park and he felt no spells or enchantments anywhere. Well, other than the obvious.

 

Merlin opened his eyes again and frowned.

 

The 'glowing stick' wasn't difficult to find. It was stuck into the middle of the green in front of the clock tower. Even from a distance it looked out of place and ominous. Merlin ran up to it, keep his grasp on the magic of the land. Still nothing.

 

Merlin raised a hand. “Forbærne.“

 

As his magic wrapped around the staff, he felt a touch of familiar magic in the wood: the Isle of the Blessed. Which explained why Mordred had been there. It resisted burning at first, but Merlin added more power to his spell. Eventually, its head cracked and the staff burst into flames. He felt the spell it had been supporting break.

 

Which meant the skeleton army was gone, but Merlin couldn't help but feel uneasy. What the hell was Morgana thinking? He didn't like this one bit: it had been too easy.

 


 

 

Archie had been all too happy to leave the clean-up to the wizards. Though first he had quickly whispered to the group who'd been helping them to scatter and leave by the tube immediately lest they have their memories altered. Of course, the Ministry of Magic would have an incredibly difficult time trying to cover the attack up. He almost looked forward to watching them try.

 

Draco and Elena, it seemed, had about as much desire to stay in the square as he did and followed him quickly when he decided to finally go do what he'd been wanting to for months.

 

Excalibur was just as magnificent as he'd imagined it. Its power seemed to shine out even through the stone it was embedded in. And though it had been sitting outside, exposed to the London elements, there was not a speck of rust to be seen anywhere. He touched the pommel gently and ran his fingers down it, along the hilt and then around the scant inches of the blade that could be seen jutting out of the stone. It was beautiful.

 

“Are you going to try and pull it out?” Elena asked in a whisper.

 

He scoffed. “Don't be ridiculous. I'm not Arthur.”

 

Someone behind them cleared their throat. “Excuse me,” said a deep, masculine voice.

 

Archie twisted slightly to look behind him. Elena and Draco had turned to face the man directly. He was a fairly tall man with broad shoulders and a winning smile. Archie would've guessed him for a politician if the microphone in his hand and the camerawoman standing behind him didn't already advertise his profession.

 

“Sorry, I was just wondering if you'd be willing to answer a few questions for me.”

 

“About Trafalgar Square?” Elena asked, confused. Archie frowned. He hadn't thought they'd been followed. Or that there had been any reporters there before they left.

 

“No, about the sword.”

 

He could practically hear the smug smile in Elena's voice when she answered. “Oh, then you'll be wanting to talk to Doctor Kingsman over there. He's a senior lecturer at Oxford in the Medieval Studies Department. The Arthurian legends are his speciality.”

 

It was rather comical how predictably the reporter's eyes lit up in surprised excitement. He immediately stepped closer to Archie.

 

“Professor Kingsman-”

 

“Doctor. I am a member of the department, not its head.”

 

“My apologies, Doctor. Would you be willing to answer a few questions about the sword?”

 

“Excalibur.” Archie looked at the man and smirked. “If you're going to be writing a story about it, you really shouldn't shy away from saying its name.” He pointed to where the outline of a letter could just barely be seen at the point where the sword met the stone. “This is definitely Excalibur.”

 

“Then you believe the legends are true?”

 

“Oh, not all of them, obviously. The legends have been passed down from generation to generation through a long history of verbal storytelling both by travelling bards and by village elders and then eventually written down. I imagine the original legends looked quite different from what we know today. However, having said that, considering there has just been an army of swamp monsters and an army of skeletons terrorizing London – not to mention the dragon and the sorcerer that arrived to help – I don't believe it is that much of a leap of faith to think this part of the legends, at least, is true.”

 

The reporter nodded. “There have been people gathering here daily to catch a glimpse of the sword, to attempt to pull it out or even just to touch it. I've spoken to quite a few of them and they all have different things to say about the sword. But, what does it mean to you, Doctor?”

 

“Hmm...” Archie looked back to Excalibur and ran his hand along the hilt again. “Oh, it means a great many things to me, childhood dreams and stories among them. But I think what you're really asking is what do I think it means for England, for Albion.”

 

He paused, considering his reply. The reporter waited patiently.

 

“It's a harbinger of sorrow and destruction.” He glanced to the side, smirking in amusement at the shocked look on the reporter's face. “Come now, surely you know the legends. They say Arthur will rise and take up his sword during Albion's Darkest Hour. And here is Arthur's sword waiting for him to come and claim it. Logically, that means that we are about to face our darkest hour.”

 

A hush had settled around them and Archie looked up, suddenly realizing he was the centre of attention. He blinked at the startled, horrified, grim faces. He remembered Gwen and Lance mentioning there was a group of dedicated people watching the sword. Believers in the legend. He smiled at them and then turned back to the reporter and his camera.

 

“However, whilst this sword's presence does act as a warning, it is more than that. Excalibur is, first and foremost, a symbol of hope. It tells us that no matter how difficult the times ahead will be, how dark the days will become, Arthur Pendragon will rise once more to defeat Albion's enemies. The Once and Future King will take up his sword and brandish it as a beacon of hope to shine through the darkness.”

Chapter Text

PART THREE: COURAGE

 

Chapter 14

 

It turned out, Merlin had been right to worry. The conjured swamp monsters, the skeleton army, the deaths and panic they had caused, it was all a diversion. He couldn't tear his eyes away from the television screen as he listened to the news report inform him of the painful, horrifying truth: he had severely underestimated Morgana.

 

Panic spread across central London this morning when what witnesses describe as 'swamp monsters' crawled out of the Thames river and began making their way through the city. On the North side of the river, they were stopped at Trafalgar square by a group of brave citizens and a dragon.

 

'It was enormous! Me mum's house isn't t'at big! It just dived down and breathed fire everywhere. It was wicked. The bloody swamp monsters didn't stand a bleedin' chance!”

 

Meanwhile on the South side of the river, London Police with the help of more brave citizens fought to keep the monsters from gaining ground into that part of the city. Detective Sergeant Ian Chalupa was one of the first officers on the scene.

 

'If I hadn't been there and seen it with my own eyes, I'd've never believed it possible. It-it was like something out of a horror movie. Nothing we did was working and then this woman my partner knows shows up and says she knows how to stop them. All we needed was wind and fire. Fire's easy o' course, but wind, now that's another matter. No problem, she said, I've got it and then 'er eyes began to glow and then there was wind. Like... well, like magic. Can't believe I'm saying this, but that's exactly what it looked like: magic.'

 

Magic might sound like a far-fetched idea, but to the people at the scene of the infrastructure hub of Kings Cross on the other side of London, it's the only word that made any sense. For, while citizens in Westminster were battling swamp monsters, those on York Road were being invaded by an army of walking, sword-carrying skeletons.

 

'At first, I thought it was a joke, like one of those zombie walk things. There was this one woman that went up closer to take a photo and then one of them i-it just slashed at her and she screamed and fell down and then it slashed at her again and there was blood everywhere... She stopped moving and we ran.'

 

'It was horrible. I'm eighty years old and have a bad hip and my husband is – was – eighty-three. Neither one of us could run very fast. Nigel... Nigel pushed me down into the space behind a rubbish bin and fought them off with his cane – the silly bugger. They cut him down, of course, and I was certain I was next. And then these men and women on motorcycles came and fought them off. I remember the leader was carrying a sword. Like a modern knight.'

 

The motorcycle gang members weren't the only heroes of York Road. One construction crew and a roadworks crew walked off their sites in order to assist in the fight, bringing a variety of tools with them as weapons, including two street rollers, which they used to grind the skeletons into pieces.

 

Meanwhile, as citizens of London fought in the streets against creatures from nightmares, an actual nightmare was taking place at 10 Downing Street. Twenty minutes after the first swamp monster was reported and fifteen minutes after the skeleton army appeared, a group of twenty stormed the building and interrupted a cabinet meeting. Security footage recovered from the scene shows them being led by a woman in her early twenties as they blow away the front doors and enter. Building security details seem to have put up a valiant fight, but were quickly overpowered.

 

They left half an hour later, leaving behind a death toll of sixty-seven, including the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. There were two cabinet ministers missing from the meeting: Education Minister Tamara Forbes, who is in hospital recovering from surgery and Defence Minister Tobias King, who had been delayed by an accident on the highway on his way from Oxford, where he had been visiting his still-comatose son.

 

Scotland Yard has so far refused to comment on the attack, but their spokesperson assured us that everything is being done to piece together what happened. Mayor Stephan Day has requested military assistance for London until the perpetrators are caught...”

 

Merlin's small living room was so silent one could almost hear the strands of Gwaine's hair moving as the breeze from the window blew against them. They'd met at Merlin's London house for celebratory drinks with a side of healing magic. Leon, Tristain and Elena had the worst of the injuries. In fact, the hospital staff nearly hadn't let Leon sign himself out. However, between Merlin, Nimueh, and Narcissa, they'd manage to heal the worst of it.

 

Bors and Geraint had been an unexpected surprise and made Merlin wonder just how many more of Camelot's knights were wandering around the city. He'd stopped looking once he'd found the ones he was closest to, but should he have kept at it? It would almost be worth the entertainment value of watching their faces repeatedly go from surprised recognition at 'Oi it's Merlin' to a frozen, blank look when they realized 'Hang on... Merlin?' to stunned awe that ended with 'Bloody hell, you helped clean our armour when you could've melted it with us in it!”.

 

Elyan had sat down and set to creating a Facebook page for them called 'Knights of the Round Table', for people to let them know if something was going on (public networking, he called it), while Archie sat next to Draco on the loveseat and showed him how to use his laptop (with an audience looking over their shoulders and trying – to Archie's great annoyance - to be helpful).

 

“Oi, we should turn on the telly and see what they're saying about us!” Gwaine suddenly announced.

 

“Don't get your hopes up too high, the Ministry of Magic would've tried to contain it as much as possible... at least they would've tried,” Narcissa began and then paused frowning. “Although I don't quite know how they would accomplish such a thing.”

 

Merlin shook his head. “They couldn't. The attack was too widespread and there were too many people involved.”

 

“Not to mention it would be foolish of them to even try,” Archie added. “As Elyan pointed out once before, all it would take is a few good photos posted on someone's Facebook – or twitter for that matter – and it would get spread around faster than they could feasibly contain it. And we already know some of those photos and comments made it to the internet.”

 

“And not everyone uses their real names, a lot of people use aliases,” said Elyan.

 

“Yes, then there's that.”

 

“Well, there's only one way to find out!” said Gwaine as he pointed the remote and turned on the telivision.

 

They'd been just in time to catch the headline news: Country in panic as Prime Minister and Cabinet killed during widespread London attack. Someone had managed to capture a rather impressive and surprisingly clear shot of Kilgharrah as he dived into Trafalgar square and set fire to the swamp monsters. Then there was a collage of skeleton army clips interspersed with clips of a young man and then an old woman in her hospital bed (Isolde muttered something about needing to return a cane to her). The recovered video from Downing Street was grainy, but they recognized Morgana's face instantly. And beside her: Mordred.

 

“Well, I suppose that confirms that the remaining Death Eaters are working with 'er,” Charlie said absently. Then he frowned. “And possibly a few new recruits as well, given how many there are.”

 

“We underestimated her,” said Leon.

 

Gwaine frowned. “But, this isn't her style. Her plans were always straightforward attacks.”

 

“She's not the pampered king's ward in this lifetime,” said Merlin, his eyes still glued to the screen, horrified that he'd misjudged things so badly. That it had taken the death of the entire government for him to realize he hadn't taken the time to consider how a different life would change her. “She's the daughter of a witch and a military officer.”

 

“Merlin.” Merlin tore his gaze away from the screen and looked at Archie, whose eyes immediately bore into his. “You've haven't met her in this lifetime. You had no way of knowing what she'd be like.”

 

Merlin smiled. Trust Archie to see to the heart of the matter.

 

“You know, with the government gone and Morgana actively attacking, I'd say this is definitely coming close to Albion's Darkest Hour,” Lancelot said gently into the silence. Merlin met his eyes. “We need Arthur, Merlin.”

 

Merlin closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Yes, we do.”

 

“Do you know where he is?” Gwen asked.

 

He nodded and opened his eyes to look at them. “I do now. I need to rest tonight - we all do – but tomorrow. I'll go collect him in the morning.”

 

“Then we'll await you at the Manor,” said Gwaine. Merlin nodded.

 


 

 

Draco was groggy and grumpy to have been woken up after so little sleep – a few hours at most. He'd been up past everyone else writing up the events of the day into the red leather book. It just hadn't felt right: going to bed before he'd done so. And there was so much to write. Everything he himself had experienced and done (he still couldn't quite believe there were muggles out there who thought he was heroic) and then all the stories he'd heard from everyone else. But the look on Merlin's face brooked no argument.

 

They apparated to the steps of a large building. As they walked in, Draco caught sight of a sign and frowned. What were they doing in a hospital? Merlin's steps were confident, his face set into a determined blank. They stepped into what looked like the lobby. One of the muggles at the desk looked up, his eyes widening when he spotted Draco.

 

Draco froze. Dammit, he was wearing robes! These muggles had no way of knowing that Draco had been one of those helping at Trafalgar square, not one of the ones killing at the muggle Prime Minister's house. But then Merlin grabbed him by the wrist and dragged him along as, around them, the world slowed to a halt. He gaped as they passed through the winding corridors. People were frozen to the spot, mid-action. There was a child who'd been in the middle of throwing a stuffed bear and now it hung suspended in mid-air, the child's delighted laughter cut off abruptly. It was an eerie, unnatural silence.

 

Draco turned to stare at the back of Merlin's head with wide eyes. This wasn't just a Petrificus spell. Merlin had frozen time without so much as a word. Emrys. The name echoed in his mind. Not just a sorcerer, not just a magic user, but a warlock: Emrys.

 

Merlin seemed to know exactly where he was going though the corridors all looked identical to Draco. Finally, they walked through a set of doors that swung backwards slightly after Merlin pushed them open. He let go of Draco's wrist and the world around them resumed its flow as though it had never stopped. And perhaps it hadn't, perhaps he and Merlin had merely slipped around it. Then there were gasps around them as muggles noticed the two of them and saw Draco's robes. He grit his teeth and forced himself not to turn and run or take out his wand.

 

Up ahead two muggles in dark suits were standing in front of a door. They were wearing ear pieces of some sort. One of them touched his and whispered something as he and his partner each reached into their jackets and pulled out small guns. Draco glanced over to Merlin, who didn't seem at all deterred by the weapons. The guards watched Draco and Merlin silently as they approached.

 

Merlin raised his hand. “Schlafen.

 

The guards slumped to the ground. Several people screamed. Merlin proceeded to the door they were guarding and paused in front of it, his hand on the handle. He took a deep breath before opening it and walking through.

 

Merlin walked into the room. It was a private room with only one bed surrounded by beeping equipment, a small television and several chairs, one of which was occupied. The familiar blonde woman stood, eyes wide in alarm, when they entered. She relaxed marginally when she recognized Merlin, but not entirely. He might not be a complete stranger, but he obviously wasn't at all who she'd been expecting to see.

 

“Hello, Maggie,” he said with a wide, friendly smile as he stepped towards the bed.

 

“Merlin, what are you doing here?” she asked, coming around the bed so that she was standing between him and her son. The corner of Merlin's mouth quirked in both amusement and approval.

 

“I came to see your son.”

 

“My son?” She frowned. “I wasn't aware that you knew him.”

 

Merlin grinned. “Oh we're old friends. Go way back.”

 

“I don't remember ever meeting you.”

 

“You wouldn't.”

 

He walked up to the bed and looked down. The smile vanished from his face and was replaced with a hollow ball of grief and yearning. It wasn't a new feeling, but one that had been pushed back, far back into his soul where he couldn't reach it as easily. Fifteen hundred years was a long time to carry grief. It would've destroyed him as surely as an atomic bomb and so he pushed it back. But now he was once again gazing upon the face he'd once loved more than his own life, more than anything else at all.

 

It wasn't exactly the most auspicious of views. His beautiful, strong king was pale, his hair dull and his eyes closed, looking so much like death that Merlin had to close his eyes against the memories of his lifeless corpse as he'd set it into a small boat and set it alight.

 

“Merlin?”

 

Merlin opened his eyes and looked behind him, into Draco's worried eyes. He smiled. “Don't worry, I'm fine. Just a bit overwhelmed is all.”

 

He swallowed and turned back to Maggie. Whatever emotions had shown on his face had apparently been enough to convince her he was genuinely someone who cared for her son. Now she simply looked confused.

 

“Why didn't you mention knowing my son before?”

 

“I didn't realize I did.” He looked at her. “Your middle name is Ygraine.”

 

She blinked. “Yes, it is.”

 

He'd done some internet research the night after coming back from the Crystal Cave. The Old Religion had done a good job of hiding things in plain sight and still making sure everyone was where they needed to be.

 

“And your husband, he's Tobias Uther King.”

 

She rolled her eyes. “And we named our child Arthur, yes, yes, I've heard it all. It was dear friend of mine's death bed request. I couldn't say no.”

 

Merlin wondered who that friend had been, but it didn't matter and he'd likely never know. “It's good that you didn't. It's a good name, a strong name. The name of a king.”

 

He walked around the bed in order to look at him closer. There were a wide array of tubes sticking out of his arms, but other than looking pale, he appeared to be in perfect health. The wasting away that should've happened during a several-month-long coma seemed to have been kept away. When Merlin touched his cheek, he could feel the warmth of Albion's magic infusing him and smiled.

 

He looked up at his mother. “I'm glad he got to have you this time around. Maybe you've even managed to make him into less of a prat.”

 

She frowned. “What do you mean?”

 

Merlin stood back and shrugged. “Your death changed his father into someone unrecognizable. He allowed his grief and anger to consume him and fuel too many of his actions. But enough reminiscing. We haven't really the time for it. Your son needs to wake up now.”

 

Maggie snorted. “Yes, it would certainly be nice if it were that simple. He's in a coma and the doctors haven't a clue as to why he's not awake yet.”

 

“The land was hiding him.”

 

“What?!”

 

Merlin walked to the window and grabbed the edge of the curtain, pulling it back in one loud sweep. “Come on, time to wake up you lazy prat!” he exclaimed loudly the same way he used to, knowing how much it annoyed his master first thing in the morning to be woken up with such false cheer.

 

“Again, he's in a coma. That's not going to-”

 

Maggie was cut off by a groan from the bed. She gasped, her eyes widening. The figure on the bed moved, a hand raising in order to clutch at his head. Merlin dashed to his side and helped him sit up. His hands moved quickly as he gently took out all the IV needles while the young man was still too groggy to properly understand what was going on. He hissed when Merlin removed the catheter, but was otherwise silent. Maggie didn't seem to notice what Merlin was doing, too ecstatic to see her son awake.

 

Once he had all the tubes out, Merlin switched off the heart monitor, which had begun to beep loudly, and then stood back to watch as Maggie embraced her son, tears of joy flowing down her face.

 

The door to the room flew open and Maggie jumped at the noise. A doctor rushed into the room, white, shoulder-length hair flowing behind him. “The heart monitors went off and then stopped, what in the world is going on in here?”

 

He froze when he saw Arthur sitting up in bed. His deeply wrinkled face split into an amazed smile. “Arthur, you're awake!”

 

Merlin stared at the doctor. It took all his effort to keep himself from rushing forward.

 

Arthur blinked in confusion. “Gaius, what...” He looked to Maggie. “Mum, what's going on?”

 

“Oh, darling, you were in an accident. You've been in a coma.”

 

He froze and then his eyes became scared. “A coma? How-how long?”

 

She bit her lip. This was when Merlin stepped forward. “For as long as it was necessary.”

 

Arthur looked at him blankly. Slowly, a frown appeared on his face. “Do I know you?”

 

“You do. You just haven't remembered yet.” He held out his hand to Arthur. “Do you trust me?”

 

There was a pause. And then, ever so slowly, Arthur brought his hand up to take Merlin's. “I think I do. I'm just not sure why.”

 

Merlin smiled and helped him to his feet. “Don't worry, you'll remember. But now, I'm afraid we have to go.”

 

“Go? What in the world are you talking about, young man? He won't be released for at least another day or-” The doctor froze, his anger forgotten, as he finally looked at Merlin.

 

The old man staggered and Merlin ran over to his side to catch him. Merlin looked at one of the chairs in the room and his eyes flashed gold as he reached out with his magic to move it over. Gaius stared up at him in amazement even as he helped him into the chair.

 

“Merlin,” he whispered.

 

Merlin smiled fondly at him. “Hello, Gaius. It's good to see you again.”

 

Merlin stepped backwards, glancing up at Draco. Draco, be ready. I'll let my magic trail behind me. Let it guide your apparation and you'll arrive at the same place we will.

 

Draco started at the sudden message, but composed himself quickly and nodded. Merlin smiled and walked back to Arthur. He looked at Maggie – no, Ygraine Pendragon. “I'm sorry to be taking him away from you after he's just woken up, but we have no time left.”

 

Her eyes flashed with anger at that and Merlin couldn't help but smile at the oh-so-familiar expression even if it was on someone else. No wonder she'd looked so familiar when he'd first met her: Arthur took after his mother in many ways. He looked her in the eye, his face as serious and grave as he could make it.

 

“Albion's Darkest Hour approaches.” He grabbed Arthur's bicep. “And I have come to collect her king. In front of the royal palace, a sword awaits its master, but first he must remember. I will not allow him to face the coming battle unprepared.”

 

Merlin didn't need to say the words, just think about leaving the place he was in and letting magic transport him through the ether just outside the world to where he needed to be. He could feel Draco's magic latching onto his and following behind them.

 

They arrived and Arthur stumbled, disorientated by the magical transport. Merlin caught him and smiled reassuringly. Not liking to appear weak, Arthur immediately shook him off. Then he caught sight of their surroundings and froze, eyes widening as he took in the scenery. Merlin understood the sentiment completely. Glancing behind them, he saw Draco with a similar expression on his face. Like the Isle of the Blessed, this place was full of powerful magic: wild, pure, sacred.

 

He turn to the lake and sighed. It hadn't changed since he'd last been here nearly two hundred years ago. Napoleon had been raging across Europe with one country after another falling to his ambitions. Merlin had come here to ask Freya whether, perhaps, now was Arthur's time to rise again. Of course it hadn't been and he really should've known that. Arthur's destiny had always been tightly intertwined with magic and Napoleon had been many things, but none of them magical.

 

He'd never even suspected the merpeople's involvements in the mysterious sinking of some of his ships, which might have had something to do with the violent storms Merlin had conjured up in order to help them hide their deeds. There may also have been a kraken, whom Merlin still visited from time to time. He had a rather unique sense of humour and loved violin music.

 

Merlin took a deep breath. This was not the time to dwell upon the past.

 

He stepped up to the shore of the lake. The water lapped gently back and forth, but never quite touched him. Time and all the advances of human technology had not changed this place. It had always hid itself, because the secrets it held were dangerous. If he squinted, Merlin could just about make out the shadows of the mists that were the gates to Avalon.

 

“Freya!” he called out, his voice exploding across the peace of the lake. “Lady of the Lake, I beg of thee, answer my call!”

 

The silence was suddenly all the more profound. A slight breeze blew and tickled the rushes that grew along the shore. A bird twittered from the treeline around the lake. But the Lake of Avalon was on the boundary between this world and the next: there were no fish in its waters, no frogs or waterfowl swimming along its banks and no dragonflies buzzing around its edges.

 

Suddenly, a spot of water began to bubble. Then it stopped and something began to move, to climb out of the lake. Merlin smiled as he recognized her. Freya. Her hair was long and slightly wavy, wet-looking. Her skin was pale and her lips had a slight blue tinge to them. It was the only indication that she wasn't of the living. She wore a long, simple white dress that had no embellishments of any sort and looked completely dry as she stepped slowly out of the water as though she were walking up a flight of stairs. Finally, she was standing on top of the water in her bare feet.

 

She smiled at Merlin. “Hello, Emrys, it's been a long time since you last visited me.”

 

“I'm sorry, my lady, things just... came up.”

 

“Merlin, you don't have to explain yourself to me. I know how much sorrow this place brings you.”

 

Merlin swallowed down the lump that threatened to form in his throat. Yes, the lake was beautiful, but it was a reminder of all the people he had sent along to Avalon from here: Freya, Lancelot, Arthur, Gaius, his mother, his first apprentice Caleb, his daughter Frances...

 

“You know why we're here,” he said softly.

 

Freya smiled. “Yes, I do.” She walked forward until she was standing before Arthur. “Well met, Arthur. Our one and only meeting was long ago and under rather unfortunate circumstances.”

 

Arthur frowned at her. “You don't look familiar.”

 

“I wouldn't. You saw me for less than a moment and then I was swept far from your mind.”

 

“Oh. Uh, it's nice to meet you too then.”

 

The corners of Freya's lips twitched, as though she were struggling against doing something as undignified as giggling. Merlin almost felt sorry for Arthur. Waking up in a hospital after a two-month-long coma had to be disorientating enough without everything else.

 

“You have come to me to, because your soul is not complete, Arthur.” Arthur blinked in surprise. “Like the others, your soul is old, but destiny clings to it and makes it powerful. To those, who can see, it shines like the brightest star in the night's sky. Not even the heaviest clouds can obscure it completely. And not all those, who can see, are loyal to you, which is why the Old Religion kept part of your soul in Avalon to keep it safe. To keep you safe until the time foretold. But now Albion's Darkest Hour approaches and you are needed, Arthur Pendragon.”

 

Arthur took a step back, looking nervously over his shoulder at Merlin, who simply smiled encouragingly. “Er, look, I'm incredibly flattered, really. But the name's just a coincidence. I'm not really-”

 

Freya raised a hand for silence and Arthur swallowed the rest of his protests. Then she stepped aside to allow them to see the rolling mist that had quietly encroached upon the lake, now visible to mortal eye. As they watched, a darker shadow moved within the mist. Then the shadow became a shape and then a figure and then it was walking towards them, out of the mist. The features were blurry, but they could hear the gentle clinking of metal, like a hundred coins being gently jostled. Merlin recognized it immediately: chainmail.

 

The figure walked up to Arthur, still unsubstantial and ghostlike, as though the mist itself had given birth to it. However, its features were now clear as a photograph. Arthur was frozen, staring at the man in disbelief, at the exact image of himself only instead of being barefoot and wearing nothing but a flimsy hospital gown, the ghost was wearing chainmail and armour and a long cloak. He was also wearing a crown.

 

The breath froze in Merlin's lungs as he stared at the proud figure of his king. But this ghost of the mist wasn't real, only a memory, and he had eyes only for his living counterpart.

 

“Have you ever felt like you were missing something, that a part of you that should've been there, wasn't?” the ghost asked.

 

“Y-yes, sometimes,” Arthur answered. He swallowed. “S-sometimes, it felt like people couldn't see me, didn't notice me even though they should have. My parents did, my friends did, but not... people.”

 

The ghost nodded. “If I had been with you from the start, they couldn't have helped but notice you. And that would've been dangerous.”

 

“Who are you?”

 

The ghost smiled. “I am Arthur Pendragon. I am the Once and Future King. I am you, your past, and a part of your future.” He reached down and unsheathed the sword at his hip, holding it out to Arthur hilt-first. “The choice is yours, but know that Albion needs you. And, with me, you will be whole.”

 

Arthur hesitated for but a moment. He reached out and grabbed the hilt of the sword.

 

The ghost smiled and then it drifted apart into mist, which settled like smoke around the sword. For a moment the sword looked more substantial, more real than the man holding it. And then it began to disintegrate, fall apart from the tip into tiny grains that drifted at Arthur. Arthur cried out in alarm and staggered back a step, but didn't let go of the sword until it was gone and all the grains had absorbed their way into his body.

 

Merlin walked up behind him and placed a bright red Camelot cloak over his shoulders. Arthur stiffened at the contact, but relaxed seconds later. He brought his hands up to grip the edges of the heavy cloak, once a familiar weight, now one he would have to get used to again. He glanced over his shoulder.

 

“Merlin?”

 

“Welcome back, sire.”

 

Arthur turned to him, still looking a bit overwhelmed, but his back was straighter, his shoulders somehow broader and his eyes had lost the innocence of youth. This was no longer a young man standing before him: this was a warrior and a king. Merlin took a step back and knelt down on one knee.

 

Arthur's eyes widened in alarm. “Merlin! Get up, you don't have to-”

 

“Shut up, prat! I didn't get to do this properly the first time, so let me do it properly this time.”

 

“You know, this is no way to speak to your king!” At Merlin's glare he sighed and waved him on. “Very well, do continue.”

 

Merlin snorted. “As if I would let you stop me,” he muttered. Then he bowed his head in obeisance and spoke in words that were as loud and clear as the waters of the Lake of Avalon: “I, Merlin, son of Hunith and Balinor, swear to you, Arthur Pendragon, my loyalty, my life and my magic. As Albion and the Old Religion are my witness, of my own free will, I swear to serve you faithfully until the day I die.”

 

There was a pause and then Arthur spoke. “I accept your oath, Merlin son of Hunith and Balinor. And I, Arthur Pendragon, swear to do my best to be worthy of your loyalty and to do my utmost to uphold what is right and just in the name of Albion and its people.”

 

Merlin smiled, knowing there were tears in his eyes even as he looked up to see Arthur, blond hair highlighted by the sun, smiling back at him.

 

“Now get up, Merlin,” said Arthur. “You apparently have a lot of explaining to do. Including this entire 'Darkest Hour' nonsense. Just how long was I out for? I don't remember anything dark and sinister going on.”

 

“Well, you do tend to be rather oblivious when there's magic involved,” said Merlin as he stood up.

 

“Nonsense, I am always aware of everything going on around me.”

 

“If you say so, sire.”

 

“I do. Also, as much as I appreciate the cloak, I don't suppose it would've been too much to ask that you also bring your king a proper change of clothes. This hospital gown is hardly a dignified look for a king. Come to think of it some food would be nice as well-”

 

Merlin rolled his eyes. “Draco, I think it's time to return to the manor.” He paused, thoughtfully looking at the lakewater. After a few moments, he held out his hand. “Actually, one thing first: give me your wand.”

 

Draco stopped sniggering. He frowned in confusion, but took his wand out and passed it to Merlin without question. Arthur frowned at the blonde wizard. “Merlin, who's that? Is he one of your magical friends?”

 

Merlin rolled his eyes. “You know, I think I liked you better without your memories,” he said as he took Draco's wand to the edge of the lake and crouched down. Holding it as lightly as he could, he submerged it into the water and held it there for a few moments. He smiled as he felt the Lake of Avalon washing away the unnatural spells on the wand.

 

He took the wand out and handed it back to Draco. Then he teleported them all away.

 

Merlin brought them to the middle of the garden, next to the unicorn fountain, surrounded by a border of irises and lilies. Arthur looked around in amazement. Merlin let go of him and looked towards the manor, whose upper stories were clearly visible from where they stood. He stretched his hand out towards it.

 

Draca flogan bleóm úre ácýðest!

 

Like a parchment unrolling, flags suddenly unfurled from the top of each of the manor's two towers. Merlin felt something warm finally slide into place as the Pendragon crest danced leisurely in the wind.

 

“It's not Camelot,” he told Arthur. “But I think this will do perfectly well.”

 

Arthur was looking up at the towers and the flags with a sort of awe, as though he couldn't quite believe this was all happening. “Yes, Merlin, I think it will.” He shook himself and looked at Merlin with an expectant look. “Now, I believe you owe me an explanation or ten.”

 

“Of course, but don't you want to greet the others first?”

 

Arthur frowned. “Others, what others?”

 

“Your knights. You know you're useless without me and your knights.”

 

“I most certainly am not!”

 

“Yes, you are, sire.”

 

Merlin led him through the garden to the part of the lawn which the knights had appropriated as their unofficial training ground – needless to say it wasn't nearly as green as it used to be. No sooner had they stepped out of the garden, then Arthur found himself besieged by a pack of delighted knights. Arthur laughed in happy surprise, looking around in amazement at all the familiar faces. Not even the sight of the ring on Gwen's finger dimmed his excitement for long as it was followed with an introduction to her husband, whom he remembered once missing dearly.

 

Merlin stepped back and watched the reunion with a grin. He turned at the gentle hand on his shoulder. Archie smiled at him.

 

“I think I can understand what you saw in him,” he teased.

 

Merlin felt his ears go pink. “He's a good man and a great king.”

 

“Hmm, and comes in some very attractive packaging.”

 

“I suppose he's not entirely hideous.”

 

Archie burst out laughing. “Oh I am going to have so much fun paying you back for all the teasing I've received over the years.” Merlin pouted. “However, for the moment, Elena and I are going to take our leave.”

 

Merlin blinked. “You're not staying. I would've thought-”

 

“Don't worry, we'll be back tomorrow. I simply don't think it would do to overwhelm our esteemed king too badly on his first day out. Regaining a lifetime's worth of memories would be bad enough without finding out his former half-sister has been hatching evil plans while he was asleep.”

 

Merlin made a face. Archie had a point.

 

“On that note, the two of us will be off as well.” Merlin turned to Emma. Beside her, Dudley shrugged. “We're probably not the two people he wants to meet until his memories 'ave settled a bit.”

 

Emma shrugged. “The only time he met me, I sent him into a cave full of spiders.”

 

Merlin snickered. “Right, you'll be back tomorrow then?”

 

“Absolutely.”

 

He watched as they left, wondering whether they were here by car or floo. He couldn't quite remember.

 

“Merlin?” Merlin turned around to see Arthur looking at him quizzically. He nodded towards the four, who were leaving. “Who are they?”

 

Merlin smiled. “Friends, allies. Don't worry, they'll be back tomorrow. You'll meet them then. They just didn't want to overwhelm you too much.”

 

Arthur scowled at him. “Merlin, I'm not a shirking violet. Yes, alright, so suddenly finding out I'm not as normal as I've always thought I was and that there was actually a very good reason why I could always get away with everything without the media noticing it – and believe me, I was the envy of my friends for it. Also, suddenly gaining an entire lifetime's worth of memories isn't exactly a walk in the park. Especially the part where I die – could've actually lived a perfectly happy life not remembering that. But I hardly think meeting a few people is going to put me into the nutter's ward.”

 

Merlin sighed. “There are more important things to discuss. A lot has happened while you were asleep.”

 

“Like what?”

 

“Morgana.”

 

All humour disappeared from Arthur's face. “Tell me.”

 

Merlin looked up at the sky. “I think it's going to rain soon. Shall we take this inside? I'll have the elves prepare dinner.”

 

“Are we all going to fit at the table?” asked Elyan as he looked around at their expanded number.

 

Merlin rolled his eyes. “There is a formal dining room. I simply prefer the smaller, family one.”

 

“And then you can open the wine cellar!” Gwaine exclaimed happily.

 

“You mean you haven't found it yet?” Percival asked.

 

“No,” Gwaine pouted. “I think the bloody manor's changing the corridors on me so I don't.”

 

Lancelot chuckled. “I see it didn't take it long figure out it needed to keep you as far away from them as possible.”

 

“It's obviously a very clever magical castle,” Gwen agreed. “Speaking of which, Leon, is your daughter going to be coming back? I think the unicorns are missing her.”

 

Arthur leaned in closer to Merlin. “They're all taking the piss, yeah?”

 

Merlin grinned at him. “No, not at all.”

 

Arthur blinked and then groaned. “Bloody hell. Is it too late to go back into that coma?”

 

“Yes.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 15

 

There was something inherently sinister about meeting anyone on a football field at two in the morning. And lonely. Although, drug dealers, bookies and loan sharks would probably be the more usual people to be meeting here – not vampires and trolls.

 

Mordred had made sure to meet them in the field, just past the net. He wanted a clear view of them approaching. Not that the vampires would've been able to hide from him: the light they gave off was twisted and smokey, not a natural light at all. Mordred kept the revulsion he felt from his face, showing them a blank, bored look instead. Unfortunately, by the grins on their faces, they could probably tell their presence frightened him anyway. Why had Morgana insisted he come alone to this meeting?

 

Whereas the vampires glided their way across the green field (their long coats trailing behind them in a way that made him wonder how long they'd had to practice their Matrix impersonations) the trolls lumbered in, stomping down on the grass vengefully. They eyed the vampires coolly for a moment, before dismissing them with a sniff and looking away. The vampires snarled silently in response.

 

Mordred cleared his throat. “Morgana can't be here tonight.” Though he had no idea why. “I'm here to speak on her behalf.”

 

The taller of the two vampires sneered at him. “She sent a boy to speak to us. Does she have so little respect for her allies?”

 

Mordred bristled at being called a boy. He let his anger wash over him, used it to pull out his magic, felt as it made his eyes turn gold and then lifted a hand, making a show of casually examining it as it crackled and sparked with magical energy. He looked back to the vampire. “I am no mere boy.”

 

The troll leader nodded with a grunt. “What does Morgana want?”

 

Mordred took a deep breath and willed the magic back, channelling it into the calming earth. “She's decided on a slight change of plans. The attack on London was a success and she wants to press on her advantage, before the government has a chance to properly rally. Either of them.”

 

“What does she propose?” the vampire asked, eyes glittering with cruel excitement.

 

Mordred looked at him. “She wants you to infiltrate London. It's where Excalibur is, which means that, Emrys and Arthur – wherever he is – will eventually return there as well. When Arthur comes for his sword, she will destroy him and his pet sorcerer.”

 

“Hm, infiltrate London?” The two vampires exchanged sly, toothy grins. “That would be our pleasure.”

 

The second vampire snickered. “The old master of that city used to be so wonderfully cruel and bloodthirsty, such a powerful vampire. Truly an inspiration to us all: even the wizards knew to fear him. And then he suddenly grew weak. Some say there was a curse involved, some say a woman, but whatever it was, he stepped down.”

 

The first vampire smirked. “The new master is an obnoxious fool, street vermin posing as a lord. He will be no problem to overpower.”

 

Mordred nodded. “What of the rest of the vampires?”

 

“They will follow us after their leader's ashes have fallen to the ground.”

 

“Or else they will follow him. And then we'll become a plague that silently spreads through the darkness where no one dares look.”

 

Mordred refrained from rolling his eyes at the dramatics. “Good, then I'll tell Morgana you have that well in hand.”

 

“If that is all...” Mordred nodded and the vampires glided back into the night.

 

He then turned to the trolls, who were staring at him like large, club-carrying statues. It was slightly creepy. Mordred cleared his throat. “Are your people in position?”

 

The troll leader nodded and the skull pendant around his neck jangled slightly.

 

“Then two days from now, when the moon is obscured by clouds, at the first strike of lightening, attack.”

 

The trolls' faces split into menacing grins, looking as happy as piranhas dropped into a bowl of goldfish.

 


 

 

Merlin laughed as he was knocked over by overeager unicorn foals. The young ones barely seemed concerned by his tumble as they grabbed at the bowl of honeyed apple slices he held in his hands. After a few moments he gave up any attempt at feeding them himself and simply placed the bowl onto the ground and quickly darted out of the way as they converged on it.

 

One of the adults wandered up to him and sniffed at his pocket. Merlin smiled and reached into it, pulling out three sugar cubes, which he offered to it. It happily snatched them out of his hand and then patiently stood beside him as he ran his hand through its mane. He never got tired of being with unicorns. They're weren't the most exciting of magical creatures, but they were sincere and imbibed the areas around them with a soul-warming peace and serenity. You could always tell where a unicorn had passed because the tranquility lingered for hours afterwards.

 

A tiny, indignant squawk pierced the air and Merlin blinked. He squinted into the crowd of foals until he finally saw the intruder curiously peeking over the side of the bowl from in-between long legs. He gasped, eyes widening. Then he pushed his way through the foals and scooped up the curious little interloper.

 

There was more surprised squawking, some desperate scrambling and Merlin got a face-full of feathers. He let out a squawk of his own and adjusted his grip.

 

Lance the griffin looked up from the boar he was devouring and screeched. The cub in Merlin's arms stilled and fell silent, looking intently at the adult. It allowed him to readjust his arms again so that he could scratch its throat. The cub froze at first, before melting into a puddle of contentment accompanied by a sound that sounded like it was trying to be a purr, only more garbled out of eagle's vocal chords. Its yellow slitted eyes looked up at Merlin in adoration.

 

Merlin smiled down at it. “Hello, little one, we haven't met yet. I'm Merlin.” The garbled, musical purring became louder. Merlin chuckled and looked to Lance, who was watching them with keen, though unworried eyes. “This one yours?”

 

The griffin puffed his chest out, his posture becoming decidedly smug.

 

“Why you sly old dog. The missus here too somewhere?”

 

Lance motioned to a griffin devouring another boar further into the forest. There were two more cubs beside her, playing tug-of-war with a thigh bone, using both feet and wings as leverage. The female was in the shadows of the trees, but Merlin could tell she was sleek and powerful and covered with golden fur and deep brown feathers.

 

“She's beautiful, Lance.”

 

The female griffin looked up from her breakfast and met Merlin's gaze. Merlin smiled and waved at her as best he could with an armload of cub. She blinked once and then nodded her head. Then her eyes moved to the cub in his arms and narrowed, their expression a rather universal 'and just where exactly did you get off to?' as used by mothers everywhere. She screeched and the cub in Merlin's arms stilled, then perked up. When it began wriggling, Merlin gently set it down so that it could half-fly back to its mother's side and join in on the fierce battle for the boar's thigh bone.

 

Merlin patted Lance's neck. “You have a lovely family there, my friend.” Lance nudged Merlin with his beak and Merlin laughed. “Yes, I know: I do too.”

 

He then left the griffins and returned to the unicorns. He didn't join them this time, just stood at the edge of the herd and watched. A familiar presence came to his side and he smiled.

 

“Good morning, Anhora.”

 

“Good morning, Emrys. So, the Once and Future King has awoken.”

 

“Yes, he has. You felt it?”

 

“Of course. A soul as old and heavy with destiny as his could not help but cause a stir in Albion's magic when it awoke.”

 

“Hmm. I suppose that means Morgana likely knows he's back too.”

 

“It is possible. She has the potential for it.”

 

“But she uses a wand, which means she's restricting her connection to Albion... And the Elder Wand is both old and powerful.”

 

Anhora nodded. “You and Arthur do not have much time.” Merlin took a sharp breath. “Morgana used a lot of dark magic in London, which has fed into that which was already there. The ley lines are beginning to show shadows.”

 

Merlin nodded. He'd felt the corruption when he was there. Luckily, while London had several ley line intersections, they weren't all concentrated in one spot, which meant London wasn't the major ley convergence that other places, such as Stonehenge, were. However, the St. Micheal's ley did run through London to Stonehenge, which still made a major corruption in London dangerous.

 

“Arthur needs a bit of time first. He's only just woken up from a coma and then had another lifetime's worth of memories thrown into his skull. At the moment I'm counting it as a win that he's only done minimal freaking out at me, although that might change once he sees Kilgharrah.” Merlin looked off towards the manor and its Pendragon banners. “Arthur's a great king and all, but we need to give him some time to remember that properly.”

 

“Then I hope it is time we have to spare.”

 

Merlin took a deep breath. “As do I, my friend. As do I.”

 


 

 

Eventually, Merlin meandered his way back through the gardens. They were in full bloom, creating a sensual delight for both the eyes and the nose. Merlin was too old to delude himself into thinking he was doing anything other than procrastinating from joining the others at breakfast, but the garden was beautiful and so it felt more like an indulgence than strict avoidance.

 

Some of the more magical flowers had now come into bloom as well, such as the fairy lilies, pink with white centres and an extra row of petals on the outside that were nearly translucent and shimmered slightly when the sunlight hit them. From afar they looked like fairies dancing in the breeze. Sadly, their pollen was a deadly poison when ingested, which is why they were planted so deep into the garden, far away from any of the dining areas. And then there what Merlin liked to call hippysuckles. They looked like honeysuckles except they were rainbow-coloured and smelled a bit like vanilla, honey and cinnamon. They'd been bred by wizards in the United States in the 1950s and Merlin had first come across them in the seventies on his way from Woodstock and possibly still at least slightly high (he'd gone to Woodstock in the guise of Dragoon the Great and been a big hit with the mostly young crowd, who liked to braid flowers into his beard).

 

Sadly, there was only a limited amount of garden for him to wander through and eventually he came to the end of it. He stood at the lilac hedges that surrounded the front of the garden and took a deep breath. He clenched his fists, a futile gesture done in the hopes of pretending his hands weren't actually shaking.

 

Yesterday had been full of catching Arthur up to speed with what was going on in England. They told him about the Wizarding World, Morgana, the attacks on Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, the battle in London and then the knights had been up with him until long past midnight reminiscing about Camelot and exchanging stories about their current lives. It was so much information, Merlin was certain Arthur hadn't even realized Merlin had barely participated in the last part. There was so much between the two of them, so much had been left unresolved. Merlin hadn't had the courage to tell Arthur about his magic until just before he died. The last thing Arthur had learned from him was his betrayal. He may have said he forgave him, but he was dying and simply having magic was the least of Merlin's sins by then.

 

Merlin left the safety of the gardens and walked towards the loud laughter coming from the dining area. He could still distinguish Arthur's laughter from a crowd even after all these years. There was a wound somewhere inside Merlin's soul that felt both soothed and cleaved apart at the sound.

 

He didn't join them at the table, but stood beside the rose trellis and watched them. It felt familiar. Whenever they'd all been gathered at the table like this, he'd been a servant, always outside the group looking in while they enjoyed themselves. And there was Arthur, the centre of attention, hair gleaming in the sunlight, looking healthy and happy as he threw his head back and laughed at something Lancelot said to Gwaine. At the end of the table, Draco looked up from the laptop he'd been frowning at and rolled his eyes before looking back down and resuming the very intent frowning. Percival leaned back to look at the screen and then said something that made Draco's face brighten.

 

“Oh, good morning, Merlin,” a voice said from behind him.

 

Merlin smiled and turned to Narcissa. “Good morning, Narcissa. How are you this morning?”

 

“Quite well, thank you. Do you not plan to join them?”

 

Merlin turned back to look at his friends. “Mm, in a moment. It's just been so long since I've seen them all together like this. It's a bit... surreal. I feel like if I close my eyes, then he won't be there when I open them.”

 

“He? Oh, you mean Arthur.”

 

Merlin nodded. He could feel Narcissa's eyes on him, but couldn't tear his eyes away from Arthur as he told some story, his eyes glittering with laughter, his face bright and smiling and his body moving along with his speech. For all that Arthur's training had taught him to be still and contained, Merlin knew it had taken him years to attain that, because whenever Arthur had managed to be just 'Arthur' and leave the training behind, he talked with his whole body. This lifetime hadn't taught him that careful, military precision and subdued emotional silence. Merlin wished he'd been given the chance to know Arthur sooner, before was forced to saddle him with destiny's yoke.

 

He hated Albion just a little for not giving him that. Beside him, he heard Narcissa gasp.

 

“You love him,” she whispered.

 

He nodded. “Always,” he whispered back. Then he winced. He hadn't meant to say that out loud, hadn't intended to ever confirm it to anyone. Ever.

 

For a while neither one of them said anything. Until, finally, Narcissa broke the silence. “You know, Gwenivere is married to Lancelot this time.”

 

Merlin chuckled. “This fact has not escaped me.” He shook his head. “But, no, as much as I might wish it, Arthur could not ever feel for me that way. Love me as a friend? Yes. But anything more? No, it's... it's not in his genetic make-up. As unfair as it was, I knew him completely both before and after he was married. Don't let the legends fool you: I was never his wiseman, his official adviser or court sorcerer. I was his manservant. His father had made magic illegal and so I'd had to hide my powers.”

 

He chuckled again and then turned to Narcissa, whose eyes had gone wide. He imagined she was quite surprised at the amount of information about himself he was suddenly telling her. Archie had always told him it was like pulling weeds out of particularly aggressive quicksand.

 

“So, believe me, I knew Arthur's habits, his tastes and his preferences well enough. He never took any of the other male servants, or the squires, or even any of the men he met while on the road and in disguise to his bed. I suppose I could dream that I'd be the exception, but for all the power that dreams have, they cannot recreate reality.”

 

“But you've waited fifteen hundred years for him.”

 

Merlin smiled. “And so I have. But don't ever think I did it alone. I've had friends and lovers and my children to help me along the way. It took a very long time, but the shattered remains of my heart did eventually heal. Aithusa helped a lot, actually.”

 

“Oi, Merlin!”

 

Merlin blinked and then looked to the table, where Gwaine was grinning and waving at him madly. Arthur looked at him with an imperiously raised eyebrow.

 

“Merlin have you managed to get yourself lost?” he called. “The table with breakfast is over here! And I must say, whoever you employ as servants are much better at it than you ever were.”

 

“Wait, you haven't met the house elves yet?” Gwaine asked. Arthur's frown spoke for itself. Gwaine grin turned delighted. “Mimsy! Oi, Mimsy!”

 

Merlin sent Mimsy a thought-message, asking her to please answer Gwaine's call. A moment later, Mimsy popped into existence between Gwaine and Arthur's chairs. Arthur jumped up with a cry of surprise and attempted to backpedal, except that, being on grass, his chair didn't slide backwards like he was expecting it to, but he was too late to stop his own momentum. He tumbled over the chair in a flailing mass of arms and legs worthy of Merlin.

 

Draco was the first person to burst into laughter. The rest followed. Except for Arthur, who stood up, face flaming and sat back down with as much dignity as he could rally. It made him look like a puffed up lobster with blond hair.

 

Merlin winked at Narcissa and then went to join his beautiful, golden king at the table. No, Arthur could never be the 'more' that Merlin wished for, but now they could be something even better: friends and equals.

 

He was just finishing his breakfast when he felt the call. Merlin froze, instantly tuning out Percy's story about working on an episode of Doctor Who, in order to listen. He recognized Lance's mind. Griffins didn't speak in the same way dragons did, they were more emotional, more intuitive. They didn't speak in words so much as in ideas and emotions. And Lance felt worried, someone was hurting, in danger.

 

Merlin, come quickly! Now!

 

Kilgharrah's voice was also worried, but much more forceful. The small bit of hesitation in Lance's mind wasn't present in the dragon's tone. Merlin knew what that meant.

 

“Aithusa,” he whispered. I'm coming.

 

He had no idea if anyone had noticed his moment of mind communication, but he was certain they all noticed when he flew away from the table and began running past the gardens. He didn't care. He knew Aithusa had gone to see Morgana – of course she had. Morgana had nurtured and cared for the dragon when it should have been Merlin. When he'd been too wrapped up in Arthur, had too many voices whispering about destiny inside his head, leaving no room for anything else.

 

When he caught his first glimpse of the dragon, he froze in his tracks, feeling as though a pound of lead had suddenly been dumped into his stomach. Aithusa was slumped onto the ground, looking exhausted. Her eyes only half-opened when she felt Merlin approach. Her brilliant white scales looked slightly gray and they were dirty, streaked with mud and blood. She was wounded across her back going in between her wings and then again across her left flank. They were deep gouges into her flesh, the edges blackened as though something had seared through it. Thankfully, it at least meant she hadn't bled as much as she otherwise would have done had the wounds not been thus cauterized.

 

Merlin stared at the wounds and felt his blood boil. Morgana had done this. That bitch. She had looked at the beautiful creature that had once been her only friend, one she had nurtured and protected... and hurt it. Violently. How could she?! How could anyone? He clenched his fists and grit his teeth against the magic he felt bubbling just underneath the surface of his skin. It was hot and eager to destroy something, anything. To set fire to Morgana and burn her to a blackened crisp.

 

Suddenly, his vision was obscured and air moved across his face as a brown and white shape flew in a mere hand-span's length away. Merlin blinked, took half a step back and automatically put an arm out. The owl settled on his arm, talons digging harshly into the skin – by the annoyed look on its face after it had folded its wings, it likely wasn't trying to be gentle. They remained there, staring at each other.

 

A shadow passed over them and Merlin looked up. He took a deep breath, feeling the steady familiarity of Kilgharrah's magic as it passed him. The older dragon was like a mountain, eternal and immovable – perhaps a volcano was a better description, its potential for violence and fiery destruction more like the dragon's than a simple peak.

 

“Have you calmed yourself, young warlock?” Kilgharrah asked as he landed. Somewhere to the side, Merlin heard a strangled noise of surprise and realized he may have forgotten to warn Arthur about the dragons.

 

Merlin was a bit too busy feeling sheepish to care. “Er, yes, sorry. Was it really that bad?”

 

The owl on his arm huffed. Then it spread its wings and left his arm in order to land on the ground in front of him. Moments later, it was replaced by a glaring Archie. “Yes, it most certainly was that bad. I could feel your anger clear at the front of the manor! Now, while I'm certain Aithusa appreciates you becoming so furious on her behalf, I'm sure she would appreciate it even more if you were to calm down enough to heal her! Your dodgy healing skills become even dodgier when you're agitated, you know that.”

 

“Hey! I healed you up rather nicely!”

 

Archie rolled his eyes. “My wounds weren't nearly as severe and it was an accident.”

 

Merlin pouted. Something nudged him in the lower back and he turned around to smile down at the unicorn. He reached out to pet its forelocks. “Thank you, yes, I'm alright now.” Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Arthur watching him intently while the knights whispered to him. Draco stood a few steps away from their group, watching and listening with a confused frown on his face.

 

Merlin sighed. He could see that conversation of theirs was definitely going to happen soon. But right now, Aithusa came first. He would deal with Arthur later. Taking a deep breath, he walked past Archie, placing a hand on his shoulder and sending him a small, grateful smile as he passed. The corner of Archie's lip twitched and he nodded in acknowledgement of the gesture.

 

“I'm sorry, Aithusa,” he said when he was finally standing in front of the dragon. He crouched down to meet her eyes when she opened them half-mast again and caressed her forehead. “I'm going to heal you now.”

 

Emrys. I'm sorry... I went to her. I tried to stop her...

 

“Hush, I know you did. You had to. I understand. I'm angry at Morgana for hurting you not at you for going. You have no idea how much I wish you'd been successful.”

 

Aithusa closed her eyes and sighed. Then she finally let pain and exhaustion overwhelm her as she slid into unconsciousness. Merlin met Kilgharrah's eyes as he stood. Kilgharrah took a deep breath and breathed over the other dragon, a golden cloud of smokey magic that settled over Aithusa and absorbed into her skin. Almost immediately, Aithusa seemed to breathe easier, but she was far from healed. Merlin reached deep into his well of magic to pull at the distinctive strand of dragon magic that dwelt there. Dragons were powerful beings, their magic different from that of the land, but intrinsically tied to it. As a result, healing a dragon took quite a bit of power. Only dragon magic was up to the task. Or, in this case, dragonlord.

 

Archie stood by, watching as Merlin's magic shifted into that of a dragonlord. The air around him became heavier and his eyes slitted as they glowed gold. He sometimes wondered if Merlin was aware of just how different he looked when he used those powers. Merlin began with the wound on Aithusa's back. It looked redder and more aggravated than the one on her flank and he imagined it must've been brutally painful for her when she flew.

 

“Mimsy,” he called quietly.

 

The elf appeared with a 'pop'. “Yes, Master Archie?”

 

“It's just Archie. Would you be so kind as to please bring us a large pail of warm water and some clean cloths?”

 

The elf nodded, all the while staring wide-eyed at Merlin healing Aithusa. “Yes, Mimsy bring warm water and cloths.”

 

Meanwhile, Elena came to his side. Her face was red and she was panting, having clearly run from the front where he'd just barely had a chance to park the car before transforming and flying to calm Merlin down. “What happened?” she whispered, looking horrified by Aithusa's injuries.

 

“Morgana,” he replied.

 

Mimsy appeared shortly with the water and cloths. Archie took the water and the cloths and went to Aithusa's side. Elena took one from him and together they began to wash the mud and blood off Aithusa's scales. Draco joined them and, before long, so did Gwen and Percival.

Chapter Text

Chapter 16

 

Charlie was surprised by how few people there were around the back of the Malfoy Manor. Usually there was a crowd gathered already when he arrived – though he supposed he did tend to show up around mealtimes and it was only mid-afternoon now. He'd decided to fly in from the back, to catch a glimpse of the unicorns. It wasn't exactly polite, but Merlin wouldn't care. Charlie smiled at the unicorns, who looked up at him as he flew by. Several of the foals gave chase, so he flew lower and twisted and turned his way for a while as they ran behind him. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed three little somethings come bounding out of the forest.

 

They had wings, although by their half-flying, half-scrambling run he gathered they were rather young. Then he heard a series of squawks and doubled back, curious as to what these new additions were. He slowed down slightly as he passed them and nearly lost his grip on the broom.

 

Griffins. They were baby griffins.

 

He looked to the forest and saw two adult griffins standing at the edge, watching. Then he noticed the other heads peeking out of the forest and he couldn't contain the happy laughter that came bubbling out of his throat.

 

He let the unicorns and the griffins chase him for a while longer and then he waved to them before flying higher and continuing on towards the manor. There was a flash of gold in the willow tree that made his eyes widen, but he didn't stop. He wondered if the others at the manor knew about their new guests.

 

It seemed they were all sticking close to the manor this afternoon. Charlie saw Leon, Tristan, Elyan and a blond man he didn't recognize practising with swords off to the side. Draco and Elena sat on the manor steps huddled over some sort of muggle device that reminded Charlie of the contraption Archie had been using to mark essays with. They looked up as he approached. Elena's whole face brightened as she smiled at him.

 

“Charlie, hello!” she said. “You missed all the fun two days ago!”

 

Charlie grinned back. “Heard about that. You alright?”

 

She nodded. “I'm fine. Was very happy to see Merlin and Kilgharrah show up when they did, though, let me tell you.”

 

“Now that I'm sad to have missed. By the way, did you really point a sword at my dad's throat?”

 

Draco snickered. Elena's skin flushed a lovely shade of pink.

 

“Er, well, I didn't know who he was and the last wizard who'd popped in out of nowhere killed one of the blokes that was helping us.”

 

“Hang on, you lot were attacked by Death Eaters?!”

 

“Just the one, Weasley,” said Draco. “And Elena took care of him rather nicely – with a bit of help from Archie.”

 

Charlie couldn't help but notice how Elena's face paled slightly at the reminder.

 

“Well, I suppose she had to since you weren't able to, Malfoy.” Charlie winced slightly. He hadn't actually meant that to come out quite as biting as it had.

 

Sure enough, Draco stiffened and glared at him. Elena's frown was disapproving.

 

“No, Draco was nearly all magicked-out by the time the bloody coward showed up, was barely standing.”

 

The contempt in Elena's voice was clear. And for the first time, Charlie actually felt some sort of sympathy towards Draco Malfoy. As much as he'd deserved what had been done to him, it couldn't be easy knowing you had the ability to do magic and yet needed to depend on a muggle – or anyone else for that matter – to defend you when it came down to it. The wards and locks on his wand wouldn't differentiate between magic meant to defend others and magic meant to hurt others.

 

“Well, now that we've got that straightened out,” Draco said, “I don't suppose there was a reason for that ridiculous grin you were sporting when you arrived, Weasley.”

 

Charlie blinked. Then he remembered and the grin instantly returned to his face. “Oh, I was just thinking about how I could pitch a small tent in the middle of your back lawn and happily live there for the rest of my life.”

 

Draco frowned in confusion. The frown quickly turned into exasperation and he looked up to the heavens for a moment before snapping the muggle device on his lap shut and placing in on the step behind him. Then he rose and straightened his robes as he muttered about 'more bloody creatures and how could he know so many of them'. Elena stood with him, looking both amused and intrigued. She and Charlie followed behind Malfoy as he stomped off into the gardens.

 

Elena filled Charlie in on what had happened during the past few days. Charlie found himself torn between wanting to double-back and go meet this Once-and-Future-King fellow, run to the dragon stables to check on Aithusa, or continue walking on with Elena in order to see the look on her face when she caught sight of the baby griffins. He continued walking. The gardens had changed a bit since the last time he'd walked through them: the early spring flowers were all gone and the late spring and early summer blooms had taken their place. They'd lost sight of Malfoy at some point during the various twists and turns of the garden paths, but that hardly worried them.

 

Malfoy wasn't hard to find again once they were out of the gardens . He was standing half-way between the gardens and the lake, staring at the various creatures assembled around it. It was a rather impressive collection. Elena gasped and ran to Draco's side. Charlie grinned and joined them.

 

“Come on,” he said, walking past them. “I doubt they'll do us any harm if they're Merlin's friends.”

 

“You're only saying that because the dragons happened to not eat anyone,” Draco grumbled.

 

Elena swatted at him. “Oh stop being such a grump! You like the dragons. I saw with my own eyes how gentle you were with cleaning Aithusa this morning, don't even try pretending otherwise.”

 

Draco scowled at Charlie, daring him to comment. Charlie simply looked ahead to hide his smile. They finally stopped just beneath the willow tree. There were, of course, unicorns at the lake and one of the griffins had come to drink as well, but there were also two hippogryffs, a thestral, several deer surrounding a massive stag with golden antlers and five beautiful, silver-grey wolves. Despite the mixture of predators and prey gathered at the lake, it felt peaceful, as though their instincts and animosities had been left behind for the moment. Or perhaps, when they'd stepped onto the manor grounds. It was Merlin's territory, after all and he very much doubted Merlin would tolerate fighting here.

 

Well, other than the mighty play-battle being waged between the three griffin cubs and several wolf cubs. Their audience included not only the unicorn foals, but also one young hippogryff, who seemed particularly entranced by tumbling it was witnessing. Elena giggled at them.

 

All three of them looked up at a flutter of wings. Elena gave a slight surprised yelp as a now-familiar owl flew up to her and deposited a large woven basket into her arms. Charlie ducked reflexively when he saw more feathers out of the corner of his left eye. He heard Draco sputter and cry out in surprise. Charlie looked over in time to see the blond holding a smaller basket while the small brown falcon that had deposited it flew off. It landed on the grass mere steps away from them and held its wings out, screeching at them.

 

The owl had meanwhile turned into Archie, who rolled his eyes at the falcon. “Are you having fun scaring the children?”

 

The falcon turned away from them and screeched at Archie instead. He looked singularly unimpressed and raised an eyebrow at it to prove it. The falcon huffed and then it was growing, becoming less brown and losing its feathers. Charlie gaped as it became Merlin.

 

“Yes, in fact, I was having lots of fun,” he told Archie. “So stop ruining it.”

 

Elena burst into laughter. “So, you transform into a merlin, Merlin?” she managed to ask in-between laughs.

 

Merlin shrugged. “Terribly original, I know, but merlins are beautiful birds: elegant, sleek and deadly hunters.”

 

“Basically, everything you're not,” said Archie. Merlin stuck his tongue out at him.

 

“You never said you could transform,” said Draco with a scowl.

 

“You never asked.”

 

“What's in these anyway?” Elena asked, having stopped laughing and finally gotten around to inspecting the basket Archie had given her. Draco looked into his with the same sort of perplexed frown.

 

“Oh, it's speck. Smoked with no added salt and then rubbed in fish oil. It's for the griffins and wolf cubs: easy to chew and highly nourishing. Thought you might like to give it to them.”

 

Elena's face lit up at the suggestion. She grabbed Charlie's arm and dragged him along towards the cubs. Draco looked at the adult wolves and griffins with a worried expression on his face for a few moments, before sighing and following behind them. The cubs obviously smelled their treat approaching, because they froze in their play and tumbled off each other, looking up expectantly at the trio. Merlin laughed when Draco nearly got himself bowled over by two impatient mini-griffins.

 

“I'd call you a girl, Merlin, only you seem to have expanded your love of woodland creatures to include some much more, er, manly beasts,” drawled a familiar voice from behind him.

 

Merlin rolled his eyes as he turned to Arthur, who was approaching with Elyan and Leon. “You're only calling a unicorn 'girly', because you've never seen one angry and attacking.”

 

“Not to mention how ridiculous the term 'girly' is in the first place, given the very subjective nature of gender norms,” said Archie imperiously. “I'm certain Elena will be more than happy to demonstrate just how 'girly' she is while she's knocking you onto your arse repeatedly during sword practice.”

 

Elyan groaned. “He's not even kidding, mate. I think the bruises from 'er hurt more than the ones I got from those stupid swamp monsters.”

 

Leon chuckled in agreement. “You weren't any less harsh yourself, Archie.”

 

“Naturally. I was hardly going to fail to take advantage of my one and only opportunity to show up the Knights of the Round Table now was I?”

 

Arthur frowned at Archie. “You were one of the ones who left yesterday before we managed to get introduced.”

 

Archie nodded to him. “I am.” He took a step towards Arthur and held out his hand. “Doctor Archibald Kingsman, Senior Lecturer at Oxford University's Medieval Department. It likely won't surprise you that I specialize in the Arthurian legends.”

 

Arthur snorted as he shook his hand. “Of course you do. Well, for the sake of propriety, I'm Arthur King, and apparently Pendragon, the Once and Future King of Albion.”

 

“It's an honour to meet you, your majesty.”

 

Suddenly, a beautiful, melodic twittering interrupted their conversation. Merlin looked up into the cherry tree that grew beside the lake and his face split into a grin. “Fiera!” he cried. “You came! It's good to see you again. Oh and I see you've got your mate back with you.” His expression turned more sombre as the others inched their way towards him, looking into the branches to catch a glimpse of who he was talking to. “Hello, Fawkes. I'm sorry to hear about your companion. I never did get the chance to meet him, but I hear he was a great man.”

 

A second melody followed his words, this one lower-pitched and laced with sadness. Archie was the first to see the beautiful golden birds and gasped. Arthur followed shortly after. “Is that-” he began.

 

“Phoenixes,” Archie answered in an awed whisper.

 

Arthur shook his head and scanned the lake and the green beyond. From the depths of the forest, he could see a few more pairs of eyes staring back at him. It was unbelievable. Had he really woken up, or was he still locked within his comatose dream? He frowned. Had he dreamed when he was in the coma? He couldn't remember if he had. He smirked at the unicorn foal, who was trying to eat the blonde girl's hair. That girl looked familiar, but he couldn't quite place her.

 

“If my father were alive, he'd have an aneurysm if he ever saw this,” he said out loud. Then he froze, blinking as his mind suddenly seemed to switch gears. “Except, hang on... my father is alive and so is...” His eyes widened. He couldn't believe he'd forgotten. “My mother... I-I know my mother. She's alive this time. She-”

 

“She's probably very worried about you,” said Merlin quietly. He pulled a mobile out of his pocket and held it out to him. “Here, you should call her.”

 

Arthur reached out in a daze and took the phone. He looked up to Merlin and smiled. “Yes, yes I should. I should call her and talk to her... to my mother. Oh god, I can do that!” He couldn't have kept the beaming smile off his face if he'd tried. Merlin simply grinned back at him. “What about you, Merlin, is Hunith still around? I'm assuming you'd have the same mother, yeah? And you father: did you get to meet him this time?”

 

He didn't notice when the happiness vanished from Merlin's eyes, but Merlin just smiling at him. “I did get to meet my father, just before he died... However, both of them have been dead for quite some time now, Arthur.”

 

“That's- I'm sorry to hear that. Hunith was a lovely woman.”

 

“She was. But don't worry about it, Arthur. Your mother is alive, so go call her.”

 

Arthur didn't need anymore prompting. He hurried towards the garden to give himself some privacy, though he was already dialling as he walked. Elyan and Leon exchanged worried looks. Archie frowned, before turning to Merlin.

 

“You didn't tell him?” he asked.

 

Merlin was staring after Arthur, an odd expression on his face. “No, I suppose not. I wasn't trying not to, honest, it just somehow... didn't come up...”

 

“You know, Merlin, I don't think you actually came out and told any of us that you were immortal,” said Leon thoughtfully. “It was just implied in everything else you said.”

 

Elyan nodded. “Yeah. And in the way everyone else interacted with you. I mean, it's the only thing that makes sense if you're saying that Archie here's your son.”

 

Merlin sighed. “I suppose we have a lot to talk about.”

 

“Yes, you do,” Archie said softly.

 

Merlin looked away from Arthur to the three cub-feeders, who were now laughing at the griffin cubs as they tried to engage the little hippogryff into their play. The hippogryff seemed a bit skittish and uncertain as to whether or not he wanted to be a part of whatever the hyperactive trio were doing. Merlin smirked and knelt down even as his eyes began to grow. Fur sprouted out from his body, his hands grew claws, his nose became a muzzle and then he suddenly had a tail to wag as well.

 

Archie laughed as Merlin the wolf bounded towards the group of youngsters and pounced onto Draco, proceeding to bathe his face with saliva as the blond screamed bloody murder. Charlie and Elena looked shocked at first. However, it only lasted a few moments and then they were falling over themselves laughing. Elena even had the presence of mind to take her mobile out and snap pictures. Elyan couldn't resist joining them, at which point Leon excused himself, saying he really should go get his own little one from the clutches of the dreaded dragon-in-law.

 

Archie waited where he was, watching, until finally Arthur was done with his phone call. The young man looked happy when he joined him, though he frowned as he looked around. “Where'd Merlin go?” he asked.

 

Archie pointed. “He's that daft-looking wolf posing for the camera. Though it'll be a damn shoddy photo if Elena can't stop laughing long enough to take it.”

 

Sure enough, Elena's hands were far from steady as she held her mobile in front of her whilst Merlin the wolf stood above Elyan, looking unbelievably comical for all that he had his jaws open and giving the appearance of being about to tear out his jugular. Elyan, for his part, was frozen in a half-swoon with an exaggerated look of terror on his face.

 

“Oh.” A pause. “He turns into a wolf as well?”

 

“And a stag. Well, he might turn into other animals as well, but a hawk, a wolf and a stag are the three I've seen.”

 

“That's impressive.”

 

“Hm, it is. Wizards can only ever do one animal transformation and most sorcerers don't manage more than that either, though I gather the ability to do multiple animal transformations is less rare for them.”

 

“He's powerful then.”

 

“Of course he is. And in any case, he's had fifteen hundred years to learn it all.”

 

That made Arthur freeze. He looked away from the antics of the others, his whole attention suddenly on Archie. “Fifteen hundred- what do you mean?”

 

“Arthur, he's Merlin. The druids called him Emrys, because that was the name the Old Religion gave him, though the legends haven't remembered that entirely. But what they have remembered was his place at your side. You are the Once and Future King and he is Merlin.”

 

“The most powerful sorcerer to ever live,” breathed Arthur. “So powerful that he's, what, immortal?”

 

“Yes.”

 

Arthur took a deep breath. “And he's been waiting for me... for us, for fifteen hundred years. Alone. No wonder he made so many magical creature friends.”

 

“Well he hasn't always been alone. He's had lovers and friends and adopted the occasional child to care for. From what he's told me he had quite the active social life during several time periods. And he's travelled the world many times over.” Archie paused and then shook his head. “I'm certain he's been lonely and I know it can't be easy watching people you care for die over and over, especially for someone with as big of a heart as Merlin... No, I'll stop there. It's his story to tell you or not.”

 

Arthur stared at Archie. “How do you know him, exactly?”

 

The corner of Archie's mouth quirked in amusement. “I'm his son. Not by blood, obviously, but in every way that matters.”

 

Arthur's eyes widened. “Why didn't he tell me himself?” Arthur's voice held a note of hurt in it. Then anger flashed across his eyes. “He lied to me. Again.”

 

Archie sighed. “No, think about it, he didn't, not really. Merlin is used to keeping his secrets close to his chest - believe me I know exactly how much pushing and prodding and screaming it takes to get him to let them go and open up. Thankfully, I was a child at the time so the undignified behaviour was easier to get away with.” He was glad to see Arthur paying attention to what he was saying. “Arthur, the two of you need to talk and Merlin knows this too. And not just about what's going on now, but what happened before, in Camelot. There was a lot Merlin never told you because he was afraid.”

 

“Afraid?! Merlin's ridiculously powerful, and I can only assume always was, and he was afraid? What could the all-powerful sorcerer have been afraid of?!”

 

“You.”

 

Whatever Arthur's rant was turning into... died in his throat. “Me?”

 

“Yes. No one, not Morgana, not Uther, not any of the sorcerers, wizards or other magic creatures he's ever encountered have ever had the power to hurt him as badly as you do.” His eyes narrowed at Arthur. “Having said that, if you ever abuse that power, if you ever purposefully hurt him, then king or no king, I will turn you into a frog and feed you to those adorable baby griffins over there.”

 

Arthur swallowed, eyes wide. “I'll keep that in mind.”

 

“Good. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll just go talk to the house elves. There's a bench over by that lilac hedge at the far end of the gardens. I'll tell them to bring you your dinner there. It's secluded and Merlin can cast a muffling spell so that no one can eavesdrop on you.”

 


 

 

“Uh, Arthur, where are we going?” asked Merlin as Arthur dragged him through the gardens by the wrist. “No, wait, do you know where you're going?”

 

“We're going to talk,” said Arthur through gritted teeth. He looked around. There were the lilac bushes and there was a row of tall flowers following along a path towards the small fountain he saw in the distance, but there was no bench.

 

“Oh. Right... yes. Good idea. We need to do that.”

 

Arthur grunted in reply and turned to drag Merlin in the other direction. Maybe the bench was only in the general vicinity of the lilac hedge? Dammit, why was he even focusing on the stupid bench?! His stomach answered his last question with a low rumble.

 

“Arthur? Arthur? Arthur!”

 

Arthur whirled around at Merlin and glared. “What?!”

 

“What are you looking for?”

 

“The stupid bench that's supposed to be here!”

 

“The bench? Oh, you mean... well, you're going the wrong bloody way for that, prat!” Suddenly, Merlin's wrist twisted in his grasp and then Merlin was the one dragging him along. “Honestly, is it that difficult to ask for directions?”

 

Merlin headed straight for the lilac bushes, which confused Arthur until he slipped through them and realized there was a gap where the row of bushes parted, with the next bush in the row planted a foot or so in front of the one before it so that, optically, the bushes appeared to be a continuous row. Arthur scowled at the deception as he passed through it. He wondered if there was magic involved as well. It seemed magic was involved in everything with these wizards. And just when he'd finally thought he'd managed to get to the point last night where he didn't instinctively jump at every single little bit of magic or tense every time Draco or Mrs. Malfoy took out their wands to do something, the bathroom mirror in his guest room gave him a heart attack when it complimented him on his hair this morning. His usual smug retort had been shocked out of his lips as he stared at it, feeling incredibly grateful he'd opted for just a quick shower, because he really didn't want to know what else the mirror would decide to evaluate.

 

The gap in the lilac bushes took him and Merlin into a small, oval-shaped alcove surrounded on one side by lilac bushes and on the other with a tall, neatly-trimmed evergreen hedge. In the centre of the green hedge stood a tall chestnut, its branches shading most of the centre of the alcove from the early evening sun. Which was where Arthur finally saw the bench. It was a fairly plain wooden bench, except for the very top of the backrest, where the wood was so delicately and intricately carved that it looked almost like lace. In short, it looked like the perfect little lover's hideaway.

 

Someone (probably those house elves creatures Arthur immediately and wholeheartedly approved of) had brought a small wooden table into the alcove and the promised dinner lay spread out on top of it. There was, of course, enough food to feed at least five or six very hungry people of Percival's size, but Arthur understood that was entirely normal house elf proportioning.

 

“Is Archie trying to set us up or is there something else about this prophecy I should know?” Arthur asked.

 

Merlin snickered. “Archie's actually much less subtle when he's trying to set me up. And no, you know all of the prophecy.” He paused and winced. “Er, well, the bit that pertains to now in any case.”

 

“Now? As opposed to...?”

 

“Er, before. When you were a prince and then a king. You know, in Camelot.”

 

“There was a prophecy about me in Camelot?”

 

“Where do you think the whole Once and Future King came from?”

 

“And you knew about it?”

 

Merlin rolled his eyes. “Right from the very first day. I even ran down to tell the dragon he was wrong, because there was no way you could possibly be some great king, because you were too much of a prat!”

 

Arthur stared at him, stunned and a bit insulted, until- “Wait, dragon?” Merlin froze and Arthur glared at him. “As in the dragon that was chained underneath the castle? The one no one, let alone some peasant from another kingdom, was supposed to know about?” Merlin cringed. “The same dragon that later managed to get free and terrorized the city, killing nearly one hundred of its citizens until I finally killed-” Arthur stopped, suddenly realizing why the dragon from this morning looked so bloody familiar. His glare intensified. “And now that I think of it, likely also the very same dragon that has someone managed to not be dead after all and is instead lounging on your brand new estate grounds.”

 

Merlin took a step back. “Uh, yes, well that's Kilgharrah for you. He does get around.”

 

“Merlin,” Arthur growled. “You said I killed the dragon. You said you were certain it was dead and it would never come back to terrorize Camelot again.”

 

Merlin's eyes were wide and Arthur was amazed to realize Archie was right. Merlin was afraid. He'd heard the knights' accounts of the battle in London and remembered even from his time in Camelot that as much as he liked to tease him, Merlin was no coward. And yet, this powerful sorcerer was frightened... of what? Of the truth? Or rather, of Arthur finding out the truth. What could Merlin have done to make him so terrified of Arthur finding out... Oh.

 

“You. It was you. You let the dragon loose.” He couldn't believe it.

 

Merlin closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Yes.”

 

“Why?” Arthur knew, in the back of his mind that he should be furious. And fury would come, he knew it would, already he could feel it beginning to sizzle and crackle like the first sparks of a bonfire, but at the moment he was too stunned to feel it fully. That Merlin of all people would betray him like this, would feign loyalty- no, not feign, because despite this new knowledge, Arthur knew Merlin was loyal to him. Merlin had done too much for him, stood beside him for too long and fought until the very end to save his life. And yet, in spite of this loyalty, his total belief in him, Merlin betrayed him.

 

“I had to,” Merlin's whispered answer finally came. He opened his eyes and Arthur realized that Merlin did look his age, if one looked closely. His eyes echoed the wisdom and grief of centuries, they were windows into the soul of an old man, full of knowledge and experience and regret. “Remember the Knights of Medhir?” Arthur wracked his memory and then nodded. “Everyone was asleep - the entire city - and I had no idea what to do. I made a deal with the dragon. I swore on my mother's life that I would release him if he helped me stop the knights. He did.”

 

“And so you released it.”

 

Merlin nodded.

 

Arthur took a deep breath and then slowly released it. Not betrayal exactly, that was something. But there was still one thing missing. “Why did it leave?”

 

“I commanded it to.”

 

He frowned in confusion. “But I thought-”

 

“Yes. I am a dragonlord.”

 

The words sunk in. “Then why the hell didn't you do something sooner?!” Arthur yelled, his voice louder than he entirely intended it to be as his anger finally found a righteous outlet. “People were dying and you could've stopped it all along and you didn't?! Why?”

 

Merlin just stood there, stoically accepting his anger. “I wasn't a dragonlord then, Arthur. The powers of a dragonlord are passed on from father to son upon death. When we left Camelot to get help I wasn't yet a dragonlord. I didn't receive the powers until- until after my father died.”

 

“Balinor.” Arthur almost whispered the name. He remembered the man well, he remembered... “The stranger, whose body you cried over... Wait, at the lake, you called yourself the son of Hunith and Balinor. I-I didn't even notice.” He paused. “When did you know?”

 

“When Gaius told me just before we left to find him. I may have been a bit furious at him for not telling me of his existence.”

 

Arthur could empathize with that. He'd lived an entire lifetime without his mother. Despite having lived another with her in it, hearing her voice on the other end of the mobile had been the most amazing thing he'd ever experienced. But that was unimportant at the moment. Because now that he'd stopped to think, to properly remember, he realized what Archie had meant. His and Merlin's relationship had always been different to the one he'd had with his knights. Looking back, Arthur could say with certainty that Merlin had been his friend, the best friend he'd ever had, in fact.

 

Merlin had been a liar. He'd stood by his side and observed as Arthur opened up to him more than he ever had to anyone else, trusted him in a way he'd never trusted anyone else. For ten years he'd been his confidant, adviser and friend. And lied through every one of them.

 

“Do I even know you?” Arthur asked quietly. “Did I ever know you?”

 

Merlin winced. “Yes, of course you did! I'm still me and always have been. I was always just Merlin, your friend and loyal servant and-”

 

“No,” Arthur snapped. “It may be that only twenty-four hours have passed, but that's enough time for me to have watched you and know that's a bloody lie! You are your magic, Merlin, which means I didn't know you at all, but you knew me completely.”

 

The accusation hung in the air between them like stale smoke. Merlin swallowed nervously, but didn't bother to deny it a second time. Several long moments passed and he finally sighed, hanging his head slightly in resignation. “What do you want me to say, Arthur?”

 

“I want you to tell me everything. The truth, Merlin, if you can manage such a thing.”

 

This time, Merlin's wince was less noticeable, but Arthur saw it anyway. “Yes, alright. The truth about what happened at Camelot... I can... Yes.” He gestured towards the bench. “We should probably sit down for this. I know you're hungry and, well, this is probably going to take a while.”

 

As much as Arthur wanted to argue, didn't want this to become a comfortable, friendly conversation, he couldn't deny the beast gnawing at his insides. So he stalked over to the bench and sat down. Merlin followed him and sat gingerly on the opposite end of the bench as he stared down at his hands. Arthur allowed him a few moments to collect his thoughts as he grabbed himself a slice of meat pie.

 

A few minutes passed in silence and then Merlin began. “I was born with magic...”

 

Merlin talked for a very long time and Arthur listened. He remembered most of what Merlin told him, but his versions were different – sometimes very different. He didn't entirely sit in silence either, but clenched his fists and grit his teeth instead of jumping up and yelling at Merlin for being an idiot. It didn't take long for Arthur to notice a pattern in Merlin's storytelling either: more specifically in the way he was omitting facts. Not lying outright, no, just skimming over certain parts and reluctantly answering Arthur's questions when he tried to pull details out of him. The first time he noticed it was when Merlin got to the questing beast.

 

“Ah, yes, the questing beast,” Arthur said. “I always did think it was rather odd that I didn't remember killing it. If I recall I nearly died then, but Gaius came up with something at the last minute.”

 

There was a long pause. “No, he didn't,” said Merlin quietly. “There is no cure for the bite of the questing beast. I travelled to the Isle of the Blessed to save you.”

 

Arthur frowned. “Then there is a cure.”

 

“No. What you drank was just water, rainwater poured from the Cup of Life.”

 

Arthur's eyes widened. “Then I was dead? Or undead?”

 

Merlin shook his head. “No, the balance was maintained. The Old Religion took the sorceress' life in exchange for yours.”

 

“You-you killed another person so that I could live?”

 

“One life for another, that's the price.”

 

“So you took her life in order to save mine.” Merlin was silent. Arthur growled. “Merlin?”

 

Merlin sighed. “No, the bargain was supposed to be for my life, but the Old Religion doesn't let you choose. It tried to take my mother's and I refused to let it. Back then I thought Nimueh was being deliberately cruel. I realize now that isn't true, that she had as little say in whose life was taken in exchange as I did. I went back to the Isle, but Gaius had gotten there ahead of me and was already mostly gone. We fought and I killed her and the Old Religion was apparently satisfied with her life as the price, because you, Gaius and my mother all recovered.”

 

Arthur did not fail to notice that the original bargain had been for Merlin's life. It happened a few more times, where he had to force Merlin to go back and elaborate on something. All the instances had one thing in common: Merlin's willingness to do anything for Arthur. Despite his anger, his humiliation at having been so completely oblivious to the truth, he couldn't help but be awed at Merlin's devotion to him. This amazing, stupidly powerful sorcerer had chosen him over everyone else. Repeatedly.

 

He couldn't believe he'd swallowed Gaius's tavern excuses for Merlin's absences. Really, why hadn't he ever checked with Gwaine? Then there was the infamous and infuriating (and that should've been his first clue) Dragoon the Great. He'd thought the old man's eyes looked familiar... Underlying each individual incident was also the knowledge of just how much Merlin had known about what was going on within the castle. It hurt to realize Merlin hadn't trusted him with the information. It hurt even more to realize so many of his triumphs weren't due to his own strength. His quest for the Trident of the Fisher King hadn't been for him at all, the beautiful weapon he'd recovered hadn't actually mattered in the slightest. Although, again, why hadn't he stopped to think? Courage, Strength and Magic: the odd little man on the bridge had all but told him straight out that Merlin had magic.

 

Arthur's anger at Merlin, at the sheer scope and complexity of his lies, was slightly diminished by Arthur's anger at himself for not paying attention, for not going back, for not asking questions. His head was beginning to hurt from all this new information from Merlin, which contradicted everything he remembered. Finally, finally, Merlin finished telling Arthur about escaping from the Crystal Cave and then felt silent. There was no point in delving into what had happened at Camlann, they both knew it all too well.

 

Arthur let out the breath he'd been holding and looked up at the sky. It had somehow become dark while Merlin had talked and bright spots of light littered the night sky, surrounding a plump, glowing moon, brilliant and dazzling, so unlike the sky he was used to in London. He wondered if there was magic involved with that too. His eyes slid lower and he gasped. Four bright orbs of light illuminated the alcove they sat in.

 

Arthur stood and reached out for the nearest one. “That was you?” he asked, awed. He frowned. “No, wait, it couldn't have been. You were dying and Gwenivere and Gaius were taking care of you.”

 

Merlin looked up at him and blinked, his shoulders barely relaxing from their rigid set. “Er, apparently it was. I don't exactly remember much of it, mind. Was a bit out of it what with the whole being poisoned and dying, but according to Gaius I was calling your name and had conjured a smaller orb in my hand while I was delirious.”

 

Arthur gaped at him. Merlin fidgeted.

 

“Why in the world did you stay?”

 

“Destiny.” A pause. Merlin looked away, angling his head slightly upwards to stare absently at the sliver of moon. “Well, at first it was. Then later you became my friend and then... and then you made me believe that you really would be the greatest king Albion has ever seen. I wanted to stand by your side and help you create your Albion, to see the world you would build.”

 

Arthur looked away. The light in Merlin's eyes was painful. “It's a pity I never got the chance to do that. All those great things I'm said to have done and I never did any of them. It was probably Gwen and Leon.”

 

“And Elena and Sir Kay and Percival and Sir Bors and Mithian... but Arthur, they were all following your dream. Remember, you once stood on the ridge overlooking Ealdor and said you wished for a land where there were no borders, where you could go help people if they needed it regardless of where they were. Don't ever underestimate the power of dreams: they can overcome death and unite a land. Might even give us that world peace one of these days.”

 

Arthur snorted. “You're such a sentimental girl, Merlin.”

 

“Better than a prat.”

 

Arthur took a deep breath and looked back to Merlin. He was standing now, a small smile on his face as he looked at Arthur. “I know history and time have added their own twists and turns to your story, but don't for one second doubt that you are the Once and Future King and as Albion's Darkest Hour approaches, you are exactly what Albion needs. More importantly, you are who she wants, else you wouldn't be here.”

 

“But, I'm not the same person, I wasn't bred to be a king...” Arthur protested quietly. Last night, at the Round Table, things had come together naturally, as though he'd never done anything else but hold war councils, but now? Now he wasn't so sure. He hadn't even finished university yet, how the hell was he supposed to lead anyone?

 

Merlin closed the distance between them. “That doesn't matter, Arthur. You were a king once and the greatness you had then is still within you. I believe in you and your knights believe in you. Believe in us and you won't let us down.”

 

He had once been a king, yes, he remembered that. “You say you believe in me,” he said coldly. “But you didn't trust me. Why?”

 

Merlin took a step backwards, his breath hitching. “Arthur, I'm sorry, so sorry, I wanted to tell you. You have no idea how much I wanted to-”

 

“But you didn't. Why?”

 

“Magic was illegal in Camelot-”

 

“Did you really think I would have you executed?”

 

“No, but your father-”

 

“Died, Merlin. He died.”

 

“Yes, but his laws still stood-”

 

“I never had reason to repeal them. Besides, if I recall you actually told me not to accept magic into Camelot.”

 

There was a sharp intake of breath and Merlin's face looked momentarily pained. “I thought Mordred would die if you didn't accept magic.”

 

Arthur froze. His eyes widened. “You mean, you knew Mordred was going to betray us?”

 

Merlin looked away again and nodded. “Yes. Kilgharrah told me the first time Mordred came to Camelot. I thought that by allowing Mordred to die, I could avert the prophecy and you would live.”

 

“Even if it meant never being able to freely practice magic?” he asked softly.

 

“Yes.”

 

Arthur sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I still don't understand why you felt you couldn't tell me you had magic.”

 

“Because that wasn't all it was.” Arthur frowned and met Merlin's tired, sad eyes. “Having magic was only the first of the lies. Then, after that, the number of lies I had to tell, the truths I had to hide just kept getting bigger and bigger and more convoluted as the years went on and two years turned into eight and then ten. I was afraid, Arthur, terrified of telling you the truth.”

 

“But why?! Did you really think that after ten years of friendship I'd still have you executed?!”

 

“No! I mean, not really. I was almost certain you wouldn't have me executed. But you would've been angry, furious and you might have banished me. And- and more than anything, I didn't want to lose that – to lose you.”

 

Arthur felt stunned. Merlin wasn't meeting his eyes, instead he stood there awkwardly, with his shoulders hunched over, making himself look as small as possible. And suddenly, Arthur understood.

 

“You were in love with me.”

 

Merlin cringed. “Yes,” he whispered.

 

Arthur sat down in a daze. For a long time, neither one of them said anything. “Was that another reason why you stayed?” he finally asked.

 

“Yes, I suppose it was. Although I'm fairly certain I would've stayed even without that. I know it wasn't entirely emotion colouring my perception of you as a king. I had so much power, so much that Gaius was astounded at first and it was nice to think there was a purpose for it, that I wasn't a monster.”

 

Arthur thought back fifteen hundred years, back to Camelot and tried desperately to remember if he'd known or even suspected that Merlin was in love with him. Had Merlin ever had anyone else? He'd been incredibly close with Lancelot, but then Lancelot had died. Now that Arthur knew Merlin hadn't, in fact, frequented Camelot's taverns, it put a whole new perspective on things. Merlin had more or less admitted through his storytelling that he'd lived for Arthur.

 

It was incredibly humbling. Arthur wished he could pay him back in some way.

 

“You know, Gwen's married now,” he said carefully.

 

Merlin chuckled. “Yes, I had rather noticed that. However, if you're trying to suggest what I think you are, then I think you're forgetting just how well I really do know you. There's this one tiny problem with that idea. To use a modern term: you don't swing that way.”

 

Arthur coughed. “Er, well, I've never given it much thought, really. Maybe I could if I, uh...”

 

Merlin raised an eyebrow and gave him a pointed look. “No, you really couldn't.”

 

Arthur glared at him. Then he let his eyes wander over his form. Merlin wasn't ugly by any means. Short dark hair with dark blue eyes and pale skin: it looked sort of... ethereal under the soft glow of the magical lights. And there was the long neck – no longer obscured by those ridiculous neckerchiefs, he realized – and he was tall and skinny, though not quite as scrawny as he'd been in Camelot. His legs were long and his hips were, well, hip-like and so maybe he was flat-chested and... and...

 

Arthur sighed. “No, I really couldn't. I'm sorry, Merlin.”

 

Merlin smiled softly. “You don't need to be sorry. This is hardly news to me. I never expected you to love me back. I don't even think I quite realized I'd been in love with you until after you were gone. I'd just never stopped to think about it.”

 

“But it sounds so cruel! Here you've been waiting for fifteen hundred years for me to be reborn and now I-”

 

Merlin snorted and plopped himself down next to Arthur. “You make it sound as though I've been pining after you for fifteen hundred years. I can assure you I haven't. I've had plenty of lovers, both men and women. You're not that great, your Royal Clotpoleness.”

 

Arthur stared at him. “I'm glad there aren't any sheep in that list of lovers.”

 

Merlin rolled his eyes. “Prat.” His face took on a sly, mischievous look. “Which is not to say they were all human.”

 

Arthur shook his head and leaned back to look at the sky. He smiled. “So, Merlin, tell me, since you have so much experience, where is the most unusual place you've ever had sex?”

 

Merlin blinked at Arthur. Then he threw his head back and laughed.

 


 

 

Mordred fingered the amulet around his neck. He wondered if Morgana had made it herself or if one of the hags had. Whoever had made it certainly hadn't cared about its appearance; the dark green crystal in its centre was held in place with twine and there were four raven feathers attached to it along with a string of holly. Although, so long as it did what it was supposed to do, he didn't particularly care what it looked like.

 

The boat swayed slightly and Mordred automatically tightened his grip on the edge, using his magic to steady it. He peered into the surrounding mist, but saw very little and heard even less apart from the breathing and shuffling behind him. He wondered if the wizard guards would find the sudden mist approaching the island suspicious. Could they feel its magic? Would they be prepared for them? He mentally shook himself. Now was not the time for doubts. Emrys would not be here and anyone else who got in his way, he could handle. Besides, he wouldn't be the one doing the actual fighting.

 

Behind him, he could hear the other occupants of the boat becoming more restless, agitated by the full moon even as the mist shrouded them from its full effects. He imagined the other boat he could only barely make out through the mist wasn't faring any better.

 

Finally, he saw the outline of tall, stone walls looming towards them. He stiffened.

 

We're nearly there. Prepare yourselves.

 

He could feel them freeze in surprise as his voice spoke into their minds, but it lasted only a few moments. The shuffling returned with more purpose as they stripped as quickly and quietly as the confined space of the boat would allow.

 

The boat hit the shore and stopped. Mordred jumped out. The mist began to recede, bathing both boats in moonlight. He wished he could stop and look back, watch the transformations, but he didn't have the time for that. He left behind the sounds of cracking bones and pained cries and strode towards the small door, the only entrance into the stone gate complex. It looked fairly ordinary, though one touch told him it was heavily warded.

 

“Who goes there?” a deep voice rumbled.

 

Mordred looked up at the round stone face peeking out of the otherwise plain stone masonry just above the door. He smiled up at it. “I'm here to visit the prisoners.”

 

The face frowned. “There are no prisoners here, boy. Azkaban is on a different island.”

 

“Oh, I don't mean human prisoners. Also, when I say 'visit', I actually mean 'free'.”

 

He pressed his entire palm to the door and gathered his magic, pushing it into the door. The door might have been heavily warded, but it was still made of wood. “In bearhtmhwíle Ealde ond æfterieldum ábríeðeest.”

 

The wood resisted at first, as all living things did to magical interference, but then Mordred pushed past its resistance and slowly, the wood began to darken and decay. He could hear the stone face screaming hysterically, but ignored it. He felt the wood beneath his palm grow grittier and feebler as it rotted away. When the last spark of life disappeared from it, he pulled back.

 

Behind him, he heard a growl. Mordred turned around, his eyes widening for a moment as he found himself the focus of the entire mangy pack of fully-transformed, angry werewolves. The pack's leader stepped forward, showing his teeth and dripping saliva as he growled. Mordred swallowed nervously and straightened his back, his eyes glowing gold as he gathered his magic. The wolf took a step back, eyeing him carefully.

 

The silence was broken with a series of cracks as three wizards apparated to the opposite side of the door. Two of them immediately pointed their wands at Mordred. “What is the meaning of this? Who are you?” one of them demanded. The third wizard froze, whimpering at the sight of the werewolves. He didn't collect himself in time to warn the other two, before the wolves set themselves upon them.

 

Mordred stepped back, raised his hand at the door and pushed. The rotted wood flew away from the hinges. He heard a cry of alarm from the other side. As did the wolves. Mordred quickly walked away from the screams, howls and the smell of blood.

 

The tall stone wall had the shape of a lop-sided hexagon, with one side longer than the others and thicker from the outside as it was actually a long, heavily-fortified building containing some cells but mostly rooms for the wizard guards. It had been designed with the intention of keeping them safe from the rest of the structure's occupants. Although, according to Morgana, the wizards didn't call themselves guards, but keepers. Mordred felt the change when he rounded the corner and away from the building, where the wards were heavier. Despite the amulet, he could feel the air around him suddenly grow colder, more forbidding. He saw flashes of people he'd loved and lost, but shook his head. He'd been warned about this.

 

He stopped and turned to observe the wall in front of him. He shrugged: this part was as good as any. Taking a deep breath, he centred himself and pulled at his magic until it began to rise to the surface, making his skin tingle. It was ironic that getting defeated by Emrys had made him stronger, had somehow helped him remember what he'd been taught so long ago by the druids, his people. Morgana thought it had been being on the Isle of the Blessed, but he wasn't so sure. His memories of the past were clearer now as well. He remembered living in Camelot, remembered the knights, Merlin and Arthur.

 

Arthur, whom they'd felt awaken with a rush of excitement from the land itself.

 

Mordred pushed down and then pulled magic from the island. Darker than his own, corrupted by the beings present on it, it eagerly answered his call as though sensing his intent. He raised both arms towards the stone wall, uncaring of the way the ground shook beneath his feet.

 

Cume þoden! Ic bíede ðú lyf áscylfe! Ic can stanas tobrytan!

 

In the air above his outstretched hands, a whirlwind began to form. As he fed it magic, it steadily grew, spinning faster and faster, picking up dust and debris and sucking more air into its body until it was a towering cyclone of air currents. It flew towards the stone wall, tearing through the magical wards as though they were mere sheets of paper. Mordred frowned. He hadn't expected it to be that easy. But he hardly gave it much thought as the cyclone battered the wall, sending heaps of stone flying outwards from the wall, picking up other bits and whirling them around its centre.

 

Finally, the last of the wall crumbled with a loud series of dull crashes, leaving behind a gaping hole that would've fit a small house. The cyclone continued to whirl around for a few moments more, as though savouring its victory and then it dissipated upwards into nothing. The sudden silence that followed was deafening and, somehow, all the more absolute for the destruction that had been left behind

 

Inside the compound he saw the shadows move, watched as the creatures within glided out into the open like skinny, ghostly ringwraiths. They glided towards the new exit, arms outstretched, shadows preceding them, sounding like an orchestra breathing almost empty oxygen tanks.

 

Mordred staggered backwards, eyes wide and terrified. Their light was as dark as their cloaks, as dark as the shadows they cast into the night. There was no malice in their approach, just a calm, steady hunger. He'd preferred the angry, snarling wolves. Was letting these creatures out really such a good idea?

 

He felt a tingling in his pocket and he reached in to grab the small porcelain cat Morgana had given him. He felt a pull at his navel as the portkey activated and spirited him away.

 


 

 

Morgana looked down at the large, bubbling cauldron in satisfaction. The hags on either side of her had gone silent, their voices no longer echoing within the walls of the cave. The chanting was done, the spell complete.

 

She stepped away from the cauldron and extinguished the flames with a wave of her wand. The thick, dark liquid inside continued to bubble, but that would stop soon even if it would never grow cold. She motioned to one of the Death Eaters waiting off to the side to clear up the mess on the wooden table beside her. She didn't look up as a small lifeless body floated away, golden curls looking alive and bouncing despite the vacant stare of the child and the long, angry gash that ran from wrist to elbow along the inside of her arm.

 

It was just one more life, Morgana told herself, jutting her chin out proudly. It would be worth it in the end, when she was finally queen. She smirked.

 

“Thank you, my friends, that was nicely done,” she said lightly. The two hags bowed to her in acknowledgement. “Now we can begin the second act.”

 

“Indeed.”

 

“Then we shall see you on the morrow, my lady, at the appointed time.”

 

The hags both left and Morgana stayed for a few minutes more, lost in thought. Then she swung briskly around and walked out of the cave, leaving the cauldron and its dark liquid behind her to fester quietly and spread, like the one moldy apple in a bushel.

 


 

 

Arthur nearly fell off the bench laughing as Merlin described being attacked by pirates during his first voyage to the colonies. Not that being attacked by pirates was actually all that funny when the captain wasn't Jonny Depp, but only Merlin would manage to do so when there was a lonely kraken nearby who'd decided he wanted to make friends. Fending off pirates and an amorous sea monster at the same time sounded like just the sort of ridiculous situation he would get himself into.

 

As he lay sprawled on the bench with one leg off and touching the ground for balance, Arthur leaned his head back and looked at the sky. “Bloody hell, do you realize the sky's starting to lighten again?”

 

Merlin also looked up. “Oh, so it is. Guess that means it's tomorrow already. Or that today is really today and not tomorrow.” He frowned.

 

“Merlin, shut up.”

 

The sudden 'pop' startled them, making Arthur jump and yelp as he nearly lost his balance again. Merlin snickered before turning to the house elf. “Hello, Mimsy, what can we do for you?”

 

Mimsy had a rather perplexed look on her face, as though she was just a bit confused what they were still doing out here instead of being in bed where they should have been at whatever o'clock in the morning it was.

 

“There is a Mister Harry Potter here to see you, Emrys. Mimsy is to tell you Harry Potter has important message for Emrys.”

 

Merlin groaned. “Gods, what's Morgana done now?”

 

Arthur frowned. “What makes you think it's Morgana?”

 

“Because I highly doubt he's here this early in the morning or late at night or whatever you want to call it, in order to ask me for tea. Besides, I don't entirely think he likes me.”

 

“Now there's a surprise. I thought everyone liked you. Or does he only like intelligent people?”

 

“Well, he certainly doesn't like prats, so he'll hate you.”

 

“You know, if you're going to expect people to accept me as their king, you're going to have to stop speaking to me like that.”

 

Merlin snorted as he dragged himself off the bench. “Afraid they'll revoke your legendary status once they find out what a royal clotpole you are?”

 

Arthur yawned widely as he stood as well. “They might, if I was. But I'm not, so it's irrelevant.”

 

“Mimsy, you can tell him we're on our way,” Merlin told the house elf. Mimsy nodded and then disappeared again with a 'pop'.

 

Arthur blinked as he stared at the spot she'd been standing in. “I'm not entirely certain I'll ever get used to that. Why do wizards have to do everything in such bizarre ways?”

 

Merlin laughed. “I've never quite understood it myself. Of course, as you've probably figured out, I've barely lived in the Wizarding World at all for more than a few years at a time here and there. I think the most time I ever spent living as a wizard was around the turn of the first millennium when Hogwarts was first founded.”

 

“That'd be the magic school, yeah?”

 

“Yeah. It was an exciting time.”

 

Merlin felt a twinge of guilt as they meandered through the gardens, towards the manor. Whatever Harry had to tell them probably was important and clearly urgent enough for the Order of the Phoenix to send him to tell Merlin in person, but Merlin didn't want to let go of this easy camaraderie he and Arthur had established.

 

However, as all things must inevitably come to an end, so did Merlin and Arthur finally arrive at the antechamber that housed the floo network connection. Harry Potter scowled at them when they entered, looking incredibly annoyed.

 

“Good morning, Harry!” Merlin called out with a warm smile. “What brings you here at this bloody ridiculous hour?”

 

“Minister Kingsley Shacklebolt sent me to tell you there's been an attack,” Harry spat out. “A man and a pack of werewolves attacked the keepers at the dementor reserve and then destroyed part of the walls around it.”

 

Merlin frowned. “Dementor reserve? I thought they were all at Azkaban.”

 

“What is a dementor?” Arthur asked.

 

“Er, sort of like the quieter younger brothers of the Dorocha.”

 

“They sound charming.”

 

“Oh they're absolutely delightful. Right down to the whole soul-eating thing.”

 

“They eat souls?!”

 

Harry cleared his throat and glared at them. Merlin smiled and indicated for him to go on. “They used to be the guards at Azkaban prison-”

 

“You used soul-eating monsters to guard prisoners?!”

 

“Shut up, Arthur. Sorry 'bout that, Harry. Please do continue.”

 

Harry blinked, looking at Arthur in surprise. “Er, right. Well, after they joined with Voldemort during the war, Kinglsey decided he didn't want to use them as guards anymore, so they created an island a few miles west of Azkaban and built a reserve there for them. There's a floo connection that only works between the two islands so that aurors can transport prisoners condemned to the Kiss back and forth, but the dementors are on a separate island.”

 

Merlin mulled over this new information. Beside him, Arthur frowned.

 

“I don't understand, if these dementors are on an island, then what's the problem? Are they within swimming distance?”

 

“No, dementors don't swim,” said Merlin, “but they do float.”

 

“Oh. Are they daleks?”

 

“No, more like ringwraiths. That float.”

 

“Okay, those things are actually rather terrifying. I'll be very happy not to meet any of them.”

 

Merlin shrugged. He looked at Harry. “I'm assuming aurors are working at rounding them up?”

 

“Of course they are,” the young man barked. “It's not as if they're going to wait for you to do anything.”

 

Merlin sighed. “Then why exactly are you here, Harry?”

 

He could see Harry gritting his teeth. “Kingsley wanted to know your opinion on the attack.”

 

Merlin nodded. “It's a diversion. Morgana has no need for dementors. And, unlike Voldemort, she has no allies or friends in Azkaban, no real reason to want them running about except in the way they would cause chaos and it shouldn't actually take the aurors that long to round them up again anyway... so short-term chaos. I'm going to assume, again, that the auror department's first order will be to double the guard on Azkaban?”

 

Harry nodded slowly, eyes narrowed in suspicion.

 

“Tell them not to bother. Morgana's likely hoping they will do that and thus pull people from other places.”

 

“What's more concerning is that Morgana apparently sent Mordred alone to break out these creatures,” Arthur added. “Why didn't she go with him?”

 

“Hm, and then there's that.”

 

“What are you thinking?”

 

Merlin's eyes were grave as he looked to Arthur, but there was a small smile on his face none the less. “With your permission, sire, I think it's time we became proactive.”

 

Arthur nodded. “And I take it you already have a few ideas?”

 

“Oh yes. You didn't think I'd spent the last fifteen hundred years roaming about and done nothing to prepare, did you?”

Chapter Text

Chapter 17

 

It was just past lunch-time when Minerva McGonagall walked into her office. She looked at the scrolls piled on top of her desk and sighed. They were mostly letters from concerned parents, demanding to know whether their children were safe at the school – a few were straight requests to pull them out early. She understood their concerns, but couldn't help feeling as though the world around her was coming apart. It was her responsibility to keep the children under her care safe and, although none of them had been harmed and there was realistically nothing she could have done any differently, it still felt like she'd failed them.

 

Images of Hogsmeade flashed through her mind, making her shiver. Perhaps this was for the better. Perhaps they would be safer elsewhere. And the end of the school year wasn't that far off in any case... except she wasn't sure they would be safer anywhere else. She was no Albus Dumbledore, but Hogwarts was still a heavily-warded castle regardless of who was headmaster.

 

“Knut for your thoughts, Minerva?”

 

She smiled sadly at Albus's portrait. “I'm afraid they're not worth as much.” She sighed and looked to the window at the back of her office. “People are becoming scared again. I think... I think that's what I hate her for the most. Life was finally starting to move on, people were moving on: laughing and not instinctively looking over their shoulder or biting their tongues to keep from saying the wrong thing. The children were laughing and carefree again.

 

“This morning the students were quiet and at lunch they were still quiet. I'm terrified that I can't protect them from what's coming. I don't think I told you this morning – too many things to do – but the young man, Mordred, attacked the dementor's island last night with a pack of werewolves. He tore down part of the stone wall keeping them in. I received an owl from Kingsley this morning saying it's possible the attack was just a distraction, a way to keep the auror department occupied, and so we should remain on alert. There are aurors guarding the gates and the more at the Ministry. If this is a mere distraction, she's done an excellent job.”

 

Minerva closed her eyes. “Merlin, Albus, I'd never wished for you to still be alive more than right now.”

 

“And I wish I were still alive to take some of the burden away from you, Minerva.”

 

Minutes passed in silence.

 

“Perhaps you should use some of that ridiculous Gryffindor bravado and find the bright side in this situation.”

 

Minerva blinked and looked at Severus' portrait in confusion. “Where exactly do you see a bright side?”

 

“How the hell am I supposed to know?! I'm a Slytherin!”

 

Minerva couldn't help herself. The affronted, disgruntled look on Severus Snape's face sent her into peals of laughter. The man in the portrait glared at her. Finally, she managed to get a hold of herself, though she was chuckling still as she wiped tears from the corners of eyes. “Why thank you, Severus, I do believe I needed that.”

 

Severus huffed.

 

Minerva smiled at him warmly and squared her shoulders as she turned her attention back to her desk. Movement outside the window caught her eye and she groaned at the presence of yet another owl. A flick of her wand opened the window and a great horned owl ducked in, moving rather awkwardly due to the small burlap sack it was holding in its talons. She frowned, wondering what that could possibly be. Certainly not a scroll from another fearful parent.

 

She looked at the owl properly and gasped. The owl spread its wings and leapt off the windowsill, depositing the sack onto her desk, before landing on the floor beside it. Then it transformed.

 

“Archibald,” she said softly, amazed despite herself. She cleared her throat and smiled. “Welcome to Hogwarts.”

 

“Hello, Aunt Minerva,” he responded, before reaching over to pick up the sack. He held it out to her. “Merlin sent me to give you this. He didn't come himself, because that might attract Morgana's attention. She's bound to be watching the manor by now and he would rather not alert her that he's up to something.”

 

Minerva took the sack and felt for its contents. Whatever it was, it was solid with a partially smooth surface. She was aware of having all eyes in the office on her as she undid the twine at the top and reached in. The object inside was heavier than the sack had been. She stared at it, turned it around to look at it from all sides as she attempted to figure out what it was. It was a milky-white orb fitted into a golden metal base covered in engraved runes that looked almost like a goblet with a two-centimetre tall stem. Curled up on top of the orb was a small dragon of the same colour and metal as the base. It was curled up and sleeping peacefully.

 

“What is it?”

 

Archie shrugged. “Apparently it's supposed to complete the wards.”

 

Minerva's eyes widened. She looked back down at the orb. “How?”

 

“All Merlin said was that you need to take it to the main entrance hall.”

 

“I see.” Her nephew turned towards the window, supposedly to leave. “Will you stay for tea?” Minerva suddenly blurted out.

 

Archie paused and turned back towards her, looking surprised and slightly nervous. Minerva could well understand the feeling.

 

“I told your mother about you - that you're still alive. She was overjoyed to hear the news. I think... she'd love to see you. Your father's dead, sadly, but your brother, Patrick, is alive and doing well. Married and his eldest daughter is set to come to Hogwarts next year. He works at the ministry. I-I'm not certain if he knows yet, but I know he'll be happy to know you're still alive. Your disappearance hit him hard.”

 

Archie let out a breath and smiled. “When this is all over then, yes, I will be happy to see them again. But, for now, I must be getting back to the manor. We move tomorrow morning and there is much to do before then.”

 

Minerva blinked. “Tomorrow, already? But I haven't heard anything from the Order...”

 

“Merlin's been in contact with Kingsley Shacklebolt since early this morning. I believe Harry Potter acted as messenger for most of the earlier part of it, much to the boy's annoyance.”

 

She chuckled. “Yes, I imagine he would hate that.”

 

Archie shrugged. “Whether he likes it or not, this is largely Merlin's show. And now I must take my leave. Good luck.”

 

“You too, Archie.”

 

Archie transformed back into a great horned owl and flew away. Minerva watched him wistfully. She still couldn't help but look for the little boy she remembered. That little boy was gone, however, and in his place stood a man, a complete stranger and her heart wished she could have had everything in between as well. She hadn't lied. The very next morning after meeting him, she'd flooed her sister and told her. Diana had burst into tears.

 

She shook her head and looked down at the orb in her hands. She knew she really should have someone examine it first, but curiosity got the better of her. She examined it as she slowly made her way down the winding staircase from her office. When she finally looked up and found herself standing in the main entrance, she couldn't help but wonder how she'd managed to get there.

 

“Professor McGonagall?”

 

She turned and blinked in surprise at Harry Potter and Ron Weasley who were just walking through the front doors, looking smart in their auror cadet uniforms. Ah yes, she'd heard they were going to be using some of their cadets to make up for the number of aurors being used to keep the dementors at bay on their island while the wall was being repaired.

 

“Misters Potter and Weasley, how are you?” she asked after a moment's pause.

 

“Bored,” Ron answered.

 

“There has to be something better for us to do than sitting around here all day,” said Harry, sounding annoyed.

 

Minerva raised an eyebrow at them. “You don't think protecting children, the future of the wizarding world, is a worth-while activity?”

 

“Er, I no- I mean, yes, it's definitely an important-”

 

“Or are you perhaps in a hurry to face Morgana again?”

 

The two young men had nothing to say to that. She smiled at them. “Welcome to adulthood, Mister Potter. I don't think you quite appreciated just how much freedom you had as a child with no outward responsibilities. Now you have a job to do and there are people trusting you to do it, just as you must trust that they will do theirs.”

 

Harry didn't quite like that response, but, beside him, Ron nodded. “Merlin's trusting us to protect the civilians so he can take on Morgana, isn't 'e?”

 

“Yes, Mister Weasley, I suppose he is.” She raised the orb in her hand again to inspect it and then raised her head, turning on the spot in order to look over the entrance hall. Whatever it was she was supposed to do here, she wasn't seeing it.

 

“What's that, professor?” Harry asked.

 

“I'm not sure, exactly. Something to help strengthen the wards, apparently.”

 

She heard footsteps as the two young men walked up to her. The bell rang, signalling the end of class. They peered at the orb with curiosity and confusion.

 

“Why is there a sleeping dragon on top of it?” Harry asked.

 

Minerva shook her head. “I've no-” She froze, blinked and then turned behind her to the plaque on the wall featuring the school motto in Latin and then translated into English underneath. Half-way between the floor and the plaque, a ledge jutted out from the wall, a circular pedastle in its centre with a single rune carved onto it. That hadn't been there before. She walked to the wall and looked up at the plaque.

 

Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus.

Never tickle a sleeping dragon.

 

She placed the orb in her hand onto the ledge, alining its base with the rune. The letters in the motto glowed golden and moments later, more golden letters appeared beneath the original text.

 

... Unless you absolutely have to.

 

She gaped at the words. Now she knew why Merlin had sent Archie: if Merlin had come himself she'd never have let him leave until he'd described and explained everything to her in detail. She sighed. Well, this was likely as close to step-by-step instructions as she was going to get.

 

She reached down and ticked the dragon on the orb.

 

Almost immediately, the orb began to glow with a bright white light that illuminated the wall. Then the small dragon twitched, its tail swung lazily around the orb and its eyes blinked open. It raised its head and looked around with a groggy half-awake expression on its face. It yawned widely, showing off dozens of tiny razor-sharp teeth and slowly rose to its feet, wings lifting until they were half-unfolded from its body. It looked around as though getting its bearings. Then it reared back slightly and roared. The deep rumbling sound that erupted from the tiny golden body was astonishing. It made the very stones in the castle shake as it travelled and Minerva wouldn't have been surprised to find out the entire school had heard it.

 

The sound stopped and, in the ensuing silence, the dragon sat down onto its haunches and looked forward expectantly. Minerva looked around, startled by the crowd of students that somehow managed to appear. She startled again at the voices that suddenly echoed around her – they weren't any louder than regular voices, but didn't seem to come from any particular individual she could see, as though the air itself were speaking.

 

“Goodness me, is it really that time?”

 

“Oh, just look at all these students! Why remember how happy we were in that last year to have as many as we did and now there must be twice that at least!”

 

“My dear, do stop gushing. We are here for a reason.”

 

“Hm, it's quite astonishing, really, to think it actually worked.”

 

“It's only astonishing because you're such a pessimist, Salazar! Ol' Myrddin knew what he was doing alright. No one understood wards better than him. T'was a pity he couldn't handle his drink worth a damn.”

 

“The measure of a man can hardly be taken from the amount of drink he can consume nor how many bar wenches he can tumble.”

 

“Besides, Godric, Salazar has you beat on both counts anyway.”

 

“He does not!”

 

“Oh I most certainly do.”

 

“Enough! We are being exceedingly rude.”

 

“Ah, yes. So we are, Rowena, so we are.”

 

“Indeed. We must rectify this immediately. I do apologize, my lady. Are we to assume correctly that you are the current headmistress of the school?”

 

Minerva blinked at the broad wizard addressing her. Then she managed to collect enough of a presence of mind to close her gaping mouth and focus. She hadn't noticed the mist gathering in the corners of the entrance hall until she'd heard their voices and then it had felt as though she was watching a waking dream. It was a thick, white mist which filled the entrance hall from the heavy doors to the Great Hall. Yet it didn't seem to come from the Great Hall at all, but rather as though it was expanding out through a window from somewhere in-between. The four figures that emerged from the mist also seemed to simply come into existence, moving through the crowd of gathered students as if the world was making space for them by sliding existing objects around. They were translucent at first – though not colourless in the way ghosts were – but gained substance as they walked towards her. By the time the wizard addressed her, he looked as solid and corporeal as she did.

 

And very, very familiar.

 

It took her a few moments, but she did manage to nod to his question. “Yes, I am Headmistress Minerva McGonagall.”

 

The man beamed down at her. “Excellent! Well, I don't suppose we require an introduction, but for the sake of propriety: I am Godric Gryffindor, at your service.”

 


 

 

Kingsley Shacklebolt was exhausted. His day had started at three in the morning with a floo call informing him about the attack on Dementor Island and hadn't yet improved. The only good thing about it was his constant and prompt correspondence with Merlin, whose assurance that the attack was a ruse meant to confuse, cause panic and divide auror forces helped calm his initial panic. It was obvious, when he thought about it. So many of the Death Eaters in Azkaban had already been Kissed and were thus of no use to Morgana and she would have no guarantee that those left would follow her. No, after he'd taken several deep breaths, drunk a pot of tea and thought about it, he realized he was willing to take the risk of Merlin being wrong and refrained from doubling the guards at the prison.

 

As for dividing auror forces... well, that was sadly partially unavoidable. With the majority of the dementor keepers now dead, a team of aurors had been sent to handle the dementors. First they'd had to round them up and herd them back to the island, and then some were necessary to make sure the dementors stayed on the island and kept away from the wizards busily rebuilding the wall and recasting the wards.

 

Thankfully this was all made a little easier by the sudden surprise appearance of a giant kraken, who – according to the grinning auror captain in charge – took great joy in batting the dementors into the sea with its great many tentacles. Dementors, it turned out, absolutely despised being drenched in sea water.

 

He took a bite of the sandwich his secretary had brought him and took another look at the report in front of him. It was from the Department of Muggle Affairs: an update regarding the muggle government's progress in re-establishing itself. The Queen had told the Royal Opposition to create an interim government that could take charge until proper elections could take place. Which meant that, hopefully, within a couple of days (if he was incredibly lucky) Kingsley would have a muggle leader to approach and co-ordinate with.

 

Commotion in the hallway grabbed his attention. He looked up and frowned. There was a trill melodious sound, twin shouts from the newly-appointed bodyguards stationed just outside his door and then the door burst open as a bright golden shape flew in. Kingsley stared as the phoenix glided a circle around his office before landing on the backrest of the padded chair on the other side of his desk. It was a gorgeous bird, though the bright red feathers on the tips of its wings meant it wasn't Fawkes.

 

It held out its leg to him and Kingsley stood and hurried over to untie the letter attached to it. He didn't have to look at the signature to know who it was from. It was also the shortest letter he'd received from Merlin all day. He read it carefully, his eyebrows rising as he took in the message. When he finished, he looked thoughtful for a few moments and then took a fresh roll of parchment to pen a brief reply.

 

He hesitated before the phoenix, but the golden bird helpfully held out its leg again for Kingsley to tie on his reply. Afterwards, it let out another long, trill melody and then flew off again after he'd opened the door for it.

 

He peeked out of his door and caught his aide's attention. “Ms. Malory, would you please be so kind as to ask the Head of the Auror Department to join me in my office as soon as possible?”

 

The blonde-haired woman looked up. “Yes, of course, sir.”

 

With a quick nod of thanks, Kingsley walked back into his office and took a few minutes to formulate his thoughts before the man arrived and to write a quick note to Arthur Weasley to ask him to summon the Order for a meeting this evening.

 

He couldn't believe it. Tomorrow. Everything was happening tomorrow.

 


 

 

Merlin looked up from the maps spread across the table as he felt Fiera fly into the ballroom, no doubt carrying Kingsley Shacklebolt's latest reply. As she glided towards him, he wondered what the Malfoy ballroom looked like from the air.

 

It had to be a peculiar sight. The ballroom was an immense room with dark hardwood flooring and a brightly painted forest along the walls where water nymphs and satyrs danced with elves and veelas amid the trees and along the shores of a painted lake where a dragon rested peacefully. The ceiling was a grand canopy of branches where one could catch a glimpse of the sky and the falcons that flew above it. A second dragon was currently hovering above the table, curiously looking down at the humans. The table was like an island of activity within the serenity of the room. The only other piece of furniture were several long polished wood tables along one wall, one of which was laden with half-eaten platters of food.

 

He held out an arm and Fiera gracefully landed on it, the strength of her talons making him momentarily wince though they didn't squeeze hard enough to pierce his skin. With his other hand he reached out and took the note, unravelling the ribbon it was tied on with using magic.

 

“Thank you,” he told the phoenix.

 

Fiera nudged him with her head and crooned before spreading her wings and taking off again. She landed on the refreshment table and eyed it for a few moments before spreading her neck and helping herself to some cold cuts. Merlin unrolled the parchment and began to read Kingsley's message.

 

“Looks like your aunt managed to figure out how to get the wards to work,” he commented part-way through.

 

Archie rolled his eyes. “Of course she did. Just because step-by-step instructions would've been nice doesn't mean they were necessary.”

 

“Wards?” Charlie asked with a frown. “You sent new wards to Hogwarts?”

 

Merlin nodded absently, not looking up from his reading. “It was a big, final ward I designed with the Founders as the school was being built. It's as much to protect the school as it is to protect the ley line that runs through the grounds. The school's magic is tied to that line and if it were to become corrupted or broken, then Hogwart's magic would falter and fail. This final ward makes the castle into a guardian for the ley line. Any corruption that makes it that far won't get any farther. And if Morgana or anyone else were to attack it directly in order to force the ward to fail... well, let's just say the headmistress now has a few new allies to help her fight them off.”

 

“Blimey, you've finally learned to plan ahead,” said Arthur. “I'm inordinately proud of you for managing to get around that mental deficiency of yours.”

 

“Prat.”

 

“Is there a particular reason you haven't given Hogwarts this ward before?” Narcissa asked, expertly ignoring their bickering.

 

Merlin looked up from his reading. “It was never truly necessary. Voldemort's magic caused some corruption in the land, but he never actually thought to attack the ley lines themselves as it wouldn't do him much good.”

 

Draco frowned. “You mean because it would weaken his own magic as well?”

 

“No, not really. Wizards don't connect to the land in the way sorcerers do, which means you're not as sensitive to changes in it. If the land were to become completely corrupted you could still do magic, whereas I'd have a hard time creating a so much as a small flame.” He paused, looking thoughtful. “Don't ever make the mistake of thinking that sorcery is more powerful than wizarding magic. It's not; it's just different. Nimueh, Morgana and I probably aren't the best examples of typical sorcery because we're all incredibly powerful in our own way. Most sorcerers couldn't do even half of what you could by the end of your fifth year if they studied half their lives. The spells are different.”

 

Draco nodded thoughtfully.

 

Arthur cleared his throat. “As fascinating as this all is, I don't suppose there's anything relevant in that message?”

 

Merlin blinked. “Oh, uh, nothing terribly new. Kingsley Shacklebolt will be speaking to the Head Auror and telling him the truth about me so that he'll know to have some people standing by tomorrow at Buckingham Palace. There'll also be an Order meeting tonight to let them all know what's going on... and that's about it really.” He handed him the parchment. “Here, you can read it yourself.”

 

Arthur took the parchment and began to read.

 

“So what time are you lot planning on 'eading out?” Tristan asked.

 

Merlin exchanged looks with the others.

 

“I'd say just after nine,” said Sir Leon. “Miss the morning rush that way and if the front of the manor is being watched then we've less likelihood of getting civilians involved.”

 

Lancelot nodded. “The Met's already issued warnings to all schools and businesses to be on alert.”

 

“Has it occurred to anyone here just how lucky it is that Morgana and her wizard posse don't pay any attention to the non-magic world? I mean, against what other enemy could you just send out a bulletin and not expect them to see it?”

 

“I'm not sure 'lucky' is the word you're looking for, Elyan.”

 

Arthur sighed and placed the parchment down onto the table. “Luck isn't something we should be counting on. Especially since we now all know the mysteriously good fortune we always had was due almost entirely to Merlin here.”

 

Merlin flinched slightly at the reminder. “It wasn't all me,” he said quietly. “I might have done things you didn't see from the shadows, but without all of you it would've been useless.” He sighed and looked blankly into the distance, as though entranced by a pair of water nymphs giggling together underneath a large stately oak. “My biggest mistake was not listening to the advice I was being given. No, to the people who were giving that advice. Kilgharrah is a dragon and I don't think I quite realized at the time what that meant-”

 

“It means he's a huge fire-breathing lizard, Merlin.”

 

Merlin glared at Arthur's smug 'you're an idiot if you don't know that' expression. Inwardly he felt grateful that Arthur wasn't actually angry at him or blaming him for what went wrong.

 

“Yes thank you, Arthur. I meant apart from the blatantly obvious. I'm fairly certain not even Cornelius Fudge could've missed that.” The wizards at the table snickered even as Arthur and the knights looked confused at the reference. He met Draco's eye across the table and winked. “I meant in the way that being a dragon means that Kilgharrah thinks differently than humans do. To him everything is simple, straightforward and destiny is a linear path that shouldn't be deviated from. That can't be deviated from. He saw my path – our path – knowing I would ignore the one piece of advice that could change it and so was blind to other possibilities. The druids were the same. The Acatha told me there was nothing I could do to change things, that the events at Camlann were set in stone. I did everything I could, everything I could think of to prevent events from transpiring the way they did, to prevent your... death. I couldn't though, because by then it was too late.”

 

He paused. “You remember the quest for the Trident of the Fisher King?”

 

Arthur snorted. “The one I was supposed to accomplish alone you mean?”

 

“You'd have never managed it without us, princess,” said Gwaine with a grin. “'Twas great fun, that was.”

 

Leon shook his head, a slight smile on his face. It was the same smile he'd had when Isabella had fearlessly begun making friends with all the new creatures residing on the manor grounds: fondness with a large dose of exasperation.

 

“I would've managed just fine without-”

 

“Morgana had given you a bracelet that was draining your life. You would've died, Arthur.”

 

Arthur blinked and gasped. “I remember her giving me that. I... she said it was for luck.”

 

“It most certainly wasn't.” He stopped whatever Arthur was going to add with a gesture. “None of this is relevant at the moment, though. Have you ever wondered what happened to the Perilous Lands? No, probably not. You won't find them on any map, I'll guarantee you that. See, they don't entirely lay in our world. Like the Isle of the Blessed, they lay on the outskirts of the world of the Fae and the Seelie Court. Not quite a part of that realm, but close. And fae magic transcends this world's magic. Again, not more powerful, but different, with different rules. They see things differently. I'm assuming you met Grettir, the dwarf at the bridge?”

 

“Yes, I remember him,” Arthur grumbled. “Courage, Strength and Magic. I can't believe I didn't question that. He was practically telling me one of my companions was magic.”

 

Merlin nodded. “Yes, but more important was his message. He said that only when Courage, Strength and Magic work together will we be successful. I assumed he was talking about the quest. I was wrong and his words were the ones I should've been listening to. Dwarves belong to neither the fae nor the human world, which made him the perfect guardian to the bridge between. It also meant he was able to tell me what no one else could: how to fix destiny. And I didn't listen. My biggest enemies were always fear and ignorance.”

 

He stood and looked down at Arthur with a smile. “You, Arthur, you are Courage. You inspire it, you personify it every time you lead an army into battle, every time you stand up and fight for Albion. And I know part of you wonders whether you can be that man again, whether you have the strength to pick up your sword and lead Albion, your people again. If your faith in yourself ever wavers then just remember you are not alone. Look around you-” He motioned to their friends sitting around the table. “Your knights, your friends, your family who isn't here, your people across Albion, they are the Strength standing behind you. And I, the creatures of Albion and the Wizarding World, we are the final element: Magic. Whether the Wizarding World follows you directly or whether they follow me, it doesn't matter, because I follow you. You will always be my king and I am Magic.”

 

From the depths of himself, the part that was a child of the Old Religion, a creature born of Albion herself, Merlin felt the truth of his own words, the way they reverberated through his soul.

 

“When those three elements come together, we will defeat Morgana.”

 


 

 

Scarlhgogh, the troll leader looked up at the sky. It had been getting steadily more and more overcast during the night and now instead of showing the first glimmerings of predawn twilight, it was pitch as the darkest cave. Lights from the town glimmered from within the darkness, the man-made lanterns oblivious to the unnatural oppressiveness of the prolonged night. Around him he felt the anticipation of his brothers - his tribe and the one from the Sea Caves – heighten as the first rumblings were heard across the sky.

 

He hefted his large club, the spikes on it newly sharpened and polished. He heard the others raise their own weapons. In the distance, he heard the muffled cries of the Wyvern owned by the Sea Cave tribe. He did not care for using beasts to fight his battles, but watching the dragon cousins tear humans apart was amusing.

 

Lightening flashed across the sky. Scarlhgogh grinned.

 

In the midst of a violent thunderstorm that shook windows and drowned gardens, they attacked. The dogs that had been nervous and wary for the past week, sensing their presence, broke out into a furious medley of barking. The humans who came out to yell them into silence found death at the end of a troll's club or axe. A few made it out to their yards before being swooped onto by a wyvern. Trolls were larger than humans; they had to stoop to enter their houses. The screams were nearly drowned out by the thunder, barking and the crashing about of just over two dozen trolls. Nearly.

 

Scarlhgogh bent an iron fence and stomped up to a wooden door. One stroke of his club splintered it apart. A second left a hole big enough for him to pull himself through. Inside he found a human hurrying down the stairs, long white hair and a heavily lined face and eyes that opened in terror when they saw him. The human turned to run back up, but he was faster. Human bones cracked so very easily, their heads bursting open like eggs with the right amount of force.

 

He wasn't sure how long the storm raged, nor exactly when Morgana's wizards had arrived. He didn't see the boy sorcerer, but didn't care. His eyes shone with excitement, his ears filled with the sweet sound of screams and his club drenched in human blood. Only when the storm began to die down did his own blood begin to settle. He grabbed the human in front of him by long dark hair and dragged it behind him. When his grip began to slip, he threw the human over his shoulder instead. He barely felt the blows on his back, shrugging them off as he walked.

 

Morgana was there when he arrived, standing within the stone circle like a triumphant queen. Her eyes glittered and her smile was menacing with a slight show of teeth. Though human, Scarlhgogh thought she looked rather appealing in that moment as the magic crackled around her, some having come with the storm and some being pulled from the stones surrounding her.

 

He deposited the human he was carrying onto the pile of others. There was a wizard there immediately to cast a spell that made the human stop moving like the others, their breaths coming quick and soft like butterfly wings. He stepped out of the circle and watched along with his brethren as two hags approached the human pile holding long, jagged knives with blades that were black as the night sky. At a gesture from Morgana, the wizards, too, stepped out of the circle.

 

He didn't pay any attention to the words as Morgana began chanting, not caring for the magic beyond what he could feel thrumming through his bones. He felt as the magic in the land fought against her will, but with every throat that was cut, with every new infusion of blood spilt onto sacred ground, the resistance grew weaker. Finally, he felt as the fae slid silently away, abandoning their homes on the edge of the human world as the land feeding into the ley line beneath their feet fell into darkness.

 

Morgana's grin when she finished was wild and triumphant. “Now, Emrys, we shall see where you stand without the Old Religion behind you.”

 


 

 

Merlin woke with a gasp, his eyes shining gold as he struggled to draw breath. He felt choked with fear, and a lingering sense of defeat. He brought a hand to his cheek and blinked at the tears he felt streaming down his face.

 

It took mere moments to dress himself, clothes flying into his hands as his magic reached out for them automatically, knowing what he needed better than his confused mind did. And then he was racing down the stairs of his tower and running out the back door, through the gardens and towards the confused, scared group that had already gathered by the time he arrived.

 

Even Aithusa had awoken from her healing sleep and flown to the green behind the lake alongside Kilgharrah. The unicorns, wolves, griffins, hippogryffs and the Lord of the Hunt's prized stag were all there, gathered in a circle as though for a conference. Fiera's song was distressed as she and Fawkes flew past him to join them. That was when he realized his friends hadn't gathered in a circle so much as they had made a circle around something.

 

His first glance of the newcomers made Merlin's heart stop. Because the fae didn't just abandon their homes and they didn't travel to visit others. Ever. Yet here they were.

 


 

 

Narcissa stood watching the fireplace nervously, gritting her teeth in an effort to stop herself from wringing her hands. She could feel her son's eyes on her, full of worry. Another presence came up along her other side and she glanced over to see Archie yawning widely, his long wavy hair half in and half out of its hair tie. He met her eye and sent her a small smile, which she echoed gratefully. Beside him, Isabella looked up at her and waved brightly.

 

The flames in the fireplace turned green and then flashed blue. The first to step through was Bill Weasley followed closely by his wife, Fleur, cradling their son closely to her chest. Charlie came in after them and she couldn't help but wonder when the boy planned on sleeping. He sent her a reassuring smile, though, which only made her more nervous. Sure enough, after him came a dark-haired witch in a deep blue travelling cloak holding the hand of a small sleepy-looking boy with sandy hair. He looked around curiously, his eyes becoming slightly more awake at the unfamiliar surroundings. His hair shifted into a slightly blonder tone.

 

Narcissa's eyes were on the witch holding his hand. She was staring back, a slightly wary look in her eyes. Such familiar eyes they were too. And that face... so much like Belatrix's and yet not possibly more different. Narcissa felt her eyes tearing up. “Andromeda,” she whispered and then she was moving. Closing the distance between them should have been difficult and yet it was one of the most natural things she'd ever done. “It's so good to see you again, sister,” she said as she embraced her.

 

There was a moment of stillness during which she could feel Andromeda's shock, but that faded quickly and her sister returned the embrace. “Narcissa, I can't believe you're actually here.”

 

“I'm sorry.”

 

Andromeda's arms tightened around her and the last of the tension disappeared from Narcissa's frame. All was not yet forgiven, she knew, but they could work on that. The two of them parted and Narcissa smiled as she looked down to see Isabella was already busy introducing herself to the little boy (her great-nephew, she suddenly realized with a jolt). The boy was staring at her with wide eyes as he gripped his grandmother's robes.

 

The fireplace roared to life once more, the green flames flashing blue almost immediately and then Leon burst through dragging a struggling muggle woman behind him.

 

“-always knew you were an infernal brute! My daughter must've been mad to-”

 

“Grandmama!”

 

Isabella's exclamation stopped the woman's screaming instantly. Her hand seemed to automatically come down to pat her granddaughter's head as the child ran over and hugged her legs. Leon breathed a sigh of relief as he let go of her and stepped away, nodding a greeting to Narcissa. The woman blinked down at the child and then looked up, seeming to realize for the first time the scenery around her had changed. It occurred to Narcissa how terrifying it must be to be dragged towards a flaming fireplace when one had no knowledge of floo travel.

 

“Grandmama, Merlin said you can stay here until daddy comes back tomorrow and I can show you the unicorns! I would show you the dragons too, but I don't think they'll be here. Except that Aithusa might, because she was badly hurt by Morgana. Grandmama I don't think I like Morgana very much. She can't be a very nice person if she can hurt a dragon.”

 

Isabella's grandmother stared down at the child. She looked up again and found Leon's form amongst the crowd surrounding her. Her eyes were wide, uncertain and lost. “Leon, what's going on here?”

 

Leon smiled gently, an apology in his eyes. “I'm sorry, Bethany, I'm afraid I didn't have time to explain what was going on. It would have taken too much time to make you believe me. Today is going to be dangerous and I wanted to make sure that you at least would be safe. For Isabella's sake.”

 

She frowned, her eyes hard and piercing. “Why do you think I wouldn't be safe in my own home, Leon?”

 

“Because as a Knight of the Round Table it is my duty to ride out tomorrow with my king in order to help him reclaim his sword. Albion's Darkest Hour approaches and we must have all our weapons ready at our disposal.”

 

Bethany looked around the room, as though trying to gauge the reactions of everyone else to his words. She looked torn between wanting to dismiss them for being ridiculous and having seen and just experienced one too many impossible things to be able to simply dismiss them out of hand.

 

“Actually, you're wrong.” They all turned to the doorway where Emma stood looking grim. “It's already here. Two hours ago, Morgana took Avebury and Stonehenge.”

 

Narcissa gasped. Stonehenge was a magical site. Even wizards knew it was sacred and she could only assume it meant at least as much to sorcerers and to the Old Religion.

 

“Is Stonehenge important?” Fleur asked with a frown.

 

Emma looked at her. “Yes, several ley lines intersect there, including one that leads to London. What's worse is that she performed some sort of blood ritual that's infused the circle with dark magic. That dark magic is now spreading by the ley lines.”

 

“And what happens if the ley lines become corrupted?” Draco asked quietly, his eyes wide with fear.

 

“It will cut off the land from its magic, eventually destroying it,” Archie answered.

 

Nimueh nodded. “Yes, and more to the point, it will considerably weaken Merlin, Dudley and myself. Not to mention the harm it will cause the magical creatures who require purity to exist such as the fae and unicorns. Even griffins and dragons, though darker in nature, will die in a land where magic has been twisted.”

 

“Where's Merlin?” Leon asked.

 

Nimueh shrugged. “He's gone to wake Arthur and let him know what's happened while he was asleep.”

 

Archie snorted. “He'd better watch out there or he'll give the poor boy a complex and then he'll never want to sleep again.”

 

Nimueh smirked. Leon rolled his eyes. “I suppose I should go wake up the other knights,” he said. “Isabella, why don't you go show your grandmama her rooms?”

 

Isabella nodded, still looking worried. Her grandmother looked confused as she let the little girl drag her out of the room. Bill kissed his wife and child and then he and Charlie left to inform the Order. Narcissa took Andromeda's arm and led her to the rooms she and her grandson would be sharing.

 

Arthur's decision was simple. They left within the hour, as soon as they were all dressed and able. Two cars full to capacity with Percy and Gwaine on Percy's motorcycle and Draco on broomstick left for the motorways and London. Kilgharrah followed them out of the grounds and then flew upwards until he was lost amongst the clouds.

 

Two ravens perched on a tree just outside the wards of the Malfoy Manor. They eyed the cars with interest as they drove by and then flew off to tell their mistress the news.

 

Merlin watched them all leave. Every instinct in his body screamed at him to follow Arthur, but he held fast, knowing there were more important things for him to do. Things only he could do. He finally turned away with a sigh and set out towards the back of the manor, to the lake where his allies were gathered and then to the forest, where he could slip away unnoticed.

Chapter Text

Chapter 18

 

As they attempted to speed their way along the motorway into London, Archie cursed morning traffic under his breath. Beside him, Arthur pointed out it was usually much worse. The radio confirmed this with a long, mostly vague, report on the attack on Avebury by things that weren't human. People were beginning to believe. They were getting scared.

 

Arthur clenched his fists, suddenly hating modern technology and the way it spread fear. Though, he supposed, at least it was also allowing people time to prepare themselves. Although, God, how exactly do you prepare to fight trolls? And really, trolls?! He took some small comfort in knowing they at least weren't orcs. Merlin had assured him there were no such thing as orcs.

 

Behind him, Elyan was typing away at his laptop, updating their Facebook page with useful information on how to fight magical beings and build rudimentary wards that would keep at least some of them away. He wondered idly where anyone was going to get cold iron in this day and age. Glancing into the rearview mirror he saw Emma's Audi still following behind them. He could only assume Draco was somewhere alongside them as well, however the wizard had cast some sort of charm on himself to make him unnoticeable so Arthur couldn't confirm his presence as easily.

 

They were just within the boundary of the City of London when they were attacked. Arthur's eyes widened at the sudden wall that scurried into their path, gaping when he realized it was a wall of skeletons. The BMW lurched as Archie slammed on his breaks and the Audi behind them skidded on an angle as it too came to a stop. Car breaks screeched around them as their fellow road-travellers all hit their breaks as well. Arthur unbuckled his seatbelt and climbed out of the car just as Percival brought his motorcycle up beside him.

 

“You know, I'm getting real sick of seeing these things,” Gwaine announced with an annoyed grimace. “Morgana really needs new material.”

 

Arthur blinked. What? He shook his head, banishing memories of Camelot. There was a soft thump as Draco landed on top of the car.

 

“How does it look from above?” he asked the wizard.

 

Draco looked down at him and then pointed to their right. “They're coming from somewhere behind those buildings and they're all headed straight here. That line there's about five or six deep.”

 

That was a lot of skeletons. He took a deep breath. Around them he saw people getting out of their cars, looking frightened. Quite a few of them had noticed Draco and were staring at him. Many of them were running, but he couldn't help but notice that more than a few seemed to be waiting to see what they would do even as they shot nervous glances at the approaching skeletons.

 

“That would mean that the centre of the spell is somewhere in that area,” said Emma, standing beside Archie, who nodded. “It would have to be connected to the earth somehow, so either a patch of grass or inside a dug-up pit or something.”

 

Arthur nodded. “Sir Pericival, after we break through this I want you and Gwaine to head that way and destroy the staff or whatever it is that's controlling the spell.” Two motorcycle helmets nodded. “Emma, could Kilgharrah's flames burn through the skeletons?”

 

Emma raised an eyebrow at him. Archie snorted. “If you think I'm driving my car through dragon flames you're out of your once and future mind.”

 

“Draco and I could, however, blast you a hole through the skeletons and then get Kilgharrah to set fire to them after you've gotten through,” said Emma. She threw her car keys at Dudley and stepped away from the car.

 

“That works too,” said Arthur, eyeing the approaching skeletons with trepidation. They clearly weren't in any hurry and that worried him. Was Morgana merely trying to slow them down or was she- oh. He slapped his forehead. Of course. “She's trying to lure Merlin out.”

 

“Yes, she probably is,” said Archie looking towards the sky. “Which is why we should make sure to give her a good view of Kilgharrah, but only briefly so that she'll think Merlin's riding him like he was last time.”

 

Arthur nodded and met Emma's eyes, who nodded back in understanding. He turned away as she looked to the sky, undoubtedly to communicate with the dragon. He met the eyes of his friends. “Everyone know what we're doing?” Nods. “Good, then let's move out!”

 

“Wait!” Draco called. Arthur paused to look up at the wizard now hovering above them on his broom. He pointed his wand first at the trunk of one car and then the other and cast a spell. The trunks shifted slightly as a long stick grew up out of each with a length of red fabric at its top. When they reached just over one metre in height, the fabric unravelled to reveal a red standard with a proud, gold dragon embroidered in its middle. Draco looked smug. “So that we can find you more easily.”

 

Arthur grinned. “Well, Morgana already knows we're here, so I suppose secrecy is overrated anyway.”

 

They climbed back into their cars, none of them taking their eyes off the skeletons which were now less than two car lengths away. Elyan had put away the laptop and had his sword out, as did Elena and Leon beside him. He didn't have to ask to know Gwen and Bors in the other car had done the same. As Dudley backed the Audi up to line up behind them, Emma and Draco came to stand up on either side.

 

Nimueh looked to the blond wizard and met his eyes. “Ready?”

 

He took a shaky breath and nodded. He raised his wand and pointed it at the skeletons. She raised her hand as well, her eyes glowing golden as she gathered her magic.

 

Flíeh uncyndea edsceafta!

 

Confringo!”

 

Two spells hit the row of advancing skeletons in roughly the same spot. The effect was instant. The wizarding spell blasted at them, sending bones flying apart in all directions, some colliding in mid-air with the bones sent flying by sorcery. The rest of the wall paused for several moments before they began to close ranks, but Archie had already fired up his motor and shot out the moment the way was clear. The BMW flew through the opening like an arrow aimed by an expert archer, the Audi hot on its tail with only a several second delay.

 

Confringo!” Draco cast a second time at the few skeletons, who managed to get too close to the Audi from the right.

 

Behind him, he heard the sound of a very loud motor. He turned around and gaped at the huge vehicle behind them. A big, burly man with tattoos down his arm leaned out of the driver's seat with a grin and waved to them. Emma waved back. Then he disappeared back into the cab of his giant, box-shaped beast. “All aboard?” he yelled back behind him.

 

The skeletons weren't prepared for the giant metal vehicle to ram through them at full speed. Draco gaped at it. “So, what we really needed were bigger cars,” he said after a pause.

 

Emma snorted. “Not really. Unless they're particularly stupid, that would only work once. They've got swords; all they'd have to do is slash the wheels.”

 

She looked behind her at the uncertain people, the ones who hadn't fit into the lorry, but hadn't run. She wasn't sure whether to yell at them for their stupidity in not getting the hell out of here or feel flattered at their faith in her and Draco to stop the skeletons. Well, she supposed they weren't entirely wrong.

 

Kilgharrah, they're clear. It's your turn.

 

She ran back, hearing Draco's footfalls as he followed behind her. “Get back, everyone, get back!” she called out to the stragglers. That finally got them moving. She stopped running when she heard the gasps.

 

She turned in time to watch as Kilgharrah swooped down from the sky and roared, a river of fire erupting from his jaws and setting the skeletons alight. He did so from higher up than she suspected he usually would have to prevent anyone from getting a clear view of his back. He flew almost up to cloud level before flipping around doubling back, this time aiming a smaller blaze at the skeletons moving towards the motorway to re-enforce their fellows.

 

The dragon flew off, leaving behind a stunned silence.

 

“Mum? Mum?”

 

Nimueh spun around, eyes wide, prepared for the worst, when she saw the little boy tugging on his mother's long tunic top. The woman was staring at the long, burning row of charred asphalt and bone, looking stunned. Finally her hand found the little boy's shoulders and squeezed, blinking as she looked down at him. “What is it, Micky?”

 

The boy looked up at her with wide, solemn eyes. “I don't want to be Iron Man anymore, mum.” His eyes sparkled. “I want a dragon.”

 

His mother blinked down at him amid chuckles from those around her and then rolled her eyes. “Yes, of course you do, dear.”

 

Nimueh grinned. She could already see toy companies scrambling to create dragon toys to keep up with the creature's newly-revived popularity. Shaking her head, she turned to Draco, who looked just as amused by the exchange. He pointed his wand off to the side. “Accio broom.”

 

He caught his broom as it sailed into his hand with practised ease and she noticed he was wearing gloves with grips on them. His robes were different as well. So wizards had special broomstick robes did they? She hurried to his side when he motioned for her to get on and slid in behind him. She still thought it was a silly way to travel, but that didn't mean she'd pass up the opportunity to try it.

 


 

 

Merlin loved running through the forest, weaving through trees and bushes and leaping over the occasional fallen log. His hooves were sure-footed and light as he sprinted alongside his friends: the golden-antlered stag and his small herd to his right leading the way, while the giant silver wolf and several of his pack loped along further off to his left. The forest was calm and clear around them, smelling still of morning dew, wet greenery and hidden mushrooms. He caught glimpses of a few dryads peeking at them as they passed from amid the branches of their leafy homes.

 

The Golden Stag nudged him gently, pulling just ahead of Merlin in a way meant to draw his attention to the stag's lead. They veered away from a ring of mushrooms and then the forest opened up to reveal a small stream that bubbled happily as it flowed by. Oh, he was rather thirsty, he suddenly realized and followed the others to the edge of the stream. He bent his neck down, catching a glimpse of a long brown face and a massive pair of antlers – not as impressive as the Golden Stag's, but then no one's were.

 

The water was cool and refreshing and Merlin drank greedily. When he was done, he stepped away and took in his surroundings. His friends were obviously taking him through the Hidden Pathways, the parts of the forest that were so deep they weren't entirely part of the human world anymore. Only true forest creatures knew how to find them. Not even Merlin had ever managed as a human. Here they would be safe from Morgana's prying eyes for nothing dark could find its way into these parts.

 

They were another thing that would disappear if the land were to become corrupted.

 

A few minutes was all the respite the Golden Stag allowed them before snorting and setting off again. Merlin followed happily, glad for the company of his friends and for their guidance. Time was of the essence, for even here they could already smell the beginnings of foul rotting corruption as it began to creep along the veins of power.

 


 

 

Arthur Weasley ended the Far-Seeing Charm and exchanged a worried look with Molly. Even with the charm he could only catch a glimpse of what was going on in the town. They dared not get too close lest the trolls or their pets catch scent of them. Unfortunately, they were not far enough away to avoid the nauseating stench of death the wind blew towards them.

 

He felt a tingle and quickly reached into his robes to pull out a small notebook. Finally, a message from Harry! Since Minerva had to be at Hogwarts as its headmistress, Harry and his invisibility cloak was the only way for them to get close enough to Avebury to find out what was going on. He opened the notebook and frowned at the messy scrawl.

 

Morgana is here. 2 dozen trolls, 10 death eaters, 6 small dragon creatures. There are still some people alive inside the houses and I don't think all of the ones lying on the roads are dead either.

 

Arthur took a deep breath and pulled a quill from the other side of his robes. The notebooks had been Hermione's idea although none of them knew whether she'd created them herself or pinched them from the Department of Mysteries. He told himself it didn't matter. What did matter was that with both Kingsley and Minerva absent, the Order of the Phoenix wasn't in particularly strong shape to face off the force holding Avebury. Merlin had promised a diversion that would lure Morgana out of the town, which would be their sign to attack. He wrote back to Harry:

 

Don't do anything. Sit tight and watch them and let us know if anything unusual happens.

 

He passed the notebook to Molly who took it, read over the notes and passed it on to the next person. There was nothing to help it, they'd just have to wait for Merlin and Arthur to make their moves.

 

It was an hour later that Harry's next messages came.

 

Something's happened. Morgana's leaving, no walking away.

 

She's going to Stonehenge.

 

Having a hard time following, I think the trolls nearly heard me.

 

A spell. She's using Stonehenge's magic for a spell. I can see fire and I think the wind's picked up, but I can't tell what she's doing.

 

Arthur motioned to everyone to be on alert. He hoped she hadn't noticed them. Although that might be a better option to the alternative of her having additional plans. He wasn't entirely certain what 'worse' would entail nor was he particularly keen on finding out.

 


 

 

They made it into the outskirts of London with no problem after the skeletons, speeding along as much as they could, although Arthur could see more skeletons moving their way in the distance. Thanks to the dragon it would take the skeletons a while to reach the cars - unless they got stopped in traffic again. Which wasn't a problem now, but might once they got further into the inner city.

 

He cursed when they came to a stop at a red light. Damn traffic laws. Then he started as Draco smoothly glided his broomstick in next to his car, Emma holding on from behind. Arthur pulled the window down ignoring the shocked expression of the driver of the car in the next lane.

 

“How does it look from above?” he called.

 

“The skeletons have stopped moving towards the motorway, but they're still around,” Emma called back. “I think they may have started spreading out into the city.”

 

“Fuck.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Gwaine and Percival went on to try and stop the spell. Now that I think of it, I really should've sent a magic user with them.”

 

Draco and Emma exchanged glances. The light turned green and the BWM shot forward. Behind him, he could hear Leon texting and idly wondered who to, but his mind was preoccupied with looking into each side-street they passed, watching for murderous skeletons (dear God his life had become a video game!) and worrying whether Percy and Gwaine would be alright on their own. He knew they were both strong, competent knights, but against the skeletons...

 

“Arthur.”

 

Arthur looked back to Elyan, who smiled at him. “Don't worry, they'll be fine. Gwaine is nothing if not resourceful and Percy, well, he's Percy. Will take more than a bit of bones to take 'im down.”

 

Arthur released the breath he was holding. “Yeah, and he'll keep Gwaine from doing anything too stupid.”

 

Elyan nodded. “Exactly.”

 

Suddenly Archie turned off into a side-street. “Short-cut,” he mumbled under his breath. “And less traffic.”

 

He blinked. “Are we moving away from the skeletons?”

 

“Of course we are. And, no, before you even start on any sort of heroic desire to protect the people in their way of the Disney nightmare, Merlin was very clear on the matter. The most important thing right now is to get you to Buckingham Palace so that you can pull out that damn sword.”

 

Arthur frowned. He didn't understand Merlin's preoccupation with that sword. Yes, of course, it was Excalibur and thus as intricately linked to the Arthurian – to his legends – as Merlin himself was, but he didn't understand why he absolutely had to pull it out now. He remembered Excalibur, remembered the feel of the sword in his hand - the finest he'd ever held - but it was just a weapon. The legends of how it could cut down any enemy weren't true or at least he'd never held witness to any sort of extraordinary abilities beyond being perfectly balanced and incredibly sharp.

 

“Archie, what do you know of Excalibur?” he asked almost without meaning to when he suddenly realized the man beside him likely knew more about the legends than any other alive save Merlin himself.

 

Archie raised an eyebrow at him before turning his eyes back to the road as he led their little procession through the streets of London. “I know, as everyone else, that it is the legendary sword of Arthur Pendragon.” He paused as he brought the car to a stop for another light. “I also know it was forged by Tom the Blacksmith and tempered in Kilgharrah's flames. Merlin had it made for you when you were to face an undead knight, raised from the dead by Nimueh. But your father fought in your stead, wielding the sword meant for you. Kilgharrah had, apparently, been furious that Uther's hands had held such a powerful instrument of magic. Ah, yes, I suppose you probably never knew that, that Excalibur possesses inherent magical properties. It comes from the dragon flames and, I suspect, at least partially from Merlin's own magic.”

 

The light changed and they were off again, flying through the twists and tangles of London as quickly as they were able. “Merlin, you see, is special for many reasons, but mostly because of his ties to the land. It's because of these ties that his magic often does things without his conscious effort. I don't suppose even he's given this much thought, but I have a theory that just the act of him creating a sword for you with the intention of giving it to you in order to keep you safe and allow you to protect others, gave it a sort of magic. I could be wrong, of course, but those are my thoughts on the matter.”

 

Arthur nodded. “Thank you, Archie. I- Merlin forgot to mention Excalibur when we talked. And I didn't ask, to be honest.”

 

Archie pursed his lips. “Yes, there's a very good reason he likely didn't mention it, but that is definitely not my story to tell. You can ask him when this is all over.”

 

“I will.”

 

Suddenly, Leon's phone went off.

 

“Yes?... Do you know what it is?... I see... Yes, I'll let them know.”

 

He hung up. “Arthur, that was Emma. She says she and Draco can see something approaching the city. Looks like a big black cloud, but it's too far away yet for them to be able to make out anything other than the fact that it's not really a cloud, but a large amount of somethings flying towards them.”

 

Arthur froze and his fist clenched. Should he send them to investigate? No, that would be taking valuable resources away from his group. Perhaps they were Merlin's allies? He sighed, knowing that for all Merlin had a hard time being completely open and honest after years – centuries – spent hiding secrets, he would've told them if they were to expect a flying army as backup. Probably.

 

“Then we need to get to Buckingham Palace as quickly as possible.”

 

He saw Leon nod through the rearview mirror. Then his phone buzzed and he looked down at the text. “Archie, Lancelot would like you to make your way to the main street if possible. He's going to help us with the traffic problem.”

 

Archie arched an eyebrow at him through the rearview mirror, obviously wondering how that would be accomplished, but he nodded and slide into the next lane. Arthur caught a glimpse of the Pendragon banner in the mirror as it flapped behind them. He wondered just what their fellow drivers thought of it. Fellow drivers... Arthur felt like hitting himself upside the head. And he called Merlin the idiot. Morgana was sending an army against them? Well, he had a bloody army of his very own – just as soon as he owned up and realized he was a king and thus in charge of this entire enterprise.

 

“Leon,” he said. “Get ahold of Tristan. Ask him to send some of his gang to help Gwaine and Percival. All they need to do is break the flaming stick in the centre of the spell. They don't need a magic user for that, but they might need someone to help them find it and distract the enemy.”

 

Leon nodded and got to it. Arthur settled back into his seat, the familiar feeling of being on his way to a battlefield thrumming in his veins: that mixture of excitement, apprehension and cold determination not to let either get the better of him. The car had buffered some of that feeling, being a passenger let him feel removed from the action in a way that riding a horse wouldn't have, but now he could feel it. He straightened from his slump and looked forward.

 

They re-entered the thoroughfare, Archie sliding his car into the busy street with ease. The going was much slower here and Arthur was beginning to wonder what exactly Lancelot had meant by helping them when suddenly he heard sirens behind him. Around him, cars slid to the side to allow access for the emergency vehicles to pass by. Archie was frowning as he did the same, watching the police car as it sped towards them through the rearview mirror.

 

The car came to a stop beside them and Lancelot grinned at them from the driver's seat. “Follow us!” he called before driving forward enough for Archie to manoeuvre out of his space and line up behind him. Arthur grinned at the ease with which they sped through London as they followed behind the blaring red siren, heedless of both traffic and traffic lights.

 

Just before Piccadilly Circus they were joined by Tristan and his motorcycle gang. He waved at them as they passed and then they spread out behind them, with Tristan coming up alongside the BMW. Arthur could barely hear him over the noise.

 

“Isolde just texted: the skeleton spell is done. Got a few injured, nothing serious, but there's quite a few civilian casualties. She and a few of the others 'ave first aid training so they've stayed behind to help, but the others are on their way. Will meet us at Bucks.”

 

Arthur nodded an acknowledgement, taking a deep breath. Civilian casualties, dammit, he wished he could've done something to prevent that. He took another deep breath. Later. He would regret and grieve for their deaths later.

 

He stared wide-mouthed as they passed through Trafalgar Square. The others had told him about the attack and their defence here, but it was one thing to hear of it and another entirely to drive through scorched stone and twisted lampposts. His mind flashed to images of a burning Camelot.

 

At Charing Cross they were attacked by wizards.

 

Ahead of them, the police car screeched to a halt as something blasted a hole into the road in its path. Archie slowed his car down and Arthur immediately grabbed the door handle. However, the BMW didn't stop, instead Archie waited until the black-robed wizard that had appeared on the sidewalk was distracted by a spell from above and then showed off his sports car's mettle by swinging around the police car and shooting out and around the roundabout with barely a screech of tires.

 

A spell of some sort hit the car and it slid uncontrollably forward for a few terrifying seconds until the tires seemed to find their grip once more. Archie gripped the steering wheel tightly and as soon as they had traction again he flew towards the Admiralty Arch. Suddenly, he swerved to the right. Arthur saw a flash of light out of the corner of his eye and looked back to see part of the sidewalk melted away. The Audi followed them and he could just barely see Draco set down in their wake for Emma to climb off the broomstick before he kicked off again and flew upwards. The blond was navigating his broom with only one hand, his other holding his wand, ready to cast.

 

Arthur lost sight of them as they passed through the Admiralty Arch and sped up the Mall, its tree-lined perimeter usually such a majestic sight now only made him tense as he wondered how many enemies were lying in wait for them amongst the trees. He refused to believe his mind, which was telling him he was safe for the moment as he watched the branches and Union Jacks move with the wind. They were rustling happily, looking almost as though they were waving at him, welcoming him. He smiled slightly at the thought. Merlin had said he was Albion's chosen king and that the land loved him. The trees were part of that land, weren't they?

 

“Sire, I've texted Geraint to tell Shacklebolt about the wizards,” said Leon. “He's supposed to have his own, er, police force with him. They should be able to go help.”

 

“Good idea, Sir Leon,” he said. He really wished he had his own mobile. At least he could then feel like he was doing something.

 

Buckingham Palace grew larger as they approached. Then he finally caught his first glimpse of the stone. It wasn't large nor was it perfectly round, just a slab of stone jutting out of the ground. The hilt of the sword sticking out of it would've almost gone unnoticed except that even the small bit of steel visible to the eye gleamed under the sun's rays. There were people crowed in front of the palace gates and Arthur had a feeling they weren't tourists. At the front of the crowd, he recognized his parents and smiled.

 

Archie pulled to a stop and Arthur finally exited the car.

 

“Arthur!”

 

He looked up, his smile widening as he saw his mother running towards him. He stepped forward and caught her in a tight embrace. “Mother, it feels like forever ago since I last saw you.”

 

“Oh Arthur, my dear boy,” she said and pulled away with a teary smile. “You had to grow up without me last time, didn't you?”

 

He felt tears prickle in the corners of his own eyes. “It wasn't your fault. I missed you, but it wasn't your fault.”

 

She placed a hand onto his cheek. “Nor was it yours.”

 

His eyes widened. The guilt, he remembered the guilt, hadn't noticed it slide back onto him like a second skin. A hand grasped his shoulder and he looked up at his father. The delighted, relieved smile on his face took Arthur by surprise until he realized that the hard, bitter, angry and slightly mad man belonged to another lifetime. Grey hairs and worry lines were still present, but the laugh lines were different and his shoulders didn't seem as hunched down and burdened, though the bags under his eyes attested to the current political situation in the country.

 

“Father, it's good to see you too.” He looked past his father to the old doctor standing by, watching them with a content smile on his face. “Gaius.” The old man inclined his head.

 

Someone cleared their throat. Arthur blinked and looked to where Archie was now standing just behind him.

 

“As much as I am loathed to break up this family reunion, I feel I should point out, young man, that you are stalling and right now we don't have the time for that.”

 

Arthur felt his face colour. He hadn't intended to stall... not consciously anyway. He took a deep breath and stepped away from the comforting circle of his parents and turned to stare at the Sword in the Stone. Excalibur. It was familiar in the way a childhood home is when one returns to it after years of being away. He'd held it once before, pulled it out of a stone that time too. But what if this time he wasn't worthy of it? What if after all the hype, after all the sweat and tears and dreams of those around him, what if...

 

Arthur banished the thoughts from his mind. No. He hadn't lied to Merlin. He trusted his friend, his sorcerer. If Merlin said he could pull the sword out, that Albion would let only him pull the sword out, then he could.

 

Arthur walked up to the stone and grabbed the hilt of the sword. It felt familiar in his hand, like a long lost friend. Excalibur slid easily out of the stone with nothing but a soft 'ping' of metal. As he raised the sword, the gathering clouds let through a ray of light which kissed the sword and made it shine.

 

Around him he heard gasps and murmurs and the tell-tale clicks and whizzes of cameras as pictures were being snapped. Yet somehow he still managed to notice the single gasp behind him. He turned to look just as Leon touched Archie's arm to ask if he was alright. Merlin's son's eyes were closed tightly, looking almost pained, but when he opened them they were blazing a bright gold.

 

“I can feel it,” he said breathlessly, his face slack with amazement. “I can feel it. Albion... it's waking.”

 

“Yes, it is, but I wouldn't get too excited just yet. With its magic rising and its arms open, it's now more vulnerable than before.”

 

Arthur had swung around at the first syllable. He gaped at the boy before them, the hatred in his eyes and the sneer on his face. “Mordred.”

 

“Hello, Arthur. We were beginning to think you were going to miss the show. Wouldn't really put it past Merlin to want to keep you safe by not letting you remember. He was just a bit smitten with you, after all.” Arthur winced and Mordred smirked. “You may have your sword, Pendragon, but this battle is far from over.”

 

Mordred raised his hand towards them and began to chant.

 


 

 

Merlin came to a halt as the tone of the land changed. A slight breeze blew across his back, caressing his sweat-soaked fur. The forest sang in delight and the sun shining through the trees made the greenery glow under its rays. He turned his long neck westward and sniffed the air. There was a soft rustle beside him and the Golden Stag nudged his side as one of the does slid up along his other side. Not far away, the wolves howled, their melody synchronized with that of the land and equally full of power. It made his ears twitch and his eyes slide in their direction nervously, but he knew they weren't hunting, they wouldn't attack.

 

Deep within, the human part of him grinned. Arthur had Excalibur and Albion was waking.

 

He nudged the Golden Stag back apologetically, thanking him for his patience. His friend blinked his acknowledgement and understanding. He took off again and Merlin followed.

 

Meanwhile, somewhere within the depths of Albion, hidden away in a small dark cave, a large caldron of black liquid that would never grow cold, began to bubble. Smoke as dark as the liquid within overflowed from the cauldron's edges and slowly crept out of the cave. It settled into the land around it and attached itself to the ley line like a poisonous leech.

 


 

 

Emma was beginning to see the appeal of broomstick travel by the time they reached Charing Cross. There was definitely something to be said for being so completely exposed to the elements, nothing buffering the wind and the sun. And the broomstick was full of magic that wanted to buck against its wielder, though Draco handled it with practised ease. It felt like something between a horse and a motorcycle. With rockets.

 

Draco followed the procession of cars from above while she watched their surroundings for surprises, so he was the first one of them to see the Death Eater apparate to the corner of the intersection ahead of them by a three-armed lamppost. He let out a soft cry of surprise as he immediately reached for his wand, the action grabbing Nimueh's attention. She turned in time to watch the Death Eater cast a spell that broke up the road in front of Lancelot's police car. There was a loud screech of tires.

 

Draco leaned forward on his broom and she followed, plastering herself as closely as she could against his back to minimize wind resistance. “Expelliarmus!” she heard him cast loudly. The Death Eater apparently hadn't seen them there, but still managed to put up a shield in time to prevent Draco's spell from hitting him.

 

She noted happily that Archie took advantage of their distraction to swerve around the copper and shoot out towards the Admiralty Arch. Then she saw the second Death Eater and her eyes widened.

 

Archie, on your left, look out!

 

Archie swerved to the right without a moment's pause and the Death Eater's spell harmlessly hit the sidewalk, melting a chunk of the pavement. She took a deep breath.

 

Thank you. Leon is texting ahead to get a message to Shacklebolt for backup.

 

Nimueh sent a short acknowledgement and then nudged Draco. Just then a spell hit the road in front of the BMW, turning it into a shiny, slippery surface. Draco pointed his wand. “Finite Incantato!” he called, and the road returned back to its regular state. He glanced back at her just as Archie took off through the arch.

 

“Set me down behind the second car!”

 

Draco nodded and sped after the cars. Dudley had managed to follow in Archie's wake without too much difficultly, though his turns weren't as sharp and clean. Draco set down in front of the Admiralty Arch just as the Audi zoomed through it. Nimueh climbed off the broom and looked over the round-about as he drifted back upwards. There were five Death Eaters being distracted by Tristan and the motorcyclists, who were zipping around them with chains, clubs and – in a few cases, including Tristan himself - swords. Two of the wizards looked rather confused by the commotion and were firing out spells seemingly at random and missing everything. A third, standing with his back to the Cross itself, aimed at the nearest motorcyclist and cast a spell that sent the rider and his bike flying into a nearby car. Thankfully regular motorists had quickly gotten the message that Charing Cross wasn't somewhere they wanted to linger and thus cars were scarce.

 

Draco shot towards the Death Eater, casting as he flew.

 

Nimueh left him to it and turned her attention to the magical presence she sensed to her left. She smirked and gathered her magic, feeling it gather behind her eyes and make them glow gold. She raised her hand and only then looked at the Death Eater hiding behind the pillar in front of the arch.

 

Wáce ierlic!

 

The Death Eater flew backwards, his head cracking loudly against the stone arch. She turned back towards the rest of Charing Cross, raised her hand palm up in front of her and concentrated.

 

Áwiexaþ fram þæs foldan bosme astigaþ ge!

 

It took several seconds for anything to happen and then the ground around the Death Eaters' feet began to break up, taking the black-robed wizards by surprise as dark brown roots wrestled their way out of the ground and began to wrap around their feet. The one closest to her screamed and began to cast at it. He didn't notice the biker, who drove up from behind him and knocked him out with a single blow of his club. The Death Eater slumped, not falling due to the root which continued to creep up his body until it reached just past his waist.

 

The Death Eater by the lamppost had the presence of mind to apparate out of the root's clutches before it managed to wrap around more than his ankles. The one Draco had been fighting was distracted for enough time for Draco to knock him out with his next spell. The last one cast something that cut through the root and scooted out of its reach then ducked out of the way of a heavy chain.

 

Several 'pops' sounded around them and Nimueh instantly began to gather a fireball into her hand. The new arrivals weren't wearing black and their faces were uncovered. She frowned at the woman closest to her. “I take it you're the aurors?” she asked.

 

The woman nodded, eyes wide as she took in Nimueh's golden eyes and the small fireball she held in her palm. Nimueh smirked and allowed the fireball to dissipate. Draco flew back to her side, eyeing the aurors warily. The auror's eyes narrowed when she saw Draco, but didn't linger for long as she turned her attention instead to the Death Eaters. She apparated away, reappearing on a corner farther into the round-about in order to engage the wizard who'd managed to apparate away from the roots. The others followed her lead.

 

Tristan led his gang towards where Nimueh and Draco were standing. He took off his helmet and said something with a wide grin, but Nimueh didn't hear him. The feeling came upon her so suddenly she was made deaf and dumb all at once with sensation, not even able to hear herself cry out in surprise. She screwed her eyes shut, gasping for breath as though she hadn't had any for a very long time. There were arms on her, holding her steady, but she couldn't feel them on her skin, only their presence as their lifeforce touched hers. It was overwhelming, it was everywhere: intense and relentless.

 

It was beautiful, perfection, home. Like walking out of a cave after wandering lost for years and finally seeing the light once again. Nimueh breathed deeply, feeling the magic infuse her bones, pass through her and even out. When she opened her eyes, she knew they were bright gold.

 

“Albion has awoken,” she said, her voice sounding dry and raspy. “Arthur has Excalibur.”

 

Beside her, Draco nodded. “I felt it,” he said softly, eyes shining with wonder. “Not as strongly as you, obviously, but... I felt it.”

 

She smiled. “You've felt the magic of the land at the Isle of the Blessed and in the Crystal Cave. Once you've been touched by it directly, you never lose the connection entirely.”

 

He smiled back.

 

Nimueh.

 

She frowned and looked upwards, recognizing the voice. Kilgharrah?

 

The creatures approaching are not natural, they have been conjured through magic though how I am not entirely certain.

 

What do you mean?

 

They feel elemental, yet my fire is not quite enough to destroy them. I have damaged some, but not enough and they still approach. I am too old to battle them on my own like this.

 

Very well, thank you for trying. I will let Arthur know. Hopefully, Merlin will finish what he's doing soon and join us.

 

I too hope for that, but I fear we have yet to see the Darkest Hour and he will not arrive until it has passed.

 

You're cheery as always.

 

Nimueh felt Kilgharrah's amusement, but the dragon seemed to have nothing more to say. She turned to Draco and Tristan. “Kilgharrah says he can't destroy those flying beasts alone. I'll go ahead to let Arthur know.”

 

The two men nodded and she stepped away from them, her eyes glowing as the world spun around her and slipped away with a gust of wind. When the gust left she was facing a different scene. Her eyes instantly found Arthur, surprise disappearing from his face in recognition. In his hand, Excalibur shone like the beacon of light Archie had called it. The knights stood to one side and on the other, she saw Archie and Dudley standing beside the cars. A little to their right, stood two people that made her gasp. Uther and Ygraine.

 

Ygraine's eyes widened in recognition. She stepped forward, but a hand on her shoulder kept her back. Uther glared at Nimueh with eyes hard and familiar. She smirked back. Somehow knowing she was on his son's side made their reunion all the sweeter, because for all his grudges he could do nothing to actually harm her.

 

Then her eyes met those of a young, dark-haired man, who was watching her warily.

 

“Why hello there,” she said. “You're looking much better than the last time I saw you. Of course you were unconscious, so I doubt you remember me.”

 

Mordred's eyes widened and he turned to her. “Who are you?”

 

“I'm Nimueh. Don't bother trying to remember me, I was before your time.”

 

“You're a sorceress.”

 

“Hm, why yes I am.” Nimueh's smile turned sly as she looked the boy in the eyes. “I'm High Priestess of the Old Religion. I was the last and now that I'm back the land has accepted me once again.”

 

Mordred frowned. “But Morgana-”

 

“Likes to take titles that don't belong to her, or haven't you noticed?”

 

He glared at her. “You're stalling. Waiting for Merlin to arrive. Where is he anyway?” He smirked. “Or have you already discovered the surprise?”

 

She raised an eyebrow at him. “Oh, you mean the flying army of conjured creatures? Yes, we've known about them for a while. Now are you going to leave or do I have to kill you?”

 

Mordred stiffened and glared at her. “You think you can kill me?” He chuckled. “Your time is already winding down, you just don't know it yet.”

 

She shrugged and raised her hand at him. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Draco land next to Arthur. “Eorðe, lyft, fyr, wæter, hiersumaþ me. Eorðe ac stanas hiersumaþ me. Ic can stanas tobrytan. Hiersumaþ me.”

 

Mordred's eyes burned gold as the ground beneath his feet began to tremble. His eyes widened and he leapt out of the way as the area he was standing on crumbled into dust, leaving behind a gaping sinkhole. He glared angrily at her as she sent her magic into the earth, her connection sustaining the spell and redirecting it, concentrating it. The boy yelped as his foot fell beneath him into the ground half-way down his calf.

 

He didn't bother trying to stand. His palm pointed towards Nimueh. “Fyr, ádéadae bælegsa ond bebúgan min andsacan!

 

Nimueh backpedalled as a fierce wall of fire erupted centimetres from her face. Behind her she could feel its burn as it surrounded her. The flames were tall and hot, not an illusion, but real naked flame like a hollow pyre. She closed her eyes, willing the terror of flames into the back of her mind, where it belonged along with memories of burning hair and flesh and screams. Somewhere, in the midst of memories and terror she found peace, as Albion reached out from the ground to sooth her. She was High Priestess, user of land magic and all the elements that were a part of the land.

 

Hiersumaþ me,” she whispered and opened her eyes. “Fyr, hiersumaþ me. Lyft, hiersumaþ me. Ábégaþ oþ min gewill ond bredan heortewæpen.

 

She felt the elements answer, felt as their essence mingled with her magic and combined. The fire around her was swept away by a powerful wind current that blew out from around her feet. It continued to rage as it was dragged along, looking like a giant blazing serpent. A flash of her magic and then it was a serpent, its maw opening to show off long, pointed fangs as it twisted in the air above her.

 

She noticed the sky and frowned at the dark clouds. She could now see the approaching flying army from where she stood and knew her time was indeed limited.

 

“Emma, behind you!”

 

She pivoted to the side at Dudley's call and saw the Death Eater cast. She raised her hand, pausing as she felt the air in front of her shift just before a tall, dark-skinned man popped into being in front of her. “Protego!” The dark wizard's spell bounced harmlessly off the shield. “Diffindo!

 

Kingsley Shacklebolt looked at her over his shoulder. “You take care of the sorcerer. We'll handle the wizards.”

 

Nimueh nodded and turned to direct her wind-fire serpent to intercept the path of the fireball Mordred had thrown at her.

 


 

 

CHARLIE! Charlie! Charlie! CHARLIE!

 

Charlie cried out and clutched at his head as his own name echoed within his skull, bouncing off the inside of his cranium like a confused snitch on a sugar high. The noise abruptly cut off. He felt a hand softly touch his arm. “Mister Weasley, are you alright?”

 

He looked up to meet the eyes of Belinda Gardner, the white-haired elderly witch who ran personnel administration (they called her the keepers' keeper). She looked worried. He blinked and then looked down, realizing with a start that he'd dropped his mug of coffee and it was puddled all over the table in front of him. He jumped to his feet and took out his wand to spell it clean.

 

“Er, yes, yes, sorry. Don't quite know what happened there, just got this sudden headache.”

 

“You should go see the healer then, he'll give you a potion.”

 

“Right, yes, I'll do that right away.” Well, sort of. He had the potion in his trunk along with his broom, which he was going to use to sneak away with in order to join the rest of the Order at Stonehenge. He just hoped he wasn't late due to having stopped for breakfast after feeding the dragonets.

 

Charlie?

 

Charlie blinked and looked around, frowning. There was no one so much as looking at him. It felt just like before, a voice inside his head. Only this time it was just one and it sounded vaguely... timid? Apologetic? He shook his head and left the mess hall to head for the little one-room cottage he called home these days.

 

Only to come face to face with four anxious-looking dragonets. He froze, gaping at them. Their faces brightened considerably when they saw him, jaws widening into delighted, toothy grins.

 

CHARLIE!

 

He nearly fell over when the dragonets immediately accosted him from all sides. And suddenly the voices in his head were back, echoing with a hundred words at once one over top of another and none of them recognizable to him.

 

“Aargh, stop!” he cried out and the voices went silent. He blinked and looked up at the dragonets, eyes widening in sudden understanding. “Is that- are those voices you?!”

 

The dragonets exchanged looks and then turned their eyes back to him and nodded. One of the Welsh Greens stretched its neck out towards him.

 

Kilgharrah taught us. We're sorry. It didn't hurt Emrys when we talked to him.

 

“Uh, it's not that, it's just... er, oh bloody hell, this is absolutely brilliant!” He grinned at them and the dragonets perked up. “Just not all at once, yeah?”

 

The Welsh Green behind him nudged his back playfully.

 

Alright, Charlie. But we have to go now.

 

He frowned. “Go? Go where?”

 

Aithusa and Kilgharrah are flying. Albion has awoken, but now it is in danger.

 

The third Welsh Green nodded enthusiastically. We want to help! Come on, Charlie, come with us!

 

“Er, yes well I am going to be heading over to help right away, but you three should- oi, hey what are you...?!”

 

Before Charlie realized what was happening, he was being shoved forward by the dragonet behind him and then lifted upwards by another while the Longhorn-mix put its hard-crested snout underneath his feet and all he could do was grab hold of the nearest bit of dragon to keep himself from falling ungracefully to the ground. He was deposited onto the back of the third Welsh Green like a sack of potatoes and left to scramble into a sitting position.

 

Hold on, Charlie!

 

He had very little choice in the matter as the dragonet he was seated on barely waited for him regain his balance before she took off with a single mighty push off the ground. He felt the power behind the movement and took a few moments to revel in simple joy of riding on a dragon's back, feeling the force behind the magnificent creatures he'd dedicated his life to caring for.

 

“You four realize there are powerful wards in place to make sure you don't leave, right?” he said loudly. “And I'm sorry, but not even I can undo them.”

 

The Longhorn mix turned his head towards him and graced him with what Charlie could only think of as a very toothy version of George's best shit-eating grin. He'd learned long ago to fear that grin.

 

Don't worry, Charlie, I learned from Kilgharrah. I've been practising!

 

As they approached the periphery of the upper ward, the Longhorn mix gained a burst of speed that put it ahead of the rest of them and then took a deep breath. It opened its jaws and red-hot flames spewed out, tearing a new hole through the sanctuary's wards. The four dragonets and Charlie flew through the holes without missing a single beat.

 

Well shit, thought Charlie. And he couldn't even remember what his guess had been in the betting pool.

 


 

 

Gwaine had spent the past half hour urging Percy and his motorcycle to go faster. If Percy was going quite a bit past the speed limit already and bending a few traffic laws, it still wasn't enough. Gwaine wished he could just magic wings or a rocket or mile-long wheels onto the tall knight's Yamaha and bypass traffic altogether. Why was there never a wizard around when you needed one?

 

It had taken them a while to find the staff controlling the skeleton spell. In fact, he was fairly certain they'd driven by it at least once before Isolde had noticed that the wooden stick coming out of the small patch of ground next to a large warehouse wasn't growing. It wasn't guarded, but the entire area had been crawling with walking, sword-wielding skeletons. One of Isolde's men had taken a fairly hard blow that nearly took his arm off. And there had been people on their way to work and on their way from work... Gwaine was incredibly glad the staff hadn't been guarded.

 

Percy had pulled the staff out of the ground and broken it over his knee with one stroke. The skeletons turned to dust. It had been just a tiny bit anti-climactic.

 

With Isolde and her riders staying behind to help with the wounded (the woman was a trained paramedic, what the hell was she doing customizing motorcycles?!), he and Percy took off to join with Arthur and the rest of the knights. He'd been exchanging texts with Elyan along the way and was none too pleased with the idea of a flying army – especially a flying army of unknown creatures. Then Arthur's group was being attacked by evil dark wizards and Gwaine only barely managed to restrain himself from telling Percy to go faster - again. His thoughts turned to Merlin and he hoped his friend was able to join them soon, because it certainly sounded like they were going to need him.

 

They zoomed through Piccadilly Circus, Percy taking the turn on a sharp angle to the ground that shocked a cry from Gwaine. Trafalgar Square had signs in front of it warning for construction and arrows pointing towards detours. Percy ignored them and swerved expertly around anything resembling an obstacle. There were wizards fighting at Charing Cross, but Percy simply pressed closer to his machine and headed straight towards where the Admiralty Arch stood proudly like a guardian gate to another world.

 

Gwaine slid his helmet off and clonked one of the evil wizards over the head as they zipped past.

 

They cleared the arch and Gwaine's fists clenched at his first look at Buckingham Palace. He could see a brightly-lit bonfire and could hear panicked shouting even over the din of the motorcycle, but what really caught his eye were the dark clouds rolling in from behind the palace. And in the distance, just below the clouds, he saw tiny dark shapes moving steadily towards them, a larger more recognizable shape just ahead of them. What the hell were they that even the dragon hadn't managed to scatter and divide them?

 

He was leaping off the motorcycle as soon as it came to a stop, not bothering to wait for the engine to cut out. He drew his sword as he ran. Ahead of him he saw Nimueh, eyes blazing gold as she directed a giant serpent made of fire with the movements of her hands. A fireball the size of a football flew towards her and the serpent lunged, catching it in its jaws and swallowing it whole.

 

Gwaine froze on the spot when he caught sight of her opponent. Mordred. The burning wave of hatred caught him by surprise when it erupted within his breast, freezing his vocal chords with its intensity. A strong hand on his shoulder was the only thing that kept him from running forward blindly. He looked back and met Percy's eyes. They too burned with a smouldering anger, though quieter and perhaps more controlled than his own. He nodded to his friend and Percy retracted his hand.

 

The ground shook and he started, looking back to the magical duel in time to watch Nimueh regaining her footing as Mordred pulled his leg out of a hole in the ground. He looked furious, the air seemed to crackle around him as he breathed heavily. He raised his hand palm out towards Nimueh and screamed the words to a spell, which Gwaine only half paid attention to as his eyes were drawn upwards when a large shadow passed overhead. A bright light drew his eyes back.

 

This time, the fireball Mordred sent towards Nimueh was more of a blazing boulder than a mere ball. Nimueh frowned, but she immediately directed her serpent at it. However, just before the serpent intercepted the boulder, it split apart into five smaller balls. The serpent twisted in mid-air to chase them, but two made it past. Nimueh jumped out of the way of one, but the other hit her on her right side, just under her ribcage. She screamed and fell to one knee, eyes scrunched up in pain. Mordred smirked and extended his arm.

 

Gwaine tensed and tightened his grip on his sword. A glance to the wizards casting spells at each other at Nimueh's back told him they wouldn't be any help to her anytime soon.

 

Byrngerís!

 

The wind that wound its way around Mordred's hands resembled a tornado more than it did any sort of gale. It spun round with force enough to nearly make it visible as it picked up dust and dirt from the air. Nimueh looked up as he set it hurtling towards her. She eyed it calmly and then her eyes glowed golden, her lips moving as she quickly formed the words of her own spell. Just as the twister was about to hit, a windstorm sprung up out of the ground at her feet, spinning around her with the force of a proper Atlantic storm, the sort that filled sailors and fishermen with dread. And like a sailing ship, Mordred's twister ran against the storm and broke apart at its force.

 

As suddenly as it had come, the storm stopped, filling the air with a bizarre sort of vacuum of sound, a silence that felt almost unnatural. Except, behind Nimueh the air seemed to silently buzz and waver as though it were a disrupted electrical line. Nimueh raised her hand, fist clenched, at Mordred. His eyes widened and she smirked. Then she opened her palm and, suddenly, an empty, invisible something flew past her, throwing her hair over her eyes and hitting the boy square across the chest. Mordred flew backwards, hitting a tree with a resounding crack.

 

A minute passed and he hadn't moved. A cheer rang up from the sidelines, where Gwaine only now noticed the civilian observers: mostly regular, non-wizard people, many with cameras. Two policemen ran towards Mordred's fallen form, but before they were half-way there, a witch with short dark hair appeared next to him. She looked towards them and grabbed his arm. They both disappeared.

 

A single gunshot rung out. A man screamed. Gwaine's eyes shot back to the wizards, surprised to see one of the dark ones on his knees clutching his right shoulder. The auror he'd been duelling with seemed confused at first, but quickly took advantage of the development by knocking him unconscious with a spell (at least that's what Gwaine assumed he'd done given that the Death Eater instantly fell over after being hit). There was a second gunshot and his eyes scanned the crowd, relaxing when his eyes fell on the rifle in Leon's hand.

 

Now that half the area was clear, he and Percival ran towards the palace gates.

 

“What took you two so long?” Arthur demanded when they reached his side.

 

“Haven't you ever driven in London traffic, Princess?” Gwaine retorted. He smiled brightly. “Oh wait, you have! You crashed.”

 

Arthur scowled at him. “Well now that you're here, help Elyan and the others get people inside the gates. There's not much cover there, but it's at least slightly more than out here in the open and Archie thinks there might be some sort of warding on the grounds. According to the dragon there's an army of some sort of conjured flying magical creatures heading our way and his fire wasn't able to do much damage.”

 

Gwaine and Percy exchanged alarmed looks. That didn't sound good. They didn't get the chance to dwell on it, however, as moments later they heard a strangled cry of anguish. They spun around, eyes widening as they spied Nimueh's collapsed form. She was huddled in on herself and trembling.

 

“Archie? Dudley? What's going on?!” they heard Draco scream somewhere behind them.

 


 

 

Merlin lay on the forest floor, gasping for breath as his lungs burned, his stomach twisted around itself and the blood in his veins seemed to be fighting to abandon ship. He felt both light-headed and as though one of the wolves was chewing on his skull. His magic instinctively tried to lash out, to destroy the unseen threat, but that only made it worse, like someone had momentarily submerged him into a vat of liquid cold iron. He cried out at the sensation and screwed his eyes shut, his teeth clenching as he rode out the pain.

 

He waited until he no longer felt like he was going to shake apart at any moment. Keeping his eyes closed, he took a deep breath, concentrating on the darkness beneath his eyelids and on the sounds of the forest around him. He heard soft footfalls and the gentle rustling of leaves. He was still trembling, impossibly cold though he could feel the sun's rays bathing him through the trees. Carefully, he pulled his magic inwards, into his core, cutting himself off from the world around him. It was difficult, his magic sluggish to return to him after centuries of being free. How had he stood it back in Camelot? It was like voluntarily blinding himself.

 

He felt something blow across his neck and he realized he'd transformed back into his human shape. Something cold and wet nudged him and then a loud, plaintive whine sounded next to his ear. He wished he could reach out and reassure his friend that he was alright, but it was taking all his energy to contain his magic and stop it from spilling over and back into the land around him. There was some shuffling and then a warmth settled across his back, stilling his trembling somewhat. A second wall of warmth settled further down his body and a heavy weight covered his curled legs.

 

He wasn't certain how much time passed until he finally managed to centre himself and calm the raging sea of magic inside him. He opened his eyes. Looking downwards, he met soft, worried brown eyes as the Golden Stag lifted his head from its resting spot on his knees. He smiled at the stag, noticing how dulled his antlers seemed. Then he twisted backwards to the furry silver warmth at his back. Immediately, a questing nose began sniffing his face, his neck and then the warmth shifted so that it could roll Merlin over and sniff him some more. Eventually the sniffing stopped and a rough tongue licked a strip across his right cheek.

 

Merlin laughed. “Thank you, my friend, I'm alright now.” He sat up and looked to the Golden Stag as he climbed to his feet in his slightly awkward, four-footed way. “Thank you, both of you.”

 

He looked around at the forest, realizing he recognized this part. They'd left the Hidden Pathways when he wasn't paying attention. He stood as he considered that. It meant the Hidden Pathways were still safe for the moment, though eventually the corruption that had rendered him insensible would find its way there too. Though he could no longer feel the corruption in the land, cut off from it as he was, he could still see it, like a thick layer of wrongness that covered absolutely everything.

 

Had Morgana done this to cripple him? Mostly likely, but if she knew cutting off his connection with the land would weaken him, didn't she also realize he knew how to reverse the corruption? Or was she, perhaps, punishing the land for choosing him over her?

 

He shook his head and took a deep breath. At this point her motivations didn't matter. Stonehenge stood by a large intersection of ley lines, which was obviously why she'd taken it. It was now only a matter of time before she went to London to face him. And discover he wasn't there. The wards at Buckingham Palace would hold for a short while, but they weren't designed to withstand Morgana's level of power. For every moment he was away, Arthur and the rest of his friends were in danger.

 

Something nudged his shoulder and Merlin brought his hand up to caress the Golden Stag's nose. He smiled at his friend, saddened by how obviously the noble creature was being affected by the corruption. “Thank you, again, my friend. I'll go on from here. You should take your herd back to the Hidden Pathways, where the darkness won't reach for a while yet and hopefully not at all.”

 

The stag looked at him and blinked, saying both 'you're welcome' and 'fare thee well' with the simple motion. Then it tossed its head to the side as it turned and, with one last look at Merlin, took off into the trees, the others following.

 

The large silver-grey wolf stepped forward beside Merlin, watching as the herd ran off. Merlin was happy to note he didn't look nearly as badly affected by the corruption as the deer had. But then wolves were hearty creatures, their ties divided between the land and the moon. It meant their power waxed and waned with the moon, but right now it also meant that not as much of their power was invested in the corruption beneath their feet.

 

Merlin closed his eyes. His magic, confined as it was, needed very little prodding to stretch itself. He leaned forward as he felt his bones shifting painlessly, muscles changing shape and skin sprouting fur. And then he was looking at a black and white world and smelling the lingering scent of deer - which part of his mind was now telling him would taste quite delicious.

 

The wolf pack surrounded him and he exchanged brief greetings with each member. Then the silver-grey wolf growled a warning, before he shot out, long legs stretching as he flew across the forest floor. Merlin and the rest of the pack followed him.

Chapter Text

Chapter 19

 

Narcissa looked on in amusement as Bethany Chambers stared, eyes wide and mouth slack in disbelief, while Isabella chattered on excitedly beside her. Apparently when her granddaughter had mentioned going to see the unicorns, she hadn't expected actual living, breathing creatures. Of course, Andromeda and Fleur Weasley didn't look any less astonished, simply more willing to believe they weren't becoming delusional. One of the adult unicorns walked up to Fleur and poked its nose at the bundle in her arms. Her son squealed delightedly. Fleur blinked down at it and then slowly knelt on the grass to give the unicorn a good view of her child. Two more unicorns joined them.

 

Teddy, meanwhile, had finally become curious enough to let go of Andromeda's robes and tentatively teetered forward to get a closer look at the unicorns. Isabella caught the motion and paused in her latest tale. She looked at the younger child and grinned. “Aren't they brilliant?!”

 

Teddy looked at her, grey eyes wide and hair dark brown. Then his hair changed to a bright blue and he grinned back at her, nodding his head vigorously. If Isabella thought his colour-changing hair was at all odd, she didn't say. Instead, she ran forward and grabbed the little boy's hand.

 

“Come on, there are ones that are our size over there!”

 

Fleur's head had snapped up at those words. She looked to Narcissa. “Zere are, eh, baby unicorns 'ere?”

 

Narcissa smiled. “Yes, five of them and they became fast friends with Isabella. Of course, Isabella is a rather remarkable child. She seems to have knack for making friends with just about everyone.”

 

“She's always been like that,” said Mrs. Chambers suddenly. “A bit like my grandmother except with people and animals.”

 

“Your grandmother was a witch?”

 

Isabella's grandmother chuckled. “Seeing this certainly makes me wonder... but no, she was a gardener. Although, she did say that her great-great-grandmother had been rumoured to be a witch. All because she was the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, had some skill at healing, loved animals and lived to be nearly one hundred and twenty. My mother used to use the story as a lesson on how foolish people will believe silly things.” She paused thoughtfully. “I really don't know much about her, but my grandmother had a talent for gardening that won her awards and prestige. She could take the most inhospitable, ugly and depleted plot of land and turn it into a beautiful garden. I remember asking her once how she did it and she told me she had an agreement with the plants: she would care for them and give them her love and in exchange they would grow healthy and happy for her.”

 

“That explains quite a lot about the child,” said an elderly voice. Narcissa turned to greet Anhora and gasped. The old man looked as though he'd suddenly aged ten years. His eyes were red-rimmed, his wrinkles more prominent, his hair limp and lifeless and his posture stooped. “The seventh descendent of the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter... the power in her runs deep. 'Tis little wonder it drew the unicorns to her.”

 

“Anhora, what happened?” Narcissa exclaimed.

 

Anhora waved off her concern. “The corruption Morgana has unleashed upon the land is affecting all who are connected to it. Emrys has placed heavy wards upon this place, but I am sustained directly by the Old Religion and the unicorns. As their power is affected, so am I.”

 

He looked at Fleur, surrounded by several unicorns all curious about her child. He smiled at the small boy. “Do not worry, they feel kin in you and your son. They sense his power.”

 

“Of course. 'e will be a powerful wizard like 'is father and mother.”

 

Anhora chuckled. “He won't I'm afraid. Hogwarts will never welcome him within its walls, but perhaps you might in time persuade Emrys to take him on as an apprentice. He hasn't taken one on in a great many years.”

 

Narcissa watched as Fleur Weasley's expression changed from a confused frown to wide-eyed understanding before she looked down at her little boy with a small, pleased smile. The silence was interrupted with a loud cry of alarm that quickly dissolved into exuberant laughter. It sounded like Teddy.

 

“Ah, it would seem the wolf-child has also found his kin,” said Anhora.

 

“That boy is an ordinary child!” Andromeda immediately argued, her eyes glittering with anger. “He isn't a werewolf! And besides, his father was a man before he was anything else. A good man.”

 

Anhora merely looked amused. “You defend the boy as though being wolf-kin were a curse. Perhaps humans think that way, but to the land and to magic, wolves are friends.”

 

Andromeda blinked at the old man, taken aback by his response. He inclined his head and began to make his way towards the children. Narcissa placed a hand on her sister's shoulder and squeezed gently. “It takes some getting used to, how differently they see the world.”

 

“Yes, I can see that... Is Merlin like this as well?”

 

“Hm, not quite as bad, but yes.”

 

That was when Fleur stood and followed Anhora towards the foals. Narcissa and Andromeda joined her. The unicorn foals had once again been joined by their new hippogryff friend, who was patiently allowing Isabella to run her hands through the feathers on his neck. He nudged her when she stopped to wave to her grandmother. She giggled and resumed her petting. The ground in front of them consisted of a tangle of wagging tails, fur, feathers and human fingers as Teddy took great joy in fearlessly tumbling along with the cubs.

 

Andromeda took out her wand. “Is he safe?” she asked with wide eyes. “They're not going hurt him, are they?”

 

“Don't worry, they're just playing.”

 

Suddenly, little Freddy let out a loud wail, his small limbs flailing as much as they were able. Fleur ran a hand over his forehead as she crooned to him softly, rocking him back and forth in her arms. The noise had attracted the attention of the other children. They paused in their play to blink up at the noisemaker in Fleur's arms. One of the griffin cubs disentangled itself out of the huddle and padded over to look up at the child. It squawked up at it and Freddy quieted almost immediately, looking around anxiously from his mother's arms to the source of the noise. The cub squawked again. This time Freddy's inability to see the source seemed to distress him and he began to cry once more.

 

The cub squawked again, this time unfolding its wings. Fleur knelt down again to show Freddy the cub, watching it warily as it approached her baby. It peered at the small human curiously and at first all Freddy did was watch silently back, fascinated by the creature that looked nothing like his mother or anything else he'd ever seen. Fleur stiffened when the griffin stretched its neck towards her child.

 

Freddy smiled and reached out his hand to touch the griffin's beak. The griffin nudged him back. Then it squawked again, loudly, and Fleur immediately looked to her little boy. But instead of being frightened, he laughed louder and waved its arms towards the baby griffin, babbling nonsense.

 

There was a deep chuckle and Anhora smiled down at them “Found himself a familiar already, has he? That boy's going to be a handful.”

 

Andromeda snorted despite herself. “Well, that was to be expected. She named him after his uncle, after all.”

 

“He is going to be a strong boy and a powerful sorcerer,” said Fleur resolutely. “Merlin will teach him.”

 

Narcissa hid her smile. She was certain Merlin wouldn't mind, though he was likely to be very surprised to hear that he was already designated as little Freddy Weasley's teacher before he'd even met the boy. When she looked away from them she was suddenly surprised to realize they were surrounded by nearly the entire unicorn herd.

 

“Anhora?” Isabella asked, suddenly sounding very confused. She was looking at the unicorns with a frown on her face. “What do they mean?”

 

The old man looked at her sadly. He walked up to her and knelt down, his limbs creaking at the motion. He patted her lightly on the head. “My dear child, I'm afraid I haven't been entirely truthful with you.”

 

Beside her, she felt Bethany Chambers stiffen.

 

“You see, being able to hear and speak to the unicorns is indeed a rare gift, but it is not one given by nature, but by the unicorns themselves. They knew, perhaps better than Emrys, what was coming and what would be needed. And your soul shines bright to them, like a single ray of sunshine on a cloudy day. My time is at an end, child, and so they needed to choose a new Keeper, a human to take my place.”

 

“Why are you leaving?”

 

“Because, this is what I can do. Albion's Darkest Hour is upon us. These grounds are guarded, but even those wards will not last forever. Without help, the corruption might continue for too long and then all creatures of magic will fade away. Unicorns cannot live in the corruption, they require purity to exist, but I am human. I can go where they cannot and pave the way for them using their magic.”

 

Isabella's eyes were full of tears now. “You're never coming back are you?”

 

Anhora smiled down at her. “No, I'm sorry child, I am not.” The unicorns came in closer and he placed a reassuring hand on the one closest to him. “But you have a choice. The unicorns love you and would choose you as their Keeper, but they will not force their choice upon you.”

 

Bethany Chambers stepped forward. “How can you possibly expect a child to know what they'll want for the rest of their lives! Honestly, to make a choice: you should be asking her father not her.”

 

“It's alright, grandmama,” Isabella said resolutely. There were still tears in her eyes, but a fierce protectiveness as well a whisper of wisdom beyond her years. “I want to always be friends with the unicorns. I will be their Keeper and protect them forever.”

 

The unicorns neighed in response and Isabella's face broke out in a wide, delighted smile. She ran to the leader of the herd and threw her arms around his neck. “I promise to learn everything I can and grow up big and strong.”

 

One by one, the herd came over to nudge her and she caressed each of them back, happily talking to them. Meanwhile, her grandmother turned to Narcissa and opened her mouth. Narcissa stopped her with a raised hand. “It's no use asking me, I've only a vague idea of how it all works. I'm reasonably certain the unicorn magic will let her grow up before she stops ageing like Merlin and Anhora, but I've honestly not a clue. You'll have to wait to ask Merlin or Nimueh.”

 

None of them noticed the moment Anhora smiled and disappeared.

 


 

 

Archie had been right: there were indeed powerful wards surrounding Buckingham Palace. Powerful enough to stop the first of the flying creatures in their tracks mere feet away from the top of the palace. Indeed, the wards seemed to have created a dome around the grounds. Arthur didn't know how the wards had known to let the dragon through, but he was glad they knew enough not to let Morgana's creatures in.

 

He was still outside the palace grounds, helping to shuffle people inside the gate. Red-uniformed guards were holding the gates open and yelling instructions (which answered the immortal question of just what it took to get them to move). When the last of the Death Eaters was defeated and sent away with an auror escourt, the rest of the wizards disappeared with a 'pop' only to reappear just in front of the palace gates with confused frowns on their faces. Several more joined them with similar perplexed looks.

 

Arthur ran up to them. “Is there another problem?”

 

A tall, dark-skinned wizard turned to him and shook his head. “No, no problem... it's just, I didn't realize there were anti-apparation wards on Buckingham Palace.” He noticed Arthur's blank look. “That means they're preventing us from just apparating directly into the grounds.”

 

“Oh. I suppose that's actually a rather good thing to have really.” Arthur suddenly had an idea. “Are you able to feel the wards? To, uh, tell us how they're standing up?”

 

“And let you know if they're about to collapse under pressure?”

 

Arthur nodded to the man. He'd been watching him fight and clearly this wizard was someone to be reckoned with. “Yes, exactly.”

 

He glanced out towards the front, happy to note most people were now inside. Meanwhile, the dark-skinned wizard, along with an older, round wizard, were doing something with wands pointed towards the wall surrounding the grounds.

 

“Can you do that from the inside?” Arthur asked. The wizards looked to him and nodded. “Then we'd best get in with the others.”

 

The tall, dark wizard motioned to his rounder companion, who nodded and led the others first. He then turned to Arthur. “I realize this is a bit of an awkward time and place, but it's good to finally meet you, Arthur Pendragon.”

 

“King.” The wizard raised his eyebrows at him. Arthur winced. “Er, my last name. It's not actually Pendragon, it's King... You know what, just call me Arthur.”

 

“Then, Arthur, I am the Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt.”

 

Arthur looked at him in surprise. He'd been expecting a bit more of a stuffy politician... perhaps wizard politics were different? He didn't get much time to dwell on this as a sudden scream had him snapping his head forward again and cursing even as his legs automatically moved towards the sound.

 

The creatures had finally discovered their open gate. Arthur wondered if the open gate meant a hole in the ward, but wasn't willing to test it to find out. One of the reporters had stayed back a bit from the rest of the crowd in order to get footage of the creatures attacking the top of the wards. Unfortunately, she hadn't noticed the winged creatures circling around in order to attack the throng of people. The creature was roughly human-shaped, but bulkier and furry, with light brown, feathered wings. It hovered just above the ground with the woman in its long, furry arms. There was a loud 'snap' and the woman screamed one, last, agonizing time and then fell still. Arthur saw red.

 

He ran at the creature and slashed. Excalibur sang as it flew through the air and then the creature shrieked, flying higher and out of Arthur's reach. Small, hateful red eyes stared down at him as it held the bloodless stump that remained of its left arm. A beam of light hit it, but it seemed to do nothing but part the fur on its chest.

 

“Dammit, why aren't these sorcery creatures ever susceptible to wizarding spells?”

 

Arthur had no idea and no time to speculate either as several more of the creatures descended on them. He heard gunshots, and saw flashes of light as spells were cast but saw nothing beyond the creature coming at him. He ducked down as it swooped overhead, thrusting his sword upwards at the last moment and cutting open the creature's belly. It let out a shriek of pain, but kept flying.

 

“Sire!”

 

Arthur looked up to see Gwaine and Leon running towards him. Gwaine was watching the sky for any more attacks, but Leon's eyes were raking over Arthur, checking him for any damage. Then he noticed the severed limb laying on the ground and his eyes widened.

 

“You managed to hurt one of them?”

 

Arthur frowned. “Not enough, but yes I did.”

 

Leon shook his head. “Gwaine's sword didn't even scratch the beasts and my bullets bounced off.”

 

Arthur's eyes widened and he looked down at his sword. Well, he supposed this was proof enough that Excalibur was no ordinary sword. He looked at the limb. “We'll bring that in with us and let Nimueh take a look at it. Even if she's not up to fighting, she might know something about the spell that created it.”

 

“Good idea,” said Shacklebolt from beside him. “I'm afraid nothing we've tried is working either.”

 

Arthur nodded. “Everyone, fall back!” he bellowed out. “To the gates! Fall back to the gates!”

 

By now there weren't many people outside them anymore, but there were still a few, most of them attempting to fight the creatures, his knights chiefly among them. At Arthur's command, they slowly pulled back, carefully making their way towards the gate. Arthur, being the only one thus far able to cause them any sort of significant damage, went through last.

 

Finally, the black iron gates closed Buckingham Palace off from the rest of the world. Arthur watched grimly as the flying monsters battered the wards, testing them for weaknesses, and stared down at them. His hands clenched around his sword when he saw a number of them fly off towards the city.

 

“Well, at least she's picked a different movie this time,” said Gwaine as he came up beside him. “Though personally, I rather wished they'd stayed over the rainbow where they belong.”

 

Arthur stared at Gwaine. Then he looked back up at the creatures. Hmmm... he supposed they did sort of look like flying monkeys.

 


 

 

Had Arthur looked up at the balcony of Buckingham Palace, he would have noticed his audience was much larger and more important than he'd realized. The Queen and her three children had seen the whole thing. It would have been rather difficult not to notice the commotion going on in front of the palace grounds even without the warning they'd received. The princesses, Cecile and Victoria, had been watching the sword for weeks and even more closely since the London attack. Their older brother, Edmund, now home from university, pretended he thought it was all nonsense, but did a rather poor job of hiding the way he absorbed all information about it like a sponge.

 

He'd been incredibly disappointed when he couldn't pull the sword out, the poor dear.

 

Of course, the Royal Family was hardly alone on the balcony. Her Majesty's personal servants had even had the forethought to bring along small binoculars for them. And what a spectacle it turned out to be! The Queen wasn't entirely certain what she ought to think of it. Had she not herself witnessed scores of people attempting to pull the sword out, she may have been tempted to cry foul, for the sword came out so easily for the young man. No, for Arthur: for the Once and Future King.

 

“Oh mummy, he does look like a prince, doesn't he?” her youngest, declared. She was a rather frivolous sixteen and quickly enamoured of any handsome face.

 

Her son huffed. “He looks just like any other young man. It's entirely the sword.”

 

The Queen hid her smile behind a stoic mask and then looked to her eldest, who had yet to say a word. It was unusual to say the least. Though not talkative as such, her eldest daughter was never shy with her comments. She was looking through the binoculars with a puzzled frown on her face.

 

“Victoria, is something the matter?”

 

Her daughter didn't reply immediately and when she did it was hesitant. “No, not as such. I-I don't know whether he looks like a king or a prince, but there's something about him. Although... I can't help but feel that something's missing.”

 

“Missing?”

 

Her Majesty would've asked her daughter to elaborate, but then the magical battle captured their attention - not even Edmund bothered to attempt to hide his interest. At least until a large shadow passed over their heads. Her youngest, Cecile, screamed out in surprise, Victoria gasped and Edmund looked head over heels in love at first glance. The dragon settled in the middle of the courtyard and several people ran to him – including a young blond wearing wizard robes and carrying a broom.

 

Then Arthur and his friends (or should she call them his knights?) began to urge people through the gates and onto the palace grounds. This puzzled the Queen until the first of the flying creatures hit an invisible shield of some sort no more than a metre above her head. She gasped and took several steps backwards, staring into the red eyes of some sort of grotesque winged ape.

 

Suddenly there were several dark figures in front of her, their backs obscuring her view as they all pointed their guns at the flying monsters.

 

“Why have they stopped?” she heard Edmund ask.

 

Looking around her, she realized he was right. There were, in fact, over a dozen of them scattered over their side of the palace and none of them came any further. Then two of them lunged forward, but seemed to bounce off some sort of invisible surface.

 

“It could be a magical barrier or some sort,” Victoria suggested.

 

Well, if it was, the Queen certainly had no idea where it had come from.

 

“Ma'am, we have to get you and their Highnesses inside,” Owen, the head of her bodyguards, said quietly, moving to usher her inside.

 

“Just a minute, Owen,” she said and walked around the wall of black suits in order to look out onto the courtyard. She could see Arthur and several others attempting to fight the flying apes as everyone else congregated inside the gates.

 

She had no idea what the return of Arthur meant for the Crown, where she stood now and where she would stand when this was all over, but one thing she knew. She was the Queen.

 

“Mathew!” she called to her servant.

 

“Yes, Ma'am?”

 

“Find the Captain of the Guards and inform him we would like him to open the palace doors and let those people outside in. Whatever is keeping those foul creatures at bay may not last forever. And have the kitchens make tea. We are certain they will appreciate something to calm their nerves with.”

 

“Right away, Ma'am.”

 


 

 

Pansy hadn't taken him far, hiding them both in the shade of a clump of trees in a nearby park. She quickly cleaned off a large enough spot for her to gently levitate Mordred onto and then cast a diagnostic spell to check for injuries. There was some bruising, several broken ribs and she was fairly certain he had a concussion. She took a deep breath and cast a reviving spell. He needed to wake up so she could give him the potions.

 

It took a few moments before the spell took hold properly. Mordred's lashes fluttered a few times before his eyes finally opened. He looked dazed and groaned in pain, when he tried to move.

 

“Wha hap'ned?” he managed to croak out.

 

“The sorceress used some sort of strange spell to knock you backwards and you hit your head. I apparated you out of there before they could get to you.” She took a capped vial out of her robes. “Here drink this, it's for the pain.”

 

She waited a few minutes after he'd swallowed down the potion before setting his ribs. He still grit his teeth in pain as the bones slid back together. It didn't heal them, but Pansy didn't have any Skele-grow to give him so this would have to do for now. Then she cast a spell on his head, to help ease the concussion.

 

“Well, isn't this just sweet.”

 

Pansy whirled around, pointing her wand towards the voice behind her. She could hear her heart beating, it was so loud, her breaths suddenly becoming quick little pants.

 

There was a man standing in the shade of one of the larger trees. He was dressed as a muggle, but there was something unnatural about the way he held himself. Or perhaps in the way he seemed entirely unconcerned with the potential danger coming from being face to face with a witch and a sorcerer. His arms were casually crossed over his chest as he leaned against the tree's trunk, his legs crossed at the knees.

 

“So you've managed your part of the plan, then,” said Mordred from behind her. Pansy glanced back to watch as he attempted to slowly rise to his feet, careful of his ribs.

 

“Hm? Ah, well, yes my plan has been a tremendous success.” There was a pause and Pansy quickly hurried to Mordred's side to help him to his feet. “Of course, I can't say the same for the ones you sent to try and take my city away from me.”

 

They both froze, their eyes snapping up to the man. He stepped forward and Pansy caught the red rimming his pupils. He flashed a fang as he stepped forward and Pansy shuddered. Vampire.

 

“I must thank you for that, however, as it was ever so much fun. Haven't had such a good time in centuries.”

 

Mordred's eyes were wide with fear now. “Who are you?” he whispered.

 

“The recently-reinstated Master of London and a friend of Merlin's.”

 

Pansy gasped. It was the last sound she ever made as suddenly the vampire was gone and there was a slight pressure at the base of her neck. She surrendered to the euphoria that followed...

 

Barnaby Willows stepped back from the corpses. Most vampires would not have been able to follow them from Buckingham Palace to the centre of Hyde Park by their magical signatures, but he wasn't most vampires. And, really, the girl should've transported them further away. Her blood had been sweet, though, spiced with just a touch of darkness and tainted with anger and bitterness.

 

And the boy, Mordred... the look on his face when he'd realized accessing his magic had become painful thanks to the corruption he himself had helped create... His blood had been richer as only an old soul imbibed with magic could be. It was what he'd always imagined Merlin's blood would taste like, only his would be purer – sadder, yes, but filled with less anger. And much, much more powerful. If magic had a taste, it would probably taste like Merlin's blood, he reasoned.

 

There were many legends and rumours that had been lost with time, some never having made it to human ears. He wasn't nearly as old as Merlin, but he was old enough to have heard many of them long before he'd met the great Emrys. Had indeed thought Emrys himself nothing more than a mere legend. One of many said that Emrys was not only a child of magic, but an incarnation of magic itself.

 

He'd never quite found the courage to ask him. There were a lot of things he'd never found the courage for.

 

Which begged the question: where in the blooming blazes was he?! Barnaby looked towards Buckingham Palace, frowning at the flying monkeys (which were both utterly ridiculous, and surprisingly effective). In the distance he could hear screams coming from the city.

 


 

 

Arthur Weasley felt the slight tingling in his pocket and reached in, his hands shaking slightly. He could feel the Order's eyes on him as he fumbled the notebook open and read Harry's newest message.

 

Morgana just disapparated away with DEs. Trolls still here.

 

Arthur took a deep breath, passed the notebook on to his wife and then tapped the side of his right temple with his wand. “Aciesum Ablego,” he whispered and scanned what he could make out of the village for any sight of Morgana's reappearance.

 

There was none. When the notebook circled back to him, he ended the spell, took his quill and wrote a reply.

 

She doesn't seem to be here either. Sit tight and wait for our signal. Need to make sure she's not coming right back.

 

Ok.

 

He waited fifteen agonizing minutes. He checked the notebook. Nothing new from Harry. He took a deep breath and picked up the quill.

 

Harry, get ready.

 

Then he met the eyes watching him and nodded to them. “Everyone knows what they're doing?” he whispered. They nodded and he took a nervous breath. “Well, then I suppose this is it.” He gripped his wand tightly. “Good luck everyone.”

 

The Order of the Phoenix apparated away from their hiding place in the trees and reappeared in twos and threes around the village. The remaining Death Eaters had, indeed, disappeared with Morgana, but there were still plenty of trolls about.

 

Ron and Hermione apparated in front of the pub, a white-washed building with a brown thatched roof. There was a troll standing in the middle of the green in front of it, staring up at a standing stone just slightly taller than it. The troll noticed them immediately and grinned, eyes gleaming maliciously. Ron gulped at the giant club it swung down from its shoulder as easily as though it were a cloth sack on a stick. He exchanged a look with Hermione, who looked equally nervous, but was covering it up with determination.

 

Amazingly enough, knowing the brilliant witch beside him was just as scared as he was, calmed him down. When he looked back to the troll it was with narrowed eyes and a determination to make sure both of them made it out alive. The troll, perhaps sensing the change in his demeanour, charged. Ron raised his wand.

 

Petrificus Totalus!”

 

The troll swung its club and the spell hit the weapon. Ron cursed, but Hermione was already casting casting her own spell.

 

Sectumsempra!”

 

This time the spell hit its mark and the troll paused in its advance, grunting as a sharp line cut along its right shoulder to just past its chest. A dark, greenish liquid began to congeal around the cut. It didn't stop the troll for long. Ron and Hermione glanced at each other and then ran in opposite directions, to either side of the troll and well out of its reach.

 

Cremero Accendi!” Ron chanted, pointing his wand at the troll as he ran. He felt a surge of pride as the newest spell in his arsenal produced a perfect stream of fire that hit the troll dead-on.

 

Unfortunately, it turned out trolls weren't terribly flammable. Oh, right, he realized. They were somehow part-magic rock and rock didn't burn. Damn.

 

The troll stopped to stare at the wooden club, which was burning beautifully in its hands. He lobbed it at Hermione, whose eyes widened mid-casting. Ron screamed her name, which seemed to shake her out of her shock for long enough to allow her to throw herself bodily out of the way. Tendrils of fire still caught the back of her robes and she screamed as she landed, flames igniting her hair.

 

Ron apparated to her side and doused the fire with a spell, suddenly feeling incredibly grateful for the ridiculously repetitive practice they'd gone through in auror training during their first three months. He looked up to the troll and saw it coming towards them, a giant curved knife in its hand. Ron swallowed. He was fairly certain he'd preferred the club. He glanced back down to Hermione. The fire had burned through her robes and she was definitely going to need to see a medi-wizard. He looked away quickly, his stomach sick at the damage already.

 

Somewhere behind him, he heard a loud crash. He grit his teeth and forced himself not to look in that direction. That was someone else's battle.

 

“You alright, 'Mione?” he asked steadily as he faced the troll.

 

He heard some movement and then a gasp of pain. “I-I'm alive, Ron. I... I just...”

 

“Yeah, got it. Your back looks a mess: don't move. I'll take care of the troll.”

 

“R-Ron-”

 

But Ron didn't care for her arguments. He stepped around her, his eyes never leaving the troll and his grisly new weapon. So, fire was out and he was pants at Sectumsempra. He remembered back to his first year and looked around for anything he could levitate on top of the troll. The muggle vehicles were a possibility – Malfoy had done it at Trafalgar Square, but the troll was considerably faster than those mud creatures Morgana had conjured up had been. He needed a plan.

 

Confringo!” he cast and immediately began running away, hoping to lure it away from Hermione. Behind him, he heard the troll bellow in pain and anger. He glanced behind him and sure enough, it was following him. Very quickly. Ron swung around and cast another blasting curse at it, but it didn't hit. He cursed and tried another one.

 

Expelliarmus!”

 

This time the spell hit, but the troll managed to hang on to his knife. Apparently, that spell was only lucky for Harry Potter.

 

Movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention and he glanced back to the pub. The second floor window was open now and there was someone there waving. It looked like a young woman, who disappeared when the troll glanced over, which made Ron realize she was trying to get his attention. Sure enough, she was back as soon as the troll looked away again. This time she pointed downward with exaggerated movements. Ron nodded, wondering what the hell the muggle thought she was going to do... until he realized that you really didn't need magic to drop something from a second story window.

 

It was a better plan than what he had at the moment.

 

Ron cast Expelliarmus again, then changed directions and ran towards the pub. The troll grunted, but the heavy footfalls behind him didn't slow down in the slightest. Which was excellent, except that Ron's strategy suddenly failed him as he realized the goal was to get the troll under the window, not him. Spells flew through his mind as he ran.

 

Just in front of the pub, he dug one foot into the ground and spun around, aiming his wand at the troll. “Confundo!

 

The spell hit the troll and Ron cheered inwardly. He ran past the troll as it staggered about, disorientated. He swore he would never, ever complain about repetitive training exercises ever again. Once he was well past the reach of the troll and its giant knife, he stopped and turned to face it and, hoping he was putting just enough force into the spell, sent it flying the remaining distance towards the pub. It hit the wall with an impact that made the building shake and Ron wince.

 

It took the troll a few moments to recover, but then it was standing, its face twisted in a hateful snarl as it glared at Ron. Ron gulped. There was movement at the window above the troll's head. “Oi, up 'ere!” someone called out.

 

The troll looked up just as the muggles upended a large pot of boiling water over its head. It shrieked in pain, instantly breaking out in small, though hideous boils. Then the woman from before (she looked about the same age as Ginny) leaned out the widow and threw the contents of a small bowl at the troll. The fine, white power sparkled as it fell. Quite a bit of it fell onto the troll, instantly making the small boils bigger.

 

The young woman pumped her fist into the air. “Yes!” she exclaimed with a grin. “Thank you Sam and Dean Winchester!”

 

Ron blinked at her and then shook his head and jogged towards the troll. The door to the pub smashed open and a large, balding man ran out holding a short black stick. He let out a cry and charged at the thrashing troll. The troll had thankfully let go of its knife, but Ron's heart caught in his throat as he watched the muggle come near those strong limbs. The man slapped the troll with his stick... and the troll screamed, before slowly collapsing towards the ground.

 

By the time Ron reached the muggle's side, it was unconscious. The muggle, who had never lifted the stick away from the troll, placed it on top of the unconscious body. Ron stared at it, realizing it wasn't actually a stick as such, but rather a long, smoothed piece of dark metal. He reached out to touch it.

 

A strong arm gripped his wrist. “Wouldn't do that if I were you, lad,” came the gruff voice.

 

“What is it?”

 

“Cold iron. Been 'ere in the pub for generations. Me mum used to say it was to protect us against the malicious fae what live by the stones and by the 'henge. I ne'er believed none of it, but they weren't in the way and it made a good story for them tourists what comes through 'ere.”

 

Ron's eyes widened and the man let go of his wrist as he quickly backed away from the downed troll. Cold iron?!

 

“Oi, should she really be trying to move?” he heard the young woman's voice ask, snapped him back to the present.

 

“Bloody 'ell,” he muttered and ran to Hermione's side. She was kneeling, evidently on her way to attempting to stand. “What are you doing?!” he demanded.

 

Suddenly, there was an older woman on Hermione's other side, helping her up. “Here, luv, we should get you inside, quick,” she said. “Before them dragon things starts showing up.”

 

Hermione cried out at the movement, then grit her teeth as she leaned on the woman for support.

 

“Dragon things? What dragon things?” Ron asked. Suddenly, he heard screeching in the background. He whirled around and gaped at the dark, skinny shapes flying in circles above the village. He watched as one of them dove towards something behind a house – what remained of a house anyway.

 

“Nancy, come give me a hand with this girl!” he heard the woman shout. “What're you doing anyway, girl?”

 

“Just a minute, mum! I'm texting everyone to lets 'em know salt actually works!”

 

Ron shook his head in disbelief. Is that what that white powder had been: salt? However, his mind was already trying to figure out just how he might get rid of those flying dragon-like creatures. That was when two of the creatures suddenly swung their heads around at a small, quick-moving object and give chase. He grinned at the familiar shape.

 

It was Harry on his broomstick. Ron turned to make sure Hermione would be alright and then disapparated away to help the others.

 

Harry had waited until he saw order members apparate into the village before throwing his invisibility cloak off and stuffing it into the bag he had slung crosswise over his shoulder. A few of the potion vials he had inside clinked together at the movement. Then he got on his broom and flew out the tower window towards Stonehenge.

 

Attacking the trolls from above was brilliant: they couldn't come even close to touching him. Until one of them had taken out a horn and blown on it. Moments later he was ducking and swerving out of the way of several large, dragon-like creatures. Oh, right, Merlin had warned them about these things. They were called wyvern...

 

Half an hour later, he knew exactly what a snitch felt like. At least he'd managed to take one of them down by freezing its wings and then binding it when it crashed into an already partially-demolished house. Judging by the state of the buildings he saw while flying around, it looked like the trolls had had lots of fun. It made Harry clench his teeth in anger. He put all his power behind the Sectumsempra he cast at the nearest wyvern. It shrieked as the spell connected, but what should've been a vicious slash looked like a rather nasty – if oddly-placed – papercut.

 

Unfortunately, after that they'd all started coming at him at once, flying circles around him and never giving him the chance to do anything but hold onto his broom and put his seeker skills to good use. Not until it was nearly too late did he realize they were trying to box him in between three of them. Harry dived down, flying as low to the ground as he dared for a few moments. Above, he heard them screech in anger and glanced backwards to find that one had followed him. He took a deep breath and twisted his way through the houses.

 

Until he caught the frightened eyes of two small children in the basement window of a house whose front door looked like it had been smashed open by Hagrid's half-brother. Horrified with himself for not remembering there were people hiding inside the houses, he immediately flew upwards again.

 

Which left him exactly where he'd been before, trying to fly circles around creatures who were born to fly circles around him. This time they took turns lunging at him at full speed.

 

A roar shook the air and nearly knocked Harry off his broom. Three more followed.

 

Harry's head shot up in horror, wondering what the hell else Morgana had left for them to deal with. His eyes widened, because these weren't wyvern. They were small, but the four creatures that descended from the sky were definitely dragons; the power they radiated made the wyvern look like scrawny back-alley mutts in comparison. Three were green and one was a silvery-blue colour with bronze horns and black ridges along its back. The silvery-blue dragon flew at the front. It shot after a cluster of wyvern and opened its jaws. Bright red flames shot out, scattering the wyvern.

 

Harry felt somewhere between relieved and incredulous. He watched, hovering in the air as two of the green dragons also shot off after the wyvern. They didn't spew fire, but instead set themselves on their opponents with teeth and claws, turning the sky into a rather odd sort of battleground with winged creatures tumbling over themselves as the wyvern fought back.

 

“You alright, Harry?” he heard from above him.

 

He looked up and cursed himself for not paying attention to the fourth dragon. Then he noticed the figure on its back. However, before he could begin trying to find a response to Charlie's question, he also noticed the sky above them getting darker. He frowned and looked around. Sure enough, it had somehow managed to become rather significantly overcast.

 

In his recent experience, that was not a good sign.

 


 

 

Nimueh looked better mere moments after entering Buckingham Palace. She quite quickly went from looking close to death and barely able to stand to only slightly pale and shaky. The wound at her side hurt, but it was nothing compared to the feverish, hollow chill that came from touching the corruption. Dudley and Archie had both mostly recovered, though both still looked paler than usual. Draco, by their side, was trying to look like he wasn't frantic with worry.

 

Arthur made sure to get Nimueh a seat. Everyone was more than happy to oblige: they'd all witnessed her battle with Mordred and no one was under any illusion that they wouldn't need her recovered in order to face the creatures outside. Well, her and Merlin, but as they had no idea how long the idiot would be, it was her. She looked rather perplexed when Leon handed her a severed arm.

 

“What's this?” she asked.

 

“It's an arm I managed to cut off one of those flying, er, monkeys,” Arthur answered. Now that Gwaine had pointed out their ape-like appearance, he couldn't help but think of them in those terms.

 

Nimueh raised an amused eyebrow. “So I'm your magical CSI now, am I?”

 

“No, but if anyone here is going to figure out what they are and how to stop them, it's probably you.”

 

“Hm, very well. My magic is a bit out of sorts at the moment, but I'll do what I can.”

 

Arthur nodded and left her and the others to it. A wizard stepped up to her just as he was leaving, offering to heal the wound on her side. He found Kingsley Shacklebolt conferring with the rounder wizard he'd been with earlier, Gwen, Lancelot and Elyan listening in. He joined them.

 

“How are those wards doing?” he asked.

 

“Captain O'Malley here seems to think they'll stand for quite a bit longer, provided nothing incredibly powerful hits them.”

 

“You mean, we're fine as long as Mordred doesn't come back and Morgana doesn't arrive.”

 

“Probably, yes.”

 

Arthur looked around the room, saw the frightened faces looking back at him. Even the usually stoic palace guards were looking decidedly uneasy (and was it just his imagination, or did a few of them look familiar?). He swallowed, only now realizing just what it meant to be king, to have people carry such grand expectations of him. He turned back to the wizards and to his own men.

 

“If those wards do come down, the flying monkeys – and, Leon, remind me later to kill Gwaine for putting that name into my head – they'll be everywhere at once. We need to be ready for that. Minister Shacklebolt, would it be possible to pair up one of your people and one of mine and have them patrol the perimeter?”

 

“Yes, of course. We have five aurors with us inside the wards, which makes seven able-bodied wizards.”

 

“If we add Draco to that count, then it's eight,” Leon added.

 

The Minister of Magic shook his head. “We can't count on young Malfoy, I'm afraid. His wand has powerful wards on it. He can't cast offensive spells with it.”

 

Arthur frowned. “It seemed to be working just fine earlier.”

 

“The wards are gone now,” said a voice from behind him. Arthur turned his head to find a slightly nervous-looking Draco standing behind him. “Merlin, uh, bathed it in the Lake of Avalon and the water, er, washed them away, I suppose.”

 

Arthur blinked. “Oh, so that's what that was.”

 

Draco shrugged. “I think he was getting a bit annoyed that I wasn't able to properly cast magic when it was important.”

 

“Makes sense.” He turned back to the wizards, noting that while the auror captain looked outraged, Shacklebolt merely looked thoughtful – perhaps a bit resigned as well.

 

“I would also like to add that you have considerably more able bodies than just your knights,” Elena suddenly added as she stepped in beside Draco. Arthur took in the determined stance and ease with which she held her sword.

 

He smiled and nodded to her. Suddenly, a flash of another time, another place and another group of scared citizens appeared in his mind. He looked up again at the frightened faces gathered around him. Only this time, they weren't dirty, overworked peasants being threatened by bandits. But they were looking at him with the same scepticism, wondering if he was really capable of helping them, of saving them. He remembered that battle, the first battle he and Merlin had shared. The one that had taught him to never underestimate ordinary people.

 

He stepped forward. Because he also remembered Merlin's words. These were his people around him: sitting on steps, the floor and a few ornamental chairs, standing around, leaning against walls. There were a few snapping pictures, because this was a part of Buckingham Palace that most never got to see and it looked just as lavish and beautiful as the rest of it. And there were reporters, filming him and everyone else. If these people needed courage, then he could do that.

 

“My friends!” The eyes that hadn't already been on him, snapped to him. And oddly enough, that didn't make him more nervous, but as though, suddenly, everything had fallen into place. “I know you have no reason to trust me, no reason to think I am anything but a young man playing hero.” He brought Excalibur up and looked at it, amazed by how the light seemed to reflect off it even inside. He threw a lop-sided grin at the crowd. “Well, a young man with a cool sword playing hero.” There were a few chuckles and he grew serious.

 

“I know you're scared. I am too. This sword in my hand: it's powerful, but it's just a symbol. And it's a weapon. A wise man told me that three things are needed in order to protect Albion, this land: Courage, Strength and Magic. I will gladly take up this sword, this symbol, this weapon and charge into battle. However, I cannot defeat the enemy alone. I may have the Courage, but I do not have the Strength to defeat all those creatures out there. And so, I will be your Courage, if you will be my Strength, if you will stand by my side and help fight for this city, this country. I'm not asking you to fight for me. I'm asking you to fight for yourselves, your homes, your families and your friends. Because if Morgana succeeds, all of those will be in danger.”

 

He motioned towards Kingsley Shacklebolt and then towards Nimueh who didn't bother looking up from her examination.

 

“And for the first time in over fifteen hundred years, we stand here with Magic as our ally. No longer hidden in the shadows, but fighting by our side where it belongs. None of us here might be powerful enough to take on Morgana on their own, but as some brave people in this city have already proven, that doesn't make us powerless. We are fighting for the future we will build! Who's with me?”

 

The cheer that erupted must've been heard outside the palace, so loud it was. Arthur grinned, happy he'd gotten it right. He glanced to the far wall, where his father stood silently watching, one hand over his mother's shoulders, pride shining in both their eyes. Then the cheers abruptly turned into a hushed silence and Arthur looked away again. His eyes widened when he realized who had entered.

 

The Prince of Wales and the Princess Royal were instantly recognizable. Somewhere beside him, he heard someone gasp, but he was too busy trying to figure just what the proper etiquette should be... did one even exist for this situation? Prince Edmund ignored the crowd and walked directly towards Arthur, his eyes never deviating from his goal.

 

“Your Highness,” Arthur finally managed, bowing slightly for lack of any better ideas. Behind him, he knew the others were following his lead and bowing as well.

 

The prince raised an eyebrow and folded his arms over his chest. “I thought you were the Once and Future King?”

 

Arthur quirked a half smile. “Whatever that means.”

 

The prince grinned, relaxing. “Indeed.” He held a hand out to Arthur. “Whatever it means. I'm Edmund.”

 

Arthur took his hand and shook it with his own answering grin. “And I'm Arthur.”

 

The princess slid in beside her brother and held her hand out as well. “Victoria,” she said with a slight smile that nearly blind-sided him with its familiarity.

 

“A pleasure, my lady,” he said and pressed a kiss to her knuckles.

 

She stepped away and frowned as something caught her eye. She stepped forward, past Arthur. “You... you look familiar... do I know you?”

 

Arthur frowned at Gwen, who stepped forward, eyes wide and looking slightly stunned. She curtsied. “I am Gwenivere, my lady.”

 

“Gwenivere?”

 

Elena stepped towards both of them, cautiously watching the princess' reactions. “Mithian?”

 

The princess' head snapped up at the name and she stared at the blonde until, finally, her eyes widened with delighted recognition. “Elena? I remember you: you're Elena of Gawant!”

 

Elena grinned and suddenly the three young women were laughing as they reunited. Arthur felt like slapping himself. Elena of Gawant! Of course she looked familiar!

 

“As touching as all this is, Kilgharrah says he's feeling Morgana's presence in the city.”

 

The words were better than a metaphysical vacuum, instantly sucking all joy out of the room. Arthur looked to Nimueh who now looked perfectly fine, if still a bit pale. She raised a hand before he could say anything. “She's not out front, but she's nearby.”

 

Arthur nodded. He turned to Shacklebolt. “We should get those sentries outside. Leon, I'll leave you to arrange our side of it.”

 

“Yes, sire.”

 

“Nimueh, any luck with the flying monkeys?”

 

Beside him, Edmund snorted softly.

 

Nimueh's smile was sly and slightly evil. “Why as a matter of fact, yes. I do believe Morgana thinks she's being clever, but fortunately for us, knowledge is one power she does not have.”

 

“So you know how to defeat them?”

 

“Oh absolutely. It's rather poetic really. Like those mud monsters she created earlier, these have also been forged from the elements, only she used a lot more power to fuse the elements together this time – probably why she needed Stonehenge. Now, as you know, there are four elements. Single-element creations are incredibly difficult to maintain, which is why sorcerers will usually bind two elements together when they conjure creatures.” She paused. “She used three elements to create these creatures. I'll give her this much: it did take me a while to figure out what she'd done and if not for the wards giving me time to examine this arm it would've taken me much longer - which makes this somewhat clever. However, there's a very good reason why sorcerers don't tend to use three elements when creating creatures with magic.”

 

Arthur was about ready to strangle her and her dramatic pauses, when Draco spoke, looking thoughtful.

 

“If you create a creature using two elements, the other two destroy it. Therefore if you use three elements, then... the fourth is all you'd need, right?”

 

Nimueh looked impressed. “Yes, exactly. It's much more difficult to wield two elements at the same time than one.”

 

“Well, seeing as how they're flying, she must've used wind,” Arthur heard Archie say. “And definitely earth to give them shape, but what's the third?”

 

Nimueh smirked. “Fire. It's why Kilgharrah's flames have no real effect on them.”

 

“Of course.”

 

Arthur groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Are you trying to tell me that all we need to do to defeat the flying monkeys is melt them with water?”

 

Archie chuckled. “Poetic indeed.”

 

“I'll have someone fetch the gardeners,” said Prince Edmund.

 

“I'll call my superiors,” said Lancelot. “If the creatures are attacking the rest of the city, then they need to get the word out on how to combat them.”

 

“Oh how I wish I could be a fly on the wall when dispatch at the fire department gets that call,” said Gwen with a grin. Beside her, Elena and Victoria – no Mithian – giggled.

 


 

 

Morgana looked down at the bodies. Someone had gently laid them out, placed their arms around each other as though they were lovers sleeping in the shade of an aged oak tree that was hiding them from the gentle summer sun. If not for the unnatural stillness, they looked like they would awake at any moment, smile into each other's eyes and whisper endearments in-between kisses. Whoever had laid them out had also done so in such a way that the small double-pricks at the side of their necks were clearly visible.

 

Vampires. Morgana seethed. Either they had betrayed her, or else they had severely underestimated the London master.

 

She allowed herself a moment more to mourn the loss of her beloved companion and co-sorcerer. Then she turned towards the lake she could just see in the distance. The park had emptied out thanks to her lovely creations and so it was much more peaceful than it usually was. She let out the anger that had been building inside of her, felt it touch the blackness beneath the soil, felt it go beyond that blackness to what lay beneath. To that place where the darkest creatures of Albion had hidden away.

 

They'd felt her arrival. They were waiting for her. She smiled as she watched them skulk out of the shadows. Then she began to walk towards the palace.

 


 

 

Arthur Weasley was breathing heavily. His left arm was throbbing from where he hadn't managed to move out of the way of the swing of a troll's club and there was sweat pouring down his temples. However, that seemed to be the last of them.

 

He staggered over to where Ginny was healing a cut on Ron's leg. It was a minor wound, thankfully. He looked up to see if he could catch a glimpse of Harry. He'd had his hands full with the wyvern until the dragons had shown up – and Arthur still couldn't figure out how that had happened, but wasn't about to question the good fortune.

 

Harry flew down towards him, stopping to hover in mid-air. “Everything alright down here?”

 

Arthur smiled. “Oh yes, the trolls seem to be all gone. The muggles were actually quite helpful with that, very resourceful in fact. Although Ron wants me to spread the warning that if we're invited for a pint at the pub later on not to touch anything hanging on the walls.”

 

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Uh, right... I'll try and remember that.”

 

“So, where exactly did those dragons come from?”

 

Harry grinned. “Oh that's not just any dragons. Those are Charlie's dragons and Charlie's with them. Apparently they wanted to help, so they stole Charlie and left the sanctuary.”

 

Arthur blinked. Only his children...

 

Their conversation was interrupted by a series of 'pops'. Then George came running around the corner.

 

“Dad! Bill says to tell you there's dementors coming this- oh bloody buggering 'ell, I thought this lot was gone to London with Morgana?!”

 

“Apparently not,” said Arthur dryly. “Harry, go help Bill with the dementors!”

 

He didn't wait for the response as he cast towards the first Death Eater. Far above him, he heard a dragon roar.

 


 

 

The wolf pack flew across the plains, having left the forest behind not long ago. They were safer there, but this was shorter and time was precious. Humans didn't bother them, not prepared for the sight of the pack and many mesmerized by silver fur that shone under the sun. The corruption hadn't yet touched this far, though Merlin could feel its approach.

 

Finally, finally, they reached their destination. There were gasps at their sudden appearance and he could smell their fear, the acidity of their sweat and the stench of the chemicals they covered themselves with. He closed his eyes and pulled at his magic again, feeling the familiar tingling as his muscles and bones rearranged themselves back to their natural form.

 

He opened his eyes and looked at the world through the eyes of a man. He was tired and thirsty, but that would have to wait. First he turned to the pack leader, the largest and most powerful of the wolves. He knelt before him and embraced the soft, shaggy fur.

 

“Thank you, my friends,” he whispered, knowing they would all hear him. The leader nudged him and turned his head to lick at Merlin's ear. Merlin laughed. “Oi, don't you start! I've had enough jokes about my ears to last me several more lifetimes!”

 

The wolf leader huffed and pulled away. He inclined his head slightly in respect and then the Lord of the Forest took off, his pack following behind him as they retreated to their territory.

 

Merlin wished he could watch them forever. But he had little time and the rest of his journey needed to be completed as a man. The sky was a bright blue and the air was peaceful – warm and humid from the marshes, but clear. He looked up from the foot of the hill that overlooked the countryside, took in the lush green foliage that had not yet dulled with corruption and then higher up, to its top, where a tall stone tower stood as a lone sentry to yet another gateway to Avalon, one that existed in this world.

 

He smiled and began to climb the hill of Glastonbury Tor.

Chapter Text

Chapter 20

 

Riding a dragon proved to be just as absolutely amazing as Charlie had always imagined it would be. To feel such power beneath him, the muscles as they worked, the living, breathing creature... it didn't compare to riding a broomstick at all. He could feel the dragon's elation as the scrawny winged reptiles that had been chasing Harry around fled before them.

 

He noticed the clouds become darker just after Harry did and felt the dragon beneath him become unsettled. And then saw the shadows gliding towards the village and his heart seized. He thought Kingsley had made it quite clear that none of the dementors from the island had gotten away. There had to be at least a dozen of them gliding towards the village. Down below he saw a flurry of movement and felt relieved that someone had noticed. He looked to the road, where his father and Harry were conversing. His eyes widened. Death Eaters!

 

Suddenly, the Welsh Green he was riding took off in the other direction.

 

“Wait, hang on! They're under attack down there, we have to help them!”

 

Sorry Charlie, the land is crying. We have to help it. The others will help your friends.

 

“Others? What others?”

 

The Welsh Green flying right beside them roared. The third Welsh Green was flying just below them and a little to the left. All three were following their fire-breathing friend. The Long-horn mix dived lower and Charlie's eyes widened when he realized they'd just flown to Stonehenge. The silver-blue dragon didn't land, but circled the stone circle for a few moments. Inside the circle were the remains of a large bonfire next to a pile of bodies – Charlie was too high up to get a clear view of them, but the way they were thrown haphazardly on top of each other like dolls in a small child's closet made his stomach roll.

 

The Long-horn mix stopped circling and flew up a little higher. It opened its jaws and a river of fire spewed out into the centre of Stonehenge. Charlie gasped, watching as the interior turned into a firepit. He stared on in amazement as the flames burned everything and yet never strayed beyond the boundary of the stones. Minutes passed and they died down, leaving the earth scorched, deadened black with all traces of human remains gone. The stones remained untouched.

 

He looked back to the village and frowned. In the distance he could see Harry on his broom along with several others casting Patronus charms (he recognized Bill's among them), but they didn't seem to be having much effect. Was whatever Morgana had cast making the dementors stronger?

 

Then he caught sight of a figure slowly walking towards Stonehenge from the village. Robes of pure white stood out in contrast to the green fields.

 

They're here!

 

Charlie looked away from the white-robed figure and looked back towards Avebury, where the screams had suddenly changed. The next thing he knew, the dragons were flying towards the village again. As they drew closer, he saw Death Eaters running as griffins swooped down at them from above, beaks tearing into their flesh and claws ripping at their sides. The two that had been at the Malfoy Manor had clearly gathered some friends. There were hippogryffs in and amongst them as well.

 

The dragons joined the fray gleefully and Charlie added his own spellwork. They seemed especially delighted when several Death Eaters decided to level the playing field by taking to the skies against their new winged opponents.

 

When the dementors finally entered the village boundary, the griffins and hippogryffs backed off slightly.

 

Expecto Patronum!” Charlie cast and a silvery falcon shot out of his wand.

 

The dementors ignored it, moving out of the way so that it could pass harmlessly by them. They continued moving towards the village.

 


 

 

Gwaine ran into the crowded hall. “Sire – er Sires...” He looked between Arthur and Prince Edmund, who had both turned to him. He blinked and shook his head. “Arthur, Morgana's approaching from the park on foot! And she's not alone.”

 

Kingsley Shacklebolt nodded. “She'll have Death Eaters with her.”

 

“Nope, no death eating creeps, just a lot of ugly four-legged creatures with really odd-looking tails.”

 

“That doesn't sound good,” Arthur muttered. He turned to the prince and the head of the Palace Guard. “Assuming Morgana hasn't changed too much, she loves to gloat and right now probably thinks we're cornered. I'll go out and see if I can keep her occupied for as long as possible. In the meantime, prepare the hoses. If anyone can take those wards down, it'll be her.”

 

“Sire, allow me to accompany you.”

 

Arthur turned towards the elderly voice. He'd known the man before him since before he could walk in both lives - though obviously their contact had been less constant in this one. “Gaius-”

 

Gaius raised a hand. “I know there is not much I can do to help fight her, however perhaps my very presence might come as enough of a surprise to her to buy a few more minutes of time.”

 

The idea was sound. “Very well, but you are to go back into the castle – er, palace – as soon as the fighting starts.”

 

He bowed in deference, a gesture so familiar it made Arthur's heart ache. He shook it off. “Draco, you and Archie with me. Emma, you and Dudley stay out of sight for now in case Mordred wasn't aware enough to tell Morgana about you.”

 

“I'm not of much use to you until Merlin manages to stop this corruption anyway,” Emma agreed.

 

Arthur paused. “Is that what he's doing?”

 

She nodded. “We weren't expecting it to get this bad this quickly, which means Morgana has done something more than what we know of. It makes Merlin's job more difficult, but then again, I have a feeling I don't even know half of what he's actually got prepared.”

 

Arthur decided not to worry about that at the moment. “What about the dragon?”

 

Emma cocked her head and a sort of blank look appeared on her face. “He says he might be able to manage some fire, but he's also being affected by the corruption.” The blankness disappeared and was replaced by a half-amused, half-worried look. “I think his age is finally getting to him.”

 

Archie snorted. Arthur just rolled his eyes. “Gwaine, you're also with me and - what exactly do you think you're doing?”

 

Elena had insinuated herself between Draco and Archie. She raised an eyebrow at him and held out her mobile. “Bringing in the twenty-first century, your majesty. People in here need to know what's going on and group texts are the way of the future.”

 

He blinked. “You would've made a rather good queen, you know.”

 

“Alas, your heart already belonged to another!” she said dramatically. “And so I missed my big chance to become a legend.”

 

He rolled his eyes. “Alright, then let's go.”

 

Two palace guards escorted them through the hallways of Buckingham Palace. The tension that accompanied them was nearly thick enough to slice with the sword in his hand. They exited out into the courtyard, into the bright glare of the afternoon sun. The skies were clear now, the dark clouds that had initially accompanied the flying monkeys a mere memory – though the monkeys themselves sadly remained. Arthur took a deep breath and walked out towards the front gate.

 

And there she stood: a dark figure with porcelain skin, deep red lips and midnight-dark hair. She looked beautiful, healthy, less wild than the last time he'd seen her. But her eyes, he realized when he finally stood close enough to see, were just as malicious, just as tainted with bitter anger as they'd been before.

 

The beasts surrounding her were as hideous and evil-looking as he would've expected, but nothing he recognized. Their lion-esque bodies were covered in golden-red fur, but instead of resembling a cat, their faces were that of a man with sharp, pointed teeth. And curving over their backs were glistening, deadly scorpion tails.

 

“Good lord,” he heard Archie say softly from behind him. “They're manticores.”

 

Morgana's perfect red lips curved into a smirk. “Why hello there, brother dear. I wasn't certain if you were going to make it. Merlin must've had you well-hidden.”

 

“Morgana, I'd say it was good to see you again, but, well... it's not.”

 

Morgana chuckled. “Where is Merlin, anyway?”

 

“Hm, I'm not entirely certain, to be honest. Off somewhere foiling your evil plans no doubt.”

 

She burst into delighted laughter. “Oh my, did he really think I was going to wait for him at Stonehenge?! In that case, Arthur, I hope you've got yourself a backup plan, because right now the land is too corrupted there. Merlin will be as helpless as a baby bird, unable to use magic, unable to connect to the land the way sorcerers need to. And then there are the dementors I found lurking about... did you know the Ministry of Magic actually thought they'd caught all of them after their war? A bit foolish of them really. Have they told you about dementors, Arthur?”

 

“Hm? Oh yes, dark ghostly soul-sucking wraith things,” he said lightly, trying to appear casual. He knew he needed to keep her talking, but it was difficult not to spin around and grab Archie by the shoulders and force the man to confirm that Merlin hadn't, in fact, gone to Stonehenge. “Yes, I've heard of them.”

 

“Oh good. Then you know they also suck out all good memories? Make you relive your worst moments?”

 

“They sound absolutely lovely. Like the Dorocha, only super-charged.”

 

“Yes, their magic is oh so delightfully twisted as well and the corruption in the land... it will feed that twisted magic of theirs until they are nearly unstoppable. Stonehenge is where they'll start and then they'll spread to the rest of Albion. It's a pity, really. I almost hope Emrys isn't there, because it would be slightly disappointing if I never got the chance to prove my superior power.”

 

“Emrys is the most powerful sorcerer to ever live, Morgana. Not even you have the power to defeat him.”

 

Morgana's head snapped to the side and her eyes narrowed with hatred. “Gaius. Aren't you just a surprise. I wouldn't be so certain of Emrys' powers if I were you, old man... do you see this wand? It's called the Elder Wand. It's the most powerful wand ever created.”

 

“Yet it is still just a tool and thus only as powerful as the one who wieids it.”

 

“Then it's a good thing I am very powerful.”

 

“What? No greeting for me?” asked Gwaine, easily interrupting the ensuing silence as he stepped forward with a devil-may-care grin on his face. “And we had such sweet times together.”

 

“Why Sir Gwaine, how lovely to see you again as well. I'm looking forward to re-enacting some of those times with you.”

 

“Aha! I knew you were just looking for an excuse to get me to take my shirt off!”

 

Morgana ignored him, bringing her attention back to Arthur. This time, her smirk was mocking “So, is this the part where you ask me to stop, to think about what I'm doing, to reconsider?”

 

“No, I've done that before. Before, when you were a memory of the girl I'd grown up with, who was like a sister to me despite our constant bickering. Now though? Now you're just a threat to Albion, to my land.”

 

Her face hardened, eyes sharp icicles of hatred. When she spoke, her voice was almost a hiss. “This land isn't yours. You call yourself its king and yet you've done nothing to deserve it! Your crown is false and your so-called destiny nothing but a pretty lie. And by your side you've harboured a traitor. Emrys was a name whispered by the Druids with awe: the greatest sorcerer to ever live, destined to return magic to the land... the greatest betrayer of all. He turned his back on his own kind and watched as magic burned, as it hid in the shadows. Magic is power and power should never have to hide. If he will not do what is necessary then I will. I will prove that I am the most powerful of all and I will return magic to the land!”

 

“But magic is everywhere.”

 

The comment was so unexpected that even Morgana froze mid-breath. Her eyes narrowed on the blond wizard who had spoken. Arthur raised both eyebrows in surprise. Draco stared back at all of them, looking equally surprised, as though he hadn't meant to say that out loud at all.

 

“Er, I mean, magic is everywhere. It's...” He swallowed and looked off into the distance as though remembering something. After a few moments, his eyes widened slightly in understanding. “It really is everywhere. But in some places it's stronger than others. On the Isle of the Blessed you can't help but feel it, because it's so strong. B-but it's everywhere else as well. Magic isn't hiding. Ordinary people simply can't see it. You're the one killing it.”

 

Draco fell silent again and Arthur could see the young man's hands trembling slightly, but he stood tall and stuck his shin out defiantly. Arthur smiled slightly.

 

“You know nothing of this, boy,” Morgana spat out and then seemingly dismissed him as she turned back to Arthur. “Arthur, I will give you one chance for mercy. Well, not for you and certainly not for Emrys, wherever he's hiding, but for everyone else. Surrender and I'll let them live.”

 

“No.”

 

Morgana raised an eyebrow. “No? You're willing to risk all those innocent people behind you in the palace in the vague hope that Emrys will arrive in time to save you? You have no real authority: you're just a boy with a sword. Do you really speak for everyone, Arthur?”

 

Arthur took a breath, praying his nervousness didn't show on his face. The one thing he knew he couldn't do was let on how much her words were affecting him, hitting all his insecurities. What if Merlin was too weak from the corruption in the land to help them? What if the wards fell before he'd finished what he was doing? His palms were sweating.

 

Suddenly, he remembered Camelot. He heard Merlin words as he described the attack of the Knights of Medhir in his own words, confessed what he'd had to do in order to save the castle and the town. He'd known Morgana was magic, more his kin than Arthur. And yet he'd poisoned her in order to save the city. He could've left Camelot at any time, gone anywhere, found a kingdom where magic was accepted and lived like a noble. When he'd first heard the story Arthur had felt humbled, now he felt strength.

 

Merlin hadn't trusted him with his secret, but he had trusted him to become a great king, to rule wisely. He had trusted him with Albion. Arthur had trusted Merlin with his secrets, his doubts. Now it was his turn to trust him with his kingdom. A calm descended on him, his decision not nearly as difficult as it perhaps should have been.

 

“I am the Once and Future King of Albion. Politically, that might not mean much, but right here, right now, I am the man to whom Albion has entrusted her future. And I trust Merlin to protect my kingdom and my people. He will come and he will defeat you. We will not fall before he arrives.”

 

Morgana's face burned with anger. “So be it. Just remember I gave you the choice. For that I will keep you alive long enough to watch as London burns.”

 

She stepped backwards and began chanting. Arthur couldn't help the way his eyes widened at the sight of the giant fireball she was conjuring between her outstretched hands. The manticores sniggered and spread out around the gate.

 

A hand clasped his shoulder. He turned to Archie, who smiled at him reassuringly. “You're not wrong. Merlin will find a way to be here in time. He's only ever been late once and he's never forgiven himself for it.”

 

Arthur nodded. And then he watched, back straight and gaze unflinching as Morgana hurled her spell at the wards.

 


 

 

Aithusa was relieved to finally see her destination. Merlin had been worried about sending her, but she'd wanted to help. The journey had been slow-going and now she was tired and her back ached where it hadn't yet healed. But she'd made it. She descended below the clouds, relieved at the bright green fields below her. The corruption from Stonehenge had spread far and turned much of the crops a dull gray, curling leaves and shrivelling blooms like a plague.

 

If she looked behind her, she knew she would see it. But below her, the land was still healthy. For now.

 

The fields turned into moorlands. The hill she finally circled wasn't large, but it had clearly been altered by humans. A ditch had been dug in order to form an exterior bank that was separated from the large circular flat surface in the middle, leaving two openings on either end – one facing north-west and one facing south-east – as though creating entrances. The rounded centre had stones set out along its outer edge; long and lying flat: they formed a circle that enclosed a smaller set of stones lying flat around its centre.

 

She'd been here before with Merlin. That had been a very long time ago and the old druid that used to live here was long gone. Instead, a farmhouse stood not far away. Her sharp eyes picked up movement: apparently, she'd been seen.

 

She landed on a raised bump in the surrounding bank and took a few moments to reminisce and remember Merlin meditating at the centre of the circle for two days after speaking to the druid. She felt the calmness of the hill and the vitality of the land through the web of still-untarnished ley lines intersecting beneath. Although, they too bore the hint of approaching shadows.

 

Merlin had told her humans now called this place Arbour Low, but said the land here told a different story, called it a different name. This place was older than human memory, older than human knowledge. Only the land now remembered what it had once been.

 

Aithusa took a deep breath and breathed fire into the centre of the circle. Then she took another deep breath and did it again. Despite their age, the stones remembered and glowed bright blue when touched by the magic of dragonkind. The grass that gently covered the hill was never touched - not a single blade singed – as the stones contained the fire within their boundary, kept it hanging just above them as a bright orange blaze illuminated the countryside like a giant lamp.

 

For millennium Arbour Low had lay dormant, but now the Dragon Stones sang as their power fed into the ley lines below them.

 


 

 

Anhora's steps became slower and more difficult the closer he came to the stone circle. He'd been an old man for such a very long time, but only now did he actually feel like it. His feet were heavy, his knees felt stiff and made slight creaking noises like hinges needing oiling, his shoulders hunched under the invisible weight of time, and the scenery around him looked blurrier than he remembered it. The staff he always carried was no longer ornamental - a symbol of his station – but a necessary tool.

 

Behind him, he felt the approach of the dark wraiths: sad creatures that felt nothing but hunger and brought with them nothing but misery. His mind was too ancient to feel their pull, but his body shivered. In front of him, he felt the wrongness, the twisted echo of itself the land had become. He felt its pain in his bones as it slowly overshadowed the pure essence of unicorn magic that filled them. So long as even a sliver of unicorn magic remained within him, he could continue walking. And so he did.

 

He reflected as he walked, watching as his journey's end came ever so slowly closer. A young face sprang to mind and he smiled. He remembered meeting Emrys for the first time. His soul had shone with such purity that had it attracted the head of the unicorn herd. And later he came to find him, to beg the Keeper of the Unicorns to grant Arthur a chance to redeem himself and end the curse upon his kingdom. So young and untried he had been then, not knowing his own importance and not realizing the only reason Anhora had agreed was because he, Emrys, was the one asking. The next time they met, his soul had been clouded with grief, though it shone just as brightly.

 

It still shone just as brightly, tempered though it was with age and seasoned with wisdom.

 

Anhora felt eyes on him as he walked. The griffins, hippogryffs and dragons watched him as he walked, waiting. They could not approach the dark wraiths, strengthened by the land's corruption as they were. The dark wraiths would take a griffin's soul as surely as they would take a human's. He felt the spellcasting cease as the wizards were no doubt attempting to figure out what to do.

 

He kept walking.

 

He was human. Infused with unicorn magic, but still human. He felt the corruption in the land beneath him leach at the magic in his veins, twisting it into its own image. It was a steady throbbing pain, but he grit his teeth against it. The unicorns never would have made the journey, their magic too pure. He could go where they could not, because he was human. His journey was nearly ended.

 

The young dragon had burned away all traces of Morgana's ritual from inside the stone circle, destroying the source of the corruption and restoring the air within. When he stepped between the stones, he took his first deep breath in hours.

 

He walked to the centre of Stonehenge and stuck his staff into the ground. The white crystal at its top began to glow with the essence of unicorn magic trapped within. He let go and it continued to glow, calling to its kin and lighting their way. His limbs felt heavier now and so he walked slowly to one of the great stones and lowered himself into its shade. He felt old power at his back as it hummed in time with the crystal in the staff.

 

His eyes remained open long enough to see the light from the staff shine bright enough to illuminate the entire clearing and when the unicorn herd galloped from beneath that light, he smiled.

 

Humans were foolish creatures: foolish and forgetful. They saw one side and forgot there was always another. His charges were gentle creatures, pure in all things. Over the years, Anhora had seen much that made him shake his head in amusement. Why did humans think an unwed maiden was more pure than her mother, an untested boy purer than his father? What did unicorns care for a girl's maidenhead? Unicorns saw souls and felt intent. Their emotions were pure, as were their actions. Their gentleness was pure, but so was their anger. Unlike humans, their anger was never clouded by pity, humiliation, regret, revenge or jealousy. Unicorns did not rage. Their anger was pure, unfiltered and felt with all their being.

 

It burned bright as the desert sun and froze like the arctic wind. It was terrifying.

 

Anhora felt their anger, let it warm him for he was feeling cold. He let it wash over him and remembered their gentleness for he had known both. And as the last sliver of unicorn magic slipped from his body and into the soil beneath him, his journey came to an end.

 

High above, from his perch atop the dragonet, Charlie looked down in awe. Bright light from Stonehenge had attracted his attention and he'd looked over, wondering if this was finally Merlin fighting back against Morgana's spell. Only to watch as white, shining shapes flew from within the stone circle like a waterfall. He couldn't look away, mesmerized by the sight. They galloped towards Avebury like a tsunami, never straying from their course. He could hear the sound of their approach from where he sat.

 

He could feel their anger.

 

He heard the dementors screech as the unicorns charged them head-on. The dementors attempted to scatter, but the unicorns followed, dividing their ranks and becoming bright arrows that moved swiftly as the wind. Beside them, the dementors were slow and clumsy. Charlie had never seen a dementor killed before, hadn't known it could be done. Now he watched as dementor after dementor disintegrated into nothingness as they were impaled on unicorn horns.

 

How he longed for one of those muggle mobile communication things that Elena and the others had. He wanted to take a photo, to call Elena and tell her what he was seeing. Or to call Bill and find out what it was like from the ground.

 

It wasn't until the dragon he was sitting on suddenly dived that he realized the magical creatures had joined the fray again.

 


 

 

Minerva walked out onto the Hogwarts steps and looked over the school grounds. There were pockets of students sitting on the grass reading or whispering amongst themselves and someone had put together a half-hearted game of quidditch (she suspected it was Godric Griffindor, who seemed to brush danger off as though it didn't matter). They all looked up when she stepped outside and she shook her head – no, she had nothing new to tell them. She had just wanted some fresh air.

 

After what had happened at Hogsmeade, she couldn't in all good conscience keep her students in the dark about what was happening. Not when there was the potential for attack, not when the future of the Wizarding World – no of all of England, of Albion – hinged on the outcome of today's events. The ministry had aurors guarding Diagon Alley, though most shops had closed their doors and Hogwarts had been taking in refugees since late last night, when ministry officials, the wizengemot and aurors' families had begun arriving. The children weren't blind, they'd known something was going on. So she'd had the house heads herd their charges into the Great Hall first thing in the morning, in any and all states of dress, and told them.

 

She wished she could credit her orating skills with how rapt their attention had been. There was not a single pip, not a single whisper, as they listened wide-eyed and amazed. And grew evermore increasingly frightened. She finished by cancelling all classes for the day – it would've been ridiculous to expect anyone to concentrate. She only wished she could've joined the Order at Avebury and Stonehenge. Not knowing what was going on was horrible. There were several members up in the Hospital Wing already and according to them the fight was nearly over. The rest should've arrived by now. But they hadn't. Something was wrong and she couldn't leave to go find out what.

 

The doors behind her opened. “Professor McGonagall! It's the round crystal, it's doing something strange!”

 

Minerva's eyes widened and she spun around, glancing quickly at the third-year Ravenclaw boy, before following him inside. Salazar Slytherin and Rowena Ravenclaw were already there, surrounded by a gaggle of students from all four houses, all of them watching as the round sphere Merlin had sent her to complete the school's wards glowed with a bright white light. She joined them, not certain what she should be doing other than staring at it.

 

A gentle klip-klop had her turning around to watch as Firenze approached them. He was frowning, yet somehow still managed to look amazed.

 

“Firenze?” she called to him. “Do you know anything about this?”

 

The students made room for him to move in beside her. He continued staring at the orb. “I have never felt the power of the Old Religion as strongly as I feel it coming from that crystal. If there was ever any doubt, who created it, that can certainly be put to rest, yet... I can feel it resonating with power from the ley line as though they are connecting.”

 

There was a pause.

 

“When it came to this ward, Myrddin was always ridiculously secretive about it,” said Salazar Slytherin suddenly, looking thoughtful. “At least, we'd always assumed he was.”

 

Rowena Ravenclaw nodded. “I asked him how he created the orb and he told me he'd taken the Cup of Life and filled it with water from the Lake of Avalon. I thought he was joking.”

 

Firenze's eyes snapped to them and then back to the orb. “Somehow, I don't believe he was. Which would make this an incredibly powerful ward indeed.”

 

“So what's happening then?” Minerva asked, feeling shaken by this new revelation. “Are the wards coming under attack?”

 

“I... I don't think so. I think Merlin might be calling upon its power.” The centaur met her eyes, an astonished look in them. “He's pulling power through the ley lines.”

 


 

 

Merlin reached the top and took a deep breath. The air here felt pure, calmer than elsewhere: sacred. This hill had been moulded into shape as a temple to the earth goddess long before he had been born. The journey up was a sacrament, each step the word of a chant, a spell woven from sweat and human endurance mingled with magic from the land. The hill wasn't that tall and the trek not incredibly long, but it was just long enough. It was why Glastonbury Tor had to be climbed on foot. Nothing else would complete the natural spell, to bring out its power.

 

From beyond the shadows of the tall stone tower, he could feel the edges of the Mists, beyond which lay Avalon. And somewhere amongst the grass, he felt the other door, the one that touched the edges of Avalon, but went somewhere else entirely.

 

The shadow of a man detached itself from the tower. When he walked into the light, it became clear he was no mere man. “Emrys. I felt the shadows. I knew you would come.”

 

His voice was deep and yet airy, like the deepest notes of a flute. His long hair was dark and braided down his back, his skin deeply tanned. He was dressed in a soft light brown leather vest with red and green Celtic knots stitched in along the bottom hem and a soft wolf-fur trim at the collar. In one hand he held a longbow, in the other a curved wooden horn decorated with gold and on his back was a quiver of arrows. He wasn't a large man, but his figure was muscular and he held himself with an arrogance befitting his station and which hinted at barely-contained power.

 

His bright green eyes pierced Merlin's. For all that he himself was an old man, there were so many of Albion's inhabitants that could still make him feel incredibly young.

 

“Gwyn ad Nudd,” Merlin greeted the King of the Fae. “It's been a while. Thank you for sending your herd to help.”

 

Gwyn ad Nudd inclined his head. “It was the least I could do.” He looked out over the landscape. “Perhaps, it is time for the hunt to ride again.”

 

Merlin grinned. “I would very much enjoy seeing that.”

 

The Fae King smirked in amusement, his eyes dancing with mirth. “Then you should join us for next Belthane and drink to the health of the land.”

 

Merlin snorted. “I am entirely not innocent as to what your court gets up to at Belthane. Elvish wine does funny things to people.”

 

“Only when you lack the tolerance for it.”

 

Merlin made a face at that, because his tolerance hadn't improved with time (well, it had improved a little bit – he now needed the barmaid to hand him an actual drink rather than just catch a whiff of her apron). He turned away from Gwyn, knowing the king would not take it as a sign of disrespect. Movement out of the corner of his eye startled him and Merlin turned, eyes widening at the people staring back at him in wonder. Some were no doubt tourists, but most looked local. There were small children and teenagers, a few adults that looked like their parents and several younger adults that didn't look like parents yet and some older adults, grandparents. There was a metallic sort of clanging as an old woman shuffled up to the crowd with her walker. He hadn't even noticed them following him and the way they were watching him intently told him they'd done just that: followed him up the hill all the way to the top.

 

Helped him weave a spell that would stretch across all of Albion. He smiled widely at them. “Thank you,” he said, wondering if they would understand.

 

Then he stepped to the edge of the hill and looked over the land. Below him, he saw how fields had grown dull, as a shadow slowly fell upon the land. He looked towards the North East and closed his eyes. He let his magic go and then pushed it down into the land, into the gentle humming flesh of the Tor. He focused on his breath, on the breath of the earth, breathing with it until its breath was his and then he was the land. He was everywhere: trees, fields, lakes and soil.

 

His magic touched the ley lines, veins of power beneath the surface, and he felt along the web they weaved through Albion. He touched blackness, dark and twisted, and pulled back. No, not that way. Not yet. And then he heard it: clear and powerful, fiery and full of life, the song resonated across the ley lines, calling him. He pushed his magic towards it and delighted at the warm embrace he found. The song of the Dragon Stones welcomed him, joyfully singing as they hadn't in living memory. He felt Aithusa's presence beside them and lapped at her with his magic, feeling hers nuzzle him back. He eased her pain and felt her sigh with relief. He retreated back to the stones, pulling their fire from them and into the land. Dragon magic was powerful, fiery yet steady as the earth, which is why it was so well-suited for ley power. There was a reason why the Chinese called ley lines dragon lines.

 

There was also a reason why Dragons had bonded with humans and the land to create Dragon Lords.

 

Merlin felt deep into his own soul, where the other part of his magic resided. He pulled it forth, brought it roaring out into the sky. The land shook with the strength of the last Dragon Lord's cry. And the ley lines burned. They answered his call and the song from Arbour Low spread out into the land, gaining strength and speed as it shot towards the shadows, burning brighter than the darkness and chasing the corruption back.

 

It shot from Glastonbury Tor with the same intensity and Merlin followed with his magic right behind it. He felt unicorn magic and latched onto it, strengthening it and helping it grow so that it could chase away the shadows. He touched the unicorns as he passed by, greeting Lance and his flock with a light caress. The land was touched with sorrow and death, but death was a natural conclusion, by itself it would not bring corruption back and so he soothed what sorrow he could and the land replied, happily rejuvenating as the shadows were chased away. The stone circles of Avebury resonated, echoing the power of Stonehenge. And from across Albion, he felt other circles add their songs. The land vibrated with their power.

 

Deep within a dark cave now full of thick poisonous smoke, a cauldron containing dark liquid that would never grow cold, shattered. The cave was flooded with bright, golden flames that burned fiercely though shortly. When they died out, they left behind nothing but an empty cave and melted black iron.

 

The fire burned onwards, devouring the shadows. Merlin felt when they reached London. It was familiar to him: from the old wizarding magic hiding Diagon Alley, to the wards he himself had placed around Buckingham Palace just in case Arthur was reborn as a prince. They were weakening, so he pushed tendrils of power into them, but not enough to rebuild them or draw attention. He felt Arthur, he briefly brushed against Nimueh's power, feeling her surprise at the gesture. Then he felt Kilgharrah as the old dragon breathed in power from the ley lines, strengthened as they were by the magic of his kin.

 

Merlin pulled back his power when he sensed Morgana. He felt the Elder Wand and knew from her magic that she'd turned away from the Old Religion - from sorcery - altogether. She hadn't been affected by the corruption she'd caused, which had made her powerful while Nimueh, Kilgharrah and Merlin had been weak. Now it made her blind to the changes in the land.

 

He concentrated on his breathing again, this time listening to his own heart beating as his lungs took in air. Slowly he began to hear the difference between his breathing and the land's. He felt a breeze ruffle his hair. He opened his eyes.

 

He still felt the burning power of the ley lines in his veins, the steady thrum of dragon magic humming along his skin and knew his eyes were still shining molten gold.

 

He heard gasps and turned to glance at his audience. Some looked frightened, but most looked amazed. He smiled. “Don't worry,” he said, idly wondering if his voice resonated the way he felt it did. “Albion's Darkest Hour is at hand, but I think I have now averted the worst. Thank you for helping me begin the spell.”

 

“Who are you?” one of the teenagers asked.

 

“I am Merlin. I am Emrys.” He paused, feeling the truth of his father's words from so long ago. “I am Magic.”

 

Then he turned away and spun magic around his limbs. He felt them shift and his perspective changed as his body became smaller and his eyes became sharper. He spread his wings and took off, soaring through the sky towards London, magic speeding his journey towards Arthur and Destiny.

Chapter Text

Chapter 21

 

The palace grounds shook as yet another spell hit the wards. Arthur gritted his teeth and glanced behind him. Kingsley Shacklebolt and the Head Auror were both at the perimeter, wands drawn and faces worried. Above them, the flying monkeys hovered, waiting for the wards to come down. They were too far up to see properly, but Arthur swore he could feel the weight of their excited, malicious grins.

 

Then the wards were hit from the back. Arthur's head snapped in that direction, his eyes widening in horror. “Could Mordred have recovered that quickly?” he asked out loud.

 

“No, it can't be Mordred,” Archie immediately answered him. “Mordred's a sorcerer and, unlike Morgana, doesn't have the crutch of a wand to lean on. Even if he has recovered, he shouldn't be able to do magic any more than Nimueh or I can.”

 

Arthur nodded. He remembered this being explained to him. “Then who is it? More wizards?”

 

“Arthur!” Elena called as she ran up to him, mobile to her ear. She brought it down and tapped the screen several times. “Alright, Elyan, you're on speakerphone.”

 

Shacklebolt and Draco had both come in closer to hear what was going on. Both jumped slightly when Elyan's voice came through the small device. “Right, so we've got two, er women... I think... they're really quite hideous. And they're magic. They just showed up 'ere a minute ago. They've got staffs and the crystals on top of 'em are nearly black. Don't know if staffs makes a difference to wands, but they're wielding them all Gandalf-style. Aaand now they're chanting again.”

 

There was shuffling and some whispering and then Percy's voice came on. “The aurors are calling them hags, Arthur. Don't blame 'em either. If Ugly had a face, it would be these two. And- oh, hello Emma-”

 

Arthur, take this phone off speakerphone right now.”

 

Arthur blinked and looked up at Elena, who shrugged and then tapped the screen before handing the mobile to him. Arthur put it to his ear. “It's just me now, no speakerphone. What is it?”

 

Sorry, I don't want to risk Morgana overhearing. I just felt Merlin. He's using old magic to chase away the corruption of the ley lines. To be honest, I'm not even sure how he's doing it exactly, but I can feel the shadows leaving and I feel much better than a few minutes ago. I don't think Morgana will be able to feel the change... I think Merlin may have purposefully pulled back before reaching her.”

 

“What does that mean for us exactly?”

 

Emma chuckled. “It means that hopefully by the time those wards fall you'll have three functioning sorcerers again and that Merlin has completed his task and is on his way. I don't think he'll be able to transport himself directly, because he'll have to follow the ley lines here.”

 

“Does this mean we'll have to worry about Mordred again?”

 

Hmm, possibly, but I don't think he'll be up for much. I'd be more worried about these hags out here. Their magic is so twisted the corruption is actually making them stronger.”

 

Another spell hit the wards. Arthur looked to Morgana, who seemed puzzled for a moment. Then she raised her wand towards the sky and chanted. The sky above them began to cloud over.

 

“What are the chances she's going to accidentally summon rain?” he muttered.

 

Not as good as either of us would like. I rather think she's summoning lightening.”

 

Lightening... Arthur remembered lightening falling from the sky, showering the battlefield like giant blazing arrows: the Saxons running away, screaming in terror as it rained down upon them. He swallowed, his throat suddenly dry.

 

Arthur?”

 

Arthur took a deep breath. “Nimueh, stay at the front. I know you're our magical powerhouse at the moment, but I'm the one Morgana's going to focus on. If we can take out her support then it'll be easier to take her down. Tell Kilgharrah to wait until the wards have come down and then fly out here to the front. The manticores Morgana brought with her seem to have the wizards fairly spooked. I'll confer with Shacklebolt on the rest and have someone pass on the message.”

 

Very well. I'll send Dudley to you. His magic is better suited to the physical sword fight you'll likely have with the manticores. Good luck.”

 

“That makes sense, thank you. And good luck.”

 

Arthur hung up and handed the mobile back to Elena. Merlin was on his way. They had two hags made powerful by corrupted magic at their back, manticores that were poisonous and ate human flesh at their front, flying monkeys surrounding them from the air and Morgana, who was about to shower them with lightening. But Merlin was on his way. They could handle it until he arrived. And if he didn't arrive on time... his father had been defence minister for years. Surely not even Morgana could survive a full-on missile blast?

 

Actually... that wasn't a bad contingency plan. “Leon!”

 

His former head knight was by his side almost immediately. “Sire?”

 

“Go see my father. As the current or former or whatever he is right now defence minister he knows how to co-ordinate with the military and the air force. We need a backup plan in case Merlin doesn't arrive on time. And ask Gwen to begin co-ordinating an evacuation plan in case we need to get the Royal Family and civilians out in a hurry.”

 

Leon nodded and ran into the palace. Arthur turned to Kingsley and motioned them closer to the palace. Emma had a point: they couldn't risk Morgana overhearing. Lancelot's partner Ian ran up to them in the meantime looking a little frazzled, but with a grin on his face.

 

“Sorry to interrupt, uh, sir-sire, uh... just thought you'd want to know the water's working. The city's got all its firetrucks out about town and other residents have caught on. There's parks workers moving hoses and people climbing to the top of office buildings to dump buckets on top of those flying monkey things. Hell, there's even a bunch of university students playing guerrilla soldiers down by High Holborn with those giant plastic water guns that look like they're meant to be industrial.”

 

Arthur couldn't help the grin, but was careful to turn away from Morgana so she didn't see it. Merlin had been right. His people didn't need him to save them; they were strong on their own. All they needed was a point in the right direction and a symbol of hope.

 

“Thank you Detective Sergeant Chalupa,” he said. “If you could also let your superiors know that emergency crews should be able to get into Avesbury now. And if they can't yet, they will be quite shortly.”

 

The detective nodded and ran off to call whoever he needed to. Arthur turned to his allies and began to explain what was going on. Meanwhile, above them the sky continued to grow darker. When the first bolt of lightening flew down from the sky, it shattered against the dome of the wards with an electric charge that sped across the circumference like web of light. Though they were expecting it, the sudden strike forced out cries of alarm. When they looked to the front, Morgana was smirking at them.

 

“The wards won't be able to stand up to more than a few hits from that,” Kingsley said quietly. Arthur nodded. He'd guessed as much.

 

As it so happened, it took exactly three strikes of lightening to bring down the wards. The fourth seared through the air and hit the courtyard with a burst of sparks, leaving a black scorched circle in its wake.

 

There was a pause, the moment of calm before a storm when nature took one last breath before all hell broke loose. Arthur took a deep breath, knowing it would be his last clear one for quite some time. He glanced behind him, to where Prince Phillip stood in the doorway, and nodded. The prince nodded back and gave the command. Palace guards in their bright red uniforms burst out from their hiding places, large garden hoses in their hands, just as the flying monkeys screeched and descended into the courtyard. One dodged the first spray of water and flew straight towards Arthur. He gripped his sword in both hands.

 

Aqua Fluviutum!

 

A current of water hit the monkey in the centre of its chest. Almost instantly, the outer skin of the creature began to melt away and then it fell to the ground, landing with a plop as the earth that had been used to create it turned to mud and the flames that gave it life were put out. Arthur turned to Kingsley Shacklebolt and thanked him. Kingsley gave him a wry smile. “Never thought I'd be using a charm I learned for doing childhood chores in combat.”

 

Arthur quirked a smile and turned to look at Morgana. She didn't look happy that they'd already figured out how to defeat her creations. Arthur didn't get a chance to gloat, however, as the manticores seemed to have decided they'd had enough of waiting around. The ease with which they leapt to the top of the stone pillars around the iron fence had Arthur's insides plummeting with horror. Their scorpion tales twitched and they crouched. Then they pounced.

 

And burned with high-pitched screams as flames engulfed them.

 

Arthur looked up and met the Great Dragon's eye. He nodded to him in thanks and the Great Dragon blinked in response. Morgana screamed with rage and pointed her wand at the dragon. Kilgharrah took a deep breath and met her curse with more dragon flames. Above him, he heard the screeching of the monkeys as they flew out of the way of the water streams and dived systematically to attack the hose-bearers. The palace guards and civilians manning the hoses didn't back down even as some of them were wounded. They were quickly replaced by others while someone else ran up to help them get out of the way.

 

Arthur focused on the next batch of manticores. With the dragon busy keeping Morgana occupied (and thankfully not summoning new flashes of lightening), they grew bold again. Again, several of them leapt up onto the pillars, but this time they didn't wait. They pounced immediately, aiming for the humans below.

 

Flabraflatumos!”

 

Lyft, forþ fleoge!”

 

Two wind currents blasted towards the manticores, disrupting their momentum and blowing them backwards. The creatures flipped in the air and landed on their feet, though some metres further away than they would have otherwise. They shook off their surprise quickly enough and dark, malicious eyes turned once again towards their prey.

 

“Archie, Draco, good idea,” he said after a glace to see whose brilliant idea the wind spells were. “Keep at it. The longer you can give the rest of us the better.”

 

They nodded to him and prepared to cast at the next group. Arthur raised Excalibur. “With me!” he called. “For the love of Albion!”

 

His knights echoed his war cry and charged. Arthur swung at the first creature he encountered, but it darted out of his way, sharp teeth snarling. Somewhere to his left he heard a cry of pain, but he didn't dare look away. It was the sudden glint in its eye that suddenly reminded him it had more than just teeth and claws and he looked up just in time to jump back and out of the way of the giant scorpion stinger as it came down where he'd stood. The manticore raised it ag