Actions

Work Header

Harry Potter and Voldemort's Bane

Chapter Text

Merlin paced the length of his apartment, situated in Baker Street, London. More specifically, it was his and Arthur’s newest apartment that Arthur had insisted they buy some five years ago. The large window in the living room provided Merlin with the perfect view of the grey clouds and constantly busy streets of the area so different from Camelot and even more so for Ealdor. Yes, the twentieth century sure was different from where Merlin had grown up. Silently, Merlin had always speculated that the only reason why he and Arthur were able to adjust so well to the present was because of their immortality that had allowed them to witness and be part of the changing world.

At first it had only been Merlin who was immortal, a fact told to him by the same creature who'd warned him of Arthur's Bane. It had been quite a shock.

After some research though, he and Gaius had discovered that it was the power of Merlin’s magic and its proximity to the Old Religion that was the cause of his immortality. It had been strange, seeing the world go by while he stayed young, suspended in time.
But luckily, he had not been doomed to live out forever on his own.

It had all started with the Battle at Camlann, when Arthur had gone into battle, completely ignoring Merlin’s terrified protests in favour of bringing justice to the world. Merlin had followed him into battle, at his side like always, and had been about to defeat Morgana when Arthur had been struck my Mordred. Merlin had never felt more horror than that moment when he watched Arthur fall, Mordred’s sword protruding from his back. Merlin, in a fit of rage, had thrown both Morgana and Mordred aside and rushed to Arthur’s side, transporting them to the Isles of the Blessed where he proceeded to beg for Arthur’s life like never before. Unfortunately, like many times before, the Old Religion was unwilling to take Merlin’s life so Arthur could live and Arthur might have died, had Morgana not arrived.
Thinking back, it could be nothing short of ironic that the person who was so bent on destroying Arthur, would be the one to save him. Merlin had acted out of instinct, killing Morgana with words he would later be unable to recall and, like a miracle, Arthur had woken up from the dead, Morgana’s life in exchange for Arthur’s. It was only later that Merlin would come to realized that he’d somehow tied his and Arthur’s souls together, stranding Arthur in the same ageless state as Merlin.

Unfortunately, Camelot could not be saved in the same manner and the great kingdom fell soon after, driven into the ground by its own people. The whole of Albion collapsed in on itself while Merlin fled with an unwilling Arthur.

For seven long years Merlin was convinced that Arthur hated him since, after their escape from Camelot, the king had disappeared from his life, leaving Merlin to live in regret as he convinced himself that Camelot’s downfall had been his fault.

It had been far from pleasant as he pondered whether he could have saved Camelot if his magic been stronger, while another part of his mind constantly wondered over the health of his king. Still, Merlin did not try searching for his missing king, afraid of the anger and resentment he would have to face if he found him. Merlin dreaded to think how much longer they could have been separated had they not met again, practically in the middle of nowhere only to later find out that the bond that had been created after Arthur initial death, had been the reason for them finding one another once again.
It took time, but Arthur had reluctantly come to terms with Camelot’s loss and the reveal of Merlin's magic and they so they came to the agreement that they needed to stick together since they were all that was left of their old life.
Strangely, living an eternity with Arthur hadn’t been as difficult as Merlin had first suspected it would be, but that was quite possibly because they were already so used to each other’s quirks. Not to say they didn’t fight, but it didn’t feel as if anything had really changed between them. Well, Merlin considered, there was one thing and that was the fact that Merlin had realized he loved Arthur in a none-platonic way.

When Merlin first came to notice his developing feelings for the former king, he’d truly tried his best to deny them, terrified of losing Arthur if he were to find out. He’d done a good job of keeping Arthur in the dark for the most part but somewhere along the line Arthur must have lost his obliviousness since he started questioning Merlin about his relationships and romantic interests, practically getting Merlin to confess, to Merlin’s greatest horror. The confession had been followed by two nights spent locked in his room while Arthur schemed behind his back. On the second night, Arthur broke into his room and kissed Merlin awake, the only person in the world who could’ve succeeded in such a scheme since Merlin’s magic was unguarded towards Arthur. Even so, it had taken Arthur a few speeches to convince Merlin that he truly did feel the same way towards him.

After that, they’d gone from publicly married to posing as brothers, whatever was publicly acceptable at the time. But as long as they were together, Merlin found he really didn’t care.

Of course, as the time passed, the world changed and magic along with it but it grew weaker because of it.

Merlin had been distraught when the humans used this to their advantage and started forcing sorcerers, or wizards and witches as they were now called, into hiding once more, effectively destroying all he and Arthur had worked so hard to build. The sorcerers in turn, had retaliated and Merlin had changed into his Dragoon form one last time in an effort to force peace between the human, now known as muggle, world and the sorcerers’ world. Unfortunately that had resulted in Merlin being forever known as an old man with the white beard and long hair instead of the reality of his permanent youth. Arthur had of course teased him endlessly for it. To be fair though, it meant that no one knew who Merlin really was.

Merlin’s last input, though unknown to anyone else, had been to build Hogwarts with the Founders since both he and Arthur had agreed that they couldn’t allow anything else to be built on the ground that had once supported the great city of Camelot.

Despite it all, it seemed that their peaceful life would soon be disturbed if Merlin didn’t take matters into his own hands, a decision that had not gone down well with Arthur but that he had eventually conceded to, promising that Merlin would owe him big time when it was over.

Merlin wasn’t too fazed, knowing that, despite what Arthur said and pretended, he also wanted to do something to help rid the wizarding world of the murder known as Voldemort.

The sorcerer had emerged some twenty five years earlier, bent on purifying the wizarding world of human-born wizards and witches. Back then, Merlin had been set on going out and destroying the man but his gut had stopped him, an indication from the magic of the Old Religion that he should stay put. Merlin had relented but Arthur hadn’t been so easy to convince. So they moved to Australia, disguised as normal humans while they watched the wizarding world war from afar.

For eleven years he and Arthur watched, from a distance, as human and human-born alike were slaughtered and threatened until, by some miracle, Voldemort vanished: Banished by a year old baby named Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived.

But it was not to last.

It had been a few months back that Merlin received the vision, coming in a dream like they’d always done with Morgana, and Merlin had heeded the warning. Voldemort was coming back and they could and would do something about it.

So he and Arthur had lain out a plan and were quick to execute it too, sending in a request to attend Hogwarts as students for the coming year or more if need be, so they could keep an eye on everything while undercover. Merlin had never been so glad that the circumstances of Arthur’s birth allowed Arthur the ability to wield a wand, or maybe it was that he and Merlin’s souls were now connected, but either way Arthur was able to practice this weaker form of magic. That at least allowed him to be part of the wizarding world as equally as any other wizard, with the exception of having Merlin as his mentor. It also meant that Merlin had never been forced to attend Hogwarts on his own.

Still, delaying Voldemort’s return was completely up too Merlin since he’d realized that having Arthur there would only complicating things and possibly put Arthur in unnecessary danger. Of course Arthur had felt the need to throw a tantrum when Merlin had informed him of this, stubbornly denying it when Merlin pointed out that Arthur seemed to be worried about him.

Now though, Arthur was sat on his fake leather chair – Merlin insisted that they stop buying real leather the second it had become a possibility – scowling slightly as he watched Merlin pace. Merlin knew Arthur hated it when he showed his anxiety but he couldn’t help it. Merlin’s mind had been on edge all day and his gaze was constantly wandering towards the clock on the brick wall.

Only a few more minutes to go.

“Damn it Merlin, I've changed my mind. I’m not letting you go!” Arthur finally snapped, shooting up from his seat.

“Don’t start with that again!” Merlin shot back, pausing in his pacing to glare at Arthur.

“You’re not leaving and that’s final,” Arthur stated, folding his arms over his chest stubbornly, determination glinting in his eyes.

“Don’t be ridiculous Arthur, if you don’t let me do this, the whole wizarding world will suffer, it’s like asking me not to give my life up for you if I have to,” Merlin reminded with an agitated roll of his own eyes, the strangeness of his second declaration had worn off decades ago.

“I can’t lose you Merlin,” Arthur insisted, his voice was as passionate as ever but Merlin couldn’t let himself be swayed, instead simply closing his eyes when he felt Arthur’s arm encircling his waist and savouring the familiar feeling of his husband pressed up behind him.

“You know I can’t let this happen, I won’t fail again,” Merlin murmured as he turned around slowly lowering his head so he could bury it in the crook of Arthur’s neck while trying to block out his memories of Arthur’s death.

Pulling himself away from the memories and glancing once at his wedding ring for reassurance, Merlin turned back to the task of convincing Arthur.

“It is my destiny to protect you Arthur and I will do so to my dying breath but I’m the embodiment of magic as well and the Old Religion put me here to help. I’m not just here to play your personal servant.” his voice was gentle, almost reassuring but it still left no room for argument. The last part however, was added in a joking tone as he tried to make light of the situation.

That said, Merlin glanced over at the clock before placing a chaste kiss on Arthur’s half opened lips, pulling back to study his husband’s face with an intense gaze that eventually forced a reaction from the former king. “Don’t look at me like that, I’m not a child I can take care of myself!” he exclaimed, pulling back and folding his arms stubbornly once more, the perfect picture of a pouting child.

“You still have to convince me of that, besides, this shouldn't take more than five minutes at the most!” Merlin grinned.

“So if it does then I should start worrying?” Arthur questioned with a raised eyebrow, his voice giving no indication as to how he was feeling.

“Arthur! I’ll be back before you know it!” Merlin’s voice conveyed his exasperation as he stared at his husband imploringly.

Arthur didn’t respond and Merlin bit his lip, suddenly realizing just how worried Arthur really was about him. It had been centuries since they took part in anything dangerous even though Arthur insisted on them practicing their sword fighting, self-defence and magic every week.

“I’ll be safe, Arthur, I swear,” Merlin promised, his voice serious once more.

“I’m holding you to that,” Arthur replied, his voice formal and strained with his hidden emotions.

Nodding, Merlin turned to the clock and silently counted off the seconds before his eyes flashed and a wind whipped into existence, a transportation spell long forgotten by modern-day sorcerers.

The world started spinning around him and in an instant he was stood in the centre of a labyrinth, the dark green walls of the hedges surrounding him and a pedestal stationed a few feet away from him. The sound of approaching footfalls jerked him back to reality and his magic sprang into action his eyes flashing gold as time bent to his will, slowing down considerably to accommodate him.

Lifting his hand he felt his magic surge up inside him, coming to rest at his fingertips, ready for his next action.

“Afierran bealo” the words fell easily from his lips, more powerful than anything left in human memory. As expected, his magic flared out, eliminating the second transportation spell that would've sent the contestants to a graveyard and leaving only the well-intended spell that would transport them out of the maze, to stay. Moving his still outstretched hand, Merlin aimed it elsewhere before repeating the spell. A cry of pain quick reached his ears, confirming that he’d hit his target, and his would be attacker flew into the air.

In his mind’s eye, Merlin watched as the man landed outside of the maze, in front of a crowd of people who gasped at his harsh landing. As they and Merlin watched, the man’s appearance changed from that of an old man to that of a sick-looking, young on, his wooden leg and magic eye obviously not needed for his true form.

Coming back to himself, Merlin allowed time to take its natural course as wind whipped up around him once more, taking him away from the maze before the footfalls breached the middle of the maze.

Merlin gasped as he landed back in the apartment and was immediately envelop by Arthur’s warm body as his husband hugged him.

Merlin breathed a sigh of relief and closed his eyes as he felt Arthur’s fingers in his hair, massaging his scalp in a way that told Merlin that Arthur was actually trying to calm himself. Smiling at this realization, Merlin allowed his body to melt into Arthur’s, contenting himself with simply being held till Arthur felt ready to let go.

When Arthur finally collected himself enough to pull away, Merlin offered him a cheeky grin, rolling his eyes in mock exasperation.

“I told you I’d be fine,” he said, his voice as exasperated as his eye gesture.

“Because you're always, fine, aren't you Merlin?” Arthur questioned, his voice back to the sarcastic and cocky tone Merlin was used to and that he’d strangely, long ago come to love.

“Prat!” Merlin accused before turning and jogging into their bedroom, immediately recognizing the devious look in Arthur’s eyes and knowing that nothing good could come of it.

Chapter Text

Harry groaned and elbowed rather desperately at the weight on top of him, relieved when the body scrambled off of him. Head throbbing, Harry sat up glad when he realized that the Triwizards Tournament was finally over and they were back outside the maze, the cup having apparently been a Portkey.

Harry blinked when he felt a pull at the cup. Looking over, he realized that it was Cedric trying to get up, and it became apparent that they’d both reached and grabbed the cup at the same time, it was a tie.

“Well done Mr Potter, Mr Diggory it appears we have a tie on our hands. Your prize will be handed over tonight.” Dumbledore smiled and Harry founded himself exchanging looks with Cedric, both grinning at each other in relief. “And after all that excitement, I suspect everyone will want to be excused to ready themselves for the celebration feast and then we will see you all tonight,” Dumbledore said, clapping his hands together to disperse everyone before holding his hand out and Harry and Cedric reached out as one to hand the cup over to him.

“Harry!” Hermione’s sudden exclamation was enough to pull Harry out of his slight daze of victory and Hermione crashed into him before Harry had time to search for her and Harry resisted the urge to gasp as all the air was squeezed out of him by Hermione’s hug.

“Alright there, Harry?” Ron questioned when Hermione finally let go and stepped away from him.

“Alright,” Harry agreed with a nod and a small smile which Ron returned though Harry could tell that he still harboured some guilt over their fall out earlier that year. Harry smiled a bit wider, trying to convey his forgiveness. The vocal assurance that would have followed was, however, cut off when he felt a pair of eyes on his back and turned to see Dumbledore approaching them with a stern look in his eyes, making Harry hesitate.

“I’ll see you guys later,” he quickly whispered to Ron and Hermione, somehow knowing that Dumbledore wanted to speak with him. Receiving two reluctant nods from his friends, Harry headed towards Dumbledore who had already turned and was heading towards the castle, his robs bellowing around him and somehow increasing the air of power he seemed to exude.

“Is something wrong, Professor?” Harry asked nervously, panting slightly as he jogged to catch up to the man.

“It appears so, my boy. It seems Voldemort wanted to use the Tournament to try and rise once more,” Dumbledore said and Harry felt his heart stop for just a moment at the news. Had he really heard that correctly? For a moment, Harry simply stared ahead, unable to see or hear anything as he tried to process what had been said. Finally he managed a shocked and slightly breathless: “How’s that possible!” though he still couldn’t find it in him to start walking again, his legs having gone numb from the news.

“Barty Crouch’s son was one of Voldemort’s followers. He was thought to be gravely ill but it was a rouse, brought about from Mr. Crouch’s embarrassment over his son involvement with the dark magic. He disappeared at the Quidditch World cup and was the one who summoned the dark mark. Somehow, he received orders from Voldemort and came here, disguised as Alastor while keeping him captured in a trunk to supply him with the Polyjuice Potion needed to fool everyone. I regret to say that I never suspected him of being an imposter.” Dumbledore explained before giving Harry a sign to be quiet as they started walking again, making their way up the hill and through the school. Only when Harry was seated in one of the chairs in Dumbledore’s office, did the headmaster speak again.

“Voldemort wanted you to take part in the competition; everyone’s distrust in you would make you appear unreliable and would certainly cut you off from the everyone else. It made you an easier access. That was the main reason for Mr Crouch Jr.’s involvement. He needed someone to put your name in the goblet and to ensure that you reached the third task.” Dumbledore paused, his brow wrinkling as he seemed to consider something.

“The question remains, why did Voldemort fail?” Dumbledore mused, seemingly more to himself than to Harry but he decided to ask anyway.

“What do you mean, Professor?” everything was happening so fast that Harry was having a difficult time keeping track of it all but the idea of Voldemort’s plan mysteriously failing, certainly was strange, and maybe even slightly unnerving since, in the past, there’d usually been a reason for his failure. “The cup was a Portkey, but it was tampered with by Mr Crouch Jr. so it would allow you to be transported to a graveyard where Voldemort would have been resurrected but when we examined the cup, no traces of the spell could be found. As if it had vanished into thin air. We all agree that it’s a bit strange and Snape has assured me that it was meant to be impossible. But perhaps we have a guardian angel in our midst” Dumbledore mused, icy blue eyes regarding Harry with great wisdom and clear mischief. Harry could only nodded numbly in agreement, fearing how his voice would sound if he tried to speak.

“But then, the wizarding world remains a mystery to even those as old as I. We can only hope that the destruction of Voldemort’s father’s grave, will delay him for some time,” Dumbledore exclaimed, his eyes sparking slightly as he clapped his hands together, making Harry jump in his seat before he recovered himself.

“Now then, I have detained you long enough, you may leave to ready yourself for the feast,” Dumbledore announced as he stood up, prompting Harry to do the same. Getting up, Harry paused, wanting desperately to know more about Voldemort’s plans but knowing that the subjected had already been closed. “Oh, and Harry,” Dumbledore called out just as he was leave. Looking over his shoulder, Harry found Dumbledore offering him a small smile, his blue eyes still sparkling though they appeared softer somehow. “I wish to apologize for doubting you this past year.” Harry stared, amazed and eternally grateful for what he’d just heard. Dumbledore was like a father to him and the man’s apology meant more than Harry could ever hope to explain.

“Thank you, Professor,” was all Harry could mumble before leaving as quickly as his legs would allow him.


 

“Something strange is going on,” Hermione declared later that night as the three friends secluded themselves in a corner of the Gryffindor common room. Harry had just finished telling them about his time in the maze as well as what Dumbledore had said and he was now chewing distractedly on a liquorish wand while Hermione paced in front of them.

“He’s trying to come back, of course there something wrong!” Ron exclaimed, causing Harry to grimace as he watched a piece of a cauldron cake fall from his friend’s mouth.

“Don’t talk while you’re eating!” Hermione screeched, her face coloured with obvious disgust. Ron glared but didn’t say anything as he swallowed the cake and whipped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“I mean, the guy’s a real lunatic ain’t he, trying to get Harry into a graveyard so he can come back from the dead,” Ron remarked though Harry didn’t miss the colour draining slightly from his friend’s face at his own comment.

“That’s beside the point, Ronald!” Hermione exclaimed once more, throwing her hands up in the air in frustration.

“For one there’s the fact that the spell that was supposed to take Harry to the graveyard, just disappeared. Portkey spells are very powerful since they’re made to be able to transport more than one person anywhere in the world. Whoever removed that spell should’ve been exhausted afterwards not to mention that the spell used to remove the Portkey spell, didn’t leave any traces on the cup. That’s never happened before, even children under eleven can be traced since every witch and wizard is written up in the Ministry when they’re born. And what about the fact that no one was there when you entered the middle of the maze nor were they anywhere else in the maze when Dumbledore removed it, the maze would’ve trapped them in since the Tournament is over. People can’t apparate out of Hogwarts, but this person just happens to have disappeared?” Hermione explained, her voice having turned to a conspirator whisper sometime during her explanation. Ron snorted in obvious disbelief.

“What, you think the person doesn’t exist? He just saved Harry’s life, Hermione!” Ron asked incredulously. Harry wanted to agree but he couldn’t ignore the sudden chilling thought that maybe some kind of ghost might’ve helped him, maybe someone from the graveyard that he’d been supposed to go to.

“Why does it have to be a guy, who says it’s not a girl!” Hermione’s tone turned suddenly accusatory as she planted her hands on her hips and glared at Ron. Harry sighed, but paused as his mind drifted to something else.

“What happened with the fake Moody anyway, Dumbledore said he didn’t suspect him of being fake, so how did he find out about him then?” Harry questioned frowning as he stared off into the fire, trying to puzzle it out for himself.

“Well…” Ron started seemingly struggling to find the right words to explain.

“Whoever removed the spell on the cup probably hit Mr Crouch with a spell as well cause he landed outside of the maze before turning into himself, it unsettled everyone, Karkaroff and Madame Maxime were furious so Dumbledore asked Snape to take him to his classroom and then you and Cedric showed up.” Hermione sighed and Harry felt his frown to deepen.

“Is that even possible, to remove a Polyjuice Potion like that?” Harry elaborated, thinking back to when he, Ron and Hermione had, had to us it.

“Not that I’ve read about, I mean, there is a potion to reverse the effects of the potion but not the way it happened today. It’s described as looking like “a mask is being pulled off of the person’s face” but with Mr Crouch, Moody’s face just seemed to melt away so that his real appears was left over,” Hermione murmured, shaking her head slightly as she thought over the events that occurred earlier that day.

“So then, what are we dealing with?” Harry wondered aloud, watching as the flames from the fire danced around in front of him.

Chapter Text

 Arthur grinned as he stared up at the familiar castle of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Hogwarts was the only wizarding school that Merlin had allowed them to go to since it had previously been disconnected from the Ministry of Magic and as such, was the only place where they could go to school without their lack of registration at the Ministry, being a problem. Unfortunately the same could not be said for Hogwarts this year since the Ministry had sent a woman called Delores Umbridge to keep an eye on things. According to Merlin it would be risky to be here this year. Still, this information was not enough to put a dent in their plans.

 The first time around, Arthur hadn’t been too keen on going but had ended up going anyway thanks to Merlin who had wanted to see what it would be like to study at a place where magic was part of the syllabus, especially since it stood where their beloved Camelot had once been.

But, as the years had passed, Arthur too, had come to see the school as a second home, the only other constant in his life besides Merlin.

Of course, Merlin being Merlin had started working on their cover story the moment he’d had his vision and had insisted that they call each other by their fake names for the past few months so they’d have time to get used to them before the school year started. Now he and Merlin were going by the unlikely names of Armand and Emerson Pendragon stepbrothers according to the rest of the world. That way, people wouldn’t question why they looked nothing alike.

 “Armand?” came Merlin’s questioning voice from beside him and Arthur ached to hear his real name falling from those lips or even to feel Merlin lace their fingers together in an effort to comfort him but was forced to make do with the hand he felt resting on his shoulder, after all they were currently sharing a boat with two curious-looking first years who had apparently not been taught that staring was rude.

 “I’m fine,” Arthur reassured Merlin, dipping his head as he often did when coming out of deep thought. Seeing the obvious concern in Merlin’s icy blue eyes, Arthur allowed a small smile to grace his face before looking back at the castle, his hand dipping to the inside of his cloak where Excalibur rested reassuringly in its wand form that Merlin had adapted for both it and Merlin’s staff. They’d long since found out that modern-day wands blew up if Merlin so much as tried to conduct his magic through it.

 As for why they now appeared to be fifteen, that was thanks to the crystals that both of them were sporting around their necks along with their wedding rings which Arthur always made sure to carry around with him. Some might say that he had a bit of an abandonment issue though that was slightly ironic if one took into consideration the fact that he’d been the one to abandon Merlin after Camelot’s fall. Bowing his head in shame, Arthur studied Merlin through the gap in his bangs. Seeing Merlin as an eleven year old with his overly large ears and slightly chubby cheeks, had always been slightly amusing to Arthur but by the age of fifteen Merlin had clearly grown into his ears as much as he ever would and was now a startlingly skinny and gangly boy with longish hair that covered his ears in just the right way. It also happened to highlight his cheekbones, pale skin and icy eyes rather well giving Merlin a definite appearance of being handsome. Arthur made a quick note to keep an eye out for any possible admirers Merlin might collect.  

 Arthur grinned to himself at the thought.

 “What’s so funny?” Merlin demanded, grinning, though his brow was furrowed with uncertainty.

 “Do you really expect me to answer that,” Arthur questioned with a chuckle, tucking his hand in front of his mouth to try and smother the sound as he cast his gaze sideways in an effort to look innocent.

 Unfortunately it seemed Merlin had other ideas and Arthur let out a cry of protest as he was pushed into the Great Lake, but not before grabbing hold of Merlin and pulling him in as well.

 With something resembling a grin, Arthur plunged into the water with Merlin at his side and was quickly deposited back on the boat by the Giant Squad that had occupied the water of the Great Lake for so long.

 “I can’t believe you did that you old prat!” Merlin exclaimed between all his coughing and Arthur rolled his eyes as he wacked Merlin on the back, grinning through it all.  

 “You started it; pushing me off the boat like that!” Arthur shot back, gesturing towards the water in an effort to emphasize his point.  

 Coughing one last time, Merlin regarded Arthur carefully as if afraid that he would throw him in the water again before wiping a hand across his face and licking his lips clear of water. Letting out a sigh, Merlin ran a hand through his hair so it stood up on all ends and Arthur snorted in amusement.

 “You look like you had a fight with your pillow!” Arthur felt the need to point out and received a sour look in return before Merlin reached up and ruffled Arthur's hair as well. Arthur let out a indignant cry before he could stop himself.

 “You would know,” Merlin grumbled and Arthur rolled his eyes, turning his face to the side again to hide as much of his blush as possible, there were children there for heaven’s sake!

 “Oh shut up, Emerson,” Arthur muttered but added a grin to show that he only meant it as their usual banter.

 Grinning back, Merlin quickly pulled out his wand and in minutes Arthur found himself dry and spotless, as if they hadn’t fallen into the water at all.

 It was just in time to, since, seconds later, the boat pulled up on the other side of the lake and everybody got off.

 “Come on, Merlin, let’s go,” Arthur said grinning as he hooked an arm around Merlin’s neck and dragged him off their boat behind the first years.

 Merlin shot him a look at hearing his real name being mentioned but Arthur ignored it. He wasn’t too bothered by using Merlin’s real name in this situation, knowing that anyone who overheard would simply write it off as being a nickname or being used to tease the boy for the magic he’d just used.

 Seeing that Merlin obviously didn’t agree with him, Arthur rolled his eyes but shot him an apologetic look none the less. “Sorry, won’t happen again,” Arthur promised knowing that, if someone was sharp and curious enough, a comment like that could’ve given their entire secret away, given enough time.

 Arthur grinned as Merlin thinned his lips and widened his eyes before giving a quick nod the way he always did when he’d finished mentally preparing himself for something.

 “Come on. I can’t wait all day,” Arthur stated as he started steering both Merlin and himself towards the entrance hall, yelping when Merlin flicked his ear and disappeared from underneath his arm. Arthur didn’t hesitate to go after Merlin’s retreating figure and they soon caught up with the rest of the first years as they entered the hall.

 However, both he and Merlin came to a sudden stop when they lay eyes on the witch standing there waiting for them. She was tall with black hair pinned into a neat bun and her face pulled into a stern look. Her emerald green robes made her look quite elegant while square rimmed glasses only added to her already stern appearance.

 A glance over at Merlin confirmed that he seemed to be thinking the exact same thing.

 “As you may have heard, I am Professor McGonagall Deputy Headmistress as well as the Head of House for Gryffindor,” Arthur grimaced slightly, knowing immediately that she would soon become his head of house. It was an easy guess since the hat had always taken to placing him in Gryffindor with Merlin mostly following. Arthur couldn’t help envying Merlin slightly since he had the freedom to choose where he wanted to be placed since he was the embodiment of all that the Hogwarts Houses stood for and had been in all of the Houses before apart from Slytherin.

 It was understandable really; a Gryffindor and a Slytherin being friends would draw too much unwanted attention towards them and so Merlin had never tried it before.

 "Now, welcome to Hogwarts," said Professor McGonagall. "The start-of-term banquet will begin shortly, but before you take your seats in the Great Hall, you will be sorted into your houses. The Sorting is a very important ceremony because, while you are here, your house will be something like your family within Hogwarts. You will have classes with the rest of your house, sleep in your house dormitory, and spend free time in your house common room.”

 "The four houses are called Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. Each house has its own noble history and each has produced outstanding witches and wizards. While you are at Hogwarts, your triumphs will earn your house points, while any rule breaking will lose house points. At the end of the year, the house with the most points is awarded the house cup. I hope each of you will be a credit to whichever house becomes yours. The Sorting Ceremony will take place in a few minutes in front of the rest of the school. I suggest you all smarten yourselves up as much as you can while you are waiting," she finished before surprisingly turning her eyes on Arthur and Merlin.

 “Mssrs. Pendragon?” she questioned and Arthur nodded feeling glad to have Merlin by his side as Professor McGonagall indicated for them to follow her. This was the first time he and Merlin had come into Hogwarts at a later age and Arthur wasn't quite sure what to expect. 

Professor McGonagell led them into a corridor and turned into the first classroom offered, before holding up the familiar hat that had always been used to decide his house for him.

 “Armand Pendragon?” McGonagall said with a raised eyebrow and Arthur stepped forward as she pulled a chair out from behind one of the student desks and directed him towards it.

Arthur was quick to follow orders, eager to get it over with so he and Merlin would be allowed to join their new house and maybe get some food to eat.

 Shooting Merlin one last grin he focused on the hat as it was placed on his head, pleased when it didn’t fall over his eyes the way it always did when he started here as a first year.

 However, the hat was barely been there for two second before the word: “GRYFFINDOR!” rang out from the hat and Arthur couldn’t help blinking in surprise. The hat never declared it so quickly, preferring to take its time to talk to both him and Merlin since they shared an immortal view on life.

 Nevertheless, Arthur stood up the moment McGonagall took the hat and Merlin quickly took his place when McGonagall called his name; looking like the classic depiction of a wizard with the hat perched on his head like that. Unsurprisingly or surprisingly depending on how you looked at it, the hat took more time placing Merlin if only half a minute more as it unearthed Merlin’s reason for wanting to be in Gryffindor this time ’round and a smile stretched across Arthur’s face as Merlin was declared a Gryffindor once more.

 McGonagall nodded to herself as she removed the hat from Merlin’s head. “Welcome to Gryffindor, you may go ahead and join your house table so long,” she motioned and Arthur followed Merlin out of the room, giving his husband’s shoulder a quick squeeze before they slipped into the Great Hall.

 Within minutes Arthur found himself seated almost across from the infamous Harry Potter while Merlin sat next to him, biting his lip and tapping his foot in display of his nervousness. “Calm down, Emerson, it’ll be alright,” Arthur murmured, a small smile tugging at his face at the emphasis on Merlin’s fake name that he usually put on his real one. The strange familiarity of it was slightly comforting.

Merlin nodded, his forehead creasing like it always did when he was worried.

But they were interrupted when the doors to the Great Hall opened once more and Professor McGonagall entered gaining everyone’s attention as she along with the first years, strode down the aisle. Together, Merlin and Arthur watched as she retrieved a stool from the room behind the head table and placed it where everyone could see. Arthur smirked as he watched the first years shuffle around nervously. McGonagall quickly placed the Sorting Hat on the stool and the Sorting Hat began to sing.

 

The story of our noble school,

Was twisted and lost through time,

But I was there so I can tell,

Through means of song and rhyme:

 

So the builder of this fine building,

Made the Founders Four agree:   

“We’ll find and teach those with magic,”

Was what they did decree.

 

So the builder left the Founders Four,

To do with it what they might,

And so they turned this building here, 

Into a school of great delight.

 

And now we reach the story that’s,

So well-known to all of you,

But let me just ask you this, my friend,

How much of that story’s true?

 

Perhaps for those who's minds are true,

Like Rowena Ravenclaw herself,

The puzzle in my short, short song,

Might reveal itself,

 

Or it might take a true friend,

Like Helga Hufflepuff,

Who might see the true intent,

And declare it good enough,

 

But might Salazar Slytherin’s,

Cunning reveal it all,

And bring about what we all want,

The darkness’ final fall,

 

Or could it be Gryffindor,

With the bravery of a king,

 Now I fear I have said too much,

Let the Sorting now begin.

 

Arthur had jerked slight at the word "king" but now sat frozen in shock for what felt like forever. Finally, he willed himself to look towards his husband. Merlin had stiffened and was now staring at Arthur with wide, disbelieving eyes. Arthur grimaced before forcing himself to make light of the subject.

“Come on Emerson, don’t tell me something like that’s going to stop you,” he teased, punching Merlin in the arm in an effort to get his message across. Merlin swayed sideways from the impact before looking back at Arthur and thinning his lips in a resigned manner. Looking around Arthur quickly realized that everyone seemed to have broken out into whispers as they appeared to be discussing the Sorting Hat’s new song, one comment catching Arthur’s attention in particular since it was made by a redheaded boy sitting next to him.

“What the heck was it on about? Do you think its finally gone mad?” the boy questioned through a mouth full of chicken and Arthur looked towards Merlin to find his husband’s eyes mirroring his own amusement.

“Don’t be silly Ronald, obviously it has a hidden meaning behind it, didn’t you notice how many time it used the word true?” a bushy haired girl sitting next to Harry Potter said, her voice exasperated.

“So it wasn’t an accident?” Harry Potter questioned, brow furrowed in confusion. The bushy haired girl shook her head before her eyes seemed to brighten as it fell on something behind Arthur and the redheaded boy.

“Has it happened before?” the bush haired girl questioned and Arthur looked over his shoulder to find Nearly Headless Nick drifting in the air above them.

“No, this is the first time,” Nearly Headless Nick admitted but didn’t continue as his eyes landed on Arthur and Merlin.

Arthur suppressed a groan as the ghost’s eyes widened comically and he seemed to forget what he’d been about to say. “Um, right, well, best be off,” Nearly Headless Nick said, clearing his throat rather loudly before taking off towards the Ravenclaw table.

“That’s got to mean something then. Nick is old isn’t he? He’d have been around if the hat had done something like this before?” Harry Potter said though he sounded uncertain and looked towards the bushy haired girl for help.

The girl nodded but didn’t say anything else.

“That’s a bit weird isn’t it, I mean, I always thought the Founders built Hogwarts. Isn’t that what it says in the books?” Merlin spoke up brow furrowing in apparent confusion. Arthur quickly slipped into character as well. Had they wanted to, Arthur was sure both he and Merlin would’ve made great actors.

The bushy haired girl blinked, obviously surprised as she studied Merlin with a calculating gaze before her gaze switched to Arthur. Finally she seemed to recover herself and answer.

“Well according to history they did, but…” she paused as if struggling with something. “Maybe the books were wrong,” she mumbled and the redheaded boy snorted into his glass of pumpkin juice. “Oh shush Ronald,” the girl hissed, hitting…Ronald… on the arm before looking back at Merlin.

“Um,” she began again, seeming almost timid this time around.

“Sorry but are the two of you new? It’s just, you don’t look familiar,” her slight tendency to babble reminded Arthur painfully of Gwen whenever she'd felt nervous. He couldn’t help wondering what had happened to his wife all those years back when she thought he’d died in the Battle of Camlann, as it was now referred to by mortals.

“Yeah, we lived in Wales but my father was called here on business so of course Emerson and I had to come along,” Arthur jumped in to explain, pausing during the explanation so his words wouldn’t sound rehearsed. “Anyway, this idiot here is Emerson and-” Arthur began to introduce but was of course interrupted by Merlin.

“Oi, Armand’s the clotpole not me!” Merlin objected, shoving at Arthur and almost causing him to fall off of the bench.

Glancing over at Harry Potter and his friends showed that the three friends were utterly confused by Arthur and Merlin’s easy banter.

“Oh shut up, Emerson, we both know who’s lying here,” Arthur stated with a twitch of his lips and a roll of his eyes.

Merlin thinned his lips and tilted his head as if to think about it, squinting slightly at Arthur for effect. “That’d be… you?” Merlin questioned before his familiar, goofy, grin spread across his face. Arthur smiled back, bumping shoulders with him.

“See what I have to deal with?” Arthur questioned Harry Potter and his friends as if searching for their sympathy.

However before either Harry Potter or his friends could respond, the Great Hall fell into silence and Arthur watched as Albus Dumbledore approached the stand.

"To our newcomers," Dumbledore said, voice ringing in the room and his arms stretched wide with a beaming smile on his lips, "Welcome! To our old hands - welcome back! There is a time for speech-making, but this is not it. Tuck in!"

Chapter Text

“But, Hermione, if the books are wrong, how come the Sorting Hat never told anyone about it before?” Ron questioned and Harry nodded in agreement while the two new students stared at Hermione curiously, seeming to want to know more as well.

While Harry had taken it upon himself to study the two new students, he'd come to the quick conclusion that all of the other boys would suffer because of the two’s arrival. Harry had already seen at least seventeen girls looking their way, Slytherins included though they tried their best not to show it too much. Harry grimaced slightly when he found himself staring at Cho Chang knowing that she and Cedric were now officially going out with each other.

It was truly sad that Harry still had a crush on her.

“So, who is she?” Armand questioned and Harry looked towards the blonde haired boy to find him staring at Cho, smirking slightly but obviously not the least bit interested in the girl’s looks like Harry might have otherwise assumed.

“Cho Chang, the boy next to her, Cedric Diggory, was in the Triwizards Tournament with Harry last year,” Hermione jumped in to explain. Harry grimaced at the reminder while Armand looked interested.

“Cedric?” Emerson asked, scowling slightly as he said the name. Armand snorted and Harry blinked.

“You know him?” Harry inquired curiously and though Emerson continued to scowl he shook his head and turned his glare towards his plate.

“No, it’s just; one of my friends back home was named Cedric but he and Emerson never really got along,” Armand quickly jumped in to explain. Harry nodded though he found it strange the way Armand always put emphasis on Emerson's name though Emerson seemed completely used to it. Harry couldn't help asking though he saw no resemblance between the two.

“Step-brothers,” Emerson corrected when Harry asked if they were brothers. “His father married my mother when we were younger and we've been stuck with each other ever since,” Emerson explained with mock frustration and Harry watched as Armand smiled and playfully bumped his own shoulder with Emerson's.

“And I believe that's the first time you called me a clotpole,” Armand added, his brow furrowed as he watched his step-brother's face for a reaction. As if on queue, the sour look that had been on Emerson's face melted off and he gave Armand a large grin.

“You deserved it,” he said, grin still in place and Armand looked indignant.

“You attacked him! You were looking like a jealous idiot at that point, what was I supposed to think?” Armand defended himself rolling his eyes while dragging a hand through his blonde locks before smoothing them over again.

“That I had a reason for what I was doing!” Emerson shot back immediately, not even needing time to think about it, which made Harry wonder whether or not Armand and Emerson had had this conversation before. A glance over at his friends told Harry that they didn't know what to make of this either.

“Oh just shut up,” Armand ended their argument though it was easy to notice the lack of hostility in that statement. Harry glanced towards his friends once more to find Ron staring at the two new students as if he thought they might be mental, an option that Harry was close to agreeing on but Hermione had stopped pay attention to them and was now trying to catch Nearly Headless Nick's attention, quite possibly so she would be allowed to question him further on the hat's odd song, but was failing miserably.

Harry himself, after some thinking, agreed that there seemed to be something the hat was trying to tell them but, unfortunately, whatever that something was, was lost on him. What was the puzzle that the hat so desperately wanted them to figure out? A better question yet: The hat said that there was only one builder, meaning that the Founders really were just founders of the school but then, who else besides the Founders had the power to create a building like Hogwarts from absolute scratch? These thoughts were still swirling around in Harry's mind as he watched Dumbledore stand up from his seat, the entire Hall falling silent as they waited for him to speak.

“Well, now that we are all digesting another magnificent feast, I beg a few moments of your attention for the usual start-of-term notices,” Dumbledore said once it seemed everyone had settled down. “First years ought to know that the Forest in the grounds is out-of-bounds to students – and a few of our older students should know by now, too.” Harry, Ron and Hermione exchanged smirks but Harry couldn't help noticing that that Armand and Emerson seemed to be trading secret smiles as well. “Mr Filch, the caretaker-”

“Yikes,” Harry heard Emerson remark and Armand snickered in response.

“- has asked me, for what he tells me is the four-hundred-and-sixty-second time, to remind you all that magic is not permitted in corridors or between classes, nor are a number of other things, all of which can be checked on the extensive list now fastened to Mr Filch's office door.”

“Also, as expected, we have a new staff member joining us for this year. We are delighted to introduce Professor Umbridge, our new Defence Against The Dark Arts teacher.” Harry glanced over as he heard Emerson snort into his glass of pumpkin juice, followed shortly by Armand whacking his step-brother’s back so hard that Harry almost cringed, though Emerson just coughed out the juice in his lungs and glared at the other boy. When Harry glanced next to him, it became clear that Hermione was just burning to question them on their reaction but she restrained and stared back to the head table. Harry himself frowned, suddenly growing uncertain about whether or not Armand and Emerson really were the nicest people to be around, considering the doubt they seemed to have in Dumbledore.

Then again, simply looking at the new Defence Against The Dark Arts teacher left a bitter taste in Harry's mouth though he wasn't sure whether it was because of all the pink she seemed to be sporting or because of her positively toad-like feature. It was most probably both, Harry decided before turning his attention back to Dumbledore. “Try-outs for the house Quidditch teams will take place on the-” Dumbledore broke off, looking enquiringly at Professor Umbridge. It took a moment for Harry to realize why since the height difference between sitting and standing seemed almost exactly the same for the toad-like creature who had indeed stood up in the middle of Dumbledore's speech, clearing her throat with an annoying, “Hem, hem,”.

Dumbledore looked taken aback for a moment, then he sat down and looked alertly at Professor Umbridge as though he desired nothing more than to listen to her talk. It seemed though that the other members of staff weren’t as used to hiding their surprise and Harry watched as Professor Sprout's eyebrows disappeared into her flyaway hair and Professor McGonagall's mouth thinned incredibly.

Harry noted that a lot of the students seemed to be smirking and had to agree, the woman obviously didn't know how things were done at Hogwarts.

“Thank you, Headmaster, for those kind words of welcome,” Professor Umbridge began her voice high-pitched, breathy and little-girlish and Harry felt his dislike for her increase greatly. It seemed it was easy not to like her, what with her stupid voice and fluffy pink cardigan. She gave another throat-clearing cough (hem, hem) before continuing.

“Well, it's lovely to be back at Hogwarts, I must say!” She smiled, revealing suspiciously pointy teeth. “And to see such happy little faces smiling back at me.” A glance around the room revealed that none of the faces Harry could see looked happy. On the contrary, they all looked rather taken-aback at being addressed as though they were five year olds.

It seemed Armand and Emerson had taken an even worse dislike towards the teacher than before since they were both glaring and scowling at her as though there were no tomorrow.

“I am very much looking forward to getting to know you all and I'm sure we'll be very good friends!”

“I'll be friends as long as I don't have to wear that cardigan,” Parvati Petal whispered to Lavender Brown, causing both of them to lapse into silent giggles. From next to Armand, Emerson mumbled, “Wouldn't be friends with you if you paid me,” and Armand gave a quiet snort of agreement

Harry didn't know what to make of the comments they threw in everywhere. There was another round of throat-clearing from Professor Umbridge but when she spoke again, some of the breathiness had left her voice. She sounded much more business-like and now her words had a dull, learned-by-heart sound to them.

“The Ministry of Magic has always considered the education of young witches and wizards to be of vital importance. The rare gifts with which you were born may come to nothing if not nurtured and honed by careful instruction. The ancient skills unique to the wizarding community by those who have been called to the noble profession of teaching.” Professor Umbridge paused here and made a little bow to her fellow staff members, none of whom bowed back to her.

Professor McGonagall's dark brows had contracted so that she looked positively hawk-like, and Harry distinctly saw her exchange a significant glance with Professor Sprout as Umbridge gave another little “hem, hem” and went on with her speech.

“Every headmaster and headmistress of Hogwarts has brought something new to the weighty task of governing this historic school, and that is as it should be, for without progress there will be stagnation and decay. Then again, progress for progress's sake must be discouraged, for our tried and tested traditions often require no tinkering. A balance, then, between old and new, between permanence and change, between tradition and innovation...” Harry found his attentiveness ebbing, as though his brain was slipping in and out of tune.

The quiet that always filled the hall when Dumbledore was speaking was breaking up as students put their heads together, whispering and giggling. Over on the Ravenclaw table Cho was chatting animatedly with her friends. A few seats along from Cho, Luna Lovegood had got out the Quibbler again. Meanwhile, at the Hufflepuff table Ernie Macmillan was one of the few still staring at Professor Umbridge, but he was glassy-eyed and Harry was sure he was only pretending to listen in an attempt to live up to the new prefect's badge gleaming on his chest.

Professor Umbridge did not seem to notice the restlessness of her audience. Harry had the impression that a full-scale riot could have broken out under her nose and she would have ploughed on with her speech. The teachers, however, were still listening very attentively, and Hermione seemed to be drinking in every word Umbridge spoke, though, judging by her expression, they were not at all to her taste.

To Harry's utmost surprise, he found both of the new students listening to Umbridge's speech with scrutinizing looks on their faces, apparently not like what they were hearing either. Frowning in confusion, Harry tried his best to tune back in to what the toad was say. “...because some changes will be for the better, while others will come, in the fullness of time, to be recognized as errors of judgement. Meanwhile, some old habits will be retained, and rightly so, whereas others, outworn, must be abandoned. Let us move forward, then, into a new era of openness, effectiveness and accountability, intent on preserving what ought to be preserved, perfect what needs to be perfected, and pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited.” She sat down.

Dumbledore clapped. The staff followed his lead, though Harry noticed that several of them brought their hands together only once or twice before stopping. A few students joined in, but most had been taken unawares by the end of the speech, not having listened to more than a few words of it, and before they could start applauding properly, Dumbledore had stood up again.

“Thank you very much, Professor Umridge, that was most illuminating,” he said, bowing to her. “Now, as I was saying, Quidditch try-outs will be held...”

“Yes, it certainly was illuminating,” said Hermione in a low voice.

“You're not telling me you enjoyed it?” Ron said quietly, turning a glazed face towards Hermione. “That's about the dullest speech I've ever heard and I grew up with Percy.”

“I said illuminating, not enjoyable,” said Hermione. “It explained a lot.”

“Did it?” said Harry in surprise. “Sounded like a load of waffle to me.”

“There was some important stuff hiding in the waffle,” said Hermione grimly.

“Was there?” said Ron blankly.

“How about: “Progress for progress's sake must be discouraged”? How about: “Pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited”?

“Well, what does that mean?” said Ron impatiently.

“It means the Ministry's going to be controlling Hogwarts in whatever way they see fit,” snapped Armand, drawing Harry, Hermione and Ron's surprised gazes. Armand really didn't seem like the type of person to know about such things. Emerson nodded in agreement and Ron groaned.

“Great, now we have three Hermione's in Gryffindor, having one was bad enough,” he complained, receiving a smack across the back of his head for his troubles. Armand and Emerson gave Hermione curious looks but didn't say anything.

“So, where did you study before this?” Hermione questioned, looking interested as always when school and learning was involved.

“Actually, we taught ourselves. Our father didn't quite agree with the school curriculum so we couldn't go there and our father was working most of the time-” Harry noted that Armand grimaced at the mention of this, but he didn't say anything “-so we ended up teaching ourselves. It was a slow start sure but it was fun and we learned a couple of spells that you're normally taught in your sixth and seventh year,” Emerson explained with another one of his goofy grins.

“I didn't think you could decline going to school,” Harry considered and Hermione shook her head. “You can but people rarely do, it's too much of an effort and the fees for self-study are extremely high since the Ministry tries to discourage it,” Hermione explained and Harry blinked. Did that mean Armand and Emerson came from a rich family and, if so where they purebloods?

Harry pushed the thought aside since he knew that it didn't really matter but he couldn't help being curious.

The announcements soon finished and the five students headed up to the dormitories, Armand and Emerson peering at everything rather curiously. They met Neville at the portrait of the Fat Lady and Harry couldn't have been more relieved since he hadn't bothered to ask for the password and thanks to Neville's birthday present, he'd actually been able to remember it. They entered and Harry received a rather large surprise when Armand and Emerson followed him and Ron to their dorm-room, explaining that they would be sharing a room since they'd refused to sleep in separate rooms and Harry's room was the only one that didn't already have six beds in it without their beds added.

Well, Harry decided a while later as he lay staring up at the canopy of his bed, it is sure to be an interesting year.

Chapter Text

 Bright light suddenly filtered through Arthur's eyelids, causing Arthur to groan from the rude awakening. Even worse was the voice that quickly followed said awakening.

 “Let’s have you, lazy daisy!” rang out in the room, sounding much to cheerful for so early in the morning, the groans that drifted through the room informing Arthur that he wasn't the only one who thought so. Frrowning, Arthur tried desperately to bury further into his pillow in an attempt to escape Merlin's cheerful morning greetings but failed as his covers were ripped away from him, leaving him feeling irritated as he ignored the small part of his brain that jumped back to those many years ago when Merlin had still been his servant. True, Merlin still had a tendency to wake him up this way but with the red dormitory beds and the setting, it was quite close to deja vu.

 Reaching for his nearest shoe, Arthur flung it in Merlin's direction and the warlock ducked good-naturedly before wandering back towards his own bed, dumping the covers away from Arthur for good measure.

 “Is he always like this?” one of the other boys – Dean, Arthur's mind supplied for him – questioned, voice still thick with sleep.

 Arthur simply grumbled in reply before looking up and around the room, pleased to note that none of his new roommates seemed to be morning people. Finally, Arthur willed himself to roll of the bed and stood slowly stretching out languidly and smirking when he noticed some of the boys staring at him in obvious envy. There was something to be said for being forced through tough sessions of sword practice when he'd been between the ages of twelve and eighteen.

 “Prat,” Merlin accused as he changed into his trousers and Arthur couldn’t help grinning at him teasingly. Contrary to Arthur, Merlin was skin and bones, his ribs clearly visible against his pale skin, making Arthur grimace slightly. The only thing he could really appreciate about the spell that Merlin used for their de-aging, was the fact that it reverted them to how they’d actually been during the necessary age, meaning that the scars they’d required over the many years, disappeared with their real age.

 “That’s hardly fair Emerson, it’s clear that I deserve the praise,” Arthur mocked, receiving an eye roll in return while the other occupants in the room looked unsure. Yes, they obviously needed some time to get used to his and Merlin’s constant banter.


  “History of Magic, double Potions, Divinations and double Defence Against the Dark Arts… Binns, Snape, Trelawney and that Umbridge woman all in one day! I wish Fred and George'd hurry up and get those Skiving Snackboxes sorted…” Ron groaned, later that morning as he studied his schedule with obvious horror.

 Arthur exchanged looks with Merlin, glad that they didn’t have Divinations as an elective, instead they’d both opted for Care of Magical Creatures and Ancient Runes.

 “Do mine ears deceive me?” a voice questioned and Arthur looked over to find two identical looking boys approaching the table before they both squeezed in next to Harry. Upon further examination it became clear that the twins were most probably related to Ron.

 “Hogwarts prefects surely don't wish to skive off lessons?” the twin who hadn’t spoken yet, continued for his brother.

 “Look what we've got today,” said Ron grumpily, shoving his timetable under the first twin’s nose. “That's the worst Monday I've ever seen.”

 “Fair point, little bro,” the first twin conceded, scanning the column. “You can have a bit of Nosebleed Nougat cheap if you like.”

 Arthur blinked, what on earth was the twin on about?

 “Why's it cheap?” Ron asked suspiciously.

 “Because you'll keep bleeding till you shrivel up, we haven't got an antidote yet,” the second twin explained, helping himself to a kipper. Arthur came to a sudden understanding and shared a quick grin with Merlin, thinking of the knights and what they sometimes did to avoid their duties.

 “Blimey, George, are these two new faces?” the first twin questioned the second twin who was apparently named Goerge.

 “I do believe they are, Fred,” George agreed and Arthur grinned at their antics.

 “And what might your names be?” the first twin, now introduced as Fred, asked curiously.

 Arthur was just about to introduce himself when an offending hand clamped itself over his mouth while the other came up to still his head in case he tried to break free, which he didn’t do for fear of looking like an idiot.

 “Oh no you don’t,” Merlin chirped before turning his attention back to the twins. “I’m Emerson and his royal highness over here’s Armand,” Merlin told them grinning and Arthur frowned, his hand lowering before he deliver a sharp poke in Merlin’s ribs that had his husband releasing him immediately, an indignant cry escaping his lips.

 Finally freed, Arthur turned to scowl at Merlin and the twins chuckled before speaking again.

 “Good to meet you mates. Let us know if you need help finding anything,” they offered and Arthur immediately knew to be wary of them, they looked too much like Gwaine did before he started a fight in the tavern.

 “Speaking of helping, you can’t advertise for testers on the Gryffindor noticeboard,” Hermione accused, eyeing the twins beadily.

 “Says who?” George asked, astonished.

 “Says me,” said Hermione. “And Ron.”

 Ron however, didn’t seem to thrilled by this declaration and muttered for Hermione to leave him out of it only to receive a glare for his troubles.

 “You'll be singing a different tune soon enough, Hermione,” said Fred, thickly buttering a crumpet. “You're starting your fifth year, you'll be begging us for a Snackbox before long.”

 “And why would starting fifth year mean I want a Skiving Snackbox?” asked Hermione.

 “Fifth year’s OWL year,” George stated and Merlin groaned, causing Arthur to look amused while the twins exclaimed, “Exactly,” as if Merlin’s reaction explained everything. And it did, mostly.

 “Anyhow, now that we’ve delivered our news of the day, we best be heading off,” George declared sadly as the twins rose out of their seats.

 “Now hold on just a moment, I’m not done with you yet,” Hermione exclaimed rather angrily but the twins were already halfway down the aisle and out the door before the prefect could make an attempt to chase after them.

 “D’you recon it’s true, this year’s going to be really rough? Because of the exams?” Harry questioned as he poked at his food, obviously nervous after what had just been said.

 “Oh yeah,” Ron said, looking thoughtful. “Bound to be isn’t it? OWLs are really important, affect the jobs you apply for and everything. We get career advice, too, later this year, Bill told me. So you can choose what NEWTs you want to do next year.”

 “D’you know what you want to do after Hogwarts?” Harry asked the others as they left the Great Hall and set off towards their History of Magic classroom.

 “Not really” Ron admitted but hesitated, as if wanting to add something. “Except…well…”

 “What?” Harry urged him, curious.

 “Well it’d be cool to be an Auror,” Ron remarked off-handily.

 “Yeah, it would,” Harry said fervently and Arthur couldn’t help feeling amused by it all. At the age of one thousand three hundred Arthur had already figured out the various things he was interested in and done it all, but his favourite pastime remained to be politics, something that Merlin continued to fail to understand.

 “But they're, like, the elite,” Ron elaborated, awe clear in his voice. “You've got to be really good. What about you, Hermione?”

 “I don't know,” she said. “I think I'd like to do something really worthwhile.”

 “An Auror's worthwhile!” said Harry and Arthur grinned, now thoroughly entertained.

 “And what about you two?” Hermione asked, ignoring Harry’s obviously indignant cry and Ron’s offended look as she stared at Arthur and Merlin curiously.

 “Oh, I don’t know, I’d probably end up being an Auror as well,” Arthur told them carelessly, not missing the knowing grin Merlin threw him, the idiot knew perfectly well that they’d never be able to draw that much attention to themselves, otherwise Arthur would’ve ended up Minister of Magic centuries ago.

 “I thought it might be nice to try and create some new spells… it might be fun,” Merlin piped up from Arthur’s side and Arthur rolled his eyes, leave it to Merlin to say something like that. Unfortunately, Arthur’s playfulness dissipated slightly as he caught the curious looks the trio was sending their way and jabbed Merlin in the ribs in warning.


 

 The rest of the day went rather well, until Defense Against the Dark Arts.

 History of Magic was no less boring than it had been the first time Arthur’s life started becoming history. Even worse, the professor, Professor Binns had been a teacher the last time he and Merlin visited Hogwart with the only difference being that he’d been alive back then. Miraculously, it seemed that Hermione Granger somehow still found it interesting while Merlin, Harry and Ron had doze off during the lesson and to his greatest horror, Arthur had been hard-pressed to follow their example, but had managed to remain respectful awake till the end.

 After that, it had been double Potions with a greasy haired man, named Professor Snape that Arthur immediately decided he wanted nothing to do with. The man sauntered into his classroom and levelled both Arthur and Merlin with inspecting gazes and Arthur could clearly make out the calculating look that appeared in the Professor’s eyes when neither he nor Merlin flinched away from his glare.  

 It seemed he took their lack of fear personally since he proceeded to make the rest of the class as miserable as possible for them. He’d probably been eager to fault them on their Drought of Peace potions as well but because of Merlin’s teachings, it had been damn near impossible and the professor had instead turned his rage on Harry.

 Lastly before Defense, had been Ancient Runes with Hermione as company and though it had been easy, it had been a challenge to act as if deciphering runes wasn’t second nature to him. But Arthur knew his cool air and Merlin’s refusal to even raise a hand in class, had ended up fooling everyone.

 When they entered the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom they found Professor Umbridge already seated at the teacher's desk, wearing the fluffy pink cardigan of the night before as if she didn’t have anything else to wear and peering at the class as if they were five year old brats that she was forced to be nice too. Arthur’s dislike for her grew even more, though it seemed almost impossible.

 The class was quiet as they entered the room; Professor Umbridge was, as yet, an unknown quantity and nobody knew how strict a disciplinarian she was likely to be.

 “Well, good afternoon!” she said, when finally the whole class had sat down.

 A few people mumbled 'good afternoon' in reply.

 "Tut, tut," said Professor Umbridge. "That won't do, now, will it? I should like you, please, to reply “Good afternoon, Professor Umbridge”. One more time, please. Good afternoon, class!"

 “Good afternoon, Professor Umbridge,” they chanted back at her.

 “There, now,” said Professor Umbridge sweetly. “That wasn't too difficult, was it? Wands away and quills out, please.”

 Many of the class exchanged gloomy looks, knowing as well as anyone that the order 'wands away' signaled for a dull lesson.

 Slipping his wand into his pocket, Arthur quickly drew out an ink pot, quill and a parchment. Professor Umbridge opened her handbag, extracted her own wand, and tapped the blackboard sharply with it; words appeared on the board at once: Defense Against the Dark Arts: A Return to Basic Principles.

 Arthur stifled a groan and exchanged a weary look with Merlin.

 “Well now, your teaching in this subject has been rather disrupted and fragmented, hasn't it?” stated Professor Umbridge, turning to face the class with her hands clasped neatly in front of her. “The constant changing of teachers, many of whom do not seem to have followed any Ministry‐approved curriculum, has unfortunately resulted in your being far below the standard we would expect to see in your OWL year.”

 “You will be pleased to know, however, that these problems are now to be rectified. We will be following a carefully structured, theory‐centred, Ministry‐approved course of defensive magic this year. Copy down the following, please.”

 She rapped the blackboard again; the first message vanished and was replaced by the 'Course Aims'.

 . Understanding the principles underlying defensive magic.

 . Learning to recognise situations in which defensive magic can legally be used.

 . Placing the use of defensive magic in a context for practical use.

 For a couple of minutes the room was full of the sound of scratching quills on parchment. When everyone had copied down Professor Umbridge's three course aims she asked, “Has everybody got a copy of Defensive Magical Theory by Wilbert Slinkhard?”

 Unfortunately yeah, Arthur thought grimly as he pulled the book out and opened it to the first page, wearily studying to ‘Course Aims’ that clearly said nothing about stepping outside of Theory. Arthur was rather keen to object to this though he knew he couldn't for fear of drawing to much attention.

  There was a dull murmur of assent throughout the class to Umbridge’s question.

  "I think we'll try that again," said Professor Umbridge. "When I ask you a question, I should like you to reply, 'Yes, Professor Umbridge', or 'No, Professor Umbridge'. So: has everyone got a copy of Defensive Magical Theory by Wilbert Slinkhard?"

 “Yes, Professor Umbridge,” rang through the room, mostly said through gritted teeth.

 "Good," said Professor Umbridge. "I should like you to turn to page five and read 'Chapter One, Basics for Beginners'. There will be no need to talk."

 Professor Umbridge left the blackboard and settled herself in the chair behind the teacher's desk, observing them all closely with those beady suspicious eyes of hers. Arthur turned to page five of his copy of Defensive Magical Theory and started to read, resigned to refreshing his mind. It quickly became clear that the book wasn’t one of the most interesting ones out there.

 Several silent minutes passed as everyone read, or pretended to, at least. Next to him, Harry was staring blankly at his book while Ron was absent‐mindedly turning his quill over and over in his fingers, staring at the same spot on the page. Hermione on the other hand had not even opened her copy of Defensive Magical Theory. She was staring fixedly at Professor Umbridge with her hand in the air.

 Arthur hid a smile behind his hand as he covertly watched Umbridge, waiting for her to acknowledge Hermione’s existence. Arthur, stared curiously at Hermione as she gave a faint shake of her head, it seemed either Harry or Ron had given her a questioning glance. Still, instead of answering whatever question her friends seemed to have for her, she continued to stare at Professor Umbridge, who was looking just as resolutely in another direction.

 After several more minutes had passed, however, Arthur was not the only one watching Hermione and the chapter they’d been instructed to read was obviously forgotten. More and more people were choosing to watch Hermione's mute attempt to catch Professor Umbridge's eye rather than struggle on with 'Basics for Beginners'.

When more than half the class were staring at Hermione rather than at their books, Professor Umbridge seemed to decide that she could ignore the situation no longer.

 “Did you want to ask something about the chapter, dear?” she asked Hermione, as though she had only just noticed her.

 “Not about the chapter, no,” said Hermione.

 “Well, we're reading that just now,” said Professor Umbridge, showing her small pointed teeth. “If you have other queries we can deal with them at the end of class.”

 “I've got a query about your course aims,” Hermione ignored Professor Umbridge’s wishes and rushed on.

 Professor Umbridge raised her eyebrows.

 “And your name is?”

 “Hermione Granger,” said Hermione.

 “Well, Miss Granger, I think the course aims are perfectly clear if you read them through carefully,” said Professor Umbridge in a voice of determined sweetness.

 “Well, I don't,” said Hermione bluntly. “There's nothing written up there about using defensive spells.” Her exclamation caused Arthur to smile, thank goodness there was someone bright enough in the class to figure that out.

 There was a short silence in which many members of the class turned their heads to frown at the three course aims still written on the blackboard.

 “Using defensive spells?” Professor Umbridge repeated with a little laugh. “Why, I can't imagine any situation arising in my classroom that would require you to use a defensive spell, Miss Granger. You surely aren't expecting to be attacked during class?”

 ”We're not going to use magic?” Ron exclaimed loudly, joining in on the conversation.

 “Students raise their hands when they wish to speak in my class, Mr.‐?”

 “Weasley,” said Ron, thrusting his hand into the air.

 Professor Umbridge, smiling still more widely, turned her back on him. Harry and Hermione immediately raised their hands too. Professor Umbridge's beady eyes lingered on Harry for a moment as recognition flitted across her face, before she addressed Hermione.

 “Yes, Miss Granger? You wanted to ask something else?”

 “Yes,” said Hermione. “Surely the whole point of Defence Against the Dark Arts is to practice defensive spells?”

 “Are you a Ministry‐trained educational expert, Miss Granger?” asked Professor Umbridge, in her falsely sweet voice that was starting to grate horribly on Arthur’s nerves.

 “'No, but ‐”

 "Well then, I'm afraid you are not qualified to decide what the 'whole point' of any class is. Wizards much older and cleverer than you have devised our new programme of study."

 “But shouldn’t the Ministry be worried about our abilities to defend ourselves? I trust the Ministry to protect me but even they can’t be responsible for my safety all of the time. Theory will do very little for us in a battle and there’s always the possibility of a dark wizard attacking a random citizen in an effort to unsettle the public,” Arthur injected, fed up with Umbridge's attitude. A terrible silence seemed to bare down on the room and Arthur watched with fascination as Umbridge turned an intriguing shade of red that seemed even worse than her cardigan.

 “Well, how nice of you to enlighten us on your views of the world. Forgive me, but I don’t believe I caught your name,” Umbridge offered, her voice entirely too girlish and demeaning for Arthur’s liking.

 “Armand Pendragon,” Arthur told her rather reluctantly. That seemed to make her pause, though for what reason, Arthur wasn’t too sure. But she quickly recovered and carried on.

 “Well Mr Pendragon, you, like everyone else, will remember to raise your hand in the future and though one is entitled to their own opinion, I will thank you to stay away from subjects you know nothing of,” Umbridge told him, smile still in place.

 Arthur felt his composure slip with no desire to recover it.

 “This is ridiculous, the Ministry’s -”

 “Detention Mr Pendragon!” Umbridge interrupted Arthur’s attempt to rant, the red returning to her slightly paled cheeks in her rage.

 “But it’s illogical,” Arthur objected, shooting up out of his seat.

 “Should I make that a week?” Umbridge warned, causing Arthur to pause as he managed to regain some control over his temper.

 Arthur gave an unconscious glance around the classroom, regret surging up inside him as his eyes landed on a fuming Merlin. Crap…there’d be hell to pay once they were back in the Gryffindor common room. He reluctantly sat back down, glaring at Umbridge all the way.

 "Good. Tomorrow evening. Five o'clock. My office. The Ministry of Magic guarantees that you are not in danger from any dark wizard. If you are still worried, by all means come and see me outside class hours. And now, you will kindly continue your reading. Page five, 'Basics for Beginners'."

 Professor Umbridge sat down behind her desk.

 Arthur did no such thing and spent the remainder of the class glaring at her until Umbridge’s nerve’s seemed to seize up and she demanded that he had nothing to look at and that he’d better start working if he didn’t want to end up with even more detention. Feeling slightly satisfied and smug, Arthur had obliged and looked down at his books but not before his insides decided to freeze over at the dark “You‐Are-Taking-This-Too-Lightly-And-It-Will-Cause-The-End-Of-The-World" look Merlin was sending him.

Right then.

Chapter Text

 Harry stared back at Professor Umbridge as the Professor’s eyes lingered on him. Recognition seemed to flit across her face for an instant before she refocused her attention on Hermione.

 Harry didn’t know whether to feel glad or annoyed by this.

 “Yes, Miss Granger? You wanted to ask something else?”

 “Yes,” said Hermione. “Surely the whole point of Defense Against the Dark Arts is to practice defensive spells?”

 Harry nodded along since that seemed like a reasonable and logical conclusion to make.

 “Are you a Ministry-trained educational expert, Miss Granger?” asked Professor Umbridge, her voice sickly-sweet and, looking over at his suddenly uncertain friend, Harry felt anger starting to well up inside of him.

 “No, but-”

 “Well then, I’m afraid you are not qualified to decide what the ‘whole point’ of any class is. Wizards much older and cleverer than you have devised  our new program of study.”

 Harry desperately wanted to point out that they clearly couldn’t have been that smart if they decided to remove the practical part of Defense from the syllabus but someone else spoke up before he could.

 “But shouldn’t the Ministry be worried about our abilities to defend ourselves? I trust the Ministry to protect me but even they can’t be responsible for my safety all of the time. Theory will do very little for us in a battle and there’s always the possibility of a dark wizard attacking a random citizen in an effort to unsettle the public,” Armand stated, causing an uneasy silence to fall across the room as everyone considered what had just been said. Harry nodded fervently in agreement of Armand’s statement, at the same time watching  as Umbridge grew red in the face.

 She looked quite like a tomato, the form of her oddly-shaped head helping the look along.

 “Well, how nice of you to enlighten us on your views of the world. Forgive me but I don’t believe I caught your name,” Umbridge simpered, clearly trying her best to stare Armand down even with the large disadvantage her height gave her. Were it any other time, Harry probably would’ve laughed.

 “Armand Pendragon,” Armand seemed reluctant to admit and Harry frowned slightly as he looked over at Ron who suddenly seemed to be staring at Armand in awe.

 “Well Mr. Pendragon, you, like everyone else, will remember to raise your hand in the future and though one is entitled to their own opinion, I will thank you to stay away from subjects you know nothing of,” Umbridge told him though it was clear that the warning had been meant for the class as a whole.

 Unfortunately it seemed to be the wrong thing to say since Armand was quick to object again.

 “This is ridiculous, the Ministry’s-”

 “Detention Mr. Pendragon!” Umbridge screeched, her face turning an even darker shade of red though Harry hadn’t previously thought it possible.

 “But it’s illogical,” Armand insisted, his chair skidding back slightly as he shot out of his seat causing Harry to jump from the noise and feeling quite silly because of it.

 “Should I make that a week?” Umbridge threatened, causing Armand to hesitate.

 Taking Armand’s silence as obedience, she spoke again. “Good. Tomorrow evening. Five o’clock. My office.” Armand glared at Umbridge before slowly sinking back into his seat, though Harry suspected that he didn’t stop glaring. “The Ministry of Magic guarantees that you are not in danger from any dark wizard. If you are still worried, by all means come and see me outside class hours-” Harry doubted that she'd be willing to hear Armand or any of them out, even if they tried to talk to her about it. “- continue your reading. Page five, Basics for Beginners,” Umbridge ordered before sitting back down.

 Shooting Umbridge one last disbelieving look, Harry turned his gaze down, disappointed to realize that the book hadn’t gotten any more interesting while the argument with Umbridge had taken place. Like before, the book failed to capture Harry’s attention and he’d almost drifted off completely when Umbridge’s shrieking voice rang around the room again.

 “Eyes on your book Mr. Pendragon!” she demanded and Harry looked up in time to see Armand lower his head, apparently having been staring at Umbridge for the past few minutes.

 Hiding a victorious smirk in his hand, Harry couldn’t help feeling satisfied that someone had the ability to irk Umbridge so.


  As Harry left the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, he couldn’t help feeling a mixture of exhaustion and unease. Still, he reasoned he had a right to feel the way that he did considering how terrible their first lesson of the year had gone and the way Umbridge had continued to eye him throughout the entire period.

 The only luck so far was the fact that Umbridge hadn’t seen fit to yell at them again during the class, and the double period had passed in silence.

 It seemed however, that the argument Armand had with Umbridge, succeeded in angering his brother and Emerson had wasted no time in dragging Armand into the nearest abandoned classroom, slamming the door shut behind him as he went.

 “Whada yah recon that’s all about?” Ron questioned, glancing back at the closed door as the three of them started making their way towards the Gryffindor common room.

 “Dunno,” Harry shrugged.

“Honestly you two, he’s obviously upset with Armand for speaking up like that,” Hermione mused, causing Ron to look baffled.

 “What?! But that was bloody brilliant! Did you see her face?” Ron exclaimed, his voice a mixture of disbelief, glee and awe as he threw his hands in the air for emphasis.

Harry grinned in agreement, it had been quite brilliant and he hadn’t even needed to draw attention towards himself for the show to happen, which in itself was quite the miracle.

 “You shouldn’t be encouraged by it,” Hermione lectured, causing Ron to roll his eyes in an exaggerated manner. “Though…” Hermione trailed off, seeming to consider something and Harry and Ron exchanged wide-eyed looks at the possibility of their friend approving of Armand’s rudeness towards a teacher.

 “Is the great Hermione Granger actually approving of talking back to a teacher?” Ron feigned disbelief and Harry’s grin widened as Hermione glared at Ron.

 “You two really don’t recognize a good diplomatic argument when you hear one, do you?” Hermione accused, exasperated.

 “Um, no?” Ron’s answer sounded more like a question while Harry simply shook his head, feeling confused.

 “Boys,” was all she said before approaching the portrait to the common room and murmuring the password.

 “What’s she on about?” Ron demanded and Harry could only shrug before following his friend inside.


  “Hi, Armand!” Padma and Pavati Petal chorused, exiting the common room just as Harry and the others entered it.

 Armand looked rather smug and Emerson grinned as they stared over their shoulders at the retreating twins’ backs.

 The two brothers had entered the common room later the previous afternoon, grinning and joking around as if Emerson’s anger over what happened in Defense, had never existed in the first place.

 Unfortunately, it seemed Emerson and Armand weren’t the only ones admiring the Patil twins and Harry had to jab Ron in the ribs to prevent his friend from tripping into the common room in all his drooling glory.

 “Oh great, it’s started,” Emerson announced, sounding more amused than annoyed as all of them sat down at a group of tables where they could do their homework.

 Harry and Ron gave him questioning looks and Emerson quickly elaborated on his statement. “Armand’s always been a magnet for trouble but his rather gifted with attracting girls’ attention as well. Not that the two don’t usually go together,” Emerson explained while extracting his potions homework from his bag.

 Armand rolled his eyes and ruffled Emerson’s hair before responding while Emerson simply continued to grin.

 “Can’t complement me without insulting me first, can you, Emerson?” Armand accused, his tone playful and resigned at the same time.

 “Nah, your head would get too big for your crown,” Emerson agreed, pulling a face before ducking away from the hand that tried to swat at him.

 Harry couldn’t help glancing at Ron as he watched the two brothers interacting, trying to guess his friend’s thoughts on the matter.

 Ron however, seemed to be at as much of a loss as Harry himself and the four Gryffindors soon descended into silence as they worked.

 It was around four-thirty that Hermione stumbled into the common room, making a b-line for Harry and Ron’s table.

 “Something wrong?” Harry questioned, noticing how his friend sat down with a heavy sigh.

 “Lavender and the twins are at it again,” she admitted, clearly exhausted. At Harry’s curious look, she shot a  pointed glance towards Armand, and Harry quickly covered up his laughter with a cough as Emerson’s earlier words were confirmed.

 Hermione however, didn’t seem to notice and was instead staring at Armand rather intently.

 “Don’t you have detention with Umbridge this afternoon?” she asked and Armand looked up in surprise upon realizing that she was talking to him.

 Frowning, Armand looked towards the clock on the wall before cursing out loud and shooting his homework a withering glare. Still grumbling he stuffed the work in his bag and rose from his chair.

 “I’ll see you later,” Armand announced, receiving a nod of acknowledgement from Emerson as he left the tower, heading for his detention with Umbridge.


  “Recon they’re done yet?” Ron questioned an hour later, looking over at Emerson who hadn’t stopped fidgeting since minutes after his brother’s departure.

 “Let’s hope,” he agreed and Harry frowned at his reaction but none the less stood up, shooting Ron a, “we should really go with him,” look. Sighing in resignation, Ron stood as well and the three boys headed towards the Defence classroom once more, leaving Hermione to finish the work she so insisted on completing.

 “So, how long have you and Armand been brothers?” Harry asked, in an effort to break the slightly strained silence that had developed between the three of them as they’d been walking.

 “Ten years, though we didn’t quite get along at the beginning,” Emerson explained causing Harry to exchange a disbelieving look with Ron that made Emerson laugh. “I know, it doesn’t seem like it now, but we hated each other at the beginning. I thought he was arrogant and spoiled and he thought I was stupid and disrespectful,” Emerson explained and laughed again upon noticing Harry’s skeptical expression. “Anyway, we managed to settle our differences rather quickly and everything else just went from there,” Emerson shrugged but his relaxed posture quickly stiffened once more as he frowned and looked ahead.

 Blinking in confusion Harry followed Emerson’s gaze just as Armand Pendragon entered the corridor they were currently in.

 “Emerson? What are you doing here?” Armand frowned as he reached them, sounding disapproving and aloof.

 “You alright?” Emerson asked, seemingly unaffected by his brother’s indifference.
 “Yes. Why….?” Armand answered with a raised eyebrow. Sharing a quick look with Ron, Harry slowly retreated, just enough to allow the two brothers some space. Instead of accepting this, Emerson narrowed his eyes at his brother and, with speed Harry wouldn’t have guessed him to possess, the black haired boy snatched Armand’s right hand from where it had been resting behind his back.

 There was a slight pause as Emerson examined the back of Armand’s hand before hissing in a manner quite akin to that of a snake. Harry was still recovering from the shock of the sound when Emerson took off down the hall, Armand seemingly frozen in place.

 “Crap, I knew he’d react this way. Emerson!” Armand exclaimed though he appeared to be rooted to the spot, unable to chase after his brother. “Well, go after him will you, it appears I’m stuck,” Armand commanded, prompting both Ron and Harry to rush after Emerson without thought, whether from curiosity or because of how commanding Armand had sounded when ordering them to do so, Harry would never know.

 Unfortunately Emerson had already arrived at Umbridge’s office when Harry and the Ron got there and instead the two found themselves kneeling outside the door.

 “What did you do to him?” Emerson demanded as the two teenagers peered into Umbridge’s office through the small gap provided by the slightly ajar door.

 “Pardon?” Umbridge’s voice was as polite as ever and Harry just managed to catch her batting her eyes at Emerson in a display of innocence, though Harry suspected that she truly had no idea why Emerson had burst into her office, well not yet anyway.

  “My brother, he just served detention with you,” Emerson stated, crossing his arms and probably glaring at Umbridge though with Emerson’s back to them, Harry couldn’t be sure.

  “Ah yes, dear Mr. Pendragon,” simpered Umbridge, her attitude now unchanged from how it had been in class a day ago. “Well as I’ve said before, disrespect is not tolerated in my classroom and I will punish any who do not follow my rules.” Umbridge continued, rearranging some papers on her desk as if she was simply looking for something to do.

 Emerson gave a derisive laugh.

“How? By forcing them to use Blood Quills while writing lines?” Emerson hissed leaning forward onto the table probably in an effort to appear larger and though it didn’t really work from where Harry was crouching, Emerson’s words seemed to have the desired effect, though Harry had no idea why.

 Harry shared a baffled expression with Ron as they tried to decipher the meaning of Emerson’s words while at the same time watching Umbridge pale considerably, though she managed to keep the rest of her expression blank.

 “Forgive me but are you suggesting that I used illegal utensils to punish my students. I can assure you that is not the case.” Umbridge said with a thin-lipped smile and a girlish giggle added on.

 “Oh, that’s my mistake then?” Emerson said sarcastically as one of the drawers in Umbridge’s office opened and a box full of black quills rose out of the drawer. Within seconds, Umbridge’s face transformed into that of a gaping fish.

 “I know The Ministry put you up to this and I know you’re here because Fudge thinks Albus Dumbledore is trying to overthrow him, but the students at this school have absolutely nothing to do with it, you might as well keep your claws off of them,” Emerson’s voice was suspiciously light as he said this but Umbridge didn’t seem to interpret this as a warning.

 “How dare you, Cornelius Fudge is a wonderful Minister of Magic and anyone who wants to oppose him deserve to be unseated, whether from a position in the Ministry or a position as the Headmaster of a school but I will not tolerate being accused and told what to do by a student who, until this year, did not even have any formal education. Now if you say one more word about Minister Fudge or the way I decide to run my classes, I’m afraid I will have to Oblivate you,” Umbridge threatened, her voice still as sickly sweet as ever and Harry felt anger rise up inside of him while Ron stiffened next to him; how dare she threaten Emerson with having his memory erased simply because he knew of her illegal practices though, then again, it was probably to be expected, the toad was clearly vile.

However, Harry’s thoughts were interrupted when Emerson spoke up once more.

“Your fury might spread like a disease but I do not care for your threats. Know that I will do everything in my power to stop you from succeeding in ridding this school of Dumbledore. I know I may not look like much but I promise you, if I find out you’ve harmed anyone else especially my brother, there will not be a place in this world or a spell in your mind that will save you,” Emerson said, his voice fierce yet calm and his posture firm. Harry couldn’t help feeling intimidated by it even as he felt surprised that Emerson could be so scary. Then, without warning, the box containing what Harry assumed to be the Blood Quills, suddenly burst into flames, causing Harry’s heart beat to speed up from the shock.

“Sorry for disturbing you,” Emerson said rather darkly and Harry and Ron exchanged quick looks before hurrying away from the door, knowing it would not do for them to be found eavesdropping outside the door. The door to Umbridge’s office opened soon after and Emerson strode out, his heated gaze falling upon Armand almost immediately. “I can’t believe you let her do that to you!” he exclaimed as soon as he'd drawn Armand into one of the alcoves away from Umbridge’s office, seeming to completely ignore both Ron and Harry’s presence as he went. It took Harry a few seconds to realize that he and Ron had unwittingly stepped into a dark corner of the corridor in their haste to get away, though he now found himself unwilling to reveal their presence to the two arguing teens.   

 “What was I supposed to do, refuse to write with the thing?” Armand demanded back.

 “You could’ve” Emerson insisted, brows furrowed in what appeared to be disapproval.

 “I thought you were the one who said we had to blend in, that father would skin us alive if we got kicked out of here!” Armand exclaimed, placing his hands on his hips as he glared at his brother. The frown that had been on Emerson’s face since existing Umbridge’s office deepened even further before his eyes seemed to clear with understand.

 “Fine, but we’re not finished discussing this,” he vowed before leading the way out of the alcove and down the hall, yanking Armand along behind him.

 Harry looked over at Ron as he tried to piece the two brothers’ conversation together, desperate to make sense of what had just occurred.

 “Think we should tell Hermione?” Ron asked after a few minutes of silence. Harry bit his lip in thought before nodding in agreement.

 “Yeah, let’s,” he mumbled and the two of them stood up from their hiding spot and hurried after the two other boys.

Chapter Text

 Merlin truly had been intending to finish his talk with Arthur, but somehow those intentions had disappeared when Arthur took charge and dragged him into an abandoned classroom before pressing him against a wall and ravishing his mouth. Arthur’s casting of a one way silencing charm as well as a locking charm going almost unnoticed by him.

 Still, some part of Merlin’s brain that hadn’t short-circuited when the kissing had started, tried to remind him of his and Arthur’s earlier decision to restrain themselves from any romantic activities while they were here at the school, but the request seemed beyond unreasonable now, especially with all the extra hormones currently in Merlin’s system.

 Pushing these thoughts away, Merlin continued exploring the insides of Arthur’s mouth with great enthusiasm.

 “Oh gods I love you,” Merlin mumbled feeling Arthur smile against his lips as they continued kissing each other.

 “These hormones are going to be the death of me,” Arthur groaned as he trailed his lips down Merlin’s neck causing thrills of pleasure to run down Merlin’s spine.

 “You say that every time,” Merlin accused but failed to put any heat into his voice as he arched his neck in pleasure.

 “That’s because it’s true,” Arthur insisted and Merlin moaned as Arthur bit down on the junction below his ear.

 “So, how are the new fans?” Merlin panted when the two finally deemed it necessary to pull away from each other.

 “Oh, they’re aright, though I’d much rather spend time with the one I’ve got right here,” Arthur mused as he looked at Merlin.

 “I don’t see any fans here,” Merlin joked grinning, happy to see Arthur smiled because of it.

 “No? Well then I guess we’ll just have to change that,” Arthur declared, giving Merlin a challenging look, pursing his lips as he pretended to think about it.

 “Yeah, I suppose so,” Merlin agreed but his smug look was swallowed up by Arthur mouth.

 Why can’t this go on forever, or maybe even go a bit further? Merlin wondered as he tangled his fingers in Arthur’s soft hair. But suddenly, Arthur pulled away and it took a second for Merlin to register the sound of people talking, coming their way. Ah, that’s why, Merlin thought, sobering up slightly.

 Resigned to the fact that their make-out session was now officially over, Merlin forced himself to put some space between his and Arthur’s bodies and Arthur performed a quick wandless spell to fix their hair and rumpled clothes.

 “Avalon, I wish we were back home,” Merlin groaned as he resisted the urge to attach Arthur’s slightly kiss swollen lips once more.

 “Well, you were the one who insisted we come here,” Arthur pointed out, though his voice lacked any real annoyance. Merlin simply rolled his eyes.

 “We should-” Merlin started but trailed off as the talking students finally passed by the class.

 “…she said Umbridge is here to put Dumbledore out of a job. Do you think it’s true?” a girl’s voice questioned, sounding worried. Berating himself for getting carried away, Merlin frowned, his earlier fury remembered though at least it didn’t return.

 Arthur was grimacing when Merlin turned his attention on him again, now wearing a half-heated scowl; the prat had almost succeeded in distracting him.

 Still, even with that realization, Merlin decided to leave the subject of Professor Umbridge alone for now, focusing instead on Arthur’s injury. Looking down at Arthur’s hand, Merlin was horrified by the sight of the feverishly red skin that was usually lightly tanned.

 Merlin’s eyes darkened at the barely visible words, “I will always show respect,” that Arthur had been forced to etch onto the back of his own hand.

 Merlin’s throat tightened slightly at the thought of the pain the Blood Quill must’ve caused Arthur, the faint reminder that Arthur had been through much worse before, doing nothing to console Merlin.

 There was a snort from Arthur which caused Merlin to look up into his smirking face.

 “It’s only a hand, Merlin,” he stated sounding as smug and exasperated as he usually did when he was about to call Merlin a girl.

 “Just making sure you didn’t chip a royal nail sire,” Merlin shot back, grateful for Arthur’s attempt at lifting his spirits. Merlin had long since accepted that Arthur would always be unsure when it came to dealing with the more delicate emotions but you just needed to learn how to read him.

 Merlin also knew that Arthur was busy rolling his eyes at him, but chose to ignore this in favor of calling up his magic. His eyes flashed gold as he murmured a simple healing spell, watching as the abused skin shriveled up and with a hard rub, the old skin came off to reveal a new layer of slightly pink but clearly unblemished skin.

 Arthur shuddered and glared at the floor when Merlin finally released his healed hand.

 “It had to be that one!” Arthur exclaimed and Merlin couldn’t stop the exasperated smile that spread across his face.

 It was no secret that Arthur hated that particular healing spell or that he never listened when Merlin explained the reason for using it, to him.

 “We should probably get back,” Merlin declared, deciding against trying to explain the healing spell's workings to him once more.


  It was only when Merlin and Arthur entered the Gryffindor common room and Harry, Ron and Hermione fell silent as they approached, that Merlin was reminded of Arthur’s silent warning during their earlier confrontation. Crap, Harry and Ron had seen, and by the looks of it had also shared everything with Hermione. Pressing his lips together in concentration, Merlin felt his brows furrow as he thought about a possible solution to their new problem.

 “You should probably go talk to them,” he finally stated, looking at Arthur as he spoke.

 “Emerson, you truly think they’d trust me after what they just saw?” Arthur asked with a raised eyebrow, the exact expression he usually wore when humoring Merlin.

 “Well - I mean of-of course they would,” Merlin stuttered, sounding more as if he was trying to assure himself than he was Arthur. Both of Arthur’s eyebrows pulled up in disbelief and Merlin felt his reassurance dying on his lips. “Well you’re more trustworthy- oh wait, that’s me…” Merlin trailed off with a cheeky grin while Arthur’s face pulled into his signature offended smile.

 “Look, I’m serious, if we want them to trust us again you’re going to have to be the one who explains it to them, otherwise I’ll look like I’m trying to make an excuse for you,” Arthur reasoned and Merlin grudgingly agreed.

 “Fine, but if they don’t believe me then it’s your fault,” Merlin stated and headed off towards the trio before Arthur could start arguing the point. Painting a sheepish look on his face, Merlin approached the group while tugging self-consciously at the hem of his school jumper. “Um… I wanted to apologize for what happened back there,” Merlin began, his hands transferring from the edge of his jumper to the back of his neck and he cast his eyes to the floor as he continued his explanation. “My magic still gets a bit out of control sometimes-”

 “A bit, a bit! You could probably have set her office on fire if you wanted to!” Ron cried out indignantly, drawing the eyes of some of the other students in the common room as well as an admonishing exclamation of “Ronald!” from Hermione.

 Merlin, meanwhile, felt heat rise in his cheeks at the bold yet completely accurate, accusation. “I-I-” he fumbled for an excuse before Arthur came to his rescue.

 “That’s actually part of why we’re here. Father says he has great potential but his magic tends to be a bit wild,” Arthur explained, grimacing as he did so. “Though it seems coming here might’ve been a mistake,” Arthur added in a slightly darker voice, looking for all the world as if he were planning on leaving the school immediately while also dragging Merlin away with him.

 “So leave!” Merlin snapped, putting as much heat into the sentence as possible.

 “What, and leave you here to fend for yourself? Your mother would murder me!” Arthur was quick to counter and Merlin had to resist the urge to grin.

 “She’s had plenty of time to do it before now, besides, everyone knows you’re the one who needs a babysitter,” Merlin reminded him, watching the trio’s reaction out of the corner of his eye.

 “Oh, shut up Emerson,” came one of Arthur’s standard replies as they turned to leave the common room and head up to their dormitories, as if unconcerned by what the Golden Trio now thought of them.

 “Your magic’s overprotective of Armand!” Hermione cried out in understanding, her gaze trailing from Merlin to Arthur and back again.

 Merlin paused in his attempt to leave, pleasantly surprised by Hermione deduction skills as both he and Arthur turned back to the three teens once more.

 “Unfortunately.” Arthur agreed as they settled themselves into two of the available armchairs and the curious looks from Harry, Hermione and Ron pressed Merlin to explain.

 “It was…strange, to say the least. Armand and I had barely known each other when my magic started showing, mum actually recons it’s because of Armand that my magic started reacting so regularly so early in my life. True it’s normal to have magical accidents every now and then, and normally there are strong emotions involved so most people start showing magic as early as one or two years old. But this was different.” Merlin mused, the story they’d decided upon a few months previous, coming effortlessly to his lips.  Still, they couldn’t give much more than that away, not yet at least. “And Armand was no help! Of course I’d be the one stuck with someone who attracts trouble like a goblin to gold,” Merlin grinned, earning a filthy look from Arthur for his terrible choice of comparison.

 Pots and pans had been flying Merlin’s way when Arthur had discovered that it had been Merlin who’d released the goblin and so Merlin was indirectly responsible for Arthur’s donkey ears and tail.

 “Oh do stop complaining!” Arthur huffed.

 “What was it that you destroyed anyhow?” Harry questioned, drawing the two out of their argument.

 “Blood Quills,” Hermione gasped at Merlin’s answer, hand flying up to cover her mouth.  “They were used as punishment back in the early 1800’s. Students were punished by having to write lines with the Blood Quills. They draw the user’s blood, so the students would end up writing the punishing lines in their own blood while also having the words they wrote, carved into their hands. If this practice was repeated to many times within a short period of time, the scars become permanent.” Merlin paused. “Naturally, the parents complained. They were declared illegal in the 1850’s,” Merlin finished his explanation, silently wondering how Umbridge had gotten her hands on the quills. On the other hand, the Ministry was known for keeping “artifacts” hidden in the millions of rooms within the Ministry.

 Pulling himself back together, Merlin noted the shock on the trio’s faces.

 Since it was clear that Hermione already knew about the Blood Quills Merlin knew she was probably horrified by the fact that Umbridge had seen fit to use them as punishment on Arthur. It was times like these that Merlin wanted to reveal his true identity and watch as Umbridge fled in fear of him.

 He quickly shook off the thought.

 “How did you recognize it?” Ron asks looking quite awestruck, staring at Arthur’s healed hand as if he might still be able to trace the damage that the Blood Quill had done.

 “It has a very distinct look that hasn’t been used in quill designs in decades. It’s easy to recognize if you know what to look for,” came Hermione’s matter of fact reply, Merlin hid his relief when Ron finally looked away from Arthur in favor of turning his attention to Hermione, it wouldn’t do for him to question why Arthur’s hand was suddenly fine.

 The relief wavered when Ron spoke up yet again.

 “But Emerson only saw Armand’s hand,” he was quick to object, though he only earned an eye roll from Hermione for his troubles.

 “Oh please Ron, the Blood Quills were probably easy to smuggle in and she’d be catching the students completely off guard by using them. Apart from carving those words into someone’s hand with a small knife or a wand, a Blood Quill is the only dark artifact that can cause that,” Hermione explained, her voice equal parts exasperation and annoyance. Ron glared, clearly feeling that his question had been valid.

 “Recon we should tell Dumbledore?” Harry asked looking slightly worried.

 “Why would we? You saw the way Emerson threatened her, she’ll probably be too scared to try anything of that sort again,” Ron frowned though the admiration was still clear in his voice and Merlin couldn’t help cringing at it as well as the attention that Ron had doubtlessly drawn back to Merlin because of that last comment.

 It seemed however that Merlin had nothing to worry about as the trio was too engrossed in their quarrel to pay him much attention.

 “We shouldn’t take the chance and besides, I’m sure Dumbledore will be glad for an excuse to sack her,” Harry reasoned, looking towards Hermione for her opinion but she seemed undecided.

 Merlin was completely taken aback when Arthur suddenly decided to join the dispute. “If he does that, Fudge will just send another Ministry official in her place. At least this way we know to keep an eye on her,” the firmness in Arthur’s voice declared the matter closed. The trio nodded in agreement though Harry still looked somewhat skeptical.

 Merlin paused only a second before seizing the opportunity to revert the atmosphere back to normal. “Maybe we shouldn’t have come here!” he conceded to Arthur’s earlier statement. “Just look at what’s already happened and it’s only the first week!” he griped.

 “That’s Hogwarts for you mate,” Ron said with a slight grin.

 “See, it’s perfectly normal, nothing to worry about,” Arthur said with his “it’s just a flesh-eating monster, nothing to worry about” smile well in place. Merlin wanted to smile at how their roles had reversed.

 “Oh ha ha, you don’t have to rub it in, I know you didn’t want to come but you’ll just have to live with it.” Merlin finally decided to switch back to their previous standing points on the subject.

“Fine, but you’re explaining to father if we end up at Death’s door,” Arthur bargained.

 “Why me?! If I had a Knut for every time you got into trouble…” Merlin couldn’t stop himself from teasing.

 “You’re one to talk, you’re the reason I’m in trouble half the time,” Arthur countered irritably.

 “Am not, if it weren’t for you…” Merlin was about to start listing off Arthur’s faults when a comment from Ron to Harry, caught his attention.

  “Wow mate, they’re just like you and Malfoy,” Ron stated with some revulsion.

  “What?!” Harry exclaimed looking thoroughly offended though Ron already seemed to be reconsidering what he’d said.

  “No wait, there’s nothing funny about Malfoy’s insults,” Ron corrected himself with a scowl.

  Merlin shared a quick look of amusement with Arthur before turning curious eyes back to Ron and Harry.

  “Malfoy? The guy with the blonde hair and apes for bodyguards?” Merlin asked, his observation making Ron snort while Harry grinned and Hermione nodded in conformation. “Do you fight a lot?” this time his question was directed to Harry, who instantly looked uncomfortable.

 “Yeah, we’ve been enemies since we started here,” Harry was quick to explain.

 “Why?” Merlin couldn’t help asking, brow furrowing as he leaned forward in interest. He could almost feel Arthur rolling his eyes at him though he wasn’t looking his way.

  The trio blinked, as if they’d never been asked that before. Finally, Harry decided to speak up.

 “Well, he was a right git the first time I met him; going on about how half-bloods and muggleborns shouldn’t be allowed at Hogwarts and that the only good house in Hogwarts is Slytherin. He even insulted Hagrid when he came to fetch me! He’s an arrogant and self-centered git!” Harry ranted while Ron and Hermione nodded along, Ron more so than Hermione, though the three’s opinions of the other boy was quite clear.

 “And he’s always insulting my family because of our… money problems,” Ron’s face as well as the tips of his ears, turned red as he added the last bit. “His father also gave Ginny a cursed dairy in our second year and his always calling Hermione a mudblood!” Ron raged, Hermione blushing at Ron’s words while Merlin and Arthur grimaced and Merlin could clearly read the disgust at the situation as a whole, in Arthur’s eyes.

 Merlin suspected it was reflected in his own eyes as well.

 The gap between purebloods and half-bloods and muggleborns as well as the secrecy of the wizarding world towards “muggles” had always been a sore spot for the two of them.

 “Anyway, Ron and I recon his up to something, cause he’s been acting so strange,” Harry stated looking rather thoughtful while Ron nodded in agreement.

 “Yeah, he didn’t even confront us on the train, like he did last year and all the years before that,” Ron added and Merlin could just imagine him adding the evidence up in his head.

 “Oh honestly you two, just because Malfoy doesn’t seem interested in tormenting you doesn’t mean he’s suddenly going to grow into a Death Eater, he might’ve actually decided to grow up over the summer,” Hermione exclaimed, staring pointedly at the two boys as she said the last part, the “unlike the two of you” went unsaid.

 “Come on, Hermione, he’s a Slytherin, besides, he’s father’s a Death Eater, who’s to say he won’t follow in Daddy’s footsteps?” Ron sounded exasperated, throwing his hands up in the air for emphasis. “Just look at the way he treats all of us!”

 “I’m not having this discussion again,” Hermione declared before grabbing her books and stomping off, clearly miffed and leaving Merlin wondering how many times said discussion had occurred before.

 “Why’s she defending the git!?” Ron complained as he glared at the retreating witch’s back before turning his disbelieving gaze on Harry, who simply shrugged.


  Saturday morning found the two Pendragons trudging into the Forbidden Forest at five in the morning.

Merlin was still sulking about being woken up so early and hadn’t recovered by the time they reached a clearing that Arthur deemed satisfactory for sword practice.

 “Alright Merlin, get your sword out!” Arthur ordered as his wand elongated into Excalibur, its blade glistening in the autumn sun.

 “Do we have to do this?” Merlin complained, well aware on what the answer would be.

 “Of course Merlin, we don’t want you going back to the way you handled a sword before,” Arthur answered as he did a few practice swings, he’d long since gotten used to his young body when they’d been preparing for the year while still at home.

 “I killed an army of the dead with that handling I’ll have you know,” Merlin objected as he pulled his own sword out of his pocket, he’d long ago placed an undetectable extension on all his coat pockets.

 “That’s beside the point, Merlin,” Arthur said sounding exasperated as he stepped backwards into a battle stance.

 “Are you sure?” Merlin asked with a frown and a slight challenging smile. Arthur didn’t answer and instead lunged.

 The battle was fierce and intense as always, there had been a time when the two men had been stuck, both being able to predict the other’s moves five steps ahead of the other’s actual decision. Luckily they’d learned to work past it, learning new moves and forcing themselves to be unpredictable. It had been decidedly difficult but the end results had been well worth it.

 In the end Arthur came out the victor and Merlin couldn’t help smiling as Arthur offered him a hand up. There’d been a few decades, before Arthur started showing signs of magic, that Merlin had been the victor of most of theirs sword fights because of his magic that increased his reaction time. It had caused quite a rift between the two of them before it had settled again. Merlin had felt quite guilty for all his victories since his magic gave him an unfair advantage but Arthur had eventually gotten over it though something that was essential Arthur, had been lost in the process.

 Merlin had been more than overjoyed when Arthur had started showing magic, bring the two back on equal grounds once more as well as giving Arthur his confidence back and opening a whole new world of opportunities.

 “You have that look-” Arthur stopped talking rather abruptly and instead tilts his head to the side, clearly listening to something that the average person wouldn’t be able to hear. Merlin froze, ears sharp as he tried to figure out what had caused Arthur’s reaction. It wasn’t long before Merlin found out exactly what had startled his husband into silence and he swore loudly as he transfigured his sword into a broom, Arthur following his example immediately.

 Swinging their legs over their broomsticks, the two Camelotians took off into the air and out of the Forbidden Forest, rising high just as the sound of hooves became clear in the early morning stillness. “Well, so much for having sword practice there.” Arthur declared, irritated.

 “What are you moaning about, you won!” Merlin exclaimed as they sailed towards the Quidditch pitch.

 “Yes but, you know as well as I do that that wasn’t nearly enough practice.” Arthur stated, aiming an accusing glare towards Merlin. “And if you weren’t so keen to escape the centaurs’ welcome greeting to you, we still would’ve been able to keep practicing.” Arthur grumbled. Merlin rolled his eyes and instead landed swiftly. Arthur followed, swinging off of his broom before it had stopped, holding on to it so he could walk alongside his broom as it came to a stop.

 “Show off,” Merlin muttered, still slightly envying how Arthur’s step didn’t even falter on his landing, Merlin himself stumbled whenever he tried to mimic the motion.

 “Of course,” Arthur agreed with a charming smile. The smile didn’t last long and changed into a frown as Arthur seemed to stare at something over Merlin’s left shoulder.

 “What’s wrong,” Merlin asked, turning around in order to follow Arthur’s gaze. He quickly spotted the problem. Someone was sitting in the Slytherin spectators area, watching them.

 It took a second for Merlin to realize that it was the same person that Harry and the other two had talked about the day before, Draco Malfoy.

 “What do you recon he’s doing here?” Merlin questioned, a frown now marring his own face.

 “I don’t know… Let’s go find out,” Arthur said, voice unreasonably dark as he started approaching the spectators area at a brisk walk.

 Draco Malfoy didn’t hesitate as he got up and fled, causing Arthur to speed up some more, Merlin on his heels.

 They reached the exit to the benches before Draco Malfoy did and stood waiting for him as he came down, freezing at the top of the stairs when he spotted them.

 “What are you doing here,” Merlin spoke up before Draco Malfoy could run away again. From what Merlin had gathered about the boy, reputation meant as much to him as it had his father, making it very likely that he wouldn’t run away once spoken to, for fear of looking like a coward.

 “I could ask you the same thing,” Malfoy answered, recovering himself and staring down at the two of them with a holier than thou expression on his face, Merlin almost rolled his eyes.

 “Why’d you run, it only made you look guilty,” Arthur pointed out in a resigned tone of voice.

 “I don’t have anything to talk to the likes of you with, I have as much right to be here if not more than you!” Malfoy sneered but Arthur was having none of it.

 “Then why did you run?” he asked again.

 “You Gryffindors pretend to be noble yet you corner a bloke two to one,” Malfoy mocked, avoiding the question.

 Arthur looked ready to object again so Merlin decided to intervene. “Arth-Armand, just, let it go,” he murmured and though it made Arthur frown, the blonde conceded, shooting Malfoy one last look before turning around and leaving. “You don’t have to be so defensive around people, you know,” Merlin told Malfoy before following Arthur in his departure, not allowing Malfoy time to reply.

 “What was that about,” Arthur asked when Merlin had finally caught up with him.

Merlin rolled his eyes. “We wouldn’t have gotten anything out of him with the way you were going about it,” Merlin stated, voice edging towards laughter. “Besides…” Merlin considered barely catching the look of dread that flitted across Arthur’s face.

“Not again Merlin!” Arthur complained and Merlin couldn’t help smiling. Why wouldn’t he try to help Malfoy?

Chapter Text

 Harry felt slightly put out as he joined Ron and Hermione at the Gryffindor table for breakfast. He’d just been to the Owlery to deliver his message to Sirius, and had been quite surprised when he’d bumped into Cho Chang once there. Had that happened a year ago, Harry would’ve been thrilled at the chance to chat with her, now the conversation he’d had with her as well as her defense of him upon Filch’s arrival, didn’t give him much hope. She was dating Cedric, and didn’t seem too keen on changing that any time soon.

 “What’s the matter mate?” Ron questioned looking confused.

 “Cho,” was all Harry said as he pulled some beacon and eggs towards himself.

 “Oh Harry,” Hermione sighs sympathetically from her seat opposite him.

 “Think we’ll be able to practice some Quidditch before the real training?” Ron worried over his goblet of pumpkin juice.

 “Yeah, okay,” Harry agreed, eager for a distraction.

 “What’s this I hear about Quidditch?” a new voice entered the conversation and Harry and Ron looked up to find Armand and Emerson sitting down next to Hermione.

 Spotting the duo reminded Harry of their empty beds that morning when he’d woken and he couldn’t help eyeing the two brothers suspiciously.

 “We were going to get in some practice before the actual training session later today,” Ron explained eagerly, earning filthy looks from both Harry and Hermione for his troubles, though Harry knew that that it was for different reasons.

 “Oh, we just finished playing ourselves,” Emerson volunteered with a grin in his brother’s direction, clarifying why they hadn’t been in the dorms when Harry woke up.  

 “Really? Which positions?” Ron seemed eager to know and Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Ron had made it clear that he admired Emerson for the display of magic in Umbridge’s office.

 “I was the beater and Emerson was the seeker,” Armand explained, putting some beacon and toast into his own plate. Harry’s interests were piqued as he looked over at Emerson. Thinking about it, Emerson had the perfect built for a seeker and after his display of magic yesterday, Harry was willing to bet that his reflexes were a lot better than Emerson was letting on.

 “Harry, do you really think you should be practicing now? You’re both really behind your homework as it is-” Hermione began to implore, but she cut off as the Great Hall started filling with owls making their morning deliveries. Hermione’s copy of the Daily Profit was spotted soaring towards her in the beak of a screeching owl.

 “Anything interesting?” said Ron. Harry grinned, knowing Ron was keen to keep her of the subject of homework.

 “No,” she sighed. “Just some guff about the bass player in the Weird Sisters getting married.” With that, Hermione opened the paper and disappeared behind it.

Harry devoted himself to another helping of eggs and beacon while Ron stared up at the high windows, looking slightly preoccupied.

 “Wait a moment,” Hermione said suddenly, drawing the attention of quite a few people before she became silent and handed the paper to Harry, indicating the article with her finger before going back to her meal as if nothing had happened.

 Harry lowered his gaze to the article and he and Ron read it together, becoming more horrified with each word they read. ‘The Ministry of Magic has received a tip off from a reliable source that Sirius Black, notorious mass murderer and follower of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named to ever escape from Azkaban is currently hiding in London. With this new information revealed, the Ministry warns the wizarding community that Black is very dangerous. With it in mind that he killed thirteen people and that he has the knowledge to break out of Azkaban, the Ministry has instructed the Aurors to be vigilant in their search for the mass murderer.’ Harry snorted, not even bothering to finish the article, it was all rubbish anyway.

 “It was Lucius Malfoy, I’ll bet anything,” Harry hissed hands clenching on the newspaper.

 “What? You didn’t say-” Ron started to say but Harry quickly clamped a hand down over his friend’s mouth, not wanting Ron to draw any more attention to them.

 “Well, he just won’t be able to leave the house again, that’s all,” she whispered in a firm voice. “Dumbledore did warn him not to,” she added looking slightly miffed. Harry didn’t respond, instead looking back at the paper feeling quite glum. The page next to the article about Sirius held an advertisement for Madam Milkins Robes for All Occasions, but it was the small section underneath it that caught Harry’s attention.

 “Hey!” he said, not bothering to whisper as he flattened the paper so Hermione and Ron could see it. “Look at this!”

 “I’ve got all the robes I want,” Ron said, not seeing what Harry was talking about.

 “No,” Harry corrected him. “Look…this little piece here...”

  Ron and Hermione bent closer to read it; the item was barely an inch long and placed right at the bottom of a column. It was headlined:

 

TRESPASS AT MINISTRY

  Sturgis Podmore, 38, of number two, Laburnum  Gardens, Clapham, has appeared in front of the Wizangamot charged with trespass and attempted robbery at the Ministry of Magic on 31st August. Podmore was arrested by Ministry of Magic watchwizard Eric Munch, who found him attempting to force his way through a top-security door at one o’clock in the morning. Podmore, who refused to speak in his own defense, was convicted on both charges and sentenced to six months in Azkaban.

“Sturgis Podmore?” Ron said slowly. “He’s that bloke who looks like his head’s been thatched, isn’t he? He’s one of the Ord-”

“Ron!” Hermione exclaimed, casting a terrified look around them which Harry hoped no one had noticed.

“Six months in Azkaban! Just for trying to get through a door!” Harry whispered, shocked.

“Don’t be silly, it wasn’t just for trying to get through a door. What on earth was he doing  at the Ministry of Magic at one o’clock in the morning?” Hermione breathed.

“D’you reckon  he was doing something for the Order?” Ron muttered.

“Wait a moment, Sturgis was supposed to come see us off, remember?” Harry said thoughtfully.

The other two stared at him.

“Yeah, he was supposed to be part of our guard going to King’s Cross, remember? And Moody was all annoyed because he didn’t turn up; so he couldn’t have been on a job for them, could he?” Harry reasoned.

“Well, maybe they didn’t expect him to get caught,” Hermione speculated.

“It could be a frame-up!” Ron exclaimed excitedly, Harry couldn’t help feeling doubtful. “No-listen!” Ron went on, dropping his voice dramatically at the threatening voice on Hermione’s face. “The Ministry suspect he’s one of Dumbledore’s lot so – I dunno – they lured him to the Ministry, and he wasn’t trying to get through a door at all! Maybe they’ve just made something up to get him!”

There was a pause while Harry and Hermione considered this. Harry still thought it sounded a bit farfetched but to his greatest surprise, Hermione actually looked rather impressed.

“Do you know, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that were true.” Hermione admitted and Harry’s eyes widened in disbelief.

There was a moment of silence before the trio returned there discussions to more ordinary things and the rest of breakfast was spent with Ron and Hermione arguing about the importance of homework versus Quidditch.


  Quidditch took up most of Saturday, ending with a truly horrible training session that did nothing to boost Ron’s confidence. Sunday was in a sense, busier, as the trio immersed themselves in homework, with the most exciting thing happening being that Ron recieving a letter from Percy.

Harry was admittedly relieved when Ron paid no attention to his brother’s advice and tore up the letter while proclaiming his brother to be a git.

But Monday morning brought with it the horrible news that Percy had been kind enough to mention in his letter to Ron. A large picture of Umbridge blinked up at them from beneath the headline.

 

MINISTRY SEEKS EDUCATIONAL REFORM

 

DELORES UMBRIDGE APPOINTED

 

FIRST EVER HIGH INQUESITOR

 

“Umbridge – Inquisitor?” Harry questioned, unsure whether the picture of Umbridge or the article that came with it, was worse. “What does it mean?” Harry aimed the question at Hermione, who promptly picked up the paper and started reading out loud.

“In a surprise move last night, the Ministry of Magic passed new legislation, giving itself an unprecedented level of control at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

 

“’The Minister has been growing uneasy about the goings-at Hogwarts for some time,’ said junior Assistant to the Minister, Percy Weasley. ‘He’s now responding to concerns voiced by anxious parents, who feel the school may be moving in a direction they do not approve.’

“This is not the first time in recent weeks that the Minister, Cornelius Fudge, has used new laws to effect improvements at the wizarding school. As recently as August 30th , Educational Decree Number Twenty-two was passed, to ensure that ensure that, in the event of the current Headmaster being unable to provide a candidate for a teaching post, the Ministry should select an appropriate person. ‘That’s how Dolores Umbridge came to the teach staff at Hogwarts,’ said Weasley last night. ‘Dumbledore couldn’t find anyone so the Minister put in Umbrige and of course she’s been an immediate success-’”

 

“She’s been a WHAT?” Harry said rather loudly, earning an amused snort from Armand.

“Wait, there’s more,” Hermione said grimly.

 

“’ – an immediate success, totally revolutionizing the teaching of Defense Against the Dark Arts and providing the Minister with on-the-ground feedback about what’s really happening at Hogwarts.’”

“Oh that’s rubbish, as if they’ve ever been cept in the dark about what’s “really going on at Hogwarts”,” Armand exclaimed, earning a reproving look from McGonagall for his efforts, though he didn’t seem the least bit put out by it. Hermione nodded along in agreement.

“It is this last function that the Ministryhas now formalized with passing of Educational Decree Number Twenty-tree, which creates the new position of Hogwarts High Inquisitor.

“’This is an exciting new phase in the Minister’s plan to get to grips with what some are calling the falling standards at Hogwarts,’ said Weasley. ‘The Inquisitor will have powers to inspect her fellow educators and make sure that they are coming up to scratch. Professor Umbridge has been offered this position in addition to her own teaching post and we are delighted to say that she has accepted.’

 

“Oh I’m sure it was a real sacrifice for her,” Harry hear Emerson mumble and he couldn’t help grinning, though the grin quickly disappeared as he started worrying. With this new power granted to her, it was quite possible that Emerson and his brother could be suspended from Hogwarts for the threat Emerson had made to her. With any luck, Umbridge wouldn’t take him seriously and he and his brother would be allowed to stay. Harry wasn’t completely sure how he felt about that yet.

 

“The Ministry’s new moves have received enthusiastic support from parents of students at Hogwarts.

‘I feel much easier in my mind now that I know Dumbledore is being subjected to fair and objective evaluation,” said Lucius Malfoy, 41, speaking from his Wiltshire mansion last night.”

 

“It’s just like a Malfoy to be saying that,” Harry stated, glaring darkly at the Daily Prophet still clasped in Hermione’s hands.

 

“‘Many of us with our children’s best interests at heart have been concerned about some of Dumbledore’s eccentric decisions in the last few years and are glad to know that the Ministry is keeping an eye on the situation.’

“Among those eccentric decisions are undoubtedly the controversial staff appointments previously described in the newspaper, which have included the employment of werewolf Remus Lupin, half- giant Rubeus Hagrid and delusional ex-Auror, ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody.

“Rumors abound, of course, that Albus Dumbledore, once Supreme Mugwump of the international Confederation of Wizards and Chief Warlock of the Wizangamot, is no longer up to the task of managing the prestigious school of Hogwarts.

“‘I think the appointment of the Inquisitor is a first step towards ensuring that Hogwarts has a headmaster in whom we can all repose our confidence,’ said a Ministry insider last night.

“Wizengamot elders Griselda Marchbanks and Tiberius Ogden have resigned in protest at the introduction of the post of Inquisitor to Hogwarts.

“‘Hogwarts is a school, not an outpost of Cornelius Fudge’s office,’ said Madam Marchbanks.’This is a further disgusting attempt to discredit Albus Dumbledore.’

“(For a full account of Madam Marchbanks’s alleged links to subversive goblin groups, turn to page seventeen.)”

 

Hermione finished reading and looked across the table at the other two before her gaze shifted to Armand and Emerson who looked equal parts upset and frustrated.

“So now we know how we ended up with Umbridge! Fudge passed this Decree and forced her on us! And now he’s given her the power to inspect the other teachers!” Hermione was breathing fast and her eyes were very bright. “I can’t believe this. It’s outrageous!”

“I know it is,” Harry agreed, eyes automatically going to Armand’s hand, though he was glad to see that his hand appeared to have healed already. When he looked up again, Harry found a large grin making its way across Ron’s face.

“What?” Harry and Hermione asked at the same time, staring at their friend.

“Oh, I can’t wait to see McGonagall inspected,” Ron said happily. “Umbridge won’t know what hit her.” Harry found himself laughing along with Ron, Emerson and Armand at the image that thought offered.

“Well, come on,” said Hermione, jumping up, “we’d better get going, if she’s inspecting Binns’s class we don’t want to be late…”


 But Professor Umbridge was not inspecting their History of Magic lesson and neither was she present in Snape’s class. It was only after lunch, when they climbed into Trelawney’s attic that the toad finally did make an appearance.

“Good afternoon, Professor Trelawney,” said Professor Umbridge with her wide smile. “You received my note, I trust? Giving the time and date of your inspection?”

Professor Trelawney nodded curtly and looking very disgruntled, turned her back on Professor Umbridge and continued to give out books. Still smiling, Professor Umbridge grasped the back of the nearest armchair and pulled it to the front of the class so that it was a few inches behind Professor Trelawney’s seat. She then took her clipboard from her flowery bag and looked up expectantly, waiting for the class to begin.

Professor Trelawney pulled her shawls tighter about her with slightly trembling hands and surveyed the class through her hugely magnifying lenses.

She was quick to set everyone to their tasks of dream evaluation before deeming it necessary to walk about the room when she noticed that Umbridge was in a seat so near her own. Her distancing technique didn’t hold as Umbridge soon stood up and started trailing behind Professor Trelawney.

“No,” said Umbridge, looking up at Trelawney, “you’ve been in this post how long, exactly?”

Professor Trelawney scowled at her, arms crossed and shoulders hunched as though wishing to protect herself as much as possible from the indignity of the inspection. After a slight pause she seemed to realize that the question wasn’t truly offensive and answered in a resentful tone, “Nearly sixteen years.”

“Quite a period,” Professor Umbridge remarked, making a note on her clipboard. “So it was Professor Dumbledore who appointed you?”

“That’s right,” Professor Trelawney said shortly.

Professor Umbridge made another note. “And you are a great-great-granddaughter of the celebrated Seer Cassandra Trelawney?”

“Yes,” Professor Trelawney confirmed, holding her head a little higher.

Another note on the clipboard, Harry was starting to get sick of all these notes.

“But I think – correct me if I am mistaken – that you are the first in your family since Cassandra to be possessed of Second Sight.”

“These things often skip, err, three generations,” Professor Trelawney explained, though she didn’t seem to sure herself.

Professor Umbridge’s toadlike smile widened.

“Of course,” she said sweetly, pen meeting her clipboard once more. “Well, if you could just predict something for me then?” And she looked up inquiringly, still smiling. Harry was really starting to hate that smile.

Professor Trelawney stiffened, as though unable to believe her ears. “I don’t understand you,” she said, clutching convulsively at the shawl around her scrawny neck.

“I’d like you to make a prediction for me,” Professor Umbridge said in a manner that left no doubt as to what she was asking Professor Trelawney to do. Harry and Ron were not the only people now watching and listening sneakily from behind their books and Lavender and Parvati had gone as far as to completely abandon their work in favor of watching the two Professors.

Probably aware of the attention she was receiving, Professor Trelawney drew herself up to her full height, making her beads and bangles clink.

“The Inner Eye does not see upon command!” she said in a scandalized tone.

“I see,” Professor Umbridge said softly, though somehow it sounded even more deadly and everyone watched with bated breath as she noted that down too.

“I-but-but…wait!” said Professor Trelawney suddenly in an attempt at her usual ethereal voice, though the mystical effect was ruined somewhat by the way it was shaking with anger. “I…I think I do see something…something that concerns you… why, I sense something… something dark… some grave peril…”

Harry resisted cringing that what now appeared to be, Trelawney, floundering.

Professor Trelawney pointed a shaking finger at Professor Umbridge who continued to smile blandly at her, eyebrows raised.

“I am afraid… I am afraid that you are in grave danger!” Professor Trelawney finished dramatically.

There was a pause. Professor Umbridge surveyed Professor Trelawney.

“Right,” she said softly, scribbling on her clipboard once more. “Well, if that’s really the best you can do…”

She turned away, leaving Professor Trelawney standing rooted to the spot, her chest heaving.


 “It’s the biggest bunch of twaddle I’ve ever heard, no wonder Professor Umbridge reacted that way!” Hermione said at supper that night after Harry and Ron explained everything to her. Though Harry knew both he and Ron agreed with Hermione’s opinions that Professor Trelawney was a fraud, he didn’t dislike her enough to side with Umbridge. However, before Harry could say anything, Emerson, who for once was without his brother, spoke up.

“No… no, it’s not,” he stated and Harry felt his eyes widening at the amount of sadness, captured in those four words.

It was clear that Harry wasn’t the only one who heard it, judging by Ron and Hermione’s expressions.

“Just because there are branches of magic that you don’t understand, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist,” Emerson said and Harry watched as Hermione’s jaw tightened.

Hermione hated being told that she didn’t know something.

There was a long pause and Harry feared that Hermione would use it to start ranting, but Emerson interrupted once again. Face emotionless, he looked at Hermione as he spoke up. "I don’t mean to be harsh, but a friend of mine was a seer against her will and it ruined her life, it wasn’t something she could control,” was all he said before standing up and leaving the Great Hall.

“What the bloody hell was that all about!” Ron exclaimed, looking utterly baffled and stunned.

Harry simply shook his head, the two brothers were as confusing and frustratingly unpredictable as ever. It seemed the trio already had a mystery on their hands, and it was only the second week.

Chapter Text

Arthur and Merlin knelt down in front of the last glowing embers in the common room fire. 

 It had taken a while for the common room to empty out, but they were finally alone and Arthur watched as Merlin held his hands slightly in front of him while reciting a spell.

 “Forþbringan æt se lig þæt ær forleosan” Merlin murmured and Arthur stared as ember like images of everything that had burned in the fire that day, appeared in front of them, drifting in mid air.

It set Arthur’s mind back to the battle in Camlann and the long trek to the lake of Avalon. It had been one of the worst and best days of his life; the realization that Merlin had magic had destroyed him at first, but he’d also finally seen the wonders that magic could accomplish.  

 And now, more than a thousand years later, magic had dwindled, some of its craft lying forgotten, kept alive only through the continued existence of both Arthur and Merlin. Shaking off the despairing thoughts, Arthur turned his attention back to Merlin and the ember like objects that had by now taken on a more solid form. Not wasting any more time, Merlin reached out and gathering up the torn pieces of paper that had once been a letter.

With a quick, “Niwian,” the letter was whole again and Arthur and Merlin settled into a sofa to start reading.

 “You know, there is such a thing as privacy, Me-Emerson,” Arthur began but quickly switched names at the look he received from Merlin. Arthur had almost let Merlin’s real name slip while they’d been with Ron, Hermione and Harry earlier that day, which of course, had set Merlin on red alert. Since then Merlin had been quite firm that there would be no further mention of their real names while they were at Hogwarts. Ron, Hermione and Harry had an apparently well-known reputation for getting into trouble because of their curiosity and it wouldn’t do for the three to find out about Arthur and Merlin’s true identities.

 “You know as well as I do that we need to stay informed about what’s going on around here and if this is the only way…” Merlin trailed off, looking serious yet upset about what they had to do.

 So, sighing in defeat, Arthur took the letter from his husband and started reading. 

 

 Dear Ron,

 I have only just heard (from no less a person than the Minister of Magic himself, who has it from your new teacher, Professor Umbridge) that you have become a Hogwarts prefect.

 I was most pleasantly surprised when I heard this news and must firstly offer my congratulations. I must admit that I have always been afraid that you would take what we might call the ‘Fred and George’ route, rather than following in my footsteps, so you can imagine my feelings on hearing you have stopped flouting authority and have decided to shoulder some real responsibility.

 But I want to give you more than congratulations, Ron, I want to give you some advice, which is why I am sending this at night rather than by the usual morning post. Hopefully, you will be able to read this away from prying eyes and avoid awkward questions.

 From something the Minister let slip when telling me you are now a prefect, I gathered that you are still seeing a lot of Harry Potter. I must tell you, Ron, that nothing could put you in danger of losing your badge more than continued fraternization with that boy. Yes, I am sure you are surprised to hear this – no doubt you will say that Potter has always been Dumbledore’s favorite – but I feel bound to tell you that Dumbledore may not be in charge at Hogwarts much longer and the people who count have a very different and probably more accurate – view of Potter’s behavior. I shall say no more here, but if you look at the Daily Prophet tomorrow you will get a good idea of the way the wind is blowing – and see if you can spot yours truly!

Seriously, Ron, you do not want to be tarred with the same brush as Potter, it could be very damaging to your future prospects, and I am talking here about life after school, too. As you must be aware, given that our father escorted him to court, Potter had a disciplinary hearing this summer in front of the whol e  W izengamot and he did not come out of it looking to good. He got off on a mere technicality, if you ask me, and many of the people I’ve spoken to remain convinced of his guilt.

 It may be that you are afraid of to severe ties with Potter – I know that he can be unbalanced and, for all I know, violent – but if you have worries about this, or have spotted anything else in Potter’s behavior that is troubling you, I urge you to speak to Dolores Umbridge, a truly delightful woman who I know will be only too happy to advise you.

 This leads me to my other bit of advice. As I have hinted above, Dumbledore’s regime at Hogwarts may soon be over. Your loyalty Ron, should be not to him, but to the school and the Ministry. I am very sorry to hear that, so far, Professor Umbridge is encountering very little cooperation from staff as she strives to make those necessary changes within Hogwarts that the Ministry so ardently desires (although she should find this easier from next week – again see the Daily Prophet tomorrow!) I shall say only this – a student who shows himself willing to help Professor Umbridge now may be very well placed for Head Boyship in a couple of years!

 I am sorry that I was unable to see more of you over the summer. It pains me to criticize our parents, but I am afraid that I can no longer live under their roof while they remain mixed up with the dangerous crowd around Dumbledore. (If you are writing to Mother at any point, you might tell her tell her that a certain Sturgis Podmore, who is a great friend of Dumbledore’s, has recently been sent to Azkaban for trespass at the Ministry. Perhaps that will open their eyes to the kind of petty criminals with whom they are currently rubbing shoulders) I count myself very lucky to have escaped the stigma of association with such people – the Minister really could not be more gracious to me – and I do hope, Ron, that you will not allow family ties to blind you to the misguided nature of our parents’ beliefs and actions, either. I sincerely hope that, hope that, in time, they will realize how mistaken they were and I shall, of course, be ready to accept a full apology when that day comes.

 Please think over what I have said most carefully, particularly the bit about Harry Potter, and congratulations again on becoming prefect.

 Your brother,

 Percy

 

 Arthur finished reading and looked up at Merlin. "See, I told you something like this would happen!" Arthur exclaimed, hands rubbing over his mouth for a second before moving up and combing through his hair in a show of frustration. 

 Two days into Cornelius Fudge’s reign as the Minister of Magic, Arthur had warned Merlin that he was too paranoid and that he would make a terrible Minister, but unfortunately, nothing could be done about him.

 "You know, just when you think you know everything that they can come up with, they go ahead and do something like this," Arthur said, getting up and pacing in his anger, his arms moving around wildly.

 When Arthur looked over at Merlin in search of sympathy, he instead found Merlin rolling his eyes at him, causing Arthur to clench his teeth in annoyance while forcing himself to calm down a bit.

 He knew why Merlin was smiling and he didn't like it one bit, he and Merlin were long past the point where they would still be naive enough to underestimate their enemies.

 “Looks like we’ll have to keep an extra eye on Umbridge, I destroyed all the Blood Quills in her office, but there’s nothing stopping her from getting more from the Department of Mysteries, and from what the letter says, it appears that Fudge is turning a blind eye,” Merlin said, eyebrows furrowed and lips pressed together as he considered the situation.

 “Please, Emerson, he’s probably the one who orchestrated the entire thing. You and I both know how paranoid he’s gotten about Dumbledore and his allies, he's afraid Dumbledore will trying and fight him for his position as the Minister,” Arthur snorted, glaring back down at the note that now lay on the table. “The best we can do is look out for the article Ron’s brother mentioned and try and prevent too much damage without drawing attention to ourselves in the process,” Arthur continued, giving Merlin a pointed look as he thought of everything that had happened this week.

 “Fine, fine,” Merlin said, hands thrown up in surrender. “I’ll leave it alone,” the ‘for now’ went unsaid since Arthur and Merlin both knew that Merlin wasn't the type who could leave anything alone.

 Not having the energy to continue this conversation now Arthur stood up and headed to bed. There was the sound of paper being thrown back into the fire and Arthur knew Merlin would soon be following behind him.  


   With a copy of the Daily Prophet spread out before them the next morning, Arthur listened as Hermione read the article aloud, his dread growing with every word.

 It turned out that the Ministry truly was as screwed up as Arthur had first feared and though this certainly wasn’t the first time that he’d come to this realization, it astounded him that they could act anymore ridiculous.

 So, mood dark, Arthur and Merlin headed off to class and Arthur could already see the gears in Merlin’s head turning along with his own. How on earth were they going to fix this whole mess.

 Unfortunately it seemed the day was doomed to be difficult since they had Umbridge for their last class and things were not looking up.

 As if to confirm Arthur's suspicions Umbridge was humming and smiling to herself when they entered the room which could mean nothing good for everyone else at Hogwarts. Arthur andMerlin shared a grimace before taking their seats. They’d barely taken out their copies of Defensive Magical Theory before the class was called to order and silence descended except for Umbridge talking.

 “Wands away,” she instructed and those hopeful enough to have taken them out, were sorely disappointed. “As we finished Chapter One last lesson, I would like you all to turn to page nineteen today and commence ‘Chapter Two, Common Defensive Theories and their Derivation’. There will be no need to talk.” Then, still looking to self-satisfied for Arthur’s liking, she sat down at her desk and ignored the audible sigh that went around the room as everyone turned to page nineteen.

 “What is it this time, Miss Granger?” Came Umbridge’s voice a few minute into the lesson and it took Arthur a moment to understand what was going on.

 It seemed, Hermione had put her hand up once more and Umbridge was now determined to face her, whether it was because of her good mood or not, Arthur didn’t know.

 “I’ve already read Chapter Two,” Hermione explained.

 “Well then, proceed to Chapter Three,” Arthur raised an eyebrow, unimpressed by Umbridge’s teaching methods and it seemed he wasn’t the only one.

 “I’ve read that too. I’ve read the whole book.”

 Umbridge seemed to lose her poise for only a second before recovering.

 “Well, then you should be able to tell me what Slinkhard says about counter jinxes in Chapter Fifteen,” Umbridge tested and Arthur looked on in interest, curious to see if Hermione would really be able to quote him.

 “He says that counter-jinxes are improperly named,” Hermione answered quickly. “He says - ‘jinx’ is just a name people give their jinxes when they want to make them sound more acceptable.”

 Professor Umbridge raised her eyebrow looking torn between being impressed and wanting to maintain her cold demeanor.

 “But I disagree,” Hermione continued without hesitation and at that Umbridge’s eyebrows rose a little higher and her gaze turning into ice that clearly would not be melted again.

 “You disagree?” she repeated.

 “Yes, I do,” Hermione said, voice echoing around the class room and drawing all the students’ attention in the process. “Mr. Slinkhard doesn’t like jinxes, does he? But, I think they can be very useful when they’re used defensively.”

 “Oh, you do, do you?” Professor Umbridge said, straightening up in clear indignation at the author’s, and indirectly her, opinion being called into question once more. “Well, I’m afraid it is Mr. Slinkhard’s opinion, and not yours, that matters within this classroom, Miss Granger.”

 “But-” Hermione began and Arthur felt himself frown. It didn’t really seem in Hermione’s character for her to be questioning Umbridge so outright and Arthur feared that she would soon take her enquiring too far. 

 “That’s enough,” Professor Umbridge hissed, stomping back to the front of the class and turning to face everyone. Her cheery disposition from the beginning of the class had all but evaporated and she was now glaring. “Miss Granger, I am going to take five points from Gryffindor house.”

 There was an outbreak of muttering at this statement and Arthur automatically looked over to Merlin to gauge his reaction.

 Arthur watched as his husband’s jaw clenched and his eyes narrowed.

 “What for?” Harry suddenly objected, the anger clear in his voice.

 “Don’t you get involved!” Hermione whispered urgently to him and Arthur found himself wondering if the entire golden trio wanted to get on Umbridge’s bad side. It certainly seemed that way.

 “For disrupting my class with pointless interruptions,” said Professor Umbridge smoothly, ignoring Hermione's whisper to Harry.  Arthur felt his frown deepen, that was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard and surprisingly no one seemed to be objecting to it, well, not yet anyway.

 “I’m here to teach you using a Ministry-approved method that does not include inviting students to give their opinions on matters about which they understand very little. Your previous teachers in this subject may have allowed you more license, but as none of them – with the possible exception of Professor Quirrell, who did at least appear to have restricted himself to age appropriate subjects – would have passed a Ministry inspection -”

 Arthur grimaced, it seemed Umbridge was intent on luring someone into detention today, and he couldn’t quite figure out why.

 “Yeah, Quirrell was a great teacher,” Harry’s voice rang out rather loudly, “there was just that minor drawback of him having Lord Voldemort sticking out of the back of his head.” At his announcement, the class seemed flinch before descend into a deadly silence that shatterd once again at the sound of Umbridge’s voice.

 “I think a week’s detentions would do you some good, Mr. Potter,” Umbridge said, her voice a sweet poison.

 Thankfully Harry and Hermione stayed quite after that and class resumed with tension floating thick in the air.  Arthur for his part spent the rest of the period coming up with the perfect murder for Delores Umbridge. 


  Arthur and Merlin were sitting in a corner of the common room when Harry finally came back from his detention with Umbridge, though Arthur didn’t notice it immediately, being to absorbed in his work. Merlin on the other hand, seemed to have been waiting for it and stood up almost immediately.

 "Emerson?" Arthur questioned feeling confused before standing up and following behind Merlin.

 "You really should tell Dumbledore, Harry," Hermione was saying as he and Merlin approached the other three Gryffindors.

 "And how long do you reckon it'd take Umbridge to pass another decree saying that anyone who complains about the High Inquisitor is to be investigated immediately?" Harry said, arms crossed in a defensive position.

 Hermione frowned but didn't argue.

 "But I thought you destroyed all the Quills," Ron said suddenly, addressing Merlin and Hermione and Harry looked up, only now seeming to realize that Arthur and Merlin were there.

 Suddenly Umbridge's eagerness to put someone in detention, made sense and Arthur found himself scowling.

 "Yes, um... right. Except..." Merlin trailed off the same way he always did when he was about to say something that would make Arthur or Gaius angry.

 "Except she seemed to have no trouble going back to the Ministry for more," Arthur interrupted matter of factly.

 "But all Blood Quills were sought out and destroyed in 1861 when the Ministry realized that making them illegal wasn't stopping anyone from using them!" Hermione objected and Arthur felt his eyebrow shoot up but he didn't answer her.

 "Well, unfortunately they never really do what they're supposed to," Merlin sighed suddenly sounding tired as he ran a hand through his hair.

 Hermione blinked, seemingly slightly taken aback by the news before she shook her head and recovered her composure.

 Arthur cursed silently, they hadn't really planned for this in their cover story and they couldn't really afford the Golden Trio asking questions.

 Fortunately, Arthur was saved from coming up with a lie when Merlin spoke up.

 "Do you think we'll get to see an inspection tomorrow?" He asked and Arthur couldn't help feeling thrown, he didn't really know where Merlin was going with his questions, yet he was quite eager for the  change in subject.

 "We already had our first inspection, remember?" Ron spoke up, eyes briefly flickering towards Merlin before he turned his gaze on Harry. Harry nodded in agreement.

 "Why do you ask?" Hermione questioned.

 "I have some things I have to ask Umbridge and we don't have her class tomorrow," Merlin answered, his voice to light for Arthur's liking. "Well, I guess I'll be going then," Merlin added before standing up and heading towards their room.

 "What the bloody hell was that all about? Ow!" Ron exclaimed the last part as Hermione hit him in the shoulder. Arthur's eyebrow shot up at Ron's bluntness and there was a moment's silence before Arthur spoke up.

 "I have no idea," and he was telling the truth, he would find out what was going on tomorrow, for now he would just make sure Merlin was okay. 


  The next day started with Charms which gave Arthur the opportunity to interrogate Merlin. And Arthur quickly came to the realization that Merlin had more than a talk in mind when it came to Umbridge.

 "You can't risk her drawing attention to us," Arthur tried to reason as he cast the concealment charm that they were set to practice for the remainder of the period.
 "Armand, you know as well as I do that no one'll be able to pin it on us, the spell isn't anything the Ministry can identify and it's modern day equal is far to advanced for even seventh years to cast , only the specially qualified Aurors are taught the spell and there are no special tasked Aurors anywhere in Hogwarts, are there?" Merlin reasoned, a grin on his face and a mischievous look in his eyes. 

 "Emerson she already saw you setting the Blood Quills on fire, I don't think she's going to care whether or not you’re "old" enough to cast that spell!" Arthur pointed out, feeling his frustration starting to grow.

 "But they won't be able to trace the spell back to me so she won’t be able to prove anything. Especially considering it would be to elaborate for any modern day wizard to perform. They’ll probably just blame it on Hogwarts itself being protective of its students. In any case Umbridge won't be able to complain because then she'll have to admit that she's doing something illegal," Merlin added clearly struggling to keep his voice down as he grew more passionate. "Please Arthur, this school is as much under my protection as you are," Merlin begged eyes large and expression wounded as he stared at Arthur.

 Arthur paused, caught between being angry at Merlin and sighing in resignation. Merlin always had to big a heart, always trying to save everyone, though Arthur sometimes feared that Merlin did it out of guilt for having lived, when everyone else in Camelot had long gone. It was a guilt he himself bore.

 "Fine, but we'll have to use the Room of Requirements, we don't want anyone to see you making a fool of yourself," Arthur finally consented trying to make light of the situation while ruffling Merlin's hair to show he was teasing.

The first time Merlin had shown Arthur the Room of Requirements, back when the castle had been newly built, Arthur had thought it was brilliant and that it portrayed Merlin's character quite perfectly. Of course Merlin would want to build a room that would help those in need.

 "Right, and I thought of a better way for it to be found when needed," Merlin said, a grin spreading across his face. True, Arthur knew that Merlin hadn't been satisfied with the initial concealment and reveal spell placed on the room but couldn't help rolling his eyes at Merlin's enthusiasm. Still, he felt the need to remind him.

 "You just can't resist, can you," Arthur stated, with a roll of his eyes. Merlin simply beamed in reply before turning his focus to his work once more.


  It seemed luck was on Merlin’s side since they spotted Umbridge the moment they stepped into Transfiguration. She had a clipboard in hand and was sitting in a corner.

 Professor McGonagall followed them shortly, marching into the room while at the same time completely ignoring Umbridge's existence.

 "That will do," Professor McGonagall said and anyone who had been talking fell silent immediately. "Mr Finnigan, kindly come here and hand back the homework - Miss Brown, please take this box of mice - don't be silly, girl, they won't hurt you - and hand one to each student -" Professor McGonagall started giving out orders, only to be interrupted by a familiar, "Hem, hem," as Umbridge cleared her throat.

 Professor McGonagall simply continued ignoring her and Arthur couldn't help finding McGonagall's attitude amusing. 

 "Right then, everyone, listen closely - Dean Thomas if you do that to the mouse again I shall put you in detention - most of you have now successfully Vanished your snails and even those who were left with a certain amount of shell have got the gist of the spell. Today, we shall be -"

 "Hem, hem," came Umbridge's cough again.

 "Yes?" Professor McGonagall said, looking quite severe as she turned around to stare at Umbridge.

 "I was just wondering, Professor, whether you received my note telling you of the date and time of your inspec-"

 "Obviously I received it, or I would have asked you what you were doing in my classroom," Professor McGonagall stated before turning her back on Umbridge, clearly signalling the end of the discussion. Arthur couldn't suppress a smirk and wasn't surprised to see Merlin mirroring it. "As I was saying: today, we shall be practicing the altogether more difficult Vanishment of mice. Now, the Vanishing Spell -"

 It seemed Umbridge could not take a hint and Arthur ground his teeth together as the "Hem, hem," echoed into the classroom for a third time.

 "I wonder," Professor McGonagall began, voice cold and gaze hard as she turned towards Umbridge once more, "how you expect to gain an idea of my usual teaching methods if you continue to interrupt me? You see, I do not generally permit people to talk when I'm talking."

 Arthur couldn't help feeling smug at the dumbfounded look Umbridge now wore. Still looking quite unbalanced, she straightened the parchment on her clipboard and started writing furiously. Professor McGonagall on the other hand, appeared completely indifferent as she addressed the class once more.

 "As I was saying; the Vanishing spell becomes more difficult with the complexity of the animal to be Vanished. The snail, as an invertebrate, does not present much of a challenge; the mouse, as a mammal, offers a much greater one. This is not therefore, magic you can accomplish with your mind on your dinner. So - you know the incantation; let me see what you can do..." Professor McGonagall trailed of as she began walking around the class, surveying everyone as she went. Arthur looked down at his own mouse, which was sniffing around his hand, appearing rather relaxed in his grasp, or maybe it had already given up hope.

 Sighing, Arthur pulled out his wand and with a whisper of "Evanesco," and with an indignant squeak from the mouse, it disappeared from Arthur's hand. 

 Looking over at Merlin, Arthur couldn't help snorting, Merlin was looking quite sadly at the mouse that he knew he would have to Vanish.

 "Emerson, Vanish the thing already, we don't need you making friends with it!" Arthur hissed though it seemed he'd done it too loudly for Professor McGonagall spun around and regarded Arthur with a harsh look.

 "Is there something you would like to share with the class?" Professor McGonagall questioned and Arthur felt his cheeks heating up slightly.

 "No, ma'am," Arthur answered seriously, resisting the urge to salute her.

 "Well then I suggest you focus on the work I just gave you," Professor McGonagall instructed about to turn and continue her route around the class room.

 "I've already managed it, Professor," Arthur felt the need to inform her. Professor McGonagall looked taken aback for a moment before recovering her composure again but Arthur could see her eye softening just a bit. "Well I'm glad to hear it but in the future please remember that I do not permit talking in my classroom, even when you've completed the assignment," Professor McGonagall informed him before turning and continuing around the classroom. Releasing a breath he didn't know he had been holding, Arthur leaned back into his chair and decided to read ahead for the remainder of the period. Still he heard the whispered, “Sælan!” as Merlin cast the first part of the spell, successfully making Umbridge the anchor of the enchantment.


 It seemed they couldn't get rid of Umbridge, since, he and Merlin approached Care of Magical Creature's to find Umbridge already standing there with her clipboard in hand. Standing next to her was a decidedly nervous looking Rubeus Hagrid and though Arthur had only had three classes with the half-giant, he already liked him and felt sorry the man was being put in such a position.  

“So, you’re Hagrid, are you?” Umbridge questioned and Arthur frowned at the clear show of disrespect towards him. She hadn’t had a problem calling Professor McGonagall, professor, but maybe she’d let her disrespect show because she thought no one besides Professor Hagrid could hear her.  Judging by the look on Harry’s face as he and his friends stood close by, that wasn’t the case at all.

 “Well, I hope you received my letter stating the time, date and terms of the inspection,” Umbridge said with clear disdain as she scrutinized Professor Hagrid with clear disdain.

 “Yes, I di’,” Professor Hagrid confirmed, still looking anxious.

 “Well then, let’s get started,” Umbridge stated before turning away from Professor Hagrid just as the last few students wondered down from the castle.

Umbridge seemed to have different inspection methods for each class since she went around questioning all the students as Professor Hagrid continued with the lesson on Bowtruckles.

The inquiring seemed to go well for most of the class, until Umbridge decided to question a rather large boy whose name Arthur thought was either Crabbe or Goyle.

 “Now, I hear there have been injuries in this class?”

 The guy grinned in response but he wasn’t the one who answered.

“That was me,” Malfoy spoke up. “I was slashed by a Hippogriff,” he elaborated.

“A Hippogriff?” Umbridge asked, clearly keen to hear the dirt that Malfoy was about to give her.

“Then he must’ve been provoked. You see, unlike their relative, the Griffin, Hippogriffs are known for their intelligence and respect,” Merlin’s voice cut of whatever Malfoy was about to say and Arthur didn’t miss the look of disgust that crossed Umbridge’s face as everyone’s attention turned towards Merlin.

Arthur cursed, usually Merlin was a lot better at going unnoticed but it seemed he’d thrown caution to the wind. Even when one took into consideration that Merlin really wanted to help Malfoy, Arthur couldn’t quite fathom how Merlin was planning to do that by getting on his bad side.  

“Now Mr Pendragon, it’s rude to interrupt your classmate while he’s speaking,” Umbridge admonished obviously trying to stay composed.

 “But he’s telling the truth Professor,” Arthur was quite surprised to hear Hermione agreeing with Merlin. “They were used as transport in the 1500’s because they were so easy to train and could offer transport on both land and in the air,” Hermione explained. Arthur wasn’t listening, his attention instead focused on Merlin who was watching Malfoy with an intense look on his face that always got Arthur to agree to anything.

It seemed it had the same effect on Malfoy who spoke up once more, looking extremely guilty. “It was partly my fault,” Malfoy admitted and there was a moment of silence before the other Slytherins started shouting in outrage while the Gryffindors stared, stunned.

Malfoy himself was looking horrified, as if he couldn’t believe what he’d just admitted to.

“That’s enoug’ now, everyo’e no’w qui’e down,” Professor Hagrid chided, his gruff voice breaking through all the chaos.

“Thank you,” Umbridge told Professor Hagrid grudgingly before turning her gaze back on Merlin. “Now, I’ll see both you and Miss Granger in my classroom for detention this evening with Mr Potter,” Umbridge added, receiving a shocked look from Hermione who Arthur guessed never had a detention before in her life.

 With that, Umbridge turned around and continued with her inspection.

There was movement out of the corner of Arthur’s eye and when he looked over, he saw that Malfoy had left, running up the steps leading to the castle as if Death was on his tail. “I think you scared him,” Arthur murmured to Merlin who looked disappointed as he watched Malfoy go.

“I didn’t mean to.”

“Alright then, go after him, you know you won’t leave me at peace otherwise. Besides, it’s not like you don’t know everything there is to know about Magical Creatures, already,” Arthur said in his best superior voice, not looking at Merlin as he spoke. “I’ll wait for you in the Room of Requirements when you’ve finished, then we can at least get this whole thing over and done with,” he continued to whisper and Merlin nodded in understanding before twisting and leaving the same way Malfoy had.


 “What happened?” Arthur asked, the moment Merlin joined him in the Room of Requirements. As soon as the query left his lips a Pensieve appeared in front of them and Arthur waited in silence as Merlin drew forth the memories of that afternoon.

The white mist of thought, swirled in the stone basin until it morphed into a solid picture. Arthur looked towards Merlin for permission before diving in.

The corridor he landed in was deserted due to classes still being on, and he spun around upon hearing footsteps heading his way.

Sure enough, Malfoy rounded the corner with Merlin short on his heels.

“Malfoy stop!” Merlin called as he himself came to a stop. Hearing him, Malfoy whirled around, sneering in rage.

“Who do you think you are, telling me what to do?!” Malfoy yelled, fury clear in his voice.

“I’m trying to be your friend,” Merlin replied and Malfoy looked taken aback, clearly shocked by what he’d just hear.

“I don’t have any friends,” Malfoy spat recovering, causing Merlin’s brow to furrow.

“Well you do now,” Merlin insisted stubbornly.

There was a moment of silence as Malfoy seemed to consider this.

“What do you care if I have friends or not?” Malfoy finally asked, eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“Everyone needs friends, Draco, and I want to help,” Merlin said patiently.

“But you’re a Gryffindor,” Malfoy hissed in obvious frustration.

“So?” Merlin asked, clearly waiting for Malfoy to elaborate on that point. When it became clear that he would not, Merlin continued. “I’m not on either Dumbledore or your father side, and I want to help you, isn’t that enough?” Merlin inquired with wide innocent looking eyes.

“Nobody can help me,” Malfoy sounded bitter as his gaze lowered to the ground.

“Yes, I can!” Merlin exclaimed, throwing his hands up, aggravated.

“I have to go,” Malfoy said rather abruptly, though he suddenly appeared to be less sure of himself.

“Okay, I’ll see you around, Draco,” Merlin agreed, grinning brilliantly before turning and heading in the direction of the stairs. “He’s just a little bit misguided,” the real Merlin said, now standing next to Arthur.

Arthur grimaced but didn’t disagree, instead pulling out of the Pensieve.

“Well, it seems you’re getting through to him,” Arthur said, clearing his throat in discomfort, even knowing that Merlin loved him, he couldn’t help feeling slight sting of jealousy at suddenly having to share Merlin’s attention with a teen.

“Yeah, definitely,” Merlin grinned. The grin turned soft as their eyes met and he stepped closer, allowing Arthur to wrap his arms around Merlin’s waist. “You ready to catch me?” Merlin asked, eyes alive with mischief.

“It would seem so,” Arthur agreed with a self-satisfied smirk.  

“Bord eal innan min helm, æt Dolores Jane Umbridge,” Merlin chanted, eyes flashing gold. Magic rippled through the air and sparks shot up into the air before exploding into perfect arches each spark leaving the room as it search for a person to protect. Arthur knew that, within a few seconds everyone in the castle would have a spark shielding them. Well, everyone besides Umbridge, that is.

He was pulled from his thoughts when Merlin suddenly sagged against him, body tired and magic drained after undertaking such a demanding spell.

“What’s that buzzing noise?” Merlin mumbled and Arthur struggled to decide whether to be amused or upset.

“You know of course that I won’t be allowing you to do anymore spells today,” Arthur told Merlin, voice determined. Merlin’s only response was to moan in exhaustion.

Chapter Text

“I trust you know what to do?” Professor Umbridge said later that day when the three Gryffindors entered the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom for detention.

Emerson shot them a grim smile as he settled into his seat, and Harry couldn’t help returning it. Still the determination Emerson showed as he picked up his Blood Quill, surprised Harry.

 “Since it’s clear that this school struggled to tell the truth, both of you will be joining Mr Potter in writing out, ‘I must not tell lies’ until I can be sure that it has sunk in.” Professor Umbridge’s eyes stayed on Harry through her entire speech, as if she was waiting for his reaction. Harry clenched his hands but gave no other indication of his anger; he would not give her the satisfaction of knowing that she’d gotten to him. “Well, what are you waiting for? Back to work,” Professor Umbridge said when it became clear that she would get no further reaction out of Harry.

 Steeling his nerves, Harry started writing, only to be surprised when the page remained blank and his skin remained unblemished. Harry tried again feeling confused when he received the same result. He had almost no time to continue speculating as the entire castle started to rumble and shake, causing the shrieks of alarmed students to echo through the halls of the school. There were a few moments of silence as the rumble receded and Harry, Emerson and Hermione paused, waiting for something to happen.

 Nothing did.

 When Harry glanced at them, even Hermione seemed stumped about what had just happened, Harry found this to be strangely reassuring.  

 “Well?” Professor Umbridge’s annoying voice rang through the classroom, clearly not pleased that they had been distracted from punishing themselves, though Harry’s Blood Quill didn’t seem to be working. Not that he was complaining.

 Harry debated telling Professor Umbridge, knowing he would get in trouble if he didn’t. Still, it couldn’t hurt to give this quill a few more tries, considering he didn’t really want to face the wrath the professor would bestow on him once he told her. Starting again, Harry scribbled furiously on his parchment, fearing the torture his hand would receive the moment the quill started working again, but it never did.

 The castle shook for a second time making Harry drop his quill and look up, expecting Professor Umbridge to explain away this strange event. She only glared at him before her eyes flitted to his blank parchment. Professor Umbridge’s face contorted in rage, making her look like Harry’s aunt Marge when she’d blown up. Yet whatever Professor Umbridge had been about to yell at him was cut off as the amplified voice of Albus Dumbledore rang through the school.

 “ALL STUNDENTS PLEASE LEAVE ALL YOUR POSSESIONS AND EXIT THE SCHOOL IN AN ORDERLY FASHION. ALL TEACHERS, ACCOMPANY THE STUDENTS OUTSIDE TO THE GROUNDS IN FRONT OF THE BLACK LAKE.”

 Harry gaped for a moment before looking to Professor Umbridge who was gritting her teeth. Still she gave a stiff nod of consent before standing up and prancing out of the classroom.

 The three Gryffindors quickly stood up, exchanging looks as they headed for the door.

 “That’s a bit strange, isn’t it?” Emerson questioned as they hurried to one of the staircases leading to the entrance hall.

 Harry and Hermione nodded.

 “What do you think’s happening?” Harry directed this question towards Hermione.

 “Don’t know, nothing like this has ever happened before,” Hermione looked tight lipped as she said this, obviously not pleased about not knowing what was going on. Harry himself was feeling quite worried at the alarm that he’d heard in Professor Dumbledore’s voice while he’d been making his announcement. Whatever they were experiencing, it had caught even Professor Dumbledore off guard.

 As they neared the Entrance Hall, the groups of people in front of them thickened to become an entire crowd, all of whom were blocking the way to the exit. The air was filled with the murmured opinions of the other students some of whom seemed to be craning their necks looking at something Harry couldn’t see.

 “What’s going on?”

 “Didn’t Professor McGonagall say anything about the tremors?”

 “No, she looked pretty shaken when she came to get us in the common room.”

 “My guess is they don’t know any more than we do.”

 “Whose handwriting do you think it is?”

 “Never mind that, what do you think it means?” Came people’s whispered opinions from all around Harry and he struggled to make sense of them as he to tried to find out what everyone was looking at.

 “Quiet you imbeciles, and move it along or I will deduct points from every single one of your houses. Move, Mr Potter,” Severus Snape’s voice was heard above the crowd as he approached the Entrance Hall. Harry grated his teeth, why did Snape have to notice Harry out of everyone else? Still, Harry had to admit that Snape’s presence worked wonders. Everyone seemed to move away as he strode by, the crowd parting as if he were Voldemort himself.

 Harry’s thoughts were interrupted as he froze, finally laying eyes on the reason why everyone was so worked up. Etched into the large doors of the Entrance Hall repeatedly, and in three different handwritings, were the words: ‘I must not tell lies’. Harry heard a gasp next to him as Hermione took in the sight as well.

 “Come on mate, best do what Snape says!” Ron voice came from beside him, startling Harry out of his shock. Feeling slightly numb, Harry allowed Ron to pull him outside. How could he, Hermione and what he guessed must be Emerson’s handwritten words, possibly have found their way etched into the wooden doors, it didn’t make sense… and if that was the reason why the castle had started rumbling, then Harry couldn’t help feeling a worried.

 “Wa’s the matter with him?” Harry faintly heard Ron asking Hermione who Harry guessed was just as shocked as he was. So he was surprised when she actually responded.

 “Honestly Ron, can’t you read!?” Hermione exclaimed, annoyed.

 “Of course I can! It said “I must not tell lies’,” came Ron’s indignant reply. Finally, Harry looked over at his two friends, just in time to see Hermione give Ron an expectant yet over exaggerated look.

 “Professor Umbridge had us write out the sentence with her Blood Quills, that was our handwriting back there,” Harry explained as he showed Ron his uninjured hand. Ron’s brow furrowed as he gave his friends a confused look.

 “But… how? Do you recon Professor Umbridge had something to do with it?” Ron questioned, obviously not sure what to make of the newest revelation. Harry thinned his lips as he shook his head, as much as he’d like to blame her, Professor Umbridge had seemed as surprised as they were when the castle had started shaking.

 “I doubt she’d be able to pull something like that off, as far as I know, only extremely well trained Aurors are supposed to be able to perform that type of spell, and whomever cast it on the school, had to be awfully powerful,” Hermione said, with a concerned frown marring her face.

 “How come?” Harry, couldn’t help but ask, his curiosity piqued.

 “According to Hogwarts: A History, no one except the founders are supposed to be able to alter the foundations of the school,” Hermione clarified.

 Ron snorted. “Come on, Hermione, it can’t be that hard, it’s just a door,” he argued.

 “If they’d just altered the door then yes. But they didn’t, Ron, the castle wouldn’t have shook so much if they had,” Hermione was starting to get irritable. “If they were to remove the door, the words would just reappear somewhere else in the castle.”

 “So it can’t be removed at all?” Harry questioned eyes widening in realization. Hermione shook her head.

 “Not unless whoever put it there, decided to remove it,” she confirmed.

 “Then why – ”

 “Quiet please, everyone!” Ron’s question was interrupted as Dumbledore spoke up, drawing everyone’s attention to where he was stood in front of the Black Lake. “I’d like to thank everyone for proceeding so orderly. Now, I believe all the professors will help you sort yourselves into your houses and according to age so that your Heads of Houses will be able to count you and make sure that everyone is indeed here. Argus, if you would please accompany me back to the castle. Thank you,” Dumbledore said and was about to head off when a voice broke through the low murmur that was starting to pick up once more.

 “Professor, I must insist on accompanying you, I am sure that the Minister will want to hear of this!” Professor Umbridge simpered as she bustled through the crowd of students who all seemed rather miffed to have to make way for her.

 “Naturally,” came Dumbledore’s short agreement before he left, his long strides making it difficult for Umbridge’s short stubbly legs to keep up. Though Harry managed to suppress a snicker, Ron wasn’t quite so successful. Harry looked over, grinning at Ron, but the grin quickly fell away when he spotted someone heading their way.

 “Potter, where’s that idiot friend of yours?” Malfoy asked as he neared them, and Harry couldn’t keep from grimacing.

 “Who?” Harry asked as he noted that both Crabbe and Goyle were missing from Malfoy’s sides.

 “Emerson!” Malfoy barked clearly impatient.

 “What’s it to you, Ferret?” Ron hissed, glaring at Malfoy suspiciously.

 “No one asked your opinion, Weasel,” Malfoy shot back without hesitation, whatever vulnerability he’d shown during yesterday’s lesson had disappeared completely. Come to think of it though…

 Harry couldn’t help glancing around in search of Emerson and Armand, who he quickly realized, were indeed missing. Emerson had been with them just a few seconds ago, hadn’t he? Then again, Harry had been so caught up in the drama at the Entrance Hall, that Emerson had probably just slipped away then and Harry had been too preoccupied to notice.

 “He’s gone,” Harry mumbled, still trying to spot the black and blonde haired boys that sometimes appeared to be glued to each other’s sides.

 “That’s what I just said, Potter. I honestly don’t know why I bothered,” Malfoy sneered before turning and leaving just as Crabbe and Goyle caught up with him. They looked momentarily confused but didn’t allow that to stop them from glaring at the Golden Trio as they left.

 “Reckon we should go after them? Emerson and Armand I mean…” Ron asked the moment Malfoy’s minions had left.

 “No! We need to stay here so we won’t be missed when they do the head counts!” Hermione exclaimed, looking thoroughly horrified at the thought. “Besides, I’m sure Professor Dumbledore will find them soon enough,” she added when the two boys gave her disbelieving looks.

 “Don’t you think it’s strange that they always wonder off at odd time?” Harry asked Hermione, eyes wide with curiosity.

 “We’re going to get into trouble!” Hermione insisted, seeming to ignore Harry.

 “You don’t have to come with, then,” Ron hissed before stamping away. “You’re coming, right Harry?” he called over his shoulder as he went. Harry gave Hermione a shrug before following behind Ron.

 “Honestly Ronald, you can’t just go marching off, expecting no one to notice you!” Harry heard Hermione grumble as she stalked past him, grabbing hold of Ron to halt him.

 “Hermione!” Ron’s indignant exclamation was muffled slightly as Hermione cast a quick ‘Notice Me Not’ charm on all of them.

 “Now shush!” Hermione commanded as she walked ahead, hurrying back to the castle. Grinning, Harry followed her example, dragging a complaining Ron with him.

 “Where do you reckon we should look first?” Harry whispered as they snuck into the castle and hide inside a classroom.

 “Dunno, do you think they’ll be in the dormitories?” Ron asked looking befuddled.  

 Harry shrugged. “We might as well go have a look. At least we can go get the map and my fa-”

 “Now, Dolores, let us not jump to any conclusions,” Professor Dumbledore’s voice cut through Harry’s hushed words making all three Gryffindors freeze as they listened to the two professors talking.

 “I will not stand for this, Dumbledore. We need to find out who cast this spell and why! They cannot be allowed to go unpunished. And I demanded that the spell be removed for when the Minister arrives.”

 “But I was under the impression that he would be made aware of this?” Professor Dumbledore said, and Harry could just imagine the twinkle that was sure to be in Dumbledore’s eyes.

 “Yes, but we can’t receive the Minister with such a threatening spell hovering over the school.” Professor Umbridge sounded nearly frantic.  

 “On the contrary, Dolores, as far as I’m aware, this spell is only ever used to deflect harm away from one person and onto something else. It is my belief that whomever did this, was trying to protect this castle’s residence from unknown harm. Who knows it might’ve been the school, simply trying to protect her students!” Harry had no doubt that Professor Dumbledore already knew who was causing the students harm.

“Oh dear, you seem quite pale, maybe you should go visit Poppy, Madame.” Dumbledore advised to an ill look Professor Umbridge, who simply gave a weak nod in reply. Harry bit back the smirk that threatened to break free and looking at his two friends, he could see that they were trying to resist as well. “In the meantime, I will be taking my leave, Madame,” The dismissal was clear and Harry almost jumped when Dumbledore’s head swiveled to their hiding place for a few seconds before he left through the large oak doors.

 “Do you think he saw us,” Hermione questioned once Professor Umbridge had left as well. Harry looked over to his friend, who seemed quite distressed at the possibility.

 “Well, he does seem to know whenever we get into trouble,” Ron mumbled.

 “Ronald!” Hermione exclaimed, obviously not pleased with his answer. Harry chose to ignore his two bickering friends and instead, left the classroom, making his way towards the Gryffindor common room. As they made their way up the shifting staircases, Harry couldn’t help pondering all that Professor Dumbledore had said.

 If Dumbledore knew about the Blood Quills like his words had suggested, then Harry couldn’t help wondering why he hadn’t done anything about it yet. Then again, maybe he’d been the one to cast this spell, which made sense since the headmaster was the only person Harry knew of, who seemed powerful enough to cast this kind of protection charm.

 “Strange though isn’t it?” Ron’s voice pulled Harry out pf his thoughts.

 “What is?”

 “That Emerson disappeared so suddenly. He and Armand are nice enough but they really seem to keep to themselves.” Ron mused, looking somewhere between admiring and confused.  

 “I don’t understand you, Ronald!” Hermione exclaimed throwing her hands into the air in a show of frustration.

 “What now, Hermione?” the complaint was clear in his voice as he turn to Hermione inquiringly. Harry murmured the common room password and entered as he continued to listen to his friends’ bickering.

 “You’re suspicious of them yet you still admire them,” Hermione accused.

 Harry ignored Ron’s reply as he fished in his trunk and quickly pulled out the Marauder’s Map. Hermione and Ron joined him on his bed as he opened the map.

 "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good." The map spread out in front of them, showing the cluster of students and teachers gathered in front of the Black Lake, as well as showing Professor Umbridge in her office and Filch making rounds through the castle, but even with Ron and Hermione’s help, Harry couldn’t locate the two missing brothers. What was going on?

 “We have to tell McGonagall,” a wide eyed Hermione murmured as she took note of this as well. She seemed wary and anxious as they continued to scan the map in vain.  Harry and Ron nodded in agreement and Harry put away the map in exchange for his father’s invisible cloak.

“Let’s go,” Harry agreed and they quickly made their way to the common room before throwing the cloak over themselves and heading out.

“Professor we-” Hermione started to say as they rushed towards Professor McGonagall but she was interrupted.

“Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley and Miss. Granger, I feared we’d have to start without you,” Professor McGonagall said with a severe look on her face that clearly indicated that she’d noticed their absence. “Please go stand with the rest of your year,” she dismissed them as she looked down at the parchment held in her hand. The three of them hesitated, but ultimately did as they were told, Professor McGonagall would hopefully notice Emerson and Armand’s absence soon.

 “We’re lucky we didn’t get into more trouble,” Hermione lectured as they made their way over to the other fifth years.

 “Mate.” Ron suddenly said having come to a sudden standstill as he stared ahead of him. Harry looked towards his friend but when he got no further explanation, followed Ron’s gaze instead. Harry felt his eyes widening and his mouth opening slightly in surprise.

 Armand and Emerson were standing there, having a conversation with Seamus, Dean and Neville, as if it was the most normal thing in the world, so how come Harry hadn’t been able to find them on the map?


 

 Hermione made no mention of Harry giving Defense Against the Dark Arts lessons for two whole weeks after her original suggestion. On another note, Harry’s detentions with Professor Umbridge had come to a complete standstill, since the Quills were still spelling out Umbridge’s detentions for the whole world to see and all the other teacher’s seemed to be keeping an eye on her. Everything seemed to be getting on quite well until the end of September. All three of them were sitting in the library looking up potion ingredients when the subject suddenly came up again.

 “I was wondering,” Hermione began, “whether you’d thought any more about the Defense Against the Dark Arts lessons, Harry.”

 “Course I have,” Harry mumbled grumpily, “can’t forget it, can we, with that hag teaching us-”

 “I meant the idea Ron and I had-” Ron looked at her in alarm, though the threat in his eyes were clear. Hermione frowned at him, “-Oh, all right, the idea I had then – about you teaching us.”

 Harry paused, trying to look busy as he considered the question. He had actually given the matter a great deal of thought over the past fortnight. Sometimes it seemed an insane idea, just as it had on the night Hermione had proposed it, but at others, he had found himself thinking about the spells that had served him best in his various encounters with Dark creatures and Death Eaters. He’d even caught himself subconsciously planning lessons from time to time.

 “Well,” he said slowly, when he ran out of things to look busy with, “yeah, I-I’ve thought about it a bit.”

 “And?” Hermione encouraged.

 “I dunno,” Harry murmured, trying to buy more time as he looked up at Ron.

 “I thought it was a good idea from the start,” Ron said, seeming keener to join this conversation now that he was sure Harry was not going to start shouting again.

 Harry shifted uncomfortably in his chair, still uncertain.

 “You did listen to what I said about a load of it being luck, didn’t you?” Harry felt the need to remind them.

 “Yes, Harry,” Hermione said gently, “but all the same, there’s no point pretending that you’re no good at Defense Against the Dark Arts. You were the only person last year who could throw off the Imperious Curse completely, you can produce a Patronus, you can do all sorts of stuff that full grown wizards can’t, Viktor always said-”

 Ron’s head whipped towards her at the mention of the Quidditch player’s name. “Yeah? What did Vicky say?”

 Hermione gave Ron a resigned look. “He said Harry knew how to do stuff even he didn’t, and he was in the final year at Durmstrang.”

 Ron was looking at Hermione suspiciously.

 “You’re not still in contact with him, are you?”

 “So what if I am,” Hermione said coolly, though her face was a little pink. “I can have a pen-pal if I-”

 “He didn’t only want to be your pen-pal,” Ron accused.

 Hermione shook her head exasperatedly and, ignoring Ron, turned back to Harry instead. “Well, what do you think? Will you teach us?”

"Who's us?" Harry questioned suspiciously. 

 “Well,” Hermione said, looking a bit anxious again. “Well…now, don’t fly off the handle again, Harry, please… but I really think you ought to teach anyone who wants to learn. I mean, we’re talking about defending ourselves against V-Voldemort and his followers. It doesn’t seem fair if we don’t offer the chance to other people.” The doubt Harry was feeling must have shown on his face because she spoke up again. “And I asked Emerson and Armand for their help, seeing as they seem to know quite a few advanced spells that might be useful to know as well.”

 Harry paused, trying to figure out how he felt about this new piece of information. Harry knew they’d be a great helping in teaching the other students, what he didn’t know was whether or not they could be trusted. After that day by the Black Lake, the trio had agreed that it would be better not to confront the two brothers about the disappearing act. Instead, Hermione had volunteered to do a little research into the subject of the spells cast on the map, since she theorized that the map’s magic might be disintegrating because of its age and because some of its makers had already passed away. Never mind that… “Yeah, but I doubt anyone except you two would want to be taught by me. I’m just a child, remember?” Harry couldn’t keep the note of bitterness out of his tone.

 “Well, I think you might be surprised how many people would be interested in hearing what you’ve got to say,” Hermione said seriously. “Look,” she reasoned as she leaned towards him, “you know the first weekend in October’s a Hogsmeade weekend? How would it be if we tell anyone who’s interested to meet us in the village and we can talk it over?”

 “Why do we have to do it outside school?” Ron wondered out loud.

 “Because,” Hermione said as she returned to copying the diagram of the Chinese Chomping Cabbage. “I don’t think Umbridge would be very happy if she found out what we were up to.” Harry conceded that it was indeed true, and grudgingly agreed to Hermione’s plan.


 The morning of the Hogsmeade visit dawned bright but windy. After breakfast the trio along with Emerson and Armand queued up in front of Filch, who matched their names to the long list of students who had permission from their parents or guardian to visit the village. With a slight pang, Harry realized that if it hadn’t been for Sirius, he would not have been going at all.

When Harry reached Filch, the caretaker gave a great sniff as though trying to detect a whiff of something from Harry. Then he gave a curt nod that set his jowls aquiver again and Harry walked on, out on to the stone steps and the cold, sunlit day.

 He quickly joined Ron, Hermione and Emerson and Armand, who were giving him strange looks, as if waiting for an explanation as to why he’d just been sniffed. Ron beat them to it.

 “Er – why was Filch sniffing you?” Ron asked as they set off at a brisk pace down the wide drive to the gates.

 “I suppose he was checking for the smell of Dungbombs,” Harry said with a small laugh. “I forgot to tell you…”

 And he recounted the story of sending his letter to Sirius and Filch bursting in seconds later, demanding to see the letter. To his slight surprise, Hermione found this story highly interesting, much more, indeed than he did himself.

 “He said he was tipped off you were ordering Dungbombs? But who tipped him off?”

 “I dunno,” Harry shrugged. “Maybe Malfoy, he’d think it was a laugh.”

 “Malfoy?” Hermione sounded skeptical. “Well…yes…maybe…”

 “Speaking of that, what did Malfoy say when you asked him why he was looking for you?” Harry aimed this question at Emerson, who seemed to be caught quite off guard by it.

 “Oh. N-nothing really, he just denied it having happened,” Emerson said, sounding just as disappointed as Harry felt by the news. He’d been fairly curious about the whole situation.  

 “Where are we heading, anyway?” Ron asked, eyeing Hermione suspiciously. “The Three Broomsticks?” he ventured a guess.

 “Oh- no,” Hermione said, pulled out of her thoughts. “No, it’s always packed and really noisy. I’ve told the others to meet us in the Hog’s Head, that other pub. You know the one, it’s not on the main road. I think it’s a bit…you know… dodgy…but students don’t normally go in there , so I don’t think we’ll be overheard.”

 Everyone nodded, seeming to agree with Hermione’s thought process. They walked down the main street past Zonko’s Wizarding Joke Shop, where they were not surprised to see Fred, George and Lee Jordan, past the post office, from which owls issued at regular intervals and turned up a side-street at the top of which stood a small inn. A battered wooden sign hung from a rusty bracket over the door, with a picture on it of a wild boar’s severed head, leaking blood on to the white cloth around it. The sign creaked in the wind as they approached. All five of them hesitated outside the door.

 “Well, come on,” Hermione seemed slightly nervous so, pulling together his courage, Harry led the way inside.

 It was not at all like the Three Broomsticks, whose large bar gave an impression of gleaming warmth and cleanliness. The Hog’s Head bar comprised one small, dingy and very dirty room that smelled strongly of what Harry suspected to be goats. The bay windows were so encrusted with grime that very little daylight could permeate the room, which was lit instead with the stubs of candles sitting on rough wooden tables. The floor seemed at first glance to be compressed earth, though as Harry stepped on to it he realized that there was stone beneath what seemed to be accumulated filth of centuries.

 “I don’t know about this, Hermione,” Harry muttered as they crossed to the bar. Harry’s eyed a heavily veiled witch carefully. “Has it occurred to you Umbridge might be under that?”

Hermione cast a look at the veiled figure.

 “Umbridge is shorter than that woman,” she whispered. “And anyway, even if Umbridge does come in here, there’s nothing she can do to stop us, Harry, because I’ve double- and triple checked the school rules. We’re not out of bounds; I specifically asked Professor Flitwick whether students were allowed to come in the Hog’s Head, and he said yes, but he advised me strongly to bring our own glasses. And I’ve looked up everything I can think of about study groups and homework groups and they’re definitely allowed. I just don’t think it’s a good idea if we parade what we’re doing.”

 “No,” said Harry dryly, “especially as it’s not exactly a homework group you’re planning, is it?”

 “A bit like The Rising Sun, isn’t it?” Emerson was grinning as he mumbled this remark to Armand, who smiled, though it looked a bit strained.

 “The Rising Sun?” Hermione asked curiously.

 “Yeah, it was a bar we… um… frequented back in Wales,” Emerson suddenly looked awkward as he tried to explain obviously not have expected someone to overhear.

 A slightly familiar looking man pulled away Harry’s attention as he came towards them, he must’ve been the barman.

 “What,” he grunted from behind his long grey beard.

 “Five Butterbeers, please,” Hermione said, eyes search for approval from the other four she was ordering for. They nodded in thanks.

 The man reached beneath the counter and pulled out five very dusty, very dirty bottles, which he slammed on the bar.

 “Ten Sickles,” he said.

 “We’ll get them,” Armand offered, passing over one Galleon. The barman took it and handed over the changing, looking at Harry for a second before leaving. The five retreated to the furthest table from the bar and sat down, looking around. A man in dirty gray bandages rapped the counter with his knuckles and received another smoking drink from the barman.

 “Interesting crowd,” Armand observed and Harry couldn’t figure out whether he was joking or not. So Harry just nodded as everyone sipped at their Butterbeer, though Harry couldn’t help envying the cleaning spell Armand and Emerson had obviously cast on their bottles. Harry must’ve grimaced because Hermione quickly did the same for him, Ron and herself. Harry made an appreciative sound before taking a more enthusiastic gulp of his drink.

 “You know what?” Ron murmured, looking over at the bar with enthusiasm. “We could order anything we liked in here. I bet that bloke would sell us anything, he wouldn’t care. I’ve always wanted to try Firewhisky-”

Armand snickered as Hermione cut through Ron’s eagerness.

 “You – are – a – prefect,” Hermione snarled.

 “Oh,” Ron seemed to realize his mistake, smile fading fast. “You’re so whipped” Armand’s snicker’s grew louder until…

 “Ow! Emerson, what was that for,” Armand demanded as he glared at his brother who stared back at him defiantly.

 “You really don’t have room to talk,” Emerson pointed out, causing Armand to scowl in a petulant manner. Ron snorted, seeming pleased that he wasn’t the only one.

 Looking at the four of them now, Harry struggled to see what had made him so suspicious of Armand and Emerson in the first place. Frowning, Harry focused his thoughts back on the business at hand.

 “So, who did you say is supposed to be meeting us?” Harry asked as he took another swig of his Butterbeer.

 “Just a couple of people,” Hermione repeated, checking her watch and looking anxiously towards the door. “I told them to be here about now and I’m sure they all know where it is – oh, look, this might be them now.” Hermione sounded almost too hopeful for Harry’s liking.

 The door of the pub had opened. A thick band of dusty sunlight split the room in two for a moment and then vanished, blocked by the incoming rush of a crowd of people.

 First came Neville with Dean and Lavender who were closely followed by Parvati and Padma Patil with (Harry felt his stomach do a back-flip) Cho and one of her usually-giggling girlfriends. Then (on her own and looking so dreamy she might have walked in by accident) Luna Lovegood; then Katie Bell, Alicia Spinnet and Angelina Johnson, Colin and Dennis Creevey, Ernie Macmillan, Justin Finch-Fletcher, Hannah Abbott, a Hufflepuff girl with a long plait down her back whose name Harry did not know. There were also three Ravenclaw boys Harry was pretty sure were called Anthony Goldstein, Michael Corner and Terry Boot, Ginny and a tall skinny blonde boy with an upturned nose whom Harry recognized vaguely as being a member of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team. Bringing up the rear was Fred and George Weasley with their friend Lee Jordan, all three of whom were carrying large paper bags crammed with Zonko’s merchandise.

 “A couple of people?” Harry said hoarsely to Hermione. “A couple of people?”

 “Yes, well the idea seemed quite popular,” Hermione said happily. “Ron, do you want to pull up some more chairs?” The barman had frozen in the act of wiping out a glass with a rag so filthy it looked as though it had never been washed. Possibly, he had never seen his pub so full.

 “Hi,” said Fred, who had reached the bar first and had taking it upon himself to quickly count his companions. “Could we have… twenty-five Butterbeers, please?” The barman glared for a moment before bringing out the dusty Butterbeers from underneath the counter.

 “Cheers,” Fred said as he handed out the Butterbeers. “Cough up, everyone, I haven’t got enough gold for all of these…”

 Harry watched numbly as the chattering group proceeded to pay for their drinks. Horrified, Harry rounded on Hermione.

 “What have you been telling people?” he said in a low voice. “What are they expecting?”

 “I’ve told you, they just want to hear what you’ve got to say,” Hermione said soothingly; but Harry continued looking at her so furiously she quickly added, “you don’t have to say anything yet, I’ll speak to them first.” This only made Harry feel marginally better considering he didn’t want to have to speak at all.

 “Hi, Harry,” Neville greeted, beaming as he took a seat opposite him. “Hello, Emerson, Armand.” He added to the two boys who smiled at him in return.

 Harry tried to smile but his mouth felt exceptionally dry as he watched Cho sit down on Ron’s right.

 “Sorry I’m late,” Harry felt his hope evaporate at the sound of Cedric’s voice and he looked up to find the boy smiling at him. He forced a smile in return.

 “Hey Cedric, long time no see,” Harry was surprised at how optimistic, his voice sounded. Slowly, the chatter started dying out as everyone found a seat. Everyone’s eyes seemed to be on Harry.

 “Er,” Hermione said, nerves making her voice slightly higher than usual. “Well – er – hi.”

 The group focused its attention on her instead, though eyes continued to dart back regularly to Harry.

 “Well…er…well, you know why you’re here. Erm… well, Harry here had the idea – I mean” Hermione paused at the sharp look from Harry. “I had the idea – that it might be good if people who wanted to study Defense Against the Dark Arts – and I mean, really study it, you know, not the rubbish that Umbridge is doing with us –” Hermione seemed to become more and more passionate as she spoke. “- because nobody could call that Defense Against the Dark Arts.”

 “Hear, hear!” Anthony Goldenstein cheered and Hermione looked heartened.

 “Well, I thought it would be good if we, well, took matters into our own hands.” She paused, looking sideways at Harry and went on. “And by that I mean learning how to defend ourselves properly, not just in theory but doing the real spells-”

 “You want to pass your Defense Against the Dark Arts OWL too, though, I bet?” said Micheal Corner, who was watching her closely.

 “Of course I do,” said Hermione at once. “But more than that, I want to be properly trained in defense in case we come up against someone like…” she took a great breath and finished, “Lord Voldemort again.”

 The reaction was immediate and predictable. Cho’s red headed friend shrieked and slopped Butterbeer down herself; Terry Boot gave a kind of involuntary twitch; Padma Patil shuddered, and Neville gave an odd yelp that he managed to turn into a cough. All of them, looked fixedly, even eagerly, at Harry.

 “Well… that’s the plan, anyway,” Hermione said. “If you want to join us we need to decide how we’re going to-”

 “You think You-Know-Who might come back, don’t you?” said the blonde Hufflepuff player in a rather aggressive voice.

 “It-It’s a possibility,” Hermione agreed though she sounded unsure of herself.

 “So you don’t believe Harry killed him?” the blonde pressed, looking over at Harry.

 “Who are you?” Ron asked rather rudely.

 “Zacharias Smith. And I think we’ve got the right to know exactly what makes him say that You-Know-Who might come back,” the blonde boy declared.

 “Look,” Hermione said, intervening swiftly, “that’s really not what this meeting was supposed to be about-”

 “It’s okay, Hermione,” said Harry. It had just dawned on him why there were so many people there. He thought Hermione should have seen this coming. Some of these people – maybe even most of them – had turned up in the hopes of hearing Harry’s stories firsthand.

 “Why do I think Voldemort might come back? It might have been the fact that he didn’t die the day my parents did or that he didn’t die in first year like everyone thought. A ghost of him even came back in second year and forced Ginny to do his bidding.” Ginny flinched and Harry gave her an apologetic look, but he had a point to make. “So you tell me Smith, does Voldemort seem like the type to simply die?” Harry hissed, watching as Zacharias winced every time Harry said Voldemort’s name. “I’m not here to convince you of my beliefs, so if that’s what you’re here for, you might as well leave now.”

 The whole group seemed to have held its breath while Harry spoke. Harry had the impression that even the barman was listening. He was wiping the same glass with the filthy rag over and over, making it steadily dirtier.

 Harry cast an angry look in Hermione’s direction. This was all her fault; she had decided to display him like some sort of freak and of course they all turned up to see just how wild his stories were. Yet no one was leaving their seats, not even Zacharias Smith, though he continued to gaze intently at Harry.

 “So,” Hermione said, her voice once again high pitched. “So…like I was saying… if you want to learn some defense, then we need to work out how we’re going to do it, how often we’re going to meet and where we’re going to-”

 “Is it true,” interrupted the girl with the long plait down her back, looking at Harry, “that you can produce a Patronus?”

There was a murmur of interest around the group at this.

 “Yeah,” Harry said feeling defensive.

 “A corporeal Patronus?”

 A memory stirred at her words.

 “Er-who are you?” he asked.

The girl smiled. “I’m Susan Bones. So- is it really true? You make a stag Patronus?”

“Blimey, Harry! I never knew that!” Lee said, looking deeply impressed and excited.

“Mum told Ron not to spread it around,” Fred explained, grinning at Harry. “She said you got enough attention as it was.”

“She’s not wrong,” Harry mumbled, causing a few people to laugh. Harry couldn’t help feeling slightly surprised.

The veiled witch sitting alone shifted very slightly in her seat.

“And did you kill a Basilisk with that sword in Dumbledore’s office?” demanded Terry Boot. “That’s what one of the portraits on the wall told me when I was in there last year…”

“Er-yeah, I did, yeah,” said Harry.

Justin Finch-Fletchley whistled; the Creevey brothers exchanged awestruck looks and Lavender Brown said “Wow!” softly.

““And in our first year,” said Neville to the group at large, “he saved that Phileoper's Stone -”

“Philosopher’s,” hissed Hermione.

“Yes, that - from You-Know-Who,” finished Neville.

Hannah Abbott’s eyes were round as Galleons.

“And that’s not to mention all that we had to go through in the Triwizard Tournament last year.” Cedric added with a grin.

There was a murmur of impressed agreement around the table.

“Look,” he said, and everyone fell silent at once, “I…I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to be modest or anything but… I had a lot of help with all that stuff…”

“Not with the dragon, you didn’t,” said Michael Corner at once. “That was a seriously cool bit of flying…”

“Yeah, well I-I know I did bits of it without help, but the point I’m trying to make is -”

“Are you trying to weasel out of showing us any of this stuff?” said Zacharias Smith.

“No! He’s trying to make you aware of the fact that there are a lot of dangers in our world and that he didn’t go at it alone.” Armand hissed. He and Emerson had been surprisingly quiet until this point, but not anymore, it seemed. “Look, whether Voldemort comes back to life or not, there’s always going to be a dark side to the world and it’s something you need to be able to defend yourselves against. So why not focus on that, instead of wasting your time, trying to satisfy your curiosity. In any case, you haven’t earned that knowledge yet, why should Harry trust you if this is the way you behave?” Armand seemed to be warring between anger and outright indignation. Harry turned wide eyes towards his friends, only to find them nodding in agreement with what Armand had said while Zacharias had finally fallen silent.

 “Right.” Emerson coughed, looking extremely awkward as he pulled everyone’s attention towards him. “We should probably get on with it… right Hermione?” he said looking over at Hermione as if desperate.

 “RIGHT!” Hermione squeaked before quickly lowering her voice to a more human tone. “Yes, well,” Hermione sounded hastily, “moving on… the point is, are we agreed we want to take lesson from Harry?”

 There was a murmur of general agreement. Zacharias folded his arm and said nothing, instead eyeing Armand with clear irritation.

 “Right,” Hermione said again, looking relieved that something had at last been settled. “Well, then, the next question is how often we do it. I really don’t think there’s any point in meeting less than once a week –”

 “Hang on,” Angelina interrupted. “We need to make sure this doesn’t clash with our Quidditch practice.”

 “No,” Cho agreed, “nor with ours.”

 “Nor ours,” added Zacharias Smith.

 “I’m sure we can find a night that suits everyone,” Hermione was becoming slightly impatient and Harry couldn’t help feeling sorry for her. “But you know, this is rather important, we’re talking about learning to defend ourselves against people like V-Voldemort, especially the remainder of his Death Eaters-”

 “Well said!” barked Ernie Macmillan, who Harry had been expecting to speak up long before this. “Personally I think this is really important, possibly more important than anything else we do this year, even with our OWLs coming up!”

 Ernie looked around impressively, as though waiting for people to cry “Surely not!”

 When nobody spoke, he went on, “I, personally am at a loss to see why the Ministry has foisted such a useless teacher on us at this critical period. Obviously, they are in denial about the dangers we as wizards and witch are being exposed to, but to give us a teacher who is trying to actively prevent us from using defensive spells-”

 “We think the reason Umbridge doesn’t want us trained in Defense Against the Dark Arts is because she’s got some… some mad idea that Dumbledore could use the students in the school as a kind of private army. She thinks he’d mobilize us against the Ministry.” Hermione explained and Harry watched as horrified expressions bloomed on his friends’ faces.

 Everyone seemed stunned, well, everyone except Luna Lovegood, who piped up, “Well, that makes sense. After all, Cornelius Fudge has got his own private army.”

Armand let out a heavy sigh. “Why am I not surprised.”

 “What?” Harry objected, completely thrown by this unexpected piece of information.

 “Yes, he’s got an army of Heliopaths,” Luna explained.

 “No, he hasn’t” Hermione snapped.

 “Yes, he has,” Luna insisted.

 “What are Heliopaths?” asked Neville, looking blank.

 “They’re spirits of fire,” by now Luna was wide eyed, making her look madder than ever. “They’re great tall flaming creatures that gallop across the ground burning everything in front of-”

 “They don’t exist, Neville,” Hermione said tartly.

 “Oh yes, they do!” Luna countered angrily.

 Armand sighed again. “Regardless of whether they’re real or not, I wouldn’t put it past Fudge to have his own army. He is the cowardly type.” Armand said looking peeved.

 “Hem, hem,” Ginny took the opportunity, doing such a good imitation of Professor Umbridge that several people looked around in alarm and then laughed. “Weren’t we trying to decide how often we’re going to have defense lessons?”

 “Yes,” Hermione said at once, “yes, we were, you’re right, Ginny.” Harry grinned in relief at Ginny having managed to put the conversation back on track.

 “Well, once a week sounds cool,” said Lee Jordan.

 “As long as-” Angelina began.

 “Yes, yes, we know about the Quidditch,” Hermion’s voice remained tense. “Well, the other thing to decide is where we’re going to meet…”

 At this, the whole group fell silent.

 “Library?” Katie Bell suggested after a few moments.

 “I can’t see Madame Pince being too chuffed with us doing jinxes in the library,” Harry pointed out.

 “Maybe an unused classroom?” Dean said.

 “Yeah,” Ron nodded. “McGonagall might let us have hers, she did when Harry was practicing for the Triwizard.”

 But Harry was pretty certain that McGonagall would not be so accommodating this time. For all that Hermione had said about study and homework groups being allowed, he had the distinct feeling that this one might be considered a lot more rebellious.

 “Right, well, we’ll try to find somewhere,” said Hermione. “We’ll send a message round to everybody when we’ve got a time and a place for the first meeting.”

Hermione rummaged in her bag and produced parchment and a quill but hesitated, rather as though she was steeling herself to say something.

 “I-I think everybody should write their name down, just so we know who was here. But I also think,” she took a deep breath, “That we all ought to agree not to shout about what we’re doing. So if you sign, you’re agreeing not to tell Umbridge or anyone else what we’re up to.”

 Fred reached for the parchment and cheerfully wrote his signature, but Harry noticed at once that several people looked less than happy at the prospect of putting their names on the list.

 “Er…” Zacharias said slowly, not taking the parchment George was trying to pass to him, “well… I’m sure Ernie will tell me when the meeting is.”

 But Ernie was looking rather hesitant about signing, too. Hermione raised her eyebrow at him.

 “I-well, we are prefects,” Ernie burst out. “And if this list was found… well, I mean to say… you said yourself, if Umbridge finds out-”

 “You just said this group was the most important thing you’d do this year,” Harry reminded him.

 “I-yes,” said Ernie, “yes, I do believe that, it’s just- ”

 “Ernie, do you really think I’d leave that list lying around?” said Hermione testily.

 “No. No, of course not,” said Ernie, looking slightly anxious. “I – yes, of course I’ll sign.”

 Nobody raised objections after Ernie, though Harry saw Cho’s friend give her a rather reproachful look before adding her own name. When the last person – Zacharias – had signed, Hermione took the parchment back and slipped it carefully in her bag.

There was an odd feeling in the group now and it barely took a few minutes before everyone started leaving.  

 “Well, that went rather well.”

Chapter Text

 Merlin grimaced as he and Arthur made their way out of the History of Magic class room at the end of the lesson, the day was turning out to be a complete disaster and Umbridge seemed to be the root cause.  The woman was making it quite clear that she intended to wreak havoc in Hogwarts, and so far, she was succeeding.

 The day had started out with an announcement pasted on the common room notice boards, informing everyone that all school groups would be disband for the time being, and would not be allowed to start up again without Umbridge’s express permission. There was no doubt in Merlin’s mind that Umbridge had somehow found out about Hermione’s idea to start a Defense Club and thinking back to what Harry had said, Merlin was suddenly sure that the lone witch at the counter must have been Umbridge. Merlin bereted himself for not having put a silencing charm around their group. As if that wasn’t enough, Harry’s owl, Hedwig, had shown up injured during their History of Magic class, causing Harry to leave the room in search of help for her. Knowing how well coordinated most owls were, Merlin doubted that the injury had been Hedwig’s own fault. That left the possibility that Umbridge had tried to catch Hedwig in an effort to read Harry’s mail, the scary part was that the theory was completely plausible. Clearly, Umbridge was relentless, and it frustrated Merlin to no end.

 Merlin was suddenly pulled out of his thoughts when none other than Hermione’s voice was heard in the crowded courtyard. Taking in his environment, Merlin came to the realization that he and Arthur were almost right behind the Golden Trio, who hadn’t seemed to notice them yet.  

 “Well, I was just saying to Ron…what if someone had tried to intercept Hedwig? I mean, she’s never been hurt on a flight before, has she?” Hermione murmured to Harry, whose eyes widened in response. 

 “Who’s the letter from, anyway?” asked Ron taking a scroll Merlin hadn’t noticed before, from Harry’s grasp.

 “Snuffles,” Harry said. Merlin blinked, taken aback by the alias, well Merlin guessed it had to be an alias for how strange the name was.

 “‘Same time, same place?’ Does he mean the fire in the common room?” Ron’s voice was heard again as he read the note out loud.

 “Obviously,” Hermione hissed as she scanned through the letter. “I just hope nobody else has read this…” Merlin nodded his head in silent agreement.

 “But it was still sealed and everything,” Harry said though he sounded unsure. “And nobody would understand what it meant if they didn’t know where we spoke to him before, would they?” It was clear he was trying to reassure himself as much as his friends.

 “I don’t know,” Hermione admitted anxiously, “it wouldn’t be exactly difficult to re-seal the scroll by magic…and if anyone’s watching the Floo Network… but I don’t really see how we can warn him not to come without that being intercepted, too!” Hermione sounded frustrated and Merlin couldn’t blame her! Everything really seemed to be going wrong today.

 Falling back slightly, Merlin turned his attention towards Arthur.

 “Did you hear that?” Merlin asked, voice hushed in fear of being over heard the way Harry, Ron and Hermione had just been.

 “I’m not deaf, Emerson, though I can’t help wondering what kind of idiot would name himself ‘Snuffles’.” Arthur replied, his exaggerated tone making Merlin smile and suppress a chuckle.

 “We need to find a way to stop this.” Merlin murmured while biting his lip.  Whomever Snuffles was, it was clear that Harry and the others were worried about him being discovered. Merlin feared that Umbridge was looking for something to use against Harry as leverage, and by the looks of it Snuffles could be just that thing.

 “And how do you propose we do that?” Arthur asked, arms folded and eyebrow raised.

 “Dunno,” Merlin admitted. As if he’d expected this answer, Arthur tilted his head downwards and lifted his hands in a “There-you-go-then” gesture. Merlin grimaced as his mind started to wonder towards possible solutions but by the time that they had reached Snape’s classroom, Merlin was still coming up blank. How was he supposed to prevent Harry from getting into trouble when he didn’t even know Snuffle’s real name.

 Merlin was pulled from his frustrations as Malfoy’s voice broke through the air and Merlin stomach did a flip of apprehension, it seemed the blonde Slytherin just loved rubbing people the wrong way and wanted to be the center of attention while he did it.  

 “Yeah, Umbridge gave the Slytherin Quidditch team permission to continue playing straightaway; I went to ask her first thing this morning. Well, it was pretty much automatic, I mean, she knows my father really well, he’s always popping in and out of the Ministry… it’ll be interesting to see whether Gryffindor are allowed to keep playing, won’t it?” Malfoy sounded decidedly smug.

 “Malfoy really knows when to open his mouth, doesn’t he,” Arthur hissed, eyes dark as he watched Malfoy. Merlin shrugged, knowing that there was no way to defend Malfoy this time round.

 “I mean,” Malfoy’s voice rose another notch, as if to make sure that someone would hear him, but who- the thought cut off as Merlin spotted Harry, Ron and Hermione standing near the door to the Potions classroom. Suddenly Draco’s loudness made sense, well sort of. “If it’s a question of influence with the Ministry, I don’t think they’ve got much chance…from what my father says, they’ve been looking for an excuse to sack Arthur Weasley for years…and as for Potter… my father says it’s a matter of time before the Ministry has him carted off to St. Mungo’s…apparently they’ve got a special ward for people whose brains have been addled by magic.”

Merlin glared as Malfoy made a grotesque face, his mouth sagging open and his eyes rolling. Crabbe and Goyle gave their usual grunts of laughter while a girl named Pansy Parkinson, shrieked in obvious glee.

The next thing Merlin knew, a commotion had started up as Harry and Ron tried to restrain Neville from tackling Malfoy.

 Merlin shot Malfoy one last glare before hurrying over to Neville. He quite liked Neville; he reminded him a bit of Lancelot simply because Neville seemed like the type who was loyal to a fault and was underestimated by those around him.  “You okay?” Merlin asked Neville as he approached the four Gryffindors. Neville didn’t look okay, he looked furious.

 “Fighting Potter, Longbottom, Weasley, ah and the two newest additions, Messers. Pendragon. Twenty points from Gryffindor. Release Longbottom, Potter or it will be detention. Inside, all of you.” Snape scowled before turning around to stalk into his classroom once more, cloak bellowing.

 Harry let go of Neville, who stood panting and glaring at him.

 “I had to stop you,” Harry gasped in explanation as he picked up his bag. “Crabbe and Goyle would’ve torn you apart.” Neville didn’t reply, merely snatching up his own bag and trudging of into the dungeon.

 “What in the name of Merlin was that about?” Ron asked while Merlin forced himself not to react at the mention of his name, instead just bringing his eyes up to meet Arthur’s before they followed after Neville and the Golden Trio.  

 Merlin was thoroughly put off when, as he was sitting down, he noticed that Umbridge was stationed in a dark corner of the dungeon. As if reading his mind, Professor Snape spoke up.

 “You will notice that we have a guest with us today.” Merlin had to suppress a grin at the displeased tone in Snape’s voice. “We are continuing with our Strengthening Solution today. You will find your mixtures as you left them last lesson; if correctly made they should have matured well over the weekend – instructions –” he waved his wand “- are on the board. Carry on.”

 Merlin was making good progress with his potion by the time that Umbridge moved out of her corner and decided to approach Snape. Merlin cocked his head as he listened in on their conversation, though Umbridge didn’t make the task very difficult as she began talking.

 “Well, the class seems fairly advanced for their level,” she said briskly to Snape’s back. “Though I would question whether it is advisable to teach them a potion like the Strengthening Solution. I think the Ministry would prefer it if that was removed from the syllabus.” Merlin clenched his jaw shut to prevent it from dropping open in shock, Umbridge was being ridiculous. Snape’s reaction was more controlled as he slowly straightened up and turned to look at Umbridge. “Now… how long have you been teaching at Hogwarts?” she asked, her quill poised over her clipboard.

 “Fourteen years,” Snape replied, his expression unfathomable.

 “You applied first for the Defense Against the Dark Arts post, I believe?” Professor Umbridge asked, look towards Snape for confirmation.

 “Yes,” was Snape’s quiet response.

 “But you were unsuccessful?”

 “Obviously,” Snape’s lip curled in distaste.

 Umbridge’s quill met with her clipboard once more. “And you have applied regularly for the Defense Against the Dark Arts post since you first joined the school, I believe?”

 “Yes,” even though Snape’s reply remained quiet, it was clear that he was extremely angry.

 “Do you have any idea why Dumbledore has consistently refused to appoint you?” Umbridge asked.

 “I suggest you ask him,” Snape said jerkily.

 “Oh, I shall,” Umbridge assured, her smile to sweet.

 “I suppose this is relevant?” Snape asked, eyes his eyes narrowed.

 “Oh yes,” Umbridge said, “yes, the Ministry wants a thorough understanding of the teachers’ – er – backgrounds.” Merlin got the feeling there was more to it than that, then again Umbridge didn’t seem the type to do something for no reason.

 Without another word, she turned around and went over to Pansy Parkinson’s desk seeming quite keen to hear her opinion on the lessons.

 “Things just keep getting better and better,” Merlin said, keeping his voice light as he widened his eyes, pressing his lips together as he tilted his head.

 “Why not just do what the Ministry always does when they get scared?” Arthur whispered rather suddenly, throwing Merlin completely of track and causing him to frown in confusion. “Just cut off all access to the school’s Floo Network.” Arthur suggested trying to look nonchalant about it.

 “Your brilliant, you know that, right?” Merlin questioned, his signature large grin blooming on his face as he stared at his husband.

 “I don’t believe you admit that enough,” Arthur said airily with a cocky smirk in place, but Merlin could clearly see the affection in his lover’s eyes.

 “Pendragons, back to work!” Merlin and Arthur jerked in shock as the sound of Snape’s sharp voice shattered the atmosphere that had started to build between the two of them. Watching as the professor stalked past them on his way to his own desk, Merlin waited a few seconds before addressing Arthur once more.

 “We can do it when we go to the Room of Requirements tonight,” Merlin murmured as he turned his attention back to his potion that looked like it was about to go bad. Springing into action Merlin quickly went about repairing the damage his absentmindedness had caused.

 He and Arthur had been spending quite a lot of time in the Room of Requirements this year so far; first because of their make out session, then because Merlin had had to do the protection spell over the school and now because they needed to fix the room so the Defense Group would be able to find it and use it for the practices as well as cutting off the Floo Network. Merlin had a feeling he would be tired again tonight.


  “Better make it quick, the others might get suspicious if we show up late for dinner,” Arthur said later that day as they made their way towards the seventh floor.

 Merlin nodded his head in agreement, if the Golden Trio were to ask him where they’d been, Merlin didn’t know what he’d say. Pulling his thought away from that, Merlin instead decided to focus on their current mission. Merlin was quite looking forward to doing the spell for the Room of Requirements since he’d never been quite satisfied with how he’d left it the first time. He couldn’t believe that anyone had actually been able to find it considering that you had to pass the wall three times while thinking about what you needed, for the room to reveal itself to you. Hopefully, once the spell was done, the room would be able to sense if someone was in true need of it and would then proceed to sub-consciously lead the person towards the seventh floor and consequently the room itself. So now the room could reveal itself without preamble and only to those with no ill intent.

 “You know of course that once we give Harry and the others access to the room we won’t be able to use it?” Arthur pointed out, causing Merlin to roll his eyes. Still, he had to admit that he’d miss the small moments of peace the room offered.

 “Guess we’ll just have to be more careful in the future… maybe we can use one of the vacant teachers’ rooms.” Merlin pondered as he began his routine pacing in front of wall. ‘I need a room with a fireplace that’s connected to the Floo Network.’ Merlin thought, repeating the thought over and over as he went.

 Soon the large oak door appeared making Merlin smile as he pulled it open and moved inside regarding the empty room as well as the pale grate that held no fire. Looking over his shoulder at Arthur, Merlin smiled and moved to the center of the chamber.

 Taking a deep breath, Merlin looked straight ahead, not really seeing the wall in front of him as he reached towards his magic, the words spilling naturally from his mouth. “Hogwarts hieran min giedd. Awendan eower betimbran fore min beþurfans. Lædan eall in beþurfan, to seo herig her ac forgiefan hwa man beþurfan.” Merlin could almost hear the castle groan as it adjusted to his requirements, these were the first changes Hogwarts had seen in the past ten centuries.

 Merlin’s vision of the room seem to brighten for a moment before it returned back to normal and Merlin felt his shoulders sag a bit as he lowered his chin to his chest, giving himself a few seconds to recover. There was the faintest sound of Arthur’s foot falls as he approached Merlin, not touching but hovering close enough for Merlin to know he was concerned.

 “Okay! Glad that’s over, next part,” Merlin exclaimed, wincing when he realized that his voice had come out overly cheerful. Never the less, he ignored it and strode over to the unlit fireplace.

 Thinking back to when Merlin had first arrived at Camelot, he would never have imagined that he would on day create a place like Hogwarts, he sometimes still had trouble believing it. But that wasn’t the only thing he wouldn’t have been able to imagine, Merlin mentally added as he glanced towards Arthur who had a worried frown, marring his face. Chastising himself for being so easily distracted Merlin spoke the words needed to shut down all the school’s Floo Networks before turning back to Arthur. “Great, now all we have to do is come back tomorrow so we can reconnect the Floo before anyone starts to investigate!” Merlin grinned, feeling quite pleased with himself. Feeling happy and quite mischievous, Merlin spun around.

 Arthur made an indignant squawk of surprise when Merlin suddenly threw himself at Arthur, laughing as they both collapsed to the floor.

 “A little warning would’ve been nice,” Arthur grunted as he moved out from under Merlin who still couldn’t stop smiling as he got up, offering Arthur his hand.

 “You know you love me,” Merlin grinned.

 “Yes, though sometimes it’s a mystery why,” Arthur sulked as he took Merlin’s hand and heaved himself up.

 “Must be my charm,” Merlin said seriously before bursting into laughter which soon had Arthur laughing as well.

 “Come on, let’s go,” Arthur said when they finally managed to stop laughing, both still wearing ridiculous grins on their faces as they exited the room.


  “Trelawney was absolutely batty today,” Ron announced at dinner that night, spearing his sausage with his fork as he did so. “Recon it’s because Professor Umbridge put her on probation. If we’re lucky Professor Snape’ll be next!” Ron continued, becoming quite excited by the possibility of Snape being sacked.

 “Ronald!” Hermione exclaimed though though she couldn’t seem to muster the right amount of disapproval.

 “Like you aren’t glad that Trelawney might be sacked!” Ron accused.

 “I don’t like Trelawney but that doesn’t mean I want her to be sacked,” Hermione defended, glancing towards Merlin with an almost apologetic smile. He smiled back. Merlin really liked Hermione and was glad that she seemed to have reconsidered her opinion on seers; at the very least she didn’t have such a harsh attitude towards Trelawney anymore.

 “She’s beautiful don’t you think?” Merlin blinked surprised by Arthur’s sudden question. Looking towards Arthur, Merlin gave his husband an inquiring look.

 “Who, Hermione?” Merlin asked with a confused smile. Arthur looked annoyed as he replied.

 “Don’t be an idiot Emerson, I’m talking about Liliana.” Arthur stated as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. Who the heck was Liliana? Puzzled, Merlin followed Arthur’s gaze in an effort to find whomever Arthur was taking about. His gaze soon landed on a brown haired Ravenclaw who was staring at Arthur with satisfaction colouring her face. Okay, so he’d found her and she was rather pretty, but what had she done that had suddenly drawn Arthur’s attention towards her. Especially considering how infatuated he sounded.

 “What do you mean?” Merlin asked with a weary frown as suspicions started to rise.

 “She’s absolutely beautiful, Emerson. The love of my life, I’m sure of it!” Arthur exclaimed as if making a proclamation to the entire world. Merlin felt dread starting to pool in his stomach.

 Not again.

 “What’s he talking about?” Ron piped up, it seemed their conversation had drawn the trio’s attention.

“I have no idea,” Merlin lied, eyebrows drawn together as he stared at his husband. “Armand, can I have your goblet please.” Merlin held his hand out for Arthur’s goblet. Not even looking at Merlin, Arthur passed the goblet towards him. Arthur’s eyes were filled with adoration as he continued to stare at Liliana, who was staring back without hesitation.

 Merlin didn’t recognize her at all, which meant that she couldn’t be a fifth year student.

 “Emerson?” came Hermione’s hesitant voice and Merlin looked up at her.

 “Armand’s ingested a love potion,” he whispered in explanation, not wanting Arthur to hear. Love potions were always unpredictable so one never knew how the victims of the potions would react to being told that they were under a spell.

 Hermione’s eyes widened in surprise while Harry and Ron didn’t seem to know how to react. “How do you know?” Hermione asked with a raised eyebrow.

 “Because his in love with me-Melissa, his, um girlfriend,” Merlin stuttered but tried his best to recover from his slip up. Hermione folded her arms looking decidedly skeptical but Merlin ignored her, lifting the cup to his nose. The smell of trees, dirt, apples and Arthur wafted into Merlin’s nose, causing Merlin to jerk back in shock.

 Amortentia.

 Of course Arthur would attract the attention of a Ravenclaw who knew how to make Amortentia and who was actually willing to do so just to get Arthur to like her.

 “But no students are allowed to brew that!” Hermione objected and Merlin grimaced as he realized he must have said it out loud. Still, Merlin snorted once he processed Hermione’s objection.

 “Yeah, like that ever stops anyone.”

 “Hey, Armand, Lilian wants to talk to you,” Merlin turned his words towards Arthur not giving Hermione any chance to reply.

 Arthur managed to drag his attention away from the girl long enough to ask, “Who?”

 “Liliana,” Hermione whispered to Merlin.

 “Um…. I mean Liliana wants you to go to the dungeon and wait for her there.” Merlin quickly corrected, ignoring the suffocating feeling he experienced at the completely adoring and smitten look visible in Arthur’s eyes.

 “Really?” Arthur’s glazed eyes brightened with excitement.

 “Yep, she’s super excited to see you. Let’s go, we don’t want to keep her waiting!” Merlin forced himself to sound cheerful as he faked a smile.

 “You’re right, Emerson you're right.” Arthur agreed shooting out of his seat and Merlin had to scramble to keep up as Arthur rushed out of the Great Hall. Catching up with Arthur, Merlin led him towards Snape’s classroom and quickly started rummaging around in the cupboards, praying to Avalon that Snape would have the cure stashed somewhere. “Emerson, what are you doing?” Arthur asked, sounding bewildered and almost suspicious.

 “I’m just… uh… looking for something. Just sit somewhere, she’ll be here any minute.” Merlin said, picking up one bottle after another as he tried to figure out how Snape’s sorting worked. Dammit, where was it, where was it?

 “Are you looking for something Mr. Pendragon?” Merlin nearly jumped out of his skin at the sudden sound of Snape’s voice coming from behind him.

 “Professor I-” Merlin started floundering before he was interrupted by Arthur.

 “Yes, I am seeking my other half. Liliana! Have you seen her?” Arthur demanded, sounding half drunk.

 “What’s the matter with him,” Snape did not look pleased as he glared at Arthur.

 “Amortentia, sir. One of the Ravenclaws drugged his goblet with it,” Merlin was quick to explain, feeling quite nervous about how Snape would react.

 “And am I to assume that you’re looking for a cure?”

Merlin gave a mute nod, fearing he’d already pushed the professor too far.

 “Close those,” Snape ordered as he stalked over to a row of cupboards near his desk. Merlin hurried to comply closing the three cupboards he’d opened. Turning he quickly placated Arthur some more before making his way towards Snape. “Interesting that you should recognize Amortentia so easily when we here at Hogwarts only cover it in the sixth and seventh year.” Snape observed over the faint clinking of glass bottles.

 “It’s happened before.” Merlin blurted before quickly adding. “I mean, he’s been fed a love potion before and I had to figure out how to undo it, in the process, I learned about Amortentia as well.” Merlin finished, feeling quite pleased with himself since his story was only a half lie.

 “Hmph,” Snape didn’t sound impressed, but Merlin was starting to realize that Snape wasn't the type to show any positive emotions. “And when was this exactly?” Snape continued his interrogation.

 “A, um year ago,” Merlin replied, relieved that his voice was remaining steady.

 Snape raised one dark eyebrow. “It seems you’re just as keen as Mr. Potter when it comes to getting into trouble,” came the withering remark.

 “It just finds us,” Merlin shrugged, a grin stretching across his lips. Again, Snape seemed unimpressed but said nothing more of the subject as he handed over the small bottle containing the cure.

 “I want you out of my classroom in two minutes.” He said before moving past Merlin and presumably leaving.

Merlin turned around and almost fell over in surprise when Arthur was suddenly in his face. “Emerson, what’s going on? She’s not coming is she? You lied to me!” Merlin’s eyes widened at how quickly Arthur’s mood escalated from excited but suspicious to absolutely furious. Feeling slightly panicked, Merlin did the only thing he could think of. Pinching Arthur’s nose shut, Merlin thumbed open the corked potion and drained it into Arthur’s open mouth. Arthur looked about ready to spit it out so feeling rather desperate, Merlin pushed his lips against Arthur’s, creating a seal that prevented Arthur from spitting out the potion. There was an audible gulp and Merlin could only guess that he’d swallowed the potion out of pure surprise. The next thing Merlin knew, he was sprawled out on the ground, Arthur having shoved him away quite harshly.

 “EMERSON! WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU-” Arthur’s shouting suddenly cut off and Merlin watched with light joy as Arthur’s eyes seem to clear and he immediately rushed towards Merlin.

 “Me-Emerson, Emerson, I’m so sorry,” he apologized enveloping him in a hug as soon as Merlin found his feet. Merlin paused for a second, trying to recover from everything that had happened in the past few minutes. Relaxing, Merlin patted Arthur’s back, pressing his nose into Arthur’s neck and being assaulted by the exact same smell he’d experienced not fifteen minutes ago when he’d sniffed at Arthur’s goblet. “That’s alright, ’m just glad your back to normal,” Merlin smiled, his words muffled against Arthur’s skin.

 “You act like it’s been months,” Arthur’s voice was teasing but Merlin could feel his lips brushing over Merlin hair. He hid his unease well, but Merlin knew it was there. Arthur hated being out of control, and having a love potion fed to him, was definitely out of his control.

 Merlin’s heart felt almost too big for his chest as he pulled back and looked up into Arthur’s eyes. “You just can’t stay out of trouble, can you.” Merlin said, a fond smile pulling at his lips as he watched the corners of Arthur’s eyes crinkle with happiness.

 “Wouldn’t have met you if I did.” Arthur stated simply and Merlin felt his smile broaden. Arthur gave a small smirk of his own before leaning in and brushing his warm lips against Merlin’s own.

Snape’s warning of being out of his classroom, was completely forgotten as Merlin’s focus shifted completely towards Arthur’s lips and the sensations they were creating. Not giving Arthur time to pull away, Merlin leaned in and deepened the kiss. Merlin’s arms came up to wrap around Arthur’s neck while Arthur pulled Merlin closer by his hips. Merlin moaned as Arthur’s tongue traced his lips. Merlin’s fingers twined into Arthur’s hair in an effort to either urge him on or to make sure Merlin’s legs didn’t give out from under him. This was heaven in its purest form.

 “BLOODY HELL!” A horrified voice pierced the air, interrupting Merlin’s bliss.

Chapter Text

 Emerson and Armand were stood in the middle of the Potions classroom, snogging as if their lives depended on it. Well, at least they had been snogging, but they’d jumped apart as if burned, the moment Ron’s shocked exclamation filled the room. The brothers’ faces were pale and terrified as they stared at Harry and his friends. Harry himself was feeling quite rattled. He could feel his temples straining as his eyes grew steadily wider while his brain processed all that had just happened. It felt as if someone had his vocal cords in a tight grip and was refusing to let them go, making it impossible for him to speak.

 “I can explain-”

 “You bloody well just kissed your own brother!!” Ron screeched so shaken that he didn’t seem to have even heard Emerson’s attempt at an explanation. Still, Ron’s accusation made both brothers turn bright red though Armand’s complexion seemed to be more due to his indignation.

 “It’s none of your business who I’m dating, Weasley!” Armand hissed, his eyes cold and his voice hard. For a split second, he sounded almost as cutting as Malfoy.  

 “And you! You said he had a girlfriend! Are you cheating on her?” Ron continued accusing , not letting Armand’s anger deter him, making it clear why Ron had been put in the house of bravery. The look Armand was giving Ron, nearly had Harry shuddering.  
 “Shhhh!” Hermione admonished as she clamped her hand down on Ron’s mouth. “Don’t be silly Ronald, they’re not related, so technically they’re doing nothing wrong!” Hermione lectured while glaring at the red head. Harry thanked his lucky stars he wasn’t on the receiving end of that glare. Then her words worked through his thoughts and Harry felt his body relaxing somewhat. Harry himself had never really been confronted with homosexuality but, like all things that his aunt and uncle didn’t understand, they’d made their opinion on the subject quite clear and Harry grimaced at the reminder of all the foul words they’d used to describe homosexuals.

 He truly hoped he wasn’t about to hear the same vulgar language from his best mate.

 Upon processing Hermione’s words, Ron started spluttering, looking from Hermione to the two brothers … step-brothers, Harry mentally corrected himself, feeling the noticeable need to make that distinction.

 A pregnant pause filled the room.

 “Oh,” Ron eventually squeaked out, ears burning a red that matched his hair while his face coloured with shame. “It’s just that if it had been Fred and I, or – or heaven forbid – Percy and I,” Ron looked slightly ill at the thought, skin almost growing green. “Sorry, mates, um, carry on, I mean, or not, um –” Ron shuffled around awkwardly and Harry almost wished he could disappear, feeling embarrassed on his friend’s behalf.

 “I think what Ronald is trying to say is that he doesn’t have a problem with homosexuality, it’s just, it’s been a bit of a shock for all of us,” Hermione came to Ron’s rescue though she to seemed to be floundering quite a bit.

 “Why are you here?” Armand asked, though his voice was less harsh than before.

 “We just wanted to check on you, it sounded quite serious when Emerson left us in the Great Hall,” Harry replied glancing at Emerson who, though he was a bit flushed, seemed quite relieved and happy.

 “Snape gave him the antidote,” Emerson said in way of an explanation, a pleased smile spreading across his face.

 “So ME-lissa was really just you,” Hermione teased causing Emerson to blush and for Armand to give him a fond if slightly questioning look. Harry watched as Armand hesitated for a moment before reach out and snaking his arm around Emerson’s waist, pulling him slightly closer to his body as he did so. Harry guessed it wasn’t something Armand was used to being able to do while there were other people around. For a brief moment, Harry even wondered if their parents knew about their relationship.

 “Girls!” Ron suddenly exclaimed as if he’d just had an epiphany, a large grin spreading across his face.

 “What?” Harry blinked at his friend, wondering if he might have gone mad from shock or something.

 “You don’t like girls,” it wasn’t a question and he received mildly concerned looks for his troubles. “They are going to be so disappointed,” Ron cackled with glee. Harry rolled his eyes, because of course that was what Ron took out of this entire situation. “Mate, Lavender’ll murder you, she’s been saying how she’d have you hooked by Halloween,” Ron explained. Armand smirked, eyes drifting back to Emerson’s face, and Harry suddenly couldn’t understand how he could’ve missed the obvious affection between them. They were clearly mad about each other. Still they couldn’t have been together long, could they? After all, they were only Harry’s age and Harry had yet to hear of a fellow student’s relationship that lasted more than five months. On the other hand, Harry had no idea how long they’d known each other as step-brothers before deciding-

 “We should start heading up, before Professor Snape comes back” Hermione interrupted Harry’s thoughts as she gazed around the Potions classroom while looking distinctly uncomfortable. Harry grimaced in agreement, he could just imagine Snape coming into his classroom and taking fifty house points simply for Harry being there without his express permission.

 Armand and Emerson nodded, though Emerson’s face had turned pink once more, probably because he’d just realized that they’d been making out in SNAPE’S CLASSROOM! Harry shuddered at the thought before turning around and the five of them made their way up from the dungeons.

 They didn’t get far since McGonagall approached them as soon as they reached the Entrance Hall. “Messrs Pendragon, if you’d please accompany me to my office.” McGonagall said, face expressionless as she regarded the two step-brothers.  Harry watched as Armand and Emerson exchanged worried looks before nodding and following in Professor McGonagall’s wake.

 “I hope they’re alright,” Hermione whispered as the ascended the stairs to the Gryffindor common room.  

 “It’s quite a shocker though, ain’t it?” Ron questioned, eyebrows furrowed, “I mean, even if they aren’t family,” Ron added when it looked like Hermione might object.

 “Not really,” Harry disagreed, causing Ron to turn towards him with a startled expression. “They always have this air of intimacy between them even when they’re in the middle of a crowd, it was kind of strange now that I think about it,” Harry felt the need to explain when Hermione gave him a curious look.

 “Guess so,” Ron conceded, shrugging his shoulders. “Anyhow, what do you think McGonagall wants with them?”

 “She’ll probably want them to explain everything that happened with the love potion before she takes action. I’m guessing that they’ll need to take disciplinary actions against the girl,” Hermione sighed, seeming to be quite sad about the situation though why, Harry wasn’t quite sure.

 Harry stiffened at the mention of disciplinary actions, mind immediately going to Umbridge and her cruel methods. “According to Fred and George, there have been suspensions before, wonder if they’ll suspend her as well.” Ron mused, looking towards Harry who could only shrug. Still, it led him to wonder…..

 “Don’t you think it’s odd, the way Emerson immediate knew what was going on?” Harry mused, brow creased in thought.

 Hermione shook her head. “They were already dating, obviously it would’ve been weird if Armand just suddenly started liking someone else,” Hermione lectured, causing Ron and Harry to exchange looks since both of them knew it was quite normal for some of the gays in their year to do exactly that.

 “But he didn’t even consider the possibility that Armand might be cheating on him or something,” Harry felt the need to remind her. A silence followed as the group took time to consider this.

 “Guys! You’ve got to see this!!” There was a rush of footsteps and Harry barely avoided being crashed into as Neville came barreling down the hallway looking over excited and red in the face.

 “Neville?!” Hermione asked, both confused and alarmed as she watched her housemate bend double as he tried to catch his breath.

 “What’s the matter, Neville?” Harry demanded, worried.

 “I found us a place to practice,” he exclaimed while managing to keep his voice at a whisper. Harry paused; disbelief encasing his thoughts. Looking at Ron and Hermione told him that they felt the same way, still what did they have to lose? As one, they turned to stare at Neville who seemed to understand since he spun and took off running. Wide eyed, Harry hesitated only a moment before following, Hermione and Ron’s footsteps pounding after him.

 Neville led the way through the hallways on the seventh floor and stopped in front of a blank stretch of wall. Harry looked around, bewildered. But for a few paintings, the surrounding area was empty, with no classroom or practice area in sight.

 Feeling like he was missing something, Harry turned to Neville who looked keen and very excited.

 “He’s lost it,” Ron hissed, voice hushed, but Harry barely heard him as the outline of a door started appearing on the previously bare wall. Mere seconds passed as the outline molded and swelled before solidifying into a highly polished oak door with a brass handle. Harry was certain his mouth was slightly agape as he stared at the handle for almost a full minute, before finally taking ahold of it. Feeling quite cautious, Harry eased the door open and stepped inside leaving it ajar to allow the others to follow him inside.

 The place was amazing.

 The room was extremely spacious and lit with flickering torches while the walls were lined with wooden bookcases. Instead of chairs there were large silk cushions placed neatly on the floor. A set of shelves at the far end of the room carried a range of instruments such as Sneakoscopes, Secrecy Sensors and a large, cracked Foe-Glass that Harry was sure had hung, the previous year, in the fake Moody’s office.

 It seemed he wasn’t the only one impressed by the room’s content as the others took the time to study it as well.

 “These will be good when we’re practicing Stunning,” said Ron enthusiastically, prodding one of the cushions with his foot.

 “And just look at these books!” said Hermione excitedly, running a finger along the spines of the large leather-bound tomes. “A Compendium of Common Curses and their Counter-Actions… The Dark Arts Outsmarted… Self-Defensive Spellwork… wow…” She looked around at Harry, her face glowing, and he saw that the presence of hundreds of books had finally convinced Hermione that what they were doing was right. “Harry, this is wonderful, there’s everything we need here!” The room seemed to buzz with everyone’s excitement and Harry couldn’t help being affected by it. Skin positively vibrating with adrenaline, Harry turned towards Neville: he seemed both relieved and happy with the trio’s reactions.

 “Well done Neville, this is great, brilliant in fact,” Harry praised, grinning at Neville who flushed bright red at the compliment.

 “So we’ll- we’ll be using it then?” Came Neville’s uncertain question.

“Definitely,” Harry agreed with a nod. “How’d you even manage to find this place, Neville?” Harry couldn’t help wondering, it didn’t seem like the type of thing one could simply stumble upon by accident yet Harry’s mind jumped back to what Professor Dumbledore had said last year at the Yule Ball about a disappearing bathroom. It didn’t quite make sense.

 Neville looked self-conscious as he rubbed at the back of his neck. “Dunno, I left the Hall to go to the common room and the next thing I knew I was standing here with the room revealing itself to me,” Neville seemed almost embarrassed by the revelation. Harry shrugged, nonchalantly it was quite strange, but then again; it was Hogwarts.

 “Well, it’s great! Now we can start organizing practices!” Hermione enthused, coming towards them, apparently having satisfied her curiosity over the books the room had to offer, if only temporarily. Harry could just imagine how eager she truly was to start reading them.

 Harry sighed, resigned that this was indeed happening, and if Hermione had anything to do with it, he’d be instructing the large group of students, tomorrow.

 Neville was positively beaming by the time that Ron joined them.

 “Guess we should be heading back before curfew, well done mate this place is brilliant,” Ron said, clapping Neville on the back and though it nearly sent him flying forward, it didn’t take away from his pleased expression.


  Later that night, Harry, Ron and Hermione were stationed in front of the common room fire that was dwindling into mere embers. It was already quarter past twelve and still there had been no hint of Sirius making an appearance.

 There was a sharp popping sound and Ron, who’d been well on his way to sleeping, jerked so hard he hit himself on the nose.

 Harry, whose eyes were burning from staring to hard into the fire, looked over to find Dobby the house-elf standing beside Hermione. He looked like a walking tea cozy with all the hats he had piled on his head. It seemed he was in possession of every hat Hermione had knit so far in the school year. Noticing it as well, Hermione gasped.

 “Dobby! You’re not supposed to take all the hats! You should give some to your friends!” she exclaimed, scandalized.

 “Dobby is sorry Mistress ’Mione but the other elves do not want to clean dormitories no more. They are afraid clothes will jump out at them and they be Hogwarts elves no more,” Hermione’s eyebrows furrowed in a show of frustration.

 “But that’s the whole point, Dobby, don’t they want to be free elves?” Harry could see she was struggling to hold in her temper.

 Dobby shook his head so fiercely that for a moment, Harry wondered if it might fall off.

 There was a small indignant woot that interrupted Hermione before she could start ranting. Harry blinked as he looked closer at the pile of hats that seemed to have come alive, how on earth had he missed Hedwig who was perched on Dobby’s hat covered, head as if it was her own personal nest.

 “Dobby volunteered to return Harry Potter’s owl,” said the elf squeakily, with a look of positive adoration on his face, “Professor Grubbly-Plank says she is all well now, sir.” He sank into a deep bow so that his pencil-like nose brushed the threadbare surface of the hearthrug and Hedwig gave an indignant hoot and fluttered on to the arm of Harry’s chair.

 “Well, I don’t think Sirius’ll call tonight. I’m going to bed,” Hermione announced, standing up and stalking off. Clearly she wasn’t too happy with this new bit of information concerning the house elves.

 “She doesn’t seem too pleased, mate,” Ron mumbled into his hand, eyes still closed. Harry shrugged hand stretched upwards as he carded his fingers through Hedwig’s soft white feathers.

 “Is there anything Dobby can do for Harry Potter, sir?” Dobby asked, peering at Harry with his tennis-ball-sized eyes. Harry was about to shake his head but paused as an thought occurred.

 “Dobby… do you think you could get into Number Twelve Grimmauld Place?” Harry couldn’t help but ask.

 “Master Draco and Mistress Narcissa’s home, Dobby has only been there once before.” Dobby confessed, sounding aggrieved. Harry hadn’t given much thought to the fact that Sirius and the Malfoy’s were somehow related, even though he’d seen it on Sirius’ family tree that very summer, still, it gave Harry hope.

 “So do you think you can get in?” Harry had to be sure.

 “It is possible, Harry Potter,” Dobby agreed, bobbing his head very seriously.

 “Okay Dobby, listen very carefully. I want you to go to Number Twelve Grimmauld place and make sure Sirius is okay, tell him he can’t use the Floo anymore because Umbridge is watching it, okay?” Harry explained slowly, making sure to maintain eye contact with the large eyed elf.

 “Dobby promises, sir.”

 Harry smiled, feeling relieved. “Thank you, Dobby.” Dobby stared at Harry with open adoration and gave one last eager nod before popping out of existence. “Ron,” Harry called, grin still in place as he stood up and offered Hedwig his arm. He’d take her back to the owlery tomorrow. Hedwig seemed to contemplate it for a moment before climbing up.

 “Wha-what?” Ron mumbled and Harry had the suspicion that Ron might’ve fallen asleep again.

 “Come on,” Harry said head tilting towards the dormitories in indication.

 Ron groaned but heaved himself up and soon, the two friends found themselves settling into bed, the sound of snoring surrounding them.

 Harry had barely closed his eyes when a loud pop broke through the soothing sounds. Harry’s eyes flew open and he frowned as he sat up again, not even bothering to put his glasses on again as he squinted at the blob that could be none other than a house elf.

 “Dobby? You’re back?” Harry slurred squinting at the small shape.

 “Yes, Harry Potter, sir. Master Sirius says that he is well but he could not get through, sir, there was something stopping him, Harry Potter.” At that, Harry’s interests peaked, and his mind jumped back to his second year when Dobby had stopped him and Ron from crossing the barrier onto platform 9 ¾.

 “But who would do something like that?” Harry wondered, speaking more to himself than Dobby, but the elf answered none the less.

 “There are many, sir,” Dobby admitted.

 ‘Umbridge,’ was his first thought but it was quickly dismissed since Harry was sure that blocking the Floo wouldn’t benefit her. That being said, maybe Dumbledore had gotten wind of Sirius’ intentions to Fire Call Harry and had decided to block it to prevent Umbridge from finding Sirius.

 Harry rubbed over his face and moaned out, suddenly too tired to consider anything else. He’d think about it tomorrow, when he could actually think again. “Thanks, Dobby, I’ll see you later.”


  Harry had been up early the next day, to take Hedwig back to the owlery and had managed to have a pretty decent day so far. They were currently at lunch and Angelina had just come to inform them that Quidditch Practice had been cancelled due to all the rain. And of course, Hermione immediately seized the opportunity to inform Angelina that they’d found a place to practice and had commandeered her to help tell everyone else.

 As Hermione, Ginny and Angelina set about trying to inform everyone as discreetly as possible, Harry stood up and left the Hall heading up to the second floor towards the Gargoyle that guarded the door to Dumbledore’s office. He wasn’t quite sure how he was going to get in, but he needed to see Professor Dumbledore and the Headmaster always seemed to know when Harry was there.

It seemed luck was on his side since the Gargoyle jumped away as he approaching it.

 Harry thanked it and headed up the spiraling staircase. The Headmaster was sat behind his desk when Harry entered the large office.

 “Harry my dear boy, what can I do for you?” Dumbledore asked as he looked up from his paperwork, blue eyes glinting behind his half-moon spectacles.

 “I- Sirius said he’d Fire Call me last night, sir, but…. he never did. Dobby said it was because the fireplaces’ Floo Networks were being blocked.” Dumbledore raised an eyebrow at this. “I was wondering if that was you sir?” Harry explained, though he had a feeling that the Floo being shut off was news to Dumbledore as well. Feeling nervous, Harry waited for Dumbledore to reply.

 “I’m afraid not my dear boy, but I appreciate that I was made aware of it,” Dumbledore seemed so calm, yet Harry got the distinct impression that Dumbledore was hiding something. It was clear he’d been caught by surprise.

 “Now, Minerva has informed me that Mr. Armand Pendragon was given a love potion yesterday, she said you were with him when it happened?” Dumbledore prompted.

 Harry nodded. “The girl slipped it into Armand’s pumpkin juice, though I don’t know how,” Harry murmured, pursing his lips.

 Dumbledore eyebrows drifted a bit higher but he didn’t say anything else, instead he laced his fingers together and stared at the floor, contemplatively.  Harry started shifting from one foot to the other, feeling distinctly uncomfortable as Dumbledore appeared to lose himself in his own thoughts.

 “Um, sir?” Harry mumbled when a few minutes passed without a word from the Headmaster.

 Dumbledore blinked, coming back to himself, and looked back at Harry. “Sorry my dear boy, I am sure your teacher will start missing you soon,” Dumbledore dismissed him making Harry frowned, but he didn’t argue.


 “Well,” Harry said nervously the next day when everyone had settled into the Defense Group’s new practice room. “This is the place we’ve found for practice sessions, and you’ve - er - obviously found it okay.”  

 “It’s fantastic!” Cho praised, and several people murmured their agreement.

 “It’s bizarre,” said Fred, frowning as he took it in. “We once hid from Filch in here, remember, George? But it was just a broom cupboard then.” George grinned in acknowledgement.

 “Hey, Harry, what’s this stuff?” asked Dean from the rear of the room, indicating the Sneakoscopes and the Foe-Glass.

 “Dark detectors,” said Harry, stepping between the cushions to reach them. “Basically they all show when Dark wizards or enemies are around, but you don’t want to rely on them too much, they can be fooled…” He gazed for a moment into the cracked Foe-Glass; shadowy figures were moving around inside it, though none was recognizable. He turned his back on it.

 “Well, I’ve been thinking about the sort of stuff we ought to do first and - er -” He noticed a raised hand. “What, Hermione?”

 “I think we ought to elect a leader,” said Hermione. Harry frowned but conceded that it made sense, though not everyone seemed so convinced. “I think we ought to vote on it properly,” Hermione explained upon seeing the doubtful looks. “It makes it formal and it gives him authority. So - everyone who thinks Harry ought to be our leader?”

 Everybody put up their hand, even Zacharias Smith, though he did it very half-heartedly.

 “Er - right, thanks,” said Harry, who could feel his face burning. “And -what, Hermione?”

 “I also think we ought to have a name,” she said brightly, her hand still in the air. “It would promote a feeling of team spirit and unity, don’t you think?”

 “Can we be the Anti-Umbridge League?” said Angelina hopefully.

“Or the Ministry of Magic are Morons Group?” suggested Fred.

 “I was thinking,” said Hermione, frowning at Fred, “more of a name that didn’t tell everyone what we were up to, so we can refer to it safely outside meetings.”

 “The Defense Association?” said Cho. “The D.A. for short, so nobody knows what we’re talking about?”

 “Yeah, the D.A.’s good,” said Ginny. “Only let’s make it stand for Dumbledore’s Army, because that’s the Ministry’s worst fear, isn’t it?” There was a good deal of appreciative murmuring and laughter at this.

 “All in favor of the D.A.?” said Hermione bossily, kneeling up on her cushion to count. “That’s a majority - motion passed!”

 Looking over at all the raised hands and he couldn’t help noting that though Armand and Emerson had voted for him as a leader, they had stayed out of the vote concerning the Defense Group’s name. They’d been surprisingly quiet through the entirety of the day and were still playing the part of mere brothers in the eyes of the school.

 “Done!” Hermione exclaimed as she pinned the piece of paper with all their names along with the Defense Group’s new name on it, on the wall.

 “Right,” said Harry, when she had sat down again, “shall we get practicing then? I was thinking, the first thing we should do is Expelliarmus, you know, the Disarming Charm. I know it’s pretty basic but I’ve found it really useful -”

 “Oh, please,” said Zacharias Smith, rolling his eye s and folding his arms. “I don’t think Expelliarmus is exactly going to help us against You-Know-Who, do you?”

 “I’ve used it against him,” said Harry quietly. “It saved my life in the maze as well.” Smith opened his mouth stupidly. The rest of the room was very quiet.

 “But if you think it’s beneath you, you can leave,” Harry said.

 Smith did not move. Nor did anybody else.

  “Okay,” said Harry, his mouth slightly drier than usual with all these eyes upon him, “I reckon we should all divide into pairs and practice.”

 It felt very odd to be issuing instructions, but not nearly as odd as seeing them followed.

 Everybody got to their feet at once and divided up. It ended up being; Cho and Cedric, Parvati and Padma, Dennis and Colin, Hannah and the girl with the long hair, Fred and George, Ginny and Michael, Ron and Hermione, Katie and Alicia, Justin and Luna, Angelina and Cho’s friend, Terry and Lee Jordan, Zacharias and Anthony and Enie and Neville. To Lavender’s greatest disappointment, Armand paired with Emerson and she ended up partnering with Dean.

 Harry smiled, happy that everyone had a partner, this was perfect.

 “Okay, great. I’m assuming everyone knows the needed wrist movement?” he watched as everyone head bobbed in a nod. “On the count of three, then-one, two, three-”

 The room was suddenly full of shouts of Expelliarmus. Wands flew in all directions; missed spells hit books on shelves and sent them flying into the air. Glancing around, he thought he had been right to suggest they practice the basics first; there was a lot of shoddy spellwork going on; many people were not succeeding in Disarming their opponents at all, but merely causing them to jump backwards a few paces or wince as their feeble spell whooshed over them.

 Harry’s eyes caught on to Emerson and Armand who were greatly succeeding in the Charm and who were somehow managing to cast the spell so that they sent each other’s wands flying at exactly the same time. It was truly bazar. Still, they seemed to be the only ones who actually knew what they were doing and they were watching each other with intense focus that had Harry wondering….

 A missed Expalliarmus whizzed over his head and he ducked away.

Harry moved off into the middle of the room. Something very odd was happening to Zacharias Smith. Every time he opened his mouth to disarm Anthony Goldstein, his own wand would fly out of his hand, yet Anthony did not seem to be making a sound. Harry did not have to look far to solve the mystery: Fred and George were several feet from Smith and taking it in turns to point their wands at his back.

 “Sorry, Harry” said George hastily, when Harry caught his eye. “Couldn’t resist.”

 Harry walked around the other pairs, trying to correct those who were doing the spell wrong.

 Ginny was teamed with Michael Corner; she was doing very well, whereas Michael was either very bad or unwilling to jinx her. Ernie Macmillan was flourishing his wand unnecessarily, and to Harry’s surprise Neville actually managed to disarm him. Neville was just as surprised if his cry of “I ACTUALLY DID IT” was any indication. Moving off, Harry watched the Creevey brothers who were enthusiastic but erratic and mainly responsible for all the books leaping off the shelves around them; Luna Lovegood was similarly patchy, occasionally sending Justin wand spinning out of his hand, at other times merely causing his hair to stand on end.

 “Okay, stop!” Harry shouted. “Stop! STOP!”

 ‘I need a whistle,’ he thought, and immediately spotted one lying on top of the nearest row of books. He caught it up and blew hard. Everyone lowered their wands.

 “That wasn’t bad,” said Harry, “but there’s definite room for improvement.” Zacharias Smith glared at him. “Let’s try again.”

 He moved off around the room again, stopping here and there to make suggestions. Slowly, the general performance improved.

 Looking around, Harry thoughts went back to Emerson and Armand’s performance of the Expalliarmus Charm. Maybe it would be good to have them helping everyone, at least with the spells that they seemed well versed in. It would certainly save some time.

 Suddenly Terry Boot’s wand went whizzing past Harry’s ear and hit Alicia Spinnet hard on the nose. Harry thinned his lips, trying to contain his laughter.

 “Hey, Harry,” Hermione called from the other end of the room, “have you checked the time?”

 He looked down at his watch and was shocked to see it was already ten past nine, which meant they needed to get back to their common rooms immediately or risk being caught and punished by Filch for being out of bounds. He blew his whistle; everybody stopped shouting “Expelliarmus” and the last couple of wands clattered to the floor.

 “Well, that was pretty good,” said Harry, “but we’ve overrun, we’d better leave it here. Same time, same place next week?”

 “Sooner!’ said Dean Thomas eagerly and many people nodded in agreement.

 Angelina, however, said quickly. “The Quidditch season’s about to start, we need team practices too!”

 “Let’s say next Wednesday night, then,” said Harry, “we can decide on additional meetings then. Come on, we’d better get going.”

 He pulled out the Marauder’s Map again and checked it carefully for signs of teachers on the seventh floor. He let them all leave in threes and fours, watching their tiny dots anxiously to see that they returned safely to their dormitories: the Hufflepuffs to the basement corridor that also led to the kitchens; the Ravenclaws to a tower on the west side of the castle, and the Gryffindors along the corridor to the Fat Lady’s portrait.

 “That was really, really good, Harry” said Hermione, when finally it was just her, Harry and Ron who were left.

 “Yeah, it was!” said Ron enthusiastically, as they slipped out of the door and watched it melt back into stone behind them. “Did you see me disarm Hermione, Harry?”

 “Only once,” said Hermione, stung. “I got you loads more than you got me -”

 “I did not only get you once, I got you at least three times -”

 “Well, if you’re counting the one where you tripped over your own feet and knocked the wand out of my hand -” They argued all the way back to the common room. Harry grinned to himself, the practice session truly had gone well.

Chapter Text

“Pendragon.” Merlin startled at the sound of Draco Malfoy’s voice calling out to him as he was leaving Double Ancient Runes that Friday. “I need to talk to you,” Draco told him in a flat voice.

 Merlin paused, feeling quite baffled. After all his efforts in trying to befriend Draco had failed so spectacularly, Merlin had become convinced that it might take the entire year to get Draco to have even one decent conversation with him. Now Merlin didn’t know what to think.

 Turning around, Merlin found Draco watching him, the uncertainty clear in his eyes. Frowning, Merlin told Arthur to go ahead, before heading towards the blonde Slytherin.

 As he got closer, he couldn’t help feeling alarmed. Draco’s face was pale and drawn while his eyes were bloodshot and rimmed with dark circles that made them appear almost sunken in. Feeling his worry increasing, Merlin sped up his pace.

 “Are you okay,” Merlin asked when he got close enough for Draco to hear him, Draco looked startled at the question, but nodded.

 “Did you-” Draco started but was cut off by the sound of snickering. Looking up, Merlin found four Slytherins, three boys and one girl, smirking at them. Merlin was quite surprise to note that two of the boys were Crabbe and Goyle, the large Slytherins that he’d perceived to be Draco’s friends.

 “Asking for help from Gryffindors now, are you Draco?” the third guy spoke up, eyes filled with obvious glee. Merlin vaguely remembered someone calling him Knot?

 “Going to cry to him as well,” the girl, who Merlin was having a hard time identifying, taunted before letting loose with a high-pitched and over exaggerated scream that soon fell away to cruel laughter.

 “Shove off Nott,” Draco hissed. Ah, okay so Nott, not Knot, um, right. “At least I’m not the one dating a Hufflepuff, recon your father wouldn’t be too pleased if he were to find out,” Draco snapped, though his face remained remarkably blank despite the clear anger in his voice. Merlin watched in silence as Nott’s face turned red with rage and his fists balled at his sides.

 “Watch it, Malfoy your daddy won’t always be around to protect you,” Nott warned before stalking off, leaving Crabbe, Goyle and the blonde girl to hurry off after him.

 “And to think they called themselves my friends,” Draco snorted bitterly once the other Slytherins had left, though Merlin got the impression that Draco hadn’t meant for Merlin to hear him. Keeping that in mind, Merlin went for a safe question.

 “Draco, what’s going on? What did you want to talk to me about?”

 “Just forget it,” Draco sneered, though it was weak compared to the look he’d given Nott.

 “Why won’t you just trust me?” Merlin asked, throwing his hands up in frustration.

 “What, and have you laughing at me? Nobody laughs at a Malfoy!” Draco yelled.

 “What-” Merlin broke off, thrown by Draco’s outburst and unsure about what to make of it.  “I would never-” Merlin started to defend himself.

 “WELL THEY DID!” Draco screeched, seeming to lose his cool completely.

 Unsure how to handle the situation, but noting all the looks they were receiving, Merlin grabbed Draco by the arm and pulled him into a nearby classroom. Surprisingly, the Slytherin didn’t fight him, simply allowing Merlin to drag him into the room before closing and locking the door behind them.

 “I will not be made fun of,” Draco whispered as if to himself, shoulders slumping and his body sagging as if all the fight had been drained out of him. Still, Merlin barely had time to process this information before Draco’s head shot up once more face flushed red and filled with embarrassment.

 “I-I shouldn’t have-I have to go” Draco stuttered, eyes wide as he started to back away.

 “Friends shouldn’t do that,” was all Merlin said, a sad smile playing on his lips as he realized that Draco was pulling back once again.

 “Yeah, well, I’ve never been too good at making friends,” Draco laughed, the sound harsh and humorless and Merlin suddenly knew that he’d gotten it wrong. Draco wasn’t Arthur, Arthur was a trusting person who was surprisingly easy to approach, while Draco on the other hand, had probably been taught to never befriend anyone, let alone trust them.

 “Well, there’s always a first time for everything,” Merlin smiled, hoping Draco would catch on to his silent offer.

 Draco watched him as if he was trying to figure out whether or not Merlin might be insane. “But you’re a Gryffindor,” Draco said, seeming quite baffled.

 “So?” Merlin replied, shrugging his shoulders and raising his eyebrow in question.

 “Gryffindors and Slytherins have never been friends,” Draco stated, seemingly resigned to the fact that he was talking to an “idiot”.

 Merlin felt a rush of guilt knowing that he could’ve changed that decades ago but he’d been too worried about drawing attention towards himself and Arthur. He would still draw attention to them now, but he figured that most of the damage had been done already. That being said, Merlin wasn’t going to allow it to continue this way, he wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
 “Well, then we’re about to change that,” Merlin declared, determined. Draco still looked uncertain, but the fact that he didn’t object, gave Merlin hope.

 “I-” Draco hesitated, eyebrows furrowed in thought. “Okay,” he finally sighed giving a small nod of agreement.

 “Great!” Merlin grinned, pleased and relieved that he’d managed to get through to Draco. “Maybe we should meet this weekend? We could play Quidditch or something?” Merlin suggested optimistically.

 “No!” Draco exclaimed in alarm, startling Merlin so much Merlin’s magic flared up and sent a piece of chalk flying across the room.  Draco jerked back, eyes widening in surprise as he stared at the chalk that lay broken in two at his feet. Merlin silently cursed his magic for reacting so badly, he should’ve had more control – but the magic surrounding Hogwarts always had his magic rising and buzzing at the surface of his skin. “My-My father can’t find out, not yet,” Draco explained, scanning the room as if looking for the source of the magical outburst, before his eyes settled back on Merlin. Merlin was quite surprised that Draco didn’t seem to realize that the magical outburst had come from him, but he wasn’t going to question his luck. So instead, he simply nodded in understand, hoping he didn’t look too relieved. Draco managed a weak smile in response before he headed towards the door.

 Suddenly remembering what had gotten them into the situation in the first place, Merlin called out to the blonde Slytherin. “What was it you wanted to talk to me about?” he asked, curious.

 There was a moment’s silence before Draco spoke up, a small smile playing on his lips as his cockiness seemed to return to him. “I’ll see you around….. Emerson,” he murmured and strode out without another word.

 Merlin blinked at the doorway in surprise, before his face split into a large grin.


  “Nice of you to show up,” Merlin was met with the snappy voice of Draco Malfoy when he reached the roof of the Astronomy tower the following Tuesday.  

 “I almost didn’t, Armand cornered me while I was on my way here,” Merlin informed him, rolling his eyes at the reminder of how irritated his husband had been at the thought of Merlin being alone with Draco so late at night. Arthur always had been a bit paranoid and possessive but Merlin had to admit that he’d improved quite a lot as well.

 “What is it with you two? You two are really close for brothers,” Draco accused and from his continued tone of voice, Merlin guessed that the Slytherin wasn’t in the best of moods at the moment.

 “We’re step-brothers actually,” Merlin corrected, feeling quite awkward.

 Draco snorted again. “Like that’s any better,” he snarked.

 “Right. Well, I guess I should be going then,” Merlin said, making as if to leave, lips pressed together and eyes wide as he balanced on one leg in the over exaggerated pose that always caused Arthur to give in, even back when they’d only been friends.

 “I know it was you who sent the chalk flying on Friday!” Draco screamed suddenly causing Merlin to fall over and land on his backside while he felt the colour draining from his face. Recovering slightly he blinked up at Draco who simply glared back at him. “I’m not stupid, I felt the magic coming from you.” Draco said, daring Merlin to deny it.

 Merlin knew he was in trouble, though he couldn’t figure out why Draco had kept it quite for so long, then again, maybe he’d just been bidding his time to decide what he could use the blackmail for. But looking at Draco, Merlin couldn’t imagine him as an evil mastermind plotting Merlin’s doom, the blonde Slytherin’s features were exhausted and his eyes desperate. He didn’t seem to be in control of anything at the moment.

 Not knowing what else to do, Merlin simply stared at Draco, trying to gauge where he was going with this conversation.

 It seemed Draco had been hoping for another reaction since, as the silence continued, he seemed to deflate and shrink in on himself.

 “I need help - my father needs help….. please Emerson, my mother and I can’t afford to lose him,” Draco whispered, eyes lowering to the ground as he resorted to begging.

 To say that Merlin was lost would be a huge understatement since Merlin had absolutely no idea what Draco was talk about. As far as Merlin knew, Malfoys were notoriously proud people and not the type to ask for help from anybody, so why would Draco, let alone Draco’s father ask for his help. Then Merlin almost snorted at his own stupidity, unless Draco’s dad had absolutely no idea that Draco was asking for help. No wonder Draco was trying to blackmail him into the entire thing, he probably wasn’t used to people being willing to help him.

 Sighing, Merlin rested a hand on Draco shoulder, causing Draco to look up in shock. “Draco, I’m your friend, you don’t have to resort to blackmail to get me to help you.” Merlin told him, keeping eye contact to ensure that Draco understood how serious he felt about it.  

 That being said, Merlin couldn’t help wondering why Draco came to him for help instead of going to his head of house. Why did Draco think Merlin could help his father when he was under the impression that Merlin was just another student in Hogwarts. It didn’t make sense at all.

 Draco meanwhile, seemed astounded by Merlin’s words. “You-you’re willing to help me?” he double checked.

 Merlin nodded, giving him an encouraging smile. If Draco still wanted his help, he would give it to him.

 Draco took a moment to consider this before speaking up. “My father’s going to jail.”

 Merlin gaped, perplexed. Why on earth did Draco think his father was going to jail? As far as Merlin knew, Mr. Malfoy hadn’t done anything to deserve a new jail sentence, so why did Draco think otherwise?

 “What?” was all he managed, his confusion starting to war with his curiosity.

 “If everything keeps on going this way, the Dark Lord will rise and my father will be the one who ends up in jail.” Draco rushed out, and if Merlin had been feeling lost before, it was nothing compared to the way he felt now.

 “Draco, why do you think your father’s going to jail? Merlin asked in an effort to understand what was going on.

 “I don’t think, I know!” Draco cried out and Merlin could see the frustration and resentment settling into Draco’s gaze. Merlin held up his hands in a placating gesture.

 “But how? How do you know?” Merlin insisted approaching Draco the way one might approach a spooked animal. Draco’s eyes flitted around the roof in clear panic, in a desperate search for an escape. “Draco,” Merlin breathed, trying to put enough warning into his voice to pull the blonde’s attention back to him. Draco’s gaze snapped back to him and the panic seemed to dim. Merlin watched as Draco’s eyes hardened and his posture stiffened.

 “I’ve been having dreams,” Draco said flatly. Merlin felt his insides freeze and crumble as the answer echoed in his ears and threw his mind into turmoil.

 No! Suddenly, Merlin was bombarded with images of Morgana that threw his thoughts and emotions into chaos and had him staggering backwards from the shock.

 “Emerson?” came Draco’s alarmed cry.

 Regaining some sense, Merlin looked up at the Slytherin. “Listen to me Draco, you’re a Seer. We need to-”

 “No!” Draco’s vehement denial overshadowed Merlin’s own. “I’m not Trelawney and I’m sick and tired of everyone telling me I am!” Draco screeched out making Merlin frown in disapproval, yet the fact that Draco had immediately linked being a Seer to Trelawney, made Draco’s fears easier to decipher.

 “Being a Seer is nothing to be ashamed of, it was once revered,” Merlin told him, thinking of the times before Morgana had been driven to treachery, when she’d still been used her magic to help save Arthur life.

 Draco let out a harsh laugh, eyes filled with despair. “Tell that to my father, he’s made his opinions on Trelawney quite clear.” Draco said, agitated. “And Dumbledore’s convinced it’s a gift, Salazar knows how the old quack found out about it.” Draco continued, glaring at the floor as if to blame it for all his troubles.

 That caught Merlin’s attention, how did Dumbledore know about Draco’s abilities? Unless…..

 “Can you do Occlumency?” Merlin asked, and Draco seemed quite taken aback before he managed to reply.

 “My father said he’d only teach me once I was of age,” Draco explained, eyes suddenly curious. Merlin nodded along, deep in thought as he considered everything that had been revealed to him in the past few minutes. A pregnant silence passed before Merlin spoke again, mind made up.

 “I think I know how Dumbledore knew about you being a Seer-”

 “I told you, I’m not a Seer,” Draco objected, glaring at Merlin.

 “Yes you are,” Merlin implored, a small, almost sad smile gracing his lips. “And you need training,” Merlin added, watching Draco for a reaction. There was no going back now.  Surprise flitted across Draco’s features before it turned into a look of suspicion.

 “Why?” he demanded, studying Merlin with cautious eyes.

 “Because if you’re right, and Voldemort really is on his way back, then you’ll need to know how to defend yourself mentally and physically,” Merlin explained eyes intense as the focused on Draco.

 Draco paused as he took this in, before appearing to come to a realization. “You weren’t surprised,” he murmured, staring at Merlin.

 “What?” Merlin asked, thrown, not knowing what Draco was referring to.

 “When I told you the Dark Lord was coming back, you didn’t even blink, you weren’t surprised.” Draco elaborated accusingly.

 Merlin sighed, taking a few seconds to think of a feasible lie. Draco was definitely smarter than most people gave him credit for. “My dad told me Voldemort was coming back, we just didn’t know when. At least we know now that he’ll be back before the end of the year.” Merlin clarified, feeling quite exhausted. Draco looked like he was about to say something but ended up deciding against it.

 “You said I need training. What would I have to do?” Draco asked after some consideration, pursing his lips as he looked away from Merlin and to the vast darkness surrounding the tower.

 Merlin smiled turning his gaze towards the darkened landscape as well.

 “I need to get something for you that should keep most of the dreams away but in the meantime, it might be good if I can teach you Occlumency and some defensive spells,” Merlin detailed, deep in thought yet still smiling.

 Draco looked both surprised and relieved at the thought of being able to stop most of the dreams.

 “If there’s a temporary cure, why hasn’t someone mentioned it before, why isn’t Trelawney using it for that matter,” Draco pointed out skeptically.

 “Because she isn’t a Seer,” Merlin simply replied.

 Draco snorted, eyes dancing with vague glee. “I knew that old windbag was a fraud,” he muttered too distracted to notice that Merlin had only answered part of his question.

 “She isn’t.” Merlin stated, causing Draco to look quite mystified.

 “Trelawney is a Prophet not a Seer,” Merlin murmured, thinking of all the problems prophets had caused him in the past.

 “It’s all the same,” Draco objected, looking frustrated.

 “No, it’s not. A Prophet delivers prophecies, permanent, unchangeable. Seers’ dreams on the other hand…. If there are gaps in the dreams, it means those parts of the events haven’t solidified yet, there’s still hope for it to be changed. Prophecies give us no such chance,” Merlin explained, the grimness of the information bleeding into his voice.

 “How do you know so much?” Draco inquired.

 “I knew someone who was a Seer,” Merlin sighed, suddenly tired beyond measure.

 To Merlin’s relief, Draco stayed silent and thoughtful, choosing to simply nod in acknowledgment instead.

 “I need to go, Armand will be wondering where I am,” Merlin lied, tired and wanting to leave. Draco nodded, still deep in thought. Merlin paused, suddenly uncertain. “Just think about it and let me know, alright? You’re not alone, Draco,” he murmured and Draco finally looked up at him, grinning.

 “Thanks, Emerson.” Merlin nodded. As Merlin headed down the stairs of the tower, his thoughts drifted back to Draco’s plea for help and he wonder why Draco had asked him. Why did Draco trust him with this, after all, even if Draco believed him to be more powerful than the average teenager, he was still just another teenager in the eyes of the world. And then it clicked with terrifying clarity, Draco knew something about Merlin’s true potential, something he wasn’t telling Merlin. 


 “So what do you recon I should do?” Merlin asked Arthur the next day as they were making their way to the Room of Requirements. Merlin had been quick to inform Arthur of everything Draco had told him and he and Arthur had ended up cradling each other as the past and the possibilities of the future, came to haunt them. They’d fallen asleep like that and had been very lucky when none of the boys made a fuss about it the next morning, though Dean had given them a speculative look.

 “How do you know there’s still hope for his father,” Arthur asked, studying Merlin with a wary gaze. “You said so yourself, he saw his father being put in jail, if he saw it then it’s already solidified, there’s no chance of changing it,” Arthur reminded him and Merlin felt his jaw clench.

 “I know that!” Merlin exclaimed in a whisper. “I just- he didn’t tell me his entire dream,” Merlin began. “I just can’t help thinking that there might still be hope,” Merlin murmured, expression guarded as he locked eyes with Arthur. Arthur held his gaze for a minute before sighing in resignation, and Merlin felt his own gaze softening.

 “Look, if you really want to help him, we need to find out what his father’s name is and where the Malfoys live. We need to warn Mr. Malfoy, give him a good reason not to join Voldemort.” Arthur said, switching from worried husband to experienced strategist almost flawlessly. “But as soon as we figure it all out, you’re going to need to tell Draco, everything’s going to change for him, and he deserves the chance to pull out if he wants to.” Arthur continued, lips pressed together in thought. Merlin hummed in agreement. “Let’s hope they don’t need to go into hiding,” Arthur muttered after a pause, a grimace playing across his lips.

 “Armand, Emerson, wait up!” someone called out to them putting a halt to any further conversation as they turned around to find Dean Thomas hurrying to catch up with them.

 “Hey Dean, how’s it going?” Arthur asked while Merlin offered the boy a reassuring smile.

 “It’s going okay, the work’s just been quite a lot this year and Umbridge is absolutely dreadful,” Dean shuddered, smile unsure.

 “Hear, hear,” Arthur agreed and Merlin snickered. Dean seemed to take courage from this.

 “So, what happened this morning? How come you and Emerson ended up in the same bed last night?” Dean inquired, face flushing red.

 Merlin blinked in surprise before he and Arthur started answering at the same time. “We-” Arthur cut off, waving his hand in indication that Merlin should continue with the story.

 “We were talking and I ended up falling asleep, I guess this great lump just didn’t have the heart to kick me out,” he explained, shooting Arthur a teasing look as he shoved playfully at the blonde’s shoulder. Dean nodded in understanding, though he appeared to be slightly disappointed, though Merlin wasn’t quite sure why.

 The door to the Room of Requirements appeared and they filed inside, quickly realizing that they were some of the first to arrive along with Ron, Hermione, Harry and Luna. Dean seemed quite thankful for this and hurried over to Hermione.

 “Hey Hermione, um, could I ask you something?” Hermione nodded, looking curious. “I was wondering, if maybe I could ask Seamus if he wants to join us, he could really use the help.” Dean murmured to the bushy haired girl and Merlin got the feeling that he hadn’t meant for anyone else to hear.

 “I don’t know, Dean. He didn’t seem too keen when I tried to suggest it to him before,” Hermione pondered, uncertainly.

“But he’s been asking me where I was last week and I haven’t been able to tell him,” Dean sounded pained. “Please Hermione, it’s not like he’ll make any trouble,” Dean pressed, quite desperate. Hermione bit her lip, still dubious.

“Come on, Hermione, if we can put up with Smith, we can handle having Seamus around,” Ron called out from where he and Harry were setting up some dummies. Ron’s words seemed to work and - heaving a large sigh - Hermione finally agreed that she would at least talk to Seamus about it, but whether he joined or not would be his choice, she reminded Dean.

 Dean nodded in agreement, grinning in relief, and Merlin couldn’t help smiling at the thought that the Defense Group was growing larger still. 


  “Here, I’ve found it,” Merlin called out, receiving a stern look from Madam Pince for his troubles. There was a thud followed by cursing and Merlin could only guess that Arthur had probably dropped a rather large book on his foot because of Merlin's exclamation. Oops.

 “Emerson,” the hissing of his ‘name’ only confirmed that he was indeed the cause for whatever accident had just occurred. Merlin suppressed a giggle as Arthur came limping around the corner, scowling.

 “If we’d still been in Camelot, I would’ve thrown you in the stocks for that,” Arthur told Merlin with a glare.

 Merlin simply rolled his eyes, unbothered by his husband’s antics and beckoned Arthur closer, there was a moment’s resistance before he concedes. Merlin felt Arthur’s body pressing up behind him as Arthur looked over his shoulder at what Merlin had found. The Malfoy family tree spiraled across the pages, declaring Draco’s parents to be Lucius Malfoy II and Narcissa Malfoy (née Black).  

 “Better start thinking about what you’re going to say to them,” Arthur smirked and Merlin glowered, Arthur was lucky that Arthur’s magic wasn’t strong enough to break through the barriers rumored to surround Malfoy Manor because Merlin was starting to want to drag Arthur along for this unpleasant adventure just so he wouldn’t have to suffer through it alone.

 “Here, thought I might spare you some time,” Arthur added, holding up a simple silver ring with protection sigils carved into it. Just when he thought he might actually manage to stay mad at Arthur for a few minutes, he went and did something like this. It was a small gesture, but it spoke volumes.

 “Thanks,” Merlin mumbled, feeling some of the tension leak out of his frame as he ran his fingers over the ring, sensing Arthur’s magic on and in it. It was one less thing to worry about and Merlin couldn’t be more grateful. “I guess I should go talk to Draco,” Merlin sighed, dreading the coming conversation.

 They stood up and Arthur pulled Merlin into a hug, thumping him on the back before releasing him again. “I’ll put these away-” Arthur gestured towards the books laid out on the table. “- you go find Mr. Bleach Blonde,” he finished.

 “Prat,” Merlin whispered before running off, not wanting to give Arthur any time to retort.


  “What are you doing here, Emerson?” Draco asked Merlin when the raven sat down next to him while he was lounging under a tree.  

 “Just thought I’d come and give you this,” Merlin answered, holding out the Protection ring. “It should help with the nightmares,” Merlin explained when Draco raised an eyebrow at it.

 “A ring?” Draco seemed surprised, taking it and inspecting it with a careful gaze.

 “Yep.” Merlin bobbed his head in reply.

 Awe crept onto Draco’s face as he continued examining the ring before slipping it onto his finger. Silence lingered between them as Draco continued to admire the ring while Merlin stared out at the school ground and Black Lake, both looked almost exactly like they had when the castle had first been built.

 Still looking out over it all, Merlin started talking. “Listen, Draco, I’ve figured out a way to help your father but he and your mother might need to go into hiding for a while.” Draco’s head snapped up, eyes alarmed. “So if you’d rather it all just run its course, you need to tell me now,” Merlin said, finally turning to take in Draco’s expression. Draco’s features were filled with determination.

 “I want my parents safe, and if that’s the only why….” Draco trailed off, shrugging, and Merlin could only nod his head in understanding.

 “You’re very brave, Draco, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” Merlin sighed, thinking of everything that might go wrong in the next few months.

 Silence settled over them once more but Merlin couldn’t really blame Draco for not knowing what to say.

 “I had another dream,” Draco bit out rather abruptly, causing Merlin’s lips to part slightly in surprise. “Voldemort’s coming back on Halloween and-and you and Potter end up in the hospital wing,” Draco added. Merlin frowned at the bout of information before realization dawned on Merlin. It couldn’t be, not after all the trouble Merlin had gone through to hide and destroy any evidence of the ritual, there was no way Voldemort should’ve been able to find it, Merlin denied, a phantom pain streaking across his body. It seemed everything was already starting to go wrong.

 Then the implication of Draco’s words finally hit and Merlin groaned. “We’ll need to move the plan up,” he moaned, cursing their luck. Draco gave him a curious look but seemed to decide that it was better not knowing.

“I guess you’re still better than the old coot but I’m trusting you with my parents’ life, Emerson, don’t screw it up,” Draco huffed before standing up and marching off.

 Merlin couldn’t help feeling sorry for Draco, it was clear that he was extremely stressed, and trying his best to hid it and though it hadn’t gone at all like Merlin had imagined, he knew that today could’ve gone a lot worse. Still, Draco’s news meant that he had even less time to figure out what he was going to tell Mr. Malfoy.


  “I’ll be waiting for you in the Three Broomsticks when you get back,” Arthur told Merlin as he eased the chain of the de-aging stone, off over Merlin’s head and pocketed it along with his own. Merlin stared up at his lover who was now back in his forever 27 year old body while he felt his own skin eased back to the age of 21. Merlin rolled his shoulders as he adjusted to being back in his real body, his gaze flitting around the alleyway, even though he knew there was no one around; Hogsmeade was pretty quiet at night. “Looks like you need a shave,” Arthur added, fingering the thick beard that now covered Merlin’s jawline before the fingers trailed up to tug lightly at Merlin’s hair that had also grown out quite a bit.

 “Well at least it should help to make my face harder to recognize, should Mr. Malfoy ever meet Emerson Pendragon,” Merlin mumbled, a slight pout on his lips.

 The fingers released his hair and large hands came to rest on Merlin’s shoulders instead, forcing Merlin to look at his lover. “Merlin, it’s going to be alright,” Arthur whispered, and the sincerity in those baby blue eyes, had Merlin smiling in spite of his nerves.

 “I’ll see you later, okay.” Arthur continued, voice soft.  Merlin had to resist clinging to Arthur when the blonde gave him a quick kiss before stepping back, his husband’s gaze steady yet heated.

 Pursing his lips, Merlin managed a weak smile before Apparating, bracing himself for the break through into Malfoy Manor’s grounds.

 He’d barely landed when the sound of glass shattering, reached Merlin’s ears. Looking up, Merlin was met with the tip of a wand pointing at him and looking past it at the wizard holding it, Merlin had no doubt that this was indeed Draco’s father, Lucius Malfoy II.

 “Mr. Malfoy,” Merlin said in way of greeting. If Lucius was surprised by Merlin lack of interest in the wand currently pointed at his chest, he didn’t show it.

 “Who are you and what are you doing here,” Lucius asked, studying Merlin in a way that made him feel like an insect, but Merlin forced his features to stay composed.

 “My name is Dragoon and I came to talk to you about Voldemort,” Merlin fell back on the old alias, watching as Lucius’ jaw clenched and his eye twitched. Lucius regarded Merlin for a moment, before responding.

 “You’re either very brave, or very foolish, regardless, I cannot help you in matters involving the Dark Lord, as I have not been his servant for many years,” Lucius replied coolly, wand unwavering.

 “Then I suppose it would not matter if I were to tell you that he’s coming back,” Merlin replied airily, his gaze never leaving Lucius’ own.

 “Who told you this,” Lucius demand, looking suddenly fierce as his grip tightened on his wand.

 “Your son did,” Merlin answered without preamble, watching as Lucius’ eyes widened in horror.

 “The boy doesn’t know what he’s saying,” Lucius hissed out in defense of his son, and Merlin sudden realized that Lucius saw him as a threat to Draco.

 “Lucius, I do not mean your son any harm,” Merlin said, cautious in the face of a distrusting father.

 Lucius narrowed his eyes at that, but didn’t lower his wand. “You expect me to believe you,” Lucius hissed, taking a step forward so his wand ended up pressing into Merlin’s rib. With the wand there, Merlin would have no way of stopping any spell Lucius decided to cast, Merlin could only pray that Lucius wouldn’t try to kill him, or a lot of questions would be raised.

 “Draco asked for my help because he said you didn’t want to listen to him,” Merlin decided to try another approach; this only caused Lucius to raise his wand to Merlin’s throat. Great.

 “I don’t know what you’ve been telling my son, but the Dark Lord is gone,” Lucius spat.

 “I haven’t been telling him anything!” Merlin exclaimed, throwing his hands up in the air and feeling Lucius’ wand pressing harder against his throat in response. “He told me,” Merlin continued more calmly, locking eyes with Lucius again.

 “He’s just a boy,” Lucius hissed adamantly and harshly.

 “He’s a Seer, and he’s seen Voldemort’s return,” Merlin’s calm contradicted Lucius growing aggravation.

 “No!” Lucius insisted, voice overflowing with denial.

 Merlin’s eyes turned hard at Lucius’ constant denial. He needed to make Lucius listen; he needed to accept the truth.

 “Voldemort will rise and you’ll be trapped as his servant again, your family will be put in danger!” Merlin yelled, willing Lucius to understand.

 “Impossible, neither Draco nor Narcissa have ever even met him, Severus and I have been careful to keep them away from that life!” Mr. Malfoy refused looking horror struck and betrayed.

 “That might be true, but Draco has seen you going to jail, seen you fail! If you end up in Azkaban who do you think will take the fall for it,” Merlin demanded, watching as Lucius struggled to hide the terror he was feeling. Finally, Lucius managed to drain his face of all emotion, directing all his attention towards Merlin as he spoke. “Do you take me for a fool, what would you have me do? Pledge my allegiance to you instead? You‘re no better than the Dark Lord or Dumbledore,” Lucius sneered.

 “If you’d just listen!” Merlin cried out, frustrated.

  Lucius gave him an indignant look but stayed silent. Figuring that was as close to agreement as he could get, Merlin gathered his thoughts before addressing Lucius again.

 “Voldemort’s coming back on Halloween, if we can get you to a safe house before then, he won’t be able to touch you or your wife.” Merlin informed him. Lucius let out a derisive laugh.

 “You know as well as I do that no one can hide from the Dark Lord,” Lucius said the distain clear in his tone.

 “I can, I’ve been hiding from him since the first war,” Merlin admitted, hoping his gamble wouldn’t come back to bite him in the arse. Lucius snorted in clear disbelief.

 “Impossible, you’re no more than a boy!” Lucius accused.

 “So is Harry Potter,” Merlin shot back without hesitating. “That doesn’t make him any less of a threat.” Finally, Lucius paused seeming to consider something, before he asked:

 “What price would I pay?”

 Merlin resisted the urge to sag in relief, it wasn’t over yet.

 “I’ll need you to swear that you and your family will stay out of the war, you can’t go to Voldemort and you can’t tell anyone about me,” Merlin explained, earning a look of suspicion from Lucius.

 “Lucius, take it, please, we need to protect Draco,” Merlin gaped as Narcissa Malfoy came marching into the room, presumably having been eavesdropping for quite some time.

 “Narcissa! You shouldn’t be here,” Lucius hissed, only just managing to keep his cool as he stared at his wife.

 “I want to protect my boy, Lucius, and I will do it at whatever the cost.” Narcissa told her husband sternly.

 “Mrs. Malfoy,” Merlin said, bowing his head in a show of respect. Narcissa looked over at him, face still stern.

 “You said you knew of a way for us to go into hiding, but what of Draco? If we disappear, the Dark Lord will simple go after him.” It was a statement, yet Merlin knew Narcissa still expected an answer to her silent query.

 “He’ll be safe at Hogwarts, Voldemort’s fear of Dumbledore should keep him away, and if not, I’ll be there to keep an eye on him, I swear that on my magic,” for a moment, Narissa looked surprised by the oath Merlin had just made, but the tension in her features soon eased away.

 “Thank you Mr. Dragoon,” Narcissa said, confirming that she must’ve been eavesdropping from the beginning of their conversation, and Merlin had been too preoccupied with Lucius to notice.

 “But my mark! The Dark Lord could use it to kill me,” Lucius objected, still looking uneasy about the situation, but at least he’d lowered his wand when Narcissa entered the room – so Merlin felt a bit more at ease himself.

 “Um, I can’t really help you with anything unless you make an oath agreeing to my terms,” Merlin told them, cringing inwardly at how awkward he sounded.

 Lucius looked like he was about to protest but a sharp looked from his wife quieted him. It seemed Narcissa was the one who pulled the strings in this relationship. Narcissa took Lucius’ hand and started the oath.

 “We swear on our magic that we will not tell a soul about you or what you can do-” she said.

 “- and that we will not join or consort in anyway, with the Dark Lord named V-Voldemort,” Lucius finished off, voice strained.

 Merlin felt his magic hum in acknowledgement of the oath made to him. Merlin grinned brightly at that, he’d done it! Draco’s parents had agreed to go into hiding!

 “May I?” Merlin asked when he’d managed to collect himself, indicating with his fingers, towards Lucius’ arm. Lucius jerked his arm away almost instinctively, but one look from Narcissa had the man sighing and rolling up his shirt sleeve.

 There, on Lucius’ inner left forearm sat the black tattoo, a stark contrast to the man’s pale skin. Merlin’s smile had fallen away when he saw it and instead, he was simply studying it, wondering how someone could use such a cruel method of summons.

 “Well?” Lucius snapped, pulling Merlin from his thoughts. Looking up at Lucius, Merlin could only hope he was making the right choice as he took hold of Lucius’ arm.

 “Afierran eall licsar mid reþe ingehygd,” Merlin whispered, feeling his eyes burn gold as he watched the mark sink and melt into nothingness, leaving no trace of it ever having been there before.

 “Impossible,” Lucius murmured, though Merlin doubted he’d meant to say it out loud. Straightening up, Merlin turned to address Narcissa since she seemed to be the more reasonable one of the two.

 “I can give you two days to pack and set all your affairs in order, and I’ll let Draco know that you’ve decided to go through with it.” Merlin told her and she nodded in acceptance.

 “How- How do you know Draco?” Narcissa asked after some hesitation, expression desperate. Merlin paused, not quite sure how to reply but finally settling on a small part of the truth.

 “He and I are becoming good friends.” Merlin stated and, not wanting to reveal anything else, Disapparated before Narcissa had a chance to ask more questions.

 He stumbled into the Three Broomsticks, feeling a bit worse for wear, but otherwise quite happy with all he had accomplished. Hearing footsteps, Merlin looked up to see a concerned looking Arthur approaching him. Merlin smiled at him and nodded, and instantly most of the stiffness left Arthur’s posture though he didn’t slow his pace, instead hurrying the last few steps and enveloping Merlin in a hug. Merlin clung to him, glad for the comfort and warmth he offered. He felt almost boneless as the stress that had been building up throughout the entire night, finally fled his body.

 All he could do now was to wait for Halloween and hope that everything wouldn’t dissolve into chaos in the meantime.


  By the time Halloween rolled around - a bit more than a week later - everything certainly felt as if it was dissolving into chaos. It had taken quite a few days to get the Malfoys settled into his and Arthur’s apartment in Wales. Not to mention that he’d started teaching Draco Defense and Occlumency and Draco, unfortunately, was anything but patient.

 If it wasn’t for the fact that he’d opted out of the last DA meeting, Merlin was convinced that he would’ve lost it already from the toll everything was taking on his magic. Unfortunately, Merlin’s decision to skip DA, had Arthur grumbling for two days straight, about the fact that he’d been saddled with Zacharias Smith for the entirety of the DA meeting. How that had happened, Merlin had no clue.

 Other than that one incident though, Arthur had been doing most of Merlin’s homework for him and was there when Merlin arrived in the common room, stiff and tired from the day’s activities, it was no wonder why Merlin seemed to fall deeper in love with him every day, even after a thousand years of being together.      

 “-and Quirrell was the one who let the troll into the school,” It seemed that, because it was Halloween Ron had decided to jump at the opportunity to tell everyone who would listen, about the troll that had been in the castle on Halloween during their first year. The group of Gryffindors surrounding him listened in rapture while Harry tried unsuccessfully to hide his face in his arms, moaning in embarrassment ever so often. Hermione seemed to be resisting the urge to strangle Ron, something that Merlin knew to be quite an accomplishment for her.

 Merlin hadn’t been spared and his own nerves where slowly being tortured to death with every word Ron uttered. 

 “Ronald, would you please just stop it!” Hermione finally cracked, when Ron mentioned something about a wand going up the troll’s nose, voice filled with exasperation.

 “You gotta be kidding, Hermione, it was just getting good!” Seamus protested to the miffed girl. Hermione hadn’t yet invited Seamus to join the DA and he appeared to be falling into her black book at a spectacular pace. “So, what happened then?” Seamus prompted, gaze eager. Harry let out a groan, face still buried in the security of his arms.

 “You okay there, Harry,” Arthur asked with a smirk.

 “Not if I have to live through that again, Ron might as well go ahead and tell them about Fluffy,” Harry muttered, lifting up his head and giving Ron a ruffled look. Merlin had absolutely no idea what Harry was taking about, but it sounded brilliantly ridiculous.  

 Ron’s face brightened at Harry’s words and he opened his mouth. “I wasn’t serious, Ron!” Harry exclaimed, annoyed and disbelieving while Ron pouted.

 “Come on, mate, just sharing.” Harry glared, but his hair was sticking up in fifty directions, severely lowered the effectiveness of his glare and it had Merlin fighting back a smile.

 “What are you guys still doing here? Party in the common room! Come on!” George suddenly appeared next to Harry while Fred popped up behind Arthur and the next thing Merlin knew, he was being hauled into a standing position by a grinning Lee Jordan.

 Merlin couldn’t really say how, but a few minutes later, Merlin was surrounded by Gryffindors, from fourth year upwards, chatting and dancing as they sippedtheir drinks.

 Merlin had to hand it to the twins and Lee Jordan, the common room looked great. The room had been darkened while floating pumpkin lanterns were used as the main source of light.  Parts of the ceiling was cover in cobwebs with what Merlin assumed to be fake spiders, making their way across their webs. The fire was lit in its hearth and was blaze from purple, to black, to green, then red and finally yellow, before repeating. Creepy howling music played through the air though no source was visible and a thick mist made the floor impossible to see.

 Admiring all the preparation that must’ve gone into decorating the place, Merlin accidentally brought his drink to his lips. One taste of the thing Lee Jorden had handed to him, told Merlin that someone had somehow managed to smuggle Firewiskey past Filch and had mixed it in with the punch and they were not using it sparingly.  

 Shaking his head in amusement, Merlin abandoned his cup and went in search of Harry, Ron, Hermione or Arthur since he’d somehow lost them on the way up.

 “Oh, hello, Emerson,” Merlin blinked at the voice before smiling.

 “Hello, Luna, how are you?” Merlin asked, happy to have the opportunity to talk to the girl, she always seemed so nice, if a bit faraway.  

 “I’m fine, thank you,” Luna smiled the faraway look still in her eyes.

 “I didn’t know there were people from other houses here.” Merlin admitted as he peered around the room, yet he didn’t spot any other Rawenclaws, Hufflepuffs or Slytherins make their way around the common room.

 “Oh yes, Ginny invited me, I feel very lucky to have come,” Luna informed him dreamily. Merlin nodded in understanding, from his experience, all the Weasley children were extremely nice.

 “How long have you known Ginny?” Merlin asked curiously.

 “We met last year, on the train ride home after Christmas. She’s very nice, and she doesn’t mind that I’m a bit strange,” Luna told him happily.

 “It’s good to be strange,” Merlin agreed. “Being strange is a gift even if it doesn’t always feel that way.” Merlin added before he could stop himself and quickly gave Luna an apologetic smile a blush heating his cheeks.

 Luna nodded in kind understanding and Merlin couldn’t be sure, but he thought he saw a knowing look fill her eyes.

 “There you are,” Merlin looked up to find a grinning Arthur making his way towards them, his eyes trained on Merlin. 

 “Here I am,” Merlin agreed returning the grin and feeling both silly and pleased for it.

 “Hello Luna, how are you,” Arthur added as he threw an arm around Merlin shoulder.

 “Well, thank you.” Luna answered pale eyes moving from Merlin to Arthur and back again.

 “That’s good. How are your defense classes coming along,” Arthur asked, voice kind and light in a way Merlin absolutely adored.

 “It’s going well! Neville and I even managed to disarm each other at the same time in the last lesson,” Luna answered, seeming quite enthusiastic about it.

 Arthur nodded. “Yes, I saw,” Arthur told her before shooting Merlin a pointed look.

 “You’re not going to let that go, are you?” Merlin sighed, referring to Arthur’s forced defense lesson with Zacharias.

 “Nope,” Arthur confirmed, popping the ‘P’.

 Still, Merlin felt Arthur’s hold tighten just a bit, as if to ensure that Merlin wasn’t going to leave. Looking closer, Merlin could see the stress lining Arthur’s face.

 Merlin suddenly realized that Luna was still there and looked over to find her studying them with a fascination that had Merlin feeling a bit uncomfortable.

 Lune smiled sweetly once she noticed that Merlin was looking at her once more. “You’re very close, it’s nice,” she remarked simply before skipping away, leaving Merlin to gape after her disappearing figure.

 “Don’t look so surprised, Emerson, she is a Ravenclaw after all.” Arthur smirked.

 “She’s also very blunt,” Merlin grumbled, feeling the need to defend his reaction, Arthur seemed to be taking it all especially well. 

 “Yeah,” Arthur laughed as he looked around the room.

 He paused.

 “You know, Dean’s been eyeing me all night, do you-” Blood rushed to Merlin’s ears, muffling the sound of Arthur’s voice and making Merlin’s temples throb.

His vision seemed to sharpen and fade all at once before a shrill and ringing scream tore through his mind and Merlin felt as if his entire being was splitting in two while yearning to remain as one. He was freezing and melting and burning and shattering all at once, trembling without being able to move. Merlin stumbled and for a moment fought to regain his balance only for another wave of pain to destroy his resolve.

He collapsed.

The last thing Merlin felt was large hands capturing and cradling his burning body – he blacked out.

Chapter Text

Harry groaned as he came to, his temples throbbing and his mind buzzing with unclear images. The feeling wasn’t a new one yet he couldn’t help wondering what had gotten him into such a state since the memories continued to elude him.

“Mr. Potter?” a voice asked, causing Harry to open his eyes and squint at the form standing over him. Harry blinked a few times until the white blob finally started to take shape and the hospital wing came into focus. “Miss Granger, would you mind handing me a pepper up potion from the top shelf.” It was Madam Pomfrey who’d been standing in front of him and who’d just addressed Hermione. Harry’s eyes followed his friend as she rushed to do what Madam Pomfrey had asked of her.

“What happened?” Harry’s words slurred together into a jumbled mess yet it seemed that everyone understood what he’d said.

“You tell us mate, you’re the one who passed out in the common room.” Ron told him, and as Harry looked at him, he noticed the concerned and ruffled look his friend was sporting. 

Harry’s brows furrowed at the news as he tried to remember what Ron was talking about.

“Here you go Mr. Potter, drink up,” Madam Pomfrey spoke up, interrupting Harry’s thoughts by pressing a glass vial to his lips.

Harry blinked, his lips falling open almost unconsciously to allow the liquid to pass through. Harry swallowed the bitter potion under Pomfrey’s scrutinizing gaze but couldn’t resist pulling a face at the thick and heavy texture of the potion. Pomfrey ‘Hmmph’ed before heading towards her office allowing Harry’s eyes to settle on his two friends both of whom were looking quite anxious.

“Was it You-Know-Who?” Ron finally asked, lips pursed and brow tense.

Harry didn’t answer immediately as he tried to remember all that had happened before he passed out. The memories of the party resurfaced and along with it came memories of light-headedness and pain that seemed to slice through his forehead and tear at his soul.

Harry gave a hesitant nod. “I think – I think he’s back.” 

“That’s what Dumbledore said, and Emerson too,” Hermione whispered, glancing over her shoulder at the entrance of the hospital wing.

“Wha-” Harry started to ask, thrown by Hermione’s announcement.

“Yeah, McGonagall and Dumbledore brought you to the hospital wing and Emerson and Armand were already here since apparently, Emerson had fainted as well, real strange don’t you think?” Ron told him. Harry couldn’t help but agree.

“They didn’t seem too surprised by it Harry, I think they know more than they’re telling us,” Hermione added, brown eyes filled with worry.

Harry didn’t get any time to ponder this as Ron spoke up again.

“Anyhow, Dumbledore started whispering about Voldemort and Emerson mumbled something about a break in the veil and then said that You-Know-Who was back, sounded real nutty about it too.” Ron finished. Harry stayed silent, trying to process everything the red-headed Gryffindor had just said while Ron watched him with an expectant gaze.

“And they all just left?” was all Harry could think to say when Ron’s staring became too much.

“Oh yeah, Pomfrey looked ready to stun Emerson to keep him here but since she couldn’t find anything wrong with him….” Ron trailed of as Pomfrey’s office door opened and the nurse came bustling into the room again.

“Well up you go Mr. Potter, it seems no one needs to stay in the infirmary tonight,” she told him as she approached the bed with a chart, her posture stiff and her expression stern.

The trio exchanged glances before Harry hurried to sit up and pull on his sneakers, afraid that Pomfrey might change her mind if they lingered too long.

Pomfrey handed them a permission slip in case Filch happened upon them and Harry was quick to thank her before they left the hospital wing.

“Why would Emerson be affected by Voldemort coming back to life, though?” Harry questioned as they made their way back to the common room. Hermione and Ron didn’t reply seeming to be as baffled as he was.

Harry couldn’t seem to wrap his head around it since he’d never heard of anyone else who’d had a connection with Voldemort, even stranger was the fact that according to Ron and Hermione, neither Emerson nor Armand had seemed surprised by this turn of events.

“What about Dumbledore, did he seem surprised?” Harry questioned.

“Yeah, but only a little, he seemed more surprised that Emerson knew than anything else.” Hermione sighed, appearing frustrated.

Harry nodded in agreement. Clearly there was something more to the Pendragon brothers, but Harry was struggling to find out what that something was. 


Thursday’s DA meeting found Hermione handing out what appeared to be Gallons but she was quick to correct that assumption before Ron became too excited.

“You see the numerals around the edge of the coins?” Hermione asked, holding one up for everyone to examine. The coin gleamed fat and yellow in the light from the torches. “On real Galleons, that’s just a serial number referring to the goblin who cast the coin. On these fake coins, though, the numbers will change to reflect the time and date of the next meeting. The coins will grow hot when the date changes, so if you’re carrying them in a pocket you’ll be able to feel them. We take one each, and when Harry sets the date for the next meeting he’ll change the numbers on his coin, and because I’ve put a Protean Charm on them, they’ll all change to mimic his.” Hermione’s words were met with a blank silence, and Hermione suddenly appeared to start doubting herself.  

“Well - I thought it was a good idea,” she said uncertainly, “I mean, even if Umbridge asked us to turn out our pockets, there’s nothing fishy about carrying a Galleon, is there? But… well, if you don’t want to use them -”

“You can do a Protean Charm?” said Terry Boot.

“Yes,” said Hermione.

“But that’s… that’s NEWT standard, that is,” he said weakly.

“Oh,” Hermione tried to look modest. “Oh… well… yes, I suppose it is.”

“How come you’re not in Ravenclaw?” he demanded, staring at Hermione with something close to wonder. “With brains like yours?”

“Well, the Sorting Hat did seriously consider putting me in Ravenclaw during my Sorting,” said Hermione brightly, “but it decided on Gryffindor in the end. So, does that mean we’re using the Galleons?”

There was a murmur of assent and everybody moved forwards to collect one from the basket.

Harry looked sideways at Hermione as he approached her.

“You know what these remind me of?”

“No, what’s that?”

“The Death Eaters’ scars. Voldemort touches one of them, and all their scars burn, and they know they’ve got to join him.”

“Well… yes,” said Hermione quietly, “that is where I got the idea but you’ll notice I decided to engrave the date on bits of metal rather than on our members’ skin.”

“Yeah… I prefer your way,” said Harry, grinning, as he slipped his Galleon into his pocket. “I suppose the only danger with these is that we might accidentally spend them.”

“Fat chance,” said Ron, who was examining his own fake Galleon with a slightly mournful air, “I haven’t got any real Galleons to confuse it with.”

Harry rolled his eyes at his friend before turning to face the others again.

“Alright, we should be heading back so please form your groups,” Harry told them as he pulled out the Marauders’ Map and started searching for Filch’s dot. 

“Oh!” Hermione exclaimed as she jumped up and hurried towards her bag, causing Harry to raise an eyebrow in a show of curiosity but Hermione just shook her head and mouthed “Later”.

Slowly, but surely, the Room of Requirements started to empty out, until it was only Armand, Emerson and Neville lingering. They seemed to hesitate for a moment more before leaving with Neville. Harry felt himself frown; everything that was happening this year, Voldemort’s rising included, just seemed to add more mystery to the air surrounding the two brothers.

“Harry!” Harry jerked out of his train of thought at the sound of Hermione calling his name. He blinked before turning and wandering towards his two friends who were once again seated on some of the pillows. “I think I might’ve found out what’s wrong with the map!” Hermione spoke up before Harry could start questioning her, her eyes flicking from the book in her lap up to The Marauder’s Map.

“Really?” Ron asked, leaning over, to peer at the book. He wrinkled his nose. “What are you reading?” He added and Harry suddenly realized that the book seemed to be in another language, was that Latin?

 “It’s a Latin script of tracking spells, it’s the only one I could find that had plausible possibilities in it, that’s why I took so long, I had to translate it first,” Hermione explained, confirming Harry’s thoughts.

“That’s brilliant,” Ron blurted before seeming to realize what he’d said and turning bright red because of it.

Harry studied his friends as Hermione’s face registered surprise before flushing as well.  Harry pressed his lips together in an effort to hide his amusement.

“Right, erm… well I found the spell the Marauders must’ve used to track everyone moving around Hogwarts grounds.” Hermione started once she’d recovered most of her composure. “The Ministry has the birth records of every witch and wizard in the UK as well as the birth records of any foreign witches and wizards who’s visited the UK before. You’d be surprised how accessible the information is,” Hermione elaborated with a grimace.

Harry frowned, wanting to protest, yet he knew it wouldn’t do them any good now.

“So,” Harry couldn’t help asking when silence filled the room.

“They used a Source Tracking Charm that used the information drawn from that Ministry list, too track people inside Hogwarts. It’s actually quite amazing because each time a new name is added to that list the spell picks it up so the map stays updated,” Hermione finished up, the admiration clear in her voice.  Harry struggled, not quite knowing what to make of this.

“If that’s possible, why don’t they use that to track people down, why didn’t they use it too track Sirius when he broke out of Azkaban?” Harry finally settled on asking.

“They probably tried, at some point at least, but the spell is only effective if the area is marked off. That’s why Hogwarts worked so well for the map; the wards around the castle creates an invisible wall that seals in the magic.” Hermione answered.

Harry glanced over at Ron and was glad to see the wide eyed look resting on his face. Harry himself wasn’t quite sure what to make of the new information so he decided to leave it for the moment and focus instead on what he did understand.

“So if it’s still working, why aren’t Armand and Emerson showing up on the map?”

“I can’t say for certain, but I think it might be because neither Emerson nor Armand have been registered with the Ministry, it’s likely the Ministry doesn’t even know they exist,” Hermione stated with a worried frown marring her face.  There was a pregnant silence before Ron spoke up.

“Well, they know now, Umbridge probably told the Minister about everything, the cow.” He grumbled, face souring.

Hermione gave a very unlady –like snort. “What? You actually want Emerson and Armand to get away with it?” She challenged with a raised eyebrow.

“No! But I certainly don’t want the toad to know something we don’t, either!” Ron hissed, eyes narrowing at the bushy haired girl.

Harry, sensing the beginnings of a fight, decided to intervene. 

“So they aren’t registered, any ideas why that could be, Hermione?” Harry asked, grasping at straws. Hermione grimaced and shook her head. Harry paused at that, brow furrowing in thought. “Maybe it was their dad’s doing, he certainly sounds controlling enough,” Harry considered, reasoning that it had been their parents’ responsibility to report their existence to the Ministry. It seemed Hermione was thinking along the same lines because she was quick to object.

“Only problem is, Harry, that they didn’t have the same dads when they were born, which is when they’re existence should’ve been recorded,” Hermione stated grimly.

Harry froze as the truth of that statement sunk in, what were the odds that two people who weren’t registered, would just happen to become step-brothers?

Nothing was making sense.


 As if both Halloween and the last DA meeting weren’t strange enough, the Quidditch game against Slytherin decided to take a strange turn as well. In the weeks leading up to the Quidditch game, Slytherin had become crueler and crueler, hexing Alicia with bushy eyebrows and picking on Ron, who was still struggling to live up to Keeper standards.

But that wasn’t what struck Harry as strange.

The morning of the match dawned bright and cold. When Harry awoke he looked around at Ron’s bed and saw him sitting bolt upright, his arms around his knees, staring fixedly into space.

“You alright?” Harry couldn’t help but ask, concerned by the blank look on his friend’s face.

Ron nodded but did not speak. Harry was reminded forcibly of the time Ron had accidentally put a Slug-vomiting Charm on himself; he looked just as pale and sweaty as he had done then, not to mention as reluctant to open his mouth.

“You just need some breakfast,” Harry said reasonably. “C’mon.”

The Great Hall was filling up fast when they arrived, the talk louder and the mood more exuberant than usual.

They received a rousing welcome at the Gryffindor table, where everyone was wearing red and gold, but far from raising Ron’s spirits the cheers seemed to sap the last of his morale; he collapsed onto the nearest bench looking as though he were facing his final meal.

“I must’ve been mental to do this,” he said in a croaky whisper. “Mental.”

“Don’t be thick,” said Harry firmly, passing him a choice of cereals, “you’re going to be fine. It’s normal to be nervous.”

“I’m rubbish,” croaked Ron. “I’m lousy. I can’t play to save my life. What was I thinking?”

“Get a grip,” said Harry sternly. “Look at that save you made with your foot the other day, even Fred and George said it was brilliant.”

Ron turned a tortured face to Harry.

“That was an accident,” he whispered miserably. “I didn’t mean to do it - I slipped off my broom when none of you were looking and when I was trying to get back on I kicked the Quaffle by accident.”

“Well,” said Harry, recovering quickly from this unpleasant surprise, “a few more accidents like that and the game’s in the bag, isn’t it?”

Hermione and Ginny sat down opposite them wearing red and gold scarves, gloves and rosettes.

“How’re you feeling?” Ginny asked Ron, who was now staring into the dregs of milk at the bottom of his empty cereal bowl as though seriously considering attempting to drown himself in them.

“He’s just nervous,” said Harry.

“Well, that’s a good sign, I never feel you perform as well in exams if you’re not a bit nervous,” said Hermione heartily.

“Hello,” said a vague and dreamy voice from behind them. Harry looked up: Luna Lovegood had drifted over from the Ravenclaw table. Many people were staring at her and a few were openly laughing and pointing; she had managed to procure a hat shaped like a life-size lion’s head, which was perched precariously on her head.

“I’m supporting Gryffindor,” said Luna, pointing unnecessarily at her hat. “Look what it does…”

She reached up and tapped the hat with her wand. It opened its mouth wide and gave an extremely realistic roar that made everyone in the vicinity jump.

“It’s good, isn’t it?” said Luna happily. “I wanted to have it chewing up a serpent to represent Slytherin, you know, but there wasn’t time. Anyway… good luck, Ronald!”

She drifted away. They had not quite recovered from the shock of Luna’s hat before Angelina came hurrying towards them, accompanied by Katie and Alicia, whose eyebrows had mercifully been returned to normal by Madam Pomfrey.

“When you’re ready” she said, “we’re going to go straight down to the pitch, check out conditions and change.”

“We’ll be there in a bit,” Harry assured her. “Ron’s just got to have some breakfast.”

It became clear after ten minutes, however, that Ron was not capable of eating anything more and Harry thought it best to get him down to the changing rooms so they stood up and said goodbye to Hermione with Ron still looking quite lost and desperate.

“Good luck, Ron,” Hermione smiled, standing on tiptoe and kissing him on the cheek. “And you too, Harry .”

Ron seemed to come to himself slightly as they walked back across the Great Hall. He touched the spot on his face where Hermione had kissed him, looking puzzled, as though he was not quite sure what had just happened.

Harry couldn’t help but feel grateful towards Hermione for supplying Ron with a distraction. “Come on,” Harry said, dragging his dazed friend away.

The frosty grass crunched under their feet as they hurried down the sloping lawns towards the stadium. There was no wind at all and the sky was a uniform pearly white, which meant that visibility would be good without the drawback of direct sunlight in the eyes. Harry pointed out these encouraging factors to Ron as they walked, but he was not sure that Ron was listening.

Angelina had changed already and was talking to the rest of the team when they entered. Harry

and Ron pulled on their robes (Ron attempted to do his up back-to-front for several minutes before Alicia took pity on him and went to help), then sat down to listen to the pre-match talk while the babble of voices outside grew steadily louder as the crowd came pouring out of the castle towards the pitch.

In the end they’d won, but only because Harry had been able to catch the snitch before Ron could do too much damage.  But Harry had to admit that it had been quite close since he’d struggled to stay focused on the match. His lack of focus was partly due to him keeping an eye on Ron but mostly it was due to the fact that Malfoy hadn’t been playing seeker opposite him. Instead it had been a burly looking fourth year that looked nothing like the typical seeker. Harry was baffled, to say the least, and spent most of the game searching for the head of platinum hair in the cheering crowd, but it stayed missing.

“Angelina, where was Malfoy?” Harry asked as everyone surrounded him for congratulations after the match. Angelina raised an eyebrow at Harry’s question but replied nonetheless. 

“No idea, I just got the line-up that said that he and the two beaters were out for the match. Why?”

Harry shook his head, frowning. “Just curious.”

“That was great! Both of you!” Hermione exclaimed as she burst through the crowd.

“I don’t think we were watching the same match, Hermione, I didn’t catch a single Quaffle,” Ron grumbled as Hermione hugged both of them.

“Nonsense, you did fine,” Hermione waved his comment away, though her smile did look a bit pained.

“Thanks, Hermione,” Harry said in an effort to cut off any further objections Ron might have.  Ron gave Harry a look, but he didn’t say anything so Harry took it as a win.

“Celebration in the common room!” George yelled and everyone cheered before starting to disperse.

“Recon they’ve managed to smuggle in any Firewiskey, I could really go for around” Ron’s weary question earned him a dirty look from Hermione but even she seemed to sense that now wasn’t the time to reprimand him.

“Let’s go find out,” Harry said as they made their way back to the dorm. 


 Armand, Emerson and Seamus were already in the dorm when the trio got there, as was two craters full of Firewiskey. But unfortunately for Ron, Hermione made sure to keep Harry and him away from it and instead guided them towards the open seats across from Armand and Emerson.

“Honestly, Hermione, it’s not like I’m gonna get sloshed, I just want a sip,” Ron grumbled as he glared down at his feet.

“There are children here!” Hermione hissed back, trying to keep her voice low.

“How bout we go visit Hagrid, it might cheer you up and it’ll be quiet over there now,” Harry interrupted whatever response Ron might’ve had, desperate to stop this argument before it truly began.

Ron gave Harry a doubtful look before giving in with a reluctant nod.

Harry smiled in relief.

“Mind if we tag along?” Emerson spoke up looking rather sheepish as he toyed with the plain red scarf wound around his neck. “Hagrid’s been asking us to come over for tea but we haven’t had the chance,” he elaborated upon seeing Harry’s questioning look. 

“I suppose so,” It was Harry’s turn to feel reluctant. He wasn’t comfortable with the idea of them coming along yet he couldn’t think of a good enough reason to say no.

“Thanks,” Armand smiled.

And so they headed out once again.

To Harry’s surprise, Hagrid seemed glad to see all of them when they appeared on his doorstep, huddled together and shivering from the cold.

“Ah, Ha’ry good tah see yah! Oh! And I see Arman’ and Emers’n’s decided to come as well! Come in, come in, can’t h’ve yah, wand’rin’ ’round in the cold,” he enthused as he ushered them inside.

Hagrid’s hut was cozy as always, the fire crackling away and warming the place up.

“Bes’ be puttin’ the kettle on for you lo’,” Hagrid told them as he started bustling around, leaving them to find seats for themselves. Harry found himself, Ron and Hermione perching on the kitchen stools while Emerson and Armand settled into something that looked like a lumpy loveseat. There was a pregnant moment of silence as they waited for Hagrid to put the kettle on the fire.

“So Hagrid, how’ve you been?” Hermione asked when Hagrid finally settled into a chair.

“Not too bad, mind yah, that Umbridge woman’s been snoopin’ ’round. Pr’ffesor Dumbl’dore recon’s she’s tryin’ tah cause some tr’uble for ’im,” Hagrid answered, a disturbed look flitting over his face.

 Harry felt his eyes widening at that while his brow creased in worry.

“We’ve been having trouble with her to, though Emerson and Armand have been standing up to her,” Ron exclaimed and started recounting everything about Umbridge’s detentions. As he talked, Harry noted that both Armand and Emerson seemed uncomfortable and embarrassed about being the topic of conversation.

Harry knew the feeling and felt slightly guilty for not stopping Ron’s rambling but at the same time, he wanted Hagrid to start questioning the two brothers, wanted to see what they had to say.

“That’s an outrage that is!” Hagrid exclaimed when Ron had finished with his story. “We need tah tell Dumbl’dore. They can’ be putting peopl’ like ’hat ’round chil’ren, she’s downrigh’ dang’rous,” Hargid said as he stood up as if meaning to go talk to Dumbledore that instant.

“Hagrid don’t, like Ron said, Emerson and Armand took care of it, it’ll only cause trouble for Dumbledore if he tries to do something about it.” Hermione told him, eyes wide in alarm.

“Exactly, Fudge wants a reason to sack Dumbledore, we can’t give him one,” Harry agreed, looking at Hagrid in desperation.

Hagrid huffed and grumbled but sank back into his chair, face still red from anger.

“Ow! Um, right, sorry Hagrid, didn’t mean to upset you,” Ron apologized while rubbing his ribs, where, if Harry had to hazard a guess, Hermione had just stabbed him with her elbow.

“Tha’’s alrigh’, Ron,” Hagrid said, reaching over to pat Ron on the shoulder with one of his large hands. Harry didn’t miss Ron’s slight wince of pain.

Silence reigned again until the sound of the kettle whistling, split through it.

“Oh, almost forgot tah mention i’, I’ve been speaking tah your brother Charlie fir a while now, Dumbled’re said I could go visi’ Norbert during Christmas, only, Charlie’s bin callin’ h’r Noberta, she’s female, apparen’ly.” Hagrid told them as he started pouring the tea and handed each of them a cup, excitement clear in his voice.

“Norberta?” Emerson asked, looking rather curious.

“Yes,” Hagrid agreed, seeming happy to have been asked. “It’s me dragon, had tah hand h’r off tah Charlie when she bit Ron, but ’e says she’s bin doin’ well,” Hagrid sounded proud.

“That’s amazing, what type of dragon is she?” Emerson exclaimed, intrigued.

“Norwegian Ridgeback,” Hagrid answered before suddenly looking uncertain. “Not sure if I should be tellin’ yah this,” he then added.

“No, no, no,” Emerson started fumbling to placate him a blush staining his cheeks. “Just curious.”

“He’s always had a fascination with dragons,” Armand put in. “Which is ironic considering our surname,” Armand mused, a smile stretching across his face.

“Oh, Pendragon, righ’? If yah don’ mind me sayin’, I was actually under the impression tha’ the name Pendragon died out with Kin’ Arthur ’imself, in the wizardin’ world at least.” Hagrid said and Harry felt his ears prickling with interest. He knew about the Arthurian Legends of course, it had been one of the children’s books they’d been given to read in preschool, though, unsurprisingly, he’s copy had been torn up by Dudley. But he hadn’t given Merlin and the prince much thought after he’d seen what real magic was like. It was strange to think that Merlin must’ve existed, once upon a time.

Armand’s smile seemed to falter for a moment.

“It’s cool, isn’t it,” Emerson sounded eager when he spoke up. “Apparently Armand’s great grandmother was a muggleborn and they got the surname from her. I love it, so, naturally when it came to taking their surname or keeping my own, I obviously took the chance to change it,” Emerson explained with a grin.

Hagrid nodded as if this made sense to him while Harry couldn’t help asking what Emerson’s surname use to be.

“Morgan,” Emerson answered and there was something unreadable about his expression as he said it.

Harry gave an absentminded nod before turning his attention back to Hagrid. “Well I’m glad you’re getting to see her, Hagrid. Tell her “hi” from us,” Harry told him.

Ron snorted. “It’s not like she’ll understand.”

“You’re so tactless, Ronald,” Hermione scolded.

“But it’s true!” Ron defended.

“It didn’t use to be, actually,” Emerson informed them, sounding serious.

“What do you mean?” Harry questioned, once again intrigued.

“’e means the Dragonlords,” Hagrid answered before Emerson could. “Legend has it tha’ there w’re so’ceres, witches an’ wizards alike, who w’re gifted with the abili’y tah talk tah dragons, they w’re the dragons’ kin,” Hagrid explained, his voice heavy with emotion.

“Mum told us ’bout, them, said they were there when magic began but that they died out rather quickly, no one really knows why.” Ron put in, perplexed.

“Tha’’s wha the legends say, anyhow,” Hagrid agreed. “Now, I recon they’ll be missin’ yah back in the castle, bes’ be on your way,” Hagrid changed the subject as he heaved himself out of his chair.

“I suppose so, thank you for the tea Professor Hagrid,” Emerson beamed as Hagrid took all their empty cups.

“Me pleasure all a’ you ,” Hagrid smiled back, blushing.

They stood and Emerson and Armand led the way out with Ron following behind them.

“Hagrid, you said the wizarding world lost the name Pendragon when King Arthur died, but legend says he was a muggle,” Harry heard Hermione say just as he went to follow Ron.

“Tha’’s no’ wha’ some o’ the legends say,” Hagrid replied.

“Come on, Hermione, Harry, lunch’s almost over,” Ron called from where he’d stopped when he realized they weren’t with him.

Harry looked back at Hagrid and Hermione, the latter of whom seemed to want to ask Hagrid more, but she sighed and bid him goodbye instead.

Hagrid’s words echoed in Harry’s mind as they walked. 


 “Did you notice that Malfoy wasn’t at the game?” Harry remembered suddenly when they’d settled in front of the fire late that night. The common room was practically abandoned, even Emerson and Armand having gone to bed already.

The comment was aimed mostly towards Hermione since it wouldn’t have surprised Harry if Ron had been too nervous during the game to notice anything, let alone the absence of the blonde Slytherin. Still, Ron frowned but gave a slow nod of acknowledgement, as if he seemed to be thinking about it.

“Well, Emerson wasn’t at the Quidditch game either,” Hermione informed them, catching Harry off guard. He hadn’t really seen either Emerson or Armand in the stands but that wasn’t anything new, he usually couldn’t pick anyone out of a crowd at a Quidditch match.

“What does that have to do with Malfoy? Don’t tell me you think that Emerson would have anything to do with that blonde git.” Ron grumbled.

“How should I know, Ronald, I’m just saying that Malfoy wasn’t the only one who missed the game today. And don’t you find it strange that neither Armand nor Emerson mentioned Emerson’s absence, at all?” Hermione sounded fed up as she glared at the redhead.

Harry’s eyebrows drew together as he considered this.

“But they were at the celebrations afterward,” Harry pointed out. 

Hermione shrugged. “Armand was the only one sat with me in the bleachers.”

Harry let out a groan of frustration. “They were just starting to seem normal again,” he complained, thinking back on their visit with Hagrid and all that had been said. “Hermione, what do you think Hagrid meant when he said that not all the legends said the same thing, I mean, the legends are pretty standard,” Harry pondered out loud.

Hermione pursed her lips as she seemed to consider Harry’s words before replying.

“Not necessarily, I mean, we grew up in the muggle world so it’s quite possible that what we heard was out of a muggle’s point of view. After all, muggles mainly used stories to explain what they didn’t understand or to warn children off of something. It’s quite possible that the stories were changed to benefit the people telling the stories. While in the wizarding world, they might’ve done the same thing but they would’ve also kept records of what really happened, to separate fact from fiction,” Hermione mused. Harry took a moment to process this but he thought he understood what she was saying.

“So, where do we find the facts and what about Malfoy?” he wanted to know.

Hermione sighed but gave in quickly. “I’ll take a look in the library when I get the chance but I don’t know what’s going on with Malfoy. But, arry, do you really think we should be focusing on this now?” Hermione’s brow was creased with worry as she stared at Harry.

“Fine, okay, but if not that, then we at least have to keep an eye on Armand and Emerson, even if it’s just because they’re not registered at the ministry and because Emerson seems to know too much about Voldemort. I can’t shake the feeling that they’re hiding something,” Harry conceded, gut clenching as he thought about all the unanswered questions still floating around.

Ron and Hermione exchanged a look

“We trust you, Harry,” Hermione assured him with a small smile.

“Yeah mate, your gut hasn’t steered us wrong yet,” Ron smirked.

Harry felt an answering smile stretching across his own face.


And so the weeks leading up to the Christmas Holidays were spent focusing on DA meetings and trying, without Hermione’s knowledge, to uncover the truth about the Pendragon brothers, with the latter of the two tasks producing no results.

“Maybe we should ask my dad about it when we’re there for the holidays, at the very least we could ask me mum about the legends. You’re still coming over, right Harry?” Ron whispered as they were getting ready for bed one evening. Ron was careful not to mention the Pendragons by name when he spoke, since the objects of their discussion were across from them, getting ready for bed as well.

“Yeah, that might be best,” Harry agree, glancing over at the two brothers as he spoke.

“Well, night” Ron mumbled as he climbed into bed.

“Night,” Harry replied.

Neville snuffled in his sleep and an owl hooted somewhere out in the night before Harry felt himself drifting off.

Harry dreamt that Cho had cornered him in the library and demanded that he stop searching for answers concerning Armand and Emerson. Then Cedric had appeared and pushed Cho against a wall before he and Cho had started kissing with Harry being forced to watch.

The dream changed…

His body felt smooth, powerful and flexible. He was gliding between shining metal bars, across dark, cold stone… he was flat on the floor, sliding along on his belly… it was dark, yet he could see objects around him shimmering in strange, vibrant colors… he was turning his head. At first glance the corridor was empty… but no… a man was sitting on the floor ahead, his chin drooping onto his chest, his outline gleaming in the dark.

Harry put out his tongue… he tasted the man’s scent on the air… he was alive but drowsy… sitting in front of a door at the end of the corridor. Harry longed to bite the man… but he must master the impulse… he had more important work to do.

But the man was stirring… a silver Cloak fell from his legs as he jumped to his feet; and Harry saw his vibrant, blurred outline towering above him, saw a wand withdrawn from a belt… he had no choice… he reared high from the floor and struck once, twice and then Harry was suddenly hissing and screeching as he felt his smooth, flexible body growing unbearably hot before exploding.

Harry’s eyes flew open in shock. Every inch of his body was covered in icy sweat; his bed covers were twisted all around him like a strait-jacket; he felt as though a white-hot poker were being applied to his forehead.

“Harry!”

Ron was standing over him looking extremely frightened. There were more figures at the foot of Harry’s bed. He clutched his head in his hands; the pain was blinding him… he rolled right over and vomited over the edge of the mattress.

“He’s really ill,” said a scared voice. “Should we call someone?”

“Harry! Harry!”

He had to tell Ron, it was very important that he tell him…. Taking in large gulps of air, Harry pushed himself up in bed, willing himself not to throw up again, the pain half-blinding him.

“Your dad,” he panted, his chest heaving. “Your dad’s… been attacked…”

“What?” Ron said uncomprehendingly.

“Your dad! He’s been bitten, it’s serious, there…there was blood…”

“I’m going for help,” said the same scared voice, and Harry heard footsteps running out of the dormitory.

“Harry, mate,” Ron said uncertainly, “you… you were just dreaming…”

“No!” said Harry furiously; it was crucial that Ron understand. “It wasn’t a dream… not an ordinary dream… I was there, I saw it… I did it…”

He could hear Seamus and Dean muttering but did not care. The pain in his forehead was subsiding slightly, though he was still sweating and shivering feverishly. He wretched again and Ron leapt backwards out of the way.

“Harry, you’re not well,” he said shakily. “Neville’s gone for help.”

“I’m fine!” Harry choked, wiping his mouth on his pajamas and shaking uncontrollably.

“There’s nothing wrong with me, it’s your dad you’ve got to worry about - we need to find out where he is - he’s been hurt - I was - it was a huge snake.”

He tried to get out of bed but Ron pushed him back into it; Dean and Seamus were still whispering somewhere nearby. Whether one minute passed or ten, Harry did not know; he simply sat there shaking, feeling the pain very slowly receding from his scar. There were hurried footsteps coming up the stairs and he heard Neville’s voice again.

“Over here, Professor.”

Professor McGonagall came hurrying into the dormitory in her tartan dressing gown, her glasses perched lopsidedly on the bridge of her bony nose.

“What is it, Potter? Where does it hurt?”

He had never been so pleased to see her; it was a member of the Order of the Phoenix he needed now, not someone fussing over him and prescribing useless potions.

“It’s Ron’s dad,” he said, sitting up again. “He’s been attacked by a snake and it’s serious, I saw it happen.”

“What do you mean, you saw it happen?” said Professor McGonagall, her dark eyebrows contracting.

“I don’t know… I was asleep and then I was there…”

“You mean you dreamed this?”

“No!” said Harry angrily; would none of them understand? “I was having a dream at first about something completely different, something stupid… and then this interrupted it. It was real, I didn’t imagine it. Mr. Weasley was asleep on the floor and he was attacked by a gigantic snake and… and I… I woke up… I think someone… someone’s got to find out where he is…”

Professor McGonagall was gazing at him through her lopsided spectacles as though horrified at what she was seeing.

“I’m not lying and I’m not mad!” Harry told her, his voice rising to a shout. “I’m telling you, I saw it happen!”

“I believe you, Potter,” said Professor McGonagall curtly. “Put on your dressing gown - we’re going to see the Headmaster.”

Harry was so relieved she was taking him seriously that he did not hesitate, but jumped out of bed at once, pulled on his dressing gown and pushed his glasses back onto his nose.

“Weasley, you ought to come too,” said Professor McGonagall.

They followed Professor McGonagall past the silent figures of Neville, Dean and Seamus, out of the dormitory, down the spiral stairs into the common room, through the portrait hole and off along the Fat Lady’s moonlit corridor. Harry felt as though the panic inside him might spill over at any moment; he wanted to run, to yell for Dumbledore; Mr. Weasley was bleeding as they walked along so sedately, and what if those fangs (Harry tried hard not to think ‘my fangs’) had been poisonous? They passed Mrs. Norris, who turned her lamp-like eyes upon them and hissed faintly, but Professor McGonagall said, “Shoo!” Mrs. Norris slunk away into the shadows, and in a few minutes they had reached the stone gargoyle guarding the entrance to Dumbledore’s office.

“Fizzing Whizzbee,” said Professor McGonagall.

The gargoyle sprang to life and leapt aside; the wall behind it split in two to reveal a stone staircase that was moving continually upwards like a spiral escalator. The three of them stepped on to the moving stairs; the wall closed behind them with a thud and they were moving upwards in tight circles until they reached the highly polished oak door with the brass knocker shaped like a griffin.

Though it was now well past midnight there were voices coming from inside the room, a positive babble of them. It sounded as though Dumbledore was entertaining at least a dozen people.

Professor McGonagall rapped three times with the griffin knocker and the voices ceased abruptly as though someone had switched them all off. The door opened of its own accord and Professor McGonagall led Harry and Ron inside.

The room was in half-darkness; the strange silver instruments standing on tables were silent and still rather than whirring and emitting puffs of smoke as they usually did; the portraits of old headmasters and headmistresses covering the walls were all snoozing in their frames. Behind the door, a magnificent red and gold bird the size of a swan dozed on its perch with its head under its wing.

“Oh, it’s you, Professor McGonagall… and… ah.”

Dumbledore was sitting in a high-backed chair behind his desk; he leaned forward into the pool of candlelight illuminating the papers laid out before him. He was wearing a magnificently embroidered purple and gold dressing gown over a snowy white nightshirt, but seemed wide awake, his penetrating light blue eyes fixed intently upon Professor McGonagall.

“Professor Dumbledore, Potter has had a… well, a nightmare,” said Professor McGonagall. “He says…”

“It wasn’t a nightmare,” said Harry quickly.

Professor McGonagall looked around at Harry, frowning slightly.

“Very well, then, Potter, you tell the Headmaster about it.”

“I… well, I was asleep…,” said Harry and, even in his terror and his desperation to make Dumbledore understand, he couldn’t help noticing that Dumbledore seemed reluctant to meet his eyes and he couldn’t help feeling confused by it. “But it wasn’t an ordinary dream… it was real… I saw it happen…” He took a deep breath, “Ron’s dad - Mr. Weasley - has been attacked by a giant snake.”

The words seemed to reverberate in the air after he had said them, sounding slightly ridiculous, even comic. There was a pause in which Dumbledore leaned back and stared at the ceiling meditatively. Ron looked from Harry to Dumbledore, white-faced and shocked.

“How did you see this?” Dumbledore asked quietly, as his eyes slowly lowered themselves back to Harry, yet Harry still couldn’t catch his gaze.

“Well… I don’t know,” said Harry, rather angrily - what did it matter? “Inside my head, I suppose -”

“You misunderstand me,” said Dumbledore, still in the same calm tone. “I mean… can you remember — er - where you were positioned as you watched this attack happen? Were you perhaps standing beside the victim, or else looking down on the scene from above?”

This was such a curious question that Harry gaped at Dumbledore; it was almost as though he knew…

“I was the snake,” he said. “I saw it all from the snake’s point of view.”

Nobody else spoke for a moment, then Dumbledore, now looking at Ron who was still white-faced, asked in a new and sharper voice, “Is Arthur seriously injured?”

“Yes,” said Harry emphatically - why were they all so slow on the uptake, did they not realize how much a person bled when fangs that long pierced their side? They seemed to be taking him seriously yet they weren’t doing anything to remedy the situation.

But Dumbledore stood up, so quickly it made Harry jump. The headmaster then addressed one of the old portraits hanging very near the ceiling. “Everard?” he said sharply. “And you too, Dilys!”

A sallow-faced wizard with short black bangs and an elderly witch with long silver ringlets in the frame beside him, both of whom seemed to have been in the deepest of sleeps, opened their eyes immediately.

“You were listening?” said Dumbledore.

The wizard nodded; the witch said, “Naturally.”

“The man has red hair and glasses,” said Dumbledore. “Everard, you will need to raise the alarm, make sure he is found by the right people -”

Both nodded and moved sideways out of their frames, but instead of emerging in neighboring pictures (as usually happened at Hogwarts) neither reappeared. One frame now contained nothing but a backdrop of dark curtain, the other a handsome leather armchair. Harry noticed that many of the other headmasters and mistresses on the walls, though snoring and drooling most convincingly, kept sneaking peeks at him from under their eyelids, and he suddenly understood who had been talking when they had knocked.

“Everard and Dilys were two of Hogwarts’s most celebrated Heads,” Dumbledore said, now sweeping around Harry, Ron and Professor McGonagall to approach the magnificent sleeping bird on his perch beside the door. “Their renown is such that both have portraits hanging in other important wizarding institutions. As they are free to move between their own portraits, they can tell us what may be happening elsewhere…”

“But Mr. Weasley could be anywhere!” Harry objected.

“Please sit down, all three of you,” said Dumbledore, as though Harry had not spoken, “Everard and Dilys may not be back for several minutes. Professor McGonagall, if you could draw up extra chairs.”

Professor McGonagall pulled her wand from the pocket of her dressing gown and waved it; three chairs appeared out of thin air, straight-backed and wooden. Harry sat down, watching Dumbledore over his shoulder. Dumbledore was now stroking Fawkes’s plumed golden head with one finger. The phoenix awoke immediately. He stretched his beautiful head high and observed Dumbledore through bright, dark eyes.

“We will need,” Dumbledore said very quietly to the bird, “a warning.”

There was a flash of fire and the phoenix had gone.

Dumbledore now swooped down upon one of the fragile silver instruments whose function Harry had never known, carried it over to his desk, sat down facing them again and tapped it gently with the tip of his wand.

The instrument tinkled into life at once with rhythmic clinking noises. Tiny puffs of pale green smoke issued from the minuscule silver tube at the top. Dumbledore watched the smoke closely, his brow furrowed. After a few seconds, the tiny puffs became a steady stream of smoke that thickened and coiled in the air… a serpent’s head grew out of the end of it, opening its mouth wide. Harry wondered whether the instrument was confirming his story: he looked eagerly at Dumbledore for a sign that he was right, but Dumbledore did not look up.

“Naturally, naturally,” murmured Dumbledore apparently to himself, still observing the stream of smoke without the slightest sign of surprise. “But in essence divided?”

Harry could make neither head nor tail of this question. The smoke serpent, however, split itself instantly into two snakes, both coiling and undulating in the dark air. With a look of grim satisfaction, Dumbledore gave the instrument another gentle tap with his wand: the clinking noise slowed and died and the smoke serpents grew faint, became a formless haze and vanished.

Dumbledore replaced the instrument on its spindly little table. Harry saw many of the old headmasters in the portraits follow him with their eyes, then, realizing that Harry was watching them, hastily pretend to be sleeping again. Harry wanted to ask what the strange silver instrument was for, but before he could do so, there was a shout from the top of the wall to their right; the wizard called Everard had reappeared in his portrait, panting slightly.

“Dumbledore!”

“What news?” Dumbledore said at once.

“I yelled until someone came running,” said the wizard, who was mopping his brow on the curtain behind him, “said I’d heard something moving downstairs - they weren’t sure whether to believe me but went down to check - you know there are no portraits down there to watch from. Anyway, they carried him up a few minutes later. He doesn’t look good, he’s covered in blood, I ran along to Elfrida Cragg’s portrait to get a good view as they left -”

“Good,” said Dumbledore as Ron made a convulsive movement. “I take it Dilys will have seen him arrive, then -”

And moments later, the silver-ringleted witch had reappeared in her picture, too; she sank, coughing, into her armchair and said, “Yes, they’ve taken him to St. Mungo’s, Dumbledore… they carried him past my portrait… he looks bad but it appears that the bleeding is slow…”

“Thank you,” said Dumbledore. He looked round at Professor McGonagall.

“Minerva, I need you to go and wake the other Weasley children.”

“Of course…” Professor McGonagall got up and moved swiftly to the door. Harry cast a sideways glance at Ron, who was still looking terrified. “And Dumbledore - what about Molly?” Professor McGonagall asked, pausing at the door.

“That will be a job for Fawkes when he has finished keeping a lookout for anybody approaching,” said Dumbledore. “But she may already know… that excellent clock of hers…”

Harry knew Dumbledore was referring to the clock that told, not the time, but the whereabouts and conditions of the various Weasley family members, and with a pang he thought that Mr. Weasley’s hand must, even now, be pointing at mortal peril. But it was very late. Mrs. Weasley was probably asleep, not watching the clock. Harry felt cold as he remembered Mrs. Weasley’s Boggart turning into Mr. Weasley’s lifeless body, his glasses askew, blood running down his face… but Mr. Weasley wasn’t going to die… he couldn’t…

Dumbledore was now rummaging in a cupboard behind Harry and Ron. He emerged from it carrying a blackened old kettle, which he placed carefully on his desk. He raised his wand and murmured, “Portus!” For a moment the kettle trembled, glowing with an odd blue light; then it quivered to rest, as solidly black as ever.

Dumbledore marched over to another portrait, this time of a clever-looking wizard with a pointed beard, who had been painted wearing the Slytherin colours of green and silver and was apparently sleeping so deeply that he could not hear Dumbledore’s voice when he attempted to rouse him.

“Phineas. Phineas.”

The subjects of the portraits lining the room were no longer pretending to be asleep; they were shifting around in their frames, the better to watch what was happening. When the clever-looking wizard continued to feign sleep, some of them shouted his name, too.

“Phineas! Phineas! PHINEAS!”

He could not pretend any longer; he gave a theatrical jerk and opened his eyes wide.

“Did someone call?”

“I need you to visit your other portrait again, Phineas,” said Dumbledore. “I’ve got another message.”

“Visit my other portrait?” said Phineas in a reedy voice, giving a long, fake yawn (his eyes traveling around the room and focusing on Harry). “Oh, no, Dumbledore, I am too tired tonight.”

Something about Phineas’ voice was familiar to Harry, where had he heard it before? But before he could think, the portraits on the surrounding walls broke into a storm of protest.

“Insubordination, sir!” roared a corpulent, red-nosed wizard, brandishing his fists. “Dereliction of duty!”

“We are honour-bound to give service to the present Headmaster of Hogwarts!” cried a frail-looking old wizard whom Harry recognized as Dumbledore’s predecessor, Armando Dippet.

“Shame on you, Phineas!”

“Shall I persuade him, Dumbledore?” called a gimlet-eyed witch, raising an unusually thick wand that looked not unlike a birch rod.

“Oh, very well,” said the wizard called Phineas, eyeing the wand with mild apprehension, “though he may well have destroyed my picture by now, he’s done away with most of the family-”

“Sirius knows not to destroy your portrait,” said Dumbledore, and Harry realized immediately where he had heard Phineas voice before: issuing from the apparently empty frame in his bedroom in Grimmauld Place. “You are to give him the message that Arthur Weasley has been gravely injured and that his wife, children and Harry Potter will be arriving at his house shortly. Do you understand?”

“Arthur Weasley, injured, wife and children and Harry Potter coming to stay,” repeated Phineas in a bored voice. “Yes, yes… very well.”

He sloped away into the frame of the portrait and disappeared from view at the very moment the study door opened again. Fred, George and Ginny were ushered inside by Professor McGonagall, all three of them looking dishevelled and shocked, still in their night things.

“Harry - what’s going on?” asked Ginny, who looked frightened. “Professor McGonagall says you saw Dad get hurt -”

“Your father has been injured in the course of his work for the Order of the Phoenix,” said Dumbledore, before Harry could speak. “He has been taken to St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. I am sending you back to Sirius’s house, which is much more convenient for the hospital than The Burrow. You will meet your mother there.”

“How’re we going?” asked Fred, looking shaken. “Floo powder?”

“No,” said Dumbledore, “Floo powder is not safe at the moment, the Network is being watched. You will be taking a Portkey.” He indicated the old kettle lying innocently on his desk. “We are just waiting for Phineas Nigellus to report back… I want to be sure that the coast is clear before sending you -”

There was a flash of flame in the very middle of the office, leaving behind a single golden feather that floated gently to the floor.

“It is Fawkes’s warning,” said Dumbledore, catching the feather as it fell. “Professor Umbridge must know you’re out of your beds… Minerva, go and head her off - tell her any story -”

Professor McGonagall was gone in a swish of tartan.

“He says he’ll be delighted,” said a bored voice behind Dumbledore; the wizard called Phineas had reappeared in front of his Slytherin banner. “My great-great-grandson has always had an odd taste in house-guests.”

“Come here, then,” Dumbledore said to Harry and the Weasleys. “And quickly, before anyone else joins us.”

Harry and the others gathered around Dumbledore’s desk.

“You have all used a Portkey before?” asked Dumbledore, and they nodded, each reaching out to touch some part of the blackened kettle. “Good. On the count of three, then… one… two…”

It happened in a fraction of a second: in the infinitesimal pause before Dumbledore said “three”, Harry looked up at him - they were very close together - and Dumbledore’s clear blue gaze moved from the Portkey to Harry’s face.

At once, Harry’s scar burned white-hot, as though the old wound had burst open again – and unbidden, unwanted, but terrifyingly strong, there rose within Harry a hatred so powerful he felt, for that instant, he would like nothing better than to strike - to bite - to sink his fangs into the man before him — “… three.”

Harry felt a powerful jerk behind his navel, the ground vanished from beneath his feet, his hand was glued to the kettle; he was banging into the others as they all sped forwards in a swirl of colours and a rush of wind, the kettle pulling them onwards… until his feet hit the ground so hard his knees buckled, the kettle clattered to the ground, and somewhere close at hand a voice said: “Back again, the blood-traitor brats. Is it true their father’s dying?”

“OUT!” roared a second voice.

Harry scrambled to his feet and looked around; they had arrived in the gloomy basement kitchen of number twelve, Grimmauld Place. The only sources of light were the fire and one guttering candle, which illuminated the remains of a solitary supper. Kreacher was disappearing through the door to the hall, looking back at them malevolently as he hitched up his loincloth; Sirius was hurrying towards them all, looking anxious. He was unshaven and still in his day clothes; there was also a slightly Mundungus-like whiff of stale drink about him.

“What’s going on?” he said, stretching out a hand to help Ginny up. “Phineas Nigellus said Arthur’s been badly injured —”

“Ask Harry,” said Fred.

“Yeah, I want to hear this for myself,” said George.

The twins and Ginny were staring at him. Kreacher’s footsteps had stopped on the stairs outside.

“It was -” Harry began; this was even worse than telling McGonagall and Dumbledore. “I had a - a kind of – vision.”

And he told them all what he’d seen, though he altered the story so that it sounded as though he had watched from the sidelines as the snake attacked, rather than from behind the snake’s own eyes. Ron, who was still very white, gave him a fleeting look, but did not speak. When Harry had finished, Fred, George and Ginny continued to stare at him for a moment. Harry did not know whether he was imagining it or not, but he fancied there was something accusatory in their looks.

Well, if they were going to blame him just for seeing the attack, he was glad he had not told them that he had been inside the snake at the time.

“Is Mum here?” said Fred, turning to Sirius.

 “She probably doesn’t even know what’s happened yet,” said Sirius. “The important thing was to get you away before Umbridge could interfere. I expect Dumbledore’s letting Molly know now.”

“We’ve got to go to St. Mungo’s,” said Ginny urgently. She looked around at her brothers; they were of course still in their pajamas. “Sirius, can you lend us cloaks or anything?”

“Hang on, you can’t go tearing off to St. Mungo’s!” said Sirius.

“Course we can go to St. Mungo’s if we want,” said Fred, with a mulish expression. “He’s our dad!”

“And how are you going to explain how you knew Arthur was attacked before the hospital even let his wife know?”

“What does that matter?” said George hotly.

“It matters because we don’t want to draw attention to the fact that Harry is having visions of things that are happening hundreds of miles away!” said Sirius angrily. “Have you any idea what the Ministry would make of that information?”

Fred and George looked as though they could not care less what the Ministry made of anything.

Ron was still ashen-faced and silent.

Ginny said, “Somebody else could have told us… we could have heard it somewhere other than Harry.”

“Like who?” said Sirius impatiently. “Listen, your dad’s been hurt while on duty for the Order and the circumstances are fishy enough without his children knowing about it seconds after it happened, you could seriously damage the Order’s -”

“We don’t care about the dumb Order!” shouted Fred.

“It’s our dad dying we’re talking about!” yelled George.

“Your father knew what he was getting into and he won’t thank you for messing things up for the Order!” said Sirius, equally angry. “This is how it is - this is why you’re not in the Order – you don’t understand - there are things worth dying for!”

“Easy for you to say, stuck here!” bellowed Fred. “I don’t see you risking your neck!”

The little colour remaining in Sirius’s face drained from it. He looked for a moment as though he would quite like to hit Fred, but when he spoke, it was in a voice of determined calm.

“I know it’s hard, but we’ve all got to act as though we don’t know anything yet. We’ve got to stay put, at least until we hear from your mother, all right?”

Fred and George still looked mutinous. Ginny, however, took a few steps over to the nearest chair and sank into it. Harry looked at Ron, who made a funny movement somewhere between a nod and a shrug, and they sat down too. The twins glared at Sirius for another minute, then took seats on either side of Ginny.

“That’s right,” said Sirius encouragingly, “come on, let’s all… let’s all have a drink while we’re waiting. Accio Butterbeer!”

He raised his wand as he spoke and half a dozen bottles came flying towards them out of the pantry, skidded along the table, scattering the debris of Sinus’s meal, and stopped neatly in front of the six of them. They all drank, and for a while the only sounds were those of the crackling of the kitchen fire and the soft thud of their bottles on the table.

Harry was only drinking to have something to do with his hands. His stomach was full of horrible hot, bubbling guilt. They would not be here if it were not for him; they would all still be asleep in bed. And it was no good telling himself that by raising the alarm he had ensured that Mr. Weasley was found, because there was also the inescapable business of it being he who had attacked Mr. Weasley in the first place.

 ‘Don’t be stupid, you haven’t got fangs,’ he told himself, trying to keep calm, though the hand on his Butterbeer bottle was shaking. ‘You were lying in bed, you weren’t attacking anyone…’

‘But then, what just happened in Dumbledore’s office?’ he asked himself. ‘I felt like I wanted to attack Dumbledore, too…’

He put the bottle down a little harder than he meant to, and it slopped over on to the table. No one took any notice. Then a burst of fire in mid-air illuminated the dirty plates in front of them and, as they gave cries of shock, a scroll of parchment fell with a thud on to the table, accompanied by a single golden phoenix tail feather.

“Fawkes!” said Sirius at once, snatching up the parchment. “That’s not Dumbledore’s writing – it must be a message from your mother - here -”

He thrust the letter into George’s hand, who ripped it open and read aloud:

“’Dad is alive. I am setting out for St. Mungo’s now. Stay where you are. I will send news as soon as I can. Mum.’”

George looked around the table but didn’t seem to know what to say.

Still exceptionally pale, Ron stared at the back of his mother’s letter as though it might speak words of comfort to him. Fred pulled the parchment out of George’s hands and read it for himself, then looked up at Harry, who felt his hand shaking on his Butterbeer bottle again and clenched it more tightly to stop the trembling.

It was ten past three in the morning when Mrs. Weasley finally entered the kitchen.

She was extremely pale, but when they all turned to look at her, Fred, Ron and Harry half rising from their chairs, she gave a wan smile.

“He’s going to be all right,” she said, her voice weak with tiredness. “He’s sleeping. We can all go and see him later. Bill’s sitting with him now; he’s going to take the morning off work and we might even get to see him when we go at nine.”

Fred fell back into his chair with his hands over his face. George and Ginny got up, walked swiftly over to their mother and hugged her. Ron gave a very shaky laugh and downed the rest of his Butterbeer in one go.

Mrs Weasley hugged each of her children before turning towards Harry and to his surprise he saw no anger in her eyes. Instead the red headed witch rushed towards him and pulled him into a hug.

“I don’t know what would have happened if it hadn’t been for you, Harry,” she said in a muffled voice. “They might not have found Arthur for hours, and then it would have been too late, but thanks to you he’s alive and Dumbledore’s been able to think up a good cover story for Arthur being where he was, you’ve no idea what trouble he would have been in otherwise, look at poor Sturgis…” And though Harry could hardly bear her gratitude he felt a small sense of relief, receiving any harsh words from Mrs Weasley, would’ve been ten times less bearable than her hearing her gratitude. When Harry drew back from Mrs Weasley, he caught the guilty looks of the other Weasleys but decided to try and ignore it, as his own guilt was still sitting heavily within him. When Mrs Weasley was done thanking Sirius for looking after her children, she suddenly seemed to gather herself together and set about shooing everyone off to bed despite everyone’s protestations.

With this, everything seemed to return to a shaky version of normal, yet Harry found himself lying awake, only able to drift off as the sun started appearing through the windows of Grimmauld Place.


 Everyone looked exhausted as they sat around the kitchen table at eight o’clock, leading Harry to believe that he wasn’t the only one who’d struggled to fall asleep a few hours prior. As it was, he’d only managed to get an hour and a half’s sleep.

 “Oh, Sirius, I’m so grateful… they think he’ll be there a little while and it would be wonderful to be nearer… of course, that might mean we’re here for Christmas.”

“The more the merrier!” said Sirius with obvious sincerity as he and Mrs. Weasley stood side by side while making breakfast. Mrs Weasley beamed at that.

Watching Sirius, Harry wished he could tell his godfather what had really happened in the dream last night. He needed to talk to someone.

“Sirius,” Harry muttered after a few minutes, unable to stand it a moment longer. “Can I have a quick word? Er - now?” His godfather looked up, brows furrowed. There must’ve been something in Harry’s face that conveyed the urgency Harry felt for Sirius patted Molly’s shoulder before abandoning his cooking.

Harry walked into the pantry and Sirius followed. Without preamble, Harry told his godfather every detail of the vision he had, including the fact that he himself had been the snake who had attacked Mr. Weasley.

When he paused for breath, Sirius said, “Did you tell Dumbledore this?”

“Yes,” said Harry impatiently, “but he didn’t tell me what it meant.”

“I’m sure he would have told you if it was anything to worry about,” said Sirius steadily.

“But that’s not all,” said Harry, in a voice barely above a whisper. “Sirius, I… I think I’m going mad. Back in Dumbledore’s office, just before we took the Portkey… for a couple of seconds there I thought I was a snake, I felt like one - my scar really hurt when I was looking at Dumbledore - Sirius, I wanted to attack him!”

“It must have been the aftermath of the vision, that’s all,” said Sirius. “You were still thinking of the dream or whatever it was and –”

“It wasn’t that,” said Harry, shaking his head, “it was like something rose up inside me, like there’s a snake inside me.”

“You’re in shock, Harry; you’re blaming yourself for something you only witnessed, and it’s lucky you did witness it or Arthur might have died. Just stop worrying.”

He clapped Harry on the shoulder and left the pantry, leaving Harry standing alone and feeling even more so.

Their trunks arrived from Hogwarts while everyone was eating, so they could dress as Muggles for the trip to St Mungo’s. Everybody except Harry was riotously happy and talkative as they changed out of their robes into jeans and sweatshirts. When Tonks and Mad-Eye turned up to escort them across London, they greeted them gleefully, laughing at the bowler hat Mad-Eye was wearing at an angle to conceal his magical eye and assuring him, truthfully, that Tonks, whose hair was short and bright pink again, would attract far less attention on the Underground.

Tonks was very interested in Harry’s vision of the attack on Mr. Weasley, something Harry was not remotely interested in discussing.

“There isn’t any Seer blood in your family, is there?” she enquired curiously, as they sat side by side on a train rattling towards the heart of the city.

“No,” said Harry, thinking of Professor Trelawney and feeling insulted but he paused as he thought of the lecture Hermione had received from Emerson that one time. He couldn’t help feeling a bit guilty. Strange, Harry mused, he hadn’t seen Emerson or Armand among the figures surrounding his bed when he woke up in the dorm the night before.

“No,” Tonks was still pondering his vision, “no, I suppose it’s not really prophecy you’re doing, is it? I mean, you’re not seeing the future, you’re seeing the present… it’s odd, isn’t it? Useful, though…”

Harry didn’t answer; fortunately, they got out at the next stop, a station in the very heart of London, and in the bustle of leaving the train he was able to allow Fred and George to get between himself and Tonks, who was leading the way. They all followed her up the escalator, Moody clunking along at the back of the group, his bowler tilted low and one gnarled hand stuck in between the buttons of his coat, clutching his wand. Harry thought he sensed the concealed eye staring hard at him. Trying to avoid any more questions about his dream, he asked Mad-Eye where St. Mungo’s was hidden.

“Not far from here,” grunted Moody as they stepped out into the wintry air on a broad store-lined street packed with Christmas shoppers. He pushed Harry a little ahead of him and stumped along just behind; Harry knew the eye was rolling in all directions under the tilted hat. “Wasn’t easy to find a good location for a hospital. Nowhere in Diagon Alley was big enough and we couldn’t have it underground like the Ministry - wouldn’t be healthy. In the end they managed to get hold of a building up here. Theory was, sick wizards could come and go and just blend in with the crowd.”

He seized Harry’s shoulder to prevent them being separated by a gaggle of shoppers plainly intent on nothing but making it into a nearby shop full of electrical gadgets.

“Here we go,” said Moody a moment later.

They had arrived outside a large, old-fashioned, red-brick department store called Purge & Dowse Ltd. The place had a shabby, miserable air; the window displays consisted of a few chipped dummies with their wigs askew, standing at random and modelling fashions at least ten years out of date. Large signs on all the dusty doors read: “Closed for Refurbishment”.

Harry distinctly heard a large woman laden with plastic shopping bags say to her friend as they passed, “It’s never open, that place…”

“Right,” said Tonks, beckoning them towards a window displaying nothing but a particularly ugly female dummy. Its false eyelashes were hanging off and it was modelling a green nylon pinafore dress. “Everybody ready?”

They nodded, clustering around her. Moody gave Harry another shove between the shoulder blades to urge him forward and Tonks leaned close to the glass, looking up at the very ugly dummy, her breath steaming up the glass. “Wotcher… We’re here to see Arthur Weasley.”

Harry thought how absurd it was for Tonks to expect the dummy to hear her talking so quietly through a sheet of glass, with buses rumbling along behind her and all the racket of a street full of shoppers. Then he reminded himself that dummies couldn’t hear anyway. The next second, his mouth opened in shock as the dummy gave a tiny nod and beckoned with its jointed finger, and Tonks had seized Ginny and Mrs. Weasley by the elbows, stepped right through the glass and vanished.

Fred, George and Ron stepped after them. Harry glanced around at the jostling crowd; not one of them seemed to have a glance to spare for window displays as ugly as those of Purge & Dowse Ltd; nor did any of them seem to have noticed that six people had just melted into thin air in front of them. Harry suddenly felt like he was on platform 9 ¾ for the first time again.

“C’mon,” growled Moody, giving Harry yet another poke in the back, and together they stepped forward through what felt like a sheet of cool water, emerging quite warm and dry on the other side.

There was no sign of the ugly dummy or the space where she had stood. They were in what seemed to be a crowded reception area where rows of witches and wizards sat upon rickety wooden chairs, some looking perfectly normal and perusing out-of-date copies of Witch Weekly, others sporting gruesome disfigurements such as elephant trunks or extra hands sticking out of their chests. The room was scarcely less quiet than the street outside, for many of the patients were making very peculiar noises: a sweaty-faced witch in the centre of the front row, who was fanning herself vigorously with a copy of the Daily Prophet, kept letting off a high-pitched whistle as steam came pouring out of her mouth; a grubby-looking warlock in the corner clanged like a bell every time he moved and, with each clang his head vibrated horribly so that he had to seize himself by the ears to hold it steady.

Witches and wizards in lime-green robes were walking up and down the rows, asking questions and making notes on clipboards like Umbridge’s. Harry noticed the emblem embroidered on their chests: a wand and bone, crossed.

“Are they doctors?” he asked Ron quietly.

“Doctors?” said Ron, looking startled. “Those Muggle nutters that cut people up? Nah, they’re Healers.”

“Over here!” called Mrs. Weasley above the renewed clanging of the warlock in the corner, and they followed her to the queue in front of a plump blonde witch seated at a desk marked Enquiries. The wall behind her was covered in notices and posters saying things like: A CLEAN CAULDRON KEEPS POTIONS FROM BECOMING POISONS and ANTIDOTES ARE ANTI-DON’TS UNLESS APPROVED BY A QUALIFIED HEALER.

There was also a large portrait of a witch with long silver ringlets which was labelled:

Dilys Derwent

St. Mungo’s Healer – 1722 

Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – 1741

Dilys was eyeing the Weasley party closely as though counting them; when Harry caught her eye she gave a tiny wink, walked sideways out of her portrait and vanished.

Right next to her portait was that of an old looking man wearing a blue tunic and sporting shoulder length grey hair and a severe looking eyebrow.

His label read:

Gaius

Camelot Healer – 600 (exact date unknown)

First Magical Healer Since The Great Purge.

The man was looking around curiously blue eyes old and wise.

Meanwhile, at the front of the queue, a young wizard was performing an odd on-the-spot jig and trying, in between yelps of pain, to explain his predicament to the witch behind the desk.

“It’s these - ouch - shoes my brother gave me - ow- they’re eating my - OUCH - feet - look at them, there must be some kind of - AARGH - jinx on them and I can’t - AAAAARGH – get them off.” He hopped from one foot to the other as though dancing on hot coals.

“The shoes don’t prevent you reading, do they?” said the blonde witch, irritably pointing at a large sign to the left of her desk. “You want Spell Damage, fourth floor. Just like it says on the floor guide. Next!”

As the wizard hobbled and pranced sideways out of the way, the Weasley party moved forward a few steps, enabling Harry to read the floor guide:

ARTEFACT ACCIDENTS… Ground floor

Cauldron explosion, wand backfiring, broom crashes, etc.

CREATURE-INDUCED INJURIES… First floor

Bites, stings, burns, embedded spines, etc.

MAGICAL BUGS… Second floor

Contagious maladies, e.g. dragon pox, vanishing sickness, scrojungulus, etc.

POTION AND PLANT POISONING… Third floor

Rashes,regurgitation (uncontrollable), etc.

SPELL DAMAGE… Fourth floor

Unliftable jinxes, hexes, and incorrectly applied charms, etc.

VISITORS’ TEAROOM AND HOSPITAL SHOP… Fifth floor

 

IF YOU ARE UNSURE WHERE TO GO, INCAPABLE OF NORMAL SPEECH OR

UNABLE TO REMEMBER WHY YOU ARE HERE, OUR WELCOME WITCH WILL BE

PLEASED TO HELP.

 

A very old, stooped wizard with a hearing trumpet had shuffled to the front of the queue now.

“I’m here to see Broderick Bode!” he wheezed.

“Ward forty-nine, but I’m afraid you’re wasting your time,” said the witch dismissively. “He’s completely addled, you know - still thinks he’s a teapot. Next!”

A harassed-looking wizard was holding his small daughter tightly by the ankle while she flapped around his head using the immensely large, feathery wings that had sprouted right out through the back of her romper suit.

“Fourth floor,” said the witch, in a bored voice, without asking, and the man disappeared through the double doors beside the desk, holding his daughter like an oddly shaped balloon. “Next!”

Mrs. Weasley moved forward to the desk.

“Hello,” she said, “my husband, Arthur Weasley, was supposed to be moved to a different ward this morning, could you tell us -?”

“Arthur Weasley?” said the witch, running her finger down a long list in front of her. “Yes, first floor, second door on the right, Dai Llewellyn Ward.”

“Thank you,” said Mrs. Weasley. “Come on, you lot.”

They followed her through the double doors and along the narrow corridor beyond, which was lined with more portraits of famous Healers and lit by crystal bubbles full of candles that floated up on the ceiling, looking like giant soapsuds. More witches and wizards in lime-green robes walked in and out of the doors they passed; a foul-smelling yellow gas wafted into the passageway as they passed one door, and every now and then they heard distant wailing. They climbed a flight of stairs and entered the Creature-Induced Injuries corridor, where the second door on the right bore the words: Dangerous’ Dai Llewellyn Ward: Serious Bites. Underneath this was a card in a brass holder on which had been handwritten: Healer-in-Charge: Hippocrates Smethwyck. Trainee Healer: Augustus Pye.

“We’ll wait outside, Molly,” Tonks said. “Arthur won’t want too many visitors at once… it ought to be just the family first.”

Mad-Eye growled his approval of this idea and set himself with his back against the corridor wall, his magical eye spinning in all directions. Harry drew back, too, but Mrs. Weasley reached out a hand and pushed him through the door, saying, “Don’t be silly, Harry, Arthur wants to thank you.”

The ward was small and rather dingy, as the only window was narrow and set high in the wall facing the door. Most of the light came from more shining crystal bubbles clustered in the middle of the ceiling. The walls were of panelled oak and there was a portrait of a rather vicious-looking wizard on the wall, captioned: Urquhart Rackharrow, 1612—1697, Inventor of the Entrail-Expelling Curse.

There were only three patients. Mr. Weasley was occupying the bed at the far end of the ward beside the tiny window.

Harry was pleased and relieved to see that he was propped up on several pillows and reading the Daily Prophet by the solitary ray of sunlight falling on to his bed. He looked up as they walked towards him and, seeing who it was, beamed.

“Hello!” he called, throwing the Prophet aside. “Bill just left, Molly, had to get back to work, but he says he’ll drop in on you later.”

“How are you, Arthur?” asked Mrs. Weasley, bending down to kiss his cheek and looking anxiously into his face. “You’re still looking a bit peaky.”

“I feel absolutely fine,” said Mr. Weasley brightly, holding out his good arm to give Ginny a hug.

“If they could only take the bandages off, I’d be fit to go home.” Mr. Weasley assured them, reaching across for his wand, which lay on his bedside cabinet, and waving it so that six extra chairs appeared at his bedside to seat them all.

“So, you going to tell us what happened, Dad?” asked Fred, pulling his chair closer to the bed.

“Well, you already know, don’t you?” said Mr. Weasley, with a significant smile at Harry. “It’s very simple - I’d had a very long day, dozed off, got sneaked up on and bitten. Though I have to say, that fellow who helped me out till the ministry got there was a bit strange.” Mr Weasley pondered.

“What fellow?” everyone seemed to chorus, faces showing various degrees of alarm.

“The one who was covered in a cloak,” Mr Weasley pursed his lips before looking over at Harry curiously. “You didn’t see him in your vision?” It wasn’t really a question, though he continued to look at Harry.

Still, Harry mutely shook his head, in reply, as stumped about Mr Weasley’s words as his family was. Suddenly Harry was assaulted with images of first year, of Voldemort drinking unicorn blood while wearing a cloak but Harry immediately discarded the thought, if it had been Voldemort, he definitely wouldn’t have helped Mr Weasley.

“I could’ve sworn it was you there Harry, especially when everyone told me you’d been the reason why they found me in time,” Mr Weasley murmured so softly everyone had started to lean in to hear what he was say. But upon registering the words, Harry jerked back, almost knocking a chair over in his shock. He knew it was impossible, he’d been in his bed the entire time, so what did all of it mean?

“Well it wasn’t Harry and it couldn’t have been someone from the Order either, otherwise Dumbledore wouldn’t’ve been as worried as he was,” Ron spoke up, though he kept his voice hushed.

“What did the man do, Arthur?” Mrs Weasley demanded, voice frightened.

“He incinerated the snake, and started stemming the bleeding from my wounds.”

‘So that’s what the burning pain was,’ Harry couldn’t help thinking back to the dream and his last few seconds as the snake.

Mr Weasley frowned, looking as if he was concentrating on something.

“But I didn’t recognize the spells he was muttering. Then he disappeared when he heard the Ministry people arriving. Regardless, the Healers keep saying that I should’ve been a lot worse off.”

“What do they think about the stranger, Dad?” Ginny questioned.
“Oh I didn’t tell them, goodness knows what they would’ve accused Dumbledore of if there had been two people down there. He’s having a hard enough time covering up for me as it is,” Mr Weasley said severely, voice brooking no argument.

“Well it seems you had guardian angels, Arthur, first with Harry, then with this stranger. I’m just glad you’re alive,” Mrs Weasley said but the smile on her face still seemed worried.

Harry’s thoughts jumped back to Dumbledore, who’d said almost the exact same thing two months ago.

But why and how long would the protection last?

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen: Arthur

 Arthur sighed with contentment as he stared up at the ceiling. He and Merlin were finally back in their home in Baker street. Even if it was only for a week, it felt amazing to have a few moments of reprieve from the madness that was Hogwarts. Not to mention how great it feels to be back in my own body for a while, Arthur thought with a grin. The grin faltered as a frustrated sound came from next to him. Glancing to the side, Arthur’s brows furrowed at the sight that greeted him. Far from looking relaxed Merlin was sat up and hunched forward while his long pale fingers raked through his hair, leave Arthur with only the view of his pale back. Not that it was a bad view, mind you.

Concerned, Arthur pushed himself into a sitting position before wrapping his arms around Merlin’s torso.  

“What’s bothering you, Merlin?” Arthur questioned as he rested his chin on Merlin’s shoulder.

“I can’t help feeling worried for Ron’s father, I just hope he’s doing okay,” Merlin sighed as he rested his hands on Arthur’s own.

“Merlin, I can assure you that he’s a lot better off than he would’ve been had you not helped him out,” Arthur murmured, taking in Merlin’s closed eyes and tensed shoulders. He watched as Merlin eyes shot open and his mouth pulling down at Arthur’s words.

“I should’ve healed him completely, he didn’t deserve to have that snake attacking him like that. And if it hadn’t been for Draco’s dreams, he would’ve been dead,” Merlin hissed, eyes narrowed and staring into the distance, angry.

Arthur tightened his hold on Merlin’s torso reflexively. “Merlin, listen to me. Arthur Weasley wasn’t meant to die that night, Harry received a vision as well so even if we hadn’t been there to help, Harry would still have managed to get help and if you had stayed any longer to help Ron’s dad you would’ve gotten caught. You did the best you could in that situation, Merlin. This is a war, and as much as I hate to say it, we can’t prevent everyone from getting hurt, it just doesn’t work that way.

Merlin sighed again, though this time it sounded more defeated than angry.

“I know you’re right, it’s just-”

“It’s frustrating I know, but you need to stop being so hard on yourself, you did good.” Arthur stated, placing a quick kiss on Merlin’s jawline. Merlin gave a slow nod of acceptance at Arthur’s words before pursing his lips in thought.

“Voldemort’s a real piece of work though, isn’t he?” he muttered, causing Arthur to give a groan of frustration.

“Merlin, please, can we just not worry about that right now,” Arthur complained as he buried his head in Merlin’s neck.

“I’m just saying,” Merlin said, voice light now, and Arthur could just imagine the too innocent look crossing his husband’s face.

“Well, I’d like you to stop saying,” Arthur declared as he let go of Merlin. “Now, put some clothes on,” Arthur added as he got out of bed and started looking around for his own pants.

“Why?” Merlin asked sounding cutely confused – and thank Avalon Merlin couldn’t read his mind or Arthur would never have been able to live that thought down. Brushing it aside, Arthur instead rolled his eyes at his favourite idiot (goodness, he was being sentimental today).

“We’re going to St. Mungo’s to visit Gaius, and maybe if you’re lucky, we can convince him to check on Mr. Weasley while we’re there,” Arthur teased, receiving a brilliant grin for his troubles.

“That’s fantastic! Why didn’t I think of that?” Arthur opened his mouth to reply, “No wait, don’t answer that” and closed it again.

“Well, I guess we better get a move on then,” Merlin beamed.

“I’m going to regret this,” Arthur stated with a tired look.

“No!” Merlin exclaimed before pausing and thinking it over for a second. “Well… maybe,” Merlin amended. Arthur snorts. 

“Right, forget I said anything,” Arthur said, making as if to climb back into bed.

“Oh hush you old clotpole, you’re just as glad about going to see him as I am,” Merlin grinned as he threw Arthur’s shirt at him, hitting him right in the face. “Well I’m not going anywhere with you dressed like that.” Arthur said, eyeing Merlin who was still tucked into their duvet.

“But I’m not wearing anything!” Merlin protested.

“Exactly,” Arthur stated and turned around as if he’d just settled a business deal. There was a dull thud behind him and Arthur turned around to find the bed empty and only a bare foot sticking out from the other side. “Don’t hurt yourself,” Arthur said as he tried to suppress his laughter.

“Oh shove off you prat,” Merlin muttered as a head of black hair popped up from the other side of the bed looking extremely mussed. Arthur grinned as he pulled his shirt over his head. “You should probably put on something else,” Merlin told him, causing Arthur to turn around in confusion.

“Why?”

Merlin didn’t answer, instead, holding up two objects. “No, I’m not wearing that thing again, I just got rid of it,” Arthur hissed.

“Don’t be such a baby,” Merlin argued as he placed his own de-aging crystal around his neck.

“And why exactly do we need to wear these blasted things again?” Arthur demanded as he grudging put on his own crystal and was promptly shrunk till he was drowning in his own clothes.

“Cause the last time I talked to Gaius people kept on giving me strange looks,” Merlin said, sound extremely miffed. Arthur snorted in amusement again.

“Yes, I can’t imagine why.” Arthur chuckled as he traded in his 26-year old clothes for some that would actually fit him.

Merlin seemed entirely too pleased with the situation as he tucked a wooly blue scarf around his neck and pulled a beanie over his head. “Ready to go?” Merlin questioned and Arthur nodded as he tucked a cream coloured scarf around his own neck.

“Yep,” Arthur nodded as Merlin reached out a hand and Apparated them both to right in front of St. Mungo’s. They stood a moment to regain their bearings before going through the glass, into St. Mungo’s itself. The hospital was busy, like always, with people in various states of distress littering the floor.

The first time he and Merlin had been at St. Mungo’s was back in the 1600s when their entire potion class had been sent here on account of someone’s cauldron exploding. The Hogwarts Healer of that time had been away on family leave and so they’d ended up staying in St. Mungo’s for a day.

That had also been the first time they’d met the portrait of Gaius, only to come to the realization that the man had absolutely no idea who they were. It seemed that the person who’d made Gaius sentient hadn’t had any connection to the man himself which unfortunately meant that though the man looked and sounded like Gaius, he had no actual recollection of what the real Gaius’ life had been like. Naturally, Merlin had deigned to fix that and had promptly bestowed upon him all the memories that both he and Merlin had of Gaius. It didn’t work as well as the portraits which contained the memories of the actual people they were portraying, but it gave them back the remains of a friend who they’d long thought lost to them.    

Said man had spotted them almost as soon as they’d entered St. Mungo’s and was watching them as they made their way towards him.

Arthur couldn’t resist grinning as he came to a stop in front of the portrait. He hadn’t realized how much he’d missed the man, until now. It truly had been a long time since he’d last seen him. “Gaius,” Arthur said, nodding at the man in a show of respect. Gaius raised his severe eyebrow at them, expectantly. “I’m Emerson and this is Armand , we’re very pleased to meet you,” Merlin told Gaius. It had long since become their way of letting Gaius know what to call them at the time.

“Pleased to meet you,” Gaius graciously replied, though Arthur didn’t miss the twinkle in the old man’s eyes as he gazed down at them.

“So, anything interesting going on here?” Merlin questioned with a grin.

“Oh yes, quite, it seems the field of medicine is expanding every day. And it never ceases to amaze me what people do to end up here.” Gaius nods sagely.  “It’s sad really, I just wish there was more I could do than simply watching as the different cases go by,” Gaius added warily. Merlin nodded but Arthur couldn’t help frowning.

“Who’s worrying you, Gaius?”

“It’s all those people stuck in the long term, wards. It saddens me to think they may never heal,” Gaius explained with a tired sigh. Arthur nodded, finally understanding.

“Let’s just hope the healers haven’t given up on them,” Merlin told Gaius, his own gaze now filled with sorrow.

“Speaking of interesting cases, you didn’t happen to notice any red heads going by here?” Arthur asked, feeling the need to change the subject.

“What an odd question,” Gaius noticed, studying them as if it would reveal the source of their question, which it kind of did.

“It’s some friends of ours, their father was taken up in the hospital two nights ago, snake bite,” Merlin explained with a worried frown.

“But that is nothing to be concerned about, snake bites are easily treated nowadays, are they not?”  Gaius pointed out, looking confused.

“Not this one I’m afraid, it was a magical bite, and we’re not close enough to the family to check on them ourselves,” Arthur explained, patting Merlin on the back in a show of comfort.

“Ah so that’s why you’re here, you need me to spy on someone for you,” Gaius said sternly.

“No! Well… yes, but we also came to say hi!” Merlin objected guiltily causing Gaius to give him an indulging smile.

“It’s alright Me-Emerson, it’s good to see you too,” Gaius said appeasingly before disappearing out of his frame.

They’d barely stood there a minute before a voice suddenly addressed them. “Hello you two, come to visit Gaius again have you?” The silver haired witch called Dilys Derwent asked as she peered down at them from her frame.  

“Indeed,” Arthur replied.

“How are you Dilys, are you doing well?” Merlin asked, causing Dilys to smile.

“Quite well thank you,” she said, sound quite pleased.    

“That's fantastic!” Merlin beamed.

“Harry, oh Harry dear, what are you doing talking to that paint, where are the others?” Merlin was suddenly jerked by the shoulder and Arthur spun around to find a plump redheaded woman standing there with her hand on Merlin’s shoulder. Arthur watched as a look of confusion passed over her face before she blushed. “Oh I do beg your pardon dear, I thought you were someone else,” the woman explained, looking quite flustered.

“Mum!” someone suddenly called and within seconds, Arthur spotted the Weasley children moving through the crowds with Harry and Hermione at their sides. Suddenly Arthur understood.

“Oh there you are dears!” the woman who Arthur assumed to be Mrs. Weasley, said, looking relieved as her children finally reached her. “I was just looking for you. I do apologize if I frightened you two boys. For a moment there, you looked just like Harry,” Mrs. Weasley babbled, clearly still embarrassed.

“That’s quite alright,” Merlin assured her with a grin and the Weasley children along with Harry and Hermione, finally seemed to realize who they were.

“Emerson! Armand,"

"What are you two doing here?” Fred and George asked in unison.

“Oh uh-” caught off guard Arthur suddenly found himself hitting a complete blank.

“We’re here to visit my uncle, well, our parents are, we didn’t really fancy it.” Merlin was quick to explain.

“Oh, that’s nice,” Hermione said, though she seemed unsure on whether it truly was or not.

“Yeah, but I suppose you’re here to visit Mr. Weasley, is he doing okay,” Merlin hurried to change the subject.

“Yes, he’s doing much better, the doctors say he’ll be out soon,” Ginny answered and Arthur could plainly see the relief in her eyes.

“You know about my husband?”

“Oh, um, yes Ma’am Armand and I share a room with Harry and Ron back in Hogwarts,” Merlin said, sticking his hand out awkwardly. Mrs. Weasley shook his hand, nodding her head absentmindedly at his words.

“Well then, I suppose I should be getting you kids back home, it was wonderful to meet you two,” Mrs. Weasley said as if suddenly coming back to herself, and within minutes she’d bustled the group out of the hospital.

“Brave woman, she is, raising all those boys,” Arthur couldn’t help commenting. Merlin snorted in agreement. Someone cleared their throat behind them and the two turned around to find a slightly miffed looking Gaius back in his frame.

“The redheaded family I presume?” Arthur and Merlin nodded. “Well then I guess you won’t be needing my report,”   Gaius concluded before proceeding to look extremely affronted as he sank into his chair.

Arthur exchanged a look with Merlin as he struggled to keep from laughing.

Chapter Text

 Harry groaned as he joined Ron, Hermione, Armand and Emerson in the Gryffindor common room on the first Saturday of the new term. Hermione looked up from where she’d been doing her homework, giving Harry a questioning look. “What’s wrong, Harry?”

Harry ran a hand through his already mussed hair. “I have my first meeting with Snape today,” Harry complained as he sunk even lower into his seat. Armand looked up at that, raising an eyebrow.

“Snape? What, do you have detention with him or something?”

Harry sighed, resigned to his approaching fate.

"Not really. Dumbledore wants Snape to teach me Occlumency apparently it'll help against Voldemort in the long run." Harry explained with a grimace.

Emerson nodded as if this made perfect sense to him, expression thoughtful.

“You don’t seem too fond of the idea,” Armand remarked inquiringly.

Ron was the one to snort at that. “That’s the understatement of the century,” he muttered ruefully.

“Why?” Emerson asked curiously.

“Are you kidding he-” Ron started.

“We’ve,” Harry interrupted, “never gotten on,” Harry finished, grimacing.

“Well, I suppose that makes sense,” Armand conceded.

"You know I could-” Emerson started, looking slightly tired.

“No you will not, I forbid it,” Armand interrupted Emerson, giving the raven haired boy a warning look. Emerson seemed unfazed, simply rolling his eyes before continuing.

“I could teach you if you want me to," Emerson offered. Harry stared at him in wide-eyed surprise.

"You could-"

"You could teach Harry Occlumency?" Hermione interrupted Harry, her expression eager and amazed as she stared at Emerson.

Armand’s expression grew slightly dark. “Alright Emerson, if that’s the way you want to play it. Emerson won’t be teaching you,” there’s a moment of silent confusion for Harry, Ron and Hermione, “I will.”

Emerson looked shocked before he started objecting. “Armand, I really think-”

“No, we both know you’ve got too much on your plate as it is, so if Harry really needs to learn Occlumency then I’ll be the one to teach him, I might not be as good as you, but I think we can manage, right Harry?” At that, Armand looked at Harry, expression slightly threatening as he made eye contact with Harry.

Feeling completely bewildered, Harry simply nodded along in agreement, caught off guard by the threatening atmosphere suddenly surrounding Armand.

Emerson shot Armand a suspicious look but suddenly seemed less sure of himself.

“Well, if you’re sure,” Emerson said.

“Yep,” Harry confirmed, eyes still on Armand.

“Great!” Hermione smiled, though she too seemed unsure and her smile appeared to be a bit forced.

Suddenly Harry couldn’t help wondering if having Occlumency lessons with Snape hadn’t been the safer option.

Hermione's expression brightened. "You could give the DA a lesson on how to do it."

Ron was apparently thinking along the same lines since he asked, “So what are you gonna tell, Snape?”

Harry snorted in humourless laughter. “Tell him? I’m not going to tell him anything. I’ll tell Dumbledore and he can explain it to Snape,” Harry stated stubbornly.

Ron snickered.


 

Harry tossed and turned in his bed, cold sweat clinging to his skin.

Maniacal laughter was ringing in his ears… he was happier than he had been in a very long time… jubilant, ecstatic, triumphant… a wonderful, wonderful thing had happened…

“Harry? HARRY!”

Someone had hit him around the face. The insane laughter was punctuated with a cry of pain.

The happiness was draining out of him, but the laughter continued…

He opened his eyes and, as he did so, he became aware that the wild laughter was coming out of his own mouth. The moment he realized this, it died away; Harry lay panting on his bed, staring up at the ceiling, the scar on his forehead throbbing horribly. Ron was bending over him, looking very worried.

“What happened?” he said.

“I… dunno…” Harry gasped, sitting up again. “He’s really happy… really happy…”

“You-Know-Who is?”

“Something good’s happened,” mumbled Harry. He was shaking as badly as he had done after seeing the snake attack Mr. Weasley and felt very sick. “Something he’s been hoping for.”

The words came, as though a stranger was speaking them through Harry’s mouth, yet he knew they were true. He took deep breaths, willing himself not to vomit all over Ron. Harry’s eyes wandered over to Emerson’s bed, to find Armand watching him carefully while Emerson slept on peacefully beside him.

“I need to learn Occlumency, fast,” Harry declared fiercely, receiving a grave nod of understanding from Armand.

“We’ll do it tomorrow,” Armand agreed.

Harry wondered, with a feeling of great trepidation, about what had happened to make Lord Voldemort the happiest he had been in fourteen years.


 

Harry’s question was answered the very next morning when Hermione’s Daily Prophet arrived. She smoothed it out, gazed for a moment at the front page and gave a yelp that caused everyone in the vicinity to stare at her.

“What?” Harry and Ron asked together as Emerson and Armand gave her curious looks.

As an answer, she spread the newspaper on the table in front of them and pointed at ten black and white photographs that filled the whole of the front page, nine showing wizards’ faces and the tenth, a witch’s. Some of the people in the photographs were silently jeering; others were tapping their fingers on the frame of their pictures, looking insolent. Each picture was captioned with a name and the crime for which the person had been sent to Azkaban.

Antonin Dolohov, read the legend beneath a wizard with a long, pale, twisted face who was sneering up at Harry, convicted of the brutal murders of Gideon and Fabian Prewett.

Augustus Rookwood, said the caption beneath a pockmarked man with greasy hair who was leaning against the edge of his picture, looking bored, convicted of leaking Ministry of Magic secrets to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

But Harry’s eyes were drawn to the picture of the witch. Her face had leapt out at him the moment he had seen the page. She had long, dark hair that looked unkempt and straggly in the picture, though he had seen it sleek, thick and shining. She glared up at him through heavily lidded eyes, an arrogant, disdainful smile playing around her thin mouth. Like Sirius, she retained vestiges of great good looks, but something - perhaps Azkaban - had taken most of her beauty.

Bellatrix Lestrange, convicted of the torture and permanent incapacitation of Frank and Alice Longbottom.

Harry grimaced at the reminder, having only discovered the truth about Neville’s parents during Christmas when he, Ron and Hermione had accidently bumped into Neville at St Mungo’s.

“Longbottom?” Armand murmured, also having read the caption underneath Bellatrix’s photo.

“Is that Neville’s parents?” Emerson questioned, concerned. Hermione bit her lip guiltily but nodded before quickly casting her eyes back to the newspaper. 

She then nudged Harry and pointed at the headline over the pictures, which Harry, having been distracted, had not yet read.

MASS BREAKOUT FROM AZKABAN.


 

Harry met Armand in an empty classroom the next day, feeling decidedly uncomfortable with the blonde haired boy after the anger Armand had displayed two days prior.

“We really don’t have to do this,” Harry felt the need to point out, shifting from foot to foot awkwardly.

Armand simply waved his words away, giving him a slight smile.

“It’s fine. I suppose I should say sorry for the way I behaved, it’s just…” Armand paused, he appeared to considering his words carefully. “Well, I don’t know if you noticed, but Emerson has a tendency to put everyone else before himself, which is why I reacted the way I did,” Armand explained, clearly trying to control his frustration at the situation.

Harry felt the tension in his body ease at that.

Armand frowned. “That aside, I should warn you that learning Occlumency isn’t like learning a spell. You won’t learn how to do it in a day and it takes not only an immense amount of mental strength but emotional control as well” Armand added, looking quite stern as he observed Harry.

Harry met Armand’s gaze, undeterred. “If it means keeping Voldemort out of my head, then I’ll do it.”

Armand nodded, smiling.  

“Great, so, Harry, I don’t know how much Dumbledore told you about Occlumency but it’s the basic ability to guard your mind against any who would want to enter it and try to gain information from it,” Armand elaborated patiently.  Harry nodded in understanding, having heard the same story from Dumbledore.

“Right then, moving on from that,” Armand continued, seemingly satisfied with this response. “For this to work, you need to build defenses around your mind, something that will keep any wanders away from any and all information in your mind.” Armand finished.

Harry frowned, hesitant. “So what, I have to imagine there’s a wall surrounding my mind, or what?” Harry asked skeptically.

Armand shook his head, pursing his lips. “Not quite.” Harry blinked, quite surprised by the reply. Armand paused, apparently contemplating something. “Hermione said something about you being able to cast a Patronus?”

Harry blushed as he conceded this fact. 

“Good, if we work with that, it should make this easier for you,” Harry stared at Armand, intrigued by this new information.

“Why?”

“Occlumency requires the same skill need to summon a Patronus, if a bit modified,” when Harry still looked confused, Armand elaborated. “When you’re summoning a Patronus, your main defence is conjuring up an extremely happy memory and using that to shield yourself against the sadness the Dementors bring. With Occlumency, it’s the same principle. You need to conjure up a memory that is both strong enough to pull in whoever is trying to get into your mind but also strong enough, for you to be able to keep it in place when someone is try to push past it into the rest of your memories,” Harry blinked, surprised by how easy Armand was making it sound.

Armand watched Harry for a moment before continuing. “Right now if Voldemort where to try and read your thoughts, he would be able to read the memories and the emotions connected to them, not only would he be able to use that information he gained from your memories, but he would also be able to plant images into your mind, even use it as a form of torture. So the trick is to force him to live in a harmless memory that you picked out and that you can contain him in long enough for your magic to throw him out of your mind, because the moment he gets through those defences, you’ll be at his mercy.” Armand’s voice had turned severe and his eyes were dark.

“Any questions?” Armand asked. Harry shook his head. 

“Good! I’ll give you five minutes to decide on a memory that seems strong enough to use,” Armand told him before sitting down on one of the desks and tipping his head up towards the ceiling, eyes closed.

Harry took a moment to once more be amazed by the strangeness and mystery surrounding the Pendragon brothers before he to closed his eyes.  

It takes a few moments but finally Harry decided to use the same memory he’d used when he’d managed to cast his most powerful Patronus. Harry allowed a small smile to grace his face as an idea for DA classes suddenly formed within his mind. It would be good to show the DA students how to cast a Patronus, especially now that there were Death Eaters who’d escaped from Azkaban, Harry would be surprised if they didn’t send out any Demetors to try get rid of the roaming Death Eaters.

Harry received an encouraging look from Armand once the blonde noticed that Harry had opened his eyes once again.

“You ready?” Armand questioned.

Harry considered this question carefully before nodding.

“Good, brace yourself Harry, I’m going to cast a Legillimence spell, it’s a spell that will tear into your mind and show me your memories if you aren’t prepared and you don’t have Occlumency skills to protect yourself with. I will try to keep the spell light but be warned, it’s going to be unpleasant,” Armand stated, giving Harry a concerned, look.

Harry felt slightly nauseous at the thought of being so vulnerable in front of someone he barely trusted, then again, it was better than having Snape breathing down his neck about it, or even worse, showing that kind of weakness to Voldemort of all people.  

Harry grimaced. “Let’s just get this over with.”

Armand gave him one last smile before raising his wand.

“Legilimens.”


 

Harry, Ron and Hermione were making their way out of the Great Hall after supper one evening, when a loud shriek was suddenly heard, drawing their attention to a crowd gathering in the Entrance Hall.

“No!” someone shrieked. “NO! This cannot be happening… it cannot… I refuse to accept it!”

“You didn’t realize this was coming?” said a high girlish voice, sounding callously amused, and Harry, moving slightly to his right and craning his neck, saw that Trelawney’s terrifying vision was nothing other than Professor Umbridge. “Incapable though you are of predicting even tomorrow’s weather, you must surely have realized that your pitiful performance during my inspections, and lack of any improvement, would make it inevitable that you would be sacked?”

“You c - can’t!” howled Professor Trelawney, tears streaming down her face from behind her enormous lenses, “you c - can’t sack me! I’ve b - been here sixteen years! H - Hogwarts is in - my h - home!”

“It was your home,” said Professor Umbridge, and Harry was revolted to see the enjoyment stretching her toad-like face as she watched Professor Trelawney sink, sobbing uncontrollably, on to one of her trunks, “until an hour ago, when the Minister of Magic countersigned your Order of Dismissal. Now kindly remove yourself from this Hall. You are embarrassing us.”

But she stood and watched, with an expression of gloating enjoyment, as Professor Trelawney shuddered and moaned, rocking backwards and forwards on her trunk in paroxysms of grief. Harry heard a muffled sob to his left and looked around. Lavender and Parvati were both crying quietly, their arms round each other. Then he heard footsteps. Professor McGonagall had broken away from the spectators, marched straight up to Professor Trelawney and was patting her firmly on the back while withdrawing a large handkerchief from within her robes.

“There, there, Sibyll… calm down… blow your nose on this… it’s not as bad as you think, now… you are not going to have to leave Hogwarts…”

“Oh really, Professor McGonagall?” said Umbridge in a deadly voice, taking a few steps forward. “And your authority for that statement is…?”

“That would be mine,” said a deep voice.

The oaken front doors had swung open. Students beside them scuttled out of the way as Dumbledore appeared in the entrance. What he had been doing out in the grounds Harry could not imagine, but there was something impressive about the sight of him framed in the doorway against an oddly misty night. Leaving the doors wide open behind him he strode forwards through the circle of onlookers towards Professor Trelawney, tear-stained and trembling, on her trunk, Professor McGonagall alongside her.

“Yours, Professor Dumbledore?” said Umbridge, with a singularly unpleasant little laugh. “I’m afraid you do not understand the position. I have here -” she pulled a parchment scroll from within her robes “-an Order of Dismissal signed by myself and the Minister for Magic. Under the terms of Educational Decree Number Twenty-three, the High Inquisitor of Hogwarts has the power to inspect, place upon probation and sack any teacher she - that is to say, I - feel is not performing to the standards required by the Ministry of Magic. I have decided that Professor Trelawney is not up to scratch. I have dismissed her.”

To Harry’s very great surprise, Dumbledore continued to smile. He looked down at Professor Trelawney, who was still sobbing and choking on her trunk, and said, “You are quite right, of course, Professor Umbridge. As High Inquisitor you have every right to dismiss my teachers. You do not, however, have the authority to send them away from the castle. I am afraid,” he went on, with a courteous little bow, “that the power to do that still resides with the Headmaster, and it is my wish that Professor Trelawney continue to live at Hogwarts.”

At this, Professor Trelawney gave a wild little laugh in which a hiccough was barely hidden.

“No - no, I’ll g - go, Dumbledore! I sh - shall - leave Hogwarts and s - seek my fortune elsewhere -”

“No,” said Dumbledore sharply. “It is my wish that you remain, Sibyll.”

He turned to Professor McGonagall.

“Might I ask you to escort Sibyll back upstairs, Professor McGonagall?”

“But of course,” said McGonagall. “Up you get, Sibyll…”

Professor Sprout came hurrying forwards out of the crowd and grabbed Professor Trelawney’s other arm. Together, they guided her past Umbridge and up the marble stairs. Professor Flitwick went scurrying after them, his wand held out before him; he squeaked “Locomotor trunks!” and Professor Trelawney’s luggage rose into the air and proceeded up the staircase after her, Professor Flitwick bringing up the rear.

Professor Umbridge was standing stock still, staring at Dumbledore, who continued to smile benignly.

“And what,” she said, in a whisper that carried all around the Entrance Hall, “are you going to do with her once I appoint a new Divination teacher who needs her lodgings?”

“Oh, that won’t be a problem,” said Dumbledore pleasantly. “You see, I have already found us a new Divination teacher, and he will prefer lodgings on the ground floor.”

“You’ve found -?” said Umbridge shrilly. “You’ve found? Might I remind you, Dumbledore, that under Educational Decree Number Twenty-two -”

“The Ministry has the right to appoint a suitable candidate if -and only if- the Headmaster is unable to find one,” said Dumbledore. “And I am happy to say that on this occasion I have succeeded. May I introduce you?”

He turned to face the open front doors, through which night mist was now drifting. Harry heard hooves. There was a shocked murmur around the Hall and those nearest the doors hastily moved even further backwards, some of them tripping over in their haste to clear a path for the newcomer.

Through the mist came a face Harry had seen once before on a dark, dangerous night in the Forbidden Forest: white-blond hair and astonishingly blue eyes; the head and torso of a man joined to the palomino body of a horse.

“This is Firenze,” said Dumbledore happily to a thunderstruck Umbridge. “I think you’ll find him suitable.”

Hermione looked towards Harry, eyes wide with worry. “Thank goodness isn’t back yet, can you imagine the disaster that would’ve been,” she whispered and Harry couldn’t help nodding in agreement.  


 

It was two weeks later that Harry’s idea of teaching the DA how to cast a Patronus, finally came to fruition.

“You want us to learn how to cast a Patronus?!” Seamus, who’d only joined the DA at the beginning of the new year, exclaimed, eyes wide in horror. Harry nodded eagerly, a large smile playing on his face. Gazing around at the group gathered in the Room of Requirements, however, revealed all the uncertain faces giving each other doubtful looks.

“But isn’t the Patronus charm one of the hardest out there. I mean, we’re in fifth year already and no one’s even mentioned teaching it to us yet,” Hannah Abbot pointed out, looking uneasy. Hermione rolled her eyes, looking slightly exasperated.

“Haven’t you read the Daily Prophet, then Death Eaters recently escaped from Azkaban, we need to be ready in case Fudge decides to send out loads of Dementors the way he did in third year.” Hermione argued, seemingly the only person truly keen on learning how to cast a Patronus. Harry nodded in agreement with Hermione’s statement, trying to look encouraging as he met all of his friends’ concerned gazes.

Surprisingly, it was Neville who spoke up first. “Alright, how do we do it?”

Harry smiled.

“Okay, so the key to casting the Patronus charm is to think of an extremely important and happy memory,” Harry explained, thinking back to what Remus Lupin had told him in his third year.  “Be sure to make it a powerful memory, the happiest can remember,” Harry elaborated, walking through the room as he grew more and more enthusiastic. “Allow it to fill you up.” The DA members were nodding along in understanding.

“Now then, it’s a simple swish and flick motion. Now take a moment, concentrate and then repeat after me,” Harry readied himself, raising his wand, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath to centre himself.  When he opened his eyes, he studied his friends for a moment. “Expecto Patronum!” Harry exclaimed as he swished his wand, producing his beautiful stag which cantered across the room running around the group of students before heading back to Harry and jumping back into the tip of his wand. The group of students hadn’t followed his example, most of them, instead staring at Harry in complete amazement. Harry rolled his eyes. “Okay, now that you’ve seen how it’s done, why don’t you try it on your own?” Harry joked, grinning as it induced a bout of laughter from the room at large. 

Hermione stepped forward, looking quite nervous as she lifted her wand. Ron stepped forward as well, giving Hermione an encouraging smile as he did the same.

“Expecto Patronum!” They shouted together, both producing strong streaks that faded off into wisps.

This seemed to open the gate for the rest of the group to try their hand at it.

For the next hour, the room was lit with the blue light of the Patronus charm as the DA members managed various degrees of the spell. The air in the room even seemed to have filled with happiness because of the charm.

Harry watched in amazement as Armand managed to produce a fully corporal Patronus in the form of a small bird, which flitted around the room for a few moments before jumping back into Armand’s wand.

Emerson however, had, like the rest of the DA only produced a few wisps.

Hermione and Ron had also observed Armand’s corporal Patronus and Hermione was giving Armand a critical once over. “A small bird, that’s quite strange,” Hermione perceived. 

Harry pursed his lips, considering her words. It was true that Patronuses took on either the appearance of a person’s soul or something close to said person’s heart so Harry could understand Hermione apparent confusion over Armand’s Patronus, it didn’t seem to fit Armand’s personality at all.

Ron glanced at Harry and Hermione before shrugging, apparently unbothered by Hermione’s remark.

Deciding to follow Ron’s example, Harry turned his focus back to the other DA members and the progress they were making with their Patronuses.


 

Hermione looked flushed as she rushed into the boys’ dormitory the next Saturday, eyes sparkling.

“Hagrid’s back!” She announced, looking thrilled. Harry and Ron looked at each other, smiling. The three made quick work of putting down their work and getting their jackets before heading outside to go to Hagrid’s hut.

They arrived at Hagrid’s hut a few minutes later only for Hagrid not to answer the door when they knocked. The trio frowned at each other before bending down slightly to place his mouth next to the key hole in Hagrid’s front door.

“Hagrid, it’s us!” Harry called out.

There was a loud clang as if someone had accidentally dropped something. “Shoulda known!” Hagrid grumbled gruffly from inside.

The trio remained stationed outside as Hagrid was heard shuffling about. The bolt was drawn back and the door creaked open before Hagrid’s head appeared in the gap.

Hermione screamed, Harry and Ron gaping in shock.

“Merlin’s beard, keep it down and come in quickly before yeh draw attention tah yersel’ves,” Hagrid chided as he stood aside to usher them in.

“I’m sorry!” Hermione gasped, as the three of them squeezed past Hagrid into the house, “I just - oh, Hagrid!”

Hagrid looked up at Hermione’s upset voice, allowing the trio a clear view of the massive bruise shrouding his left cheek. “It’s nuthin’, it’s nuthin’!” Hagrid hastily reassured them.

“What happened to you?” Harry demanded while Fang danced around them all, trying to lick their faces.

Hagrid frowned at them before turning around to pick a massive copper kettle up from the floor. The trio glanced at each other in confusion at the lack of response, before an idea suddenly seemed to spark within Hermione’s eyes.

“Hagrid, did- did the giants do this to you?” Hermione asked hesitantly, causing Hagrid to spin around from where he’d been filling the kettle with water, water sloshing over the sides and splashing onto the floor.

“How- how dah you three know about tha’?” Hagrid demanded, eyes wide in astonishment. The trio exchanged guilty looks. “We kind of eavesdropped when Mum and Dad were discussing it during the holidays,” Ron was the first to admit, expression sheepish.

“Oh, yeh did, did yeh?” Hagrid snorted as he finally placed the kettle onto the fire. “Never known kids like you three fer knowin’ more’n yeh oughta,” he muttered, brow furrowed in frustration. Harry, Ron and Hermione exchanged awkward looks at that statement, not being able to deny the truth of his words.


 

The DA was back in the Room of Requirements a week later, once again practicing their Patronuses. Harry stared in amazement as half of the DA actually managed to conjure corporal Patronuses. Hermione had an otter for a Patronus, while Ron had a Jack Russel Terrier. Harry was still feeling quite pleased about it when Dobby suddenly appeared next to him, looking extremely distressed.

“Harry Potter, sir…” the elf squeaked, trembling from head to foot, “Harry Potter, sir… Dobby has come to warn you… but the house-elves have been warned not to tell…”

He ran head-first at the wall. Harry, who had some experience of Dobby’s habits of self-punishment, made to seize him, but Dobby merely bounced off the stone, cushioned by his eight hats. Hermione and a few of the other girls let out squeaks of fear and sympathy.

“What’s happened, Dobby?” Harry asked, grabbing the elf’s tiny arm and holding him away from anything with which he might seek to hurt himself.

“Harry Potter… she… she…”

Dobby hit himself hard on the nose with his free fist. Harry seized that, too.

“Who’s ‘she’, Dobby?”

But he thought he knew; surely only one ‘she’ could induce such fear in Dobby? The elf looked up at him, slightly cross-eyed, and mouthed wordlessly.

“Umbridge?” asked Harry, horrified.

Dobby nodded, then tried to bang his head on Harry’s knees. Harry held him at arm’s length.

“What about her? Dobby - she hasn’t found out about this - about us - about the D.A.?”

He read the answer in the elf’s stricken face. His hands held fast by Harry, the elf tried to kick himself and fell to the floor.

“Is she coming?” Harry asked quietly.

Dobby let out a howl and began beating his bare feet hard on the floor.

“Yes, Harry Potter, yes!”

Harry straightened up and looked around at the motionless, terrified people gazing at the thrashing elf.

“WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?” Harry bellowed. “RUN!”

They all pelted towards the exit at once, forming a scrum at the door, then people burst through.

Harry could hear them sprinting along the corridors and hoped they had the sense not to try and make it all the way to their dormitories. It was only ten to nine; if they just took refuge in the library or the Owlery, which were both nearer -

“Harry, come on!” shrieked Hermione from the center of the knot of people now fighting to get out.

He scooped up Dobby, who was still attempting to do himself a serious injury, and ran with the elf in his arms to join the back of the queue.

“Dobby - this is an order - get back down to the kitchen with the other elves and, if she asks you whether you warned me, lie and say no!” said Harry. “And I forbid you to hurt yourself!” he added, dropping the elf as he made it over the threshold at last and slammed the door behind him.

“Thank you, Harry Potter!” squeaked Dobby, and he streaked off. Harry glanced left and right, the others were all moving so fast he caught only glimpses of flying heels at either end of the corridor before they vanished; he started to run right; there was a boys’ bathroom up ahead, he could pretend he’d been in there all the time.

Harry made it into a stall, breathing a sigh of relief and hoping that everyone else had made it safely like he did, all Harry had to do now was wait and get back to Gryffindor Tower before curfew.


 

“They what?! Harry exclaimed in utter shock when Ron told him about Umbridge catching him and Hermione the night before as well as informing him that there had been a confrontation between Fudge and Dumbledore. Ron ended the story with Dumbledore’s removal as Headmaster and his subsequent disappearance from the school grounds.

“And Harry, Dumbledore told me to tell you, “Remember to close your mind,”” Ron quoted, looking slightly uncomfortable. Harry frowned as he tried to digest all he’d just been told.

“I can’t believe Marietta snitched on us to Umbridge,” Harry finally decided to say, glaring off into the distance in displeasure. Hermione who’d sat quietly through all this pursed her lips.

“Umbridge is absolutely despicable,” she declared, expression grave. Harry gritted his teeth at those words, suddenly reminded of the second part of Ron’s story. Harry’s expression hardened as he glared at nothing in particular.

“And Dumbledore just up and left us with her, without him here, there’s no one to keep Umbridge from taking over Hogwarts,” Harry said, fuming as the gravity of the situation finally dawned on him. Hermione grimaced, disapprovingly.

“He didn’t have a choice Harry, Ron said it himself, if Dumbledore hadn’t left when he did, he would’ve ended up in Azkaban,” Hermione pointed out. Harry shook his head, getting up from his chair and stalking to the boys’ dormitory. He needed to be alone.


 

“The Headmistress would like to see you, Potter,” Argus Filch stopped Harry the next afternoon after classes.

“I didn’t do it,” said Harry stupidly, thinking of what Fred and George had told him they were planning. Filch’s jowls wobbled with silent laughter.

“Guilty conscience, eh?” he wheezed. “Follow me.”

Harry glanced back at Ron and Hermione, who were both looking worried. He shrugged, and followed Filch back into the Entrance Hall, against the tide of hungry students.

Filch seemed to be in an extremely good mood; he hummed creakily under his breath as they climbed the marble staircase. As they reached the first landing he said, “Things are changing around here, Potter.”

“I’ve noticed,” said Harry coldly.

“Years… I’ve been telling Dumbledore for years and years he’s too soft with you all,” said Filch, chuckling nastily. “You filthy little beasts would never have dropped Stink Pellets if you’d known I had it in my power to whip you raw, would you, now? Nobody would have thought of throwing Fanged Frisbees down the corridors if I could’ve strung you up by the ankles in my office, would they? But when Educational Decree Number Twenty-Nine comes in, Potter, I’ll be allowed to do them things… and she’s asked the Minister to sign an order for the expulsion of Peeves… oh, things are going to be very different around here with her in charge.”

Umbridge had obviously gone to some lengths to get Filch on her side, Harry thought, and the worst of it was that he would probably prove an important weapon; his knowledge of the school’s secret passageways and hiding places was probably second only to that of the Weasley twins.

“Here we are,” he said, leering down at Harry as he rapped three times on Umbridge’s door and pushed it open. “The Potter boy to see you, Ma’am.”

Umbridge’s office, so very familiar to Harry from his detentions, was the same as usual except for the large wooden block lying across the front of her desk on which golden letters spelled the word: HEADMISTRESS. Also, his

Umbridge was sitting behind the desk, busily scribbling on some of her pink parchment, but she looked up and smiled widely at their entrance.

“Thank you, Argus,” she said sweetly.

“Not at all, Ma’am, not at all,” said Filch, bowing as low as his rheumatism would permit, and exiting backwards.

“Sit,” said Umbridge curtly, pointing towards a chair. Harry sat. She continued to scribble for a few moments. He watched some of the foul kittens gamboling around the plates over her head, wondering what fresh horror she had in store for him.

“Well, now,” she said finally, setting down her quill and surveying him complacently, like a toad about to swallow a particularly juicy fly. “What would you like to drink?”

“What?” said Harry, quite sure he had misheard her.

“To drink, Mr. Potter,” she said, smiling still more widely. “Tea? Coffee? Pumpkin juice?”

As she named each drink, she gave her short wand a wave, and a cup or glass of it appeared on her desk.

“Nothing, thank you,” said Harry.

“I wish you to have a drink with me,” she said, her voice becoming dangerously sweet. “Choose one.”

“Fine… tea then,” said Harry, shrugging.

She got up and made quite a performance of adding milk with her back to him. She then bustled around the desk with it, smiling in a sinisterly sweet fashion.

“There,” she said, handing it to him. “Drink it before it gets cold, won’t you? Well, now, Mr. Potter… I thought we ought to have a little chat, after the distressing events of last night.”

He said nothing. She settled herself back into her seat and waited. When several long moments had passed in silence, she said gaily, “You’re not drinking up!”

He raised the cup to his lips and then, just as suddenly, lowered it. One of the horrible painted kittens behind Umbridge had great round blue eyes just like Mad-Eye Moody’s magical one and it had just occurred to Harry what Mad-Eye would say if he ever heard that Harry had drunk anything offered by a known enemy.

“What’s the matter?” said Umbridge, who was still watching him closely. “Do you want sugar?”

“No,” said Harry.

He raised the cup to his lips again and pretended to take a sip, though keeping his mouth tightly closed. Umbridge’s smile widened.

“Good,” she whispered. “Very good. Now then…” She leaned forwards a little. “Where is Albus Dumbledore?”

“No idea,” said Harry promptly.

“Drink up, drink up,” she said, still smiling. “Now, Mr. Potter, let us not play childish games. I know that you know where he has gone. You and Dumbledore have been in this together from the beginning. Consider your position, Mr. Potter…”

“I don’t know where he is,” Harry repeated.

He pretended to drink again. She was watching him very closely.

“Very well,” she said, though she looked displeased. “In that case, you will kindly tell me the whereabouts of Sirius Black.”

Harry’s stomach turned over and his hand holding the teacup shook so that it rattled in its saucer.

He tilted the cup to his mouth with his lips pressed together so that some of the hot liquid trickled down on to his robes.

“I don’t know,” he said, a little too quickly.

“Mr. Potter,” said Umbridge, “let me remind you that it was I who almost caught the criminal Black in the Gryffindor fire in October. I know perfectly well it was you he was meeting and if I had had any proof neither of you would be at large today, I promise you. I repeat, Mr. Potter… where is Sirius Black?”

“No idea,” said Harry loudly. “Haven’t got a clue.”

They stared at each other so long that Harry felt his eyes watering. Then Umbridge stood up.

“Very well, Potter, I will take your word for it this time, but be warned: the might of the Ministry stands behind me. All channels of communication in and out of this school are being monitored. A Floo Network Regulator is keeping watch over every fire in Hogwarts - except my own, of course. My Inquisitorial Squad is opening and reading all owl post entering and leaving the castle. And Mr. Filch is observing all secret passages in and out of the castle. If I find a shred of evidence…”

BOOM!

The very floor of the office shook. Umbridge slipped sideways, clutching her desk for support, and looking shocked.

“What was -?”

She was gazing towards the door. Harry took the opportunity to empty his almost-full cup of tea into the nearest vase of dried flowers. He could hear people running and screaming several floors below.

“Back to lunch you go, Potter!” cried Umbridge, raising her wand and dashing out of the office.

Harry gave her a few seconds’ start, then hurried after her to see what the source of all the uproar was.


 

The stories about Fred and George’s epic departure from Hogwarts was still circling around by the time the next Quidditch game came around.

It was as Harry and Hermione were making their way to the stadiums for the aforementioned game, that Hagrid pulled them aside, looking worried. 

“Listen,” he whispered, “can yeh come with me? Now? While ev’ryone’s watchin’ the match?”

“Er… can’t it wait, Hagrid?” asked Harry. “Till the match is over?”

“No,” said Hagrid. “No, Harry, it’s gotta be now… while ev’ryone’s lookin’ the other way… please?”

Hagrid’s nose was gently dripping blood. His eyes were both blackened. Harry had not seen him this close-up since his return to the school; he looked utterly woebegone.

“Course,” said Harry at once, “course we’ll come.”

They quickly turned and followed Hagrid away from all the commotion.

 “I ‘ppreciate this, you two, I really do,” said Hag rid as they reached the stairs. He kept looking around nervously as they descended towards the lawn below. “I jus’ hope she doesn’ notice us goin’.”

“You mean Umbridge?” said Harry. “She won’t, she’s got her whole Inquisitorial Squad sitting with her, didn’t you see? She must be expecting trouble at the match.”

“Yeah, well, a bit o’ trouble wouldn’ hurt,” said Hagrid, pausing to peer around the edge of the stands to make sure the stretch of lawn between there and his cabin was deserted. “Give us more time.”

“What is it, Hagrid?” said Hermione, looking up at him with a concerned expression on her face as they hurried across the grass towards the edge of the Forest.

“Yeh - yeh’ll see in a mo’,” said Hagrid, looking over his shoulder as a great roar rose from the stands behind them. “Hey - did someone jus’ score?”

“It’ll be Ravenclaw,” said Harry heavily.

“Good… good…” said Hagrid distractedly. “Tha’s good…”

They had to jog to keep up with him as he strode across the lawn, looking around with every other step. When they reached his cabin, Hermione turned automatically left towards the front door. Hagrid, however, walked straight past it into the shade of the trees on the outermost edge of the Forest, where he picked up a crossbow that was leaning against a tree. When he realized they were no longer with him, he turned.

“We’re goin’ in here,” he said, jerking his shaggy head behind him.

“Into the Forest?” said Hermione, perplexed.

“Yeah,” said Hagrid. “C’mon now, quick, before we’re spotted!”

Harry and Hermione looked at each other, then ducked into the cover of the trees behind Hagrid, who was already striding away from them into the green gloom, his crossbow over his arm.

Harry and Hermione ran to catch up with him.


 

“I’m sorry tah be dragging yeh guys in tah this, but with Umbridge so determined tah get rid o’ me, I figur’d it’ad be better tah ’ave at least one person know my secret, someone who can come tah visit if need be,” Hagrid spoke up once the three of them had wondered quite far into the Forest.  

“Hagrid, what-” Hermione started, though she sounded quite reluctant. “-what do you mean?”

Hagrid didn’t reply opting to simply stop walking. Harry stopped as well, waiting for Hagrid to answer Hermione’s question or to at least say something else. That didn’t happen, instead, Hermione gasped, hand coming up to cover her mouth.

“Hagrid, that’s not-” Hermione started in a strangled whispered. Harry startled, looking towards Hermione in confusion, but she was simply staring at something in abject horror. Following Hermione’s gaze, Harry felt his body grow cold once he saw it to.

What Harry had originally assumed to be a large mound of earth seemed to be moving slowly up and down in time with the deep, grunting air that seemed to be whistling harshly through the trees. The mound of earth seemed to be breathing.

Suddenly everything made sense, it was the curved back of what was clearly —

“I jus’ had tah bring him back with me, ” said Hagrid, sounding close to tears, “if I jus teach him a few manners - I’ll be able ter take him outside an’ show ev’ryone he’s harmless!”

“Harmless!” said Hermione shrilly, and Hagrid made frantic hushing noises with his hands as the enormous creature before them grunted loudly and shifted in its sleep. “He’s been hurting you all this time, hasn’t he? That’s why you’ve had all these injuries!”

“He don’ know his own strength!” said Hagrid earnestly. “An’ he’s gettin’ better, he’s not fightin’ so much any more —”

“So, this is why it took you so long to get home!” said Hermione distractedly. “Oh, Hagrid, why did you bring him back if he didn’t want to come? Wouldn’t he have been happier with his own people?”

“They were all bullyin’ him, Hermione, ‘cause he’s so small!” said Hagrid.

“Small?” said Hermione. “Small?!”

“Hermione, I couldn’ leave him,” said Hagrid, tears now trickling down his bruised face into his beard. “See - he’s my brother!”

Hermione simply stared at him, her mouth open.

“Hagrid, when you say ‘brother’,” said Harry slowly, “d o you mean —?”

“Well - half-brother,” amended Hagrid. “Turns out me mother took up with another giant when she left me dad, an’ she went an’ had Grawp here -”

“Grawp?” said Harry.

“Yeah… well, tha’s what it sounds like when he says his name,” said Hagrid anxiously. “He don’ speak a lot of English… I’ve bin tryin’ ter teach him… anyway, she don’ seem ter have liked him much more’n she liked me. See, with giantesses, what counts is producin’ good big kids, and he’s always been a bit on the runty side fer a giant - on’y sixteen foot -”

“Oh, yes, tiny!” said Hermione, with a kind of hysterical sarcasm. “Absolutely minuscule!”

“He was bein’ kicked aroun’ by all o’ them - I jus’ couldn’ leave him -”

“Did Madame Maxime want to bring him back?” asked Harry.

“She - well, she could see it was right importan’ ter me,” said Hagrid, twisting his enormous hands. “Bu’ - bu’ she got a bit tired o’ him after a while, I must admit… so we split up on the journey home… she promised not ter tell anyone, though…”

“How on earth did you get him back without anyone noticing?” said Harry.

“Well, tha’s why it took so long, see,” said Hagrid. “Could on’y travel by nigh’ an’ through wild country an’ stuff. Course, he covers the ground pretty well when he wants ter, but he kep’ wantin’ ter go back.”

“Oh, Hagrid, why on earth didn’t you let him!” said Hermione, flopping down on to a ripped up tree and burying her face in her hands. “What do you think you’re going to do with a violent giant who doesn’t even want to be here!”

“Well, now - ‘violent’ - tha’s a bit harsh,” said Hagrid, still twisting his hands agitatedly. “I’ll admit he mighta taken a couple o’ swings at me when he’s bin in a bad mood, but he’s gettin’ better, loads better, settlin’ down well.”

“What are those ropes for, then?” Harry asked.

He had just noticed ropes thick as saplings stretching from around the trunks of the largest nearby trees towards the place where Grawp lay curled on the ground with his back to them.

“You have to keep him tied up?” said Hermione faintly.

“Well… yeah…” said Hagrid, looking anxious. “See - it’s like I say - he doesn’ really know ‘is own strength.”

Harry understood now why there had been such a suspicious lack of any other living creature in this part of the Forest.

“So, what is it you want Harry and Ron and me to do?” Hermione asked apprehensively.

“Look after him,” said Hagrid croakily. “After I’m gone.”

Harry and Hermione exchanged miserable looks, Harry uncomfortably aware that he had already promised Hagrid that he would do whatever he asked.

“What - what does that involve, exactly?” Hermione enquired.

“Not food or anythin’!” said Hagrid eagerly. “He can get his own food, no problem. Birds an’ deer an’ stuff… no, it’s company he needs. If I jus’ knew someone was carryin’ on tryin’ ter help him a bit… teachin’ him, yeh know.”

Harry said nothing, but turned to look back at the gigantic form lying asleep on the ground in front of them. Unlike Hagrid, who simply looked like an oversized human, Grawp looked strangely misshapen. What Harry had taken to be a vast mossy boulder to the left of the great earthen mound he now recognized as Grawp’s head. It was much larger in proportion to the body than a human head, and was almost perfectly round and covered with tightly curling, close-growing hair the color of bracken. The rim of a single large, fleshy ear was visible on top of the head, which seemed to sit, rather like Uncle Vernon’s, directly upon the shoulders with little or no neck in between. The back, under what looked like a dirty brownish smock comprised of animal skins sewn roughly together, was very broad; and as Grawp slept, it seemed to strain a little at the rough seams of the skins. The legs were curled up under the body. Harry could see the soles of enormous, filthy, bare feet, large as sledges, resting one on top of the other on the earthy Forest floor.

“You want us to teach him,” Harry said in a hollow voice. He now understood what Firenze’s warning had meant. His attempt is not working. He would do better to abandon it. Of course, the other creatures who lived in the Forest would have heard Hagrids fruitless attempts to teach Grawp English.

“Yeah - even if yeh jus’ talk ter him a bit,” said Hagrid hopefully. “Cause I reckon, if he can talk ter people, he’ll understand more that we all like ‘im really, an’ want ‘im ter stay.”

Harry looked at Hermione, who peered back at him from between the fingers over her face.

“Kind of makes you wish we had Norbert back, doesn’t it?” he said, and she gave a very shaky laugh.

“Yeh’ll do it, then?” said Hagrid, who did not seem to have caught what Harry had just said.

“We’ll…” said Harry, already bound by his promise. “We’ll try, Hagrid.”

“I knew I could count on yeh, Harry,” Hagrid said, beaming in a very watery way and dabbing at his face with his handkerchief again. “An’ I don’ want yeh ter put yerself out too much, like… I know yeh’ve got exams… if yeh could jus’ nip down here in yer Invisibility Cloak maybe once a week an’ have a little chat with ‘im. I’ll wake ‘im up, then - introduce yeh -”

“Wha— no!” said Hermione, jumping up. “Hagrid, no, don’t wake him, really, we don’t need -”

But Hagrid had already stepped over the great tree trunk in front of them and was proceeding towards Grawp. When he was about ten feet away, he lifted a long, broken bough from the ground, smiled reassuringly over his shoulder at Harry and Hermione, then poked Grawp hard in the middle of the back with the end of the bough.

The giant gave a roar that echoed around the silent Forest; birds in the treetops overhead rose twittering from their perches and soared away. In front of Harry and Hermione, meanwhile, the gigantic Grawp was rising from the ground, which shuddered as he placed an enormous hand upon it to push himself on to his knees. He turned his head to see who and what had disturbed him.

“All righ’, Grawpy?” said Hagrid, in a would-be cheery voice, backing away with the long bough raised, ready to poke Grawp again. “Had a nice sleep, eh?”

Harry and Hermione retreated as far as they could while still keeping the giant within their sights. Grawp knelt between two trees he had not yet uprooted. They looked up into his startlingly huge face that resembled a grey full moon swimming in the gloom of the clearing. It was as though the features had been hewn on to a great stone ball. The nose was stubby and shapeless, the mouth lopsided and full of misshapen yellow teeth the size of half-bricks; the eyes, small by giant standards, were a muddy greenish-brown and just now were half-gummed together with sleep. Grawp raised dirty knuckles, each as big as a cricket ball, to his eyes, rubbed vigorously, then, without warning, pushed himself to his feet with surprising speed and agility.

“Oh, my!” Harry heard Hermione squeal, terrified, beside him.

The trees to which the other ends of the ropes around Grawp’s wrists and ankles were attached creaked ominously. He was, as Hagrid had said, at least sixteen feet tall. Gazing blearily around, Grawp reached out a hand the size of a beach umbrella, seized a bird’s nest from the upper branches of a towering pine and turned it upside-down with a roar of apparent displeasure that there was no bird in it; eggs fell like grenades towards the ground and Hagrid threw his arms over his head to protect himself.

“Anyway, Grawpy,” shouted Hagrid, looking up apprehensively in case of further falling eggs, “I’ve brought some friends ter meet yeh. Remember, I told yeh I might? Remember, when I said I might have ter go on a little trip an’ leave them ter look after yeh fer a bit? Remember that, Grawpy?”

But Grawp merely gave another low roar; it was hard to say whether he was listening to Hagrid or whether he even recognized the sounds Hagrid was making as speech. He had now seized the top of the pine tree and was pulling it towards him, evidently for the simple pleasure of seeing how far it would spring back when he let go.

“Now, Grawpy, don’ do that!” shouted Hagrid. “Tha’s how you ended up pullin’ up the others -”

And sure enough, Harry could see the earth around the tree’s roots beginning to crack.

“I got company for yeh!” Hagrid shouted. “Company, see! Look down, yeh big buffoon, I brought yeh some friends!”

“Oh, Hagrid, don’t,” moaned Hermione, but Hagrid had already raised the bough again and gave Grawp’s knee a sharp poke.

The giant let go of the top of the tree, which swayed alarmingly and deluged Hagrid with a rain of pine needles, and looked down.

“This,” said Hagrid, hastening over to where Harry and Hermione stood, “is Harry, Grawp! Harry Potter! He migh’ be comin’ ter visit yeh if I have ter go away, understand?”

The giant had only just realized that Harry and Hermione were there. They watched, in great trepidation, as he lowered his huge boulder of a head so that he could peer blearily at them.

“An’ this is Hermione, see? Her—” Hagrid hesitated. Turning to Hermione, he said, “Would yeh mind if he called yeh Hermy, Hermione? On’y it’s a difficult name fer him ter remember.”

“No, not at all,” squeaked Hermione.

“This is Hermy, Grawp! An’ she’s gonna be comin’ an’ all! Is’n’ tha’ nice? Eh? Two friends fer yeh ter - GRAWPY, NO!”

Grawp’s hand had shot out of nowhere towards Hermione; Harry seized her and pulled her backwards behind the tree, so that Grawp’s fist scraped the trunk but closed on thin air.

“BAD BOY, GRAWPY!” they heard Hagrid yelling, as Hermione clung to Harry behind the tree, shaking and whimpering. “VERY BAD BOY! YEH DON’ GRAB - OUCH!”

Harry poked his head out from around the trunk and saw Hagrid lying on his back, his hand over his nose. Grawp, apparently losing interest, had straightened up and was again engaged in pulling back the pine as far as it would go.

“Righ’,” said Hagrid thickly, getting up with one hand pinching his bleeding nose and the other grasping his crossbow, “well… there yeh are… yeh’ve met him an’ - an’ now he’ll know yeh when yeh come back. Yeah… well…”

He looked up at Grawp, who was now pulling back the pine with an expression of detached pleasure on his boulderish face; the roots were creaking as he ripped them away from the ground.

“Well, I reckon tha’s enough fer one day,” said Hagrid. “We’ll -er - we’ll go back now, shall we?”

Harry and Hermione nodded.

Chapter Text

Merlin grinned as he and Arthur appeared inside the dragon habitat in Romania at 1 o’clock at night, bypassing the detection of the magical security barriers completely.  They easily navigated through the habitat that Charlie Weasley had given them a tour of earlier that day. The ginger haired man was extremely nice and had shown them the way to Norbert’s habitat because he was under the impression that they were friends of Hagrid’s. Merlin grimaced slightly at the thought, feeling guilty over the deceit.  

Merlin felt Arthur grab hold of his hand as they walked. Looking down at their intertwined hands, Merlin felt happiness well up inside of him as he looked back up at Arthur fondly, the grin on Merlin’s face stretching even wider when he received the same look in return.

Arthur of course, had insisted on coming with him so there would be someone to watch his back in case Norbert got temperamental but since he and Arthur both knew that he was completely capable of defending himself, Merlin suspected that it was more to do with the fact that Arthur was feeling lonely and left out of the “adventures” Merlin constantly had to go on.

Regardless, Merlin couldn’t suppress the feeling of contentedness surrounding him.

They moved quickly and quietly through the large planes that made up the dragon habitat, finally, approached Norbert’s dwelling grounds.

Said dragon was lounging lazily on one of the large rocks littering the habitat, fast asleep.

Merlin indicated to Arthur and they slowly creeped towards Norbert.

When they were a few feet away, Norbert opened her large, reptilian eyes, as if she could sense their presence. Merlin and Arthur carefully regarded Norbert while the dragon did the same to them.

“Ready, Merlin?” Arthur questioned quietly, letting Merlin’s hand go and never taking his eyes off the dragon. Merlin studied Norbert for a few more seconds before giving a silent nod and taking a careful step forward. Despite his earlier musing Merlin couldn’t help taking comfort in the fact that Arthur was there with him, ready to help if anything were to go wrong.

Norbert was still surveying them, her green eyes hard, intelligent and curious almost as if she knew what Merlin was about to do.

Merlin gazed at Norbert for a moment longer before raising his hand and summoning his magic.

“Norbert, Ic forgiefan ge se ongytenes giefan cn me mi se mæst Kilgharrah, openian eower hige ac hieran me!” Merlin called out, his eyes turning gold as a white mist burst forth from within him, heading straight for Norbert who breathed it in, closing her eyes as if a great calm had come over her.

When she opened her eyes again, there was clear recognition in them.

“Hello, Merlin,” the female dragon spoke for the first time, her voice powerful and firm. Merlin’s face contorted into one of pure and unadulterated happiness, eyes turning slightly glossy with emotion as he felt his and Norbert’s souls connect for the first time, the first true minded dragon in over a thousand years, his kin.

“I’m so glad to meet you,” Merlin breathed, feeling Arthur move closer to him but unable to take his eyes off Norbert. Norbert smiled, eyes glowing with compassion.

“It is good to meet you to, Merlin. Thank you for entrusting me with the magic of the old race,” Norbert replied, expression serious but eyes still soft.

Merlin shakes his head vehemently.  “No, no,” Merlin insisted. “I should be the one thanking you, because of you and Hagrid, I was able to revive the intelligence that the dragons of old carried.”

Norbert gave him a curious look. “What do you mean, my kin?” Norbert questioned, causing Merlin to close his eyes in momentary bliss at hearing Norbert call him kin. It had been so long since he’d said his final goodbyes to Aithusa and Kilgharrah

“I cannot share my dragonlord magic with dragons without names, and we both know dragons can only be named when they are newly born. When Hagrid named you when you were born, he unintentionally, gave the first dragon name in over a thousand years. We have him to thank for bringing back your race as it once was.” Merlin explained, voice slightly thick with emotion as he stared up at Norbert, who gave a thoughtful nod at Merlin’s revelation.

“I cannot remember much of him, but Hagrid seems like a good man,” Norbert stated, voice soft in remembrance. Merlin beamed up at her, pleased that Hagrid had found her.

Arthur cleared his throat and Merlin suddenly came back to himself.

“Right!” Merlin seemed to come to a realization, “right, I suppose we should get going.”

Norbert’s eyes had moved to Arthur and she gave him an amused stare before looking back at Merlin.

“You are leaving already?”

Merlin nodded.

“Yeah, and you’re coming with us!” Merlin exclaimed with an excited smile. Norbert’s eyes saddened. Merlin paused, taking note of Norbert’s expression. “Unless… don’t you want to be free?” Merlin asked, disappointed. Norbert shook her head.

“That is not the case, Merlin, it is simply that I do not wish to abandon my own kind here, and the humans here, they are kind, I would not mind staying among them for a while longer.” Norbert explained patiently. Merlin nodded in understanding, a slightly unsure smile, gracing his features.

“That makes sense,” Merlin agreed as he stepped forward and rested a hand on Norbert’s cheek. “Just know, you can escape from here whenever you wish too, I’ll make sure the barrier will allow you through,” Merlin added as he gazed up at the green eyes warmly.

Norbert looked back down at him, eyes filled with compassion.

“Thank you, Merlin. And do not fear, I will be there when you need me,” Norbert replied.

Merlin felt Arthur grip his hand once again in silent support.

Merlin smiled, it would be alright.


 

They approached Umbridge’s office to find Ginny and Neville stationed outside, apparently guarding it.

“Is Harry in there?” Merlin enquired confused. Ginny and Neville shared a look before Neville nodded.

“What happened back there?” Arthur questioned, brow furrowed with worry. Ginny again, seemed slightly hesitant before she finally spoke up.

“Harry thinks Surius might’ve been taken by Voldemort,” the anxiety was clear in her voice.

Merlin and Arthur’s eyes widened in shock at this revelation.

The sound of the floo being activated, could be heard coming from inside the office.

“Kreature!” Harry’s exclamation reached them. The surprise at Harry’s exclamation was clear on the faces of the four Gryffindors. As one, they curiously leaned forward into the office, trying to figure out what was going on.

Harry, Ron and Hermione were standing around the fire, though the fire itself was still visible from the doorway. In it, the house elf was visible and sniffling quite terribly, wide eyes filled with remorse.

“Kreature was being busy with the attic, when Kreature came down, he was gone, the last remaining family of beloved Master Regulus, Kreature has failed him,” Kreature howled with sadness, blowing his large nose on his rag pillowcase.

Merlin suddenly felt his hair being seized  while a hand came up to cover his mouth. Merlin squeezed his eyes shut as he forced his magic not to react at the unexpected attack. When he opened them again, he had enough control over his magic to finally be able to assess the situation.

Umbridge had stormed past them into the office and had seized Harry by his hair as well. Her lips were moving in a quiet hiss but Merlin couldn’t hear what she was saying to him.

“Take his wand,” Umbridge barked loud enough for the people holding Merlin, Arthur, Ginny, Neville and Luna, to hear. A lanky student dressed in Slytherin clothing stepped forward and started searching inside Harry’s robe’s chest pocket to retrieve his wand.

“Hers, too.” Umbridge bit out impatiently, jerking her head in Hermione’s direction.

Hermione’s wand was snatched as well.

“I want to know why you are in my office,” said Umbridge, shaking the fist clutching Harry’s hair so that he staggered.

“I was - trying to get my Firebolt!” Harry croaked.

“Liar.” She shook his head again. “Your Firebolt is under strict guard in the dungeons, as you very well know, Potter. You had your head in my fire. With whom have you been communicating?”

“No one -” said Harry, trying to pull away from her.

“Liar!” Umbridge bellowed again. She threw him from her and he slammed into the desk.

 “Very well,” she said in her most dangerous and falsely sweet voice. “Very well, Mr Potter… I offered you the chance to tell me freely. You refused. I have no alternative but to force you. Gregory go fetch Professor Snape.”

Goyle gave an eager nod before hurrying out of the room.

There was silence in the office except for the fidgetings and scufflings resulting from the Slytherins’ efforts to keep their captives under control. Meanwhile, Umbridge kept her beady gaze fixed on Harry until two pairs of footsteps where heard outside.

“You wanted to see me, Headmistress?” Snape asked as he entered the office, looking around at all the pairs of struggling students with an expression of complete indifference.

“Ah, Professor Snape,” said Umbridge, smiling widely and standing up again. “Yes, I would like another bottle of Veritaserum, as quick as you can, please.”

“You took my last bottle to interrogate Potter,” he said, surveying her coolly. “Surely you did not use it all? I told you that three drops would be sufficient.”

Umbridge flushed, making it obvious that she had.

“You can make some more, can’t you?” she said, her voice becoming more sweetly girlish as it always did when she was furious.

Merlin couldn’t hold back a snort at Umbridge’s obvious ignorance.

All eyes in the room turned to him for a moment before Snape refocused his attention on Umbridge.

“Certainly,” said Snape, his lip curling. “It takes a full moon-cycle to mature, so I should have it ready for you in around a month.”

“A month?” squawked Umbridge, swelling toadishly. “A month? But I need it this evening, Snape! I have just found Potter using my fire to communicate with a person or persons unknown!”

“Really?” said Snape, showing his first, faint sign of interest as he looked round at Harry. “Well, it doesn’t surprise me. Potter has never shown much inclination to follow school rules.”

“I wish to interrogate him!” repeated Umbridge angrily, and Snape looked away from Harry back into her furiously quivering face. “I wish you to provide me with a potion that will force him to tell me the truth!”

Umbridge’s words suddenly gave Merlin and idea. Umbridge wouldn’t be tormenting the school for much longer if he had anything to say about it.

“I have already told you,” said Snape smoothly, “that I have no further stocks of Veritaserum. Unless you wish to poison Potter - and I assure you I would have the greatest sympathy with you if you did - I cannot help you. The only trouble is that most venoms act too fast to give the victim much time for truth-telling.”

If possible, Umbridge expression seemed to sour even more.

“You are on probation!” shrieked Professor Umbridge, and Snape looked back at her, his eyebrows slightly raised. “You are being deliberately unhelpful! I expected better, Lucius Malfoy always spokes most highly of you! Now get out of my office!”

Snape gave her an ironic bow and turned to leave.

“He’s got Padfoot!” Harry suddenly shouted, causing Merlin to stare at him in surprise, glance around at the other Gryffindors revealed that he wasn’t the only one shocked by Harry’s sudden interjection. “He’s got Padfoot at the place where it’s hidden!”

Snape had stopped with his hand on Umbridge’s door handle.

“Padfoot?” cried Professor Umbridge, looking eagerly from Harry to Snape. “What is Padfoot? Where what is hidden? What does he mean, Snape?”

Snape looked round at Harry. His face was inscrutable.

“I have no idea,” said Snape coldly. “Potter, when I want nonsense shouted at me I shall give you a Babbling Beverage. And Crabbe, loosen your hold a little. If Longbottom suffocates it will mean a lot of tedious paperwork and I am afraid I shall have to mention it on your reference if ever you apply for a job.”

With that, Snape turned and left, leaving everyone staring after him while Umbridge heaved heavy breaths of frustration.

“Very well,” she said, and she pulled out her wand. “Very well...I am left with no alternative...this is more than a matter of school discipline...this is an issue of Ministry security...yes...yes…”

Merlin watched Umbridge carefully as she seemed to be talking herself into something. She was shifting her weight nervously from foot to foot, staring at Harry, beating her wand against her empty palm and breathing heavily. It was clear to Merlin that Umbridge seemed to be growing more desperate, and because of that, more dangerous.

“You are forcing me, Potter… I do not want to,” said Umbridge, still moving restlessly on the spot, “but sometimes circumstances justify the use… I am sure the Minister will understand that I had no choice.”

Merlin tensed, weary.

“The Cruciatus Curse ought to loosen your tongue,” said Umbridge quietly.

No! Merlin thought at the same time that Hermione shrieked it out loud.

“Professor Umbridge - it’s illegal.” She insisted. Umbridge simply smirked Merlin glanced towards Arthur, giving him a helpless look. Arthur gave him an encouraging smile.

Merlin closed his eyes, resigned, decision made.

“Enough,” Merlin murmured. When he opened his eyes again, they were burning gold, freezing Umbridge and her Slytherin followers in place. It took Harry and his friends a moment to notices that neither Umbridge, nor her minions, were doing anything. It was only once they did notice, that they started looking around for the source of their frozen classmates and teacher.

“Emerson!?” Harry exclaimed in disbelief when he noticed Merlin’s glowing golden eyes and slightly raised hand.

“No time to ask questions, go and help Padfoot or whomever it is before they unfreeze, we’ll catch up.” Arthur demanded, well aware that Merlin couldn’t break his concentration enough to address them.

“What? But-”

“Now’s really not the time to ask questions! Go! We’ll take care of Umbridge alright!” Arthur insisted again. Out of the corner of his eye, Merlin could see the rest of the group detangling themselves from the Slytherins’ grips. Hermione thankfully grabbing hold of Harry and dragging him to the door when he seemed to hesitate once more.  “Not now Harry,” she admonished which finally snapped Harry out of his daze, and the group disappeared from Merlin’s sight.

“They’re gone,” Arthur told him after a moment’s pause, and Merlin immediately released the spell that held the group in place.

Umbridge blinked upon realizing that Harry and his friends had somehow miraculously disappeared, her eyes frantically searching the room as if she might find them hiding somewhere in her office. When that didn’t work, her eyes finally came to rest of Merlin and Arthur. She smiled predatorily.

“Your little friends disappeared and left you here did they?” she tutted girlish, as if addressing a toddler who’d just been abandoned. Merlin’s lips turned down in a scowl and he didn’t even need to look to know that Arthur shared his expression. Umbridge went on, undeterred. “That can’t be good, can it. No reason for you two to stay loyal to Potter now.” She prompted, eager and hopeful as her eyes glinted with malice.

Arthur and Merlin remained silent as they simply surveyed her, Umbridge’s expression quickly turning dark when she realized that they weren’t planning on giving Harry up.

“Fine, if that’s the way you want to be, since Potter escaped, I suppose I’ll just have to use the Cruciatus on you,” Umbridge sneered.

“Don’t you touch him,” Arthur shouted.

“Oh, he speaks, and I suppose you’re going to stop me, are you?” Umbridge goaded.

The next moment the Slytherin holding Arthur, sagged and Arthur raised his wand to Umbridge’s face.

Umbridge’s expression shifted into one of rage. “You think you can threaten me, a Ministry Official?” she demanded, raising her short stubby wand as well. 


 

They left Umbridge’s office and ran down the stairs to the great hall.

“We need to find out where they went,” Merlin huffed out as they ran.

“Ministry of Magic, Department of Mysteries,” Arthur answered. “Harry told me before they left,” he elaborated when Merlin gave him a questioning look. Merlin nodded in acknowledgment as they burst through the large doors to the great hall, into the cold night air.

“How are we going to get there, you know you can’t transport us so soon after stopping time,” Arthur questioned as he looked around at the darkened grounds as if looking for inspiration.

Merlin smiled slightly, “I don’t think we have to worry about that,” Arthur barely had time to frown in Merlin’s direction before Merlin started shouting. “O drakon, e male so ftengometta tesd'hup'anankes!" Arthur’s hand steered Merlin a bit further away from the entrance to the school. Less than a minute later, Norbert appeared flying through the sky, before landing with a soft thud in front of them. Merlin sagged slightly, but Arthur was there to hold him up and guide him to Norbert, though calling Norbert hadn’t tired him out as much as teleporting would have, but he could still feel the strain on his magic. He would recover, but it would take some time.

“Norbert,  Merlin needs you to take us to the Ministry of Magic, please.” Arthur was explaining as Merlin leaned against him.

Norbert nodded, giving Merlin a concerned once over before bending down low enough for Arthur to help Merlin onto her back before climbing on behind him himself.

Merlin firmly planted his hands on either side of Norbert’s neck while he felt Arthur wrap his arms around Merlin’s waist.

Norbert’s take-off is flawless and soon they’re soaring high above the grounds, Merlin closed his eyes, enjoying the freedom. Too soon, they landed at the Ministry of Magic to the terrified shrieks of the other Gryffindors who’d apparently just arrived as well. Merlin peaked around Norbert’s massive head to see the group holding their wands aloft, faces filled with fear.

“Is that a dragon?!” Hermione exclaimed, wide eyed.

“Is that Norbert?” Ron questioned directly after, causing Hermione and Harry to do a double take.

“Indeed,” Norbert agreed, amused.
“Did that dragon just talk?” Neville questioned from behind Harry, Ron and Hermione, looking slightly faint.

“She did,” Luna confirmed, dreamy eyes bright with delight.

“I’m… confused,” Ron murmured, blinking.

“Can we focus on saving Sirius right now?” Harry demanded, though his eyes still seemed somewhat transfixed on Norbert.

“Yeah,” Ginny agreed and they started moving towards the entrance to the Ministry. Merlin and Arthur quickly dismounted. “Thank you,” Merlin murmured, giving Norbert a fond look. Norbert bowed her large head once in acknowledgment.

“We will see each other again soon, Merlin” Norbert called before taking off, leaving Merlin and Arthur to rush towards the telephone booth and squeeze in with the others.

When they were all inside, Neville quickly closed the door.

Ron quickly punched a code into the dial, his arm bent bizarrely to reach the dial; as it whirred back into place a cool female voice sounded inside the box.

“Welcome to the Ministry of Magic. Please state your name and business.”

“Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger,” Harry said very quickly, voice strained and expression stressed. “Ginny Weasley, Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood and Emerson and Armand Pendragon… we’re here to save someone, unless your Ministry can do it first!”

“Thank you,” said the cool female voice. “Visitors, please take the badges and attach them to the front of your robes.”

Nine badges slid out of the metal chute where returned coins normally appeared.

Hermione scooped them up and handed them out, Merlin studied his, it simply said, Emerson Pendragon, Rescue Mission.

“Visitors to the Ministry, you are required to submit to a search and present your wands for registration at the security desk, which is located at the far end of the Atrium.”

Merlin tensed at this announcement but decided he would deal with the problem once they got there.

“Fine!” Harry said loudly, clearly irritated. “Now can we move?”

The floor of the telephone box shuddered and the pavement rose up past its glass windows; the scavenging Thestrals were sliding out of sight; blackness closed over their heads and with a dull grinding noise they sank down into the depths of the Ministry of Magic.

A chink of soft golden light hit their feet and, widening, rose up their bodies. Harry bent his knees and held his wand as ready as he could in such cramped conditions as he peered through the glass to see whether anybody was waiting for them in the Atrium, but it seemed to be completely empty. The light was dimmer than it had been by day; there were no fires burning under the mantelpieces set into the walls, but as the lift slid smoothly to a halt he saw that golden symbols continued to twist sinuously in the dark blue ceiling.

“The Ministry of Magic wishes you a pleasant evening,” said the woman’s voice.

The door of the telephone box burst open; Neville toppled out of the box. Merlin quickly offered the boy a hand up before the rest of the group extricated themselves from the box. The only sound in the Atrium was the steady rush of water from the golden fountain, jets from the wands of the witch and wizard, the point of the centaur’s arrow, the tip of the goblin’s hat and the house-elf’s ears continued to gush into the surrounding pool.

“Come on,” Harry said quietly and the nine of them sprinted off down the hall, Harry in the lead, past the fountain and an abandoned security desk.

Merlin had never seen the Ministry so empty, not that he and Arthur visited it often, but still, Merlin couldn’t suppress the feeling of foreboding that dwelled in his stomach as they ran through the golden gates to the lifts. Harry pressed the nearest ‘down’ button and a lift clattered into sight almost immediately, the golden grilles slid apart with a great, echoing clanking and they dashed inside. Harry stabbed the number nine button seeming to know exactly where he was going. The grilles of the lift closed with a bang and it began to descend, jangling and rattling. When the lift finally halted, the cool female voice said, “Department of Mysteries,” and Merlin blinked at being told where they were, of all the places…

The lift’s grilles slid open. They stepped out into the corridor where nothing was moving but the nearest torches, flickering in the rush of air from the lift.

Harry turned towards a plain black door at the end of the corridor.

“Let’s go,” he whispered, and he led the way down the corridor. Looking around at the rest of the group, Merlin took note of their surprise and amazement, even Luna was gazing around with her mouth slightly open.

“Okay, listen,” said Harry stopping again within six feet of the door. “Maybe… maybe a couple of people should stay here as a — as a lookout, and —”

“And how’re we going to let you know something’s coming?” asked Ginny, her eyebrows raised.

“You could be miles away.”

“We’re coming with you, Harry,” said Neville.

“Let’s get on with it,” said Ron firmly.

Harry seemed to realize it was a useless argument since, with a resigned sigh, he turned to face the door and walked forward.

The door swung open, clearly sensing Harry’s intent. Merlin watched as, without hesitation, Harry marched through it. Shooting a wary glance towards Arthur, he followed Harry into the large, circular room that lay behind the door.

Everything was just as Merlin remembered it, the entire room was pitch black; identical, unmarked, handle-less black doors were set at intervals all around the black walls, interspersed with branches of candles whose flames burned blue; their cool, shimmering light reflected in the shining marble floor made it look as though there was dark water underfoot.

“Someone shut the door,” Harry muttered.

Neville obeyed. Without the long chink of light from the torchlit corridor behind them, the place became so dark that for a moment the only things they could see were the shivering blue flames on the walls and their ghostly reflections in the floor.

Harry was glancing between the different doors, clearly undecided. There was a great rumbling noise and the candles began to move sideways.

The circular wall started rotating.

Hermione grabbed Harry’s arm and Neville gave a shout of surprise.

For a few seconds, the blue flames around them were blurred to resemble neon lines as the wall sped around; then, quite as suddenly as it had started, the rumbling stopped and everything became stationary once again.

“What was that about?” whispered Ron fearfully.

“I think it was to stop us knowing which door we came in through,” said Ginny in a hushed voice.

Hermione was right: they could no sooner identify the exit door than locate an ant on the jet-black floor, and the door through which they needed to proceed could be any one of the dozen surrounding them.

“How’re we going to get back out?” said Neville uncomfortably.

“Well, that doesn’t matter now,” said Harry forcefully “we won’t need to get out till we’ve found Sirius -”

“Don’t go calling for him, though!” Hermione said urgently, still fearful.

“Where do we go, then, Harry?” Ron asked.

“I don’t -” Harry began. He swallowed. “In the dreams, I went through the door at the end of the corridor from the lifts into a dark room - that’s this one - and then I went through another door into a room that kind of… glitters.”

Ah, Merlin thought, so that’s how Harry knew where to go. Though clearly Harry hadn’t bargained on the Room of Doors.

 “We should try a few doors,” Harry hastily decided, “I’ll know the right way when I see it. C’mon.”

Merlin felt a sharp elbow jabbing into his ribcage and flinched before sending a glare to Arthur. Arthur simply ignored the look, sending him a pointed one of his own instead.

Merlin sighed, knowing that Arthur was right, it wasn’t as if they hadn’t already revealed too much, what harm could a little more do?

“Wait!” he called out, causing Harry and his friends to stop and look at him. “I know how the room works, and you could be running around for days if you try to get to a specific door that way,” Merlin told them, receiving a few skeptical looks in return.


 

Harry gave him a slightly annoyed look, folding his arms as he stared at Merlin.

“So what are we supposed to do?” Harry demanded, though Merlin couldn’t fault him for it, he knew the frustration wasn’t truly aimed at him but more out of Harry’s fear for Sirius.

“What are you looking for?” Merlin questioned, causing Harry to frown and look extremely uncertain. “Do you want to find Sirius or not?” Merlin asked when Harry continued to hesitate.

“Harry, I think we should trust him,” Hermione murmured.

“It’s a room with thousands of globes, like the one Trelawney uses to tell the future with.” Harry finally admitted. Hermione snorted.

The Hall of Prophecies. Merlin paled slightly at this revelation, fearing the confrontation to come, but none the less, he nodded.

“The Time Chamber,” Merlin announced to the room at large. One of the black doors in the room opened, and Harry gaped at it before recovering.

“Come on!”

They made their way through the door into the beautiful room that had clocks gleaming from every surface, large and small, grandfather and carriage, hanging in spaces between the bookcases or standing on desks ranging the length of the room, so that a busy, relentless ticking filled the place like thousands of minuscule, marching footsteps. The light in the room was moving and bouncing, caused by a towering crystal bell jar that stood at the far end of the room.

 “This way!” Harry called out as he started running down the narrow space between the lines of desks, leading, the way to the source of the light, the crystal bell jar quite as tall as he was that stood on a desk and appeared to be full of a billowing, glittering wind.

“Oh, look!” said Ginny, as they drew nearer, pointing at the very heart of the bell jar.

Drifting along in the sparkling current inside was a tiny, jewel-bright egg. As it rose in the jar, it cracked open and a hummingbird emerged, which was carried to the very top of the jar, but as it fell on the draught its feathers became bedraggled and damp again, and by the time it had been borne back to the bottom of the jar it had been enclosed once more in its egg.

 “Keep going!” said Harry sharply, because Ginny showed signs of wanting to stop and watch the egg’s progress back into a bird.

“You dawdled enough by that old arch!” she said crossly, but followed him past the bell jar to the only door behind it.

“This is it,” Harry said again, and Merlin felt his palms beginning to sweat at the knowledge of what lay in the next room.  “It’s through here.”

Merlin glanced around at them all as everyone drew their wands expressions suddenly serious and anxious. When Merlin looked back, Harry had turned and pushed at the door. It swung open.

The place was filled with nothing but towering shelves covered in small, dusty, glass orbs, just as Merlin remembered. They glimmered dully in the light issuing from more candle-brackets set at intervals along the shelves. Like those in The Room of Doors, their flames were burning blue. The room was very cold.

They edged forward and peered down one of the shadowy aisles between two rows of shelves.

He could not hear anything or see the slightest sign of movement.

“You said it was row ninety-seven,” whispered Hermione.

“Yeah,” breathed Harry, looking up at the end of the closest row. Beneath the branch of blue glowing candles protruding from it glimmered the silver figure fifty-three.

“We need to go right, I think,” whispered Hermione, squinting to the next row. “Yes… that’s fifty-four…”

“Keep your wands ready,” Harry said softly.

They crept forward, glancing behind them as they went on down the long alleys of shelves, the further ends of which were in near-total darkness. Tiny, yellowing labels had been stuck beneath each glass orb on the shelves. Some of them had a weird, liquid glow; others were as dull and dark within as blown light bulbs.

They passed row eighty-four… eighty-five… Merlin was on high alert as they moved through the room, but the place was eerily quiet.

“Ninety-seven!” whispered Hermione.

They stood grouped around the end of the row, gazing down the alley beside it. There was nobody there.

“He’s right down at the end,” said Harry, whose mouth had become slightly dry. “You can’t see properly from here.”

And he led them between the towering rows, darkness giving way to a soft glowing light that came from the rows of glass balls surrounding them.

 “He should be near here,” whispered Harry, convinced that every step was going to bring the ragged form of Sirius into view on the darkened floor. “Anywhere here… really close…”

“Harry?” said Hermione tentatively, but he did not want to respond. His mouth was very dry.

“Somewhere about… here…” he said.

They had reached the end of the row and emerged into more dim candlelight. There was nobody there. All there was, was echoing, dusty silence.

“He might be…” Harry whispered hoarsely, peering down the next alley. “Or maybe…” He hurried to look down the one beyond that.

“Harry?” said Hermione again.

“What?” he snarled.

“I… I don’t think Sirius is here.”

Nobody spoke. Merlin could read the desperation and confusion on Harry’s face as he avoided their gazes.

Instead, Harry turned and ran up the space at the end of the rows, staring down them.

It was becoming increasingly clear that whatever vision had driven Harry here, was proving wrong, still Merlin started walking through the aisles further down, hoping to find Sirius there.

There was no sign of Sirius anywhere, nor any hint of a struggle, but there was something else.

Merlin paused when his name caught his eye, seated on a yellow tag beneath a still glowing orb. Merlin blinked throat dry. He opened his mouth to shout, but nothing came out. He wet his lips and tried again.

“A-Armand!”

Arthur appeared in the aisle in less than a minute, expression filled with panic though it faded slightly when he saw that Merlin was okay.

“M-Emerson, are you alright?” Arthur demanded upon noticing Merlin’s pale complexion and petrified appearance.

“It’s…” Merlin’s voice failed him as he simply continued to stare at the glass orb, the still glowing glass orb.

Arthur approached him and glanced over his shoulder at the globe Merlin had his gaze fixed on.

“Are those… our names?” Arthur questioned, sounding breathless. Luckily Arthur’s words snapped Merlin out of his thoughts. He’d been so transfixed by the glowing orb that he hadn’t even noticed that there was more on the yellow tag than just his name, it simply read, K to M and below that Merlin and Arthur Pendragon, nothing more, no further description of the Prophecy that, according to the glowing orb above it, was still meant to be fulfilled .

“Hey Armand, Emerson, look at this,” they suddenly heard Harry’s voice come up behind them before he came hurrying down the aisle towards them, holding up one of the crystal balls. Merlin’s eyes widened at the implication.

“Harry, where did you get that?” Merlin was almost too afraid to ask.

“It had my name underneath it, mine and Voldemort’s” Harry eagerly explained.

He stopped next to them to examine what they were staring at and his eyes widened.
“Is that the Merlin and Arthur’s names?” he gaped. Merlin blinked, caught off guard by the strange reference to his name.

“Harry, you should really put that back,” Merlin forced himself to focus on the issue at hand.

“But-” Harry started to object.

“You really should listen to him, your friend seems to know what he’s talking about. Or you could just give it to me,” A drawling voice said from behind them.

The nine of them spun around as one, to find a man cloaked in black with a Death Eater mask, standing there.

Black shapes were emerging out of thin air all around them, blocking their way left and right; eyes glinted through slits in hoods, a dozen lit wand tips were pointing directly at their hearts; Ginny gave a gasp of horror.

“Give it to me,” the drawling voice of the unknown Death Eater repeated as Merlin looked around at the black clad figures that stood watching them so threateningly. They were trapped, and outnumbered two to one.

Harry didn’t move, didn’t speak.

“To me,” the man was getting impatient.

“Where’s Sirius?” Harry said.

Several of the Death Eaters laughed; a harsh female voice from the midst of the shadowy figures to Harry’s left said triumphantly, “The Dark Lord always knows!”

“Always,” echoed the Death Eater. “Now, give me the prophecy Potter.”

“I want to know where Sirius is!”

“I want to know where Sirius is!” mimicked the woman to his left.

She and her fellow Death Eaters had closed in so that they were mere feet away from Harry and the others, the light from their wands dazzling Harry’s eyes.

“You’ve got him,” said Harry, voice on the edge of panic. “He’s here. I know he is.”

“The little baby woke up fwightened and fort what it dweamed was twoo,” said the woman in a horrible, mock baby voice. Harry felt Ron stir beside him. Somewhere next to Merlin, he heard Neville gasp.

“Don’t do anything,” Harry muttered. “Not yet -”

The woman who had mimicked him let out a raucous scream of laughter.

“You hear him? You hear him? Giving instructions to the other children as though he thinks of fighting us!”

Merlin’s shoulders tensed even further, the woman was managing to set his nerves on edge even more than they had previously been.

“Oh, you don’t know Potter, Bellatrix,” the Death Eater said softly. “He has a great weakness for heroics; the Dark Lord understands this about him. Now give me the prophecy, Potter.”

“I know Sirius is here, I know you’ve got him!”

More of the Death Eaters laughed, though the woman laughed loudest of all.

“It’s time you learned the difference between life and dreams, Potter,” the Death Eater said. “Now give me the prophecy, or we start using wands.”

“Go on, then,” said Harry, raising his own wand to chest height and Merlin and the other’s didn’t hesitate to follow his example.

But the Death Eaters did not strike.

“Hand over the prophecy and no one needs to get hurt,” the Death Eater coolly offered.

Merlin raised his eyebrow in disbelief, did he think they were stupid.

Harry laughed.

“Yeah, right!” he said. “I give you this - prophecy, is it? And you’ll just let us skip off home, will you?”

The words were hardly out of his mouth when the female Death Eater shrieked: “Accio proph—”

 “Protego!” Harry reacted before she had finished her spell, and Merlin let out a breath of relief when Harry managed to hold on to the Prophecy.

“Oh, he knows how to play, little bitty baby Potter,” she said, her mad eyes staring through the slits in her hood. “Very well, then -”

“I TOLD YOU, NO!” the Death Eater roared at the woman. “If you smash it -!”

The woman stepped forward, away from her fellows, and pulled off her hood. Azkaban had hollowed Bellatrix Lestrange’s face, making it gaunt and skull-like, but it was alive with a feverish, fanatical glow.

“You need more persuasion?” she said, her chest rising and falling rapidly. In a split second they’d grabbed hold of Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Neville and Luna while Merlin ducked away from their grasps and was busy trying to gain some distance when he felt the stinging hex hit between his shoulder blades and he fell forward, conscious but paralyzed.

“Don’t you touch him!” Arthur shouted from somewhere above him and Merlin managed to lift his head to search for Arthur, Arthur was rushing towards him.

They didn’t see it coming.

“Avada Kadavar,” Bellatrix shouted, sending a deadly green light shooting towards Arthur. Merlin’s face dawned with horror as he watched, helpless, as the green light hit its target and Arthur fell forward in front of Merlin. Merlin’s heart stopped.

“No!” he let out an ear-piercing scream.

All the globes on the shelves surrounding them, burst at the same time.