Mist creeping along the ground, swirling around broken gravestones like old lovers reuniting; thin air cold enough to pierce bones and so gloomy and dark it blocks out the moonlight. A large cauldron sits above a green fire and beside a young boy tied, another spread-eagle, eyes wide, dead.
A small hunched figure holding a bundle of cloth, dropping it into the cauldron and it is searing red, scaled, bloody and crippled.
Slice, slit, cut, drop.
Mist congregates around a figure of pale white, snakelike, scarlet eyes- scar burning, screaming, death, destruction- a skull and snake of stormclouds in the air.
The balance tips- breaks-
Merlin burst forth into consciousness feeling the tingle of magic in the air, holding a crystal so tightly that it had broken his skin, trickles of scarlet red blood (the same colour as his eyes) flowing down his wrist to dampen his sleeve. He breathed fast and heavy, with eyes swirling golden that were reflected in the pale crystal; the last glimpses of the horrifying future fading in the refracted and jagged surfaces.
He ran a shaky hand through long grey hair, and knew that he would have to intervene as he hadn’t been able to in centuries, always watching and waiting by his lakeside cottage, eyes peering out every day for a familiar face and form.
Sighing, Merlin placed the Crystal of Neahtid back into the enchanted box he’d kept it locked in for centuries. His eyes glowed as he ran a hand over the box, locking it to anyone but himself, locking it like he kept all his powerful magical objects hidden away. If anybody ever found them… there was no telling what sort of destruction could be wreaked.
“Times like these I wish Kilgarrah were still here,” Merlin sighed, remembering the advice he’d often sought from the great dragon, though most often than not it had been cryptic and mostly useless. His voice was croaky and ragged as though he hadn’t used it in a while, when in fact the complete opposite was true. Sitting in silence, waiting and staring at the surface of an unchanging lake had become boring for decades on end, and he had eventually decided to fake a history masters under the name Morgan Emery. He’d been a professor at the local university for twenty-seven years now.
In order to intervene in the future he’d just seen (death, horror, the magical and un-magical worlds clashing together violently, viciously) he would have to resign from his job, say goodbye to his students and colleagues, then de-age himself and go back to school – to Hogwarts, for he had recognised the boy tied up in the vision: Harry Potter.
He grinned unexpectedly. “This should be interesting,” he said to himself. Hauling his old body off his bed, Merlin picked up the magical box and placed it on the shelf in his basement, indifferent and utterly identical to the other boxes that lined the walls. He pulled on a jacket to protect him from the chill that emanated from the lake, and ascended the stairs.
The journey to the university he taught at was barely a twenty minute walk. As he passed through the campus grounds students waved and called out to him; he waved back with a slight limp in his step. A particularly energetic student of his, a young woman named Elise who reminded him dearly of Gwen, bounded up to him with arms full of binders and books.
“Hello professor! How are you today?” she asked, smiling brilliantly. She had dark brown hair and eyes just as dark, with skin a few shades lighter, and she always wore a deep burgundy lipstick.
“Fairly well, Elise,” Merlin replied. “How is the paper coming along?”
Elise looked a little sheepish at the question. “Honestly? Not very well, professor,” she admitted. “It’s difficult to find credible sources that aren’t just made-up fairy stories that’ve been embellished on over the centuries. Primary sources are virtually nonexistent – are you sure this essay is actually doable?”
“Of course it is, Elise, you just have to look in the right place,” Merlin laughed. “In fact, I have a book that may help if you’ll accompany me to my office. I won’t be needing it anymore.” He twitched his hand for her to follow him, and she happily walked alongside him, slowing down her hurried pace to suit up. Merlin wondered how many cups of coffee she drank each day.
“Thank you, professor, that’s awesome! Why won’t you be needing it anymore?” she asked, head tilting in curiosity.
“Unfortunately I’m handing in my resignation letter today,” he replied. “I’m getting just a tad too old for this job, and my mind isn’t what it once was.” Elise’s expression immediately dropped into one of absolute devastation, pulling herself to a stop.
“No, professor, you can’t leave!” she argued. “You’re the best lecturer I’ve had in years! You teach absolutely fascinating things and you make history fun, which is surprising considering that it’s always been absolutely boring in the past for me and I really only took the paper to fill an elective slot.”
Merlin laughed at her guilty expression as she admitted that. “I’m terribly sorry, Elise, but I really am getting far too old for this job. Marking papers isn’t as easy as it once was. I only hope that you all don’t mind if I leave, I’d hate to disappoint you all,” he said, beginning to climb the stairs into his building. He had to lean heavily on the bannister for support, and was glad that his joints wouldn’t be so creaky and stiff soon, and that his body would finally be young and healthy again. He’d had to keep his aging going since he started at the university, and didn’t think that he’d enjoy it so much to stay for so long.
“Of course not, professor, we’ll just be sad to see you go,” Elise said. Merlin smiled as they reached his door, gold letters spelling out Prof. M Emery, PhD on the frosted glass pane. He twisted the doorknob and entered the office, placing his satchel on his desk. He then turned to rifle through his shelves that were crammed with old leather-bound tomes, some of them of his own creation.
He pulled out an incredibly rare book titled The Life and Heroics of King Arthur Pendragon in gold embossing. With a smile he handed it to Elise, who reverently opened the book and stroked the pads of her fingers down the old, crackling pages.
“This is amazing, professor!” she said in awe.
“It’s incredibly rare, like most of the books in my possession are,” Merlin said with a smile. “I believe there were only five or so copies of that book ever made, well over a hundred years ago. Many of these first editions are worth thousands, and I’ll be donating them to the library once I leave. That one, however, can be yours, for being such an enthusiastic student.”
Elise’s face lit up with a broad, toothy smile, and she dumped all her binders in order to wrap her arms around Merlin gratefully.
“Thank you, sir, I’ll treasure it forever,” she said, pulling back with eyes swimming with tears.
“I should hope so,” Merlin replied. “I must print out my resignation letter, so I recommend you get reading and write that paper, it’ll be the last thing I mark before the end of semester. I won’t be marking or moderating your exams, unfortunately.” Elise smiled and thanked him, then rushed out of the room, attempting to balance all of her books and binders in her arms.
Merlin watched her leave, and then with an errant wave of his hand, a single piece of paper stating his resignation materialised on his desk. He picked it up and headed down the hallway to the building’s main reception, handing it into Doris Weatherby with a sad smile.
“You’re leaving?” she asked, so shocked that the glasses perched on her nose fell off and hung limply around her neck from the cord that held them there.
“Unfortunately, Doris, my mind isn’t what it once was. I’d like to live what I imagine to be the last years of my life in peace and quiet, not surrounded by rowdy teenagers complaining about pulling all-nighters,” he lied calmly. He was often so exhausted and sore in the mornings that he barely wanted to get out of bed – he didn’t know how Gaius had ever kept up with him at his age.
“Well I hope you find that peace, Morgan,” she said sadly. “I’ll hand this in immediately. Because lectures are done you just need to wait for us to send through your class’ final papers, and then you’ll be done. We’ll be sorry to see you go, though, are you sure you don’t want a goodbye lunch?”
Her smile was cheeky as she asked this. “You know me, Doris,” he replied. Within a few more words, Merlin left the building, the university, and his old life.
The class’ final papers were sent to him a week and a half later, and it was three weeks from his resignation that he’d finally graded them all and his resignation had gone through. He’d been sent small gifts by some students and the faculty, and he appreciated them greatly. It had been a long time since he’d had people he could call friends – since Arthur, almost.
He’d made a few acquaintances in the magical community during the last war with Voldemort, though none of them were alive anymore, and since he had been unable to intervene, he’d simply watched from the sidelines as he was forced to live his life within the non-magical world.
Merlin opened his bedroom window and breathed in the crisp summer air – it sometimes managed to get stiflingly humid within the town, but right by the lake, the air always seemed to give the impression that he was at a higher altitude than it appeared. He stuck his head out the window and gave a short whistle, punctuated by glowing eyes.
A tawny owl flew down from a nearby forest, landing comfortably on his windowsill. He passed it an envelope and asked it to deliver his letter, giving the owl directions through another burst of magic. It happily flew off after a quick petting, and Merlin smiled.
All he had to do now was wait to get accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He’d crafted a cover story that should hold up against the likes of Albus Dumbledore, so all that he’d have to do after the acceptance letter was buy his school things from the magically concealed Diagon Alley, de-age himself, join the rest of the seventh years, and restore balance to a world that was on the brink of destruction.
Another Tuesday then.
It was a druid’s duty to the Old Religion to keep the balance within the world – the balance of life and death, and the smaller balances that came alongside that, residing in all aspects of the world, known to some as yin and yang. Of course, small unbalances were not problems, because the world was very good at naturally righting itself. But with an event like the resurrection of Lord Voldemort…
The scale would tip so far and dramatically that without druidic intervention, there was a high chance that the world would never be able to right itself again, only continue to get worse and worse. Since Merlin was the only druid remaining, or indeed the only remaining user of the Old Magics, it was his duty as Magic Incarnate to prevent or restore the upcoming unbalance.
It had taken many years for Merlin to realise this. After Arthur’s death he had visited every druidic encampment he could find and had interrogated their leaders for information. Once he had discovered that he was immortal and couldn’t die… well, he knew then that he’d be spending the rest of his life righting imbalance until Old Magic returned to the world or until Arthur himself came back.
Those two events, however, were most likely related. Merlin himself was a result of a severe imbalance – when Uther decimated the number of druids, the balance of magic in the world dropped massively. The only way the world could right itself was by placing all of that magic into one human – into Merlin.
Merlin heaved his old body off his window seat and ambled over to the full-length mirror in his room to stare at himself. He saw an elderly man with ancient eyes, long grey hair and a long grey beard, a tweed jacket and a limp, wrinkled skin and liver spots…
Slowly it all began to recede as his eyes glowed a bright, effervescent gold. His hair turned darker and shrunk back into his skull, the beard disappeared all together as his skin smoothed out and complexion repaired. His rounded and hunched shoulders straightened up and he stood proudly as his aching joints were made anew.
Within a minute, Merlin was staring at a face he hadn’t seen in decades. He looked as every bit as young as he was when he’d first met Arthur, except his eyes were impossibly old, and it showed.
He practiced his bright smile, the one that seemed to be perpetually on his face whenever Arthur had been around, and succeeded. He looked like himself again.
Frowning, Merlin realised that he wasn’t able to pack for Hogwarts yet, considering that he hadn’t been accepted and therefore didn’t have a list of supplies and books. September 1 was still a good two weeks away though, and that was more than enough time for Dumbledore to get back to him. He could only hope that his story would hold up; the elderly wizard was extremely perceptive, almost unsettling so, and always seemed to know things he shouldn’t.
Merlin shrugged and put it out of his mind. For now he would need more modern-looking clothes, considering that his old man wardrobe consisted entirely of tweed jackets, sweater vests and slacks. He managed to dig up a pair of jeans and a simple blue button-up from within the back of his closet, grabbed his satchel, and headed back out into town.
He’d lived there for so long that he knew it like the back of his hand, and went straight to the nearest thrift store. There was no need to splurge on clothes, despite the fact that he was quite wealthy considering that his account at Gringotts had been open for centuries. He picked out some more pairs of pants and jeans, some button-ups and t-shirts, a pair of comfortable and worn-in brown oxford shoes, a pair of leather boots and just for the hell of it, an old leather jacket. On the way to the counter he spied a red piece of cloth that could be used as a neckerchief, and grinned while he paid for it.
With arms full of bags, he headed to the nearest coffee shop, located directly across from campus. He ordered a large caramel macchiato, enjoying the sweet taste, and sat down in his usual seat. On the opposite side of the shop he noticed Elise hunched over her table, pouring over the book he’d given her, only a few pages away from the end. He couldn’t help but smile at the intense look of interest on her face and sipped his hot coffee, peering out the windows to see his students milling about, hurrying around to attend lectures and heading to the library.
He’d miss all of these kids – Carrie MacDonald, an A+ student; Steve Carlsburg who was a bit of a jerk; a girl named Tali who always wore a purple hijab; a dance major Hoseok who always had a smile on his face; Sebastian Pelle who dreamed of being a pilot. He’d miss their inquisitiveness and unique insight, their thirst for knowledge and tales of weekend escapades, the students who came in on Monday mornings with sunglasses and large, steaming coffees.
But, he supposed, they’d be replaced by students at Hogwarts he would soon befriend. Some of them though, he wouldn’t be able to forget, not in a million years. Students like Elise he’d remember forever.
It took two days for his tawny owl to get back to him, tapping on his bedroom window to wake him up, clutching a thick parchment envelope in it’s beak. Merlin hurried over to the window and took the offered letter, giving the owl some water in thanks. It gave him a sleepy hoot and lapped up the water gratefully.
Merlin broke open the wax seal on his envelope, an imprint of a lion, badger, eagle and snake surrounding a large letter H. The words inside were carefully written in emerald green ink.
Dear Mr Emery,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.
Due to your unusual circumstances and situation, you will be Sorted with the first years upon arrival at Hogwarts, and you shall be placed into seventh year classes. If you have any issues with these, please take it up with myself or Deputy Headmistress Minerva McGonagall.
Term starts on September 1. If you require any assistance in acquiring any school items, please ask a Hogwarts representative located at Flourish & Blotts in Diagon Alley.
Headmaster (Order of Merlin First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock, Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)
Merlin’s heart jumped a little when he read his name within Dumbledore’s array of titled, and then remembered that he was a legendary figure within the wizarding world. He’d heard many people use his name as a curse and a blessing during the few years he’d spent in the wizarding community. He’d have to get used to that, or someone would get suspicious every time he flinched when his name was said.
The second piece of parchment contained a list of supplies and schoolbooks – he’d been enrolled in all the basic classes that students were required to take up to OWL level, covering all the bases considering he’d never attended Hogwarts. There was also a list of books he would need for his elective subjects, all of which intrigued him.
Scanning the list, Merlin decided to pick some subjects that he knew next to nothing about, even after centuries of walking the planet. He picked Alchemy, which had always stumped Gaius, a subject available due to high demand with the seventh years; and Ancient Runes. He’d need to buy Intro to Alchemy by Adalbert Waffling and Advanced Rune Translation (Grade 2) by Thor Norsson.
He couldn’t quite suppress a grin at the thought of learning so much – he’d always had a thirst for knowledge and even though Merlin had been alive for an incredibly long time, he didn’t know everything, and was always keen to learn more. He had lied to his colleagues about his memory – if anything it was getting better with age, even though it took him a lilttle while to remember things. They were always there, just… hidden away a little.
Merlin tucked the parchment into his satchel and pulled out his old Sidhe staff from where he kept it under the bed, just like old times. Focusing his magic, he managed to transfigure it into something resembling a wand, albeit with a shard of sapphire on the end, with miniscule runes winding their way down the wood.
With a handy trick Merlin had learned some decades ago, Merlin turned on the spot and apparated, landing just outside the Leaky Cauldron. He hurried inside before any Muggles could see, and entered the alleyway around the back. It took him a while to remember the correct sequence to reveal Diagon Alley, but grinned widely as the bricks shuffled aside to reveal one of the main hubs of the British magical community.
People were hustling and bustling about, clad in robes and pointed hats, carrying bags full of books and ingredients that were bursting full with quills and ink. It was busy, as always, but nowhere near as busy as it would be the few days before September 1st when all the last-minute shoppers would be panicking and scurrying about, looking for their supplies among the throngs of people.
Merlin moved relatively quickly to Gringotts, enjoying being in such a different environment to his town, feeling the magic in the air that made his heart soar. A goblin led Merlin down into his ‘family’ vault, a very long way down.
They turned a corner and Merlin almost let out a cry as he saw a poor, blinded dragon chained up outside a nearby vault. It was so terrified and scared, looking so much like Aithusa that it was painful to even look at. Merlin vowed that second that after this whole business was over he would come back and free the dragon – it was cruel to keep something so beautiful chained up and scared for it’s life, not even Uther had treated Kilgarrah in such a way. He whispered words of comfort under his breath that his magic carried over to the dragon, promising that it would be freed.
The cart finally came to a stop outside his vault. Merlin gave the goblin an old key of his that he’d nearly lost over the years, and was nonplussed by the mounds of gold that lay inside for him. He only scooped as much as he needed into a drawstring back, and then headed back out into the bright light of Diagon Alley.
Seeing as he didn’t need to go to Ollivanders for a wand, he headed first to Flourish & Blotts to get his books out of the way. He bought all the ones he needed (and some he didn’t), then picked up his Potions ingredients at the Apothecary. Madam Malkin’s took care of his robe fitting, and Merlin overhead a few people talking excitedly about the Quidditch World Cup.
Damn, he’d forgotten about that. He really should get some tickets.
The witch fitting his robes tutted moodily about how lanky he was and how he should eat more, and Merlin had almost forgotten what it was like to be fussed over. When Merlin was done and sure he had everything he needed, he apparated back home and packed everything neatly into his trunk with an extended hand and a flash of gold eyes.
With another owl sent out, Merlin managed to receive a ticket to the World Cup within a few hours, located just beneath the top box, some truly brilliant seats.
Smiling, Merlin lay down to bed, dreaming of his future at Hogwarts.