“One more word about teaching what the world ought to be: Philosophy always arrives too late to do any such teaching... When philosophy paints its gray in gray, then a configuration of life has grown old, and cannot be rejuvenated by this gray in gray, but only understood; the Owl of Minerva takes flight only as the dusk begins to fall.” - Hegel, “Preface” The Philosophy of Right
The garden at the back of their cottage was a peaceful sanctuary to Fleur. With hedges of jasmine and roses and a single, sturdy oak, it was nicely shaded and closed off from the rest of the world. She'd even planted a few flower beds and the chrysanthemums, orchids and irises that had sprung up filled the space with a spray of colour and scent. In the back corner, several blackberry bushes grew – her mother had always told her that every young couple needed a blackberry bush in their garden and, since Fleur loved blackberries, she was hardly going to argue.
She'd never thought of herself as a gardener, but motherhood had brought out in her a desire for being surrounded by the sweetly-scented quiet now found in her garden.
Fleur smiled as she looked down at her son, Frederick, who looked up at her with a large smile from within the blanket-lined woven basket he was nestled in. She and Bill hadn't wanted children just yet, but she'd gotten pregnant anyway. Her mother had laughed at that, saying a veela's first child can never be prevented, but second children become difficult to conceive. A boy had been even more of a surprise.
Her little Freddy was simply full of surprises. At least he'd had the sense to wait until over a year after Voldemort had been defeated to be born.
Suddenly, Fleur felt warmth infuse her. She frowned and looked up. The sun was shining down merrily, but that wasn't what she was feeling. This warmth, this... happiness, was coming from within, as though something was sending it directly into her skin and her bones. She closed her eyes and savoured it.
Love. Joy. Welcome.
Tears sprang to her eyes at the intensity of the emotions. Someone, somewhere was being welcomed - someone wonderful. Surely, they would have to be to merit such a welcome.
Beside her, Freddy erupted in loud squeals of laughter, his little hands clapping together happily.
Dudley Dursley checked his watch again and gave an irritated sigh. She was ten minutes late and he was getting hungry, the Tesco bag full of groceries he was holding only serving as an additional reminder of the homemade dinner he'd been promised.
His mobile made an electronic crashing noise and Dudley dug it out of his jacket pocket. She'd sent him a text.
Sorry, traffic is a nightmare.
Yup, that was definitely from Emma, his English major girlfriend and one of the only people he knew who bothered to use full sentences and punctuation while texting. He sent a simple 'k' back. He looked at the street, where the traffic was indeed bumper to bumper, moreso than was usual for central London. So, yes, he'd noticed the traffic, it just didn't make him any happier to know it was the reason she was late.
Finally, the familiar red Audi came into view. He walked up to the road and it stopped in front of him. The woman inside reached over to unlock the door and pushed it open. It was an older car whose passenger seat didn't like being opened from the outside.
“Quick, hop in,” she said and Dudley slid in, shutting the door behind him.
He turned to place the groceries onto the back seat. Then he kissed her quickly on the cheek before reaching for the seatbelt. “What the bloody hell's up with this traffic?” he asked.
“Some sort of accident,” she answered. “Radio said some idiot rammed a lorry or something. Wasn't really paying attention. Hang on.”
Emma abruptly spun off into a side street. She was a Londoner born and bred, the only sort of person capable of navigating the city's many intricate side streets and alleyways without a detailed map and GPS. It helped that as a driver she was more or less fearless. Dudley preferred taking public transport in the inner city.
He watched her as she drove. Her long, wavy dark brown hair fell down her back, obscuring the tattoo Dudley knew was there: a string of mugwort with a small, black spider dangling off its end. It was a bit of an unusual choice, but it somehow fit her in a way something like a butterfly or a rose wouldn't have. Large sunglasses obscured the dark blue eyes that had first captivated him and her full, red lips curled in disgust at whatever the idiot driver in front of her had just done.
He let his eyes wander down the shape of her light cotton sundress. It was white with red polka-dots. And had a neat row of big red buttons all the way up the front. He knew from experience he would only need to undo five of them, before the rest of that dress slid down her body easily...
She snorted. “Why do I get the impression that's not my cooking you're looking forward to?”
“Well, I am starving,” Dudley drawled.
His stomach growled on cue and Emma laughed.
“Alright then, first one appetite then the other,” she said.
“Oi, I can multitask!”
“But I can't. Not without burning the flat down, anyway.”
It took them altogether too long to finally reach the apartment. They were climbing out of the car when Emma suddenly gasped and steadied herself by grabbing the hood of the car.
“Emma?” Dudley asked, dashing around the car to her side. “Alright there?”
“C-can you feel that?” she asked, her eyes closed.
She opened her eyes and looked up him and Dudley felt his breath hitch. The depth of love, joy and wonder in her eyes was breathtaking.
“Home, it's welcoming him home,” she whispered, clearly awed by whatever she was feeling.
“Emma, I don't know wha-”
Suddenly, she reached up and grabbed his head with both hands, slamming him back against the car as she kissed him feverishly. She pulled away just as abruptly, leaving him dazed. He could do nothing but let himself be pulled along as she grabbed the front of his shirt and dragged him up to her flat.
“So, I take it dinner'll be a bit?” he asked.
She paused in the middle of the stairwell and turned to look down at him with a devilish gleam in her eyes.
“Something like that,” she said.
Emma did eventually get around to cooking dinner.
He'd felt it as soon as the plane hit the tarmac of the runway. That first bump of its wheel had sent such a spark of pleasure up his spine that Merlin nearly gasped at the sensation. Albion often welcomed him when he returned from his travels, but it had been centuries since it had been so strong.
Passing through customs was a long, torturous process and he was certain the Border Force all thought he was a bit addled thanks to the wide smile he couldn't seem to wipe off his face.
He really shouldn't have been surprised by the land's enthusiastic welcome. After all, he'd heard its summons from all the way in Tokyo. That had been less than a week ago. He felt a twinge of guilt at the confusion he'd caused the university students he'd been living with because of his abrupt departure. The fox spirit that lived in the shrine at the top of a nearby hill had also been sad to see Merlin go, but he'd understood.
Albion came first. Always.
Merlin wondered what was wrong. He tried to push back the hope that attempted to bubble up inside him. Albion had never called to him like this before, but that didn't mean anything. Perhaps it had something to do with that wizarding war. He knew it was over, but that didn't mean everything was fine.
With a sigh, he collected his luggage. He supposed he was going to have to venture into Diagon Alley to gather information. He hated Diagon Alley and was fascinated by it in equal measure. Visiting it always made him feel incredibly old and weary.
Finally, he weaved his way out of Heathrow and walked out to meet the bright sun. He looked up at it and closed his eyes, basking in its warmth as he let go of his magic and sending tendrils of it into the land underneath the pavement, echoing its greeting.
“I'm home,” he whispered.
Reluctantly, he opened his eyes again, knowing he had to look like a complete ejit just standing here like this. Merlin finally found himself a cab to take him to the house he kept in London.