"I won't say it's impossible; it's just highly improbable."
Harry sighed in response as he speared a potato onto his fork. This utter lack of support from Ron and Hermione was frankly alarming.
"It's true, mate," Ron added around a mouth full of egg. "Merlin's not exactly an uncommon name. You know, most famous wizard ever and all that." As though that explained everything.
"Ron's right, Harry," Hermione continued, and beside her Ron's brow furrowed in an expression of exaggerated disbelief. She arched an eyebrow and added in his direction, "Don't push your luck." Ron pulled a face.
"It is a good point, though." Hermione's voice had taken on that tone she used when she was clearly questioning how he'd managed to make it this far in his education. "In the Wizarding World, the name 'Merlin' is nearly as commonplace as 'Arthur' is for Muggles. To assume that Professor Emrys is the Merlin just because he happens to share the name is a vast jump to conclusions, even for you."
Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Barely. "But that's it, Hermione! You said it yourself: Merlin was called 'Emrys' by the druids in the, erm, tenth century? And! And that no one knows where, or even if, he died and was buried." He looked her straight in the eye. "I'd say that evidence is pretty resounding."
Hermione's frown was long-suffering. "I also said that 'Emrys' is the name of a well-to-do Pureblood family. Not to mention the fact that the Merlin was born in the year 982 - which would make him, quite literally, ancient. Your "evidence" is nothing more than a shot in the dark."
"We've seen weirder things."
Ron snorted, oblivious to the glare Hermione sent his way. "Would be pretty hilarious, though," he said. "I bet Merlin and Dumbledore'd be drinking buddies."
At that, all three of them glanced towards the teacher's table where the professor in question was cackling into his cup. It was true that Professor Merlin Emrys looked young, and made a few too many pop culture references to really have the bearing of an ancient and powerful wizard, but appearances could be deceiving. Snape dropped his fork as Emrys smacked him, hard, on the back. Harry winced in sympathy and sniggered.
"He's not exactly your average Slytherin, is he?" Ron mused.
Smirking, Harry clapped his hands together. "See, 'Mione? Slytherin. I rest my case."
With an anguished groan, Hermione covered her face with her hands.
Ten hours later, three sets of footsteps echoed about the third floor corridor, interspersed here and there with Hermione's one-sided arguments. A chill was beginning to seep in through an open window as Harry strode towards the Defense Against the Dark Arts room, his two friends in tow. In the orange and flickering lamplight their faces were carved in shadow.
"This is frankly ridiculous, Harry!" Hermione hissed, but he was certain her heart wasn't in it. "Not to mention disrespectful. You can't just go barging in on a professor after hours, let alone for something so… so unreasonable! Are you really so bored that you have to resort to making up stories about your teachers?"
Harry chuckled. "It's not like he'll mind," he said, unfazed. "We'll just catch him before dinner." Harry's smile was knowing and a little bit devious. "You didn't have to come with, you know."
Hermione's shoulders straightened. "I'm here to make sure you don't do anything you'll regret," she growled.
"I'm Harry Potter, Hermione," he said with his most winning smile. "I don't have regrets about anything." Rather than a laugh, though, he was met with her dubious stare. He rolled his eyes and kept walking. Despite the muscle that had tightened in her jaw, he knew she loved this type of thing.
Ron whimpered. "I regret missing dinner for this," he moaned, wistful, to the corridor at large. "Steak and kidney pie tonight, Harry. There won't be any left."
Harry's grin only grew as he knocked on the door to classroom 3C and then let himself inside.
It looked much the same as it had when Lupin had been their teacher three years previously, what with all the taxidermy and skeletons and odd ornaments littering the walls and tables. Harry breathed in the familiar scent of stale wood and smoke, the slightly spicy tang of magic that was a constant there.
Darkness bled into the room through large windows, kept at bay by the sconces and chandelier overhead. Towards the front, Emrys was sat cross-legged atop his desk, fingers steepled and frown firmly in place. The slender, deadly body of a magnificent sword rested beside him and he was holding what appeared to be a very serious conversation with a blonde wizard of maybe 30 years.
Emrys started, and then his blue eyes lit up. "Hello you three!" he exclaimed.
They stood awkwardly, crowded in the doorway.
"Sorry, sir, we didn't realize we were interrupting," Hermione cut in, already turning to leave. Emrys waved her off.
"Oh, not at all, Ms Granger. Please! Come in, come in," he said with a smile and a flick of his wrist. "Is there something I can help you lot with?"
Harry shot a quick glance at the professor's guest before stepping forward. "Actually, sir," he began, "I was just wondering about the, er, the history of-"
"And that's my cue," the blonde man muttered with a tight smile at Harry. "Sorry to interrupt. And terribly sorry I can't stay- Merlin, was it?" He nodded to himself, a tad bit frantically, and pointed towards the door. "Right. I'll be off then, shall I?" He was already inching around Ron in his haste.
The sword's blade caught the light, shining cold and clear.
"Wait." Perhaps it was the note of alarm in Emrys' voice that made the man freeze where he stood, though the silent charm thrown his way was a far more probable cause.
Emrys blanched as he watched the man's knees buckle, forcing him to sit on a conveniently, magically placed desk chair. "Ack, I'm sorry!" The anguish in the professor's voice rang clear as he twisted his fingers together, gold tint fading from his eyes. "Harry, Ron, Hermione. Actually, perhaps it best you leave," he added. The spell did not loosen its hold.
Harry's jaw clicked shut but he found himself rooted in place. Ron's eyebrows had escaped into his hairline and Hermione had tensed considerably beside him.
Finding himself bound to the chair by an invisible force, Emrys' guest paled considerably. "What the hell is this?" he cried, eyes pleading and hair sticking up at odd angles. He was wearing a suit, Harry realized. A finely made but rather distinctly Muggle suit. Ah. So probably not a wizard, then.
Emrys unfolded himself from his perch on the desk. "I just- you need to stay," he replied lamely. "And honestly, kids, if you wouldn't mind-"
"Professor, is he tied to that chair?" Ron burst out suddenly, mouth gaping. He clapped a hand to his forehead. "Merlin's pants, is he a Muggle?" Hermione pinched at the bridge of her nose.
Emrys cracked a lopsided smile that swiftly turned into a grimace. "Well, no, not exactly tied. Ah. Just, just an incarcerous-"
The man on the chair sneered, his sense of decorum utterly abandoned as he struggled to free his arms. "This bastard," he barked with a violent nod to Emrys, "is delusional! Don't just stand there. Get help."
Harry ignored him, gaze darting between the man, his professor, and the sword in some morbid fascination.
"Arthur, language. Honestly, have some tact- they're my students." Emrys rubbed at his eyes as though the argument was one long fought. "I know this seems a bit extreme but I've really been nothing but polite."
Despite himself, Harry felt his face split into a grin at the name. "Arthur…?" He went unheard.
Arthur spared a moment to stare blankly at the professor. "Polite. Right. Are you- are you kidding?" he roared. "My name isn't Arthur! I-I'm an accountant. Shit. Untie me!" His battle with the chair was scuffing the floor.
Emrys sighed, grasping at his chin "Stop that," he said. "You'll tip yourself over." The man growled, but didn't disregard the advice.
"You know," Ron added, somewhat hoarsely, "I'm starting to see the whole 'Slytherin' thing."
Emrys looked to the heavens and then met the gaze of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, each in turn. "I really am sorry for all this." The look on his face was a picture of genuine distress.
"Oh, of course. Apologize to them," Not-Arthur remarked as Hermione stepped forward, wary but steadfast.
"Professor," she began, with a genuine lilt of curiosity beneath the tremor she was trying to control. "If he is a muggle… why is he here?" She was attempting to stall, and Harry heard the unspoken 'How?' in her question.
Emrys' gaze drifted to the window. His smile was heavyhearted, voice grim but unwavering as he met their reflections in the glass. "He's here because this war is about to get much, much worse."
That was met with a stunned silence from everyone.
"Well that's certainly encouraging," Harry chuckled, but it broke towards the end. Strangely enough, Potentially-Not-Arthur looked just about as disconcerted as Harry felt.
Emrys met his eyes. "If it's any consolation, the Sword comes as an added bonus."
Hermione turned curious eyes to Arthur. Her voice was incredulous. "'He returns at Albion's greatest need'," she quoted, eyes now dancing across the rune-carved sword on Emrys' desk. She looked to Harry. "Goodness, it can't be possible you were right!"
"Don't sound so surprised!" Harry cried in mock affront. "So King Arthur's a muggle who contradicts the laws of nature and magic. I think I'm winning this argument."
Hermione crumpled onto a chair. She looked at Arthur, slightly lost, whose cynical expression was far from encouraging.
Emrys cocked a grin at Harry and Hermione as he leaned back against his desk. "It's the curse of the Pendragons. They have this… tendency to come back from the grave," he said and for a moment he looked very old indeed. "But that's just the trouble with reincarnation, isn't it? No one ever believes in it." Emrys snapped his fingers together and raised his eyebrows expectantly at Arthur. "Especially not those it's happened to."
Arthur was unimpressed. "If you think you're going to injure my ego by spouting this New Age rubbish at me, you're sadly mistaken."
Emrys scoffed. "Says the man who's been magically bound to a chair. Please, I'd love to hear your explanation of that."
Arthur opened his mouth to refute but Ron made a noise like a strangled cat, effectively silencing any argument that may have been forthcoming.
"Our professor tied some bloke to a chair," he choked out, eyes wide, "and all you can talk about is, what? Reincarnation and our impending doom? That's what Divination's supposed to be for!" Ron tipped his chin towards Emrys in a sad attempt at defiance. "I-I think I missed the part where we trust you, here."
"Finally," Arthur drawled, somehow managing to seem commanding even from his chair "Someone with a lick of sense."
"Oh, that's enough from you," Emrys jabbed back. There was a subtle hunch to his shoulders when he turned to face Ron and Harry wondered briefly if the gesture was meant to be nonthreatening.
"Mr Weasley. Ron. All of you, in fact," he said. It suddenly struck Harry that Emrys was very much a professional. "I've really given you no reason to trust me. And to ask you to base your trust merely on my word would be frankly insulting, especially given what you've just witnessed." The professor's lips flattened into a thin line. "All I can tell you is that I'm being as honest as I can and doing what I believe to be the right thing." He paused, brows furrowed. "And that I'm also rather curious as to what Sybill's been teaching you."
Arthur's eye-roll was very nearly audible. "Consolation's not exactly a talent of yours, is it."
"I'm making a point, here," Emrys said through clenched teeth.
"You sound like a serial killer."
Ron ran his fingers through his hair as the bickering picked up. "This isn't some fairy tale!" he cried. "Dead kings and famous old wizards don't just come waltzing back to life wearing neck scarfs and trainers!"
At that Emrys hesitated, his eyes focusing on something far, far away. "Fairy tale?" he repeated, blinking hard. Then he leapt from the desk and bellowed, "Mr Weasley, you are a genius!"
Ron shook his head dumbly.
"I've tried everything I could think of!" Emrys cried. "And when you've been around as long as I have, that's quite a lot!" He was bouncing on his heels. "It can't be that simple, can it?"
There was something manic in Emrys' eyes that put Harry slightly on edge. "Sir…?" Hermione narrowed her eyes as their professor stared down at the man who would be Arthur.
"Wait, don't tell me," Arthur said. "A wicked witch put a spell on me."
"Close." Emrys' voice had quieted. He sounded almost tentative.
Then, with impressive poise, he leaned down and brought his lips to Arthur's. Having bound limbs was not particularly conducive to preventing oneself from being kissed, and Harry very nearly expected Arthur to bite. Instead, to the surprise of everyone, he kissed back.
Harry's eyes widened. He barked out a laugh. "Well, then. Didn't see that coming." Hermione's elbow became acquainted with his spleen and the moment went as quickly as it came, Emrys pulling away with no small amount of hope in his eyes. Arthur's own eyes remained shut, and the quirk of his eyebrows was that of a man perplexed.
"Merlin." There was something in the way he said it. Something new: quiet but with an echo of familiarity. Emrys' features were schooled well into indifference. He was very still.
Arthur opened his eyes and graced their professor with a look of muted disbelief. "Merlin. Did you seriously just magically affix me to a chair and then molest me in front of a group of children?"
"I'm sixteen! That's nearly legal," Harry added at the same time Ron groaned, "This can't be happening." They were both ignored, but Harry supposed he could let it go given the circumstance.
Arthur continued when no response from Merlin seemed forthcoming. "Well." He sniffed in apparent disdain. "I suppose after all that time you spent in the stocks you're bound to be suffering from some sort of delirium. Oh, and let's not forget all the incidents with the sidhe, shall we? And the bloody griffin- because I know you had something to do with that. All the banquets. The fact that you're a dirty rotten cheat at dice. The dragon. You know what? Make that multiple incidents with the dragon-"
Emrys may or may not have stopped breathing. "Ronald Weasley," he managed to sputter. "Five hundred billion points to Gryffindor."
Ron looked terribly lost. "Wait… can you do that?" he croaked. "'Mione, can he do that?"
"I knew this was a good idea," Harry said, smug.
Hermione was worrying her bottom lip between her teeth. "A take on 'true love's kiss'? That's certainly new but… not so out of place, come to think of it." The following morning would see her bright and early at the Library's folktale and fable section, mind awhirl with possibility.
"And here I thought you would have matured in the last thousand years. You really did a fine job making me look an arse back then; I see not much has changed." Arthur sighed with overdrawn weariness. "I suppose I have to give credit where it's due." He was inspecting his invisibly bound wrists with a wry sort of fascination. "But Merlin?"
Their professor seemed to snap back to himself. "Arthur. Yes. What?"
"Are you listening?"
"Wha-? Of course I am!"
"Right. Then let me go, you idiot."
Merlin's smile was quiet. "Afraid I won't be doing that, Turnip Head. Not this time 'round."