Chapter 2 : The Battle
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The screams of the dying permeated the air. Thick clouds of dust rose like vapour from debris which fell from the heavens in a ceaseless hail. Colourful beams of light rushed around him, leaving the air tingling with magical energy, but Merlin paid them no heed. He had to find Harry amongst all this war and ruin and ensure he was on the correct path.
He ducked and ran like crazy, dodging the spells that soared past him. He didn't really expect to be hit by one; his magical instincts were too powerful to allow himself to be caught by surprise by something as mundane as a Stunning spell, but he had to put on a show.
He ran past Hogwartians and Death Eaters alike, none of them really paying him much attention. Where was Harry? He thought desperately. He shouldn't have let him out of sight for even an instant! But then again, how was he supposed to know the Old Religion would suddenly thrust him into a middle of a battle?
He ducked behind a statue, while he took his bearings and regained his breath. Thirteen centuries may have passed, but he was still as out of shape as ever. He had been no Knight, but at least in Camelot Arthur had kept him fairly fit. He cursed himself for falling out of practise over the centuries-not that he'd ever been much good at physical activity.
He calmed himself down and cast out his mind, searching for Harry, but the pure amount of magical energy contained in the castle at that present moment made it impossible for him to isolate a single person's magical aura. The castle itself had been imbued with so much magical energy over the years Merlin doubted he would have been able to locate Harry even without the dozens of spells being cast at the moment throughout its many corridors.
Again he cursed his stupidity for allowing Harry a moment out of his sight. What had he been thinking?
"Oh, so you're back again are you?" a bored voice drawled from somewhere next to him.
Merlin turned sharply and saw the Bloody Baron floated a few inches above the ground just a few feet away, looking at him with little interest, seemingly quite unconcerned with the battle raging behind him.
Merlin sighed in annoyance. He'd never gotten on with the Baron, even when he was alive; he'd never liked aristocrats much. And that was before he'd killed Helena, who although being a bit of a spoiled brat, had been a thoroughly decent and good person underneath.
"Yes, I'm back." He snapped, not wanting to prolong a conversation with a man covered in an innocent girl's blood.
The Baron didn't react to his abrupt manner. He just drawled on lazily in that horrid hoarse voice of his: "Well you picked a hell of a time to come visiting again."
"Don't I know it," muttered Merlin, peering out from behind the statue to check if it was safe to emerge.
"Hmm, you know I never did find out your real name. What was it last time? Matthew? And the time before … Mortimer? You have an air of mystery about you."
"Well, you wouldn't be the first to say it." Merlin said, and began cautiously edging out from behind the statue.
The Baron did not seem fazed however, and seemed determined for an answer, despite his greatest attempts to seem unbothered.
"One thousand years have passed and yet you look no older. How did that come to pass? Melville, Marshall, Martin … whatever your name is these days."
"Well I wouldn't want to deprive you of the fun of finding out." Merlin tried to shake him off as he made his careful way down the dark corridor, avoiding great chunks of rock that had fallen from the room above.
"Come now, I must have an answer!" The Baron sniffed in disapproval. "I tire of these games you play."
"And I'm tired of your questions!" Merlin yelled, wheeling around to face him. "Don't you realise there's a battle going on? There are more important things at stake!"
The Baron merely regarded him coolly, and raised a single transparent eyebrow. "What else do I have to indulge my time in if not the mysteries of the man who does not die? This battle does not concern me. Regardless of its outcome I shall remain here unaffected. The lives of mortals do not matter to me."
"Then why won't you leave me alone?" Merlin huffed. "Always the same questions! You think you'd get tired of it after a couple of centuries!"
"Ah," said the Baron, looking pleased. "But you aren't mortal are you? You just as good as admitted it!"
Merlin groaned inwardly. Damn Slytherin cunning!
The Baron continued to look triumphant. "Just tell me … who are you really?"
"Look," Merlin spoke quickly desperate to get away. "That doesn't matter right now. This school and these students are in danger!"
"And why should that-"
"It should concern you because you are the bloody Slytherin House ghost! No pun intended!" Merlin cried exasperatedly. "It's your duty to see to the well-being of the school! You were among the first students to study here, hand-picked by Slytherin himself to be in his House!"
The Baron looked unimpressed. "And in case you hadn't noticed oh-so-ever-youthful-one, my wand has been rather out of commission for the past few centuries. As much as I'd like to defend the castle that has become a home to me, what am I supposed to do?"
Merlin opened his mouth heatedly to tell the Bloody Baron exactly what he could do with himself when he was suddenly struck by inspiration.
"You can help me! Do you know where Harry is?"
The Baron frowned. "Harry who?"
"Harry Houdini," Merlin replied sarcastically. He was rapidly running out of patience.
The Baron shuddered. "Pray do not mention that odious blood traitor to me. Calls himself a wizard …" he shivered again and looked as though he'd only just noticed Merlin's annoyance. "I'm assuming you're referring to our elusive Mr Potter? I saw him heading towards the Room of-"
"Requirement!" Merlin yelled, hitting himself on the head. Why hadn't he thought of that? And without another glance at the Baron he tore off down the hall, dodging debris. He had to get there without delay.
He passed several duels, and struck out with his wand, as feeble as it was in comparison to his own magic, and took down each of the Death Eaters at lightning speed. The tired members of the Order of the Phoenix stared at him in wonder.
"How did you-"one of them began, and Merlin vaguely recognised him as Remus Lupin, the werewolf.
"No time for that!" Merlin yelled as he bowled past them, almost colliding with a young woman, with pink hair who'd just raced around the corner.
"Remus" she yelled, apparently taking no notice of Merlin. "Oh Remus! I couldn't stay away! Not while everyone else was fighting!"
"I expected nothing less Dora," Lupin said affectionately. "Did you see that man there? He took down Dolohov and the others without even breaking a sweat!"
Merlin winced; he shouldn't be so careless with his powers. He wasn't sure he should let these people know exactly who he was yet. But he didn't have time to create a viable excuse; he was already off, racing to the seventh floor corridor with the Room of Requirement.
Merlin kept running, not ceasing in his race to get there. He felt exhilarated; the first real mission he'd had in centuries. He'd been wandering aimlessly around the world as an observer, never doing anything more than amuse himself slightly before moving on, biding his time until the world was ready. Adrenaline coursed through his veins, encouraging him onwards.
He skidded around the corner to the corridor of the Room of Requirement, as graceful as he'd ever been, to see Harry, Ron and Hermione along with a couple others, Slytherin students he thought, lying on the ground, panting, looking rather singed and worse for wear. He was about to head off towards them when he felt it; the Horcrux crying out in pain as it was vanquished forever. He slumped against a wall for a moment or two, regaining his breath as the evil object was destroyed. He felt the change in the atmosphere. Only two more left.
He headed off down the corridor towards them, as more duellists backed into view. It was two of the Weasleys he thought, never having paid much attention to the family aside from their interactions with Harry.
He pressed forwards to help them.
Merlin sensed it, before the explosion made itself known. Reacting instinctively, he raised his hand and yelled "Hilderan þās drhytsele!"
It came not a moment too soon. A large golden hued shield glimmered into the air around the few fighters in the hall, as a giant roar sounded all around them. Debris and dust whirled around them, great stones and thick planks of wood came raining down on them from above, and it became apparent a giant section of the castle had just been blown away. Merlin tried not to wince; it was just typical. Here was a proud and ancient establishment which had stood for a thousand years untouched, and all it took was a few pure-blood psychos to turn it to dust in a matter of hours. If the Founders could see this …
The roar of the explosion died down and Merlin lowered his shield, transferring his wand to his hand quickly; he didn't want any undue questions about the strength and particular type of magic he possessed until this was all over.
It was a good thing too.
The fighters in the hall whirled around to see who had cast the spell, wonder in their eyes, and Merlin inwardly berated himself. You idiot! Why couldn't you have used Protego!
He tried not to look too suspicious, ignoring the voice in his head that told him even Arthur had never been fooled by his 'not-suspicious' look. He'd had centuries to perfect it after all.
"Whoa!" The younger red-haired man said to him. "That was brilliant! What was it?"
Merlin tried to shrug it off. "Just a spell." He noted rather uncomfortably that Hermione was watching him suspiciously.
The older red-head looked deeply impressed: "I've never seen a Shield Charm so powerful. I'm extremely grateful to you. Who knows what would have happened otherwise?"
Merlin gave him a feeble smile. "Oh, I'm sure you'd have been fine."
At that moment, a giant spider tried to force its way through the massive gap now in the side of the wall. Without hesitating Harry, Ron and one of Ron's brothers fired Stunners at it and it retreated. The elder boy looked outside. "There are more of them coming! Fred! Come on! We can't let them in the castle!"
"Right you are Perce!" Fred said, rather jovially. "Let's have at them, shall we?" And with that they raced off down the corridor, shooting spells at the spiders as they attempted to crawl up the side of the castle.
More spells began soaring over their heads, and Merlin turned to see even more duelling had erupted at the end of the corridor amongst all the dust, falling masonry and general debris.
"Come on!" He urged the three of them, for there were now only three, with the two Slytherins having apparently scarpered.
He led them down the corridor and behind a tapestry, onto a concealed staircase out of the immediate battle area.
He stopped and turned towards them, their faces squinting at him in confusion.
Ron spoke first: "Right, just who in the name of Merlin's saggy left-"
"No time for that," Merlin said hurriedly, trying not to smile in amusement at the fact Ron had answered his very own question just in the act of asking it, or flinch in annoyance. He would never get used to his name being used like that. He turned to Harry, and fixed him with a cool stare, noting that despite having watched over him all these years, this was the first time they'd actually met. "Did you destroy it?"
Harry's face paled, and he exchanged nervous, panicked glances with his friends, their eyes widening in fear and astonishment.
"Never mind how I know!" Merlin said, rather impatiently. As confident as he was that the Horcrux had indeed been destroyed, he could take no chances. "Has it been destroyed?"
But Harry continued to stare at him blankly, with a bit of unease coming over his features. Merlin sighed.
"Look, you can trust me. I'm a friend of Dumbledore's."
"Of Dumbledore's?" Hermione repeated faintly, still looking bewildered.
"Yes!" Merlin shouted. "I know everything! And I mean everything! I need to know; has the Horcrux been destroyed?"
But they still looked at him with uncertainty. Well of course they would you idiot! What did you expect?
Merlin sighed again. He placed both hands on Harry's shoulders and turned him so they were looking directly into each other's eyes, Merlin's blue ones fixed upon the green.
"I swear to you Harry, you can trust me. I knew Dumbledore well, and I know you probably have no reason to believe me, but I really am trying to help you. I know you're confused, I would be too, but there's no time for that now. I'll explain everything later, I promise. But at the moment you're just going to have to have some blind faith."
Harry stared at him so intensely Merlin could have sworn he was trying to use Legilimancy. He looked so desperate and alone, haunted by everything going on around him.
Eventually, Harry blinked, and he nodded. Merlin sighed in relief.
Ron, however, was indignant. "Harry! We've only just met the guy! We don't know if we can trust him!"
Harry's eyes flicked back to Merlin's. "Dumbledore trusted him." He said simply. Merlin smiled.
Ron groaned. "Yeah, and trusting Dumbledore has really helped us out this year hasn't it! The guy isn't perfect Harry! Remember Snape?"
Harry's jaw clenched and Merlin could see exactly what he thought about Snape. Merlin sighed inwardly. He'd find out the truth about the man sooner or later. Even Merlin wasn't supposed to know the truth; he'd only heard about it from the portrait of Godric Gryffindor in the Headmaster's office after Snape's defection.
Harry spoke: "I've spent enough time this year doubting him Ron. It's time I put some more faith back into the man. Dumbledore would never have told anyone about the Horcruxes that he didn't trust completely; he never even told Snape that much! And Voldemort certainly doesn't go around telling his Death Eaters about them!"
Ron fell silent, still glaring at Merlin with a mistrustful glint in his eyes.
Merlin ignored this however. "It's destroyed then?"
Harry took his eyes off Ron, who was still silently fuming, to look back at Merlin, and nodded.
"Yeah, Crabbe used some Fiendfyre and took it out accidentally. There's nothing left of it."
Merlin nodded. "Good," he murmured to himself. "Only two left."
"Two?" shrieked Hermione, her eyes wide. "I thought it was only the snake left!"
Damn! Merlin, you idiot! Harry isn't supposed to know yet!
"I mean, including the piece still left inside of Voldemort," he answered swiftly, hoping they hadn't noticed anything. Apparently they hadn't, as Hermione sighed in relief.
"But how are we supposed to find the bloody snake?" Ron objected. "Isn't it with You-Know-Who all the time? He isn't exactly the easiest man to find!"
Merlin directed his gaze straight at Harry. "You'll need to look inside his mind Harry. You need to find out where he is so we can go to him."
Harry nodded, and closed his eyes to surrender himself to the obvious pain in his scar, with only the briefest of curious glances at Merlin. Probably wondering how I know so much, he grumbled to himself. He had to think of a good cover story- he couldn't tell them who he really was until after Harry had defeated Voldemort and restored the balance to the world.
Harry's eyes remained tightly closed, his face screwed up against the pain, as they waited for him to re-emerge from Voldemort's thoughts. Merlin couldn't fail to notice Ron was torn between watching Harry worriedly, and eyeing Merlin suspiciously. He pretended not to notice; he hadn't exactly invited confidence when he'd revealed he'd known all about their 'Top-Secret' mission.
They waited for a few moments, Merlin's heart pounding rapidly.
Suddenly, Harry gasped, and opened his eyes. He looked slightly disoriented for a split second, his eyes re-adjusting to the darkness of the staircase and his ears to the sound of the distant battle.
"He's in the Shrieking Shack. Nagini is there with him. There's some sort of spell around her to protect her. Lucius Malfoy is away to find Snape for some reason."
Merlin frowned. Did this mean Voldemort was about to try and discover why he could not master the Elder Wand? He would surely kill Snape, who would then have no opportunity to tell Harry what he'd promised Dumbledore he would. This wasn't good.
"Voldemort's where?" Hermione said, sounding thoroughly outraged. "He's not doing anything?"
"He doesn't need to," said Harry. "He'll assume that I'll go to him."
Merlin had to supress a snigger. Isn't it obvious Hermione? It's because he's too bloody noble for his own good. Almost like Arthur had been.
He tuned out the following bickering going on between the three of them about who was all going to go and get the snake. If he was perfectly honest, in the amount of time they'd spent bickering amongst themselves, Merlin himself could have gone and got it with some of his old magic, but of course, Harry had to do this his own way, as much as Merlin hated placing this burden on someone so young.
"THERE HE IS!!" Merlin jerked back to reality when he realised two masked Death Eaters had just discovered their hiding place. Before he could do anything however, Hermione had already whipped out her wand and muttered a quick spell, which turned the stairs into a chute, which sent them all hurtling downwards, narrowly missing red jets of light from the Death Eater's wands. They tumbled through the tapestry at the bottom of the staircase and Hermione rigged up a brick wall behind them and the two Death Eaters smacked into it.
Bruised and adamant he was that he could have procured a less painful way of avoiding the Death Eaters, he had to admire Hermione's quick thinking.
He ducked out of the way as one of the Hogwarts professors came storming past with a herd of galloping desks.
They scrambled to their feet.
"Harry!" Hermione said. "Get under the Cloak! Leave us here!"
"No," said Harry firmly. "We'll all fit under it."
Hermione and Ron drew closer to Harry who held out a silvery object Merlin recognised as an Invisibility Cloak, and made to throw it over the three of them, but he paused, and looked over at Merlin.
"Well, are you coming?"
Merlin blinked for a moment, unsure of what to say. Harry trusted him this much already?
He shrugged, and drew closer to the others, Ron making room for him grudgingly. Harry threw the Cloak over the four of them, Merlin ducking slightly as he was taller than the other three. Then again, he doubted it made much difference. Who was actually going to notice some disembodied feet at a time like this?
They ran down another staircase, past more duellers and portraits with occupants screaming out advice as Death Eaters and students alike battled mercilessly. Harry paused, obviously wanting to help them, but before he could Peeves soared overhead and dropped a fistful of tubers on Ron's head, thus alerting the Death Eaters to an invisible presence. Bloody Peeves, Merlin thought. I told Godric he should have him exorcised. But noooo, he thought he was funny!
They ran through the midst of the fighters and reached the marble staircase and headed down it, Ron punching a fellow student in the face as he passed. The Entrance Hall was filled with fighters, and absolute chaos prevailed; bodies fell everywhere, glass was broken, screams rang out through the air.
Hermione shrieked as she attacked a Death Eater couched over the body of a student. Crystal balls rained down from the banisters, as that batty Divination teacher flung them over the side. If the whole thing hadn't been so serious, it would have been quite funny.
But he saw the looks on Harry, Ron and Hermione's faces, and knew this was anything was funny. They knew these people, they were their friends … Merlin had no particular emotional attachment to any of them. He had no right to find it in the least bit amusing.
They made for the front doors, but before they could, they burst open and more gigantic spiders spilled through causing even more chaos amongst both sides.
The man Merlin thought was called Hagrid stormed towards them, apparently pleading with them, and without a second thought Harry had run after him, as Hagrid was lost amongst the spiders.
"Harry!" screamed Hermione, and she and Ron pelted after him, Merlin following in their wake.
Things were really starting to get crazy; a couple of giants turned up at that point and started wrestling. Merlin blinked. There was a giant on Hogwart's side?
But he had no time to think, he rushed forwards with Harry, Ron and Hermione towards the forbidden forest before something else happened.
The air froze, and a silence fell over the grounds, so intense and impenetrable it could only mean one thing : Dementors.
Merlin froze up. A great terror and sense of dread and hopelessness spread through him. The others tried to cast Patronuses but were unsuccessful, but Merlin didn't even try, so lost was he in the despair that clawed at him, lost in memory …
Don't you realise your mistake Merlin, I lured you into a trap. Arthur has gone to war, and to his doom. Without you by his side, he will fall …
You failed your King, mighty Emrys … you have failed him …
Merlin forced himself back into the present. No! He wasn't going to let that affect him! He was here! He had a new destiny to fulfil!
He raised his wand, only just remembering to use a 'Modern Spell': "Expecto Patronum!"
A great silvery dragon soared out of his wand, larger than he'd ever conjured before. It charged down the Dementors, opening its jaws, and letting silvery flames engulf the fleeing forms in the darkness, before it faded, leaving only the shadow of what had been there.
Ron turned and gaped at him. "Your Patronus is a dragon? That's actually pretty cool-"
"Ron!" screeched Hermione. "Now's not the time!"
And she hadn't spoken a moment too soon, as a great giant lumbered out of the forest towards them.
They ran off again towards the Whomping Willow, and the passageway beneath. As Hermione and Ron dithered about how to get in, Merlin turned and saw the fighting on the front lawn increase dramatically. They were losing.
The tree suddenly froze, and the others started to crawl through the tunnel.
"Hey! Aren't you coming?" Ron yelled.
Merlin turned back to him. He desperately wanted to go with them, to make sure they were safe, but he couldn't risk it. If he got too close to Voldemort … well, Voldemort was a powerful wizard, especially for a 'Wand-Wielder', as Merlin had dubbed them. He might sense Merlin's presence and blow the whole thing.
Merlin shook his head. "I'll stay here and help the others; there won't be enough room for all of us."
Harry nodded, but Ron looked annoyed.
"Bloody coward," he heard him mumbling, as he disappeared out of sight.
Merlin shook his head, he got the impression Ron didn't like him very much.
He rushed off the help the duellers, stunning a Death Eater midway through casting the killing curse at a young boy, who definitely didn't look overage.
He just prayed they'd be alright in there.
A/N: Sorry there's not much plot progression thus far, my intention for the next couple of chapters is to stick relatively close to the book. But then again Merlin's entry into this battle has changed a lot of things from the book, as you've probably already guessed :)
Who shall live and who shall die in this new version of the Battle of Hogwarts? ;)
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