Harry and Ron spent their first night in Camelot fighting a forest of crawling things living in their beds. Needless to say, neither got much sleep. Both tacitly agreed not to resort to magic after the showing of power in the main hall. They'd been given plates of…something, but no answers.
"They can't honestly expect us to eat this for breakfast, can they?" Ron said, after being given another platter of meat and milk to replace the one he hadn't touched. Harry shrugged, trying to force himself to chew his breakfast.
"At least it's food," Harry said, slightly amused at Ron's lack of appetite. Normally his friend inhaled anything put in front of him.
"It's edible, you mean. I wouldn't call it food," Ron retorted, making a face.
Harry shrugged. "Get used to it, mate."
That seemed to be the wrong thing to say, because Ron gave up on breakfast completely and pushed his plate away.
"What d'you think will happen now? I mean, since you took that oath about not harming anyone here. D'you think they'll let us talk to Merlin?" Ron asked Harry.
"I don't think he really wants to talk to us. He didn't seem very friendly yesterday," was Harry's response.
"Merlin was just trying to protect Arthur," a new voice said as the door swung open to reveal Cedric.
"You!" Ron said, standing, kicking his meal aside, and drawing his wand.
Cedric just waited.
"I should turn you into—" Ron began.
"What? You would be foolish to attack me within these walls," Cedric assured Ron. Harry shook his head at Ron. Ron sighed and put his wand away.
"What do you want?" Harry asked.
"You've been summoned to the main hall," Cedric told him. "It's unwise to keep Merlin waiting."
"He didn't seem overly interested in talking yesterday, did he?" Ron challenged. "Why should we—oof."
Harry stepped away from Ron before Ron could grab his elbow. "We're not here to make more enemies, Ron. Let's get this over with."
Harry followed Cedric without turning to see if Ron would follow. Despite his annoyance, Ron was probably just as curious as Harry.
Before he knew it, Harry found himself in the main hall again. This time, Merlin looked different. Really different. Harry thought. Gone was the dilapidated old man they'd seen who looked so frail and useless. Next to the throne now stood a wizard whose features spoke no less of age, but much more of power. Standing across the room, Harry could feel something. Power, or presence, seemed to be the best word for it. Merlin wasn't going to attack them, but it was obvious that he could. If he chose to do so, there was no doubt in Harry's mind that Merlin could win.
"I trust you slept well?" Merlin asked the two boys.
"Sure, us and the forest of crawling things sharing—oof. Quit that!" Ron yelled. He whirled toward Harry, but Harry was paying no attention. It was Hermione who had elbowed Ron. Harry hadn't seen the girls show up.
"Are you mad?" Hermione whispered fiercely to Ron.
Harry glanced at the two of them and back at Merlin. To Harry's surprise, Merlin didn't seem to be angry. His eyes twinkled in a manner that reminded Harry of Dumbledore.
"I regret the inconvenience," Merlin said. He turned to a young boy who's name Harry didn't know and nodded. The boy, along with Cedric, ran off in the direction Harry and Ron had come from.
"Nothing we can't handle," Harry assured Merlin.
"Excellent. Are you hungry?" Merlin asked as he heard Ron's stomach growl audibly. Ron clamped his arms around his middle in embarrassment.
"Well..." Harry began, but Merlin just clapped his hands. A table appeared between the throne and audience areas. Several servants entered the room, bearing loads of food. Within moments, various types of meat, fruit, and vegetables were piled high on the table, which creaked under the strain.
Harry smirked as Ron instantly began to fidget. Merlin smiled, and nodded. "Why don't we all break our fast and discuss things then." he asked.
Harry shrugged and sat down at the table, across from Merlin. Ron took a set to his left, Ginny to his right, with Hermione to the right of her.
Harry filled his plate with fruits and meat, nodding gratefully to a servant who placed a water goblet next to him. He watched as the others did the same. He waited for a moment, but then tucked into his food. Ron hadn't waited after all.
"This is wonderful," Hermione said after a moment. Harry and the others voiced similar sentiments.
"Camelot prides herself on hospitality to friends and strength against her enemies," Merlin replied.
Harry didn't reply, so Merlin began speaking again. "You do understand, of course, the necessity of the events of last evening?"
"Yes," Harry assured the old wizard, though he noticed that Ron became slightly less enthusiastic about his meal.
"Excellent," Merlin replied.
At that moment, a great burst of noise shattered the calm, and a dog ran into the main hall, with several servants hot on its heels. It ran in a circle around the table, barking all the while. It wagged its tail and stopped in front of Harry.
"Nice dog...good dog..." Harry muttered uncertainly. The dog barked again, and then ran over to Ron and bit his shoe.
"Ahh! You bloody mad animal!" Ron said, swiping his arms and knocking his water goblet to the floor, where it shattered.
"Thomas!" Merlin yelled, his face twisting in annoyance. The dog yapped at him, turned on its heels and ran out of the hall. The frustrated servants continued after him.
Merlin shook his head and sighed. "He does well as a hunting dog, you know. Pity he wouldn't hunt so well as a newt."
Harry smiled and the girls chuckled, while Ron inspected the remains of his goblet.
"Er..sorry about that," he said after a moment.
"No problem. We can have another one made by—" Merlin began, stopping as Hermione drew her wand.
Harry felt the castle's wards began to ready themselves, but noticed they leveled off. Merlin was curious.
"Reparo!" Hermione said, waving her wand over the mess. Instantly, the goblet reformed, as if it had never been broken.
Merlin stared at the goblet in amazement for several seconds.
"It takes most wizards time to harness the energy required for a spell like that. Yet you did it instantly."
Hermione appeared uncertain for a moment, as though she were weighing her words. "Yes. Where we come from, wands are made differently. Here, as I understand it, wands are just used as a convenient place for magic to channel through. In ours, the wand actually helps focus the energy. It makes some spells much easier to do."
Merlin's eyes widened. "With such an ability..." His eyes hardened again. "There is yet another test you must undergo."
Ron dropped his food back onto his plate while Harry's face twisted in annoyance.
"Why?" Harry asked.
"You may not be agents of Morgan Le Fey, but there are many dark witches and wizards who would enjoy gaining a foothold on Camelot."
Harry sighed. "What next? More truth serum?"
"If that is the way you wish to go," Merlin replied.
"Fine. After my food is digested."
"The rest of you will have to do the same," Merlin said. Ron looked upset, but Hermione and Ginny were nodding.
"Can the rest of you do the same things with your wands that Hermione can do?" Merlin asked, his tone switching from cautious to curious.
Harry nodded, but Ginny just took her water goblet and pointed her wand at it.
She shook her wand three times, nearly hitting the goblet, and said "Ververtia."
Her goblet twisted until it resembled a mouse, even standing up on its hind legs before dropping to all fours and resuming its status as a water goblet.
Ron looked determined not to be out done by his sister, and took his own water goblet.
"WingardiumLeviosa!" he said. The goblet rose weakly from the table, hovered there for a moment, and then fell to the floor where it shattered again. Ron sighed.
"Reparo," Harry said quickly, waving his wand over the newly formed mess. As it had before, the goblet reformed. It seemed to impress Merlin just as much the second time.
"I must learn the secret of wands such as these!" Merlin sounded genuinely enthusiastic for the first time since they'd seen him.
"They're not as much help as you might think. There are many witches and wizards in our t...town, who'd love to be able to do wandless magic," Harry explained to Merlin.
A gleam took hold in Merlin's eyes. "Really?"
"Well, yes. It's a useful talent to have," Hermione stepped in.
"It takes dedication and practice, but I think anyone can learn to do wandless magic," Merlin said seriously.
"Sorry?" Ginny spoke up. "You said anyone can learn it?"
"Magical energy comes from the soul of the creature, witch or wizard in question. Not from potions or wands or charms of various sorts. You must merely learn to harness it," Merlin replied.
"And we could learn that?" Ron piped up.
"With practice, I imagine you can do anything you set your mind to," Merlin replied.
"Assuming we pass your little test," Harry said, bringing everyone's minds back to the situation at hand.
"There will be time enough for that after your stomach has had a brief rest. Come, let me show you the grounds," Merlin said. Harry and the others exchanged excited looks at this.
Merlin waved the remaining servants toward the mess and led the group out into the grounds, where the sun was just beginning to warm the countryside.
"Camelot is beautiful," Ginny said in awe. Harry nodded.
"She is. A place of beauty, and of great brotherhood. Truly a gem amongst gems. God willing, she ever shall be," Merlin replied.
Harry and Hermione exchanged dark looks, but said nothing. Merlin led them on, having apparently failed to notice.
"The lakes here are kept clear by a series of spells and hard work. Nothing worth having comes easy, whether it be a clean lake, or a strong kingdom."
"Or passing a potions exam," Ron muttered under his breath. Merlin looked at him for a moment, but continued on. The group walked for nearly a quarter of an hour before coming to the next place the wizard wanted them to see.
"These are the royal gardens. Arthur himself spends time tending to these plants once in a while."
"They're beautiful," Hermione said in awe. "How did you—"
"They're just plants, Hermione," Ron cut in.
"Prat," Hermione said coldly. "Let's move on."
They wound around the castle at this point, heading toward the tournament area. Merlin opened his mouth to explain something, when Ginny suddenly shrieked.
Harry drew his wand so quickly that it seemed to have materialized on its own, but Ginny wasn't under attack. She ran to where a stag lay in the field, its eyes wide with pain and fear. Harry frowned, instantly concerned.
"Ron, get over here and help. Hermione—"
"Come along children, there is much more to see. Leave this animal to the dogs. It is of no more use," Merlin said.
"Camelot will still be here later," Harry said, turning away from the old wizard.
Ginny held the stag's head, keeping it from thrashing around while it stared at her in terror. Ron took off his shirt, blotting at the blood which still flowed from the wound. Hermione pointed her wand at the stag's leg, and muttered, "Anestius,"
The stag bucked and kicked so violently that Merlin had to step out of the way. Ron pointed his wand at the stag's head and muttered, "Stupefy!" With that, the creature sank instantly into merciful unconsciousness.
"Ferula" Harry snapped, creating a splint for the broken leg. He then cast a strengthening charm on the bonds the spell had created.
"That should help," Hermione said. "Everyone stand back."
"Enverate!" Hermione snapped. The stag woke, and slowly rose to its feet. The creature seemed a bit wobbly at first, but seemed to grow used to the added weight of the splint rather quickly. It turned and ran from the group. A moment before it vanished from sight, it went up in a puff of smoke.
Harry turned in anger toward Merlin and opened his mouth to scream at the old man, but to his total shock, the older man was grinning.
"I'm sorry to have had to do that," Merlin began.
"You killed it! It would have been fine!" Harry yelled.
"It was a spell, Harry. Not a real animal," Merlin explained. The children frowned as one.
"But why?" Ginny asked.
"It seemed a more effective way to test your mettle than to give you more truth serum. The serum could tell me what your minds contained, but not what lay in the depth of your hearts," Merlin said.
"This was a TEST?" Harry bellowed angrily.
"No one with evil in their hearts would have stopped to help an injured creature. Especially not one such as a stag, who could hurt them if they weren't careful," Merlin said gently.
Harry turned away, totally disgusted.
"If that had been a real animal, you would have saved its life. That tells me far more than truth serum ever would. Welcome to Camelot."
Harry nodded, his anger still hot in his chest.
"Perhaps you might like to see the stables, where the stag whose form I copied is kept?" Merlin asked. Harry agreed, and the group set off in that direction.
"The king has informed me that if you were successful in proving your intentions to me, you were to be given the freedom to move about as you wish just as would befit any other high member of the court."
"Thanks," Harry muttered. The others lagged behind slightly. They seemed to think Harry needed to work through his anger.
"In addition, I'd like to introduce you to a friend of mine. I think you'll get along well," Merlin said to him.
"Godric Gryffindor," Merlin said. Harry stopped so suddenly he almost fell flat on his face.
"I'd like to introduce you to Godric Gryffindor," Merlin said again.
Harry's mood improved considerably upon hearing this.
"I have hopes he will enjoy having other students to speak with. I teach magic here in Camelot, and you did express a desire to learn wandless magic. I can help you with that."
"Excellent," Harry replied. He held out his hand toward Merlin, who shook it.