Constantine Atreides, Natalie Kyros, Janus Tucker Mason, Kayla Rahl Granger, Max Koschey, and Tom Riddle sat around the table in anticipation.
“You messed up, John,” Janus provided, helpfully.
“Almost messed up,” Merlin corrected him.
“No. Not almost. Did. You created billions upon billions of lives. And you sacrificed us to save them.”
Constantine, who was holding hands with Natalie beneath the table, chimed in, “I for one, can’t complain.”
“Well, the rest of us didn’t require a world-ending cataclysm to get together… And besides, it’s not the end result, it’s the mindset behind it.” Kayla muttered.
“No, no. Kayla’s right. I’ve lived three times as long in that world I created than I have here in the real world. I’m a different person. We’re all different people now.”
“I’m not.” Tom Riddle interjected.
“Yes, but you’re not exactly real, now are you?” Natalie retorted.
“Your identity is a combination of Galath Ollivander, Neirkalatia of the Cross, and Natalie Kyros. One could easily argue that I, being of one singular identity, am more real than you.”
“Jesus, you people. Are we just going to keep on bantering for the rest of eternity? Merlin. Why did you call this meeting?”
“Honestly? Because I didn’t know what else to do. This is a lot to process. And if there’s anything I’ve learned from fifty thousand some-odd years in that bizarre world, it’s that I can’t do this alone, anymore. There’s no way around it: this is a weird, bizarre, unique situation.
“Yes – the memories of the hundred billion people who lived and died in that world have been scattered about and placed in the minds of the people from this world. But that world never defeated Death, at least not the first incarnation. Seventy, eighty years of memories, what is that compared to twenty thousand or more? It’s nothing. It’s a recurring dream and little more.
“But for me? I lived 52,000 years as ‘Merlin of Line’ and another 26,000 years as ‘Harry James Potter Evans Verres’. And there’s a version of me that’s doomed to repeat those same 52,000 years over and over and over for a perceptual eternity. It’s terrifying.
“And maybe before, I would have thought that I’m the only person who understood the experience. But I’m not. You’re here. You’re all here and you all understand, on some level more than the average person, what I’ve gone through, and I understand what you’ve gone through.
“I’ve brought you all here because you’re my friends. And, well… I need a friend.”
And so they talked.
“You know, if the world really were like a story, you and I would end up getting together at the end,” Max observed.
Merlin gave a wry chuckle in response, and Max continued. “We’re both child prodigies who shut ourselves away from the rest of the world and made a number of terribly questionable decisions in the name of selflessness. We understand each other.”
“That we do. And it would seem to fit the pattern, no? Look at them.” Merlin tilted his wine glass towards the pair of couples, Kayla and Janus, and then Constantine and Natalie. “Hermione and Draco. Meldh and Ollivander.”
“And yet… ‘Harry and Nell’ just doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?”
“It really doesn’t, no.”
“Besides, what would we do about him?” Max pointed at Tom Riddle, who was observing the gathering from the corner, sipping what appeared to be tea.
“There are a hundred billion people in the world, he’s bound to find someone. Or several people. Who knows. But one thing I’m certain of is that we don’t need to worry about him.”
Max laughed. “So are you saying there’s something here?”
Merlin shrugged. “I’m saying that I could always use more friends.”
“Can’t we all? Coffee, then?”
“Coffee, then.” Merlin extended his hand. Max was unsure of what he was expecting, so she shook it, awkwardly.
“This should be interesting.”
The Professor observed, with great amusement, the bizarre sparks flying between Harry and Perenelle. The tea he was sipping was exquisite, far better than even the most obscenely expensive tea he had experienced in his constructed world. Unlike the rest of those in the room, Tom Riddle did not have twenty or so millennia of worth of experiences in a post-scarcity world.
Maybe at some point, he’d feel the urge to settle down, to share his life and time and self with another. But for now, there was an entire planet of new mysteries to uncover and truths to explore. He had not met all the interesting people in the world, nor had he read all the good books and then written something even better, nor had he celebrated my his first grandchild’s tenth birthday party on the Moon, or celebrated his first great-great-great grandchild’s hundredth birthday party around the Rings of Saturn.
Content in the knowledge that the final fate he so desperately feared in the World of Magic was but a distant memory here, he knew he had time.
He smiled gently. His eyes were wet.