Actions

Work Header

Fading Footsteps

Work Text:

When I lost everything and gave up hope of ever returning to my world, a shabby tavern called the Leaky Cauldron reached out to me. It was there that I found not only the Wizarding World, but other things that were much more important – the will to go on, and hope. Hope that one day magic would answer what science could not, and take me back to where I belonged.

Determination and desire drove me through the long years during which I familiarized myself with the world I had discovered. It was a long time before I realized where my needs would best be served, and even longer before opportunity came along to fulfil my exact requirements.

When I read the advertisement in the Daily Prophet looking for a professor to take high level interest-only courses on alchemy – the alchemy of their world, of course, not my own – it was the summer of 1942, and I was still stuck in a world I wanted to leave with all my heart.

I looked barely out of my teens. By then, I had realized the truth – having died in both worlds, I did not exist in the true sense of the word, and therefore could not age and die as a normal person could.

I wondered, even as I fought and fought to get home, how long it would take before I finally decayed and rotted away, slowly but surely, just like the old man.



On the Strange Hobbies of the Great and Unstable

It had always been relatively easy for him to manipulate people, but Edward didn’t like applying his intellect this way.

If I ever started to enjoy messing with people, he thought wryly, I’ll know I’ve turned into the Colonel.

But when push came to shove, he never hesitated. Edward has had a lot of time to think. One did not survive by being naïve or ignorant.

You’d be pleased, bastard. It’s taken me twenty years, but I’ve learnt restraint, I’ve learnt discretion, I’ve learnt to make people do what I want without even knowing what they’ve done.

Before he came to this world he had been cynical and mistrustful, but he was never this bitter. It was something that happened in stages, slow and painful.

I guess I'm an adult now, aren’t I?

It’s pathetic…I haven’t seen any of you in two decades, and I still have these conversations with you in my head.

Are you even still alive, bastard?

Will I ever see you again?

It was far from pleasant to dwell like this, but it kept him from worse things lurking in the corners of his mind, shadows that whispered brother.

Al…Al, what did I do to you?

A soft knock on the door of his office bought him out of his revere, for which he was grateful. It still didn’t change the fact that he didn’t want visitors at such an ungodly hour, but he had quickly learnt that being robbed of all privacy was part of being a teacher.

He scanned the room for anything that might seem out of place in an alchemy teacher’s quarters – such as, say, lethal muggle weaponry.

His rooms were perfectly ordinary, impeccably clean thanks to the house elves, except the study with its books and papers piled high everywhere. No living creature save himself was allowed in the study, and he had arrays carved into the door frames to reinforce that if the need arose.

The rooms looked perfectly ordinary. And the revolver was in the second compartment beneath the surface of his desk.

Damn useful, no matter how much I hate these things. Especially when the opponent stood around waving his wand and chanting. With the spectre of Grindelwald hanging over them all, it never hurt to be too careful.

He absentmindedly slid his hand into the compartment, just enough so that he could touch the barrel and feel the cold of it seeping through his glove.

It was an odd habit, something he’d started doing in his first month at Hogwarts. Some of the things he had to sit through behind this desk were truly tedious, and he’d play with whatever he left in the compartments as a last, desperate form of amusement. It wasn’t like they could see him doing it.

He wasn’t sure when it had been reduced to only this – his flesh hand caressing the cool metal of the revolver. It focused him, helped him think around his bone-wariness.

This world is designed to drive me to drink. Shaking his head, Edward told the visitor to come in.

At the sight of the twinkling blue eyes and long auburn hair, he cursed his luck, and then a host of deities he didn’t believe in. He knew a lot of gods now.

“Evening, Professor Dumbledore.”

The man twinkled benignly at him. “Good evening, Professor Elric. I was wondering if I could have a moment of your time…?”

You’ve already had a moment, and I don’t trust you. Go away. Barely suppressing a sigh, Edward gestured to the couch.

He hated Dumbledore’s type – manipulation and intrigue was so much easier to detect when it didn’t come coated with candyfloss. Just his luck, then, that he had to enlist the man’s help if he truly wanted a shot at returning home.

Edward wasn’t fooled by the man’s champion-of-righteousness reputation – he knew how little it meant, after all, when someone was said to be a hero.

“Of course. Please have a seat.”

Dumbledore made himself comfortable on the couch and kept right on twinkling, waiting for him become uncomfortable enough with the silence to speak and offer free information. Edward resisted the urge to snarl.

Is everyone in this world a manipulative bastard? Well, there was the harmless (not to mention slow, he thought, suddenly feeling vicious) Headmaster Dippet…but the man sitting in front of him was nothing like that.

From what he could figure out, Dumbledore was working against Grindelwald, which was nice; he was smart, secretive, and didn’t care who he had to use in his pursuit of the Dark Lord’s defeat, which was not nice.

I wonder if the best thing to do here wouldn’t be…If he refused to play Dumbledore’s games…He bit down on the grin that threatened to cross his face and cleared his throat.

“I wonder…what it is you want from me, Professor Dumbledore.”

Dumbledore only smiled enigmatically. “Please, call me Albus.”

The man was incredibly frustrating, alright. Edward smiled back, but couldn’t resist the edge in his voice as he replied. “Alright then, Albus, same question.”

“That’s what I want to know, Professor Elric,” Dumbledore parried cheerfully, although the twinkle was gone from his eyes. “What is your purpose in taking up a position at Hogwarts?”

Edward slid his fingers down the barrel lightly, gentle and caressing.

Honesty, he decided, would be the best policy, especially since he couldn’t read Dumbledore too well.

“I’ll be frank with you, Albus,” he said, wincing internally at the way the name sounded on his tongue. “I’m sure you know that I don’t belong here. I’m just looking for a way to get back home.”

No trace of humour remained in Dumbledore’s expression. “So you’re just going to use us - Hogwarts - to return home?”

Edward nodded, nonchalant.

Blue eyes narrowed at him. “I don’t see how the school benefits from all this.”

Edward's fingers slid over the barrel, where they mapped out the ridges and grooves of the cylinder, softly, gently.

“Hey, I’m teaching for you, aren’t I?”

“And you’re paid for it.”

Not very well, we aren’t. You know that.

The revolver was a solid, cold weight in his flesh hand.

“Let me ask you a question, Professor. What are you doing here?”

The man was surprised – he covered it well with his usual twinkle and smile, but Edward had dealt with Armstrong, so a few twinkles weren’t going to faze him.

“To talk to you, Edward – do you mind if I call you Edward?”

He refrained carefully from glaring. “What I mean is, Professor, why are you asking me all this when you’re the one who told Dippet to hire me?”

Edward's finger curled around the trigger.

Aim, hold, and fire.

“After all, it doesn’t take a blind man to figure out who’s really in charge of Hogwarts.”

Silence.

“You’re a very perceptive young man, Edward Elric.”

No more twinkles, I think.

Finally, Edward allowed himself to smile. “Tell me what you want from me, Professor Dumbledore.”

The other man frowned, but he didn’t seem displeased. “Very well, Edward. I will be direct.”

“I would like your help in the fight against Grindelwald.”



On the Unsuitability of Geniuses for Teaching

It had been a simple note, direct as ever: Elric’s holding a demonstration for his first practical class. Quidditch pitch, 11, Thursday.

Elric was Professor Elric, who was new to Hogwarts this year, and Rosier had done well to inform him, because there were fascinating rumours about the reclusive new teacher of alchemy.

Tom had Transfigurations with Dumbledore at 11. He could invent an excuse, he knew everything they were doing in class, and Dumbledore was an annoying, self-righteous bastard. It had been one of the easiest decisions he’d ever made.

It had been a good decision too – he had barely settled down, close enough to hear the class speaking, and already it was one of the most interesting lessons he’d ever seen.

It almost made him regret not choosing to take Alchemy. Professor Elric in full ranting mode was indeed something to behold. As was the entire sixth year Alchemy class - which contained more than a few of the brightest students in the year - cowering in terror. How the man managed to intimidate so effectively when most of his students towered over him was a complete mystery.

The professor stopped ranting to take a deep breath. In stillness, it was readily apparent that he was a handsome man with long blond hair and strange, intense eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses. He looked young, too young, and yet there was something about him that demand attention and respect. When he spoke again, his voice was icily calm.

“Does anybody remember what I said on the first day of class?” Sharp eyes surveyed the crowd haughtily. “Well?”

A Ravenclaw spoke, soft and hesitant. “Y-You said that you expected dedication and hard work if we wanted to learn, s-sir.”

Elric gave a quick nod. “Good, at least you remembered that. Alright, what else did I say?” He eyed the timid Ravenclaw, expression softening momentarily. “Miss Lane?”

Lane blushed. “T-that if any of us failed to hand in any assignments, or handed in unsatisfactory ones -” She broke off, eyes widening in horror.

The professor smiled.

“Very good, Miss Lane, five points to Ravenclaw.” Lane’s blush grew several shades darker, but she didn’t look scared anymore.

Then, just as the crowd started to relax, assuming that the worst was over, Elric’s smile changed into something vicious.

“Now, I’m a man of my word. So…” he broke off, reaching into his coat pocket for a small, battered notebook. Flicking it open with quick, sure fingers, he began to read off it.

“Mr Stanley, Mr Nott, Miss Crouch…” The list was quite long. Tom watched, quietly amused, as the students who had their names called out turned white, and then green. “…and Mr Malfoy. Please go up to the Deputy Headmaster’s office and tell him I kicked you out of my class.”

The expression on Malfoy’s face was priceless. Granted, nobody else looked any better, but to see such blatant outrage decorating that arrogant face…Tom wanted to laugh.

Nobody moved.

The professor raised an eyebrow. “Well? I did warn you: ‘If you are not prepared to work, then I will chase you out of my class as a waste of my time and effort,’ remember? Go on, what are you waiting for?”

Silence. Then –

“But Professor-!”

Ah, a Gryffindor. Typical, thought Tom. Only one of those would be stupid enough to protest in this situation.

Both of the professor’s eyebrows shot up this time. “Yes, Mr Weasley?”

“We do want to work hard, but the workload you’ve given us is –” He broke off, sounding frustrated.

Ah, well, he is already quite legendary for working his students like slaves. Tom hid his amused smile, purely out of habit, since he was out of sight.

Surely enough - “My workload, Mr Weasley? Surely it’s not impossible, since some of your classmates are managing just fine?”

Weasley’s temper broke. “Only bookworms could keep up with the amount of work you set,” he muttered, glaring, and only remembered to tack a ‘sir’ onto the end when his friend nudged him.

Slowly, his petulant expression turned horrified as most of those who hadn’t had their names called out turned to glare at him.

Professor Elric chuckled. “I trust that is something your classmates would like to settle with you, so I’ll move on. Any other questions, before I send you off?”

Miraculously, there was one hand in the air. And even more miraculously, it belonged to a Slytherin.

Tom leaned forward, intrigued. A Slytherin was a Slytherin, after all, even if the girl was only one of Malfoy’s little groupies.

“Yes, Miss Hartley?”

The girl straightened her spine, desperately affecting an air of nonchalance. “Professor, with all due respect, I think a lot of us would be more willing to do work if we could see where it was going.”

There were noises of agreement coming from most of the students, even the Gryffindors, however grudging they were.

They must be blind. Can they not see the line they’re toeing? Tom certainly could. There was something dangerous in Elric’s expression.

His voice, when he spoke, was quiet and soft. “Do go on, Miss Hartley.”

Hartley wasn’t completely blind, after all – she was less certain now, but plunged on, regardless.

What a fool, Tom thought, suddenly disgusted. All this, just to get in Malfoy’s good graces? You don’t know what you’re dealing with. Elric was an unknown. Uncertainties were dangerous.

“We want to do alchemy, Professor.” Nods all around. “We’ve never even seen you do it – we’ve never even seen you do any magic at all.”

That’s one step too far, you idiot. That sounds like you’re questioning his credentials.

Well, at least it will be interesting to watch.

Elric’s expression was inscrutable. “You want to see real alchemy, hmm?”

More nods.

The professor snapped his notebook shut and tucked it away. “Gather around, class.”

Hesitantly, curiously, they formed a loose circle around him.

“Listen very carefully. I want you to go find seats in the benches in a moment, but make sure you can see me clearly. Do not come back onto the grounds until I tell you to. If any of you get hurt because you didn’t listen to me, it’s not my fault.” He paused, surveying the eager faces. “Got it?”

Fervent nods.

“Go.”

Tom was suddenly glad for his hidden position. This was what he had come to see.

Elric’s eyes tracked the last student into the stands. When they were all settled, he stared hard at the seated group. Tom realized with a shock that he wasn’t looking at Hartley. Rather, he was staring at Malfoy, eyes bright and utterly cold.

Of course, only an idiot like him could smirk when someone is giving him that look.

The man’s lips curved up in a sardonic smile before he turned away and brought both hands up, palms facing each other.

Clap. He dropped down and slammed his hands against the ground.

It was so blindingly fast that even Tom thought for a second that he’d fallen, and there were several gasps from the class.

Nobody spoke, because the entire surface of the pitch was breaking, splintering, moving up around him and forming miniature meteor showers, strange configurations of rock, higher and higher – and freezing in place.

Silence. Tom knew what the expression Elric’s face would be through the formations of stone and dirt. That slight, mocking smile.

Just who is he laughing at?

Clap. He watched, riveted like everybody else, as rock and earth fell with unnatural ease, as the pitch reformed itself until –

It was perfect, just as it had been before.

The professor waved absently for his class to come back down.

I was right. There’s that smile.

When the class had gathered around him again, Professor Elric gave them all a level stare.

“What you’ve just seen is the least of it, but most of you will never even get that far. There’s one thing that makes alchemy special – it takes more effort, dedication and hard work to master than any other branch of magic I’ve encountered so far. If you can take it, then I’ll help you along. If you can’t…” He trailed off. There was no need to finish the sentence.

There were a few determined looks directed at him this time, and the hard edge in his voice was gone when he spoke again.

“That’s all for today. If I read out your name before, please go see the Deputy Headmaster.”

No protests this time.

“If I didn’t read out your name, please read chapters ten to twenty of Beginning Alchemy and write me a one-foot summary on each chapter, to be handed in before your first class in two week’s time.”

Professor Elric grinned almost boyishly at the identical expressions of horror on the faces of his students.

“Class dismissed.”

And then Elric glanced in his direction, cocked an eyebrow, and gave him a perfectly inscrutable smirk.

He knew I was watching?

Tom smiled. Interesting.



On the Difficulties Associated With Snake Charming

Professor Elric’s English was good, with only the slightest hint of a German accent, and his eyes were sharp behind his glasses. “You’re not like him, after all.”

With a start, Tom realized that they weren’t hazel, as he’d thought, but bright gold. There was a sense of restraint around him, as if he was hiding his true nature behind wire-rimmed glasses and neatly pressed white shirts. He wondered idly if the man knew that there was a betting pool amongst the student body on his age, since it was impossible to tell by looking at him.

“Like who?” He didn’t bother with ‘sir’. It wasn’t that kind of meeting.

The other man flashed him a sad smile, which disappeared as quickly as it came, replaced by an inscrutable smirk.

“He was a good person, when it counted. You, Mr Riddle…” he chuckled, shaking his head. “You are anything but.”

Tom’s blood ran cold. He’d always known that someone would find out eventually, but hadn’t expected it to be a professor he hardly knew anything about. He had to find out more first.

“You have no proof,” he said, keeping his tone light. His grip tightened on his wand.

Elric bought his hands together in a resounding clap. Tom’s hand twitched around his wand, but no sparks flew from the other man’s fingers, and he kept his hands clasped together. Just a gesture, nothing more.

Or was it?

“You’re right, of course,” the other man said, tone as bland as if they were discussing the weather. “I have no proof whatsoever. I merely know the kind of person you are, and therefore the kinds of things you’re likely to do.”

From the light of certainty in his eyes, the man knew exactly what he was talking about. He knew how dangerous Tom was.

And yet, he wasn’t scared. Tom didn’t know the professor too well, but what he did know told him that the man was no idiot. What that meant combined with his total lack of fear was disturbing.

Even so, he was intrigued.

“What are you going to do?”

Elric tilted his head to the side, his expression mock-thoughtful. “What shall I do? Hmm…” His eyes focused on Tom, boring into him. “Nothing, I believe.”

Tom couldn’t help it – he laughed. “Nothing? What kind of person would you be to let me go on, knowing what I am?”

The professor seemed completely unconcerned – he flopped down in the large chair behind his desk and popped his head up with his fist, an elbow resting lightly on the wooden desk.

But Tom was not most people – he saw through the casual pose to the way those strange eyes were boring into his with a startling intensity, and the tension in the man’s frame as he drummed long gloved fingers on the desk.

When he had enough of simply staring at Tom, he spoke. “Well…that is, I’d do nothing if nothing else untoward happens while I’m here. I’m sure you understand what I’m saying.” The last part was said with a tiny smirk that flashed rows of pearly white teeth.

Tom smiled. He knew how to play the game now. “I have no idea what you could possibly be talking about, sir.”

The man’s eyes turned sharp again. “I’ll make myself clear then. If the plumbing system is, shall we say, used inappropriately again - I’m going to kill that thing.”

He was good at controlling his reactions – good enough to hide his surprise. He only narrowed his eyes, contemplating his next move. Was the professor bluffing?

That particular thought must have shown itself on his face, for the other man spoke again. “I’m not kidding, you know. I hope you realize that I could do it, if I really wanted to.”

Ah. Suddenly, Tom saw the game for what it was. The professor was a bargaining man. This could be used.

He made himself relax visibly. “Do you want to?”

“Well, that depends. Like I said…If there were no more attacks, then I could be persuaded to keep my silence.” Elric’s gold eyes glittered strangely as they looked through him.

Thought so. The man desperately wants something, alright. Tom was beginning to enjoy this. “And how would one go about persuading you?”

The other man laced his fingers together and rested his chin on them. His entire posture was relaxed now, almost languid. Tom recognized it from the few times he had seen the man teach.

Almost…but not quite…bored. Like he’s reciting something he’s already gone through too many times.

“You don’t take Alchemy, Mr Riddle, unlike some of your acquaintances. But you are, after all, a genius…” he trailed off, smiling. “Tell me, what’s the most important principle of Alchemy?”

It was said in such a typical classroom tone that he rattled off the answer instantly, without thinking.

“The principle of Equivalent Trade?”

Professor Elric gave a tiny nod of acknowledgement, sighing as he glanced at the pile of unmarked essays on his desk.

“That’s right, equivalent trade…that’s what I try to teach them - but most of them will never understand what it actually means.” He shook his head. “You understand, don’t you, Mr Riddle?”

Tom nodded and gave the other man a thin smile. Equivalent trade, huh…he understood.

“What can I do for you, Professor?”

Edward Elric smiled at him then, and it was not a pleasant expression, filled with knowledge, intent and hunger. He wondered if he smiled in the same way.

“You have some…rare…books in your possession that I’d like to take a look at.”

-------------

Edward slumped back in his chair as soon as the door closed. Dealing with Riddle was exhausting – if only the boy weren’t too smart for his own good, too skilled at wrapping people around his little finger…

He really does remind me of that bastard, in a way…

He knew that what he was doing was wrong – the right thing to do would be to turn Riddle in.

But it’s not like I have proof…and since when have alchemists cared about the right thing to do? He could quite sincerely say that the majority of alchemists he had known back in his own world had been…less than concerned about methods in search of results. He was similar enough, in a lot of ways.

Edward was determined to return to his brother at any cost. He had already lost so much time.

This world could take care of itself well enough.

What about Riddle?

He has that look…the look of someone who would do anything to reach their goal.

No. He can still go either way.

Still, he wondered if a quiet word with Dumbledore wouldn’t be out of place.

Aww, why not. Edward smiled at the mirror, which showed him a face completely untouched by age. After all, I stopped believing in equivalent trade a long time ago.



On the Unexpected Consequences of Inappropriate Hero Worship

Alexander Rosier liked it when the professor watched him work. Liked how it felt to have that intense and heavy gaze on him and him alone. It was silly, irrational and totally irrelevant, but there it was.

He wondered morbidly if Professor Elric knew he had that effect on people. Probably not. Elric’s greatest love was truth, and his greatest lust was for knowledge. People were only interesting if they were linked, somehow, to what he wanted. He had known the man long enough to figure that much out.

Which begged the question – why had the professor taken an interest in him?

Running a hand through his messy blond hair, he dared an upward flicker of his eyes - and froze.

The professor was staring straight at him. He’d been caught.

Alexander held very, very still. Then he realized that Elric wasn’t looking at him after all, was rather looking through him with an eerie stillness.

He tried and failed to suppress a shiver. Sometimes, just sometimes, he wished that someone slightly more ordinary had taken an interest in his talent.

Then Elric’s eyes cleared behind his glasses. He blinked at the expression on the boy’s face and flashed him a slow, toothy smile.

Screw ordinary, Alexander thought, trying valiantly to hide his pleased blush while the professor tried valiantly to suppress a chuckle.

Perhaps the man noticed more than he was given credit for.

Professor Elric was a mystery, and Alexander’s nimble, logical mind just loved mysteries. He ached to solve this one.

A true Ravenclaw, through and through, he thought, amused.

No one had ever seen the professor use magic, and yet Alexander remembered that alchemy demonstration as if it were yesterday. His own research hadn’t turned up any kind of alchemy remotely similar to what Elric had done. Something was starting to seem just a little off.

And then, of course, there was just something strange about the man himself. Elric gave off an otherworldly air that had nothing to do with his infamously reclusive nature.

Maybe it’s those eyes…they’re so odd, he mused, watching covertly as the professor took off his glasses to clean them.

He really had to stop doing that, especially since Elric kept catching him at it and giving him that look – like he was doing now.

Yeah, that look. There was that odd, almost teasing smile and the strange fire in his eyes.

Wait a minute…his eyes…is that…are they…gold?

-------------

Riddle was researching alchemy. That was strange – Alexander had never seen him take an interest in the field. Sure, he knew enough about it – but that was part of Riddle’s nature. He knew enough about almost everything. He hoped that Riddle’s research had nothing to do with Professor Elric.

True, he had passed Riddle that note, but that was more out of a sense of allegiance than anything else. After all, Riddle was the de facto leader of their little group, and if Riddle wanted something, he usually had a damned good reason for it.

Alexander pondered Riddle’s interest in the alchemy teacher. They got along well and definitely spent more time together than any normal professor and student would. It wasn’t especially surprising - Riddle was the most brilliant student Hogwarts had produced in recent memory and Elric was just as much of a genius. That was one of the first things Alexander had learnt about his professor.

No, it wasn’t surprising, but it was vexing. Riddle wasn’t even in any of Elric’s classes - Alexander liked the Slytherin, who was handsome and brilliant and charming, but did he have to have everything?

And now he was most likely pursuing the same lines of research as Alexander, trying to find out more about the professor. It just wasn’t fair.

His thoughts went on in this vein as he scanned the pile of books Riddle had left behind when he left the library. It was highly unusual behaviour for the Slytherin, who was careful to the point of paranoia, and Alexander puzzled over it until something about the way the other boy had left hit him.

He had been in a hurry. Riddle hadn’t be running, true, but if one knew him well enough one could tell that he had been walking much faster than usual.

Interesting.

His eyes widened as the titles of the books in front of him connected dots in his mind.

Very interesting.

Alexander went to Professor Elric’s office, but not before he shelved Riddle’s books.

-------------

The thick wooden door of Professor Elric’s room had never looked so daunting. Then again, he had never contemplated eavesdropping on such a dangerous conversation before, either.

Curiosity killed the cat, as it were, and he smiled as he muttered a spell under his breath and pressed his ear to the no longer sound-proof wall.

How ironic that I’m using a spell Riddle taught me to eavesdrop on a conversation he’s having.

They sounded casual, relaxed, like they were discussing something trivial. But Alexander wasn’t fooled – he has watched the professor long enough that he recognised it when there was steel beneath his soft voice as he spoke.

“You’re far too clever for your own good, Mr Riddle.”

“As are you, sir.”

“Maybe.”

“Tell me, sir, why did you do it, if you knew I was there?”

“Why did I do what?”

“Alchemy. ‘Real Alchemy.’”

“I wanted to show you.”

Silence.

“You knew I would show up.” Tom sounded highly displeased.

“Of course. I was watching you long before you began watching me back.”

This time, the silence was longer. Alexander was so caught up in listening that he jumped when the door was thrown open.

Uh oh…He froze, knowing he’d been caught red-handed. I’m so dead.

Contrary to his expectations, Elric merely raised an eyebrow and gestured expansively, looking more curious than angry.

“Come in and explain yourself, Mr Rosier.”

Somehow, that made him feel even more nervous, not to mention guilty. I…I betrayed his trust, didn’t I? He shuffled into the office obediently, sank down into a chair and suddenly wished that the floor would open up and swallow him.

Wait, what about Riddle? Alarmed, Alexander scanned the room quickly, but Riddle was nowhere in sight. Then he had more pressing things to worry about, since the professor was approaching him, and he imagined that he could see reproach in the other man’s bland expression.

Alexander braced himself. Here it comes.

“Tell me, Mr Rosier, have I done anything to make you mistrust me?” This was insane. The man seemed almost bored.

“N-no, sir.”

The professor’s eyes narrowed, and there were suddenly hands slammed against the wall, Elric’s hands, palms flat, one on each side of his head. He flinched, remembering the demonstration.

“Then why?” The professor demanded, sounding exasperated and even a little hurt.

Alexander swallowed hard. Why indeed…He could at least be honest, now.

“Y-You’re just really interesting, Professor Elric,” he managed, fighting a blush.

Elric’s expression changed, and then he was laughing. It was a very nice laugh, and it made Alexander flush again, while mentally cursing his light colouring.

When Elric finally stopped laughing, he gave Alexander an amused and almost tolerant glance.

“Oh no, I’m not interesting at all,” he said, chuckling. “You are.”

Alexander didn’t know whether to be confused or flattered. “I am?”

The professor’s expression sobered abruptly. “It’s a pity…” He trailed off, and there was something almost wistful in his voice. “You really do remind me of him…”

Those eyes were disconcerting up close. I was right – they are gold. Captivated, Alexander held himself still and gazed back steadily while he tried to form a question.

That was why he didn’t see Riddle stand from his crouching position behind the desk.

Obliviate!”

-------------

I shouldn’t have done that.

I wouldn’t have done it to Al.

Al would never follow someone like Riddle.

I’m sorry, Alexander.

I’m doing this for Al, after all.


On the Principle of Equivalent Trade

Neither of them winced as the professor slammed his left palm against the wall, somehow managing to loom and stare down at Tom despite being of…less than average height.

Well, I suppose he’s had a lot of practice, Tom thought, but he didn’t let amusement show on his face. It was dangerous to be complacent around this man.

He wasn’t wearing his glasses today. Up close, the gold eyes were huge and burning, like twin suns, consumed as they currently were by rage. Elric’s voice was a low hiss when he spoke.

I thought we had an agreement!”

Tom met his furious gaze head on, smirking serenely. “I haven’t broken it.”

Elric almost snarled at him, but reined himself in at the last moment with what seemed to be great effort. The fire in his eyes settled, solidified, until his gaze turned cold and assessing.

“No, I suppose not,” he said slowly, as if a new thought had suddenly occurred to him. Then he laughed, and Tom knew the man well enough by now to recognize that it wasn’t his real laugh. “You think you can get away with what you’ve done?”

Tom let his eyes widen in faux-innocence. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Professor.”

There was the telltale sound of metal scraping against metal, and then Elric’s right fist hit the wall, barely inches from his head. Tom didn’t flinch as he leaned in even closer, until he could see himself reflected in mirror-like eyes. Still, the professor gave him a tiny smirk, so he must have given himself away somehow.

Damn him for noticing, anyway.

“I’m hurt that you’d lie to me, Mr Riddle,” Elric said, still smirking.

Tom lifted his head, which bought them even closer. He could almost count the professor’s pale lashes.

“How do I know you’re not bluffing?” he sniffed disdainfully, although a part of him was in fact presently engaged with counting the professor’s eyelashes. I really must ask him how old he is sometime. Should be an entertaining conversation.

Elric braced himself on his left hand only to wag a finger in his face. “The diary, Tom.”

He blinked. The professor had always spoken of Tom’s unsavoury activities vaguely in the past, so to have him mention something so bluntly was a surprise, to say the least.

But then, he had asked the man to prove that he wasn’t bluffing.

Wait a minute, did he just call me -?

Tom gritted his teeth. “What are you going to do about it, Professor?”

The grim and assessing look in Elric’s eyes vanished, as he made up his mind about something. He was grinning, as if he understood the source of Tom’s displeasure.

“Oh, I don’t know…Whatever shall I do, Tom?”

And obviously, no matter how he had slipped up in the first place and called him by his first name, he was going to keep doing it, just to irritate Tom.

That was only a minor problem, though. The greater game, that was safe, that was fine. That was a battle he could win, and he knew it.

So Tom gave the man his most charming smile. “You’re asking me?” he replied, voice mild and even.

Elric tapped his chin thoughtfully.

“Well, you see, one of my favourite students did some pretty awful stuff, but I liked him enough to ask him to stop instead of turning him over to the terrifying whims of Professor Dumbledore...” he whispered, his voice shaking with suppressed laughter. “Now he’s done something horribly illegal yet again, and I know the right thing to do would be to turn him in, but I’m so conflicted!” He gave Tom a wide-eyed look, then broke down and laughed at the bland expression on Tom’s face.

It was hard to keep a neutral expression, dammit. The monologue was amusing precisely because it was untrue, but there was also a twisted irony in it that he could appreciate. And, of course, Elric played the part of the conflicted yet good-natured mentor well.

Biting back a grin, Elric gave him another innocent, wide-eyed look. “So advise me, Tom. What am I to do?”

Tom smiled. He knew precisely what to say now.

“You’re going to keep quiet,” he whispered back, as if sharing a secret, “just like you did before.”

He got an appraising stare. “Why would I do that?”

“Because you don’t really like him, do you? You only keep quiet because he has something you want.” He paused, considering his next words and wondering if they were better left unsaid.

No. Better to leave things in the open.

Tom went on. “Now you keep quiet because he knows things about you that no one else does. And you want to keep it that way.”

Elric opened his mouth, but he seemed to change his mind half way and swallow his words. A frown marred his brow briefly, but then he smiled again.

“Very good. There’s just one thing you’ve got wrong.”

Tom kept his bland mask in place, but it was an effort. What’s he up to now?

“Really? What’s that?”

The professor’s smile widened, which set off alarm bells in the back of his mind, but he held still, determined not to flinch, as he leaned in close enough to whisper in Tom’s ear.

“I do like you, Tom.”

This time, he did flinch, but Elric must not have been feeling particularly vindictive, since it made him back away, arms finally falling back to his sides. Tom’s uncontrollable urge to hex the professor blind lessened.

When he spoke again, his voice was steady. “You’re a bastard, Professor.”

Elric was staring back at him, eyes inscrutable. “Only to those who deserve it.”

“Should I be insulted?” he asked, half amused and half annoyed. He gets the better of me far too often.

“Should you?”

Tom narrowed his eyes. “I’m not that different from you.”

That earned him a thoughtful look. “True...but the differences are pretty obvious. I’m more of a researcher. You’re not. You want to use everything.”

He laughed. Hypocrite. “And you don’t?”

Elric shook his head. “Not everything. My goals aren’t nearly as sinister as yours.”

Speaking of which..."There’s something I’ve been wondering.” He had been wondering a lot of things about the professor, actually, and now seemed like a good time for answers.

Elric gave him a look that said quite plainly ‘keep wondering’. Something about their first private conversation nagged at him. Equivalent trade, huh…

The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. “I can forget about what happened to Rosier, if you’ll oblige me.”

What – why did I offer that, just to satisfy idle curiosity? Stupid.

Sighing, Elric dropped down onto the chair behind his desk. “Ask away then. Five questions, but make it quick and simple. I’ve got tons of grading to do.”

Well, that was easy. Maybe I’ll get something useful out of this. Question one…

“Why did you do that to Rosier? He would probably have kept quiet about everything.” Tom shook his head derisively. “I think he was actually jealous of me. He positively adored you.”

Elric gave him a mocking smile. “I know. I didn’t mean to encourage it.”

“Then…” he trailed off, not wanting to waste a question.

“I know how to work with you,” Elric murmured, a wistful look lingering in his eyes. “I had no idea what to do with him. Next question, if you please.”

Interesting. I wonder what it is about Rosier that makes Elric so nostalgic. If he phrased these questions right, even the most innocuous could be a gold mine of information. Tom smiled to himself. This was far too much fun. Question two. “Why do you spend so much time and effort on teaching when it interferes with your goal?”

Elric frowned. “I like teaching the bright ones. If I’m going to be doing something, I might as well do it properly.”

Even so…

“That’s not the only reason,” Tom said, trying to prompt for more without using up a question.

“Well, no. I’m useless to Dumbledore. If I didn’t do a good job teaching he’d run me out for freeloading.”

What would Dumbledore want Elric for? Unless…"He asked for your help with Grindelwald, didn’t he?” Question three: and now we come to the interesting part of this conversation…

“Yeah, and I turned him down. I can’t do that much alchemy, you know. And then only in magical places.”

“You can’t?” And even more interesting…Question four.

“It’s just not compatible enough to magic, or at least that’s what I think.” Elric sighed, spreading his hands in an expansive gesture. “There you have it. I’m useless to you.”

Tom arched an eyebrow. He wasn’t going to waste a question on something like this, but there had been something he had wanted to ask earlier…

The professor stood up, though, effectively signalling the end of the conversation. Amber eyes, intense and deadly serious, stared into his. “You can’t use me, so don’t make me an enemy, Tom.”

He recognised the intent behind the words. Finality - the professor had had enough and no more probing questions would be answered.

Well, he’s been more cooperative than I thought he’d be. Something else for the last question then…Tom smiled as his own earlier thoughts came back to him. Yes, that would work.

Elric looked wary – he probably knew what that smile meant by now. Still, he made no move to chase the Slytherin out.

Tom took a step towards the desk. He wanted to see the professor’s reaction almost as much as he wanted the answer.

“Professor – how old are you?”

Surely enough, surprise and then confusion flashed across Elric’s face before he managed to hide it. His eyes narrowed. “Why are you asking?”

“I’m just curious,” Tom replied, shrugging, although he was smirking inside.

Elric frowned and shook his head. “You wouldn’t believe me.”

The words were out before he could stop them. “Tell me your name, then. Even the professors call you by your last name.”

Why did I…?

It was worth it, though, for the very real expression of surprise that flashed across Elric’s face and stayed this time, the professor either unable or unwilling to conceal it.

Silence reigned as Elric’s brow furrowed in thought. His face cleared as he came to a decision.

“Dumbledore uses my name, not that I want him to,” he confided in a whisper, leaning over the desk and giving Tom his teasing smile.

Well, at least we have that in common - a shared dislike of the master of this school.

“My name…is Edward.”

-------------

I gave him my name. Why did I do that?

I shouldn’t have told him so much. It’s hard, though. Hard to lie.

Not that telling him the complete truth about Rosier was an option.

Even if Alexander adored me, he would only follow you in the end. For his sake, you don’t need to know that.

I’m trying to help you, Tom.

You’re just as much of a genius as I am, but there’s one thing you’ll probably never understand…

I really do like you, Tom.

-------------

If Tom was in the habit of lying to himself, he would say that he studied often in the professor’s office because he liked the comfortable armchairs, the warmth and quiet of the place, and Elric’s excellent coffee. Because he didn’t lie, at least not to himself, he was forced to admit that as nice as those things were, it was really the man’s company that has made him return, time and again.

Listen to me, I sound like Rosier. It wasn’t an entirely fair comparison – Tom didn’t quite like the professor, not the way Rosier did, but he found the man fascinating, and not for any reason he could pinpoint.

There was admiration as well, because Elric was a walking encyclopaedia when it came to many subjects, magical or otherwise, and because he had a sharp mind that knew what to do with his knowledge.

It was exciting, to have someone whose fierce intellect could match up well against his, who saw through his mask of the perfect student to the ruthlessly ambitious young man underneath, and yet accorded him neither fear nor awe.

The fact that Elric didn’t hate or patronize him and instead held a twisted sort of vague affection for him also helped.

The professor was usually good company because he was quiet and unobtrusive while he worked, answered academic questions freely and welcomed heated discussions.

Tonight seemed to be an exception.

Tom watched, bemused, as yet another piece of parchment landed in the fire place. Elric growled something unintelligible under his breath and went back to writing, but Tom’s concentration was gone. He was far too curious.

It wouldn’t do to let the man know he was being watched, though, so he pretended to work. Eventually, a snatch of intelligible words caught his attention.

“Damn that old man…”

Tom suppressed a smirk. “Professor Dumbledore giving you trouble, sir?”

Elric’s head snapped up at his voice, and he looked almost embarrassed, as if ashamed to be caught talking to himself.

To Tom’s disappointment, though, the professor recovered quickly and flashed him a small smirk. “You would think that, wouldn’t you?”

This is more interesting than History of Magic homework any day.

He smiled. “Am I right?”

Elric slumped back into his chair, sighing heavily. It was times like these when he let his exhaustion show that made Tom wonder if the professor was much, much older than he looked.

“Afraid not, Tom.”

His tone was clipped and precise, not at all like his usual self. The man was clearly tired, restless and irritable, but Tom couldn’t and didn’t resist the impulse to push further. Maybe he’ll be more forthcoming if he’s too tired to guard himself.

“Who, then?”

He tried to keep his tone bland, but Elric’s eyes came awake anyway, focusing and settling on his face. Whatever the professor read in his expression made him raise an eyebrow.

“Talkative today, aren’t you?”

“Only because you’re distracting me, professor,” he shot back, letting his lips curve up into his courteous, bland, and usually inscrutable smile.

It was unfortunate that the ‘inscrutable’ part often didn’t apply to this man. Who was now smirking at him.

“So I’m a distraction? You could always go back to your common room and work there.”

You’re not getting rid of me that easily.

“You still haven’t answered my question, sir.”

Elric laughed, and the image of the bone-weary traveller was gone, leaving only the erudite, energetic and strict professor behind. “Awfully persistent of you.”

“You encourage persistence, sir.” Let him take that however he wants to. It would be nice to give him something to think about, at least.

Unfortunately his reply didn’t faze the man, if the suddenly playful gleam in amber eyes was any indication.

“Equivalent exchange, Tom. You admit out loud that you come here for more than the atmosphere and the opportunity to use me as a reference book, and I’ll tell you why I was so annoyed.”

If I didn’t know for sure that he doesn’t know Legilimency…

He gritted his teeth. “Why does it matter?”

That earned him a disbelieving look, as if he was missing something completely obvious.

“You tell me, Tom. Why do you want to know so much about me? It’s the same thing.”

That’s what I’m trying to figure out! If I knew why…

Elric gave him a rueful grin. “Not everyone has to be a tool for you, Tom. It’s okay to have some things for the sake of enjoying them.”

You don’t understand. I have a purpose!

Or maybe you do.

Still…“You can’t mean to say you enjoy having me around.”

Elric smiled at him then, but for once it was open and honest, like no other expression he’d ever seen on the man’s face.

“What do you think, Tom?”

I…I don’t know.

You want to stop me at every turn, and yet you profess to like me? You’re insane.

Whatever flashed across his face at that thought made Elric’s smile vanish and his usual bland expression take its place. Tom felt suddenly chilled at the familiar inscrutable façade.

There’s an opportunity here…I can feel it. He didn’t understand it, but he did know that it would pass him by if he didn’t grasp it.

His mouth bypassed his brain with alarming frequency around this man. This time, Tom willingly allowed it.

“Professor?”

“Hmm?”

He still didn’t understand Elric, but at least he knew what to say.

“You’re right. I do come here for more than just that.” Tom let that sink in, and then went on, smiling. “There’s also your excellent coffee.”

He didn’t want to know what his eyes were telling the man, but it made Elric smile again. It was bright, with sharp edges to it, and that was just as it should be.

“Yeah, nobody else around here knows how to appreciate a good cup of coffee,” he declared, deadpan. “Highly unfortunate.”

“Tragic,” Tom replied, allowing himself something that could almost be called a real smile. “Equivalent trade, professor.”

Elric sighed. “Yeah, I know. It’s not really that interesting…just reading some of my father’s old letters.”

Tom’s eyebrows climbed into his hairline. “You don’t like your father?”

He got a slightly twisted grin in answer. “He left my mother when I was very young and never came back, even when she died. I hated him.”

‘I hate that stupid muggle. He abandoned mother just because she was a witch, even when she was pregnant with his child. I hate him!’

One of these days, he’s going to stop surprising me.

Not today, though.



Epilogue: Homeward Bound

"Tom.”

“Yes, Professor?”

Don’t let your soul get destroyed by pride.

I don’t want to see you succumb to death and hate.

Don’t do it.

“…never mind.”

-------------

“Professor Dumbledore. You wanted to talk?”

“How many times have I told you, Edward? Please, call me Albus.”

“You wanted to talk, Albus?”

If I can deal with this smug bastard on a daily basis…that Colonel is never getting a rise out of me again.

He’d be an old man by now, anyway.

“I wanted to ask how the preparations for your journey are going.”

“Fairly well. I should be ready on time.”

“So quickly? The Festival of Saints is only a week away.”

“I’ll be ready. If I screw it up I’ll have to wait another year.”

I have to be ready on time. No more waiting.

“I should think the consequences of failure for you would be far worse than that.”

“Probably.”

“You are unconcerned with what could happen?”

“Of course I’m concerned. But what else is there to do but try it?”

“Edward. Do you really despise this world so much?”

“…no. But I have to go back, you know that.”

“You have formed no attachments at all here, then?”

“You know the answer to that.”

Bastard. No attachments? What do you call it, then?

What would you call it? Alexander. Tom.

…Alphonse.

“…”

Stop twinkling at me!

“What do you want me to do, Albus?”

“You’re on far better terms with Mr Riddle than I, Edward.”

“That’s not exactly difficult, if you’ll pardon me for saying so. Again, I ask: what do you want me to do?”

“Whatever you can, Edward. You can’t want to see him go further down the path he’s on.”

You don’t know, Dumbledore…if what I’ve already done isn’t enough, then there’s nothing else.

“What I want…is irrelevant.”

-------------

In the end, science had failed Edward. All he had actually needed to reach the Gate was energy, but it had to be a stable source, not to mention one of overwhelming capacity, if he was going to have enough for calling on the Gate after the loss that resulted in the transition from magic to his alchemy.

The answer, when it came to him, was blindingly obvious. The biggest source of magical energy around was his own place of residence for the past few years – Hogwarts.

He had spent years and years perfecting his theory, calculating the optimum time and method for the attempted crossing, knowing that when the time came, he would not hesitate to abandon this world for his own.

There’s no Al in this world. Even if there had been…

…Alphonse…

He’s dead.

On the Halloween night of 1943, Edward closed his eyes, pressed his hands to the stone walls of the dungeons deep below the school and spoke to the castle.

It was ancient and sentient in a way that was beyond human comprehension, but it would hear him out and understand his words.

Help me, he entreated, and showed it what he wanted. This was safe, because there was no equivalent exchange here, and Hogwarts was not the Gate. It would not demand a price, only deign to let him borrow its essence, or not.

Edward did not flinch as it brushed over his mind – the mental touch was light, and it was only curious.

Hogwarts did not speak for human understanding, but he knew what it meant when he was enveloped by its consciousness like a warm embrace.

Yes.

Light poured into him, and he opened himself for it, accepted its invading touch, let it overwhelm him. It would be alright.

His mind was blank, save for one thing – the massive, spiralling array that would call the Gate. It was his masterpiece, second only to the array he had used to revive Al.

Please, take me back to him.

The light filled him until he was numb. He could no longer feel the stone wall under his hands or the chill of the dungeons. For a moment, nothing existed.

And then he opened his eyes and saw the Gate.

The Gate, like Hogwarts, was sentient in a way beyond human understanding. However, it lacked the neutrality with which Hogwarts viewed the world from its limited perspective. The Gate was far more interested in the torment of men.

It did not speak, but he understood.

What Is It You Want This Time, Child? We Tire Of Dealing With You.

This is the last time. You know what I want. Take me back to the other side.

Do You Not Care About the Price?

Edward did care about the price, but that was only a secondary concern. What did it matter if he lost more limbs, if he could keep his brother from paying in his stead?

Name it.

He could sense amusement now, and that combined with the unsettling sensation of mocking laughter as it echoed in his mind told him all he needed to know.

It was going to be horrible.

We Will Grant Your Wish. In Return, You Will Be Forgotten In The World You Did Not Belong To.

Forgotten?

All Traces of You Will Fade In Those You Have Met.

Why would it matter? I haven’t interfered with this world…

It almost seemed too easy.

It Is A Far Greater Price Than You Know, Foolish Child.

He thought of Alexander, bright eyed, scholarly, pliant Alexander, who looked at him as if he was the sun and followed Tom far too easily.

He thought of Tom, handsome, brilliant, ambitious Tom, with his blue eyes so dark they were almost black, and so much hatred for the world within himself.

The Gate showed him – falling darkness blood so much hatred so many dead I am Lord Voldemort - and he understood.

No.

The Price Is Set. Enough.

No. You can’t do that!

I’m sorry, Tom.

Black hands reached out from the open doors of the Gate and pulled him inside.

Hold on, Al, I’m coming back.

-------------

There was cold floor beneath his back when he woke, as well as a strange crackling sensation on his skin. Edward had been so long without real, undiluted alchemy that it took him a few seconds to recognise the feeling, and then he opened his eyes and sat up.

What he saw made his heart clench. He was in the middle of a large, glowing array. One he immediately recognized.

Thankfully, it hadn’t been fully activated yet. And the small figure kneeling by it was…

Al! Al, stop!”

The boy’s head snapped up at that, the expression on his face going from shock to relief to heartfelt happiness as he snatched his hands away from the array and scrambled up.

Brother!”

There. That one word…that’s got to be worth anything I can give.

The array died without Al to concentrate on it, but that was just as well, because Al was running towards him, holding back tears; Al was launching himself into Ed’s arms and tackling him to the floor in a bear hug; Al was smiling, grey eyes watery but brilliant, and holding him as if he’d never let go.

That’s definitely my Al, Ed thought, content for the first time in many years, as he held on and fought against the sudden tight feeling in his chest at the sight of his brother, whole and human and…

Wait a minute…

Young?

Before he could ponder the implications, a door banged open somewhere above them, and Edward heard another painfully familiar voice, shouting his brother’s name.

“Alphonse! Alphonse, you can’t d-” Roy Mustang froze, eye widening in shock.

Long time no see, Colonel bastard.

But then he glanced down at Al in his arms, Mustang standing in the doorway, perhaps not well but definitely alive, and he suddenly couldn’t find the words. It was only mildly reassuring that the Colonel was having the same problem.

Eventually, Edward managed to speak. “It’s alright now,” he murmured, voice strained and broken.

Al’s arms tightened around him.

It’s really alright…Al hasn’t hurt himself, I’m back, and you’re alive…it’s not so bad.

He’d ask about the eye patch later.

Distractedly, he patted the top of Al’s head while Mustang made his way slowly towards them, incredulity warring with relief in his oddly open expression. There had been something wrong with the transition between worlds – Al looked like a teenager, and Mustang’s hair was still dark.

What happened? The time isn’t the same as it was in the other world.

And then he smiled. Of course - the Gate has no concept of time. I was thinking of Al, so it must have dropped me where it could feel him the most strongly, and that’s got to be when he’s attempting to call the Gate himself.

He had been just in time to stop his brother from endangering himself. Not only that, he realized with a rising sense of hope - he wasn’t going to miss seeing Al growing up after all. It was almost too good to be true. Edward couldn’t find it within himself to complain.

He tightened his grip on Al. No matter what happens next, we’ll get through everything together.

“Welcome back,” Mustang finally managed, his voice strangely quiet. Ed glanced up to see the man giving him a smile with none of the edge he remembered. There was no smugness in that expression, for once, only heartfelt emotion.

Once in a lifetime, that.

That was okay. Ed had already lived several.

Don’t fall too far, Tom.

“I’m home.”

---------------------------------------

Summer 1944, Little Hangleton, Britain

Tom felt strangely free and light. With every step he took down his chosen path, confusion and doubt had melted away, leaving only the shape of future glory behind. Certainty had carried him here, to this muggle neighbourhood.

There was something nagging him, though, at the back of his mind. He brushed it away, annoyed. It wasn’t quite doubt - just a strangely familiar voice, whispering into his ear.

You can do great things, Tom. Just don’t let it consume you. That’s when you forget yourself. There was more - a soft, even voice that belonged to someone who knew his nature, and was nevertheless confident, understanding and unafraid. A flash of gold.

He couldn’t grasp them. They faded away, as if they’d never been. There was nothing left in his mind – his goal had consumed all else, became an obsession, raging and uncontrollable.

But there was unfinished business, first. There would be death here tonight, in the Riddle house.

Yes, death will come tonight for that man - the one who gave Tom his name. Not that it mattered – that filthy muggle name was gone now, purified by fire into something glorious and immortal.

A name wizards and witches all over the world will one day fear to speak.

Tom Marvolo Riddle - I am Lord Voldemort.