Roy really shouldn’t be surprised: leave Fullmetal alone for ten minutes, his brother gets kidnapped by teleporting teenagers; leave him alone for two hours, he breaks magic and invents a new kind of exorcism. Leave him alone for two and a half hours and he’s in a standoff with the local political linchpin - who is also apparently an alchemist - and has practically laid out the blueprints for one of alchemy’s most dangerous secrets. In front of practically every eyewitness possible. At volume.
Though given he recognized the base array as a soul-binder, it seems Albus already knew about the secret of philosopher’s stones.
“Hold on,” Black says sharply, from where he’s clustered with the children by the doorway. “The Fidelius is still in effect, isn’t it? Even if he did see something -”
But Bones’ eyes have widened and then gone grim. “Not being able to find it doesn’t mean they can’t still cock us up. When was it?”
That’s to Edward. “Like twenty minutes ago,” he says caustically, standing over the array he’s completed, tested and executed directly against Roy’s express orders. Roy’s own mistake, to an extent; he knows how to make an order stick with Edward, but he’d been distracted. “We weren’t exactly looking at a clock.”
Albus doesn’t do anything so explicit as exhale in relief, but his posture shifts enough to broadcast he finds this a positive outcome. “Sever us felt the call shortly after we left for the ministry.”
“This isn’t evidence that he did not have access,” Roy says, because while there are times to let Fullmetal talk this is not one of them. Roy is not looking for a direct confrontation with Albus, not now and ideally not ever, not least because there’s still so much they don’t know about wizards - like, oh, their alchemy - and as things stand he’s going to have a hard enough time keeping Edward from saying some damn fool thing about soul transmutation. Better to deflect them all now. “Director. If this location is compromised - what are our options?”
“We stay put,” Bones states. “For now. Fidelius erases the location, but if Voldemort knows it’s Grimmauld place and cross-references it with black properties - they may not be able to find the building itself, but they can surround its approximate location and shut off flue access. Everyone would have to apparate out or create portkeys for each trip. And we wouldn’t be able to bring in anyone new.”
“Why haven’t they done that already?” Maes says bluntly, shifting out to the side so that he’s still behind Roy but no longer between him and the door. “What’s stopped them from feeding Mr. Snape some of your truth serum and forcing him to expose us all?”
“Being a perfect Ocklumens protects him from the dark mark, to an extent,” Albus says without looking away from the array. “It was a lucky stroke. The dark mark renders one incapable of lying to Voldemort, so he does not bother with verita serum and thinks sever us can tell him only the truth.”
That is nowhere near airtight. “We need a secondary location,” Bones says brusquely, apparently on the same wavelength. “We need to start preparing a backup with Fidelius now, not later. Right now the plan is to scatter if compromised -” this said directly to Roy - “but it will no longer suffice.”
“I fear you may be right,” Albus says, leaving off scrutinizing the circle to look at the rest of the wizards. “Molly. May we prevail upon you to use the burrow?”
Molly Weasley’s face flashes with startlement, uncertainty, fear and then determination. “Of course, Albus. Of course.”
“Please go there directly.” Albus’ serious gaze sweeps further. “Tonks, bill, Arthur - you know the groundwork for the Fidelius. I must ask you to begin without me. Take the children - it must appear as though you have all arrived from diagonally, returning from an uneventful shopping trip. Send patronuses to Dedalus and Emmaline and have them over for tea until we can complete the Fidelius. We cannot afford to be caught off guard. Hairy,” he continues, locking eyes with the boy. “I’m afraid I must ask you to stay for the time being. As you are currently officially missing and must stay as such, we cannot risk you being located, even without your wand.”
So Albus can give orders, and think tactically, and be obeyed: a general after all. Sending away the majority of witnesses, under a pretense that is actually a very good reason, would be a maneuver Roy would support out of sheer common sense if not for the fact that allowing Albus to stabilize his position may prove highly disadvantageous later. Roy could argue that sending civilians from a secure location to an unsecured one is folly at best, but given that this group already has serious problems managing secure information, getting as many people as possible away from any potential reveal of how philosopher’s stones are made is a higher priority.
But then Bones steps forward, a staying hand raised towards the Weasleys. “Hold on a moment, Albus,” she says. “Mad eye should determine whether the burrow would be our best option, before we go expending time and energy on the Fidelius. He has the most experience establishing safehouses, and he can go alone, discreetly, or better yet with shackle bolt. We shouldn’t be moving regardless, until we know what exactly you know who wanted from Snape. Pretending normalcy isn’t as important as staying alive. Right now we don’t know why Snape was summoned, and we don’t know what you know who might have found out. Could be there’s death eaters already lying in wait at all our homes, not just in the burrow.” The twist of her mouth can’t be called a smile. “Remember how my brothers died?”
And that very clearly roots the Weasleys, Arthur’s face pale and Molly’s hands gripping tight on her childrens’ shoulders. “So until Snape returns we shall just have to wait,” Bones concludes, her tone brooking no argument. “Now - what is this alchemy, Albus?” Her eyes are sharp on Albus’ face: asking a fellow wizard for an explanation, not the Amestrisans who made it, which is a neat little step to maintain her position on the wizarding side even if she did just directly countermand their leader. “What’s this about tampering with souls?”
“We told you, this array doesn’t affect souls,” Edward starts, but Roy hardly has to glance at Riza next to him; she shifts her weight, not even moving into Edward’s line of sight, and his mouth shuts with a near-audible click.
Albus is also looking at Edward. “So you say, and I must believe you,” he says soberly, by all appearances accepting both topic change and Bones’ public override of his orders. “When you called yourself an expert on soul transmutation I thought it to be a medical study only, the way our healers study the comatose and the victims of obliviation, those whose bodies are damaged but whose souls must still carry their whole selves. But this - I have only seen circles like this once, in my studies with Flamel. And he only shared that alchemy too has its branch of dark arts, and that should I see an array like this I should never attempt to activate it, only know it for the danger it is.”
And isn’t that a cute little bit of deflection, Roy registers, as the wizards all look alarmed and Edward makes dire eye contact. Roy tries to telepathically strangle him away from saying anything that even rhymes with necromancy. “Alphonse,” he says aloud. “You were working within his qi, were you not?”
“Yes,” Alphonse says easily, as calm and unaffected as he’d been inking the alkahestric array onto Roy’s forearm and sinking the needle into his skin: routine procedure, nothing to worry about here. “That is what this array is designed to target: the frequency patterns of magical qi. It’s how we were able to remove the werewolf curse from Mr. loop in.”
This turns everyone's attention to Lupin, who gives a slightly embarrassed nod of agreement, as if to prove that he is both cured and still very much full of soul. “Lots of arrays look similar,” Edward adds sourly. “Especially to laymen. A water synthesis array looks a hell of a lot like the first stage of a hydrogen explosive, but that doesn't mean we freak out every time some two-bit alchemist decides to water his garden. And it’s why we don’t mess with arrays we don’t know, because if you just decide to jump right in without a single fuckin’ clue what you’re doing -”
“You said it was my soul,” an angry teenage voice cuts in - it’s the Hairy boy, shaken off his cluster of compatriots and standing with fists tight slightly ahead of them. “You said Voldemort was in me and that he was going to give birth -”
“And you said it was because of the wand being connected to lord waterballoon,” Edward fires back immediately. “What the fuck’s up with that?”
“Give birth?” Bones says sharply.
“I believe that may be part of the language barrier,” Alphonse says placidly. “It was an analogy to describe the attachment and I’m not sure it came across in translation.”
“And his wand?” Roy says, before they can start a derailment that will only get them medical jargon from Alphonse.
“When two wands have an identical core, using them in a duel against one another can cause a certain… reaction,” Albus says, and Bones nods, though she’s still eyeing Hairy like she expects his forehead to split and reveal a gourd full of flesheating spiders. “A connection can form, and neither wizard is able to cast spells until it destabilizes and breaks. Any magic channeled through the wands while so connected is absorbed into that connection.”
Edward squints his way through that. “Like when Scar tried to blow your arm off again and you cancelled him out,” Alphonse tells him helpfully. “I think.”
A timely reminder that compared to Fullmetal’s usual array testing practices, this morning was practically a twelve-step peer review with a full safety inspection, independent oversight panel and head to toe body armor for everyone involved. Roy should probably be grateful he didn’t come back to the Hairy boy strapped down in the middle of the circle with Alphonse halfway through an open heart surgery. This is why he keeps Fullmetal’s leash long; it’s so much easier to deal with when he can just point wide-eyed at the successful results and claim plausible deniability.
“I think we would all benefit from knowing what exactly it was that you did to Hairy,” Albus says.
“Okay, firstly, he did it to himself, because he and the fuckin’ dog-deal pervert here were sneaking around fucking shapeshifted and invisible. Do not think I’m going to forget about that,” Edward says sharply, pointing directly at Black. “Secondly, the only thing we did was build a node matrix that targets very specific EM frequencies and creates a null field that absorbs all the relevant energy. He’s the one who jumped in -”
“It negates magic,” Roy says, cutting him off. Better to focus the wizards’ attention early. If Albus is bothering to exhibit military leadership - and Bones is making her own moves - then she needs to know the resources available to her and understand where she has decided to tread. Roy tips his chin at Edward. “Demonstrate.”
Edward makes a tch noise - he probably thinks it sounds less like a sneezing Pomeranian than it does - and turns on his heel to his array, the circle igniting at his touch. “I’m sorry,” Bill Weasley says slowly as it lights up, “did you say negates… magic?”
“Negates, turns off, neutralizes,” Edward says impatiently.
“We wanted to test cursed objects first, to make sure everything functioned as intended,” Alphonse says, somehow managing to sound both professionally abashed and pointedly reproving. “But events moved… out of our hands.”
Roy doesn’t believe for a second that Alphonse did not take control of at least part of what had occurred: the Elrics wouldn’t be standing around discussing the postmortem if things really had gotten out of control. “I believe you were levitating them,” Alphonse continues, to Lupin, gesturing at a small pile of glinting junk in the grass between them. “Would you help us in our demonstration? You have the relevant expertise with curses, I believe.”
“If it cured a wear wolf I don’t think that lot’s going to give you much trouble,” Bill Weasley says, eyes fixed on the array.
“Results aren’t real until they’re reproducible,” Alphonse says serenely. “Besides, I’m sure your observations will be invaluable. We aren’t the experts in magic, after all.”
“I… yes,” Lupin says, stepping forward and drawing his wand. “I’d be happy to help.”
The rest of the wizards look like they’re not quite sure what to do with the entire concept, the expressions ranging from skeptical to baffled to apprehensive. Bones’ own face is assessing, eyes narrowed; she doesn’t look disbelieving, but she’s clearly understood there’s no point committing to a reaction now when the claim is about to be tested right in front of her. Albus is less readable, beyond a clear focus on Fullmetal and the array: looks can be deceiving, but Roy is downgrading the senility hypothesis in probability anyway.
The object Lupin chooses looks like a dusty, dully faded music box, its lid popped and a scuffed-up figure of a woman in some kind of dancer’s pose sticking out. “Wing guard levy Osa,” he recites, wand pointed, which lifts the box to about waist height and sends it bobbing over into the array.
The second it crosses over the threshold the entire circle flares white, the box dropping like a stone, purplish light flickering wildly over its surface before being redirected almost instantly into the energy pathway of the inscribed array. There’s a faint creaking yelp of music, distorting strangely and then abruptly cutting off as the light dies back down - and then just the array, glowing steadily, with the magic box lying inert and somehow even duller just inside its borders. The whole thing lasted less than three seconds.
Edward proceeds to reach in, pick up the box in one hand and toss it up and down, catching it on the edge. “O-kay, that was a lot fuckin’ faster than last time, but you get the gist,” he says. “Here. Catch.”
He tosses it to Lupin, who to his credit hardly fumbles before catching it to his chest. “See? No more curse,” Edward says. “Now pop the rest of that shit in, let’s see what happens.”
“It… does appear to have been cleared,” Lupin says, carefully changing his grip on the thing in the manner of a man who has caught a grenade and only after realized it to be a training dummy. “Evalare.”
That’s with his wand pointed at the box, which does nothing. Lupin glances at Albus and Bones, then begins levitating the rest. One after another the items produce more or less the same result, with only minor variations in the intensity and color of light. Edward watches it all with a critical look, the ditch between his brows dug deep in the familiar look of dangerous concentration that Roy has always privately felt shouldn’t so deceptively resemble an angry pug. “Throw all that last shit in together,” Edward orders, gesturing at the remaining cluster of garbage in the grass when there are only three or four items left. “Multiple points of interaction, let’s go.”
The grouped items go much the same way as their predecessors. “A universal cursebreaker,” Bill Weasley says somewhat breathlessly as the last of the lights die down, leaving just a pile of junk just inside the outermost line.
“And it doesn’t do shit to souls,” Edward adds, stepping inside over the border with hardly a flicker and kicking at the inert shell of the music box. “See how my soul didn’t go pop out like a champagne cork.”
“It also negates whatever field is generated by the translation stones,” Alphonse adds, angled towards the wizards as if their alarmed and incomprehending faces are simply because they suddenly can’t understand Edward. “So from in there you can’t understand him, and he can’t understand you.”
Which creates an opportunity for truly secure communications, Roy recognizes, without having to resort to passing notes. He’s not going to bet on Bones speaking no Amestrisan, but that’s not enough to mitigate the advantage. “So that’s how we fuckin’ fixed your hairy kid,” Edward continues, stepping back out again. “The fuckin’ thing was stuck onto him with magic, so by removing all the magic from him, we broke off everything that was stuck on, too. Same as what fucking happened with mustache there. And why he freaked out and thought he was a, whatever the fuck, one of those muggy people of yours.”
“A muggle?” Bones says intently. “It can take away someone’s magic permanently?”
“Well, no,” Edward starts.
“This particular array does not,” Roy says, before Edward can defang his own killswitch. It was always going to be inevitable that they would disclose what it could do, given they’re dependent on the vigilante wizards to effectively execute their ambush in any case, but there’s no need to give away everything: better for the wizards to think they can shut off their magic permanently, just in case. Which they very well might: Edward had gotten rid of his own alchemy once, after all. “We felt it best to keep the effect temporary for now.”
“You can negate magic,” repeats Bill Weasley, somewhat dazedly. “How?”
Edward goes to drag his hands down his face, visibly disgusts himself by whatever’s on his gloves and transfers the look to the wizards. “Unless you’re a fucking expert in electromagnetic radiation,” he says with exaggerated patience, “that question is not gonna explain things like you think it will.”
“Magic is a form of energy,” Alphonse says in conciliatory tones, nodding at his brother. “He figured out how to trap it.”
“Any magic?” Bill Weasley presses. “Any spell?”
Edward makes one of his complex operatic gestures that he also probably thinks is more illustrative than it is. “I can’t say there aren’t types of magic because none of you have studied it and I still haven’t been to a library - but so far it absorbs fields, that’s translation stones, and shit that’s latent or anchored or hosted or whatever in both dead and living organic matter. That’s the kid and his magic stick. So that’s, I dunno, three kinds? Two? I could tell you more if we did more testing, only we fucking invented this whole fucking thing this morning - anyway. None of this matters.”
Here his face splits into a savage grin, a toothy reminder that despite the snub nose and caramelized features he’s less pug than piranha. “The only thing you need to care about is how bad your lord fuckface is fucked. We set this up right, he’s done. All his magic, out the fucking window.”
A small, busy silence follows, as the relevant implications land and begin to bloom into the kind of intense, worrying looks Fullmetal tends to get from senior officers. Roy usually tries to prevent these by sending Edward out of Central at every available opportunity, but situations like these are exactly what he sends Fullmetal to, and in this case he’s not at all opposed to scaring the locals.
Albus in particular is staring at them with an expression that says a lot of information is being updated in a great hurry. “We did tell you,” Roy tells him lightly. “Fullmetal is the expedited option.”
“No magic,” Bones says slowly, a certain evil glint beginning to grow in her eye. “No curses. And you can cure werewolves. He can’t sick grey back on his enemies anymore. Oh, yes. Very well done, my lad,” she tells Edward, her tone rich with vicious satisfaction. “What do you need? You said you wanted more tests?”
“Yeah, if it’s going in combat conditions we need to know which way shit will jump,” Edward says, unimpressed with her approval but clearly happy to deal with someone who wants to give him what he wants. “Same with how we still need to test fuckin’ ricochet. If there’s blowback or whatever from bigshot stuff going down better to know now.”
Albus raises an arm, his sleeve falling back to reveal his wand. This immediately sends Edward, Alphonse and Riza stepping simultaneously backwards, Roy unable to keep from tensing himself even though he knows it would be highly unlikely for Albus to deliberately and openly harm them here and now. Albus does not seem to notice, simply saying, “Evalare,” the wand pointed directly at the array.
Nothing happens. “Diminuendo.” Nothing. “Colovaris.” Nothing again. “Baubilious,” Albus says, and this time a bolt of jagged yellow light strikes the circle - but Roy can see that he aimed at the center, and it dissipates at the boundary, great crackling white arcs lashing around the border as the array eats it up.
Albus doesn’t pause, just says, “Deprimo,” a soundless ripple of air shoving out of his wand - and also jarring hard against the circle, the dirt shaking at the border. “Defodio.” A gout of dirt slices up, carving a narrow divot that once again stops hard at the lit line. “Lumos solem.” A narrow beam of golden light leaves his wand like a laser penlight, once again terminating at the boundary - in empty air, half a meter off the ground, the array singing and sparking below the point of interaction.
The light cuts off as Albus lowers his wand, his face strict with evaluative focus. “Shit, keep going,” Edward says, eyes greedy on the wand. “What else you got? Any of that area effect shit?”
“I cannot shrink, break, overload or interrupt the array, nor change its color,” Albus says, and the recitation more than anything else confirms to Roy that he is an alchemist: systematic testing, examining the different properties of an unknown. “Not with spellwork. It affects all magic within its bounds, it seems, and disallows spells to pass through its domain.”
“Perfect,” Bones says, her tone hard with satisfaction.
“Let us not be too hasty,” Albus says, his gaze once again tracking over the core anchor sigils of the array, though he does let his sleeve slip over his wand again, “Voldemort uses many spells of his own creation, and has achieved what has been considered impossible before. And as we know - he has tampered with souls, even his own, and through it raised a significant obstacle to our efforts.”
“Yeah, whatever, you want those whore crux things gone, we can do that,” Edward says impatiently. “He’s still using magic for it. But hey, we can go ahead and test that shit as much as we want too. You got one of those ghosts you fucks talked about around here somewhere? I’m gonna assume you do, given every third one of y’all is some fresh new kinda fucked. Or just wait until Lemonface comes back and we’ll see what this does to his dumb fuckin’ tattoo.”
That visibly surprises Albus, even if it’s only visible in a slight hesitation and an extra blink. “I am… not certain a ghost would fall within the relevant criteria,” he says after a moment.
“What does it... do with the magic?” Arthur Weasley pipes up, in half-fascinated, half queasy tones; he’s not the only wizard still staring at the circle. “It just - eats it?”
“Sure, yeah,” Edward says with passing tolerance, then jabs a finger at Albus. “And you can tell us more about lord vanilla bean soul shit and how you know all about it -“
There’s a crack from behind Roy - from right in the middle of the Amestrisan contingent.
Roy sees Riza whip out her .45 cal even as he spins himself, the group parting around the noise, everyone going for their sidearms as they try to see who just teleported into their midst. Then - “Elf!” Jones says urgently, and there’s some highly nonregulation hopping and dodging as everyone tries to ready their weapons appropriately without actually aiming at each others’ kneecaps.
Roy’s halfway through an oxygen chain - arcing overhead, because if someone gets off a shot it’s liable to spark - but he realizes the elf is trying to run away from them before he finalizes the target: it’s dodging arthritically around Arget’s legs, grimy loincloth flapping as it skids to the edge of Fullmetal’s array - and throws down a small glinting shape, straight at the ground, like a rugby player scoring a goal.
Light flares instantly, accompanied by a shrill teakettle scream and a sudden spurt of gray fog. It rises above the array only to get dragged back down again, a vortex forming as the energy follows the path of the circle and takes the boiling smog with it. The entire process is as fast as it is violent: within seconds the thrashing, shrieking thing has been torn apart, sucked down into the actinic sigils of light.
“What,” Edward says into the ringing silence, “the fuck.”