They run into Dumbledore in the hallway. “Albus,” Bones says commandingly as Hermione stills a few steps behind Elric and tries to tamp down the irrational conviction that Dumbledore will just somehow know she’s there. “A word with us, before we go.”
“We’ll be brief,” Mustang says. “This room here should suit, I think.”
“I’m afraid brief is all we have,” Dumbledore says, as Hermione takes a chance and slips into the empty dining room ahead of them, minimizing the risk of getting the door shut in her face if she tries to sneak in after. “I’ve activated the wards we’ve placed, but Sirius does not have the Black signet and cannot rouse the ancestral defenses of the house himself. If an attack does come we’d be best served by at the very least being packed.”
Mustang ignores the dig, if he’d even noticed it; Hermione, inside the room, can‘t see his face. “We have a few facts critical to any safeguards you’ll be putting up at any future safehouse and to any further plans besides,” he says, in a it’ll take as long as it takes tone. “Fullmetal, get your brother.”
“Well then,” Dumbledore says after a short pause, Elric’s boots a rapid thump-thump up the stairs. “In that case, as Alastor has gone ahead, I will go and fetch William Weasley.”
Mustang and Bones enter the room and sit down, Mustang arranging himself at the head of the table in a way that conveys the chair should be deeply embarrassed about not transfiguring itself into a throne the moment he first considered it. Bones isn’t any less a commanding presence at his right. Hermione sidles into the corner closest to the door and stays there, mind buzzing: critical to any future safeguards. What the array really does. A prophecy about possession.
If Elric and Mustang are right about Dumbledore believing the prophecy is key, and if their cursebreaker array can break possession - and regardless of what it did or didn’t do to Harry, it can , demonstrably, break curses, they all saw Lupin’s diagnostic glow gold - all of them would have no reason to be worried: if the prophecy warns of Voldemort’s ability to possess people, well, here they are with a tool that can turn that right around, no basilisk fangs required.
But Dumbledore is worried, and so are the Amestrisans. Just not in regards to Voldemort. Which means that in their opinion, there is something to worry about, and it’s worse than Voldemort. And Dumbledore had reacted, upon seeing the circle, as though it were Dark magic.
Is that why the Amestrisans are trying to get rid of him? Because what their circle does - what it really does - has some kind of horrible price, and they don’t want Dumbledore to interfere?
Elric had been very worked up about the cost of magic, that day they met. He was convinced there was some kind of price for everything magic can do. He’d all but told them that in alchemy, there is a price.
Hermione swallows. It’s not that magic never has costs outside of your own stamina. There were records, in the book where she’d found that information on Flamel back in first year: stories of wizards who had maimed themselves and others in their experiments with magic, allusions to rituals of power and control that demanded a sacrifice of flesh. Warnings that for all the dangers of temporary enchantments, the cost of permanence was often more than most could pay. And for a great magical working - and their circle is a great magical working, a universal cursebreaker is unheard of - the more she thinks about it, the more Hermione’s absolutely certain that there’s no way something like that wouldn’t have a cost.
And she’s about to find out what it is. Dumbledore sweeps into the room, Bill Weasley with his eyebrows drawn together behind him. Hermione lets her shoulderblades try to become one with the wall, breathing shallow. She doesn’t know what they’ll do if they catch her, but - well, she doesn’t have any chance of telepathically sending You-Know-Who any information, but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t take every possible step not to let them catch her at all.
“Young Mr. Weasley is a cursebreaking expert and warding specialist with Gringotts,” Dumbledore tells Mustang, as Elric also shoulders through the door - dropping the locket Kreacher had so explosively delivered to them onto the table. “He is also capable of casting the Fidelius.”
“Laying the foundations, anyway,” Bill says, eyeing the locket. “You’ve found other spells on it?”
Elric snorts. “No.”
Bill looks puzzled, probably about to ask what’s going on then, only he’s preempted by Alphonse Elric coming in, followed by Hughes. That must mean Harry’s free, and probably convening right about now with Ron and Ginny. They’ll be wondering where she is. Hermione bites her lip, willing them not to do anything that might break up the meeting before she has a chance to find out what’s happening. They’re all about to move out of Grimmauld place, and who knows what kind of setup their new safehouse might have; Mrs. Weasley and the others were already putting Imperturbable Charms on the doors during their meetings, and that was before all this talk of telepathic eavesdropping and spies. This might be the best chance they get.
Mustang looks at Alphonse. “The boy?”
“Clean,” Alphonse replies, pulling himself a chair - and putting Harry’s wand on the table. Hermione has to clamp down on a whole body flinch, even as she reminds herself that it was already broken, already useless to Harry. “Malignancy’s gone entirely, no physical damage or significant qi disruption. A bit unsettled, of course,” Alphonse adds, eyes flicking to Dumbledore and the rest as his tone goes rueful, “but that’ll pass. But no other abnormalities I can detect.”
“He will be examined by a Healer as well, once it is safe to do so,” Dumbledore says, not in any way confrontational but with a quiet firmness that reassures Hermione, a little. He clearly doesn’t think Harry needs to be looked at immediately - but he does think he’ll need to be looked at. By someone who isn’t an Unplottable.
“The boy was very lucky,” Mustang remarks, examining a seam on his glove. “Once we’re established in the new safehouse, work should begin on a further fallback point. It’ll house the noncombatants in this group until our operations are concluded. It’s all very well and good to keep everyone together, but we cannot afford to spend time watching our backs for the bright ideas of mismanaged children.”
As if he hadn’t just shouted all over the yard about how this was all Elric’s fault. Hermione frowns invisibly at Mustang as he looks back at Alphonse. “In the meantime?”
“I’ve marked him,” Alphonse says casually. “I’ll always be able to tell where he is now. He’ll have to cut off his head to remove it.”
Hermione bites hard on the inside of her cheek. Elric, having taken a seat beside his brother, twists around to look almost accusingly at him. “Why didn’t you do that earlier?”
“Because he’d have to cut off his head to remove it,” Alphonse says pointedly. “My primary responsibility is the patient’s health and wellbeing. If the benefit to his health doesn’t come to outweigh the drawbacks it’s not an action I can justify taking.”
Elric is frowning. “Is that on me?”
Alphonse shakes his head. “Qi beacons are visible to other alkahestrists. It’s not specific.”
“So you stuck a flare down his pants,” Elric concludes, like that’s fine.
Dumbledore, at least, says what Hermione’s thinking. “What exactly did you do?”
“Agitated a meridian in the body’s natural qi system. He may feel like he has a sore throat occasionally. I’ll relax it again when we leave.” Alphonse doesn’t sound at all concerned, nodding at the locket and the wand in front of him. “Are we demonstrating?”
“Yeah,” Elric says sourly, flicking the chain of the locket with a gloved finger and leveling a grudge of a look at Dumbledore. “You. Explain the whore cores. In detail.”
There’s a pause. “The horcruxes,” Dumbledore says, with some care.
“That’s what I said.” Elric’s face is hard. “Our alchemies are more similar than I knew. This thing might be the same too. So. Tell me about binding souls to objects, and I’ll be able to tell you definitively whether the fucking kid was capable of passing on information or not. And whether that fucking necklace that was in this fucking house all along was passing anything on, too.”
Hermione feels a cold jolt run through her as she realizes the extent of that possibility. If Kreacher’s necklace had been like Riddle’s diary, possessing Ginny the more she interacted with it - could the locket have possessed Kreacher? Kreacher, who went anywhere in the house he pleased and heard everything and was already ill, already not in his right mind? But - no, Kreacher was the one who destroyed the locket…
“All metal,” Mustang says. “The array first. We don’t know how much time we have.”
“No, I want a get the run down of the soul shit before this guy fucks off again,” Elric says bluntly, staring at Dumbledore. “Since that’s apparently also how they put up their fidelity shit in the first place.”
“All metal,” Mustang says again, looking ready to make an issue out of it, but Dumbledore holds up a hand, palm out. “I would like to hear this, if you please.”
“That locket,” Bones says, eyeing it on the table and looking like she’s just tasted something nasty. “Mad-Eye said some of them would be traps. That diary of his -“
“Kreacher reports that the locket was extracted from Voldemort’s keeping at great cost, ordered to speak the truth by the Master of his House,” Dumbledore says. “He cannot lie under those conditions. It’s further highly unlikely that he would be the one to destroy it, if it had been capable of exerting that kind of influence.”
“It don’t matter jack shit. That thing’s dead,” Elric says shortly, his gesture at the locket so dismissive it’s condescending. “Explain the whore things.”
Dumbledore hasn’t taken his gaze off Elric. “As I said before, the full processes of the creation of a horcrux are not known to me. We only know the goal of the ritual, and its cost. The intent of a horcrux is to bind its creator to life, though the most it can achieve is preserving a state of undeath. To create a Horcrux, a wizard must deliberately damage their own soul, using that damage to split off a portion and bind it to an object, a preservation of a piece of themselves should the body fail. That process, that damage, can only be initiated one way, and that is by committing murder.”
“Nah,” Elric says, with absolute confidence. “It’s just the easy way.”
There’s a short silence as everyone just sort of stares at him. Elric cocks his head at Dumbledore, something too bitter to even be a smirk briefly shaping his mouth, though there’s definitely amusement there. “What? You already accused me of human transmutation. Well, bingo bango, you’re fucking right. My experience ain’t theoretical.” He plants both hands on the table and stands up. “Alright. Let’s say fifty per cent of that ain’t horse shit.” He gestures at Dumbledore with one hand, pulling chalk out of a pocket with the other and beginning to scrawl directly on the table. “First off. Was lord vinyl player spying on us and can he use that shit to do so in future. No.”
Mustang has shut his eyes as if he needs to shut off all other stimuli to properly experience the depths of his exasperation; Hermione, trying to figure out whether Elric just confessed to doing something worse than murder wants to take a moment herself. Dumbledore, however, is watching the fluid strokes of Elric’s chalk with an increasing severity to his brow. An array is taking shape on the table: the exact same one that’d been in the backyard. “That is no cursebreaker.”
“Of course it’s not,” Elric says distractedly. “Though it sure works like one. So. Some background.” He makes one horizontal slash of chalk across the table, then reaches behind him, draws a knife from his back harness with dull schck and drops it between the locket and Harry’s wand. “Body, spirit, soul,” Elric says, lining all three items up in a triangular configuration before him. “The physical tether, the animating force, the cognitive driver. When all three of these cross the threshold -“ He drags his finger over, through to the other side of the single chalk line “- death is irrecoverable.”
Then he drags his finger back, to just before the chalk slash. “But there’s a space here. And a window of opportunity.” He takes the locket - what he’d named the body - and takes it to the line. “The components of life can be separated and transmuted independently. A soul can be removed from the body and attached to a different container, and the spirit linking the two can similarly be detached and reattached. But each of these remains distinct and whole - a soul doesn’t split, it can’t. How do you split someone’s memories, their personality, their cognitive self? You can degrade the integrity of the whole, but you don’t get separate functional pieces that way, you just get raw energy. With a lot of screaming involved. Which brings us to your murder shit.”
Elric drops his hand to the array, tapping with the chalk at points all around the border: Hermione cranes to see, trying to memorize as best she can. “Transmutations take energy. To transmute any aspect of a human takes a lot of energy. It doesn’t always cost an entire life. But life force can be used in alchemy. That’s what an array rebound is: you get the math wrong, fuck up the intake calculations, it takes the difference out of you. And if you’re willing to feed someone else into the array, so that the energy of their spirit and soul pays for your transmutation, then you’ve offloaded the costs and all that’s left is to direct the result. But you can do it yourself, no murder necessary. If you’re willing to risk the price.”
“The price,” Dumbledore repeats, raising his eyes from the array.
Elric meets his gaze. “I told you,” he says, dragging one leg up, his booted foot landing with a thump against the edge of his chair. “I pick fights with God.”
Is he saying what Hermione thinks he’s saying. That has to be the metal leg. Is this meeting to - what, tell Dumbledore and Bones that they’ll have to sacrifice people , to pay for the broken curses? Or - bits of people? Harry had said Wormtail had had to cut off his own hand, in the ritual to bring You-Know-Who back -
“All metal,” Mustang says wearily, sounding like he dreams of lying down under the nearest lorry. “We really do not have the time.”
“We’re making the time. I’m sick of this scuttling around shit. We’re getting it straight here and now,” Elric says mulishly. “Not like this is a secret. Hah! Not more of one, I should say- “
“Excuse me, I’m sorry, just -“ Bill Weasley interrupts, then pauses, frowning at Elric, like he wants to be wrong but can’t afford not to confirm just in case he’s right. “Are you saying that you raised - someone from the dead?”
“Yes,” Alphonse Elric says, and raises his hand in a little wave. “Hi.”