The pavement crackled and steamed as white light danced across the wet surface, tracing out a circle that quickly filled with swooping lines. A small black cat watched for a long moment, tail fluffing in alarm as their golden eyes reflected the flying white and blue sparks, before they snapped and darted away into a filthy alleyway as fast as their paws could carry them.
In the Ministry of Magic, an alarm began to chime and a small orange dot lit up on the map of London fixed to the wall of the Improper Use of Magic office.
Mafalda Hopkirk sighed and sent a paper aeroplane to the Auror's office with a quick request for backup. She sent a prayer along with it that it wouldn't be Auror Moody who replied. He was going to retire this year, wasn't he? Thirty seconds later she had wrapped her winter cloak around her shoulders against the rain and made her way to the lift.
Auror Dawlish stepped in next to her and she tried not to show how relieved she was when she smiled at him in greeting.
"What do we have?" he asked as the lift began to move.
"A class six, quite a lot of power," she told him. "It presented a minute and a half ago on the riverbank opposite the Tate. No clear indicators of what spell was cast, but although it was powerful the area of effect was strangely small, perhaps two meters across. I wanted to do reconnaissance before calling in a clean up squad."
"Anything else?" Dawlish asked as they stepped out into the atrium and made a beeline for the apparition point.
"The chime indicated that a minor was either close by or involved," Mafalda sighed. "I find it unlikely, given that this is a level six, that the child was the instigator, but..."
"All the alternatives are somehow worse," Dawlish agreed. "Together, then?"
Mafalda drew her wand and stepped onto the apparition point. "Together," she agreed, and prepared herself as Dawlish started a countdown.
The pair disappeared with a soft crack of displaced air and reappeared in the damp air above the Thames.
There was a strange scent in the air and the riverbank appeared completely deserted - other than the form of a naked child with short golden hair lying on the wet pavement.
The two ministry employees crouched behind a bin and a bench respectively and Mafalda waited patiently while Dawlish cast a series of diagnostic spells to ensure that they were alone.
"We're alone," he grunted eventually. "The boy is alive, about ten years old, some magical ability detected but not enough for a level six."
"He's the victim then," Mafalda concluded, hurrying over to the boy now that there was no reason not to. She pulled her cloak from her shoulders and wrapped it around his unconscious form. "Let's get him back to the ministry and start figuring out who he is then. Hopefully our arrival scared off his attacker."
"Hopefully," Dawlish echoed. "At least there are no muggles around." They apparated back to the street entrance to the ministry, and then he left her with the boy, enchanted with a featherlight charm to make his slight weight easier for her to carry.
After a moment's contemplation of the small form lying on the purple sofa stuffed into one corner of the office, Mafalda sent an aeroplane to St Mungos requesting a mediwitch or wizard be dispatched to give the child an examination, and a second plane to the Department of Child Services to ask one of their employees to come down and open a new case for the child. Then she snapped her fingers twice.
"Yes mistress?" asked Tabby, the Hopkirk family house elf.
"I need clothes for this boy," she explained, gesturing to the sofa. "Do we have anything in storage that will do? If not I suppose one of my t-shirts would be better than nothing."
"Leave it to me, mistress," Tabby said at once, taking a step closer. Her large eyes swept over the child's slight frame and then she was gone with a quiet crack. The child stirred at the noise, and Mafalda panicked for a short moment at the thought that he might wake before any of the professionals who were supposed to deal with this sort of thing and had training and ideas and plans arrived.
One eye opened, the golden iris causing her breath to catch in fear until she realised that she was being unreasonable. Dawlish's spell would have detected if the child was a werewolf. And once she looked closer, she realised that it was more of a true gold than the brownish yellow of a lycanthrope.
"You're safe," she assured the boy. "You're in my office at the ministry. What's your name?"
Golden brows scrunched in concentration. "Al?" the child said, a lilt in his voice turning it into a question.
"Hi Al, I'm Mafalda. My niece calls me Auntie Alphie, if that's too hard to remember. Do you know where you live?"
Al closed his eyes and brought one tanned hand up to rub at his forehead. "I... don't know," he said uneasily. He had a strange accent that she couldn't place at all, definitely not London.
"We found you on the riverbank, do you know how you came to London?" she asked next.
Al shook his head, clutching her cloak around him as he shivered a little. "I don't remember anything," he whispered. "What's wrong with me?"
"You've been the victim of some sort of magic spell," Mafalda said, deciding that honesty was best. Al was a child but he wasn't a toddler after all. "The spell set off the alarm and when my co-worker and I arrived, whoever had attacked you had vanished. Don't worry, we'll figure this out."
"The spell is why I can't remember?" the child asked, his golden eyes fixed trustingly on her face. "Will my memories come back?"
"I don't know," Mafalda confessed. "Perhaps."
Al nodded. "Thank you for being honest," he said after a moment. "What happens now?"
As it turned out, several things happened at once. Healer Strout from St Mungos had apparently met Pari Patil in the hallway and they both arrived at the same time that Tabby apparated in with a small pile of clothes in her wrinkled hands.
"Clothes for the little master!" Tabby said cheerfully as Al stared at her with wide eyes.
"What - thank you," he interrupted himself as she dropped the clothes on his lap. "What are you?"
"I is being a house elf, little master. I is being called Tabby."
"I'm Al," Al said with more certainty than the last time he had introduced himself. "It's nice to meet you."
Tabby blushed and curtseyed before turning to Mafalda for further instructions.
"Thank you, Tabby. You may get back to your usual work now."
While Al had been talking to the house elf, Healer Strout had started quietly casting diagnostic charms and recording them on a chart while Pari had dragged three chairs into a loose semi-circle in front of the sofa and was sitting in one, waiting for Al to notice her once he had finished investigating the pile of clothes.
After a moment, Al selected a long tunic and a pair of shorts and wriggled his way into both before folding the cloak neatly and putting it on the end of the sofa. "Thank you, Miss Alfie," he said politely.
"You're welcome, Al. This is Mrs Patil and Healer Strout, they're here to talk with you."
"All right," Al agreed easily. He turned his golden eyes to Pari and folded his hands in his lap. "I don't think I'll know many answers though."
Al was right, and the three witches managed to find out nothing further than his name and probable age. Al was clearly a magical child, but without his memories they would have to rely on someone coming forward to claim him.
Pari stepped out to floo call available foster parents, and Healer Strout cast a quick duplication charm on her medical report to make three copies. "Just in case," she said as she passed one to Mafalda. "I'd best get back to St Mungos."
"Thanks for stepping in on this case," Mafalda said as she saw her to the door.
"Of course, it's my job." Miriam paused for a moment, looking back at the sofa. "He's a sweet child," she said abruptly. "Very patient. Someone must be looking for him, right?"
Mafalda shrugged helplessly. "Perhaps they haven't noticed that he's gone yet?"
Miriam nodded. "Perhaps." She vanished down the corridor in a flurry of lime green robes. Mafalda checked the other way and saw Pari hurrying back, tailed by a short witch with auburn hair and a kind face.
"This is Margaret Bones," Pari said breathlessly as they approached. "She's agreed to take little Al into her spare room for the time being. Her daughter Susan goes to Hogwarts this year."
"Thanks for coming," Mafalda said, stepping back to let them both into the office.
Al was blinking sleepily on the sofa but straightened up when he saw that a new stranger had joined them. Mafalda handled the introductions, offered hot tea to all and generally tried to fade into the background as Margaret spoke to Al in a soft voice and the little boy gravitated slowly towards her until he was sitting pressed against her side while she told him about her garden.
"I think this will work out fine," Pari murmured. "Susan is a nice girl, she'll help explain anything Al's forgotten without teasing him. The father is a muggle, and well, you know the Bones family."
"I'm familiar with Amelia," Mafalda confirmed. "I didn't know her sister fostered."
"It's not something that there's been much call for in recent years," Pari said absently. "But I knew I could rely on her, that's why I floo'd her first."
Susan wasn't quite sure what to make of the new addition to the household at first. Al was strange, with his golden hair and eyes and his tanned skin. She wondered if he had been on holiday to France. When auntie Amelia went on holiday to France she always came back brown.
Still, Al was nice enough, and he didn't make fun of her for being a girl which was a definite mark in his favour. He was careful and quiet and asked lots of questions, and sometimes the questions were very strange, but her mother reminded her quietly that Al didn't remember anything at all and that she should be nice to him.
Spring turned into summer, and she knew that her Hogwarts letter would be coming soon and she couldn't wait. She and Al poured over her mother's old copy of Hogwarts: A History together in the garden once they'd finished their chores, sharing a pitcher of lemonade that mum charmed to keep cool, and decided together that Hufflepuff sounded like the coolest house. It was under the Greenhouses, and they both loved spending time in the garden.
The letter came two months exactly after her birthday - they had had chocolate cake and gone to the beach and Dad had taught Al how to swim because he didn't remember how - and she danced for joy around the breakfast table.
Al seemed a little sad as they sat down to eat scrambled eggs on toast, but he smiled when she looked at him.
"I'm going to miss you once you go to school," he said in his soft voice.
Susan thought about that for a moment. "I'll write lots of letters," she decided. "And I'll be home every holiday, I promise."
"We'll get you some introductory books, Al," Dad promised him, pouring his second cup of tea. "You can do some self study. Or would you like us to enroll you in the muggle school in the village for a year? See how you get on?"
Al thought about it for a long moment as they ate their toast. "Yes please," he said eventually. "I think that sounds nicer than staying at home alone."
"You'll have to write letters and tell me all about the things you learn!" Susan said enthusiastically. She had completed five years of muggle school - dad had insisted - before it had become clear that she would go to Hogwarts and she had taken this last year off to learn more about the wizarding world.
They spent the rest of the meal planning their trip to Diagon Alley, and Susan couldn't wait.
Platform 9 3/4 was smoky and crowded by people in colourful clothing, so Al stuck close to Mrs Bones as they fought their way to the gleaming train. The smell of the burning coal was somehow nostalgic but he wasn't sure why.
He had lived with the Bones family for five months, and although they didn't say anything, they all knew that his real family should have tried to find him by now. The blank space in his head where his memories had been had persisted, but the echoing white emptiness was somehow softened by the memories of a summer spent with Susan, reading books in the garden and finding out things, learning how to bake apple pie and cookies and cleaning the kitchen afterwards.
But now Susan was going to live in a castle and learn magic with her new wand, and Al was going to school with muggles to learn maths and science. Mr Bones joked that he wanted a picture for the fridge from the art class and Al had no idea what he meant, but he smiled anyway.
People seemed to like it when he smiled, so he tried to remember to do it often. It seemed to reassure them that he was all right, even when he wasn't sure himself.
Susan's first letter arrived after just four days, dropped off by a large tawny owl who stole Al's last piece of bacon. Al didn't mind, the bird was beautiful, with large golden eyes.
Susan's letter said that she was sorted into Hufflepuff - go badgers - and that she had picked the owl because it reminded her of him.
"Aren't you pleased that she hasn't forgotten you?" Mrs Bones asked, reaching out to ruffle his hair.
Al didn't really feel anything, but he smiled and she smiled back so he supposed that that had been the right thing to do.
*** One Year Later ***
Al trailed behind the other first years as they struggled up the hill to the Castle. Susan had let him sit with her second year friends on the train, but once they arrived at Hogsmeade station the First Years had been split out by a giant of a man and had piled into boats to glide across a great black lake.
Colin Creevy, a thin blond boy who had shared his boat, was racing ahead of the others, talking about someone called Harry Potter. He had been talking about this person for the whole trip, and it turned out that the giant knew who that was so they were having an animated conversation about it.
Al turned to the other person who had shared the boat with them, who was walking even slower than he was.
"Keep up!" the giant bellowed from the front of the group.
"I'm Al," he said, offering his hand to shake as she drew level with him.
"Luna," she replied dreamily. "You have a fascinating aura, traveller."
Al had no idea what she was talking about, so he fell back on manners. "Thank you. I'm afraid I can't see yours."
"That's ok," she said calmly.
"Do you know which house you'll be in?" he asked as they reached an imposing pair of carved wooden doors.
Luna shrugged. "It doesn't really matter in the long run," she said quietly. "We're all here to learn."
Al reckoned that with an attitude like that she would be a shoe-in for Ravenclaw.
The stern scottish witch that Al was fairly sure, from Susan's description, was Professor McGonagall, led the way into the hall looking worried. She seemed to be paying particular attention to the table full of children in red and gold scarves while a battered hat sang a song about the four founders of Hogwarts, and there was a long pause after the song ended before she shook her head sharply and turned her attention to a piece of parchment.
"Bones, Alan!" Al stepped forward as directed and stared at the singing hat uncertainly. "Just put it on, Mr Bones," the witch said quietly. "It's all right."
Al did as directed, staring out at a sea of faces swathed in black fabric as he set the hat on his head. It fell over his eyes, effectively cutting off his search for Susan's familiar features.
"Hmm, you're a strange one aren't you?" said an unfamiliar voice in his ear. "There's a lot missing here."
"I know," Al thought back. "I can't remember no matter how hard I try."
"Missing, not blocked," the hat said, its mental voice kind. "You won't remember until you get the missing thing back. Until then, well, it poses a bit of a problem of where to put you."
"My foster sister is in Hufflepuff, and I like gardens and greenhouses," Al said hopefully.
"Very well," the hat agreed at once. "That's an easy choice after all then. HUFFLEPUFF!"
Part 2: Ed
The pavement crackled and steamed as white light danced across the wet surface, tracing out a circle that quickly filled with swooping lines. In the Ministry of Magic, an alarm began to chime and a small orange dot lit up on the map of London fixed to the wall of the Improper Use of Magic office.
Mafalda Hopkirk dropped her quill, splattering ink all over the report she was writing. "Again?!"
Ed groaned and pushed his way to sitting using his good arm. His automail was shattered into pieces after his trip through the gate and his head was pounding in time with his pulse. He was also naked, and not particularly happy about it.
"Brother!" Al called, his voice echoing more than usual as the armour turned to look around. "Where are we?"
"No idea," Ed groaned. "And Winry is going to kill me."
"Brother... Something's wrong," Al said faintly and Ed ignored all his aches and pains to drag himself closer.
"Come down here," he demanded. "Or help me balance or something."
Al reached down but the movement was jerky and uncoordinated, and Ed watched in horror as the bright light of his soul started to flicker inside the helmet, dimming erratically.
"Brother?" Al's voice wavered uncertainly. "Brother, I-"
Ed choked on a scream as the armour fell apart on top of him. He frantically sorted through the pieces with one hand to find the soul array, only to watch in horror as it flaked away in front of his eyes.
There was an odd whooshing sound, and two adults appeared from nowhere.
"At least this one's awake," the man said, waving a stick in the air in a circular pattern. "There, that should do for now."
"Same place as last time," the woman said, approaching slowly. "Hello, my name is Mafalda Hopkirk. What's yours?"
"Edward Elric," Ed said at once, choking back tears. "Where am I?"
"You're in London," the witch said. "Can you tell me what happened? Were you attacked? Oh my word.... What happened to your arm?" she demanded as she drew close enough to see what was scattered armour and what was him. "Dawlish, we need to get him to St Mungos straight away."
St Mungos was the most ridiculous place in the world, and the people that worked there seemed to completely ignore the laws of equivalent exchange to the extent that what they were doing deserved the title of magic. Ed pretended amnesia, which the two adults who had found him seemed to expect for some reason.
He was at the hospital for two days, and by the time he had left he had somehow grown a new arm and leg. The place was terrifying, but if their magic could pull off that sort of miracle, then maybe, just maybe there was a way to get Al back again. Perhaps by combining magic and alchemy...
So Ed co-operated when a young woman with pink hair appeared at the door and informed him cheerfully that he would go home with her parents, and he read the books that they offered him and thanked them politely when they took him to a shop filled with boxes and bought him a wand, and he didn't ask questions when they had hushed conversations just out of earshot full of words like 'Death Eater' and 'Phoenix' and pretended to be completely absorbed in his books - which to be fair, were extremely absorbing.
Magic was strange and powerful, but the more Ed read the more he realised that it did follow laws, there was an internal logic of thought and intention and a power source that was closer the Alkahestry than Alchemy.
"A Professor from the school will arrive tomorrow," Andromeda told him one morning at breakfast after he had been there for four weeks. "They want to give you some tests, see which year they can put you in at Hogwarts. I know you've been practising hard, so I'm sure you'll be fine."
"I don't want to be a first year," Ed grinned back. "The humiliation would be too much to bear." Andromeda looked at him approvingly and tapped the side of his cup with her wand to warm his tea.
"Term starts in three weeks, and you have today to practise. You're reading the third year material now right?"
"I finished that last night, I was going to start on the fourth year today," Ed told her, but Andromeda shook her head. "No dear, revise the first three years today please," she said firmly.
The witch that arrived had curly grey hair, kind eyes and a grey coat. "I'm Professor Sprout," she said cheerfully, shaking hands with Ed. "Head of Hufflepuff house, which is where young Nymphadora ended up. I just want to put you through your paces Mr Elric, and answer any questions you have about Hogwarts."
"Ed eats his way through books like a niffler looking for gold," Andromeda smiled. "I think he knows more about Hogwarts than I do!"
The tests started out easy and got progressively harder and harder, until Professor Sprout asked him to summon a cushion from the living room and he had to confess that he had no idea. She looked pleased with him regardless, and announced that he could start electives with the third years and attend one on one tutoring sessions in the core subjects with the hope that he would catch up to his year group by the end of the year.
"If you've managed to absorb three years of standard spells in one month, I think it's safe to say that you'll catch up soon enough," she said encouragingly. "Fourth and Fifth year are harder of course, and I would recommend that you take the minimum number of electives. You'll be starting from scratch in potions, even though your charms and transfiguration control is on level with a third year, and you managed to ace my herbology quiz, so well done!"
"Why doesn't Hogwarts offer alchemy, professor?" Ed asked, daring to ask the question that had been burning in his mind since she arrived. It hadn't been on any of the lists that Andromeda had made for him, and the only book that mentioned it was one of the history texts, and then only briefly.
"Alchemy? Well, we do, it's a sixth year optional elective," Sprout told him. "A few of the more advanced students take it, the ones who have an E or an O in Ancient Runes usually."
"I'll be taking that then," Ed decided.
"If you're interested in Alchemy, I recommend Arithmancy as a second elective," Sprout continued. "I believe there is some relevant overlap." She paused for a moment, a far away look in her eyes. "You'll have to work hard," she said eventually, reaching out to pat his brand new right hand. It still wasn't the same colour as his left one. "But from what the Tonks' have told me, I have no doubt that you can do it, young man."
Nymphadora had insisted that she was taking him to the station on the first of September, seemingly reluctant to have her mother and father appear in public in a way that she hadn't been just a few weeks before when they went to pick up Ed's school books.
Ed felt awkward about the amount of gold being spent on him, but Ted had laughed outright and promised him that Professor Sprout had left them with a sum of Galleons to cover most of the expense from the Hogwarts scholarship fund, and that he was not to worry about the rest.
"Now that my cousin Sirius is head of the Black family, we're quite comfortable," Andromeda assured him. "He insisted on paying off the rest of the mortgage - over my protestations - from the family vaults once his name was cleared."
It was the sort of off handed statement that she often made that always completely baffled him, but Ed had kept his temper. The Tonks' had been very good to him after all, and although it was becoming increasingly obvious that something bad was going on in the Wizarding world - he had hung around enough blue uniforms to have a good sense for when people were leaving out the details - he was also a useless baby here until he learnt more about their world.
He had tested his alchemy in the garden shed, and the transmutations still worked, albeit sluggishly. But alchemy would draw attention, and attention he absolutely did not want, not until he'd learned enough magic to see if he could bring back his baby brother somehow. Then they could both turn their minds to the problem of how to get home.
Finding the platform was as ridiculous as everything else about the Wizarding world, and Dora had overslept so they nearly missed the train. Running through the crowds of waving parents was oddly nostalgic and Dora pushed him through an open door just before the train started to move.
"Don't forget to write to me!" she hollered, nearly tripping over a small child as she tried to follow the carriage's progress along the platform.
"I won't!" Ed yelled back, waving hard.
A short woman with auburn hair gave him a sharp look as he swept past but a few seconds later he was gone.
Ed found an empty compartment near the back of the train and settled down to read Ancient Runes Made Easy until the movement of the train plunged him into inevitable slumber.
He woke when the train slowed, stomach grumbling and eyes full of sand. Dora had enchanted his trunk with a featherlight charm that had long since worn off, and when he tried to lift it down from the luggage rack it nearly fell on his head.
Yawning and wondering how long it would be before they got some food, he trailed behind the other students as they clattered and chattered along the platform to a series of waiting carriages drawn by the most horrific looking horses Ed had ever seen.
"Firs' years!" bellowed a giant of a man that would give Sig Curtis a run for his money. Ed reluctantly followed the shorter students towards him.
"Leave yer cases on the platform, house elves will take 'em," Hagrid advised cheerfully. "We're going across the lake!"
Going across the lake was rather adventurous, although Ed was very glad to find that the boats were self-propelling and he didn't need to row. The last thing he wanted for his first week of magic school were blisters.
Hagrid left them in a torch-lit entrance hall, and then a severe witch with a tartan scarf appeared to lead them into a hall filled with floating candles. The long tables were disappointingly empty.
Everyone was looking expectantly at a battered hat sitting on a stool when a shout echoed from the rafters.
Ed barely had time to register the familiarity of that voice when a gold topped black robed blur threw itself from one of the tables and sped towards him.
"Mr Bones!" the professor said disapprovingly as a pair of bony arms wrapped around Ed's neck and a familiar scent assaulted his nose, barely hidden under unfamiliar washing power and coal smoke.