"Hey, Fuhrer Bastard, what do you need now?!" the black-and-gold whirlwind that entered the office without knocking demanded, voice irritated, almost on the verge of shouting. "You do know that I don't work for you anymore, don't you?!"
The Fuhrer looked up from the contract Albus had handed him just a few minutes ago, lips twisted into a smirk that held a faint challenge. Everything about him was severe, Minerva thought; the clean cut of his uniform, the spotless white gloves embroidered with neat, unusual-looking runes, his perfectly-styled black hair, even the sharp, faintly Eastern slant of his eyes. He made her wary, with his mask of polite welcome and polished smiles, but she couldn't deny that he was almost unfairly attractive and magnetically charismatic, even if she knew that all of his expressions were carefully controlled.
The smirk was the first truly genuine emotion on his face and Minerva was curious about the person that caused it. She noticed Albus looking on with interest from the corner of her eye.
"Of course, Fullmetal, I do remember your rather... colourful resignation. My memory is not so short," the Fuhrer said as he rested his chin on his steepled fingers, and his smirk widened when the young blonde woman with truly remarkable golden eyes shot him a glare. She was dressed in leather pants tucked into black, high-heeled boots that clicked somewhat unevenly with each step. Her hands, covered by the spotless, white gloves, clenched, but she didn't say anything as her eyes swept over the richly furnished office, stopping on Minerva and Albus. She raised an eyebrow toward Mustang.
"Who the hell are they? And why is the old man wearing a dress?" she asked rudely.
Mustang sighed, exasperated, and gestured towards the third and only free chair in the office. "Sit, Fullmetal," he said long-sufferingly, and then turned towards the two wizards as the woman obeyed his almost-order while grumbling under her breath. "Please, excuse her, Headmaster Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall. I assure you, she doesn't mean to offend. Unfortunately, she has never learned the lesson about politeness." Here, he aimed a dark glare at the blonde, followed by a well-practiced apologetic smile towards his guests.
The woman snorted. "At least I'm not a smarmy bastard that gets off on manipulating people." She eyed the Fuhrer pointedly.
Minerva was appalled. She had never before seen such a disrespectful behaviour towards one's superior. And to their face even! Not even the people who thought Minister Fudge was a joke – and there were many of those – would dare to insult him so carelessly. The woman was either foolishly reckless or simply foolish, and the Professor didn't like either of those characteristics in a potential colleague.
Albus, though, seemed amused by the interaction. His eyes were twinkling when he interrupted. "Perhaps introductions would be in order," he prodded with a gentle smile on his face.
Mustang broke from his glaring contest with the newest arrival, missing her self-satisfied smirk. "Of course, where are my manners? Fullmetal, I want you to meet Professor Minerva McGonagall and Headmaster Albus Dumbledore from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, England," he said courteously as the young woman observed them, those remarkable eyes at half-mast. "Headmaster, Professor, it's an honour to introduce you to Miss Edith Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist, and the person most suited for the job you offer."
"Pleasure to meet you, Miss Elric," Albus offered, still smiling, but the younger woman ignored him.
"A job offer?! What kind of job offer?!" she demanded, glare trained on Mustang once again.
The Fuhrer seemed utterly unconcerned by her horribly insubordinate behaviour. "I'm afraid that their Alchemy teacher resigned abruptly due to heart problems. As he has studied for a time in our country, they have come to me for advice about the substitute."
Miss Elric rose to her feet abruptly, golden eyes blazing. "Oh, no, no, no! Don't even think about it, Mustang! I'm not going to teach bunch of spoiled, magic-wielding brats something as dangerous as alchemy! And certainly not my alchemy!"
Mustang spread his hands calmingly, palms open. "Edith," he said soothingly, "you are my best and only option. You don't have to teach them anything dangerous. Just the basics will keep them occupied for years."
Years? How complicated is their alchemy?! Minerva didn't know, not really. Very few people did since the Amestrians guarded their secrets furiously, but the rumours were hard to kill. There were accounts of entire armies being defeated by a few State Alchemists, and while she didn't truly believe that, the stories must've started somewhere. She glanced at Albus, questioning, but his gaze was trained on the arguing pair.
"I don't work for you anymore, bastard!" Miss Elric shouted, hands clenched, eyes narrowed. "I don't have to listen to you!"
The dark-haired man shrugged elegantly, unconcerned. He leaned back in his seat casually, a picture of careless confidence. "Well, then," he said, "I'll just have to find someone else."
All three of them looked at him incredulously. The Fullmetal Alchemist raised one perfectly-sculpted eyebrow in disbelief. "What is going on, Mustang?" she asked sharply.
The look on the man's face was pure innocence. "I don't know what you are talking about, Fullmetal." Minerva was abruptly reminded of the times when Sirius Black denied any involvement in the prank war that raged within Hogwarts for half a semester. She suppressed a snort.
Miss Elric scowled and crossed her arms over her chest. Mustang's eyes followed the movement. "Don't pretend to be stupid, bastard. It doesn't suit you," she said. "You gave up too easily. What's the catch?"
The Fuhrer looked down at his paperwork, eyeing Albus' contract speculatively. "There is no catch, Edith. Why must you always think so?" The young woman gave him a look so filled with scepticism that Minerva could see it, and she had known her for all of ten minutes. "Oh, all right," Mustang sighed. "I will simply need to call my second choice of teacher."
Miss Elric's eyes narrowed even further if that was possible. "And who is your second choice?" she ground out through her clenched teeth. She looked coiled, tense, and ready for a fight, shoulders rigid, aggressive. Minerva fingered the wand in her pocket uneasily.
Mustang finally looked up and something like apprehension crossed his face before it was smoothed over again. He rubbed his fingers together subtly and Minerva would've thought it an absentminded gesture if she hadn't caught Miss Elric's sharp, assessing gaze following the gloved hand. "Alphonse."
There was a lengthy, pregnant pause after the announcement and then the blonde woman moved before Minerva could even blink, just a flash of black and gold, as she approached the massive mahogany table and hit it heavily with a closed fist. A sound akin to a thunderclap echoed in the office and Minerva jumped to her feet, wand in hand and already trained on the woman. Albus had reacted similarly, though his wand remained pointed at the floor, still nonthreatening.
"No." Elric's voice was clipped, crisp. She had not been angry before, Minerva realized, just irritated. She was angry now, though, and all the more frightening for the coldness of it.
"Edith..." Mustang started soothingly.
Miss Elric shook her head violently, blond braid snapping and flying with every wild movement. "No," she said once again, final. "Winry is pregnant. Their first child will be born in two months. Alphonse will not miss it because of some stupid ass job." There was undercurrent of something in her voice, Minerva thought, and a flash of feelings in her gaze, but she masked it well.
"Edith," Mustang repeated, the familiar address falling from his lips easily. "I'm afraid that the two of you are my best options."
Well, that just made Minerva curious. "If I may ask, Fuhrer Mustang," she interrupted, somewhat hesitantly, unsure if her question would only escalate the situation. "Why have you decided on those two?" She kept her voice polite, not wanting to seem like she was doubting him.
The blonde woman glanced at Minerva speculatively before returning her attention to her superior. "Yeah, Mustang, the lady's right. Why the two of us?"
Mustang sighed yet again. He seemed to do that quite a lot in Miss Elric's company. "Professor, I don't know if you are aware, but alchemy is incredibly complicated art with countless branches which are each as hard to master as the other. Thus, the alchemists specialize in one or two fields and become masters, but at the cost of understanding of the other branches of alchemy. I, myself, am heavily specialized, even though I am considered one of the most powerful alchemists in Amestris," the man explained, a hint of pride in his voice, as he determinedly ignored Miss Elric's coughed 'egoist'. "Edith and Alphonse, however, are the only alchemists currently alive with full understanding of quite a number of branches of alchemy and therefore best suited for teaching it."
"Bastard," the Fullmetal Alchemist mumbled, although she did look somewhat pleased by the Fuhrer's praise. The rigid line of her spine softened and her eyes were bright with something other than anger, though she still loomed over the seated man. "But I haven't taught anyone anything in my life, Mustang!" she protested more loudly. Minerva, seeing that the situation had dissolved itself, pocketed her wand, shoulders relaxing.
The black-haired man gave her a look that questioned her intelligence. "You taught Alphonse," he said, voice implying that he was stating the obvious and didn't understand her ignorance.
Miss Elric snorted, as if the mere concept was ridiculous. "We learned alchemy together. You know that."
"Alphonse claimed differently. He said that whenever he couldn't grasp a concept or didn't understand something, you explained it with surprising patience."
"I'm always patient with Al, you know that. I'm rude to everybody else. Even kids," the younger woman warned, waving off the argument with a wild gesture. "And besides, he would explain things to me too, when I needed it."
Mustang's smirk was a sharp, triumphant slant of his lips. "And how often did that happen?"
The woman looked down, scowling. Obviously, Minerva concluded, it happened almost never, if her reaction was anything to go by.
"Excuse me, Fuhrer Mustang, Miss Elric," Albus interrupted, blue eyes twinkling. He was still standing beside her, his wand back in the pocket and observing the proceedings avidly. Minerva was surprised that he hadn't interfered earlier. "But I find myself curious. Who is this Alphonse that you speak so highly of?"
The two alchemists exchanged glances that Minerva couldn't even begin to decipher. They seemed to have a whole conversation in those few seconds, filled with meaningful looks and subtle twitches, until the young woman sighed exaggeratedly, rolling her eyes dramatically, and threw herself on her chair with enough force to make it skid slightly.
It was fascinating.
Miss Elric glared at them somewhat sullenly. "Al's my little brother," she admitted, and from her voice it was made very clear that she thought they had no right and no need of the information.
"Ah, I see," Albus murmured, looking intrigued. There was something swirling in his mind, Minerva could see, just behind the twinkling, blue-eyed gaze. He found something interesting in the alchemist's behaviour. "And how old are you, Miss Elric, if I may ask?"
The woman's gloved hand clenched around the armrest of the wooden chair hard enough that Minerva could swear she heard it creak. "Are you implying that I'm short, old man?" she asked through her teeth, eyes narrowed, blazing. Minerva noticed that Mustang was smirking again. He seemed to do a lot of that too around Miss Elric.
Albus smiled kindly, like he had no idea that he might've insulted her. Minerva knew better. "Oh, of course not, dear girl. I merely noticed that you are very young and to be called an expert in something as famously complicated as alchemy at your age is quite an accomplishment."
Miss Elric seemed placated by the praise, but frowned quickly, as if not wanting to show it. "Well, thanks, old man," she muttered, eyes sliding towards the floor for a moment before glancing up again. "I'm twenty-two and I've been learning alchemy for most of my life. So has my brother," she admitted. "And I'm not your dear girl, old man, so don't call me that! Call me Edith, if you must!" she snapped, rather suddenly, her mood changing in one abrupt second, and transferred her golden gaze to Minerva. "You too, lady, I suppose."
Minerva... didn't quite know what to think. Here was a woman, barely older than a girl, claiming to be an expert in a branch of magic so complicated that Albus was the only wizard in Britain known to dabble in it. She would've written it off as a youthful arrogance if not for Fuhrer Mustang, who was an accomplished alchemist himself, backing her story up, but it was still very hard to believe. Miss El– Edith was not a woman that seemed capable of sitting still for hours just to learn something, and while Minerva knew better than to judge a book by its cover, she couldn't quite shake off the feeling that this insubordinate human being could not possibly be an expert.
But still... There was some confidence in the Fullmetal's bearing, a quiet self-assurance that was in no way a product of arrogance and could only be learned through experience. Minerva had seen the same air around all witches and wizards that fought in the War, she saw it sometimes when she looked in the mirror and she easily recognized it. And she could recall the sudden, edge-thin sharpness in the golden-eyed gaze when the younger woman had threatened the Fuhrer, the lighting-fast movements and the honest respect that Mustang showed toward the younger alchemist, despite the subtle and almost amiable undertone of mockery in his words and actions.
"Then I hope that you will accept the job offer, Edith," she found herself saying, with surprising honesty, and meant it. It would certainly be interesting if she were ever to teach Hogwarts students. Minerva didn't think that Edith's blunt manner of speaking and behaving would sit well with the Slytherins.
She couldn't wait to see Severus' reaction to this alarmingly genuine creature. And she had to fight off a smile at the thought of Dolores trying to establish her control over the young woman.
Albus' eyes still twinkled merrily. "I agree with Minerva, of course. I would be delighted to have you as a member of my staff."
The woman favored them with a squinty-eyed, suspicious look and then turned toward Mustang. "You are not going to ask Al," she said firmly, and it was a command, not a question. Minerva was surprised when the Fuhrer conceded the demand with a graceful tilt of his head, his eyes not straying from the Fullmetal's face. "How long will the job take, anyway?" she asked with a sigh.
The dark-haired man's smirk widened. He looked like he could already see the victory on the horizon and Minerva could admit that, judging by the rumours about the leader of Amestris, he probably could. "Only a year, Fullmetal. You could choose to stay for another if you want, but it will be entirely up to you."
Edith snorted incredulously and rolled her eyes. "Sure. Like this was my choice, too?" she said, though there was no actual resentment in her voice. It was a surprisingly friendly statement, considering her fit of temper just a few minutes ago.
The Fuhrer leaned forward, resting his chin on his steepled fingers, smirking widely. "Does that mean that you accept the job, Edith?" he asked, confident. Albus was smiling genially, obviously satisfied with the outcome. Minerva was fiercely curious about what was going on in his mind just then.
"Like you gave me any choice at all, you manipulative bastard." Was it just Minerva, or did that insult sound somewhat fond? "You had me as soon as you brought up Al and you know it."
"I am, as ever, touched by your continued awe of my work as politician, Fullmetal," Mustang said, voice dry. He fingered through the files on his desk before extracting a copy of the employment contract and sliding it toward the other alchemist. "You know the drill. Read through it and inform us of any objections."
Edith sighed, but she took the document without a comment and started scanning it faster than Minerva believed was possible. Her eyes flew over the pages and the Professor watched in amazement as the young woman whose intellect she had doubted just a few short minutes ago seemed to absorb the complicated legal concepts and not just read them without understanding.
"I liked you better when you were only a soldier, bastard," Edith murmured absentmindedly, flicking onto yet another page.
Mustang was watching the young woman, almost smiling, eyes bright. "Don't lie, Edith, you never liked me. Admit it," he said, and there was a history in their exchange that made Minerva think that those two knew each other much longer and much better than they were willing to admit.
Edith shrugged, not bothered by the accusation. "Oh, all right, that's true at least," she said, eyes not slowing for a second as she split her attention between the text she was reading and the conversation. "Al liked you, though," she added, as if her brother's opinion carried a great deal of weight with her.
Mustang snorted. "Al is a dear. He likes everyone," he said, offering her one of his fountain pens. The young woman accepted it with a quick, graceful gesture and a subtle nod of thanks. She still didn't look up from the papers.
"Also true. Careful, Mustang. If you continue like this I could almost believe that there is such a thing as an honest politician." Edith was grinning as she finally finished with the contract and signed it, left-handed, with a flourish.
Mustang's smile crinkled in the corner of his eyes, and his face was made all the more handsome by the honesty of the expression. He accepted the signed document graciously. "Truth forbid that you ever develop such a delusion. It would be a tragedy, I think, to loose such a mind to madness." There was enough sarcasm in that sentence to make Severus proud. Minerva was reluctantly impressed. And also, she was fairly sure that Albus was suppressing a laugh.
Edith stood up, stretching as she did so, movements smooth and lazy, reminding Minerva faintly of a jungle cat. "Well then, if I'm done here, I really must be going now," she said and offered nods to both wizards, faintly polite, and a smirk in Mustang's direction.
"Hurrying somewhere, Fullmetal?" the Fuhrer asked as the woman, already at the door, turned the knob. He seemed determined to have the last word.
Minerva watched as Edith's lips curled into a fairly alarming smile. "As a matter of fact, I am," she said, and there was something distinctly smug in her tone. "I must inform my fiancé that he will have to live without sex for a year." The smile she tossed over her shoulder was fierce and wickedly sharp. "I'm sure he'll be delighted."
She sauntered out of the room confidently, closing the door with a crisp movement, and left behind herself two faintly scandalized and reluctantly amused wizards and one completely devastated Fuhrer.
Minerva didn't know what was the cause of the expression on Mustang's face, but she was impressed nonetheless.
Edith Elric was an interesting woman.
"So, bastard," Edith started conversationally as she dragged her fingers through the hair on his scalp. "What's my real mission this time?"
They were lounging on the sinfully comfortable couch in their six months old house, Roy's head nested in her lap, legs thrown casually over the armrests, military uniform nowhere in sight, completely relaxed. Ed's automail hand was uncovered, her hair not braided, flowing down her back freely in a waterfall of gold, free and unburdened as she was only in the privacy of their home. They didn't do this often, to Roy's eternal displeasure. Ed was simply not made for the 'fucking boring, time-wasting cuddling' as she called it, but Roy enjoyed it and she indulged him sometimes when she was in the right mood.
He closed his eyes and exhaled as the skilful fingers scraped against his scalp. "What makes you think that teaching the brats is not your real mission?" he asked, curious about her reasoning. After all of the years he knew her, he still had trouble following her line of thought, unable to compete with her sheer brilliance.
It was one of the things he loved about her.
He heard a snort. "You would never send me just to teach the brats," she said, not offering an explanation, so he opened one eye and fixed her with an expectant look to make it clear he didn't believe her. Ed sighed. "Oh, hold your fucking horses, bastard, I was gonna explain either way," she mumbled grumpily. "You practically orchestrated the whole event; calling me in late, letting them see me taunting you, allowing them to assume that I don't respect you. Then you brought up Al and I just knew you were looking for a fight. You would never have asked him to work this close to the birth. So I fought," she concluded, smirking cheekily. "I did good didn't I?"
Roy felt his lips twitching, as if wanting to stretch into a smile. "You were certainly convincing," he assured her honestly. He had to fight his ingrained instincts not to snap his fingers and attack preemptively when she had clapped the table with her automail. He had learned from experience that only reacting when fighting the Fullmetal Alchemist easily led to a quick and embarrassing defeat.
He could almost feel her smiling brightly at the praise. "Anyway," she went on. "You wanted them to think that I would not follow your orders willingly and led them to believe that I'm doing so only because I don't have a choice. Nevermind that I haven't been working for you since the Promised Day," she said and he could just imagine her rolling those remarkable golden eyes. "So. What's my real mission?"
Roy could feel his lips stretching further as she explained her reasoning. There were very, very few people in Amestris that could keep up with him when he was scheming and it would never stop being exhilarating watching her incredible mind at work, untangling the twisted web of his lies, half-truths and plots and always somehow finding the truth of the matter.
It was... trilling, intoxicating, seeing all of that brainpower focused on his handiwork.
He opened his eyes and sat up regretfully, trailing his hand down her arm to stop her ministrations. Ed looked at him questioningly. "You're right," he admitted as he heaved himself up and crossed the room to approach the bookshelf filled with books, scrolls and a few files. He rummaged briefly through Ed's collection of books on the Xingian alchemy and found the file he was looking for, hidden safely between the incredibly dry book about the genealogy of Xingian emperors and a Cretan cookbook. He tugged it out and turned around, facing his long-time girlfriend and her raised eyebrow. He felt the ridiculous urge to shrug sheepishly and promptly buried it. "There have been some concerning rumours from Britain lately," Roy said as he seated himself beside her, leaning into her warmth. He offered her the file. "Dumbledore claims that their Dark Lord is rising again, the Ministry is in an uproar and some suspicious parties have arrived in Amestris, seemingly recruiting. Thankfully, they were unsuccessful for now, but I'm sure you can imagine the devastation if any side of the upcoming war managed to assure the loyalty of an Amestris-trained alchemist."
They exchanged grim looks. Roy couldn't help but let his mind wander to Ishval, and, as it always happened, the recollection of the smell of burning human flesh and agonized screams, almost feral in their last moments, made the nausea in his stomach nearly overwhelming. The memories were with him constantly, following on his heels like deranged puppies, never far from his mind, but the weight of them has been recently made easier by his efforts in the restoration of Ishval and its continued advancement. Still, the deaths on his conscience could not be so easily swept aside, and there were many of those. Roy couldn't imagine what kind of damage an alchemist working with wizards could inflict, even if he had only half of Roy's talent.
He didn't even want to think about the destruction someone with half of Ed's talent could cause. The sheer magnitude of the lives lost...
A light touch on his shoulder brought his attention from his rather depressing internal musings. Ed was scowling at his inattention, but her golden eyes were soft, knowing, and she refrained from commenting on the no doubt painful expression on his face. There would be no comforting words from her, Roy knew, since those were reserved solely for Alphonse, but it was its own kindness, her refusal to be gentle with him and baby him, her adamant belief that he would be all right on his own.
Her faith in him, Roy had always thought, stopped her from even trying to help him in his long crusade for redemption, as much as her own emotionally repressed nature.
"Well, that's a good fucking reason to send someone to spy for you, if there ever was one," she said, and Roy welcomed the distraction. "But why me? I'm not exactly... subtle."
Roy couldn't, for the life of him, suppress a snort. No, Ed may be many, many things, some brilliant, some extremely damaging, but she could not in any conceivable way be called subtle. Although she had learned the importance and advantages of discretion and could use it when necessary, she really preferred not to bother.
At least she had stopped wearing that awful red coat. It had made Roy's eyes water, though he did suspect that that was the point.
"I need someone capable, adaptable and not afraid to defend themselves," Roy explained, draping his arm over the back of the couch, his fingers playing with the golden strands of Ed's hair. "They also need to know alchemy, since the cover demands it. And they need to be trustworthy enough to allow me to send them to such a sensitive mission. So," he concluded, observing her from the corner of his eye. She was blushing slightly and it almost made his heart burst, despite the situation. "It has to be you."
Ed looked like she was trying really hard to scowl, but her eyes were bright with pleasure and her cheeks were still pink. It made her look lovely, in Roy's opinion, completely unguarded as he rarely saw her outside of their bedroom. "Why not send someone who can actually do magic?" she asked.
Roy had to admit that was a good point. He had though about sending an actual witch or a wizard, but they were so rare in Amestris that the Statute of Secrecy was not even needed. Most of them came from the old, aristocratic families, though now and then a civilian with the talent crops up, but very few of them had ever joined the military. Even fewer still were alchemists.
Actually, there was only one wizard and alchemist in all of Amestris' military. Roy grimaced. "The only wizard who even remotely qualifies is Alex Louis Armstrong."
Ed chocked on the air. Roy sympathized. The only thing worse than Ed in a foul mood in a room full of teenagers is probably Armstrong in a good mood in a room full of teenagers. Roy did not want to fill out the paperwork that would be an inevitable product of a military officers stripping in front of children while crying about the magnificent and numerous qualities of the Armstrong family.
No. Just no.
"Also," he continued, rubbing the bridge of his nose to delay the incoming headache from the long day of work. "I noticed that you're getting restless."
Ed looked away. "Ah," she sighed, and her hands fluttered as if to take one of his own between them. She didn't, but when her gaze returned to his face, her eyes were blazing, a mix of grateful and exhilarated.
Ed had always been more of her father's daughter than her mother's, Roy knew. It was a source of great displeasure to her, but she couldn't help it. The wandering, the need to travel and see and understand the world was as much in her blood as her Xerxian golden coloring and her innate understanding of alchemy. Al had it too, though his need was not so great. He could, and did, settle quite happily in one place with his growing family, feeding his sense of adventure with frequent trips to Rush Valley, East and Central. Ed, though, had always been wilder, more unrestrained, and when she stayed in one place too long she became short-tempered, snappish, her words going from playfully teasing to almost cruelly barbed. Roy did not like seeing her like that, almost as much as she did not enjoy being confined, so he often looked for reasons to secure her another trip somewhere, preferably exotic. An invite from Ling perhaps, or a request for help on Drachman border; if he could, he asked her to take care of it.
It made both of them satisfied in the end, even if it meant not seeing each other for months.
Ed had warned him, after all, when they had first started their relationship and again when he proposed, that she was not a woman who would be satisfied with quiet, settled life.
It made him love her all the more.
She sighed and leaned into him, the automail seeping the cold even through his shirt. The file was still opened on her lap, but she had already scanned what little information they had. It was not much and not very reliable, but still the best his team could gather. "When am I expected at Hogwarts?" she asked, fingers absently playing with the paper.
"In a month or so," Roy said, tucking her closer. Although he understood her need to travel, he still liked to enjoy it when he had her this close. "You're required to arrive at least a week before the classes start."
"Hmmm," Ed hummed absentmindedly. Roy could see the barely there look in her eyes and recognized the expression from the few missions they had together. She was planning, making a mental checklist of things that needed to get done and people who would be doing them, a general in a war, even if it was against time. "I'll need to read up on magical Britain, pack new, winter clothes, change my automail or Winry'll kill me, say goodbye to everyone, visit Alphonse, brush up on my English..." she said, every item on her list punctuated by the quick tap of her metal hand.
Roy hesitated before interrupting. "Headmaster Dumbledore offered to cast a Translation Charm on you," he said. "It will allow you to understand and speak English perfectly, with the exception of some idioms."
Ed eyed him beneath her eyelashes. Her golden gaze was filled with scepticism and Roy didn't blame her. It sounded too good and too generous to be true. "What's the catch?" she asked.
"It's not a long-term charm," Roy explained, repeating what the wizards had told him. "You will have to have it re-cast every twenty-four to forty-eight hours and you would not be able to switch between Amestrian and English while it lasts, not even in writing."
Ed grimaced, reflecting Roy's feelings on the matter perfectly. It would be a great inconvenience to depend on the wizards to understand the language, not to mention the disadvantage of being unable to write or speak in code in Amestrian. It sounded like Dumbledore wanted to minimize the possibility of Edith hiding something, as well as to increase her dependency on him. The part of Roy that still remained somewhat willing to see the best in people insisted that the Headmaster may have had actual good intentions, but the Fuhrer had been a politician for long enough to doubt it.
He really didn't like that offer.
"I'll brush up on my English," Ed said decisively. She didn't seem to like it either. "I'll have to talk to Al too. He had some interesting books about the Outside that he managed to buy in some bookstore in Xing. He raved about that place for hours." Her voice had gained a fond quality that always made an appearance whenever she talked about her little brother. She looked at him curiously. "How am I traveling there, anyway? I assume that there are no trains that cross the Ward," she said dryly.
The Ward. It had always been a curious concept to Roy, both as an alchemist and a politician. It was considered a magical work of art, a venture that was thought to be impossible until a coven of hundred and fifty witches and wizards, all from old and well-respected families, experts in runes and warding, gathered together and cast a ward so strong, so complicated that it managed to completely separate a good chunk of the Eastern Europe from the rest of the continent. The backlash of such a spell was so severe that at least a dozen of the casters died then and there, while even more had suffered agonizing pain and a drainage of their magical core as a result of channelling so much raw power. Still, they had succeeded and entered the history books as a reward for their daring. The impact that single action had on the development of the warded region was enormous and even people in Roy's day felt it. They had been protected from the Outside for centuries, able to hide behind the power of the Ward, warring only between themselves, but it came at the cost of slower advancement and innovation, since only a few people could venture Outside to share and bring home new ideas, and all of them had to be approved by at least one independent party or the magic of the spell would simply not let them cross. There were very few ways to bypass the Ward, all of them magical, all of them rare in Amestris and none of them capable of carrying more than one passenger safely.
Ed would be one of those rare people of their time to cross the Ward.
Roy never doubted that she would be almost unmanageably smug about it.
"Dumbledore said that he'll send you a Portkey," Roy explained. "Apparently, it will have two activation words, one to bring you to some village close to Hogwarts and one to bring you back to Central. You will be able to use them whenever you want." And it was a bigger relief than Roy was willing to admit, her freedom to come home during the holidays, the fact that he would not have to really wait a year to see her.
"All right," Ed nodded, satisfied, lips quirked in a smile. "That'll work just fine."
An answering smile stretched Roy's lips, light and genuine. He sat up, swiping the file from her lap and tossing it on small coffee table without fanfare. Ed, as always, smart enough to follow his thought process, grinned mischievously, swinging on the couch to straddle his lap, her arms on his shoulders. She leaned towards him, their faces almost close enough to touch, her breath on his lips. "We should celebrate. This is once in a lifetime opportunity. Not many people get to go Outside," she murmured, gazing into his eyes. Her golden orbs were as bright and blazing as the sun.
"I think," Roy started, unable to tear his gaze away from her curled lips. "That this is the best idea I had heard all day."
Al's hug hurt.
It was a familiar experience, being hugged to death by her little brother. Even with his own body back, without the suit of armour, he was still quite a bit taller than her, broad-shouldered, with lean muscles and steel grip that was a result of Teacher's hellish training regime. Combine that with his constant need for contact after years of the sensory deprivation, his knowledge that he wouldn't be seeing her for months and his endless and often expressed worry about the dangerous situations she could get herself into without backup, and the result was enough to squeeze the breath out of her lungs.
So yes, Al's hug hurt.
Nonetheless, she hugged him back just as firmly and leaned into his familiar warmth.
She would be away for months after all. Al was not the only one affected.
After a long, blissful minute in the embrace that reminded her what she had been fighting for years earlier, she extracted herself reluctantly and faced the rest of the people in her living room. Roy was there, of course, because he would never send her somewhere without giving her a proper goodbye even if she had not threatened to maim him if he did so. Al too, never missed the opportunity to scold her and emphasize the importance of caution before every little trip she took, but Mustang's old team was a surprise. They didn't always manage to see her off, but since this time it was something of a military mission they concluded that it was a good enough reason to skip on their regular duties to say goodbye to an old friend.
Not that the Fuhrer could really punish them, considering that he was ditching work with them for the same reason.
Only Winry was absent, to Ed's eternal regret, but her best friend and a sister-in-law was too heavily pregnant to travel safely and Al didn't want to risk it. With their luck, they would have tried to come by a train that would then have been taken over by bandits, driven of the railings and possibly ended up in the middle of an avalanche. Still, Ed had managed to travel to Resembool a few weeks ago to get a specialized automail for the English weather, so she had at least seen her friend before being forced to leave for who knows how long. And she had had only one wrench thrown at her. It had been a good visit.
She grinned at them brightly. "Now, who wants to be the first one to tell me to be careful?" she asked, and made sure that her tone was as sharp as the look in her eyes. Every one of those men knew that only people allowed to baby her were Al and sometimes Winry and Riza, but they were known to try from time to time nonetheless. Ed enjoyed getting revenge in all the new and creative ways her mind could possibly think of.
Predictably, all the men, save from Roy, who was standing a little away from the team, smirking somewhat smugly, exchanged meaningful glances and took what they clearly hoped were discrete steps backward. None of them quite dared to push Hawkeye forward, but the sentiment was easy to see.
Riza glanced at them disdainfully, eyes seemingly cold, before stepping towards Ed. She knew better than to try and hug her, though she did offer a respectful nod of her head and a small, barely noticeable smile. "Be safe, Edith. And try not to destroy the school," she said firmly, but not without warmth.
Ed grinned back at her. From all of the Roy's old team, Riza had always been closest to her, apart from the man himself. They were two lone women in a predominately men's world, and knew to stick together. And as neither one of them was a person fond of great displays of emotion, their relationship was based on the freely expressed respect for each other and carefully, and rarely shown fondness.
That, and their mutual mission to keep Roy alive and capable of signing paperwork.
Still, Ed suspected that Riza saw her as something of a younger sister, or at least Al claimed so. Ed was... not entirely opposed to the idea, as long as the older woman refrained from babying her. Too much.
"I promise nothing," she said, her smile bordering on Cheshire, and watched as Riza's lips quirked further up, a fond look in her eyes.
"I know better than to expect a promise," she said sternly. "But I expect you to try."
Yes, Riza was one of the only people who never tried to set limitations to what she could exactly do and how she was expected to perform her job. Though she could get angry, concerned and disappointed even, she seemed to know better than to try to limit her. Ed suspected that she had simply gotten used to the alchemists' brand of crazy from her long years at Roy's side, even if the Fuhrer's penchant for destruction was expressed in the ruined careers of the corrupted military officials and not the astronomical material damage that seemed to follow after the trail of Fullmetal Alchemist's missions.
Still, out of respect for the older woman's way of asking and not ordering, Ed clicked her heels, still grinning, and performed a prefect salute. "Madam! Yes, Madam!" And, yes, Ed's brand of respect was usually combined with her own unique flavour of playful mockery. Riza understood the sentiment anyway.
Riza seemed pleased as she retreaded back into the group, casting one more dirty glare at her former team for a good measure. They tried to look contrite. They did not succeed. Al gave a deep sigh of exasperation from beside her, but Ed could see that he was fighting off a grin.
Roy was scowling though, his smug smirk gone. "Why do you salute for her?" he asked, and Ed noticed with amusement that there was a bit of a whine in his tone. He knew the reason, of course, as he knew most things about her, but he would not miss a chance to pull her into a match of wits. "You never did for me."
Riza manged to look smug without twitching a muscle. Ed though that it was a tremendous accomplishment. Havoc was clearly laughing silently, his shoulders shaking slightly, while the rest of them looked composed, but the mirth in their eyes and a slight twitching of their lips told a different story. They were obviously looking forward to one of Roy's and hers regular fights. They had always enjoyed them.
Ed was aware of the betting pool that had existed when she had still worked for the military.
"I respect her, bastard," she drawled, amused. These people had that effect on her. "And she's a damn lot of scarier than you."
Roy looked offended, but his dark orbs were alight with laughter, the corners of the eyes crinkled as if he wanted to smile. "You wound me, Ed," he said, a hand theatrically posed above his heart. "How will I ever survive after such a cruel remark?"
"Suck it up and go on, bastard," Ed said, pitilessly, still reluctantly amused. "You heard worse from me and you know it."
Ed turned towards Falman next. He had came down from the Briggs just a few days ago, intending to use his well-deserved vacation days to see his team-turned-family, and she was glad that he could make it. They had never been particularly close, but the man was intelligent enough to understand most of what she was talking about as long as it had no connection to alchemy, and that was rare enough that Ed had always been hesitatingly fond of the socially awkward man.
She smiled kindly at him. "I'll see if I can get you some books from the Outside," she said and watched as his eyes lit up. She offered her left hand for a respectful handshake, which he returned enthusiastically, not fumbling with a wrong hand like most people did. "And do say hi to Olivier from me," she continued, ignoring the choking she could hear from Havoc's direction at the casual way she referred to the feared General. Olivier was a woman in men's world too. The use of the first name was allowed. "And tell her that I appreciate her efforts to curb Roy's ego. I hope she continues even when I'm not here to help." Ed knew that her smile was just a shade too wicked. She didn't even try to change it.
The last statement caused a smatter of laughs from the group and a deep, agonizing groan from Roy. "Don't encourage her!" he snapped. Ed's smile widened as Havoc laughed even louder. "She'll only get worse." The thing was, Roy was right. Ed was counting on it.
Falman, his lips twitching, nodded once, sharply, completely ignoring the Fuhrer's order. "I will. I'm sure that General Armstrong will be delighted to hear from you."
Ed snorted at the thought of Olivier being delighted at anything other than beating her brother. It was a ridiculous and highly improbable image.
"I sure hope so," she said anyway, if only because she didn't want to have that discussion with Falman just then.
The next in line was Fuery, his small, short body partially obscured by Falman's tall form. Ed scowled and unceremoniously grabbed his arm and dragged him to stand in front of her, aware that he would not step up by himself. He was not cripplingly shy, his fast advancement through the military ranks and the confidential work he did for Roy had cured him of it, but he was still gentle enough not to try and put himself before his teammates, even in something as meaningless as saying goodbye to a friend. Ed had always liked him, almost from the moment they had met, despite his unfortunate choice of the career. He had reminded her a little of Al, with his kind, understanding nature, though he lacked her brother's penchant for sly sarcasm and subtle, well-meaning manipulation.
"There," she commanded, carefully turning him to face her head-on and taking a step back. She nodded sharply, satisfied when he looked her straight in the eyes confidently. "Now say goodbye to me properly."
The rest of the team was smiling fondly.
Fuery smiled, half-nervous, half-amused, and slightly sheepish, a smile she had gotten used to through her years in his company. "I'm sad to see you go, Ed," he said, painfully earnest, and she had no other option than to believe him completely. He practically radiated trustworthiness. "Please, have fun in England. I hope you'll like it."
Ed smiled brightly at him, once again reminded of Al. She was glad that he had managed to hold onto his kindness even in the harsh enviroment that the military fostered. Even though things were better since Grumman had became Fuhrer, and improved even more rapidly when Roy took over the position, theirs was the country that practically lived from warmongering, and Father had made many enemies among their neighbours. All of the people in this room, except of Al who had never really formally worked for the military, had fought in the recent Drachman conflict or at least had some hand in the skirmishes near the Aerugian border. Even Ed, who had by that the time been only a consultant, was eventually asked to help with her expertise.
Despite everything, she did love her country and trusted Roy not lead it down the wrong path so she accepted.
Sometimes she regretted it, when the nightmares woke her up in cold sweat. Most of the time she was aware of the fact that regret, in the end, meant nothing, though she knew that it could and will follow her to her grave.
But it still amazed her that Fuery, who had been in the thick of things for the longest time along with his team, had managed to keep that gentle soul of his untouched. She had seen him still unashamedly helping the green recruits, making the life easier for the younger, newer officers and always offering a sympathetic ear and sage advice. Ed was often awed by the sheer resilience that hid beneath the reclusive personality.
"Oh, I'll make sure of it," she purred unabashedly, not exactly sure if it will assure him, but willing to try. She would not survive in a boarding school for a year without some entertainment, even if she had to make up some herself.
Then she turned towards Breda and offered a hand for a shake. He accepted it, pumping it a few times sharply and gave her a respectful nod.
"Make sure to keep them alive," Ed commanded, motioning with her head toward the team, but mainly Roy, who would need most of the protection. Unlike most people, Ed had never really underestimated the heavy-set man. She had easily recognized the sharp intelligence in his eyes that, despite his unassuming and frankly somewhat simple appearance, spoke of great cunning and resourcefulness. Over the years she had realized, that Breda, much like herself sometimes, capitalized on the fact that nobody really took him seriously, and the information that he had uncovered had saved the Fuhrer's life on countless occasions.
The Chief of Intelligence nodded solemnly. "You know I will," he said, and then hesitated slightly, before producing a thin file from somewhere on his uniform. He handed it to her gravely with a serious glint in his eyes that conveyed the importance of the action. "This is everything I have on the important players in Britain. Something to read once you get there."
She looked down on the file, touched that he had bothered. The information on the political climate of the Outside was devilishly hard to come by and he must've used quite a lot resources to obtain it. Granted, it could be that the main reason was the sudden upsurge of the 'recruiting officers' from the Magical World, but he had still thought of her and her mission. "Thanks, man."
"No problem, Ed. Be safe," he said, and with a last nod, stepped back.
Havoc was the last one, a cigarette in his mouth and a shit-eating grin on his face. He spread his hands wide open. "Come on, chief. A proper goodbye," he said, and Ed had to grin. He had always been one of her favourites, if only because Roy liked to pick on him almost as much as her. She had gotten close to him out of sheer solidarity.
She approached confidently, making sure to sway her hips a little, knowing Roy would follow the movements. Another reason that she liked the blond man was that he was always on board for a little harmless teasing as a petty revenge for the Fuhrer's years of stealing his dates. So Ed relished Roy's dark look as she leaned on her tip-toes and landed a kiss on Havoc's cheek and a accepted the hand on her shoulder graciously.
She had her own years of short jokes to take revenge on and making her finacé jealous was something of hobby at this point.
It never stopped being one of the few ways of seeing him loose his infamous cool, if only just a little.
Predictably, Roy scowled and stepped closer, snaking a possessive hand around her waist, which Ed allowed only because she had practically asked for it with her little display. Still, she smiled at Havoc. "Don't let them get killed without me here to save them," she commanded. "You know that you and Riza are the only sane ones here and she's got her hands full with the bastard."
She determinedly ignored Roy's indignant exclamation and focused on Riza's self-satisfied little half-smile and a cheerful Havoc snapping her a perfect salute. "As you say, chief," he confirmed, still grinning, but his amused expression was contradicted by the grave focus in his eyes.
Ed nodded, satisfied. He'll keep them safe.
Al was the next one to step up, apparently determined to scold her once more. "Be safe, sister," he said, amber orbs looking at her earnestly, dark blond hair flopping in front of his face. He looked adorable, and Ed was incapable of stopping the slight softening of her expression caused by the burst of warmth in her chest. The little manipulative brat had probably practiced the look in front of the mirror, she knew, and now he used it shamelessly.
The knowledge did not lessen the impact.
Still, she tried to smirk at him, displaying confidence in her words she did not really have. "I'm always careful, Al," she said, and was really proud that she had managed to keep the straight face. A round of disbelieving snorts followed her statement. She cast the team a dark glare that did not deter them in the slightest.
Al's eyes, though, only glinted even brighter, getting somehow, impossibly, bigger and rounder. That fucking crafty brat, she thought fondly. "Please, sister," he begged, and Ed, as always, folded like a tissue. She nodded, ignoring the snickering from their audience. Al's expression brightened immediately at her concession. "And please don't destroy the school, sister. It's really old."
Ed narrowed her eyes at him, grimacing. Now he was just restricting her needlessly, but... Those eyes. "Oh, all right. As long as they don't fucking ask for it."
Her little brother sighed, but seemed to come to the conclusion that it was the best promise he would get from her, without outright emotionally blackmailing her, and this situation didn't really require that sort of strong-arming.
In the end, she turned toward Roy and grinned at him, still in the protective embrace of his arms. "You better do your paperwork or Riza will tell me," she said, trying not choke up. It would do her no good to act like an emotional little girl.
That was usually Roy's job.
His grin was sharp and slightly fragile, an edge of sadness in the upturned corners of his mouth. "You are aware that I am the Fuhrer, aren't you, Fullmetal?" he asked, voice strained. "I have better things to do than to sign some boring papers." He very pointedly ignored Hawkeye's cold glare.
"Excuses, excuses, bastard," she sang, smiling wickedly, taking a step closer to him, until the tall, muscled lenght of his body was pressed against her. He was familiar to her like this, protective despite the lack of need and always willing to offer comfort even when she was not asking for it.
His face was suddenly sober and his eyes soft as his grip tightened around her when she shifted her position. "I'm going to miss you, Ed," he said, as he always did before she went away. It never failed to make her uncomfortable, as most displays of open affection did, but at least this time she wasn't alone. The rest of them team was pointedly not looking at them and poor Al looked like he wanted to cover his eyes and see and hear nothing. "I love you," he added, as if was the most normal thing in the world to say things like that in the room full of people.
Ed scowled at him, feeling the heat in her cheeks.
That fucking sap!
She did the only thing she could think of, because she was not saying those words in front of her co-workers and her little brother. In hindsight, her solution was barely any better.
She kissed him.
It was a deep, slightly filthy kiss, that lasted long enough that she was running out of air. She fisted her hands in his dark hair and pulled harshly, swallowing the man's groan with a smile. And Roy, as always, was excellent and enthusiastic kisser, certainly good enough to make sure that she was unable to feel the embarassment. She very determinedly ignored the choking from their audience, though she did take a moment to flip the bird when someone, most likely Havoc, wolf-whistled.
When they finally came up for air, Roy was grinning widely, lips red. "Does that mean that you'll miss me, too?" His question was entirely too smug.
Ed scowled furiously and extracted herself from his tight grip. "Oh, fuck you, bastard!"
His grin only widened, eyes sparkling as he took a small step back. "I would be glad to, Ed, but we really don't have enough time. And besides, we have an audience."
Ed determinedly refused to blush, even while she was allowing her gaze to wander over their entirely too scandalized friends. Well, Riza was carefully blank-faced, radiating disapproval, and Al had an excuse of just watching his older sister get completely ravished, but the rest of them looked like they had never seen anyone kissing in their lives.
Though Havoc did whistle again. "Didn't know you had it in you, chief."
She ignored him with a frown as she fished out the Portkey out of the pocket of her brown coat. It was a thin, cheap bracelet of fake gold, gaudy even to Ed's ignorant of fashion eyes, but she really did not have a choice.
Though she did take a moment to silently curse the old man's utter lack of sense of style that seem to transfer from his eye-searing robes to his choice of jewelry.
She aimed another glare at Roy, unwilling to go without saying at least something as a goodbye.
So, in her signature and completely blunt manner, she saluted him sloppily, and said, "Don't get lonely with only your hand as a company, bastard." She made sure that her voice was entirely too cheerful and pretended not to notice Roy's fond and slightly sappy smile and Al's indignantly exclaimed 'Sister!'. "And I leave the wedding plans to you. You know, since I will be unavailable." And, having delegated the chore she really had no interest in doing, she gripped the gold bracelet tightly, grabbed the old and battered suitcase that rested beside her and tried not to feel embarrassed as she whispered the ridiculous activating phrase. "Lemon drops."
The last thing she saw before being hauled out of the room by the sharp tug behind her navel were the incredulous faces of her family.
Blond hair obscured the angular face as the owner picked herself up from the ground. Minerva's lips tinned at the crude language, but she stopped herself from snapping at the younger woman. She was a fellow teacher, a colleague, and she had no right to scold her even if she desperately wanted to.
Edith Elric rose hastily from the ground, where she had stumbled and fallen after the Portkey travel, and dusted her simple brown coat off. She was mumbling under her breath and Minerva made a conscious effort not to listen in. Likely more obscenities, she knew, and she did not wish to hear such a language from a grown, if a bit young, woman.
"That was fucking horrible," Edith said, golden eyes narrowed and glaring at the seemingly innocuous pice of jewelry before raising her gaze and looking at the Professor. She offered a strained smile in greeting and pocketed the Portkey, grabbing a rather battered suitcase and confidently striding towards her, only a slightest wobble detectable in her movements. In Minerva's opinion, she was handling her first taste of magical travel exceptionally well, especially for a muggle. "I almost puked," the younger woman continued. She spoke English with incredible fluency, though a heavy accent was easily identifiable, sounding vaguely German. "I hadn't puked since I was a child and I traveled by some really questionable ways. Anyway, nice to see you again, Professor." Edith offered her, strangely enough, left hand for a shake and Minerva, after a moment of fumbling, accepted the gesture. Her grip was firm, but not painful, and she shook her hand confidently.
"Please call me Minerva," she said politely. "We will be colleagues for a year, after all." At the younger woman's nod, she retracted her hand and eyed the luggage that now sat beside Edith's legs. It looked quite heavy. Minerva took out her wand, and was momentarily surprised by the way Edith seemed to tense at the action. "Would you like me to cast a charm to make it easier to carry?" sha asked, gesturing at the heavy suitcase, making it clear that it was the only piece of magic she wanted to do.
Edith was eyeing the wand in her hand, almost warily. "Nah," she said with a languid shrug, sounding uncaring, nonchalant, as if her eyes were not discretely tracking the every movement of Minerva's hand. "I need the exercise anyway." To prove her point, she hefted her bag with her right hand seemingly without any effort at all and eyed the well-trodden stone path pointedly. "This way?"
Minerva pocketed her wand, barely noticing the slight easing of Edith's shoulders as she nodded. They were right between Hogsmeade and Hogwarts, not that far away from either of them, but enough not to disturb someone with the arrival of an unexpected Portkey, so she turned sharply on her heel and started towards the castle with a subtle gesture in the direction of the new teacher. "Follow me, please," she said crisply, falling into the habit from the endless Sorting Ceremonies she had performed, fully expecting the younger woman to listen.
"Right," the girl mumbled, but started walking quickly enough, without complaint. The trek was not terribly troublesome, especially not at this time of the year, when the weather was still mild enough to be called pleasant, but it was still quite long enough to tire someone who carried a heavy load, even more so if the person carrying the load had just experienced the dubious joys of the magical travel for the first time. So it surprised Minerva that such a... slight woman was able to cover the ground so fast and show not a sign of tiredness, but she supposed that military training was finally showing.
From her displays of complete and careless insubordination just under a month ago, Minerva could have easily gotten an impression that Edith was an unrestrained graduate, brave with her new-found freedom and not a trained, highly honored ex-military officer.
When they finally approached the castle, the Professor paused and took a step to the side, allowing her guest to see the building in all of its splendour. It was actually one of her favourite parts of every school year. The disbelieving wonder and unrestrained admiration on the faces of the first years, even the ones with the strictest pureblood training, was a constant, never-ending reward for her decades of teaching. This year, thanks to the new staffing situation she was allowed to see it twice. Edith didn't disappoint. The blond woman whistled sharply, eyes wide as she gazed at the magnificent construct of high, pointy towers adorned by the statues and gargoyles, enormous, thick-walled ground floors and thousands of windows lit with yellow-gold light of torches and candles. It was certainly a grandiose sight, Minerva had always thought, and even more so when seen for the very first time.
"Now, this is some architecture," Edith said, voice faintly awed, eyes roving over the contours of the massive stone walls with interest. "I like the gargoyles. Very creepy." She nodded her rather enthusiastic approval of the fact, to Minerva's eternal bafflement, and continued on.
The rest of the walk was spent in a somewhat comfortable silence, only broken with terse directions from the Professor, as the younger woman was too busy observing her surroundings, quietly intrigued. Minerva suspected that very little was missed by those sharp, golden eyes and even sharper mind, even though Edith did not look like she was really paying any attention to her companion. After her utterly wrong first impression of the alchemist, Minerva has decided to think through any conclusions about Edith, before even thinking about them being the truth, and she certainly did not intend to underestimate the intelligence hiding behind the pretty facade.
It took them only a few short minutes to reach the entrance door and the witch paused only briefly to knock once, crisply. The door, tall and heavy, but spelled countless times through the centuries, opened slowly, soundlessly, allowing them to continue uninterrupted into the castle.
A quiet intake of breath from behind caught Minerva's attention.
She turned around, expecting to see an awed and faintly intrigued expression on the alchemist's face, as it had hardly changed since they had first saw Hogwarts. Thus, she was immensely surprised by the horror-struck expression Edith wore, her eyes wide and blazing, something so incredibly, deeply furious in them that it almost made Minerva, who had once saw Lord Voldemort raging on the battlefield, take a sudden, defensive step back. That accusing gaze swept over the Entrance Hall and, even though Minerva could not see anything wrong with the chamber, settled on the wall filled with portraits, burning brightly enough in her anger that her golden orbs looked like two miniature sons.
When the younger woman finally found her voice, it was shaking from suppressed rage. "What the fuck is that?" Minerva could feel the first stirrings of fear in her gut as Edith very deliberately relinquished her luggage, her hands flexing automatically. Her every instinct screamed at her to take her wand and defend herself, but this anger was so unlike the protective fury the younger woman had exhibited in Amestris that the Professor feared that the merest hint of the weapon would make the situation infinitely worse.
"Are you asking about the portraits, Edith?" she asked, carefully, voice as soothing as she could make it, desperately wishing that Albus was here. He, with all of his kind, grandfatherly ways, would know how to keep the young woman from exploding in the middle of a thousand year old school, while Minerva could not even see the reason for her anger.
"Yes, I'm talking about the fucking portraits!" Edith practically snarled, whirling on her heel to face Minerva fully, and there was something feral on her suddenly sharp-edged face, dangerous and unrestrained. It took all of Minerva's formidable force of will not to reach for her wand. She doubted that it would do her any good anyway. The way the younger woman was standing, legs slightly spread, perfectly balanced, but ready to spring in a moment, and the laser-like focus she used when observing the witch's every movement made her think that it would be a losing fight from the get-go. "Why the fuck are they moving?" Golden eyes narrowed, the piercing gaze hot enough to burn all the way to her heart. "Did you tie someone's soul to them?"
Minerva blinked at the sudden question, completely bewildered. "What?" she questioned, unable to hide the incredulous confusion from her voice.
Was it even possible to remove the soul from the body without killing the person?
"Did you tie someone's soul to the portraits?" Edith voice was sharp, cold, cracking against the silence of the Hall like a whip. To Minerva's rising dread, her hands were almost unrestrainedly twitching, flexing, like she dearly wanted to hurt something or someone with them.
"Of course not," Minerva replied honestly, because as far as she knew, that kind of magic was impossible, and the thought that an alchemist could do it, even if it seemed to be some kind of a taboo was chilling enough without the added implication of their new teacher actually recognizing the signs of a supposed bound soul. "They were enchanted by the expert painters."
There was a moment of heavy, echoing silence as Edith processed her words.
"Ah," the younger woman looked away for a moment, hearing the truth in her voice, and Minerva though that she might have been embarrassed by her outburst. Her hands had stopped twitching though, and the Professor had to suppress a sigh of relief at the proof of Edith's calming temper. "I... apologize for accusing you," Edith said hesitantly, the slight catch in her voice making Minerva suspect that an actual apology was not usually in her vocabulary, and thus all the more precious for the rarity of it. "I did not know that such things were possible to do with magic." And that admittance of ignorance was, Minerva knew, a hundred times rarer.
"No apology necessary," Minerva said stiffly, but honestly. She knew that if she had been in a situation where she had to assume something as utterly amoral as tampering with a soul was happening, she would've reacted similarly. "You were surprised," she allowed, before continuing carefully, not wanting to cause another display of Edith's quite formidable and truthfully frightening temper. "I was unaware that alchemy is capable of binding souls."
The expression on Edith's face darkened even further, her eyes going cold and strangely brittle, much like shattered glass, all sharp edges that drew blood combined with a surprising fragility. She looked away once again, only for a moment, gloved hands clenched, before returning her gaze on Minerva, strangely intent, focused. "It is possible," she started, as if she did not want to explain it, but feeling she had to. "But extremely difficult. And forbidden. Only few alchemists alive can actually do it," she added, and there was something self-depriciating in her tone, even when she tried to assure Minerva that it was a very unlikely threat.
"And you are one of them," Minerva guessed, because that was the only thing that made sense. She supposed that the alchemist could have come in contact with a bound soul without body, but the knowing expression on her face and the still present edge in her gaze spoke of the full understanding of the atrocity that is tampering with the essential part of human being.
Edith's smile was strangely bitter. "Mustang did tell you that I'm one of the best," she said, and looked at her shrewdly, looking like she could hear every thought in Minerva's mind. It was understandably unsettling.
"Yes, he did," Minerva confirmed, and for the first time wondered what being one of the best actually meant for Edith. What kind of awful, horrible knowledge she had swirling, clawing at her mind to be able to say that she is a master of something as dangerous as alchemy.
She though that she was much better of not knowing.
The younger woman suddenly took a deep breath, closing her eyes for a long, drawn-out moment, before composing herself, eyes bright once again, shoulders relaxed, one hand safely in the pocket, the other grabbing the suitcase once again. It was a complete transformation, and only the tightness around Edith's mouth spoke about the previous emotional turmoil.
"Well, shall we?" Edith asked, gesturing flamboyantly towards the entrance of the Great Hall where the other teachers waited them, eating, and Minerva wondered, as she slowly, reluctantly strode towards the heavy, massive door, if she was going to act like the last ten minutes didn't actually happen. But then Edith called out, "Minerva!" The professor turned, startled at the use of her name, and found the young alchemist looking at her with surprising seriousness and a hint of nervousness. "Could you... perhaps, not say anything about my abilities? To anyone?" she asked, and it looked like she truly, honestly feared the reaction of her new colleagues enough to actually ask for secrecy.
Minerva thought about it. If someone like Dolores found out about Edith's talents, there would be no fair trial, not even a chance for a defense, before she would be shipped of to Azkaban. And Albus, for all of his genuinely good intentions, had a habit of overlooking the small picture in favour of more grand, elaborate plans and plots, enough to unknowingly harm the young woman, and Minerva found that, to her surprise, she did not want that to happen.
Edith Elric was, in the witch's opinion, a good, moral person and, although not without flaws, Minerva did not wish to see her harmed.
"Of course," she said, and Edith's answering smile was bright enough to rival the sun.
Severus could not help the sneer that crossed his face as the new teacher slammed the door of the Great Hall open.
"Old man!" the short woman that strode in next to Minerva shouted. She was blond, tanned, dressed in a brown coat and leather pants that were entirely inappropriate. The brats would be insufferable if she showed up clothed like that in the class. "That Portkey was shit. I almost puked." Some of the teachers cringed at her disrespectful language toward their Headmaster, but Severus was surprised when Minerva showed no reaction. She was usually the first one to insist on politeness.
Albus was smiling kindly, not paying attention to the woman's language. Severus' sneer widened. "My dear girl," Albus said and rose, spreading his hands in welcome, as if expecting a hug. The woman, her strange golden eyes glaring at the Headmaster, scowled and dumped a battered suitcase just in front of the raised dais. She did not seem bothered by their elevated position as she craned her neck to see them. "I'm afraid that there was nothing to be done about that. But, where are my manners? Welcome to Hogwarts, Edith Elric!"
Elric stomped up the short stairs, her coat swishing, and narrowed her eyes. "I'm not your dear girl, old man," she said determinedly. Her scowl had not left its place on her face, but her gaze was sharp as she swept her eyes over them. Severus could not help but note that it paused a bare moment longer on Pomona, Septima, Filius and himself. He raised an eyebrow. Well, at least she had some sense to note the greatest threats at the table, with the exception of Minerva and Albus. "I told you that already. If you're getting senile and forgetful, you may try writing it down."
If Severus had any less control over his facial muscles, his lips would have twitched in the beginnings of a smirk. Filius, who had no such qualms, chuckled under his breath. Albus' smile had not left his face, but the spark in his eye dimmed. "Of course, Edith," he said, and seemed utterly sincere. Only the years of paying attention to every change in the old coot's mood allowed Severus to see the pause in his words. The Headmaster was unaccustomed to anyone defying him openly and it showed. "I must admit that it has become a habit borne of many years of mentoring the young. I shall try to stop."
Elric's gaze was entirely flat and unimpressed. She leaned her hip against the head table and managed to make it look utterly disrespectful with only an arrogantly raised chin. Severus could hear Dolores gritting her teeth even a few seats away from her. "You do that, old man," she said, dismissively, with a raised eyebrow. He eyes once again swept over the table and this time stopped on Umbridge's slowly reddening face. Something very much like amusement glittered in the golden depths. "And who are they?"
Albus seemed more at ease with the familiar topic as he gestured at his teachers. "This will be your colleagues for the year, Edith," he said and eyed them kindly, with a beam on his face. He started the introductions, and Severus could not help but note that he had left Hagrid out completely, only mentioning that Grubbly-Plank was a substitute. It seemed that the Headmaster had no wish to allow their foreign guest access to any secrets of the Order even if he had implied previously that he would welcome Amestris' help.
"… Filius Flitwick, Professor of Charms and the Head of Ravenclaw. And this is Severus Snape, who teaches Potions and is the Head of Slytherin," Albus said and smiled at the professors as if he were expecting them to answer politely.
Severus aimed a scorching glare in his direction and was not surprised that the Headmaster's grin did not abate in the slightest.
Damn old coot.
Filius, of course, waved cheerily, squeaking out a greeting, while Severus' lips curled in derision. "Pleasure," he drawled out, completely insincere, and ignored Albus' disappointed look and Minerva's admonishing glare. He could not help but find Minerva's defence of their new co-worker curious. She was usually an exceptional judge of character and it spoke of something special about Elric, the way the older witch was so clearly fond of her.
Speaking of. Elric was looking at them, narrow-eyed, contemplating. "You," she said and pointed one gloved finger at Filius. “You I like. You’re shorter than me.” Filius grinned, bewildered, but pleased by the strange comment. “And you,” Elric said, almost accusingly, gazing at Severus sharply. "You remind me of my fiancé."
For a moment, one could hear a pin drop in the astonished silence.
Severus, even with all of the years of experience his spying career offered him, could not stop the startled widening of his eyes. Someone, probably Aurora, choked on their tea, as the silence fell over the table. Even Albus looked surprised, judging by the slightest rise of his eyebrows and the sudden sharpness of his blue gaze. Minerva, however, seemed inordinately amused.
Severus blinked and composed himself. "Excuse me?" he said and made sure that his sneer could be heard clearly in his voice. Usually the implied threat in his tone was enough to make most of the people back down. Elric just gazed at him, completely composed.
She was grinning slightly, obviously enjoying the effect her words had on the table's occupants. "He's also a lying bastard," she said, and her voice was cheerful. "Though he is more charming about it." Her eyes swept over his dark-robed form, assessing, and Severus frowned furiously. "And better-looking." Her gaze was strangely dismissive.
Severus leaned forward, anger bubbling underneath the surface of his cold mask. He did not care much for the insult to his appearance – he was well aware of how he looked – but the casual air she seemed to regard him with grated in a way he had not felt for a long time. "And why," he asked, voice silky and sinuous, meant to induce doubt. "Are you so fond of him, if he is a liar?" He watched her like a hawk, but the only reaction he could see was the distant sort of amusement at his attempt to unnerve her.
She grinned, white teeth sparkling, and it looked more like a snarl. "I said he is a liar, Snape," she answered, and managed to make it look like he was the one not keeping up with the conversation. Severus tried very hard not to grit his teeth and reveal his irritation. "I never said that he can lie to me."
Severus' sneer widened, contemptuous. The rest of the teachers were grave-silent, even Albus, observing the proceedings with interest. Severus knew that it was rare for anyone other than Potter to get under his skin so quickly, but Elric managed it with ease, and the rest of them seemed to think that it was the greatest show ever seen. "And you are so sure of that?" he asked, doubt clear in his voice. Minerva shot him a reproaching look which he ignored with the ease of practice. Though, he did take note of her sudden protectiveness of the newcomer’s feelings for later observation.
"Of course," Elric said, smugly satisfied. "I'm smarter than him. I know when he lies. Mostly," she allowed, and did not seem in the least bothered by the possibility that a lie could slip by her. Severus did not remember the last time he felt a trust like that.
(He determinedly refused to think about fiery red hair and blazing, emerald green eyes. Such things were better left for time alone, where no one could take notice of the guilt that plagued him constantly.)
He scoffed. "Arrogance," he jabbed, and watched her smirk at him.
"Fact," she retorted, just as fast.
A clearing of a throat interrupted the exchange. "Severus, Edith," Albus said, admonishingly, and was gazing at them with a disappointed look in his twinkling eyes, as if they were children that refused to play nice together. Severus glared at him poisonously and only frowned harder when he caught Elric doing the same.
Elric grumbled something under her breath and turned toward the rest of the table. Severus sneered once more for good measure and valiantly tried to ignore Filius' snickers.
"Hem, hem." As if choreographed, most of the teacher grimaced at the familiar, but unwelcome, sound. Dolores was sitting at the end of the table, with only Binns as a company, and she was smiling, sickly-sweet and cloying. The expression did not suit her already unpleasant face at all. "Won't you introduce me, Headmaster, now that they had stopped with their… squabbling?" Severus clenched his jaw, and could just hear Elric's teeth grinding. In this, at least, they agreed. He was ready to admit that he despised anyone treating him like a child, but Albus, perhaps, could be excused considering he had actually known Severus when he had been a student in Hogwarts. For Dolores to imply that he was behaving childishly was positively infuriating.
He exchanged a narrow-eyed look with Elric. She looked as furious as he felt.
Albus was still smiling genially, even though he must've caught the implication. "Of course, of course," he said and beamed at Elric when she did not avert her heated glower from the Ministry official, completely ignoring him. It must sting, Severus knew, being regarded so lowly by someone new to their staff. "Edith, may I introduce you to Dolores Umbridge, our new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher? I'm sure you'll be getting along famously." He sounded utterly convinced. Severus was reluctantly impressed by the sheer gall of the man.
"Pleasure to meet you," Dolores simpered, completely insincere.
Elric looked like she dearly wanted to say something impolite, but settled for a slightly less antagonistic shrug. It still made the Ministry official narrow her beady eyes in anger. "Sure." The agreement was completely unconvincing. Several of the teachers winced at the insult that was sure to only make Umbridge even more unbearable.
The grimace Dolores called a smile did not budge from her face, but the corners of her lips tightened in displeasure. "Now, there's no need to be rude, Miss Elric. In my capacity as the Senior Undersecretary of the Minister of Magic, I must admit that I do not tolerate rudeness in our country. Maybe you are allowed to act in such an unbecoming manner in Amestris, but I assure you that here, the Minister will take notice if I tell him to."
Well, as the threats went, that one was incredibly blunt, and made every Slytherin bone in Severus’ body shudder in disgust. He suspected that Dolores' job was, among other things, to make sure that the new alchemist was not a problem to the Ministry and, even more likely, to the Minister himself. She appeared determined to scare her with her political influence and connections at the very beginning.
Severus could have told her that it wouldn’t work. He wouldn’t have, even if she had asked, but he could have.
Elric seemed completely unconcerned by the warning. She shrugged once again, languidly. "Ah, I don't really care," she said and appeared to be amused by Dolores' steadily reddening face. Her lips were twitching, but her hands were dangling free at her sides, ready to move. Severus recognized a soldier ready for a fight when he saw one. "I'm not your citizen so your Minister has no power over me. And I remember reading something about the diplomatic immunity in my contract. Right?"
The question was aimed at Albus who, like everybody else, seemed very interested in the conversation. "Indeed," he said, serenely, and ignored Dolores' indignation and Elric's smugness. The blonde knew exactly what was in that contract, Severus was willing to bet, but was smart enough to have a figure of authority confirm it. "The Fuhrer insisted."
"The bastard has always been irritatingly protective of his people," Elric said, and Severus almost wasn't able to stop the instinctive double-take. Did she just call the leader of her country a bastard?
"Nevertheless, I'm sure that your… Fuhrer would be willing to discipline a mere teacher at the request of the Minister of Magic himself," Dolores hissed out, and there was no smile on her face anymore. She was angry enough that she had completely forgotten to act the role of a helpful member of the Ministry. Elric irritated her far more than she had managed Severus himself, and just for that, he was ready to tolerate her continued presence.
Even if he would really not enjoy it.
Elric shook her head and turned her back on the Ministry official dismissively. It was a move that left Dolores completely speechless in indignation. She was as used to being acknowledged as Albus himself was. "No, he wouldn't," she said with utter conviction. Her golden eyes once again swept over the table and this time stopped on Albus, expectant. "Well, old man? Where are my rooms?" she demanded.
Albus' eternal smile was currently placating. It just made Elric’s hackles rise even more, Severus could tell. "Ah, Minerva knows. If there are no objections, I'm sure that she could take you there without problems," he said, eying the professor meaningfully.
"Of course, Albus," Minerva agreed immediately and, with a sweep of her robes, turned on her heel, striding out of the Hall imperiously. "Come, Edith."
Elric aimed one last glance in their direction and waved somewhat distractedly in goodbye. "See ya all later," she said and followed after the Professor, her battered suitcase not slowing her down at all.
Ed sighed as she reclined in the comfortable armchair near the fireplace of her rooms. Her ports hurt, and even if she had already massaged them and oiled all the parts, some lingering soreness could still be felt in her muscles. She blamed the magical travel. She had read that magic was not compatible with most forms of technology so Winry had had one of the wizard crafters in the Rush Alley charm her new limbs against the interference. Nevertheless, she could feel the strain in her muscles and the uncomfortable pull at her scars.
She rubbed the bridge of her nose with her flesh hand and grabbed the file placed on the desk. It was an interesting and enlightening read. Breda had not been able to find much information, mostly because of the Ward, but what he did find, she had no doubt was completely accurate.
As far as she could tell, the current political climate of the Wizarding Britain was close to the boiling point. Three factions, the Ministry, the Dark and the Light, were competing for supremacy, some overtly, some in the shadows, and not one was winning. The Ministry of Magic was, according to Breda, the main judicial and governing body of this world and, unfortunately, filled with incompetents and the corrupt. After meeting Dolores Umbridge, Ed had to agree with that assessment. The woman was utterly repulsive and not at all smart.
It seemed that the government was too busy denying the return of Lord Voldemort to do anything about the sudden upswing of criminal activity and racist crimes. Breda had mentioned that they had a complete control of the media, and were putting all their efforts in a smear campaign against Dumbledore, Hogwarts and the student that first claimed to witness the Dark Lord’s resurrection. And, as far as she could tell, the general population was happy to follow along blindly, much like sheep.
It reminded her faintly of Father’s government, just much more useless.
The Dark seemed to be something like the genocidal maniacs that actually enjoyed killing Ishvalans during the Civil War. Breda noted their obsession with blood purity and the purity of magic – whatever the hell that meant – and wrote down for her to be careful. Apparently, in their eyes she was a Muggle and they would not hesitate to attack.
Their leader was someone called Lord Voldemort, real name unknown. When she had first read it, Ed could not stop the disparaging snicker, but the list of the man's crimes sobered her up soon enough. He was, in her opinion, a lunatic with a goal, which was a dangerous combination even without magic and alchemy getting involved.
She prayed that those recruiting officers in Amestris come back to Britain empty-handed.
The Light appeared to exist solely to oppose the Dark and irritate the Ministry. As far as she could tell, they weren't actually doing anything besides Dumbledore's occasional attempts at spreading the word of Voldemort's return. And they seemed to be unnecessarily obsessed with a boy called Harry Potter, who had, apparently, banished the Dark Lord already. When he was one year old.
She sighed tiredly. Roy wanted her to keep an eye on the situation and by now she could easily conclude that it was quite simply a clusterfuck. If she stayed long enough to be caught in the conflict, she would be screwed, caught in-between three sides and belonging to none. Truth help her, but she really did not want to deal with that.
She had had enough of wars in her lifetime, and, as much as she enjoyed a good fight, she really had no wish to live through another one.
Ed sighed tiredly, pinching the bridge of her nose. Fucking Mustang and his fucking schemes. It was all his fault, she decided as she stood up and stretched, her back popping. She headed for the bedroom, not even taking the time to change her clothes, and threw herself on the bed, falling asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.
The next day Albus informed her – only after she had asked, of course, because Truth forbid he willingly offer information – that they had only two owls that could make the trip through the Ward unscathed and that both were available for her use whenever she had need of them. It was a generous offer and Ed was thankful, but she did not miss the glint in the man's eye and resolved to write all of her letters in Amestrian. And code them too, for good measure.
Still, she had a week before the classes started, and she thought that spending it exploring the ridiculously overcomplicated castle seemed prudent. The whole building was beyond weird, with its moving staircases, hidden, often magical doors, talking portraits and wandering ghosts that gave her the creeps. There were even some semi-sentient suits of armour that always made her feel a curious mixture of burning hot anger and nostalgia. She tried to avoid them whenever she could. She really didn’t like those feelings.
On the third day of her wanderings, she found the library.
Ed promptly decided that the year of teaching the spoiled brats would be worth it.
“What do you think she’ll be like?” Harry asked.
There was no need to elaborate who ‘she’ was. Ron, Harry and Hermione were standing in front of the Alchemy classroom with most of their year. Harry was not terribly surprised that Alchemy was one of the most popular fifth-year electives, even when the old Professor Norman, who, according to the twins, was almost as sleep-inducing as Binns, had the class. Now, when Dumbledore had introduced a new, young and attractive teacher from Amestris – the country which even Harry had heard of – the attendance had skyrocketed. The students from all four of the houses were milling around and murmuring, quite a few of them vibrating in excitement. Hermione was, to no one’s surprise, one of those.
“I reckon she’ll be awesome,” Ron said, hefting his bag further up his shoulder. “She’s really hot.”
Harry stifled a smile when Hermione turned on their friend indignantly. “Ronald!” she exclaimed, scandalized. “You can’t talk about a teacher like that!” Ron grinned at that, issuing a cough that sounded suspiciously like ‘Lockhart’.
Hermione’s eyes narrowed dangerously and she looked ready for another rant.
Harry cleared his throat, interrupting her before she even started. He had long since discovered that it was the best course of action even if it was not available most of the time. “She seemed… angry,” he said. And she had. Through the whole feast, Elric had sat at the table between McGonagall and Sprout, a deep scowl on her face and a glare in her eyes. She’d practically started spitting fire when Umbridge had made her speech and was only somewhat calm when McGonagall had begun to talk about something or other during the dinner.
Ron grimaced. “I hope to Merlin, that she’s not like Snape. We don’t need another greasy bat in this school.” Harry couldn’t help but agree, even when Hermione aimed a displeased look in their direction. Even after all these years she still did not like it when they talked badly about the professors that were not Trelawney.
“Oh, she won’t be so bad,” she said, sounding exasperated. She hefted her books higher up her chest, her hair frizzier than normal. “Dumbledore wouldn’t hire someone who was incompetent.”
She studiously ignored the incredulous looks Harry and Ron aimed at her. “Hermione, I know that you have unhealthy respect for teachers,” Ron said, fiery red eyebrows high on his forehead. “But did you already forget about Lockhart? And Quirrell? And Binns? And Umbrige?”
Harry nodded in fervent agreement.
Hermione looked defeated, but ready to protest. “There’s nothing wrong with Professor Binns, Ronald,” she said stubbornly. Harry did not fail to note that she said nothing about the other three.
Ron looked at her like she was crazy. “Sure,” he drawled out, entirely unconvinced. “And making your class fall asleep during every lesson is completely normal.”
Hermione opened her mouth to say something, but was interrupted by the sudden bang as the classroom door snapped open. Professor Elric stood in the doorway, her hands folded in front of her chest, dressed in leather trousers and silver-hemmed, black jacket. Her hair was braided in a tight plait that fell down her back and her golden – golden! – eyes were narrowed as she looked at them. All of them quieted immediately. Despite her short height, there was something in her stance that drew attention and demanded respect even from the purebloods that observed her warily.
Her eyebrows flied up and made her look even more hawkish as she gazed at them down her nose despite being shorter than most of the boys. “Well, what are you waiting for, you brats?” she snapped, scowling, and entered the classroom. “Come on in.”
Harry, Ron and Hermione exchanged speaking glances and followed the crowd inside. Harry looked around curiously. The classroom was well-lit and sunny, despite the usual gloominess of the castle, but almost completely bare. There were no paintings or pictures, and besides one lone gargoyle in the corner, no other ornament. It was completely clean and functional and Harry could not help but think that it suited the Professor, despite her flamboyant appearance.
They sat down in front row after being dragged there by Hermione. Harry noticed, with quickly bubbling anger in his chest, that Seamus and Dean avoided sitting anywhere near them, but Neville hesitatingly slid up to the trio and took a seat. Harry smiled at him kindly, which seemed to perk him up.
Elric was leaning against the teacher’s desk, legs crossed at the ankles, gloved hands gripping the wooden edge. As soon as they settled down, she opened her mouth to speak and everybody, even Malfoy and his goons, quieted. “Now, let’s make a few things clear,” she said, her sharp eyes sweeping over them. “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to teach a bunch of brats anything about alchemy and I certainly don’t want to spend a year in the same country as Dolores Umbridge, let alone the same castle.” That earned her a few laughs, but most of the class, including Hermione at Harry’s right, were looking at her incredulously. They knew that some of the teachers were not satisfied with their jobs – Snape being a prime example – but no one had ever actually said it to them so plainly. “I’m only here because I didn’t approve of the alternative the Fuhrer had thought of, so if you don’t like how I teach, suck it up. I like it even less.”
The class was quiet, cowed under her golden-eyed gaze. Harry had no doubt that the silence would stop soon enough, but for now the Professor had the complete control and their full attention. It reminded him little of both McGonagall and Snape, both of whom tolerated no interruption in their lessons.
“Secondly,” Elric said. “Lose the books. I’ve read them and they’re complete shit so you won’t be using them. And the wands too. There’s no need for wands in alchemy.”
Well, that produced reaction.
The sudden uproar at those words nearly deafened him. Harry gritted his teeth and resisted covering his ears as the students, mostly Slytherins, started shouting at the strangely calm professor. Even Hermione looked angry, though Harry suspected that she was more indignant about Elric’s comments about the book, and not the necessity of wands. She had a skewed sense of importance, that one, especially when academics were in question.
Elric let the shouting last for about a minute before raising her gloved hand and hitting the wooden desk, hard. The loud crack echoed in the sudden silence of the classroom, and several of the students flinched. Poor Neville was almost shaking in fear, wide-eyed. “Now that you are done with your temper tantrums,” she said, and several of the students looked ashamed, though Malfoy and his crowd seemed ready to explode from anger. “Maybe I can explain.” She swept her eyes again over the group. They were quiet this time. “Alchemy is not magic,” she said and just when the purebloods started murmuring again she raised her hand again and hissed, “Silence!” They stopped, eyes glaring mutinously at the teacher. “Alchemy is not magic. It is science and can be easily performed by even the magic-ignorant Muggles.”
Well, that kind of bomb did not sit well with most of the crowd. Even Harry, Ron and Hermione were frowning. How can it not be magic, and yet it was taught in the magic school? It made no sense. And Harry knew for sure that the Muggles thought alchemy was a complete fraud and had no wish to learn it, not since the Middle Ages when it had been extremely popular.
Malfoy sneered and seemed unable to stay quiet anymore. “That’s rubbish,” he said, every line of his body exuding superiority. It made Harry itch to start a fight, after four years of instinctively reacting to that exact expression. It was weird not having it directed at him or his friends, but the Professor dealt with it with only one imperiously raised eyebrow. The perceived dismissal only made Malfoy’s scowl even deeper. “There’s no way that filthy Muggles can actually perform alchemy. They’re not smart enough.” Several of his Slytherin sycophants nodded obediently, though Harry noted with surprise that Zabini and Greengrass were looking at the blonde with something akin to malicious glee.
Elric’s frown was thunderous as she glared at Malfoy, golden eyes alight with inner fire. Her right hand was twitching in a move that reminded Harry of someone wishing dearly for a weapon. “Really, Mr…?” she drawled out, looking him up and down and raising one unimpressed eyebrow.
Malfoy flushed ugly red, the colour obvious against his pale skin. “Malfoy. Draco Malfoy. You may have heard of the name, Professor,” he said, arrogantly, sure in his superiority in a way that grated at the every nerve in Harry’s body. Hermione looked murderous at the disrespect aimed at the teacher and even Ron was clenching his fists.
Elric’s smirk was cutting, sharp and this side of wicked. “No, I have not,” she said, firmly, but casually. Harry and Ron snickered at the deep offense on Malfoy’s face, the arrogant pureblood completely taken aback by someone not recognizing his family. “And as for your statement about the Muggles, brat,” she continued on and seemed to relish the steadily reddening anger on the blonde’s face. “I must tell you that I’m considered to be one of the best alchemists in the whole Amestris. And I do not have a drop of magical blood in my whole body. By your definition, I am a Muggle.” Her eyes were alight as she watched their stunned reaction.
Even Harry was shocked by that statement. Did Dumbledore allow a Muggle to teach at Hogwarts? Didn’t it break hundreds of rules as well as Statue of Secrecy? It made no sense, he thought and glanced at Hermione. She was looking at the professor, her forehead scrunched, eyes contemplative. She did not immediately dismiss the idea and it made him even more curious.
Harry was brought from his thoughts when Malfoy rose from his seat abruptly, his expression a mix of utter disgust and sneering derision. “I will not be taught by a Muggle!” he exclaimed and several of his fellow purebloods nodded in agreement. Even some of the Ravenclaws looked dubious and Harry could not truly blame them. His experiences with Muggles knowing about magic were not really a stellar recommendation to continue the practice, thanks to the Dursleys, and he was understandably somewhat leery.
Elric was looking at Malfoy, completely unconcerned by his outburst. “Sit down, kid,” she said, and she sounded so much like a barking military officer, that Malfoy, seemingly without conscious thought, obeyed. For this, at least, Harry could not blame him. If the Professor had used that tone on him he would have listened to her immediately too. “You will be taught by me if you intend to learn alchemy at all. So shut up and let me do my job. It will be easier for all of us that way.”
Malfoy protested once again. “When my father hears about this…” he started, but was instantly silenced by Elric’s sharp glare. He scowled childishly, but sank down in his seat anyway.
“I have no idea who your father is, brat, and I don’t care,” she said and managed to offend nearly half of the class – the pureblood one – by uttering that single sentence. Harry would have been impressed, if he wasn’t already getting worried about the furious expressions on the Slytherins’ faces. “He has absolutely no authority over me, so your threats are empty.” She looked at them all once again and sighed tiredly. It was easy to believe that she had no wish to be there. “Now, who knows what the alchemy is?”
Several hands rose hesitatingly, Hermione’s predictably among them. Elric’s eyes swept over the class once and then she pointed at her and said, “You, with the hair.” She did not seem to notice that her statement was actually offensive. Harry and Ron were glaring at her indignantly.
Some of the Slytherins snickered, and Hermione frowned, blushing in embarrassment. “Alchemy is a branch of magic and an ancient science concerned with the study of the four basic elements,” she said, and by the familiar lilting cadence of her voice, Harry was sure she was quoting directly from the book. “Its main goals are transmuting basic metals into gold and silver and the creation of philosopher’s stone.” Hermione’s lips were already quirked up in expectation of praise and Harry glanced at the teacher, curious about her reaction.
Once again, he was surprised.
Elric was frowning heavily, as opposed to the expected proud smile and point reward Hermione’s answers usually deserved. “That is incorrect,” she said and the class, as one, inhaled sharply. Even the Slytherins seemed stunned by the development. As much as they may hate Hermione for being a Muggleborn and know-it-all, all of them had to admit that her theoretical knowledge was second to none amongst their classmates. Harry could not remember the last time she was actually wrong during a lesson. He was not completely sure that it had ever happened. “You quoted from the second paragraph of page five of Alchemy, Ancient Art and Science, didn’t you?” Hermione nodded and looked baffled that the professor knew the exact place of the quote. Harry gaped too. That kind of memory was incredible. “I already told you that the book is crap. Forget everything you read and start over, for Truth’s sake!”
Hermione was looking down, dejected. Harry leaned into her side and bumped her shoulder consolingly, but she did not look up, not even when the professor started talking again. She simply picked up her quill and began taking the notes furiously. Harry followed her example, now dubious about his ability to pass the class without putting much effort. Elric seemed to be more on the McGonagall end of the scale, than the Flitwick one, which was a crying shame.
Elric started pacing, her hands coming alive, gesturing wildly, as she explained. “Alchemy is the ancient metaphysical science of manipulating and altering matter by using natural energy,” she said, and Harry dutifully wrote it down even if he did not understand a word of it. Nevertheless, he could tell that this was probably the one subject the professor truly enjoyed, because her eyes were alight, her face slipped in full concentration and she exuded some kind of energy that made it very hard to look away. “I know it sounds like a loads of crap to you now, but I will explain it in stages so you may understand,” she said, and then murmured under her breath, so faint that Harry barely heard her, “If you’re smart enough.” Harry grimaced.
Elric strode over to the blackboard and grabbed a piece of chalk, left-handed. She scrawled a word on the board, her handwriting nearly illegible. “Transmutation,” she announced, turning around swiftly on her heel, finding the whole class looking at her. “The act is known as transmutation and it consist of three basic steps.” She started writing again, her braid swaying with every movement. “Comprehension. Deconstruction. Reconstruction.” She turned around again. “Does anyone have any idea what any of these might be?”
The class was deadly silent. Harry met Hermione’s and Ron’s eyes and saw that they were as confused as he was. Even the Muggleborn was not sure of any answers, considering that all of her previous knowledge of alchemy was now useless.
Suddenly Zabini raised one lazy hand and looked at Elric with wide, dark eyes. “Professor,” he drawled, casually. “Does comprehension mean to understand what the material is made of?” The whole class was looking at him in surprise. Zabini was not usually one of Malfoy’s cronies, but he was also never one to actually participate in lessons. He mostly kept to himself, observing, silent, so much so that it took Harry three years to learn his name.
Elric smiled. It lit up her face with genuine emotion and for the first time made Harry realise that she was actually beautiful. “Yes, Mr…” she said, asking for an introduction.
Zabini smirked, self-satisfied in a way that Harry had seen only on the big cats in the zoo. “Blaise Zabini, Professor.”
The teacher nodded, the classroom light making her hair shine molten gold as she moved. “Yes, you’re right, Mr Zabini. Five points to the green House, whichever the hell it is,” Elric said and the Slytherins smirked collectively, even if they were still slightly bewildered by Zabini’s uncharacteristic behaviour. “Now the official definition is and I quote, ‘Understanding the inherent structure and properties of the atomic or molecular makeup of a particular material to be transmuted, including the flow and balance of potential and kinetic energy within.’” The whole class started, except Hermione, who was writing frantically. Elric glanced at them, apparently puzzled by their confusion. “You don’t understand?” They collectively shook their heads and Harry realised in despair that this was perhaps the most he agreed with Slytherins in his life. Even Ron seemed reluctant to deny the fact, judging by his resigned glances to the green side of the room. “Fucking Mustang,” Elric breathed out and pinched the bridge of her nose.
The rest of that particular lesson was spent with Elric painstakingly explaining the every step of transmutation, only stopping short of drawing a diagram. She seemed slightly disbelieving at their ignorance, like she expected them to pick up such complicated concepts on the first try. Her disappointment actually made Harry feel somewhat bad because of his inability to comprehend it at once.
Finally, with five minutes left to the end of the lesson, Elric sighed and stepped back from the blackboard to gaze at them solemnly. “Well, at least you brats actually took notes,” she said. It was true enough. Everybody had taken notes, even Malfoy and his gorilla goons, for the simple fact that there was no way they would be capable of passing the exams without some considerable effort. That stuff was hard. “We’re going slower than I expected,” she admitted, and a lot of heads looked down in shame. “I thought we would be able to go through the laws of Equivalent Exchange, but I’ll leave it for the next lesson. Now, you,” she said, and pointed at quivering Neville, most likely because he was in the first row. “Come here and hand out these papers. One for each of you.”
Neville did, shaking all the while. Harry noticed some of the snakes smirking at him evilly as he did their side of the classroom, so he made sure to smile slightly at the boy. It didn’t stop his quivering, but it made his eyes little brighter as he grinned hesitatingly.
“So, those papers,” Elric said, with a wide gesture that encompassed the whole room. “They are a periodic table of elements. It’s essential for learning alchemy and I expect you to know it by this time next week. We’ll have a small test.” The class, once again, erupted with noise, all of them protesting simultaneously. Elric scowled. “Shut up!” They did, each and every one of them. “This is not up to negotiation. We will not advance to Transmutation Circles until all of you are able to recite this for me in your sleep. Understood?”
Most of the class was dissatisfied, but they nodded quietly, not wanting to oppose her. Elric seemed pleased.
“Ah… Professor?” Dean raised his hand hesitatingly, every eye turning around to fall on him. He blushed, but did not falter.
“Yes?” Elric asked, tucking an escaped strand of hair behind her ear.
“Uh… Can you show us a bit of alchemy? It’s just that… Well, we don’t know what it can do, do we?” he asked, nervously.
Elric’s sudden grin was wicked. “Show you some alchemy? Yes, I can do that. Watch closely, brats,” she said and grabbed a piece of chalk, crouching down on the floor. The whole class nearly rushed to the first rows, elbowing for the better place. Elric drew a perfect circle on the stone ground, scrawling few symbols in it and grinned at them excitedly. She placed her hands at the edge of the circle and her face twisted in concentration.
Harry couldn’t help but jump back when the circle crackled with electrical light, the solid stone twisting and morphing until in the place of smooth floor was a small, but perfect replica of Hogwarts Castle. It had all the details, including tiny windows, towers and miniature gargoyles and statues. It was magnificent.
Harry met Hermione’s and Ron’s eyes.
He was suddenly very interested in this class.
I skipped the Welcoming feast completely, because it would have just been a rewrite of Rowling’s chapter with Ed included. I try to avoid it as much as possible. Also, all the information on alchemy I borrowed from the internet, since I have absolutely no idea about any of it.
Sorry for the long wait. It’s been a really busy month. I’ve successfully passed my exams, celebrated the fact with a few friends and a lot of alcohol, survived the subsequent hangover, the eight hour long drive home while hangover, a descent of well-meaning relatives and became an aunt. Half of this chapter was written while I was procrastinating and the other half while I was avoiding before mentioned relatives (I love them, really, but still…), but I hope you like it nonetheless.
Amestris was bloody weird.
Thorfinn grabbed at the bottle of beer little desperately and swung it to his lips, gulping down the liquid thirstily. There was a muted thump when the glass bottom hit the wooden surface of the bar, but he paid it no mind as he once again dragged his eyes over his surroundings. He was in a bar, naturally – it seemed that he had been in a different bar for the entirety of this mission – a shady one, filled with nooks and crannies, shadows fit for hiding in and suspicious characters who looked only too happy to hide. It looked like something from the shiftier end of the Knockturn Alley and Thorfinn wouldn't have been caught dead in an establishment like this if he were in Britain. But, unfortunately, he was not back home, and, by the will of his lord, he was still forced to frequent locales such as this.
At least his assignment was coming to an end soon. Thorfinn feared it and anticipated his return to London with equal measure. Sure, he would be out of this Merlin-damned country, away from the constant military presence and the subtly threatening visage of the inhabitants, but he would be at the mercy of the Dark Lord after weeks on the mission and with no results to show for it.
He shuddered and took another gulp of beer.
"You Rowle?" asked a deep, gravelly voice from behind him, and Thorfinn turned as quickly as he could on the barstool, reaching for his wand.
The man was tall and lean, plain-faced and dark-eyed, wearing clothes that did not stand out, carrying himself with the casual sort of regard that made him blend in with the masses. He looked utterly ordinary save from the twisting, runic tattoo that snaked down his forearms and onto his palms. Thorfinn glanced at the vaguely familiar characters written in black ink and stifled a shiver of hope.
"Who's asking?" he said, trying for nonchalant, but coming out tense. He gritted his teeth.
The man didn't smile, but something in his face gave off a feeling of amusement. "Benny Kolbe. Gin said you might have a job for me."
Thorfinn relaxed marginally. He was told to expect someone, and after weeks of meeting with various alchemists he shouldn't really be surprised. He was half-convinced that the bunch of chalk-wielding menaces were all bonkers and one that liked to sneak in on unsuspecting blokes was not an exception. "Sit down, then. I'll buy you a beer."
Kolbe sat, stool close enough to talk without being eavesdropped on, but far enough not to be grabbed quickly. Thorfinn recognized the position from the last War, when no one had ever trusted their drinking partner, no matter how long they've known each other. He scoffed. As if he would try to attack Kolbe physically like a filthy Muggle.
Thorfinn paused and then took another gulp of his beer and stifled a grimace. He'd almost forgotten that near everyone in this bloody awful country was a Muggle. It made him shudder in disgust.
"So, what kind of job is it?" Kolbe said after taking the first swing of his drink. The muted noise of murmured conversations made his voice hard to hear, as was most likely his intention. Thorfinn wouldn't trust this bunch with his business either.
"You alchemist?" Thorfinn asked, instead of answering.
The skin around Kolbe's eyes tightened in irritation at having his question ignored. It made him look strangely like a pug. "Yeah," he said, spreading his hands in a way that made the tattoos flex in the muted light.
That bit of hope in Thorfinn's chest burned brighter. If he could do this, if he could actually complete the assignment, then maybe the Dark Lord could be convinced not to punish him. "We need an alchemist back in Britain. You any good?"
The man took another gulp of the beer. He didn't seem offended by Thorfinn's mistrust, but his hand was clenched tightly around the breakable glass. "Not good enough for the State Alchemists, but good enough to survive on the streets here," Kolbe said, bitterness in his tone.
Thorfinn fought off a self-satisfied smile. "Well, we need someone good at surviving back at home. You up to it?"
The look Kolbe aimed at him was shrewd. He was playing with his bottle, picking at the label absently as he eyed the wizard. "And what exactly would I be doing?" he asked, and sounded suspicious. Thorfinn understood this, at least. He doubted that many business opportunities ever fell someone in the lap like this. Not without some kind of catch that made you regret it later.
He smirked. "Killing wizards that want to kill you," he said, and dearly hoped he'd judged the man's moral compass right. Or the lack of it, really. "What do you think?"
Kolbe's laugh was short and sharp. He looked amused once again, but this time, at least, it wasn't aimed at Thorfinn. "Sounds like a good time," the alchemist said, and flagged another round. "Now, let's talk about compensation."
Thorfinn was almost grinning, which seemed mighty strange to his face. Finally, finally someone who was willing to take on the job. The force of the relief that washed over him almost left him light-headed, but his grip on the bar steadied him. Fuck, but he'd been scared of going home. His lord was glorious, but he was also not merciful in the least. Even the thought of his punishment for the failure was bloodcurdling. "Yes, let's," Thorfinn said, and he couldn't have been able to hide the satisfaction in his voice if he'd been trying.
What followed was a gruelling half an hour of bargaining with an incredibly clever opponent. Now, Thorfinn wasn't the brightest light bulb out there, but he wasn't stupid either, but Kolbe seemed to have a way with words that made all of his suggestions sound so damn reasonable. To be fair, though, the wizard wasn't trying very hard. The fact was, that most of the money the alchemist would be paid with, would come from Malfoy's very deep pockets. And nobody liked the blonde ponce anyway.
Just when they were finally done with the negotiating and were ready to leave, Kolbe caught his attention by an abrupt hand-gesture that drew the eye. "By the way, I need to know if there are any alchemists in Britain before I go out there. You know, know thy enemy, and all that crap."
Thorfinn froze, the relief that had been a companion to him for the last hour seeping out of his body to be replaced by a cold feeling of horror. Fuck. Why did they always ask this? Really, why?
He tried to stall. "There's not many alchemists Outside, Mr Kolbe. And the only British one is Oscar Norman who taught Alchemy at Hogwarts," he said and prayed to all the gods he knew that the other man did not catch the lack of any real answer.
No such luck. Kolbe's eyes narrowed dangerously, his hands drifting alarmingly close to his pockets where, presumably, he kept his chalk. "Taught? And who teaches it now?"
Thorfinn closed his eyes in despair and prepared himself for an explosion. "Some woman. She's called Edith Elric."
There was a moment of a horrified silence, where Kolbe just stared at him wide-eyed. "Oh, hell no!" he exclaimed, loud enough that half of the bar glanced in their direction speculatively, wondering if there'll be a fight. "There's no way I'm going to fight against Elric! No! She'll kill me, man! Just no!" Kolbe turned to leave, tossing a few bills on the bar in the same movement, his face pale, his gestures twitchy.
Thorfinn scowled furiously and grabbed at the sleeve of his jacket tightly. The man turned on his heel and glared at the wizard, the whites of his eyes visible from the fright. "You said that you're good. Why are you afraid of some girl half your age?" he asked, because he had to know. The last five alchemist he had talked to had all ran away as soon as he uttered the girl's name. If Thorfinn wasn't so terrified at the thought of the Dark Lord's reaction at his failure, he would have been impressed by a person that managed to inspire such a fear in a bunch of deadly, street-raised killers.
As it was, he cursed the day he'd ever heard of her name.
Kolbe seemed to have calmed down a bit after the first surprise, his breathing evened out and deepened, and he leaned in closer to Thorfinn, his voice falling to a hoarse whisper. "Look, Rowle, there are maybe four of five alchemists in Amestris that you do not mess with. Elric is one of them. That woman is deadly and she has connections. I'm not getting caught up in that kind of clusterfuck. No one sane on the streets is either," he said, and shook off Thorfinn's grip on his arm violently. He favoured the wizard with one last glare and a piece of advice before he left. "Listen, if you want to find someone crazy enough to challenge Elric, look into former State Alchemists. They're the maddest of the whole lot."
And with that, Thorfinn's last hope to avoid his lord's wrath just walked out of the bar.
Thorfinn ordered another drink. This time, it was something with little more kick.
An hour later, he stumbled in the back alley behind the bar, still mostly sober, but with the dull edge to his senses that suggested he really should continue to drink more. First though, he had one extremely unpleasant task to finish.
He checked carefully that there were no Muggles around. He knew that there was no Statue of Secrecy inside the Ward, but still, habits die hard. When he convinced himself that he was alone, he raised his wand and resolutely murmured, his voice barely heard, "Expecto Patronum."
A vague shape came out of his wand, only silvery wings and sharp beak indicating that it was some kind of bird. He'd never been able to produce a real, corporeal Patronus – most of the Death Eaters couldn't – but this indistinct form was just barely strong enough to carry messages to Britain. "My lord, the mission is a failure. Edith Elric seems to be the problem. Awaiting further instructions."
The bird flew off in streak of silver against the darkening sky.
Thorfinn's shoulders slumped. He headed inside once again, determined to get roaring drunk, when he felt something cold and metal resting against his head. "Stand very still and drop your wand," an icy, calm voice said.
Thorfinn stilled. He knew enough about Muggle weapons to know he was being threatened with a gun and there was no way he would be able to fire off a spell before his head got blown off. He dropped the wand.
He dearly hoped they would be gentler with him than the Dark Lord would have been.
"This is fucking ridiculous!"
Minerva refused to look up.
"I mean, how can they be so… so… stupid? I gave them a week! A week is more than enough!"
Minerva calmly wrote an EE on Miss Abbot's essay and reached out to grab another one from the too high stack. She dipped her quill in ink once again and started with reading, trying very hard to ignore the pacing and raging blonde in her office. This was not the first time in the two weeks since the classes started that Edith came to vent to her. After the first lesson she had, the one with the fifth years, she'd stormed in Minerva's rooms without any warning whatsoever and proceeded to rant hotly, and it took Minerva near fifteen minutes to calm her down enough to explain the problem rationally.
"Eight students, Minnie! Eight! I'm teaching the three highest years and only eight students passed! What the hell?!"
Minerva finally raised her eyes, only to be met with equally furious and bewildered golden orbs. She was not surprised to note that Edith honestly did not understand the reason for the abysmal results of her little test. From what she had managed to learn about the alchemist in the past weeks, she was a genius like no other Minerva had ever met, she understood concepts so far out of Minerva's reach that she could only gape in wonder, and she had absolutely no idea how to actually teach.
She had seen it before in Severus. For all that he was such a talent in Potions that he had surpassed Horace by the time of his fifth year, he certainly had no aptitude for teaching and no inclination for it. Both of them were simply so far out of the regular curve that they just did not know how to impart knowledge onto anyone not capable of following their impressive thought process.
"Who passed?" Minerva asked, interrupting the rant. She placed her quill down, careful not to allow ink to drip. The essays were messy enough as it was.
Edith paused in her pacing to turn on her heel and meet her eyes again. Hers were slightly confused. "Huh?" she mumbled.
Minerva's lips twitched without her consent. The blond was so invested in her shouting session that she seemed to have forgotten the older woman's presence. "Who passed, Edith?"
Edith grumbled something under her breath and threw herself in the visitors' chair violently. "Longbottom, Granger, Greengrass, the smart Patil, Bell, Weasley, Weasley and Pucey."
Minerva couldn't help but gape. Longbottom? The Weasley twins? She understood the Ravenclaw Patil and Granger – she often wondered if the girl had eidetic memory, because her ability to retain information was nothing short of incredible – and even Bell, Greengrass and Pucey had always been diligent students, though not among the very best. But the twins? Really?
Minerva had to ask. "How did you manage to make the Weasley twins actually do the work?" She couldn't have stopped the incredulous tone in her voice if she'd tried. The twins were smart, she knew that, and had effortless creativity that simply boggled Minerva's mind with possibilities in the field of transfiguration. But they simply lacked any and all drive to put an effort in their schooling, mostly because they already had real plans for their lives after Hogwarts. She admired that, if nothing else, their certainty about what they wanted to do in their adulthood.
The smile that stretched on Edith's face was a self-satisfied, smug thing, showing all her teeth. She leaned in her chair, boneless and lazy, a jungle cat ready to spring. "I've informed the little menaces that they won't be doing any transmutation until they learn the basics to my satisfaction. And after they'd seen my demonstration, they were really keen on learning."
Minerva supressed a shudder. She was still not completely aware of all that Edith could do with her alchemy, but even the thought of the twins able to perform the little things she managed to glimpse and overhear from the students' excited chatter about the subject filled her up with dread.
"I would greatly appreciate it if you would refrain from encouraging them in their mischief making, Edith," she said, trying to sound stern, but she suspected that her wariness showed anyway.
Edith grinned widely. "Come on, Minnie," she said, and Minerva tried very hard not to flinch at the horrendous nickname. She knew that there was no chance for the other woman to stop calling her that, since she still hadn't stopped with Albus' own derogatory nickname and a number of hurled insults in Severus' face. But still, it brought uncomfortable memories of the time of Marauders' schooling, and Minerva was hard pressed to remain impassive when faced with recollections about some of her favourite students and happier times. "There's no danger in having some harmless fun. And their pranks are good."
It was easy for Edith to say that. She'd managed to avoid all of them so far.
Minerva huffed. "Still, it's not right for a teacher to encourage the students to break the rules," she said, though she had no doubt that the argument would have no effect whatsoever on the alchemist in front of her.
Edith rolled her eyes skyward. "I wouldn't know," she said and crossed her arms over her chest. "I've never went to an actual school." And with that bombshell she rose to her feet and stretched her arms over her head, her back popping. "Come on, we'll be late to the meeting."
Minerva closed her mouth, furious at herself for the undignified gaping and followed after her hurriedly. "You never went to school?!" she asked incredulously once she managed to reach her, adjusting her steps to match the blonde's uneven gate. She did not know what was the cause of the difference in her steps, but considering Edith's military career, an old injury was certainly not out of the question. "Where did you learn alchemy then?"
Edith waved off the question with a flourishing gesture of her gloved hand. "There are no schools for alchemy back home," she said. "Al and I were taught by Teacher." Minerva could just hear the capitals in the title. "She helped us after our mother died."
"What was she like?" Minerva asked, curious. Edith rarely talked about her life in Amestris and even rarer was the time when she mentioned anything about her childhood. Granted, Minerva did not like to ask, since prying was rude and she liked her privacy as well, but her curiosity was still there.
Edith eyed her from the corner of her eye as they descended the steps. "Oh, she was horrible," she said, but her voice was terribly fond. "She once left us on a desert island with a knife and no food for a month and told us to survive."
Well. No wonder Edith had no idea how to teach properly if that was her one example.
They reached the Staffroom and entered. Minerva noted, to her displeasure, that they were the last ones to arrive and her lips tightened in a straight line. Edith promptly took one of the only two seats left, next to Severus, which left Minerva with an available place in a chair left from Dolores. She refrained from glaring at the blond-haired alchemist. Ever since the Ministry official had become a High Inquisitor a few days ago, she'd been even more insufferable.
Edith grinned cheerily at Severus when he favoured her with a poisonous look. "Hello, asshole."
Albus was smiling, blue eyes twinkling as they jumped from one teacher to another. "Now that all of us are here," he started, his gaze resting on both Edith and Minerva, slightly disappointed. Edith was looking back at him defiantly, but Minerva felt a trickle of guilt in her stomach. Albus had always been very adept at inducing that feeling in her. "Let's talk about the first two weeks of classes."
This sort of meetings almost always went the same. Pomona and Filius never had anything discouraging to say about any of their students, Minerva more often than not managed to complain about the amount of work she was forced to do as a teacher, Head of a House and a Deputy Headmistress and ask for an assistant to help manage at least the first three years, Poppy demanded more potions for her stores and no one was surprised when Severus started complaining about Potter. Usually only the new and ever-changing DADA teachers brought different topics to the assembly.
Albus was still smiling affably as he turned his gaze on the short, toad-like woman. “And how did you find your first week here, Dolores?” He sounded completely sincere. Minerva had never met a better liar, with the possible exception of Severus.
Dolores’ smile was a sickly sweet thing that made Minerva’s teeth ache. “Headmaster, I must admit that I’m terribly disappointed. The students are undisciplined, most of them are not aware of the basics of defence and some have no respect for authority at all. I was forced to issue a number of detentions so as to stop such an inappropriate behaviour.”
Minerva’s lips tinned as she realised who Dolores was talking about.
“Is this connected to Mr Potter’s detentions, Dolores?” Albus asked, his voice carrying a hint of reproach and his eyes dimming, their spark going out. He looked like a disappointed grandfather.
But Dolores was as immune to the Headmaster’s guilt tactic as Edith, and much more unpleasant about it. “Potter was spreading vicious lies during my class. He was being a disruptive influence and I had to act,” she said.
Minerva barely stopped herself from scowling. Even when Potter had come to her after that first class she’d been hard-pressed not to storm Umbridge’s office and shout at her for her actions. She was censuring her students, limiting their imagination and stalling their education! Children should be able to express their opinions without a fear of reprimand, and, considering the severe nature of Potter’s situation, this action was even more deplorable. To think, that the Ministry had ever though that such a narrow-minded woman would be a good educator! And that people actually believed that drivel in the Prophet!
Considering that Fudge was the main instigator of this affair, Minerva was not terribly surprised that the situation was going sideways even before the term had properly started. Nothing good ever came out of politicians sticking their noses in Hogwarts business and it seemed that this time would be no exception.
Edith shifted in her seat, the deliberate action somehow catching everybody’s attention. “Really?” she drawled, raising one incredulous eyebrow. “He was positively well-behaved in my class.” Her voice was polite enough, but there was a goading, taunting note in it that made Dolores bristle.
She shot the blonde a poisonous look. “I do not need an opinion of a Muggle,” she said, causing few of the teacher who had not heard the rumours among the students to gasp in surprise.
Edith’s other eyebrow rose to meet the first. “And here I thought that keeping the peace in classroom would be easier for an actual witch, considering I managed it just fine. But what would I know? I’m just a Muggle,” she said, tone mean. Aurora snorted and Filius snickered under his breath. Minerva herself was fighting off a smile.
Dolores’ expression soured like a curdled milk. “I assure you that I am more than capable, Edith.”
Edith leaned in her seat, smug as a cat. Minerva could practically see the bright yellow feathers pocking out of her mouth. “Then why the problems, Dolores?” she asked, the mocking tone she’d used on the woman’s name making it clear what she thought about Umbridge’s familiarity.
Dolores took a deep breath and seemed to turn her nose even further up in indignation. “Potter simply refuses to cooperate. He’s impertinent and disruptive and makes no effort to correct his behaviour,” she exclaimed.
There was a general murmur among the teachers present. Potter may not be the best of the students in Hogwarts – not even in his year, really, which had previously disappointed Minerva, who remembered Lily and James well – but he was rarely deliberately unruly to the point of interrupting the lesson. He was a quiet boy, really, and, despite his habitual end of the year adventures, did not seem very appreciative of all the attention that was constantly heaped on him.
Severus, though, did look like he was fighting very hard against his natural urge to complain about all things Potter. Most likely, he refused to agree only because it was Dolores bringing up the question. He despised the Ministry Official as much as everybody else, which did wonders for his reputation among the staff.
“Dolores,” Albus finally decided to cut in, leaning his chin on his stapled fingers. “If you are talking about the rumours of Voldemort’s return,” he said, ignoring the collective shudders. Only Edith remained calm when hearing the name of the most feared wizard in the century. “I must tell you, once again, that they are true.”
Dolores rose abruptly from her seat, her face red with fury. “Preposterous!” she said and turned on her heel to march out of the room. “I really must tell the Minister about this. That such… lies are acceptable in this school is a disgrace.” She turned once to eye the room. She met Edith’s gold orbs, watching her passively. “And do not think for a moment that I won’t be informing him about a Muggle in Hogwarts, Dumbledore!”
She slammed the door shut as she left.
Albus was looking at it, thoughtful. “I think that this will be all for today,” he said, dismissing them.
“Aren’t you worried about the Minister?” Minerva asked, once she and Edith were well out of the way of others professors. It was not that she had anything particularly incriminating to say, but Edith seemed only to trust her to an extent, and she did not wish to talk about any topic even approaching sensitive when someone could overhear. The blonde’s trust was hard to come by, and Minerva had no wish to lose it by being careless.
Edith waved off her question with a shake of her head. “Nah,” she said. “That contract is pretty tight. They can’t fire me.”
“But they can certainly make your life here difficult,” Minerva pointed out sensibly.
The look Edith bestowed her with was dark and unreadable. “I’m used to hard life, Minnie, don’t worry. They won’t run me off.” She paused for a moment, face scrunched up in a thought. “I should do something though.”
Minerva looked at her, curiously. “What?”
Edith smiled. “I need to write a letter. By now, he is certainly fretting. This way he can fret about something actually useful.”
Dear Fuhrer Bastard
I hate you. Thought you should know, considering I’ll be married to you this time next year and very much invested in making the rest of your life a living hell. You better enjoy it too, because it will be entirely your fault.
This job is a fucking debacle. I don’t know what Breda told you about situation here but it’s going to give me ulcers and I’m going to blame you. The government is filled with incompetent idiots, the people it leads are basically follower sheep and the supposed fighters are not actually doing anything! I kind of want to beat them senseless just to make them see sense, which is totally ridiculous and really quite impossible. Fuck you, bastard.
So, the Ministry. They have basically stuck their heads in the sand and are happily denying anything and everything that goes against their policy of everything-is-all-right-please-vote-for-me-again-while-I-go-and-make-a-mess-of-your-country-thank-you. They sent some kind of paper-pusher nightmare of a woman to teach in Hogwarts – and I try very hard not to laugh every time I hear this name, you’re welcome, bastard – and she’s been insufferable. She teaches DADA, which is basically a life skill, and she’s either completely incompetent or just really invested in sabotaging her students. My bet’s on the second one. She’s already made enemies of the rest of the staff, most of the students and the freaking castle. No, seriously, I’ve heard some paintings spreading some really nasty rumours about her, which, now that I think about it, may very well be true. A few days ago she was promoted – which was a really obvious attempt from Ministry to gain more influence in school. She’ll be evaluating teachers and other staff members, but you don’t have to worry about me. That contract is actually useful for something.
The teachers here are mostly competent, with few glaringly obvious exceptions, but that’s not really our problem and I’m not pocking that hill with a long stick. Minnie’s still a dear and Dumbledore gives me creeps. I’ve got a feeling that he’s evaluating me for something specific, but I have no idea what, and it makes me want to punch him in the face until he tells me everything. So far, I hadn’t, but it’s really, really tempting. You know all about my opinion about arrogant, manipulative bastards trying to run my life.
The students are bad. And I’m not talking more about this, because if I do, then I’ll be tempted to kill you, and then Riza will kill me, which will be a damn shame. I like living.
The library is a wet dream come true. I’m seriously thinking about leaving you for it.
There’s been not a peep from the Dark side. Not a single rumour or an attack or even recruitment that I’ve heard of. It makes me twitchy, and I really, really need to hit something soon or I’ll blow up my classroom, and Minnie tells me it’s a bad form to endanger one’s students. (I kind of want to introduce her to Teacher. You know, for science.) Dumbledore’s little group of minions is not doing anything either, as far as I can tell, and nobody is actually willing to tell me anything so I have to guess. I’m good at guessing, but even I have some limits.
So basically, I’m bored to death, surrounded with incompetents and ready to murder someone just to get shit done. It’s all your fault.
I hate you and can’t wait to begin tormenting you.
PS: Send my regards to Al, Winry and the team. I miss capable people.
“Sir. We have a situation.”
Roy looked up from the letter and schooled his expression in that of professional indifference, but Breda, with his sharp eyes and even sharper mind, caught his soft smile.
He raised a knowing eyebrow. “Chief writing to you?”
Roy nodded, since there was no need to lie. He could do it, if the situation called for it, but Breda was perceptive enough that it was simply not worth the effort. “She sends her regards.”
A fleeting smile crossed the heavy-set man’s lips. “Good. Jean’s been moping.” Which was entirely true. Havoc was, besides Hawkeye, one of Ed’s closest friends on the team, and he was very much used to her presence. Every time she travelled somewhere for extended periods of time, he would sulk almost as badly as Roy.
Not that Roy would ever admit that he was sulking.
Roy sighed and leaned back in his chair, not the least bit concerned about his appearances. After everything they went through, he trusted Breda whole-heartedly. He would not spread rumours about the Fuhrer’s undignified behaviour. Unless it benefited them all, of course, but that was another matter entirely. “What’s the situation?”
Breda approached forward and tossed a file on the desk. “We’ve caught a wizard trying to recruit alchemists for the Dark Lord. He refused to say anything and claimed pain wouldn’t work, so I set Lucy on him and she’s managed to get a few things from him.”
Roy nodded in understanding. Lucy Sauber was a tiny, delicate-looking redhead with small face, big eyes and a mind like a steel trap. She was an interrogation expert, fond of mind games and capable of making even the most experienced spies spill their life stories to her. Even Roy had trouble concealing things from the woman when she set her mind on something so he avoided her religiously. Also, he half suspected that she was a sociopath, considering her complete and utter disinterest in any and all actual, real human relationships, but her loyalty to her country was unquestionable and she was a valuable asset so he left her alone.
“What did she find out?” he asked, curious. This was the first wizard they’ve managed to capture since the rumours started, and he was glad that he could finally have them confirmed. And this way, at least, he got to write Ed that they were actually getting somewhere with their schemes and that she wasn’t spying and torturing herself in Britain on his behalf without any reason whatsoever.
Breda frowned uncharacteristically. “He’s been meeting with alchemists for the last few weeks, trying to get them to Britain. All of them refused as soon as he mentioned Ed was there, though, and he’s been very happy to complain about that once Lucy started to encourage him.”
Roy snorted. Figures that Ed would be able to ruin someone’s plans while not even being in the same country. She was pain in the ass that way. “How good alchemists we’re talking about?”
Breda waved off the question. “Not good enough to give Ed a challenge. That’s why they refused the jobs.” Fair enough. “When they start recruiting former State Alchemists it’ll become a problem.”
Roy looked up from the papers to eye him sharply. Breda was hesitating about something, which was very uncharacteristic display. “What else?” Roy asked, suddenly apprehensive.
“Sir,” Breda said, and straightened, his spine military straight. “Lucy managed to get something else form the wizard. He succeeded in sending a message to Voldemort in which he explained that Ed is the reason the recruitment was unsuccessful.”
Roy frowned. “I see,” he said. That… Well, that could pose a problem. The last thing Ed needed while she was in a foreign country ruled by a hostile government was a Dark Lord interested in her.
At least he had something to write now.
I notice that you’re not cancelling the wedding itself which I find very interesting. Also, I am curious. How exactly would you making my life living hell be in any way different than our current situation? I’m sure I wouldn’t really notice the difference. And it would be remiss of me to neglect to tell you that I always enjoy anything you do to me.
Your job, Ed, is necessary and you know it. Otherwise you would have told me to fuck off and mind my own business while you saunter off to visit Ling and convince the Xingese that all Amestrians are lunatics. But, instead, you’re in Britain, doing exactly what you should to help our country so I am just going to instruct you further. Please do not antagonize the Ministry official. Your contract gives you a certain amount of immunity, true, but they may very well choose to ignore it and I do not wish another international incident on my hands. Again.
Considering your students, please keep in mind that you are a genius. Alphonse is a genius. Winry is a genius. My team and I are not slouches either, if I do say so myself. You’ve basically grown up surrounded by intelligent and capable people, so you naturally have no idea how to deal with mere mortals. I’m sure that if you slow down and give them time, they’ll catch up eventually. And maybe try not to scare them too much, even though I suspect they are already terrified of you.
I am concerned about the library, though. Don’t you like the one in Central anymore?
I have some news for you too. Breda’s team managed to catch a Dead Eater while he was recruiting alchemists for their cause. Breda sent Lucy after him. He sang like a canary. You don’t have to worry about former State Alchemists trying to kill you yet, but since everybody else is refusing to go to the same country you’re in, we can assume that eventually someone will manage to talk to an alchemist strong enough not to fear you. There’s also the matter of the Death Eater sending a message to Lord Voldemort, who is now aware that you’re the reason his followers have had so little success in Amestris.
Please, be careful. Try not to punch anyone.
I love you and miss you too,
PS: Al says he’s glad the castle’s still standing. Winry says that if you break her new automail while punching someone, she’ll kill you. The team sends their regards too.
When they arrived to the Alchemy classroom, Dolores Umbridge was already waiting outside.
She looked murderous, despite the sickeningly sweet smile on her face.
Fred exchanged a glance with his twin and grinned widely.
“This will be –“
Fred couldn’t wait. Elric was awesome and a little bit scary, but he had no doubt that she could and would eat Umbridge for dinner. She was the kind of teacher that allowed absolutely no interruptions in her class, very much in McGonagall and Snape-like manner, but the fact that she quietly encouraged them in their pranking made her as good as Flitwick, who tended to sneak them biscuits for particularly magically inspired tricks.
Besides, alchemy was great. It was totally worth it to behave to be able to learn it.
Lee, smart cookie that he was, noticed their maniacal grinning, and took a few steps away from them. Unfortunately, that led him to collide with Pucey, who frowned heavily, stepped away and glanced in their direction to see what had Lee so disturbed. He grimaced, but said nothing, and turned around to watch the door again. He did not try to warn Umbridge about the possible misbehaviour in near future.
Pucey was alright, really, for a snake.
Their class was small. Even in the required subjects like Charms and Potions they did not have enough students to fill out the classroom, what with being born during the War, but the electives were smaller still. Fred thought that Alchemy was the least attended course in their year, mostly because after two classes with Elric almost third of the group had dropped the subject. It was hilarious.
So when Elric banged the door open, her eyes flew over the nine students waiting in the hallway and stopped on Umbridge’s short, sickeningly-pink form. Her lips tightened.
“Come in, brats,” she snapped, but nobody held it against her since Umbridge seemed ready to deliver a lecture. They scurried inside.
“Hem, hem,” Umbridge coughed, trying to catch attention. Elric trained her ferocious golden eyes on the toad-like woman, who, to her credit, did not falter. Probably too stupid to recognize the danger she was in. “Professor Elric, I trust that you received my note –“
Elric waved her off. “Yeah, yeah, I know,” she said, uncaring, and strode inside the classroom, Umbridge tottering after her. The difference between the two women was almost comical, and Fred sniggered under his breath, sharing a look with George. Elric was all golden hair and lean body wrapped in leather trousers and black jacket (Fred respected the woman more than almost anyone else besides his mother, but he was a teenage boy, and he had eyes), and her imperious stride made Umbridge’s pink-clad form even more ugly and ungainly than before, which was almost impossible. “You’re here to ‘evaluate’ me, even though your Ministry can’t actually fire me. Basically, you’re here to make a nuisance of yourself.”
Fred and George laughed, their fists over their mouths to muffle the sound, Alicia was chuckling beside them and even Pucey’s lips twisted into a smile.
Umbridge spluttered. “Why I never –“
Elric whirled on her, gold plait flying, eyebrow raised. “Sit down, Professor,” she ordered, derision dripping from the title. “If you want to see me teach, then allow me to actually do so.”
Umbridge sat, lips thin, and scribbled something in her pad. Fred would bet that it wasn’t anything complimentary.
Elric took her now customary place by leaning against the teacher’s desk, crossed her arms over her chest and graced them with a narrow-eyed look. “Now, since some of you still haven’t learned the Periodic Table to my satisfaction,” she said, and Alicia Spinnet and Roger Davies winced. “We’ll be spending this class talking about rules and laws of alchemy.” Patricia Stimpson lifted a hand. “Yes?” Elric nodded at her.
Stimpson, a mousy-haired, soft-spoken, but surprisingly clever Hufflepuff, blushed at the attention of the whole class. “But, Professor, we’ve already gone through the Law of Conservation of Mass and the Law of Natural Providence the last time.”
Elric shook her head and waved her gloved hand. “No, no, not those. Those are the Laws of alchemy itself. Today we’re going to talk about human laws and societal standards that limit the use of alchemy.” Her hard eyes swept over them. “And they limit it for a very good reason.”
Umbridge shifted in her seat. Fred found it amusing that she was sitting still, almost unobtrusively, when she had followed every other teacher around the classroom. Maybe she had more common sense then they gave her credit for. “Hem, hem.” Elric turned around and glared at her for the interruption. The toad smiled. “I do not think that British laws are the same as the Amestrian ones, Professor Elric,” she said. “Surely there is no need to teach them such useless information.” She let out what she probably thought was a girlish giggle.
Elric’s face was as still as stone, but her hands were clenched tightly. Fred would have slid his chair backwards if he didn’t think that would draw her attention towards him and his twin. George leaned closer to him.
“Are you actually trained in alchemy, Dolores?” Elric asked through gritted teeth.
Umbridge’s smile slid from her lips as she recognized the burning anger in Elric’s eyes. The slight flash of fear on her face made something giddy bubble up in Fred’s stomach. “No, I’m afraid not.”
“Then sit there, shut up, and let me teach, woman!” Elric snapped. Umbridge, to the surprise of all, actually listened. However, her scowl was firmly in place as she frantically scribbled, her quill held in a white-knuckled grip.
“Fuck all.” Elric pinched the bridge of her nose before she turned towards the students again. “Right, the laws.” She started pacing, her hands following the cadence of her speech, passionate in a way Fred only saw her when she talked about her subject. “There’s only two of them, but both are important, so you better listen carefully, because if you ever try any of it, the government will not be able to arrest you before I get to you.”
Fred shared a look with George. “I think she’s serious,” his twin said, leaning forward to whisper under his breath. They had spent the last six years perfecting the art of talking low enough to stay under the teachers’ notice, but Elric, she of the sharp eyes and ears of a bat, caught them anyway and glared. They smiled simultaneously, sheepish.
Elric shook her head.
“First,” she said, and the sudden rustle in the class meant that the students were picking up their quills and parchments to take notes. It hadn’t taken them long to realise that the subject was simply too complicated and the professor too strict for anyone to pass without extensive studying. Fred didn’t move from his place, but he did send a smug look towards George, whose turn it was to take the notes. He would regret it next week, he knew, but at least today he had the luxury of watching Elric-Umbridge battle without distractions. “You are not allowed to transmute gold.”
The sudden rise in noise surprised absolutely no one. Fred himself groaned in disappointment as George allowed his head to hit the hard, wooden surface of the desk. That… That was just unfair.
Umbridge, alarmingly, looked pleased.
“But why?” Kenneth Towler asked, almost a whine, and ducked his head as Elric’s golden gaze focused on him. Fred didn’t blame him. He would’ve run like a screaming little girl if Elric looked angry at him.
“I’ve heard about your bankers. Goblins, no?” she said, slowly, like they were idiots. Unfortunately, that exact tone was one they’d become intimately familiar in the past weeks. And the worst of it, they were the idiots when compared to their teacher, and every one of them knew it. It did wonders to curb their ego, it really did. “Imagine their reaction if you try to cheat them by introducing transmuted gold to the market.”
Thanks to the wonders of Binns’ sleep-inducing presence, they knew more about Goblin Rebellions than any educated wizard had need of. They collectively winced.
Elric, nodded, satisfied. “Transmuting gold and introducing it to the market is strictly forbidden in most civilized countries,” she said and slid her gaze to Umbridge’s steadily reddening face. Elric smirked. “It can lead to crashes in economy and until a few years ago the act was punished in Amestris by a long prison sentence and sometimes even death.” The students blanched, going white. Elric seemed satisfied by their reaction. “Of course, with the new regime came lighter punishments, but it’s still considered a serious crime.”
Pucey leaned forward in interest. “New regime?” he asked, because he was a Slytherin, no matter how alright, and to them, politics were actually interesting. Fred noted that Umbridge looked curious too.
Elric’s face went as still as stone. “A small revolution, nothing important really…” she waved off the question, but the forced nonchalance would not have tricked even a Hufflepuff firstie. It certainly did nothing to dissuade the two Slytherins smelling blood.
Umbridge had gone from disturbing, unattractive blotchy red to bone-white in a matter of seconds. “Professor Elric, are you implying that you were a part of revolution?” Her voice rose in pitch, alarmed.
Elric’s fists curled, her weight shifting to the balls of her feet, her steps taking her away from the desk to allow for manoeuvring. She did it all so smoothly that Fred wasn’t even sure she noticed. “I am here to teach alchemy, not history and politics,” she said, enunciating every word slowly, clearly.
Umbridge couldn’t help but protest. “Professor Elric, explain –“
Elric aimed a deadly glare in her direction and Umbridge proved that, despite looking like a half-witted toad, she had some sense left in her head. She clamped her mouth shut. “Leave it alone.”
Umbridge let it go, but she looked like she dearly wanted to argue. She wrote a few words on her parchment sharply, side-eying the blonde alchemist with a careful eye.
Elric took a deep breath and turned towards them again. “Second, and more important,” she continued on, seemingly intent on ignoring the, ah, significant information she’d just dumped on them. The students, eternally in fear of her wrath, obliged readily. “Absolutely no human transmutation.”
Alicia’s hand was shaking when she lifted it to ask a question. Fred did not blame her. Elric was looking ferocious enough to cow a dragon. Hell, she was looking ferocious enough to cow Charlie, who regularly dealt with dragons. “Professor, what exactly is human transmutation?”
“It’s an attempt to transmute human body or soul. It’s practically human experimentation,” she said, and the amount of distaste in her voice was staggering. Fred may be a goof and a prankster, but he was not stupid. This one was personal. “That means no artificial humans, no soul bindings, no human chimeras, and absolutely no resurrection.”
Umbridge, pale and wide-eyed, seemed unable to stay quiet. “Are you saying that resurrection is possible with alchemy?”
“I’m saying that it’s forbidden,” Elric said, and didn’t that answer have all sorts of connotations? “Does anyone have any idea why?” Silence. Grave silence, not even Umbridge was speaking up. “Equivalent Exchange, anyone?”
Lee lifted his hand and answered when she nodded her permission. “In order to obtain or create something, something of equal value must be lost or destroyed.”
The correct answer brought a smile to Elric’s face. It softened her features and the pressure that Fred hadn’t even noticed was lifted. His twin relaxed slightly beside him and Alicia let out a long breath. Fred’s shoulders slumped.
“Correct,” she said, satisfied that they’d listened. “Five points to the red House.” Lee grinned. “Now, can anyone tell me what’s equivalent of human soul?”
Fred exchanged glances with George, who looked as dumbfounded as he felt, then glanced at Lee, who was obviously thinking very hard and without any result whatsoever.
Pucey sighed and lifted an uncertain hand. “Another soul, Professor?”
“Ah,” Elric said, shaking her head. “I thought you might say that. But here’s a question. You’re trying to resurrect someone you love – a parent, sibling, lover – and you offer a soul of some no-name junky or a criminal. Is it equivalent to you?”
Fred glanced at George and realised. No. Simply no. There was no soul in the world that was worth his twin’s.
“No, it isn’t,” she continued. “And when there’s no equivalency, there’s a rebound.” Elric smiled, smug, self-satisfied, when the lot of them paled in realisation. “And considering that human transmutation is one of the most complicated aspects of alchemy, rebound usually means death.” She looked at them, deadly serious. “There are very few alchemists skilled enough to attempt human transmutation. There are fewer still who can survive it, but not without a sacrifice. I know people who’ve lost their limbs, sight, internal organs and, in one case, whole body, because they were overconfident.”
Her eyes swept over the silent, wide-eyed students and she nodded grimly.
“So do me a favour, yes? No human transmutation.”
Adrian Pucey gritted his teeth and tried very hard to ignore the irritation bubbling up inside him.
“And the former teacher?” Umbridge asked, checking her notes for a short second. “Professor Oscar Norman? Were you satisfied with him?”
Adrian stifled a sigh. He’d rather hoped that the Weasley twins would have run off the toad by now, but even the red-headed menaces lived in fear of Edith Elric and her inability to tolerate mess in her classroom. It was damn impressive, but currently very inconvenient. Hell, he would’ve helped them himself if it meant not having to talk to and suck up to the Ministry Official.
Still, he was a Slytherin. Sucking up to the people he didn’t like was practically a second nature by now so he managed a polite smile and a neutral tone. “He was an expert and his retirement was unfortunate, but I prefer Professor Elric’s approach to the subject.” Meaning: the old man was a useless tosser whose retirement was long overdue and Edith Elric was a gift from the gods, really, because that woman knew what she was talking about. Adrian had long ago realised that competence was one thing he could and would respect in anyone. It was the reason he couldn’t stand Malfoy despite the boy’s influence – his schemes never seemed to bear any fruit and it was hilarious and sad in equal measure – and the reason he admired the twins even though they were Gryffindors – they certainly knew how to get a job done when they put their minds to it.
Umbridge was both incompetent and delusional about it. And she expected him to agree with her every word because he was a snake and, therefore, a social climber. The assumption grated.
“So you do not mind Professor Elric’s more… direct and, shall we say, vulgar approach?”
Adrian was smart enough – and had enough self-preservation, he was not a Merlin-damned Gryffindor – not to disagree with her very obviously. “I find her to be refreshingly clear with all of her explanations and open to questions.”
Umbridge’s lips tinned in obvious displeasure and Adrian wondered how she even came out of his House with such a bad poker face. Probably, she was of Malfoy’s ilk, only Sorted there because of tradition or lack of any other House traits.
“I see,” she said, and leaned forward, ostensibly to give them privacy, but Adrian had seen Elric’s almost preternatural awareness of everything around her and had no doubt that she knew exactly what they were talking about. She could either read lips or minds, Adrian was not sure which. “If you are afraid of Edith Elric, Mr Pucey, you need only say so. I am sure that Minister can offer you any kind of protection you require to feel safe.”
Oh, Adrian was sure too. Elric was already a thorn in Umbridge’s side and promised to become only a bigger problem later on. She was probably salivating at the idea of getting rid of her that easily. Well, fuck her. Hogwarts needed all the skilled teachers it could get. “I’m not afraid of her, Professor Umbridge. I respect her immensely.”
Umbridge drew back – finally! – and huffed, unsatisfied. Adrian refused to smirk where she could see him, though he did supress a smile when one of the twins offered him thumbs up. Of course they were listening.
Well, at least he would be clear of any pranks for the next week.
“If you say so, Mr Pucey,” she said, her voice dripping condescension, and scribbled something down. Adrian tried really hard not to glare.
The odious woman wandered off towards the Gryffindor side of the classroom and engaged Alicia Spinnet, who had nothing bad to say, and then spoke to the Weasley twins. Adrian should have been reviewing the old lessons since they couldn’t really continue on the Circles until everyone passed Elric’s exam, but instead he leaned forward, ready to watch the fireworks.
His eyes caught a movement at the teacher’s desk and he turned, almost laughing out loud when he noticed that Elric was mirroring his pose, smirk on her lips.
“Why, Professor –“
“– we didn’t know that you missed us so much!”
“You only saw us –“
“– yesterday, after all, during that simply marvellous detention.”
“Why, our hands are still hurting from –“
“– writing so many lines, really, it was such a –“
“– tremendously massive undertaking, the Headmaster should –“
“– certainly hear about it!”
Adrian, who had heard some really nasty rumours about those detentions, watched with gritted teeth as Umbridge paled but stood her ground. Her whole attention was preoccupied with the maniacal grins on the twin’s faces, so she missed the narrowed golden eyes that glared harder every time the red-heads opened their mouth and issued a new, subtle threat. Adrian forced down a shiver.
The toad-like woman smiled her habitual, sickly-sweet smile. “Ah, I am sure that the Headmaster has more important concerns than a petty grudge of a pair of students.” And that was, sadly, true. Dumbledore was awfully lax with the safety of his students. “I have some questions about your Alchemy classes.”
The twins’ grins widened, somehow becoming even more sinister.
“Ah, you’re talking about the lovely –“
“– Professor Elric, of course. She’s just wonderful –“
“–fabulous, really. Such an –“
“– admirable woman. Don’t you think so?”
By the way Umbridge’s face was slowly getting redder and redder, no, she did not think so. Adrian was now hiding his snickers in his fist, along with everyone else in the class. Elric’s eyes were dancing with mirth.
“You are entitled to your opinion, of course.” It sounded like it physically hurt her to say that. “What do you think about her teaching methods?”
“Oh, we love it!”
“We can’t wait to begin practical lessons!”
The class collectively shuddered.
“Are you done yet?” Elric suddenly asked, sounding bored and no little impatient.
Umbridge turned towards her, clutching her quill and parchment in a white-knuckled grip. “Oh, just a few moments more, Professor,” she said, syrupy. “A few questions for you, if you don’t mind.”
Elric huffed. “It’s not like I can stop you from asking.”
Umbridge looked affronted and insulted. “I’ll try to be quick,” she said, like she was granting her a great boon. Elric gritted her teeth in irritation. “Can you tell us what your profession was before you came to Hogwarts?” Umbridge could not hide the curiosity and greed in her voice.
Suddenly, everyone was listening. Elric was just so damn mysterious about her past, never letting anything slip, that even such a small, potentially boring information was worth a lot in the Hogwarts rumour mill.
Elric leaned in her seat, looking very much like a smug cat. “I was a consultant for the State Military of Amestris. Research mostly, with a few combat assignments,” she said, and Adrian’s mind immediately went to her preternatural awareness of her surroundings, the sharpness of her eyes, her uneven steps. And that talk of revolution unexpectedly acquired a new meaning. “And before that, I was a soldier. Lieutenant Colonel, specifically.”
“You’re a soldier?” Umbridge spluttered. She almost looked terrified. Adrian understood where she was coming from. Wizarding Britain did not have a standing military force. The closest thing they had were the Auror Corps, and even they were not equipped to deal with anything more dangerous than a few dark wizards. One had to just look at how useless they were during the War.
Elric was suddenly very cheerful. Apparently the thought of giving Umbridge a fear-induced aneurysm made her day. Adrian sympathised. “Oh, no, I’m retired.”
“Ah, yes, of course,” Umbridge said, faintly, and turned around, hurrying towards the door. “I must… The Minister must be informed of your evaluation. Excuse me!”
“You’re excused!” Elric shouted, grinning wildly. Then she eyed them curiously obviously in much better spirits than at the beginning of the lesson. “You know what? You can go five minutes earlier. I’m feeling benevolent.”
“Awesome!” the twins exclaimed simultaneously, and Adrian wondered if they were talking about seeing Umbridge scurrying like a terrified mouse or being liberated a few minutes earlier. They gathered their stuff in record time and almost ran toward the exit. Adrian felt a familiar shiver of alarm skittering against his spine and took a few steps away from their desk.
“Weasley One! Weasley Two!” Elric called out, her face still split into a grin, teeth bared wildly, her eyes alight with golden fire. “You forgot something under your desk!”
The twins sighed and one of them extracted himself from the group and walked back, scooped up a box of dungbombs and pointed a pale finger in the professor’s direction. “We’ll get you one day, just you wait.” He sounded almost comically serious, and the way he narrowed his eyes ‘dangerously’ made Adrian want snigger. He stopped the impulse.
Elric snorted. “You can try.”
Harry’s scar hurt.
He gritted his teeth and angrily rubbed the pulsing, jagged mark on his forehead, trying not to arouse Hermione’s suspicions. That girl was scary when she was on a warpath and if she got even an inkling of Harry’s pain, she would insist that he should tell the Headmaster.
Harry swallowed down the bitterness that was by now habitual every time he thought of Dumbledore and focused on his lunch. He stuffed some mashed potatoes in his mouth, chewed, and glanced at his friends beside him. Hermione’s nose was buried in a leather-bound book, her fork absently hovering in front of her mouth. Ron was too busy gobbling down everything on his plate to pay attention to anything else. They hadn’t noticed anything, he realised, relieved.
His relief was short-lived, interrupted by a pair of pale, freckled arms draping over his shoulders companionably as the twins dropped in the seats on either side of him and grinned, for some reason looking smug.
“Hey, Harry!” Fred said from his right, his manic smile making Harry look at him with no little alarm.
Harry swallowed. “Fred, George,” he greeted, as Ron grunted and Hermione smiled in acknowledgment. “What brings you here?”
Their grins widened.
“Well, since you expressed such an interest in Umbridge’s evaluations –“
“– we’ve come to tell you that today it was Professor Elric’s turn.”
Harry exchanged interested glanced with Ron and Hermione. He could admit that he was little disappointed. He’d rather hoped that Elric’s evaluation would be during one of his classes. Still, he could enjoy Umbridge’s failure second-hand from the twins’ story.
He leaned forward. “Tell us everything.”
George obliged. “So first, Elric left her to wait outside with the students, then ordered her to sit tight and shut up. A few curse words and threats were somehow worked in there too. And Umbridge, wonder of wonders, actually listened. I reckon she was too scared not to, because Elric looked damn near murderous. She tried to interrupt a few times, but Elric shot her down quick enough. At the end of the lesson, she asked a few questions, but nobody had anything bad to say. She was mighty upset at that. And then she asked Elric what she did before coming here.” The three of them leaned forward in interest. “Get this, Elric was a soldier.”
Harry gaped, Ron yelped and Hermione frowned. “Why is it such a big deal?”
“Wizards don’t have an army; it’s a Muggle thing. I bet Umbridge has never met one before,” Fred said.
Hermione looked concerned. “Do you think the Ministry will have her fired?” she asked, gnawing on her lower lip. “I mean, she did insult and threaten one of theirs.”
Fred waved it off. “Nah,” he said, unconcerned. “I heard her contract is with Dumbledore only. They can’t fire her. And I reckon if they try, that she’ll raise hell for them. Doesn’t have much respect for authority, that one.” He sounded like he admired her deeply. Harry snorted. Figures.
He glanced at the head table. Elric was there, pointedly ignoring Umbridge’s poisonous glares, and seemed to be chattering Snape’s ears off, if the Potion Master’s slowly deepening scowl was any indication. This was not the first time she did it. Harry suspected that the alchemist took some kind of sadistic pleasure out of making Snape’s short fuse even shorter and then releasing his moody self on the student population. Seemed like the kind of thing she would do, all the while grinning happily.
He frowned. “What do we even know about Elric?”
Ron and Hermione perked up at the mention of the current biggest mystery in the school while Fred and George exchanged one of their speaking glances. Harry kind of envied their ability to communicate without actually saying a word. It must do wonders for their pranking.
“Well,” George started. “She’s from Amestris and she’s a Muggle. She was in the military and now apparently consults for them. She likes McGonagall, doesn’t like Umbridge, likes irritating Snape, adores alchemy and absolutely doesn’t want to be here.” All of them nodded at the least one. The alchemist had made it clear, multiple times, that teaching was not her idea of a time well-spent, even if she was actually good at it when she made an effort.
Ron swallowed a bite of his chicken and added, “She limps. It’s not obvious, but her steps are uneven.” Harry sometimes forgot that his best friend was a lot smarter than he looked and then he went and said something insightful like this.
Hermione raised her hand slightly like she was in the middle of a lesson. “She has problems with authority,” she said, voicing the obvious. “And I heard from Lavender, who heard it from Neville, who said that Sprout mentioned she’s engaged.”
The boys gaped and then glanced at Elric’s small, fit, golden-haired form. She stood out like a bonfire in the dead of the night among the other teachers.
“That’s one lucky bloke,” Fred said, and they nodded, agreeing.
Hermione snorted. “Oh, do stop being disgusting.” She eyed Harry critically. “Why are you asking? Did she do something suspicious?” She sounded like she did not think so, but wanted to check anyway.
Harry shook his head. “No. It’s just…” He hesitated, wondering how to voice his thoughts. “She appeared just after Voldemort was resurrected. I’m just being careful.”
“Or paranoid,” Ron murmured under his breath and Harry not so accidentally kicked his shin under the table. “Ouch!”
Fred and George, being the mean older siblings they were under the guises of mischievous boys, laughed. Hermione glanced at him in reproach, but her lack of reprimand spoke more than any actual words.
She sighed. “I can research some more if you want me to,” she said, like it was a great chore, but the light of fascination in hear eyes made sure she fooled absolutely no one. “I mean, we know so little about Amestris and their alchemy, so it could be useful. And interesting.”
The twins were practically vibrating in their seats. “Harry, my man,” Fred said, once again slinging his arm around Harry’s shoulder, making him almost drop his fork. Harry adjusted his glasses against the onslaught. “You can count us in! Elric has no hope of hiding any secrets from us!”
Ron snorted derisively. “Didn’t you complain just yesterday that she always manages to evade all your pranks? What makes you think that she won’t notice a pair of stalkers?”
The twins deflated. “We’ll get her one day,” George grumbled, stabbing a fork in his meal aggressively.
Harry patted him consolingly on his shoulder. “Any information is welcome,” he said, because Elric might be some sort of secret ninja, but nobody knew the castle and its secrets better than Fred and George. And they were stubborn. They’ll come up with something.
Hermione closed her book with care and slipped it back in her satchel, before she stood up and hiked the strap on her shoulder. “Well, if we’re done here, I’m must go –“
“To the library,” the boys chorused simultaneously and shared fond grins.
Hermione huffed, but smiled. “To the library. See you later!”
Fred and George clambered on their feet too only seconds later. “We can’t have our favourite know-it-all get too far ahead of us. Besides, there’s mischief to cause, tapestries to paint, Mrs Norris to stuff in a suit of armour... Ta!”
Ron and Harry exchanged glances.
“When they get caught it will be hilarious,” Ron predicted.
Harry grinned in his potatoes.
Edith Elric was a problem.
Lord Voldemort did not suffer problems easily. She needed to be dealt with.
He frowned as he received yet another report of failure from Amestris. This was the fourth one in only that week, and all of them cited Edith Elric as a reason. It seemed that the new Hogwarts teacher had considerable and impressive amount of influence in alchemical community and that nobody who was aware of her reputation dared to fight against her. It was an admirable trait, being capable of striking fear in the hearts of one’s opponents with such ease, but in this case it inconvenienced him greatly.
Voldemort did not like inconveniences.
Voldemort wanted an alchemist. The thought of that much power in his employ would have made him giddy if he didn’t have an iron control over his emotions. There were rumours amongst those who have travelled inside the Ward that an Amestrian State Alchemist was more than a match for the most powerful of the wizards. Even if they were false and distorted – as rumours were wont to be – a follower holding a power that was almost completely unknown to any British wizard was an advantage he could not afford to ignore.
Edith Elric had once been a State Alchemist.
He’d considered it. Of course he had. He wanted an alchemist and there was currently one in Britain that was, by all accounts, a powerful and dangerous opponent. Recruitment would have been his priority if Severus hadn’t warned him that Elric’s character was not ideal for service among the Death Eaters. His spy had described her as rude, disruptive and prone to aggressive outbursts. She did not seem to hold any affection for Albus Dumbledore, true enough, but the disrespect seemed to come from her issues with authority that manifested in rude nicknames and public insults.
Voldemort knew himself enough to know that anyone who dared to insult him would not live long, treasured follower or not.
Recruiting Edith Elric was not an option. Recruiting any other Amestrian-trained alchemist while she was in Britain was not an option.
Killing her… Killing her was certainly an option, one that needed to be considered carefully.
A small attack to test her defences and abilities, and force her to give up some of her techniques. As of right now, her talents were mystery to everyone, and that was unacceptable. The risk any wizard would face while engaging her was too great for himself to meddle directly.
Not to mention that Ministry was being uncommonly obliging by ignoring any and all indications of his resurrection and rise to power. He did not intend to make them rethink their opinions by sending in anyone recognizable and easily connected to the last War.
He would not send his best fighters, of course. No need to risk the useful Death Eaters on what practically amounted to testing the waters. A few lower level grunts should do the trick well enough, and if they should meet an unfortunate end, it would be no great loss for his forces and a more accurate indication of Elric’s level of threat.
If they were lucky, she would be killed quickly and Voldemort would be free of one great problem that has been stalling his progress for weeks. If not, maybe she would flee the country when faced with the might of the Dark forces and their continuous targeting of her.
Voldemort did not often indulge in hope, but Edith Elric needed to be dealt with. Swiftly.
He flicked his wand. “Wormtail! Bring me Lucius!”
The short, abominable man scurried out of the door. It only took a few minutes for the aristocratic blonde to enter.
Lucius Malfoy bowed reverently at Voldemort’s feet. “My lord.”
“Lucius,” Voldemort hissed out. “When is the next Hogsmeade weekend?”
“Why the hell do I have to be here?!”
Here being a small, picturesque village that wouldn’t look weird on a postcard. It was a nice enough place, Ed was willing to admit, and some of those shops looked really interesting, but there was entirely too much children here for her to feel truly comfortable. The press of the crowd made her instincts go haywire and the presence of the unfamiliar villagers caused her to only half-listen her companions’ words.
Minerva aimed a sharp look in her direction, her lips thin in displeasure. “We cannot allow the students to walk around without supervision,” she said, as if Ed should have already known the reason.
Ed scoffed as she threw herself down on the wooden chair. The pub was smoky, and only the years of Havoc’s presence prevented her from coughing. “Come on! There’s no way that the three of us can keep an eye on so many brats at once!” There must have been at least two hundred of them, all milling around in different shops and pubs in dozen of streets.
“We do not need to keep an eye on them. We are here so that they can come to us in case of an accident or emergency,” Minerva explained. Well, at least that made marginally more sense.
Filius nodded, patting her elbow in comfort. “And we get to relax in a pub, Edith, so it’s not all bad,” he said, and flagged the pretty barmaid over. “Two butterbeers and a gillywater, Rosmerta, please.” The woman offered them a nod and a quick smile before bustling off, expertly weaving through the tick crowd.
Ed gaped. “Are you… Are you drinking alcohol while working?” She did not know Filius as well as Severus, Minerva and (unfortunately) Umbridge, but she was sure that Minerva, at least, would never do something as irresponsible as drinking on the job. Not even Ed did that, and she was not especially known for following the rules. Really, the only reason she had not been discharged from the military ages ago was Roy’s intervention and her efficiency despite her rule-breaking.
Filius looked aghast. “What are you…? Oh,” he gasped, seemingly realising something. “No, no. Butterbeer doesn’t have any alcohol in it. It’s sugary!” As if to prove his point, the barmaid dropped their drinks on the table, and Filius slid one bottle towards her, motioning for her to drink it.
Ed took a cautious gulp. It was very sweet. “Ah,” Ed said, choosing not to comment. Wizards were weird.
Filius smiled, seemingly happy that she liked it. “So, Edith,” the small man started, leaning forward in interest. “How do you like the classes so far?”
Ed just about resisted the urge to slam her head against the hard wood of the desk. From the corner of her eye, she could see Minerva’s lips twitching downwards into a beginning of a frown. She was probably preparing herself for another round of complaints. Ed couldn’t actually blame her, considering the other woman had been her main source of venting her frustration. And she was good at it too. Not even Al allowed her to rant so much in his presence – mostly because he didn’t like it when she insulted other people.
Ed forced herself to smile. “The students are… improving,” she bit out through clenched teeth, even if it was the truth. Of course, since most of the truly abysmal students had already dropped out, it would be hard to get any worse. “I’m considering starting them on Transmutation Circles this week.”
Now both Minerva and Filius looked interested.
“Oh?” Minerva started. “They’re getting that good?”
Ed couldn’t help the tiny smile of satisfaction that stretched her lips. “All of them managed to memorize the periodic table.” She paused for a moment, taking another swing of her drink. “Finally,” she added, because there was no need to make them think she was getting soft.
Minerva and Filius exchanged speaking glances. Ed wanted to frown.
Filius cleared his throat. “Are there any students you feel are progressing faster than the others?” he asked curiously. “I’ve always found Miss Granger to be especially gifted. Such a shame the Hat had not placed her in my House. She would’ve fit in well.” His voice gained a wistful quality.
Minerva looked torn between pride for her star student and defensiveness about Filius’ implied insult to her House.
Ed shook her head. “Granger’s good at memorization, I’ll give her that. But she seems to lack imagination necessary to be truly great at alchemy,” she said, to their visible surprise. “Weasley One and Weasley Two, on the other hand, are going to be damn good if they make an effort.”
Filius’ eyes were wide, his eyebrows nearly touching his hairline. “The twins? Really?” Then he paused for a moment and thought about it. “Well, I always did suspect that they were holding back in the class. I reckoned they didn’t care about their grades. And their pranks are ingenious.”
Ed smirked. “Memorization helps with learning alchemy, true. But you need to have some amount of creativity to design your own Circles and get the results you want,” she told her rapt audience. “Otherwise, any idiot with the same basic knowledge will know how to counter you.”
Both Minerva and Filius looked interested so she continued. “Of course, if you’re going against someone who mastered those simple Circles, and knows how to use them to get a wide range of attacks, you’re fucked anyway.” The professors winced at her language and she bit back a smirk. “I knew a guy –“
She was cut off by a series of cracks from the outside, loud even in the murmur of conversation.
Ed ducked on instinct – hardwired in her subconscious thanks to her longstanding association with Riza Hawkeye and a stint on Drachman border – and ignored the weird looks she got from the other patrons. The cracks sounded too much like gunshots for her piece of mind.
Someone outside screamed.
She was out of her seat and halfway to the door, before she even thought about it. She felt more than saw Minerva and Filius following after her; slower, but no less determined. The rest of the crowd was still floundering in confusion, some of them going white with terror, so Ed had to grab and shove her way out between motionless bodies.
In the street, there was chaos.
As soon as she came out, Ed had to hastily duck to avoid a beam of sickly-yellow coloured light. A Truth-damned spell. She gritted her teeth, rose from her crouch, sidestepped another attack and charged right into the fray.
“Fuckers,” she muttered as she realised what was going on. Some idiots in ridiculous dark robes apparently popped in the middle of the main street and started attacking both students and the residents with abandon. The screaming crowd was trying to find shelter in the nearby buildings, but they were bottlenecked at the doors – of course they were – so some of them started running around, trying to reach the side streets for the safety. A few brave souls were attempting to fight their way through. They were… less than effective.
Ed muttered a Drachman curse – because that language seemed to be made for cursing in – and clapped her hands, slapping her palms on the ground only a second later. An electric blue light crackled around her fists, the ground rising and heaving as the solid walls of stone appeared between the attackers and the innocent civilians. A hush fell over the street.
Ed was not terribly surprised when everyone looked at her, stunned.
She grinned her best manic grin – which was enough to scare most of the privates in the army and some of the officers, she was proud to say – and held out her hands, mockingly. “Hey, cowards! Why don’t you pick on someone your size, you asshats?!”
She could hear a muffled sigh behind her that signalled Minerva’s presence. Filius was probably there too.
The first to recover was a man on the far right. He spat something funny sounding – a spell no doubt – and a beam of neon orange leapt from his wand. Ed dodged with ease; those spells were much slower than the gunshots, which made absolutely no sense, since they were actually made of light. Still, she followed her dodge with a sprint, taking the man by surprise with her speed. He paled, fired off another spell, but she caught his arm with her own automail hand before he could even think about the third and squeezed. The wrist snapped like a twig and the man screamed, crumpling down on the ground. Ed took vicious satisfaction from stomping on his wand, breaking it too.
The next man tried to come at her from behind, but Ed swayed away from another beam of coloured light without looking and clapped her hands once again. Her glove ripped as the plate on her metal hand transformed into a sharp blade. Ed lunged at the attacker, her hand flashing, but he managed to just barely bring up some translucent shield that clanged when the blade connected. Ed grinned, twirled on her heel, and came at him from behind, sweeping with her leg to the back of his knees and bringing him down. She lashed out as soon as he was down, piercing through his thigh, ensuring he would stay down. He whimpered pathetically, but she ignored him, slicing through his stick on her way up.
A whip of scorching flame caught her by surprise.
Ed managed to dodge, just barely, her jacket smoking from the heat. She twirled and saw another dark-robed weirdo, a woman this time, and grinned wider at the challenge. The woman lashed out with a whip once again and Ed jumped to the left, clapped her hands and dropped to her knees, the blue light of her alchemy crackling around her. The woman had to jump back as the ground suddenly sprouted up sharp spikes, almost impaling her feet. While she was distracted, Ed rose and ran, reaching her in a second and tackling her to the ground which rose up to meet them at another clap, stony shackles twinning around her enemy’s wrists and ankles, rendering her useless.
The fourth and fifth man tried to attack her together. Ed dropped to the ground to avoid two spells from opposite directions, once again clapping her hands on her way down. The earth rose again, simultaneously wrapping them both in a cocoon, with only their heads visible. They were screaming at her, but Ed was an expert at ignoring the shouted obscenities from beaten opponents.
The next one ended up with two broken legs when she managed to stomp on them with her automail and his wand transmuted into a dandelion. The last one was pathetically easy to get rid of; a metal fist to the face made something break, and he fell down unconscious, either from pain or from the damage.
Ed was… kinda disappointed.
She looked around the street to see if there were any more of them left, but Minerva and Filius seemed to have rest well in hand. Filius’ two opponents were trussed up and hanging from the awning of the pub upside-down. Minerva’s had fins in the place of his hands and was loudly panicking while the professor smirked.
Minerva was terrifying.
Ed approached them. “All good then?” she asked when they looked up from their opponents.
Filius smiled at her kindly, a direct contrast to the dark glare he was aiming at the two men he had beaten. “Ah, yes, not a scratch on me. I’m good at dodging, you see. You?”
“Oh, I’m good,” she said and grinned, clapping her hands one last time. The sharp blade retracted back in the metal plate of her arm, drawing attention of the two professors.
“Edith,” Minerva started slowly, her eyes wide. “Do you have a metal arm?”
Ed looked down and fought down the urge to slap herself on the forehead. She’d totally forgotten that nobody in Britain knew why she was called Fullmetal Alchemist back home. Ah well, cat’s outta bag now.
“It’s nothing,” she said, waving her hand carelessly, avoiding their curious eyes. “An old injury.” She left it at that, knowing that they would connect the information and her time in the military and come to some conclusions. Not the right conclusions, of course, but it would stop them from asking and that was good enough for Ed. “Now, who are these assholes and why are they dressed like idiots?”
Minerva aimed a disproving glare in her direction but Filius looked like he was biting down a snicker.
“We believe they are Death Eaters,” Minerva said, and paused as Ed chuckled at the name. “They do not wear the masks and probably have no Marks, so the Ministry is likely to deny it.”
Ed nodded knowingly. “A head in the sand policy, huh? That’s the worst one.”
They stood there for a moment in silence, before Minerva drew herself up to her full height. “Well, there is no point in just standing here, is there? Filius, you’re better with healing spells so go ahead and see if there’s anyone you can help until Poppy gets here. I’ll try to gather as many students as possible.” She was deadly serious but there was a lively gleam to her eye when she glanced at Ed. “Edith, maybe you should find another way to restrain these attackers,” she said, nodding at the pair totally encased in stone. “We would like to move them.”
Ed grinned. “Oh, it would be my pleasure.”
The village Hogsmeade was attacked today. There were no deaths and only a few minor injuries among the civilians, but it’s alarming anyway. Minerva identified these men as Death Eaters, bottom rung, but still Voldemort’s followers.
They were targeting me, Roy.
As soon as I joined the fight, every Death Eater not otherwise engaged with Minerva and Filius attacked me. I had no problem beating them, but both you and I know what this means. The snake asshole is interested in me so he decided to evaluate me by attacking me with superior numbers to gauge my skill. It was in the middle of the village; there were children there, Roy.
I really, really want to kill him.
PS: Tell Al not to worry. I’m okay.
“This is worrying.”
Minerva’s glare would have made a Basilisk proud. “Of course it’s worrying, Albus! Death Eaters in the middle of Hogsmeade! While the students were there!”
Albus nodded in conciliatory manner, the thoughts whirling in his head. He had not expected Tom to act so openly when he had clearly made an effort to stay beneath the Ministry’s notice. Attacking the children – when more than half of them had some ties to the Ministry – was a foolish move so early in the war, especially if he wanted to gain support from the government workers. Even Lucius Malfoy, a snake that he was, would hesitate to follow a man who endangered his only son and heir. So why…?
Albus’ eyes narrowed minutely. “Minerva, dear,” he started, making her focus her sharp gaze on his face. If he were a lesser man, he would have cowered beneath it. “Were the Death Eaters aiming at anyone particular?”
Never let it be said that Minerva McGonagall was a stupid woman. It took her barely a second to follow his train of thought. She paled rapidly, her face going as still as stone in worry. “Filius and I managed to restrain three of them. Edith dealt with seven others. All of them attacked her.”
He allowed his eyebrows to rise in surprise. “Seven?” he asked and Minerva nodded in confirmation. “Well, it seems that Edith is far more talented than I expected.”
Minerva’s lips tightened as she looked at him in displeasure. She had always been hard to fool. “What are you planning, Albus?” she asked sharply, and there was no mistaking the protectiveness in her gaze. She and Edith had become fast friends in the past few weeks, and Albus had no doubt that she would oppose any plan that even hinted at trouble for the younger woman.
So, Albus smiled genially. “Nothing much, Minerva,” he reassured, knowing full well that he looked like someone’s harmless grandfather. His inconspicuous looks had done wonders for his political career. “You should go and check on your students. I’m sure they’re going to need you.”
With one sharp glare in his direction, Minerva left in a huff.
Albus’ face fell as soon as the door closed behind her. He was worried. Of course, he was worried, but it wouldn’t do to show his concern to his staff. They had enough of it themselves, and they did not need to know that he was not infallible.
Tom had surprised him.
Albus did not like it, but it was the truth. The attack, uncomfortably close to his school, to the children under his protection had taken him by surprise and he did not react in time. Severus had not heard anything about it before it happened and Albus had certainly not expected it. The failure terrified him, because if Edith Elric hadn’t been there, who knew how many more wounded or even the dead would be lying on the streets of Hogsmeade right now? He owed her much, and he was afraid that he would owe her even more before this war was over.
Edith Elric was an advantage that could be used.
If only she was a part of the Order. Albus had no doubt that she would be a valuable member if she were ever to join, but it would be tricky. She was a foreign citizen with no real ties to Britain save for the few friendships she managed to forge, no reason to fight for them, and no love lost for Albus himself.
She did not like him. It certainly made his plans more difficult, but Albus could not help but find her instincts commendable. Very few people could look past his grandfatherly side – it was not a façade, because he did care; but it was also not all he was – to see the sharp, genius mind that lurked beneath the surface. Edith did it instantly, and Albus was forced to remember that she used to work with Fuhrer Mustang and that she was very well acquainted with the ways of politicians.
It would be hard to recruit her, Albus was sure, but not impossible.
Very few things were truly impossible.
I’m glad you’re okay.
I’m sure it’s hard for you to resist, but please try not to kill Voldemort. He is a dangerous man who is already showing entirely too much interest in you and your battle prowess. It won’t end well. Keep the children out of the harm’s way – even if technically it isn’t your mission, I know you will do it anyway; I wouldn’t have it any other way – protect the school if you must and try not to take too many unnecessary risks.
Harry looked up from where he was huddled with Ron and Hermione on the sofa by the fireplace. The common room was unusually quiet, all of the students shaken by today’s events. There were only a few of the Gryffindors wounded in the battle, thank Merlin, but every one of them was suddenly feeling a lot less safe in Hogwarts.
Of course the twins did not go with the program.
They threw themselves on the carpeted floor in a pile of pale, freckled limbs, leaned on the coffee table, and grinned up at the trio widely, looking expectant.
Harry sighed. “Yes?”
Their blue eyes were sparkling, grins wide and maniacal. Harry felt a shiver of fear, a learnt response for whenever the twins looked gleeful like this.
“You remember, of course, when you asked us to snoop –“
“– around most fabulous Professor Elric, don’t you?”
They barely waited for Harry to nod in confirmation before they continued on with their babbling. He exchanged baffled looks with Ron and Hermione.
“Well, we, marvellous and brilliant blokes that we are –“
Ron snorted incredulously. The twins ignored him with the ease of practice.
“– found something very interesting for our favourite little brother.”
“Oi!” Ron exclaimed, offended. He was ignored once again.
Harry leaned forward, and could just barely see from the corner of his eye Hermione mirroring his position, eyes wide in curiosity. “What did you find out?” he asked, his interest rising.
The twins exchanged glances, seemingly fighting over who was going to tell them the good news. George won.
“Well, we tried to follow her a few times, but the sharp woman that she is, she always caught us. So we took a little breather, to consider our options, you know, and then bam! Hogsmeade is attacked.” All of them winced at the reminder. Harry grimaced. He had barely gotten out of Hog’s Head before he was forced to stop by a stone wall rising from the solid ground. He had been trapped and completely useless and it grated. “And, as you know, our favourite professor was out there, fighting the attackers.”
The trio nodded simultaneously. All of them had heard Elric fighting and cursing in three different languages while she did so. They hadn’t seen it, but the rumours said that the alchemist had beaten most of the attackers by herself. It was… a little scary, actually.
Fred took over the explanation, allowing his twin to take a much needed breath. “We managed to apparate over the wall when the fight was finished and we saw Elric talk to Flitwick and McGonagall.” By now, both of them were practically bouncing in delight, even though they were seated. “Guess what?! Elric has a metal arm!”
Harry’s jaw dropped. He glanced at Ron and Hermione who looked as stunned as he felt. A metal arm. Elric had a metal arm.
He frowned, trying to make sense of the news. “Maybe it’s prosthetic?” he asked.
Hermione shook her head, wild hair flying around her face, settling on her shoulders. “It moves like a real arm does. Muggles don’t have anything like that,” she said, and then narrowed her arms at the three purebloods in their group. “Do wizards?” She seemed personally affronted that someone hadn’t said anything to her about it.
Ron shook his head frantically. “No. No,” he blurted out, rushed, seemingly eager to have Hermione stop glaring at him in burning curiosity. “We only have the wooden ones. Like Mad-Eye, you see.”
Harry sighed, leaning back in the cushioned seat of the sofa. “It’s probably Amestrian,” he concluded, rubbing his forehead and mussing up his hear. “She said she had been in the military, right?”
The twins nodded. Ron looked confused, but Hermione caught on his train of thought quickly. “Of course,” she exclaimed, a smile flitting over her face at the realisation. She had always liked figuring out new things. “She must’ve lost her arm in the service.” The witch frowned at that, a flash of concern making her bite her lip. “But she’s so young, isn’t she?” The boys nodded, because yes, she was maybe a decade older than them. Harry hadn’t even consciously realised it until Hermione pointed it out. Elric had the kind of presence that made it hard to see her as anything other than competent and dangerous. Young never even came in the equation. “She must have been even younger when in it happened. And it must have hurt.” And now she was wringing her hands in worry and Harry was uncomfortably reminded of SPEW. “Poor her.”
Ron snorted, rolling his eyes at Hermione. Harry kind of felt like he should stop what was coming, but Hermione would catch him and then be angry at him. Let Ron hang himself. “She seems alright to me. In fact, she’s bloody terrifying,” the redhead said, completely ignoring Hermione’s pursed lips as she gazed at him in displeasure. It took all Harry’s self-control not to put his head in his hands and groan. The twins, of course, were watching the train wreck with wide grins on their faces and were snickering under their breaths. “Doesn’t seem too sad about the hand thing. And she got a metal one out if too.”
Hermione was, predictably, appalled. “Ronald!” she exclaimed. “Professor Elric lost an arm. Don’t be so insensitive!”
“What?!” Ron asked, looking surprised that she was angry at him. Harry idly wondered if the redhead would ever learn. “The arm is made of metal. I think it’s wicked.”
Hermione huffed furiously, and looked at the rest of the boys. Harry, even if he was not an expert in teenage girls on a warpath, knew enough to raise his hands in surrender. The twins, on the other hand, were very much Ron’s brothers, no matter how much they tried to deny it.
Fred grinned. “Sorry, Hermione, but we agree with Ickle Ronniekins.”
George nodded in conformation. “It is wicked. But now we really must go.”
They rose simultaneously and continued to talk, completely ignoring Hermione’s indignant protests. “We have a standing appointment with a few Hufflepuffs.”
“Little beasties, all of the badgers are. Always up for some hard work and testing."
“So, see you later!”
“And, Hermione, do try to relax a little! You need it!”
With that, the two traitors bustled out of the common room, ignoring the many amused glances of their housemates and furious glares Ron and Harry were aiming at them. Hermione was fuming silently beside them, her hair curling even more in her anger, and looked ready to spit fire if someone said one wrong word.
Because Harry’s luck was just that awful, she turned on him next. “And what do you think about Professor Elric’s disability, Harry?” Never before had a simple question sounded like the worst of threats.
Harry chose his words carefully. “I think,” he said and hesitated. “I think that I would like to see her punching Malfoy. With her metal hand.” He would pay to see that, really, he would. Having said his bit, he took a deep breath and waited for judgement.
Hermione’s lips twitched upwards, seemingly without her permission, and she turned away to hide her expression. Harry exchanged knowing grins with Ron.
Hermione leaned back in her seat, her shoulders relaxing. “Oh, all right,” she said, sighing, and looked at them curiously. “What do you want to do about this?”
Harry thought for a moment. “Well,” he said and both of them listened carefully. “We have the cloak and the Map, and I know that professor’s offices aren’t warded. I say we go snooping.”
Harry was not terribly surprised when Hermione once again looked to be on the verge of breakdown.
Hermione couldn’t believe they were really doing this.
Actually, when she though a little about this, yes, she could. Harry, despite his general ignorance about anything girl related, knew just which buttons to push when he wanted her to do something, and he was right in pointing out that her curiosity was killing her.
Just… Why must they always do this? Really, why?
They were in the middle of the torch-lit hallway, all three of them hidden underneath the cloak – and they weren’t first years anymore, their toes were poking out – and Harry was clutching the worn Map in his hand, barely lit by the light from his wand.
The dark haired boy squinted at the small writing. “I thinks she’s sleeping. Look,” he pointed and Ron and Hermione obediently looked, noticing the still dot labelled as ‘Edith Elric’. “She isn’t moving and that’s her room. We’re clear.” Harry slipped the Map back in his robes, managing to elbow Ron in the ribs while he did so.
Hermione did not think they were clear. Sure, Professor Elric might be sleeping, but her rooms and her office were connected by a single door. The probability of getting caught was too high for her comfort, but she knew Harry well enough to know he wouldn’t budge. This year, he seemed even more stubborn than all the other years combined, and he was convinced that the professor was suspicious.
She sighed and led them a few steps down the hall. “Come on,” she whispered as they shuffled. When they reached the door, Hermione could not help but to look to her left and right, even if the Map said they were alone. She pulled out her wand when Ron nudged her and carefully edged it form under the cloak. “Alohomora,” she enunciated clearly and the lock clicked open. The teachers’ offices had no wards, since the professors were required to be available at all times of the day, and simple unlocking charm worked well enough.
They tip-toed inside before someone came and noticed, closing the door carefully behind them. They let the cloak slip soundlessly to the floor as they finally split up. The room was dark, but Harry murmured something under his breath and the light at the tip of his wand floated upwards, lighting up their surroundings with a gentle glow.
The office was… cosy. Hermione, when she had thought about what it would look like, had always pictured something very much like Professor Elric’s classroom, stark and cold. But the floor here was carpeted, there were two comfortable-looking armchairs in front of a large wooden desk piled with papers, and a huge fireplace that showed clear signs of use. Two of the walls could not be seen, since they were covered in bookshelves from floor to ceiling, all filled with books in different languages. Hermione could understand only a few titles which were written in English, and the subjects were mostly alchemy and magical theory.
Ron looked like he wanted to whistle. “A bookworm,” he said, looking at Hermione meaningfully. “Who would have thought?”
Hermione straightened, insulted. Professor Elric may not really look like stereotypical smart person – she dressed in leather, for god’s sake – but she clearly knew what she was talking about, and if Ron thought that there was something shameful about liking books…
She was distracted from her anger by Harry’s thoughtful hum.
“What is it?” she asked as she turned around. Harry had been snooping around Professor Elric’s desk and was now softly riffling through her papers. Hermione stifled an automatic need to reprimand him, knowing he would not listen. Instead, she stepped closer, interested in what he’d found.
Harry looked up, wild hair swaying with the motion, the light glinting off his glasses. “Huh? Oh, I just saw our latest tests. Ron finally passed.”
Ron pumped a fist in celebration, a wide grin stretching his lips. Hermione didn’t see what he was really celebrating. It took him weeks to learn the periodic table. Maybe he could have been excused for not getting it the first time since he was a pureblood, but she’d heard that Fred and George had managed it. Fred and George. And Harry hadn’t really been better himself. He’d only gotten it last week.
She huffed. “Well,” she said, her voice disapproving. “You wanted to come here, Harry. What did you expect us to find?”
Harry, bless him, looked confused. “Er,” he mumbled, thinking hard. “Some papers maybe. I mean, if she’s with Voldemort, she’d have letters and stuff, right?” He looked at her, green eyes hopeful.
Hermione could just barely hear Ron murmuring under his breath, “Not if she burned them.”
Even though she agreed with the redhead’s assessment she chose to ignore him. No need to make Harry angry in the middle of the infiltration to the teacher’s office. It was not worth it. And, hey, maybe they would find something. “Where do you want me to look?”
Harry lit up like a Christmas tree. “These drawers are locked. Can you –?”
They were interrupted by the door of the Professor Elric’s room banging open, their eyes going wide with horror.
“Can she do what?” a cold voice asked from behind Hermione and she stilled for one long moment before turning, slowly, hesitatingly, to meet the eyes of the older woman. Ferocious gold stared at her, burning in anger.
Hermione gulped. Professor Elric was dressed in shabby sweatpants and sleeveless, black shirt, her hair plaited behind her and her hands folded over her chest. And now that she could see them, Hermione realised that, yes, the professor had a metal hand. It was an elegant piece of machinery, that moved almost as smoothly as the real one, but Hermione could see the place at her shoulder where it was grafted to her flesh. The scars that branched out from the metal were white with age and gruesome enough that Hermione had to look away when bile rose in her throat.
The pain must have been excruciating. She did not know if she should pity the other woman or be in awe of her.
Either way, right now, she was horribly afraid of her.
She took a slow step back, golden eyes following her every movement, and stood between Harry and Ron, looking for any safety she could find in this foreign environment.
“What are you doing here?” Professor Elric asked, and her voice sent shivers down Hermione’s spine.
“We wanted to, uh…” Hermione could not think of a good enough excuse. If they had needed to see professor for some kind of emergency, they could have woken her up easily enough, and, besides, she had caught them talking about breaking into her desk. There was simply no way to spin this and get out without punishment.
Harry chose that moment to interrupt. “Are you supporting Voldemort?” he asked, his tone rude, bordering on hostile. Ron shuddered at the name and Hermione resisted a groan at Harry’s rash actions.
Professor Elric did not react to the name. Hermione was not terribly surprised, but it did confirm it to her that her teacher was most likely not a Death Eater. The older woman did not seem offended by the question, thank god, and she only cut her cold eyes in Harry’s direction and answered, “No.”
Harry, seemingly feeling braver now when she did not kill him for asking a question, continued. “What about your hand? Is it magic? How did you lose yours?”
Hermione could not help but jump in terror when Professor Elric’s face closed off, becoming as still as stone. The woman took a step forward, and it felt threating enough that all three of them simultaneously backed off a few paces away from her. “And why the fuck should I tell you?”
Hermione made a shushing motion in Harry’s direction, but her friend was seemingly determined to get his answers because he straightened his spine and lifted his chin defiantly. “I deserve to know.”
Hermione did groan at that.
Professor Elric’s laugh was harsh and there was no happiness in it. “Why?” she asked, simply. Harry floundered, clearly not expecting that answer. “You’re not a family member. You’re not my friend. For Truth’s sake, you’re not even a fucking colleague! You’re my student and you have absolutely no right to ask anything about my private life!”
Harry looked stunned, his green eyes wide and frightened. Beside her, Ron was gaping at the teacher.
“But...” Harry mumbled.
“No buts!” Professor Elric all but snarled, her eyes practically giving out their own light with the force of her anger. “Do you expect Minerva or Filius to tell you their life story? No? Then why do you expect it from me?”
Hermione looked down, never before feeling so ashamed of herself. She hadn’t thought… Well, she suspected that she hadn’t thought at all. She had simply wanted to know more about their new teacher, she had only ever been hesitant about the rule-breaking and the possibility of being caught, and had not even thought that she was intruding into her privacy. She had just been so curious, so she decided to get some answers.
A quick glance at the boys revealed that they likely felt the same, if their stricken faces were anything to go by.
Professor Elric sighed. “Twenty points from the red House each,” she said, sounding very, very tired. Hermione’s guilt only worsened when she remembered that the alchemist had fought Death Eaters that day and must be falling asleep on her feet. “Get out. I don’t want to see you three outside the class from now on.”
They picked up the cloak and left without a word, heads bowed in shame. The closing of the door felt incredibly final in the silence.
About Ed’s reaction: if someone came in my room at night, snooped around and then expected me to talk about an incredibly traumatic experience in my past, I would go ballistic. I hope that I did the reaction justice.
"Sir, there's a situation with Alphonse and Winry."
"…Major General Hawkeye?"
"They are at the hospital, sir."
"Ah. Well, we did expect it."
"Shall I clear your schedule for today?"
"Do that. And send a letter to Ed. She'll actually kill us if we don't tell her."
"I already have, sir. She should be here in a few days."
"Well then. I was getting bored of the peace and quiet anyway."
An Attack on Hogsmeade: Sirius Black Gathering Supporters?
By R. Amorim
Yesterday, in the morning hours, during the scheduled Hogsmeade weekend, the only fully wizarding village in Britain was attacked by a dozen masked wizards and witches. While our children were enjoying their freedom, the happy atmosphere was ruined by the appearance of the dark-robed attackers and the subsequent chaos that followed. As witnessed by the students and the villagers alike, the unknown wizards were subdued after a lengthy struggle by the Professors Minerva McGonagall (Transfiguration), Filius Flitwick (Charms) and Edith Elric (Alchemy). There were no deaths and only minor injuries.
"It was terrifying," said Lavender Brown, 15, a member of the Gryffindor House and a witness to the event. "We didn't know what was going on at first, you know. We didn't realise. It was so sudden. Those men just appeared there and started throwing curses. I was scared."
It was reported that the attackers Apparated directly to the main street and immediately started casting. Some brave villagers tried to fight back and protect the children, but failed due to the better training and viciousness of those dark wizards.
"Elric was the first one out," said Madam Rosmerta, 45, the owner of the famous Three Broomsticks pub. She reported that the professors had been in the pub when the attack started. "Suppose she heard something and ran out. The other two followed quick enough, with wands drawn."
"They did something," said Lavender Brown. "The professors, I mean. Some kind of spell, I think. The wall came out of the ground and protected us from the spells, you see."
When the Aurors arrived at the scene, the street was completely deformed, the ground transfigured into a wall to protect the civilians.
"The attackers were subdued and the children safe," commented Kingsley Shacklebolt, Auror. "Those teachers are the real heroes here."
The Ministry released the statement about the attack early this morning. "There is no need for fear," said Minister Cornelius Fudge at the press conference. "The attackers are imprisoned and the children are completely safe." When asked about the possible leader of those dark wizards, the Minister was very clear. "Sirius Black, for sure. He has been at large for more than two years now. I have no doubt that he has acquired a loyal following."
In the aftermath of the horrible attack on our children, there were some concerns raised about their safety. Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore refuses to comment.
"You have been in even fouler mood than usual these last few days," Severus sneered as he poured milk in his tea. "Should we start to worry about you structurally damaging the castle while the rest of us are still in it? Some forewarning would be appreciated."
Edith's scowl deepened, if that was at all possible. She looked ready to start a fight then and there, and Severus watched with well-concealed curiosity as she took a deep breath to forcefully calm herself down. A mockery of a smile stretched across her face, showing too much teeth, and not even a first year dunderhead Gryffindor would mistake that expression for a sign of pleasantness. "Are you worried about me, asshole?" she asked. Her tone was, in direct contrast to her words, full of bite and malice. "And here I was about to believe the rumours that you are, in fact, an emotionless, bat-turning vampire."
Severus scoffed reflexively. Ridiculous.
"I am merely concerned for my own health and wellbeing. Dying under a pile of rubble after your… temper tantrum is not my preferred way to go."
Edith's laugh was short and harsh. "And you have a preferred way to go? How fucking morbid."
Severus would have preferred to die at age over one hundred, in his bed, in sleep, having lived a long and fulfilling life as a famous Potion Master and an author. Unfortunately, life did not care what he wanted – it never had, really – and he did not have the luxury to waste time on such petty dreams and desires. Considering his current practices and unfortunate loyalties, he was likely to die before the decade was out. Denying the fact would be simply foolish, and nobody had ever called Severus Snape a fool.
"Do stop being an antagonistic child," Severus bit out and then took a sip of his slowly cooling tea to hide the frown tugging at his lips, furious at himself for allowing her to get under his skin, again; Edith Elric seemed to have a talent for infuriating everyone in her general vicinity without even putting on much of an effort. It was immensely amusing to watch whenever the alchemist was in the same room as Umbridge, but less so when she made him lose the control of his carefully restrained emotions.
Edith glanced at him from the corner of her eye, golden orbs still and thoughtful. "What the fuck's going on with you, asshole?" she asked. "You've been as fucked up as I have been this week and nobody tried to kill you."
Severus sent her a scathing look and sneered. "That is none of your business," he bit out forcefully.
It was easy to forget sometimes, Severus could not help but note, that Edith Elric was a certified genius. She did not look or act like it, but she was incredibly perceptive and it did not take her long to figure out some of his tells – as few as they were.
He was very careful not to even glance in Albus' direction. The aging Headmaster was aware of some of Severus' most recent worries – not all of them, of course, because Severus was not in the habit of putting all his eggs in one basket – and it would not do for Edith to think they were hiding something from her. It was likely that she had already realised that the attack was meant to be a test or a trap for her, but Severus was sure that she did not fully understand all the implications of that gesture.
The Dark Lord was interested in her.
And the people who managed to catch his interest either joined his cause soon enough or had a habit of ending up dead.
Unfortunately, there was also the fact that Severus was not as trusted as he thought he had been, as evidenced by the most recent fiasco.
He had been unaware of the attack until it had already happened.
The moment he had heard of it, he could not help but feel the instinctive bolt of panic at the thought of losing the Dark Lord's trust. Granted, Voldemort himself had soon allayed his suspicions by giving him even more tasks – spying on Albus, spying on Potter, spying on Edith – but that did not distract him from the fact that he had missed a crucial piece of information that threatened Hogwarts itself and all the students in it. There were Slytherins in the Hogsmeade that day and they could have been easily hurt or killed.
It was a cause for concern.
A fork stabbing the bacon violently brought his attention back to the present. Edith was scowling at him, venting her aggression on the piece of meat on her plate. "Well then, my mood is none of yours either, asshole."
Severus allowed himself to sigh in exasperation, but did not push further. It would not do to alienate one of the few people in the castle that could actually provide a meaningful conversation when given the chance.
He took another sip of his tea and swept his eyes over the Great Hall. The students that saw him looking and caught his eye hurriedly ducked their heads and lowered their gazes, and Severus smirked in satisfaction. His gaze drifted over the Gryffindor table and he caught Potter looking in their direction, face scrunched up in concentration as he observed Edith's every move. Severus raised an eyebrow and made sure to meet his eyes. The damnable boy glared at him defiantly and then ducked his head to whisper something in Granger's ear.
Severus looked sideways at his companion and noticed her shooting sharp, furious looks in the trio's direction.
"Potter's been even more insufferable than usual lately," he commented casually, acting on a hunch, and felt a stab of satisfaction when the alchemist's scowl only deepened.
Edith sent one last scorching glare in Potter's direction before focusing on Severus. "How surprising," she deadpanned, snorting derisively.
Severus eyed her curiously, still sipping his tea. "I was under the impression that you are… fond of the boy." He could remember very clearly that day in the Staffroom when she had defended Potter so vehemently against Umbridge. He would have argued against her himself if that had not meant siding with Dolores.
Edith shot him an incredulous look. "Oh, hell no! He and his little merry band of friends are too damn nosy for their own fucking good." And didn't that statement carry all sorts of connotations when combined with the recent attack and the rumours about the metal arm? Severus himself was entirely too familiar with the consequences of the trio's curiosity, and he had an impression that Edith would be as tolerant as he was if she ever caught them at it. "I just hate to agree with the damn toad," she said and snickered. "It's funny when she goes all red and angry, isn't it?"
Severus gave her a dubious look but allowed the blatant change of the subject with as much grace as he knew how. "It is certainly unflattering."
And that was the truth. As much as Edith had a habit of irritating both himself, Minerva and – to a lesser extent – Albus and Filius, she seemed to reserve the truly vicious and threatening comments solely for Umbridge's ears. The disrespectful way she addressed the Ministry Official in the Staffroom during that first meeting soon became a norm rather than an exception, and the distain that could be felt from the both sides of the conflict had only increased. Severus was half-convinced that Edith wanted to run off Dolores from the castle by annoying her to death. Worse, it seemed to be working. Umbridge was spending more and more time in the Ministry as opposed to Hogwarts; Albus was convinced she was plotting new Educational Decrees with the Minister himself, but Severus had no doubt that the poisonous golden glares and malicious words played their part.
Edith glanced at him from the corner of her eye, twirling her fork absently between her fingers. "I heard about your evaluation," she said, looking curious. "Was she as much of a bitch to you as she was to me?"
Severus had heard about Edith's evaluation too. She had had Umbridge half-indignant and half-terrified by the time she was done, running to tattle to the Minister and demanding Edith's dismissal. Both Albus and Fudge had declined the suggestion politely; Fudge because of the ironclad contract, and Albus because he seemed determined to use Edith in any way he could, doubly so after her display of skill during the attack.
Severus allowed himself a sigh and another sip of the still-warm tea. "She did not disturb the lesson, but her questions were… curiously pointed." He fought down the urge to grit his teeth at the reminder of the coveted job he would never get. Umbridge, despite lacking any sort of talent for secrecy and discretion, had once been a Slytherin. She had the correct instincts that everyone gained during seven years in the snake nest and knew exactly which wounds to poke to get the desired reaction.
Edith snorted contemptuously. "Yeah, pointed is one word for it. I like to call it putting her fucking nose in other people's business." Her right hand clenched on the table top. The fine china cup in her grip creaked.
Well, it seemed that Edith had had some… unfortunate experiences with nosy people lately.
If Severus were a person that allowed himself to sympathize with others, he would have.
After a moment of tense silence, Edith shook her head, as if clearing it. She took a sip of the tea. "I heard about her classes, you know," she started, a mean smirk spreading across her lips. "The brats hate her. They literally fucking despise her." She seemed to relish that information. "I mean, they even like you more than her, asshole, and that's saying something."
Severus' sneer was all reflex; he knew perfectly well how he was regarded among the students and he was not offended by the implication. Still, it would not do for Edith to realise that. "I heard that you classes were not the most popular either," he bit out. It was true enough. Most of the Slytherins hated her straightforward and no-nonsense approach to the subject matter, and they absolutely loathed the way she dismissed their heritage as unimportant and of no concern. Only a few members of his House had continued with the lessons and Severus was willing to bet that those few would one day be better for it.
Edith scowled at him. "Well, your students are stuck-up idiots," she stated determinedly and ignored Severus' glare that followed. "And the rest of the brats seem to be actually allergic to learning. A week," she murmured with vehemence that surprised him. Severus nodded his agreement. The amount of potion accidents that could have been avoided if the students had simply read the material before the lessons was staggering. He did not doubt that the children had as much of a problem adjusting to Edith's workload as they had to his. "And besides, the Weasley twins like me."
She said it with such a casual air, as if it wasn't one of the most frightening things Severus had ever heard.
"Are you sure there is nothing to be done, Minister?"
Cornelius, the poor dear, was sweating uncomfortably, clearly feeling very pressured indeed by her continued insistence on talking about Edith Elric. "Oh, no, very sorry. But no," he stammered, red-cheeked and bright-eyed, nervousness written in every line of his body. "The contract is simply too good, I'm afraid, far too good. I've had few of my aides look at it and they all claim that Fuhrer Mustang must have talented lawyers on retainer." He brushed off a bit of sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief. "No way to dismiss her unless she commits a crime, hands in her resignation or Fuhrer himself calls for her. No other way."
Dolores' polite smile widened, eyes creasing, but she was sure that there was no actual good humour on her face. She clenched her hands in her lap, out of Cornelius' sight, as she didn't want to show her irritation more than she already had. "Have you talked to Fuhrer Mustang about the possibility of recalling her?"
Cornelius frowned, wringing his hands and getting steadily redder and redder in the face. He shook his head. "No, no," he said. "The Fuhrer was busy when I firecalled. I managed to get his secretary and she said that he would likely do nothing." Dolores frowned in displeasure and he hurried to continue with his explanation. "Apparently, Ms Elric is often rude and nobody in Amestris takes it seriously anymore. They, ah, they claim it's normal."
Dolores gritted her teeth and fought not to curse. Elric had become a menace almost on the same level as Potter and Dumbledore. Thankfully, she did not seem to harbour any kind of political aspirations for Britain, but her open disapproval of Dolores' work made her a prime recruit for the Headmaster's regime. Her battle prowess and connection to the Amestrian military only increased her value and Dolores had no doubt that Dumbledore was already making inquiries about Elric's loyalties.
It was a shame that the alchemist had repeatedly proven her distain for the Ministry of Magic. She would have been an invaluable asset against the meddlesome Headmaster and a source of much-desired ties to one of the Eastern Europe's most powerful countries.
"Very well," she said, reluctantly. There was nothing more she could do about the situation at the present, anyway. But once she was a Headmistress… Well, she would have much more power at that time. "Then I will simply have to deal with her, won't I?" She ignored Cornelius' sigh of relief as she internally lamented the fact that Elric was not a student. She would have been far easier to punish if she were. "Are there any news about Sirius Black?"
She hoped there were. The latest attack on Hogsmeade was entirely too close for comfort; if she had been the teacher charged with the children's safety, she could have been easily killed. Not to mention that many of the Minister's pureblood supporters had heirs attending Hogwarts and were threatening to withdraw their funding if the solution was not found soon. Catching Sirius Black and returning him to Azkaban was of paramount importance.
This time, Cornelius fidgeted in terror. "No news yet," he said, wide-eyed. "Shacklebolt says they have some leads, but nothing concrete."
Dolores gritted her teeth. "They are proving themselves to be entirely useless. They 'have had some leads' for two years now." She'd long suspected that some Aurors, at least, were firmly in Dumbledore's pocket. And who knew what kind of relationship the Headmaster had with a known criminal such as Black? Would they protect him at the old man's say so?
Dolores had no doubt that they would.
The Minister nodded forcefully, almost knocking his hat over. "Yes, yes, true," he agreed. "Before the attack they were convinced that Black was abroad. And now they are all surprised. Worse than useless, really." He nodded once again for emphasis.
Dolores steepled her fingers in her lap and leaned forward, interested. "Have you considered firing a few?" she asked. "I'm sure that the rest of them would shape up when threatened with the loss of their jobs."
Cornelius frowned. "Amelia Bones would never allow it," he said and Dolores stifled a sigh. That was true enough. Madam Bones was almost frighteningly overprotective of her subordinates and would certainly not stay quiet if they were dismissed without a good enough reason. If she were anyone else, she could have been persuaded to keep quiet, but the Bones Family was influential despite their losses during the War and the Ministry could not afford to alienate them at such uncertain times. "She says that the Auror Department is already understaffed."
Dolores scoffed. "Ridiculous," she commented. "We are at peace. There is no need for increased Auror presence."
Cornelius smiled at her. "That's what I said to her," he exclaimed. "But I think that she trusts Dumbledore. I think that she truly believes that…" he said and lowered his voice as if he were telling her a dangerous secret. "That You-Know-Who is back."
Dolores frowned harder, gritting her teeth. Those rumours were becoming quite bothersome. They were gaining more and more believers each day, and with each supporter the Headmaster claimed, the Ministry boasted one less. Dolores did not understand how otherwise sensible witches and wizards believed in the rubbish Dumbledore invented to discredit the Minister and cause dissent in their ranks. It was completely ridiculous; one of the few ironclad laws of magic was that the dead couldn't be brought back.
Not even the You-Know-Who was an exception.
But Dumbledore was strangely charismatic and had enough leftover political acumen from his defeat of Grindelwald and the fight against the He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named that he would always be listened to. When combined with Potter's fame and the fact that the boy was the first one to utter those outrageous claims, most of the public was willing to listen, if not believe. Even more so after the latest attack.
That was yet another reason that catching Sirius Black should be a priority. Once the voters had someone to blame, they would forget about Potter and Dumbledore fast enough.
"Perhaps we should think about sending the Dementors out again?" Dolores suggested, but she was dubious. They had done little good last time, and would not do any better now.
Cornelius was shaking his head before she even finished the sentence. "No, I can't," he said, looking appalled. "If I place those things near Hogwarts again, the parents will mutiny. It was bad enough last time, even with the hysterics over Black, but nobody will stand for it now."
Dolores nodded her understanding. She could see it. A few years ago, everyone feared Black more than they feared those foul monsters, but these days they were much more cool-headed and inclined to think. They would not suffer those creatures near their children again, no more than they would suffer Black himself.
Dolores sighed and resisted the urge to rub her forehead to ward off an oncoming headache. "Then we must put our trust in the Aurors. We can do nothing else," she said, dissatisfied. She trusted some of those Aurors as far as she could throw them without magic.
Cornelius frowned. "Yes, yes, you're right, of course," he murmured, and looked as disgruntled as she felt. After a long pause he patted his forehead with a handkerchief once again and twisted his lips further downwards. "And what about Hogwarts, Dolores? Are Dumbledore and Potter still giving you problems?"
That headache was fast approaching, getting closer with each second. "Dumbledore has been suspiciously quiet ever since the attack. I think he's getting interested in Elric," Dolores said.
"That's not good at all," Cornelius commented, darkly. "He's bad enough now. I don't want him to attain any ties with Amestris. Even if the Fuhrer doesn't like Elric, he's more likely to listen to her than some foreigners."
He was right. If they were to ever seek help or friendship from Amestris, the Fuhrer would surely request Elric's judgement, as she was one of the few people allowed to travel across the Ward. And considering the alchemist's opinion about Dolores herself and the Ministry she was loyal to, the judgement would most certainly not be flattering.
Dolores could only take comfort from the fact that Elric did not seem to like Dumbledore any better than her.
Dolores allowed a long, thoughtful pause.
"Potter's been as angry as usual. I believe that the attack on Hogsmeade made him furious. I managed to get him banned from Quidditch and it's only made him worse," she said, self-satisfied. She was particularly proud of that one. The boy clearly liked flying very much, so taking it away from him should be a suitable punishment for lying and inciting panic among the population.
Cornelius smiled at her in approval. Dolores preened.
He leaned forward and lowered his voice. "And what about Potter's illegal study group? Did they continue with the meetings even after the Decree?"
Here, Dolores hesitated. "…I have no proof yet, Minister, but I believe that they did," she said. "There has been some suspicious interaction between the Houses – except Slytherin, of course – but neither I nor anyone else have managed to catch them in the act just yet."
Cornelius looked at her with suddenly narrowed eyes. His voice was entirely serious. "But you're looking, aren't you? This could be a perfect reason to finally expel Potter. We can't waste it."
Dolores smiled comfortingly. She had Argus and the Slytherins looking for the meeting place, and even she was keeping her eyes open between the classes, correcting the essays and her Ministry work. They would keep hiding for some time, of course, but nobody could hide forever, and eventually they would be brought to justice.
"I assure you, Minister, that there won't be any waste."
“Do you think we should drop out from Alchemy?” Ron asked, idly, hefting the strap of his bag further up his shoulder. “She’s somehow gotten even worse.”
Harry tried really hard not to grumble something uncomplimentary. Elric was fast approaching Snape-level of insufferable with her scorching glares, scathing insults aimed at the trio’s intelligence and taking off points whenever she found even the slightest excuse. Harry supposed that he should be grateful she did not follow Snape’s example completely and started inventing excuses, but it was hard to look for some silver lining when they had lost thirty-five points between the three of them during only one class.
Hermione aimed a glare in Ron’s direction, predictably against the idea. Harry was not terribly surprised. She had looked extremely guilty when they had come back from their late-night jaunt to Elric’s office and Harry suspected that she was trying to make up for their snooping by being extra diligent during the lessons. Not that her attitude was doing anything to calm Elric’s anger; on the contrary, she seemed to resent Hermione’s attempts to draw attention to herself. “I’m not dropping Alchemy, Ronald. It’s very interesting and I think it could be incredibly useful.”
Ron looked at her incredulously. “Useful?! We’ve been painting pretty circles for the last two lessons, Hermione!” he exclaimed, gesturing animatedly with his hands.
He sounded as frustrated as Harry felt. Though Harry was willing to admit that drawing circles was harder than it looked – Elric could do it in one clean move with enviable ease – he still thought that they could have been advancing faster, at least theoretically. But Elric was adamant that until everyone could make a perfect circle and inscribe and understand all the right components for basic transmutation, nobody was going to get ahead. It was aggravating, but also fair so nobody dared to question her.
“Ronald,” Hermione said and looked at the redhead like she was questioning his intelligence. She used that look a lot. “Professor Elric managed to subdue seven Death Eaters with alchemy alone. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be useful.”
Ron looked thoughtful for a moment.
“But I don’t think that we’ll learn that much,” Harry decided to chime in. When they swung their heads to look at him questioningly he shrugged sheepishly. He automatically skipped a trick step as they approached the Gryffindor Tower. “I mean, Elric must’ve studied alchemy for years to get where she’s now, and we have only a year with her. Maybe two if she suddenly decides that she actually enjoys teaching.”
Ron’s incredulous snort and Hermione’s mildly dubious look expressed their scepticism perfectly.
Well, Harry couldn’t see it either. It would take a minor miracle for Elric to decide that she wants to continue with her teaching career.
“There’s always self-study,” Hermione said and Ron groaned at the thought of actually looking for more things to learn. “Mimbulus Mimbletonia,” she added as they approached the Fat Lady, who swung open her portrait without a word.
Harry ducked his head as he entered the Common Room and frowned. “Are there any books about alchemy in Britain anyway? Other than the history ones, I mean?” he added, remembering the Nicolas Flamel fiasco in their first year.
Hermione frowned, throwing herself in her customary chair by the fireplace while Harry and Ron took their seats on either side of her. “Not that I have found,” she admitted, disappointment tightening her features. She blew a strand of hair from her face impatiently. “I looked for them in the library, of course, but I couldn’t find anything helpful. A few articles about Xerxian history – which was actually very interesting – a treatise about Xingese succession laws and a short history of Amestris – Oh!”
Harry and Ron, as one, leaned forward in interested as she huffed out an excited breath and seemingly remembered something. Hermione stuffed her hand in her bag, fishing for something, her face a mask of concentration. Finally, she grabbed and dragged out a thin, leather-bound book with a triumphant shout. “Aha!”
Harry glanced at the cover. It said Amestris: Rise of the Giant in fancy writing and there was some white-on-green dragon-like symbol on it. A crest, Harry was willing to bet, and not a particularly pretty one.
Hermione cracked the book open and leafed through the pages carefully. “It’s not much, really,” she said as she settled on a particular part and shoved it under Harry’s nose, making him cross-eyed when he looked at it. The same symbol again. “Only basic history, I think. Bare facts. But it’s interesting anyway and a good introductory reading.”
Her wide, brown eyes were filled with expectation, like she wanted him to read it then and there. Harry tried very hard to stifle a grimace. “Tell us about it?” he asked, tentative, and Ron nodded in agreement.
Hermione huffed, shot them a filthy look that showed she knew exactly what they were doing, but relented. She put the book back in her lap and pointed at the page harshly. “According to this, Amestris used to be a small country, not particularly powerful, until they somehow found out about alchemy. They started to spread rapidly after that, warring with everyone and everything around them. And I mean everyone. They won more often than not, too, even while fighting on different fronts simultaneously, which says a lot about their military. I mean, we all heard that they’re powerful, but this is something else. Apparently, alchemy is that important in war effort, because no other country came even close to beating them.”
Having said all that in one single breath, Hermione paused for a moment, her chest rising, and looked at them expectantly.
Harry exchanged a baffled look with Ron. He looked as confused as Harry felt. “But this is ancient history,” Harry said, bewildered. “Why is it important now?”
Hermione looked at them like they were idiots for one long moment before she rolled her eyes expressively. “Voldemort’s back. We are at war, Harry,” she said slowly, like they should have already thought of it. “And Professor Elric is an alchemist. A State Alchemist, if the rumours are true. She’s powerful.” She took another deep breath before continuing. “Amestris managed to become a major force only because they train the best alchemists. And Professor Elric is good enough to work for their military. Good enough to become a Lieutenant Colonel. Imagine how much help she could be if she joined the Order!”
Harry looked at her incredulously. “But she hates us! And she’s suspicious! We don’t know for sure she’s on our side.”
Ron, on the other hand looked thoughtful. He was nodding slowly. “Could be helpful. She was brilliant in Hogsmeade,” he said, pausing only to look at Harry. “And Snape hates us too, mate, but he’s useful anyway. Can’t be worse than the slimy snake anyway.”
Harry was willing to concede the point, even if he didn’t trust Snape either. But if what Hermione found was true, than Elric was even more dangerous than he had thought before and she would be a great help to the Light side of the war. If she could be persuaded.
“Do you think she would join the Order if someone asked her?” he questioned musingly. He couldn’t quite see it. “I mean, she has more authority issues than Fred and George combined.”
Ron snorted at the comparison but didn’t protest. “I reckon that she would if Dumbledore asked. Everyone listens to Dumbledore.”
Hermione, though, frowned in thought, gripping the book in her lap tightly. “I don’t know,” she said, hesitatingly. “I don’t think she respects the Headmaster. Not really.”
Harry couldn’t really disagree. Elric was not respectful toward anyone – not Dumbledore, not McGonagall, not even Snape – and she did not seem all that happy to listen to anyone’s orders. He couldn’t imagine her happily listening to what Dumbledore had to say and then meekly agreeing with him.
“Well,” Harry stated, slowly. “It’s not like we can do anything about it. She hates us now.” Hermione looked dubious for a moment so Harry continued on, not wanting to discuss this until dinner. “Hey, do we know when the next DA meeting could be held?”
Hermione eyed him, aware of the distraction, but allowed it anyway. She could be unexpectedly kind like that.
Albus looked up abruptly when the door of his office almost slammed into a wall as Edith stormed inside. The wards at the entrance warned him of her arrival, of course, but he did not expect her to be quite so agitated, so he put down his quill and looked at her, concealing his interested behind a lively twinkle in his eyes.
Her hair was pulled into a hasty ponytail, wayward strands flying every which way, a scowl firm on her face, even if her eyes shone with something not unlike excitement. She seemed to have gotten dressed in hurry, as her jacket was rumpled and one of her boots was unlaced. She wasn’t even wearing her ever-present gloves; rather, they were clenched in her already infamous metal hand, while her flesh one held a crumpled letter.
Albus smiled kindly, his confusion hidden behind the affable expression, and motioned for her to get closer. Edith, predictably, glared but complied, stomping over.
“Edith,” Albus started, genially. “What brings you to my office in such an early hour?”
Indeed, it was barely six in the morning, and all the professors had quite some time yet until the classes started. Albus was only up and ready because the amount of paperwork that his position required did not decrease, even though he had numerous other responsibilities in relation to the Order of the Phoenix and the upcoming war.
Edith grumbled as she gestured wildly at the abused letter. Albus could just barely make out a few sentences in Amestrian, even if he could not understand them. He had intended to learn the language once, long time ago, as it was vital for understanding many alchemical texts, but his schedule had never allowed it and now he was sorely regretting it. Not only did he miss an opportunity to borrow some original Amestrian writings from Edith, but he would have been able to understand her when she used her first language. Not that he would ever read her correspondence, but some forewarning about her moods would have been useful.
Edith stood in front of his desk, every line of her body radiating determination. “I’m going home,” she said and her tone left no place for an argument.
Albus tried anyway; he had not arrived this far in the world by giving up at the first sign of opposition. “Are you quite sure, my dear? I believe that you have some classes yet this week.”
The look she shot him was so fierce that, if Albus were a lesser man, he would have cowered. Albus merely smiled wider.
Edith gritted her teeth at his unconcerned response. “I have a family emergency,” she said, obviously against her will. She clearly did not feel as if she had time enough for polite conversation. Not that Albus expected her to ever be polite.
“Ah,” he said, his face filled with understanding. Family was, of course, important, as he knew better than anyone. He had learned it a bit too late; he was glad that Edith realized how lucky she was. Still, here was a chance to catch her without some of her usual walls and Albus would be a fool to miss it. “Could you maybe spare a minute to talk? I would like to discuss something with you.”
Albus would dearly like for her to sit down and discuss his offer to join the Order civilly, but her glare flared up again and he knew she was not in the mood to indulge him.
“No,” she bit out, her left hand clenched tight around the letter and her right one rummaging through her pocket and fishing out the Portkey bracelet he had given her months ago. “I have to go.”
For a moment, Albus considered pressing her to stay a minute, but refrained. She was clearly worried and he did not wish to alienate her more than she already was. She would be more inclined to listen to him later if he did not antagonize her now. “Of course, of course,” Albus nodded. “I hope it’s not anything serious?”
Edith shook her head, blond hair flying with the movement. “No,” she said and grinned, wide and toothy. “I’m going to become an aunt. Blood pops.”
She disappeared before Albus recovered enough to congratulate her.