Chapter Four; it is decided that wizards are generally out-of-shape (oh, and there are fireworks)
The Great Hall was filled with the excited murmurs of the Hogwarts students: friends calling out to friends across the tables, girls giggling about summer romances amongst themselves, even a few slacking students frantically finishing up some homework they had neglected to do over the summer. In short, it was a normal setting for the Opening Feast.
Harry, Ron and Hermione were quite happy at the Gryffindor table, chatting with both each other and their housemates, until Harry spotted something unusual. Well, more unusual than the "transparent" ceiling, floating candles, and the fact that they used wooden sticks to turn teacups into hedgehogs. No, they were used to those things. Those things, in their own strange ways, were normal.
What caught Harry's eye was someone sitting at the head table: one toad-like woman that was strangely familiar. With a cold feeling in his gut, he pointed her out to his two seating companions.
"Hey, that's the horrid woman who was at my hearing!" Both Ron and Hermione looked up at that. That "horrid woman" seemed to be addressing Heiderich, whom she was sitting beside, with a disapproving expression on her face. Not that Harry had ever seen her wear more than two expressions: disapproving and sickly sweet niceness. The latter was almost worse than the former. The blond man had edged over in his seat as far away from her as he could get.
"Don't worry – we met the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher on the train, remember? Professor Heiderich?"
"Yeah, so what's she doing here? There aren't any missing teachers! Well, Trelawney isn't here, but that's not all that unusual…"
They didn't have to wait too long for the answer, as just then Dumbledore tapped his empty wineglass with a metal teaspoon. Thus assuring that all attention was on him, the Headmaster stood to address the student body.
"Welcome to another year at Hogwarts." Although his long white beard obscured much of Dumbledore's lower face (and indeed, most of his torso), it was not difficult to see the smile of welcome on his face. "I'll just make few introductions before we dig into the scrumptious that has no doubt been lovingly prepared for us-"
"Slave labour!" Hermione hissed in disapproval just above a quiet whisper.
"I was fortunate enough this year to once again find a highly-qualified person to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts. Please welcome Professor Heiderich."
The aforementioned Professor stood and waved, a little awkwardly, as the student body applauded.
"Accompanying him is young Alphonse Heiderich. Please give him a warm welcome as well." The boy, thus introduced, stood on his chair and gave a tentative wave to his "audience," who applauded once again.
"In addition, we have another new face at our table…One Dolores Umbridge." There was another round of polite applause, noticeably less enthusiastic than the two that had come before. Umbridge simply wasn't as cute as a four-year-old child, after all. It couldn't be helped.
Of course, what she said in her little speech didn't do her any favours either. "Hem hem – Yes." The woman cleared her throat in a fashion that was already intrinsically annoying. Any hopes that she might have had for a positive first impression were not realized because of what she said next: "I am Dolores Umbridge, the Ministry of Magic's representative at Hogwarts. It has come to our attention that certain values that all wizards and witches should hold dear have been… waylaid by the current climate at Hogwarts. My task is to act as mediator in school disputes and to establish a ministry presence in these hallowed halls. My title is the Hogwarts High Inquisitor, but you may address me as Miss Umbridge. Any student should feel free to speak to me about any… concerns that they may have about their… education." Her wide mouth stretched into a smile that reminded many in the audience distinctly of a bullfrog, waiting for a fly. She sat down.
There was a flurry of speculative murmurs among the students followed that little speech. Hermione, for one, was indignant: "She wasn't even trying to be diplomatic! This is just a ruse so that the ministry can have more control over Dumbledore!"
"What did she mean, 'High Inquisitor'?" asked Ron.
"She means that she's here to cover up the fact that Voldemort has returned." Harry muttered sullenly. Ron found himself nodding in agreement.
What had been clearly implied in her speech was the fact that she was undermining Dumbledore's power as headmaster. Evidently, he wasn't trusted by the Ministry of Magic to run his own school.
The students, of course, hadn't been the only ones to listen to this speech. As the woman in pink sat back down, the two other new members at the staff table, the Elrics, shared a glance. The woman had already won their animosity before the announcements, as she had criticized Edward for raising a young boy on his own without any feminine influence. Edward dreaded to think of what she might consider "feminine influence". He thought that he had been doing rather well, all considering, raising his little brother. Alphonse certainly told him so. Who was this Umbridge woman to tell him any differently?
It was the first day of classes. As usual, there was an excited murmuring as the first Defence Against the Dark class of the day filed into the classroom – what would their new professor be like? Would he be competent and actually teach them defence and offense, or just assign a bunch of reading like Lockhart? Was he as smart as he was handsome? (The last thought was voiced by a predominantly female population).
Rumours had swiftly abounded regarding the handsome new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor. It was known that he was a widower (it was said that both had seen the death of the child's mother), but how the woman had died was the subject of much speculation. Some said he was a German prince (no doubt fuelled by his slight, but recognizable accent) with an illegitimate son, on the run from his disapproving parents and the assassins they had sent. There was even one quietly whispered story, no doubt inspired by the length of his hair and his cherubic face, that he was actually a she, a woman in disguise, a woman and her son trying to escape an abusive relationship…
The professor's apparent young age did nothing but encourage the girlish fantasies.
Unfortunately for that group, the classroom was empty of handsome professors upon their arrival. Fortunately for them, though, the professor's adorable son was there.
Alphonse was seated behind the professor's desk (sitting on top of a pile of textbooks stacked upon a chair so that he could see above the table), drawing with a pencil on a large piece of paper. He looked quite tiny sitting behind the oversized desk, and when he looked up and smiled at those who entered, indiscriminate of Slytherins and Gryffindors, the hearts of the female population those houses' fifth year melted.
Parvati and Lavender were among the first few girls to approach, inquiring after what Alphonse was drawing in the tone of voice women use uniquely for talking to young children and small animals.
The boy looked slightly flustered at their attention, and began folding up his paper, murmuring, "Just circles," in a quiet voice. But the girls insisted, and several more students approached as well, encouraging him to show them what he was drawing.
Flushing, the youngest in the room briefly unfolded the paper. There was a glimpse of circles, yes, but what elaborate circles they were! Geometric shapes spiralled along the insides in complex patterns – a four year old had drawn these freehand? As soon as he had ascertained that those clustered around the desk had seen what he had drawn, he folded them up again and placed them in a drawer in the desk.
Without losing any of their momentum, the small horde of girls began asking him rapid-fire questions – most of them on the subject of his handsome father. How old was he? How old was Alphonse? What was the professor's first name? What was his favourite colour? His favourite food?
The girls did have some sense of propriety, however, and refrained from asking their most pressing question: 'is the professor single?' They did realize that even a child as young as Alphonse probably would understand the implications of the question – especially because it was regarding the absence of his mother.
In fact, Alphonse didn't answer any of the questions. He had shrunk back under the barrage of words, unable to get a word in between the brutal interrogation even if he had wanted to.
In any case, he was spared from answering when abruptly, the classroom door banged open, and their new Defence Professor strode in. "Alright, everybody sit down and shut up." The dramatic effect of this proclamation was somewhat weakened given that it was muffled by a piece of toast hanging half out of his mouth from breakfast.
Now, people are always told that first impressions are important. In a teacher's case, this is doubly so, because the first impression of the first class can determine one's whole teaching career. One must be firm and confident, but not off-putting. One mustn't alienate the students. One must make them interested in what you are going to teach them.
Well, he held their attention, all right, and certainly exuded confidence.
The murmurs of individual conversations died off, and the girls at the front returned to their seats. After gulping down the rest of the toast and brushing the crumbs off his lips, Heiderich began.
"All right, welcome to Defence Against the Dark Arts. You can call me Professor Heiderich." He didn't write it on the board. "I've been told that over the last four years you've gotten a very… varied curriculum taught to you by your other teachers." Several people in the class nodded.
"In any case, I don't care what you've been told about He-Whose-Name-Nobody-Cares-To-Say, or his supposed return. I'm here to teach you to defend yourselves." Heiderich was pacing back and forth at the front of the class. "I don't care if you believe you are on the brink or war or not. You will use what I'm going to teach you, at some point in your lives." The Professor stopped and looked around the class, at the fifth year's faces. Those wearing red ties looked particularly grim, particularly a boy with messy hair and glasses. "My main focus this year will be teaching you what you can do should you find yourselves in a situation in which you cannot use magic. Oh, I'll teach you magical defence, too," he said quickly as many of the students shot glances at each other. "But by the time spring rolls around, you should be competent enough in hand-to-hand combat that you shouldn't have as much need to fear having your wand lost or destroyed in a combat situation."
"Hand-to-hand?" A girl wearing a green necktie made a face. "What use is that?
"I believe Mr. Malfoy knows the answer to that question." Many in the class twisted around to look at the sullen blond Slytherin in the back row. He glowered at any who looked his way.
"Think of it this way. Wizards typically attack using long-range spells." The professor resumed pacing across the front of the classroom. "Even if your opponent has a wand, if you can get within reach, you can disarm your opponent. It doesn't hurt to know both short-range and long-range attacks. A varied repertoire confuses your opponent; it makes you difficult to predict. Being unpredictable is good in battlefield situations." He looked around again. "Understand?" Some people nodded hesitantly. Many still looked slightly disbelieving.
"Put away your books." Heiderich ordered. "We're going outside."
Again, many students looked at each other in confusion. They did as they were told, however, and packed up their supplies. The teens followed their new professor out of the classroom, down several hallways and staircases (at one point they had to wait for the second half of the group, trapped by a set of stairs that had moved at an inopportune time), all the way down to the entrance hall and outside.
"Now then," Professor Heiderich said once all of his students were standing on the grass, blinking at the bright morning sun. "We're going to run laps."
Now all of the students wore surprised "wait – what?!" expressions on their faces.
Their teacher continued on speaking, despite the incredulous looks he was getting. "We'll all run one lap around the school building, for today. Alphonse," he indicated his child, standing at his side, "Will be running ahead of you. He will lead the way; all you have to do is follow. You should be able to keep up with a four-year-old's legs." Heiderich smirked. It wasn't a very nice smirk. One could almost call it… malicious. "I'll be following behind the whole group in case someone decides to take a detour." Heiderich raised a golden eyebrow at a few students grumbling amongst themselves.
"Begin!" Alphonse left his side, running alongside the outer stonewall of the castle. Hearing very few people behind him, he twisted a little, waving and smiling. This got many of the girls in the class to follow him, and the boys followed suit.
The pace was relatively slow, because, embarrassingly, many members of the class actually weren't capable of keeping up with a child whose leg span was less than two-thirds of theirs. It shouldn't have been as surprising as it was, Edward reflected. It seemed that the only real exercise that many of them got was running about the school and up and down staircases between classes. But he was missing a leg, and was in better shape than most of them!
They ran a single tour of the castle; it was all they had time for during that class. The perimeter of the building was barely two kilometres long, but before they'd even reached the halfway point, most of the class had given up on jogging and had begun to slowly plod along, gasping for breath. The ones who lasted the longest were Harry Potter and a few of the muggleborns.
It occurred to Edward that this would be harder than he'd thought. Izumi-sensei had started on beating the crap out of – er, 'teaching them martial arts' - nearly right away, but then again, they had been young and healthy from running around Risembool, and then from evading the masked man on Yock Island. One stayed fit or perished in the Curtis household. But these wizards were winded after a mere ten-minute jog! They weren't even running! They would have been eaten by now, if Izumi-sensei were here. 'Probably a good thing she's not,' Ed thought privately. 'She'd kill me too, for faking my death and not telling her. She always seems to find these things out.'
He hid an involuntary shudder (it wouldn't do for a teacher to show weakness on the first day), and called out:
"Oi! If you don't speed up, you won't be able to get back in time for your next classes."
That thought was met with almost universal groans from his students. Edward shook his head. "If you can't even manage a light jog, what's going to happen when something scarier than me is on your tail, eh? Bad guys don't stop to give you a break because you're tired! Pick up the pace!"
Again, he was met with groans, but most tried to shuffle into a slightly faster pace. It seemed as if they didn't quite want to disappoint their teacher on the first day. Edward approved. He didn't know that in all likelihood the reasoning for the females in the class to want to please him was more due to his looks than to his skills as a teacher.
Finally, with a mere five minutes to spare before the end of class, Heiderich's students were once more gathered at the front entrance of Hogwarts castle.
"All right!" Heiderich clapped his hands together, getting the attention of his (exhausted) students. "That was a good effort today! Tomorrow, we'll see how much further you can get." Once more this statement was met by muttered complaints. "Hey, hey!" They Professor barked. "You're not learning anything else until you can make it around the castle once without stopping! Come on, this is basic stuff!" The smile on his face was almost fanged, and definitely scary.
The fifth years did not look forward to tomorrow's class.
Rather more quickly than one would expect, considering their apparent exhaustion, the class filed inside the castle. Finally, all that were left were Heiderich, Alphonse and Draco Malfoy. It took the former a moment to notice that the latter was still there.
"Can I help you, Mr. Malfoy?" The professor asked, raising an eyebrow and the boy's dishevelled state – a far cry from the neat sleeked-back hair look that the boy had sported on the train and at the beginning of the class.
"I'd like my wand back." Malfoy ground out. He twitched in suppressed anger when Heiderich made a show of trying to remember where the wand had been left; patting down his robes ponderously, before finally withdrawing it from his right sleeve.
As soon as he did, Malfoy snatched it back, quietly examined it to see if it had been tampered with. After a moment, he waved it and produced a few angry looking green sparks. Apparently satisfied with this test, Malfoy shoved it up his own sleeve and left without another word.
Turning to his brother, Edward said with a smirk: "I suppose it was too much to expect a simple 'thank you', eh, Al?"
Alphonse flashed a quick smile in return. "I know it's a difficult concept to understand, but there are some people in the world who are even ruder than you are, Nii-san."
"Oh, who's such a widdle cutie-pie?"
"Er—um – "
"Drawing itty-bitty pictures, are we?"
"What did the ickle cutie-wutie draw?"
"Er – Nii-san! Help meeeee!"
"Leave him alone, you harpies! And fifteen points from Gryffindor!"
Interlude – Mustang holds down the fort
Today was the fourth anniversary of the death of the Fullmetal Alchemist. It was also the first annual "Alchemy for the People Day".
New holidays were deceptively easy for a ruler to declare, but it took a surprising amount of work to get a celebration organized. Furher Roy Mustang considered it definitely worth the effort (and even the paperwork).
He had been working for this day for nearly three years, almost immediately since he was sworn in as the first democratically elected Furher of Amestris. The people of the war-torn country needed something to celebrate and look forward to.
Although it was never stated outright, the populous of Amestris knew that this day would be better titled "The People's Alchemist Day", or, better yet, "Edward Elric Day". But Mustang had decided early on that creating an actual national holiday in his name would be demeaning to the memory of the boy – man, really – who was so much more than the legends (ha! They were already considered legends…) made him out to be.
For one, he had been much shorter.
But Mustang knew that an "Edward Elric Day" would twist Fullmetal into an icon – well, more than he already was, anyway. Back when the boy had been … alive… Roy had worked very hard to keep that ego down. He would never forgive himself if Fullmetal got a swelled head. "Edward Elric Day" indeed.
No, this was "Alchemy for the People Day". On this day, sate alchemists were required to do tasks – challenges, almost – for ordinary people, insofar as they could. Even civilian alchemists joined in: offering to build bridges, fix broken toasters, and make decorative fountains and so on, all for free. It was an exercise in constructive one-upmanship. It also had the dual use of acclimatizing civilians to State Alchemists. Ordinary citizens got to see the "dogs of the military" in a different light.
It was to be a celebration, a demonstration of a beautiful art and skill: not a memorial.
But somehow, after nearly a full day of merry-making, an element of sombreness worked its way in. There was the moment of contemplative silence right before the fireworks display. It hadn't been deliberate; it had just worked out that way. Roy himself, in ceremonial Furher garb, was the one to light the fireworks (natural, really, considering his alchemical aptitude for fiery atmospheric transmutations), but it had taken several minutes for the attendants to set them up. And there he was, solemnly waiting in his dark uniform and pristine white arrayed gloves resting casually on his decorative sword of state, staring at the ground, the eyes of what seemed like the entire population of Central City upon him…. And a spontaneous hush had overcome the crowd. There were no grand speeches made, but it seemed as if the People's Alchemist was on everyone's minds.
It was almost fitting, then, that the first firework to burst into the darkening sky was a bright shower of red and gold.