A/N: A final thank you to everyone who has been reading. It also helps to know what you thought of the story. (Official Review Hint (TM) # 3) And thanks to those who have been reviewing along the way.
On a more serious note, epilogues are supposed to be easy to write. You just write down any fantasy you like to give the reader a look at 'what happened next'. It took me longer to write this chapter than any of the others. I think the reason is because, despite the happy ending, it isn't really a happy ending at all. In the end, there is Equivalent Exchange. Something is gained. Something is lost.
Seventeen Years Later:
The Blood Debt Is A Bloody Pain
Alphonse Elric let out a restful sigh as he slowly he began to wake. Suddenly, he felt a thump as someone jumped on his bed. He opened his eyes to a strange and familiar sight.
Al stared at the face only inches from his own. The mouth had a maniacal smile and the golden eyes contained a jovial malevolence. But there was something different that he couldn't quite make out.
"HE'S AWAKE!" the faux Ed shouted.
"If he wasn't before, he certainly is, now," a woman's voice said, angrily. She had an accent. "Get off that bed, right now."
"This is great," the golden haired boy said as he stood on the floor. He was dressed in tan shorts and a white shirt. "He called me brother." He had the same kind of accent.
Without the face blocking his view, Al could now see around him. The woman who spoke was walking toward him, passing rows of beds. She walked up and smiled.
"Good morning, Alphonse. Did you sleep well?"
"Um, yeah," Al answered. "You know who I am? Is this a hospital?"
The woman frowned. "This is the school infirmary. And yes, I do know who you are. I know all about you. The question I need to ask is if you know who I am?"
Al shook his head. "I don't think I've ever seen you before."
The frown deepened. "I'm Madam Pomfrey, the school healer, Alphonse. And before you ask any more questions, there is something I need to ask you. What is the last thing you do remember?"
Al hesitated. The last thing he did remember was activating the transmutation circle, the bright lights turning darker colors, then nothing.
"Would it be the transmutation circle?" Madam Pomfrey asked.
"You know about that?"
The boy shrugged. "Everyone does."
"Shut up, Colin." Madam Pomfrey tried to smile. "Alphonse, a lot of time has passed since that night. A great many things have happened."
"What things?" Fear was in Al's voice.
This time, Madam Pomfrey did smile. She glanced at the blond boy. "This one here is a good example. He is not your brother. This is his son, Colin."
Al's eyes grew wide. "Then Ed . . . ?"
"Professor Elric is at least twenty years older than you remember."
Al made the effort to sit up in the bed. He noticed he was wearing pajamas. Concentrating on that fact seemed to make everything easier. She said this was the school infirmary. She said Ed was a professor. And the boy, Colin, was his son. Taking a deep breath, he asked the obvious question.
"Well . . ."
"Shut up, Colin." Madam Pomfrey pointed to a chair next to the bed. "Sit." Colin sat and Madam Pomfrey turned back to Al. "The transmutation spell went wrong. You were . . . injured. As was your brother. It was powerful magic and it took years to restore you to your body."
Madam Pomfrey waved a stick and a glass appeared in her hand. She handed the glass to Al. "It's a calming potion. You should drink it."
"NO. You said I was RESTORED." Al's look was one of stubborn insistence. "Tell me what happened to me."
"Can I . . ." Colin began.
"No." Madam Pomfrey gave him a brief glare before turning back to Alphonse. "I'm not sure how to explain what happened, but the essence is this. Your body was lost. But your soul was saved and housed in a suit of armor." She pointed to the far corner of the room. It was the same armor that stood in father's study. "That armor. You lived in that armor for more than two decades." Her look spoke of sympathy. "It seems you've lost all memory of that time."
Al sat in thought as he tried to place everything in his mind. He looked at Colin.
"And what happens now?"
"We go eat?" Colin suggested. "It's almost noon."
Madam Pomfrey thought for a while then nodded. Colin let out a whoop. Even Al smiled.
Al was led to a large bathroom and told to take his time. The bathtub was the size of a small pond, and a nearby sink held a toothbrush and comb. On a chair were clothes, a duplicate of what Colin was wearing, including a funny pair of rubber shoes that he was told were trainers. Colin laughed when he asked what he was training for?
Colin seemed to laugh a lot. He also kept up a running monologue about what to expect all while Al was bathing and brushing his teeth. They were at Hogwarts. It was a school of magic. Of course, magic was real. Everyone knew that. Dad was a great wizard and a great teacher. He taught Alchemy. What did Al think he taught? And he wrote all the school books on the subject. Dad was brilliant. Professor McGonagall was the Headmistress. Mom just kind of helped out. They all lived at the school. Al did, too. Colin had his own room. Al had his own apartment.
Al even had a chance to ask a question as he was getting dressed. What was he like?
"Awesome. You were huge. And you were great at everything. You and Dad would fight all the time and everyone would come and watch. You always won unless it was a draw."
Al stopped buttoning his shirt. "What did we fight about?"
"About every other day. Dad said it was great exercise. Are you ready? I bet they started eating already. Everyone wants to meet you."
Al paused to let a new thought sink in. Everyone knew him. Hundreds of people. They had known him for years. But he had never met any of them. He gave Colin a pleading look.
"What do I do?"
Colin misunderstood. "Just follow me. I know my way all around the school." As they left, wearing almost identical clothes, Colin smiled. "You know, Uncle Al." He stopped and looked at the other boy. Al was about the same height, a rounder face, brown hair and brown eyes.
"That's not right," Colin said with authority. "You can't be my uncle anymore. You're too young." Excitement entered his voice. "You're my brother. My new baby brother. I'll take Dad's place for you and you can be my best friend. Trisha will hate that."
Al was startled. "That's my mom's name."
Colin waved his hand. "Well, your mum's name was given to my sister." He smiled wickedly. "Our sister. We'll make sure she hates you proper."
Al began to take the measure of the boy in front of him. "What if I like her?" he teased. "I've never had a sister before."
"You won't like her," Colin assured him. "She's a girl."
Ed frowned as he heard the news from Professor Longbottom. Everyone already knew that Al's body had been restored. Now they were learning something new. The Other Professor Elric had no memories from after he lost his body.
"Professor?" a student asked. Ed cursed under his breath. He would have to find out during his class with the seventh years.
"Professor?" the student asked, again. Her voice broke. When Ed looked up she had tears in her eyes. Maybe it was his arrogance, but it made Ed angry. If anyone was going to cry for his brother, it should be him.
"There's no reason to cry."
"But . . . he won't remember . . ."
Ed cut her off in a strong enough voice to get everyone's attention. "Claris, he was restored to his body. The body of a ten year old boy. The accident cost him his childhood. You do know that you're crying because he has the chance to grow up as a normal, um, alchemical prodigy."
Even Claris laughed. And she nodded in agreement.
"I suppose I should dismiss this class early, now that we know Al is awake," Ed told the class to modest cheers.
"And in the care of someone's son," Professor Longbottom said as he quickly departed.
"NEVILLE." Professor Longbottom stuck his head back inside the classroom. "He's not in the infirmary?" Ed asked.
"I understand he's getting cleaned and dressed before going to the Great Hall."
Ed dismissed the class with a wave of his hand. Then he sat down. Al's first introduction to this world was to be through the most annoying child who ever existed. Who cares what Flora said about him being wonderful. Who cared that his godfather Dennis said he was like his own brother reborn. And Dennis didn't have to add, "but a little shorter," except it was fun to watch Colin get all angry. Ed had told Dennis more than once. The blood debt turned out to be a bloody pain.
Ed was still sitting there when Flora walked in. In a moment, she was standing by his side, holding his left hand.
"You are sad." Flora had never lost her French accent, although it had softened.
"He's gone. It as though he never was."
"He is here. He is here as the boy who was lost."
"But the man is gone. Flora, Al was in that armor for twenty three years. During that time we were never apart for more than a few days. We experienced so much together." He looked up at his wife. "My brother, Al, died last night when we restored his body. That boy in the infirmary is just a stranger that I used to know years ago."
Flora pulled on his hand and coaxed him to stand up. "And you do not cry for him?" She told Ed that the students were already repeating what Neville had said. The Great Hall was filling up early. Everyone wanted to make sure they were there when Al walked in. And she smiled. "You do not cry because you are happy for him. I know you do not tell me everything about your life from before. You do not tell me the painful memories. The ones that Alphonse no longer has."
"The ones he doesn't need," Ed agreed. He kissed his wife. "I did this to him, Flora. He didn't want to, but I pushed him into helping me. He tried to tell me but I wouldn't listen. I'm the reason for all of this."
Flora's hand was on his cheek. "Alphonse talked to me as well. Especially as this day grew closer. And he told me. On that day, he was afraid. But he also wanted to. He was not afraid to try. He was afraid to fail."
"So, what do I do?"
Flora smiled. "Come to the Great Hall. It will amuse everyone to watch your awkward reunion."
Ed smiled as they left the classroom. "Madam Pomfrey, in her infinite wisdom, put Al in the care of our son. She was supposed to summon me the instant he woke."
"It was my idea," Flora admitted. "We knew this was a possibility once we saw his body had not aged. I thought your brother would appreciate a companion his own size in either case. Al is now a child. He can best learn this world from another child. I told Madam Pomfrey to do this if he did not remember."
"We also have a daughter," Ed reminded her.
"The son looks exactly like his father."
Ed laughed. "He has his mother's eyes."
Flora smacked him playfully. "His mother has the same eyes as his father."
"You're walking too slow," Colin insisted.
Al was offended. He was about to walk into a crowded room where everyone would be looking at him. And Colin acted like it was the best thing in the world. And now a girl was staring at him. An older student. That was enough to make Al stop in his tracks.
"Al!" Colin put as much annoyance as possible into that word.
"It's really you," the girl said. She tried to smile. "Colin, he's nervous enough without you egging him on."
"But he's . . ."
The girl interrupted. "A ten year old boy who is suddenly the center of attention." She stepped forward toward Al as she kept talking. "Professor Alphonse Elric used to tutor me, even though it didn't help. But I used to talk to him, about the past. He told me about Resembool."
"I did?" Al asked.
"Everyone's waiting," Colin insisted.
"Let them wait," the girl said. "And yeah, uh, . . ." The girl laughed. "Sorry, I keep trying to call you Professor."
"My name's Al."
"They're waiting," Colin pleaded.
"Shut up, Colin, or we'll all be out here until supper." The girl turned back to Al. "It's like this, Al. I know how things were for you. Growing up in a small village. Just think of this as a big town meeting and you're the guest of honor." She bent down and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "That's for courage."
"Um, who are you?" Al asked as the girl backed away.
"Vicky Weasley. And I already know that you are Alphonse Elric. And, Al."
"Yeah?" All looked up at the girl's smile.
"When you go into the Great Hall, don't look up or you'll see the most amazing site in your life."
"It's just the ceiling," Colin said, annoyed.
Vicky smiled at Al. "It's above the floating candles." She quickly walked into the Hall, leaving the two boys alone. Colin looked at Al, smiling when they started moving forward. They entered the Great Hall, side by side.
Not that Al cared. The first thing he did was look up. He vaguely remembered Colin grabbing his arm to guide him.
Ed's first reaction was amusement. Al did exactly what every first year had done for generations. He looked up at the ceiling in amazement. And the whispering was starting. The students had known Alphonse Elric as a seven foot giant. They had known him as a teacher. Now he was walking amongst them as a boy not yet old enough to attend this very school.
Colin kept pulling him forward, happy to be in charge of the boy who was the center of attention. Finally, Al was standing in front of the teachers table, staring at the blond man with a modest beard.
"Yeah, Al. You were taking too long. I grew up without you."
"Your arm?" He noticed the metal fingers.
Ed tried to hold his smile. It was Flora's idea to remove the gloves he always wore. Try to get the nasty shocks out of the way. "Yeah, I decided to keep them. Kinda got used to the automail." He saw the question in Al's eyes. "That night, I lost my leg, too. You carried me to Pinako's house." He flexed his hand. "Winry makes great automail."
Ed prepared himself for the next question. When Al asked where Winry was. He was forced to explain about the Philosopher's Stone. They had made it to restore Al. But back in Amestris, they had one as well. But he had died, and Al used that stone to bring him back. Except they fell through a gate into another world, a world that permitted both Alchemy and magic. He had no idea what happened to Winry, or to anyone they used to know.
"It's a new life, Al. For both of us." He held out his hand, the automail one. "Welcome back."
As Al shook his hand, a stern looking woman, with gray hair tied back in a bun, had stood up. She called for everyone's attention. Then she turned to Al and smiled. First, she introduced herself.
"For obvious reasons, Alphonse Elric, your teaching privileges are suspended. Also, I do believe you are now ten years of age, but we have no way of determining exactly when your birthday is. I've therefore made the arbitrary decision that it should be celebrated on August 31."
Colin hit Al's shoulder. "That means we'll be going to school together."
"As for where you should sit," Professor McGonagall. "You may sit here with your brother and his wife or, as your nephew is found of doing, join the students at one of the tables. Perhaps you might want to sit with your niece."
"Sister," Colin corrected. Then he explained that he decided he'd rather have Al as a brother instead of an uncle.
Ed laughed. "Young man, do you honestly expect me to tell my brother when to go to bed, to brush his teeth and to pick up after himself."
"It would be a change, Brother," Al answered, smiling for the first time. "I was always the one to tell you."
Ed smiled, too. An honest smile. The milestone had been passed. He made it a point to introduce Flora. He waved Trisha to come forward and introduced her as well. Then he repeated the Headmistress's offer. It was Trisha who decided the issue. She asked him to join her. Too many friends wanted to reintroduce themselves. As they walked over to the Gryffindor table, Professor McGonagall announced that afternoon classes were cancelled, and the feast should now begin.
Ed sighed as he sat down. Things would work themselves out. He even liked the idea Colin had. Al would have a good effect on him. And later they would talk. And if Al wanted to know more about the times he could not remember, Ed would show him how to use a pensieve. All the while during the feast, he would talk to the others. But he was always watching his brother.
It was an odd feast. That it occurred in the middle of the day was one reason. Another was that most of the students were not sitting. Anyone who had taken an Alchemy class felt they had a right to take a closer look at the former teacher and future student. The others merely wanted to, regardless of the reason.
Al, with the help of his sister/niece Trisha and his newest friend Vicky, managed to hold his own. By the time the third person introduced themselves, he admitted he would never remember all the names. It seemed a requirement that every upper year girl who was a former student had to give him a kiss on the cheek and their congratulations. The exception was one first year who said she thought he was cute. She gave him the shortest kiss possible, on the lips, then disappeared into the crowd of students.
In the midst of all the attention, he did manage to eat. And to talk. It was mostly about the school. The different houses. Who the teachers were. Who Professor Al's friends were. His favorite students. Vicky told him that the list automatically included any Weasley. Because he saved half the clan during the war, or something like that.
It was Colin who was annoyed. He was supposed to be Al's guide. But Trisha was taking over from him. She suggested showing Al the dorms. And Colin was left to follow along. And it was Trisha who asked Al to try something, something Colin would have thought of if given the time. She explained that her father did not need to make a circle because of passing through the gate. It was a simple transmutation, sand into a stone sculpture. Al tried it, clapping his hands together. And the sand became the finest horse sculpture he had ever made. (One of the legs was shorter than the others but it still looked good.)
"I'M supposed to show him around," Colin said testily when Trisha suggested they visit the other houses.
"Then you can lead the way," Trisha snapped at him. "You can even pick the house."
"Um," Al said a little louder than he had to. It was a very effective word for interrupting. "I think it's a wonderful idea, Trisha, but I am kinda tired of meeting people I don't know."
"You see," Colin said with a bit more cheer. "I'll walk him around the school so he 'll know his way." He walked to the entrance with confidence. "C'mon, Al."
"Don't go with him, Uncle Al. He's treating you like you're a little boy."
Vicky laughed. "Go with him, Al. He's the only one treating you like a boy."
As Trisha blushed as she understood, Al gave everyone a smile and joined his tour guide for a trip about the school.
"She always tries to take charge."
"She was only trying to help."
"But Madam Pomfrey put me in charge of you."
Al changed the subject. "Where are we going?"
"The astronomy tower. It's got the best view of the grounds. I don't know about you, but I ate too much. I hope we can walk it off."
Al nodded his head, mumbled a yes and followed.
The view was nice, and it was quiet for a change. Colin pointed out the obvious. The lake. The nearby town. Dumbledore's Tomb. The Giant Stones, eleven pillars where real giants were chained to as prisoners during the war. The Quidditch pitch. Along with a scattered explanation of what Quidditch was and an enthusiastic endorsement for playing it.
They walked by the library, just so Al would know where it was. Then they came to a long hallway. There was a statue at the other end. Colin suddenly began to run. It was a challenge. Al followed, catching up to him just before they reached the statue. Colin said something and the butt swung open. He explained that it used to lead into the town but it caved in or something. It still makes a great hiding place if you ever need one.
As Colin led the way to his next chosen destination, a passing student, a boy who looked younger than Vicky but older than Trisha, stopped them. "I know it must be annoying, Sir, but congratulations."
"Ignore him, Al," Colin said with authority.
"He's just being polite," Al said, annoyance in his voice. He turned to the boy. "Thanks, and next time, call me Al."
"Yes, Sir," the boy said and continued on his way.
"Next time, call me Al," Colin whined.
"It doesn't hurt to be polite." There was a touch of anger in Al's voice. "Not that you would ever know."
"I'm supposed to show you around," Colin emphasized. "You need to know your way around the school."
"NO, I don't need to. You just want me as your own private toy."
"THAT'S A LIE."
"IS IT? HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU ASKED ME WHAT I WOULD LIKE TO DO? NONE."
In a fit of anger, Colin grabbed Al's shoulder and told him to grow up. Al responded by pushing Colin away so hard that he fell to the ground. Al looked down at him, feeling the anger inside himself.
"I HATE YOU."
He turned and ran, his only plan was to get away from that boy.
Colin looked up from the floor as Al ran away.
"I HATE YOU, TOO, YOU USELESS LUMP."
Al stopped to turn around. "AT LEAST I'M TALLER THAN YOU."
"NOT BY MUCH."
Once the other boy disappeared, he picked himself up. He began walking, at no great speed, back to the apartment they had within the castle. He did not walk in a straight line.
Colin tried to ignore his father until the question was asked the second time.
"I hate him. He always does things better than me."
"You had a fight," Mum said needlessly.
Colin ignored her. "Dad, how did you put up with him?" It was a long shot, but maybe Dad's memories would make him an ally instead of the executioner.
Dad smiled. "Let me think. He was always making friends with everyone, when they'd barely look at me."
Colin nodded. That described the Great Hall perfectly. Girls who wouldn't even talk to him were cooing over Al for no reason. "Yeah, I know that."
Dad chuckled. "And then there were the times we'd race. He'd always win. I hated that. And I honestly don't think I ever won a fight. Except for Alchemy, I was never any good at anything. He was even taller than me by the time I was your age."
Colin looked up and saw a mutual understanding. A surprising thought entered his head. Maybe Dad did have some idea of what was going on in the real world.
"How did you deal with him, I mean, all the time?"
Colin noticed the grin become a grim. "He was my little brother. I took care of him."
"And it's getting late," Mum said. "You lost him, you go find him." She added firmly, "Now."
"BUT." He lowered his voice at the glare he received. "He could be anywhere."
"When we fought," Dad said in a soft voice, "and he went off on his own, he always went to sit by the river."
Colin nodded his head and walked back out of the apartment. He made his way through the halls to the main doors. From there, he walked down the steps to the docks, then took the path that followed the edge of the lake.
It was a good twenty minute walk before Colin spotted his quarry. Sitting on a rock near the edge of the lake, just staring across the water as it reflected the setting sun. He walked up slowly. He was only a few feet away when he scuffed a rock. Al heard the noise and turned around. Seeing Colin, he stood up and raised his fists, prepared to fight.
Colin just stood there and shrugged his shoulders. "C'mon. Mum says it's getting late." He turned and slowly began walking back to the castle.
Al watched him for a moment. He lowered his fists and mumbled, "okay." Just as slowly, he began to follow.
As the two boys crested a rise and Hogwarts came back into view, they both noticed it. In a window on the floor above the entrance was a light. And they both knew. It was a light to show their way home so they wouldn't get lost. They began to race. By the time they reached the doors, even though Al won, both boys were laughing.