To Settle a Debt

Chapter 13

Secrets of the Darkest Art

"This," Dumbledore began, holding the book for all to see, "is a book of the most evil magic you may ever come across. It is also the only book to dare speak of the creation of what is called a Horcrux."

Moody sucked in a breath in shock. Edward glanced at him briefly, wondering what could have caused such a reaction from the man. Clearly the man knew what a Horcrux was.

"Surely, you don't mean..." Moody began.

"I do," the old wizard said, nodding solemnly, "I believe that Voldemort has created a Horcrux."

"Merlin," Moody breathed. "So that's how he survived."

"It may be, indeed," Dumbledore said.

"I don't understand," Remus spoke up from Sirius' other side. "What's a Horcrux?"

"Yes, I imagine not many would know of the invention," Dumbledore said, "It is a most evil creation; one that very few would dare research let alone attempt to create. Those that have been created in all of wizarding history may be counted on one hand. This includes … Grindelwald."

"Out vith it, already, old man," Edward growled, "I didn't risk my neck for dat information for you to keep stalling like dis!"

Dumbledore fixed him with a disapproving stare, which Edward matched with a vicious, impatient glare. The old man sighed heavily.

"Very well," He said nodding, "It was you who made this discovery possible; I thank your patience to this point."

Edward scoffed at the old man's attempt to placate him.

"A Horcrux is, in essence, a fragment of one's soul," Dumbledore explained. "The soul is split and part of it is placed within an object, or even another living being; so long as the Horcrux exists, the owner cannot die. Not entirely. Their soul will always remain bound to this world, though their body may die."

"So that's why he had been searching for a way to restore his body," Sirius said. "Merlin … that sounds so … sick."

"The act of splitting your soul is a disfiguring and damaging process," Dumbledore said, nodding. "And it begins with the act of murder."

"They say that to kill a man is to break a piece of your soul …" Arthur said soberly.

"That's so horrible," Molly said, shakily, "That a person would create such a thing; to tear apart your soul and bind it to an object. To live as a bodiless spirit, suspended between death and life …"

"Worse than death," Moody grumbled.

Edward felt a sharp twist in his gut, thinking of Al. It was similar, in a way. Perhaps his soul had not been fragmented like this Horcrux seemed to do, but the horror of living like his brother had for years, trapped in a body that couldn't feel even the warmth of the sun, sent a guilty shiver down his spine.

"So, dat's it?" Edward broke in, "Ve find and destroy de Horcruxes, den ve can kill Riddle?"

"I highly doubt it would be so simple," Severus sneered.

"It is not, Mr. Elric," the old man said, looking to Edward. "Horcruxes are not so easily destroyed, and finding such a thing will be a difficult task. There is no doubt he will have something so precious to his continued survival well hidden and well protected. Also, with the Ministry refusing to believe the truth of his return and watching me so closely, there is little I can do for now..."

"Oh no," Edward protested. "No more vaiting. I don't care vhat your damn government is doing; I'm going to look for de ting!"

"Mr. Elric, the last time you acted on your own, no matter what we have gained from it, you nearly died," Dumbledore chided. "I cannot claim to know you, young man, and that is a shame, but I do know that there must be those who are waiting for you. You cannot get yourself killed and leave them awaiting your return, when you never will!"

Edward snapped his mouth shut, shame filling his gut.

An image of Winry's tear stained face flashed across his vision, and then Al, letting out choking breaths as he remembered how to cry. And next was Teacher, and that sad look that finds its way to her face sometimes. The memory of Mustang with that horrible, helpless look on his face as he cradled a glass of scotch in one hand and they sat in silence after the anger had left and together they mourned the death of Hughes was next. Then anger later, the hatred, the burning, and the insanity as he stood over Envy, fingers poised to snap. A hundred visions danced before him, people he knew, people he loved all left behind as he died for a battle that wasn't even his.

"I understand," Dumbledore said quietly. "I understand that you want to go home as soon as possible, but I ask that you first make sure that you can return at all. If I dare presume, you do not seem to kind of person to let someone cry over you."

"I know," Edward said, head lowered and bangs covering his eyes, "I know, and I vill not die, but I vill not just sit here eiter."

"I know, Mr. Elric," Dumbledore said, looking at him with sad eyes. "And we will all do our best to search for the Horcrux while dealing with the Ministry. I know you do not enjoy waiting, and I hope you will think before you nearly get yourself killed again, but our movements are restricted for now. There is, however, a task that I believe you shall be up to, one that will free our movement greatly. It may take some time, but I will trust you to do this. Do you understand, Mr. Elric?"

Edward thought a moment. Perhaps he could not act toward getting his hands on the Horcrux and destroying it, but he could get them moving towards it. He hated to admit it, but the old man was right, he nearly got himself killed, by a snake of all things, because of his rashness. It's true that they may not have made this discovery without those actions, but the images of the people waiting for him back home stilled his impatience. He couldn't let himself get killed, and if that meant taking a little extra caution and a little more time, then...

It would be worth knowing that Winry wouldn't be crying over him again, and that Al wouldn't be left without him.

We're all we've got.

"Fine," Edward consented, finally, "Vhat is it?"

Dumbledore smiled lightly in what looked like relief.

"I wish for you to act against the Ministry in any way you can, in attempt to make the truth known, or at least subvert their authority and influence on public opinion," Dumbledore said, eyes twinkling dangerously.

Edward grinned.

"Vith pleasure."

He had gotten lost somewhere in the middle, but picked it up again by the end. That middle bit was fuzzy, but he had once asked about where Edward had come from, but received only a strange look from Dumbledore and a few cryptic words.

"Somewhere that is only his business to speak of."

He didn't try to pry the answers from Edward himself. He knew where that could easily land him. Many strict instructions about the kid had been told to them all. Never were they to inquire to either his origins or his mechanical limbs. They were to watch him carefully while on missions – this one did not quite apply to Sirius, he thought with a grimace – and anything strange to be said would be brought to Dumbledore immediately. They were not to speak of the past with him. He was to know only what he needed to know, anything more and it would be potentially 'dangerous'.

The old man had decided to believe in the kid's desire to fight Voldemort – another rule was to not ask him why this was – yet he was stoutly refusing to trust him.

Sirius leaned against the wall beside the fireplace, listening to Molly fuss over Edward just out in the hall. It had taken some time for the woman to accept Edward as a member of the Order and with the meeting over she was immediately back to mothering the boy. He could understand, though; the kid gave him this strange urge to ruffle his hair. It was very unusual, this feeling; the last thing Edward seemed to want was to be treated like a child, and to be honest he didn't know if there was much left of the kid that could be considered 'kid'.

Yet, he felt like there was something in Edward begging to be coddled, to be mothered.

These were useless thoughts either way, because Edward would be returning to Hogwarts and he would be left here, once more, alone amongst the dust.

Sirius frowned at his thoughts, pushing away from the wall and making for the door. He walked into the hallway, walking past Edward and Molly, giving into that inexplicable urge and reached out to ruffle the kid's hair as he passed. Edward sputtered and swatted at his hand, pouting sulkily as Molly patted his cheek.

Sirius decided that once everyone had cleared out he would try and get in touch with Harry, talk to him. He missed Harry. He had little left and Harry was a big part of that. There was only so much that he could hold on to so as not to go mad in this place. There were few blessings in this world.

As he turned to walk up the stairs, he felt a hand on his shoulder and out of the corner of his eye he saw another fall into step with him. He let a small smile break out over his face.

Maybe Remus was all the blessing he needed for now.

The crackle of energy brought all the dark corners of the room into stark light, bathing the stones in blue. The energy flowed through the circle, reshaping the rock into its new form. It shifted restlessly, protesting, and Hermione's eyes narrowed upon the circle, slowing her thoughts and clearly directing the energy. The stone bent to her will and slowly, but surely became as she dictated. Before her stood an elegant statuette of the Shakespearean character Hermione.

With a triumphant grin, she turned her head upwards toward Edward who knelt down to inspect the thing.

"Very good detail, Hermione," He muttered as he looked at the statuette, "But..."

He poked the head of the statuette and it cracked off, shattering against the floor. Hermione groaned. Edward brushed his hand against a white, crystal-like substance as well as a few tiny yellowish orbs that were scattered around the crater left by the transmutation. He sighed.

"(AlSi)3O4," he said, giving her a dubious look. "You turned it into clay, leaving dis" - he gestured to the residue in the crater - "Sodium Peroxide and Potassium Hydroxide."

He gave her a dry look.

"I particularly don't recommend getting the Sodium Peroxide in your eyes," He pressed down on one of the tiny crystalline rocks with his right hand, crushing it into a powder. He lifted his left hand, poking her in the head twice, to which she didn't protest, only continued to stare at the failed transmutation before her with, and continued, "You have too much going on in here."

He gave her forehead another poke for good measure.

"Altough it is good dat you know many different compounds for de elements in de granite, and subconsciously ensure dat a backlash is less likely to occur, it is also distracting you," he said. "You need to organize it all, or else you vill never be able to transmute vhat you vant."

"It's hard," Hermione said with a frown. "Harder than I thought. I'm usually good about organizing my thoughts, but all these molecules and compounds... It all mixes together and muddles in my head."

Edward gave a wry smile, though Hermione was left to wonder what was so grimly amusing. He clapped his hands together and placed them to the floor, and with a crackle of energy smooth stone was all that remained. She looked at him curiously. That was not the first time she had seen him transmute without a circle. When she had asked him about it he was less than informative.

"Only dose who have seen de Trut can understand how dis can be done," he gave her a solemn look, "pray dat you never do."

It had sent a shiver down her spine, as it did now as she thought of it. She hadn't asked again, but she was still curious, and she felt she always would be. He seemed unlikely to share more than he had. Everything about Edward Elric was quite honestly still one big mystery. There were still a hundred unanswered questions, questions that seemed to have been stuffed into a closet somewhere after the incident. Though, how would she know? She wasn't exactly in on the goings on of the Order. It was a frustrating feeling, and she was reluctant to bring up the subject to Edward, even though he might be the only one who would give them answers.

Hermione was snapped out of her thoughts by a hand waving in front of her face. Her eyes focused to see Edward giving her a bemused look.

"Dat is not a very good idea, eiter," He said, holding out a piece of chalk to her, "Write out the formula of de granite for me, den its properties, and de energy in de bonds."

Hermione held back a groan as she did as she was instructed. She had been demoted back to the basics.

"Don't complain," Edward said, looking at her seriously. "De consequences of a failed transmutation can be great, do not underestimate dem, and alvays be cautious."

Hermione didn't miss how he gripped his left knee at those words.

"You're taunting them, and they are angering."

"So? I am only doing vhat de old man told me to do."

"To an extreme that I do not believe he had anticipated."

Severus looked at him passively, though a flicker of amusement could be seen in his eyes. Edward smirked back at him. For the whole of the last two weeks Edward had succeeded in scandalizing a good fraction of the Ministry. Those with sordid affairs were brought into the blinding light of hot press, others with dubious connections found these things exposed with a cunning display of manipulative skills on Edward's part. He was given every piece of unproven scandal that could be found, and he set out to prove every one. All of this was in such a public way that the Prophet couldn't hope to ignore it.

Most especially the ones that involved suspected practitioners of the Dark Arts, namely those who were among the Death Eaters. These ones did little to upset the balance in the Ministry, as proof of use of the Dark Arts was scarce and connections of the less-than-scrupulous type were not unheard of. The name of Death Eater would not be dropped, for it would cause a familiar response, though the action of it did do something else. This something else was why Severus was concerned.

He was really pissing them off.

He was shining a light on those involved with the Dark Lord, making the public look just a little closer at them. It was not sitting well amongst them.

"I thought you agreed no recklessness," Severus chided halfheartedly.

Edward snorted.

"I said no such ting," he said, a satisfied smirk on his face. He crossed his right leg over his left, leaning back on his arms and Severus twitched in annoyance.

"Edward?" He said amiably.


"Get off my desk."

Edward did not move, only glancing down at him with a wide smirk.

"So, has anyting come up about de you-know-vhat?" he asked, expression serious again.

Severus grimaced. The Horcrux. Things weren't exactly going well on that front. The book "Secrets of the Darkest Art" was quite informative. A way to identify a Horcrux was described within the tome, however it was rather cryptic. It merely said that they 'left a trace' and the soul fragment influenced people close to the Horcrux. There was also a disturbing point of the book that left an uneasy feeling in his stomach.

It was possible to make more than one.

"I'll take dat as a 'no'," Edward said with a frown.

Severus thought about the kid sitting not three feet from him for a moment. He had protected Potter and fought the Dark Lord for years now, and within the first month of this school year, more had been done by Edward than had been done by any of them in all their years. Dumbledore insisted that they were not to question him at all, but curiosity was a very powerful thing. He dared not attempt to force his way into Elric's mind either. Aside from the fact that Edward had managed to remove Voldemort from his mind, it would threaten this tentative … dare he call it friendship that they had? All he could hope for was free offering of answers.

Edward didn't seem to find any of this important though, and was content to keep questions of his own strictly to business or light teasing. Maybe it was best. Curious though he may be, he knew the importance of secrets, and of keeping one's past to one's self. It wasn't like he was going to freely offer any answers of his own, it would be foolish to hope the same from Edward.

Edward sat amidst strewn notebooks, some in elegant blue ink, others in his own messy black scrawl; these were written in Amestrian. Amid the lessons with Hermione and the tearing down of Ministry officials he had little free time left over to work on Flamel's notes.

It didn't take him very long to crack the code, but going through and rewriting them in understandable Amestrian was taking a lot more time. He was going to simply read them, with the code in his mind, but magic alchemy was more complex than he had anticipated. It was different when he was reading familiar things in Marcoh's notes; this was a whole different monster. He had gotten through the majority of the notes and had yet to come across anything that could be the creation of the Philosopher's Stone.

It had been mentioned in passing; the search for it being something of importance in the study of alchemy. It was curious, however, that the years had passed and the man had to be far older than possible already, yet there have been no words about his process of creating the stone. Edward continued to read and copy down the notes in Amestrian as quickly as his hand could move. In his left hand, the charmed galleon moved between his fingers in a practiced motion. It was the end of some notes on transmuting lead to gold, simple stuff, really, when he saw something that shook his very core. He copied the first sentence shakily, slowly, word by word.

I can hear them screaming.

The galleon slipped from his fingers and clattered against the floor. He looked at the words before him in plain Amestrian and had to force himself to continue on. The words flowed from his hand and he grew sicker by the second.

I have neglected to write of this research before. It was something I had intended to keep for myself. Selfishly, perhaps, though I always told myself it was because of the danger involved in power like this falling into unscrupulous hands. Now, however, I think it best to record my findings. It's the devil's research, and I hope that my apprentice, when he is able to decode these notes will endeavor to make sure no one undertakes this task again.

I didn't know. But I can hear them, now. I can hear their screams. I never should have created this thing, it should be destroyed. But I am a coward.

Perhaps the beginning is where to start. I was researching, as all alchemists do, the Philosopher's Stone. The nature of the stone is an impossibility itself. Thus is the nature of magic, is it not? Immortality is not an unfamiliar goal, however magic, as it is used, cannot attain this. It is magic in its most raw form that bends the cycle of life to its will. The subconscious magic that children use is closest to this raw magic, however the greatest example are those who, under situations of great emotion and psychological strain, do what should be impossible even with magic; they defy death. This is magic at its most raw, while still being able to be utilized.

However there is the magic, also, that flows through all living things, and in the air. There is the magic that is at the core of every Witch and Wizard in the world. We shape it to do as we will it, so it is no longer in its immensely powerful and raw form. We take only a piece of this great thing at our center. So I began to study the very nature of raw magic, myself as the lab rat.

Equivalent Exchange means nothing to me as a wizard, magic feeding the alchemy as I tear into the very heart of my own power, my own self. Alchemy, in magic, uses the magic as both energy and the cost, so, I reversed the process. Instead of pulling the energy to me, I brought myself to it. What I found was something incredible. Within us magic pulsates like a heartbeat, feeding us with power through our every vein, it is like life within us. It is harmonious and right and peaceful, and there is this feeling of... love? Yes, love, that is it. This magic, it loves us, and so it lends us its strength.

It was power concentrated, it was everything in the universe, every impossibility, and every strength, caressing me as it swirled around in rhythmic motion, beating steadily.

I wanted it.

I was so foolish, so arrogant.

I will not explain my equations, I will draw no array, and I will show you nothing toward what I did that led me to my success. I hope only that this warning will ensure you don't try to find out for yourself.

I took it; I tore it from my core and drew it into the world, focusing it, concentrating it until it became crystallized stone. I created, from the raw magic within myself, a Philosopher's Stone. It was power itself and it was incredible. I could harness the raw magic to its full potential. Immortality became possible, every year I added on to my life seeming to not even dent the great power of the thing. I was drunk on power; I thought I had achieved God.

But then humanity slowly settled within me once more and I could hear it. I could hear the unnatural thing I had done.

It screamed. It screamed with a thousand voices and I thought I might go mad. I had twisted that loving thing, that magic. I had taken more than it could give and forced it into a solid form, using it as I willed. It hurt, and it screamed, and it tore at my mind. As I held the stone in my hands, I felt what was inside it. It was a swirling vortex of agony. It was like a billion souls were trapped within, clawing at the bars of their prison, screaming, terrified.

But it was too late. I had tasted immortality, and I feared death.

It is an evil thing, yet to destroy it would leave me to wither and die, so I continued living on the pain of the stone.

Let alchemy die, Albus. Let alchemy and it's devil's quest die.

The quill fell from Edward's hand and he buried his face in his arms.

He had dared to hope. He had dared to hope that the stone would not cause so much pain in this world as it had in his. What this meant for magic even... He understood now. He understood the power of magic and how it laughed in the face of equivalent exchange. How it happened and why, he could not fathom. He didn't know how this world worked, but one thing was glaringly, painfully certain; something corrupted the cycle of life in this world. The souls of the dead lingered.

He should have known.

He should have known.

Edward watched, transfixed in grim fascination as spells flew from the kid's wands. Harry was teaching them to conjure a Patronus. Edward rolled Flamel's words through his mind. Harmony. Peace. Love. It was a struggle to believe, and he held back the horror as each spell was spoken.

"Expecto Patronum!"

The words caressed her and she smiled, closing her eyes and reaching out with both arms. He was beside her and she could almost feel the warmth of an arm around her waist. He smiled, too, as he poured his strength forth. Peace and harmony, throughout the billions of spirits, all lending their strength. They gave their power, allowing him to shape it, contentment settling. Love, and nothing but love, beating forth.

Lily opened her eyes, smiling still and fading back into the swirl of rhythmic motion, James followed, caressing and loving.

A/N: Did I depress some people? I depressed myself a little...

Well, I don't know how you'll like my explanation for magic and the Philosopher's Stone in this world, but there it is.