Story cover by NinthFeather!
There is a war raging outside these castle walls.
They all know it is only a matter of time until it spills over into the last sanctuary they have left.
Attendance at Hogwarts has dropped to lower than it has been in decades. Families—those that are left—are desperate for some sense of security in this rotting world. Having their children, their parents, their siblings close at hand brings some sort of comfort…even if many end up brutally murdered, wrapped in each other's arms.
The professors are left with those whose parents want them safe and those with no home to go to. It is a pitifully small number, but they must do what they can for the children who have lost everything…even as their own lives crumble to ashes before them.
Not much teaching goes on within the castle walls anymore; the students are all busy pretending. They pretend that there is nothing wrong with the country, that the dark haze constantly clogging the air doesn't exist, that they will see the sun soon, that they will go home to their families at the end of term.
They're not fooling anyone.
The castle is dying. Nobody smiles; nobody sees in color anymore. Even those who were once so full of vibrancy and cheerfulness and life are reduced to mere husks of their former selves. The sense of security Hogwarts has long been famous for is gone.
The professors hold classes, but it is more for the sense of normalcy than for teaching anything. The students are too preoccupied with the horrible question they ask every day: who will be next?
Every day, the answer comes in a flurry of ruffled owl feathers and newspaper clippings. Every day, there is another scream of anguish, another life shattered, another casualty of this senseless war. There is no end in sight; everyone knows this bloodshed will outlast each and every one of them. It will never end. Britain will meet its end at the hands of the monsters bent only on destruction.
(The professors briefly discuss trying to send the remaining students away—to France, to Germany, to America, to somewhere. There is absolutely no sense in keeping them in this war-torn excuse for a country.)
(But then they realize that there is no way to send them there, and there is no one who will take them. So they stay in this empty shell of a once-proud castle, praying their end will be quick.)
The enemy's numbers grow constantly, filled with people terrified for their families and for themselves. They are promised immunity, safety from the senseless killings…but if they make a mistake, they are never heard from again.
(Hogwarts has learned this the hard way. Several of the older students have left in desperation and never returned.)
This war is destroying their world, their minds, their very being. The shaky legs they stand on could easily—so very easily—be swept out from under them, leaving them to fall into the abyss.
A girl took her own life last week. She was only fourteen, but she was totally and utterly alone. None of the other students had known her name, but every person left in the castle attends her funeral on the grounds. It's the first time any of them have been outside in weeks.
As they all pass by her open coffin, desperate to remember this girl who had no one else to remember her, they see the peace they've all been searching for on her face. Only in death can she ever be happy…can any of them be happy again.
They can't blame her at all for what she did.
It is December, now, and snow is falling thick and fast outside the windows. But even that is impure; the snow, which is supposed to be white and flawless and perfect in this imperfect world, is tainted with grey as it falls with the smog in the air. The Dementors have a tight hold on the school, even if they cannot physically be there; anguish and despair permeate every inch of the grounds. There is simply nothing else left.
The great flash from the ceiling of the Great Hall sends three figures crashing into the empty end of the Ravenclaw table. The professors are ready in moments. They get the children out of harm's way, to the common room, where the older students and suits of armor are instructed to guard the entrance with their lives. Everyone is thinking the same horrible thought: they are here. The castle's defenses are strong, but they will not last forever. And if these monsters want total destruction, a few teenagers and some hunks of metal will not stop them.
But as the professors approach the prone figures cautiously, wands drawn and ready to attack, they see only two teenagers moving very slowly to sit up, both holding their heads and looking utterly lost. The professors are confused for a moment, even before they realize why. The expressions on their faces are not despairing or dead, like so many others'; they look lost, yes, but only in the literal sense of the word. Emboldened by this, the professors inch forward to look at the two of them more closely.
They both have long hair, yet they are clearly male; one wears his in a blond braid, while the other has a dark ponytail. Neither is a Hogwarts students; they can tell that much…
"Who are you?" the headmaster demands. Even if these boys look barely fifteen and are clearly clueless, they can take absolutely no chances when dozens of innocent lives hang in the balance.
They are all shocked when the blond answers readily, only glancing at them before continuing his survey of the huge room. Nobody volunteers his name in this kind of world; when you could be so easily manipulated, so easily killed by that bit of information, you—
But the boy is talking again, now, addressing his friend, and they all lean in slightly to listen. "Where the hell did—I thought Gluttony was trying to eat you—"
The dark-haired boy shrugs, looking just as confused as the blond. "I thought—"
"What are you doing here?" the headmaster tries again. They're either not a threat or very good actors, but they've all been fooled before. Both boys turn their full attention to the adults this time, glancing warily at the wands pointed at their faces.
"We'd like to know that too," the dark-haired one says, and the professors realize he has a strange lilt to his voice. He is speaking clear English, but in the way he pronounces his vowels just so…none of them have heard an accent like it before.
"We're in the middle of a war, boy. You're going to have to give a better answer than that." The Potions master, this time. His voice is hard and cold, obviously measured out so as not to betray his worry. It isn't often that he raises his voice, but when he does…
"We were outside Central, at some old abandoned house," the blond says, shrugging. Despite his casual tone, both boys are shifting into clearly defensive stances. "What do you want? I have no idea where we are. If you don't hurt us, we won't hurt you, all right?"
They almost buy into it, but they can clearly see the sword held securely in the dark-haired boy's grasp. The exposed metal hand of the other looks lethal. "This is the place with the best defenses in the country." The last place with any defenses at all. "You can't just fall from the—"
There is a hugely loud crash from behind the boys, and the blond turns quickly to investigate. The other keeps a wary eye on the adults surrounding them until a terribly familiar, anguished cry tears from his friend's throat, cutting through the silence of the Great Hall.
The second boy turns as well with one last wary glance, giving the professors a clear view of the third figure that fell from nowhere. It isn't human; they can tell that much…but why would the boy be nearly hysterical over half a suit of armor?
But the dark-haired one stiffens when he sees, dropping his sword from nerveless fingers and vaulting over the table to where the armor had crashed to the floor. It's quite an odd sight: two teenagers shaking the hunk of metal as if expecting it to wake up, shouting that name—Alphonse—to the heavens. The desperation in their voices reverberates throughout the hall, striking clear through the heart of each professor. Whatever this suit of armor is—trashed, cut cleanly in half, one empty eye socket staring at nothing—it is clearly important to them.
"Is the—his blood seal—?" The dark-haired boy cuts himself off, his narrow eyes shining in what has to be anxiety.
The blond chokes at his friend's barely audible inquiry, quickly pulling off what is left of the helmet to look at the inside of the neck. The professors are unconsciously inching closer now, wands lowered but stances still tense, trying to grasp what is happening. Even if it is an animate armor, it should respond when called. Even if it only has one arm and one leg and half a body, it should still give some sort of sign that the charm is still in place…
The boy freezes, half his body still inside the armor. Time stands still for a moment. The other hovers, one hand outstretched as if to grab his friend's arm. The professors are in a sort of trance, now. Unwilling to interrupt the torrent of emotions flooding from the boys in front of them but unable to bear the tension thick in the air, they must wait.
Time starts again (has it been seconds? Hours? Years? It is impossible to tell), and an inarticulate scream pierces the air. The adults make to rush forward—whatever is going on, the boys are not threats, and they've all heard such a thing one too many times—but the dark-haired boy snaps out of his horrified stupor. He retrieves his sword with shaking fingers, holding it toward them threateningly. "You touch either of us, and I swear to God you will die."
None of them doubt that he will keep his word.
He makes slow, steady eye contact with each of them (his whole body seems to be shaking, but his dark eyes are steely and the blade he holds is true) before he turns to the other, who still seems frozen in time. His shoulders are shaking violently, though, and when the dark-haired boy tries to pull him away, he lets out a sob and only grips the armor tighter.
"He's—Al's not here," the boy says, keeping a firm grip on his friend's shoulder regardless. He looks into the armor himself, his face draining of the little color it had left. "You can't—maybe if we get back, find the other half—"
But he only shakes his head, incapable of words as his sobs crescendo ever-louder, lost in his own world of misery and grief. The dark-haired boy can only kneel down next to him, gently prying his fingers away from the metal and making to help him stand up. "We'll—we'll catch a train back to Central, and we'll figure out what to do there, all right? We can—I'm sure, with his situation—"
The boy is clearly unused to comforting others; the way he stumbles over his words and looks one step from tears himself betray the true gravity of the situation. Perhaps this Alphonse had been fighting alongside them; they got away; he was left behind, almost certainly dead.
Whatever the case, it is a terrible tragedy…something they have seen far too often.
The blond's head is shaking now, denying the other's wild suggestions. His golden eyes are wide and filled with agony, staring around at the adults as if wishing they could tell him that none of this is real. They've dealt with this too many times in the past; it will only be worse when he realizes the truth for a second time. They must stay silent.
A myriad of emotions play across his face, and then something akin to desperation settles there. Before anyone can blink, before anyone can stop him, he brings his hands together in a sign of prayer (what God would allow the world to fall to this level of Hell) and slams them into his own chest.
Seconds tick by as they all wait with bated breath, wondering on the importance of that gesture. The dark-haired boy steps forward cautiously, pulling his friend's hands from their frozen position over his heart. "Was that…? Is it not working? What were you trying to do?"
Before they can ask what he is talking about, before they can consider that he may have been about to attack, the sunlit eyes of the boy capture their full attention. Before, they had been endless, bright, almost like molten gold. Hogwarts has not seen anything so vibrant in years.
But now, the professors can almost hear his mind snapping. His face becomes relaxed; his eyes dull to a ghost of their former selves; he leans into his friend as he nearly collapses to the floor.
The other boy's eyes are pained, panicked, as he focuses his full attention on the blond. He's calling his name, now, but he isn't answering (just like Al never did); he stares off into the nothingness, his features blank and unresponsive. It is frightening, horribly terrifying, to see such a thing happen. They know such things are possible—are all too common in this world—but none of them have witnessed a fall so swiftly or painfully. If he were not breathing, they would assume him dead, gone at last from this world.
But this…this is so much worse than death. He will live out his days trapped within what is left of his mind...
"Please…where's a train station?" They snap back to reality at the sound of the accented voice. It is strained, carefully measured, and he has to swallow thickly before he continues—"We need to get back…"
But there is no answer for him. Hogsmeade Station is years gone, and while they wonder at the fact that he does not ask about Apparition or Floo, both would be useless. The wards on the castle essentially block all interaction with the outside world…which has turned out to be both a blessing and a curse.
"You could stay in the castle," the headmaster offers cautiously. The shorter boy will clearly be no threat to anyone (though insanity knows no bounds…who knows what he might still be capable of), and the pain in the other's expression cannot possibly be faked.
He hesitates. "Where—where are we? Central? East City?"
"Hogwarts," the Headmaster answers immediately. "Northern Scotland."
The blank look on his face is alarming. "Hogwarts" should be familiar to any wizard in the world. And even if they are Muggles, they should have heard of Scotland...
"...How far is that from Amestris?" he asks hesitantly. The tone seems unnatural for him; from the way he held himself when he first arrived, they would guess that he comes from a rich upbringing…accustomed to being in charge and knowing everything.
But then, everyone is equal when full-scale war consumes a country. Money won't stop an Avada Kedavra…
None of them have heard of that place—city? country?—and they can only shake their heads. He sways on his feet, eyes darting from one professor to the next, begging for some kind of recognition. The look on his face is heartbreaking; he has just lost two friends (if not in body, then in spirit), and he is stranded in a strange place. The confused expression he had worn before has dissolved into a horrible mixture of pain and grief.
"C'mon, I'll bring you down to the common room," one professor volunteers, gently taking him by the shoulder and leading the two of them downstairs. The one common room still in use, Hufflepuff, provides both convenience and security. Everyone lives within its walls, including the professors. Though it is rather full, none of them would trade that vague mirage of safety for anything in the world.
As the three of them slowly make their way across the Great Hall, the rest of the professors are filled with sudden, morbid curiosity. What had felled the boy's mind so quickly; what had caused the both of them to drown in grief? They step forward, slowly, cautiously, as if expecting the armor to come alive and attack them. But it simply lays there, still and cold and dead.
They can almost imagine that it is human; mirroring the half that remains, they can nearly see it spring to life as if it were just another person…another teenage boy.
Once they step close enough to see inside the neck, they can only see darkness, shadowed by the dim lighting in the hall. But when they turn it just so, inspecting the neck closely, they finally see it.
A half-circle, inscribed in what looks far too much like blood, cut off abruptly where the metal was sliced in two.
Something—a cool breeze—seems to pass by them as they continue to gaze, entranced, at what surely had been a full circle. It is almost like a ghost, but not quite; it is vaguely human, but for no reason they can name.
For some reason, the armor seems so much more human than before. Not a word is spoken between them as they move it to a corner, reverently, as if they are carrying flesh and blood.
They never knew him, but Alphonse will be buried next to the others, out on the grounds—another life ended all too soon.
The boys are accepted by the students quickly, even if they tend to keep to themselves. They're all the same in the end, after all: young people forced to grow up far too fast. The blond boy never speaks anymore; the other, only when spoken to, but…
They all get the feeling that the two of them are not from this country. The way he unconsciously holds himself, the way his eyes flash with life when he speaks…a decade ago, that would have been normal. Now, it is nonexistent.
They are not wizards; they do not attend classes. Years ago, that would have induced spite from some of the students; now, it is only accepted as fact and never mentioned. Wizard or Muggle, they are all the same when the world crumbles to ashes. No amount of magic could possibly protect a wizard from monsters like these.
So they are simply treated as any other victim of the war. There is no harshness in the students' words when they greet the dark-haired boy at breakfast, because he is just as human as any of them.
Two days after their arrival, the professors hold a ceremony for Alphonse. His friend bites back tears—"Elric—Alphonse Elric." They add that to the headstone, and the remains of the armor are buried in the earth beneath it.
All except that small half-circle.
They do not know what he wants with it, but the dark-haired boy insists on cutting it out before the burial. Even if it is useless, who are they to deprive a grieving boy of such a thing?
Nobody knew him, but everyone in the castle attends the ceremony. The blond boy—Alphonse's older brother—sits silently in the front row as his friend speaks briefly of the boy. There are not many details—he says they have only known each other for a few months—but…
Eventually, he is too distressed to continue. He gingerly makes his way back to his seat, swiping at the tears in his eyes. He is clearly not used to crying, to letting his emotions run freely on his face.
Here, it is all too common. There is no sense in mocking someone else's sorrow when you have felt the same yourself.
They all help to bury him (the Muggle way—it's more real, more respectful) before silently making their way back to the castle. The only two left at the burial site are Alphonse's friend and brother; the blond stares at the headstone without seeing, showing no reaction at all. Perhaps it is a defense against his brother's death. Perhaps his life has been full of too much Hell for his mind to handle.
All that the professors know, as they watch the dark-haired boy's shoulders heave with sobs, is that he has lost two friends…even if one is still with him physically. No matter how rich of an upbringing he has had, no matter how stoic his face typically is, such a thing is far too much for any fifteen year old to handle.
They do not want to tell him, to add to his grief or crush what little hope he has left…but in all the library's archives, there is not one mention of a place called Amestris.
He comes to them a few days later, the scrap of metal held carefully in his hands, and asks if they know anything of soul binding.
They are not sure, and must tell him so; the resigned, defeated look in his eyes tells them he had expected such an answer. Desperate to offer some sort of comfort or support, they suggest he ask the headmaster, who is in his office upstairs; he is perhaps the most knowledgeable. If he does not know, perhaps he could suggest some books to read.
He nods in thanks and leaves the common room, holding tight to his friend's shoulder. The boy barely notices, following blindly as his dulled eyes stare at nothing.
He walks just like the students in the castle, the professors notice. Hunched over, taking slow, shuffling steps, hands hanging uselessly by his sides… In a sense, he is not too different than the rest of them.
Perhaps they are all just as mad as he is.
The two of them arrive in the headmaster's office, and he looks up to greet them as kindly as he can. The boy wastes no time, asking bluntly if there is anything to be done to save a ruined soul binding.
His smile falters a bit as he tries to grasp what the boy is asking. Soul binding, after all, is not at all common in the wizarding world. Considered inhumane, unnecessary, and far too complex, there are only tales of a few ever being attempted.
One, incidentally, is sitting in that very room.
He carefully takes the Sorting Hat from its shelf behind his desk and holds it out to the boy, explaining that the soul of Godric Gryffindor has been placed in the hat. If anyone would know what he needs, it would be him.
The boy carefully puts the ruined metal onto the desk before taking the hat with both hands, staring at it as if expecting it to have all the answers. The headmaster can only hope they are the answers he wants to hear.
"It may be easier to put me on your head," the hat says, and the boy nearly jumps out of his skin, glancing at the headmaster for confirmation. At the man's nod, he pulls the hat over his messy hair, his eyes flickering nervously to his motionless friend.
Several silent minutes go by as the boy converses with the hat. His face falls with every passing second, though, and the headmaster can guess the answer long before he pulls off the hat. His expression is somber, and he seems to have aged years in only a few minutes; he hands the hat back to the old man and picks up the ruined steel again.
He hesitates before asking if there is an alchemist in the castle he can talk to. His voice is defeated, though; surely, there is nothing to be done to save Alphonse's soul. He suspects the boy is only asking to find something to occupy his time, to keep himself free from the bitter despair already encroaching on the edges of his mind.
But he has to shake his head. None of the professors know anything about the ancient art, and he doubts the boy will want to read any of the books the library has to offer.
His grip on the bloodied metal tightens, but he bows to the Headmaster, muttering his thanks, and asks how long he will allow them to stay in the castle.
"As long as you need, my dear boy." The compassion in his voice is sincere; the child before him is alone and lost in this huge, savage world. Where else is there to stay but Hogwarts?
He mutters another "thank you" (the headmaster thinks his eyes are glassier than normal, but he does not mention it) and excuses himself, taking his friend by the shoulder and leading him toward the door.
The Headmaster follows shortly after, intent on going to the Great Hall for lunch, only to find the blond boy stopped short in the middle of the hallway. His friend has not noticed him pause and is several steps ahead; only when the blond's loud, ecstatic voice rips through the air does his neck audibly crack as he spins in disbelief.
The two of them can only watch as the boy sprints toward one of the nearby suits of armor. Once the headmaster steps closer, he realizes the armor standing stiff and proud and empty looks achingly similar to the one they had buried days before. The dark-haired boy must have realized this too, for he steps forward, his face full of anguish. "C'mon…let's go back to the common room…"
"Al, don't you ever scare us like that again!" Inexplicably, that spark is back in his eyes, and he stands there, bold as brass, lecturing the unmoving armor as if he were its mother.
Or its older brother.
The pang the headmaster feels in his chest is painful as he continues to watch the boy hold a conversation with the inanimate armor. It is not responding, at least as far as he and the dark-haired boy can tell…
"Me and that squinty-eyed bastard have been stuck here for days, why didn't you come and find us? We've only been downstairs—"
The other boy flinches visibly at the nickname, but the headmaster does not think he is offended. Instead—"He—he used to call me that, back in Amestris," he explains quietly, his gaze locked on his friend as he watches the one-sided conversation. "We didn't have the best first impression, but we got along all right after…"
Despite all he has lived through, the headmaster is not sure there is anything he can say to make this better. The boy seems to understand this; no one can fix a hopeless situation, a hopeless world, with just a few words of comfort. So he continues to his friend, "C'mon…we have to go back downstairs…"
The boy does not give any indication that he heard, so he must walk back toward him, his gaze pointedly averted from the armor. He grasps his friend's arm firmly in his badly shaking hand. "We have to go."
"I'll see you later, all right?" The boy reluctantly allows himself to be dragged off, calling over his shoulder to the armor that looks so much like his precious little brother. He apparently receives a response, for he laughs heartily before turning around at last.
Instantly, as soon as "Alphonse" is out of sight, he is back to his near-comatose self; his eyes lose that joyous glow, and he seems to be running on autopilot as his friend leads him downstairs. "Is there…is there anything you can do for him?" The accented voice is strained with worry, looking pleadingly at the headmaster. "With your—magic—can't you—"
"The mind is far more complex than any of us can realize," he says, shaking his head. "Would you risk his life and the little happiness he has found to bring him back to a world like this?"
His eyes are pained, but it is clear that he must agree. He carries his sword with him everywhere, always on guard for an enemy attack. He says he is quite skilled, but the man is not sure whether he will survive against the monsters that will eventually come knocking.
Nevertheless, it is good to know that they have a warrior on their side. (But it's heartbreaking to know that he is so young with a life so shattered.)
He feels that he must try to assuage the boy's anxiety, if only a bit. He is utterly alone, save for these strange people he barely knows…nobody can live like that. He puts a gentle hand on the boy's shoulder and says, "He has found happiness. Even if we cannot understand…in this world, in his life…it will be enough."
Nobody can explain how he does it, but every day, without fail, he finds his way back up to talk with the armor that looks so much like his brother.
He stays there for most of the day, his eyes alight with a fire so intense that many cannot stand to look. It is so out of place, so vibrant in this monochrome world that it must sow a bit of hope into every one of the people remaining within the school's walls.
The dark-haired boy hates retrieving him when it is time for food or sleep; the happiness, the light that makes him alive in that seventh-floor corridor vanishes as soon as the armor is out of sight. Nobody can bear to watch…especially his friend, who knew him when that energy was real, a constant in his life.
Now, nothing is constant; nothing is for sure; they do not know when the enemy will attack, how many will die, whether they will be free at last…
They only know that it will happen eventually.
As they watch the boy from a distance, listen to his one-sided, insanity-fuelled conversations, they realize they envy him. If only for a short time, he is free from the worry that plagues them day and night; if only for a short time, he is totally and unequivocally happy.
In this world, that is more than most of them have ever dreamed of.
It happens on Christmas Day, when the professors are trying to spread some semblance of cheer to the students in their charge. The great doors in the Entrance Hall are smashed to pieces as the enemy storms the castle. The professors and older students do their best to protect the younger, getting them into the common room and barricading the door. They all know that they will not be spared…but what else can they do? Children should not be exposed to the horrors of war… Even if it is a futile effort, they must protect the innocent with their lives.
The older students fight valiantly, but the barely-human monsters and their allies show no mercy. The stone floor of the Entrance Hall is soon slick with blood, and the remaining defenders must take care to watch their footing, lest their own blood mingle with all the others'.
The foreign boy is a demon with his sword; he was not at all exaggerating when he said he has been trained for years. He takes down several of the monsters on his own; his sword is stained a deep red; though he is wounded, he fights on, the skill of a master confined within his fifteen-year-old body.
Despite their efforts, many make it past the defense, going up the stone staircase or down toward the dungeons. It is then that he realizes, with a horrible, strangled cry, that his friend—his last friend in this world—is upstairs, locked in his own fantasy, oblivious to the danger.
He sends one last, desperate look toward the nearest professor, and she urges him to go. Even as she is gored seconds later, choking on her own blood as she falls to the ground, she—and all the others—know he must protect his friend. He bites back a sob as he turns and sprints up the staircase, his soft shoes slipping in the blood the monsters have trailed behind.
Even if he has only lived in the castle for a few weeks, even if he is injured and bleeding and weakened, he is still able to—somehow—reach his friend before the monsters do. He is deep in serious conversation with the suit of armor, as he always is, but there is absolutely no time. The boy can hear the monsters lumbering around the nearest corner; in desperation, he yanks his friend's arm, overbalancing the both of them as he becomes dizzy with blood loss. The slash in his stomach is worryingly deep—deeper than he had thought—and the world is beginning to spin dangerously as he struggles to sit up.
But he has to protect his friend…he has to. Neither of them is in any shape to fight, but he, at least, has a weapon, and understands the gravity of the situation. The other, sitting up slowly and holding his head, has no idea. "Hey, Al, did you do that? What was that—?"
He cuts himself off at the sound of loud, heavy breathing, and he glances down the corridor. They are coming; there are far too many of them; as the blond only stares blankly, just as he always has, his friend has made up his mind.
"Stay—stay back with Al," he says, standing on shaky legs and holding his blade toward the enemy. "Keep him safe, okay?"
For once, the boy hears him; he takes several steps back, standing protectively in front of the armor. Had he been himself—really been himself—he would have raged, would have demanded that he help fight.
But he isn't himself; he hasn't been himself since Al died. And that is why his friend must fight instead.
He charges the monsters once they step too close. Even as his stomach is gushing blood and new wounds are inflicted by these creatures' heinous weapons, he continues to fight. A king exists for his people. Without his people, there is no king. He is not a king—will never be a king—but he must do what he can. Alphonse and all of the people back home will never forgive him if he lets his friend die…and he will never forgive himself.
So he fights…he fights until he is brutally thrown into the stone wall, his head smashing into it with a sickening crack. He does not move again.
Ling Yao is forever remembered as the greatest warrior—the greatest hero—Hogwarts has ever known.
The scene is gruesome as the survivors begin to pick up the pieces. The monsters are drawn to blood; their weapons are specifically designed to cause as much pain as possible. Many of them literally rip the victim to pieces.
They had slowly congregated in the seventh-floor corridor, drawn by the dark-haired boy's lifeforce and the blood of their own as it saturated the floor. There are bodies—many of them—and it is hard to believe that two boys took down so many on their own. The monsters' bodies are to be buried in an unmarked mass grave, while those of the many fallen heroes are given the deepest respect. Some of them, they can only find parts; some are unrecognizable; but they do not rest until every body is accounted for, until every one of those who gave their lives is given the reverence they deserve.
The bodies of the two foreign, nearly-unknown boys are handled with just as much respect as the others'. Though they had been there only a short time, they had touched so many lives in the castle…they are grieved as much as any other.
They find the dark-haired boy—he's only a child; his life had barely started when it was ripped away—crumpled up against the wall, the back of his head crushed in and a sickening blood trail down the wall above him. He is covered in injuries; while he was alive, while his heart still desperately tried to keep him breathing, it had created a scarlet tapestry in a halo around his body. He had not given up—even when he was nearly gone.
The other they find sprawled protectively in front of his brother's armor, his neck snapped harshly to the side. His golden eyes stare, unseeing, at the ceiling as he lays in a pool of blood nearly as large as his friend's.
But as horrible as the scene is, the boy's grisly death is not what captures their attention so completely.
The armor he had been standing in front of had not been in its niche, nearly hidden by the ever-present shadows. It had been standing defensively over the broken boy when he fell, crouched over him as if to save him from all harm. And that is where it stopped. Evidently, the boy's death also ended its own life.
The armor is empty, and the professors are sure it wasn't one charged with defending the castle. It is simply a suit of armor with a curious symbol on its shoulder, hunched over the boy like a guardian angel.
As they look at the broken bodies of the monsters more closely, they realize that some of their fatal wounds could not have possibly been inflicted by human hands. Ten-foot creatures snapped nearly in half, huge holes punched in their chests…two fifteen-year-old boys could not have done such things.
But a seven-foot-tall suit of armor could.
They shake that from their minds quickly, though, gently lifting the boy's body onto a stretcher next to his friend as they prepare to take them both down to what is left of the Great Hall. The same feeling they had when the boys first arrived—a cool breeze whispering into their hearts—happens again, but the windows are all closed against the snowy smog falling outside. They look around nervously, wondering if the monsters who had destroyed their lives are still lurking. But there is nothing there.
It happens again, but this time it is accompanied by an inarticulate sob. They have their wands raised, now, ready for an attack.
"Thank you—thank you for taking care of them…"
The voice is high, yet masculine—full of misery, yet sincerely grateful. "Thank…you…"
The voice fades away, accompanied by that strange wind. They try to understand, but they cannot; there is no body to pair with the voice, and there is no logic to justify such an occurrence. Soon, they must forget it in favor of treating the wounded, burying the dead, and trying to rebuild some part of their shattered lives.
They will never understand.
Edward Elric is buried between his brother and his friend, hailed as the boy who lost everything but still gave all that he had until his dying breath.
They called him a madman. But they're not so sure anymore.