Once the half hour he had given Cornelius was over, Albus cut him off mid-sentence and announced he had to return to Hogwarts. He walked over to Roy, who had been waiting by the wall as Williamson, Dawlish, Tonks, Kingsley, and even Remus carted the downed Death Eaters off to St. Mungo’s.
Williamson and Dawlish had appeared ashen the first time they returned with prisoners —Bellatrix and Rodolphus Lestrange— and everybody, even the frantic Cornelius, had paused to watch them pass in morbid fascination and horror. Their arms, especially Bellatrix’s, looked like something out of a horror story.
Albus had stared, too, before he drew Cornelius’ attention back to himself and continued explaining what, exactly, Cornelius would do once Albus left the ministry. Cornelius’ career was over, they both knew as much. What remained to be seen now was how far he would fall with Dolores Umbridge, and that would depend on how he acted from now on.
Fawkes flew over, halfway through his growing process after having blocked one of Tom’s killing curses, and settled on Albus’ shoulder. Taking hold of Roy’s arm, Albus searched for another Order member and met Remus’ eyes. Remus nodded, letting him know that he would return to Headquarters and update whoever was there.
Albus took hold of Fawkes’ tail and Fawkes obligingly transported both him and Roy to his office.
Once there, Fawkes flew over to his perch and Albus released Roy’s arm. The portraits stirred, looking at them curiously, but Albus’ attention was focused solely on Roy.
“I expect you have some questions,” Roy said, not bothering with pleasantries.
Both of them knew that Alastor wouldn’t have left the ministry without updating Albus first.
“I do, yes. More than only some, I’m afraid.”
“Send the portraits away,” Roy said, looking Albus in the eyes and ignoring said portraits’ protests.
Albus didn’t bother to argue. The portraits were bound to follow his orders, that much was true, but he wouldn’t always be Headmaster, and Roy was too stubborn to argue with him over small details.
The portraits complained loudly as they vacated the office frames on Albus’ command.
Albus looked down at Roy’s hands, at the transmutation array on both of his gloves. It was related to fire —obviously, he’d seen Alastor’s memory— but Albus couldn’t even begin to decipher it.
“I have never seen such an array before.”
“And you won’t see it again,” Roy replied.
“Your invention?” Albus asked, unsure of how he felt about it. Roy was a good man, he still believed it, but what he’d seen…
“My master’s. I simply adapted it,” Roy replied, looking down at his right hand.
“I see,” Albus said, and stared at Roy’s right hand for a moment as well. “We should sit,” he finally suggested.
It didn’t go unnoticed to Albus that Roy didn’t remove his gloves as he settled in his usual armchair.
Paranoid indeed, Albus thought, but he couldn’t blame Roy. Albus himself would be very wary if he were in Roy’s shoes right now.
Albus sat down in his chair.
“I’m afraid I’ll have to repeat a question I asked you a year ago, Roy. And this time, I want a more detailed answer. Why do you want to kill Tom?” And, after a moment of hesitation, Albus asked a second question. “Why did you perform human transmutation?” He hadn’t asked before, but now he needed to know. Because Roy wasn’t just a scholar who possessed some damning knowledge; he was dangerous.
Albus wanted to believe Roy was a good person, Roy had done nothing but help since his arrival, but the scene Alastor had shown him kept repeating itself in Albus’ head. Roy had singlehandedly, in one attack, defeated nearly every one of Tom’s most powerful followers.
Roy fixed his eyes on Albus’ own, gaze stony and piercing. He clasped his hands on his lap —not unlike during their first meeting, Albus noted— and a humourless smile pulled at his lips.
“Most people would think I’m crazy if they heard my answer to either of those questions,” Roy finally said.
Albus’ eyebrows went up.
“I believe I’ve proven I have a different perception of ‘crazy’ than most people,” Albus said, feeling an odd sense of reversal from their first meeting.
Roy leant forward, hands still firmly clasped together.
“What I am going to tell you stays between the two of us,” Roy asked. No, demanded. “I don’t care if the entire Order thinks I’m a monster or a Dark Wizard after today.” Another humourless smile twisted Roy’s mouth, as though there was a joke in those words that Albus wasn’t privy to. “You won’t tell anyone about this.”
This wasn’t the first time that Albus heard such a request. He didn’t like it any more now than he had last time, but he nodded his understanding.
“Very well. If you don’t want anyone to know, then I won’t tell them.”
Nodding, Roy moved to lean back in the armchair.
“Everything I’ve told you so far is true, though I admit I’ve kept most of it intentionally vague. I won’t give you my life story, Albus, and that isn’t negotiable, but I’ll answer your questions. Tell me, has anybody ever speculated on the existence of other worlds?”
Albus blinked, taken aback. Whatever answer he’d been expecting —and he wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting— that wasn’t it.
“Not as far as I’m aware.”
Roy nodded, as though he already knew that was going to be his response.
“Neither had I, until Truth dragged me here as part of our deal.” Roy straightened in his seat. “I guess I should introduce myself properly if we’re doing this. I am Colonel Roy Mustang, of the Amestris State Military, also known as the Flame Alchemist.”
“Amestris?” Albus asked, and it took a great amount of effort to keep his face calm and his voice even. What Roy was saying now surpassed by far anything Albus had heard before, and yet Albus didn’t think Roy was lying. Despite Roy’s undeniably impressive acting skills.
A Colonel, though? Wizards had no official armies, not as far as Albus knew. Albus was only passably familiar with armies. The fact that somewhere wizards did have them was mind-boggling.
“Amestris is the country I come from. Which leads us to your questions. Through a series of coincidences, and later investigations, I, alongside some other people, discovered that our government was corrupt and setting up something that would have destroyed us all.” Roy leant forward, rested his elbows on the edge of Albus’ desk, and moved his clasped hands before his mouth. Somehow, this position made the intense look in his eyes stand out even further. “They had excavated a nationwide transmutation array and intended to turn the entire country into a Philosopher’s Stone in a bid for immortality.”
Albus’ blood ran cold.
An entire… country?
Silence stretched between them.
Albus focused on Roy’s dark eyes. He may not be able to read his mind, but Roy’s eyes right now said a lot despite their hard edges. Because of their hard edges, in fact. They spoke of a difficult struggle, of harsh truths and pain. Of war.
Albus reached for a lemon drop, unwrapped it, and ate it. His throat had gone dry at this revelation.
Roy said nothing, waiting him out.
“Where does your human transmutation fit in this… charming tale?” Albus asked, his voice thankfully steady. Right now, Albus was immensely glad to have Roy firmly against Tom, to know that, no matter what, Tom wouldn’t be able to extract this knowledge from him. The ramifications of such an array…
“While I don’t know all the details of the experiment, activating this array required… sacrifices. Or that is how they were referred to. Five people who’d performed human transmutation and survived their encounter with the Gate. For the plan to be successful, they had to activate the array at a very precise moment, and by then they only had four sacrifices. So they… improvised,” Roy added, and for the first time separated his hands to show his palms to Albus. Despite the gloves, Albus remembered well the scars Barty Crouch Jr., under his disguise as Alastor, had told him about.
They made a horrifying amount of sense.
“I take it you weren’t willing to cooperate.”
Roy smiled bitterly.
“For all that it was worth. No, I refused.”
“What was your toll?” The question was out before Albus had consciously decided to ask it. He didn’t take it back. He’d been wondering about it from the beginning. The only other injury to Roy’s body was the burn scar on his side, and Albus failed to see how that would amount as a toll, given what Roy had shared with him about the Gate.
Roy clasped his hands before his mouth again.
“My eyesight. And before you ask, I have it back as part of my bargain with Truth.”
“I’m surprised,” Albus began, getting his mind back on track, “to hear that this Truth was willing to return your toll. From what you’ve told me, it seems quite odd.” Albus hadn’t thought much about Roy’s deal with Truth, but he had assumed it was unrelated to the toll itself. To hear that it wasn’t, and remembering Nicolas’ notes…
“As I told you once, I prefer not to try to guess how Truth thinks. However, it did mention that the circumstances of my performing human transmutation were unusual. I believe that is why it agreed to bargain with me in the first place.”
Albus’ eyes slid to Roy’s gloved hands again. Unusual indeed. Albus would have never guessed it was possible to force someone to perform human transmutation. The thought was chilling.
“And once Tom is defeated?”
“Then I’ll be able to return home,” Roy replied easily. As though it was obvious.
He was trapped here in the meantime.
“Well?” Roy asked after the silence had stretched for what might have been minutes. “Have I passed? Or do you think I’m a Dark Wizard now?”
Albus was unable to smile, despite the slight dryness to Roy’s voice. He had a suspicion that Roy wasn’t any more amused by the situation than Albus himself.
“I’ve never doubted your intentions, Roy. But you must understand, what happened today is…” Albus trailed off, looking for a tactful way to express it.
“Horrifying,” Roy finished for him. “I’m aware of the reactions my abilities elicit, Albus. I am a soldier. It’s not meant to be pretty or comforting.”
Of course. As Alastor had conveyed, this couldn’t have been the first time that Roy used such a technique. To think of any war that would require a power like Roy’s to be mastered to the point Roy seemed to have developed it was something Albus would rather not dwell on.
“What about Tom?” Albus asked, switching subjects. “He’ll want answers. It won’t take long before he summons Severus.” In fact, Albus was surprised that Severus hadn’t come yet to inform him of a summons. Tom was showing a remarkable amount of patience given the loss he had just suffered.
“Tell him the truth; that I took out the Death Eaters,” Roy said without hesitation. “It’s only a matter of time before the Ministry figures it out, anyway. Once they’re done panicking about how to fix the mess Fudge has dragged them into. Now, if that’s all,” Roy continued, and stood up, “I’ll be in my rooms while you talk to the Order.”
“You’re not coming?” Albus asked, quite surprised. Roy had been very adamant about being included in things since he agreed to help with the horcruxes.
Roy smiled again, just as bitter and unamused as before.
“Moody nearly turned his wand on me earlier. I’d rather avoid whatever panic they’re going through right now. I hope you’ll warn me if they’re going to try to have me arrested or something.”
Albus opened his mouth, ready to argue that the Order wouldn’t turn on Roy, but closed it. He’d seen the damage, he’d seen some Order members’ faces following the fight, and he knew his people. While he doubted anyone would try to have Roy arrested, Roy wasn’t wrong in being wary of their reactions.
Roy shook his head, undoubtedly guessing Albus’ thoughts, and left the office.
Pushing his worries aside, Albus recalled the portraits and had Phineas Nigellus call Severus to his office. They needed to talk before Tom summoned him.
A long silence stretched over the kitchen at Grimmauld Place. Arthur and Molly had arrived while Sirius had been interrogating Kreacher, and they’d agreed to wait with him for news of the team that had gone to the Department of Mysteries.
Now they had that news.
Remus had been the only one to come back. Tonks and Kingsley had been forced to stay in their auror capacity to help smooth over the mess, and even Moody was helping with that. As for Roy, well, he’d returned to Hogwarts with Dumbledore. And he was the reason for the silence.
“I don’t know exactly what happened in there. I had no time to ask Tonks, what with the Death Eaters and everything that followed,” Remus was saying, “but…” he trailed off and shrugged.
Molly had gone ashen and had dropped into the nearest chair, hands over her mouth. Arthur was looking at Remus, his expression lost, waiting for an explanation that wouldn’t come. Sirius knew Remus too well, he could tell he’d run out of information to relay.
As for Sirius, he was staring over Remus’ shoulder, mind racing to make sense of the story Remus had just shared.
“Dark Arts?” Arthur asked eventually, his voice filled with reluctance.
“I… don’t think so,” Remus said, but he shrugged. “Mad-Eye didn’t turn on him, and neither did Dumbledore. Whatever that was, I don’t think it was Dark Magic.”
“Does it matter?” It was Molly who asked the question. “He… oh, Merlin… I can’t even imagine what you just described,” she said. There might have been a choked sob in her voice. “He’s always been so sweet…”
“People may not be able to atone for their sins, but they can change. I need to believe that, or I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning.”
Sirius frowned. Was that bloody conversation going to haunt him forever? Roy had used… whatever that had been, to maim twelve people. Death Eaters, admittedly, but still. From the way Remus had described the event, it sounded like Roy had been scarily calm the entire time.
The look on Roy’s face when he’d stepped out of the fireplace earlier came back to Sirius’ mind.
The fireplace flared green, and everybody turned around. Sirius hoped it was Tonks. She was the only one who’d been there to witness everything.
It wasn’t Tonks who stepped out of the floo.
It was Dumbledore.
Roy walked through the deserted hallways and down the shifting staircase until he reached his quarters. Once inside, he flicked his wand out, threw a barrage of warding spells at the room, and leant his back against the door. He let himself slide down the wooden surface, no longer forcing his legs to hold him up.
The smell of carbonized flesh and burnt muscles still clung all the way down to his lungs. Tonks’ shocked face was seared into his brain. Lupin’s horror, Shacklebolt’s shaky composure, Moody’s open distrust…
There went his cover as a harmless scholar, blown up in a storm of fire, blood, and screams.
Roy hadn’t intended to go all out when he’d walked into the Department of Mysteries. But upon seeing they were up against twelve Death Eaters when their group was composed of only five people, upon recognising one of those Death Eaters as Bellatrix Lestrange and realising at least some others must be from the escaped ten… Well, Roy had investigated them after they’d escaped Azkaban. He’d read about them during his search for Tom Riddle, what felt like years ago now.
He’d understood that the odds were against the Order, that the likelihood of some of them dying was too high a risk.
And he’d reacted accordingly.
The Flame Alchemist was nothing if not highly efficient in battle.
And, despite everything, he’d held back. Moody may have called it a miracle, but Roy had been very careful to avoid killing any of the Death Eaters, and he’d mainly done it because the Order refused to kill. While under normal circumstances Roy himself refused to kill, his inhibitions diminished considerably when facing a group of psychopaths who were there with the sole objective of capturing a fifteen year old boy and take him to what would undoubtedly be a painful and very gruesome death. He had nearly burnt Lestrange’s face off after she’d pulled her wand on whom she had thought had been Harry Potter and had shown such delight at the idea of torturing him.
Roy bent his head forward and ran his hands through his hair. He rested his forehead on his left, bent knee.
Whatever the circumstances, no matter how many justifications he could come up with, the matter remained that the Order of the Phoenix were the most naïve participants of a war that Roy had ever met. He’d be lucky if nobody tried to curse him after this.
The smell of burnt flesh still hung around him.
The atmosphere at Malfoy Manor was tense, to say the least.
Severus thought it was foolish to have a Death Eater meeting here when the aurors could show up any minute now that Lucius had been arrested, but he kept this thought to himself. He had no desire to die.
The Dark Lord was… Furious wasn’t a strong enough word to describe his mood. He wasn’t ranting, he wasn’t raging, and he hadn’t tortured anyone yet. There was a strangely frozen air around him that made him appear the most terrifying than he had since his return. His wand was clasped in a death grip in his too long, too pale fingers, and nobody dared to even look in his direction.
In fact, no one had uttered a single word since Severus’ arrival. A silent and grim Narcissa Malfoy had welcomed Severus into the house and led him to the ballroom where the Dark Lord was holding the meeting. Her composure had looked brittle at best, and Severus knew the only reason she hadn’t collapsed yet was because she was too proud to allow anyone here to see her break down.
Around the room, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, the Death Eaters kept themselves as close to the shadows and the furniture as they could get away with. Their masks may be covering their faces, but nothing could hide the fear in their eyes.
Severus didn’t have the luxury of even attempting to hide. He knelt in the middle of the room, and waited for the Dark Lord to break out of whatever thoughts he was immersed in.
“Well, Severus?” the Dark Lord finally spoke, his hissing voice disturbingly devoid of inflections. “What happened?”
“From what I could gather, Roy Mustang was the one who took down the team dispatched to the Department of Mysteries.” And hadn’t that been a surprise? Severus hadn’t been sure of what to expect when he’d gone to Mustang about the situation with Umbridge —an interruption faking cluelessness, perhaps. Severus would never have expected that Mustang would attack Umbridge, but she had been carted off to St. Mungo’s by aurors to have her hand treated before they imprisoned her.
Severus certainly hadn’t expected Mustang to be so frighteningly powerful, but Albus had looked deadly serious when he’d relayed the events from the ministry.
There were some whispers around the room, but the Dark Lord remained silent for an unsettlingly long minute.
“Are you certain of this?” he asked, his voice colder and with an underlying note of fury that didn’t bode well. Severus resolutely ignored the potential implications of the Dark Lord unleashing his anger.
“That is what Dumbledore said. As it turns out, he deliberately kept Mustang’s power from the Order of the Phoenix. He was rather… displeased to learn that Mustang had broken his cover.” That was the story they were playing with. The second part was an outright lie, but Albus had tried to convince Severus that he’d known of Mustang’s fighting skills.
Severus didn’t believe him.
There was a green flash, immediately followed by a small explosion and the too familiar sound of a body hitting the ground. Someone had just paid the price of the Dark Lord’s anger. Nobody spoke, but Severus heard shuffling. As though cowering would save anyone.
“What else can you tell me?” the Dark Lord demanded, his voice back to the angry hiss Severus was more used to hearing.
Severus steeled himself. It was time to weave what he knew to be true with what they needed the Dark Lord to believe.
“Right now, the Order of the Phoenix is in an uproar. No one save for Dumbledore knew of Mustang’s power, and they are having a… moral crisis,” Severus made sure to inject as much disdain as possible into the words, even though for once he could understand the Order’s reaction, “over what they saw. It’s too early to say how this will affect their dynamics—“
As the meeting progressed, Severus put all his skills to test by relaying information that anyone could guess if they stopped to think about it long enough, while trying to make it sound like he’d put on a great effort to obtain it.
Three more Death Eaters died, and by the end of the meeting the man who’d been in charge of investigating Roy Mustang was left wishing he was dead too.
Tonks found Sirius in Buckbeak’s room, absentmindedly twirling a bone with his left hand and staring sightlessly at the opposite wall.
“Remus told me about Dumbledore’s visit,” she said as a way of greeting.
She let the door close behind her, walked over to Sirius, and heavily sat next to him.
Tonks was exhausted, both physical and mentally. There was nothing she wanted more than to head home, drop down on her bed, and sleep for a week. But she knew what she would see as soon as she closed her eyes, and she had no wish to revisit the memory of today’s battle.
“I can’t believe he kept something like this from us. That they did,” she amended. Because Dumbledore had known of Roy’s fighting skills from the beginning, and he’d deliberately had made the Order believe that Roy was defenceless. To fool Voldemort, he’d said. It was no wonder that Dumbledore didn’t argue with most of Roy’s actions when Roy ignored his orders.
Sirius hummed noncommittally and threw the bone up in the air. He didn’t move to catch it again, and it clattered to the ground.
“What happened?” he finally asked, turning to Tonks.
“I’m not entirely sure,” she said. She leant her head back and let it hit the wall a little too harshly. “The plan was for us to take cover until the others arrived, you know that, but…” But they hadn’t been expecting twelve Death Eaters —why would Voldemort send twelve Death Eaters when they only expected Harry? Tonks’ team had expected to have time to set up the fight, to take advantage of the surprise factor. In a way, they had. Nobody had expected Roy’s attack. Tonks closed their eyes. “We were following the plan, even when they surrounded us. I was bratty, Roy was cool and unaffected. Then Bellatrix Lestrange raised her wand. To torture me.” Tonks’ blood had gone cold when she’d seen Bellatrix, when she’d realised she would likely find herself on the receiving end of the cruciatus curse before she could draw her wand.
Sirius looked at her intently for a moment after her words.
“You don’t look injured,” he said, but there was some hesitation to his voice.
“No, I don’t,” she agreed. “Roy snapped his fingers before Bellatrix could cast anything. It was…” Disconcerting. Terrifying. Oddly reassuring now that Tonks had been able to process events a little. “He saved me, Sirius,” she said, turning to look at him. “I don’t know what would’ve happened if he hadn’t attacked; I’m damn certain I couldn’t have protected myself. But it was horrible.”
They stared at each other for a long moment. Sirius looked conflicted, about as conflicted as Tonks herself felt. Finally, he broke the silence.
“Do you still trust him?” he asked softly. Hesitant.
Tonks turned to look ahead, at the dark and dirty wall across from them.
“Yes. I think I do.”
Not many people shared these thoughts. Mad-Eye had argued with Dumbledore about Roy, Molly looked as though someone had killed her kitten, Remus had brought out a bottle of firewhiskey as soon as the meeting was over, and he’d deliberately left Kingsley to retell today’s events to the Order members who’d arrived during and after the meeting. None of them had looked particularly pleased.
“Roy told me something some weeks ago,” Sirius said.
Tonks glanced sideways at him, taking in his still too conflicted expression.
“When you fought?” she asked. She hadn’t gotten a straight answer about what had happened after Roy brought Harry’s letter, from either of them. She might get it, now, and she wasn’t sure she wanted it.
“Yeah. He… he was a bit cryptic, but he implied that he’s trying to atone for something. Something bad. I don’t think he believes he can do it.”
Tonks hummed noncommittally and looked down at her legs. She remembered the burnt Death Eaters and Roy’s emotionless reaction to the carnage.
She could believe Sirius’ words.
“Can I stay here tonight?” she asked instead of pursuing that line of conversation. She didn’t want to think about the implications of Roy’s lack of reaction. “I don’t want to go home. I don’t want to sleep.”
“I have a stash of firewhiskey here. Buckbeak is a good listener,” Sirius offered.
Tonks smiled weakly, grateful.
She could use a stiff drink, or ten.