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Maybe I'm looking in the wrong direction, maybe I'm looking for any direction.

It was a Tuesday, during what would have been Ed's Ancient Ruins period before recess, but was now a free period for him since his class schedule had been changed. Roy found the teen in the library, nose deep in a book and the sight of it, finding Edward holed up in a quiet corner with his face in a book, was comfortably reminiscent of back home in Amestris. So much so that he actually paused at the entrance to the aisle to watch Ed for a minute, fondly thinking of how it had always been near impossible to gain Edward's attention once he was focused on the text in an interesting book.

But Roy couldn't waste too much time standing around missing home; he and Ed had to talk. He'd left his second years alone doing some basic and safe brewing recipes for the last ten minutes of this present class, so that he could come and find Ed. He'd heard through the faculty grapevine that Edward's class schedule had been changed. Apparently the teen was still the topic of much discussion, which was proving to be useful in that instance at least. So after a few subtle inquiries here and there, Roy had managed to find out which days Ancient Runes classes took place for the sixth years, and he was then able to determine when Ed would be free. Really, deducing that that Ed would be in the library during a free period had been the easiest part.

And the library, as usual, was mostly empty. He found Ed as far in the back as possible, the only things further back were a few dark aisles where the sunlight didn't quite reach and then the restricted section.

Typically, being in his element surrounded by books and no people, Ed looked completely relaxed where he was settled, reclining back in a chair with his feet up on a desk shelf, ankles crossed, and the book he was reading rested in his lap against the tops of his thighs...while he chewed on the end of his braid.

Roy made a face,

"That's disgusting, don't do that." he scolded quietly as he approached, going over to look at the books on the shelf near to and opposite where Ed sat. He needed to appear to be busy with something of his own, just in case someone came by like last time. Ed was visible in his periphery however, so he didn't miss the small smirk on Ed's face or the middle finger he was shown for his comment.

"Seriously, it's unsightly and unsanitary." he said honestly, still making a bit of a grossed out face, even though his back was to Ed as he pulled one book and then another down from the shelf.

"Whatever, I washed my hair this morning, so shut up." Ed mumbled and Roy heard a page turn.

After he'd selected a third book he turned around again, and was surprised to find that Ed had stopped chewing on his braid. The teen looked annoyed about having listened to Roy, but he'd done it anyway. Perhaps because Roy had made him feel self-conscious about doing something so gross? That idea was both amusing and strange, to think of Ed being self-conscious around him. Whatever the reason, Roy felt like he'd won a small victory, however the feeling and the small smirk that accompanied it, were fleeting, because looking more closely now, he noticed Edward was looking a little pale.

He'd been looking well the previous week, much better than after they'd first arrived, so this change was odd.

"Are you feeling alright?" he asked quietly with a small frown.

Ed frowned as well but didn't look up from the book,

"Yeah, why?" he asked distractedly as he flicked the corner of the page he was holding idly with his index finger.

Roy didn't answer, he just looked closely at the pasty pallor of Ed's face and wondered if Ed was unaware of how he looked. Then his gaze drifted to Ed's hands when the teen moved, watching curiously as Ed removed his hand from where it had been holding the book, proceeding to absently rub the heel of his gloved right palm over his sleeve covered left forearm, his eyes still skimming over the text he was reading.

Roy cocked an eyebrow, thinking that perhaps catching Edward distracted with a book was a good way for him to study the stubborn teen's telling nuances. Over the years Ed had gotten too good at hiding things from him, but when he was reading his mind was not focused on much else and so certain tells were revealed.

The rare action of Ed rubbing his left forearm wouldn't have seemed like much though, not if it hadn't been for the fact that Roy had seen Draco Malfoy do it constantly in exactly the same spot, obviously much less conscious of it. And Draco Malfoy always looked pale, tired, gaunt and on edge. Ed didn't look on edge or seem to be losing weight, but he did look pale, about two shades lighter than his usual complexion at least.

'Is it a Slytherin thing?' he wondered doubtfully, and then when Ed spared him a glance, he said,

"Just asking." in a tone of casual disinterest. He was standing three feet from Ed, a bit off to the side and behind the teen, and he leaned against the desk shelf behind him and opened the topmost book on the pile of three he was holding to appear as though he was reading.

After he'd turned a few pages and a minute of silence had lapsed, Roy glanced to the end of the aisle, just in case, before lowering his voice further,

"Voldemort." was all he said, and he watched Ed for a reaction.

The teen had been about to turn another page when he went still. Roy couldn't see his face clearly because of his bangs, but he didn't notice anything telling in the line of Ed's shoulders or in his breathing. He seemed about as calm and attentive as before.

"What's that? A weird potion ingredient?" he asked in a bored tone as he turned the page he'd been holding halfway.

Mustang narrowed his eyes at the text in the book he wasn't reading, the fingers of his free hand curling into a light fist as he tried to glean something, anything, from Ed's demeanor right then. It annoyed him that he didn't know if Ed was bluffing or was honestly asking. When had the brat gotten so good at affectation?

But even if Ed had gotten better at lying, Roy thought it was very unlikely that Ed had not heard of that name while living in a dorm full of Slytherin students, considering the association that was usually made between the Slytherin and all things unsavory. Which meant Ed was playing dumb, he was still keeping things from Roy, still lying to him. Roy clenched his jaw and made himself let it go, because the library was not the place to get caught up discussing or arguing about anything. So he chose not make any accusations,

"I'm relatively certain that's the name of the problem here." he said vaguely, knowing Ed would understand what he meant.

After a beat he heard Ed snort,

"Stupid name." and then, "How?" he asked as he scratched the side of his neck.

"A student."

"Sulfur Hexafluoride?" Ed asked, referring to the day they'd been interrupted by Harry Potter.

"...yes." Roy answered slowly, suspicious of how Ed had narrowed it down that quickly, considering Roy dealt with hundreds of student a day.

"Been kinda' friendly, that one." the teen commented, and it made sense then.

Edward had obviously noticed how Harry Potter had been behaving like a really nice and very cooperative student lately. Roy himself had wondered about the Potter's behavior lately and he could only assume Harry was either trying to throw him off, hoping Roy would drop his guard and be caught out doing something, or he was trying to smooth things over with Roy because he no longer suspected Roy of anything and wanted another ally, either way, Roy would stay on his toes no matter what.

"Hm, another time." he closed the conversation topic, because he couldn't get into that right then, "Any news?"

"Nope." Ed answered with a soft sigh, but the answer was too quick to come.

He was lying, Roy instinctively knew it that time, Ed had answered as if he'd just been waiting to say the word whenever Roy inevitably asked.

They both heard the bell sound for recess just then and Ed moved to stand up, his legs swinging down and booted feet planting firmly on the floor before he stood up. He then slipped a Hogwarts standard issue bookmark into the book he was reading, a book called Advanced Ruin Translation that Roy hadn't read yet and he half mumbled,

"Gotta' get lunch." by way of parting. Roy just sighed quietly as he watched Ed walk away. It seemed that despite what Ed had said about keeping his head, the younger alchemist was still being secretive.

Roy lingered in the library for another few minutes in case anyone was watching or had noticed him and Edward, before then he left, making his way back to his classroom to check on the slowly brewing liquid luck.

Ed had wisely started the brewing of the potion in the backroom of his class on that day when Roy had indirectly tasked him to do so, and since then Roy had been carefully monitoring its color changes and texture, making sure the potion was exhibiting all the correct features. Ed had used a magic lab burner though, which Roy had since changed, instead using an array drawn out on a large piece of parchment, designed to prevent a fire hazard by containing the flames as well as keeping them at a steady heat that wouldn't fluctuate. Magic energy was pretty handy in the way that it seemed unending and very stable, so after a few trial and error array designs, Roy had been able to create one with a continuous reaction, which was quite awesome.

He'd also started to keep the back room closed off with alchemy. He'd left the door and its handle in place, and he'd even left the seam of the door jamb visible, so nothing seemed amiss, but on the inside the of backroom against the door, Roy used alchemy to reinforce it. So while to anyone it would appear as closed, and if they tried to enter, locked, in actual fact the door would not budge unless he removed the alchemical reinforcement. In a way, there really was no door and the back room was sealed off completely.

So essentially, Edward was the only person in the school who would be able to figure that out and get into the back room, because no unlocking magic spell would work on a solid wall behind the door. Roy hadn't even had to use the magic energy to do it, he'd just used normal alchemy. He was being careful about using the magic energy with his alchemy, not using it for anything major, only small things. As it was, he was still allowing himself to get more comfortable with clapping alchemy.

Presently, he walked into his classroom, casting a glance around to make sure it was empty before he shut the door and absently muttered a spell to lock it. The basic magic spells had started to come almost naturally to him after playing pretend magic professor for a while, and even though he didn't really like that it was becoming a go to for certain things, the small spells came in handy more often than not.

His long black robe swayed behind him as he made his way to the very back of the empty classroom, which had been left in relative neatness by his well-behaved second years. He touched his gloved hands together soundlessly just before he arrived at the fake door and he watched and felt the familiar blue crackle of pure alchemical energy move through him and over his hands. It was the sort of energy that no longer appeared when Ed transmuted from what he'd last seen.

Sighing away his concern for the moment, he touched his hands to the wall beside the fake door and transmuted the wall reinforcement inside, restoring the door back to normal before he muttered an unlocking spell to release the door's actual lock mechanism. A soft click sounded and then Roy stepped inside, closing the door quietly behind him and locking it with basic magic again.

The latest Transfiguration class had been amusing. They'd been learning the Crinus Muto incantation, by which they were meant to change the color of their eyebrows, or any visible hair. Edward knew how to dye his hair with alchemy, but he never had because he was pretty guarded about his hair, although no one besides Alphonse knew that. He didn't like doing anything to it besides trimming it when it got too long. Yeah, Edward was fond of his hair, and while Al teased him about it in private, he never had in public, as if he'd just known Ed would hate having such a silly personal quirk revealed.

He had to swallow down a sad sigh, thinking of Alphonse brought with it the ache of longing, he missed Al so much it was too distracting to think about most times. Every time he pictured Alphonse lying in hospital still recovering and probably worrying about him on top of everything else his little brother had to worry about, his insides twisted with guilt, frustration and anger.

Presently he was walking with the usual Slytherin group toward DADA. He'd used the spell to change his eyebrows to black in Transfiguration, but they were back to their normal blonde color now. Black eyebrows had looked both interesting and weird on him, but he wouldn't be doing that again.

Edward filed into the classroom along with everyone else and once they were all settled, Snape, who had been present and waiting, went straight into the lesson, explaining and directing how to use the curse he was currently teaching them. Ed was only half listening, his mind preoccupied with thinking about his run in with Mustang in the library earlier. Although run in was the wrong term, it hadn't been by chance, Mustang had sought him out.

When he'd mentioned Voldemort, Edward had needed to remind himself that he couldn't talk about that, the topic of Voldemort fell under the Unbreakable Vow he had in place with Snape, so he'd had to play dumb, even though he knew that Mustang would almost definitely know he was lying or omitting. Also, after the Colonel had said a student told him that name, it had been an easy guess that Potter had been the one, although Ed was itching to know why he'd tell Mustang anything about snake face in the first place.

The Colonel had tabled the discussion at the time, but he didn't want to hide anything, that's why he'd let Ed know they would talk about it 'another time'. It was the opposite of Ed, who was hiding things almost too blatantly, all the while getting nowhere in his research. Everything just seemed to be going nowhere. The Advanced Ruin Translation book he'd been reading was predictably useless and the only option left was the Restricted Section in the library, and for access to that he had to wait on Mustang. It was frustrating, but he trusted the man's timing.

"Elric." Snape's voice interrupted his musings, making his hand go still where he'd been absently drawing a small perfect circle around and around on the open page of his notebook with his pen. The pen had raised a question from Blaise when he'd seen it for the first the previous week, he'd wanted to know what it was of all things. Ed had blinked at him stupidly for several seconds before telling him what it was. After explaining, Blaise had wanted to try it and said he wanted one, too. Ed had told him he'd make one for him, and he supposed he would, at some point. Maybe.

Hermione had noticed it as well in Arithmancy, and she hadn't looked confused by it, not like Blaise had, but she hadn't asked about it. Actually, she'd been speaking to him less and less and yet blushing more and more, he honestly didn't get it.

"Professor?" he responded to Snape with raised eyebrows as he looked up, surprised to find the man standing just a foot away from his desk. And not for the first time, Snape eyed his innocent, wonderfully functional pen distastefully.

"Take this note to Professor McGonagall." he instructed stiffly as he held out a folded piece of paper, sealed shut with magic Ed assumed. He supposed he couldn't be mad at Snape for sending him out of these tedious lessons, actually, he was kind of grateful for the free time to take a brisk walk, or a slow one.

He took the paper between two gloved fingers of one hand while he flipped his note and text books closed with the other. His pen he pocketed protectively –Snape's mouth twitching into an annoyed scowl because he'd probably had an evil scheme to get rid of the pen if Ed had left it behind- and then he left the classroom.

Once outside, Edward inhaled the cold, fresh air with a smile, it wasn't great that it was so chilly and getting colder day by day, but it was better than being stuck inside a stuffy classroom. He took the long way in the direction of McGonagall's classroom and once he was on the ground floor of the castle, he took a walk through one of the courtyards as well, in no hurry to get back to DADA. As he neared his destination, Edward felt a small, fleeting swell of magic in his hand and he glanced down at the note he was carrying, surprised to find it was no longer stuck sealed.

Edward stopped walking, not noticing that the first few snowflakes of what would be many, many more had started to fall around him. He didn't even notice the shiver that went through him as a result of the cold wind that kicked up, he was too focused on opening the piece of paper. Ed cocked an eyebrow when inside the note intended for McGonagall, he found a second folded note, undoubtedly addressed to him because all it read was,

'Keep an eye on Draco.'

He clenched his teeth in irritation as he watched the words disappear just after he'd read them, and he let the paper go when it started to rip itself up dramatically, the pieces completely disintegrating a moment later. To say he was pissed would be an understatement. He'd been telling himself all along that Malfoy was not his problem, but now Snape was passing down the responsibility of the moody, sulking, depressing teenager to him? What the hell? Ed knew there had to be a reason, there was always a reason with Snape, although how good a reason it was, was debatable.

They'd have to talk about that sometime, because Ed needed to know what was up...and that meant Ed now 'needed' to talk to Mustang and Snape. He'd have to lie to the person he wanted to be honest with, while plotting a dangerous course with the person he only barely trusted. Fuck, they both made his life difficult, who'd have thought being duplicitous was so difficult?

He took a glance at the other note as he started walking again, and it was just some stupid message about a spell that Snape could have talked to McGonagall about later, but oh well.

Ed had to figure out just how he could keep an eye on Draco without making it obvious, which was going to be difficult seeing how he currently had pretty much no rapport with the other blonde, not beyond being friends of friends and their mutual sketchy involvements with snake face.

Wednesday and Thursday passed as per usual, and then on Friday night an opportunity, if he could call it that presented itself.

He'd left the Great Hall straight after eating dinner, not bothering to hang around and chat with the Slytherins. They'd been talking about –and making fun of- Ron Weasley and another student named Lavender, who were apparently a new couple and that was amusing to the Slytherins for some reason. Ed wasn't amused, so he'd slipped out.

When he eventually arrived at the Slytherin dorms some time later, upon entering the common room he spotted Draco. The other blonde was sitting in one of the many high-back, dark upholstered chairs at one of the tables. There was a chessboard set up on the table and he was idly fiddling with a piece, his head rested in the palm of his free hand and his mind clearly distracted. Needless to say, he looked as brooding and miserable as ever and Ed nearly rolled his eyes and kept walking by. But then, as he glanced around the warm common room he noticed it was empty of anyone besides the two of them, and he decided that the convenient seclusion served as a chance to form some sort of, uh, less than unpleasant sort of...something, with Malfoy. Well, whatever, he'd wing it, all he needed to do was be 'friendly-ish' so that it wouldn't look odd if he started paying more attention to Draco in future.

Ed pulled his black robe off his shoulders as he approached and when he stopped at the table Draco was sitting at, the boy paused in fiddling with the chess piece and looked up at him. For a brief moment, he looked like nothing more than a stunned, confused kid, but quickly his face changed into his well practiced scowl and he looked at Ed like he wanted him to fuck right off. And honestly, Ed wanted to, he had no interest in 'keeping an eye on Draco' whatsoever, especially since the only way to do so was to either monopolize his own precious time following the kid around as stealthily as possible, which, just no. Or the better option, trying to gain some of his trust because of their shared affiliation with a certain asshole dark wizard, and in doing so, maybe he'd find out what the teen was up to first hand.

When Snape had said to keep an eye on him, Ed assumed it was something of a suicide watch job more than anything else, because with the way Draco looked, he seemed a likely candidate for it. Then again, maybe Ed was underestimating him...

"Did you want something, Elr-…" Draco paused, the corners of his mouth turning down before he said, "…Ed."

The alchemist found it amusing, but also good, that Draco decided to actually remember and follow through with calling him how he preferred, because it meant either Draco was afraid of him, or that he had some semblance of respect for him. Ed figured the former was more likely, but he could work with that.

"Wanna' play?" Ed gestured to the chessboard. He'd played chess relatively often with Breda on his days hanging around the HQ office and he'd gotten pretty decent at it. Mustang, Alphonse and Breda still beat him almost every time though, it had something to do with people who enjoyed strategizing that Ed just failed to get.

Draco looked confused again for a second, as if Ed had just spoken in a foreign language, before he glanced at the board on the table and then the piece he still held in his hand. When he looked at Ed again his expression said that he thought it was strangest thing ever suggested to him.

"…why?" he asked curtly after several seconds of Ed forcing himself not to roll his eyes, and it was impressive how many layers of suspicion and discomfort he was able to inject into that single word. Edward thought about answering sarcastically, but Draco seemed like the type to be thrown off by straightforward honesty, since he was more used to dealing with nastiness from people and had no real idea how to deal with people who were nice or civil to him.

"It's pretty early, I'm not tired and you're sitting here anyway," he pointed out, "sides', chess is pretty fun." he added. And that last bit was a bald face lie, Ed hated board games. He only every played chess when he'd been bored, had to kill time or just because he could be stupidly competitive.

Malfoy again hesitated, his blue eyes going between the board and Edward once more before he set the oddly shaped chess piece down in the empty pawn spot on the board and shrugged,

"Fine." he mumbled.

Ed was kind of surprised by the easy agreement, he'd expected more scowling and suspicion, but he wasn't about to complain about a plan coming together. So he folded his robe over the back of the chair opposite Draco and sat down, leaning forward with his hands on his knees to eye the strange white pieces on his side of the board.

The pieces weren't familiar in appearance. The pawns looked like soldiers, hankered down in an awkward battle position, the rook appeared to be a helmeted figure atop a tower, holding a shield. The knight looked cool, it was a figure holding a lance, sitting atop a rearing horse. The bishop was a straight standing figure in some kind of robe with a concealed face and a pointed head cover and it was holding some sort of staff. Finally there was the queen, the piece's head also concealed and its hands set in a cross shape over the top of a staff, and the king, standing similarly to the queen, except the piece wore armor and its hands were resting atop the pommel of a large sword.

"What, you've never seen a Wizard's chess set before?" Draco asked, using his typical condescending tone, though his voice was quieter. Ed looked up from studying the board to find Malfoy watching him, having leaned forward slightly as well and Ed decided to keep being honest until the other teen saw no reason to be hostile,

"Actually, no, I've only ever played norm…ah, muggle chess." he sat back and pulled his chair in closer to the table, setting his elbows on the table top, "Is it played the same way?"

Draco made a face,

"How would I know how muggles play chess." his tone was dripping with distaste as he said that and Ed raised an eyebrow at him, making the other teen look uncertain of what to do next, because Edward wasn't reacting in any way to his words.

"Alright, well, I'll figure it out." Ed said indifferently, "White moves first right?" he raised his hand to the board, about to grab one of the pawns but he stopped when it shifted on its own, turning to face him and putting its weapons in front of itself in an x-shape, as if it didn't want to be touched. It was almost aggressive in how it moved and Ed paused and blinked down at the pieces in genuine amazement.

Malfoy snorted and Ed looked at him. He wasn't smiling, it was probably near impossible for him to manage, but he also wasn't scowling anymore,

"You've really never played Wizard's Chess before." he commented pointlessly and Ed gave him a 'duh' look,

"I said so, didn't I."

At this response Draco seemed to loosen up a fraction more still, and he gestured to Ed's side of the board,

"Tell the pieces where you want them to move." he informed.

Edward raised an eyebrow and looked down at the board again,

"As in algebraic notation?" he asked and when he glanced at Malfoy the teen bobbed his shoulders and made an irritated face,

"As in, tell the pawn to move to C3 and so on." he said shortly and Ed snorted now, making Malfoy scowl again,

"That's algebraic notation." Ed informed him, amused.

Malfoy looked like he might be insulted, since Ed had pointed out his lack of knowing that detail, but then he just waved a hand,

"Yes, whatever."

Ed thought it was actually going quite well, since Draco wasn't throwing a tantrum, or getting up and stalking away…so progress, right?

After that had been cleared up, the game commenced, Ed watching in rapt fascination as the near sentient chess pieces violently assaulted each other with their weapons; knocking each other out, chipping one another's fragile surfaces, dragging and tossing each other off the board. Right up until Ed called checkmate and his assigned piece bashed Draco's king right off the board. It had been a close game, Draco was good, but Alphonse was way better and Ed usually had to play to measure up to him.

"That was awesome." Ed grinned when it was over, watching as the pieces, damaged and sprawled around the board and table, gathered themselves up to reposition themselves on the board. So convenient. He also noticed then that the pieces hadn't been damaged before the game, so either they magically repaired themselves at some point, or no one ever played chess in the Slytherin common room.

"You're quite full of yourself." Draco mumbled as he leaned back in his chair and glared at the black damaged pieces. Ed nearly sighed in irritation, but instead he moved to stand up, having had enough of the sullen teenager. He'd made some progress in building some kind of rapport at least.

"I actually meant the violent way the chess pieces fucked each other up," he said honestly, "but whatever, thanks for the game." he spared the teen a glance as he picked up his robe, noticing how Draco glanced at him and then slouched further in the chair, before Ed turned and left the common room, heading toward the stairs to go down to his dorm.

He was halfway down the stairs when he heard footsteps and he stopped and turned around. Malfoy stopped in the doorway at the top of the stairwell and Ed figured he was just heading to the dorm as well, so he turned to keep walking, but Malfoy spoke,

"Why are you being so…friendly?" he nearly spat the last word out.

Ed stopped again and turned back around to look up at him where the other teen was mostly silhouetted by the light from the common room. Ed, kind of at his limit with this shit, just shrugged,

"What, no one's ever been nice to you before?" he asked sarcastically, unable to help it, before he turned and descended a few more steps.

"No, not without a reason." Malfoy said audibly, and Ed stopped again, sighing quietly before he leaned his shoulder against the wall and then turned to lean his back instead so he could look at Draco,

"Look, I just wanted to play a game of chess to pass the time." he needed to attempt to derail Malfoy's suspicion of him, it was necessary if they were ever going to get anywhere, "And I have no problem with you, and you were there, so I asked you. Quit over thinking it." he waited a beat and then pushed off the wall, turning away and descending again, "If it bugs you so much, say no next time." he added dismissively, but he was smirking to himself, because the implied next time would give Draco something to think about.

Because if they played chess again or did anything 'friendly' again, it would mean Draco accepted the idea of getting along with Ed. If not, well then, Ed would have to make time for some sneaking around after Malfoy. Fuck.

Saturday morning came with a fine layer of snow over everything. Hermione stood leaning against one of the ledges in the colonnade surrounding one of the smaller inner courtyards, she had a small smile on her face as she looked out over the fresh snow peppering the ground, the stone benches and the trees. It was peaceful and quiet that early in the morning just after breakfast, when most of the students were still in the dorms or in the Great Hall, lingering inside to avoid the biting cold air and instead enjoying warm beverages.

Or in Ron and Ginny's cases, and many other teens, getting snogged and cuddled by their respective partners.

It was becoming a bit much really; all the kids around her age coupling off. And with regards to Ginny, it was especially difficult for Harry who had a crush on her, one that only seemed to get more intense day by day. The only thing that rivaled his interest in Ginny was his moodiness and determination to 'catch' Malfoy, and it was as if one issue was making Harry feel worse about the other. She was concerned about him...

...and right then she became even more concerned when she saw Professor Mustang crossing the courtyard from a different corridor, dressed in a dark suit and white shirt under a black coat -dressed so very muggle like-, and just behind him was Harry, calling out to get the professor's attention as he rushed to catch up with the older man. She honestly hoped he wasn't going to start making any more wild accusations to the professor.

Hermione was frowning lightly as she watched them disappear into the other end of the colonnade. She shook her head, thinking about how nothing was ever calm and settled for very long in Harry's life, and she sighed as she fiddled with the end of her scarf. Her mind gradually drifted back to thoughts of couples, to thoughts about Ron and Lavender, Ginny and Dean and several of her other peers who were all slowly but surely matching up with boys and girls. As much as she hated to face it, it was that time, they were all around that age where it became perfectly normal to be dating or kissing someone, and everyone was enjoying themselves, whispering with smiles into each other's ears, flirting and sneaking away to kiss and some of the more dramatic teens were sending weird poetry love notes.

Hermione found it all a bit silly, but she wanted that too. As Ginny had said though, boys were truly dense. She'd attempted to distance herself from Edward in the past two weeks, hoping he would ask after her behavior, wonder if something was wrong and try to reach out to her, but he seemed perfectly content to allow her to drift away, and that just made her feel even less confident that he liked her back...unless it was that another girl had already come along.

She huffed irritably and shook her head at herself, she couldn't remember the last time her mind had been so clouded with thoughts about a boy, even her kiss with Viktor Krum and her past crush on Ron hadn't plagued her so much.

She was just thinking about going to the library to hide away from all of her thoughts and coupled off peers when she heard giggling and glanced in the direction of the sound, and there at the end of the corridor was Ron...with Lavender hanging on his arm, pressed close against his side as they walked slowly and she giggled and made lovey dovey faces and noises at him, and he was just grinning dumbly down at her, cheeks flushed.

When they started rubbing the tips of their noses together Hermione felt a stab of inadequacy, which was quickly replaced by her stubbornness. She looked away from Ron and Lavender and narrowed her eyes slightly, thinking that if Lavender could get away with such ridiculous PDA for a boy, then surely she herself could do something as simple and letting Ed know she was interested in him!

Hermione nodded to herself and pushed away from the ledge with determined gusto, walking in the opposite direction of Ron and Lavender with the mindset to find Edward. She hadn't seen him in the Great Hall that morning, not by the time she'd gotten there for breakfast, so she thought she'd try the library first.

She made her way there and took a look around, going all the way to the back but she didn't find him there. So she left and headed to the viaduct courtyard at the front of the school, there she looked around as well but didn't see him...and then she felt stumped because she really didn't know where else to look, aside from the Slytherin dorms, which was absolutely not an option, she wasn't quite so brave.

She huffed in frustration as she walked along one of the main halls. Typical of her luck, that now when she'd finally worked up the nerve to tell him she liked him, she couldn't even find him. She continued to walk along aimlessly for a while, fiddling with her scarf, reaching up to adjust her loose, grey wool beanie on her head, glancing around as she walked.

She eventually made her way up the grand staircase toward the Great Hall again, trying not to too obviously show how down she was as a few students went by her on their way down. When she reached the top of the stairs she let out a sigh and stuffed her hands into her jacket pockets, thinking that some hot chocolate might cheer her up. She was ready to give up, deciding she'd have to hope that the next time she saw Ed she'd still feel confident...and then she spotted Blaise Zabini coming down the hallway from the Great Hall, alone.

He was completely alone. And even though his face was set in typical mean Slytherin mode, the fact that he was alone made him less intimidating. Also, she'd seen him smile and laugh around Ed, so that also made him seem marginally more approachable. And Hermione was thinking of approaching because she figured there was a good chance he'd know where she could find Ed, and she knew she'd never have enough nerve to approach him if he were with even one other Slytherin, so this was a singular opportunity.

She took in breath to fortify her nerves, held it for a few seconds as she watched him stride by, and then she walked to catch up with him,

"Um, excuse me." she said a bit too softly as she trailed after him, the tall boy continuing to stride just ahead of her. A few other students in the halls were watching her immediately, wide eyed, and she felt very self-conscious, being a Gryffindor, and specifically Hermione Granger, being seen trying to talk to a well known Slytherin associate of Draco Malfoy. But before she could chicken out she reminded herself that Edward didn't care about all the Hogwart's House politics, and Edward was friends with Blaise Zabini, and that had to mean something, right? Stubbornly convincing herself to forge ahead, she took a few quicker steps so she was just about keeping up with his longer strides and she said,

"Excuse me, Blaise." loud enough that she would be heard, and just like that he looked at her.

Then he did a double take and his expression twisted into disdain, which she mostly expected since it was the default Slytherin reaction to her, but she pushed down the offense she felt, only barely frowning before she told herself to just go ahead and ask,

"I was just wondering, " she redoubled her steps to keep up with him, "if you knew where I could find Edward." she ignored people turning to gape at her as they went by.

Blaise's stride began to slow marginally at her request and she slowed down as well, not missing the brief smirk that passed over his lips. Her insides immediately knotted up with anxiousness, she didn't know if it was because she was expecting him to say something nasty or if it was because she suddenly wondered if Ed did talk about her badly to his friends and that's why Blaise was amused. She felt a well of panic in her chest and looked away from him, ready to drop the whole thing and go and hide in her dorm room, where Harry and Ron couldn't get to her once they inevitably heard about her talking to Blaise.

But then Blaise spoke civilly to her, voice smooth and calm, smirk gone,

"Ed said he was going to exercise, he should be down on the Quidditch pitch."

She whipped her head back to look up at the taller boy and asked before she could stop herself,


Blaise snorted,

"Yea', you know, to keep physically fit." he explained somewhat sarcastically, actually setting his dark green eyes on her for a second. He looked amused, albeit a bit impatient, and Hermione nodded then, realizing the conversation had run its course,

"Right, thank you." she slowed to a stop and Blaise picked up his pace again, striding away and turning down a staircase, going out of sight without looking back.

She stood for an awkward moment, glancing around at the several people still watching her and talking about her in hushed tones; some of them were Slytherins, others were Gryffindors…her heart thudded in her chest when thinking of the social backlash that would come later, but it was too late to let it stop her so she quickly turned and started walking in the direction that would lead to the Quidditch pitch, deciding to just follow through after all that. She was going to find Edward.

The next Quidditch match would only take place the following Saturday and Hermione knew that the practice for the present Saturday only started at 11 AM. And right then, a glance at her watch confirmed that it wasn't even 10 AM yet, so she knew the pitch would be empty, probably foggy and cold too. In her head she tried to imagine Edward exercising and all that came to mind was what she saw on muggle TV; men lifting weights and such, or just jogging, maybe doing push ups. She'd been with her mother to yoga a few times but that wasn't really exercising and it wasn't commonly practiced by men as far as she knew.

She was frowning by the time she walked into the players entrance of the pitch and made her way through, until she was walking out onto the predictably cold, partially snowy and misty field. She exhaled a cloud of condensation and glanced around as she walked further into the light fog. It was eerily quiet, all she could hear was the grass faintly crunching under her brown, calf high winter boots, which were zipped up over her dark blue jeans. It was much, much colder down on the pitch and she could feel it through the two layers of her top and grey hoodie, and her ears were cold even under her beanie. She hadn't intended to go out this far into the cold or she might have dressed warmer.

Hermione had walked a quarter way onto the field without seeing or hearing anything, and she was starting to wonder if maybe he had already gone back up to the castle...or maybe he'd never even been there to begin with. She frowned crossly as the second thought occurred to her, her teeth just short of chattering as she wondered if Blaise Zabini had been playing some petty prank by sending her all the way down to the pitch. It seemed so likely now as she stood on the cold pitch, and really, she should have known better, because it was insane to be exercising in that kind of weather.

"I'm such an id-..." she cut herself off when she finally heard a sound, and when she turned to follow the sound she spotted Ed in the near distance, and her jaw dropped.

She had to turn her head to keep her eyes on him because he was moving so quickly, and not just any kind of moving, he was flipping. And not just any flipping, he was flipping like she'd seen Olympic tumbling gymnastics athletes do on TV, except, it was more freeform and there was something less sporty and more martial artsy about it. It was like a combination of gymnastics, acrobatics and martial arts! And he was doing it so fluently and impressively and quickly she felt dumbstruck. Her mouth hung open as she watched him go across the wide Quidditch field from several meters away, the white fog shifting around him, a stark contrast to his black clothes, as he did one flip after another, after another. Back, front and side flips, hand springs, leaps, twisting as if he were kicking something in mid air, pivoting into another high kick, then a low kick, then another flipping kick and so it went, on and on, all with such adept, flexible, natural grace that she lost her breath a few times, her brown eyes wide.

For almost 15 minutes she just stood there unable to look away. She was tense from the cold but she barely noticed because watching him move was riveting...and beautiful. He'd stopped once in between his gymnastic martial arts flipping, and with him completely unaware of her standing there, she'd observed as he also did variations of more straightforward martial arts stuff, like kicks and punches and side steps along with the occasional flip. His form was perfect, and no, she didn't know anything about martial arts or gymnastics, she was referring to his literal form; his body. She'd known he was fit under his school robe, fitter than other boys, but she'd thought he was normal fit, like a regular male teen who was sporty. But from what she was seeing now, he did not have a normal male teens body at all. His tight black clothes left little to the imagination, the material clung to his lean body with every move, and his shirt lifted, twisted and flipped up with his movements every time, plainly revealing taught, tensing abdominal and back muscles that she was pretty sure regular boys Ed's age didn't have, and most of them probably never would have.

To put it crassly, Ed was utterly bloody ripped.

She felt more like a hormonal teenage girl in that moment than she ever had before, her fingers cold but cheeks so hot. And Ed just kept going, blonde braid and bangs flicking and swinging, his limbs so loose, but also so strong and controlled and with the way the black pants and long sleeve he wore were clinging to him, it meant he was probably damp from sweat and the morning fog, but he appeared only barely out of breath.

She could barely process it all, he was an impossibly attractive sight to behold, but when her thoughts strayed to imagining what Ed would look like with less clothes on, Hermione brought a hand up to cover her eyes and she made a sound of shocked self-admonishment, feeling embarrassed and horrified about her shameful thoughts. She hadn't even even ogled or thought about Viktor Krum in such a way!


It was probably unhealthy how fast her heart was suddenly beating at hearing him say her name, and she knew her face was still red, but she had to face him now that he'd spotted her, after all, she was there because she'd come to find him. So she lowered her hand, fixed on a ridiculously awkward smile and looked over at the blonde, who was still a few meters away but was now standing still, looking back at her with a confused frown on his face, his chest rising and falling minimally.

She raised her hand and waved at him like an idiot,

"Hello, Ed." she greeted audibly, following up with a nervous laugh, which she choked back when he started walking towards her, the snow peppered grass under his black boots crunching softly as he approached.

When he was just about four feet away he stopped, and up so much closer Hermione was more clearly able to see how with every breath he took, the black shirt he wore clung to his defined upper body and arms tightly, and Hermione quickly made a point of keeping her eyes on his face. Really, she wondered if this was how boys felt when they saw a girl in clothing showing off their bodies. She'd always rolled her eyes and thought guys were being so immature, but suddenly she felt like she understood exactly how they felt!

Edward glanced around and then settled his eyes on her,

"How long have you been standing here?" he asked as his breathing slowly regulated, his hands settling on his narrow hips and his wind mussed bangs clinging to the sweat damp skin of his forehead, temples and cheeks.

Hermione blinked rapidly, totally self conscious of her flustered face when she smiled at him,

"Long enough for it to be a little creepy." she joked with a short laugh, fiddling with the long sleeves of her hoodie. She wasn't sure her sense of humor would go over well though, it was humor she'd adapted from her muggle friends, who didn't say or take everything said quite as literally as magic folk did. It was usually lost on Ron, even Ginny would often just stare at her, but Harry occasionally got it.

Fortunately Ed seemed to get it right away. And he laughed, actually laughed just a bit and Hermione laughed a little more too, partly relieved and partly stunned and then he was just smiling at her, and looking at her, really looking at her with his bright golden eyes and she felt self-conscious all over again,

"What, what is it? Do I have something on my face…or in my teeth?" she put a hand over her mouth, feeling mortified and thinking about the fruit yogurt she'd eaten with breakfast, brown eyes wide and ears reddening.

But he just shook his head, still smiling as he reached up to gently tug her hand away from her mouth by her sleeve,

"No, you just look really pretty when you smile like that." he half mumbled, and for the first time she noticed he seemed a bit...shy? Or perhaps uncertain about complimenting her? She wasn't sure.

It didn't matter, because with his words, Hermione felt butterflies start up in her stomach and she also felt a bit less uncertain about him liking her back,

"Oh, thank you, y-you too." she said in response and then realized how it sounded so she quickly amended it, "I mean, handsome, not pretty, when you smile, I mean…" she cleared her throat and looked away from him, feeling embarrassed because he looked amused by her word bungling. The heat in her face was really quite annoying, but even so she couldn't stop smiling.

"So, uh…" he said after a few long seconds of silence, his breathing mostly back to normal, "…what are you doing out here? Did you come to watch Quidditch practice? Because I think you're really early." he informed, briefly glancing around the empty pitch to make his point.

But right, no, that wasn't why she was there, and so this was it, it was time to steel her nerves and be honest with him, to say what she'd come all the way down there to say,

"Well, a-actually," she fidgeted with her sleeves some more, "I was, uh, looking for you." Hermione admitted first. She had to start somewhere. She felt so nervous it was making her nauseous.

Ed frowned curiously, hiking up an eyebrow,

"And you came to look down here?" he sounded skeptical, "Good guess?" he asked before reaching back and running a hand once over his untidy braid.

"N-no…" Hermione caught her wandering eyes from roving over the slightly taller boy again when his arm flexed and the movement pulled at his clinging shirt, "…I asked Blaise." she said in a 'can you believe it' tone of voice, smiling slightly.

Ed smiled in response, showing some teeth and appearing impressed, but then he frowned again, curiously expectant,

"Okay, why were you looking for me?" he asked the obvious question, and then he gestured for her to walk with him as he took some steps. She did, falling in step beside him as they made their way toward the exit of the pitch.

"I just…uh, well, that's..." she realized then that there would be no way to say 'I came all the way down here to tell you that I like you', that wouldn't sound immature, and perhaps even pathetic. And just like that, she lost her confidence and gave up on that idea, "We just haven't talked very much lately, so I…" she trailed off, bobbing her shoulders when he looked at her. She felt small and silly. She sometimes really wished she could be more like other girls who were confident around boys.

"Oh." he frowned slightly, his expression showing that he thought it all seemed a bit strange, but then he raised his eyebrows and shrugged it off, "Okay, well, we can talk, or hang out today if you want?" he suggested, and it sounded very friendly. It was friendly, and Hermione just did not know how to bridge that gap. She recalled reading about boys getting friend-zoned in a muggle magazine once. Was that what had happened to her? Had Ed friend-zoned her?

What could she do to change hanging out from being buddy-buddy, to being hanging out, as in getting to know each other, to get closer to one another as more than friends. She knew she'd be useless at the art of subtlety, it just didn't seem to be her strong suit, she'd probably just end up confusing him.

She found herself nodding at her own thoughts as they walked through the pitch entrance,

"Great." she huffed out, smiled at him and then pursed her lips as she looked away.

Then their shoulders brushed and with that came the idea to perhaps be confident enough, just enough, to initiate contact with him, like other girls found so easy to do. It seemed like a surer and marginally less embarrassing idea than to say anything. Nerves firing up again, Hermione stepped a bit closer to his side, so that their arms and elbows bumped...and he glanced at her. That meant he noticed.

That made her more nervous, but Hermione was sure that if she let herself think about it again for even a second she'd chicken out, so instead she went ahead and linked her arm into his –firm, muscled- arm and closed the gap between their sides, pressing lightly against him. She couldn't look at him right away, feeling so forward, face red all over again, and terrified that he might not accept the gesture. She felt tense and kept her eyes down as they walked, knowing she was frowning slightly, her insecurity written all over her face.

When she felt his arm shift away, Hermione's heart sunk and a shock of perceived rejection made her skin prickle uncomfortably and her stomach feel shaky, but then just as quickly the shaky feeling exploded into new butterflies in her stomach, because after Edward had separated their arms, he slipped his hand around hers and lightly gripped it in his own.

And so easily, they were now holding hands.

There was no way that could be misread! Surely he liked her that way too if he initiated hand holding!

She glanced at their hands, eyes a little wide as she blushed some more, and then she looked at him and he smiled a bit shyly, meeting her eyes,

"I'm kinda' sweaty." he offered a reason for putting some distance between them, using the fingers of his free hand to pull his clinging shirt away from his chest to make his point and all Hermione could do was laugh softly and nod. She didn't even bother to point out that his hand was dirty with soil and dew, not when she was feeling less like an idiot and was happy to have made it out of the friend zone.

"Yes, you absolutely are." she agreed, squeezing his hand lightly and feeling a little more confident with every step they took closer to the castle holding hands, "And rightfully so, considering what you were doing!" she said honestly, glancing back the way they'd come before looking back to him with a 'wow' expression. She was feeling better now that she was able to focus on something other than her nerves, "That, what you were doing back there, was incredible by the way, incredible, but also frightening." she admitted with a small shake of her head, "I'd be terrified of breaking somethi-," she looked at him, "I was terrified that you'd break something!" she was starting to babble in the way that she sometimes tended to as her tummy continued to feel light.

He snorted softly as they came over the hill and the castle side wall to one of the courtyards came into view, along with a few students,

"You don't have to worry, the last time I broke something during a training routine I was eleven years old." he informed her with the casual nonchalance of a pro.

She looked at him then, and he looked at her, and when they both smiled she nodded,

"Well, of course, you must know what you're doing. It looked quite expert." she giggled.

She giggled. Hermione wanted to scream at herself as her ears turned red again. Giggling for no reason was something she also usually found so immature, yet here she was!

She was about to ask whether Ed was a trained gymnast, but then she realized they were nearing the students standing around outside, and that in the courtyard there would be more students, and her heart started to beat a little faster with anxiousness. She was unconsciously squeezing Ed's hand the nearer they got, and when he squeezed hers back she looked at him and he dipped his head closer to hers to offer,

"You want to let go?" in a sincere, understanding voice.

Hermione felt grateful for his understanding, that he sensed she was anxious and was willing to accommodate her, but she didn't want to let go. In fact, this was exactly what she'd wanted, for other students, other girls, to see her with him in a way that was more than friendly...even if it meant her friends and fellow Gryffindors seeing as well. She felt so stupid just thinking it but she tightened her hand anyway and shook her head once, setting her jaw stubbornly and turning her chin up slightly,

"No, I don't." she said surely and when he smirked at her, she returned it with a bob of her eyebrows.

He nodded then, and his relaxed, comfortable demeanor bolstered her own confidence further.

"So, do you want to meet up in the library in maybe an hour? I just need to go take a shower." he smoothly changed the subject as he vaguely gestured to himself.

Pointedly setting her gaze either on him or the ground as they finally passed the students outside and entered the courtyard, Hermione nodded,

"Yes, definitely." she agreed, focusing on their boots and noting that it had stopped snowing as she tried not to listen to the whispers of students they passed in the courtyard. "Are you missing Ancient Runes class?" she decided to ask to distract herself.

Edward seemed absolutely unfazed by their peers, as if he really and truly didn't care at all about what they thought of him. And she envied him that, it would have been nice to be immune to what everyone thought about a well-known Gryffindor 'friend of Potter' getting along with a Slytherin labeled 'friend of Malfoy', from both sides of the spectrum.

"Nah, no way." he admitted as they entered the colonnade and walked together in the direction they both knew would take them to the stairwell leading down to the dungeons, "It was pretty boring stuff."

Hermione actually agreed with that,

"Yes, it's very basic if you've already read up on Runes," she heard someone gasp softly as they passed and she swallowed tensely, feeling grateful when Ed squeezed her hand again, "I-I like Runes actually, on the whole. It's one of my best subjects. I purchased some interesting books on the subject in Hogsmeade last year." she went on conversationally, liking the fact that she could talk about books without feeling like a bore.

Edward looked at her with more attention when she mentioned the books she'd bought and she felt self-conscious again; his eyes were very intense when he looked right at her like that,

"Really? Are you good with Runes?" he asked with genuine interest in his voice and she nodded quickly, for a second completely forgetting about the gaping students they were passing. His full attention being on her like that made them all fade into the background,

"Yes, I s-suppose. Well, not to brag or anything." she laughed quietly, feeling comfortable with how her hand fit in his.

"Awesome," he grinned handsomely, even white teeth on display, the sight making her stomach flutter and she wished they hadn't reached the staircase because it meant she had to let go of his hand and wait until the library later to see him again, "maybe I could run a few Runes by you, later. I haven't had any luck with them." he asked as they came to a stop.

She felt somewhat flattered that he was asking her, seeing as how he'd been trouncing her in every subject since the year had started. Now, he was was asking for her help! Hermione really hoped she could help him, she'd feel validated again and he'd probably be impressed with her too, both excellent things.

"Of course, yes." their hands were still linked for a few seconds more before Ed gave a final squeeze and they both let go. She folded her arms loosely across her stomach, anxiousness returning while Ed continued to look utterly unbothered,

"Great, I'll see you in an hour, the reference section?" he asked as he started to descend the stairs and she nodded, then realized he wasn't watching her and spoke up,

"Yes, sure."

He continued down the stairs and around the corner out of sight and Hermione realized that the feeling in her stomach wasn't all bad, the butterflies still hadn't left her. She stood there for only a few seconds more, smiling with pursed lips before she turned away from the stairs and was hit with reality.

More than a handful of mixed students were standing in the hallway the way she'd come, some shaking their heads at her and the others looked away when she noticed them. It was awful, and she knew the news of what they'd seen would spread like wildfire through the school in no time, but she told herself to be confident, like Ed was, uncaring of their opinions and their judgmental looks. So, she took in a breath and squared her shoulders before she walked back the way she'd come, not looking at anyone who stared at her as she made her way in search of Ginny.

On the outside she looked collected, but on the inside she was brimming with excitement.

Next Chapter: Harry has some questions for Roy, Hermione and Ed talk Runes and Snape sees something he wasn't meant to...