Okay, let's try this again. -adjusts armor and hefts lance- EN GUARD, CHAPITRE 21!!

"I didn't know Sasuke was so fast." Ron mumbled around a pumpkin pastry, spraying crumbs everywhere. Harry and Hermione, who were walking with him to the library—or rather, walking him to the library—nodded. Professor Snape had given them an essay on some remote and idiotic potion that no one had even heard of and Hermione had it in her mind to force Ron and Harry to begin writing now so she didn't have to deal with their complaining later.

"Yeah, I was surprised, too," Hermione said, "he looks so petite compared to the other male teachers and Yuubi-san."

"We're not surprised." A pair of unmistakable voices chorused.

Fred and George had materialized seemingly out of nowhere.

"Uchiha's got a pretty nice bod, as far as blokes go,"George said conversationally.

"Even if he is a bit of a prude," Fred added.

"Meow." Mrs. Norris said.

"..." Fred and George regarded Filch's cat for a moment. "I think it's time to go." They said in unison and disappeared down the corridor with Mrs. Norris hot on their heels.

-- --

The rest of the trek to the library was sufficiently uneventful. Hermione let out a little sigh as the smell of musty books wafted around the trio—promising sanctuary and peace. A giggle shattered her illusion and Hermione glared at a group of girls clustered behind a bookcase, all of them peering through the books at a good-looking boy from Durmstrang.

"Victor Krum!" Ron whispered excitedly and Hermione rolled her eyes. So he played quidditch. Who gives a rip?

Obviously Harry and Ron did.

Hermione ignored the boys and slipped off to the back of the library to a table next to a giant window overlooking the lake. Dust wafted through the air like golden flecks in the dying sun. Hermione grabbed randomly on the shelf and came away with an interesting-looking book with the title, "Icha Icha Paradise." It was a faded orange with a picture of a young couple running in a field on the cover.

Perplexed, Hermione sat down and began to read. By chapter five she was fairly certain that this book was a trashy romance novel. The worst part of it, though... she was hooked. Every page she turned was filled with suspense, her heart pounded with anticipation.

What happened to Promiscuous Betty to make her so promiscuous? Would Action Man's secret identity be revealed? Just how long would it be until they realized their forbidden feelings of naughty love for each other??

"I'd put that down if I were you. I hear it kills braincells." the silky smooth voice jolted her out of her book-induced trance.

Sasuke sat across from her, leaning idly on one elbow with his hand cupping his cheek and a cocky smirk on his lips.

Hermione spluttered—half from being caught reading a romance novel and half from his sudden appearance.

"W-when did you get here?"

"I think some time around chapter three." Sasuke drawled, cocking an elegant black eyebrow at her.

Hermione fidgeted under his unwavering gaze as the seconds stretched into minutes. She was aware of how loud her breathing was compared to his and tried to be quieter.

Sasuke seemed to be waiting for something. A couple of times he opened his mouth as if to begin but then decided against it.

All the while Hermione sat with baited breath, wondering what she had done to deserve this extreme awkwardness that only she seemed to be aware of.

Despite her discomfort, Hermione took the chance to take in Sasuke's appearance. The glow of the setting sun glinted gold off of his obsidian hair and washed his clothing and face in a warm yellow. Hermione noticed that he had the beginnings of dark half-circles under his eyes as if he hadn't been getting a good night's sleep.

Nervously she licked her lips, "Um," she cleared her throat, almost dissolving in incoherent mumbles when she realized he was hanging on her every word, giving her his complete and undivided attention, "D-did you... um, want something?"

Sasuke looked away from her and suddenly Hermione was able to breath freely again. The light must have been playing tricks on her eyes because for a fraction of a second it looked like a light dusting of pink was spread across his cheeks. "Uh, well, it's kind of embarrassing, but..." He stopped abruptly when Harry and Ron unloaded their armfuls of books onto the table with a bang and dust escaped into the air around Sasuke and Hermione.

"Well maybe if you would bloody say something around them—!" Harry was saying angrily to Ron.

"You shouldn't lead them on to begin with!" Ron exclaimed back.

"I wasn't leading them on!!" Harry and Ron hadn't noticed Sasuke sitting across from Hermione or they weren't making any effort to acknowledge him, "It's not like I asked for their attention, Ron!"

"Oh what now?!" Hermione groused, displeased. She had come so close to hearing what Sasuke wanted to ask her and then they had to come in and ruin the moment!

"Ron's mad because some girls from Durmstrang were asking me to show them where the reference section was." Harry sniped.

"Who's mad?!" Ron positively snarled, "I was just saying that—!"

"Oh shut up! The both of you!" Hermione snapped and then turned back to Sasuke, completely ignoring her best friends, "So, Uchiha-san, what were you saying?"

"Oh—well, I," Sasuke faltered, glancing at Ron and Harry, "I was—uh, wondering if you three could tell me—uh—what that, uh, that one place is..." he finished lamely.

"...what?" Harry, Ron and Hermione deadpanned.

"Hogs-something,"Sasuke said, making a vague waving motion with his hands.

"Hogsmead?" Hermione ventured.

"Yes, Hogsmead." Sasuke confirmed.

"You've never heard of Hogsmead?" Ron looked dumbfounded.

"We can show you around, if you'd like." Harry offered, diverting Ron's attention elsewhere.

Sasuke hesitated; it would be rude to say no now. He heaved a long-suffering and silent sigh, and said politely, "That sounds nice."


At six thirty Sasuke returned to his room. The first thing he saw when he stepped inside was a mountain of colorful clothing piled upon his bed. He felt his body grow cold as he picked up a lime green halter top between his thumb and his index finger.

"Welcome back!" Jiraiya greeted him from the closet, "I went clothes—mmf!" He was silenced by the halter top that Sasuke flung at him.

"I. AM. NOT. WEARING. THAT." He enunciated.

"Haha, whatever you say." Jiraiya was very calm for a man who was only seconds away from a flame-filled and most likely violent death.

-- --

Sasuke escaped down the stairs to the dungeon as soon as Jiraiya turned his back on him. The fabric of the shirt he was wearing felt like liquid on his skin, and Sasuke admitted quietly to himself that maybe Jiraya had some fashion sense. (What he doesn't know is that Sakura and Ino intercepted Jiraya in the clothing store and took it upon themselves to help find Sasuke a new wardrobe.)

The only complaint Sasuke had about what he was wearing at the moment was that his bright blue shirt seemed to be missing the top two buttons and he was showing a little more skin that he was used to; also, his black pants were hugging his hips a little lower—and much tighter—than he would've liked.

Regardless, he stepped towards the sounds of idle chatter and soft music.

-- -- - - -

The next thing Sasuke knew, he was dragging himself out of bed and grabbing for his bag of toiletries and stumbling tiredly towards the washroom. Under any other circumstance, he would have found it strange that he did not remember anything about the staff party last night, but for some reason he couldn't bring himself to care.

The teacher's bath was fashioned like a cathedral today. The windows between the great arching pillars of marble were resplendent with their intricate designs of stained glass. The black sliver that was immersed in the gold of a dragon's eye followed Sasuke as he shed his clothing and scrubbed down his body before slipping into the pool. The colorful glass that was inlaid in the marble of the pool resembled a mermaid. She twisted her head to get a better look at Sasuke, smiling coquettishly as he clamped his legs shut. She tossed her yellow-brown hair and began to gossip in a clear, annoying nasally voice.

"Did you hear what Professor So in So was going to blah blah blah blah blah...?" and so on and so forth. Sasuke quit listening after the first few seconds and decided it was time to leave.

-- --

Hermione had told him that most of the students put on 'muggle' clothes when they went into Hogsmead; so Sasuke chose a long-sleeved shirt that had the least offending shade of red he could find in his wardrobe and slipped into a pair of low rise jeans. Once again he struggled uselessly to pull them higher on his body.

"They're called low-rise for a reason," Jiraiya was sitting in a cushy chair in front of the fireplace in Sasuke's room. The old man's eyes never left the book he was reading as he licked a finger and turned the page.

"Go to hell." Sasuke grunted, pulling on a black jacket and stuffing his feet into a pair of sneakers. As an afterthought, he pulled the ridiculously green scarf Naruto had given him at the Quidditch World Cup out from under a pile of robes—after all, it was getting chilly outside.

"Already there," Jiraya quipped as Sasuke slammed the portrait that covered his room shut.

-- -- --

Hum, well, that wasn't so bad... Horridly short? Yes! But not as bad as I had anticipated. Do you guys remember the mermaid in the bathroom from a couple of chapters ago? I remember someone saying she should've talked to Sasuke, so I had to do it XD

Anyway, I'm headed out tomorrow afternoon for a trip to Alaska for a family reunion—don't ask why Alaska? Because I have no idea. (unless I'm secretly an Eskimo or something—hooray for stereo-typing!!) So I thought I'd grace yous guys with another chapter before I leave.

And now, dear friends, I must depart for slumber. I have an ACT test to take in the morning, so wish me luck! And as always, feedback is very much appreciated.