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Golden Opportunity

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"Hey, Fuhrer Bastard, what do you need now?!" the black-and-gold whirlwind that entered the office without knocking demanded, voice irritated, almost on the verge of shouting. "You do know that I don't work for you anymore, don't you?!"

The Fuhrer looked up from the contract Albus had handed him just a few minutes ago, lips twisted into a smirk that held a faint challenge. Everything about him was severe, Minerva thought; the clean cut of his uniform, the spotless white gloves embroidered with neat, unusual-looking runes, his perfectly-styled black hair, even the sharp, faintly Eastern slant of his eyes. He made her wary, with his mask of polite welcome and polished smiles, but she couldn't deny that he was almost unfairly attractive and magnetically charismatic, even if she knew that all of his expressions were carefully controlled.

The smirk was the first truly genuine emotion on his face and Minerva was curious about the person that caused it. She noticed Albus looking on with interest from the corner of her eye.

"Of course, Fullmetal, I do remember your rather... colourful resignation. My memory is not so short," the Fuhrer said as he rested his chin on his steepled fingers, and his smirk widened when the young blonde woman with truly remarkable golden eyes shot him a glare. She was dressed in leather pants tucked into black, high-heeled boots that clicked somewhat unevenly with each step. Her hands, covered by the spotless, white gloves, clenched, but she didn't say anything as her eyes swept over the richly furnished office, stopping on Minerva and Albus. She raised an eyebrow toward Mustang.

"Who the hell are they? And why is the old man wearing a dress?" she asked rudely.

Mustang sighed, exasperated, and gestured towards the third and only free chair in the office. "Sit, Fullmetal," he said long-sufferingly, and then turned towards the two wizards as the woman obeyed his almost-order while grumbling under her breath. "Please, excuse her, Headmaster Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall. I assure you, she doesn't mean to offend. Unfortunately, she has never learned the lesson about politeness." Here, he aimed a dark glare at the blonde, followed by a well-practiced apologetic smile towards his guests.

The woman snorted. "At least I'm not a smarmy bastard that gets off on manipulating people." She eyed the Fuhrer pointedly.

Minerva was appalled. She had never before seen such a disrespectful behaviour towards one's superior. And to their face even! Not even the people who thought Minister Fudge was a joke – and there were many of those – would dare to insult him so carelessly. The woman was either foolishly reckless or simply foolish, and the Professor didn't like either of those characteristics in a potential colleague.

Albus, though, seemed amused by the interaction. His eyes were twinkling when he interrupted. "Perhaps introductions would be in order," he prodded with a gentle smile on his face.

Mustang broke from his glaring contest with the newest arrival, missing her self-satisfied smirk. "Of course, where are my manners? Fullmetal, I want you to meet Professor Minerva McGonagall and Headmaster Albus Dumbledore from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, England," he said courteously as the young woman observed them, those remarkable eyes at half-mast. "Headmaster, Professor, it's an honour to introduce you to Miss Edith Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist, and the person most suited for the job you offer."

"Pleasure to meet you, Miss Elric," Albus offered, still smiling, but the younger woman ignored him.

"A job offer?! What kind of job offer?!" she demanded, glare trained on Mustang once again.

The Fuhrer seemed utterly unconcerned by her horribly insubordinate behaviour. "I'm afraid that their Alchemy teacher resigned abruptly due to heart problems. As he has studied for a time in our country, they have come to me for advice about the substitute."

Miss Elric rose to her feet abruptly, golden eyes blazing. "Oh, no, no, no! Don't even think about it, Mustang! I'm not going to teach bunch of spoiled, magic-wielding brats something as dangerous as alchemy! And certainly not my alchemy!"

Mustang spread his hands calmingly, palms open. "Edith," he said soothingly, "you are my best and only option. You don't have to teach them anything dangerous. Just the basics will keep them occupied for years."

Years? How complicated is their alchemy?! Minerva didn't know, not really. Very few people did since the Amestrians guarded their secrets furiously, but the rumours were hard to kill. There were accounts of entire armies being defeated by a few State Alchemists, and while she didn't truly believe that, the stories must've started somewhere. She glanced at Albus, questioning, but his gaze was trained on the arguing pair.

"I don't work for you anymore, bastard!" Miss Elric shouted, hands clenched, eyes narrowed. "I don't have to listen to you!"

The dark-haired man shrugged elegantly, unconcerned. He leaned back in his seat casually, a picture of careless confidence. "Well, then," he said, "I'll just have to find someone else."

All three of them looked at him incredulously. The Fullmetal Alchemist raised one perfectly-sculpted eyebrow in disbelief. "What is going on, Mustang?" she asked sharply.

The look on the man's face was pure innocence. "I don't know what you are talking about, Fullmetal." Minerva was abruptly reminded of the times when Sirius Black denied any involvement in the prank war that raged within Hogwarts for half a semester. She suppressed a snort.

Miss Elric scowled and crossed her arms over her chest. Mustang's eyes followed the movement. "Don't pretend to be stupid, bastard. It doesn't suit you," she said. "You gave up too easily. What's the catch?"

The Fuhrer looked down at his paperwork, eyeing Albus' contract speculatively. "There is no catch, Edith. Why must you always think so?" The young woman gave him a look so filled with scepticism that Minerva could see it, and she had known her for all of ten minutes. "Oh, all right," Mustang sighed. "I will simply need to call my second choice of teacher."

Miss Elric's eyes narrowed even further if that was possible. "And who is your second choice?" she ground out through her clenched teeth. She looked coiled, tense, and ready for a fight, shoulders rigid, aggressive. Minerva fingered the wand in her pocket uneasily.

Mustang finally looked up and something like apprehension crossed his face before it was smoothed over again. He rubbed his fingers together subtly and Minerva would've thought it an absentminded gesture if she hadn't caught Miss Elric's sharp, assessing gaze following the gloved hand. "Alphonse."

There was a lengthy, pregnant pause after the announcement and then the blonde woman moved before Minerva could even blink, just a flash of black and gold, as she approached the massive mahogany table and hit it heavily with a closed fist. A sound akin to a thunderclap echoed in the office and Minerva jumped to her feet, wand in hand and already trained on the woman. Albus had reacted similarly, though his wand remained pointed at the floor, still nonthreatening.

"No." Elric's voice was clipped, crisp. She had not been angry before, Minerva realized, just irritated. She was angry now, though, and all the more frightening for the coldness of it.

"Edith..." Mustang started soothingly.

Miss Elric shook her head violently, blond braid snapping and flying with every wild movement. "No," she said once again, final. "Winry is pregnant. Their first child will be born in two months. Alphonse will not miss it because of some stupid ass job." There was undercurrent of something in her voice, Minerva thought, and a flash of feelings in her gaze, but she masked it well.

"Edith," Mustang repeated, the familiar address falling from his lips easily. "I'm afraid that the two of you are my best options."

Well, that just made Minerva curious. "If I may ask, Fuhrer Mustang," she interrupted, somewhat hesitantly, unsure if her question would only escalate the situation. "Why have you decided on those two?" She kept her voice polite, not wanting to seem like she was doubting him.

The blonde woman glanced at Minerva speculatively before returning her attention to her superior. "Yeah, Mustang, the lady's right. Why the two of us?"

Mustang sighed yet again. He seemed to do that quite a lot in Miss Elric's company. "Professor, I don't know if you are aware, but alchemy is incredibly complicated art with countless branches which are each as hard to master as the other. Thus, the alchemists specialize in one or two fields and become masters, but at the cost of understanding of the other branches of alchemy. I, myself, am heavily specialized, even though I am considered one of the most powerful alchemists in Amestris," the man explained, a hint of pride in his voice, as he determinedly ignored Miss Elric's coughed 'egoist'. "Edith and Alphonse, however, are the only alchemists currently alive with full understanding of quite a number of branches of alchemy and therefore best suited for teaching it."

"Bastard," the Fullmetal Alchemist mumbled, although she did look somewhat pleased by the Fuhrer's praise. The rigid line of her spine softened and her eyes were bright with something other than anger, though she still loomed over the seated man. "But I haven't taught anyone anything in my life, Mustang!" she protested more loudly. Minerva, seeing that the situation had dissolved itself, pocketed her wand, shoulders relaxing.

The black-haired man gave her a look that questioned her intelligence. "You taught Alphonse," he said, voice implying that he was stating the obvious and didn't understand her ignorance.

Miss Elric snorted, as if the mere concept was ridiculous. "We learned alchemy together. You know that."

"Alphonse claimed differently. He said that whenever he couldn't grasp a concept or didn't understand something, you explained it with surprising patience."

"I'm always patient with Al, you know that. I'm rude to everybody else. Even kids," the younger woman warned, waving off the argument with a wild gesture. "And besides, he would explain things to me too, when I needed it."

Mustang's smirk was a sharp, triumphant slant of his lips. "And how often did that happen?"

The woman looked down, scowling. Obviously, Minerva concluded, it happened almost never, if her reaction was anything to go by.

"Excuse me, Fuhrer Mustang, Miss Elric," Albus interrupted, blue eyes twinkling. He was still standing beside her, his wand back in the pocket and observing the proceedings avidly. Minerva was surprised that he hadn't interfered earlier. "But I find myself curious. Who is this Alphonse that you speak so highly of?"

The two alchemists exchanged glances that Minerva couldn't even begin to decipher. They seemed to have a whole conversation in those few seconds, filled with meaningful looks and subtle twitches, until the young woman sighed exaggeratedly, rolling her eyes dramatically, and threw herself on her chair with enough force to make it skid slightly.

It was fascinating.

Miss Elric glared at them somewhat sullenly. "Al's my little brother," she admitted, and from her voice it was made very clear that she thought they had no right and no need of the information.

"Ah, I see," Albus murmured, looking intrigued. There was something swirling in his mind, Minerva could see, just behind the twinkling, blue-eyed gaze. He found something interesting in the alchemist's behaviour. "And how old are you, Miss Elric, if I may ask?"

The woman's gloved hand clenched around the armrest of the wooden chair hard enough that Minerva could swear she heard it creak. "Are you implying that I'm short, old man?" she asked through her teeth, eyes narrowed, blazing. Minerva noticed that Mustang was smirking again. He seemed to do a lot of that too around Miss Elric.

Albus smiled kindly, like he had no idea that he might've insulted her. Minerva knew better. "Oh, of course not, dear girl. I merely noticed that you are very young and to be called an expert in something as famously complicated as alchemy at your age is quite an accomplishment."

Miss Elric seemed placated by the praise, but frowned quickly, as if not wanting to show it. "Well, thanks, old man," she muttered, eyes sliding towards the floor for a moment before glancing up again. "I'm twenty-two and I've been learning alchemy for most of my life. So has my brother," she admitted. "And I'm not your dear girl, old man, so don't call me that! Call me Edith, if you must!" she snapped, rather suddenly, her mood changing in one abrupt second, and transferred her golden gaze to Minerva. "You too, lady, I suppose."

Minerva... didn't quite know what to think. Here was a woman, barely older than a girl, claiming to be an expert in a branch of magic so complicated that Albus was the only wizard in Britain known to dabble in it. She would've written it off as a youthful arrogance if not for Fuhrer Mustang, who was an accomplished alchemist himself, backing her story up, but it was still very hard to believe. Miss El– Edith was not a woman that seemed capable of sitting still for hours just to learn something, and while Minerva knew better than to judge a book by its cover, she couldn't quite shake off the feeling that this insubordinate human being could not possibly be an expert.

But still... There was some confidence in the Fullmetal's bearing, a quiet self-assurance that was in no way a product of arrogance and could only be learned through experience. Minerva had seen the same air around all witches and wizards that fought in the War, she saw it sometimes when she looked in the mirror and she easily recognized it. And she could recall the sudden, edge-thin sharpness in the golden-eyed gaze when the younger woman had threatened the Fuhrer, the lighting-fast movements and the honest respect that Mustang showed toward the younger alchemist, despite the subtle and almost amiable undertone of mockery in his words and actions.

"Then I hope that you will accept the job offer, Edith," she found herself saying, with surprising honesty, and meant it. It would certainly be interesting if she were ever to teach Hogwarts students. Minerva didn't think that Edith's blunt manner of speaking and behaving would sit well with the Slytherins.

She couldn't wait to see Severus' reaction to this alarmingly genuine creature. And she had to fight off a smile at the thought of Dolores trying to establish her control over the young woman.

Albus' eyes still twinkled merrily. "I agree with Minerva, of course. I would be delighted to have you as a member of my staff."

The woman favored them with a squinty-eyed, suspicious look and then turned toward Mustang. "You are not going to ask Al," she said firmly, and it was a command, not a question. Minerva was surprised when the Fuhrer conceded the demand with a graceful tilt of his head, his eyes not straying from the Fullmetal's face. "How long will the job take, anyway?" she asked with a sigh.

The dark-haired man's smirk widened. He looked like he could already see the victory on the horizon and Minerva could admit that, judging by the rumours about the leader of Amestris, he probably could. "Only a year, Fullmetal. You could choose to stay for another if you want, but it will be entirely up to you."

Edith snorted incredulously and rolled her eyes. "Sure. Like this was my choice, too?" she said, though there was no actual resentment in her voice. It was a surprisingly friendly statement, considering her fit of temper just a few minutes ago.

The Fuhrer leaned forward, resting his chin on his steepled fingers, smirking widely. "Does that mean that you accept the job, Edith?" he asked, confident. Albus was smiling genially, obviously satisfied with the outcome. Minerva was fiercely curious about what was going on in his mind just then.

"Like you gave me any choice at all, you manipulative bastard." Was it just Minerva, or did that insult sound somewhat fond? "You had me as soon as you brought up Al and you know it."

"I am, as ever, touched by your continued awe of my work as politician, Fullmetal," Mustang said, voice dry. He fingered through the files on his desk before extracting a copy of the employment contract and sliding it toward the other alchemist. "You know the drill. Read through it and inform us of any objections."

Edith sighed, but she took the document without a comment and started scanning it faster than Minerva believed was possible. Her eyes flew over the pages and the Professor watched in amazement as the young woman whose intellect she had doubted just a few short minutes ago seemed to absorb the complicated legal concepts and not just read them without understanding.

"I liked you better when you were only a soldier, bastard," Edith murmured absentmindedly, flicking onto yet another page.

Mustang was watching the young woman, almost smiling, eyes bright. "Don't lie, Edith, you never liked me. Admit it," he said, and there was a history in their exchange that made Minerva think that those two knew each other much longer and much better than they were willing to admit.

Edith shrugged, not bothered by the accusation. "Oh, all right, that's true at least," she said, eyes not slowing for a second as she split her attention between the text she was reading and the conversation. "Al liked you, though," she added, as if her brother's opinion carried a great deal of weight with her.

Mustang snorted. "Al is a dear. He likes everyone," he said, offering her one of his fountain pens. The young woman accepted it with a quick, graceful gesture and a subtle nod of thanks. She still didn't look up from the papers.

"Also true. Careful, Mustang. If you continue like this I could almost believe that there is such a thing as an honest politician." Edith was grinning as she finally finished with the contract and signed it, left-handed, with a flourish.

Mustang's smile crinkled in the corner of his eyes, and his face was made all the more handsome by the honesty of the expression. He accepted the signed document graciously. "Truth forbid that you ever develop such a delusion. It would be a tragedy, I think, to loose such a mind to madness." There was enough sarcasm in that sentence to make Severus proud. Minerva was reluctantly impressed. And also, she was fairly sure that Albus was suppressing a laugh.

Edith stood up, stretching as she did so, movements smooth and lazy, reminding Minerva faintly of a jungle cat. "Well then, if I'm done here, I really must be going now," she said and offered nods to both wizards, faintly polite, and a smirk in Mustang's direction.

"Hurrying somewhere, Fullmetal?" the Fuhrer asked as the woman, already at the door, turned the knob. He seemed determined to have the last word.

Minerva watched as Edith's lips curled into a fairly alarming smile. "As a matter of fact, I am," she said, and there was something distinctly smug in her tone. "I must inform my fiancé that he will have to live without sex for a year." The smile she tossed over her shoulder was fierce and wickedly sharp. "I'm sure he'll be delighted."

She sauntered out of the room confidently, closing the door with a crisp movement, and left behind herself two faintly scandalized and reluctantly amused wizards and one completely devastated Fuhrer.

Minerva didn't know what was the cause of the expression on Mustang's face, but she was impressed nonetheless.

Edith Elric was an interesting woman.

 

...

 

"So, bastard," Edith started conversationally as she dragged her fingers through the hair on his scalp. "What's my real mission this time?"

They were lounging on the sinfully comfortable couch in their six months old house, Roy's head nested in her lap, legs thrown casually over the armrests, military uniform nowhere in sight, completely relaxed. Ed's automail hand was uncovered, her hair not braided, flowing down her back freely in a waterfall of gold, free and unburdened as she was only in the privacy of their home. They didn't do this often, to Roy's eternal displeasure. Ed was simply not made for the 'fucking boring, time-wasting cuddling' as she called it, but Roy enjoyed it and she indulged him sometimes when she was in the right mood.

He closed his eyes and exhaled as the skilful fingers scraped against his scalp. "What makes you think that teaching the brats is not your real mission?" he asked, curious about her reasoning. After all of the years he knew her, he still had trouble following her line of thought, unable to compete with her sheer brilliance.

It was one of the things he loved about her.

He heard a snort. "You would never send me just to teach the brats," she said, not offering an explanation, so he opened one eye and fixed her with an expectant look to make it clear he didn't believe her. Ed sighed. "Oh, hold your fucking horses, bastard, I was gonna explain either way," she mumbled grumpily. "You practically orchestrated the whole event; calling me in late, letting them see me taunting you, allowing them to assume that I don't respect you. Then you brought up Al and I just knew you were looking for a fight. You would never have asked him to work this close to the birth. So I fought," she concluded, smirking cheekily. "I did good didn't I?"

Roy felt his lips twitching, as if wanting to stretch into a smile. "You were certainly convincing," he assured her honestly. He had to fight his ingrained instincts not to snap his fingers and attack preemptively when she had clapped the table with her automail. He had learned from experience that only reacting when fighting the Fullmetal Alchemist easily led to a quick and embarrassing defeat.

He could almost feel her smiling brightly at the praise. "Anyway," she went on. "You wanted them to think that I would not follow your orders willingly and led them to believe that I'm doing so only because I don't have a choice. Nevermind that I haven't been working for you since the Promised Day," she said and he could just imagine her rolling those remarkable golden eyes. "So. What's my real mission?"

Roy could feel his lips stretching further as she explained her reasoning. There were very, very few people in Amestris that could keep up with him when he was scheming and it would never stop being exhilarating watching her incredible mind at work, untangling the twisted web of his lies, half-truths and plots and always somehow finding the truth of the matter.

It was... trilling, intoxicating, seeing all of that brainpower focused on his handiwork.

He opened his eyes and sat up regretfully, trailing his hand down her arm to stop her ministrations. Ed looked at him questioningly. "You're right," he admitted as he heaved himself up and crossed the room to approach the bookshelf filled with books, scrolls and a few files. He rummaged briefly through Ed's collection of books on the Xingian alchemy and found the file he was looking for, hidden safely between the incredibly dry book about the genealogy of Xingian emperors and a Cretan cookbook. He tugged it out and turned around, facing his long-time girlfriend and her raised eyebrow. He felt the ridiculous urge to shrug sheepishly and promptly buried it. "There have been some concerning rumours from Britain lately," Roy said as he seated himself beside her, leaning into her warmth. He offered her the file. "Dumbledore claims that their Dark Lord is rising again, the Ministry is in an uproar and some suspicious parties have arrived in Amestris, seemingly recruiting. Thankfully, they were unsuccessful for now, but I'm sure you can imagine the devastation if any side of the upcoming war managed to assure the loyalty of an Amestris-trained alchemist."

They exchanged grim looks. Roy couldn't help but let his mind wander to Ishval, and, as it always happened, the recollection of the smell of burning human flesh and agonized screams, almost feral in their last moments, made the nausea in his stomach nearly overwhelming. The memories were with him constantly, following on his heels like deranged puppies, never far from his mind, but the weight of them has been recently made easier by his efforts in the restoration of Ishval and its continued advancement. Still, the deaths on his conscience could not be so easily swept aside, and there were many of those. Roy couldn't imagine what kind of damage an alchemist working with wizards could inflict, even if he had only half of Roy's talent.

He didn't even want to think about the destruction someone with half of Ed's talent could cause. The sheer magnitude of the lives lost...

A light touch on his shoulder brought his attention from his rather depressing internal musings. Ed was scowling at his inattention, but her golden eyes were soft, knowing, and she refrained from commenting on the no doubt painful expression on his face. There would be no comforting words from her, Roy knew, since those were reserved solely for Alphonse, but it was its own kindness, her refusal to be gentle with him and baby him, her adamant belief that he would be all right on his own.

Her faith in him, Roy had always thought, stopped her from even trying to help him in his long crusade for redemption, as much as her own emotionally repressed nature.

"Well, that's a good fucking reason to send someone to spy for you, if there ever was one," she said, and Roy welcomed the distraction. "But why me? I'm not exactly... subtle."

Roy couldn't, for the life of him, suppress a snort. No, Ed may be many, many things, some brilliant, some extremely damaging, but she could not in any conceivable way be called subtle. Although she had learned the importance and advantages of discretion and could use it when necessary, she really preferred not to bother.

At least she had stopped wearing that awful red coat. It had made Roy's eyes water, though he did suspect that that was the point.

"I need someone capable, adaptable and not afraid to defend themselves," Roy explained, draping his arm over the back of the couch, his fingers playing with the golden strands of Ed's hair. "They also need to know alchemy, since the cover demands it. And they need to be trustworthy enough to allow me to send them to such a sensitive mission. So," he concluded, observing her from the corner of his eye. She was blushing slightly and it almost made his heart burst, despite the situation. "It has to be you."

Ed looked like she was trying really hard to scowl, but her eyes were bright with pleasure and her cheeks were still pink. It made her look lovely, in Roy's opinion, completely unguarded as he rarely saw her outside of their bedroom. "Why not send someone who can actually do magic?" she asked.

Roy had to admit that was a good point. He had though about sending an actual witch or a wizard, but they were so rare in Amestris that the Statute of Secrecy was not even needed. Most of them came from the old, aristocratic families, though now and then a civilian with the talent crops up, but very few of them had ever joined the military. Even fewer still were alchemists.

Actually, there was only one wizard and alchemist in all of Amestris' military. Roy grimaced. "The only wizard who even remotely qualifies is Alex Louis Armstrong."

Ed chocked on the air. Roy sympathized. The only thing worse than Ed in a foul mood in a room full of teenagers is probably Armstrong in a good mood in a room full of teenagers. Roy did not want to fill out the paperwork that would be an inevitable product of a military officers stripping in front of children while crying about the magnificent and numerous qualities of the Armstrong family.

No. Just no.

"Also," he continued, rubbing the bridge of his nose to delay the incoming headache from the long day of work. "I noticed that you're getting restless."

Ed looked away. "Ah," she sighed, and her hands fluttered as if to take one of his own between them. She didn't, but when her gaze returned to his face, her eyes were blazing, a mix of grateful and exhilarated.

Ed had always been more of her father's daughter than her mother's, Roy knew. It was a source of great displeasure to her, but she couldn't help it. The wandering, the need to travel and see and understand the world was as much in her blood as her Xerxian golden coloring and her innate understanding of alchemy. Al had it too, though his need was not so great. He could, and did, settle quite happily in one place with his growing family, feeding his sense of adventure with frequent trips to Rush Valley, East and Central. Ed, though, had always been wilder, more unrestrained, and when she stayed in one place too long she became short-tempered, snappish, her words going from playfully teasing to almost cruelly barbed. Roy did not like seeing her like that, almost as much as she did not enjoy being confined, so he often looked for reasons to secure her another trip somewhere, preferably exotic. An invite from Ling perhaps, or a request for help on Drachman border; if he could, he asked her to take care of it.

It made both of them satisfied in the end, even if it meant not seeing each other for months.

Ed had warned him, after all, when they had first started their relationship and again when he proposed, that she was not a woman who would be satisfied with quiet, settled life.

It made him love her all the more.

She sighed and leaned into him, the automail seeping the cold even through his shirt. The file was still opened on her lap, but she had already scanned what little information they had. It was not much and not very reliable, but still the best his team could gather. "When am I expected at Hogwarts?" she asked, fingers absently playing with the paper.

"In a month or so," Roy said, tucking her closer. Although he understood her need to travel, he still liked to enjoy it when he had her this close. "You're required to arrive at least a week before the classes start."

"Hmmm," Ed hummed absentmindedly. Roy could see the barely there look in her eyes and recognized the expression from the few missions they had together. She was planning, making a mental checklist of things that needed to get done and people who would be doing them, a general in a war, even if it was against time. "I'll need to read up on magical Britain, pack new, winter clothes, change my automail or Winry'll kill me, say goodbye to everyone, visit Alphonse, brush up on my English..." she said, every item on her list punctuated by the quick tap of her metal hand.

Roy hesitated before interrupting. "Headmaster Dumbledore offered to cast a Translation Charm on you," he said. "It will allow you to understand and speak English perfectly, with the exception of some idioms."

Ed eyed him beneath her eyelashes. Her golden gaze was filled with scepticism and Roy didn't blame her. It sounded too good and too generous to be true. "What's the catch?" she asked.

"It's not a long-term charm," Roy explained, repeating what the wizards had told him. "You will have to have it re-cast every twenty-four to forty-eight hours and you would not be able to switch between Amestrian and English while it lasts, not even in writing."

Ed grimaced, reflecting Roy's feelings on the matter perfectly. It would be a great inconvenience to depend on the wizards to understand the language, not to mention the disadvantage of being unable to write or speak in code in Amestrian. It sounded like Dumbledore wanted to minimize the possibility of Edith hiding something, as well as to increase her dependency on him. The part of Roy that still remained somewhat willing to see the best in people insisted that the Headmaster may have had actual good intentions, but the Fuhrer had been a politician for long enough to doubt it.

He really didn't like that offer.

"I'll brush up on my English," Ed said decisively. She didn't seem to like it either. "I'll have to talk to Al too. He had some interesting books about the Outside that he managed to buy in some bookstore in Xing. He raved about that place for hours." Her voice had gained a fond quality that always made an appearance whenever she talked about her little brother. She looked at him curiously. "How am I traveling there, anyway? I assume that there are no trains that cross the Ward," she said dryly.

The Ward. It had always been a curious concept to Roy, both as an alchemist and a politician. It was considered a magical work of art, a venture that was thought to be impossible until a coven of hundred and fifty witches and wizards, all from old and well-respected families, experts in runes and warding, gathered together and cast a ward so strong, so complicated that it managed to completely separate a good chunk of the Eastern Europe from the rest of the continent. The backlash of such a spell was so severe that at least a dozen of the casters died then and there, while even more had suffered agonizing pain and a drainage of their magical core as a result of channelling so much raw power. Still, they had succeeded and entered the history books as a reward for their daring. The impact that single action had on the development of the warded region was enormous and even people in Roy's day felt it. They had been protected from the Outside for centuries, able to hide behind the power of the Ward, warring only between themselves, but it came at the cost of slower advancement and innovation, since only a few people could venture Outside to share and bring home new ideas, and all of them had to be approved by at least one independent party or the magic of the spell would simply not let them cross. There were very few ways to bypass the Ward, all of them magical, all of them rare in Amestris and none of them capable of carrying more than one passenger safely.

Ed would be one of those rare people of their time to cross the Ward.

Roy never doubted that she would be almost unmanageably smug about it.

"Dumbledore said that he'll send you a Portkey," Roy explained. "Apparently, it will have two activation words, one to bring you to some village close to Hogwarts and one to bring you back to Central. You will be able to use them whenever you want." And it was a bigger relief than Roy was willing to admit, her freedom to come home during the holidays, the fact that he would not have to really wait a year to see her.

"All right," Ed nodded, satisfied, lips quirked in a smile. "That'll work just fine."

An answering smile stretched Roy's lips, light and genuine. He sat up, swiping the file from her lap and tossing it on small coffee table without fanfare. Ed, as always, smart enough to follow his thought process, grinned mischievously, swinging on the couch to straddle his lap, her arms on his shoulders. She leaned towards him, their faces almost close enough to touch, her breath on his lips. "We should celebrate. This is once in a lifetime opportunity. Not many people get to go Outside," she murmured, gazing into his eyes. Her golden orbs were as bright and blazing as the sun.

"I think," Roy started, unable to tear his gaze away from her curled lips. "That this is the best idea I had heard all day."