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PROLOGUE: Boy Meets Girl

Hermione landed ungraciously on her back and winced at the shudder that ripped through her body. Magic was perfect for expedient travel, but when the methods were invented, those involved hadn't focused on comfort in the same way that Muggles did. Every form of magical transportation she had so far come across seemed to be some variant on being ripped from the ground and dropped from a great height.

As Ginny helped her to her feet, Hermione shot a pointless scowl at the old brown boot they had used as a Portkey, while surreptitiously dislodging clumps of grass from her bum, she was sure she would be covered from the fall. Her sense of humiliation was complete when Cedric Diggory's artfully dropped into the middle of their little group not a moment later, without a single hair out of place. Hermione watched him saunter through the rest of the tangled bodies with a hint of a smirk on his chiselled face her own brown arched disdainfully. When she began to think unkind thoughts about the unruffled pretty boy she cut herself off, it wasn't his fault she was in a bad mood. Though Hermione couldn't help her eye roll as Cedric moved between herself and Ginny with a murmured, ‘Ladies,’ that may or may not have been punctuated with a wink.

Hermione looked around and located her tattered backpack that had landed a few feet away and sighed to herself. She wasn't sure why she was even there; she didn't remotely like Quidditch, or the amount of time the others devoted to it. Since she had arrived at the Weasley house, the evening before, it was all any of them could talk of. But she didn't want to be ungrateful, it was a coup for Mr Weasley to have obtained tickets, and she was delighted to have been asked, she just wasn't sure she would enjoy it. Worse still, Hermione couldn't help but worry that she would mess it all up for everyone by accidentally exposing her disinterest, something she thought was highly probable considering she didn’t know what the right thing to say would be. She knew most would wave it off with a shrug and a laugh but her lack of understanding could potentially anger Ron, causing them to fight, and ultimately, for Harry to be disappointed in her. Hermione gave her jean pocket one last brush over with her hands and resolved to plaster a grin on her face and keep her thoughts to herself. Not exactly an area of expertise for her.

Once the scattered group had sufficiently rubbed the various aches in their limbs and collected any items that had been thrown away from them in landing, Mr Weasley and Mr Diggory took the lead of the group while talking animatedly between themselves about events at the Ministry. Hermione brought up the rear with Ginny by her side, feeling her stiffness with every step, and the littlest redhead channelled her excitement by talking non-stop, moving between topics not limited to certain Irish players that ' even Hermione would be able to get interested in ' and sighs relating to the snug fit of Harry's jeans.

A short walk later, all of Hermione's lingering concerns fell away as the small group came to an abrupt stop on the crest of a large hill overlooking the biggest, noisiest campsite she had ever seen. It so was vast and so very full of life that Hermione didn’t know where to look first, her eyes darted from small families arguing good-naturedly over memorabilia, to children zipping around on practice brooms. It was breathtaking. She could just make out the stadium in the distance behind all of the mayhem, if she squinted her eyes from the rising sun. She shared a quick look with Harry, finding her shock delightfully mirrored on his face before she took off after the adults again, this time with a bit more spring in her step.


Navigating the campsite should have been difficult, Hermione had been to several with her parents over the years - and though on a much smaller scale - it had always been a nightmare to move around the higgledy-piggledy tents and much more dangerously, the guide ropes and tent poles. There were no such issues in this campsite; all of the tents were lined up in formation rows, arranged in a grid with a sensible numbering system which made finding their designated plot a breeze. Hermione was impressed with the deep level of organisation the Ministry had undertaken, earning her a beam from Percy when he heard her whispering praises to Ginny.

Though, despite the ease of their route, Hermione had never been the best with crowds, mainly due to her being shorter than most. After stumbling for the third time, she jumped as she was grabbed on either side of her waist and lifted clean off the ground. She yelped as she was chucked forward and dropped onto Fred's back and she turned abruptly to see George smirking at her.

"Now, now Granger," he said placatingly, with a grin that did nothing to hide his amusement.

"Temper, temper," Fred broke in from beneath her.

"We were only trying-"

"-to prevent you from injuring yourself."

Hermione debated screaming at them, or knocking her already balled fists against Fred’s shoulders but the twins were her sparring partners of old, and though she might never admit it out loud, she knew how futile any argument would be. With a huff, Hermione turned back around and scrambled to link her hands around Fred's neck as he ran off at speed.


When they made it to the tent, Hermione was bemused, the stretched tarpaulin looked old and shabby around the edges, not that any of that mattered to her, she was far more concerned by its size, it appeared to be a one-man berth. She shot a quick, slightly panicked glance at Harry who was looking equally wide-eyed before Fred abruptly bent his knees and walked forward, with Hermione still unwillingly secured to his back.

As Fred straighten back out Hermione gingerly raised her head and gasped in surprise as she regarded the very unexpected interior. She had been a part of the magical world for three years, but it never stopped stunning her, the inside of the tent was not like a tent at all; instead it was a hugely expansive space, more like a small apartment. It was decorated in a similar style to the Weasley's home, with homemade blankets and knick-knacks scattered everywhere, it instantly made Hermione feel welcome.

Fred kindly crouched to let her down, and before her feet were firmly planted on the floor, an excitable Ginny grabbed Hermione’s wrist and dragged her off to the smallest bedroom to pick beds.

Only minutes later the tent was noisy, full of the usual squabbling that occurred when all of the Weasley children were at home. The ever patient Mr Weasley intervened when tempers began to flare and sent the youngest of them out of the tent to explore, the twins and Ginny jumping up to leave alongside the soon to be a fourth-year trio.

Hermione, wise to potential threats, moved too quick for George to grab her this time and opted to stick next to Ginny. She felt a little less flustered than she had been on arrival, now that most people had settled the crowds weren't so bad, or at least the people weren't carrying as much stuff as they had been.

If she had thought the Weasley’s tent was impressive, she hadn't seen anything yet. They walked passed tents of all shapes and sizes in neatly ordered rows, most covered in flags or decorations declaring the occupant's support for one of the teams in the evenings final. Fred and George took it in turns to list off the scores and attributes of the Irish team players, and Hermione tried her best to keep up with the rest of her group when they started to sound as if they were communicating in another language.

She knew enough to discern that Ireland were the favourites to win, as well as being popular with the home fans. That was not to say there weren't Bulgarian supporters in the campsite, as there were apparently many, and where there were fans, one face was draped over tents and flying from banners much more than any other. Seeking to redirect the conversation in any other direction than endless statistics, even if it was still about Quidditch, Hermione pointed towards the nearest one.

"Who's that?" she asked idly, and five faces turned to look at her with expressions that ranged from sceptical to full horror.

"That, Hermione, that," Ron began sputtering, "is the best Seeker in the world, Viktor Krum."

"Oh, a Seeker” Hermione exclaimed, “Like you Harry?"

Harry looked decidedly happy with her pronouncement, and she was glad to have got something right. Ron began a speech regarding Viktor's prowess that moved alarmingly beyond hero worship.

"He looks a little grumpy," Hermione mused, tilting her head to the side to look closer at the fluttering images, seeking to derail Ron from his declarations before the twins began harassing him. It didn't work, as Ron realised she wasn’t listening he abruptly turned to start up again only to be stopped by the others who began parodying his passionate display, Hermione shrugged in defeat and turned back to the flag she had been staring at before.

On closer inspection ‘grumpy’ didn't seem to be the best way to describe him, Viktor Krum, the more she looked, the more confident she was that the expression he wore more likely stemmed from a reluctance to be in front of the camera, which was something to be sympathised with. His dark hair was clipped close to his head, and he had a prominent brow that was made all the more severe by a scowl pulling it down over his eyes. Krum looked older than seventeen; Hermione suspected that was to do with him being more worldly, considering he already had a professional career, whatever that entailed. He wasn't pretty, not in the way that many of the players Ginny had shown her were, not in the way Oliver Wood or Cedric were, but, there was something there that was appealing. He had a largish nose and a full mouth, neither of which she would typically have described as attractive features, but somehow they worked for him. His eyes, though showing no small amount of irritation were penetrating, Hermione imagined Viktor Krum would be a hard person to say no to.

While the twins continued to rib Ron over his undying affection for the Bulgarian, Hermione absentmindedly regarded the nick in the player’s right eyebrow and wondered if it came from a Quidditch injury, or something entirely more glamorous.


When night fell, the Weasleys and their happy guests bundled up against the incoming chill and joined the streams of fans heading towards the stadium. Closer up the purpose-built arena was so tremendous Hermione could barely take it all in. She had been impressed with the Quidditch stands at Hogwarts, but this was so far beyond that, it was entirely beyond comparison to anything she had seen before. The excitement among their party ratcheted with every step they took towards the Minister's box, and even Hermione began to succumb to the delight of the event. She may not have been the biggest fan of the sport, but she couldn't deny the splendour and magnitude of the evening. As Hermione trailed behind a racing Harry, she reflected again on the real pleasure of being invited and determined to ask her mum to help her source an appropriate thank you gift for the Weasley’s as soon as they were back.

As they found their seats, Hermione's eyes lit up when she regarded the magically illuminated pitch and the thousands of fans visible from her perfect spot. A shiver moved through her, though whether it was down to the mounting excitement or the slight chill in the air, she couldn't be sure, and Fred leant over to secure his chunky, knitted, Ireland scarf around her neck. Hermione smiled in gratitude as he gave her a mock salute and she looked down at the dark green material ruminating on how strange it was not to be wearing house colours. That was until the team mascots arrived, producing such a massive response from the crowd that for the first time since she had joined the magical world, Hermione entirely concentrated on the sporting action happening in front of her, without looking for a distraction.

Viktor felt the air rush around him as he zipped into the stadium in preplanned formation with his teammates. Everything he had been towards since before he could even remember had been building to this moment. After a couple of quick laps of the stadium, and some admittedly showy tricks, he began to shut off his perception of the world around him and switched gears into his ‘professional mode’. It was harder than usual. Though Viktor had been playing at a national level for a while and had experience of being a respected, famous player, the scale of this match was something else.

Viktor had attempted to keep a low profile all day and had avoided the campsite entirely. He had used a few complex transfigurations to disguise himself on his way to all the appointments he’d had that morning, not that it took much for him to go unnoticed. People were expecting to see Viktor Krum, the international Quidditch star, most days he could blend in by simply making sure not to wear anything sport affiliated and staying clear of red clothes.

Though he understood the necessity, Viktor was a little saddened not to have seen the campsite, from the noises he had been able to hear all day it sounded like the crowds were having a good amount of fun. However, he was sure he could forgo the unknown pleasures to avoid looking at flags depicting his face; he had been ribbed enough about the ones that were visible from the stadium.

As the game began in earnest, Viktor became single-minded in his search for the Snitch, though it was not a wholly separate role, he relied on members of his squad to tell him when he could act. Viktor had learned that success in Quidditch at any level required seamless - often non-verbal - communication between players on the pitch.

It was evident fairly early on - from the face of his captain - that the match was not going Bulgaria’s way, and that development was not unexpected; Ireland had put together an incredibly strong side. Though the Bulgarian team had remained charged and hopeful, they had all known that their chances of winning the match were limited. When Viktor registered the pre-planned throat cutting motion he knew he had been given the green light, they wouldn't win, but they would end it on their terms.

Like the rest of their team, the Irish Seeker was a great player, and certainly far superior to the other adversaries Viktor had done battle with to get to the final. A few minutes into the chase he realised the strength of his team had buoyed Aidan Lynch, and as a consequence was racing out of his skin. Viktor knew he would have to do something drastic to shake him off, failure to catch the Snitch was not an option.

He waited until Lynch had tucked behind him, in close formation, before he began a sudden descent, darting as if tracking the Snitch's fluttering movement. Viktor suppressed a grin when he heard a rush of air behind him, confirming he was being followed. He forced the front of his broom down, rapidly gathering speed and narrowing his eyes to pinpoint the very last moment he could pull back.

The stadium noise was gone, the bright lights muted as he focused solely on the pitch he was fast approaching. When he could identify the individual blades making up the sea of green grass, Viktor hastily pulled back on his broom as hard as he could, and sped back up again, hearing the crunch as Lynch collided with the ground. He felt a familiar rush of adrenaline at his move success, the first time he had tried that he broke every bone in his right arm by misjudging the distance. It felt incredible to have pulled it off, on an international stage, with any luck talk of that would soften the blow of the loss.

Seconds later a new kind of adrenaline took over when he spotted, in his peripheral vision, a flickering shimmer of gold. Viktor sped after the tiny orb in a motion he had come to think of as having more resemblance to dancing with an unwilling partner than sport of any kind. Locked in pursuit he barely registered the bone-crushing force of the Bludger that collided with his face; he didn't have time to react. Viktor roughly wiped his eyes, dimly aware his fingers came back wet before he reached forward, his arm so overstretched that he almost went over the tipping point of balance and fell off his broom.

One breath... he secured his feet.

Two breaths… he splayed his fingers as far as they would go.

Three breaths... his fingers plucked the golden-winged menace right out of the sky.

After Viktor had whooped in relief tinged triumph his teammates pounced, approaching at speed, he blinked slowly, suddenly more aware of the harshness of the stadium lights and the shooting pains in the front of his face.


The initial happy shiver of conquest faded quickly, and by the time Viktor was on his way to the Minister's Box for the medal presentation he was feeling decidedly unhappy. The odds had been stacked against them from the start , he repeated to himself, but it didn’t do anything to stop the all too familiar weight settling onto his shoulders. He was the star player, what if he had... The negative thoughts droned on as he trudged up the many steps. He was no stranger to losing games, no one was that good, but he had a competitive spirit, and no matter how unlikely victory had been he was still hoping for it, right up to the last moment.

When Viktor reached the box he smiled - as best he could - when he was handed his consolation prize, he posed for photos and shook hands with whoever was required before he retreated into the shadows while the Irish team had their moment. He thought about returning home to his country, his school, his family his friends. How would they perceive the loss? He would know soon enough, everyone that was important to him was in the stands, for once it wasn't knowledge that made him feel more relaxed.

Viktor was pulled from his mounting disappointment by a sharpish tone whispering - or trying to - over on the other side of the box.

"-I mean really, are they going to make him stand there like that... yes, Ron, I understand that… I know… but… Ronald! That's not what I was talking about… No… I just think that someone should do something about his nose."

A familiar awareness prickled through Viktor. People talking about him, not to him frequently happened within his hearing. He lifted his hand gingerly to his face only to register pain. He had done his best to remove the spattered blood before walking up to the stand, but there hadn’t been time to fix the bone. Holding his hand out to obscure his face, Viktor turned to locate the speaker; it wasn't difficult. Though the stand was packed, as soon as his head moved in the general direction of the voice he noticed a witch not so discreetly stiffen, instantly giving herself away. She was surrounded by a sea of redheads who didn't seem to pay much attention to what she was saying, all of their grinning faces were fixed on the medal presentation. As her eyes locked with his she bit down on her bottom lip, he imagined with some embarrassment at being caught, and he unconsciously took a step towards the girl and her large chocolate brown eyes.

"You is speaking to me?" he asked, knowing full well that she hadn't been. Instantly, the girl flushed, and he felt somewhat charmed by her continuing, prominent display of embarrassment.

"I,” she stared falteringly and then squared her shoulders. Viktor watched, entirely fascinated as the tiny movement of her body had a huge effect on her mass of curls. "I was just saying that someone should have taken a look at your nose," she admitted eventually.

"You not like my nose?" Viktor said, deliberately feigning misunderstanding, he forced his voice to be serious, however much he wanted to chuckle. He wasn't sure what he was doing, why he had even turned to speak to her in the first place. But he felt somewhat captivated by the girl’s flushed, innocent face and expressive eyes. Whatever was compellingly him to speak he didn't want it to stop; he didn't want to turn away from her… not yet.

Her voice sounded strained as she rang her hands out in front of herself. "No, that's not what I... you must believe-" Viktor saw the moment she caught the glimmering in his eyes and her’s flashed in reply before she huffed. “That was mean," she chastised, and that time he did grin, immediately wincing as pain shot through his face.

"Sorry,” he mumbled, pinching the bridge of his nose, “could not stop."

The little witch tilted her head as she regarded him. "You should get your face looked at, it won't heal properly if you leave it too long. Magic or no magic."

Magic or no magic, Viktor turned the phrase over in his mind before filing it away for further consideration at a later point. He nodded in acknowledgement, after all, she was right, and the sudden silence that descended between them signalled the end of their bizarre conversation, a cue he would generally have followed, but for some reason, he didn't want to. Viktor scanned the box, hoping to find someone or something he could mention to the girl to prolong their unexpected chat but he saw nothing, not until his eyes fell upon the Ireland scarf that was wrapped neatly around her neck. It was something to talk about, though he didn't like it.

"You are Ireland fan?" he asked and realised he must have frowned when his face pulled, and he let out a small groan as his muscles protested against the movement.

The girl looked confused for a moment, and Viktor ran the expression over in his mind, he wasn't entirely confident in his grasp of English, and he had a sudden panic that he may have inadvertently insulted her; he tried to explain himself better by gesturing to the scarf around her neck. That was excellent Viktor, point and grunt like a caveman.

She looked down, and comprehension dawned on her face, her brows unknotted, and she looked back at him smiling.

"No, just a cold girl," she explained while gesturing to one of the identical redheads next to her, he was minus a scarf and Viktor was suddenly a bit sad she hadn't been just an Ireland fan. "I don't know much about Quidditch really," she admitted in a small voice, and Viktor couldn't stop the splutter or the bubble of laughter that escaped him. It was loud enough to get the attention of one of his teammates, who looked back at him with raised eyebrows following his very uncharacteristic show of mirth. Viktor shrugged his shoulders at his teammate who turned back around.

He wasn't sure anyone had ever told him that they didn't know much about the sport he was famous for, even when it was clear they didn't know anything they would still prattle on regardless, there was something so disarmingly beguiling about her honesty. On a night where he felt the full weight of his fame and celebrity status, she had managed to make him forget about all of those expectations, even if it was just for a moment.

Viktor winced again as he smiled broadly at the girl and she flinched at his show of pain, her slight shudder giving him an idea, a mad one but still…

"You fix nose" he stated determinedly.

"I... what?!" she blurted, stepping back from him with a pinched expression.

"I no have wand," he replied, holding his hands away from his body as if to demonstrate. "You say it should be done," he pressed cheekily before stopping himself as he watched her turn his request over in her mind, it was as if every argument she was having inside her head was painted all over her face.

"You probably shouldn't ask strangers to point their wands in your face, Mr Krum," she said finally, crossing her slims arms over herself and Viktor smiled again, he couldn't help it, the earnest look she had as she lightly admonished him was adorable. Their conversation felt more normal than those he routinely experienced with a woman; those were typically simpering appeals to hear about his supposedly 'glamorous' life and sporting achievements.

"What is name?" he asked softly.

"Hermione, Hermione Granger," she replied, her words coming out bolder now they were back on safer ground.

"Hello, Hermy-o-ninny," he stumbled out cringing as he butchered the unfamiliar name.

"Her-my-own-knee," she repeated kindly.

"Hello, Hermy-knee,” he tried again with a little more success, “my name is Viktor."

"Yes, I know," she laughed with a wave to the stadium in front of them.

"Well, not strangers now yes?" Viktor asked hopefully, and she laughed again, he liked the sound, it was soft and warm.

"Not strangers, no," she replied softly and after checking the others in her group were still distracted, she pulled her wand from her hip and stood in front of him. “Hold still," she commanded unnecessarily, he was already rooted to the spot. "Episkey," she all but whispered.

"Govno!" he swore at the sharp pain that erupted in his face as the cartilage in his nose realigned.

"Sorry," she said, sounding anything but. Viktor would have delighted in calling her out on her amusement but he knew he had asked - slash demanded - her attention, as such he could hardly blame her for laughing - however politely - at him.

Still blinking from the resetting of his nose, Viktor only became aware of the little bubble they had around them when it burst, growing commotion in the stands alerted him that the presentation was over, and the players would begin leaving soon.

"I go now,” he began reluctantly, “I… thank you for help."

"You're welcome," she, Hermione, answered quietly.

Viktor paused for a moment reluctant to leave, he considered inviting her to the after match celebrations but decided against it; the rowdy pub was no place for someone like her. Suddenly a thought occurred and once again he spoke without hesitation. “You attend Hogwarts, yes?" he asked, attempting nonchalance but knowing an irrepressible hopefulness had permeated his tone.

"Yes, this will be my fourth year," she answered nodding.

He started little at that, she was younger than he had expected, but he couldn't be downcast, he would have a whole year of opportunities, he would make sure of it. Viktor flashed her a bright smile, taking a step back, ready to fall in line with the other retreating players. "Have good summer, Hermy-knee Granger."

Chapter Text

PART ONE: A Teenage Dream

Dozens of booted feet moved in strict regimental fashion towards the main hall on the lower deck aboard the submerged ship. The groans from the flexing wood, as they steered on course, were largely ignored by those marching through the corridors, the boys were well used to the ships noises by now.

Viktor advanced along with the rest, not moving quite as smoothly as he did in the air. He always felt more gangly and uncoordinated on the ground. He kept pace with his classmates before he stopped, standing in his designated position alongside the rest of seventh-year boys who were in attendance. Twenty of them had been selected to come to Britain and take their chance to compete in the TriWizard Tournament. The competition to get to this point had been rigorous, and Viktor had questioned his chances of success what with the amount of time he had lost, dedicated to preparations for the World Cup. Despite his absence, Viktor remained determined and thankfully following his return to Durmstrang, his training regime, physical and academic, had seen him comfortably over the qualification line that had been set by his discerning professors.

Not long after the final boy slotted into place the heavy doors at the back of the hall opened and a steady thump he knew to be a staff striking against the wooden floor alerted the assembled boys to the arrival of their Headmaster, Igor Krakoff. Every boy’s back straightened as their shoulders squared to make them stand tall and proud as their teacher - cloaked in thick furs - walked through them. By now they were conditioned to know exactly what he demanded and the consequences they would swiftly suffer should he find fault.

As Karkaroff reached the front of his neatly assembled students he cast an appraising eye over each and every one of them, checking every polished boot and button before, apparently satisfied, he banged his staff a final time signalling the beginning of his speech.

"We are now mere moments away from arrival at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, from the very instant this galleon emerges from the waters of the Black Lake, I expect nothing but the best behaviour from every single one of you. You are here to represent the prestige of the Durmstrang Institute, to represent me, to represent your families and yourselves. In. That. Order. Is that clear?" he barked, his tone biting, though his long pale face remained rigid. Only his eyes spoke of the fires that dwelled beneath the calm visage.

"Yes, Sir," twenty voices answered in perfect unison, without hesitation or tremor.

Igor Karkaroff gave a subtle nod to acknowledge their answer before lifting his chin. "The TriWizard Tournament was invented as a way to foster European inter-school relations, the importance of which is negligible. But you will remember that this is a competition. At. All. Times. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Sir."

"You will remember the promises you willingly made the moment you first stepped onto the grounds of the Institute; you will keep the details of its location and practises a secret. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Sir."

Karkaroff's face softened slightly, apparently satisfied that he had got his point across. "Some of you will know that Hogwarts and its Headmaster are considered by many to be whiter than white," Karkaroff continued, his lip curled in a blatant display of his feelings on the subject. "If any of you experience any difficulties while we are here I expect to hear about it. Though you may be capable, it will not do you any good to fight such battles on your own. Hexing or beating an inferior student to a pulp might be a  fine way  to express your distaste at being labelled a  dark wizard,  but it is hardly a compelling or defensible counterargument."

The headmaster glanced around at the studiously attentive faces again before continuing. "Finally, do not fuck up the entrance. If you make us look like idiots in front of those French fancies, I will be most severely displeased."

After a hard glance to show just how serious he was, Karkaroff left the room in a surge of mink, and the boys were left standing exchanged a few concerned glances in his wake. The expectations placed upon them at Durmstrang were extreme but most students relished the school’s hard-line approach as it was known to produce excellence, none of them wanted to disappoint each other or the institute. A bell rang through the boat, reaching the boys still standing in the open room, they once again moved into the corridors their steps more eager, ready for the ascent of the ship.


Once the ship broke the dark surface of the lake the twenty boys moved up on deck and watched silently as the unfamiliar school - that would be their home for the next year - came into focus. The rolling greenery and sunlit castle were a world away from the frozen northern wasteland they had left behind. Despite the more hospitable outlook, Viktor was still grateful for his thick coat and hat as the stiff, Scottish, early morning breeze whipped around him, licking at his ungloved fingers.

Once the small landing craft, just big enough for their party, was levitated into the ominously still waters, they rocketed towards the shoreline. Typically Karkaroff would make them row, never one to miss a chance to expose them to demanding physical exercise, but today the headmaster was keen to get proceedings underway. The students deposited the boat on a sunny bank before resuming their order and marching towards the school.

As they stepped closer to the imposing castle, Viktor noted the presence of many of the school's students waiting in front of the massive entrance. Instinctively his head fell forward, shielding his face as he detected the first whisper of his name. It started as a faint murmur on the breeze and built until it became a steady hum. He sensed more than saw his schoolmates defensively close in around him, not that they perceived any threat, at least not a physical one, their actions were a silent show of support that Viktor was immensely grateful for.

As they got closer to the waiting crowd, Viktor couldn't help but notice the apparent differences between the Durmstrang contingent and the Hogwarts students. All of the boys he walked alongside were uniform, from their formation footsteps to their cropped hair, all of these children looked so disordered and individual; arranged in jumbled clumps, and none of them seemed to have a care for their posture.

As he walked deeper through the tangled crowd, Viktor secretly searched for a familiar head of curly brown hair. He had thought about Hermione Granger an awful lot over the previous months; her pinked cheeks and her light, spontaneous laughter. He would one day admit to himself just how much meeting her had contributed to his determination to get his spot on the boat, but not just yet. Before he would acknowledge it, he had at least met her again and confirmed that what he felt that evening had not been brought on by a substantial head injury and furthered by his wilful imagination.

He had always been expected to compete in the tournament, but Viktor had not been amazingly enthusiastic about the prospect of attending another school. The seclusion of Durmstrang gave him a certain amount of privacy that was already - two minutes off the landing craft - apparent he would not get at Hogwarts. When he had returned from the summer, Viktor had thrown himself into their preliminary rounds at his school. He was reasonably sure Karkaroff would have given in place regardless, but he wanted to earn it.

As Viktor finally reached the large entrance doors, he felt a touch of disappointment that he hadn’t located her, and a small sense of panic that he did his best to ignore entirely.


Durmstrang’s much-discussed grand entrance into the Great Hall before dinner was not something Viktor was looking forward to, though not for any reason relating to what was planned. The magic they would employ he enjoyed immensely; staffs were commonly used alongside wands at Durmstrang, mainly for the display of power they afforded, after all, it was primal reasoning that you appeared more intimidating when carrying a massive stick. The fire conjuring was beautiful, but he could have done without all the attention. Typically, Viktor would have taken his place amongst the rest of the students as they slammed their staff’s in practised rhythm, but due to his prolonged absences for training, he had been unable to take part in the preparations required for the routine and as such had to walk in side by side with the Headmaster. Viktor had no doubt people would interpret his entrance as further proof of him being an aloof celebrity student who thought himself above taking part in such things. He sighed to himself as they were given the signal and he marched in, doing his best to walk up the seemingly endless gap between tables as fast as possible. It would have been much easier if he had been allowed to walk in from a side door, unseen, but one thing he was never permitted to be was invisible. Viktor was conscious of his lack of coordination and even more so when he was being watched intently, it was all he could do to not trip over his own feet. Viktor kept his eyes straight ahead and his mouth set into a firm line, it wasn't until he was more than halfway up the room that he spotted her.

She, Hermione, looked so different in this setting and suddenly he was very grateful for the lack of regularity amongst the Hogwarts students. She stood out so much to him, was so unique, the idea of making her conform so that she would blend in with everyone else was unthinkable.

Sadly, Viktor had no time to do anything more than glance quickly her way before he was ushered to his seat, which, to his vast disappointment, was on the opposite side of the hall. As he sat down, he watched Karkaroff join the head table, noting a moment of disgust on his Headmaster's face before his mask came down. The man was not always at his best around people he considered outsiders. Which, to a man like Karkaroff, was everyone.

Once the speeches were over and the food had appeared on the long tables, the visiting boys shucked out of their warm outerwear before filling their plates. Viktor answered a few polite enquiries from those around him on the benches before he turned his attention back to the other side of the room. Thankfully Hermione was sat on the side of the table that faced him, and it didn't take long to catch her gaze. Viktor told himself that she must have been looking in his direction too for him to have achieved his purpose so quickly. He nodded at her in private greeting, his eyes sparkling with clear amusement, he hoped it would be enough to convey that he had always known they would meet again.

Hermione's head tipped to the side, dislodging her cascading curls, and she smiled freely in reply before one of her tablemates commanded her attention, and sadly, she turned away. Viktor hoped he hadn't imagined the air of reluctance she had shown before she broke their shared gaze.

Wrapped up in his silent communication with Hermione he hadn't seen the querying glances shot over his head. When he had sat at the table, Viktor had taken his usual place between Filip and Mikhail, two boys he had dormed with since their first year. His schoolmates were more like family to him than friends, and having known him long before he began his professional career, they never treated him as anything other than a fellow student. However, a downside to the boys knowing him so well was that they clocked his odd behaviour, as his intensely admiring gaze broke away from the Gryffindor table they took their opportunity to grill him.

"Who is the girl?" Filip began, thankfully in Bulgarian, so as not to alert the rest of the table to the nature of their discussion.

"Which girl?" he answered, attempting nonchalance as he regarded the food on his plate.

"Don't play dumb Viktor; it doesn't suit you," Mikhail interjected.

Viktor snorted but he didn't reply, he kept his eyes fixed on the table as he reached to refill his water.

"That was incredibly fast work, we have only been here a few hours," Filip teased, elbowing him in the ribs. "I like her hair, did you meet any of her friends that you could introduce us too?"

Viktor poked at the cooling beef on his plate as he contemplated how much he wanted to say, he didn’t want to build it up, lest he met with Hermione again and it didn’t go well, and yet he couldn’t bring himself to lie. "I met her at the World Cup," he reluctantly conceded, ignoring Filip's praise of her appearance, though his lips almost betrayed him and agreed all on their own.

“You never said anything,” Filipi chastised, and Viktor nodded in acknowledgement. He could hardly deny it. He hadn’t said anything despite several conversations they’d had that summer about girls and the like. At the time Viktor hadn’t been sure why he was holding back, and he still didn’t know now; however, he kept ruminating over how private his moment with Hermione had felt, how sincere, in some respect telling the boys about it would have sullied it somehow.

"Quidditch fan?" Mikhail queried, breaking Viktor out of his contemplations.

"No," Viktor laughed out, remembering Hermione's quiet words in the Minister's box, and the others exchanged a matching set of raised eyebrows. "Is nothing," he continued, switching back to English, giving a clear signal that he was done with the conversation.

"Sure, Viktor, sure," Mikhail countered, an incredulous expression, but neither boy pushed him any further.

Establishing a routine at Hogwarts took longer than Viktor had foreseen. At Durmstrang he was just a student, albeit one with extra responsibilities. He had assumed that he might get a few looks while in England, the country was a hub for his preferred sport after all, but the following of girls that trailed him everywhere, with rather dogged determination, was unexpected and unsettling. Still, whatever the obstacles he had to proceed with his life - his rigidly organised life - as much as possible. At the Institute, physical education was of vital importance, and both general fitness and combat skills were in the curriculum from the first year. Even if they hadn't been, his burgeoning career relied on his fitness, and so Viktor ran daily as part of a rather comprehensive exercise plan worked out with his coach and maintained through all weathers. He found it very strange that no such programme existed at the British school, and yet, despite their apparent lack of formal education, it did not stop his growing flock of followers chasing after him as he paced the extensive grounds. Though his suddenly acquired mobile fanbase was not without its positives, even Viktor could concede that running as if he had a pack of baying dogs on his heels had increased his stamina.

As he returned from his latest attempt at a peaceful jog to get his bearings, Viktor was still looking over his shoulder assessing the ground he had covered, and not looking where he was going he ran straight into Karkaroff. Thankfully, not at full speed, he was sure he never wanted to discover what may have happened if he knocked the Headmaster clean over.

"Careful, Victor," Karkaroff admonished as he brushed imaginary besmirchments off his robes.

"Sŭzhalyavam," Viktor responded automatically.

"In English," his Headmaster tutted, exasperation leaking into his tone.

"Sorry," Viktor corrected. Karkaroff had been insistent that they use this opportunity to perfect their English, Viktor knew he had a long way to go and was fully prepared to try, but sometimes he forgot and reverted to his native language.

A shrill set of babbling giggles alerted him that the hunting party had caught up, and a smirk crossed his Headmaster's face. "You should not run so fast Viktor. You are a man now; eventually the idea is to let one of them catch you." Karkaroff looked passed him in the direction of the girls before turning back with an expression of distaste. "Though possibly, not by one of these girls."


Once he made it back to the ship, thankfully unscathed, Viktor found Filip in their dorm room looking proud of himself, which seven years worth of experience had taught him was not usually a good sign. Trying his best to ignore his smug friend, Viktor crossed the dorm intent on heading into the bathroom.

"I have valuable information that might save your legs," Filip began self-importantly.

"Da?" he answered, bemused by Filip's phrasing, Viktor paused in his progress and stopped instead at his bed and began to rifle through his trunk for his shower things.

"What I know is… girl… the one you like with the curly hair... Hermy-O… Hermi-knee…. Miss Granger, " he huffed, with a frustration that Viktor would have felt sympathy for, had he not been thrown by his friend knowing her name.

"How did you know who…"

"Not important," Filip interrupted.

"But," Viktor tried to press but was cut off again.

"I know where she is when not in class," Filip finished with a self-satisfied smile and a flourish of his hands.

Viktor straightened, his eyes narrowing on his friend, Filip and Mikhail had been pushing for more information for days, and he had not budged. Viktor knew he had been running more lately in the hopes that maybe he would see Hermione but, he hadn’t realised that his friends had put two and two together.

"No need to look so cross," Filip joked, smiling brilliantly, "I tell you… she spends time in the library."

The next day Viktor went in search of Hermione, leaving his friends after their last class. They exchanged knowing looks that made him hate them both for a moment, but he shuffled off nevertheless saying he would meet them at dinner. The ribbing and endless taunts would be worth it if he got to see her. Filip had been right, he might have been fit but there was only so much his legs could take.

After a couple of wrong turns and falteringly asking for directions from a tiny looking first year who gaped at him like a stranded fish, Viktor entered the quiet space, and as Filip had said she would be, there she was.

Hermione was stationed behind a table that was probably big enough for four people, though she commandeered most of the available space by spreading her things out in what looked like a highly organised form of chaos. She was bent over a book, deep in concentration, with one of her small hands splayed on the ancient looking tome while the other clutched at her quill determinedly, her delicate fingers covered in sizeable blotches of blue ink.

Viktor was once again struck by how distinct she looked; he had never seen anyone that resembled her. Her hair gave her an almost wild appearance and yet she held herself with a regal quality that was rare and bizarre in someone as young as she was. He stopped in his tracks for a moment, merely to observe the small changes in her face as her eyes followed the words in the text. He studied her as hard as she did her book, watching as she absentmindedly bit her bottom lip, an image he was beginning to find very distracting. He marvelled at the sight as her eyebrows rose and her eyes gleamed as she stretched across the table to furiously write something down, pausing to pull back the sleeve of her jumper that was at least two sizes too big for her small form. Desperate as he had been to speak to her, Viktor was almost loathed to disturb her or to interrupt the beautiful tableau she presented.

Suddenly a chorus of giggles rang through the space, the harsh, grating sound both disturbing the tranquillity and taking away his choice of when to approach. Viktor frowned at the group of girls at a nearby table, all of whom were making a relatively unconvincing display of reading.

Hermione looked up at the unwelcome interruption and scowled in their direction before she spotted him, her eyes softening a fraction. "Hello, Mr Krum," she greeted politely. "How strange that I should see you again, at my school no less," she continued with one eyebrow raised and Viktor picked up on her silent query.

"I sorry, Durmstrang was coming but my place not positive until after World Cup." Yes, I did know I would see you again. Otherwise, I would never have left without requesting permission to write to you.

Hermione smiled at him, and he took it for forgiveness, however momentary and gestured towards the chair opposite her, sitting down when she nodded. Regarding her relaxed pose and attentive expression, Viktor decided he could get away with some teasing of his own.

"I thought you had forgotten about me, thought you must be fixing boy's noses every day."

"Hardly," she laughed, and Viktor’s shoulders relaxed This laugh, her laugh, was so unlike those of his obnoxious shadows, it wasn't jarring in the slightest. "I meant to say hello, but I haven't seen you since your dramatic entrance, " she made a face, and he beamed at her. "How are you enjoying Hogwarts so far?"

Viktor ran a hand through his short hair as he tried to mentally translate all of the words he wanted to use, the action prompted a bout of sighs from the nearby table, and as he caught Hermione rolling her eyes he felt the corner of his lips quirk in response.

"Ah, it is different," he answered honestly. He wanted to be more verbose, to engage Hermione in a long conversation about anything that she would find interesting. Something that would leave her as enticed by him as he was by her, but he had neither the grasp of the language or the nerve right now, though her warm, open greeting more than buoyed him. He had wondered for so long whether their previous conversation had been a mere fluke, a magic that could never be repeated. The hairs standing up on the back of his neck squashed those doubts into dust. Hermione's eyes flickered to her open book, and Viktor remembered the intense concentration she had displayed when he entered.

"I disturb you?" he probed gently.

"No, well, yes, I suppose," she replied apologetically. "I need to finish something for Transfiguration."

Viktor glanced over at the book she was working from and studied the chapter headings. "You are the fourth year, yes?"

"Yes," she confirmed.

"This is very advanced book," he commented lifting his eyes again to meet her's across the table.

Hermione blushed, "It's for an extra credit paper."

Viktor felt further encouragement from her admission; he took his education and his career, everything, seriously. It was comforting that Hermione did too. He thought about speaking to her more on the subject of Transfiguration; it was a topic he knew well and as it was school related he wouldn’t feel so much like he was harassing her. Sadly, any further attempt at conversation was halted by his little group of followers, they started whispering, loudly, and he felt too much like he was threatening her progress to stay.

"Well, I go now, so you get work done," he said reluctantly.

"Thank you," Hermione murmured, and Viktor grew even more irritated with the simpering girls as he picked up on her obvious relief.

Unwilling to go without plans to see her again he stood from his seat and stepped next to her chair, turning his back to their uninvited audience so his words would not be overheard. "Could I… could study with you next time?"

"Yes, of course,” Hermione replied quickly, “there are some quieter tables around the back there, near the Muggle Studies section, no one ever goes there so we would be quite alone… oh," she finished abruptly, putting a delicate hand in front of her mouth. "I didn't mean," she stammered.

Viktor coughed away his grin. "Is fine, understand meaning," he placated, gently laying a hand on her shoulder both to reassure her and to give in to his desire to have some form of physical contact. "Bye Hermi-o-knee."

"Your pronunciation is getting better," he heard her say as he turned to leave, she had said it so quietly he wasn't sure he was supposed to have heard it. Viktor couldn't resist responding over his shoulder.

“Maybe if need say it often, will get better still, yes?"

"Yes, I suppose," Hermione sputtered out, and Viktor took in her flustered face and hoped he hadn't pushed her too far.

The next day Viktor entered the Great Hall flanked by Filip and Mikhail all moving with determination. The boys from Durmstrang had agreed to place their names in the Goblet of Fire the same day, and they were the last to arrive in the crowded space. As he took his turn, Viktor removed the folded piece of parchment from his pocket and dropped it into the depths of the glowing cup, and with it a simple wish that he be chosen to represent the school that had taught him everything. As he swung from his elevated position, he spotted Hermione sat on the raised seats, a book resting on her knees. After sending her an intense glance, he winked at her and watched with a growing sense of warmth as she averted her eyes in an attempt to cover the blush that was spreading across her cheeks.

As he sauntered over to where the Durmstrang boys that had taken their turns were congregating, Viktor caught a few of them looking at him. None of them would have missed how he singled Hermione out, and that was fine by him, they would all know his intentions towards that particular witch now.

As he attended an all boys school it was really no surprise that a lot of the discussion in the lead up to the Tournament had centred on the types of girls they were likely to meet on their travels, as far as Viktor was concerned he had just sent an unambiguous signal that this particular girl was very off limits.

Clapping as the rest of his schoolmates took their turn, Viktor absentmindedly looked around the room until he spotted Karkaroff lingering in the shadows. When he registered the headmaster’s raised eyebrows, and grim expression get was left in no doubt, he would be summoned for a conversation soon.

Chapter Text

Hermione frustratedly wiped at the curls that had escaped her loose ponytail, huffing as she pushed them back behind her ear for the umpteenth time. The effort was futile; the wind was so strong she would be lucky if the ponytail itself remained in place. Against her better judgement, she had been dragged down to the shore of the Black Lake by a determined Harry and Ron. The unpredictable Scottish weather would soon give in to the pull of winter, and it was, Hermione conceded eventually, one of the last days they would be able to enjoy 'the outdoors' with any measure of comfort.

Reluctantly, Hermione had seized her books and materials and made a home away from home for herself, perched on one of the large boulders that lined the shady part of the shore. The boys, as was typical, had given up any pretence of work about four minutes after they had arrived. Instead, they had been messing around skipping stones, feigning attempts at throwing each other into the murky water and languishing next to her, lamenting the amount of work they had to do, while not touching a single textbook.

By the end of the first hour Hermione had almost entirely tuned them out, and so perfected was her ability after years of practice that she almost missed Ron’s whispered 'Krum' as he violently shook Harry's arm. The rough action, and the fact that he had to cut across Hermione to do it stripped away any stealth Ron might have gained from the uncharacteristic lowering of his voice.

Hermione looked up on reflex, snapping her head in the direction Ron unsubtly indicated. Sure enough, there was Viktor jogging passed them, flanked by two boys from Durmstrang, all in training clothes. She caught his eye, only momentarily, and thought she saw the ghost of a smile across his features before he turned away and his face morphed into a more serious expression. Hermione dropped her gaze down to the parchment in front of her, though she remained fixed on the retreating trio in her peripheral vision. Once they had moved far enough away, she gave in to the urge to glance up again only to look straight into the face of one of the boys who was running alongside Viktor. He gave her a small wave with a broad smile before Viktor bumped shoulders with him and they accelerated away.

Hermione's bemusement over the odd encounter gave way to a spike of concern as she suddenly remembered where she was - sat between the boys - what would they have made of that interaction?  When she risked a cautious look in both directions she realised her worry was over nothing, neither Harry or Ron had noticed a single thing, they were too deep in conversation concerning the best way of asking Viktor for his autograph.

"I don't know Ron; I'm not sure opening with a joke is the best idea; he doesn't exactly look like a barrel of laughs," Harry advised.

Hermione's brow pinched as she tightened her grip on her forgotten parchment.

"You’re right mate. But I better think of something before the twins do, I can only imagine how much grief I would get off them if they got something before me," Ron sighed.

Hermione bit her tongue. Viktor didn't always look surly, did he?  He always seemed perfectly pleasant when they had spoken, though admittedly that had only been on two occasions, which wasn't enough instances to judge when he was always anything.

Hermione hadn't told her friends about meeting Viktor in the library, not because she was keeping it a secret exactly. Primarily it was because she had never mentioned their only previous conversation, the night of the World Cup final, in the Minister's box. That first meeting had been so bizarre that when Viktor had eventually disappeared with the rest of the players, Hermione had questioned whether anyone would actually believe her, after all; why had he been talking to her?

Then the Death Eaters had made themselves known and attacked the campsite, and Hermione had forgotten all about her private back and forth with the Quidditch star. Her memories of that day became muddled by fear, all she had felt as she faced the poor Muggles animated cruelly above the crowd before the sky had broken open to green spectral light.

The events of that evening had haunted her dreams for so long that by the time her mind had filtered back to happier recollections concerning the injured Quidditch player, Hermione had half convinced herself she might have imagined it after all. Real or not, thoughts of Viktor continued to poke at her awareness even as Hermione resolved to forget it. If she was nothing else she was a practical witch, it seemed silly to keep thinking of him, their respective paths were never likely to cross again after all, or so she had thought.

Then he had shown up at Hogwarts.

Hermione wasn't entirely sure how to process her feelings, she knew she was affected by Viktor, and that small acknowledgement drove her to selfishly keep the acquaintance to herself. The boys would be desperate for an introduction if she told, and with all of their Quidditch knowledge and easy chat, Hermione feared Viktor would soon lose interest in her.

Hermione straightened the papers on her lap as Ron leapt off the boulder and began convincing Harry to take part in whatever game he had just devised. He grinned at something Harry muttered, no doubt something crass, and Hermione felt a little pang in her chest at the warmth in his expression. It wasn't longing, not as such, more like the ghost of affection no longer carried so closely to her heart. Over the previous year, Hermione had over analysed all of her morphing feelings for Ron, as well as paying close attention to how he acted around her. At first, she had ignored it, not wanting to give the growing emotions attention less they became out of control. But she couldn't. Not when she realised her feelings for her friend went some way beyond the silly crushes that had come and gone before. Hermione shuddered as her mind supplied the coiffured image of Professor Lockhart. Her feelings for Ron were different, or at least they had been. When they could no longer be denied Hermione had done what she could to capture Ron’s attention; she tried especially hard to please him, to help him with his homework, to make him laugh... But none of it had changed anything, he still saw her as a friend. Only a friend.

Hermione glanced up again as the Durmstrang runners turned a corner and were now visible on the other side of the lake. She took in their tall forms and uniform sportswear with a slight tilt of her head. Nothing like their clothes existed at Hogwarts, the only thing they had in that category were the kits the Quidditch players wore, and they were full robes designed to combat all weathers, not the long shorts and tight t-shirts the runners had on. Hermione caught her train of thought and dropped her face forward until all of the escaped hair she had been unable to tame obscured her heated cheeks.

Had she ever looked at a boy in frank admiration before?

 By the time the Halloween Feast was upon them again, it felt almost normal for the other schools to be with them. Both the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons students were tutored separately, so they only saw them at meals and the end of classes. The Great Hall was more than large enough to accommodate the additions, but Hermione couldn't help but feel disappointment she wasn't more able to assess herself against them academically, and, conversely, a tiny bit relieved that she wouldn’t be challenged in her lessons - not that she would have ever admitted as much out loud.

As usual, the Great Hall was decorated sublimely, with an attention to detail that would only be surpassed in a few months time when the castle celebrated Christmas.

Hermione had waited, almost patiently, for this moment since Viktor had put his name in the Goblet of Fire. Though she hadn’t understood the appeal herself, his entry hadn't been a surprise. Naturally, all of the selected guests had wanted to compete, and yet her emotions switched between hope and concern when she regarded the object that would decide his fate. Hermione considered that Viktor would likely be upset if he weren't selected, she had concluded that he must have been a driven individual; you didn't become the best in the world at anything without tenacity. However, if he were to compete, he would likely be in a significant amount of danger. Hermione quietly ruminated on his happiness versus her peace of mind as Dumbledore went through an unnecessary speech, and she only returned her full attention to the front of the hall when the Goblet began to glow, shooting white sparks racing into the air. As the room fell into silence another, larger cascade left the cup, blasting a folded square of dark-hued parchment straight at the headmaster. Dumbledore unfolded the charred paper, employing his usual flair for the dramatic and looked into the crowd, "The Durmstrang Champion will be… Viktor Krum," he called.

Cheers erupted from the Slytherin end of the room, and Hermione looked over in time to see the two boys that Viktor had been running with pat him on the back while shouts of congratulations, and what she assumed were some Bulgarian swear words came from the rest of their contingent. She applauded along with everyone else as Viktor rose from his seat to move out of the Great Hall for the Wand Weighing Ceremony. After learning they would be holding the tournament this year, Hermione had read up on the customs and processes and for once, those around her listened with rapt attention as she explained the reason for his exit.

The Beauxbatons champion was next. Hermione hadn't spent a significant amount of time with any of the blue-clad students, though she had been pointed out to them as a student that spoke French, so she been stopped in the hall occasionally to give directions. In those brief interactions, they had impressed her with her impeccable manners but were usually rushing off to an appointment, so Hermione had had little chance to ask more questions.

After another whizzing beam had flown out of the cup, Fleur Delacour was swiftly announced as the second champion, though her selection evoked a less heartfelt response from her section than Viktor’s had done. A heavy hush fell over the room as the Goblet kindled again and the headmaster wasted no time in reading the piece of parchment bearing Cedric Diggory's name. Hermione smiled and shook her head in silent amusement as the tall boy untangled himself from the benches, before languidly strolling up the hall as if he were on a catwalk, a self-aware smile pulling across his beautiful features. Cedric could have been the poster boy for fair play and hard work, and if he was the Hogwarts champion all was right in the world.

As the door closed behind the exuberant Hufflepuff, the hall erupted with excited chatter. Now that the desire to know who the competitors would be had been sated the students began to speculate on what they would face and debates broke out over who would have the advantages. Such was the distracted state of the room at large that no one noticed when the Goblet began to glimmer again, not until another piece of torn, tattered parchment flew toward Dumbledore. As confusion spread, Hermione's eyes urgently darted to the teachers, when she could only conclude that they seemed as bewildered as she was made her heart rose in her throat.

By the time Harry's name was called Hermione had already begun half shoving him towards the front of the room. If something unexpected were about to happen of course her friend would be in the centre of it. As he made it to the head table, he turned and looked back at her, his eyes blown wide with an expression of total terror. Hermione sighed as she gripped the edge of the table helplessly, headless to the growing din around her. Oh, crap.

Hermione rubbed her eyes as she sat down at the almost empty Gryffindor table for breakfast. She was thankful for the peace and quiet. The atmosphere in their common room the night before had been tense at best, and Ron and Harry's heated argument still lingered in her mind.

She had been shocked into silence by Ron's attack on their friend, a rare feat indeed. Once Harry had returned from the headmaster's office, startled and grave, she had expected the derision from everyone else, but from Ron, it had stung. She assumed that he would cut her out, had done so several times over for smaller infractions, but never Harry. Only Neville had stood beside her in Harry's defence; Hermione was glad he would have at least one of his roommates on his side. Having shared a room with Lavender and Parvati for three years, she was well versed in the irritation caused by sleeping with the enemy.

After disinterestedly poking at her porridge for a while, Hermione gave up and poured herself a second cup of tea, pulling open the Daily Prophet, and scrunching her nose as she regarded the blaring headlines. They certainly hadn't wasted any time in getting the word out about the previous evening's event.

The entire article seemed to centre on Harry, painting him as a child living with the crippling burden of his parent's deaths preventing him from daily function. The tone was hugely patronising, and Hermione felt her chest swell with indignation, she moved to throw the paper away from herself before she caught the picture.

The Champion's Portrait dominated the front page, and her eyes were instantly drawn to Viktor, standing off to the side looking into the camera severely, barely moving at all. His look put her in mind of when she had first seen him, his face peering out of flags at the World Cup. Somehow the image he presented did not match up to the measure of him she had in her mind. Her eyes scanned the article for mention of him but there was only a concise note right at the end, and even there his name had been spelt wrong.

Finally folding the paper away she made to leave but paused when Harry shuffled into the quiet space, his eyes assessing the tables before he spotted her, moving to fold in next to her on the empty benches.

"Morning," she greeted kindly, omitting the good, he looked worse than she felt.

In response he collapsed onto the bench, dropping his head into his hands. "Hermione, you have to help me," he groaned.

Hermione placed a hand on his back in what she hoped was a comforting gesture. "Of course, Harry, of course."

As the heavy wooden library doors swung closed behind her, Hermione felt her shoulders sag with relief. She paused by the entrance to her chosen haven and shut her eyes, giving herself a moment to breathe in the comforting smell of parchment before moving determinedly towards the back windows, where the Muggle Studies section was located. She dropped her outer robes and bag, staking her claim on a table before trooping around the shelves to pick up the books she needed.

Though Viktor had asked to study together when they last spoke, Hermione hadn’t yet seen him. He hadn't specified a day or time, something she reminded herself of regularly. It wasn't as if she was angry, or even disappointed, though she didn't want to analyse why she sat at these tables at every visit rather than her preferred ones by Transfiguration.

After trudging back with her haul, Hermione skimmed her planner and settled on Ancient Runes as her first topic. She was soon engrossed. The translation question set as homework was complicated, and throughout her workings she had already made several mistakes. Far from growing frustrated she found she enjoyed the challenge. As she thought over a particular stone, she pulled her reference book forward to rest on her thighs as she made notes on a scrap of parchment.

Hermione was utterly oblivious to the world around her, so when a heavy bag dropped next to her, the unexpected noise made her jump so abruptly she nearly left her seat.

"Sorry, sorry," the suddenly appeared Viktor said, looking genuinely remorseful as Hermione held her hand to her chest while attempting to return her breathing to normal. "I not used to sneaking on people, not very balanced on ground." He smiled apologetically, and Hermione found herself returning it. "I still allowed to sit here?" he asked playfully.

Hermione folded her arms across herself, meaning to respond in kind. "I'm not sure, as you can see there isn't much space."

Viktor's eyes fell on the desk that she had strewn with books and countless rolls of parchment. "I see, you need table for many people," he took two steps away from her and pointed towards the main doors. "I could ask students in other places, make more space?"

"Oh, just sit down," Hermione stuttered as Viktor started laughing. She was already feeling out of her depth. She knew her face would be the colour of a ripe tomato; she couldn't carry on this spirited discourse without risking passing out, being so unused to attention of this kind.

Viktor sat down in the chair next to her, not across from her as Hermione had been expecting and she jerked forward to make him some space, starting slightly when their arms brushed as he tried to help her. They both laughed, her nervously before she backed into her seat.

They were silent for a while as Viktor pulled out his materials and set up his workspace. Hermione wanted to say something, anything really, she was never short of words usually, but his proximity discombobulated her. She eyed Viktor out of the corner of her vision and tried to resume what she had been doing before he arrived, only it seemed she had forgotten how to write, sit and even breathe like a normal human.  Had he always been so large? Hermione flushed again as he turned towards her, catching her eyes wandering over his shoulders and she sputtered out a garbled congratulations for his selection, hoping to distract him from her ogling.

"Thank you, was very pleased," he said before smirking at her, "I was hoping to ask you to cheer for me but know you friends with Potter."

For a moment Hermione wondered how Viktor knew about their friendship with Harry, but she supposed if he had not merely been told by another Hogwarts student it would have been a fair assumption after she had all but dragged Harry out of his seat when the Goblet of Fire spat out his name. On top of that display, they had barely been apart in the days that followed. With the reaction of the rest of their house, Harry had little choice but to tag along with her.

"Yes, I am,” she confirmed as she set her quill down. “Harry is, well, he is a very important friend of mine, and not many people are talking to him at the moment, he needs my support."

Viktor looked a little sullen but the expression passed quickly, and he was back to watching her so intently Hermione felt the need to look away. "You look sad," he said finally.

Hermione smiled wanly, discomposed by his keen observation. "I'm just tired,” she explained, leaning her elbow on the desk and propping her cheek up with her hand. “It was a long night. After the feast, there were arguments in the common room, and my best friends aren't talking."

"Boy with red hair is… Friend?" Viktor asked.

"Yes," Hermione confirmed, and Viktor's smile looked a little less false. "He is, but everyone, including him, thinks Harry put his name into the Goblet, and Ron is annoyed because he thinks Harry did it without telling him so that he could keep all the glory to himself," she rattled off before wincing. "Sorry, I didn't mean to whine at you."

"Hermi-o-knee stop apologising, he should believe friend. Karkaroff not happy about extra Hogwarts student but boy's face," Viktor trailed off, struggling with what he wanted to say. "He did not look like boy who was wanting to be there."

"Thank you," Hermione whispered, taken aback yet hugely comforted by Viktor’s ease of understanding. Looking to distract from her awkward offloading she tried to change the subject. "What are you working on?"

"Charms," Viktor replied, pointing to a rough looking leather bound book that was open on a week to view calendar. It was so full - even by Hermione's standards - she edged closer. Sure enough under the day's date was a light blue bar with Charms - and what must have been the Bulgarian word for it - written within.

"That's a lot of work," she said observed reverently.

"Da… School, Quidditch, now tournament," Viktor licked his lips not taking his eyes off the planner. "I wanted come see you, before now… but-"

"It's ok," Hermione interrupted not liking his discomfort. She screwed up all of her courage and placed a hand lightly on his forearm, though she didn’t dare look up. "I can see you are busy," she soothed or at least attempted to. As she reluctantly moved her hand away, Hermione eyed an interesting looking text on the desk in front of them, and her hands moved of their own volition with the urge to touch it. "What's this?" she inquired excitedly.

"Charms text for seventh year at Durmstrang," Viktor answered absentmindedly before regarding her expression and smiling indulgently and pushing it towards her.

Hermione tugged the tome closer and opened the hardcover, eyes wide with the promise of new information. She had often wondered how the syllabus at other magical schools varied from her own. Was it harder? More theoretical or practical?  As she ran her hand over the contents page, Viktor leant over her shoulder to tap the top of the book with his wand and the Bulgarian script melted away to reveal English words

"Wordless translation charm? Very impressive Mr Krum," Hermione said primly, biting her lip to hide the smile that threatened.

He snorted before pointing to his head. "Not just Quidditch up here."

Hermione chuckled. She had long believed there was more to the Bulgarian that met the eye. Even in their first meeting he had seemed entirely focused on her. For someone as famous as he was he didn’t seem to have an arrogant bone in his body.

As Viktor began writing into one of his many notebooks, Hermione glanced back down at her half-completed translation. Generally, after an interruption of her study time she would want to dig back into whatever she was doing, but this time she didn't. The lure of Ancient Runes wasn't strong at all, which perplexed her greatly. She loved Runes. As she watched Viktor working next to her, Hermione gave herself a pass, just this once. She'd had a horrible day, and it wasn't likely to improve anytime soon, and something about Viktor's presence made her feel comforted, listened too. Her mind slipped back to her internal monologues from the previous evening, while she had watched him celebrate as he was essentially placed in mortal peril. Not knowing when she might get the chance to have a quiet conversation with him again she decided to probe.

"Can I ask you why you entered? The Tournament I mean."

If she wasn't mistaken the apple of his cheeks fractionally pinkened, but the colour, real or imagined, was gone a moment later.

"I like competition,” Viktor said matter of factly. “Durmstrang trains you to be best. Want people to know I am more than sports. I like challenge and I… I wanted to see other school," he finished softly.

It was one of the longest sentences Viktor had spoken in her hearing, and Hermione wondered if that was down to him being a quiet type or the language barrier. His accent was strong but not as rough as it had been when they first met. Though Hermione reasoned his nose had been broken then, and that would have had an impact.

She nodded, unsure of what else to say. Viktor had confirmed a part of his nature that she had already anticipated and for that, she was glad he had the chance to represent his school. Though his entry still didn't sit well with her trepidation over what the champions might face. Hermione straightened her book in front of her and dropped her tone, even though there was no one close enough to hear them. "But what about the dangers, aren't you scared?"

Viktor raised an eyebrow, shifting in his chair to face her. "Why? You worried about me?"

"Yes," Hermione answered automatically, too caught up in his closeness and his firm gaze to filter her response. When her quick confirmation registered, she averted her eyes. "Well, of course I am, I'm worried about all of the competitors," she stammered. 

Smooth Hermione, real smooth. When she dared to raise her eyes, it was to see Viktor shift forward, tilting his head so close to hers that their cheeks almost touched. She felt his breath on the shell of her ear as he placed a hand on the back of her chair, closing in on her.

"I am small part scared," he whispered, "but do not tell anyone, it will be our secret."

Chapter Text

Viktor walked briskly through the unusually quiet Hogwarts grounds, revelling in some unexpected peace as he headed back to the Durmstrang ship. It was pleasant being left with just his thoughts, and of late he found he had a lot to think about it, his new relationship with Hermione included.

After that first day of studying together in the library, a routine of sorts had been established. Whenever possible Viktor would excuse himself after classes, and spend the hour before dinner working side by side with Hermione. It wasn't much but sadly time was a commodity he had little control over. He couldn't offer more. Viktor told himself that he was lucky to see her a couple of times a week and some days he could trick himself into believing it.

Despite Hermione's reaction to his full planner, Viktor could tell that Hermione had just as much on her plate. When he arrived at the table - almost at the back of the large space - hidden behind a bookshelf, the one he had come to think of as theirs, she would frequently be working on more than one project, though she never failed to tear her eyes away from her parchments to great him.

Hermione took a genuine interest in his studies and asked him all kinds of questions about his home and interests outside of school. She never pried, in fact, all of the personal information she was now in possession of was information Viktor had freely given her. Their continued meetings eased his fear of speaking at length around her, though Viktor was under no illusions that he had suddenly become eloquent - even in his native tongue he wasn’t one for elaborate words - simply he was no longer concerned about making a mistake. He knew Hermione well enough to know she wouldn’t judge him for it.

Their easy camaraderie and comfortable silences were so different from anything he had experienced before. Viktor’s inner circle was small, deliberately so, and he did not trust easily. His fame, thrust upon him at a young age, had made him somewhat jaded in the face of attention from people he didn't know, but not with Hermione.

Viktor smiled at his reflections as he walked deeper into the bowels of the ship. Their stolen conversations were becoming increasingly precious to him.

Being around Hermione was peaceful. Viktor found that with further interaction every indicative feeling he’d had about her at the World Cup had been correct. She was something. Something worth time and attention, and like anything that was worth having Viktor had foreseen there would be obstacles, but he hadn’t imagined they would emerge so soon.

Karkaroff had collared him before classes began that morning and asked to meet before dinner. Though polite words were used, they were both fully aware he wasn't asking at all. Viktor remembered the Headmaster's face when he had put his name into the Goblet of Fire. They hadn't had an entirely private session since then. He was sure Karkaroff would want to discuss the first task, but he knew he wouldn't miss the opportunity to bring up Hermione while he had his ‘star pupil’ alone.

Viktor’s relationship with Karkaroff was relatively good. There wasn't another kind of relationship to be had with the man, you found a way to get on with him, or you left the school, it was as simple as that. The Headmaster could be cruel, never one to believe there were boundaries to the criticism he could hurl at his students. He schooled them in every aspect of their lives both educational and personal nothing was off limits from how you executed your homework to how you cut your hair. Yet, Viktor respected him, he might not have fully trusted Karkaroff, but he did respect him

With a heavy heart, Viktor stood below deck before the imposing office door and knocked, once he heard the voice from within bid him enter he promptly walked through, shutting the door behind him and placed himself in front of Karkaroff's desk, standing ramrod straight and looking directly ahead. Presentation was important to a man like the headmaster; they were trained to stand in such a way from the first year, as a mark of respect and to show they were ready to receive instruction. Though what edification he would receive on this occasion, Viktor was not yet sure.

Karkaroff was much more comfortable, leant back into his ornate office chair. Without the addition of the furs he wore everywhere you could tell that he was a naturally thin man, though no less imposing without the added bulk. He had dark hair and assessing eyes, the stuff of nightmares for the younger boys, and even some of the older never got over their fear. Viktor too had been scared, once upon a time, but not anymore. Now he was a man, looking at another man, albeit an authority figure. Viktor owed the headmaster deference but he was willing - and he believed able - to stand his ground should he need to.

Karkaroff placed his elbows on the arms of his chair, linking his hands together in front of himself as he allowed the room to fall silent for several moments. "Dragons," he said eventually, calmly, and Viktor's eyes snapped to his.

"You are certain?" he asked urgently. Typically he would never have dared question the headmaster, but it wasn't every day you were informed you were going up against a dragon.

"Yes, I have seen them," Karkaroff answered dispassionately.

Viktor blinked as he tried to gather his thoughts. Once the initial panic subsided, he began thinking about the implications of him knowing ahead of time. Would it lead to an unfair advantage? He had no desire to win because the others had been hobbled before they even began competing. He wanted an even playing field; he wanted to beat the best.

"Do others..."

"All of the others know," the headmaster said curtly, cutting Viktor off. He wouldn't have put it passed Karkaroff to lie, hoping to give Durmstrang the advantage, but he had no real way of testing the truth. Viktor nodded. "I expect you to work on options for getting past the creature," Karkaroff commanded firmly.

"Yes, Sir," Viktor responded automatically. He was already mentally compiling a list of books he would need to read through. The longer the idea settled, the more he comprehended that there was still a lot he didn’t know about the task. Why dragons? It couldn’t be as simple as just being pitted against one of them; there would need to be a point. He had to start working on possible ideas.

"While you are here," the headmaster continued, and Viktor suppressed a wince. He squared his shoulders and regarded Karkaroff with as neutral an expression as he was capable of.  "I have noticed your very marked attention to a girl from Hogwarts school," Karkaroff stated smoothly.

"Yes, Sir," Viktor confirmed. The headmaster had noticed, there would be nothing gained from denying it.

"She is Muggle-born," Karkaroff said, dropping the word carefully as if he was testing for a reaction.

"I am aware," Viktor returned decidedly, almost baring his teeth, daring the man to say anything more. As far as he knew it was the first time he had overtly lied to Karkaroff. He hadn't known, though he had suspected. Certain phrases Hermione used that were incomprehensible in a way that went beyond the language barrier or cultural differences. It was probably one of the reasons she was so unique. Even if he had cared about something so ridiculous as blood, he was sure meeting her would have changed those beliefs. How could they possibly hold up when faced with someone as brilliant as she was?

Karkaroff regarded Viktor’s surface level composure through narrowed eyes. "I would remind you Viktor of the paramount importance we place on the secrets of our esteemed school," as he spoke his tone shifted from flowing silk to satin over jagged rocks.

"We do not talk of Durmstrang," Viktor asserted, lying again, only this time it was a slighter untruth, more of a fib. They spoke of Durmstrang often, but never in the way the headmaster was suggesting. Hermione asked about the school inasmuch as it related to Viktor’s life, not its supposed secrets. Viktor was sure he would be able to tell the difference; he had endured enough conversations with people trying to subtly ascertain his financial worth after all.

He turned to face Karkaroff, ready to face the next charge. There was no way the headmaster would have summoned him with only one objection, there would be more, arranged in increasing severity as his argument continued.

The headmaster sat forward, seemingly unconcerned by his student’s lack of reaction. "Viktor, this is a  competition, an important one, the girl you have chosen is close friends with Harry Potter."

"She can be friends with both," Viktor offered quickly. He had satisfied himself of the same; he wasn't an idiot, what was he going to do if he won the girl? Lock her in a tower where she would have no access to friends of any kind? Hermione had already promised she would be cheering for both of them, what difference did it make? 

Viktor was surprised that he didn't have any reaction to Karkaroff's assertion that he had chosen Hermione. The headmaster’s word choice had been deliberate, such connotations had a broader meaning in pureblood society, but Viktor had not so much as flinched. Karkaroff turned his head to the side, and there was a gleam in his eyes that warned Viktor that whatever card he was still holding he considered he had the winning hand.

"She knows about the dragons for the first task. Did she tell you?" he asked softly, not that Viktor was fooled by the hint of concern he had injected into his voice.

Viktor worked hard to school his features to hide his surprise. Meetings with Karkaroff were like playing chess and poker all at once, you had to think three steps ahead and push down any emotional response lest you exposed a weakness that he wouldn't hesitate in pouncing on.

"She did not," he answered finally, struggling for impassivity as his mind whirred. Why hadn't she told him about them?   Did she want him to lose against Potter? She had said his friendship was a very important one…

Karkaroff smiled. "This is a  competition  Viktor,  associating  with this girl could ruin your chances, especially if she already has a  vested interest  in someone else." The headmaster sat back in his chair with an air of triumph, unable to hold back his malicious glee as he had successfully rammed his point home.

"I understand concerns," Viktor stated firmly, hoping to get of the office so he could deal with his emotions in private.

Karkaroff’s eyebrows quirked as he fiddled with a quill on his desk. "You understand?” he repeated with a sigh. “Am I to understand that it will not affect your actions?"

"It will not," Viktor stated determinedly. Whatever the headmaster thought, he would speak to Hermione before he questioned her motives, he didn't have the full picture yet.

Karkaroff suddenly looked much graver. His eyes darkened as his colour seemed to change. He eyed the door for a moment - as if checking it was still closed - before he regarded Viktor with a steely glare. “There are dark times ahead Viktor, times when it would be difficult for a pureblood family, an old pureblood family, such as yours, to be associated with a person of... questionable birth. "

Viktor bit down the retort that burned in his throat, the response he would have been able to give if he had an understanding with Hermione, even if the man was his professor. He might have said something anyway had he not belatedly picked up on the change in the headmaster's address. The first part of the meeting had been about show and point scoring, getting Viktor to accede to his wishes and move away from a situation that Karkaroff found undesirable. But this was different. There was a genuine warning in his message, whatever it was, from the visible tension in Karkaroff’s shoulders, the headmaster was undoubtedly concerned about it.

"Thank you for worry," Viktor attempted, pushing past the rawness in his throat, sticking to as few words as possible so as not to be engaged further.

Karkaroff eyed him for a long time as he pressed a hand absentmindedly against his forearm before he stood, walking over to the door and wrenching it open. "I will say nothing further about this… situation. Though, I will remind you, as I would tell any  boy  in front of me that you have a responsibility to act like a gentleman and remember she is young."

Viktor nodded and with a slight bow was dismissed.

As soon as he left the headmaster's quarters Viktor raced to his own; he needed to get a letter to his parents as soon as possible, he wouldn't put it past Karkaroff to contact them to outline his concerns. His parents would probably have even less reaction to Hermione’s status than he did, but if his mother found out he had designs on a witch from someone other than himself, Viktor would likely be buried under the sea of howlers she would send.

Viktor stood in the champions tent restlessly considering whether such a grandiose epithet could be applied to four, jittery teenagers. He had attempted sitting down several times but had jumped up shortly after, feeling the need to pace off some of his excess energy. This was the part he hated most, the waiting. It always felt the same, the calm before the storm. He could feel the need to move itch across his skin, his legs twitched, his blood pumped, he just wanted things to get going.

Every time the tent door fluttered Viktor could hear the noise of the growing crowd outside, the sound boomed in the silent space. In the quiet he could hear the November chill battling against the fabric of the roof, the cold biting into his limbs was almost entirely ignored as his heart began to race.

Adding to the ratcheting tension was the vile reporter from the Daily Prophet, circling them all like a shark attempting to pass itself off as a harmless guppy. Her lurid green robes whipped back and forth between the champions making Viktor feel like he might be sick.

The four of them kept themselves to themselves; they hadn’t been thrown together much, and this was hardly the time to strengthen an acquaintance. Those first warm smiles they had exchanged after being selected had faded as soon as Potter had hesitantly made his way into the designated room and announced he would be the fourth champion. So far they had not returned.

The door flapped open again, and four heads snapped in that direction, only to find it wasn't the TriWizard Committee they were all waiting on and dreading in equal measure, but Hermione. She was bundled up against the cold in a large woolly hat and chunky red scarf; her cheeks pink from the bracing wind.

She wasn't supposed to be there, but Viktor wasn't going to complain. He hadn't seen her since he had spoken to Karkaroff. Preparations had taken over every waking moment, and he had barely been inside the castle walls, let alone it's tempting library. He needed to talk to her, to get some inclining of what she might feel, if anything, for him. The sight of her soothed his nerves in a way he didn't understand. He was beginning to feel attached.

Viktor's eyes followed Hermione as she made a beeline for Potter and he felt a twinge of jealousy at the direction of her attention until he saw the green shade of the boy's face. How Karkaroff could think that Potter was a genius who had tricked the cup to take part Viktor would never know.

Hermione pulled the younger boy into a fierce hug and Potter made no attempt to push her off, they remained motionless for a few seconds before she let him go and began fussing over him; straightening out his robes and ruffling his hair. As she fiddled, she spoke in an almost constant stream that made Viktor take a step or two closer, so that he might be able to hear.

"Good luck Harry, you are going to be brilliant," she said determinedly with a bright smile. Viktor could hear the warm affection in her tone, but unless he was very much mistaken their relationship seemed familial. There was no averting of eyes or secret smiles like she had when they spoke.

"Sure, Hermione," Potter bit back with a sarcastic edge to his voice that was no doubt brought on by fear. "I'll be lucky to make it out alive."

"Well, that would be a start," Hermione replied, ignoring her friend’s harshness. "If you do nothing else I would be pleased with that."

Her joking raised a slight smile to Potter's face Viktor edged a little closer. Hermione looked like she was ready to leave and, as ever, he was reluctant for that to happen. Catching sight of him she finally turned her reassuring gaze in his direction. "Good luck," she said in a quieter voice, one meant only for him, and Viktor wished, not for the first time, that it was just the two of them, it was strange talking to her in front of all these people. Their relationship existed like a secret, and he suspected they both had their reasons for not wanting to share their familiarity.

"You not going to straighten my robes too?" He murmured his words only for her ears.

Hermione flushed, but her full mouth pulled into a shy smile. "I’m sure you’ll manage, I better be going."

The little bubble around them was broken by Cedric Diggory, who wanted to utilise the distraction for his own anxiety. "Leaving already Granger? I was expecting we would all get a tearful send-off," he called across the tent.

Viktor didn't like Hermione being called by her surname, but he already knew enough about her to let her fight her own battles, at least while he was within her line of sight. Under Viktor’s curious gaze she pivoted to face the tall boy clad in yellow.

"You're right Cedric," she cooed, before she turned again, "Fleur," she called out lightly, "very best of luck."

The beautiful blonde laughed at Hermione before giving her an elegant wave and Cedric mock pouted. Viktor marvelled. Hermione had come in and somehow, without even trying, had broken all of the tension. Was this what it would be like if she visited before his Quidditch games? Would she carry away all of the strain with a soft look and a few words?

While he was lost in thoughts of a possible future, Hermione tried to make a quick exit only to be blocked by Dumbledore and the rest of the Triwizard Contingent entering. Much as she sought to make herself invisible, she was spotted quickly and sent on her way. Viktor’s eyes tracked her to the door where she paused for a second, turning to make eye contact with him. 'Stay safe', she mouthed before disappearing.

I will try, he thought in reply.

Before long it was just Viktor and Harry left in the tent, both the other champions having already left to tackle their obstacle in the first task. He had debated starting a conversation with Potter several times but had not pursued it, the boy looked past speech.

When Barty Crouch Sr had arrived none of the champions had looked surprised at the mention of dragons, and Viktor was comforted that Karkaroff had not been lying about that at least. He didn't need to feel guilt over an unfair advantage on top of everything else. Viktor was third to pick from the proffered bag and the tiny dragon representing the Chinese Fireball climbed onto his hand, the miniature scaled beast picking him more than the other way around. Viktor had regarded the intricate charm and transfiguration work with some amusement, but no increased trepidation, the dragon he picked wasn't going to make a difference to the plan he had prepared.

When the gun signalling his turn finally sounded, Viktor stopped to lay a firm hand on Potter's shoulder before stepping from the tent and into the newly erected arena. The floor was made of a rocky terrain lined with deep stone walls, the cheering of the crowd seemed far away and he could just make out students perched on terraces way above where he was standing.

A flash of red crossed his eye line, and Viktor came face to face, or rather, face to snout, with the life-size Chinese Fireball for the first time. Viktor had imagined the dragon would be big, but nothing had prepared him for just how large the creature was. It opened its massive wings, flapping as it reared back onto its hind legs, blocking out the whole of the sky.

Running at full tilt, Viktor made it behind a high rock formation that afforded him a vantage point over the rest of the arena; he observed the dragon twist low in the sky for several seconds before it retreated to a stack of boulders on the other side. Deciding that was a likely guess for the nest Viktor waited until the Fireball retook flight before storming in that direction.

Viktor had just made it to his target when suddenly the Fireball swooped back down, light glimmering over its red and gold scales. He aimed the Conjunctivitis Curse into its protruding eyes the first clean shot he got; this was no time for showboating, he wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. He might have had a plan but it was far from elaborate, and wholly without backups. The creature’s momentary blindness gave him enough time to snatch up the golden egg, but he had not factored in the dragon's rage and stepped back quickly as the Fireball smashed the remaining eggs in a fit of temper.

As Viktor secured the egg in his grasp, a claxon rang out and suddenly fifteen or so wizards appeared from all directions, coming forward to subdue the dragon. Viktor was hurried off to the side, taken into a corridor that emerged into another tent. He took in the sight of a slightly charred Fleur and Cedric and the three exchanged quick congratulations and shared stories over what approaches they had used.

"I took on a dragon," Cedric said a few moments later, sounding completely awestruck, "and I'm not dead."

The tension felt somewhat lifted now, it might have been a competition, as Karkaroff saw fit to remind Viktor almost daily, but it didn't stop him from respecting his fellow competitors.

As a nurse began to check Viktor over, Diggory passed him a glass of water, Viktor nodded in return of the gesture before the crowd roared again and the other champions fell quiet waiting, hoping, that Potter would emerge unscathed.

The day after the first task, Viktor was keen to get out from the confines of the wooden boat. He loved the old ship but at times it could feel as if the panels themselves were closing in on you. Filip and Mikhail had been ecstatic over his performance, though Filip's jubilant calls that he had won were called short by both himself and the headmaster, correcting him that Viktor had in fact tied. Karkaroff had not been the biggest fan of Hogwarts, or Harry Potter's involvement in the tournament in the first instance, now that he had tied with Viktor in first place he was nearly incandescent with rage.

Viktor felt the wind had been knocked out of his sails after Karkaroff had voiced his disapproval, and seeing his slump his friends had attempted to coax him out of his bad mood. Filip had decided the best way to achieve it was to re-enact the entire event vividly, even playing the parts of the respective dragons. Mikhail, more helpfully, had notes on the strengths and weaknesses of all of the other entrants. After Filip’s tenth round of mimicking the Hungarian Horntail over breakfast, Viktor announced his intention to head for the Hogwarts grounds and purposefully did not wait to see if anyone wanted to accompany him. He had never been gladder that it was Sunday.

As he landed on the bank of the lake, he was thankful for the unexpected peace he found. There were few people to take in his tired face; he had no time for girls chasing him around today. Cupping his hands over his eyes to shield them from the early morning sun Viktor spotted who he was looking for, perched under a tree not far from where he was standing. Hermione was leafing through a book balanced on her crossed legs as she bit her lip.

As he walked towards her, Viktor looked back in the direction he had come from, realisation dawning that she was sat in full view of the ship.  Had that been on purpose? She looked up as he got close, his shadow having blocked the sun from her spot.

"I was coming to find you," he started, though he hadn't fully realised that was what he was doing until he saw her. "I thought you would be in the library," he finished before dropping down to sit next to her.

"I'm not always there," she replied, a little defensively.

"Hermio-nee, I was not criticising," he clarified. He didn't want to argue with her.

Viktor watched as she nodded, closing her book and turning to face him. "I’m glad,” she said quickly, “I wanted to see how you were after yesterday."

"Tired,” he replied as he pressed his shoulders against the tree behind them, “sore, but fine."

"Good… that's, good," she responded awkwardly. Silence fell around them, and Viktor leant his head back against the scratchy bark, letting his eyes fall closed. "You were amazing," Hermione's voice floated over to him, "using the hex on the Fireball was a brilliant idea."

Viktor felt pride in her praise but also some of the residual discomfort from Karkaroff's comments came to the front of his mind as she brought up the dragons. He opened his eyes again, rolling his head to face her. She too was braced against the tree, wearing the same scarf from the day before. Now that his mind was no longer so scrambled he could make out the word 'Potter' knitted up the length.

"New scarf?" he said, more bitterly than he had intended.

"Yes," Hermione replied, either not picking up on his tone or choosing to ignore it. "I made it. I've been doing a lot of knitting for reasons…. I probably don't need to go in to. Anyway, I made this to wear for Harry as a show of support," she explained as she held the ends of the scarf out making its wonky pattern clearer.

Viktor nodded, he wasn't annoyed, a little jealous maybe, though he was cross with himself for being short with her.

Hermione pushed herself away from the tree and turned to face him."You promise not to laugh at me?" she asked shyly.

"Da?" he confirmed, bemused by her expression.

Hermione pulled at the scarf again, taking it off her neck and turning it over before laying it on her lap. At first glance, Viktor didn't see what she was trying to show him, but then he noticed, the colour on the reverse side was deeper. It was not a jewel-like ruby tone but the earthy crimson red of his tunic, in the corner was a tiny Durmstrang Badge and the initials V.K. in somewhat wonky gold stitching.

"You were supporting me?" he asked when he could find his voice.

"Of course, I was,” she replied earnestly, “not that you need it" she continued primly. "I'm sure your fan club we're all encouraging you."

Hermione’s gaze dropped to her lap as she fiddled with one of the many loose stitches, and remembering he was a man that followed his instincts, Viktor reached forward to place his large hand over one of her small ones where it rested on her knee. Hermione gasped slightly at the contact but didn't move. Feeling emboldened, Viktor slipped his thumb under her fingers till he was massaging her soft palm in wide, slow circles.

"They do not know me Hermio-nee… not like… not like you."

A silence returned for a while, though this one felt tenser. Hermione hadn’t looked back up but neither had she moved hand so he decided to call it a victory.

"What did you want to see me about?" Hermione asked finally; she was a little breathless, but Viktor did not mention it.

Reluctantly removing his hand, Viktor reached into the small bag he had brought along with him, smiling when he felt the now familiar prickles against his skin. Reaching back over to Hermione's lap he pulled her two hands together and deposited the small, animated Fireball into her grasp. The little dragon paced in a circle before rubbing the gold scales that lined its snout against Hermione's thumb, as if it was nuzzling in before promptly curling up in the centre of her open palms and falling asleep, its tail wagging gently as soft grey clouds puffed from its tiny nose.

"For me?" she asked brightly.

Viktor nodded. "Magic will last for a couple more days, is already wearing off. A lot better temper than when we first met," he said though he narrowed his eyes at the sleeping dragon. The Fireball had bitten him no less than ten times, and it had become as peaceful as a rabbit under Hermione's care.

Hermione smiled at him, her eyes looking glassy and wide, radiating pure joy and Viktor felt his chest constrict. His mind whispered that the look she gave him made him feel more like a champion than getting the egg, he didn't want to break the moment, but he had to ask.

"Hermio-nee, did you know about dragons?"

She stilled slightly before dropping the tiny Fireball onto her skirt and reaching forward herself. Her move was more faltering than his, but she took Viktor’s hand in her own, moving it towards her and running a finger gently over the lines of his palm.

"I would have told you,” she asserted firmly. “I only found out a few days before, and Harry insisted he had seen Karkaroff there and that you would know, you did know didn't you?"

"Da," he confirmed, and Viktor let the concern in her tone wash away the last of his worries. She had cared after all, he had thought as much from her actions but it was always nice to hear the words to confirm it.

"Also, I didn't want to interfere" she continued. "Clearly you can handle these things on your own."

Viktor sensed there was more to what Hermione was saying, but he didn't want to push it, she would tell him if she wanted to. With her small hand still gliding over his, he leant forward to tuck an escaped curl behind her ear. "So you know, if there is other time when I meet dragon you can interfere, " Viktor said raising his eyebrows and Hermione giggled at him.

The melodic sound woke the slumbering Fireball whose only response was to shuffle from its position on the edge of Hermione’s skirt till he had pushed himself under the bottom of her jumper.

Bloody dragons.

Chapter Text

Hermione woke up reluctantly on Monday following the first task. Her eyes blinked slowly as she pushed up onto her arms, forcing herself from the comfort of her mattress. She wasn't used to such procrastination, but she had been having such a lovely dream, replaying her morning by the lake with Viktor. In her dream, unlike in reality, she remained perfectly articulate, she didn't stutter or hesitate, and her cheeks remained resolutely blush-free.

As she rolled herself up and put her feet down on the chilly stone floor, Hermione heard a soft snort indicating that the tiny Fireball was awake and already up and prowling around. After he (she had no idea how to sex a dragon, if of course this one was even that exact, but had arbitrarily decided it was a he) had spent most of yesterday asleep, Hermione had brought him back to the dorm with no idea what to do next. She had fruitlessly searched until inspiration struck and she emptied a draw from her nightstand to turn into a makeshift bed for the tiny creature.

Viktor had said that the dragon’s magic wouldn't last much longer, and it seemed he was right, already its beautiful wings were stiffer, preventing flight, and his movements seemed more limited, more jarring. Hermione had managed to keep the dragon hidden for now, but she knew that wouldn't last long, not with Lavender and Parvati sharing her dorm. As soon as they discovered the stowaway, the questions would start, and it wasn't as if many people could have given her a small transfigured dragon.

As Hermione dressed she realised that it was time to bring in some outside help, maybe not just with the Fireball but with Viktor as well. She had conceded to herself yesterday, at the very same moment that he reached forward to place a curl behind her ear, that she was in over her head. Viktor made her feel nervous, in a good way, but in a way that didn't make much sense to her. Hermione spent half her time wishing to speak to him again, and the other half hoping he would stay away because of how unsettled she felt in his presence.

Hermione pulled her jumper over her head and began stuffing the necessary books in her worn satchel. For the relocation of the winged beast she needed cunning, and for help with boys, or rather just one specific almost man, she needed bravado. In short, all roads led to Ginny Weasley.

Despite her hesitancy to relinquishing the covers that morning, Hermione still found herself at breakfast long before most of her fellow students had even begun to open their eyes. That was nothing unusual, though it was out of the ordinary to find she had been beaten to the Gryffindor table by Harry.

Over the last few weeks, while he had been treated with either silence or scorn by most of the school, Harry had taken to coming to meals early and sitting with her. Hermione had assumed that given the events of the weekend things would have gone back to normal. It appeared that the sight of Harry battling an actual dragon was enough for most people to realise that a fourth year, even one as rash as her best friend, would never have put their name in the Goblet of Fire. That acknowledgement seemed to make all of the other arguments herself and Neville had been building for the last month sink home. After all, if the twins hadn't been able to find a way to bypass the ageline Dumbledore had constructed, how would Harry have been able to?

The smile that lit up Hermione’s face at the unexpected continuation of their new routine fell when she took in Harry's countenance; he looked grave, and when their eyes met he became distinctly twitchy.

"What's wrong?" she asked, joining him on the bench. She noticed he hadn't yet put any food on his plate, which caused her concern to deepen. Harry was no Ron when it came to food consumption, but he didn’t hold back in the face of a freshly cooked breakfast on a cold morning.

Harry sighed, a sound that Hermione was unfortunately very familiar with. "This," he answered resigned and pushed a folded up copy of the Daily Prophet over to her.

Hermione unfurled the parchment in her hands, but it was a moment before she took her eyes of Harry’s anxious face, when she eventually looked down it was to be greeted with another Skeeter article. Her heart sank. If the last one had painted Harry as a broken child to be pitied this one seemed more inclined to invoke the image of him as a tragic hero, fighting against the injustices of his difficult start in life. Hermione’s eyes scanned the page falling on a picture of her with Harry in the centre; it would appear that this fictional Harry, was not just a tragic hero, but one with a Muggle-born girlfriend, her.

Harry Potter [13, Scion of House of Potter] fought bravely against an exceptionally ferocious Hungarian Horntail at Saturday's event, the first task of the newly re-established TriWizard Tournament. Those that know the-boy-who-lived privately indicated to me that his fight was nothing for him, used as he is to battling the emotional demons of his past.

There does seem to be one bright spot for young Harry, in the form of Hermione Granger, who this reporter has EXCLUSIVELY discovered is the girlfriend of the chosen one. Hermione, a plain Muggle-born witch who favours conservative and uninspiring dress, is in his year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. [As can be seen from the main photo] The young witch was there to wish her champion good luck before this most prestigious of events. Whether she is worthy of such a high profile role within his life remains to be seen, though we will be contacting Miss Granger for further comment.

Oh, crap.

"Well," Hermione said, trying for a bright tone as she resisted the urge to rip the parchment into confetti, "What would a week at Hogwarts be without ritual humiliation?" Harry tried to smile at her in response but it was as wan as her tone was brittle.

They were so wrapped up in their next disaster that neither noticed Ginny walking into the hall and taking the seat opposite them. "What's got you two looking so defeated?" The redhead inquired, as she poured herself a large cup of coffee. Ginny like the many Weasley siblings that had preceded her was not a morning person.

Hermione, replicating Harry's move from earlier, wordlessly pushed the - sadly still intact - Prophet in front of her friend. She couldn't help but swallow hard at the thought of Ginny’s reaction, though she did manage to stop herself from biting her lip to not look overly perturbed. Ginny’s affection for Harry was far from a secret, she had been too young when it had begun to mask it well, yet in recent years Ginny’s feelings had become unspoken, even between her and Hermione. Harry, for one, seemed happy to pretend Ginny’s awkward crush phase had never happened, and Ginny too seemed keen to pretend, though Hermione believed her act less. Lost in her nervousness it took Hermione several moments to notice that Ginny's shoulders were shaking behind the article before she dropped the parchment that had been obscuring her face to look back at them.

"She is honestly reporting that you two," Ginny began, waving a hand between Hermione and Harry needlessly, "are a couple?"

Hermione winced. “It would appear so," she confirmed.

"Oh, no need to look like someone's stolen your favourite quill, Hermione, no one is going to believe this," Ginny said firmly.

"Really?" Hermione asked. Honestly, she hadn't thought people would believe it, though she could hardly admit that she had been more nervous about Ginny's feelings than what the rest of the school had to say.

"Please," Ginny continued rolling her eyes, "there's more sexual tension between Snape and Dumbledore then there is between you two."

"Urgh," Harry animatedly retched into his orange juice, and Hermione covered her smile, feeling content for once not remind her friend to use the teacher's professional monikers.

Ginny bumped shoulders with Harry before she continued reading the article, some parts out aloud in a very affected tone, as Hermione got on with her own breakfast. It was only as the allotted time began to drift away that she sought the opportunity to move on to her other issue, "Ginny, have you got time before class? I need a quick favour."

Hermione stood by her bed with her hands grasped behind her back before Ginny arrived at her heels in the otherwise empty dorm; steeling herself she leant forward to pull the disused pillowcase from the top of the draw that had become a makeshift bed the night before.

"So," she began falteringly. "As you can see, I need a bit of help, hiding this ... and I thought you might be able to... well, what do you think?"

Ginny's eyes widened as she took in the tiny sleeping Fireball before a smirk so wide it looked painful crossed her face. "Oh, Hermione,” she began in a smug tone, “I do believe you've been holding out on me.”

Harry's mood had not improved by their second class of the morning. Whilst the Gryffindors had largely shifted back to his side, there were still an awful lot of the 'Potter Stinks' badges around, and many of the students wearing them were quoting, loudly, from that morning's article. That Hermione was getting the same treatment did not bother her too much. Almost from the day herself and Harry had become friends she had a share in the trials he had undertaken. Though, while ignoring the taunts, Hermione couldn't help but wonder what the year could have been like if Harry had not been named a champion. Thinking of champions inevitably made her think of Viktor, and she bit her lip to hold in a groan. Hermione had been lost in thought all morning, questioning if he had seen the article. She had explained her relationship with Harry before, but what if Viktor still got the wrong idea? She could explain it to him again she supposed, but that thought was chased by a worse consideration,  what if Viktor didn't care either way?

Hermione had been taken aback by just how many people seemed to believe the paper, sure; she spent most of her time with either one, or both, of the boys, but they were only friends, she thought people knew that. Ron had been touchy since the feature, and as the rift in their friendship had only just healed it seemed Harry wanted to go out of his way to make sure they weren't headed for another argument, and as a consequence had been avoiding being anywhere close to her since breakfast. Hermione understood his reasoning, but it wasn't her fault Skeeter had decided to print a picture and fabricate a story around it. She wouldn't have even gone back to the champion's tent if she hadn’t thought Harry was dealing with the weight of no one believing him on top of everything else.

In Transfiguration, Hermione lost herself in the lesson and tried to avoid any further dwelling on her frustrations. Though, no matter how hard she concentrated she couldn't be happy with the bowl she ended up with. Sure, it may not have looked like the crow she started with anymore, but when she turned the curved surface into the light, she noted she hadn’t managed to magic away the lustre of its coal-black wings entirely. Hermione felt defeated. It was one thing for situations out of her control to plague her thoughts, but, for them to disrupt her academic performance was inexcusable.

Fifteen minutes before the end of the class Professor McGonagall called for their attention and Hermione looked up, glad of the distraction. "As many of you will already know, the privilege of hosting the TriWizard Tournament brings with it obligations to uphold many traditions that have marked the event over the years," she began crisply.

A pin drop could have been heard in the classroom, the professor addressing them would typically be enough to ensure silence, but the potential for more news on the competition had all of the students on the edges of their seats.

"All of these practices are designed to further the overall goal of the Tournament; to foster greater relations between magical schools in the hope that international wizarding communities will become better linked in successive generations. The most important of these traditions is the Yule Ball, one that I am happy to say we will be observing. This event will be held on Christmas Day, where there will be a formal dinner and of course  dancing ."

A groan left the boys in the room at the same time as an excited titer rose up. Hermione could hear several of the girls in the back row talking animatedly among themselves. She remained silent, though her mind involuntarily slipped to a crimson tunic worn over broad shoulders, she pushed the thought away less her face start to redden. Hermione fidgeted in her seat while her professor gave details on upcoming mandatory dance lessons before she rushed out of the door as soon she could, she wanted a chance to send a letter to her mum before lunch.

It was lunchtime that day before Viktor had seen the article dominating the chatter of most of Hogwarts. As he was not a native of the country and was still struggling somewhat with the language barrier, he hadn't taken an active interest in reading the paper, but when Mikhail sat next to him on the Slytherin benches, his friend dropped the rolled-up parchment into his lap. "Front page," was all he said. His tone was flat so as not to attract the attention of those around them and, interest peaked, Viktor took the article in hand.

His only response for several minutes was a slight tightening of his fists which rumpled the edges of the paper within his grasp audibly, but he said nothing as he scanned the page, watching the image of Hermione jump forward to wrap Harry in an embrace and then whisper in his ear before it began again. Viktor had witnessed that hug, and he remembered what he had felt at the time, jealousy, initially, of course, but Hermione had never given him any reason to suspect there was something more between her and her friend. He might not have qualified the intention he came to their conversations with, but he was sure she couldn't be wholly ignorant of his growing regard, could she? In any case, Viktor felt confident that if there had been something between her and Potter, Hermione would have mentioned it by now. His mind drifted from the sarcastic words on the page to the feeling of his hand in hers as they had sat by the side in front of the lake and Viktor decided had read enough, he fought the urge to crush the paper into a small ball as he placed it in front of him.

"Who?" he asked Mikhail who appeared not to have moved while he was locked inside his head. He didn't need to expand his question, his meaning was clear, someone had to have passed the paper to his friend.

"Karkaroff," Mikhail answered under his breath, and Viktor's head snapped up to the Professor's table to find the headmaster assessing him as he sat between the Potions Master and the Arithmancy Professor, largely ignoring them both.

Viktor felt his appetite diminish and announced his intention to leave the Great Hall, longing for a few moments where he could react in private. As he made it into the entrance, he heard swift steps behind him but didn't slow, assuming whichever of his friends had left their food in pursuit of him would catch up. That was until he was crossing the green to the ship and a hand landed on his shoulder causing Viktor to spin round.

"Diggory?" he said in query - slash greeting - as he came face to face with the smiling Hufflepuff.

"Err, hi," Cedric responded brightly before his face took on a more serious expression. "Listen… this isn't really any of my concern, in fact, it's none of my business, at all, but I saw you reading the Prophet in there,” Cedric rambled as he gestured back to the Hall. “I just wanted to let you know that err… Granger and Potter… they aren't a couple."

"I…" Viktor made an attempt to interrupt, but Cedric put his hands up and carried on.

"I understand that you may doubt my point of view, I’m not especially close to either one of them, but I travelled to the World Cup with them, with my father over the summer - you were amazing by the way, simply excellent flying and - oh sorry, back to my point! So, Potter and Granger, no feelings there between them I'm sure of it… well, apart from them being good friends but I don't think-"

"I know," Viktor snapped, more forcefully than he had intended, he just wanted the boy to stop talking.

"Oh," Cedric said. "Well, that's splendid."

Viktor's eyes narrowed as he tried to keep his irritation in check. "Why tell me this?" he asked bluntly, how did Diggory know he was interested enough in Hermione to potentially be put out by the article?

Colour crept into Cedric's face, and he rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. "I may have seen you together in the Library once and… I maybe thought I had caught onto something when she was in the tent before the dragons, but if I'm barking up the wrong tree-"

"No," Viktor sighed, not enjoying having to have such a frank conversation with someone he knew so little of. "Instinct is correct."

"Great," Cedric replied looking a lot more assured though he hopped from foot to foot. "I’m glad that's all sorted out, she's a good girl, Granger, a bit of a bossy boots but some people like that kind of thing…” Cedric said until his words seemed to catch up with his brain and he flushed a dull red.  “I mean,” he tried before taking a hasty step back. “If you'll excuse me I've got to go and see a girl about a ball," and with that, he bounced off in the direction of the greenhouses.

After the dour headmaster had observed the boys latest track session, he had declared they were all getting soft during their stay at a ‘school for pampered babies’, though the words he used were slightly more forceful and not something Viktor was sure of the translation for. As such that Wednesday the Durmstrang contingent found themselves sparring within the large hall of the ship. If the headmaster had been feeling particularly put out, he would have told them to train outside, regardless of the frigid temperatures. Viktor sensed they had the added comfort of shelter only because of the attention they would have drawn rather than any feeling of charity on Karkaroff’s behalf. Whatever the prompt for the uncharacteristic show of mercy he was grateful, snow had started falling the day before, and he had no desire to feel it permeating the thin fabric of his gym kit.

Since the upcoming Yule Ball had been announced, Viktor had found that the group of girls that followed him around had doubled their efforts as well as gaining in members; he rarely got a moment's peace while on the castle grounds, and the only difference was that now he wasn't the only one. It would appear that the Durmstrang boys were popular choices for dates to the event and a largish crowd of students awaited them whenever they got off the landing craft for breakfast in the morning. Hermione was never there, not that Viktor had anticipated she would be. It didn’t mean he didn't look, though just in case.

The unusual level of attention had been affecting all of them in different ways. Mikhail had been irritable for the past forty-eight hours, having never much liked any disturbance to his routine, while Filip had been in seventh heaven.

They had been instructed to work as a three, two fighting while the other refereed and then change up every ten minutes. All three were evenly matched, though Mikhail, with whom Viktor was sparring with then, got the better of him more often. Filip was an excellent fighter, quick and anticipatory he just didn't have the concentration required for long bouts.

Mikhail landed a jab on Viktor’s jaw as Filip began speaking. "So, when are you going to ask Hermione to the ball Viktor?" They all fell back to their native language while within the confines of the boat. Though their use of English was improving, Viktor wasn’t sure he could concentrate on his footwork and foreign speech at the same time.

"Soon," he answered as he landed a blow on Mikhail's shoulder, catching the other boy's eyebrows rise.

"Why have you not done it yet, I thought you liked her?" Mikhail asked with an incredulous expression.

Viktor sighed before calling for a timeout, stretching for the water that was at the side of their area. "I can't get her alone," he began exasperatedly. "The ball was announced three days ago, and I haven't seen her for more than two minutes at a time before I get surrounded by giggling girls."

It was the reason Karkaroff’s proclamation that they have this session had pleased him so much. Though he was sure the headmaster hadn’t intended it to be greeted in any such way. Viktor was a walking ball of frustration and he was only too happy to have an excuse to hit something.

"Come now Viktor, faint heart never won fair maiden," Filip grinned at him, "and in any case, if you don't get a move on soon someone else will have asked her."

Viktor felt his chest constrict and he levelled a scowl at his friend, it wasn't as if he hadn't considered that as a possibility. Deflecting from his annoyance he turned back to Filip, "You can talk, I don't see you asking anyone," he snapped

Filip's beam was answer enough though he pressed on regardless, "I already have a date," he replied smugly pushing a few curls off his face.

"Really, who?" Mikhail asked, as much surprised as Viktor was, it was the first they had heard of it.

"Claudia, from Beauxbatons," Filip answered with his chest puffed up.

"Claudia?" Mikhail questioned, "Claudia, the really gorgeous one with the long dark hair?" he qualified. “Claudia the one that got early acceptance on to a Charms mastery course, a whole year ahead of time, because of her academic brilliance? That Claudia?”

"Yes," Filip replied drawing out the 's' sound, enjoying his friend's reactions.

"Impressive," Viktor laughed, punching him on the shoulder.

Mikhail seemed less inclined to let it go. "How did you pull that off?"

Filip shrugged, " She asked me, something about how our colouring would work well together in pictures." Mikhail snorted. "What?  She's not wrong, " Filip defended.

Mikhail rolled his eyes in a way that was very dramatic for his usually reserved nature. "Viktor, step out for a second I need to hit him."

"Sure," Viktor acquiesced. "What about you?" he asked, conscious that Mikhail might find he was the only one dragging his feet.

Mikhail shrugged, "I'm waiting for you to ask Hermione, then you can ask her to bring one of her friends for me."

"Oh, really?" Viktor replied with a shake of his head.

"Yes, really. You know I'm not likely to approach one of these girls, and as you have an opening with one you can do it for me. So you better get on with it, or we will both be dateless," Mikhail finished throwing his towel at Viktor before he shunted Filip into the centre of the circle.

By the time Viktor had an opportunity to speak to Hermione it was Friday, and as his friends had continued to chide him into hurrying up, reminding him that anyone else could ask her at any time, he was even more nervous. As he approached their table at the back of the library, Viktor was heartened to find her sitting there, though a loud giggle he heard as he made his way through the stacks indicated there would be no more time to enjoy this spot in private. As Viktor got closer Hermione heard his steps and looked up at him, she smiled, though he noted she looked tired. He wondered if things between her friends had improved but decided it was best to delay asking until he had accomplished his primary objective.

Viktor dropped into the seat next to Hermione but didn't begin unpacking his stuff; he wanted to be able to make a quick getaway in the event he was rejected.

Hermione had gone back to concentrating on her work, and Viktor whispered to get her attention. "Can I speak?"

"Yes," Hermione answered confusion pulling at her brows, "we always speak while we study."

"I know,” Viktor replied, wondering if she knew just how adorable she looked with that expression on her face. Or how difficult it was for him to be articulate with her gaze on him so intently. “I want to ask, something " he finished lamely, fighting the urge to shake his head in frustration at himself.

Hermione set her quill down and turned in her chair to face him better, Viktor clenched his fists as he prepared to speak, but his train of thought was interrupted as a firm shove pushed him forward. He spun around to find one of the girls that had been behind him a couple of times when he was running smiling at him coquettishly. "I am so very sorry," she simpered, "I didn't see you there." She gave him a wave before she sashayed her way back down the aisle.

Pushing down his irritation Viktor turned back to Hermione only to find her staring off in the direction the girl had gone, if he was guessing correctly she looked a little forlorn. Taking it as a good sign, Viktor decided to just to go for it, in case they were interrupted again and he had to wait another week. "Hermione, will you come to ball with me?" he rushed out while his hand grasped around the top of his bag,  just in case.

Hermione’s head snapped to his, and she looked at him blankly for a second until she seemed to recover herself. "You can pronounce my name," she whispered.

Viktor pushed past the fact that she hadn't answered to realise that he had done just that. He must have been so focused on asking her to the ball that he hadn’t laboured over the pronunciation like he normally did. He decided he would privately celebrate that little accomplishment later, provided it wasn't some cruel twist of fate that the day he learnt to say ‘Hermione’ wasn't also the day that she told him she didn't like him, in that way.

"I did, you did not answer question," Viktor pushed as his fingers tightened around the loop of his bag strap, a couple of seconds and at worst he could run out of there. He’d certainly got enough practice at running from the opposite sex since he’d got to Scotland.

"You really want to go with me?" Hermione asked in a small voice.

"Yes," Viktor answered immediately, "that is why I ask," he finished cheekily. He felt himself gain in confidence after she had so shyly sought reassurance.

Hermione smiled at him then, and Viktor released his death grip on the satchel by his feet. "I would love to," she said brightly.

Viktor mirrored her beam and needing to express how fucking relieved he was he jerked towards her, and planted a soft kiss on the apple of her cheek. The kiss was swift, but even quick as it was, it was long enough for him to feel the heat of her immediate flush warm his lips. He wanted to kiss her again, but when he saw her teeth sink in her bottom lip and her eyes fall to the table he knew not to push her.

Viktor glanced around the library giving Hermione a chance to compose herself and himself an opportunity to check on his stalkers before he continued with the second part of his plan. "Next weekend Hogsmeade, yes?" he enquired. He had heard that the students could attend the little village close to the school on set days, and as his options to speak to her on the grounds were becoming more and more limited he would just have to invent his own.

Hermione nodded and lifted her eyes to face him. Viktor was reassured that he hadn't frightened her too much, "Would you come with me?" he asked. The second invite fell out of his mouth much easier than the first. Surely if she would go with him to the ball, this shouldn't be a problem.

"I… I have plans in the morning, but I could go, I would like to go, in the afternoon, if that works for you of course."

"That would be wonderful," Viktor answered honestly, resolved to move whatever he had to. He would have agreed to whatever provision Hermione may have had. All in all, their meeting had gone much better than Viktor had allowed himself to hope. Perhaps a little stupidly he was much more excited about her agreeing to Hogsmeade than the ball. Although he had already convinced himself that there was no way he would enjoy the dance unless Hermione accompanied him, something about a date felt more special, more private.

Viktor looked over Hermione’s pink cheeks and tried to stop himself grinning like a lunatic with relief. The only thing that tempered his glorious mood was the knowledge that he couldn’t stay.

"I have to leave now," he said reluctantly, he had work to do if he was going to take the following Saturday afternoon off, he didn't want to give Karkaroff an excuse to keep him behind. "I will see you Saturday," he said again as he stood, feeling the need to reconfirm even though she had just said yes.

"Yes," Hermione laughed out, and he made to step away before remembering his promise. Loathe as he was to bring up something awkward Viktor knew there was no way Mikhail would act on his own, and Karkaroff had made it abundantly clear that they were all expected to escort someone to the ball.

"Hermione, do you have friend who would like to go to the ball with my friend?" he asked dutifully. Truthfully, Mikhail wasn't all that interested in such things, he took his academic career very seriously,  and while he would no doubt find a wife once he had finished school, it simply wasn't in his sphere of interest now.

Viktor watched as Hermione deliberated for a moment before her face pulled into a smile. "I think I know the perfect person." 

Chapter Text

Hermione was curled up in an oversized armchair in front of the common room fire. For once her mind had drifted far from the book in her lap. She had been spacy and lost to her thoughts ever since Viktor had asked her to the Yule Ball. Secret smiles had crossed her face at the oddest times, and she’d had to avert her gaze from those around her lest she revealed something by accident. Hermione had debated going up to bed early and playing with the little Fireball, but when she had come back to her dorm, he was gone. She shouldn't have been surprised, Ginny had assured her she would help hide it. Though Hermione couldn't regret the actions she had taken to keep her burgeoning friendship with Viktor a secret, she found she missed the dragon’s snorts and nuzzling grazes.

Hermione dragged herself from her very uncharacteristic woolgathering to focus on the task she had been given. She had promised Viktor that she could secure a date for Mikhail, and she was determined to uphold that pledge. Viktor's friends had come up often in their conversations; he spoke of them warmly it was another area in which Hermione felt a sense of kinship with him. Mikhail, it seemed, was just looking for a date for the evening, nothing romantic. She had asked Viktor to tell her about Mikhail and what he had said painted a picture of a boy who was vastly intelligent though could be cold and aloof at times. Hermione had been considering Ginny, but now she wasn't so sure they would be such a good fit. While Ginny was younger, she already had a 'formed personality', and it was possible her fire would consume the unsuspecting Bulgarian whole. Hermione leant her head back to meander further only to come to a halt when she heard someone drop into the seat next to her. Opening one eye she rolled her head to find Neville fidgeting in a matching armchair, looking distinctly uncomfortable.

"Are you ok?" Hermione asked, concerned that he might be coming to tell her that Harry or more likely Ron, had done something stupid since she had last seen them. Herself and Neville had grown closer that year, bonded by their shared belief in Harry. Hermione had been beyond proud of her housemate when he had stood next to her in the common room after the champion selection, proud and immensely grateful. It had put her in mind of a time when they were much younger, and Neville had put himself in her firing line - not that he had known it at the time - to defend what he thought was right.

"Yes, YES, err actually I am," Neville answered falteringly, and wholly unconvincing.

"That's… good," Hermione tried, at a loss to understand what was going on. "Can I help you with something?" she asked kindly and sat up properly, turning to face him, which only seemed to make Neville more agitated.

Neville looked pained for several moments before he lurched forward to grab a half-full glass of water off the coffee table before drinking it all down in two large gulps.

"Er, well, I was wondering if you wanted to go to the Yule Ball… well, of course, you want to go, who wouldn't? From what McGonagall said it sounds amazing, but er… would you want to go with me?" Neville asked finally, his hands resting on his knees that were bouncing in front of him.

Hermione felt the heat rise up her neck, and she did all she could to keep her expression neutral as her insides churned. She almost wished Viktor hadn't asked her; she wanted to be able to say yes so badly. Hermione didn't like Neville, not like that, but she wanted to be able to make what was obviously a challenging endeavour worth it for him. But she couldn't do that. When Viktor had asked her, Hermione had felt truly happy, so much so that she had felt a little sick, in the best possible way. As much as she wanted to alleviate Neville's nerves, she couldn't do it at Viktor's expense, or her own.

"I'm so sorry, Neville, I've already been asked," Hermione explained compassionately. His face fell a little, and she sat forward, awkwardly patting his clammy hand. “I am very flattered that you asked me, thank you, Neville.”

“You’re… you’re welcome Hermione,” he replied quietly.

Silence fell between them, and Hermione shifted her book from her lap. She was desperate for this not to become something awkward between them that would linger, fester and poison their friendship. She sat forward and waved her wand to refill Neville’s glass, hoping that the implied invitation for him to stay would put her friend's mind at ease.

"I have an idea of someone who would love to go if you are interested?"

"Oh?" Neville replied with his eyes downcast and his cheeks slightly pink, "Who?"

"Have you thought about asking Ginny?" Hermione ventured quietly.

Neville tilted his head to the side as his legs started to bounce with abandon again, Hermione didn't envy those having to do the asking.

"Ginny? Really?" he said eventually, and Hermione nodded, a little manically.

"She would love to go, and I'm sure she would be very flattered to be asked, just like I am." Neville snorted quietly, and the sound hurt. "Truly," Hermione continued honestly, wishing for her friend to believe her. She couldn't believe someone else had asked her, let alone been visibly upset that she had said no.

Neville smiled, a kind of almost there smile, and Hermione felt herself sag in relief. "I think I will ask her," he said and nodded as if he had resolved himself. He got up from the chair and walked as if to go up the stairs to the dorms before pausing for a second, turning to look back over his shoulder at her. "I'm not surprised someone asked you by the way," she looked up at him, "I hope you have a great time Hermione."

"Me too, Neville, me too."

The next day, following a restful night dreaming of ice sculptures, punch bowls, twirling skirts and furs, Hermione went out into the grounds after breakfast. It was freezing, and she was never one to be outside unless it was strictly required, but she was pretty sure she had seen who she was looking for disappearing this way out of the Great Hall.

It didn't take much stomping through the frosted grass before Hermione found her, sitting by the side of the lake. Luna was perched on the very edge of a stone bench, charming the light snowfall that was dusting the ground to dance around her in swirling patterns that caught up in her fair hair and eyelashes. Hermione had thought hard about her decision; she had promised Viktor a date for his friend, and she felt sure that Luna was the best choice. She was unlikely to form a romantic attachment without provocation - which she was sure Mikhail wouldn't give - quiet though he may have been, he would undoubtedly find her interesting, Luna was one of a kind. Their potential suitability as companions for the evening aside, somewhat selfishly Hermione wanted her friend to come, and it looked as if by the end of the week they would all be going.

When Hermione had first heard about the ball she had hurried off to owl her mother, she wanted to get a new dress but wasn't confident doing so without her mother's approval. Jean Granger had almost fallen over herself to agree; despite the letter she had received in reply being drafted in trusty biro her mother had apparently been pressing hard enough to create spills of ink. Hermione had not been surprised at her mother’s rapid response, given she had afforded her virtually no outlet for such activities up to now.

As she approached Luna, Hermione dropped onto the cold bench next to her, drawing her wand to cast warming charms over both of them, certain that Luna would not have remembered to do so herself.

"Hi, Hermione," Luna greeted brightly, not taking her eyes off the snow clusters. "How are you?"

Hermione smiled as Luna glided a knot of snow over to her face that dispersed as it pressed against the warm skin of her nose. "I'm good thank you, Luna. I don’t mean to disturb you but I have a favour to ask," she began, eager to get out of the cold as quickly as possible.

"Another one?" Luna asked, dropping her wand back inside her jacket and letting the previously animated flecks fall to the ground.

"I'm, sorry?" Hermione responded, having no idea what Luna was referring to.

"The dragon," Luna replied simply, "Ginny passed him to me."

Hermione's eyes filled with understanding;  that had been a very wise plan. "Thank you for doing that. I haven't seen Ginny yet today, I didn't know where she had taken it," Hermione explained. "How is he? I know it was slowing down…. Would you think I'm strange if I wanted to see it before it loses its animation?" She asked softly; she felt a little silly, but she had been so blown away by Viktor's gift, and she would be kind of sad when the tiny dragon lost its life, artificial as it may have been.

"Of course not," Luna replied, "but you shouldn't worry about that, I fixed it," she said matter-of-factly.

"What do you mean you fixed it?"

Luna shrugged. "It didn't take much, a few charms,” she said with a wave of her delicate, ungloved hand. “It doesn't quite have the fiery personality it once had, and I had to charm its wings so it couldn't completely fly away but it's still very animated, though, a little subdued. I think he misses you."

Hermione smiled and pulled Luna into a big hug. "Thank you," she said into the girl’s hair. She couldn't wait to tell Viktor that the Fireball would remain, though, despite him gifting it to her, he seemed slightly less taken with the dragon than she was.

"So, what did you want to ask me?" Luna said as Hermione finally released her.

"Well, Viktor… er, Viktor Krum from Durmstrang has asked me to the ball," Hermione admitted before she could lose her nerve. It felt strange saying it out loud, and her face immediately snapped to Luna's waiting to see scepticism there, but all she could see were Luna's typically impassive features

Luna smiled, "Well, that's not exactly a surprise, I am looking after the dragon after all,” she mused thoughtfully. “As a Seeker, I suppose Viktor is used to spotting things of value that other people miss, or they do not act quick enough to catch."

It took Hermione a moment to overcome the tight feeling in her throat, she coughed into her scarf and blinked away the watery mix of relief and validation that had rushed to her eyes. It hadn't been until she had told her friend that Hermione realised she had expected people to disbelieve her, to think that she was lying or worse that Viktor had asked her out of pity. Hermione pushed the thoughts to the back of her mind to raise with her mum when she saw her.

"Thank you," she said finally, reaching for Luna’s hand and squeezing it tightly. "What I was going to ask is Mikhail, Viktor's friend…"

"The serious one?" Luna interjected.

Hermione stifled a laugh. "Yes, that one, he would like a companion for the ball, and for reasons that remain slightly unclear to me, Viktor asked if I could ask someone." At Luna's thoughtful expression Hermione rushed out her explanation of it being unromantic in intention. "I just thought it might be fun, I think Neville is asking Ginny, and we could go and get dresses together, get ready together… and," Hermione sagged, "I could so with some support in this, I don't know what I'm doing."

Luna pulled on a frosted length of Hermione’s hair. "You must be doing something right Hermione, he asked." Well, that was an interesting thought. When the announcement had first been made Hermione had never actually expected Viktor to ask her. She had hoped she might have some chance to talk to him during the evening, but not to arrive with him. Both the invite for the ball and the date in town were a bit too much for her to process. Hence her focus on Mikhail’s companion.

"I would love to come, more for the bits with you and Ginny, I’m not sure I've ever got dressed up before, but I'm a third year."

"It's perfectly within the rules. I checked," Hermione said authoritatively.

Luna smiled then, really smiled. "Of course you did. Let's do it!"

A week later Professor McGonagall made good on her threat and held dance lessons. The boys made their protest known by literally dragging their feet on the way to their designated classroom, and as irritated as Hermione was with Ron's reluctance she privately empathised, this was likely to be a somewhat humiliating experience for everyone. Her feelings didn’t stop her from yelling at them to get a move on, she hadn't been late to a lesson held by her Head of House for four years, and she wasn't about to start now.

Thankfully their professor, in an uncharacteristic display of mercy, had at least decided only to torment them in front of their own house. The idea of the lesson being in tandem with Slytherin was almost unthinkable, as was the thought of Professor Snape having the same experience in the dungeons at that very moment, Hermione did her best to banish that image as soon as it appeared.

Hermione lined up with the other fourth year girls feeling decidedly twitchy; this was not something she felt comfortable with at all. She tried to follow the beats Professor McGonagall was outlining from the music, but it may as well have been in Ancient Greek. Ancient Greek would probably have been more discernible.

When their professor asked for volunteers Hermione was surprised to see a hesitant Neville walk out, he looked pale but perked up when Professor McGonagall warmly praised him. Parvati was selected from the girls, and after a significant moment of awkwardness, as the required placement of hands was demonstrated, the two moved together, stiffly at first, especially during the bowing nonsense that seemed to be required before the dancing had even begun. Hermione considered that it might have been worth being called a Mudblood all this time if it also meant that she had grown up watching Saturday Morning Kitchen with her mum instead of having dance lessons, but as the flow of the music swelled around the room, her opinion changed.

Neville was unexpectedly brilliant. Utterly brilliant. The longer he moved, the more he seemed to shake off his nerves. His dancing had a natural rhythm, and his body arched and fell completely in time with the music. Through his sure movements Hermione could finally pick up the melody she should have been following for the last half an hour, and some of her anxiety washed away.

It wasn't just her; Hermione noticed the subtle smiles of the girls along the line of the wall and the quirking of Parvati's lips, who now seemed delighted to realise she had underestimated her partner. Hermione couldn't help beaming. How her consistently clumsy friend could be so distinctly graceful executing the complicated steps she had no idea. A soft gasp echoed through the room as Neville turned, dropping his hands to Parvati's waist before he lifted her off the ground.

Hermione couldn't wait to tell Ginny. The redhead had tackled her in the corridor the evening before, almost incoherent with joy, Neville had asked her to the ball just before dinner and she was thrilled, thrilled to be going at all as a third year, but also pleased to be going with a friend.

‘If I can't go with someone I like like it's lovely to be able to go with someone I feel comfortable with,’ Ginny had confided. The young witch's feeling for Harry drifted in the air between them, but neither said anything. Hermione suspected it would be a few years before Harry could see the value in having Ginny's affections directed at him, and she secretly hoped then when he finally did cotton on Ginny would make him work for it.

When Neville bowed to Parvati to signal the end of the dance the room broke into applause, and Professor McGonagall commanded that they all partner up and start learning the basic steps. Hermione instinctively shrank back against the wall, memories of junior school PE flooding her senses, of not wanting to face the humiliation of being picked last, coupled with the dread of being picked at all as it would mean she would have to take part. Though, she didn't have much time to panic before Dean Thomas was stood in front of her. He dropped into an elegant bow, more suited to a European Prince than a schoolboy, and at his mumbled ‘m’lady' Hermione burst into giggles that chased away all of her residual nerves. As subtly as she could, she wiped her warm palms against the sides of her school skirt and took his hand.

Considering she was a Muggle-born and Dean might as well have been, they fumbled through the steps well enough. Dean distracted her by goofing around, and even Professor McGonagall seemed to be fighting back a smile as the staid waltz they were practising morphed into a clumsy sort of Tango as Dean led Hermione with a forced, comedic rigidity.

Hermione added to her mental to-do list to ask Ginny to take her through some of the steps; she didn't want to show herself up. As Dean twirled her around the floor, Hermione couldn’t help but wonder what it would feel like to be held within Viktor's embrace. She imagined he would be a good dancer, he seemed good at most physical activities, and as the thought popped into her head, she felt her cheeks flush and prayed she could believably pass it off as being down to the exertion.

That Saturday morning Hermione woke with a start when something landed directly on her stomach, something that was decidedly larger than Crookshanks. "What the hell?!" she moaned when she got her breath back. Blinking to clear away the remaining sleep from her eyes Hermione found Ginny on top of her, already dressed and grinning at her manically. "Urgh! What time is it?" she mumbled sleepily.

"Time to get up and get breakfast," Ginny replied, jumping up from the bed and pulling Hermione's cover away.

Hermione glared. "You're up early," she accused.

"I know," Ginny acknowledged almost bouncing on the spot.

"Too early," Hermione bit out, not at all pleased that her mood had not yet been picked up on.

"I couldn't sleep."


"Why?" Ginny responded incredulously. "Why do you think Hermione? My friend tells me we are going out, not just to London, but Muggle London and we are getting dresses, dresses for a ball, for a ball I didn't think I would be going to… I. AM. SO. EXCITED!"

“I couldn't tell" Hermione responded dryly dragging herself unwillingly from her soft mattress. She had just planted her feet on the floor when the door opened again and Luna walked in, decidedly calmer than Ginny but also dressed and ready to go all the same.

"How did you get up here?" Hermione asked baffled.

Luna looked over past her shoulders at the dorm door and shrugged. "The stairs."

"I'm not even going to ask" Hermione muttered rubbing her temples.

"Come on Hermione, we have to go, now, now, now," Ginny chastised, throwing random clothes at her till Hermione sprang, slowly into action.

Forcing herself around the dorm room, Hermione got herself ready to avoid Ginny's ire and was soon following the girls down to breakfast; they would be using the Floo in Professor McGonagall's office and meeting her mother at Bond Street tube station. Hermione felt pretty confident about their trip but was concerned about the girl's inexperience so spent most of the breakfast warning them about potential dangers and repeatedly telling them to keep together, and it was a testament to how delighted they both were that they let her carry on without interruption.

Hermione's mother was thrilled when she saw them appear out of the tube exit. The girls were chatting enthusiastically, and while Luna and Ginny had marvelled at the tube, there had been no need to warn them about staying close, both girls had looped an arm under Hermione’s to avoid the crush and had stuck to her like glue ever since. Even Ginny’s famous bravado had faltered after the harsh closing of the automatic train doors, and Luna’s adventurous spirit had laid dormant as they stepped onto the first escalator.

Her mum steered them into one of the larger department stores and immediately herded them towards the cafe so she could catch up, and talk about what they wanted to find. As soon as the tea tray settled on the wobbly table, her mum pounced; "So, who is the boy?" Jean asked leaning forward across the table to distribute the stack of cups.

"Boy?" Hermione answered innocently and completely unbelievable.

"He's from Durmstrang," Ginny supplied animatedly, leaping forward to pour the tea, still not having lost the bounce she had woken up with.

"One of the visiting schools?" her mum asked, and Hermione smiled. Though a lot of what she told her parents must have seemed like gobbledygook to them, they tried to keep up with the goings-on, even if they didn't fully understand them.

"Yes!" Luna chimed in, "and he's a professional Quidditch player, supposedly the best Seeker in the world."

"That's the sport, right?" her mum asked with a quizzical look to Hermione. The apple hadn't fallen far from the tree in that respect; her mother had no more interest in sports than Hermione did. At Hermione's nod, she continued, "How old is he?"

"Seventeen," Hermione replied joining the conversation for the first time. Usually, she would have been irritated by the talk happening around her but it felt nice that her friends were excited, it felt nice to be excited herself for once. She realised as she took in her mum’s happy, relaxed demeanour that it had been a long time since she had seen either one of her parents during term time and she felt a bit ashamed of herself. Boarding school would not have been Jean Granger’s preferred option if there had been a choice, but she had bowed to her daughter’s wishes when magic had been exposed to them.

Her mother looked like she was processing the age difference as the girls shrugged out of their winter coats. Hermione wasn’t overly concerned; Jean was unlikely to have a problem. Hermione's dad was ten years older than her mother, and they had met when they were quite young, though she suspected David Granger might conveniently find a reason to discount that information if he found out, when he found out.

"She has a date with him this afternoon," Ginny burst out as if she couldn’t hold in the information any longer. Seriously what was wrong with that girl today?

Her mother’s hands stilled as she raised her cup to her lips. "It must be serious, we should get you something else to wear."

Eager to move the conversation along. Hermione brought up the ball dresses they wanted which had them all talking vigorously. Herself and Luna both wanted to wear blue, it was in keeping with the winter feel, and they liked the colour, Ginny mentioned that it would look nice with their date’s uniforms and Hermione blushed causing her mum to make a very uncharacteristic squealing sound. She was enjoying this far too much already.

Hermione sipped her tea and allowed the chatter to continue around her. She felt she had little else to contribute to the conversation, she wasn’t even wholly sure what half the terms Ginny was using concerning her dress idea meant. Hermione had been relieved when she had thought up a colour to be met with Luna’s agreement. In truth, she was too nervous about later that day to focus like she should have done, and even the joy and comfort of being with her mother couldn’t calm her.

Hermione had run into Viktor only once since he had asked her to the ball; he had wanted to confirm their date for that afternoon, and she had taken the opportunity to tell him Luna had agreed to go with Mikhail. When he had asked about her about the weekend, Hermione had said she was getting her dress, and he had inquired what sort of thing she planned on. With a coyness she hadn’t been aware she possessed Hermione told Viktor would have to wait and see. He had smiled at her response before tilting his head to the side;

"Well I  will be nice and tell," he said in a decidedly bold tone of voice that Hermione found she liked, a lot. "I will be wearing formal uniform robes."

"Is that the red tunic?" Hermione asked as lightly as she could, while she bit firmly into her lip to prevent herself from saying any more about it.

Viktor looked smug as he crossed his arms over his chest. "Da," he confirmed, and he went on to explain in broken English about the fur-lined cape he would also have on.

Hermione nodded to show her understanding. Somehow since Viktor had asked her to accompany him things were more comfortable between them. Not that they had ever been difficult, far from it, but she had always felt like she was tying herself in knots, too scared to say too much in case she betrayed herself. Now that she knew he reciprocated her crush, at least a little, Hermione didn't feel so much like an inexperienced child pining after the unattainable.

It wasn't long before their tea was abandoned and they were all in the changing rooms with their first round of clothes.  Ginny had a broad spectrum of things to choose from, but Hermione and Luna had stuck to their desire for blue gowns. It was Luna who found hers first; the ice blue dress fell to her dainty feet, and was full sleeved, rising high on her neck and completely covered in beautifully embroidered flowers. The sleeves billowed around her pale skin, and Luna rejoiced in finding pockets contained inside the voluminous skirts. It was stunning, entirely fitting for the occasion and slightly eccentric, all in all, perfect for her friend.

"Oh, I know exactly what to do for your hair," Ginny called out as Luna leapt back and forth, repeatedly twirling her skirts about her like a miniature ballerina.

"You're just like my Hermione, Luna,” Jean said kindly, eyeing the excess fabric trailing over the floor. “We’ll have to get it taken up, so you don't trip over the hem. Is that something you can do with your magic love?"

"Yes, we can, if we can’t find a spell, I'm sure Mrs Weasley will be able to send us the appropriate books," Hermione replied turning to her friend. "It's so, so lovely Luna."

Hermione admired the shape very much; it was modest while still being gorgeous, synched in at the waist with a voluminous skirt. A sales girl who had come to take away the unwanted dresses watched Hermione's expression and stepped forward. "Would you like me to pull similar things?" she asked, eager to help.

Hermione's eyes fell to Luna. "Would you mind?"

"Would I mind someone wanting to dress like me?" Luna replied, her eyebrows rising. "No, not at all… I think that would be rather wonderful actually."

Hermione sat down next to her mum while Ginny went back in to carry on working through her enormous pile and Luna went to change. "Try the red ones next Ginny," her mum called out.

Hermione looked up; her mother was having a lovely time, and she felt a small pang of guilt that she hadn't had an experience like this before. "Would you like to go for lunch afterwards?"

"Of course sweetheart, I would love too. But don't you need to be heading back to school for your date?"

"Yes, but not immediately," Hermione replied, settling her head on her mum's shoulder.

"Well then, let's get your dresses, and then I'll feed you all," she said dropping a kiss amid Hermione's curls. "I like your friends," she whispered almost conspiratorially, and Hermione smiled. "And I can't wait to hear more about this boy that has finally got my girl blushing," she continued in a teasing tone.

"We will tell you, Mrs Granger," Ginny called, her voice muffled behind the heavy curtain.

Hermione fought back her need to shout at everyone again; she needed the help, any pointers she could get would be gratefully received. While the dress shopping was a pleasant distraction the butterflies that had been present in her stomach since the morning seemed to be multiplying at an alarming rate.

A moment or two later the curtain was dramatically ripped open, and Ginny sauntered out in a bright red form-fitting dress, the neckline asymmetrically leading up to one shoulder. It wasn't a traditional ball gown. Instead, it ended at the ankle, with a relatively sizable split in the front, but then, Ginny had never really been an ordinary girl.

"What do you think?" she said, holding her arms out and placing them on her hips.

"I think you'll stun Neville," Luna called breezily.

"Like, literally stun him," Hermione added. "And we might have to put a cloak over you to get you out of the common room before Ron notices but, you look so beautiful."

"Not too much?" Ginny asked lightly, spinning in the mirror so she could see the back of it for herself.

Hermione's mother jumped up eyeing the dress in the mirror from behind Ginny. "No, I don't think so. It is a pretty bold cut, but you're still covered up, and there aren't any adornments or anything, stick to simple makeup and hair and you will be fine."

Hermione's eyes must have widened at the talk of makeup because Ginny looked back at her amused. "Not to worry Hermione, all in hand, you just find the dress and let me worry about everything else."

Just then the sales girl reappeared holding the next round of dresses and Hermione went back into the changing room to start trying on. The first one in the pile looked a little flashy for her tastes but knowing her mum would protest if she went for something overly simple Hermione slipped it on. Moving her ridiculous hair out of the way to fasten the back as far as she could she finally looked at herself in the mirror and couldn't hold back a tiny gasp. What had looked glittery and overdone on the hanger looked like chiselled ice now it was on. The gown was a soft blue, and the shape was incredibly similar to Luna's, falling to the floor with an A-line skirt, but the sleeves sat firmly against her skin ending just before her wrists. The bright jewels that lined the entire gown were arranged in artful patterns that reminded her of mosaic tiles she had seen on holidays in Northern Africa. It was the single best thing Hermione had ever put on, and she was instantly sure that she looked utterly silly in something so beautiful, something so grown up. Sucking in a breath, she pulled back the curtain to find her friends, now back in their regular clothes, sitting on either side of her mother. They went silent, and Hermione twitched, uncomfortable with their sweeping glances.

"I know," she said, breaking the hush and dropping her head. "It's a little OTT, isn't it? Maybe I should look for something a bit plainer?"

When she looked back up her mum pinned her right in the eyes with her gaze. "Oh, Hermione, it's so beautiful… You look so pretty."

"Really?" she asked in a small voice.

"Yes, really," Ginny said standing to sweep around the dress, "This is perfect… Plus you and Luna have coordinated, and that works seeing as you're both going with boys from the same school."

"This one then?" she asked looking back at her mum for her approval.

"Oh, I should say so," her mother agreed with a warm smile.

"Great, I'll take it off then and then we can go for lunch."

"Hermione,” her mother began, “you're forgetting your outfit for later."

"How could I have forgotten?" she replied with a roll of her eyes.

"Come on, it won't be that bad, just a nice new coat and boots" her mum chided.

"Just a nice new coat and boots?" she asked sceptically, but with amusement, she knew this game of old.

"Well, maybe a cute top too."

A ‘quick trip’ to get a new outfit had taken over an hour, and by the time Hermione got back from lunch, she only had just enough time to change before she was due to meet Viktor. Something she was sure her mother had planned. Her mother had shown a restraint she wasn't known for and allowed her to pick simple items. It was after all winter in Scotland; there were limited options.

Hermione had a pair of jeans that Ginny had insisted she get, slim fit 'so they fit inside boots', a line she was sure her friend had been fed, what would Ginny have known about jeans? They were paired with the softest cable knit jumper in a warm cream that she had loved immediately, and a darker cream woolly looking winter coat to pull over the top.

All of that Hermione was fine with, it was the tan knee-high boots she was eyeing sceptically. Thankfully, her mother had selected flat heels, but they still felt unlike her, it wasn't that she disliked them, not as such, they just seemed more attention-grabbing than she would normally wear. Which she reluctantly conceded was the point if she was going on a date.

Hermione pulled on the boots and took a quick glance in the mirror; she didn't have time to do much with her hair, but she tended to leave it down in the winter as the bulk kept her ears warm. Out of time, she grabbed her coat and made her way down to the to the common room, drawing a half-raised eyebrow from Neville which made her feel even more exposed in her outfit. She should have just worn her battered trainers .

Against the odds, Hermione managed to make it on time, finding Viktor standing outside waiting for her, completely unaffected by the cold in his fur-lined jacket. The grounds were quiet now as most students would either already be in Hogsmeade or inside, having decided against the excursion because of the weather.

He reached his arm out towards her, and Hermione took it as gracefully as she could manage, given the plethora of butterflies that had awoken in her stomach.

Chapter Text

The walk into Hogsmeade took less time than Hermione had imagined it would. She had been doing this walk for a year and it had never passed so quickly before. Hermione had been worried about how the conversation would flow between them, but it seemed one benefit of not having much time together recently was they had a lot to catch up on, Viktor was certainly chatty. Hermione wasn't sure where his reputation for being sullen came from, he was always happy enough when she spoke to him.

As they arrived in the bustling village, Hermione followed Viktor's lead until he stopped in front of Madam Puddifoot's Tea Shop. Hermione took in the thick net curtains through the snow-dusted windows, and she felt her heart sink. She knew it was where everyone went for dates, admittedly the choices for students were pretty limited, and they would have attracted too much attention from the ample afternoon crowd in the Three Broomsticks, but she couldn't help but feel… limp. Hermione wistfully considered Viktor's possible reaction to date activities in the Muggle world; she had a suspicion he would love bowling and arcade games.

"Told this was where to go," Viktor said falteringly, some of his ease from the last half an hour beginning to dissipate when faced with her lack of reaction.

Hermione forced a smile on her face, determined to be polite, even if it killed her. "This looks great," she said, with what she hoped wasn't obviously false cheer.

Hermione had never been on a date before, had never had anyone, besides her parents, even plan a meal for her, it wasn't Viktor's fault that the embroidered prison was her idea of hell on earth. As Viktor looked relieved, Hermione resolved that she would get through this experience with good grace, even if suffering in silence wasn't exactly something she was known for.

As Viktor stepped in front of her and gallantly pushed open the heavily lacquered door, a tinkling bell signalled their arrival to the staff within. He stepped back against the inward opening so Hermione could walk through, and when her back grazed against his front in the limited space, she sucked in a breath. Hermione had never felt quite so awkward, she wouldn’t have called herself graceful but Viktor made her feel so aware of her body, and his, that her limbs always felt like they were in the wrong place, making her more cumbersome than ever when they were together. Welcome distraction arrived in the form of a matronly witch, clad in an unflattering floral tabard who bustled them to a table in the far corner.

Hermione reached to pull off her warm jacket in reaction to the almost stifling heat of the room; she found that now she was inside the pink dollied dining room her nerves were beginning to ratchet again. As she folded herself into the small chair she felt her planned words die in her throat; the environment was so artificial she didn't know what to say. She threaded her fingers together to stop herself from fidgeting and watched Viktor's eyes sweep over the place with a mildly concerned expression. Hermione saw his mouth twitch several times, but no words were forthcoming, they both seemed to be searching for something, anything, to say, but Hermione was at a complete loss. Should she draw attention to the chintzy curtains? The old floral carpet? Or the ornately patterned plates?

Adding to her discomfort, Hermione was scared to move lest she dislodged some ornament or other, every surface in sight practically groaned under the weight of useless knick-knacks that she was sure all had a place. As the silence became oppressive, the witch who had greeted them at the door appeared again, carrying a loaded tray, offering tea and a selection of cakes and pastries. Hermione wondered whether her timing was just luck, or whether it had arisen from having overseen decades of adolescent awkwardness?

Hermione instantly reached for the teapot as Viktor held the tray up for her to make the first selection, apparently as pleased to have something to do as she was. As she sat up to peer across the tray, she sneezed as the very liberally applied powdered sugar formed a cloud following Viktor's rapid movement. Hermione hurriedly made her choice, averting her face to prevent further sneezing and offered Viktor a shy smile.

"Shall I pour?" she asked hesitantly, and Viktor nodded.

All she had to do now was lift the teapot again and pour the liquid without shaking. Come on Hermione, you can imobolize forty-five rioting Cornish Pixies, you can pour a bloody cup of tea.

"How was morning?" Viktor asked as he selected his own cake, eyeing the delicately iced confection wearily before putting it on one of the ridiculous side plates. Hermione thought to ask him if he often had cake, she knew that Oliver Wood was militant when it came to Quidditch and had often tried to enforce specialised diets on the house team, to improve performance. Suddenly such a question seemed and intrusive, and she forced herself to concentrate and remember what Viktor had already asked.

Hermione let out a sigh of pure relief as she placed the scalding teapot back on the table. "It was fun," she said enthusiastically, possibly letting some of her disbelief colour her tone. She had expected to loathe every minute of shopping, and as it turned out, she would happily repeat the experience. "Ginny and Luna came, we met my mum there."

Seeing her mother that morning had been a refresher on her parent's views on sweet things, Hermione couldn't fight back her wince as she felt the sprinkles within the cake she had just bitten into coat her tongue, it had looked relatively innocuous from the outside.

"Did you get dress?" Viktor asked, smiling out of one side of his mouth.

"Yes… I'm still not telling you though," Hermione countered bravely and Viktor laughed. As the noise rang out in the almost empty room, Hermione felt some of her anxiety slip away, the butterflies resident in her stomach quelled their flapping long enough for her to make another attempt at the secret glitter cake.

She was going to try, that's what she had said over lunch, try to push past her artless blundering. Luna had suggested that if she loosened up and didn't over think she would be all right, Hermione wasn't sure how quickly her friend anticipated she could achieve the total personality transplant she had recommended, maybe it was advice to put into practice for another day.

Their idle conversation continued, but Hermione couldn't get settled in the strange surroundings, it was throwing her; she thought that maybe Viktor was pleased with his choice till she looked up to find him subtly frowning at his hands. Hermione lifted herself out of her seat, very slightly, to see over the various pots on the table and noticed Viktor’s large hands struggling to move the tiny cutlery. It was the strangest thing she had ever seen. She couldn't blame him for his confusion, what boy of seventeen had ever tried to manipulate what looked like a child's fork covered in pink glitter hearts? As Viktor dropped his knife, again, Hermione bit down on the inside of her cheek to stop herself from laughing, and Viktor, apparently aware he now had an audience looked up to find her leaning over as his face became serious. Hermione might have been concerned that she had offended him, had she not known him so well, all that shared time in the library had taught her to look for the playful gleam in his eyes.

"Something is funny Hermione?" he asked lifting a heavy eyebrow.

Hermione shook her head, not trusting herself to speak as a bubble of mirth rose in her throat. Apparently taking her forced stoicism as a challenge, Viktor moved the knife away decidedly and instead picked up the ridiculously small teaspoon, with mouse and cheese motif handle, holding it in a parody of delicacy as he twirled it in his tea. Hermione made a strangled sound before giving into giggles, knocking over an ornamental china bell that Viktor thankfully caught before it hit the floor, though, given the exhalant pile of the carpet, the delicate ornament may have only bounced.

"We never come here again," Viktor said in a dramatic whisper, winking at her conspiratorially.

"That, I can manage," Hermione smiled happily, before reaching towards the tray again. "Cakes are good though," she conceded.

Viktor grinned and leant back in his chair. "Sorry, thought this would be good place," he said.

"It's ok, I've never actually been in here before, so I didn't want to say anything in case I was wholly wrong. It's a bit well… you know," she said, waving her hand to gesture at the room large, "but it was nice to try it."

"Never?… would have," Viktor began before he shook his head, "nevermind."

"Let's just finish our tea and leave?" Hermione suggested, more hint of a question in her tone that she would have liked. She didn't want to go back to the castle, not yet.

"I take you somewhere else?" Viktor replied, his tone was somehow half question, half assertion, but Hermione nodded anyway to make her feelings clear. She refreshed their cups with a great deal more ease now the large teapot was only half full and debated another pastry.

"You were going to tell me about the competition you had at Durmstrang, to come to the Triwizard," she said, offering another topic of conversation. Viktor had brought it up before in passing, and Hermione had found herself curious about it.

Viktor nodded, "Many seventh years wanted to take part, Karkaroff would only take twenty, we had to challenge for space. Five tasks, some thinking, some physical."

He seemed somewhat reticent to talk about it in detail, and so Hermione changed tack. "Wasn't that a massive undertaking for you, what with school and Quidditch and everything else?"

"Da… But, I wanted to come" Viktor confirmed with a shrug.

"Why?" she asked interestedly.

He smiled softly at her, and Hermione felt some of the slumbering butterflies reawakening, Viktor never got irritated by her endless questions the way everyone else did; he indulged her.

"Wanted to come to Britain, wanted to travel, have new experience," he explained.

Viktor selected another cake and after he struggled with the knife for several moments, Hermione took the implement from out of his warm fingers and cut it herself. When she retreated she felt Viktor’s warm gaze linger on her and she twisted her hands in her lap.

"Did you know you were coming? When I saw you over the summer, I mean?" She hadn't intended to blurt the question, damn his disarming presence, Hermione had hinted at it before but had never come right out and asked him plainly.

"No," Viktor affirmed as he tore his eyes away from hers to pick up a napkin. "Durmstrang competition had not started then, but knew after meeting you I would get place," he replied looking at her intently. There was a challenge in his gaze that Hermione wasn't quite ready to answer, though, for the first time, she thought she might want to, soon.

Her skin flushed, and she averted her eyes slightly, Viktor was so transparent about everything, all of her questions got straight answers, and even if he was a little cheeky at times, she found she liked it more often than not. When Hermione risked glancing back up, she discovered that Viktor had made quick work of the doughnut she had cut up and all that remained of the sweet treat was a line of powdered sugar, coating his skin, over the top of his lip.

Hermione asked herself what Ginny would have done in the same situation and immediately cursed herself when the answer came. Her heart pounding she balled up all of her courage and stretched over the overburdened table while Viktor began talking about the library he had at home. As her small hand connected with his surprisingly soft skin, Viktor's voice disappeared. Before Hermione could lose her nerve, she gently brushed the pad of her thumb across the sugar trace, sweeping half over the smooth flesh of his upper lip, not daring to look higher than the bottom of his nose.

"Err sugar," she said, as she pulled back, clumsily holding up her thumb as if to give contributory evidence to a shaky story.

"Thank you," Viktor murmured quietly reaching up to touch his lip himself.

Viktor watched the spreading pink blush that bloomed across Hermione's cheeks with a lot more joy than any of the pinks in the room had caused, he would never have expected her to be as bold as to reach across like that. Secretly he would have loved her to be even bolder but he didn't want to rush her, she had given enough away for him to be sure she hadn't had much male attention yet if any. There was apparently no accounting for the taste of British men. He was happy for their relationship to move at any pace Hermione was comfortable with, as long as it was still moving, and as long as he still got to spend time with her.

When she put her cup down Viktor saw an opening to get them out of there and stood from the uncomfortable seat, quickly moving to hold out her coat behind her while she got up. Viktor thoroughly approved of her outfit. In her jumper and coat, Hermione looked so soft, and he had to concentrate extremely hard to ensure he let the jacket go once she was back in it. Though best intentions aside, he couldn't resist gently sliding his hand under her bouncy curls, his thumb just grazing the nape of her neck as he untucked her hair from inside her collar. He stepped away as he felt her still under his fingers, and sped towards the door in need of cooler air.

Once they were back outside, Hermione directed him to Tomes and Scrolls with a slightly apologetic expression that Viktor ignored as he followed her into the murky store. No proprietor appeared to shepherd them, not that it seemed to matter, Hermione evidently knew her way around the bookshop, and he trailed behind her as she headed to the Transfiguration aisle before running her fingers along the spines, pulling out a red-clad book he recognised.

"You do not want that one," Viktor said decisively. He scanned the higher shelves quickly, the ones she couldn't reach, so must not have seen, and picked up the alternative he was looking for, holding it out to her. "This one much better," he said, happy to have been able to help.

He watched confused as Hermione frowned. "I don't think so, Professor McGonagall said that this was the book I needed for an advanced project," she protested sharply, not taking the book he was proffering.

Viktor dropped his hand back down to his side. "That book is outdated, theories in this one superior."

Hermione crossed her arms, pressing her own chosen volume to her chest as her eyes flashed in warning. "I severely doubt it, and regardless I've read that one," she nodded her head in the direction of the book he was still clutching. "The theories are convoluted and half-baked," she said dismissively.

"You mean you could not follow them?" Viktor pushed, mirroring her folded arm stance.

He bit back a smile as Hermione, no doubt unconsciously, attempted to stand taller, squaring her shoulders and lifting up her chin as her eyes narrowed.  Where had his shy girl gone?  Viktor leant against the shelf to his side and tried to keep his face impassive as Hermione raged at him, seemingly forgetting about all of her nerves as she speculated loudly over what spending many months in frozen wastelands did to the brain cells of adolescents. It took a long time before Hermione noticed his smiling eyes and she deflated immediately.

"You're laughing at me," she said in a small voice, and Viktor pulled himself away from the shelves to lean down, meeting her eyes.

"No, debating with you, enjoy as much as agreeing with you," he admitted with a wink.

Hermione muttered something under her breath as she walked past him, waving her preferred book challengingly as she headed to the counter. Viktor conceded that it was probably a bad idea to offer to pay and instead moved to stand close behind her as she made her purchase, grinning to himself as he heard her breath hitch when his shadow fell over her. He liked that he could fluster her.

When they got back outside the afternoon light was beginning to fade, and reluctantly Viktor realised he was going to have to walk Hermione back to the castle. One thing was for sure, he would have to find time to get to the library that week, their outing hadn't been nearly long enough, though he supposed she had needed to get her dress, that couldn't have been helped. Though he had no desire to stop his gentle teasing, Viktor was secretly pleased Hermione was keeping it a surprise, his imagination had attempted a few ideas over the last couple of days. It was probably for the best, for the maintenance of his academic record, that he didn't entirely know.

When he suggested taking the path home, Hermione agreed, and Viktor swiftly grabbed the book bag out of her hand rather than offering first, anticipating her refusal. Hermione huffed at his presumption but gave up quickly when he ignored her protests. Viktor believed that she was a girl not used to people doing things for her and while independence was admirable, and not to mention attractive, he had been raised to be a gentleman.

They walked closer together than they had on the way out, and the backs of their hands brushed together once, twice, before Viktor slyly moved the bag he was holding to his other side, freeing the hand closest to Hermione which he used to wrap around hers.

Her hand was small, warm and soft, just like her. Standing so close she only came up to his shoulder, and even then that was mainly because of her hair. Hermione didn't say anything when he enveloped her hand, but a couple of moments later she intertwined her cold fingers with his larger ones. It had been far too long since he had held her hand. As their fingers meshed Viktor subtly slowed their pace, not enough, he hoped, to be noticeable, but sufficient to prolong their date a little longer.

"What are your plans after school finishes?" her soft voice asked at the side of him, shaking him from his thoughts.

"Quidditch, full time," he answered immediately, his plans had been fixed for some years.

"Where?" she asked, and Viktor almost got lost in thought again. How strange it was to get lost thinking about someone when you were with them.

Typically, his life and plans were his least favourite topic, excessive questions about himself made Viktor uncomfortable, but never with her, Hermione's intent was always earnest. When girls had asked him about his job before, they were really asking about his prospects, if they asked about his home they were accessing his wealth. Hermione wanted to know his stories, all of the inconsequential threads that made up his life;  do you have a pet? What's your favourite season? Where was the most interesting place you have travelled to?  She wanted to know more about him; Hermione made him feel like he was more than the sum of a few desirable traits, like a whole person,  like a man.

"Have offers but my mother wants me to stay in central Europe," he said as a chill moved through the air, and he stepped closer to Hermione, hoping to shield her from the worst of it. To say that his mother wanted to keep him close was an understatement, when a letter had arrived from the American Quidditch Association she’d nearly had a fit at even the suggestion that he would move that far away. That was one of the difficulties of being an only child, and it was another pressure that Hermione understood.

"What about you?" he asked interested, she hadn't mentioned her career aspirations before.

Hermione bit her lip, looking like she was revealing a secret, "The Ministry."

"Really? You too nice for politics," he teased.

"You don't know me well enough to know that," she asserted primly.

"Might be coming to," Viktor replied, grinning at her brashly.

Hermione glared at him before she seemed to falter and her face moved back to a blank countenance, how long would it be before she felt truly comfortable with him? Viktor enjoyed the flash of defiance she let break through every now and again and he wanted to see more of it; the witch was no pushover.

"Also completing Transfiguration Mastery. My father wants further education, cannot be professional Quidditch player forever," he said with a roll of his eyes, paraphrasing from a very long, very often repeated speech.

Hermione nodded absently while looking up at the darkening sky. "You'll be good at that," she murmured, and when Viktor raised his eyebrows, she paled almost as if she had just realised what she said. "Oh, I may have read over some of your notes while we were studying, your papers on the subject were... err… very insightful."

Viktor sheepishly beamed at her and tried not to show how amused he was at her snooping. Or that he had already known. In fact, he had caught her shuffling through his papers a few times when he was returning from various stacks in the library. He had never wanted to discourage her, so he had managed to draw attention to his return by coughing or stepping louder. In the early days, it had given him hope that Hermione was interested. To have that confirmed as well as her implying she perceived him as intelligent was hugely gratifying.

"So, you'll be travelling all over Europe next year?" she asked, and Viktor ran a thumb carefully over the back of her cold hand. He really should have offered her the gloves he had in his pocket - it was what a gentleman would do - but he couldn't bring himself to lose contact with her skin.

Hermione’s tone was hard to read, her voice was muffled under the collar of her thick jumper, but he thought she sounded a little resigned. Viktor was planning on waiting until later in the year to talk about intentions he had, intentions that had already been listed and sent home for his mother's approval, at least the ones appropriate at this stage. But he could suggest things, couldn't he?

"Yes, will be travelling all over Europe," Viktor confirmed

"Oh," Hermione said so quietly he almost didn't hear her.

"When we meet in library this week should we move to section near maps?" he asked lightly, and Hermione looked up, her eyebrows pulled together in a bewildered frown that made her look adorable, and Viktor had the sudden desire to run his hand across her forehead, smoothing the line that had appeared.

"Why would we need the Geography section?" she asked perplexed.

"Oh, you do not need?" he baited lightly.

"Viktor, I, what?"

"You seem to have forgotten Scotland is in Europe."

A small smile pulled at Hermione’s lips before it fell away again she stared straight ahead. "There aren't any Quidditch teams in Scotland though," she said in a small voice.

"Oh?" Viktor inquired, knowing her well enough by then to fully appreciate just how little she knew about the sport.

"I may have, I may have checked," she admitted, obviously embarrassed, heat rose up her neck as she bit down on her lip.

Viktor stopped her when he could sense her growing discomfort, he pulled on her hand as they came to a halt just before the Hogwarts gates. He shot a surreptitious glance around them to check they weren't overlooked before he pulled her against him, folding his arms around her shoulders. He heard her squeak slightly before, after a couple of moments pause, she hesitantly moved her arms from down by her sides to coil around his waist inside his coat, her hands fisting into the back of his thick knit jumper. Viktor couldn't recall a time he had ever felt such warmth before, such a sense of belonging as he did then, standing as he was, in the middle of a freezing path, in early December, with a girl that probably weighed about the same as the coat he was wearing, wrapped around his centre.

"No, no Quidditch teams here Hermione… But other things, important things."

By the time Viktor had dropped Hermione off at the main door of the castle the dinner sitting had been and gone and all seemed quiet. As he turned to say a final goodbye, Hermione looked contemplative before she unexpectedly rushed forward and pulled her arms around his neck, engulfing him in another hug, this one being the first she had initiated.

"Thank you for a lovely afternoon," she sighed into his ear, her wild curls tickling against his chilled cheek. “Next time I get to pick the place," she teased, and he shifted his head to lay a quick kiss on her cheek.

"Next time," he confirmed, wrapping his arms around her slim waist and squeezing slightly, fighting the urge to pick her up and carry her off with him. When she let go he had to drag himself back to the ship, Viktor was sure the vessel perched on the Black Lake had ever looked so cold and unwelcoming as it did now.

When he made it back to his dorm, shaking off the residual snow that had coated his brow, Mikhail pointed out an envelope lying on his bed. "It came while you were gone."

Recognising the distinctly considered script, Viktor pulled the parchment open as he took off his boots. The letter was, as expected, from his mother, who was even more enthused to hear about Hermione than he had expected. While he had been home for the summer she had mentioned, as she would call it (he would say nagged) that he had yet to bring home a girl he was serious about. Viktor reminded her that he had never brought any girl home, serious or not which had made her far from happy.

Viktor scanned the letter to pick up all of the usual news and sighed at the number of mentions Hermione gained through the short missive. His mother intimated some reservations about Hermione's age, though she did not echo the headmaster's warning about being a gentleman, she knew the boy she had raised. There was no word in the whole letter relating to Hermione's descent, other than a short line asking if she had she any understanding of pureblood ways?  Viktor had a feeling he knew exactly the ways his mother was referring to, Muggle-born or not, Hermione was fifteen, such conversations were a way off, for now at least.

Viktor was stunned when his mother later suggested that he make an introduction while his parents were in Scotland for the final task. He had anticipated they would wait for him to propose a meeting. He had given clear indications of his regard for Hermione and a possible visit when the school year ended, but he hadn't said more than that, maybe he had betrayed more of his feelings than he intended? As he scanned the letter he came to a section about Karkaroff;  watch him Viktor, he made several mistakes as a young man, mistakes that had a significant bearing on the man he became.  He frowned.

"What's wrong," Mikhail asked.

"Nothing it's from my mother," Viktor replied, tucking the letter into his secure box, he would tell his friends about it later; he didn't want talk of the headmaster to ruin his good mood.

"So how did it go?" Filip demanded, leaning on the edge of his bed. Viktor was amazed he had gone so long without asking, he assumed it must have been killing Filip to keep quiet while he read his letter.

Viktor dropped back onto his bed, letting his head hit the pillow. "Perfect; she is just, perfect. "

Mikhail made a loud gagging sound and Filip hit him with his pillow.

Hermione spent the next few days floating around on air.  Pure, blissful air. She had enjoyed a relaxing Sunday morning, languishing in her dorm clad in pyjamas, updating Luna and Ginny on how her date went. Hermione was amused to no end that she, the non-sporting one, had been the one to teach them the expression post-match analysis.

She had again delighted when it became apparent that she had managed to make Ginny impressed with her when she explained how she had wiped the powdered sugar off Viktor's mouth and initiated the second embrace at the end the night, the lithe redhead had leapt forward so quickly she almost knocked Luna off the bed, placing her hands on either side of Hermione's face. "My little baby is all grown up and liking a boy," she sang, and the girls collapsed in fits of giggles.

The violent action disturbed the Fireball that had been resting on Hermione's tummy. Luna had brought him along with her when she appeared again that morning 'for a visit'. The tiny creature aggressively snorted at Ginny before stomping his way up Hermione's body and tangling himself in her hair. He seemed to view her unruly curls as some kind of dragon bedding and promptly fell asleep snoring gently in her ear, something Hermione found strangely pleasant.

Everything was going fine, brilliant even; that should have been her first clue that a significant irritant was on its way.

At lunch, Hermione was furiously re-editing her Arithmancy equations parchment, barely taking any notice of the comings and goings around her. Professor Vector had looked over her recent work that morning and suggested a different method for tabulated time differentials that Hermione had found incredibly exciting, and she was attempting to weave in the changes while it was still fresh in her mind. As she got lost halfway down the page, Harry and Ron dropped into the seats in front of her, and she mumbled her 'hellos' while counting on her fingers and wishing she had remembered to bring a bloody calculator to school. Hermione had reasoned that something battery and solar powered shouldn't be affected by magic. Maybe she could get her dad to send one? It would make life so much easier.

The boys were muttering unhappily, but Hermione wasn't paying attention, well, not until Ron turned to her. "Say, Hermione, you're a girl," he began.

She huffed at the interruption and resolutely remained looking at her parchment as she replied in a crisp tone, "Excellent observation Ronald," before crossing through a few numbers and looking back at her notes.

"You can come with one of us then," he announced resolved.

"Come with you to what?" she moaned indignantly continuing to ruffle through her stack of parchments. There had definitely been something she needed to remember about excessive use of the number three. What had it been again? Was it that you could only use it before the second time change or…

"The ball, Hermione," Ron said, stretching out the words as if she were particularly slow and her head finally snapped up as she was wrenched away from her work.

"I can't," Hermione replied quickly, feeling slightly panicked. She didn't want to tell them about Viktor, she had been unsure of Luna's reaction but she was damn near certain of Ron’s, and she had no desire to make a spectacle of herself in the Great Hall.

"Of course you can, come on, you can go with one of us, or we could all go together," Ron insisted and then turned to Harry as if the conversation was over.

"I said I couldn't Ron,” Hermione said again, setting her jaw, “I'm… I'm already going with someone."

Ron looked back at her as Harry glanced between them. "No your not," he said incredulous, "you said no to Neville, so who else asked?"

Hermione filed away wondering how he had got that bit of information and thought back to when she had questioned whether or not she liked Ron earlier in the year, deep down she knew she had been holding onto those feelings until pretty recently. That had been before this term. Things with Viktor were new, slightly fragile and uncertain, but he treated her in a way she realised she deserved to be treated. Even if he wasn't her happy ever after he had taught her about respect, about the way she should be treated, a lesson she should have already known.

"I’m going with someone, that’s all you need to know," Hermione asserted firmly, and Ron scoffed.

It was then that Hermione realised how many people were listening in, and not just on the Gryffindor table. She felt embarrassment begin to heat her face as she tried her best to look unaffected. This was the reaction she had been expecting when she told the girls; she saw that the faces turned in their direction were as disbelieving as Ron's.

"You don't have to believe me," Hermione professed, but her voice was weaker than she would have liked.

Harry, apparently sensing the atmosphere shift, intervened. "Look if Hermione says she's going with someone, she is alright," he said firmly with a pointed look around them that had the desired effect, everyone went back to focus on their plates again.

Ron opened his mouth, no doubt to continue but Ginny had drawn her wand.

"One. More. Word," she warned before sidling up closer to Hermione on the bench and whispering in her ear. "I can't wait to see his face."

After what she was now referring to as the 'incident'  at lunch, Hermione had gone to hide in the library after dinner, not wanting to face the common room. Ron's words had made her speculate about Viktor’s desire for privacy, they had never had a conversation as to whether their meeting up was a secret, and she had certainly not made it an open concern of the school, but what if he was embarrassed by her?

Hermione tried pushed the negative thoughts away; she knew  Viktor better than that, he had told his friends about her, taken her on a date, and asked her to the most significant event there was ever likely to be while she was at Hogwarts. She needed to stop this; a lovely thing was happening, and she wanted to enjoy it.

Hermione settled herself at their table; reasoning that she might as well do some work while she was hiding but was stopped as chairs were pulled out either side of her in tandem. At the sight of the Weasley twins, Hermione put down her quill and sat back in her chair, prepared for whatever hijinks were about to occur.

"Evening Granger," Fred began, spinning the back of the chair in his grasp and turning it so he could lounge on it backwards.

"We do hope you are well," George chimed in from the other side, leaning back and kicking his long legs out ahead of himself.

"We tried to find you in the common room-"

"-But you were hiding."

"Studying," Hermione protested snappishly.

" Hiding," they countered at the same time.

"So, we thought we would come to you," Fred continued, looking over her notes and picking up her quill to insert a comma, correctly, damn him.

George sighed, "Once again we find ourselves apologising for our little brother."

"If it weren't for the red hair and freckles we would suspect he had been picked up from the lost and found box."

"He has none of the Weasley charm - that I'm sure you would agree - is prevalent in the rest of us in abundance," George said with a comically fast waggle of his eyebrows. Hermione felt her lips quirk despite her best efforts to remain on her guard.

"Anyway, don't let him get to you right?" Fred insisted.

"Right," she agreed softly.

"So, customary opening apology out of the way-" George continued with a wave of the hand.

"-Who are you going with?" Fred pressed.

"You can tell us," George asserted.

"You believe me?" Hermione blurted and then felt a bit silly.

"Of course," Fred insisted.

"Making it up isn't your style-"

"-And you're a crap liar," George interjected, and Fred nodded in agreement, Hermione couldn't help the narrowing of her eyes.

"Either way-"

"-You're telling the truth."

"So who is it?" Fred pressed again.

"I'd really rather not say," Hermione pleaded, not sure how long she would hold up against their questioning, the fact that there was two of them, and they were so in tune with each other, always made her feel as if she were on the brink of tripping up.

It was at the exact moment that Fred began to make an elaborate speech - that had an air of evident prep work - that Viktor rounded the corner and took in the scene in front of him, tilting his head slightly. "Hermione, I come back?" he offered pointing towards the exit.

"No, no Viktor it's fine,” Hermione replied doing her damndest not to blush, “the twins were just leaving,  weren't you ?" she asked with a forceful look in both of their directions.

Their shocked faces were an absolute picture, and both remained stock still for several moments staring up at Viktor wide-eyed. George shook it off first, looking from Viktor to Hermione several times before he looked at his twin.

"No way," he whispered in total wonderment.

"Yes, way," Hermione confirmed self-consciously.

"This is absolutely," Fred began, still looking a little shell-shocked.

But George was already getting to his feet, "Utterly priceless," he mumbled excitedly.

George standing seemed to revive his twin, and Fred looked at her with a genuinely devious smirk on his face. "Granger, you are an absolute diamond," he said, delighted.

"I wonder if we can get dad's wizarding camera in time?" George asked rubbing his hands together in apparent glee.

Hermione shook her head as they walked off, and Viktor walked over to sit down next to her.

"What did I miss?"

"Nothing much, their Ron's brother's, my friend, you remember?" at Viktor's nod, she continued. "Ron asked about the ball today, I said I was going with someone, a few people didn't believe me. The twins, Fred and George," she explained, gesturing in the direction they had just departed in, "they were just trying to work out who it was and well, you turning the corner like that, I think they know now."

Hermione searched his face for some sign of discomfort, but there was nothing in his eyes to indicate alarm. "Everyone will know when you walk in with me," Viktor shrugged, and began pulling out his books without a care in the world.

Hermione’s heart swelled at his relaxed assertion, and she gave herself a couple of moments to recover before she pulled out her notes from earlier. “Viktor, could I get your opinion on this?”

They spent the next half an hour with their heads almost pressed together, quietly debating the correct way to solve the equation.

Chapter Text

Viktor, Filip and Mikhail were sat in a sort of circle, in various states of concentration, the golden egg from the first task of the TriWizard tournament resting on the ground between them. No one had spoken for over five minutes; they had exhausted so many possible lines of inquiry that they could no longer be bothered to articulate anything unless they were sure they were onto something. Viktor allowed his head to drop onto the hand resting against his kneecap and yawned animatedly. "How can this be so difficult?" he moaned.

"It's not," Mikhail answered quickly, as he leant forward and swept up the egg before transferring it from hand to hand, hoping the movement would shake up his stale thoughts. "We're just not thinking about it the right way."

He stilled the egg in his grasp and pinched the clasp at the top. As the golden metal cracked open the deafening noise made them all jump, it didn't matter how many times they listened to it, the screeching that burst from the egg made Viktor start. The grating sound was a hideous reminder that they didn’t yet have a solution.

"There must be something in that noise I'm supposed to understand," Viktor said once the egg had closed again.

"Translation charm?" Filip suggested, tiredly rubbing a hand over his face.

"Tried it," Mikhail and Viktor answered at the same time.

"But why would it need to be so loud?" Mikhail pondered putting the egg back down on the floor.

Something sparked in Viktor's mind, Mikhail was onto something it was all out thinking in the right way, or rather, asking the right questions. He sat up straighter, picking up the egg, "There must be a reason," he muttered, more to himself than the others.

"What about something that inhibits the sound?" Filip proposed, trying his best to be helpful.

"Putting something over it? Or putting it in something?" Mikhail offered.

"I tried burying it under clothes, but the noise just came through," Viktor replied, still looking at the egg contemplatively.

Filip reached for one of the discarded books that littered their dorm, "Something denser? Sand or…."

"Water," Viktor exclaimed, leaping up and running into the bathroom, his friends hot on his heels. He filled the large bath immediately, running both taps. When the tub was half filled, he dipped the egg under the surface and then hesitantly opened the clasp to hear… nothing.

"Well, it certainly kerbs the sound," Filip commented dryly, none of them was willing to get excited quite yet. This process had already taken them weeks, and they’d had a few ‘breakthroughs’ that eventually turned out to be nothing.

"I think you're going to have to stick your head under" Mikhail advised.

Viktor nodded before ripping off his shirt and submerging his head and shoulders under the surface of the water. After dragging his head out and shouting his delight to his friends he got back to the task at hand. As soon as his ears broke the surface, he could hear clear words, sung to him like music playing to a haunting melody. It took five attempts at immersing himself and shouting out what he heard until they had a full clue.

Come seek us where our voices sound,
We cannot sing above the ground,
And while you're searching ponder this;
We've taken what you'll sorely miss,
An hour long you'll have to look,
And to recover what we took,
But past an hour, the prospect's black,
Too late, it's gone, it won't come back.

"Underwater… for an hour?" Filip said, confirming what they were all thinking. Viktor swiped a towel as he sat down on his bed, drying his hair. They had figured out the secret of the egg, but now he had a new problem.

"Bubblehead charm?" Filip tried again.

"Bit uninventive," Mikhail countered, and Viktor sighed, it would have been the easiest thing to do, but he knew Mihail was right, easy wasn't going to cut it, he would have to do more to win. A small voice in the back of his mind whispered that he wanted to do more to impress Hermione more than he cared about the judges and Viktor fought to keep the guilty look off his face.

"I will have to think on it," he said, pulling on a jumper and settling back on the bed, he would start drawing up a plan for his options tomorrow; his brain was wiped after looking at the egg for so long.

Mikhail, who was still reviewing the parchment with the clue looked over to him. "What do you think the bit about 'taking what you'll sorely miss' means?"

Viktor shrugged. "An object, maybe my broom? Who knows."

The Yule Ball was fast approaching, and it seemed to be the topic of conversation on everyone's lips inside the walls of the castle. Viktor was finding he couldn't go anywhere on the grounds without seeing some terrified looking boy approaching a potential date, or overhearing the endless conversation on possible attire. Typically, Viktor would have been irritated by all of the mindless chatter, but on this occasion, he couldn't hold back own is excitement. He had figured out the egg and was way on top of his homework, so he allowed his mind to wander to the upcoming event. He had asked Hermione for her dress colour a few nights before; she had eyed him sceptically, but he had been firm in the face her evident of suspicion and said it was for the flowers he was getting. She had shyly grinned at him, and with some reluctance divulged that her dress was blue, but gave no more detail than that, she wouldn't even go as far as to name the hue, in any case, his dreams got slightly more specific after that.

Two weeks before the ball all of the Durmstrang boys were called into the large hall onboard ship after dinner for a 'talk' with the headmaster. As they had done countless times before the students stood in their designated spaces not having to wait long before Karkaroff filed through them to stand at the front. The headmaster drew himself up, taking off his fur hat and coat and placing his hands inside his trouser pockets, if you didn't know him well you may have said his demeanour appeared relaxed, none of the boys in front of him would have shared in that delusion.

As Karkaroff paced in front of them, the well-trodden boards creaked under his feet. "Am I correct in assuming that as I made it an edict, you have all selected  appropriate dates for the ball?"

"Yes, sir," came the resounding reply.

"Good," he came to a stop and eyed them all intensely, "you are all of age now, men in our world, most of you will be looking at marriage agreements in the next couple of years."

Mikhail scoffed, so low he probably would have been undetected, were it not for how quiet the room was. Karkaroff snapped his eyes to him, but there was a curve to his lip that indicated his amusement. "Yes, even you Mikhail, I have no doubt your Father will impress upon you the benefits of a life outside of purely academic pursuits." Filip just about suppressed his laughter and Viktor fought his urge to roll his eyes at the situation.

The headmaster resumed his pacing, "I will remind you that we are visiting this school, and we have a reputation to uphold, you will be on your best behaviour. If I catch any of you so much as thinking of misbehaving, the letter I will send home to your parents will be the least of your worries. If you disgrace this school, or me, I will take steps to ensure that the organ that will no doubt have taken the place of your brain, will be rendered incapacitated. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, Sir," came the fierce, slightly terrified response.

The headmaster exited the room, bidding them a curt ‘good evening’ and the assembled boys had a swift, reassuring feel inside their trouser pockets before following in his wake.

Viktor jogged over the snow-dusted grounds, speeding up to get some much-needed warmth into his legs, he had charmed his shoes to make the bases stickier after a near miss the day before. The castle looked pleasant early in the morning before its inhabitants had woken up. It was strange being here, in Scotland, for Christmas. Usually, he would spend the Holidays at home. It was a hard thing for his mother; she was already struggling with the idea he would be gone for long periods next year, without having him absent from the holidays too.

He still had to tell her about the house he was planning on buying; Viktor had resolved he would need his own place once he had selected a team, something that would be more convenient for the training ground. He still had to make a decision on his future; he didn't have long left now, but Viktor wanted to ensure he had taken all of the factors into consideration. He was unsure if the curly-haired witch, likely still asleep in her tower, would have an impact on his choice. He had no guarantees that their relationship, such as it was, would continue past this year, or even post the ball, this could be just a holiday romance, something Hermione would forget about as soon as his ship faded from her view. Viktor’s feelings were becoming much more certain; he somehow doubted she would disappear from his mind so quickly, though it was the imprints he was beginning to feel in his heart that he was more concerned with.

Viktor ran past the lake as he chewed everything over, there was something between her and the red-haired boy, maybe not a strong affection, but her relationship with him was different to the one she had with Potter. He just wasn't sure yet if it was something to be uneasy about.

The Durmstrang boys braved the elements again to leave the ship that evening for dinner, Viktor sat down, in what was becoming his usual place across from Adrian Pucey. The boys had exchanged a few words of conversation over the last two months, Pucey was also hoping to play Quidditch full time after school as well as pursuing a mastery, so they had some common ground.

As Viktor began loading up his plate his attention was caught by a boy at the other end of the table; he recognised the voice as belonging to Draco Malfoy, a student in Hermione's year that had introduced himself to Viktor more than once. He didn't pay much attention until he felt Filip tense next to him and Viktor stopped moving to hear better.

"You should have seen it, idiots the lot of them looked. Well, I fired at Potter and what do you know? He moved, and it smacked Granger straight in the face." Viktor's hands dropped to the table as the small crowd around the blond boy laughed riotously. "Couldn't have turned out better if I planned it," Malfoy continued smugly.

Viktor looked over at the Gryffindor side of the hall, but Hermione wasn't there, Potter and Weasley were, and he angrily registered that they did not appear to have a scratch on them. Mind made up he stood, untangling his legs from the bench.

"Viktor," Mikhail hissed before dropping his voice and speaking in their own tongue, "you can't go defending the honour of a girl in the middle of the dining hall, remember what Karkaroff said about us looking like thugs."

Viktor dropped his hand on his friend's shoulder. "I'm going to the Hospital Wing, I will take my issues up in private, once I have spoken to her."

Mikhail nodded, and Viktor exited the hall.

Hermione was sitting on the edge of a cot in the Hospital Wing, feeling pretty pleased with herself despite the day she had endured. She had never been so embarrassed as when Professor Snape sneered down at her; her eyes had clouded with tears as he pronounced 'he saw no difference in her appearance'. She had allowed the boys to bring her to Madam Pomfrey, but after that had asked them to leave, she didn't want anyone to look at her.

Hermione didn't have had many vanities, she defiantly ignored her hair and could forgo the glamour charms and make up her peers delighted in, but she had always been sensitive about her teeth. When she was little, she'd had an overbite that had been painfully corrected under her parent's professional care, but they had not been able to do anything about her overly large front teeth.

Thankfully, the charm to reduce the size they had grown to after Malfoy’s hex had been relatively straightforward, and as the nurse had held up the mirror, Hermione had only waited a little longer to halt the reduction. It had left her with perfect teeth, something she felt rather happy about, if she pushed back thoughts on how she was going to explain it to her father. Her mother would no doubt understand her actions eventually, but her dad would be disappointed she had felt the need to change anything about herself. They had discussed her teeth and her unhappiness with them many, many times.

Hermione was only as still there as the speed of the hex’s transformation of her teeth had given her little time to react, and they had cut open her bottom lip, Madam Pomfrey had sealed it and applied a paste but insisted she remain there for a couple of hours to allow it to seep in, and for her to rest after having healing magic used on herself.

As Hermione reached for one of her books the Hospital Wing doors swung open, and Viktor swept in. At first, she was concerned he had hurt himself until she saw his eyes scanning the room, when he locked eyes with her he walked forward quickly placing a hand on the top of her arm and dropping himself forward examining her for any signs of distress or damage.

"Heard you were here, you okay? What happened?" he asked quickly, his voice anxious.

"I'm fine Hermione asserted, smiling with her mouth resolutely closed, her cheeks were a little flushed as she realised she would have to explain.

"Seem good, but heard you were hexed," Viktor pressed.

"I…" Hermione started weakly but it was already too late, she saw Viktor's eyes narrowed on her mouth.

"Your teeth?"

Her eyes fell on her lap. "I was hit with a hex while I was outside my potions classroom, it made them grow until they were enormous I looked like a… like a beaver," she admitted quietly, pushing her hands together. Viktor snorted, and Hermione looked up indignantly, but before she could mouth off, he gripped her chin lightly.

"You are too beautiful to look like beaver," he murmured, and Hermione felt her cheeks heat again for an entirely different reason.

The proximity of their faces was warping her mind, and she sighed not seeing how she could avoid telling the truth. "I may have let Madam Pomfrey shrink them back until they were smaller than before. Hermione looked at him, expecting some reaction to her expression of vanity but Viktor's face was impassive.

"Nothing wrong before," he said firmly, before dropping onto the cot to sit next to her, "but you are happy now yes?"

"Yes," she replied in a small voice, and Viktor nodded.

"How did you get hurt?" he asked, and Hermione was grateful for the opportunity to move on.

"It was an accident," she began, and her eyes widened as Viktor's hands gripped the mattress on either side of his legs hard, his knuckles turning white under strain. Perplexed she laid a hand over his tense fingers in what she hoped was a comforting gesture. "It was, I just got hit in the crossfire," she explained.

"If they had not been cursing it would not have happened," Viktor said tightly and turned to look at her. His eyes were angry, and she found herself glad it wasn't directed at her. "It could have been so much worse," he finished, the words sounding like he had ground them out.

Hesitating only briefly Hermione laid her head on his shoulder, and she felt Viktor tense under her cheek for a second before he sagged, casually moving his hand from under hers to wrap it around her waist, pulling her closer into his side.

"I have to tell you something," she began falteringly. Honestly, she didn't want to have this conversation, to interrupt this moment,  but she wasn't sure when she might get a chance again, and she certainly didn't want to ruin the Yule Ball by bringing it up then.

"Da?” Viktor he answered absently.

Hermione sucked in a large gulp of air and closed her eyes. "I think… well, I know, that your headmaster was a Death Eater, during the last war."

She felt Viktor shift his arm from around her waist and her heart sank, she hesitantly opened her eyes as he turned himself towards her and he laid a hand on each of her shoulders, his nose almost touching hers. "I know" he replied.

"You do?" she stuttered, incredulous that Viktor should already be aware, she had planned argument after argument to help convince him, and he already knew?

"It not secret in my country, he may not be good man, but he is good headmaster."

Hermione felt like she had been hit in the stomach, how could he think this was okay? How could anyone? "He followed Voldemort, he hates people like me, how could you…"

Viktor interrupted softly. "Many people where I am from believed in Grindelwald, this why people think Durmstrang Dark, some parts are... but not all of us. Karkaroff made mistakes, mistakes when he was not much older than me," Hermione made to cut in, but he shushed her, kindly, "Can people not change?"

"He hates Muggle-borns," she argued.

"He does not hate Muggle-borns; he fears them, he does not know better," Viktor's tone was soothing, but his placating was only making Hermione more irritated.

"That's not an excuse," she snapped, disapproval heating her tone.

"Not making excuses," Viktor responded, and Hermione crossed her arms in front of herself. "Hermione," he crooned, and she looked up to face him, "I do not agree with how he feels, but his crime now is ignorance, not malice," he said sincerely, and she felt her anger wilt slightly.

"Fine," she huffed, "but this won't be the last time we talk about this."

Viktor nodded in agreement though he failed to smother a smile, Hermione was beginning to think she was screwed when it came to that smile.

"Your lip, does it hurt?" he asked as his hands ghosted from the position on her shoulder to the side of her neck.

"No," she whispered, she didn't trust herself to speak further as she felt her accelerated heartbeat in her ears.

One of Viktor's large hands splayed across her cheek, and his thumb moved to graze gently over her bottom lip, still slightly swollen from the day's events. "You will meet people as you grow up… they will tell you, you are not good enough, this will happen a lot… remember that many people will not care."

He placed a firm kiss on her cheek, not on the on the bone, as he had before, but almost on the side of her mouth, lingering for a while, so close that she could feel his hot breath on her lips as he pulled away.

"Glad you not seriously hurt, would have been very disappointed not to dance with you Viktor said soberly though he smiled down at Hermione he drew her still heated bottom lip under her perfect teeth.

"Me too."

Hermione was once again in the library, with the ball fast approaching Ginny had informed her that she would need the whole day to get ready. The redhead subsequently ignored all of Hermione's protests, and with every failed argument Hermione realised there was no getting out of it. Therefore she had some work to do to get ahead. She had just finished the second item on her list, crossing it off with a flourish when the seat next to her was pulled out, and her face broke into an expectant grin.

"I wasn't expecting to see you today, I thought you had training, you… oh, hi Cedric," she finished lamely staring at the grinning Hufflepuff champion.

"Not who you were expecting?" he asked in a teasing tone.

"No, well...I," Hermione faltered, and Cedric boomed out a laugh.

"No need for the concern, I know your dirty little secret. By the way, you're a dark horse Granger, who knew that under that untouchable reserve there was a girl with a hidden appreciation for Quidditch, well, the players at least?" he smirked at her.

"How did you…" she asked mystified.

"Krum and I spoke after that thing in the paper, nasty business, all complete crap, me and him we’re quite close,” he said proudly. “Well, not as close as you and he are,” he qualified with a wink. “I thought something was going on between you two when I saw you in the tent and Krum, well, he didn't hide his feelings for you."

Hermione felt pleased, and it clearly showed on her face as Cedric rolled his eyes dramatically. "If you swoon, I will not help you up off the floor, this is already the weirdest conversation ever, and I haven't even got to the point yet."

Hermione sat up straighter, embarrassed to have been caught mooning, "Don't let me keep you Diggory, what is it you need?"

"It's not what I need at all; it's something Harry needs, it's about," he dropped his voice to a dramatic whisper that was as loud as his normal speaking voice, "the egg."

It was Hermione's turn to roll her eyes, bloody drama school dropout, "What about it?" she asked impatiently.

Cedric's brow creased, apparently unhappy with her lack of awe at his proclamation. "I haven't been able to find Potter so tell him from me to take a bath with it."

Hermione stared at him unblinking for a second until Cedric waved his hand in front of her face. "Hellooo," he called, "have I broken you, Granger, that is incredibly inconvenient."

She snapped out of it, batting his hand away from her face. "What do you mean, take a bath with it?" she asked astonished.

"Exactly what I said, it's not difficult Granger, I'll write it down if you need me too?” Cedric needled, and she slumped back in her seat.

"No, it's fine, mad, but I'll tell him," she was fast learning that the TriWizard tournament was an entirely bonkers event, questioning its practices seemed pointless.

"Good, good," Cedric replied, slapping his hands against his thighs drawing a glare from a table of Ravenclaws studying close by before he stood. "So, I better go, stuff to do and all that, I suppose the next time I see you we will be about to open the dancing."

Hermione felt dread pool in her stomach, she hadn’t thought about the dancing in a while, she had been so focused on Viktor. "Who are you taking?" she asked with no real interest, just hoping to distract herself.

Cedric beamed, "Cho, Cho Chang."

Oh, crap.

It was an age before Hermione could get Harry on his own that evening. Ron was still being a nightmare about the ball, and Hermione was avoiding him, with the assistance of the twins, who were running interference. Seemingly the boys were all too happy to do whatever she wanted, for some reason they felt that Hermione going to the ball with Viktor Krum was going to top any Christmas present they got that year.

Once it was just the two of them, Hermione relayed what Cedric had said about the egg verbatim much to Harry’s apparent confusion. He asked her more questions, and all she could do was shrug, she had no more clue what Diggory was on about than Harry did.

"Harry," she began, steeling herself a little.

"Yeah?" he replied absently, now looking at the egg perplexed.

"That's not all Cedric said," she continued pulling at the loose hem on the bottom of her jumper.

"Did he have more clues?" Harry asked eagerly, and Hermione narrowed her eyes at him, she knew he hadn't been doing as much as he should have been on the egg.

"Not exactly," she hedged.

"I don't follow," Harry said his brows knitting in confusion as he pushed the golden object back to in his back.

"While we were talking he… he may have mentioned he was going to the ball… with Cho Chang."

"Ah," Harry murmured, "that's, that's great, I'm… I'm sure they'll have a great time," he stuttered out avoiding Hermione's eyes.

"I'm sorry Harry," she said gently, looping a hand through his arm.

"It's fine," he coughed out, and Hermione winced, "I hadn't worked up the courage to ask her so… you know, it's probably for the best."

"You should ask someone else you know?" she chided gently, Harry couldn't exactly go on his own if he was expected to dance in front of the whole school.

"Yeah, I should. I'm just so worried about opening the dancing, can you imagine Mione, all those eyes on you?"

Hermione offered what she hoped was a sympathetic smile. No, she didn't know, but she would, soon.

Chapter Text

The girls were a mere hour into the ‘getting ready process’ when Hermione started feeling embarrassed about the continued fuss she had made in the lead up. Anytime Ginny mentioned wanting to take a whole afternoon Hermione had rolled her eyes, been as obstinate as possible and endlessly complained. In her own defence, Hermione hadn't been able to work out just what they were going to do that would require over four hours of her precious study time, and it was rather humbling to realise that she hadn't even considered that a good part of it was sitting around talking, laughing and bonding. The more time Hermione spent with the girls, the more her confidence built, which she certainly needed. She had been fretting about parading herself in front of the whole school for weeks. Liking her dress helped, though now that it was the day of the event Hermione wished she had gone for something simpler, less attention-grabbing. The thought of Viktor helped, while going with him meant inevitable comments it also meant being by his side for a lot of the evening, which made her feel calm, he made her feel more hopeful.

Luna had arranged for them to make use of her dorm in Ravenclaw Tower, which had ended up being a perfect plan. It meant they could avoid the boys and, as none of the other Ravenclaw third years were going to the event, they had the run of the space. Hermione wouldn't have thought that three girls would need so much room, but by the third hour, there was so much stuff strewn about the place you would have been forgiven for thinking it was at the mercy of twenty or so witches.

When Hermione had arrived, their dresses and shoes were lined up against the wall in garment bags, and both Luna and Ginny were flicking through hair magazines, with Ginny taking the lead on what she thought would work for each of their outfits. Hermione, for once, was more than happy to be led. Two hours and a platter of sandwiches from the kitchen later, Ginny jumped up in front of them.

"There's a lot to be done," she said seriously, standing up straight, her arms on her hips making her look like a drill sergeant, a tiny drill sergeant in a lurid green face mask, but still.

"Hermione," Ginny said turning to her with a steely gaze, "I know you don't like this stuff, but you pick up charms most quickly so you can help do the magic for the hair." Hermione nodded, fearing to do anything else, and deposited the slumbering Fireball in the warm spot she had left on Luna's bed.

The dorm room became a hive of activity as all three girls rushed around each other ticking items off a list that Ginny had produced. Hermione had her eyebrows shaped and her hair conditioned, and once the red mud pack she had been sporting was removed, Luna began experimenting with her makeup while Ginny was showering. Hermione had a moment of fear when Luna approached her face, waving her wand idly in her fingers, but the blonde had a surprisingly light touch leaving Hermione's features subtly enhanced rather than completely masked.

When Ginny pulled on her startling red dress, Luna charmed her thick red hair to fall in loose waves around her face, and Hermione helped apply the minimal makeup required. She would never have admitted it out loud but Hermione was quite impressed with some of the spellwork invented for cosmetics. The charms were more complex than Hermione had ever imagined, requiring off-the-cuff adaptations for particular hair and skin types. She almost lost herself to pondering on the transference of the augmentations into other areas but was swiftly given another urgent task.

After deliberating for a time, they decided to leave Luna's hair mainly down, letting her soft, naturally pale waves fall down her back, before gathering the top section and styling it into pinned roses in keeping with the eccentric florals on her gown. Hermione smiled softly when they were done; her friends couldn't have looked more different if they'd tried but both were entirely captivating in their unique way.

It took Luna and Ginny both working in concentrated tandem to get Hermione's hair to sit right. They had initially intended to straighten it completely, but that idea was scrapped. Hermione had been hesitant, straight hair had been the one thing she had looked forward to, but Ginny was insistent. Instead, her hair was tamed a little before being gathered up towards the nape of her neck, you could still see all of her curls, they were just in a more reasonable order, she still looked like herself.

After leaving Ginny to find Neville, Luna and Hermione rushed in the other direction to meet up with the Durmstrang contingent. As their heels clacked against the castles slate floors the nerves that Hermione had been attempting to ignore for most of the day resurfaced. It helped to have Luna there, and as if sensing her growing discomfort the younger girl chatted the entire way through each long corridor without interruption, mainly total nonsense, but the topic didn't matter, the constant flow of babble soothed Hermione, though she couldn't get her brain working enough to respond.

She had arranged with Viktor to meet him near the main doors, where himself and his fellow students would all be meeting their dates after coming in from the ship. As they descended, on a thankfully non-moving staircase, Hermione spied him, stood slightly off from his peers, with another student who she assumed must have been Mikhail. She had seen him with two boys before and had heard him talk about them often but had never been sure which was which. Mikhail was tall, like Viktor, but with a leaner form, with dark hair and dark eyebrows. He looked serious, but then all of the boys from that school seemed to. Hermione had made it almost the whole way down the steps when, as if sensing her approach, Viktor looked up at her. She saw his eyes widen for a second before she averted her gaze very, very focused on descending the last few stairs without tripping on either her gown or her shoes.

As her feet touched the floor of the entrance hall, Hermione was gripped by panic over how to break the ice, she was used to spending time with Viktor on his own but never in front of this many people. Again, Luna came effortlessly to her rescue, looping her arm through Hermione’s and marching them forward to where their dates were standing.

"Good evening," the blonde began brightly, and both boys bowed formally before returning her greeting. Hermione managed to mumble out a hello, but somehow more words were not forthcoming.

"What a lovely tunics," Luna said, eyeing their formal robes with a dazzling smile. "Did you know that red dye was originally produced by the crushing of thousands of tropical insects to make a paste? Muggles still use the method for artificial flowers."

There was a beat of silence and Hermione forced herself to speak. "Err," she faltered, "this is Luna," she stuttered out, her voice raspy as if she hadn’t had a glass of water in days, gesturing at her friend and Mikhail stepped forward.

"Hermione, lovely to meet you," he said sincerely before turning to Luna, "I understand I have pleasure of escorting you this evening," before reaching forward his arm.

Luna smiled and slid her arm under his, allowing Mikhail to lead her away. As they moved into the distance, Hermione heard Mikhail ask, "Why to use bugs from only from tropical regions to make paste?"

Hermione felt her anxiety over Luna's enjoyment of the evening sweep away at the boy’s interested tone and turned back to face Viktor. For the first time, she felt able to look at him properly. He looked taller in his formal robes, older too. His crimson tunic was fitted firmly against his broad chest, accentuated further by the fur-lined robe belted over one sleeve. Suddenly Hermione felt like her dress was just right, formal and over the top as it may have been, anything less wouldn't have matched the meticulous perfection of Viktor’s outfit. She felt like something out of a fairytale. Hermione was aware that she had been silently regarding him, as she did all she could not to bite her lip or fiddle with her sleeves, but she needn't have worried, when she looked back up it was to find Viktor completing his own appraisal.

"I am," he said, with a scratchy voice before he coughed and looked heavenward for a moment. He stepped forward to take her hand, with what Hermione thought may have been a slight flush on his cheeks.

"I am glad you did not show me dress before, or tell me about it, or answer my questions."

"Oh? But you were so insistent earlier this week?" she replied confused as to his sudden turnaround. Viktor had still been teasing her that he could make her tell him only a couple of days before.

"Yes, I was fool," Viktor smiled wryly, "I would not do anything that change moment I saw you walk downstairs. Walk downstairs to me."

Hermione felt robbed of her voice but was saved from replying by a commotion starting around them, Viktor seemed to remember himself and again, he stepped closer, pulling a box out of his pocket. "Will you wear my favour?" he asked smiling, and Hermione couldn't help but return it.

"Yes, of course," she said gladly, opening the proffered box with shaking fingers.

The flowers were a simple circle of white blooms with darkish blue looking centres, arranged in a simple band. They were classic and more elegant than anything she had seen before, Hermione loved them instantly. "What are they?" she asked, gently moving her little finger over a soft petal.

"I do not know you interested in flowers," Viktor replied inquisitively.

Hermione flushed, "I'm not but, err, no one has ever given me flowers before and… well, my mum will ask what they were I tell her about tonight in my next letter."

Viktor gripped her wrist in his warm hand and pulled the floral band over the sleeve of her dress before looping it under his arm. "They are anemone, winter flowers," he explained before dropping his voice, "don't tell anyone, asked my mother what to buy," he said conspiratorially.


"Hermione, did you think I ask colour of gown to match flowers?" he smirked, and Hermione almost laughed at herself, of course, his mother would have been the one to instruct him to do so. He continued, "the only reason I properly attired, Durmstrang makes choices for us," he said gesturing to himself.

"So, when you aren't in uniform?" Hermione inquired, wondering what he would look like in his own clothes, and what he liked to wear. Was he casual in his own home like she was, or formal like she imagined most of the British purebloods to be?

"Are you asking about when my clothes are off Miss Granger? We are not even at Ball yet," Viktor teased his eyes flashing.

"You know what I meant," Hermione protested hotly but couldn't fight down the colour off her cheeks.

"Ah Quidditch kits, comfortable clothes," he shrugged with a glimmer in his eyes. She narrowed her gaze at his continued mirth. "What?" he questioned with mock innocence.

"That wasn't a very gentlemanly beginning," she chastised.

"That is not true," he said shaking his head, "this is not our beginning. When I met you first I was perfect gentleman you were not like lady," Hermione gasped in protest, but he continued, "is true, you in corner talking about my nose."

Hermione’s eyes glanced up at his face where the painful crack there was no longer any trace of had once been. "I'm so sorry about that," she said earnestly, "I thought the crowd would have covered my words."

"Was not my ears broken Hermione," Viktor laughed out simultaneously moving away from her ineffective punch in the arm. His teasing made Hermione flush to the point she considered she might have been in danger of passing out, but it settled her nerves, yes this was different, and yes there would be a lot of people and unfamiliar clothes, but it was still the same Viktor. No, Viktor hadn’t changed, but she had yet to deal with other people's reactions, and because of the nature of the evening, she would be hit with all of them, all at once.

There was still one introduction remaining before they could head off and begin their evening, and when headmaster Igor Karkaroff appeared in the hall it made Hermione unsure for a second. She had listened when Viktor had spoken about Karkaroff, but she hadn’t changed her opinion. She just wasn't as forgiving as her new friend. With her place in the wizarding world constantly in question, Hermione couldn’t afford to be.

When Karkaroff spotted Viktor, he moved directly towards them and Hermione felt unprepared for what she had to do, did she bow? Curtsey? The rules for everything at their school were harsher, more formal.

"Miss Granger," he said, his cool tone sucking the joy that had just been present right out of the corridor. It reminded her of Professor Snape, his tone, his entire demeanour managed to convey that he was superior to her and that he was deathly bored all without moving a facial muscle. Hermione wondered whether that mode of address was the first thing Voldemort taught his follows.

"Headmaster Karkaroff, it is a pleasure to meet you," she said, fighting the urge to curtsey to the floor as if she was meeting the Queen.

His expression appeared pained as if he was battling against a look of severe distaste, though he managed to get, "the pleasure is all mine," out of his clenched teeth before muttering something to Viktor in Bulgarian and slipping down the corridor.

Well, that could have gone worse, Hermione thought to herself. She couldn't find it in her to be offended, after all, he was a middle-aged man, she was sure he didn't want to spend the evening speaking to school children. Viktor looked bemused but suggested they make their way to the hall, after a couple of moments of silence her curiosity got the better of her. "Viktor, what did he say?"

'Ah, told me to stop looking insufferably happy," he replied self-consciously as if he was unsure of the words and sentiment, and it was Hermione's turn to be silent.

Viktor led her to a small classroom opposite the main entrance to the Great Hall where the rest of the champions were waiting. As they emerged Hermione saw a radiant Fleur Delacour standing with Roger Davies, of all people, Roger had probably been the only one with an ego big enough to assume she would say yes. The pontificating he was renowned for had already got the better of him if the way Fleur's eyes lit up at their arrival was any indication. She marched forward leaving a bemused Roger following in her wake.

"Viktor, good to see you and it's Hermione isn't it?" Fleur said, turning towards her with such unexpected enthusiasm that Hermione almost took a step back.

"Yes, nice to meet you… properly... I should say," Hermione replied. Despite her cheekily wishing the part Veela luck before the first task she had never actually spoken to the Beauxbaton champion.

Viktor was reluctantly dragged into a conversation with Roger, and Fleur turned her back on the boys. "Yes, I know your name, we sit with the girls at Ravenclaw table, they have talked about your exam results a few times," Fleur offered in explanation. Hermione felt like she should say something, anything really, but she found no topics came into her head. All she could offer the French girl was a nod of her head and a smile she feared was more of an intimated grimace.

Fleur looked down at Hermione’s dress, and Hermione felt a familiar dread fall over her. A feeling that had been born in primary school when her shoes had been plain and not patent like they were supposed to be, or the following year when she had insisted she get patent only to find everyone now had a slight heel.

"Your dress," Fleur said, stepping forward and running a hand over the sleeve, "it's magnificent no, I have never seen anything like it."

“Thank you," Hermione replied, trying to tamp down her disbelief, "yours is beautiful, you look truly stunning Fleur."

Fleur waved a hand in front of herself dismissively, as if she were told that a hundred times a day, which, given her appearance, was a distinct possibility. "So, you are here with Viktor?" Fleur asked kindly.

"Err yes," Hermione confirmed, still feeling strange about people knowing about them, she didn't have very long to get over that she supposed.

Fleur looked over at the boys, and Viktor looked back at her before turning to smile at Hermione. Roger didn't appear to notice his audience's momentary lack of attention and continued droning on in a sleep-inducing monotone. "He likes you," she said with an air of confident authority that Hermione didn't know how to respond to.

"I... I…"

Fleur smiled, "It's ok I'm not, how you say? Digging for information," she clarified with an adorable burrowing mime with her hands that made both girls laugh. Viktor, despite his calm demeanour, had started to look like he was at his limit for an idle chat with Roger and Fleur sighed. "I think you will be having a better evening than me, no?"

Hermione privately hoped so, it was nothing against Fleur, she seemed lovely, but she very much hoped Viktor would be better company than Roger Davies. "Good luck," she offered and Fleur rolled her eyes dramatically.

"I begin to wish I was back with the dragon."

Viktor walked back over as Fleur exited to her fate. Hermione stifled a laugh at the face he pulled when he returned to her side. She patted his arm comfortingly, and they were about to take their place and line up when she heard her name.


Hermione turned to find Harry, looking rather dashing in his formal robes, staring at her as if he had never seen her before. "Hi Harry," she responded brightly with a wave of her hand.

"What are you…" he looked from her to Viktor and then back again with an almost comedic expression on his face. This was going to take some explaining. However, for better or worse, any further conversation was halted by the arrival of Professor McGonagall signalling that it was time, and Hermione felt the by now familiar butterflies flair in her stomach. She shot Harry an apologetic look and moved to stand where her professor indicated.

The doors creaked open. Viktor protectively looped her arm back under his.

The noise from inside the Hall filtered out into the corridor. They shifted in line.

Harry, and then Cedric disappeared in front of them. Hermione felt her legs weaken; she was determined to smile as she walked in but with the churning in her stomach it was likely to be more of a contorted frown.

"Hermione," Viktor whispered at her side as they approached the door, captivating her attention. "I am very  glad I have honour of being first boy to buy you flowers."

She beamed.

Viktor pulled Hermione’s chair out for her, and they sat at their designated table. When the seat next to her was pulled out, she smiled, expecting to see Harry or maybe even Fleur and turned only to be met by the grinning face of Cedric Diggory. Hermione promptly leant over him to politely greet a resplendent Cho Chang and then took the opportunity to take in the decorations of the room while everyone else got settled. The Hall looked like something out of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; charmed icicles hung from the ceiling and a frosted punch fountains lined tables along the walls, the whole space glittered with the illusion of a winter paradise and magic. She hadn't had a chance to look around when they first entered; she had been too busy looking straight ahead, though Hermione had been sure she detected a flash of a camera from somewhere.

After he had finished talking to Fleur on his left, Viktor turned back around and placed his arm over the back of Hermione’s chair, making Cedric whistle lowly, casing Cho to punch his arm and Hermione to blush. Seemingly oblivious to all of it Viktor asked her to explain the British options on the menu in front of them and then he did the same for her with the Bulgarian. Seemingly the ‘bringing together’ element of the TriWizard Tournament extended to gastronomy. When Hermione decided to go for Shopska Salata Cedric made a joke about her ‘going full Bulgarian’ and Viktor sent him a warning look that had the cheeky Hufflepuff behaving for a whole ten minutes.

As excited chatter filled the room, and the conversation on the table split off between the couples, Viktor’s finger trailed Hermione's upper arms, and he dropped his voice to whisper. “Are you cold?” he asked attentively, and Hermione shook her head.

“No, thank you, I’m fine.”

“You will tell me if you get cold later?” he asked - slash commanded - and Hermione leant into his side, just a little.

“Of course,” she agreed and their eyes locked. Despite the whole room being full of people, it felt as if it was just them, sitting alone together bathed in the reflection of the twinkling icicles around the hall.

Soon the plates in front of them were filled with food disturbing their private conversation, and Hermione had the chance to exchange a few glances with Harry. He was sitting too far away for them to talk properly and from the look on his face, he had questions that he would want to raise in a more private setting. Hermione was vastly reassured that he did not look angry, if she had to label the emotion on his face she would have gone for impressed, or maybe shocked, probably a little of both.

"Nice dress Granger," Cedric said from beside her, once again braving some chat in her direction.

"Thanks, Cedric, you don't look half bad yourself," she countered breezily.

He huffed, no doubt affronted. "Such compliments Granger, I'll get a big head," he responded dryly.

"Bit late for that wouldn't you say," she challenged, and Cedric mock scowled at her as Cho laughed into her butterbeer.

"Don't you go agreeing with her!" Cedric protested looking down at Cho before they both smiled goofily at each other and Hermione looked back at Viktor who laughed when she rolled her eyes.

When dinner was over the tables were vanished, and Viktor pulled Hermione onto the vast dancefloor, the vast empty dance floor. She exchanged a quick panicked glance with Harry, who she absently realised had it much worse as he had to lead. Hermione felt a warm hand on the small of her back, Viktor squeezed her fingers gently as he gripped her hand, holding one slightly elevated and she looked up.

"You are nervous," he observed, looking at her with some surprise.

"A little," Hermione confessed, "there are just so many people watching," she whispered, hoping not to be overheard.

"Pretend they are not here."

"Is that what you do?" she asked, she had wondered how he dealt with the constant attention. At least when he was on his broom he could probably avoid it, but not when he was on the ground.

"Do not need to, when I am with you, Hermione, I do not even see them," Viktor replied earnestly, and his offhand honesty was so disarming Hermione could only stare back at him.

The music started and Hermione, clumsily at first, began working her way through the steps. It felt so different from her limited practice. Encased in Viktor’s embrace Hermione forgot that everyone was watching, so much so that when he lifted her for the first time, she squealed and erupted into a peel of very uncharacteristic giggles that had him trying to suppress his own laughter.

"Do not make me laugh," he chastised, "if I drop you, I will be sad."

Hermione smiled at him as he gently placed her back on the floor and led her into the next movement. "I'm amazed you can lift me at all, you should have seen the amount of food we ate this afternoon before coming here."

"Hermione, you weigh same as Quaffle, a small Quaffle, few sandwiches not make difference."

As she twirled on the floor, they passed Ginny and Neville, who both gave her a very unsubtle thumbs up as they swayed passed.

The tempo of the music increased, and Hermione had to concentrate harder on not messing up. Viktor was apparently practised in the moves of the dance but didn't have any more natural grace than she did. As a result, their steps were much more clumsy than those of Cedric and Cho, who looked like figure skaters, Hermione found she didn't mind. Viktor had told her many times that he lacked coordination on the ground and while Hermione could see what he meant, she believed she would never entirely agree with him. He moved perfectly around her, he was good enough - and no doubt strong enough - to keep her upright when her steps faltered, and he was kind enough to not care what anyone else thought. Though her steps faltered, were often over thought out and plodding, he made Hermione feel almost graceful.

By the time the stressed over dance was over, and other couples joined the floor, she felt like a coat hanger had been pressed into her mouth from the strain of smiling so widely, for so long.

"Not nervous anymore?" Viktor questioned lightly as he moved her into an open patch of floor.

"No,” Hermione agreed, “that was excellent advice."

Viktor raised an eyebrow at her, "You should not sound surprised Hermione, I am very wise," he said sagely before pushing her up into the air again and smiling wickedly when she couldn't control another burst of laughter.

Hermione and Viktor had fallen into their little bubble, as usual, moving slowly around the dance floor, chatting idly, when a hand on both their shoulders stopped them abruptly. Hermione spun and was faced with another Durmstrang boy, this one shorter than Viktor, with an unbelievably charismatic smile and dark blonde curly hair.

"Apologies for interruption," he said brightly before bowing to her, "but did not look like my friend would detach himself from you long enough to make introduction, so thought I should do so myself. Hermione, my name is Filip it is pleasure to meet you."

Hermione thought she could get used to used to all of this formality, it certainly beat the boys in the Tower nicking food off her plate in lieu of greetings in the morning. Hermione returned his greeting with as much apparent pleasure as he to be making it, if not the grace it had been delivered in before Filip offered his hand.

"Dance?" he asked.

"I would love to," she replied and put her hand in his proffered one, but Viktor had yet to let her go.

"Now you release her Viktor, it is really very simple," Filip teased, and Viktor groaned looking back at her.

"Do not listen to anything he says about me," he warned before flashing Filip a grumpy expression and removing his warm, possessive hand from her waist.

Filip was an excellent, if a rather energetic dancer, he didn't talk about Viktor too much, only sharing a few stories of hijinks from their younger days. All of which, Hermione had a distinct impression, had been carefully selected to show his friend in the best possible light. As the music sped up, Filip spun her again and again, unfortunately, faster than she was competent enough to complete. When the final turn ended, Hermione had to jig back quickly in an attempt to correct her momentum, so she didn't end up on the floor until she was grabbed securely and pulled into a solid chest looking up to see Mikhail staring back at Filip thoroughly exasperated.

"I take Hermione now," he said firmly before looking down at her, "with her permission?" he caveated, and Hermione agreed.

"You ruin all my fun," Filip whined.

"I am saving your life; you drop her on the floor, Viktor drop you on your head."

Hermione had a much easier time keeping up with Mikhail's steps, though his mind was a different story entirely. Apparently having heard that she was bright he brought up numerous topics that they lightly debated until he seemed to ease off, Hermione wondered if she had passed or failed the test.

"Your friend is very…  interesting, " he said as they twisted through a cluster of other couples. Hermione bristled, and he must have perceived her irritation as he looked back down at her brows furrowed. "It was not insult, she is different, yes, but I meant what I said, she is an interesting girl," he clarified, and Hermione's ire deflated.

"She is, I'm protective of her," she explained, "and I'm used to people not being kind, people who deal in subtext more strongly than people from your corner of the world seem to."

Mikhail smiled, and it had a transformative effect on his face. "I only ever say what I mean, and I understand protective instincts, Hermione."

Hermione wasn't sure how long she had been dancing but with the rapid change of partners - from Viktor’s friends to some of her own housemates - she had started to feel a bit like a football being passed from one player to another until she stilled to see a grinning Fred in front of her. His greeting was somewhat less formal than she had so far been given that evening but no less welcome. He was a surprisingly good mover; all that confidence had to help she supposed.

"Having a good time Granger?" Fred asked, waggling his eyebrows, and Hermione fought down the blush on her cheeks, that really wouldn't help with his teasing.

"Yes, thank you, you?"

"No complaints, I have a favour to ask, though."


"I would love a signature from Krum if you can get it? Preferably on the photo we have taken of Ron where it looks like a Blast-ended Skrewt has been shoved down his trousers and told to make itself comfortable," he laughed out. She knew she had seen a flash. Fred dipped her dramatically before taking off at speed in a different direction. Hermione looked around the room as best she could but couldn't spot Ron, she had yet to see even a glimpse of him that evening. Harry had come to say hello a few times, but she had not so much as bumped into her other friend.

Hermione scoffed into Fred’s shoulder, "I'll ask."

Fred gave her a quick look up and down as she narrowly avoided a seventh-year couple that weren't so much dancing as rocking pressed against each other. "You should do yourself up more often," he observed and Hermione mock glared at him. "None of that face Hermione, you know we all like you as you normally are. After all, where would we all be in Gryffindor Tower if we didn't spend our days deliberating whether the moulted hair all over our clothes belonged to you or Crookshanks?"

Hermione had begun verbalising her caustic response when he suddenly twisted them the other way. "Smile for the camera, Granger" he called, and she looked up just in time to see George in front of them before the flash went off. "I would tease you more, but Krum is a pretty big bloke, and he's been watching us since I took over," Fred whispered dramatically, and a couple of seconds later Viktor reappeared asking - fairly curtly - if he could cut in. When Fred sauntered off to cause trouble in another section of the hall, Viktor pulled her close to him, and they began dancing again.

"I was wondering if I would get you back tonight," he said with a pronounced pout.

"Who have you been dancing with?" Hermione asked, smiling at his grumpy expression.

"Not many people, not as many as you, but did dance with Ginny, she is protective of you."

Hermione felt there was probably a whole world of observation behind that single sentence. "Oh?" she asked smirking, knowing her friend well enough to assume the way their conversation might have gone.

"Da, she learnt Bulgarian to make point, very particular phrase," Viktor said his eyebrows knotted.

Hermione laughed, "She means well."

Viktor nodded, he didn't look particularly convinced but neither did he appear put out by Ginny’s interference. "Well, is nice to be back dancing with you," he said as he pulled her closer still.

"Yes,” Hermione agreed, “it is."

They moved silently around the floor for a couple of songs before Hermione realised Viktor was frowning. "Is everything okay?" she asked, tilting her head to try and face him better.

"Da," he replied noncommittally, "only difficult."

"What is?" she pressed.

"Want to be able to speak, to tell you so much, but is hard as…. English still difficult, must sound stupid," he ground out sounding exasperated.

Hermione was surprised by his admission, Viktor seemed so unaffected generally. "You don't sound silly, and you are much more articulate than you think, you speak pretty good English now, it will get easier." He huffed a little, and she bit back a smile as she realised he was sulking.

"Teach me how to say something in Bulgarian," she said finally.


"Just do it," she demanded, feeling confident enough to boss him about a bit.

"Okay,” Vikor conceded, thinking for a moment, “say Kade e toaletnata?"

"Kady eee tonata," Hermione garbled out and winced but not as much as Viktor did. "See, I butchered it," she laughed.

Viktor stared at her intensely for a few moments before smiling. “Thank you, Hermione, you always know what to say."

She blushed, “I can’t say I agree with you. So, what was I saying anyway?"

Viktor smirked, "Believe you were trying to ask where bathrooms were," and they both laughed.

Hermione felt an uncommon sense of triumph in making Viktor laugh. She would never have dreamed the evening could go so well.

"Do you want drink? I do not want to let you go but should ask, as we talked about I am gentleman."

Hermione sighed and nodded, she wasn't sure she was all that thirsty, but her feet could definitely do with a short rest. Viktor broke their hold and draped his arm around her waist. Hermione sank into his embrace and allowed herself to be escorted from the floor.

While they were standing by the fountain, they were joined by Filip and Mikhail who had a jubilant Luna in tow. The two girls began a quiet conversation that would have been entirely secret if not for their matching grins. It wasn’t long before Ginny almost skipped over and she enthusiastically introduced Neville to the Durmstrang boys. Hermione asked about Neville’s night which earned her an animated response. Her friend was apparently having the time of his life.  

Hermione had shared with Viktor how Neville had stood with her during a difficult time at the beginning of the year and she couldn't help but grin as she watched her date make every effort to include her friend in his conversation, introducing Neville to the broader Durmstrang group with his hand on Neville’s shoulder as the Gryffindor looked on, gobsmacked.

Hermione managed a few words in broken French to Filip's date Claudia, before she was pulled aside by Ginny. "Neville is amazing,” she began, “like seriously good footwork for a boy that walks about like he's only just learned to stand."

"Ginny!" Hermione chastised.

"I'm kidding, I'm kidding," Ginny defended.

They commented on Claudia looking exhausted, which was no surprise given Filip's enthusiasm before talk turned back to Ginny's partner. "He's spoken about you a bit tonight," Ginny confided.

"Really?" Hermione asked concerned.

"Don't worry," Ginny reassured her, "it was sweet really, I may have pointed him in the direction of Hannah Abbot," at Hermione's confused expression she clarified, "she's got a crush on him."

"Thanks, Ginny," Hermione responded, relieved.

"That's what I'm here for Hermione, though if you start dressing like that all the time, I might need more resources. At the moment it's only the nice boys who have the intelligence to seek you out, but if I have to start dealing with superficial idiots as well, my rate goes up."

Hermione rolled her eyes, she was unconvinced that Neville's interest was anything more than fleeting. Apart from Viktor, no one had ever hinted at having anything like affection for her, it was utterly ridiculous to think that more people would be somehow waiting in the wings.

After Viktor passed her another drink, assuring her it was safe, Hermione saw Ron and Harry hovering on their own a little way off and excused herself to go and say hello to her other friends.

The conversation around Viktor continued, but he paid it no real attention, his eyes were once again firmly fixed on Hermione. He hadn't been kidding earlier when he said he was struggling with his articulation, but a lot of it wasn't even down to the language barrier. She had looked breathtaking when she came down the stairs, not that she didn't always look captivating, but seeing her in that frosted blue gown was a whole new experience for him.

He’d managed a few dances himself after he had been forced to give her up on the dancefloor but for the rest of the time he had been content to just watch her. He was powerfully put in mind of his parents, at whatever event they were attending, no matter how large, Viktor was convinced that his father knew where his mother was in the room at all times and vice versa.

He was about to turn back around and force himself to stop staring when he saw the narrowing of the redhead's eyes. When her friend got up from the table they were sat around, Viktor watched Ron’s fists clench and unclench and before he knew it he had started walking. He didn't want to interfere; it wasn't his business, but he would make sure she knew he was there if she needed him. Before he could make it to her side, Hermione had shouted something he couldn’t make out over the music and was hurrying out of the Great Hall.

The castle being mostly unfamiliar to him did not make it easier to find her, but Viktor was determined. Helpfully he had at least caught sight of the direction she scurried off in. Someone with such short legs should not be able to move so quickly.

When he found Hermione, she was slumped on the bottom step of a large staircase, her voluminous skirt puffed out around her, as she tried to control her breathing and dabbed at her face with the pads of her fingers. Reaching into his pocket, Viktor pulled out a handkerchief which he pushed into her hands as he sat down next to her. He didn't try to say anything at first, her breath was catching, and he didn't want to force her to speak while she was obviously so upset, so he stretched an arm around her shoulders, rubbing the tops of her arms until he could feel her relax beneath his fingers.

"So… Sorry," she panted out, her chest still heaving.

"Do not apologise," he murmured, "you have falling out?"

"Yes," she admitted in a small voice, using his handkerchief to wipe the fresh tear tracks from her cheeks.

Viktor thought about the state she was in and the considerations that had entered his mind before, as to whether there was something more to Hermione and her friend than had been apparent. "You care for him?" he asked stiffly.

Hermione stilled under his hands, and he knew she had grasped his meaning. "I did," she answered finally.

"Not anymore?" he pressed.

"Not anymore," she confirmed. “Not like… not anymore.”

Viktor nodded, not that she could see it and pulled her a little tighter into his side. He wanted to pull her into his lap until she calmed, but he was worried it might make her sob again.

"Because of row?" he asked and Hermione sniffed into the borrowed handkerchief.

She looked up then, her bottom lip pulled under her teeth and her face puffy. "No, not because of the row," she whispered, "I… I haven't thought of him like that for a long time, maybe I never did, I think it may have ended before it had actually begun in my mind."

Once again Viktor nodded taking a few moments to work through what she had said. If there was something he valued in the shivering girl more than anything else it was her honesty.  "Will you come back in?" he asked, not wanting their night to end like this, looking up briefly when he could hear movement.

"My face?"

Viktor pointed to the end of the corridor where a murderous-looking Ginny and a worried Luna were marching in their direction as fast as their heels would allow. "There you are," Ginny called, grabbing Hermione's arm and tugging her up, "come with us" she demanded.

Viktor went to step forward but Luna stopped him. "We will have her back in five minutes," she promised before disappearing.

Mikhail was hovering - with as much subtlety as he ever managed - by the main doors when Viktor got back to the hall. "She is okay?" he questioned, handing him a glass of punch. At first, Viktor wondered how he had known but he realised Ginny was hardly likely to have left the hall - angry as she was - without drawing attention.

"She is… she will be fine," Viktor breathed out softly in an attempt to sound calm, which was negated by the glare he sent in Ron's direction.

Mikhail followed his line of sight. "Do not lose your temper, he is fourteen," he offered quietly with no air of chastisement. Viktor opened his mouth to protest, but the other boy cut him off. "Before you say anything, Hermione is fifteen, and more mature than the rest of us. Besides, your intentions are honourable, no?"

"Yes," Viktor gritted out, "Does not mean I cannot think he is a dick, though"

Mikhail laughed. “All these new words you are learning Viktor. Though I do not believe that one came from Hermione.” Viktor scowled and Mikhail placed a hand on his shoulder. "Do not pout; I said do not hit him, I did not say you could not scare him, just not tonight, no more incidents."

Viktor reluctantly agreed, the last thing he needed right then was to attract the attention of Karkaroff. Both boys abruptly stopped talking when unexpectedly, Potter stopped in front of them. He hovered for a moment as if he was still deciding what his next course of action would be before he turned to them."Err, is Hermione okay?" he blurted out as he rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly.

"She is fine Potter, is with Ginny and Luna, will be back soon," Viktor gritted out. Where had Potter been when Ron was shouting at her?

"Good good," the younger boy replied, rocking back on his heels, "honestly this… her being here… with you … was a bit of a surprise."

Mikhail stifled a laugh as Viktor tried to work out what was being implied by such a statement. If it had come from anyone else he might have inferred an insult but Potter had never seemed to be the type to speak in riddles. Before he could reply Filip joined them from another exuberant turn on the dancefloor, and with his friends around him, Viktor felt his agitation fade. Ignoring an enquiring face from Filip, Viktor turned back to Potter. "Oh?" he questioned lightly.

Potter shrugged as an expression of genuine confusion came over his face. "Well, yeah, I mean, Hermione doesn't even like Quidditch. How did you get to know each other? What do you even talk about?"

Despite the events of the last hour, Viktor felt himself smile. "Potter, when you are man you will understand there are  many things  to talk to a beautiful witch about that do not include how well you ride a broom."

"Though that can be good place to start," Filip interjected, and Viktor coughed into his hand.

"But Hermione hates flying," Harry replied, as his eyebrows pinched. When Mikhail snorted into his glass, Viktor punched him in the arm.

When Hermione eventually re-emerged looking no worse for wear, Viktor made a silent promise that he wouldn't leave her side for the rest of the evening. He ignored her sheepish expression when she approached and instead of words, placed his hand on the small of her back and led her to the dancefloor. One song later he felt Hermione sag into his firm hold and he smiled into her hair.

All too soon Viktor became aware it was getting late. The crowd around them was beginning to thin, and a few of his own schoolmates were heading towards the doors. Hesitant but determined, he asked Hermione if she might like to go outside with him, intent on a slightly more private - though entirely appropriate - goodbye.

They moved beyond the main doors and into the night to see the grounds subtly lit up with a series of twinkling blue lights hanging in the air, seemingly suspended from nothing. They walked around for a while before settling under a large gazebo that had had warming charms applied around it, blocking the worst of the chill.

"It's so lovely out here; this was an excellent suggestion," Hermione whispered reverentially as her eyes traced the trailing ivy that was fluttering around them in the breeze.

"Too many people in there, have not had you to myself all evening," Viktor teased. "I am used to having your undivided attention, you are making me selfish."

Hermione laughed at his behaviour before he noticed her shudder slightly, immediately getting to his feet Viktor loosened the straps on his cloak. She made some soft protest reading his intent, and he silenced her. “You promised you would tell me if you were cold, remember?”

“Yes,” she replied, as he delicately draped the heavy fabric over her shoulders and he saw her almost collapse under the weight of it. "Thank you," she breathed out, and he smiled. He liked the look of her in his clothes, in his colours, under his protection - even if it was only from the night air.

"You are welcome," he replied leaning forward to fasten the tie around her neck to keep the two sides together. As he bent to reach her, his eyes dropped to her lips for a moment, and, as if compelled, he pressed his hand to her cheek delicately. Viktor paused to luxuriate in her soft skin before he looked up into her eyes, checking her expression for any sign of hesitation, and finding none. "Hermione," he said, inches away from her face, "I am going to kiss you now."

He waited just long enough to see her subtle nod and moved to drop the softest of kisses against her lips, her full mouth - that he had imagined pressed against his since she had fixed his nose - was cool from the night air and Viktor was dimly aware that he could feel them heat under his determined attention. He had intended to pull away immediately but when he saw Hermione’s eyes flicker shut he changed course. He kissed her again, gently, moving his hand from her cheek and into her hair as he twisted a loose curl about his fingers. As he kissed her a third time he felt her begin to respond, tentatively, but surely, and his other hand moved to her waist to pull her closer.

Finally, reluctantly, he pulled away, wrapping both his arms around her slender waist and pulling her in for a hug, dropping a final kiss on her forehead.

"Sŭvŭrshen," he whispered into the cold night sky as he wondered how on earth he would leave her at the end of the year.

Chapter Text

Hermione woke up slowly as if gently pulled from her warm, comforting dream to discover she was surrounded by more limbs than normal. A pale arm was draped lightly over her stomach, and she could just make out a foot somewhere near her hip bone that definitely wasn't hers, not unless she had somehow become a skilled contortionist in her sleep. Vague memories from the end of the previous evening crept into her consciousness; walking back into the main hall from the grounds, feeling so light she was sure it was only Viktor's arm wrapped around hers that kept her on the ground. Saying goodnight when the music died, words exchanged earnestly, but not as intimately as they had been before, surrounded as they were this time by a crowd of their friends, all of whom were similarly engaged. Hermione recalled coming back to the dorms with Luna, an excitable Ginny and Neville. All of them had wanted to hear about each other's evenings but by the time they made it back to the Tower they were all too tired to try.

Twisting her head as much as she was able, Hermione spied a mass of spiralling blonde hair that was so knotted it resembled a flaxen cloud. As she looked closer, she could make out the remnants of the braided flowers they had charmed the night before. If Luna's hair looked like that, Hermione could only imagine how bad her’s would be.

As she laid her head back on the pillow, Ginny, who was tailing between them, suddenly levered up without warning, making Hermione jump. Her friend's eyes darted around the unfamiliar room for a moment before her bleary expression landed on Hermione and instantly gained more focus. "Well, that's adorable," she remarked croakily, her voice thick with sleep, "you look like a miniature poodle." 

That's what you get for wondering Hermione.

Ginny pulled herself up as she wiped her face, dragging pillows to prop herself up. "So," she began more loudly, "tell us everything." She drew out the last word and emphasised it with the widening of her eyes. Hermione sighed, though her heart wasn't really in the protest. A rustling to the side of her head alerted them all that Ginny's movements had woken up Luna, who eyed Hermione from their shared pillow with just as much enthusiasm evident in her gaze.

With a mostly affected air of being put out, Hermione related what had gone on the night before, what she was willing to share at least. Viktor's teasing words steadying her nerves, his pouting when he lost her to other dance partners, and the incredible care he had taken of her all evening. Several rude words were exchanged between the rapidly waking girls when she mentioned Ron, and various plans were hatched for them to get suitable revenge. The constant flow of excitable ad-libbing that had been going on since Hermione started speaking faded away entirely when she got to the bit where herself and Viktor had gone outside.

"-He insisted I have his cloak and he bent down to fasten the ribbon at the top of my neck,” Hermione recalled, her fingers tracing the line of her throat in memory. “As he got close he said, ‘Hermione, I'm going to kiss you now,' and he, well he did.” Hermione blushed furiously, and there was nothing she could do to stop the dreamy expression on her face or the slight awe like quality her voice had taken.

"Well?" Ginny pressed impatiently as she fell forward, shaking both Hermione’s legs. "How was it?" she asked in a squeaky voice.

"It was," she started, and Ginny narrowed her eyes.

"If you say nice, Hermione Granger, so help me-"

Luna let out a peal of giggles, and Hermione smiled. "I wasn't going to say that," she defended, "though it  was, I just don’t really know how to describe it." Hermione looked up at the canopy of her small bed, collecting her disordered and cloudy thoughts. It didn't help that she felt as if she had dreamt the whole night, not that the memory wasn't clear in her mind, she could recall it with complete lucidity, it was just so magical it felt unreal.

"I was so upset that Ron might have ruined the night and then as I was sat there on the stairs, I started to think that maybe I had ruined it by reacting at all. I could have ignored him, I normally would have done, I'm still not sure why it got to me so much but… I was feeling so happy; everything was perfect, and then Ron had to go and burst the bubble. I just wanted one night where everything went right."

Luna moved to snuggle her head against Hermione's shoulder, and Ginny remained resolutely silent, something of a miracle in itself.

"Then Viktor appeared,” Hermione continued, remembering how she had clearly made out the vibrant red of his cloak and known it was him, despite her watery eyes. “There he was, right when I was contemplating how I was going to explain everything. He wasn't cross or put out or anything, and he was just so direct, and even though he asked about my feelings for Ron, he did it with one arm around me. He made me feel better because that's what he does. When I think about Viktor, I feel awkward and off-kilter, and out of my depth, but it's never the same when he's actually there. When he is with me, everything complicated becomes easy, I never worry about what he thinks because he just says it.

Then we went outside, and it was cold and dark, and for a moment I felt this weight of expectation and fear. You know me, I hate not knowing how to do something. But then there were these soft, twinkling lights everywhere and Viktor looked down at me and...  it was perfect. It was a moment beyond my adequate description. For once I let myself be in the present, I didn't think about how things like that never happen to me, or what it all meant, or that I didn’t know what I was doing, I let it happen, enjoyed it for what it was because… because I trust him.

I trust Viktor not to hurt me, as much as he is able, and while he might not be around forever, I think he would go out of his way to be respectful. So to answer your question it was... beautiful, one of the best experiences of my life, and so romantic that practical little me shouldn't have enjoyed it nearly as much as I did."

Hermione looked up to find Ginny regarding her wide-eyed. "It's like a fairy story," she said, "an actual fairy story."

Luna sat up stretching out her arms in an attempt to shake off the lingering sleep. "That sounds lovely," she said dreamily, "though I would advise you to avoid his Quidditch games, Hermione."

"You don’t think I should go?" she questioned looking back at her friend who was studying her own knotted hair with a faint frown.

"Decidedly not, he couldn’t take his eyes off you the entire evening, I imagine that might be a distraction in his chosen profession."

Hermione smiled at the earnest nature of Luna's suggestion, and she nodded at the sage advice. "How was your date?" she asked, untangling herself from the covers, it was unlikely any of them were going back to sleep now.

"Good,” Luna replied easily. Mikhail was somewhat hesitant to take on board the implications of a Snorkack infiltrating the Bulgarian ecosystem, but surprisingly he had a rather sophisticated understanding of the vampires currently within the European Government. Apparently, three separate nests are fighting for dominance from within the Bulgarian Ministry alone; I imagine the undead are quite in vogue over there."

Ginny good-naturedly rolled her eyes and sprang from the bed. "I obviously have a million more questions, but we are going to need supplies, let's head to breakfast ladies, and then we can reconvene, and Hermione can tell us more."

“Haven’t you heard enough?” Hermione protested as she shook off her covers.

“Unlikely. You went to a grand ball with probably the most recognisable and revered sports player in the entire magical world Hermione, we are going to be talking about this until we are in our rocking chairs.”

In the weeks that followed the Yule Ball, Viktor became more overt in his attentions towards Hermione. It was nothing that anyone else would have picked up on unless they were looking, which, Hermione realised to her displeasure, many more people were. However, as there had been no great declaration following they're attending a dance together, it seemed the student body at large appeared to believe they’re assertions that they were friends, something that suited Hermione just fine. While Viktor hadn't said anything to suggest he wanted a relationship with her, he did nothing to dissuade the notion either. He stopped to talk to her if they happened to pass in the corridors, asking her about her day and touching her almost absentmindedly and it wasn't just him. Since their hesitant introductions and dances together, Hermione saw a great deal more of Filip and Mikhail as well.

Despite the increased attention, Hermione hadn't seen Viktor privately in weeks, and very uncharacteristically - given her independent nature - she was beginning to keenly feel the deprivation of his company. They hadn't had any conversations about what happened, about the kiss. On the one hand, Hermione was glad; she was just getting used to her increased feelings and having to define something now might have been too soon. But on the other hand, the hand that saw the way girls looked at him wherever he went, well, that hand wanted that security of knowing that this wasn't just a passing fancy for him, she was becoming acutely aware it was a lot more than that for her.

Viktor had explained, in their caught moments, how his time was not own, on top of his regular studies and TriWizard preparations he was also getting ready for the upcoming Quidditch season. Considering the dawning of January had brought the beginning of classes Viktor’s lack of time was something Hermione could understand, even empathise with, though not enjoy.

As such it somehow got to mid-January before they got to spend any quality time together at all. They had arranged a study meeting in the library, though, through agreement, and possibly some design, their friends were there as well. Since the kiss, Hermione's nerves, which had been slowly disappearing, had reignited and fluttered to the surface whenever Viktor was around. She began feeling awkward around him again and was prone to shuffling feet and limited conversational skills. She had been concerned that Viktor would be offended by her change of demeanour, but the slight smirk he got on his face whenever she became flustered suggested otherwise. Damn him. The same changes did not seem to affect him if anything Viktor seemed more relaxed than ever.

Hermione’s nerves did not stop her from seeking Viktor out, and the comforting buffer of Ginny and Luna was not to put a wedge between them so much as to prevent unwanted attention. People may have overlooked them going to the ball together, but that would soon change if they were spotted on their own with any regularity.

So they found themselves sprawled out on one of the larger tables, towards the back of the library, not far from the little table where they used to sit together. Luna was perched at Hermione’s side, no parchment or quills in front of her. Instead, the Ravenclaw held a single, slim book upside down between her fingers, Hermione had deduced, after a cursory glance, that the text was most likely in some form of mermish. Hermione barely blinked at her, having known that despite appearances this was Luna at study, lack of notetaking notwithstanding. The slightly perplexed expression on Mikhail’s face as he watched her blonde friend suggested this was something of a revelation to him and Hermione bit back a smile when his eyebrows raised as Luna dropped to the floor to lean her back against the now empty chair.

Mikhail was sat opposite them with his books and materials spread in front of him with a sort of military prison. His notes were neater than Hermione managed to achieve in the essays she handed in, and in place of alternating colours his planner revealed a series of unfamiliar symbols denoting different subjects, all depicted in plain black ink. Following their intense conversation as they danced, Mikhail seemed to want to get to know her, and once he had managed to tear his gaze away from the now murmuring blonde at her feet, he asked Hermione questions about the work she was doing and made recommendations of texts to further evidentiate the essays she was completing. He was smart - if a little blunt - in his advice, and Hermione felt with further time spent together she could grow to like Mikhail immensely. As he worked, he ticked items off a very detailed list and put his books away as he was finished with them. It was enough to make Hermione feel sloppy in comparison.

Filip was different, since the ball he had been like an excitable child whenever Hermione was near, peppering her with questions of a more straightforward nature than his serious friend and drawing her into detailed debates whenever he could. Unlike with Mikhail, Hermione never felt like he was testing her, rather Filip included her, forcing her to be an integral part of the conversation. Filip was not someone you grew to like throughout a deepening acquaintance, you couldn't help yourself but become wrapped up in him from the moment you met. He was dramatic, emotional and utterly charming. Filip's working style seemed to be an extreme form of organised chaos, or rather, to Hermione it looked like chaos plain and simple. Though, given his calm demeanour, there must have been at least some method to his apparent madness. As for her own friends, Hermione was not entirely convinced that Luna and Ginny were doing anything other than messing with the boys.

In fairness it wasn't Luna's fault that she discombobulated them so much, she did that without conscious thought, Ginny, however, was devious, and if she was going to spend her afternoon in the library, she would do it in a way that provided her with some amusement. The redhead had dedicated the last twenty minutes to encouraging Viktor from his comfortable seat at the table to go to the nearest bookshelf and reach for books higher and higher up while making pointed appreciative faces at Hermione every time he stretched. Hermione valiantly attempted to keep a straight face but after Viktor reached for a particularly high shelf and the back of his shirt lifted to reveal the muscled skin of his lower back she couldn't help the reluctant smile that crept across her face. Sadly, she had been too distracted by Ginny's poorly muffled whoop of victory to notice Viktor had turned back around. His raised eyebrow in her direction seemed to suggest he knew exactly what was going on.

Seeing suspicion written all over Viktor’s face, Hermione jumped to her feet and before she had even thought about what she could use as an excuse, she made to dash to the other side of the library. "Err," she said as all eyes turned to her following her abrupt movement. "I'm just going to visit the Astrology section." In reality, she had no desire to do any such thing; she had selected all of the relevant books for her study when she first came in like she always did. After exchanging some looks around the table with the assembled knowing eyes, Hermione pushed out the chair and walked passed Viktor on her way.

"I will come," he declared, rounding the table quickly to catch up with her strides.

"I don't need you to carry for me," Hermione remarked shortly, the embarrassment at having being caught ogling him making her uncomfortable and snappy with it.

Viktor was unperturbed. "I know," he replied as he fell into step beside her. "But you may need me to reach them, you are shorter than Ginny," he winked at her, and Hermione felt the heat rise into her cheeks.

"I'm a witch, Viktor, I could just levitate them," she protested, marching quicker.

"But then how would I prove useful?" Viktor murmured, and Hermione started.

"You don't need to prove yourself to me," she whispered.

He looked at her more seriously. "Do not need to Hermione, want too."

Hermione stopped walking after his declaration, suddenly feeling incredibly silly for attempting to run off on some slim pretext just because she was embarrassed, or she did until Viktor leant down and whispered into her ear. "If it makes you feel better, the quill I dropped before may not have been accident," and with that he marched off in the direction of the Astrology shelf leaving Hermione staring after him, her mouth hanging open.

As it turned out, despite Hermione’s assurances to the contrary, Viktor was helpful, not only because she allowed him to get down the books she actually needed, resolutely looking at the floor while he leant up, but he also carried them. After a few minutes of private chat Hermione’s brain began whirring, she had a few things on her mind that she needed to raise. It would have been fine, awkward but fine if they didn't have such limited time together. She didn't want to spend their one slot in potential disagreement, but she had felt like she had upset him last time by keeping quiet, and now they knew each other better, keeping quiet now would be inexcusable. He would see it as a betrayal, Hermione was certain.

"So," she began, securing her teeth into her lip to try and suppress her wince. She really didn't want to have this conversation.

"Da," Viktor replied his face becoming more serious as he easily picked up on her change in tone and settled down the pile of books he had been holding.

"I have a couple of things to mention, and I'm not sure which is more difficult, " Hermione forced out shifting on her feet.

He smiled indulgently. "Go on."

"I don't know if you have figured out the egg yet, but Cedric told me something to tell Harry," Viktor's face darkened, and she shot her hand out to rub his forearm in what she hoped was a consolatory gesture. "They're not colluding against you or anything, Harry supposedly helped Cedric for the first task, and he was simply repaying the favour," she assured him, dropping her hand as his gaze became unclouded. Viktor’s eyes remained intense, apparently paying keen attention to whatever she was trying to say, however inelegantly.

"Anyway, he gave me a clue, a very vague clue, and after the whole thing with the dragons I felt… I thought I should find out if you were fine because it wouldn't be fair... if I knew something that could help you," she risked looking up once she had finished rambling to find him looking down at her softly.

"Hermione, do not worry have sorted it," he assured quietly.

"Really, that's wonderful," she replied, relief sweeping through her.

"Da, would like to speak to you about it but," Viktor began, and it was his turn to offer a reassuring touch, he looked regretful, but Hermione understood, their situation was far from ideal.

"I understand, it's um, well, I look forward to talking to you about it afterwards, I'm sure you will come up with something brilliant," she said brightly, and there were a couple of moments of silence while they readjusted themselves from the surprisingly tense conversation.

"So," Viktor said eventually, "What was second thing?"

"Ah, well," Hermione muttered. One down one to go, deep breath Granger.

She reached into her pocket and with extreme reluctance pulled out a small magical photo of Viktor. In it, he looked exactly as he had in all of those images she had seen everywhere at the world cup. Clad in the deep red kit of the Bulgarian National side, and scowling at the camera. His hair was slightly shorter than he wore it now, and despite it obviously being him, the likeness looked barely familiar to her.

"I was wondering if you wouldn't mind signing this? I know it's stupid and… the twins,  Fred and George, they asked me... and they have been really nice lately…" she faltered. The situation made her uncomfortable, it wasn't the request as such, more the reminder that Viktor was a famous wizard, someone worthy of an autograph. He seemed to like her most because she disregarded his notoriety, mainly because she didn't really understand it. Hermione didn't want to give rise to any thoughts that he had been wrong in his assessment of her.

Viktor leant forward, taking the parchment from her hand but rather than letting it drop he twined his fingers through hers tightly. "Are you sure this not for you Hermione?" he teased, and Hermione’s initial relief at the levity in his tone was thwarted by a flush as she fully understood what he was asking. Undeterred by her silence he continued, "because if you want autograph, I could get you better picture."

Hermione tried for a scowl, but she knew it was completely ineffectual. "No, Viktor, if you could sign it for my friends please, I would be most grateful," she replied in her primmest tone and made to emphasise her scolding by walking away from him. She didn't get far. Utilising the reflexes that had given rise to the necessity of her request, Viktor caught her before she moved past him, wrapping an arm around her middle and pulling her into him.

"I have missed you," he said into the top of her hair, and Hermione sagged against him.

"I… me too," she managed before pulling back from him so she could look up into his face.

"Once second task is over maybe we could have another date?" he asked, and Hermione smiled.

"That would be nice," she replied, words that barely covered the elation she felt. A weight, she had only been half aware she was carrying, fluttered away.

The next few hours of study flew by quickly and all too soon the boys were heading back to their ship before dinner. Viktor darted his eyes quickly around them before dropping forward and placing a-blink-and-you'll-miss-it-kiss against Hermione’s lips before he rushed off to catch up with his friends. Filip must have found something in his behaviour amusing as they had only gone several paces when he was swiftly punched in the arm by Viktor and Mikhail in quick succession.

Ginny's eyes followed them, unashamedly leaning over Hermione as they began to disappear from view. As they finally rounded the corner, she turned to Hermione in puzzlement. "You've been studying together for months you said?”

“Yes,” Hermione replied, as she was flooded with happy memories of their time together.

“Just the two of you?”


“How did you get anything done?"

Luna’s giggles bubbled up from her place on the floor and Hermione tried to hide her smile as Ginny poked her tongue out at her. How indeed?

Chapter Text

It took longer than Hermione had anticipated for Harry to broach the subject of Viktor. Since the moment he had stared wide-eyed at her across the champions holding room, the night of the Yule Ball, she had waited for him to mention it. A few times she had come so close to breaking she nearly did it herself but Hermione always stopped herself at the last minute. Because she hadn’t told him, her relationship with Viktor had been forced on Harry as a surprise. She would give him the chance to come to her first. Even if her excessive nervousness killed her in the process.

Her best friend and her… whatever Viktor was, had spoken at the ball, Hermione already knew that much from Luna, who had been filled in on the unexpected chat while she had been dancing with Mikhail. Luna didn't go into specifics, but for whatever reason, the Durmstrang boys were minded to think that Harry was ok, more ok than Ron in any case. While it wasn't conclusive proof that all would be well, Hermione allowed herself to feel relieved, her relationship with Viktor, such as it was, didn't, couldn't take away from Harry being her best friend, TriWizard tournament or no TriWizard tournament.

It had been evident in the run-up to the dance that Harry was as much at sea when it came to dating - and all of its unforeseen trappings - as Hermione was, possibly even more so, if such a thing could be believed. He hadn't handled the Cho situation overly well after all. Hermione found that awkwardness they shared strangely comforting. She had put her own ineptitude down to her general lack of social awareness, formed over years of prioritising knowledge over people. Harry, for all of his bravery, could lack confidence in the strangest of times. He would never back down from representing a cause he believed in, it just seemed that himself was not one of those things.

When Harry eventually approached Hermione it was in the common room, she had a suspicion he had done so on purpose so she couldn’t beat a hasty retreat if the conversation got difficult, she silently both commended and condemned him for his foresight. Harry pulled out a seat at one of the large study tables where she had settled herself, surrounded by parchment and open books. Hermione didn't generally study in the common room, preferring absolute silence that she would never find in the Tower; however, the library had lost some of its previously perpetual sheen now Viktor didn't have the time to join her anymore, a thought she would never repeat to anyone, not even Luna.

"So… you and Viktor," Harry stiffly began as he dropped into the seat beside her. Hermione's hand stilled in the middle of writing out her complex sentence. Typically she would have ignored any interruption, making the interloper wait until she had finished, but not this time. She looked up at her friend, waiting for him to continue and when it was apparent that Harry hadn’t planned any further statements, Hermione sat up a little straighter and folded the book she had propped open, giving the matter her full attention.

"Me and Viktor," she acknowledged softly before lapsing into silence. The two teens stared at each other for a few minutes, and Hermione wondered at the ridiculousness of it.

"So are you?" Harry pressed, and Hermione felt the beginnings of a headache at her temples. This was going to be even more faltering than she had thought possible, doing them both a favour and swallowing her reserve, she headed him off.

"We are… friends and we are spending time together, as to anything else, I don't know yet," she answered honestly.

Hermione could tell from a glance out of the corner of her eye that despite their deliberately low tones they were starting to attract attention. Her gaze darted around the room, and when they connected with Harry again, he shrugged before quietly suggesting a walk. Once they had wrapped themselves up to face the crisp weather, they headed for the portrait hole and by silent agreement moved towards the lake.

"You kept it quiet… really quiet," Harry began as soon as they were far away from the main entrance to ensure they were no longer being overheard. Hermione felt her heart sink, she had been expecting some admonishment from her friend and a deserved one at that. She had deliberately kept her friendship with Viktor a secret, and if the shoe had been on the other foot, she would have been hurt. It was easier with Ron. Hermione had known he would overreact; therefore she had a built-in justification for her omittance. It was inevitable that he would say or do something to rule himself out of deserving an explanation, but not Harry. Harry had been surprised by her being with Viktor at the ball, but even so, his first impulse had been to ensure she was ok, not to ridicule her. He had spoken to her often throughout the evening and had even gone so far as to check up on her with Viktor when she had been upset. Considering he was intimidated by Viktor’s fame and talent that could have been no small feat and something Hermione greatly appreciated.

Hermione fought to stop her arms from crossing over her chest and nodded in total agreement. She couldn't argue, she had done all she could to avoid detection.

"Why?" Harry asked softly.

"I’m not really sure," she replied. "I didn’t want anyone to question it, I didn't want to question it," she explained looking at the floor. Those early feelings of inadequacy when it came to Viktor weren't wholly gone; she had feared the skepticism of even her closest friends.

"I'm not just anyone Hermione; I'm your friend."

Hermione winced at the earnest plea Harry’s his tone, but she was angered by it too, just a little. It was the same anger that surfaced whenever Harry sided with their other friend. "And Ron?" she questioned, her voice slightly barbed.

"Well, I understand that he…" Harry trailed off, he seemed unsure of how to finish his sentence and Hermione could hardly blame him. Relations between herself and Ron had been decidedly frosty since the ball, but the tension, at least on her side, had dissipated, there was no point crying over spilt milk. She had been hurt, he was her friend, and his words had been unthinking and cruel, but she had gotten over it. She and Ron argued that was their dynamic. As friends, it worked, Hermione recognised now that any romantic relationship it had the potential to be borderline unhealthy.

"I suppose I wasn't sure how you guys would take it, and then... The tasks and everything," she voiced quietly, Hermione didn't expect Harry to accuse her of fraternising or any such nonsense, but she was still cautious.

Harry's eyes softened, "Hermione, you need to tell me these things," he asserted firmly.

"I will… I'm sorry Harry, I really am. It wasn't my intention to keep it a secret for so long. At first, I didn't say anything, and then it just spiralled until I wasn't sure how I would even begin anymore." Hermione looked away and fixed her eyes at some far off figures, walking along the other side of the lake. She hated being in the wrong, almost more than anything else. Though she could hardly claim perpetual ownership of the moral high ground, she did her best to root her feet there whenever possible.

"How did it even start?" Harry asked, looking at her with a bemused expression, a weak imitation of his face the moment he had first seen her at the ball.

"Well, you remember at the World Cup how he-"

"-At the World Cup, you met him at the WORLD CUP!" Harry screeched, and Hermione nodded, scared to say anything else in case it set him off again. Harry sighed and waved a hand over his face, "Disregard everything I just said about honesty. Never tell Ron you met then, he might expire."

"Okay I won't," she replied quickly, and Harry made a rolling motion with his hands, Hermione gulped in a breath. "Well, he came up to the box we were in, Viktor, I mean, and he must have heard me muttering to Ron about how no one had fixed his nose... I think I got wrapped up in how poorly he was being treated and -”

"Typical," Harry muttered.

"-forgot myself," Hermione finished. When she registered Harry’s tone, they exchanged a smile and Hermione felt lighter. Wordlessly they moved together to sit on one of the benches that faced back towards the castle, and she bundled over next to him for warmth.

"He came over, and we chatted, but only briefly. Though his English wasn't as good then and somehow I… I ended up healing his nose," she admitted.

"And none of that merited a quick mention later on? Or is conversing with one of the most famous sportsmen in the world all in a day's work for you," Harry needled, and Hermione sighed in relief, she was glad to see that whatever hurt Harry had been carrying from her actions had dissipated.

She rolled her eyes, "If you remember we were attacked by Death Eaters straight after and then I wasn't entirely convinced everyone would believe me; I didn't believe it, and I was there."

Harry huffed out a laugh. "So, did he tell you about the tournament?"

"No,” Hermione replied thoughtfully, “though I think he knew, he alluded to seeing me again, but I figured it was just a casual reference, I certainly didn't expect to see him marching through the doors of the Great Hall only a few months later."

"But you were pleased to though, right?" Harry asked, and when she didn't answer immediately, he bumped her shoulder.

"Yeess," Hermione begrudgingly admitted, tucking her face further into her scarf to hide her discomfort.

"Well, I'm glad… if you like him, that is. I don't know how this works because we've never had to do this before, but you should know I'm not going to storm over and ask what his intentions are. Firstly, because you can handle yourself, and I imagine you would be absolutely incensed by it. Second, he is a lot bigger than me Hermione, like a lot bigger, I don't even know how he made seeker, he's huge," Harry said, making a wide gesture with his arms that made Hermione giggle.

"He is isn't he?" she replied dreamily, and Harry snapped his face to hers looking positively disgusted.

"Stop… just stop that, I'm trying my best to adjust here, and that's not helping," he chastised.

"I'll try, but you have to admit he's very distracting," she laughed out, almost choking on her mirth when Harry shuddered.

He narrowed his eyes at her. "You are spending way too much time with Ginny, she's corrupting you, and I don't like it. No wonder he looks so besotted if you talk like that."

Hermione sighed. "I don't talk like that with him, mainly I'm artless, totally fumbling and red-cheeked while he's calm articulate and very present you know?"

Harry looked at her as if she was speaking an entirely different language, which Hermione supposed, given their usual conversions, she was. "Honestly, I have no idea what you're talking about, but you are spending the rest of the day with me, and I will nag at you until you start lecturing me to stay safe and study, then I will know all is right in the world."

"Thank you, Harry," Hermione murmured as she snuggled into his side. They regarded the school quietly for a while, and Hermione felt entirely at ease.

"So," Harry began a while later, "am I allowed to tease you about 'spending time' with the most famous Quidditch player in the world?"

"Maybe," she conceded with a laugh, "but only if," Hermione bit her lip, "if you could maybe teach me to understand it a little bit?"

Harry's eyes widened though whatever he was going to say was cut off by the sound of raised voices coming from the direction of the of the greenhouses. Hermione snapped her head around and saw Headmaster Karkaroff and Professor Moody arguing; it looked like no small disagreement, the men were practically snarling at each other. While the headmaster loomed over the older man, their professor showed no sign of being intimidated, in fact, quite the opposite. Whatever they were saying wouldn't carry across the distance, and the two friends watched the growing confrontation in silence until Moody suddenly shunted forward raising his shoulder to collide roughly with Karkaroff's chest and then limped away back towards the castle. The Durmstrang headmaster sagged when his combatant left, and Hermione took the opportunity to look at him more closely. In truth Karkaroff did not look well; gaunt lines were discernible in his face, and he had the air in general of a man troubled. He didn't wait around long after Moody had left, after collecting himself he stood tall and marched off in the direction of the ship.

"What was all that about?" Hermione muttered, and Harry turned to her his expression serious.

"I think Moody was the arresting Auror for Karkaroff," he imparted gravely.

"Oh, that's… I don't really know what that is… unfortunate?"

"That's one word for it," Harry scoffed mirthlessly. "I don't trust him, Hermione," Harry warned.

She nodded in understanding. "I'll be careful," replied and when faced with his disbelieving look she continued, "I promise."

Hermione felt a new sense of peace following her conversation with Harry, her best friend had clearly forgiven her for her omissions so far that year, and she had promised that she would not keep anything from him again. Buoyed, with a definite spring in her step, Hermione walked towards the twins who were cloistered in a dark corner of the common room, hiding. If the scuttled movements they made as she approached were any indication, they were definitely up to no good.

"Gentleman," she said politely, and two sets of eyes looked up at her, conveying as much innocence as they were able.

"Granger, this is an unexpected-" Fred began, swiftly turning his back to the table to face her - no doubt blocking something they didn’t want her to see - and George followed suit.

"-pleasure, what can we do you for?"

"One signed photograph as requested," Hermione said proudly, pulling the picture out from her robe pocket and handing it over. In truth she had held onto it for a couple of days, Hermione told herself that she hadn't had the chance to give it to the boys, but as she'd had meals next to them at least twice since she had obtained Viktor's autograph, it was a pretty flimsy justification. Which was why it was a good job no one else knew about it.

Fred grinned down at the photo in his tight grasp before picking up a book and reverentially placing in between the pages for safe keeping. "Much obliged Granger, and in lieu of payment," he said, putting his hands into his own robes and proffering her a small piece of parchment.

"We thought this might make us square," George finished.

Hermione turned the parchment over in her fingers with her brow furrowed until she saw the moving image begin; Viktor and her walking into the ball. The photograph version of her took a few steps forward, smiling self-consciously, and the photograph Viktor grinned down at her.

Fred smirked. "Nice picture, isn't it? I mean  it's not signed-"

"-not like ours,  but nice all the same. I suppose you could get Viktor to sign it," George pondered.

"But that seems a bit silly," Fred countered.

"Silly?" Hermione questioned looking up from the caught image.

"Yeah," they replied in unison.

"Signed pictures are for souvenirs, keepsakes you know? You don't need those when you have the real thing."

"Which it looks like you do, Granger, if you want it."

Viktor swept up into the air at a speed that ruffled the front of his short hair. Higher and higher he soared until the castle, the ship and all the worries he had seemed far, far away. He was practising his drills on the Quidditch pitch - just him and his broom - having obtained special permission to do so while Hogwarts classes were in session. The Durmstrang timetable was different, and this way he would be less likely to attract unwanted attention. His fellow students no longer paid any particular attention when he was flying, to them he was just Viktor, not Krum, and the sight of him on a broom only ever caused a few of them to join him at most.

He neatly landed, coming to a stop before stepping off the broom and walking towards the practise balls he had brought along. Viktor ran through what he had planned for the next hour doing everything he could to not look back over his shoulder, back towards the quiet castle. He couldn't help wondering where Hermione would be right now; he didn't know for sure what class she had, having made a point to actively stop himself from learning her schedule, though he had often been tempted by her planner lying open next to him in the library. Routines and order were things Viktor could commit to memory quickly; lesson notes, Quidditch manoeuvres, official team lines for the press. He could have learned Hermione’s weekly itinerary in a matter of minutes, but he had so far managed to stop himself. It would be hardly helpful to become obsessive.

Obsessive or not he was definitely thinking about her more. After the ball, Mikhail and Filip had both fed back, in their own unique ways, that they liked Hermione. Viktor suspected that Mikhail's version of 'getting to know her' had been aggressive, but Hermione hadn't complained; she was well versed in the protective instinct of friends. Viktor's first conversation with Ginny Weasley had hardly been easy going, and he strongly suspected that Luna could straight up read his mind which, given the way his thoughts tended, was becoming more of a threat with every passing week. It was important to Viktor that their friends approved of them, and each other. Not that their say so was the be all and end all, but if he got his way they would hopefully see a lot more of each other, the two groups being able to stand to be in the same room would make life easier for all.

Releasing the quaffle from its confines, Viktor pressed his hand against the balls hard surface and activated the practice charm that would have it dart around the pitch before swiftly following its progress on his broom. All the while he told himself that his occasional glances into the school windows were merely an attempt to check for signs of the large red sphere.

Viktor wished he could see Hermione more than he was currently able. The ball had confirmed that he was falling for her, and how could he not be?   Hermione was everything he had ever wanted, she was kind, warm, funny, smart, sharp, bossy, but more than a list of desirable attributes he got this sense from her, a feeling of real kinship. Their time together never felt forced, it was awkward, at times, but a real awkward, a nervous awkward, an awkward that they would one day be able to laugh at, he hoped. Her actions at the dance had done a lot to dissuade any doubts he had over her feelings. He was learning that she was open with her heart, he just had to look a bit harder to see the signs.

Viktor had mentally relived their first kiss far more times than was becoming in a young man, but he couldn't help it. He’d kissed girls before, many times, but it had never been anything like that. Something about the way Hermione had reacted and the trust she placed in him had been exhilarating. From the moment his heavy cloak had draped over her slim shoulders he had felt a more profound sense of inner peace than at any other time in his life. Hermione had remarked throughout the evening that he always seemed so relaxed, Viktor had been somewhat surprised that she hadn't realised that it was down to the effect she had on him, he certainly didn't usually feel like that around people he had only known for a few months.

People had called him surly or quiet since he was little, and since his burgeoning career had taken off his demeanour had invariably been interpreted as a sign of him being either arrogant or socially awkward, sometimes they cited a mixture of both. Viktor had never tried especially hard to dispute those claims as the image he had gained - without wilful cultivation - suited him, that people thought of him as rude or stupid was a small price to endure if it ensured he was left alone. But Hermione never questioned his quiet patches, or bemoaned his lack of flowery address; she seemed to like his plain speaking as much as he liked her mix of fidgeting responses and passionate defiance. Hermione seemed to appreciate the small things he did for her, little gestures and gentle teasing, it made him more comfortable to be himself around her, something he wasn't sure he had ever let himself be on such a short acquaintance before. His previous experiences had taught him that women wanted to be introduced to a person who matched up to the ‘legend’ his sporting prowess had created, Hermione wanted to know the boy, the man, behind it.

By now Viktor was aware that his attentions had been so marked they would no longer be ignored, and that created a problem. While his reputation and fame had placed a bubble of revetment around him, Viktor had noticed that it did not do the same for girls he was associated with. Already he had seen the hostile glances sent in Hermione’s direction; he wanted to save her from cruel exposure as much as possible. He had made the decision to enter a profession that had the downside of making him, to an extent, public property, but she hadn't. Though he suspected that someone like Hermione would end up notable herself before long. Viktor had tried to keep his distance more than was strictly necessary, principally because of his workload, but also to avoid the gossips of the world, but now the means no longer justified the reward, it just wasn't possible for him to stay away from her anymore.

By the middle of February, the oppressive burden of expectation that had been hanging over Viktor’s head began to diminish. He had pushed himself harder than ever and finally, he felt fully prepared, at least for what was to come over the next couple of months. The final task was still on the horizon, but as Viktor had no idea what that would entail, there was little point adding it to his list of worries, yet. He had worked out his approach to the second task and was on top of all of his school work, more importantly, he had finally come to a decision on his plans for next year. All in all, he had built up enough slack to allow him to enjoy a day as he chose.

Viktor sat in the Great Hall in his usual seat, a spot which gave him an excellent view of the Gryffindor table. As he reached for a jug, he looked over at Hermione who was sat picking at a meagre breakfast, eyeing it with apparent disinterest. She wasn't talking herself, but he could see Ginny murmuring an almost constant stream of chat into her ear. Hermione nodded or quirked her lips into a gentle smile every now and again, but otherwise didn't take her eyes off her plate; that was until the owls arrived.

What seemed like hundreds of birds flew into the vast space, so tightly packed together that they moved like an undulating, noisy cloud, some of them weighed down with large looking packages. To the Durmstrang boys, an open celebration of Valentine's day was a strange experience. Coming from a single-sex school the present giving on February 14th was sparse, and those that were exchanged were done so privately. A quick glance towards his headmaster quickly revealed how disgusting Karkaroff found the display. Viktor knew he would never permit such antics were he in charge.

Viktor's eyes were torn from Hermione for a moment when he realised, with grim horror, how many of the invading owls were depositing pink-hued letters and boxes next to his place setting. He couldn't do anything to prevent the colour that crept across his cheeks, he could feel the attention of all of those around him being drawn in his direction. Before Viktor could react Mikhail aimed his wand at the growing pile and with a soft mutter it was gone, banishing it back to their dorm no doubt. He nodded once in thanks and Mikhail rolled his eyes at him, his friend’s feelings on 'fangirls' were similar to their headmasters for Valentine's Day itself.

Thankful as he was for his friend's quick thinking, it seemed it wasn't quite fast enough. Viktor’s eyes darted back across the hall and caught Hermione stuck looking at the spot just next to him, her porridge caked spoon hovering forgotten in the air. Viktor shifted in his seat. Hermione’s mouth unhinged as she continued to regard the now-empty patch of the table, and he felt himself grow uncomfortable.  He should have been prepared for this. Getting to know her, Viktor had picked up on an undercurrent of insecurity in some of Hermione’s actions, the fangirls that followed him around being a particular sore spot. He would have to work harder to make her understand how insignificant he found it all in comparison to her attention.

It took Viktor awhile to catch Hermione’s gaze, and when he did she smiled, but the expression didn't quite reach her eyes. She was distracted by a relatively persistent owl who was nudging at her expectantly, keen to deposit his load. Viktor watched with rapt attention as she raised her eyebrows at the imposing bird before stealing a bit of bacon from Ron's plate - while he was looking in the opposite direction - before proffering it to the persistent creature.

Once her attention had been secured, Viktor began sorting out his food, after a brief period of laughing at Filip who had forgone a traditional breakfast to start working his way through the chocolates he had been sent. Viktor smirked as his friend spun on his seat shooting a wink at the blushing Hufflepuff sender who erupted into giggles at his overt attention. Viktor didn't need to watch Hermione open her package; he knew what was in it. In the brief free time he’d had over the last month he had been planning his gift. Viktor may not have been able to give her all he wanted to right then, but if Hermione was going to have a Valentine, he was determined it would be him.

The gift he had eventually settled on was a nicely wrapped, book, at least at first appearance, when she opened it she would find that the pages had been hollowed out to allow for three rows of delicate chocolates to be placed within. Viktor had wanted to make a point along with his present. He knew lots of people brought her things to read, and he understood that Hermione loved books, but he suspected the lack of originality would sometimes disappoint her. He had picked up on her prickliness if he casually asked if she was off to the library. Viktor certainly didn't think academics was all she was, he loved his broom, but it didn't mean he wanted maintenance kit every year. Mostly he wanted his gift to stand out, especially if he wasn't the only sender.

Inside the hollowed out cavity, each ornate truffle was embossed with an individual rune, when decoded and read together they would convey a message asking Hermione to meet him at 3 pm that day. Viktor figured most of the castle would be in Hogsmeade by then, and it should afford them a few moments of much-needed privacy. While he would happily go wherever she desired, he would prefer never to step into that tea room again!

He looked up to check on her just as Hermione picked up the narrow slip of parchment he had included with his name and a swiftly written assurance that the mangled 'book' was actually a transfigured box. Viktor was going to send the present anonymously, as per tradition, but, after reflection, he hadn’t been sure that Hermione would trust that an unsigned gift was from him, and as he wouldn't have the chance to speak to her until the afternoon the note seemed wise.

As he glanced across the room a final time, Hermione smiled beatifically at him, this time the expression read true all over her face. Then, the four rounds of chocolates he had to go through to get the runes to look legible were totally worth it.

Viktor was waiting on the grounds in front of the Black Lake when Hermione scampered out of the castle, and as soon as she saw him she sped up her steps, burrowing down into her thick jumper as she paced across the frosty grass. As she got closer, Viktor felt himself sag a fraction, even as his heart rate sped up. It wasn't as if he hadn't expected her to show up, Hermione was too polite for that, but he had never brought anyone what could be considered a romantic gift before, let alone made one, and while it was fairly evident that he was the one most comfortable with their present situation, it didn't mean this wasn't new to him too. He kissed her on the cheek, and she thanked him for the chocolates, "and the puzzle," she said with a little grin that he couldn't help returning.

They walked off at a comfortable strolling pace, drifting in silent agreement, to one of the most secluded paths that took them around the lake. Viktor waited until the castle, and its potentially interrupting occupants were a distance away before he began on the topic he wanted to raise.

"I wanted to talk to you about... something," he began as the path narrowed a fraction, forcing them closer.

"Oh?" Hermione inquired lightly, looking up at his face. Her wide brown eyes were warm and inviting, conveying her interest.

Viktor nodded to himself, feeling reassured as he stuffed his hands into his pockets. "I think I am ready to make decision about team for next year, but would like to talk about it, with you, first. You maybe think of something I missed. I trust your judgement."

"That's… that's very flattering Viktor, please," she made a continuing gesture, "go on."

"I received many offers, maybe few more than I deserve but narrowed down to three, I have to give final decision by next week, transfer window closes and I need to sign contracts and things," he explained and looked back at her.

Hermione nodded, her expression serious. "You are feeling indecisive?"

Viktor sighed. "I thought so, at first, but I think I always knew decision I wanted to make, just not sure am making it for right reasons," he related, forcing himself to keep talking even though he felt sure he was explaining himself poorly.

"Well, I can't confess to know much about your sport but I… I think I'm getting to know you and if you explain it maybe I can help," she said brightly, and Viktor smiled at her earnest enthusiasm.

"First offer was from Montpellier Minotaurs, they are one of top teams in France and have reputation for excellence, second offer was from Kassel Kirschen-" Hermione smirked at Viktor, and he paused to look at her questioningly.

"What you like red?" she muttered.

Viktor rolled his eyes. "They are one of best teams with of branding and sponsors, would be good move to start building network for once I finish my professional career."

"Ok,” Hermione said, “and the third offer your considering?"

"Vratsa Vultures," Viktor replied wistfully. "They are best team in Bulgarian Championship, and I have supported them since I was two," he imparted with a small laugh remembering the tiny kit his mother kept that had been his first ever Quidditch shirt.

Hermione tilted her head regarding him thoughtfully. "You clearly have a preference for the last one, so why the hesitation?"

Viktor wondered if he would ever be able to get anything past this witch, or if he would ever even try. "Bulgarian national team is strong, but Championship in country is not as strong as is in England, France, Germany or Sweden. It is good team, great team, but is not best team. There are people that will say I making easy choice," he sighed, the topic had been long discussed between himself and his manager.

"What else?" Hermione pressed.

Viktor ran his hands together to control his fidget and cleared his throat. "My mother wants me to stay in Bulgaria, stay with local team so I am not too far, I don't know if I am leaning towards that choice to make her happy. I want to be able to stand on my own feet," he admitted quietly.

Hermione continued walking ruminating over what he had said until they reached a bench and sat down. "Viktor, I think with these decisions you need to follow your heart. There might be more prestige in joining a French or German team but do you really need the exposure they offer for your career to be a success? You're already being heralded as the best seeker in the world, and you're not even a full-time professional yet. You have told me before that you vastly prefer playing national Quidditch as you get to play in your countries colours, if you go to Vastra you will be doing that every day. Who knows, you joining their Championship might even accelerate them into becoming a more prominent league."

Viktor snorted, and Hermione smiled softly at him before reaching for his arm. "As for your mother, I don't think you coming to the same decision is the same as agreeing with her reasoning. You could still take steps to gain your independence, get your own place closer to the grounds or something."

Viktor eased himself back onto the bench and let her words wash over him, hearing Hermione echo some of his more rational sentiments made him feel reassured. He held up his arm in silent invitation, and Hermione bashfully averted her eyes but snuggled in next to him, leaning her head against his chest as he wrapped the arm around her shoulders.

"Thank you, Hermione. I may have to keep you around, you are good at these things." He hoped his teasing tone covered just how earnestly he was craving such a thing.

"I am glad to be of service, and I would not be… totally opposed  to being kept on retainer, should you need to speak to me in the future."

Viktor smiled at her brave words, braver now he wasn't facing her, as ever he had more to say but not today, he had planned to speak to her after the second task, once he had that out of the way he could work on what they were going to do about the future. The silence between them was comforting, and after a few minutes, he felt Hermione burrow tighter against his side and he dropped his cheek against her curls.

"Viktor,” Hermione said eventually, and he hummed in acknowledgement, “how did you get that nick in your eyebrow?"

"What makes you ask?" he inquired, perplexed by the random question.

She shrugged, the movement was sluggish as she was held against him. "I noticed it a long time ago, in your pictures at the world cup actually, I had wondered if it was a Quidditch injury."

Viktor smiled against the top of her hair. "No, got it when I was little, chasing my dog, or she chasing me, I can't remember, but I fell, and that is how I cut eyebrow. Hair never grew back properly. But do not tell anyone, normally I make it sound more dramatic."

Hermione laughed making her hair tickle his nose. "Maybe the sport isn't as dangerous as I first thought."

“Not at all, Quidditch is exceptionally dangerous, I am very brave,” he countered with a wry grin.

“You can’t fool me now, you keep telling me it’s nothing to worry about.”

"Does this mean I might convince you to come to few games?" Viktor asked as he moved his hand to cup her cheek, angling her face towards him before pressing a gentle kiss on the top of her chilled nose.

"Oh, I suppose so," she breathily replied as he moved his head closer and trailed his thumb along her jawline. When he heard her breath hitch, he moved to her plump bottom lip, pulling her teeth out of its soft surface.

"Cheer me on?" he pressed as Hermione’s pupils dilated and he could feel the heat of her skin, her short, shallow breaths, warming the air between them.

"I'm sure I could," she faltered, her eyes locking with his.

He pushed some hair behind her ear. "Wear my shirt?" he questioned.


Viktor locked his lips over hers, muffling whatever she had intended to say. When she smiled against his mouth, he returned it before slowly nudging at her lips, signalling to her that he wanted to deepen their kiss. He could feel her hesitation, and so he waited, lightly continuing his attention until her mouth parted, then he slowly moved against her, harder now, swiping his tongue along one side of hers briefly before he withdrawing, laying a steady stream of gentle kisses against her mouth. He shifted his seat again pulling away as he registered her shiver. He swiftly unbuttoned his coat and pulled her into his chest so he could wrap one side of it around her, shielding her from the chill.

"Happy Valentines, Hermione."

Viktor stood in the middle of the sparse dorm room in his swimming trunks and performed the transfiguration for the third time only to get the same stunned silence in response, huffing slightly - as much as he was able to with gills - he cancelled the effect.

"What?!" he demanded impatiently. "I think this will work, it's far more likely to get a good mark than the bubble head charm."

Mikhail seemed to snap out of his trance first. "Maybe, but don't you think they will mark you down for only managing a partial transformation?"

"I could do the whole thing if I wanted," Viktor protested, crossing his arms defensively, “but how would I retrieve what I needed to with fins?"

"I think," Filip interjected, "whatever the judges say, it looks really scary… Like a reverse merman, but more... deadly," he said with reverence.


Filip's face lit into a smile. "It's  so  cool."

"I know right," Viktor said, relieved at the now smiling faces of his friends.

Mikhail laughed, “Let's just hope that whatever object you have to get isn't capable of sentient thought; otherwise you will scare the crap out of it."

Chapter Text

Viktor shuffled his bare feet as his exposed toes curled against the rough surface of the wooden jetty. The sturdy structure had been erected hastily - so as not to arouse suspicion - the platform hovered over the deceptively still waters of the Black Lake. Using a warm-up routine he had perfected for Quidditch matches, Viktor rotated bursts of jogging on the spot with various arm and shoulder exercises, hopeful that the movement would warm him up as well as distract him from the tension settling into his neck. February in Scotland wasn't an ideal time to be standing around in a vest and shorts, but he was sure potential frostbite would be the least of his worries that day.

Viktor eyed the other champions with a casual air; his three opponents were lined up, staring over the pier, arranged equidistantly from each other. Fleur, who was the furthermost away, looked anxious and uncomfortable, Cedric seemed to be mumbling something under his breath and Potter, who had only just made it in time, looked as if he was attempting to force something down his throat. Was that Gillyweed?  That was pretty fucking clever.

Further introspection was cut short as a tannoy sounded and Viktor's attention turned to the strands that had been set up for spectators. Though what they would find to entertain themselves was anyone's guess, Viktor couldn’t see how looking at the surface of the lake for an hour could be in any way interesting. The booming voice of Ludo Bagman echoed around the grounds and Viktor spotted ripples form on the lake from the jarring vibration. For the first time that morning, he was impatient to sink into the watery depths. He had never liked Ludo, the overbearing former player represented the very worst type of people in his profession, at least in Viktor's reckoning. Not only did Ludo seem to spend his life recounting tales of his 'glory days', he traded off his 'fame' to get what he wanted from the people around him. Bagman served as a cautionary tale to Viktor and was one of the reasons he had eventually agreed with his father to pursue a mastery after school was finished.

"Well, what a day we have in store for us," Bagman's voice thundered, "our champions are now, as I speak, in position at the edge of the Black Lake. The tension in the air is palpable. It reminds me of the time I was in the starting lineup for the Wasps, when we were defending the league title, batted for my life that day. Anyway, back to our champions, if they have deciphered their clue correctly," he said with a throaty chuckle, "they will already know that they have only  one hour  to retrieve something dear to them, this item has already been taken-"

Viktor shook out his shoulders and ran over the spell he had practised for the hundredth time in an attempt to block out the unnecessary noise. He was as prepared as he could be, Viktor reminded himself, though he couldn't work out what they had taken. He had anticipated it would be something from his room, he had nothing stored anywhere else, but nothing seemed to be missing that morning. Viktor wouldn't have thought anything of it if they had said they would take something innocuous, but the clue had expressly stated the item would be 'what you'll sorely miss'. Surely if that were the case, it would be something he would have noticed was missing.

"- I can now reveal, for the first time, that deep in the icy waters of the lake, under guard in the merpeople village we have  hostages  for our champions to collect-"

The excitement in the man's tone made Viktor feel sick to his stomach, and he spun around to face the stands, running his eyes through the students at speed. His impatient gaze immediately went to the clot of red on one side, feeling immeasurable relief when he saw Filip and Mikhail were both there, looking pensive but otherwise unharmed, but if they were there, who on earth?

"-for Viktor Krum… Hermione Granger! "

Viktor's body reacted almost before he had processed the words, he turned on his heel to face the other end of the stands and located Ginny and Luna quickly, he felt his heart began to race as he fully comprehended her absence. No unruly curls dancing in the breeze, no reassuring smile or subtle gesture of support, when even Luna's usually impassive face reflected fear, he turned away. Viktor felt anger claw at him, working its way up from his chest and mauling his throat, and something else,  something dark. It prickled at the surface of his awareness, and he made a point to scowl at his headmaster as well as hers before he shut off his thoughts in preparation for the klaxon. He knew he would have to channel the rage he was feeling into finding her quicker.

As he flicked a final look down the row of competitors, Viktor’s locked eyes with a terrified-looking Potter; he nodded briefly at him, and there was a lot conveyed at that moment, not least that Viktor understood Potter's concern and that he would make sure Hermione would be safe.

Before the announcement, Viktor had forced himself to move with the intention of keeping himself warm, now he found that as the final moments slipped away he no longer needed to. Peering over at the surface of the water he almost vibrated with energy, the roaring in the crowds and the continuing rumble of the commentary was nothing, everything was focused on the surface of the water.

When the signal was finally given Viktor wasted no time between transfiguring himself and diving in. He had planned to make slow movements so that those on the bank would be able to see what his solution was, but that had been before.  He was no longer so worried about what the judges would think of his creativity, his only concern was locating Hermione, and getting her out within the time limit. Viktor broke the surface of the water and quickly focused on achieving a decent descent, fully submerging himself in the icy depths. As he swam down, it wasn't long before he felt like he was drowning. As he propelled forward, he had to fight against the voice in his mind screaming that he needed to return to the surface, that he needed oxygen. Instead, Viktor forced himself  to rely on his transfigured gills. It was unnatural, awkward and he had to chase away panic, but a few steady breaths in and out of the new holes in his throat and he relaxed enough to pick up speed once again.

As Viktor swam deeper and deeper, the light filtering from the surface diminished until the water surrounding him was as black as the lake's name suggested. Without his spelled shark eyes he would have barely been able to see a few feet in front of his face. He felt directionless for a while before he began navigating by following a school of dim coloured fish, their scales causing a slight glimmer as they glided through the water. Viktor was so focused on tracking their movement that he didn't notice how he was heading into an area where seaweed climbed taller and spread thicker. He missed the shadows darting above him, creeping below him, until he was too late. A sudden disturbance caught his attention and all at once Grindylows seemed to come from all directions. Their small bodies bounced off him as he attempted to accelerate past, the ones at the front of the attack gnashed their sickly green teeth viciously, as their spindly fingers tried to gain purchase into his flesh. Knowing he was done for if he let that happen, Viktor flailed mercilessly, whipping around and biting at the creatures closest to him before they began to beat a retreat. Not waiting to see how long-term their urge to flee lasted, Viktor swam as fast as he could, out of the dank patch of the lake and began the hunt afresh.

Viktor swam around aimlessly, growing increasingly despondent until he picked up on the faint mumblings of a familiar noise. A gentle, haunting hum that stood out in the almost calm atmosphere. As Viktor swam closer, he registered the sound as the mermaid song, similar to the ballad that had been trapped inside the golden egg. It had never occurred to him before how alluring the noise was as it drew him in, reminding him of stories his mother had told him as a child about sirens. Viktor kicked harder to swim up over a large ridge on the lake floor and then he saw it.

'Village' seemed an inadequate word for the settlement the merpeople had built, it stretched as far as the eye could see; roads and pathways teeming with activity. Variously sized dwellings were flanked with glistening shells that reflected the limited light like mosaic glass. The constant singing reverberated from the spindling towers, magnifying the eerie echo. Viktor was blown away by the civilisation under the water. He thought he might understand Hermione’s impassioned rants now, how she lamented the arrogance of magical folk and argued that 'creatures weren't any less intelligent, they just lived in worlds that humans couldn't possibly understand'.

As Viktor recovered from his shock, he approached the village only to have two of the merfolk immediately dive in front of him, blocking his way with vicious looking spears. He tried to control the urge to bite them as he had the Grindylows, the still rational part of his brain muttering that these dangers would be less easily swayed. Viktor was unused to violent reactions, as a general rule, but as he was sure he was approaching the end of the time limit and still had no idea how that would affect Hermione, his anxiety was causing his impatience to skyrocket. The faces of the merfolk were austere and unemotional, their eyes empty black pools set into a shimmering green skin. Moments passed, and Viktor had a distinct feeling he was being judged before, at length, the spears were retracted, and he was urged to go forth.

The manic kicking of his legs stilled when he reached a clearing in the very centre of the village, three gentle trails of bubbles streamed upwards, and Viktor's beady eyes tracked them lower, hoping to find one that belonged to her. There, at the furthest point was Hermione, secured around the waist with a thick rope, her wild hair dispersed in the water around her, her body rigid and lifeless. With her eyelids closed it looked as if she was sleeping, a moment that seemed uncomfortably intimate for Viktor to witness, despite the kisses he had shared with her, not to mention the times he had imagined her at rest, though he had certainly kept those thoughts to himself.

Viktor darted towards Hermione, relieved beyond belief that he had decided to leave himself the option of fingers when he got close enough to begin furiously wrestling with the rope. A few unfruitful minutes later he made a grunt of frustration, the sound coming out of his mouth like a twisted snarl followed by a gnashing of teeth,  teeth!  He plunged down below and bit at the thick twining, but his transfigured teeth weren't sharp enough, Viktor panicked, conscious that this was the very worst time to discover that the spell had not been as well executed as he had hoped. A sharp whack on his shoulder distracted him, and Viktor whipped around to find a startled looking Potter who, upon seeing his face up close, swam back quickly, seemingly wanting to keep a safe distance as he proffered a jagged rock. Viktor sighed in gratitude, ignoring how aggressive the sound that came out of his broad mouth was. Taking the rock, he cut through the ropes holding Hermione and immediately headed for the surface without looking back. He pulled her limp form against his body, holding her close as he propelled upwards. He had no idea what charm has been placed on her; she could breathe but there was no motion to her body, she was a dead weight, which even given how small she was, meant she took some manoeuvring.

After what felt like a lifetime, they broke the surface of the water and whatever spell had been placed on Hermione dissipated as soon as they hit the cool air. She began gasping for breath, making strained sounds as she dragged in huge lungfuls of air and Viktor automatically pulled her away from his chest so he could check her over. It was only when she began screaming, flailing her arms around violently, that he remembered the transfiguration. With a start he cancelled it, shaking his head involuntarily as the sides of his neck burned as his flesh knitted back together. Hermione had her eyes shut by this point and had missed his transformation, still flapping and splashing, coughing as she swallowed water in her panic.

"It is me. It is Viktor, you are safe," he said urgently, firming his grip on her shoulders to try and snap her out of it.

Hermione’s eyes flicked open, and she stopped flapping. Her stillness only served to highlight how much she was shaking. Feeling anger come to the surface of his thoughts again, Viktor grasped Hermione more gently, manoeuvring her closer to the wooden platform before pulling her up out of the water and passing her to Mikhail and Filip who were waiting at the edge of the jetty with an anxious-looking Luna. Once she was securely up, Viktor accepted Mikhail's hand just as a student was running over with towels, he took both of those that were extended and wrapped them around Hermione.

"You ok?" he asked lowly, running the edge of one of the soft towels over her face to absorb the water clinging around her nose.

Hermione nodded, her teeth chattering, and he sighed, her weak affirmation did nothing to soothe him, she hadn't spoken since they had gotten out of the water. Not giving a flying fuck about anyone around them, Viktor pulled her trembling form towards him for a hard hug, as he aggressively rubbed his hands over her shivering arms, trying to get some warmth into her body. Viktor clenched his teeth, though whether because of the chill biting at his skin, or the rage simmering underneath it, he wasn't sure. As he stood next to Hermione, he realised she had been sent down in full robes - that had absorbed a lot more water than his gym kit - they weighed her down. She would need a lot more than a couple of towels if she were going to avoid getting sick.

"Need to get you out of here, get you dry," he said into her ear.

"There is tent at the back," Mikhail called suddenly, and it was only when Viktor registered his friend's voice that he realised he had dragged Hermione away from everyone else and had his arms around her protectively. Mikhail was watching his face warily until their eyes met and he mouthed 'calm down'.

"They didn't ask either of you?" he asked bluntly and Filip took a step forward to shake his head. "Ridiculous," Viktor muttered. Irritated, he readjusted himself and made to gather Hermione to take her to the tent.

"You need to stay here, for announcement," Filip murmured, and Viktor paused in his actions, wishing that he didn't agree.

"Fine," he gritted out, huffing as he turned back around to the shivering girl in front of him. Before he could say anything else, Luna rushed forward pushing one of her small arms under Hermione's.

"Come on," she commanded softly before looking up at him, "I will take care of her," she assured, and he nodded, trusting her completely but wishing he could go in her place. His friends stood next to him, silently, as he stoically watched the two girls move away. Mikhail did not attempt to speak until they were wholly out of view, Viktor realised that this was probably the angriest they had had ever seen him.

"Viktor, you need to get a hold of yourself," he chastised.

"Me?" he replied narrowing his eyes, his head reeling back incredulous. "She was at the bottom of a lake. In February. She looked like she was dead. She… She…" he closed his eyes and clenched his fists. "Her parents are Muggles, do you imagine anyone checked that this was ok?"

"Viktor," Filip tried, but he was too riled up to listen.

"Because of me, she was down there, because of me," he protested almost snarling.

"Enough," Mikhail snapped, placing his hands on his shoulders shaking him slightly. "Get through the presentation; we will talk after."

Only after Hermione had disappeared did Viktor notice that Potter still wasn't back. Though he didn't have long to ruminate on his absence, just as he finally accepted a towel for himself, the surface of the water gave way again, and Potter, as well as Weasley, and a little girl hit the air with a chaos of gasps and a flap of arms. If Fleur's hysterical reaction was any indication, it must have been her sister that was desperately clutching at Potter’s shoulders. On instinct, Viktor and his friends stepped forward to help pull them onto the jetty, and Potter began trying to speak, hunched over while Filip banged him on the back. Sensing his purpose, Viktor cut him off. "Hermione, she is okay," he reassured with a confidence he didn't feel, and he saw the boy's shoulders sag.

The situation had only just calmed when the Fleur came running over, wasting no time she grasped Potter and spun him around with such force he almost left the ground. Her words were lost to Viktor, even if he had spoken perfect French, he doubted he would have been able to decipher the exact wording of Fleur's grateful babble, though her sentiments were easy enough to understand. When she looked as if she intended to manhandle the boy for the third time, Viktor intervened. Gillyweed was notorious for nausea after usage, and Potter already looked embarrassed enough without throwing up all over the pretty Veela. Viktor laid a hand on Fleur's shoulder and pulled her back gently.

"Okay?" he asked softly, not wanting their conversation to be heard by those that were a friend to neither of them. He understood how Fleur had it as a woman, and as a Veela, competing, it was the same for the women he played with on teams; she would not want to admit anything she viewed as a weakness in front of unfriendly ears. Fleur nodded looking wistfully across the platform back at her sister; the little girl was holding hands with a tall, beautiful witch with towels wrapped around her tiny form, and a beam on her face like she had just had the best adventure.

"Gabi, she is too young for this,” Fleur said. “When I couldn't get down there I panicked."

"What happened?" Viktor asked. Filip had already mentioned that Fleur was an early retirement, but he didn't know why.

"The Grindylows, they got a grip on me, and I couldn't fight them off," she replied shaking her head, now that he was looking Viktor could see the tiny yet savage claw marks all over her pale skin.

"You did well to get away," he assured, and Fleur scoffed. "Mean it,” he continued, “you did right thing, if you had carried on fighting them, could have been dragged down, who knows if they were in on it like the merpeople were. Could have been ages till someone came to look for you, then it would be too late."

"But…" she tried again, and Viktor rolled his eyes, something he was sure he was picking up from Hermione, drawing a reluctant laugh from her lips.

"I see you had no trouble rescuing your Princess," Fleur said with an arched eyebrow and Viktor, in spite of the chill in the air, felt a hint of warmth in his cheeks.

The unwelcome voice of Ludo Bagman once again echoed around the grounds, and Viktor listened to the judge's decisions. As he had suspected while he was under the surface, he had arrived back outside of the time limit, but as it turned out only seconds after Cedric. He should have been given second place, which would have given him a fair chance in the final round but, to the jubilation of the home crowd, the judges decided to make a special dispensation for Potter's show of bravery, meaning Viktor got bumped down to third overall. Viktor couldn't find him within himself to be upset, if it weren't for the boy's actions he might still be at the bottom of the lake attempting to gnaw his way through the rope tying Hermione with his too blunt teeth.

The post-task analysis continued, and Viktor tried to pay attention, almost entirely managing not to fidget. For the first time since the tournament began, he really didn't care about the championship standings. He hated everything about the task and felt no triumph or loss at his place. It was all he could do to even pay the smallest amount of attention. Usually, he would have been worried about the absence of his competitive nature, but he knew all too well why he was despondent. He signed up to this, knowing the dangers, and knowing what he would have to face, she hadn't. Sure, he had no doubt that Hermione had been asked to take part, Viktor suspected that even this tournament wouldn’t go so far as to take her against her will, but that wasn't the point, she should never have been selected in the first place. Her being announced as his hostage and his behaviour afterwards would mean they would face more speculation than ever.

In the end, as the cumulative tournament scores were read out, he found he was in second place overall, though as the score for first was tied it was really third. Viktor intended to shelve his self-chastisement until a time when his irritation had died down, but as he saw his headmaster approaching, scowl fixed in place, he knew they would have to do this now. As Karkaroff moved with languid ease amongst the people milling around the jetty, Viktor attempted to ball up all of the emotions he was feeling, it would do him no good to mouth off at the headmaster, satisfying as it might feel in the moment, the effects would be temporary and the repercussions anything but. More than anything, Viktor understood the importance of deference and respect, even if he didn't always feel people deserved to receive either.

"Third place today and despite the travesty of the fourth champion I am sure you will agree that is not good enough," Karkaroff began, his usual calm veneer doing little to hide the fire in his eyes or the steely edge to his clipped tone. Viktor said nothing, the headmaster apparently needed to vent and experience had taught him that it was best to let him get everything out of his system.

"The transfiguration was a good plan," Karkaroff conceded with some reluctance, "but if the Diggory boy was able to get back within the time limit then so should you have been. We have not had mandatory swimming lessons on the curriculum for fifty years for you to be outdone. You have a lot to make up for in the final task Viktor; failure is not an option."

Viktor nodded solemnly, but before the headmaster could walk away, he voiced a question that had been growing in volume in his mind. "Did you know?" he asked quietly.

"About what?" Karkaroff asked impatiently, but the glimmer in his eyes let Viktor know he knew exactly what he had asked about. Dumbledore or one of the other Hogwarts teachers would have spoken to Hermione before the task, but they couldn’t have been the ones to put her name forward as his hostage. Known of them knew him well enough for that, and they were hardly likely to go out on a limb just because he had taken her to the Yule Ball.

"Mikhail or Filip would have done it, gladly," Viktor accused, biting back the words and tone he so desperately wanted to use.

Karkaroff was unmoved, "Surely this has done you a favour Viktor, you wanted the girl, now it's so very public I am sure you can make your move to secure her," he finished smugly and walked off, quickly disappearing from view.

Chapter Text

When he was finally free from the pomp and circumstance surrounding the tournament, Viktor marched towards the bank of the lake, in the direction of the medical tent that had been set up along with all the other task trappings. He told the others he was going to get himself checked out, not that Viktor cared about himself, he had been surviving in harsh conditions since childhood, a morning spent in freezing water was unlikely to have any long-term effect on him.

Viktor pushed back the heavy canvas doors in time to see steam billowing from Hermione's ears; her face screwed up from the sensation caused by what must have been a reasonably sizeable dose of Pepperup. As he went to stand by her bedside, his path was swiftly derailed by a determined Mediwitch who bustled Viktor onto a bed on the other side of the tent. Before he could begin the litany of protests on the tip of his tongue, the matronly witch started fussing over him, clucking and tutting like a mother hen as she took his temperature and spell dried his clothes. He was raised too well to scowl at her, but he thought about it.

When Viktor finally evaded the interfering witch's clutches having been given a clean bill of health, he strode over to sit on the end of the cot they had placed Hermione in. He had always planned to talk to her, properly, after the second task was finished. Now, with all the adrenaline and the unchanneled anger coursing about his body that plan suddenly felt all the more imperative. The desire to have a moment alone with her was almost overwhelming like he would burst if he didn't get it all off his chest. Though it wasn't just his emotions making him impatient, there was another reason for urgency, one that although he needed to address it, he was loathed to let it take the sheen off his feelings. The attention they had mostly skillfully avoided following the ball was likely inescapable now, Hermione’s selection as a hostage and his attention on the jetty had seen to that. Viktor hoped being under the magnifying glass would be easier to bear if they were both honest with each other, before being subjected to a barrage of questions from the masses.

Viktor looked Hermione over. From what he could see of her that wasn't obscured by blankets, she looked a little paler than normal, and despite the Pepperup that he had seen the aftereffects of, she didn't seem to be able to stop sneezing. She smiled at him when he sat down, somewhat weakly, a crooked little smile that quirked from one side of her mouth, nothing like her usual full beam. Though, even that was enough to diffuse some of his tension, as angry as Viktor had been he could already feel it fading, leaking out of his limbs and into the ground. She was okay.

Being calmer didn't make Viktor any less twitchy. As Hermione made to sit herself up, he reached forward, gripping her by the waist and moving her, propping her pillows so she could have more support. He saw a flash of irritation cross her features, but rather than voice it, Hermione sighed and seemed to let it go. Viktor was glad of it; he knew he was fusing, but he needed to do something, he needed to feel like he was of some use to her.

When she coughed and the sound was wet and nasally he sped off to get her a drink and when he returned she finally rolled her eyes at him. "I'm okay Viktor," she groused, and he looked into her irked face and sighed. That she was back to her bossy self should have settled him, but he still felt the weight of the day on his shoulders.

"I…. being around me has given you trouble," he said, sagging back onto the cot.

Viktor expected some admonishment, at the very least an acknowledgement of the day’s events, but instead, to his enormous surprise, Hermione laughed. "I'm friends with Harry Potter," she replied with a wave of her hand at her friend, who was propped up on another bed having some paste applied to his throat where his gills had been. "He has been a complete disaster magnet since our first year, this sort of thing has become worryingly normal."

"Well, should not be," Viktor whispered petulantly, and Hermione reached forward to place her hand in his, squeezing gently until he looked back up, and she regarded him with a smile.

"The shark was a bit of a surprise; I'm sorry for screaming, that was really embarrassing," a blush overcame her cheeks and Viktor, for once, decided against teasing her.

"It is okay, was worried that I frightened you," he said honestly, her reaction had been terrifying. He never wanted to scare her, not in any way.

"It was just for a moment" Hermione reassured as he sat back down, their fingers still entwined, "as soon as I knew it was you  I felt… safe," she admitted in a small voice and Viktor idly traced circles over the back of her palm. Despite her being dry he could tell from her skin that she had recently been wet, it felt damp to the touch, like she had been in a long bath not long before, at least she felt warmer now. They both fell quiet after Hermione's words, Viktor turning them over in his mind. If he had achieved nothing else, he felt a sense of extreme pride that she felt secure with him. He wanted nothing else, almost nothing else.

Hermione coughed again and looked up, meeting his eyes more cautiously this time. "You did so well," she said, apparently wanting to change the subject, Viktor wished to continue talking about her feelings surrounding him but knew this was not the environment. Instead, he launched into a discussion on the task, a subject that had been taboo between them for weeks. When he told her all about the merpeople civilisation, Hermione’s eyes became wide as saucers in a way that he found breathtakingly endearing. She leant forward as he continued his description, gasping when he spoke of the Grindylow attack, he lost his place in his tale as her fingers, dainty but firm, traced lines over his exposed arms, turning his limbs as if looking for evidence of the creatures persistent claws. It was his turn to reassure her that he was fine, though he did so with no irritation, none whatsoever. When he finished telling her about the task the discussion moved to all the things he had tried to maintain the required time under water. Viktor found it so liberating to finally be able to discuss it with Hermione, to see her interest in the theories, to hear all of her excited questions. He tried his best not to think of the future, most of the time, but he couldn't help imagining sending her letters, detailing the latest step in his mastery work and anxiously awaiting her impassioned replies.

They were eventually interrupted when Diggory walked past, pausing in his step the older Hogwarts champion pulled a dried out piece of seaweed from Hermione's hair. Despite how close they were sitting Viktor hadn't noticed it. "Saving this for later Granger?" Diggory asked with a wide grin, twisting the leaf in his fingers.

Hermione narrowed her eyes dangerously, and Viktor sat back with his arms crossed over his chest, not bothering to hide his delight at the warning signals she displayed, he did so enjoy her spark, especially when it was aimed at him, but he wasn't fussy. She opened her mouth to make a comment, the expression on her face indicated it would be seething but as she did so her nose twitched and whatever retort she was preparing was lost in a flurry of sneezes that triggered a coughing fit. Viktor got up swiftly to stand at her side and began rubbing her back until the tremors stopped. This time she didn't protest as he held a glass of water to her lips.

"Sorry, Granger," Cedric said apologetically as the coughing subsided, his eyes softening, "truce until you’re better?"

Hermione nodded defeatedly as she gulped down the rest of the water, Viktor continued his attentions while privately thinking there was a lot of wisdom behind Diggory's affable visage as he sloped off to sit with Cho in a far corner of the tent. It wasn't long after Hermione had got resettled that Potter reappeared, apparently having been given his marching orders from the medical team.

"Well done, Potter," Viktor congratulated, stepping forward to shake the younger boys hand. Potter looked uncomfortable, but Hermione beamed at him.

"Thanks," he said, a hand going to the back of his neck, "I was... well, it was silly I thought they were all in danger."

"Not silly. I knew they would not let them be harmed but… when they call Hermione's name, I panicked too."

"Yeah?" the boy asked looking up at him, pushing his glasses back onto his face and Viktor nodded. Harry turned his attention to the girl in the bed, and Hermione gave him the same reassurances that Viktor had demanded of her an hour earlier. Both boys were swiftly bustled away soon after as Hermione was to be given her final check over so she could hopefully leave too.

Once Hermione was dismissed from Madam Pomfrey’s watchful care and given leave to go back to the castle, Viktor derailed that plan and took her for a walk around the grounds. As soon as they exited the tent it was as if they had been transported into a world wholly different than when he had been out there before. The people had largely dispersed, the structures for the task had already been vanished away and even the air now felt quiet. All was exactly how it been before the task had begun and yet, Viktor felt as if everything had changed.

He pulled Hermione into his side as they walked towards a courtyard he had found on one of his many running routes. He felt terrible for keeping Hermione out of doors, but his desire to speak to her surpassed his significant guilt. Just this once he had to put his needs before her comfort, it wasn't something he intended to make a habit of.

Hermione sneezed as they sat down, and even that sound was endearing to him. Her tiny nose wrinkled as she tried to hold them back, only to give in a few moments later. Now they were just in each other's company, Viktor swiftly sat down next to her and without asking for permission, he reached for Hermione, pulling her body - still wrapped in a blanket - across his lap. Her little squeak of surprise followed by pink cheeks gave him his first real smile of the day. "Glad that is over," he admitted softly, and Hermione nodded her head, turning to face him as much as she was able with his arms banded around her middle.

"You did so well," she said into his chest, and Viktor didn't care that it was a repeat of her sentiments from earlier, he was happy to hear it, happier now they were alone.

"Two out of three," he sighed. Viktor knew that come morning he would be under pressure to prepare for the final challenge. Just like that, he would be expected to shelve all of the events of the day and move on to what was coming next. There would only be the one afternoon, this afternoon, when he could reflect on the task completed before moving on to focus on the next one. He would have to be even more rigorous now that he had no real idea what he would be facing.

"I'm worried about the final task," Hermione disclosed, shaking Viktor out of his reflections. She stared at him with a soft gaze that put him in mind of Luna.

"It will be okay, have few months to prepare, will be ready when it comes," he reassured her, not wanting to talk about the tournament anymore.

Hermione shifted on his lap, wriggling until her head rested against his shoulder, her face looked toward the deserted greenhouses that were just visible beyond a low patch of hedges. "I'm worried about more than just the task itself," she admitted in a small voice, and Viktor fought to keep himself still and silent, to not push her until she had finished what she needed to say. "When the task is done, the tournament… it will be over, and that will mean…" Hermione picked at the sleeve of his fresh jersey and averted her eyes. "You'll be gone."

Viktor tried to ignore the wobble in her voice that made his own throat tight, instead he leant forward, dropping a chaste kiss amongst her spell dried curls and thought about how he wanted to express himself. Hermione opening up first had made it easier, but it was never simple to talk about stuff like this, he kept his innermost feelings to himself as a rule. It wasn’t a question of how he felt, that had been decided long ago and quiet as he may have been he was far from without passion.

"I think you know," he began, in as strong a voice as he could manage, "or if you do not you should, I like you, a lot. I do not have huge experience in relationships but… you mean more to me than any girl I have ever met. I know I am older and maybe… it is not straightforward situation. But would like to try... for the rest of the year, to spend as much time with you as possible, because I... I do not want to stop feeling I have when I am around you."

Hermione turned to face him, but as she tried to speak Viktor smiled before dropping a finger gently over her mouth. "Please, let me finish," he implored lightly, and Hermione nodded, her full lips rubbing his index finger.

"I think there is real chance that I will love you one day, probably one day soon, and I need you to know because this," he gestured between them both, "this is serious for me." With the final words out of his mouth, he allowed himself a long exhale. Viktor's heart was pounding in his chest, and he was pretty sure Hermione could feel it given how closely she was pressed against him. When he looked down at her, it was to find her staring at him intently.

"Can I speak now?" Hermione mouthed against his finger, and Viktor smiled at her raised eyebrow. He nodded, not trusting himself to speak yet, he had managed to articulate what he had planned to say fairly well. He had insisted she didn't interrupt as he was determined not to lose his place in his rehearsed lines, the hardest thing had been not to ad lib at the end. Mikhail had mentioned, more than once, that the additions Viktor had uttered in practice had sounded more than a little desperate.

"I care about you," Hermione began, sitting up and placing both her hands on his chest, balancing to meet his eyes, a determined gleam in her face that made Viktor sit straighter. "More than I thought possible, and every time I see you those feelings grow stronger. Meeting you started a domino effect of good things happening to me, and whenever I trace the consequences back, you are always at the centre of it. You have been gentle and patient and respectful and I… I would very much like to spend the rest of this year, as much time as possible, with you. Because I… I think I could love you too, one day," she finished, her voice trailing off quietly.

Viktor reached up to hold her face between his hands as he slowly sucked on her full bottom lip to pull it out from under her teeth, moving to kiss her soundly, until he would have never guessed how cold they had both been only hours before given the heat he felt. He broke apart from her reluctantly, though more confident than he had ever been before that he would get to do so again. He bit back the teasing words that bubbled up his throat given Hermione’s dazed expression, knowing there was one more thing he should make her aware of. He was not the only one on the bench that liked to have a warning when they would be facing an unexpected situation. "There is something else," he began.

"Oh?" Hermione replied, her eyes still locked on his mouth, her cheeks were flushed and her mouth swollen; Viktor lost himself for a moment, distracted in his perusal of her until a playful shove and a peal of giggles woke him from his reverie. Hermione rolled her eyes, and he kissed the tip of her nose.

"My mother and father would like to meet you,” he explained. “They are coming for the third task."

Hermione stilled on his lap. "Well, that's… lovely, and I suppose, utterly terrifying actually," she said, her brow pinching.

Viktor laughed, "They will like you, Hermione."

"Yes?" she questioned, sitting up straight, clearly eager that she should gain their approval. Viktor had little doubt that his mother was already halfway to won over from his letters and his father had never been able to resist the company of anyone who took academic pursuits seriously. Hermione had nothing to worry about.

"Be yourself it will be fine," he reassured softly, losing interest in talk of his parents rapidly as Hermione's curls were illuminated by the setting sun behind her. This time it was Hermione who broke away, far too soon.

"Viktor?" she asked lightly, and he instantly picked up on the concerned hesitation in her tone, he pulled back from her seeking to see her face properly.


"What are we going to do?" she asked forlornly, "at the end of the year I mean," she qualified and despite her sadness, Viktor felt light. He hated to see her unhappy but the fact that she was made him feel real hope.

He nuzzled into the side of her hair, "I do not know, we will work it out, we are smart people."

Hermione smiled, "Where there is a will, there is a way," she recited melodically, and Viktor stared at her intensely.

"Would you come visit me, over the summer?" he asked urgently, acutely aware that he was going off script, and sure that he would never freely tell his friends he had asked her, they had been very specific about that particular phrase not leaving his lips.

Hermione was apparently surprised, but as she tried to force down a grin, he could help matching it. "I'll have to ask my parents but I… I would like to."

He beamed at her, this was going to work, he had no idea how yet but it was going to. As she turned her head to remark on the evening drawing in he caught sight of something in her hair, reaching forward he untangled a strange looking beetle from amongst the strands, but before he could examine it too carefully, it buzzed in his palm and then flew away.

Hermione grimaced, "I suppose I'm going to be removing all sorts from my hair for days?"

Viktor pressed his lips against her brow, "I will remove them."

Viktor was getting used to the fact that they were never really on their own so when he felt Hermione stiffen he immediately followed her line of sight to where Weasley was walking over to them. His face was impassive, but Viktor could make out the tense lines of his shoulders and bit down a sigh. Really? Now? It was one thing that the kid was incredibly rude, but he had the worst timing imaginable.

"Ron?" Hermione asked as he got nearer, her voice sounded hesitant, and her posture was rigid, but she made no move to extract himself from Viktor’s lap.

"Hi Mione," Weasley replied as he awkwardly kicked the ground several feet away from them. "I'm not here to speak to you, I want to talk to him," he said, in what Viktor imagined was his no-nonsense voice, he tried not to drop his head into his hands.

"To Viktor," she corrected firmly, and Ron nodded with a sigh.

"You should go get warm," Viktor said, moving to sit himself up, Hermione made to protest, but he leant forward. "Trust me," he breathed into her ear.

"I do," she confirmed, though she searched his face for a few moments.

"Then go get warm," he pressed, and when Hermione sagged, he knew he had carried his point. He would be sure to tell her how much he was loathed to be parted from her when there were no prying ears around. Hermione shuffled off his lap, and he felt the loss immediately. She readjusted the blanket around herself before reaching up and kissing him on the cheek. "As much time as possible," he repeated, and she nodded before reluctantly moving away.

Neither boy spoke while Hermione was still in sight, and Viktor had no intention of being the first to open his mouth, Weasley had come over, it was up to him to bring up what he wanted. He was already not the boys biggest fan and interrupting that particular moment had not increased his stock in his eyes

"You’re spending a lot of time with her," Weasley began, and Viktor nodded, it was the truth after all, they would be spending a lot more time together now, and it would be better for Weasley if he just accepted that. "I don't like it," he continued, and this time Viktor did sigh out loud.

"This will be easier if you say what it is-"

"I don't want you using her," the younger boy spat and Viktor, for the second time that day, felt close to losing control.

"You do not know me," he said deceptively quietly, the accusation had hit him deeply, offending him greatly as well as undermining his feelings for Hermione. Weasley could not have said anything that would have riled him more. "Using her? I would never," he finished, staring the boy down with a look of intense disgust.

"Really, Quidditch star what you could you possibly want with Mione?" he countered, and Viktor fought to remember why exactly it was he couldn't just put the boy to the ground.

"Probably the same thing you do, but my way is better," he retorted, and Weasley's face flushed deeply. Viktor's rage softened as his hunch was confirmed, suddenly, more than anything he felt exhausted. "I have no interest in arguing with you, makeup with friend, you have already upset her in my presence, will not allow it a second time." Without Hermione’s soothing presence he was more aware of the trials of the day, all he wanted then was to get back to his dorm and curl up in bed. Well, not entirely all he wanted. He would have loved to have Hermione snuggled in front of him, preferably wearing one of his old Quidditch jerseys but he knew better than to pine for the impossible.

"You won't allow it?" the boy questioned incredulously and Viktor crossed his arms over his chest.

"No. Hermione has enough to do, worrying about Potter and tournament and her grades. Then you and Luna and Ginny. Someone needs to look after her, and that, until further notice, is me," he walked forward and laid a hand on Weasley's shoulder. "Makeup with friend, you will regret it if you do not."

"Are you threatening me?" Weasley asked, his lips set into a thin line.

Viktor sighed, "I am trying to help you," he said before releasing him and walking away. "Not that you deserve it."

Chapter Text

Hermione ground her teeth; the tense, squelching crunch was audible even above jarring scrunch of parchment, as the news article gave way to her biting fingers. It was the twentieth such noise she had made in under ten minutes, and she could feel Ginny's glare burning into her cheek from the other side of the breakfast table. She was making a scene, but she couldn't help it. Once again Hermione had woken up, her head full of pleasant memories from the day before only to have the engaging mist of thoughts evaporate as the newest article was placed in front of her. This one wasn't even The Daily Prophet. No. Somehow her love life was now suitable fodder for Witch Weekly. Hermione remembered having read somewhere that the magazine's readership was the largest of any lifestyle publication in the British wizarding world, her stomach sank as she realised it was no doubt shipped internationally. How many people would derive an opinion on her based on this trash?

"Hermione," Ginny snapped, as she finally lost patience waiting for a reaction. She ripped the glossy pages from Hermione's fingers. "This is pretty serious stuff," she continued as her eyes glided over the page swiftly.

Hermione rolled her eyes, "This is what passes for journalism?" she responded haughtily, "let's review what actually happened last weekend shall we? First, eight children had to go into the Black Lake as part of an increasingly bizarre competition, risking hypothermia and Merlin knows what else. Second, in order for this ridiculous event to even take place there had to have been an agreement reached between the merfolk and Dumbledore to make it happen, the first of its kind in more years than we have been alive. That's the real story Ginny, cohesion between magical creatures and magical folk, not this drivel."

Ginny placed the offending magazine on the table and looked kindly at her friend. "She's accusing you of using love potions, Hermione, which I’m sure I don’t need to tell you is a crime. According to her, you are brewing them, and I quote 'to satisfy her taste for celebrity wizards', don't you think you should do something?"

"She also calls me the 'devious Miss Granger', and her primary source is Pansy Parkinson," Hermione huffed.

"Are you really not bothered by this?" Ginny asked, and Hermione shrugged.

"Not about what she's accusing me of,” and at Ginny’s incredulous look Hermione shook her curls, “not that I’m thrilled to be implicated in such things, but even for the rabble here it's a bit much to believe that I would go to such measures. But..." she paused, flexing her fingers nervously. "Viktor and I had only just spoken, and I'm not sure what he will think. He wanted me to meet his parents Ginny," she pointed to the paper, "this isn't exactly what I want them reading as background."

Hermione had told Ginny and Luna everything following her conversation with Viktor in the courtyard, having grabbed Luna on her way back to the Gryffindor common room. She had always intended telling them eventually, probably not in as much detail as she had divulged, but she had been distracted and nervous after leaving Ron and Viktor together in the frosty afternoon. Most of her words had been shared while she wore a hole into the common room carpet. Once Ron had returned, not long after, he had barely managed a hello in return to Hermione’s greeting before he skulked off to his dorm. After that Hermione had continued her disclosure at a more leisurely pace. Ginny had looked starry-eyed and Luna her regular thoughtful.

Hermione looked across the table to where Ron was sitting, half asleep and yet still managing to eat two people’s servings, as usual. Neither Ginny or Luna had much to offer on the potential confrontation between the boys, though Ron had been avoiding her since it had happened, not in his typical, angry way where he glared in her direction from whatever his vantage point, right now Ron didn't seem to wait long in a room once Hermione had entered it.

It had been much more awkward when Hermione had given a very abridged version of her conversation with Viktor to Harry. He had looked no more pleased to take part in the discussion than Hermione had been to initiate it, but he had been insistent she not keep things from him, so Hermione thought he was as obligated in it as she was. Harry had seemed incredulous that she would even consider going to Bulgaria, and looked at her as if she had suggested a day trip to the moon. 'What will your parents say?' he had pondered. Hermione wasn't letting herself think that far. She would wait to get over the hurdle of meeting Viktor’s parents first; then she would have to find a way of roping in her mother into convincing her dad it was a good idea.

Hermione’s wayward thoughts triggered a question as she poured herself some orange juice. "Come to think of it; I had only spoken to Viktor three days before."

"Yes, you said that," Ginny responded looking as if she would set the article on fire with her glower. Hermione huffed and dragged the magazine back over and skimming until she found the right place.

Witch Weekly has exclusively learned that the smitten Bulgarian Bonbon has gone so far as to invite the enterprising Miss Granger to his family home over the summer. Such infatuation is leaving the rest of the Hogwarts population stumped. Mr Krum is a highly desirable wizard, coming from an established family name and considerable wealth. Although foreign, he does have a professional Quidditch career that is only likely to gain in notoriety and fame when he goes full time at the end of next year. This reporter wonders whether such advantageous plans will last once their time together, due to the ongoing Tournament, comes to an end.

"But how did she know?" Hermione asked exasperated, not taking her eyes from the words.

"That's a good question, Hermione," Luna's tones drifted into her ear, and she jumped out of her seat, clutching a hand to her chest.

"Will you stop doing that?" she snapped without malice as she pushed aside her breakfast, she couldn't face the cold toast now.

"You are very jumpy today Hermione. That will be the Blibbering Humdingers; you should watch for those," Luna advised, sitting on the edge of the bench and pushing a teacup into Hermione's fingers.

"I'm more concerned with the interfering Skeeters at the moment," Hermione sighed, wrapping her fingers around the offered cup and finally relinquishing the article, which Ginny promptly ripped into tiny pieces.

In her desire to keep as far away from the whispering population of the school as possible, Hermione kept to the castle grounds, taking longer routes to lessons and picking up speed when she was not observed. Unfortunately, during her quest for invisibility, she forgot a crucial factor; the school's guests were based outside of the castle walls.

Hermione was rushing from the main entrance along to the greenhouses when she bumped into Mikhail, thankfully, not literally. She plastered on a weak smile at his greeting and forced herself not to fiddle with her hair or robe buttons. Hermione had been unsure about meeting Viktor's friends; she knew how close both boys were to him, and while she had hoped they wouldn't pay any attention to the article's claims, she couldn't explain how the paper knew about her being invited to his house over the summer. Hermione had been playing it over in her mind, it was precisely the sort of thing someone only interested in Viktor's fame would do, covertly tell the newspapers about their relationship, though, she mused, usually in that kind of 'kiss-and-tell' the story tended to be favourable to the person supplying the intel. Clearly not the case for her.

Hermione averted her eyes as she stood next to Mikhail’s broad form, she would have much preferred to end up in Filip's path first, if they were angry with her, the bubbly Bulgarian would have just said as much then she could have tried to persuade him otherwise. Mikhail was unlikely to be that forthcoming; he kept his cards very close to his chest. "Is everything alright?" he asked eventually and Hermione shifted her feet. Bloody perceptive Bulgarians.

"Yes, I... well, I thought you might have been angry, with me, about the article," she forced out, chancing a look at his face to find him looking down at her blankly. "In Witch Weekly," she clarified.

"Oh," Mikhail replied, still looking vaguely perplexed, "No, did not read, just saw headline."

Well, that didn’t tell her much. Hermione readjusted the bag on her shoulder and thought about running away, she wanted to, but with Mikhail in front of her, she couldn't help but ask the question that had really been bothering her.

"Has Viktor... seen it I mean?"

Mikhail regarded her thoughtfully. "Would think so; Filip has subscription. Do not ask, something about cosmetic charms being harder than people think."

Hermione felt the air leave her body in a sharp gust, she obviously understood the expression ‘deflated’ but had never felt it so literally before. So Viktor would have seen it, but what did he think? She wasn't likely to see him today, he had practice between lessons and… 

"Hermione," Mikhail's voice broke through her whirring thoughts, and she bit her lip. "You might not like what am going to say."

Hermione steeled herself, "No?"

Mikhail seemed to take in her stiff posture and his expression softened, if only slightly. "If relationship with Viktor continues, from smile when he came back to boat after task it is clear that is what he wants, you need to get used to papers saying things. They do not want him to have anyone in his life. Does not mean he will be cross with you."

Hermione nodded, feeling a little silly for doubting Viktor’s reaction. "It's just… we haven't known each other that long, and I know that maybe he might think that I betrayed a confidence…"

"He trusts you," Mikhail interjected with an air of finality. He made to move away but stopped after a couple of steps to look back at her. "Was bit about asking you to come for summer accurate?"

"Yes," she answered hesitantly, aware that Mikhail might have read more of the article than he had let on. Mikhail grinned an expression that Hermione wished she saw more of before he shook his head and eyed the ship on the lake.

"Thank you, Hermione, will see you soon."

When Hermione took her place at the Gryffindor table the next morning, it was eerily quiet in the Great Hall, so much so that she fancied she could hear the echo of her steps as she walked, as if the entire room had taken a collective gasp at her very presence. Hermione squared her shoulders, she had promised herself she would be braver today, no more taking a double length route to class and no more hiding in the library. Trying to ignore the glances in her direction Hermione reached forward and willed her fingers not to shake as she poured herself a juice and put some food on her plate. She could do this she reminded herself, she had survived worse.

Her resolve lasted until the first post arrived and she was suddenly sat under a deluge of swooping owls. Hermione watched with growing despair as envelopes of all sizes and colours formed a mountain by the side of her plate. She thought she might have a new appreciation for what it was like for Viktor on Valentine's day, well, that was until she opened them.

Hermione was an intelligent girl who had never really fit in all of her life. At her Muggle primary school, the kids weren’t outright mean to her, it was more like they sensed the ‘differentness’ about her - in the way that kids always seem able to - they excluded her, pretended she wasn’t there. Hermione, in turn, had played along in the only way she felt able, by acting as if she wasn’t hurt by it. Then she had come to a magical school only to discover that she was already something of an outcast there as well. In the face of all this, she had never shrunk away from dislike or lack of inclusion, unkindness had made her harden. She’d heard her fair share of insults, some that floated off her back and some that pierced deeper. By now, after all she had weathered, Hermione was a firm believer that words were just words, and - even when they weren’t - that you should never let anyone see how much they had hurt you. ‘Never give anyone that kind of power over you,’ her mother would say, and Hermione had clung to that advice like her own personal gospel.

Hermione opened the folded parchments with disdain, not believing for a moment that anything contained within could affect her, but she was wrong. So, so wrong.

It wasn't so much the particular phrases used, or the arguments people made, but the level of disgust, the obvious contempt she was held in that was the surprise. Some of the letters were short and to the point, advising her to end her relationship with Viktor less something unsavoury happened, sometimes described in great detail. Some were much, much longer, Hermione only skimmed those, her eyes picking out distasteful highlights. Some were pictorial, and a cursory revealing spell showed that a fair few were hexed.

When Hermione risked a glance towards the Slytherin table she realised Viktor wasn't there, she wasn't sure whether she was happy or sad about it. When she looked back around, Ginny was sat next to her, her fingers shaking with rage as she leafed through the envelopes Hermione had opened. What was she going to do with them all?

"Get rid of them," a cool voice said, and Hermione registered Fleur standing over Ginny's shoulder.

"You shouldn't read those," she continued authoritatively, "I get them a lot, banish them, burn them, whatever you do, just do not sit there and leaf through them. No one needs to read opinions from people who do not know you. It's like overhearing conversations, if a person won't say it to your face you can discount it."

Hermione nodded, grateful for a distraction from the mass of hate. "Why would people send spiteful notes to you?" she inquired.

"When you look like me you get blamed for everything," Fleur said with a sigh. "You looked at my mother's cow and it no longer gives milk... I will give you the contents of my vault for a lock of your hair… You have ruined me for other women. You know things like that."

"Things like that," Hermione parroted back without any real understanding, and she noticed Ginny's face twist as Fleur continued and gave her a little kick under the table. Her friend's behaviour towards the French student had taken a noticeable dip since the second task. ‘Really?’ she mouthed at her, and Ginny rolled her eyes.

Fleur departed with a swoosh of her hair, accompanied by some almost pained male sighs and Hermione thought she might be able to eat her breakfast now. Sadly, she was once again wrong.

"Well," Lavender loudly began from further down the table, eyeing the pieces of discarded parchment with a malicious smile. "You should have expected this to happen, Hermione, the public doesn't react well to... surprises and you going to the ball with Viktor was something of a huge... surprise. "

Hermione looked at her dormate sidelong, trying to ignore the way the girl's voice had raised into a 'sickly-sweet' tone, she knew how far those words would have carried, and wondered how much of yesterday Lavender had wasted preparing this particular speech. "As a… friend,” she continued, “I think all of these lies about him wanting to see you over summer are taking a bit far Hermione. I mean, you're going to look foolish when it all comes to nothing if I were you I..."

"Lav," Ron's voice interjected and Hermione's head whipped around to find him sitting two seats down from her. When had he got there?  "Leave it out would you, I’m trying to eat my breakfast, I could do without a commentary on Hermione’s love life, it interrupts my digestion."

“Of course Ron,” Lavender simpered. “But she…”

“Really, Lav,” Ron interrupted again, “Green isn’t your colour.”

It was as if the entire table had been frozen by a stray spell, everyone stopped moving at once, cutlery clanked against porcelain as those around them turned to look at Ron who was still tucking into his breakfast as if nothing had happened at all. "What?" He asked with slightly red cheeks when he noticed all of their attention.

Lavender looked like she might explode, but Ron cut her off. "I just don't want you to look stupid Lav," he said in a parody of her earlier words that Hermione wasn’t sure the girl was bright enough to appreciate. "Krum likes her alright; that's all there is to it."

"But she..." Lavender protested again.

"Is my friend,” Ron supplied, “so leave off."

There was no aggression in his tone; his face remained utterly impassive, but the dismissal was as obvious as the warning. When Hermione found time to ruminate later, she concluded that there was not a single person, other than Ron, at the table that morning that Lavender would have listened to. Hermione swallowed roughly as the noise died down and tried to carry on with her breakfast, though she could barely see the bowl in front of her through her swimming eyes and she resolutely ignored it when Harry, Neville and even Dean managed to good-naturedly thump Ron on the back throughout the meal.

When they finally finished and got into the hall Ron came alongside her and Harry, and Hermione managed a murmured, “Thank you,” that didn’t go anywhere near conveying her gratitude.

Ron smiled a little bashfully. "We good Mione?"

Hermione grinned, "We're good Ron."

Despite her earlier resolve being bolstered by Ginny's attentiveness, Ron's unexpected chivalry, and Fleur's advice, Hermione felt her newly supplied veneer of confidence begin to crack by the end of the day. More letters had arrived at lunch and having been anxious to shove some food down before the next lesson, Hermione had very carelessly opened one before properly checking it out and had ended up getting her fingers burnt by a viscous gel that had been placed inside. Hermione had gone along to the Hospital Wing, at Harry's insistence, which, as well as leading her to choke out an explanation to Madam Pomfrey, meant that she was late to her next class requiring her to strain to catch up with the notes, in spite of her sensitive fingers.

The corridors were nightmarish all day, reminiscent of her first year in the castle. Stares, whispers and even the occasional push had been chipping away at her, so when she sat down in her final period of the day, Hermione was at a low ebb. She had slunk into her seat next to Harry in the dungeon classroom and prayed - for maybe the first time - to get no attention at all, that hope died when Professor Snape waved his arm across the chalkboard and the day's topic appeared. Hermione hadn’t been aware her heart could sink any further till she could feel the beats in the soles of her feet. Their professor gave his lecture on the dangers of love potion abuses to the soundtrack of sniggering snakes. Hermione had had enough.

Hermione couldn't find it within herself to go to dinner, and after managing to slope off from her friends she retreated into her - thankfully empty - dorm and pulled the curtains around her bed before lifting her first pillow. There, lying almost submerged in the fluff was Dragon. Hermione picked him up as she moved under the covers, ignoring his little snort of protest.

She had felt silly asking Luna for him back, but after the article, she couldn't be bothered to hide him anymore. Maybe she should have done; perhaps when Lavender saw it there would be another story, maybe this time they would claim she had Imperiused Viktor to give him to her? Hermione settled her head down on the pillows and ran her fingers over Dragon's scales. "I had a bad day," she whispered, admitting it made a rawness she couldn't swallow down appear in her throat.

Dragon leaned into her fingers before arranging his long neck over his legs that were sprawled out in front of him, looking at her with one eye open as if willing her to continue. Hermione sighed, "I've changed my mind, let's not talk about it, let's just sleep."

Dragon crept forward to nuzzle the first tear that fell down her cheek, and made no protest when the flow eventually made a little puddle in the bedding; he only continued to rub his scales against her face, crawling under Hermione's chin when her breathing had evened out.

Viktor came in for breakfast later that week and eyed the Gryffindor table as he always did, only his gaze lingered over an empty chair, next to Ginny. Hermione had missed a few meals, and he was done pretending to ignore it. Mikhail had told him about seeing her on the grounds, and how she had seemed anxious, Viktor had wanted to speak to her but hadn't yet had a chance, the possibility diminishing with every meal she missed. He had repeatedly talked it over with his friends, and they had told him to sit tight, told him he couldn't act on her behalf, and he agreed, mostly. But as he turned away from the Gryffindor table and saw a shiny black bob sat close to his usual seat Viktor allowed that information to slip to the back of his mind.

He had been incensed when he had first read the article. His conversation with Hermione after the second task had been the collimation of several months of getting to know her, the first real someone he’d had any romantic connection with. Seeing the details splashed across the papers for all to see had made him feel sick, as well as earning him a reprimand from his friends for issuing an invitation he had promised he wouldn't, no matter how many times he reassured them he hadn't scared her off.

When Viktor reread the article a few days later, irritated by Hermione's continued no-show, he was calm enough to focus on it properly; he found a few of the sources mentioned were students in Hermione's year, all of them girls in Slytherin house and he had wanted to act, it looked like he might finally have his chance. Stepping quickly before Filip could stop him, he stood in front of the long table eying the dark-haired girl with thinly veiled disdain. "You are Miss Parkinson, yes?" He grunted out.

The girl immediately paused in what she was doing, dropping her teaspoon and making a show of licking non-existent jam from the top of her lip. "Yes, Viktor, you can call me Pansy," she responded smiling coyly.

Filip, who had apparently caught up to him, made a not particularly muffled puking sound and Viktor noticed her eyes narrowed to a spot behind him. Couldn't even keep up the pretence for a few seconds.  

"I am so happy to meet you properly, finally," she continued. Viktor shuddered, this was how he was used to being spoken to, all honeyed words and artful head tilts.

"You are same Miss Parkinson from Witch Weekly article?" he pressed, though he knew it to be the case.

"Well, yes, but you must understand the necessity of such a thing. I merely had your best interests at heart," she replied, sticking out her bottom lip in a poor imitation of a pout.

Viktor looked at her incredulously; he had no desire for this interaction to go on any longer. It made him feel even more tired. "You will stop with reporting of my girl, or I send formal letter to my father that will go to yours."

"Excuse me," Pansy snapped in a furious whisper, all semblance of the eloquent young lady long gone.

"Keep petty school rivalries where they belong… In school."

"How dare you, do you have any idea who I am, who my father is?" she barked, a faint pink smudge highlighting her cheeks.

"No, do not, but have no problem finding out." With that Viktor was done, but Filip clearly thought there may have been something lost in the translation as he stepped forward himself.

"I think English expression is do not piss him off."

After Pansy had marched off in hysterics, Viktor chased after Ginny who was leaving the hall. The redhead stopped when he called after her, offering him a small smile before raising her eyebrows in question.

"Ginny, can you get her coming to meals again?"

The small girl folded her arms over herself as she leant back against the wall. "She's not a delicate flower Viktor, don't imagine her up there weeping and feeling sorry for herself. She's just… she's had a hard time, and sometimes she likes to avoid conflict. She doesn't often let people close to her, and when she does, she doesn't like upsetting them."

"She is pretending it does not affect her," he responded shortly. He could admit, at least to himself, that he was annoyed that Hermione hadn't leaned on him over this, after all, they had spoken about she should have trusted him.

"Not really, in all honesty, I was more annoyed by what was written than she was. It was more that they had taken something private, something that belonged to her and tainted it. Well, that and I think she was worried that you might have thought she told that papers about going to your house in the summer."

Viktor started for a moment havening not even considered that Hermione would think that. He had been shocked at the detail the article had, but he had never believed that Hermione might have been the source.

"Just tell her," he implored with a sigh and turned away in hopes of finally having some breakfast.

"She's sleeping with the dragon you know?" Ginny called over her shoulder with a cheeky twist of her lips.

"Lucky dragon," Viktor muttered petulantly and made his way back into the hall.

Viktor steeled himself before dinner the next day; he had made a plan, if Hermione didn't show he was fully ready to ask Luna to get him into Gryffindor Tower, if he was going to break the rules he might as well go for broke and break a few at once. Thankfully,  for his school record if nothing else, when he walked into the hall, Hermione was sitting sandwiched between Ginny and Harry, she looked a little pale but otherwise none the worse for her voluntary confinement. Viktor was immediately aware of the hush that fell over the room, it occurred to him that it was the first time they had been seen in the same place since the article had come out. He faltered for a second, unsure if Hermione wanted to talk to him or not until she met his eyes bravely, giving him something of a weak smile. Decision made.

Viktor waited until she looked back down at her plate before he walked over to her table. "Good evening, Hermione," he breathed into her hair, and he bit back his laugh, almost totally successfully, when she jumped.

"Good Evening, Viktor," she replied falteringly as she twisted on the bench to see him properly.

"You have been sick?" he questioned lightly, knowing he was pushing but he was unprepared to let it go entirely.

"No, I..."

"Then you should come to meals; you will need all weight you can gain for when you come to Bulgaria. Do not let 'summer' fool you, only means non-life threatening weather." She smiled a little brighter at that, and he glanced over at Ginny. "Would you mind?" he asked, gesturing towards the bench.

Ginny smirked. "Not at all," she replied with a wink and jumped from her seat to move opposite. Viktor took her place. Hermione stilled as his thigh brushed against hers and he watched her surreptitiously glance around the room at the hundreds of eyes that were on them. He leaned forward and swept his lips lightly over her cheek, ignoring the gasps that echoed in the quiet.

"Everyone knows now," he whispered to her, "no need to hide it."

"No, I suppose not," Hermione muttered though her cheeks were in flame.

While they shared a smile, Filip barged in from behind. "Budge up, Budge up," he called cheerfully before dragging his leg over the bench almost sitting on top of Hermione on her other side, pushing an unimpressed Harry into Ron.

"Will you be careful?" the dark-haired boy snapped apparently not in the mood for high jinks.

"Sorry, sorry," Filip called back, not sounding vaguely apologetic as he sat properly on the bench, pushing Hermione more snugly against Viktor's side. Lavender stopped all movement as the Durmstrang boys settled at the table, with her spoon on the way to her mouth, her eyes bulging but Filip, as usual, was blind to anyone else's feelings. "So, Hermione," he turned to her with a warm smile, "how do you keep up with two men, school work, and find time to brew illegal love potions? You must be busier than ever. Do you have schedule for time with them too? Is it colour coded? Can I see it?"

Viktor buried his head in his hands.

Luna suddenly made her appearance, dropping down to sit next to Mikhail, who had gained his seat with far less commotion. Viktor watched his friends face heat slightly as the blonde appeared and filed it away to bring up later. "Luna, what are you doing here?" Hermione asked as she reached for extra plates to hand to all the newly appeared diners.

"What?" Luna asked apparently confused, looking at the Durmstrang boys thoughtfully, "I thought we could all sit anywhere now."

When the menagerie at the table finally got down to eating Viktor turned to Hermione and pinched her side. "Feeling better?" he inquired softly.

"Much," she immediately replied before reaching to refill her pumpkin juice. Viktor battered her hand away to lift the jug for her.

"Don't do that again," he muttered. It wasn't a command; he would never take that kind of autocratic tone with Hermione, with anyone, but he wanted to make a point, Ginny's words about her avoiding conflict had resonated with him.

"I won't," Hermione promised before she thanked him for the juice.

Viktor nodded, "I heard you were sleeping with Fireball," he teased and didn't miss her eyes shoot up to Ginny accusingly; the redhead didn't look the least bit intimidated and met Hermione’s expression with a grin. "To be clear,” Viktor continued with mock sternness, “he is not invited to Bulgaria."

"And why is that Mr Krum?" Hermione asked her voice one of polite inquiry.

"Because after this year I am looking forward to having you to myself, not having to share, especially with one that has scales."

Their playful conversation continued, and Viktor was happy to put the stress of the last week behind them. It wouldn't be the last time something like this would happen, he was hopeful that in the future Hermione would feel more able to talk to him about it. He had his own worries about how involving her in his life would drag her into the public eye, in ways she would not enjoy, but he couldn't do anything about that, apart from making their time together worth the inevitable intrusion.

When Viktor returned to the ship that evening he felt like things had gone as well as possible. They had chatted to a few people on the table; Filip had managed not to offend anyone too drastically, and he had spent a bit of time with Hermione. He had also managed to quietly tell her about what he had said to Pansy. She wasn't overly happy with his approach, though her fire had melted when he kissed the end of her nose mid-rant. Viktor was somewhat surprised by his own behaviour, it wasn't in his nature to be overly affectionate, at least not publicly, but he had sat with his hand curled around Hermione’s hip deliberately, and possessively. He was making a statement with his nearness, and he hoped it would be heeded.

As he walked down a dark corridor within the bowels of the ship he heard a metallic crash behind him, it wasn't unusual for things to get disturbed while the ship was moored at sea, as the current bumped it around, but in the still waters of the lake, it was… odd. He doubled back to see the door of the headmaster's study slightly ajar. After a moment's hesitation, he pushed it open further. "Is everything okay sir?"

There was no response, all was now silent. Viktor considered that it was probably best to leave well enough alone, but he couldn’t ignore the gnawing feeling in his gut, he gently pushed the door further open and took a few tentative steps inside the room. The usually neatly ordered office was in chaos and standing in the middle of it all was Karkaroff, stripped down to just his white shirt, his collar and cuffs unbuttoned. Viktor was not sure he had ever seen him in so little clothing, he looked lighter, and it wasn't just because he was no longer wearing furs, his shirt, that would have usually fit against his skin, was billowing around his ribs. Sweat lined his brow and the top of his lip; his whole chest seemed to pulsate as he panted heavily.

"Viktor," he acknowledged casually, his voice weirdly hollow.

"Sir, is everything ok?" Viktor repeated, uncertain what else to say. He knew enough of his headmaster not to mention the state he was in, though he had never seen him in such a way before.

"It's fine, of course, it's fine," Karkaroff answered dismissively, running his fingers through his long hair.

It only occurred to Viktor how drunk Karkaroff must have been when he noticed that the glass on the floor came from Firewhisky bottles, but there was no liquid. The headmaster didn't slur or shuffle, but as he moved closer, his theory was confirmed by the smell on the man’s breath, if the way it stung Viktor's eyes was any indication he was more than marginally inebriated.

Karkaroff fell back into his seat and looked up at Viktor, his eyes unsettlingly vacant. "Tell me, Viktor, are you confident in every decision you have made in your short life thus far?"

Viktor started at the unexpected question though his answer was resolute."Yes."

Karkaroff nodded. "At your age so was I. Hindsight is at once a glorious thing and a curse, make sure you do nothing that you will live to regret later in life."

Viktor nodded, standing motionless in the doorway not sure if he was needed or not. Several long minutes later the headmaster seemed to remember he was there again and shouted at him, his tone much more familiar, instructing him 'to go and be idle elsewhere'. Viktor didn't wait to be asked twice, though, as he walked away, he knew without question that something was very, very wrong.

Chapter Text

Blissful contentment positively radiated from the Gryffindor table by Saturday morning. The latest in what had become a string of sensational news articles weren't exactly forgotten, but the student's preoccupation with them had given way to the more typical pastimes of Quidditch chat, school work groans and awkward flirting. Hermione, having never really been part of those discussions, was locked in conversation with Harry. Following the last minute nature of his solution for a dip in the Black Lake, he seemed to be taking preparations for the final task much more seriously. While fighting the dragon had been a fate more terrifying than most fourteen-year-olds could imagine, Hermione knew her friend; the competition had become meaningful to him the moment herself and Ron had been placed at the bottom of the lake. You could put Harry in as much personal danger as you liked and he wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Other people’s safety, however, did not sit well on his conscience. While Harry ran through a list of potential obstacles he could face, Hermione was making a rough list of texts they should start to go through. So engaged were they in the various pockets of discussion, the merry band of teenagers were oblivious to the goings-on around them, until the owl post arrived.

Though the school had moved on from Hermione's 'devious' ways to a certain extent, the same could not have been said for the general public. Unfortunately, it appeared that her mother's much-loved expression 'tomorrow's fish and chip paper' didn't quite hold water when the parchment in question contained not one but two of the wizarding world's most famous names aligning themselves with a Muggle-born. Stacks of envelopes had been coming in thick and fast every mealtime, and while their number might have been waning, the vitriol they contained hadn’t ebbed in the slightest.

Hermione, sticking to the advice she had been given by Fleur, had been getting rid of the piles, but she didn't miss the concerned faces of her friends or the knot of crimson on the far side of the hall. When her repeated assurances that she was fine hadn’t worked, she had turned to the girls for a more convincing, and permanent, solution.

As soon as the first parchment rectangle fell next to her plate - the light thud marking the first note of the oncoming downpour - Hermione got to her feet, her action mirrored by Ginny, by prior arrangement. "Attention!" the redhead called down their table, tapping the straight edge of her knife against her goblet until most of the bleary-eyed students shifted to look at her. "This morning we thought we would have a spot of friendly competition," Ginny said, lifting one of the letters from the growing pile and waving it in the air. "The aim is destruction, most impressive wins."

On cue, Hermione and Ginny both took a step back, levitating an envelope between them and inviting Harry to have the first go. He had blinked several times before a faint smile crossed his face, and he arched his wand arm before whipping it through the air with everything he had, impressively striking the parchment directly on the seal and scorching it till only dust remained. Muted clapping spattered around them until Harry shouted an indignant 'Oi' to be met with much more enthusiastic laughter.

Successfully having woken the students, most stood from the table to eagerly wait their turn. The Weasley twins hit one envelope in tandem with two different spells, the resulting bang making the parchment swell like a crinkly, beige balloon before deflating with a belching sound that made Hermione tut. As the competition continued, arguments broke out over who had done the best so far, and even a few of the nearby Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws had a go.

When Ginny had laid out her idea the evening before, Hermione had been worried the professors would have an issue with such a ruckus at breakfast, but anytime she risked a glance at the top table all of their faces were curiously averted, as if they couldn't see what was happening at all.

Eventually, Seamus won, a pronouncement met by groans around the Gryffindor table, much to his indignation. He was a deserving winner, though Hermione was confident there would be spirited debate for some time as to whether his firework-laden explosion had been his intent or a happy accident.

The point made, Hermione retook her seat, and smiled at the now empty table next to her before she resumed her breakfast, slightly jogging when Harry bumped shoulders with her. Should Professor McGonagall have taken exception to the display, it would have been worth a detention to assure her friend she was okay and judging by his happy, relaxed expression, Harry at least, was convinced. Elated, Hermione turned towards the Slytherin table, hoping to see a similar effect, but the faces she was looking for were already heading towards the door. Meeting his gaze, she shared a quick smile with Viktor and debated whether or not to call him over. After his very public display of affection Hermione was feeling less unsure, but before she could resolve herself, Harry beat her to it.

"Hey, Viktor!" he shouted, halting the older boys progression. Hermione raised an eyebrow, and Harry leant back to speak so they would not be overheard. "Hermione, if he's going to be… you know? Around … I'm going to have to find a way to get through a conversation with the bloke without stammering."

Hermione gave Harry’s arm a squeeze as Viktor and his friends reached them, and they exchanged polite greetings. "Fancy a game of Quidditch?" Harry asked, and Hermione had to stifle a smile, no longer positive that Harry's only motivation was getting to know Viktor better, not that it dimmed the gratitude or pride she felt in the slightest.

The conversation continued as the little group drifted towards the doors and Hermione wrapped her arms around herself happily as Ron joined them. He had stood awkwardly apart from them for a few seconds until Harry introduced him as a Chudley Cannons fan. A spirited discussion began after Mikhail said something in response that no one present needed to understand Bulgarian to conclude was derogatory.

They had only just made it out onto the grounds when the sound of pacing feet echoed behind them. Cedric caught up with a huge smile on his face, completely distracting anyone from his panting breath. "That offer stand for us too, Potter?" he asked excitedly.

Harry almost entirely suppressed a wince when he registered Cho was standing next to the Hufflepuff champion. "Yeah, sure," he answered limply, his shoulders slumped. But if he noticed Harry’s lack of enthusiasm, Cedric didn't comment; his gaze had fallen back to Hermione who had intentionally dropped to the back of the group with Luna.

"You forming the cheer squad Granger?" he asked teasingly, causing Filip to whip his head around with an expression of unbridled delight, apparently entirely missing the heavily ingrained sarcasm in Cedric's tone.

Out on the pitch, Luna and Hermione lounged entirely unathletically in the almost empty stands, grateful that the spring air had given way to the first hints of summer as they watched the play absentmindedly. Every now and again Luna would slip into 'commentary mode' to make Hermione laugh, an endeavour that was always successful. Hermione busied herself transfiguring flowers out of the blades of grass she had collected on the way over, fixing them haphazardly into Luna's hair. Hermione occasionally watched the mishmash group of students as they hurtled around, playing what seemed like a very casual game. She could spot Ginny easily, a trail of red hair behind her as she danced around with the Quaffle earning repeated shouts of ‘foul’ and ‘not fair’ which sounded very much like they came from Ron. Harry had a wide beam on his face; and it made Hermione’s heart happy to see him like that, in truth, it was one of the only reasons she came to matches at all, though not without customary protest. Her friends never looked more like the children that they should have been than when they were in the air. Though Hermione fought hard to keep her eyes securely on their faces, whenever she looked down and processed what they were doing it made her feel sick.

After an hour or two of exhausting themselves, a few players fluttered to the ground, seeing that one was Viktor, Hermione stood from her seat, charming Luna's floral crown to stay in place and headed to the bottom of the stands. As much as Hermione would have liked to wait out a little while longer, she did need to get to the library, but she was determined not to go without speaking to Viktor first. Who knew when she would get a chance to talk to him again?

Viktor was hovering just above the ground on his broom, a small distance from the cluster of students. When he spotted her, he sped in her direction in a way that made Hermione’s stomach flip, though whether from the potential for accidents or his presence she wasn't sure. When Viktor got to her side he dismounted the broom he was riding languidly, not dropping it to the floor as she had expected, but holding it to his side. At first, Hermione felt a little put out that he seemed intent on returning to the game so quickly but as he stood back his real intention became apparent, and it was so much worse. Viktor tilted his head towards the floating twig, a small smile forming on his lips and Hermione took a step back.

"Have go," he said lightly, his words in no way a question, though not a command either. It was like he could not have expected her to have anything other than a positive response.

"No," Hermione snapped and the severity of her tone shocked even her, when coupled with the vast step back she took her message was clear. Viktor's brow creased a little.

"Why?" he asked, thoroughly perplexed.

Hermione felt heat flood into her cheeks. "There are a lot of people here."

Viktor spun his neck around, looking back up at the students who were happily engaged in the continuing game. "They not paying attention to you."

"I… I'm not good at it," she admitted quietly, her arms coming up to wrap around herself defensively.

His head tilted to the side. "Hermione, do you only do things you good at?" his tone was teasing, but she bristled all the same.

"That's not what the problem is," she answered shortly.

Viktor brushed a hand through his short hair and took a step forward.  "Harry said you are scared, I will make sure you safe," he protested, and Hermione shook her head.

"I don't want to," she said with finality and Viktor's expression softened, he nodded dropping his broom to the ground, and Hermione felt her shoulders sag in relief. A moment later she was pressed firmly against his warm chest, and Viktor's chin rested on top of her hair.

Her first instinct was to push him off her, but she knew that was childish. Instead, she released a few steady breaths until she felt herself calm down. "It makes me feel... out of control," she admitted against his jumper, the words were easier to share now she wasn't looking directly at him.

"Okay, but…"

"I don't like feeling out of control," she interjected, wanting to return to the castle and get as far away as possible from the conversation.

"Would like you to try," Viktor uttered softly, and Hermione stiffened. Why wouldn't he just drop it? Harry would have dropped it by now. 

"I don't want to," she repeated, her ire rising.

"Understand," Viktor murmured brushing a curl behind her ear. "But saw you watching, you shut your eyes if we went fast or reached for the ball. Maybe if you try it, you won't be so worried."

"Or, I could carry on not liking it," she muttered petulantly.

Viktor sighed above her. "Then you will not watch me play?" he asked quietly, and Hermione sighed right back.

"I watch Harry all the time," she replied, her mouth was set into a firm line, the logic behind his words was seeping in, something she found wholly unwelcome. She wasn't used to being pushed on things, and she wasn't sure it was something she would like repeated. In any case, she needed time to cool off, to think.

"Not today," he said finally, before reaching down to grip her chin. "Don't be mad at me."

"I'm not mad," she said, totally unconvincingly, and he raised an eyebrow at her. "Fine, I was mad, now I’m just-"

“Grumpy,” Viktor supplied, and Hermione pushed his arm causing him to laugh and grip her tighter.

For the first time in over a week, the prospect of the post was a much happier one for Hermione as she watched Harry open his Easter egg from Mrs Weasley with childlike abandon. It was at moments like this that she was reminded of how difficult his life had been before, or still was when he returned to the Dursleys. His face betrayed how many things he had been deprived of, as his eyes widened when they beheld the huge dark chocolate egg.

Hermione tore into her own package with glee. Growing up as the only child of two dentists had meant very few treats in her upbringing, and while she agreed, on the whole, with her parent's scriptures, she couldn't help but delight in the Weasley matriarch’s more casual attitude to occasional indulgences.

The shiny red paper made a delightful crunch as Hermione ripped the last part open but when she did her broad smile fell away, replaced quickly with a confused frown. There, amongst the silver inside of the paper was an Easter egg no bigger than a snitch, one that looked like it may have been dropped on one side.

"You don't think…" Harry began, his head tilted to the side regarding the egg with a pinched expression.

Ginny grimaced, "I think my mum might still have that subscription to Witch Weekly."

Hermione wondered whether her internal emotional turmoil would be better served by stuffing the entire thing in her mouth, or in the bin.


From his own place in the hall, Viktor was equally distracted by the post. Amongst his usual notes, there was a large, thick envelope that landed next to his cup with a satisfying donk. He picked it up reverentially, unfurling the parchment contained within and running his fingers slowly over the embossed shield for Vastra Vultures on the top right corner as he felt a smile tug at his lips. They had accepted. Of course, the letter was only a formality, they had made an offer for him after all, but to hold the proof felt incredible. All the time that he had put in, all the sacrifices he had made, it was all entirely worth it.

He wanted to celebrate.

His eyes were drawn to Hermione, watching her as she held a small, battered, chocolate egg aloft. It seemed like an odd thing for her to have received as part of the usual deluge. He wanted to go over, but he wouldn't have time to talk properly before classes. It would have to be after dinner he resolved unhappily. He wanted to go flying, but it didn't seem like the best suggestion. Though they had been fine since their little argument on the pitch he had been shocked by the vehemence of Hermione’s reaction, he understood there was a bit more to it than a fear of heights. He had only wanted her to hover over the ground with him for a short time; he wouldn't have even let go. His mind had screamed at him to drop it, but that wasn't exactly realistic. They weren't always going to agree, and if they were to continue this they wouldn't always be together, it was foolish to think they couldn't avoid any level of conflict indefinitely. Though Viktor was certain, he never wanted her to look at him like that again.

Viktor managed to chase down Hermione before she entered dinner, and he was pleased that their disagreement wasn't affecting her as she smiled at him and asked about his day. When he slipped the envelope he had been carrying around since breakfast into her fingers she raised her eyes curiously, but dutiful opened it, her face brightening when she saw what it contained. His face matched hers as Hermione waxed lyrical for a good five minutes about his wish being fulfilled. She reached forward and gripped his arm as she carried on and Viktor felt the warmth spread up from her touch. "What are you doing now?" she asked finally, handing the envelope back.

"Want to celebrate," Viktor declared, securing his fingers with hers to make it clear that was why he had sought her out.

"How? We could go down to the kitchens? I'm not sure they will help me, but I could get Luna…."

"You come running with me," he said, squeezing her hand.

Hermione stilled, "No... no," she replied, with a little shake of her head, but the intensity was nowhere near what she had for flying, so Viktor pressed on.

"That is what I want to do."

"That sounds... wonderful, but I have to… to study."

"No, you don't, you wanted to go to the kitchens."

Hermione sagged, "What is this sudden want for exercise?"

Viktor smirked as she gave up the pretence so quickly. "Exercise is distraction. You need distraction, I like it. Want to spend time with you, so we go running."

Hermione looked at him appraisingly for a moment, her eyes narrowing as she contemplated his face. "You want to go flying," she deduced, looking up at him a little sadly.

Viktor sighed, "Yes, but ground means you are there."

Hermione bit her lip and Viktor ran his thumb over her palm. "Yes," she said finally.


Hermione nodded, but he wasn't convinced.

As much as Viktor may have wanted to celebrate as soon as possible, it was the next weekend before he was stood outside the main castle doors waiting for Hermione to join him for their run. It was a lot more comfortable in his Durmstrang training kit now that the cold air had all but dissipated and considering the early hour the grounds were relatively bright. Viktor didn't mind getting up early, and he knew from seeing her at breakfast often enough that Hermione herself was an early riser, though he did feel guilty for getting her out of bed at such an hour. Especially to do something she apparently took no pleasure in. Though not remorseful enough to change his plan. He had tracked courses around the grounds often enough during his time there to know that even a half an hour later and they would have no chance of getting around the loop he had planned for them unobserved.

Finally, the main door opened a crack, and Hermione slipped out, her eyes still a little sleep filled. She had pulled her wild hair back into a messy braid, and although Viktor knew it was practical he couldn't help feeling slightly short-changed, he loved her hair. Part of his desire to see her on a broom so much stemmed from wanting to know what it would look like as it flew through the air. She was wearing a Gryffindor house Quidditch jersey, and when he rose his eyes at the 'WEASLEY' printed on the back, she scoffed at him. "Ginny," she quipped.

"Did not say anything," he protested with his hands up in front of himself defensively.

Hermione rolled her eyes, as she stepped forward to take her place, stretching alongside him, he noticed her trousers, the likes of which he had never seen before. "What are those?" he asked pointing down at the black fabric that seemed painted onto her slim legs.

"Yoga pants," Hermione answered, bending over to touch her toes and Viktor couldn't help the muttered curse that fell from his lips.

"What are they for?" he asked in a slightly strangled tone, suddenly wishing that the air was much colder, possibly even Baltic.

"Well, Yoga" she answered dismissively before she seemed to wake up a little more and shook herself. "Sorry, I forget sometimes," she said with pink cheeks. "Yoga is a Muggle exercise that involves a lot of stretching; the material has a stretchy fabric so that it moves with the body."

Viktor wasn't able to formulate a response as Hermione moved into another unusual position, too busy ruminating on how often he had heard it said that Muggles had no sense of invention, based on the 'trousers' Hermione was currently sporting nothing had ever been further from the truth. It was no longer such a wonder there were so very many of them if this was what was considered as standard apparel.

"You show me?" he asked finally and Hermione straightened up to show him something she referred to as a beginners move called the 'sun salutation'.

"Yoga and Pilates are both exercise forms that are good for strength building; I'm not very good at cardio, but I can do these."

Despite his initial scepticism a couple of moves later Viktor was beginning to enjoy it, and not just that, he could feel the way the muscles in his back were being pulled out. He would have to revisit this, but after ten minutes of wobbling to the point of nearly toppling over he felt the need to redeem himself in Hermione's eyes and so, despite her adorable reluctance, they took off.

Viktor deliberately kept his pace slower, though not so slow that he would look like he was patronising her, he had seen enough of her narrowed eyes of late to know Hermione would not take kindly to that. As she began to lag behind, Viktor turned to offer her some soft encouragement, but the glare she fixed on him was enough to tell him to turn back around and mind his business.

As they turned past the lake, passed the spot in which he had seen her working all those months before, he hung back to run alongside her and took in her pink cheeks with a warm smile. "You happier than last time I asked you to do something?" he prodded gently, wanting to try and make light of their strained conversation before.

"I do prefer to do things while safely on the ground," Hermione responded tightly. "But I still hate this," she finished, and Viktor laughed, his chortles disrupted by a swift punch to his side.

"Don't laugh at me, it's not fair," Hermione panted, "I can barely breathe… let alone talk… I don't run, I can never go fast enough."

Viktor looked at Hermione properly and realised she was getting breathless; they were not even halfway, and he was likely to get another shove if he slowed his pace down again. After a moment of indecision, he swept close to her and in one seamless movement lifted Hermione over his shoulder. "What… Viktor? Put me down!" she screeched, and Viktor accelerated his pace.

"See you move fast!" he called as he ran.

"Viktor," she warned.

"Hermione," he answered teasingly and though she huffed she stopped wriggling, and he indulged in a smile he knew she couldn't see. "I like running, pace was too easy for me, pace was too hard for you, wanted to spend time together, solves all our problems."

He was sure he heard muffled laughter against the back of his shirt. "So," he ventured once he felt Hermione's resignation, "tell me about small ball in the post."

The events of the previous week had made most of the Gryffindors a good deal more anxious about the post, so when a package arrived - that required two large owls to carry it - was dropped in front of Hermione, the table was decidedly tense. Feeling a new resolve, or at least adequately faking it, Hermione reached forward and unwrapped the parchment, unveiling the biggest Easter egg she had ever seen. It must have been the same size as the average toddler and was weighed down by a thick layer of brightly coloured encrusted chocolates. She would have been totally dumbfounded, possibly would have even considered it an elaborate prank, if its arrival had not been followed by two more similar packages being placed in front of Ginny and Luna.

"Would have been bigger, but told my mother about your parents, she thinks this is concession."

Hermione swivelled on the bench to greet Viktor who was standing behind her, having just entered the hall. "Viktor it's almost the same size as me," she protested, rewrapping the egg that had fallen under Ron's lustful gaze.

"You are exaggerating," Viktor tutted with a warm smile before heading to his table.

Hermione looked back at the egg in wonder. "Not by that much."

While the stolen moments with Hermione hinted at a potential future after he left the castle, Viktor's mind never strayed far from the reason he was there in the first place. He had been in competitions since before he could remember and a fiercely combative spirit was part of who he was. He spent the hours outside of lessons studying and making lists for what was to come. Karkaroff, in stark contrast to his behaviour at the start of the year, barely checked up on him outside of sporadic pointed enquiries. The change was unsettling. At first, Viktor suspected the words himself and the headmaster had had on his choice of associations had caused the stilting of their discourse but the more he watched, the more it was clear that Karkaroff was withdrawing into himself. Viktor doubted that those from the other schools would notice, Igor wasn't exactly known for his verboseness. For the students of Durmstrang, however, it was evident something was wrong.

A month before the final task, Viktor received his next instruction, and alongside his silent headmaster, they made their way to the Quidditch pitch. The quiet duo walked up to Harry and Cedric, who was already present and in a state of obvious dismay, why quickly became evident as Dumbledore continued his explanation that the ground had been planted with hedges. Viktor's eyes scanned the newly formed pattern, noting the lack of symmetry or standard shape. A maze his brain supplied, but no, it was to be something more challenging than that.

"A labyrinth," Dumbledore declared, his eyes twinkling in the fading light. "The Triwizard Cup will be located at the very centre, those of you that have more points at this stage in the competition will have a time advantage. Once inside the thick walls, you will have to navigate your way past a series of obstacles."

Viktor began mentally amending the list he had on his bedside table as potential ideas for what they would be facing were discussed.

"There won't be anything… lethal… will there?" Potter asked, and Viktor turned to face him, noting the dark expressions of the other two champions.

"Harry…" Fleur faltered, "practice okay?" She said finally before disappearing off with the looming figure of Madame Maxime.

As the others began to disperse, Viktor's eyes tracked the path Karkaroff took as he walked back towards the ship. The headmaster hadn’t given him so much as a by or leave and certainly hadn’t seemed to notice that Viktor wasn’t following him. As concern had been growing steadily over the last few weeks, his eyes darted around the emptying clearing and took his opportunity. "Potter," Viktor asked quietly, "can I speak to you for a moment?"

Ludo Bagman, who had been hanging around fidgeting looked on dismayed as Potter happily agreed, and Viktor steered the younger boy away from the sycophantic former player. Only once he was sure they were out of earshot did he risk saying more. "I need favour," he requested, and Potter looked up at him surprised.

"From me? It's not about the competition, is it? I mean…"

Viktor shook his head gravely, "It's about Hermione."

Harry straightened, showing some of the grit that Viktor had learned the young boy had within him. "What about her?"

"Keep Hermione away from Karkaroff."

"Why would you ask me to do that?"

Viktor was about to respond when a rustling sound caught their attention, as they turned towards the tree line of the Forbidden Forest, Mr Crouch from the British Ministry entered the clearing, mumbling animatedly to himself and repeatedly looking over his shoulder. The man looked a far cry from when Viktor had met him before. He had been almost obsessively neat when he had commanded they chose their dragons ahead of the first task, officious and a little cold. This man was dishevelled, confused and overwrought.

"Mr Crouch?" Potter asked, stepping forward and the man turned. His gait was laboured, his clothing worn, as he got closer, they could make out a few words, but they didn't make any sense.

The hairs on the back of Viktor’s neck prickled, something was wrong, he didn’t know what but he felt unsettled. "Potter," Viktor said, breaking the boy's gaze from the man in front of them, "go get someone."

The boy nodded his head slowly, and Viktor stepped towards Mr Crouch, encouraging him to sit down.

"It's… didn't believe it, it's my fault… told my wife I would, but he… remain unseen, don't move…. Now it's all… what will they think of me…"

His babbling continued, and Viktor pressed a hand on his shoulder, once again encouraging him to sit down. Something about that physical contact must have dragged Mr Crouch from wherever he had gone in his mind for as soon as Viktor’s fingers connected with him, Mr Crouch grabbed the front of his robes and opened his mouth, his eyes widened as if in fear as he clutched desperately. But Viktor never got the chance to hear what he might have said, as he moved forward, poised to listen to whatever urgent thing Mr Crouch wanted to import he felt a whipping lash against his back. His mind had only just dimly registered that he had been cursed when his legs crumpled underneath him before he slipped into unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

Viktor groaned as he returned to consciousness, and blinked as he attempted to move his sore frame. As he took his first tentative movements, he slowly became aware of the pressure on his back. How did I end up on the ground?  The danger of his situation began to creep into his understanding, his arm darted for his wand but the sudden movement made the back of his head pound, and his hand automatically redirected to his throbbing scalp. Viktor moved his fingers over his hairline until he found a wet patch, the consistency of which he was sure was thicker than mere dew from the ground. He couldn't quite make out a clear image of his fingers as he held them in front of his eyes. Surely he wasn't holding six?  But in spite of the blurring, he could make out the distinct spattering of red. He tried to move again, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him.

"Er… I'm not sure you should be getting up," a hesitant voice said.

"Potter?" Viktor queried groggily, and a quick affirmative was made.

"What happened?" Potter asked, and Viktor closed his eyes trying to order the scramble of thoughts. What had happened?  He remembered Mr Crouch, his babbling incoherence, the sudden surety in his eyes and a crunching sound. He didn’t have much to go on, and then… nothing.

"Was hit in back," he replied. It wasn't a problematic deduction to make; his body was aching, though that was probably more from the rough impact with the ground than the severity of curse. Viktor couldn't detect any other injuries, not yet anyway.

"I thought that might have happened," Potter responded lightly, and Viktor once again stretched for his wand. With Potter close and seemingly calm he felt safe enough to continue laying down, at least until his head stopped spinning, but he felt better once he was armed.

"What happened to Crouch?" Potter questioned, and Viktor tensed.

"Why?" he asked, and Potter exhaled roughly.

"He's not here; it was only you when we got back."

Potter's words floated over to Viktor as he tried to concentrate on getting up. The fact that the man was gone changed everything, there would be questions and Viktor would far prefer to be upright when he was giving a statement. The younger boy helped him as he got to his feet, not another word exchanged between them and in the quiet other noises began floating over, Viktor could make out the distant sound of an irate Karkaroff. When had he gotten back?

"This is beyond an insult Dumbledore, and I will not stand for it." His headmaster was seething, and the familiar tone automatically made Viktor straighten against the substantial protests of his body.

"... now, Igor, there is no proof that anything untoward happened to Viktor," Dumbledore's much more passive tones said in reply. "Until he wakes up we will not have the full picture. It may simply be a case of self-defence gone wrong..."

Viktor tuned out the rest of the words and took his arm away from around Potter, who had been supporting a little of his weight, somewhat successfully given their relative builds. They were a way off from the cluster of teachers, and they hadn’t noticed his return to consciousness immediately.

"Ah, Mr Krum," Dumbledore said as he turned to regard him, "please, if you would be so kind, could you explain what happened here?"

"Dah…" Viktor began as his hand came up to connect with the back of his head, he looked over to his own headmaster, seeking permission to speak, but Dumbledore misread his hesitation.

"Now Mr Krum, we are all friends here, anything you may have… we understand there were extreme circumstances and we just want to get to the bottom of it."

Viktor regarded the old wizard almost blankly, his mind replaying Karkaroff's words from the start of the visit, how he had expected them to get hassle, to be labelled as dark wizards. He boxed up the feeling after a moment and falteringly relayed what he could, which wasn't much. He barely got through it before Professor Moody, the one the students called 'Mad-Eye', ambled forward and questioned him, doubt and accusation leaking from his tone. Viktor felt his fire rising, and made to take a step forward, only to have an arm collide with his chest and push him back. Karkaroff marched ahead in an impressive billow of robes till he was standing in front of the Defence teacher and Dumbledore, meeting their eyes disdainfully before spitting on the ground at their feet. When he looked back up his eyes were wild and his tone was venomous.

"Maybe people should start looking in your direction Albus, two Hogwarts Champions in the tournament and now my boy is attacked. What do you have in store for the little French girl hmm? Surely you won't be able to convince people that she is dark? No, you might have to work a little harder there."

As Viktor was stood still in shock from Karkaroff's speech a number of things happened at once, Dumbledore didn't reply but the gamekeeper, Hagrid, suddenly leapt forward, grabbed Karkaroff - who for the first time in Viktor's memory looked small - and smashed him against a nearby tree, holding him in a cruel grip around his throat. Viktor instinctively ran to his headmaster’s defence, dimly aware that Potter was at his side just as Hagrid was commanded to drop him.

"Mr Krum," Dumbledore pressed, "perhaps you can..."

"Not a word," Karkaroff interrupted almost breathlessly, rubbing at the bruises already forming on his neck and glaring at the unrepentant gamekeeper. Viktor nodded.

"You will hear back from him in the morning, Dumbledore, when will relay his information," Karkaroff decreed and straightened his robes.

"Igor, I really think you're over-reacting if we could just go to my office…."

"No," he interrupted fiercely still pointedly rubbing his neck before he turned towards the ship. "Come, Viktor."

Viktor turned to Potter, knowing his time was short and frankly not wanting to stay around much longer. "I am sure Hermione will have heard about this by morning, assure her that I am alright."

"Of course," Potter replied. "Are you though? Alright, I mean?"

Viktor knew he had a significant bump on the back of his head and he was feeling pretty nauseous. More than anything he just wanted to lie down in a warm bed. He knew from various Quidditch injuries obtained over the years that he should probably keep himself awake for a while, which was going to be a Herculean task given how heavy his eyelids already felt. "I am fine," he confirmed.

"Maybe you should go to the hospital wing?" Potter tried.

"I think I would prefer to be on the ship right now," Viktor replied honestly. The castle in the distance, that had looked so warm and inviting when they had first emerged all those months ago suddenly looked foreboding.

"Viktor!" he heard in the distance, and he shot a quick shrug to Potter before rushing to catch up with his headmaster.

Karkaroff muttered bad-temperedly the entire way back to the ship, things about Dumbledore, about England, about phoenixes and darkness and Viktor, Viktor kept quiet. Even the odd question that was spewed out amongst the rage-filled rhetoric was clearly not meant to be answered, he focused his gaze on the highly polished surface of his shoes and tried to keep up.

Karkaroff's anger was a relief in a way; it was the most animated he had seen the man in months. Though Viktor knew he would be less reassured if the vitriol peppering the darkening sky were directed at him.

When they were finally back inside the safe confines of the ship, Viktor followed in silence as the headmaster stomped towards his study. Viktor expected to be dismissed but instead, Karkaroff shepherded him inside, indicating he should sit on the chair facing his desk before standing over him, looking at the back of his head and muttering a few charms.

Viktor again expected to be dismissed after the perfunctory healing, but again he wasn't. Karkaroff made his way around the office and poured two generous measures of firewhisky pushing one over the desk in front of him. Viktor eyed the glass hesitantly, firstly because of the headmaster’s bizarre mood, and secondly, as he wasn't sure hard alcohol was the best thing after blacking out, he was certain his mother would disapprove.

"One won't kill you," Karkaroff bit out, though he didn't sound mad anymore. The headmaster drained his glass in one gulp and stretched over to refill it. "I could do without drinking alone."

Viktor dutifully picked up his drink but he only sipped at the harsh liquid, having been in training as long as he had, he had never built up much of a liking for the acquired taste, or any tolerance for the heady contents. Fearing a refill that Karkaroff seemed to be doling out to himself with gusto, Viktor held the glass in his fingers, off the table, satisfied to nurse it until he was dismissed.

"What happened tonight, will happen again, and again, and again," Karkaroff said, sounding older than he ever had before. "You will be assessed based on where you come from, who your family and friends are, where you went to school, the list will go on and on."

Unlike the walk back, when he had known to hold his tongue, Viktor was now unsure of his expected role in the conversation, so he sat back and watched the headmaster as he ran a hand over his face.

"One day you will have to make a choice… when I was your age… well, a lot of things happened… but ultimately I chose to spite them."

“Them?” Viktor asked tentatively, and a wicked gleam sparked in Karkaroff’s eyes.

“Them, all of them,” he all but spat. “All of those sanctimonious bastards that pretend to the world that they are good, that they are better, that they are beyond reproach, when all they really are is a group of judgemental hypocrites that have no interest in those they deem beneath their notice.”

Viktor brought the glass to his lips again and took a slightly larger sip, bolstering himself. "Was it the right… decision?"

Karkaroff's head whipped around to look at him, not enraged, almost as if he had forgotten Viktor was in the room. His head lowered and he ripped a piece of parchment that was amongst the strewn chaos of his desk.

"No," he answered finally, his voice sure but quiet.

Viktor nodded, tensing his fingers against the arm of the chair before he braved looking up again. "When did you know? That it was the wrong choice?"

Unexpectedly, Karkaroff laughed, the sound hollow and reedy. "Immediately," he said, drawing the word out languidly. "That's the thing about him you see. He draws you in, pulls you from wherever you are and throws you onto his chessboard. You throw yourself at his feet in turn, ready to be sacrificed, willing to sacrifice anyone to please him, and his first act as the keeper of your soul is to show you how foolish you were ever to believe him."

“But you didn’t have a choice,” Viktor tried, unsure whether or not defending Karkaroff to himself was the right thing to do.

Karkaroff lifted the bottle again and appeared to hesitate for a moment as if he was contemplating drinking straight from it before he shook himself and hastily poured more into his glass.

“We all have choices Viktor, though admittedly some of us have fewer doors open than most. I was no unwilling lamb brought before the slaughter, though this time…” Karkaroff tailed off, and Viktor observed him carefully, he seemed to have drifted away.

It wasn’t long after that the headmaster dismissed him, laying a hand on his shoulder before sending him on his way. Viktor had no idea how he would sleep, or however long it had been since Karkaroff had gone through the night without the aid of more booze than was good for him.

The next morning in a hushed conversation in their dorm, Viktor gave a concise retelling of the events from the night before. What he had planned as a debrief session on the next task quickly became even more severe as Viktor regarded a worried looking Filip and an increasingly silent Mikhail. "What now?" Filip asked tensely, leaning back against his headboard.

"I spoke to Karkaroff, he is going to give my statement to Dumbledore," he explained. Once he had finally gotten back to his room that night, Viktor had hastily written out everything he could remember.

"You don't have to do it?" Mikhail asked softly, one of the first things he had said for half an hour.

"He has forbidden it," Viktor clarified, and the others nodded.

"I expect Karkaroff is going to restrict our access to the school for a while," Mikhail mused.

Viktor supposed that was correct, he could hardly blame Karkaroff for such an action, and neither did he want to. After being stunned, knocked to the ground and interrogated as to his involvement he was in no rush to be under the gaze of the authority figures in the castle either. Karkaroff was unravelling, of that Viktor was certain, but he could trust the headmaster to look after their interests, if not anyone else's.

"What about Hermione?" Filip asked suddenly, and Viktor allowed himself a small smile.

"I asked Potter to talk to her, she will understand."

As they began to get dressed Viktor was determined to lift some of the sombreness in the room, he shot a knowing look at Filip before turning to Mikhail. "I suppose the access to the school won't cause you any issues?"

Mikhail snorted, "Of course not. I have all the books I need here, and it is not as if any of the teachers at Hogwarts are particularly renowned for their academic prowess. I am sure I will not even notice."

“Sure, sure,” Viktor agreed. "So, what about you and Luna?"

Mikhail fiddled with the buttons on his already done up tunic averting his eyes. "She is far too young. But she is an interesting girl, and I find her company... pleasing."

Filip rolled his eyes. "Really, that's all you’ve got? Pleasing? "

"I don't want to talk about it," he bit out, an aggressive display that would have been relatively intimidating had it not been for the pink that filled his cheeks when Filip began making kissy noises.

Viktor was surprised to see Karkaroff the next day, considering the amount of whisky the man had put away only hours before. He had planned on tucking the parchment he had prepared under his study door and taking it up with him tomorrow. As it was, before breakfast they were all called into the hall. Tables had been set up in horizontal rows, and the headmaster swiftly informed them that they were confined to the boat and the immediate grounds around the lake, but purely for fresh air and exercise. Under no circumstances were they to go anywhere near the castle, or converse with anyone in it. Meals were to be taken on the ship as well as classes. There was no time limit on the restrictions and Viktor was sure in that moment the headmaster intended them to go on indefinitely.

Hermione had been stunned when she learned about what happened to Viktor, and even more perturbed as he had asked Harry to mention it to her, which made her believe, rightly as it turned out, that he hadn't expected to be able to tell her himself. True, their life at Hogwarts had been far from idyllic, but it had seemed simpler before than it did now. Hermione began to feel that all these little strands, everything that had happened since Harry's name had been plucked from the goblet of fire, seemed more and more likely to converge somehow. She was frightened. This year, she was no longer filled with the arrogance they’d had when they were small, the self-assurance that they could fix everything, this wasn't going to be a stone set behind some obstacles, or a beast accidentally released. This was something darker, something was coming.

No official word was given as to why the Durmstrang boys were suddenly missing, Dumbledore had failed to acknowledge their absence despite addressing the whole school over breakfast twice that week. But, notwithstanding the headmaster’s silence, Hermione, and most of the other students were more than capable of connecting the dots. When they had finally gotten a quiet moment, Harry had eventually gone into more detail about what had happened that night, beyond the attack. His garbled version of Dumbledore's words had pinched the back of her mind for some time. While her friend hadn't believed there was anything to worry about, too focused on potential Death Eaters on the staff and Karkaroff’s threatening behaviour, Hermione thought differently. Assumptions had been made about Viktor, assumptions she felt compelled to insist she did not share. As it was, she didn't have the opportunity to speak to him further, not while Durmstrang were holed up on their ship. She wished she could reassure him in some small way but with no real options available to do so her mind, for the meantime at least, moved to other things.

As was becoming typical for her terms at Hogwarts, there was certainly no shortage of concerns to be getting on with. Harry, having seen the maze, gave them some indication of what he might be up against but the lack of specifics meant that the study material Hermione had to research was vast. As such countless hours were spent compiling lists from just about every section of the library. He would be expected to face creatures as well as spells and any number of different obstacles; they enlisted the help of Neville to help isolate possibilities when Harry mused that the hedges themselves might provide some difficulties.

And on top of that relative mountain, a conversation with Luna over breakfast found Hermione in a situation where a mystery was on its way to being answered. It was only a casual remark that had set her off on what she thought could have been the right trail. Luna had seen Draco under a tree, looking as if he was talking to himself, and she went off on a tangent about some creature or other that her dad had told her about until she eventually went back to Draco. Luna explained how she had seen a small bug resting on his knee. To a girl like Luna, talking to an insect was nothing to be alarmed about, but to Hermione, it was the catalyst she needed for the incomplete puzzle in her brain to become comprehensible.

When she pressed Luna for more details her friend mentioned the beetles lurid green colour and strange markings. A memory came to the front of Hermione's mind, one that she thought of often, her across Viktor's lap, feeling warm for the first time that day as the sun began to set in the distance, only now her eyes honed in on his fingers as they gently moved through her matted hair, to the insect he retrieved, bright with markings around its face… almost like… almost like glasses.

"Luna?" Hermione asked, a smile beginning to form on her face. Luna raised her eyebrows, her mouth full of toast. "Do you have anything planned today?"

Luna shook her head. "No, nothing today, why?"

"How would you like to go bug hunting?" Hermione replied sweetly and at Luna's bemused expression she laughed. "I'll explain on the way."

Any mirth she had been feeling quickly dissipated as Hermione took in the magnitude of what they were attempting to do, the Hogwarts grounds were vast, and the insect was, from memory, utterly tiny, distinctive or not it would not be easy to track it down. She considered trying to trick the Slytherins into giving up her location but quickly shot down that idea; they would be onto her in seconds.

So, with no greater plan, they decided to tackle a few of the places around the school that students often disappeared off to, reasoning that if you thought you could get away with a few illicit kisses in those locations, it was probably the place they would have suggested to meet up with a reporter.

That was how the girls found themselves on their hands and knees, searching around in the overturned ground at the back of the greenhouses.

"Granger?" a startled voice called, and Hermione dropped her head, looking between her legs at the upside down, bemused face of the other Hogwarts Champion.

"Hi Cedric," she called cheerfully, before resuming her search, running her fingers through the trampled blades of grass.

"Really? 'Hi', that's your response to being found doing… whatever it is you're doing," he responded indignantly, and Hermione looked up at him.

"What were you expecting?" she asked, cocking her head to the side.

"What is it you’re doing?"

Luna piped up, "We are hunting out a new species, it's pretty elusive -"

"What she said," Hermione interrupted before Luna could say too much, and as Cedric didn't seem to be going anywhere, she got to her feet. “What can I do for you, Mr Diggory?”

"Well, I heard about Viktor," he said as Hermione righted herself, rubbing the dirt off her knees. "Terrible stuff, if you see him, tell him I hope he's alright."

Hermione was once again struck by how well the sorting hat had done with Cedric, for all of his teasing and bravado she was sure there wasn’t a nicer person on the Hogwarts grounds than the boy in front of her. "I will do," Hermione assured with a small smile.

"Also I saw the transfer list, I can't believe he's going to Vstra, next season is going to be so awesome!" Cedric enthused. "But don't tell him I said that bit," he said with a slight flush, and she laughed. "Anyway, I better get back to the books."

"Good luck Cedric," she called out to his retreating form.

He turned around and continued walking backwards. "I don't need luck Granger," he replied mockingly, "heroes wear yellow, didn't you know?" Hermione smiled in spite of herself, and he grinned at her minor concession. "Oh, and you've got dirt on your face," he finished with a wink and then turned around speeding off back to the castle.

"You know, I begin to see why half the school is completely in love with him," Luna, who had suddenly appeared next to her, said thoughtfully.

"Never mention that in his hearing," Hermione warned.

"But you agree?"

Hermione sighed. "Against all of my better judgement I do."

"Shame you've got such a persistent  Bulgarian attached to you then," Luna baited.

"I wouldn't go that far," Hermione replied tartly, and both girls laughed before giving up for the day and heading inside themselves, hopeful that they could coax the elves out of some fresh lemonade.

Viktor walked through the grounds quickly, reaching the shadow of the castle and entering without pause. Karkaroff's staunch position had eventually relented, too many boys in too little a space were leading to arguments, and with the task looming, he needed to head the library. There were resources on the boat but not enough to cover what he needed, and he didn't want there to be an advantage he wasn't utilising, he was already behind on points.

When he made it into the familiar space, he moved on autopilot, walking amongst the tall stacks collecting from his mental list before settling himself at a table at the very back, their table. It had been such a long time since they had been there, together. Viktor thought he had known and understood all of the barriers when he first started pursuing Hermione. She was young, and though age wasn't that much of an issue, especially in their world, she was still at school, and that made the distance between them a more significant problem than it would have been otherwise. He thought they could overcome that, they both had feelings for each other, had admitted as much, they were both keen to continue after the competition, wherever that might lead.

Then he had spent that night in Karkaroff's office, listened as the headmaster went from melancholic and remorseful to incoherent and fearful. Viktor couldn't quite put his finger on it, but everything seemed a less simple that it had before that, and he didn't know how to turn back the clock.

The time went quickly as he buried himself in the books, so much so that he was startled when a hand came to rest on his shoulder almost an hour later. Viktor looked up to find the very welcome sight of Hermione, smiling sheepishly at him. "Hi," she said with a little wave, and he got up to pull a chair out for her. Before she sat down, she surprised him by stretching up onto her toes and laying a gentle kiss on his lips, dropping back down into the seat he had offered before he had a chance to react.

"How did you know I was here?" he asked dumbly.

"A little bird told me," she answered sweetly, rummaging in her bag for parchment.

"I do not understand expression," he confessed, resuming his own seat.

"It means that I was informed, but I wish to keep the identity of the informant a secret," she said primly, and Viktor's eyes crinkled as he watched her attempt at a resolved expression. He leant closer, one arm draped over the back of her chair and the other coming to rest on the table in front of her. Hermione's eyes drifted over them, registering that she was now blocked in, but she didn't back away.

"Was bird of Bulgarian descent?" he asked softly as he shifted forward again, he was now so close that his breath ghosted across her cheek. Hermione made a small sound, but it wasn't an answer. "Hermione?" he pressed.

"Now that you mention it," she replied in a breathy voice, "the bird was vaguely Filip-shaped."

Viktor smiled before dropping his lips to her face and peppering a series of small kisses from the apple of her cheek down to her jaw. Hermione’s fingers came to rest on his chest, stuck there rigidly for a moment before she moved them up his neck and into the back of his hair. Viktor pulled back when he realised what she was doing, groaning slightly as her delicate fingers gently traced around the shallow cut that was still in the back of his head. At least the bump had gone. He leant into her touch, looking up at her slightly pensive face.

"About what Dumbledore said," she began falteringly, "you shouldn't listen you know. I know that Karkaroff, well, he might be a dark wizard, but it doesn't mean you are."

"Hermione," he sighed, "it is complicated."

"What is?" she asked leaning back and withdrawing her fingers from their careful exploration.

"It is association, suspicion that we are under is down to Karkaroff. When Crouch arrived I… I told Potter to keep you away from him. But… he is my headmaster; he defended me. He has looked after me since I was eleven."

Hermione's eyes regarded him carefully. "I understand," she said finally.

"Do you?" he asked incredulously, and Hermione sagged into her seat.

"Not really, but I'm trying to, it's hard for me to understand how someone like you can respect someone like him."

Viktor nodded, it was as much as he was going to get for now and he could hardly blame Hermione for her feelings or her suspicion, her assessment was just in both cases. Viktor, however, was struggling to separate the man and his deeds from the headmaster who had defended him when he needed it. For better or worse, Igor Karkaroff had had a hand in shaping the man that Viktor had become, while that didn't mean he forgave him everything, it did make him loyal, at least in part.

Hermione, thankfully, did not press too hard and they worked together side by side for a while before he became aware of her fidgeting next to him. "Viktor," she said at last, and he put down his quill to give her his full attention. "I'm worried about the final task, all these things keep happening, and there are all these little things that I can’t put my finger on. I feel like something is going to happen."

Viktor reached forward to take her small hand in his. "Hermione, it will be alright."

He placed a kiss on her cheek and then moved his hands to cradle her face and kissed her lips, mashing his over hers until they were both breathless. In between revelling in the soft feel or her warm, pliant mouth, Viktor worried about how easily he had lied to her. But what was he supposed to say? I'm worried too; I want you as far away from here as possible. I'm concerned I won't be able to protect you? In the end, he didn't say anything; he could not burden her with any more questions he couldn't provide the answers for. He simply kissed her and prayed that they were both wrong.

Chapter Text

Viktor craned his neck to glance up at the dark-green hedges that dominated the once neatly manicured Quidditch pitch; they looked more monumental, more intimidating, more surpassing than he had imagined since that evening when the nature of the third task was revealed. The barriers were so high that the fern green, almost black leaves blocked out most of the darkening sky, the setting sun had disappeared beyond the last visible point some time ago.

Viktor clenched his fingers a couple of times and tried to ignore the cold feeling that seemed to seep from the leafy barriers. There was undoubtedly something magical about them, though whether they were a particularly rare breed of plant, or just enchanted to behave strangely, he wasn't sure. Herbology had never been his strong suit; he found it difficult to get excited about things rooted in the ground.

Viktor rolled his shoulders and pulled the sleeves of his jersey down his arms as he moved back to the crimson marker on the soil, the painted cross was a few paces behind where he had been standing. The champions all had a designated spot so they would be precisely spaced 'to look the best for the viewing crowd and photographers', or some other nonsense that one of the Ministry twits had been prattling on about what felt like hours ago now. Not that any of them were stood where they were supposed to be at present.

Diggory and Potter were both speaking with Dumbledore, worried expressions on both their faces, though the older champion was masking it better. Fleur was looking up at the maze exactly as Viktor had been not a moment before. Her gaze was assessing and she reached a hand forward as if to touch the perilous foliage before she seemed to think better of it, her limb remaining motionless in the air for a while before she took one last look and retreated, to stand beside Madam Maxine, who was watching her star student with poorly concealed concern. A quick quirk of his head revealed that Karkaroff had not moved from where he had been fifteen minutes earlier, standing far enough away to give them both space, but close enough to still have been considered where he should have been. It was for the best.

Karkaroff's behaviour had grown increasingly erratic ever since the attack on Viktor, and the subsequent detainment of the entire school contingent to the ship. After he had relented, reluctantly, and allowed them off the vessel, though only to attend meals, the headmaster retreated, both literally, and if it could be believed, socially. Always a reticent man, Karkaroff now barely spoke, that was when he was even seen. Hastily scribed lesson plans were left on the desk at the start of classes, a different boy’s name written at the top of each parchment stack to indicate that they should take over the planned instruction.

Viktor had been passed Karkaroff’s study several times, and each time he debated whether or not to announce himself. The noise from within the forbidden walls ranged from deathly silence to violent crashing, and both served as a deterrent in their own differing ways. When the headmaster did show his face, Viktor was sure he wasn't the only one to notice the lingering smell of alcohol that trailed behind him like a cloud. The fact that Karkaroff no longer seemed bothered enough to cast a spell to mask it gave the boys more cause for concern than the excessive consumption itself.

Finally, tensions on the all but unsupervised ship were brought to a head, a swift argument after dinner turned heated, leading to violence, in the blink of an eye the air was full of deep calls and punches were being exchanged. Though the fight was broken up, eventually, and both boys involved forcibly sent off to different areas of the ship, Mikhail had suggested they find the headmaster. The situation needed to be reported, and though none of them would ever presume to tell Karkaroff what to do, they recognised that without their headmaster’s presence, and a stern reprimand, the same arguments would only resurface the next day.

And so the three of them went to his office together, not deeming it fair to elect just one of them to weather his displeasure. They had intended to knock politely and wait in the corridor, but when they got there, the door was slightly ajar, splinters of wood having chipped free of the frame. Fearing the worst, Filip looked back before pushing it all the way open, and they were met with a scene of total devastation. The great carved desk in the centre of the room was smashed into two pieces, a tremendous chasm fractured down its middle, the force of the spell or physical action needed to achieve such a thing would have been enormous. Books and loose parchment pages were spread all over the small space, covering almost every available surface.

Viktor had presumed the room was empty at first until a laboured panting brought their collective attention to the far corner, there, with his legs pulled up to his chest, was the headmaster. Karkaroff’s hair had come loose from his usual neatly tied pony and was hanging down his back. His shirt was ripped, dampened by sweat and covered in, what Viktor really hoped was not drying patches of blood.

The boys, acting on instinct, took a single step forward but were immediately halted in their tracks by Karkaroff's hand coming up.

" Leave," he commanded hoarsely, "and shut the door behind you."

Despite the familiar finality in his tone none of the boys heeded his words. There, on the skin that had been exposed by the ripped away shirt, was the Dark Mark. Somewhere in the back of Viktor's startled mind came the realisation that he had never actually seen the fabled brand before, it had been described to him, several times, in whispers in school rooms and more concretely by his father, when he had asked about the war years before. Voldemort had never made it to their shores, the iconography they feared at Durmstrang had been left behind by another man, but that didn't make the revelation any less shocking. To see it, to witness the skull and snake darkly embossed into human flesh was a different experience entirely, it was so much more real than when Viktor had been confronted by the stupidity of some of his classmates and their drive to carve the geometric symbol of Grindelwald into the back of their textbooks.

He couldn't be sure why his reaction was so strong, he had known for a long time who the headmaster had been before, no boy would have been sent to the school ignorant of the headmaster's prior crimes. Neither had Viktor been striving under the misapprehension that the headmaster was a reformed character. In essence, Karkaroff was the man he had always been, prejudiced as they came, only tempered slightly by the things he had seen, done, and the years of apparent peace.

Maybe it was the realness of the moment that impressed upon Viktor just how dangerous yet futile his presence was. The ugly quiet that permeated the room as Karkaroff registered that they had disobeyed him and stayed, his eyes widened momentarily before he palmed his wand and Viktor took a step back, the boys grappling with each other for a panicked moment, each attempting to push the other two behind themselves. In the struggle he almost missed the headmaster chuck his weapon to the ground despondently, his head dropping in defeat.

" Just," Karkaroff started, pulling uselessly at the frayed fabric of his shirt to pointlessly obscure their view. "Just go."

This time they all complied.

The atmosphere was eerie, Viktor decided. Though his English was getting better - immersed as he was with natives every day - still, he couldn't always find the right word, but in this instance, he thought it was correct. A strange smoke seemed to spill from the inside of the maze, creating a fog that licked around their feet in a way that was more purposeful than any weather he had ever encountered. It added to the prevailing quiet that surrounded them, despite the packed out crowd behind. Viktor couldn't make out if the voices had hushed in anticipation or whether his mind, gearing up to face the challenges ahead, had blocked them out.

It made sense Viktor thought, as he tilted his head to the side, the smoke would add to the dark, heightening the sensory deprivation that would kick in when they entered the task. It was already making him feel uncertain, playing with his mind, and eating away at his feeling of preparedness as he felt prickles crawl up the back of his neck.

Wrenching his head away, Viktor turned to face the crowd his eyes scanning until he spotted his mother and father. Their faces were serious, not that the expressions themselves were unusual, especially in front of strangers, but he could see their stress even from this distance. It was strange in a way, not that they shouldn't have been concerned, but he was so used to observing them when he played Quidditch, and they always looked to be enjoying the experience, especially his father. He supposed they were so used to watching him play that they had become desensitised to the perils of the sport, but this was something entirely different.

His heart lifted when he saw that Hermione was still with them, tucked in next to his mother with part of a blanket thrown over her legs that his father had insisted she share with them. He couldn't be sure from this distance, but it didn't look like much was being said, he supposed nerves were acting up now. Viktor was learning more about the girl the more time he spent with her, Hermione, in his experience, had two settings in response to fear; a stream of seemingly incessant babble, coupled with uncontrollable fidgeting, or still, rigid silence. She had been the first when he had met her earlier in the evening and he much, much preferred it.

Viktor had arranged to meet with Hermione ahead of introducing her to his parents, and so he waited for her in one of the walled gardens at the back of the school. They had decided that the library was far too public, especially as he was already in his champions kit, there was little chance of being low profile today. They could have met at the tent set up for the champions and their families, but Viktor had requested an earlier meeting, partly for his own selfish reasons. His parent were less likely to ask too many embarrassing questions of him if he and Hermione arrived together, not to mention a moment alone with her would be far from unwelcome. Another part of him, the part that was in tune with her, wanted to set Hermione’s mind at rest before she was thrown into the deep end. Viktor imagined that she would be a ball of unnecessary nerves when she got there, and he was right.

Hermione could barely sit still, and in a way, despite Viktor’s concerns about how things would go, it calmed him, with scarcely a second thought he pulled her onto his lap, resting his hands on her slim waist and making a point of telling her not to wiggle. When he drew a laugh from her, however weak, he felt his chest relax.

" How can you be this nervous?" he asked, looking up at her and tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. She had worn it down, at his request, he liked it when it was riotous, when the day was sunny it seemed to reflect almost every shade of brown possible. Her face had flushed a darker shade than he had ever seen when he had asked her, and replaying the moment had become a favourite pastime of his.

" What if they don't like me?" she asked softly, and Viktor fought the urge to snort.

" Unlikely," he proclaimed, but Hermione didn't look appeased.

" But, what if they don't?" she pressed, worrying her hands together and Viktor wrapped his arms around her tighter.

Recognising her need to talk it through, Viktor gathered his thoughts for a moment, trying to order what he wanted to say before resting his chin on her shoulder and pulling his face into a serious expression.

"Suppose they meet you, and somehow, despite their intelligence and warmth, fail to see you are lovely, so bright you are considered gifted, as well as hard-working and beautiful. Suppose that happen, what you need to know is that I make my choices, I started year travelling across ocean to fight dragon, I get what I want Hermione."

Hermione bit her lip as if she were trying to suppress a smile, but Viktor wouldn't let her, he bounced his leg underneath her, and her resolve crumbled. "Feel better?" he pressed, slightly smugly, and she thumped his chest in rebuke.

" Yes," she responded primly before laying her head against his shoulder, leaning her body closer against his chest. "Thank you."

Viktor smiled into the top of her curls, commending his past self for the plan, he felt more at ease than he had all day. It was moments like this when he wondered what would have happened if he had come to England and not been a champion, they could have spent more time together then. Though, it was pointless to dwell on such things now; it was what it was. They would have to get used to being apart even more in the next year if she still wanted to keep the lines of communication open. Thinking of the future, his thoughts turned back to his parents, and he turned to the quiet girl in his arms.

"Will you sit with them?" he asked, he wanted them to get a chance to know Hermione properly, and he didn't hate the idea of seeing her support him in the stands, an image he was hoping would be regularly repeated.

" Yes," she answered immediately, and Viktor paused before asking his next question.

" You will not feel... conflicted?"

" You haven't noticed have you?" she asked with a teasing lilt to her voice and Viktor watched on bemused as Hermione sat up straighter, pulling at the bottom of her long sleeve t-shirt, holding it away from her body so the images emblazoned on the front straightened out.

Viktor hadn't thought to look at her top when she first walked over, after registering the dark red colour, but as Hermione prompted, he looked again. It was subtle but clear now his eye was drawn to it; Viktor noticed the line of ribbon that had been carefully stitched down the middle of her chest, separating the slightly different hues of either side of the shirt. Just like the scarf she had shown him all those months before, one side with the Hogwarts logo, a little badge denoting Potter underneath, and the same reflected on the other side for him. Yes, it was just like the scarf, except this time it wasn't his name on the underside, it was visible, it was half of her top, she didn't have a jacket or anything with her, it wasn't hidden at all.

Before she could resettle herself against him, Viktor kissed her, surprising her a little. Usually, he led up to those moments more cautiously, gauging her reactions before making any moves, he just acted this time. One of his hands cupped the back of Hermione’s neck and held her to his face as he secured her in position with his other hand softly clasping her hip. He swiped his tongue against the seam of her mouth urgently, almost sagging in relief when she opened her lips, plundering her mouth and pouring all that he didn't have the time, or eloquence with her language to say, into his actions. Hermione melted into him, more comfortably, more completely, than she had before, one of her delicate hands fisted into the bottom of his jersey. Viktor absentmindedly hoped her increasingly desperate grip would leave that small patch a crumpled mess, the tiny network of veined creases would remind him of her when he would need it later.

He was drawn away from the soft comfort of her mouth, all too soon, by a massive whooping sound and turned to find Diggory regarding them with a huge grin on his face.

" Is this where the champions get their send-off kiss?" Cedric enquired, pointing to the patch of grass in front of them before making a show of looking around himself. "Looks like I'm next," he continued crossing his arms over himself. "If you could wipe your mouth before coming near me Granger, I would appreciate it. Viktor looks like he's been a little more enthusiastic than I would typically like."

The other champion walked away after laughing heartily at Hermione's inability to provide an adequate comeback, between her slightly stary, post-kiss expression, and the dull flush on her cheeks from his teasing she was uncharacteristically mute. Viktor hadn't bothered to chastise him, preferring to offer a hand gesture. Some things, after all, were perfectly interpreted in any language.

When he looked back around to enjoy the last fleeting moments of Hermione's flushed expression she unexpectedly looked a little sad.

"Do not worry about him, he was trying to be funny," Viktor reassured her, lightly pinching her side to shake her out of her mood.

" No, it's not that," Hermione replied, sitting further away from his chest and reaching to twine her fingers with his.

" My parents again?" he queried, trying to meet her eyes.

" No, well yes... but also," she traced her thumb in circles around his palm and averted her eyes. "Please be safe," she whispered.

Viktor leant up to kiss her temple, "I'll try."

Viktor moved into a lunge as the first klaxon sounded, the deafening noise disturbed a flock of crows that must have made their home in the top of the hedges, they scattered, squawking indignantly as the Hogwarts champions disappeared into the maze.

Viktor lowered his body to be able to take off at a sprint, careful not to go too low so he would unbalance himself on the dewy grass. He would have infinitely preferred to be on his broom. He caught Karkaroff's eye, his face it's typical mask of stoic reserve until it slipped for just a moment, 'I'm sorry', the headmaster mouthed, and Viktor nodded, not sure what else he could do. There would be time for that to be rectified later, once he had spoken to his father, he was convinced that once they had left England, Karkaroff would return to his usual demeanour.

The siren sounded again, signalling it was his time to leave, and Viktor managed to drag in one more deep breath before taking off and submerging himself into the mysterious labyrinth.

 When the second klaxon sounded Hermione jolted, though she had been expecting it, even counting down to it for the last ten minutes, ever since Harry and Cedric had gone forward. Her eyes remained fixed on Viktor's back as he sprinted into the maze, quietly wishing that she could track him for longer, the veritable wall of leaves made it impossible to have any idea what was going on inside, and now Viktor and Harry were in there. Her fingers twisted into the soft cashmere of the blanket that had been draped over her knees when she had sat down between the Krums and the Weasleys, Ron was on her other side, Ginny next to him, Mrs Weasley was at the furthest point.

The klaxon sounded again, and Fleur disappeared into the maze, her bright blonde ponytail swaying with her quickened step.

Hermione exhaled heavily and watched the frosted cloud that was expelled from her lips; it was too cold for June. You could have heard a pin drop in the crowd, she had expected people to begin chatting amongst themselves once the champions had disappeared from view, but the atmosphere was too tense for that. She had expected to feel that way, what with meeting Viktor's parents and all, but there was too much to worry about to be concerned with that any more, and in any case, they hadn't got off to a bad start.

Hermione wasn't aware that she had stopped moving at the mouth of the champions tent until she felt Viktor's warm hand on her lower back. At first, she thought he was going to propel her forward, but he didn't. Instead, he held his hand there until she looked up and gave him a small smile, indicating she was ready to go in. He didn't take his hand away as they moved through the outer ring of people, and Hermione did nothing to shake off the priority hold.

It wasn't hard to pick out Viktor's parents, given the small number of individuals assembled in the centre of the room and the fact that she knew who all the ginger heads were here for. Fleur's parents were off in the corner, talking in animated French. As soon as her eyes fell on Viktor, his mother's face illuminated into a bright smile and both pairs walked towards each other. Mrs Krum was tall and broad-shouldered, with dark hair that fell artfully, just below her shoulders. She was casually dressed in comparison to most pureblood women Hermione had seen before, wearing tailored trousers and a soft cowl neck jumper in a dove grey that highlighted her light blue-green eyes and dark features. What caught Hermione's attention was her jewellery, something her mother would have referred to as 'statement pieces'. Mrs Krum had accessorised her simple clothes with huge drop earrings with sparkling diamonds and sapphires that glinted as she moved, and a bracelet that matched.

They were older than her parents she thought, but probably not by much, Hermione was suddenly struck by an image of both sets of people meeting and shook it off quickly before it added to her already out of control nerves.

There was a slight shuffling of standing positions at first, as Viktor was wrenched forward into his mother's arms for a tight hug followed by a slap on the back from his father before all the attention in the little group turned to her. Mrs Krum looked down at her, despite her flat shoes she was a tall lady, though she didn't seem to use the height advantage to intimidate, at least not then. "Hermione, may I call you Hermione?" she began smiling sincerely, "I feel like I know you already."

" Err yes, Mrs Krum," Hermione replied awkwardly, wishing she had thought to wear something more polished than the jersey she had inexpertly stitched together and jeans.

" Sofiya darling, it's Sofiya," she corrected before looping her arm under her husband's and dragging him closer. "And this great brute is Grigor," she said with a teasing tone of mock adoration that made Viktor's lips quirk as his father looked heavenward.

Mr Krum, like the rest of his family, was tall and broad, Hermione felt quite engulfed when standing with the three of them. His eyes were darker than his wife's, and more assessing, though they didn't seem cold. He had significant features, and a face marked with more lines around his eyes than his mouth.

" Don't let his silence fool you, he's a teddy bear," Sofiya continued, and Grigor rolled his eyes. "Isn't that right dear?"

The man glared at his wife indulgently before turning to Hermione, "Miss Granger, it is wonderful to meet with you, will you please sit with us during Viktor's challenge?"

" It would be my pleasure," Hermione answered honestly and at his direction they moved to the refreshment table to continue their conversation.

It wasn't long before Hermione felt at ease enough to enjoy the conversation. There was something incredibly melodic about Sofiya Krum's voice, her accent clipped and chimed at her speech, and while her English was perfect, her pronunciation retained an impression of where she was from. Grigor's accent was more pronounced, his natural timbre less suited to twisting around the unfamiliar pattern of English speech, though it was no less perfect executed, it just, rightly or wrongly, gave the impression that it didn't come as naturally to him.

For Hermione’s benefit, and down to their politeness, the conversation was conducted entirely in English, prompting Viktor's mother to gush at how much Viktor had improved in the last year.

" I suppose one only needs the right incentive," Grigor remarked lightly, and Hermione flushed while Sofiya's eyes twinkled.

" She's delightful."

After a few more embarrassing moments, where his mother asked about her hair, explaining how she had always wanted curls herself, alluding quite strongly to the fact she might now finally get her wish in grandchildren, Mr Krum decided to take charge of the conversation.

" So, Miss Granger, what are you looking to do when you finish school?" he asked. His words came out a little harsh, but Hermione was reasonably sure it wasn't intentional. She had heard Viktor speak about his father's temperament and ideals,  enough to know that the man valued drive and ambition highly in anyone he met, so she was unsurprised that he had sought to probe her. In any case, it was an area she felt more adept at handling than most.

" It's a little early for that Grigor," Sofiya chided, but Hermione waved her off.

" I would like to undertake a mastery, maybe more than one, I'm still deciding on what after that," Hermione replied, hoping that it would not be considered too vague an answer.

Grigor didn't look surprised by her response, "Viktor tells us that you have a lot of options open to you, indecision in such circumstances is understandable."

Their little party broke up briefly when Filip and Mikhail came in; both boys were clear favourites with Viktor's parents. Filip made a show of lifting Hermione’s arms and her hair, checking her over until Viktor asked him what the hell he was doing, or she assumed that's what he said, she only detected the frustrated tone of the muttered Bulgarian.

" Looking for seal of approval," he replied smiling happily, "Where did they put it?"

Viktor dragged her away after that, taking a moment to give her, and probably himself a little bit of a break.

" So, what do you think?" he asked as he poured her another drink, briefly pointing out Cedric, who suddenly looked a lot less jovial than he did earlier, stood next to Cho Chang as the young couple were sandwiched between both sets of parents in a tableau of British, middle-class awkwardness.

" They're amazing," Hermione replied honestly, taking a big sip of her drink, she had been talking even more than usual, and her throat was parched. At her response Viktor groaned, rubbing his large hands over his face. "What?" she inquired confused.

He smiled at her, "Just do not forget you like me , people fall in love with them, and then I never hear from them again."

" Unlikely," she replied, echoing his words from earlier and reacting quickly enough to move away from his fingers, intent on pinching her side.

When they moved back over to continue the 'meet the parent's experience' Hermione saw Sofiya eying her hybrid shirt and so the gentle inquiry about her other friend who was a champion was not a total surprise. Hermione had worried about this moment since the stupid articles had come out, only at least now she had a way of ensuring such a thing didn't happen again.

She screwed up all of her courage, ready to defend herself if she needed to. "Harry has been my friend, one of my best, for a very long time."

" Loyalty is nothing to be ashamed of Hermione," Sofiya returned kindly, "scandal is the bread and butter of the uninformed."

Hermione felt relieved that the topic was out of the way, but that relief quickly turned to discomfort when Molly Weasley made to move past them on her way to the drinks table. The matriarch's actions at Easter had stung, and Hermione couldn't help but be nervous that she would say something to her about the article in front of Viktor and his parents. After a moment's indecision, Hermione stopped her as she approached, trying to keep her voice steady as she introduced the visitors and averted her eyes when Molly's usual motherly tone took on a clipped edge.

Mrs Weasley puffed up her chest after eyeing Mrs Krum's earrings, with no small amount of disapproval, even Hermione could admit they were a little 'much' for what was essentially a school competition, however, Sofiya carried them off. On a million others they would have looked gaudy and overdone, on her, they looked, well, right.

" We are here to support Harry," Molly began with a brittle smile, looking at Hermione with an air of accusation. "Harry Potter," she clarified proudly, "he's like one of my own brood."

" I'm sure I should be impressed," Mrs Krum began with a broad smile, and the noise around them seemed to fall away as Molly gasped, insulted.

Sofiya animatedly dropped a hand to her chest, "I am so sorry, my English… it is not best, I have caused offence?"

The accidental provocation was washed away quickly, but Hermione watched a few minutes later as Mr Krum pinched his wife's hip, a move she recognised from Viktor. "Your English is perfect, wife," he said with amused chastisement.

" I have no idea what you mean darling," she responded faintly, plucking his champagne flute out of his fingers and taking a long sip, winking at him in a way that was much more provocative than Hermione was accustomed to in people her parent's age.

“Play nice, Sofiya.”

“I intend to darling,” she passed him back his glass, “Just as long as people play nice with me and mine.”

“Not yours, not yet.”

“Maybe not, but in any case, you should never try to make someone feel inferior, unless they deserve it."

Viktor felt his first stab of panic when the hedges suddenly moved, with a shuddering of leaves the entrance he had just used was lost to him. When faced with the unpredictable, he quickly decided that keeping moving was his best option and he took off at a steady jog, making split-second directional decisions. He had read up on almost every element of maze history and design; most were said to use traditional patterns, leading to the emergence of prescribed ways in which you could navigate one quickly, always turning right was the surest way to direct you to the centre and other well-versed hints. However, those mazes were constructed for fun, as a folly to have erected in the manicured gardens of the wealthy. This was something altogether different; he got the impression from the constant trembling noises he could detect in the stillness of the evening, that the formation of walls and pathways was changing at all times.

The first obstacle he came up against was an imposing blue wall. As he turned a corner at speed it was directly in front of him, raised between the path hedges but nothing else was visible. Viktor went to turn around, but the lane had silently closed behind him. He had no other option than to go forward.

As he approached the blockade it began to glint slightly, twinklings and shimmerings emerging until he was standing directly in front of a representation of the constellations visible in the night sky. Except something was off. He looked closer, Ursa Major was in the wrong position, and the stars in the Leo constellation were misplaced, everywhere he looked there were mistakes, some glaring and others that itched at his mind until he could unpick what was wrong. He withdrew his wand and began moving things around, silently grateful that Filip took such an active interest in this class. When Regulus finally moved into the right slot, the wall glowed for a moment before disappearing and Viktor took a second to collect himself before running again.

When he had come up against nothing else, no barricade or challenge for another five minutes Viktor began to get anxious. It was possible he was still too close to the outer edges and needed to move further in to encounter the obstacles that were protecting the cup, but he was sure he could hear feet every now and again, that suggested that the other champions were close by.

Viktor paused for a moment in an attempt to get his bearings and stretch his calves. He barely heard the muttering of the curse, once again leaving him no time to react. The unfamiliar magic moved over his body, drifting like thick gel from the crown of his head down to his toes. He was rooted to the spot for a moment, but he could no longer feel the residual ache in his limbs, or the chaffing of the cold against his fingers. He felt… weightless and calm and….

' Find Fleur. '

The command was spoken in a soothing tone which lingered in the recesses of his mind, animating his body as he made to comply. It was a reasonable request, one that Viktor had no problem fulfilling eagerly. He stalked through the maze with more determination, more certainty than he had before, whenever he made to think about where to go, or how fast to run the same voice in the back of his mind provided the answer immediately. It was reassuring, tranquilising and... distracting, he belatedly realised that he had lost his focus, his senses felt dulled, even though his body still seemed to react. He couldn't rationalise, it was like his mind was being held in a warm cloud, hovering above his body.

Eventually, Viktor saw a ponytail of the brightest white hair disappear around a hedge, and he automatically quickened his step, his feet hitting the damp grass in time with the rhythm of the commands in his mind.

Fleur span around as he approached and he smiled instantly at her familiar face, though she looked momentarily relieved she unexpectedly stiffened, scanning his features before something she saw made her face shutter, her eyes widened, and she took a step back.

"I found her," he said, with no idea why he wanted to. But it was over now wasn't it? That was the point, that was what he was there for, find the girl.

'Stun her.' The voice spoke again, only this time Viktor hesitated before complying. That didn't seem right; he turned to Fleur who looked for a moment like she might run away, he couldn't let that happen, he needed to think. He leant forward and grabbed her wrist, pulling her towards him.

He needed to think.

Forcing himself to concentrate was like wading through treacle. Viktor would get a couple of words together, and then they would disperse, and he couldn't remember what they were. He kept looking at her face, and something was telling him no. But he had to, bad things would happen if he didn’t, he could feel it in his gut. He held his arm higher as he thoughts began to swim. He needed more time.

At his continued pause, the voice in his head magnified, both in volume and urgency, Viktor shut his eyes. Thinking became even harder now; it was like his thoughts were being forced to the back of his brain, behind a locked door.

' It will be easier.'

'Just let me take over.'

Viktor's last coherent thought before he raised his wand was that his friend looked afraid.

Hermione sat forward when red sparks appeared; firstly just from the shock of seeing any movement after what had felt like hours of watching the inanimate foliage, but then panic set in. Red meant someone was asking for help, but who?  She got up without realising it and would have fallen over the blanket she dislodged if it wasn't for Ron's quick reactions stopping her topple. In a mass of feet, the immediate family and friends of the champions raced down to the mouth of the maze, waiting to see what would happen. As it turned out, the pause was only momentary; Fleur was removed from the maze, cradled against the dark form of Professor Snape, who had his mouth set in a grim line. The Beauxbatons champion remained limp in his arms as he passed her over to Madam Pomfrey's care and Madame Maxine rushed forward along with Gabrielle, her little sister.

Hermione heard the hushed voices explain that the young woman had been stunned and she felt bile rise from her stomach. She had known something was wrong, from the moment of Viktor's attack all the little fragments of strange behaviours that year had been playing over in a loop in her mind, and yet she still couldn't piece it all together in a way that would reveal anything that made sense.

The once quiet voices to the left of Hermione grew louder. The adults all appeared to be finding ways of subtly accusing each other of involvement without actually coming out with it directly. Hermione didn't believe that anyone currently standing in the freezing clearing was a fault here. Something else was going on.

Hermione’s eyes were drawn back to the Potions Master; once Miss Delacour had been taken away to the infirmary. Professor Snape was furiously whispering something to Dumbledore, his mouth moving minimally though continually as the headmaster looked on gravely. Professor Snape’s evident worry made Hermione panic all the more. Her professor had always given her the feeling that he was not capable of extreme emotion. Whatever was making him agitated now had to be something monumental.

Before any arguments could really get going amongst the tense group, another set of red sparks illuminated the night sky and this time several of the professors tore into the maze, freezing some of the hedges as they went.

Somehow Hermione knew it was Viktor this time, even before she saw him. And his mother must have had the same foresight as Sofiya moved towards the mouth of the maze with her, standing side by side silently and staring into the blank void of pathways that had been left open.

It took two of the rescue party of professors to carry Viktor out, and it was clear that he had also been stunned. For the second time that year. His parents were next to him in an instant, his father gruffly waving off the attempts of some of the Hogwarts staff to start assessing him, Hermione couldn't blame him. She was sure Viktor would have relayed what had happened the last time he had been in this position, they would no doubt feel he was in as much need of protection from those standing around him as from whatever was in the maze. Hermione's stomach fell to her knees as she observed the blood that was smeared over Viktor’s face and the whiteness of his cheeks.

When Grigor eventually allowed his son to be placed onto a stretcher, he determinedly kept one side of the fabric secured within his grip, his face hardening in a way that made him look barely recognisable as the stoic but affable man that Hermione had met in the tent earlier in the day. Sofiya looked at her as they prepared to leave the field and Hermione felt torn, she wanted to go with them, to be there when Viktor woke up but Harry was still in there. If this year played out like any of the others, this would be because of him, her friend would be in the eye of the storm, and she couldn't let him do it alone.

"I… I have to stay," she said finally, and Sofiya gripped her shoulder.

"You know where we will be."

Once the second contingent moved to the Hospital Wing, the tension ratcheted further. Seconds felt like minutes and minutes like hours. Hermione couldn't take her eyes off the maze, waiting, just waiting to see Harry’s face so the knot that was tightening in her stomach could finally be released. Even though she knew in her very bones that it wasn't going to happen.

At some point, one of her arms - that she'd had wrapped around herself tightly - was pulled away, and Luna appeared at her side dragging her cold hand into hers, squeezing it tightly.

"Hermione," she began, her voice full of anxious warning and Hermione swallowed down roughly against the lump in her throat.

"I know, Luna, I know."

As the adults kept talking amongst themselves the students on the grass clearing gravitated towards each other; they held themselves stiffly not a word exchanged amongst them. Hermione would worry about what was happening, what it all meant, later, now she just wanted to see Harry.

When he eventually appeared, it was almost anticlimactic. It was as if all of Hermione's silent prayers had been answered; she had been stood, doggedly staring at the maze and wishing for him, then all of a sudden he popped up in front of her. The crowd, who had missed a significant amount of the unfolding drama with the other champions, cheered uproariously, but Hermione, whose eyes had been trained on Harry from the moment he came into view, hunched on the floor, heard him above the rising clamour. When Harry released his first sob, sitting up slightly as a tremor moved through his chest, she ran forward, barging people out of her way, heedless to who they were, to get to his side. When she reached him, throwing the gaudy cup he never wanted far away she wondered why it had taken her so long to see what was right in front of her.

She had been so tuned into Harry, to his mess of black hair and his dirt covered face that she hadn't looked to the ground in front of him. To his hands that were twisted so hard against the scratchy yellow jersey that his fingers had drawn blood, to the limp body that was lying prone on the ground. To Cedric, who was staring up at the pitch black sky without seeing, his mouth no longer pulled into a winning smile or a boyish smirk.

Hermione's breath was wrenched from her body as she collapsed down to her knees, she didn't hear the moment that the crowd caught on to what was happening when the sounds died down and the sickly sensation from the beginning of the evening returned.

She looked at Cedric, her eyes fixed on his sharp cheekbones and kind eyes that would never again be illuminated by the warmth that he held within.

She looked at Cedric, doomed to be forever young Cedric, until all that could be heard were Harry's tortured cries, drifting hauntingly into the night.

Chapter Text

By the time Professor Moody approached, limping over to Hermione and Harry as they remained on the cold ground, Cedric's father had run to where they were and collapsed alongside his fallen son. If Harry's cries had torn at Hermione’s heart, Cedric's father's pleading shattered something in her soul. She vaguely felt a memory surface, her parent's watching TV in the sitting room and the news announcing that another child, a teenager, had been killed in the city, some pointless fight had led to a life cut short. Her father had grumbled about what the world was coming to, and her mother had held her tight.

'No one should have to bury their child.'

After releasing the death grip he had maintained on the prone boy's jersey, Harry had thrown himself into Hermione, clinging onto her shirt and ignoring everything around him, despite the increasingly insistent words from their wizened professor. Mad-Eye wanted Harry to go with him, and he kept reaching for his shoulder as if he would prize him away. Harry was not going anywhere, at least not without her, and at that moment Hermione's legs weren't responding to any desire she may have had to move.

Ron came barreling over not long after, and like so many times before it was only his voice that got through to them, well, Hermione at least, Harry wasn't yet coherent. When Hermione felt Ron's hand rest on her arm, she suddenly became aware that he might have been talking to her for a while.

"Mione," he said harshly, with a shake of her shoulder, "we have to get him out of here," he implored, his eyes damp. Hermione nodded, happy in that moment to follow instruction on what to do to. Ron helped her get to her feet, with Harry still attached to her, and they followed their professor’s laboured gate from the growing lights and voices into darkness.

Though Hermione might not have been aware of the din of the crowd while they were outside, the sudden silence, once they were inside the castle walls was incredibly jarring. Their very footfalls seemed to ring out in the dark, empty corridor, the echo carrying up to the high ceilings. For once, even the portraits were hushed. She wondered how they already knew what had happened, some more magic of the castle she imagined. The hows and whys that would usually captivate and excite her no longer seemed at all important.

Hermione trialled behind the small party all intent in getting Harry to safety. Professor Moody was at the front, even more agitated than ever; he seemed to struggle with his leg and was softly muttering to himself as they trudged through corridor after corridor. Ron and Harry were in front of her, Ron having to almost hold Harry up by this point, a mixture of his injuries and his emotional exhaustion preventing him from walking by himself. Harry turned around every now and again as if to check Hermione was still there, and each time their eyes met his face looked so relieved she had to choke back the sobs that threatened.

She was still numb to the realities of what this all meant, though, she was far from ignorant of them. Hermione couldn't bring herself to imagine the horrors that had befallen her friend and fear gripped at her, an ever-present dread that felt like it would jump out at them at any moment. Though the threat had been real for a long while, for the first time they had first-hand knowledge of what that really meant, and how they were in no way ready for it. Up to now, the night in the Shrieking Shack, in their third year, had been the scariest thing Hermione had ever encountered, now, whether because time had dulled the memory or not, those events suddenly seemed tame.

Voldemort had reached within the school, their haven, and endangered everyone she cared about. Her mind shifted to Viktor, injured in the Hospital Wing, and she reflexively swallowed. How would she tell him about all of this?  He was leaving. Perhaps after the events of this evening he would go and never look back, and though it made a lump form in her throat, from the bottom of Hermione's heart, she couldn't blame him if that's what he decided.

They turned yet another corner, and Hermione looked up, suddenly realising how much she was lagging behind, her footsteps had seemingly been slowing from the weight of her thoughts. She shook herself before increasing her pace. Noise from further back in the corridor made her whip her head around, understandably cautious, so Hermione wasn't looking where she was going when she collided with a firm body, a body that reached forward to grip her shoulders before she could clatter to the floor.

Looking up to thank her would be saviour, and apologise for her lack of spatial awareness, Hermione came face to face with the drawn countenance of Igor Karkaroff. Her planned words of politeness died on her lips when she registered not only who it was, but how he appeared. The Durmstrang headmaster's eyes were wide, his hair a mess, at least half of it having escaped the band he wore at his nape. His robes were askew, exposing a white shirt that wasn't fully buttoned, and sweat lined collarbone. The typically rigid man was practically vibrating.

He released her with a start, almost as if he abruptly realised who she was and was disgusted by it, and Hermione reflectively took a step back, ready to mumble her pleasantries and get on, but Karkaroff didn't move, he just kept eyeing her.

"Did…” he began, darting his head around the corridor, “he saw him ?" he asked, his harsh whisper reverberating around the empty corridor. Despite the fog that had descended into her brain, Hermione had no problem following his meaning. She considered playing dumb for a moment but the look in Karkaroff’s eyes stopped her, he was tense,  too tense.

"Yes," she replied honestly, as her hand moved slightly closer to the holster of her wand. She was under no illusions that she was any match for the man in front of her, there was a darkness to Karkaroff and a desperation that made her think he could break her with his bare hands if he choose, but she would feel safer with her wand in her hand. With luck, she might be able to get in a chance stunner.

"You believe him?" he barked out, his eyes even more maniacal. Hermione hadn't realised before how tall he was, he took a step forward, and she made a measured one back.

"Yes," she confirmed again beginning to panic, why her belief should mean anything she had no idea. Her eyes involuntarily moved to the end of the corridor, to where Professor Moody was rounding the corner with Ron and Harry still following behind. Hermione was debating charging off after them when the headmaster followed her gaze, his eyes widening before he stepped forward, gripping her arm, and preventing her planned escape.

Hermione made to pull away from him, but his constraint was far too strong. "Let go of me."

"No," Karkaroff said firmly, moving to drag her away, "I think you should get Dumbledore."

Hermione spluttered in confusion, "Get Dumbledore? I… I think he's a little busy at the moment."

"Then we will find him," Karkaroff continued as he yanked her along behind him.

His fingers pinched into the top of her arm as the swung her around. Hermione was ready to make a desperate bid for safety when Professor Snape and Dumbledore appeared at the other end of the corridor, the Potions Master took one look at the urgent grip the Durmstrang headmaster had on her before pulling her towards him.

"Miss Granger will be coming with us," he drawled in his usual no-nonsense tone, though Hermione didn't miss the hint of command those words held. The two angular men glared at each other for a moment, and Hermione had the distinct impression that some silent communication she had no hope of understanding was passing between them.

"Fine," Karkaroff seethed back, shooting a hard look at Dumbledore over his shoulder before he looked back at her. "Tell Viktor," he began but his mouth snapped shut as he shook his head, "Nevermind," and with that, he disappeared, moving at pace.

"Where did Harry go?" Dumbledore asked as Professor Snape released her, and the unfamiliar sober tone he used pulled Hermione from watching the retreating Karkaroff.

"Professor Moody took him, Sir, I'll show you the way."

When Viktor woke up he immediately registered a similar sense of confusion to the one that had permeated his being while inside the maze, but his surroundings were filled with none of the silence. His heart began racing; he had to get up, to move, to find everyone. Only when Viktor went to comply with the unsoothing shouting in his mind, being bellowed out in his native tongue, he was hindered by strong hands pushing him back onto - what the back of his mind could just about work out to be - a hospital cot. Viktor relaxed when he realised it was his father holding him down, muttering words of assurance to let him know he was safe.

When Viktor properly opened his eyes, he rolled his head rather than attempting again to push against his father’s sure grip to get himself upright. His mother was sitting on the other side of his bed. She smiled as she clasped a hand securely around his, but her eyes looked sombre.

It took a little while for him to place himself, but eventually, Viktor realised they were in the Hogwarts Hospital Wing, where he had come when Hermione had been attacked. She had sat on the edge of the cot, peddling her legs as she tried to hide her new teeth. It was different now, he was in an area sealed off by a series of light blue dividers that had been pulled around the bed for privacy or…

Awareness and memories filtered back to Viktor all at once as he considered the implications, and he turned to look at his father who slumped, sitting into a worn looking chair.

"Imperious," Grigor murmured without any unnecessary build up, and Viktor nodded, despite the sick feeling in his stomach. It all made sense now, with that one word his behaviour in the maze came back to him. Someone had been in his mind, compelling him to act that way. The more he tried to remember the less he could recall; there were some warped images and a slight memory of a voice, a calm tone that had wormed its way inside Viktor’s brain. With a start, he remembered the void, the blackness that had come at the end, the point from which he could remember no more.

"Did I hurt anyone?" he asked, his voice raspier than he had expected as fear gripped his chest.

Grigor wiped a hand over his weary face, "You stunned the girl-"

"-While under the curse," his mother interjected sharply, with a glare at her husband.

"While under the curse," his father amended, though his expression indicated he was getting to that. "Viktor, more happened this evening. There is no easy way to tell you all of this, forgive my bluntness."

Viktor nodded, though his concern was rising. His father never pre-warned anyone about his bluntness, let alone asked for forgiveness for it in advance; it was something people just had to accept about his character.

"Their Dark Lord has risen again…"

Viktor laid back in an increasing state of despondency as his father laid out the timeline of events. News of what had happened had filtered back to his parents after they had taken his prone form back to the Hospital Wing. Viktor couldn't take it all in. That he supposedly performed the Cruciatus Curse made his stomach roll, it was one thing to have an Unforgivable Curse placed on you, but for the user to twist that control to make you perform such an atrocity was something else. Did that make him culpable?  The spell was from his wand. Should he have been able to fight it? Had he even tried?

It took a while for the unsaid to filter to the front of his mind, Viktor wasn't stupid, no matter what the British papers might have liked to imply, suddenly the privacy screens around his bed didn't feel like they were there for his protection. He wondered if he would need to prove his innocence again, but how this time? It was only his word that something had happened. He took comfort that his parents were there.

When he came to the end of his information to impart his father looked older than Viktor ever remembered, and he excused himself to get some hot drinks, Viktor heard him exchanging a few words with what sounded like two men, just outside of the dividers.

His mother stood as Viktor's gaze fell on the distinctive red of the British Auror uniform, visible for a moment in the space his father had exited through before the screen was pulled together again. Sofiya pushed some of his short hair off his face and chatted about nothing important while she helped him move up into a sitting position, fluffing his pillows.

His mother retook Viktor’s hand when she explained about Cedric. Professor Sprout had been in to see them earlier, to check up on Viktor's progress and explain what had happened to the champion from her house. Viktor couldn't fathom how to process the news. When they had entered into the TriWizard Tournament it had been pointed out several times that people had been fatally injured before, they all knew it was a possibility, it didn't mean they expected it to happen. Not this way. They had faced dragons, merfolk and all kinds of challenges but they weren't expecting this, this wasn't the fight they had signed up for.

Viktor remembered the hours before the task, when he was sitting with Hermione in his lap while Cedric teased her, the boy's face happy and smiling, so full of life. How was it possible that he wasn't here now?

"It is so quiet," Viktor said at last. He didn't know what to say, how to articulate his reaction to any of the information that had been imparted, so he started on a new topic. Thankfully, his mother seemed minded to go along with it, though she looked at him knowingly.

"Mikhail and Filip were here earlier, but we sent them away to help get some of the other boys settled on the boat," she replied, "I will send word to them that you are awake."

"Headmaster Karkaroff?" He asked.

"Is nowhere to be found," his father interjected, re-entering the little space with steaming cups floating in behind him.

Viktor couldn't say he was surprised, the events of the evening were making him reassess the last few months, seeing his headmaster's behaviour in a new light. "His Mark, it was coming back," Viktor whispered, looking at his father who returned his gaze sternly for a moment before nodding once and passing him a cup of tea. Viktor knew they would soon be having a more in-depth conversation on the headmaster, one that would probably not be in his mother's hearing.

After finishing the bland drink he wished was coffee, Viktor placed the empty cup on the side, fiddling with the edges of his blankets. "Where is she ?" he asked softly. He hated himself for how weak his voice sounded but in the background, he had been calculating an approximation of time since he had left the maze, and his mother had not mentioned that she had been there since it had happened.

"Hermione has not been here darling," his mother answered kindly, placing her own cup down on the table next to his. "But I imagine she has had a difficult evening, to say the least, Harry was there you know, and if what Madam Pomfrey heard was true, Hermione had to be the one to drag him away. I am certain she will be here when she can."

Viktor averted his eyes, "What if she believes that I-"

"Son," his father interrupted forcefully, "the right person would find you over a prone, bloodied body, with a wand in your hand, and still ask what had happened before they assumed anything. If your letters are anything to go by, Hermione is an intelligent, compassionate witch who has developed feelings for you, as you have for her. You do her a disservice to doubt her now."

"Yes, Sir," Viktor responded gravely and was pulled from further discussion on the subject by the divider rattling again.

Viktor had a moment of apprehension, believing that it was time for the British Ministry to question him. However, when Fleur's soft blond hair came into view, he suddenly would have preferred to sit through an invasive inquisition, rather than face the girl that he had unintentionally wounded. He could see a bruise blooming on her cheek that he had a horrible feeling he had somehow caused, and Viktor wished he hadn't just drunk a large cup of tea, for fear of bringing the liquid back up.

"Fleur I, I am so sorry," Viktor mumbled out, it was insufficient, but he had no idea how to properly make up for what he had done. How did you even begin to apologise for inflicting pain like that, however unknowingly.

Fleur shook her head, "It was not your fault, you stunned me which was… unpleasant, but given the events of the evening, being dragged out of that maze may have kept me… alive," she finished with a slight choke, both of them thinking of the fallen champion.

"In any case," Fleur continued, shaking herself as her face filled with a resolve that Viktor had seen many times over the course of the year, "You had that man in your mind, I think you had it worse."

Once the stilted required conversation had passed, the two students engaged in some small talk with Viktor's parents, a more muted explanation of plans for their after school lives than they would have shared but for the events of the previous evening. Viktor had liked the pretty girl from Beauxbatons from the off, she was smart and not afraid of who she was, as well as being a fierce competitor.

Fleur explained that she had been accepted into the Gringotts training scheme, having decided to become a Cursebreaker. The Krum's congratulated her, and his father seemed especially impressed, having heard from a contact of his that the bar for entry was set incredibly high.

"I expect I will be seeing more of you Viktor," Fleur said with a slight glint in her eyes as the conversation came to a lull and she had announced her intention to leave.

"Da?" he asked curiously.

"My assigned coach for training is William Weasley; he is Ron's older brother, he says that Hermione often stays with them over the summer," she finished with a little smile before she disappeared.

The early hours of the morning passed in a blur of whispered conversations, only broken by the twisting sensations that accompanied each new revelation of what had passed settling into Viktor's understanding. Though, despite his growing apprehension, the Aurors never came into his ward slash containment area. Viktor had expected them to barge in as soon as he regained consciousness, and as time went on, he began to suspect there had been another reason for his father's sudden trip to get tea earlier in the night.

A little while after the sun finally finished its ascent into the sky, it's too clear, too happy light visible through the high windows in the wing, a soft voice outside the curtains caused an immediate pause in the conversation happening around his bed.

Viktor had waited up to see if Hermione would come, despite his mother's protests that he should try and get some more sleep. Now he knew he had made the right choice. Hearing her speak he felt calm flow into his chest, and the benefit of it far outstripped those from a couple of hours of disturbed sleep. Hermione mumbled something that was barely audible and then one of the 'guards' spoke in reply.

"He is recuperating, Miss Granger, you cannot go past," the first began.

"And he needs to speak to the Ministry," the other interjected officiously.

"Really?" she replied coldly. The warm, happy tone that Viktor was used to associating her with was long gone. This was not Hermione on her best behaviour; this was her thoroughly pissed off. Viktor looked over to his parents, gauging their reaction to Hermione's tired irritability. His father seemed to be holding back a laugh, and his mother had inched towards the curtain so she could hear better.

"How does his impending appointment prevent me from going back there?" Hermione asked, and Viktor could picture her folding her arms across her chest and looking up at the Aurors menacingly, despite her slight build.

"This is highly irregular," one of the men spluttered and Hermione tsked.

"I would hope that the events of yesterday evening were somewhat irregular, wouldn't you?"

There was a pause where all they could hear was a shuffling of feet.

"Are you… family?" one of the men asked hesitantly.

"Evidently not," Hermione responded with a level of destain that Viktor’s  - now former - headmaster would have been proud of. "I think everyone here is aware of my heritage, thank you."

Viktor’s mother walked away from the curtain grinning happily. "In time I believe I am going to love that girl."

"She is certainly…  feisty," his father muttered, with a slight air of disapproval.

Sofiya raised an eyebrow at Grigor incredulously. "What is a rose without a few thorns? Surely you wouldn't advocate something so precious being unable to protect itself?"

His father was thankfully saved from the trouble of responding by said feisty rose barrelling through the curtains, shooting a sharp look just beyond them before pulling the divider shut.

"Viktor," she said, rushing forward, before she seemed to belatedly realise that his parents were there and she paused for a moment, her fingers twitching in the bottom of her shirt until Sofiya laid a hand on her back and softly compelled her forward. Hermione charged again, more colliding with Viktor than anything else, and wrapping her arms around him before burying her face against his neck.

"Sorry," she said earnestly as Viktor folded himself around her tightly, leaning forward so he could lift her onto the side of the bed. Her body was shaking. "I meant to get here last night, but everything was a bit of a nightmare, what with Cedric and then Harry and Moody or well, Barty Crouch Jnr. It was him that stunned you by the way, and then McGonagall said I had to go to bed, that I couldn't just go marching around the halls on my own without a thought for my own safety,” she sputtered out in a rush of words that Viktor could only just make out.

Grigor got out of his seat, moving to offer Hermione his chair, which she gratefully accepted, blushing slightly when she realised she had been practically wrapped around Viktor in front of his parents. His father walked out of the dividers exchanging a few words with the 'guards' as he went.

"Did you get any sleep, Hermione?" Sofiya asked kindly.

"No," Hermione shook her head, "I had to see Viktor," she replied politely, looking straight at him before turning to accept the blanket he threw from the end of his bed. By the time his father got back, holding a single teacup, she was already fast asleep.

Sofiya moved to pull the blanket over Hermione’s shoulder and charmed the tea to be warm for her when she woke.

"How am I going to leave her?" Viktor asked, looking at the girl who had curled herself into the small chair, her hair spilling over the arm.

"It will be fine, it won't be for long, and you can see her over the summer," his mother comforted.

That had been his plan after all, only now that the time approached it wasn't nearly as reassuring as it had been before.

Hermione startled awake; she must have been tired as she didn't even remember falling asleep. She sat up quickly, blindsided for a moment, scrambling when she realised her legs were tangled up in a soft blanket. As she shuffled upwards, groggy and sore, she saw Viktor in front of her on the bed, and she calmed down a little, even more when she realised that he was perched on top of the covers and in his regular clothes.

"Viktor?" She mumbled, getting his attention and he turned to smile at her, stretching his hand to intertwine their fingers.

"Hello," he murmured.

"Sorry," she replied, her head lolling to the side of the seat, "I didn't mean to fall asleep."

"It is okay; you must have needed it."

"I suppose I did."

They smiled at each other, but it was strained, so much had happened, there was so much she wanted to say, so much reassurance that she wanted, both from him and to give to him. But a giant clock was suddenly above them both, reminding them that their time was coming to a close.

As Hermione righted herself, and ran a hand through her insane hair with the hope of making it less ridiculous, as she moved she noticed a gap in the curtains and her head snapped back to Viktor.

"Guards have gone," he explained.

Hermione sat up, immediately on her feet and ready for action. "What did they say to you? You should have woken me up; you can't let them treat you-"

"-Hermione," he broke in with a more genuine smile on his face, "all is okay, my parents were here. They have listened, and now they have gone away."

Hermione resumed her seat with a sigh of relief and fumbled in her pockets for a hair tie. "I must look a complete mess."

Viktor put his hand on her shoulder, stilling her movements. "You look like how I imagined you would look when you wake up, only this is better."

Hermione felt her cheeks flush and was still averting her eyes when Harry walked in, after a fairly ineffectual knock on the fabric divider. Her friend looked terrible, though, a little better than he had last night. When she, Dumbledore and Professor Snape had crashed into Professor Moody's office, it was in the nick of time. How he would deal with all of this, she had no idea. Harry was so incredibly brave, he had more courage than any Gryffindor she knew, yet he had enough of a hero complex to blame himself entirely for whatever happened at the school. The holiday was poorly timed. Hermione adjusted her twisted jersey as she debated requesting Harry stay with her for a few weeks over summer.

The two boys had a quiet, laboured conversation, both looking grave in a way that hurt Hermione to look at. But she kept herself out of it, and dutifully did not eavesdrop until they had said what they needed to say. Harry saw himself out soon after, with a request to meet in the common room later, and they weren't left alone for long. When Viktor's parent's returned they brought Filip and Mikhail with them, and Filip rushed forward to enlarge the chair Hermione was on before falling next down to her, securing her in a tight cuddle that made Viktor kick at his shins. Grigor looked on with some bemusement but no judgement before swiping his hand through his exasperated son's hair.

"Igor Karkaroff has fled, I think it might be best if you boys returned with us.'

"No, father," Viktor replied respectfully, "I think we must return on the ship, it is the right thing to do."

A moment of frank pride crossed Grigor’s face before he stoically patted his son on the back.

"Oh, in all of the… commotion of yesterday I didn't show you," Grigor opened up his jacket to reveal a Vratsa Vultures pin affixed to his shirt. "I cannot wait until they have the new season shirts."

When Hermione eventually left the Hospital Wing she no longer had any idea how many hours had passed, the sections of time since Fleur had emerged - stunned - from the TriWizard maze had either dragged beyond reason or evaporated in the blink of an eye. She had promised Grigor and Sofiya that she would come to say goodbye to them before they left, and was intent on tracking down the rest of her friends before she went to find some food. Hermione had long thought of herself as a relatively solitary person, but at that moment she wanted nothing more to be around people, good people, her people.

As she exited the heavy swing door, Hermione barely missed crashing into a lone finger standing in the corridor. Cho Chang was fixed just beyond the entrance, her eyes set on a point inside through the slight window. Hermione moved towards her, taking in the girls rumpled yellow jersey and tear stained face. As she looked back over her shoulder, Hermione could see Cedric's parents on the other side of the ward to where she had just been, talking to Professor Sprout.

"They don't want to leave yet," Cho said suddenly, her voice utterly hollow. "Something too final about going I think. If they leave, then it's actually happened. If they leave, they go, not with their son next to them, but with this… this body, to arrange his funeral."

Hermione looked at Cho and wished Ron was with her, or Ginny, or even Luna. Her friends always knew the right things to say, not like her, she would probably make it worse.

"I wanted to go in," Cho continued, her gaze still fixed on the grieving couple. "I wanted to say something to them, anything, but it all just feels so trivial. I got stuck out here, just waiting, and now I don't know what to do."

Hermione felt tears prick uncomfortably at the corners of her eyes. She remembered Cedric at the Yule Ball, dancing attendance on the beautiful Ravenclaw with the kind eyes and the sense of fun that matched his own. Her fists clenched for a moment with indecision before she stepped forward and wrapped Cho in a firm hug.

Hermione was sure that Ron would have gripped the young woman on the shoulder, told her some ridiculous story that would have pulled her away from how she was feeling. Ginny would have tackled the issue straight on, no fear, she would have boldly told Cho what to do to make the pain lessen. Luna would have said something nonsensical that would have shocked Cho out of her misery in an instant, then, later, when Cho was away from the situation, the blonde's words would have come back to her, their meaning now clear and they would be accompanied by a much-needed sense of peace. But Hermione didn't possess any of that kind of magic; she had no special skills at her disposal. So she pushed herself onto her tiptoes and tightened her arms around Cho's shoulders embracing her hard.

"I think you should go in, I think you will regret it if you don't," Hermione said eventually, and Cho nodded once against her neck before moving her previously static arms to return the embrace fiercely.

Hermione stood out beyond the large castle doors, waiting for the Krum's to arrive with butterflies in her stomach, though her nerves were not as bad as they had been before the final task. As far as first encounters went, theirs had been eventful, to say the least, but the couple felt genuine and warm, and Hermione could honestly say that she had enjoyed meeting them. She was more nervous because they were leaving, Viktor was out of the Hospital Wing, and the end of term was approaching, far more quickly than she would have liked. Hermione mused that if she were a normal girl, at a regular school, all she would have been consumed by at that moment would have been sadness at Viktor's imminent departure. But once again that was not the route her life had taken, war was coming for them, a real war, with real consequences. It seemed selfish to wonder about her own life at such a time, but she couldn't help it. How would it change the vague plans they had made?

Hermione turned back towards the castle as she heard the great doors opening and the sound of fastly delivered Bulgarian chatter filled the air as Mrs Krum spoke in seemingly unending sentences at her son. Hermione didn't need to speak the language to understand her intent, the 'be good, be careful speech' had an international application.

When they saw her, Sofiya grinned broadly before stepping forward to wrap Hermione in a hug. "It was so wonderful to meet you, Hermione, I look forward to seeing you over the summer," she said with a little glint in her eye. "If your parents need a letter from me ahead of your trip please let me know."

Grigor came forward and very formally kissed her hand, which, despite his advanced years, made Hermione blush severely, and Viktor rolled his eyes.

"We will see you again Miss Granger," he said politely if a little stiffly, and they walked away after a final word or two to Viktor.

When it was just the two of them, they stood for a moment, a few feet apart just looking at each other. Hermione was almost afraid to touch Viktor now in case it would eventually make it worse. Was it better to create more memories, or leave it to what had been?

Hermione gestured towards the grounds, and they fell into step next to each other, wordlessly directing themselves towards a tree that overlooked the lake. When they fell under the shadow of its branches, Viktor sat back against the trunk, stretching out his legs in front of himself and without warning pulled Hermione down to relax between them, wrapping his arms around her as they listened to the birds, deep in the higher branches. Hermione felt safe she realised, as her head fell back against Viktor's shoulder. It was such a nice feeling.

"Do you remember that day after the first task, when you gave me Dragon?" she asked eventually. It was easier to speak like this, while they weren't looking directly at each other.


"I was waiting for you that day," she continued in little more than a whisper. Hermione wasn't sure why she made the omission. On some level, she thought Viktor might need to hear it, after everything that had happened in the final task she knew at least part of him would be blaming himself, however needlessly. Another part of her wanted to let Viktor know for sure that she had been in this from the beginning. He may have been more overt than her, and a lot more open at times, but she cared just as much.

Hermione looked out across the water, her eyes falling onto the anchored ship sadly, and she placed her hands over his. "I don't want to hold you to anything," she uttered quietly, and she felt Viktor stiffen behind her, but she ploughed on regardless. "I've still got three years of school, and I live in a different country, and you have a career and everything."

"Hermione, all of that is true, but maybe I am selfish because I want you too," Viktor said as he rubbed a thumb gently over the skin of her arm.

"What if you meet someone else?" Hermione asked. It had been playing on her mind for weeks. The memories of the fangirls from around the time of the Yule Ball were still fresh, and it wasn't as if their presence had died down any since it became apparent there was something between them. The behaviour was bound to be worse once he started playing for a professional team full-time.

"I met lots of women before, but they were nothing like you," Viktor replied as he reached forward to play with a strand of her hair, his mouth closing in on her face to talk directly into her ear. "How many girls would tell me that they did not really like Quidditch?"

His question and the amusement laced through his tone made a small laugh bubble up her throat, and he held her tighter. "Hermione, we visit over the summer, no expectations, no ties. You are young, and someone could come along and take your heart, but I would like to try, to be something, because… because I adore you, you have made me happy. I am on tour and training full time now; I do not have time for more than you can give."

The air went quiet between them again, and Hermione unconsciously shifted back into his embrace. Viktor dropped his chin on top of her hair. "I thought I had planned everything; you live in different country, you are younger. I was happy to wait and… I did not prepare for war," he said gravely.

"And now?" Hermione asked hesitantly.

"Now, I do not know how to leave you here."

Hermione turned in her position to hug him, awkwardly getting up onto her knees so she could wrap herself around him completely. Viktor gripped her tightly, pulling her into his lap and pressing his face against her neck.

"I think," Hermione started, already feeling a blush coming over her cheeks, "I think that it could work, maybe, we could write letters after all."

Viktor smiled then, an expression Hermione was much more familiar with, his eyes held an air of mischief, and she felt her already full blush increase.

"It has been a year, and you still blush," he teased softly, his face drawing near to hers.

"I can't help it," Hermione protested, "you make me flustered."

Viktor grinned, "Please do not try to help it, Hermione," he whispered before he laid his lips over hers, stealing her breath and her fear away.

Viktor walked out of the Hogwarts castle doors for what would probably be the last time, any visits he had in the future were unlikely to be on the school's grounds. He had gone back and forth over what the right thing to do concerning Hermione was. There was a small part of him that whispered at the back of his mind that wanted a firmer resolution, 'give it a name' it had implored, 'make her your girlfriend, make it more formal', but he knew it wasn't the right course. He couldn't and wouldn't tie her to anything; she was so young, she could change her mind. It wasn't the same as giving up, Viktor had no intention of doing that. He supposed that after a year of practising his spoken English, it was time to start getting better acquainted with the written word.

Hermione was a few feet away from him, and he watched with a small smile as Mikhail dropped a formal kiss on her cheek handing her a book he had selected from his trunk, before Filip barged forward, picking the little witch up and twirling her so fast she screamed.

Turning away, Viktor stepped over to Hermione’s cluster of friends; Harry, Ron and Luna who were saying goodbye to some of the other departing students.

"Are you going to tell us to look after her?" Ron asked as soon as Viktor was within hearing distance, a slight edge to his tone, not rude exactly but not pleasant either. Viktor suppressed his smile. Game on kid.

"No, was going to ask you to be there for her," he clarified before turning to the ethereal blonde, "Luna, will you and Ginny look after her?"

Luna grinned, absentmindedly twirling a piece of hair around her finger. "We'll try."

Heading towards Hermione, Viktor managed to dislodge Filip, and his friends left for the boat, Mikhail with a quick hand to his shoulder and Filip with a waggle of his eyebrows that made Hermione blush.

Viktor reached into his warm, fur coat and pulled out the address that he had written up before. "This is for my parent's house, write to me,” he implored, “once I have my own place I will send you the details."

Hermione turned the parchment over in her fingers. "Thank you; I'll let you know about visiting, as soon as I have spoken to my parents."

Her face fell to the ground as sadness crept into her eyes and Viktor cast a quick glance around them before he leant forward and kissed the corner of her mouth. "Thank you for noticing my broken nose Miss Granger; I cannot imagine what this year would have been if you had not." She smiled at him then, one of those beaming ones she had that made his chest feel relaxed and tight all at the same time. "Keep watching your post," he continued, "I will send you a Vratsa shirt, as soon as they make one small enough."

She punched him in the arm then, and even though he knew it was coming, he let her connect with her target.

Hermione did her own sweep of her eyes around them before stepping forward and wrapping her arms around his middle, his heavy fur coat almost obscuring her entirely. "Be safe," she whispered, and he dropped a kiss into her curls.

"I should be saying that to you."

"I will," she assured him, before reluctantly letting go.

Viktor dragged himself away before he could do something stupid like ask her to come with him or simply pick her up and carry her over his shoulder. With a final smile and a gentle brush of the back of his hand across her cheek, he began to fight his way through the crowd of students, forcing himself not to look back.

"You alright Hermione?" Viktor heard someone ask as he entered the throng. He almost turned back when he heard Hermione’s reply.

"Yes thank you, Katie." The distinctive sniffle in her voice was hard to ignore.

"Did he just ask you to write to him?" Katie asked, and Viktor vaguely remembered having met the tall Quidditch player when Harry had asked for a casual game.

"He did, I'm visiting him over the summer," Hermione replied.

"Lucky bitch," Katie said, her tone full of amusement.

Hermione laughed, her voice was still thick but it was much less sad, "I am, aren't I."

Viktor smiled.

 End of Part One 

Chapter Text

PART TWO: Half The World Away

End of July 1995

Viktor’s feet had barely landed on the soft grass around the Orangery before he was rushing off around the back to his parent's manor house. His mother would have chastised him for running so fast, so soon after apparating, but thankfully, Sofiya was out, attending a committee meeting, and Viktor didn't have to worry about being observed from the balcony off her prefered sitting room.

As he pushed through the back door, the entrance he had always preferred to use since childhood, Viktor dropped his kit bag to the floor and headed for the main staircase. On Tuesdays, he trained all day but the practice was split into two separate sessions, and he didn’t have long before the afternoon drills began. Viktor wouldn't usually have bothered coming home in between, but he had forgotten paperwork he would need later, and after the effort he had put into completing his set task, he did not want to show up empty-handed.

Viktor was nearly panting by the time he got to the top of the stairs. This kind of unplanned dash would be a hell of a lot easier once he got his own place, closer to the grounds, meaning he wouldn't have to put his body through the stress of apparition on top of training. But for right now, Viktor didn’t have time to look. His mother was still hesitant to let him go at all, and he would have no hope of convincing her to agree if the place he selected was deemed unfit for purpose.

Viktor’s first few weeks after returning from Hogwarts had been consumed by adjusting to his new life, and the people that he now saw day to day. The regimented nature of his schooling had prepared him in many ways, but it was still a dramatic change, and he was keen to show how willing he was to adapt and learn. After all, he had been offered a hefty salary to play for Vstra, one that the club was no doubt stretched to provide, he would need to show he could be worth it. As well as ensuring his parent’s support remained behind him pursuing a sporting career and not something more academic. He may have been working for years to get to this point, but the hard work wasn’t over yet. Not by a long shot.

Finally, Viktor made it to his suite of rooms and smiled at the owl that was recuperating on the slimline perch in front of the open window in his study. His post had been deposited on a silver tray in a neat stack, made up of three letters.  The topmost one was from Hermione. Viktor smiled wryly at the owl who tilted his head in reply. His habit of preferring her letters over any others had apparently been picked up by his avian companion, hence her notes placement. Viktor almost opened the missive there and then, he was so eager to hear anything from her, but he made himself wait. Though his fingers itched to go ahead anyway. Viktor, happily, knew from experience that it would feel better to wait till later once he had finished training when he had the time to properly relax and saver it. Hermione’s letters were invariably long and laden with detail, they weren’t the sort you could or should rush.

Picking up the other letters, Viktor dropped into his wide office chair and reluctantly placed Hermione’s latest message on his desk. But before he could open any, his door slammed open, and a large dog skidded into sight.

“Milenka,” Viktor laughed as she bounded toward him, resting her large head in his lap and pressing against his thigh until he started to pet her.

Milenka had been brought for him as a pet when he was fourteen, and Viktor had loved her instantly. They were both awkward and not entirely in control of their limbs will running about and a young, shy, Viktor had taken great comfort in how Milenka had grown in grace and agility as she aged.

He’d had another dog when he was younger, a beautiful greyhound that Viktor had loved deeply, she had died when he was six, and at the time Viktor had sworn he would never have another, with the willful determination of a child. Until his mother had brought home the adorable white and tan Akita puppy that he hadn’t been able to resist.

“What has you all worked up?” Viktor inquired as he petted Milenka under her chin. His dog jumped up, placing her forearms in his lap and glanced towards his desk and the letter resting there. Viktor smiled. “You’ll meet her soon girl, I promise.”

Once Milenka was placated, Viktor opened the next letter. It was from Harry, the latest in a long line of notes he had received from Potter since the summer holidays had begun. His letters from Harry had become progressively longer, and sadly, more bitter, as the weeks had gone on, and as Harry had still yet to hear from Hermione or Weasely.

Each time he corresponded with the young Potter scion, Viktor remembered Hermione’s first letter. Almost immediately after he had given her his address before getting on the ship, Viktor had been making silent bets with himself over how long he would have to wait to hear from her, or, on bad days, whether he would hear from her at all. In the end, Hermione had sent the first note before he had been home a week. Viktor had been delighted. Her letter was full of all of her news from home; her dad’s continued failed attempts at a vegetable patch and her mother's equally disastrous exploits in the kitchen. There was something tremendously comforting in the triviality of the information she chose to share with him, Hermione was letting him into her life without a filter. There was nothing in her letter that was designed to entice him, and yet he was beguiled, just because of how open she had been. 

Then, about halfway through the second page, Hermione had mentioned an unexpected and strange letter she had received from Headmaster Dumbledore at the start of the summer holiday. In it, he had opened with some dry pleasantries before forbidding herself and Weasley from writing to Harry at all, for the entirety of the summer. Though she only gave mention to the incident over a couple of paragraphs, Viktor knew Hermione well enough to realise that the prohibition was weighing heavy on her heart. It wasn’t hard to understand why. In some of their conversations while at Hogwarts, Hermione had alluded to Harry’s Muggle relations being… difficult. Potter had been less circumspect in his own words, and Viktor marvelled at the Hogwarts Headmaster’s apparent shortsightedness.

Viktor had decided to do something if only to know that he could eventually unburden Hermione from the weight she was carrying around. He began sending ‘care packages’ similar in nature to those he had received from his mother during his first few years of schooling; cakes, nice drinks, the occasional magazine or cut out an article he thought Potter might enjoy. As time went on, it was apparent that although the boxes were incredibly welcome, Harry was more grateful for the correspondence with the magical world than anything else. The realisation made Viktor pity him all the more, something he was sure Potter would resent him for, so he made sure never to let any of it leak into his tone while writing.

He was sure that Potter was receiving more than his boxes in any case. Viktor had mentioned the situation to Filip and Mikhail, and they had instantly resolved to take up the mantle and send along some things themselves. Though all of their lives post-school had become more unpredictable and ten times busier, they had vowed to meet up once or twice a week. It was a time that Viktor looked forward to, almost as much as when he received Hermione’s letters. He imagined Mikhail would send sensible things in the post, books and academic journals that Harry would probably look at for a couple of moments before tossing aside, and it was frankly terrifying to imagine what Filip had already sent so Viktor concentrated on his own offerings.

At first, Viktor had assumed that by sending letters and packages in Hermione’s place he would be solving a problem for her, but he realised now that he had been foolish in his presumption. In Potter’s mind, Viktor’s letters didn’t excuse the lack of those from his best friends, and Viktor knew, however much he didn’t wish to encourage Harry’s despondency, that his feelings were justifiably hurt.

Viktor didn’t want to tell Potter that Hermione had been forbidden from contacting him, but only because Hermione had said that it was an express secret. That didn’t help him when he could feel Harry’s resentment leaking off the page letter after letter. The protective part of Viktor, that sought to shield Hermione from all the evils of the world, wanted to yell at Potter, to verbally shake him into realising that Hermione would never be the type of witch to idly forget a friend because she was ‘far too busy’ or had ‘far more important friends now’ as Potter had implied. Even if Viktor hadn’t known the truth, or had been in Potter’s shoes, he would never expect that of her. Yet, the more rational, more objective part of him knew that what Potter had experienced at the end of the school year had to have been clouding his judgement and actions. Cedric’s death had cast a grim shadow over them all, and no one more so than Harry.

Viktor had wanted to tell Hermione that he was sending packages; he reasoned that if he couldn’t unburden Potter, he might at least be able to ease her mind, but when Viktor raised it with his father, he advised against it. Grigor had said that they could not be sure that Hermione’s mail was not being monitored, in case she went against Dumbledore’s wishes. They could already infer that Harry’s wasn’t, despite what Hermione had feared, Viktor would never have been able to send so many notes if it had. 

Even thinking of all of the pointless subterfuge made Viktor incredulous as well as angry. For a while, he believed his father might have been being paranoid, but then again he had to concede that it wouldn’t have surprised him at all if Karkaroff had been accused of the same. Viktor’s former Headmaster had been more than capable of acting under his own counsel if he believed he was upholding a ‘greater good’ therefore it was very plausible that Dumbledore would do the same.

Viktor placed Harry’s letter down to answer later and sped read through the last note, a short missive from his manager. But thoughts of his old headmaster continued to prod at him, however fruitless such thoughts were. All they knew was that Igor Karkaroff was still on the run, and that much had only been gleaned from the scant reporting in the papers. The Durmstrang Institute had made no official comment other than to hire a new headmaster, which, as his mother had commented, said more than any press release could have ever done. The new appointment didn’t affect Viktor, now that he was not going back, but it felt so ominously final.

The day after he had returned home, following his successful voyage back to the frozen north, Viktor was summoned to his father’s study and asked to relate all he had seen and heard regarding Karkaroff during his final year at school. His father had offered no comment or any explanations when Viktor had finished, he merely thanked his son for his careful recollections and sent him on his way to finish his unpacking. Since then they had never spoken about it again. Viktor had begun to suspect that his father, along with a few of his associates, were looking for Karkaroff. A few maps and scant lines of communication left out on Grigor’s study table had indicated that he was tracking something but when Viktor had inquired about it, in a carefully neutral tone, his father had rapidly changed the subject. All he would be pressed to communicate was that ‘war was not the concern of children’.

Suddenly realising the time, Viktor ran into his bedroom and went straight to his dresser to pull out a clean pair of socks and a jersey before searching through his desk for papers he had stashed the night before, pushing a stack of old articles out of the way. His parents had begun having the British papers delivered since he had been away, and Viktor cut out the odd bit here and there to keep. His mother had said they had begun deliveries to stay abreast of the current affairs of the country Viktor was living in, and yet, even though he was now back, they still kept up their subscriptions. Viktor was unused to his parents remaining tight-lipped about anything, and again, he had his suspicions, but Viktor knew when to keep his mouth shut, and at least he didn’t have to start ordering it himself. Every cloud.

Viktor wasn’t sure why he was keeping the random trappings from The Daily Prophet, the publication could barely call itself a newspaper, and it certainly didn’t have anything in the way of facts to report following the end of the TriWizard Tournament. The British Ministry was maintaining that nothing was happening, and the principle paper was happy to go along with the official line. Despite Potter having appeared out of nowhere, covered in blood, and carrying a dead student. At first, Viktor had suspected that his own steadfast belief in the truth of the events stemmed from the fact that he had been present. Viktor had first-hand information, he had been in the Hospital Wing, had an Unforgivable cast on him. But he soon realised that he was incorrect. It appeared that his kin had no trouble believing that Britain’s Dark Lord had risen again, despite what their own population might have readily accepted. Viktor had heard whispers at training and mutterings while he was in town. The Bulgarian people it seemed, were more open than most. Viktor’s Grandfather told him that their country’s past had made Bulgarian’s a cautious people, and had told him stories of how their beloved cities and towns had changed when Grindelwald's rose to power and the Muggle war had resulted in the German occupation of their lands.

Standing, Viktor finally located his papers, and along with the additional kit he had hastily snatched, he headed back down the stairs. He was desperate for a shower but knew there was little point. He would be filthy again in an hour anyway.

Viktor caught the aggressively thrown Quaffle in the centre of his gloved right hand and sent the ball hurtling on to another of his teammates in a matter of seconds. The brief reprieve, as he sped along to his next position, gave him a much-needed chance to stretch out his fingers, hopefully, he would have time enough to help stimulate the blood flow. It was a mild, summers day, but at the speeds they regularly flew at, training gave the impression it was ten degrees lower, and Viktor often left the pitch with stiff joints and frozen fingers.

Viktor smoothly reached the other end of the pitch and completed the practised play again, only with two different partners this time. Once the manoeuvre was successfully executed, he shot into the other direction, ready collide with his next grouping. They continued simple drills like this for hours, changing formation and discipline every twenty minutes or so. Viktor was not the only new player who had joined over the summer, and their coach was keen to get the Vultures working together seamlessly before the new season. In practice, this ambition meant training, training and more training and it had started almost as soon as he had arrived back in his home country after his departure from Hogwarts.

Viktor swooped up into the air to intercept a ball that had been sent wide and knocked it forward onto the team’s captain, who nodded once, acknowledging his effort, before continuing the play. Viktor tried not to let his elation show. He believed in hard work, in proving himself and he could readily admit to being apprehensive before he joined the team. Viktor had seen himself as more than a potential player the first day he walked through the gates, he had been a fan of the Vstra Vultures since childhood, and there was more than one of his personal heroes currently on the teamsheet. While he had been playing Quidditch professionally for some years, so far he had never done full-time, and though his record was exemplary, Viktor had always felt he had it easy. The pressure was lessened for him as he was still at school, it lowered people’s expectations, not that Viktor had ever let it lower is own.

As it turned out, his transition into the team had not been as difficult as Viktor had feared, and while some of the older players were clearly a little resentful of the ‘young pretender’ most were glad of the acquisition. An international name meant greater ticket sales and better sponsorship deals, which in the end should be of benefit to all of them.

In Viktor’s favour was that most of the Vstra players had done some time on the national squad, and as such Viktor had met a great number of them before. It also helped that it had gone down exceptionally well in Bulgaria that Viktor had chosen to stick to a local team, rather than accept a more prestigious - and as the papers suggested, a more lucrative - offer from another country within a more established league.

Finally, after what felt like days of toing and froing in the air, their coach blew his whistle, signalling the players to drop to the ground and get the final feedback of the week before they were sent home.


Viktor turned on the lightly rusted showerhead directly in front of him and let the stuttering flow of water pulse against his tired muscles. He was battered, bruised and so tired he could hardly keep his eyes open. But apart from all that he was utterly in love with his new life, and he hadn’t even started playing matches yet.

As he turned up the spray to the hottest setting it would go to - barely above lukewarm - a distant rumbling of voices and calls warned him that the relative peace he had was not destined to last. Viktor had been the first to run off after their coach dismissed them, he was keen to get sorted and get out, and it seemed that the others had the same idea. It wasn’t long before the confined shower room was full of boisterous noise, playful shoving and teasing about each others ‘performance’, both on and off the field.

Though dated, the Vstra showers were thankfully, a little more luxurious than others Viktor had suffered through since he began playing, though that didn’t say a great deal. The fact that the locker room was fully proofed against the elements and capable of washing twenty or so at once was no small feat in Quidditch circles. What he would never get, however, was private cubicles. Washing was on mass or not at all. The locker room was invariably noisy, smelly and a little debauched. Well, as much as it could be when the only occupants were incredibly driven sporting professionals.

Viktor was used to it, what with his experiences of Quidditch and at school with hundreds of other growing boys, but he couldn’t help but imagine what Hermione would think of it or, to wonder whether she thought of him and what he was doing at all outside of her writing letters. Though, it was probably best not to dwell on what she would think of him, in a room full of other players, naked and wet. And it was definitely best not to think of her at such a time either!

Viktor suppressed his smile and jammed his hand against the shower start button again, cursing whoever thought three minutes was an appropriate time for the charm to run.

“Hey Krum, are you coming out with us tonight?”

Viktor turned in the direction of Dragomir Bakalov, one of the team’s Beaters, who was standing on the far right of him, flanked by a couple of Chasers who were all jeering each other on.

“No, thank you,” Viktor responded, vigorously rubbing shampoo into his damp hair. “I have an appointment.”

“I’m sure you do,” Dragomir quipped with a lewd hand gesture and a wide grin. “What’s her name, this appointment of yours?”

“It’s nothing like that,” Viktor replied with an unaffected shrug - the best way to get him to drop it was not to rise to the taunts - Dragomir scoffed.

“Right, right, the ‘ Bulgarian Bon Bon ’,” Dragomir paused to allow the uproarious laughter to die down and Viktor swore for the umpteenth time that he would get back at Rita Skeeter. “The beloved new member of our ranks is forgoing end of the week drinks with the best team in the country,” all of the men in the shower room cheered at once, “and its nothing to do with a woman, pull the other one, Krum!”

Viktor laughed but shook his head. He was well used to Dragomir buy now. He had known what to expect after all. Bakalov had made a name for himself over the last few years as something of a homegrown lothario in the local papers, known to have a different woman on his arm every weekend, and yet the articles never derided him. Despite his actions, he was a gregarious and charming personality, the people loved him and so did the press. Viktor was sure that the journalists that wrote about the infamous Beater were half in love with him themselves, and that was why they could never bring themselves to utter a word against him. For himself, Viktor rather liked Dragomir. Teams often operated better when there was a man among their number that took to rounding up the troops for drinks and the like, it was good for morale. It worked even better, in Viktor’s experience when that man was not the captain of the squad. Captains need to be respected and even slightly feared, and that was easier to foster when he wasn’t the one slipping extra drinks into your hand on a Friday night.

“Next time, Krum,” Dragomir said pointedly as he left the shower and Viktor nodded, it would do him good to get out with the team, get to know them a bit more as people, even if it was just to help him anticipate their reactions on the pitch.

But not tonight.

About an hour after Dragomir had finally given up Viktor as a lost cause, Viktor pushed open the door to a little cafe in the suburbs - far from the bright lights and music of the main town - and nodded to an elegant looking witch behind the counter. He wondered what the rest of the team would think if they could see what he was up to instead of sinking drinks with them.

The cafe was rather large but sparsely populated, though, given it was a Friday night that was perhaps understandable. On the other hand, the lack of customers could have been indicative of either poor menu or poor service, or maybe, both. Viktor hoped the later was not the case. Viktor had suggested meeting in this cafe, sight unseen, something he had sworn he would never do again following his disastrous experience on his and Hermione’s first date at Madam Puddifoot’s. Just the memory of the over perfumed air and chintzy fabrics from inside the Hogsmeade tea room made him shudder, though, Viktor supposed, the end result hadn’t been so bad.

After scanning the room several times, he finally found who he was looking for, tucked inside an alcove with her head in a book. He hadn't recognised her at first, every time they had met before now she’d had her long dark hair pulled up into a ponytail that looked rather severe, today it was down and over one shoulder in a messy braid. 

Viktor drew himself up to appear more confident than he felt and ordered a coffee as he walked through the scant customers, stopping in front of the older lady engrossed in a battered-looking text.

“Evelina,” he called fairly loudly, knowing by now that it would take some effort to drag her away from where she had spirited away to in her mind.

The lady looked up, her brow pinching for a moment before she seemed to remember their appointment.

“Good evening, Viktor,” she greeted firmly before gesturing to the chair opposite her, and he took his seat, removing his coat as he did so.

Something about the steely witch made Viktor want to fidget, he held himself firm - he was an adult for Merlin sake - but it was a close-run thing.

While the waitress brought over his coffee and asked Evelina if she could get her anything else, Viktor reached inside his training bag and pulled out the papers he’d had to shoot home earlier to retrieve and passed them over apprehensively. Evelina gave him a reproachful look as she noticed the crumples but took them out of his hands regardless. After a few cursory glances of the top two pages, during which time, exasperatedly, she made no comment, Evelina placed them on the table next to her before opening a book.

“Thank you Viktor, I will review them later, are you prepared for today?”

“Of course,” Viktor replied immediately - just like he had been trained to while at school - studying the woman in front of him, his crisp manners seemed to please and amuse her in equal measure.

“Very good. Today we are going to look at English conversation structures preferred for formal and informal speech and how these differ from Bulgarian. After that, we will…”

Viktor listened attentively and followed the sections that were indicated in the book and several separate parchment sheets. These lessons had been set at a quick pace from the start, and he elated to find that he was almost following along in time this week.

When Viktor had returned to Durmstrang after a surprisingly uneventful sail, he had sought out the castles Transfiguration Master. Professor Kovachev had been a firm favourite of Viktor’s ever since he had joined in the first year and he wanted to speak to him regarding his upcoming application for a mastery course as well as the professor’s other specialisation, languages.

Professor Kovachez had seemed amused by Viktor’s request for a tutor but had given the name Evelina Andreen regardless, and Viktor had not hesitated to contact her. Sometimes, while attending his lessons, Viktor wanted to shake himself for his former eagerness. Madam Andreen was strict, discerning and had incredibly high standards for her students and Viktor had fallen foul of her after his first tutorial after an exercise on greetings had gone particularly poorly. 

Despite all that, Viktor continued to meet with her once every two weeks, as well as completing work she set in between. It was time he could ill afford, what with rigorous training and a looming mastery start date. But he studied as hard as he could. Obviously, his primary goal was to improve his English; while he may have gotten better after the previous school year, Viktor was hardly fluent, and he wanted Hermione to be able to see the improvements he had made when they met again. He could still remember her surprised face from when he had learnt to pronounce her name correctly.

But more than that, the lessons, although tough, gave Viktor a small sense of comfort that came from the acknowledgement that although they could not be together right now, he was still doing all he could to make time for Hermione in his life. Everything he knew about her already, everything he was learning from her letters, told him that she was worth it.

Chapter Text

Hermione put her black biro back down on the surface of her desk and stretched her fingers; she felt like she had been writing for an age and cramp had set her hand into a claw. This summer, she’d had far more correspondence than was typical. Ron and Harry were great friends, while they were all in the castle, but neither were particularly dependable letter writers. Hermione felt a pang of guilt following her minor chastisement, lack of communication that year wasn’t Harry’s fault. She still wondered at Dumbledore’s instruction to them not to write. Wondered even more why their Headmaster had chosen to address it in a letter rather than calling them for a meeting before the end of term, he must have known he was going to suggest it before they boarded The Express. Hermione supposed the medium didn’t really matter; Dumbledore would have waved off their protests with a twinkle in person as effectively as he had done so in his note, with a reiterative message about Harry’s safety.

While Hermione readily agreed that her friend's wellbeing was paramount, she felt Dumbledore was focusing too much on Harry’s material prosperity and not enough on his emotional one. There was no doubt in her mind that not hearing from Ron and herself would cause him pain, especially as they had been prevented from offering him an explanation. Something else Hermione did not understand. What harm could it have possibly done to let Harry know they were not able to contact him over the summer? The last thing Harry needed after the events of the previous year was to be alone, shut away with his thoughts, that were no doubt getting darker by the minute, and relatives that could barely call themselves such.

Hermione sighed aloud, there was nothing to be done about it. She had seriously debated just sending a letter anyway, but she was certain Dumbledore would have built in a contingency for that. She could admit that when it came to people she loved, she had something of a reputation for flouting the rules. After all, it wouldn’t be difficult for a wizard of Dumbledore’s capability to intercept a letter magically. Reluctantly, Hermione admitted defeat and was left to hope that Harry would accept their apologies when he saw them, whenever that would be.

Before Hermione could go back to her drafted letter, Dragon, who had come back home with her for the holidays, walked across her parchment, preventing her from working once again. Once he completed his path, the tiny Fireball looked back in the direction he had come from, appearing vaguely disappointed that he hadn’t left a trail of smudged ink in his wake. Hermione grinned. He had started the practice while she was still at school, no doubt trying to get her attention, unfortunately for her little friend, it was not so easy for him to create a suitable distraction while she was at home in the Muggle world.

While Hermione tolerated quills while at Hogwarts it seemed silly to keep up the practice at home, especially as whenever she pulled one out of her bag her parents would adopt mock old English speak to tease her. It only ever took one round of ‘doth the fair young lady want a cup of tea, Mrs Granger?’ ‘Marry, it would appear she would, Mr Granger’ before Hermione gave up the practice entirely, putting the quills back into her trunk and going back to trusty biros.

Dragon, like Hermione, was thrilled to be home, lack of smudgeable ink notwithstanding. The Fireball’s summer experience was a world away from being cramped up in Hermione’s area of the fourth year dorm. Here he had the run of her room and all its assorted bric-à-brac. Dragon had initially been allowed to roam the whole house after her parents had been charmed by his incredible magic, but after a week of him continually making his bedding out of new editions of The Guardian - now matter how many old ones were left at his disposal - her father insisted he stay upstairs.

Dragon had dealt with his limited confinement well and had taken to perching himself up on the windowsill and blowing on the glass until it steamed up, before attacking the condensation with his claws. From there Dragon had a perfect vantage spot to watch for the Postman, who he seemed to believe was a threat and not just to himself, but to the entire Granger family. He made his feelings known by hissing and flapping his wings whenever the man was near their property. Hermione was thankful for double glazing and the general unobservant nature of the world around her, which allowed his antics to go on unnoticed.

Hermione looked back down at the page she had been working on for some time and bit her lip. Writing letters to Viktor always made her happy, but today she was finding it a little troublesome. While Hermione talked about what had happened since her last letter, a small voice in the back of her mind nagged that she was ignoring Viktor's repeated remarks about her visiting him in Bulgaria. Well, not ignoring as such, but she hadn’t yet committed herself to anything.

Viktor raised it in his typical upfront and polite way, never pushing Hermione for anything but reiterating how much he was looking forward to it, as well as detailing some rough ideas of things they could do. Hermione knew she needed to fix a date at the very least, but she was dragging her feet, and she knew why. Firstly, because she was nervous to see him in person again, as silly as that sounded. In the few weeks that they had been apart, letters between them had exchanged frequently. While not seeing Viktor had his drawbacks (she definitely missed his cuddles), Hermione was infinitely more comfortable with this form of communication. She felt like she had been able to talk to Viktor more confidently than ever before, and she was scared of the potential awkwardness in going back to face to face. What if it wasn’t the same? What if he suddenly realised this was all too much effort? What if, outside of the confines of the competition and the shared school year, Viktor had met someone else that he was far too polite to tell her about? Her list of fears and hesitations went on and on.

The second issue holding Hermione back was a more immediate concern; in order to actually see Viktor, she needed to talk to her parent’s about it and get their approval to leave the country, to visit a boy. It was a discussion she hadn’t ever imagined having with her parents in the near future and while she told herself she could always lie about it, tell them she was going to the Weasleys, and they would never know, Hermione would never do that.

She had mentioned it to her mother when she had first come home, and Jean Granger had seemed happy enough with the plan, waving off Sofiya Krum’s offer of sending a letter as unnecessary, but had confirmed that they would need to speak to her father. Hermione hadn’t brought it up again.

As a disgruntled Dragon flew off to hide amongst her bedding, Hermione looked around her desk to pull out Viktor’s last letter, to check for any questions he may have asked or topics raised that she hadn’t responded too or acknowledged as she skimmed through the last page of her response.

Hermione kept all of her letters from Viktor in a box her Grandma had given her for her ‘treasures’ when she was a little girl. It had once housed her report cards and various bits and pieces she had collected during schooling, now all of that had been cleared away and replaced by a neatly bound stack of parchment. Hermione was sure she’d never had any notion of letters from a boy being classified as treasures before, but somehow it seemed fitting. Sitting on top of the box, and protecting its contents, Hermione had placed the picture the twins had given her from the Yule Ball, her and Viktor walking into the Great Hall together, him holding her arm tightly as she looked up and smiled shyly at him, her dress sparkling. Her mum had helped her pick out a frame and place a few of the dried flowers from her corsage under the clear glass in place of a border. As much as Hermione liked the result she was glad Fred and George couldn’t see it, no doubt they would rib her for weeks! No, in the safety of her own home she was free to revel in her crush and glance at the picture as much as she wanted, only disturbed by Dragon’s pointed looks and knowing snorts.

Hermione finally finished her letter and placed it inside an envelope, ready to be sent off with the others she had, apart from the one at the bottom of the stack, which was for Luna and was going by Muggle post.

As well as receiving frequent letters from Viktor, Hermione had also had a fair few from Ginny and Luna also. Luna had so far spent most of her holiday travelling with her father and was due to be home any day. During the course of their correspondence Luna had asked about Muggle letters and Hermione had explained about the Royal Mail, her younger friend had been utterly fascinated, and Hermione had promised to send her next message to the post office nearest to the Lovegood’s home, to justify the inquisitive witch and her father making a trip.

Once her letters were finished, Hermione looked at the other items on her desk that needed attention; she had organised her school work into neat piles and was getting through the additional reading she had planned at a good pace. There was however a subject that she was trying to put off. On the far side of her workspace was a stack of worn books that Hermione had acquired from a London library, her own local one was too small to stock what she needed. The titles were ones she was infinitely familiar with, the language they were written in was not. Hermione traced her fingers along the gilt-laden spines of the leather-bound tomes in silent apology for her lack of progress.

Hermione hadn’t tried to learn a language since she had done rudimentary French at Muggle primary school, and while luckily that had stuck, she hadn’t been old enough at the time to remember how the education had been broken down. Thus, she didn’t have much to go on in terms of how to begin her instruction. She had settled on trying to translate familiar books from the Bulgarian language into her own. A practice that had worked for women in the Victorian era and something that had seemed quite romantic to Hermione at the beginning. She was unhappy to discover that she was not finding it easy at all, but she was persevering. Viktor had made such improvements in his English while he was at Hogwarts, not to mention how he had practised her name after their first meeting until he could pronounce it perfectly. Hermione felt she owed it to him to learn some of his native tongue, however poor her beginning. Especially if she would visit soon.

Trying not to sigh, Hermione reached forward and pulled the top book off the stack, shaking her shoulders to focus her mind.

“Hermione! Can you come down here please?”

Her mother’s slightly panicked voice drifted up the stairs, and Hermione felt a rush of relief swiftly followed by guilt as she pushed the book to the back of her desk.

“Coming Mum!” Hermione called back and shut the door to her room behind her to prevent Dragon escaping.

Given her mother’s tone, it didn’t take much for Hermione to deduce that an owl must have arrived. While her parents had tried their best to adjust to the magical world Hermione was part of, the wizarding method of post left her Mum on edge. She had never been especially keen on owls, and magical ones that seemed more intelligent than the typical kinds, were even more concerning. Hermione could concede that a foot tall bird of prey entering into your pristine suburban kitchen without warning was quite a lot for any person to take. She wondered if other Muggle-borns had this issue.

Hermione clattered down the stairs and was able to confirm her suspicions as she moved to stand between the intruding owl and her mother, who was stationed behind the kitchen table, before collecting the offered letters from out of its beak.

Once the owl had taken one of the treats Hermione had held out and flew back out of the window, her mother moved back around the room, cautiously at first, and Hermione turned the parchment over in her fingers.

The letter was clearly from Ron, Hermione had proofed enough of his essays over the last four years to recognise his open scrawl anywhere. She opened it quickly and was incredibly surprised when another, smaller envelope fell out without warning. Her first thought was that Ron had found some way to communicate with Harry, but Hermione knew the writing on the front of this envelope too, and it did not belong to her friend. 

Hermione opened the second envelope much more quietly than the first before she sat at the table, her eyes scanning the short message, entirely engrossed.

“What is it darling?”

Hermione started, having forgotten she had an audience. “Its a note from Ron,” she explained, “he’s asked if I can come and stay with them for a while.”

Her mother joined her on the table and straightened the papers she must have knocked out of place when the owl flew in. “For a while meaning the rest of the holiday?”

Her mum’s voice was neutral but Hermione could detect a small amount of sadness in her knowing words, and she felt torn. She loved her parent’s more than anything and time with them was the time when she could truly be herself, but she couldn’t help but feel cut off while she was in the Muggle world. As the years went on the call of magic grew within her, while she could still not legally perform magic out of Hogwarts being away from it entirely felt… wrong.

“Yes,” Hermione answered softly. “If that is okay with you?”

Jean Granger smiled, “That sounds lovely dear, it will do you good to be around your school friends, will Ginny be there?”

“Of course Mum, where else would she be?”

Her mother shrugged and went back to the washing up that had been left after lunch while Hermione fiddled with the hem of her jumper. Not for the first time she hadn’t been strictly truthful with her parents. Ron’s short note had invited her to stay with the Weasleys, but it had also mentioned that it would not be at the Burrow this summer and that Professor McGonagall, of all people, had included a note that would explain the rest.

Unfortunately, explanations were short in supply from her Head of House, amazingly, Professor McGonagall’ note was even shorter than Ron’s. After a brief, polite inquiry about her summer studies, her professor had announced that she would meet her outside Hermione’s own front door in a weeks time and take her to meet up with her surrogate wizarding family, ‘at their current location’.

Hermione stood up and folded both the notes into her hand to consider later. She was determined to go back to her room and organise some of her packing, only she paused in the doorway, shuffling indecisively and the movement must have caught the attention of her mother who turned back around and eyed her admittedly strange behaviour for a moment before carefully removing her marigolds.

“Is everything okay, Hermione?”

“Yes,” Hermione affirmed quickly, she had no intention of mentioning the note. It wasn’t that she wanted to be dishonest, but she was sure this would have to do with the end of term, with the war… even saying the word in her mind was difficult. Hermione had no idea how to explain such things to her parents, so she just hadn’t thus far.

Jean Granger, however, was unconvinced, she remained regarding her expectantly, and Hermione was almost amused to discover that her earlier dire straits over broaching the subject of visiting Bulgaria had become the lesser of two evils. Slowly she walked into the centre of the kitchen and pulled out a chair to sit again at the battered wooden table.  

“I’ve just been writing to Viktor,” she admitted, as her fingers clenched absentmindedly. It wasn’t a secret, her mother and father knew they were keeping up a correspondence, but Hermione couldn't slow the blush forming on her cheeks.

Her mum simply smiled and joined her at the table. “Is that right?”

Hermione nodded. She was unsure where to start, and a quick look at the clock showed she didn’t have much time, her father would be home from the surgery soon and she didn’t want him coming back in the middle of the conversation and halting it midway, or worse, joining it.

“Mum, how was it… you know… when you first met Dad?” she blurted and immediately lost the fight with the colour in her cheeks.

Jean’s head tilted as she cleared her throat. “Hermione, darling, is this about sex?”

Hermione nearly jumped from her seat “Mum! How could you think… no, NO! It's nothing to do with… ” Hermione couldn’t even say it, “That,” she finished weakly.

Her mum shrugged in the face of her outburst. “I had to ask. I’m sorry love, but you’ve been twitching about the place for weeks, I assumed it was a big issue, something you were worried about. You know you can always talk to me about anything that you...”

“It's not… its never been like that,” Hermione spluttered out, interjecting before her mother could go on any further and wishing that the ground would open up and swallow her whole. She was nervous enough trying to second guess what Viktor’s reactions might be without thinking about… that.

Hermione’s fingers bit into the spindly leg of the chair she was perched on as she tried to push past her mortification. If she didn't do this now, she might never brave raising it again. Maybe she had miscalculated, perhaps it would have been easier to sit her mother down and explain that there was a reincarnated madman, a dictator of sorts, who had come out of an honest to goodness cauldron in a graveyard, and was now running around calling himself Lord Voldemort, and getting grown men to follow after him calling themselves Death Eaters, and they had all sworn to kill her and anyone like her.

Maybe not.

“It’s not that,” Hermione protested, finally finding her voice again.

“Then what is it that's bothering you? Come on Hermione, you know you can talk to me, I won’t be mad.”

“Viktor he… he wants me to visit him, like I said to you before. I want to go, I miss talking to him face to face, and I want to hear more about his new job than you can pick up in a letter, but I’m scared at the same time.”

“What are you scared of? You’ve never let yourself be intimidated into not doing anything before.”

Hermione avoided her mothers glance as she sunk into her chair. “What if it's not the same as it was? What if he thinks I’m boring now that he's out living life in the real world.”

Jean eyed her daughter kindly before reaching forward and placing one of Hermione’s small hands between her own. “I think you should go,” she replied simply, Hermione made to protest, believing, in the way of all teenagers, that her mother had merely misunderstood her predicament, but Jean interrupted her. “He is still writing you letters, Hermione, long ones if the weight of the envelopes is anything to go by. I don’t have a huge amount more experience than you do, I met your father when I was still quite young. But as I understand, if people begin to lose interest they do not keep in contact, and they do not keep pressing for you to meet. He lives in another country Hermione if he wanted to disappear from your life Viktor had ample opportunity to do so, and yet he hasn’t.”

“But it could all change.”

“It could, but not necessarily for the worse and you’ll never know if you don’t go. Even if nothing else ever comes of it, you will be able to look back without regrets, when you become as old as me I’m sure you will think of a trip like this as a Great Adventure you once had, I’m sure of it.”

Hermione allowed herself a small smile, but she wasn’t ready to accept fully yet. “But what about Dad?”

Jean sighed and got up from the table to put the kettle on. “We will just have to think of a way to sell it to him, as you know dear, your father is far from unreasonable. The problem is he associates ‘internationally successful sporting star’ with our Muggle footballers, and you have to admit they leave a lot to be desired on the commitment and morality front, and while I know from what you have told me that Viktor is nothing like that, I believe your father was expecting, or rather hoping, for someone a little different to walk through the door for you one day?”

“Like who?”

“Oh I don’t know,” her mother replied dismissively. “In any case, I believe he had thought he had many more years before he had to worry about anything like this. But don’t worry about it, we will get him on board.”

Hermione looked sceptical. Her mother had mentioned Viktor to her dad after they had met in London for Yule Ball dresses and he was apparently far less enthusiastic about an ongoing relationship. He didn’t make disparaging comments as such, but it had been clear he wanted to. Unfortunately for David Granger, a professional sportsman, who was undergoing voluntary additional education, and was incredibly respectful to their daughter was a difficult person to criticise. 

Jean placed a sizeable steaming cup in front of Hermione as she glanced at the clock herself and bit her lip. “What about if Luna and Ginny go along with you? It would give you someone to travel with. Viktor is still proposing you stay at his parent’s house?”

“Yes,” Hermione responded mulling the suggestion over. She had her doubts over whether Ginny would be allowed to go, Molly only allowed the apron strings to stretch so far, but Luna could work. More than that, the thought of her blonde friend accompanying her calmed Hermione’s nerves significantly.

“We could travel from the Weasley’s, that way we could go magically which is a great deal safer. We will only be there for a few days, and then I am sure the Krums will make sure we get back.”

“And you will write to me while you are there? There is a great deal more I will be concerning myself with than your safe arrival.”

“I will Mum,” Hermione replied.

“I trust you, Hermione, your actions and your judgement. But I’m your mum, and it's my job to worry. Let's sit down with your Dad after dinner and talk it through.”

“Okay,” Hermione agreed softly. She thought her mum was being more optimistic than the situation warranted and she would hold off on sending Viktor’s note for now. Hopefully, she would be able to redraft it later that night with a suggested date.

She hoped the news would be well received.

Chapter Text

“Well, Miss Granger,” Professor McGonagall said in her typically crisp, no-nonsense tone, “I shall leave you here, I wish you a pleasant remainder of your holidays.”

Before Hermione could even think to reply - she was still recovering from the nausea-inducing side along - Professor McGonagall had taken a step back from the pavement she had left her on and apparated with an efficient, barely audible, pop.

“Bye then,” Hermione called out sarcastically with a little wave to the space next to her, before hastily apologising to a heavy set woman who was bustling past. “I am so sorry. I didn’t mean you … I…” Hermione began but trailed off when she realised there was no explanation she could give that would make any sense to the woman narrowing her eyes at the perceived rudeness.

Shut up, Hermione.

Reflectively, Hermione pressed a hand against her jacket pocket and felt relieved to feel the thin cylinder of her wand on her palm. They had left so abruptly Hermione hadn’t had time to double check her packing as much as she would have liked to. She had barely said goodbye to her parents and shut her front door before her Professor took off in the direction of the end of the street at a quick pace. Professor McGonagall had managed to shout out a greeting and chide Hermione along in the same sentence, and sensing the older witch’s impatience, Hermione quickly complied.

Hermione had tried to ask some questions as their brisk walk reached a few side streets but, somewhat expectedly, no further information was forthcoming. Her professor replied with some rehearsed sounding lines about how she would know ‘all she would need to’ eventually. Given the experience she’d had over the previous years, Hermione doubted it.

Hermione had sped along behind her teacher and kept her mouth closed after the last curt reply she received. Instead, she put her energy into keeping up. Hermione knew she could hardly complain about the brusqueness, she was sure this must have been an enormous inconvenience to Professor McGonagall, to ferry a student to another location in the middle of the day. This was, after all, her holiday as well. Still, she could have taken the time to ensure she would blend into the Muggle world, she didn’t have to turn up in her pointy hat in broad daylight. All she was missing was a wart on the end of her nose to comply entirely with the typical Muggle representation of a witch. Hermione wondered whether it was down to the usual ignorance magical folk had of Muggle fashion, or whether Professor McGonagall knew all about how witches would have been depicted, and her outfit was something she did on purpose.

All too soon, Professor McGonagall was gone, as quickly as she arrived, and she had left Hermione standing on a relatively well to do London street with nothing more than a spry farewell and a crumpled piece of parchment in her hand. With nothing else to do, Hermione turned back to the line of townhouses in front of her and sighed. Did everything associated with the magical world have to be a mystery? Would it have hurt for an authority figure, anyone would do, to explain something fully before leaving a child to figure it out for themselves? Realising her anger was doing little more than frizzing her hair, Hermione pulled open the small slip of paper still resting in her fingers and quietly tutted at the rip edges.

The Order of the Phoneix is located at No. 12 Grimmauld Place

Hermione stared at the hastily written, slanted script blankly. She wasn’t sure what the Order was, or how exactly this was supposed to help her find the Weasleys, but she was distracted by a grinding sound that pulled her attention back to the road in front of her and to a house - one that hadn’t been there a moment before - that was… appearing, forcing its way between two of the homes that had been settled on the street when she had last looked.

Hermione darted a glance around herself, momentarily panicked that she had inadvertently done something that would have a whole team of Auror’s on top of her location at any moment, but… no one seemed to react. She was sure that shouldn’t have been surprising; her father had commuted into London for many years and had complained, loudly and often, that you could be dressed as a chicken, on fire, bouncing on one leg, singing show tunes and no one would so much as look up from their free papers but this was… weird. The Muggles, they hadn’t noticed anything at all.

Hermione had done some research into the magical protections that could be placed on a building, most of it in her first year when she had been so eager to learn more about the Hogwarts castle. Before she had Harry and Ron as friends, Hermione had found herself with ample time to study non-curriculum related topics, in a desperate attempt to catch up with children born into the magical world and to fit in amongst them. Most of what she had looked into related to standard family warding, where the head of a household would lay ward maps on their properties that would be added to by successive generations. Hermione suspected that something like that was at work here but that this was… well, an extreme version didn’t really seem to cover it.

As the crunching sound began to tail off, and the outer brick walls of the materialising house came into view, Hermione grabbed hold of her trunk and sprinted through the newly appeared, rusty, garden gate and up the narrow steps until she was at the front door. She raised a hand to knock before the house could vanish but the door clicked open before she could, and somewhat hesitantly she walked through into darkness. 

The entry hall of the townhouse seemed large, but with the boarded windows and dark walls, Hermione couldn’t be sure how big the space was. Dropping her case she went to take a step forward in search of life when, out of nowhere, the breath was knocked from her body, and she was pressed against the door she had just come through by an alarming force.

“Who are you girly? Where did you come from?”

Hermione swore, loudly, to herself. She tried to reply, but no words appeared, due to a mixture of fear and lack of oxygen as her attacker held her with his forearm pushing against her throat.

“What? Nothing to say? Who sent you?”

Hermione’s eyes reflectively closed as a blinding Lumos was shone into her face obscuring her view of who was holding her. Using the moment, Hermione tried to focus on the voice she had heard, it was familiar, she just couldn’t place it. The more she knew, the more she could try to work out how best to behave, what to say to get her out of this. If she could only...


An angry voice boomed in the hall, interupting Hermione’s spiralling thoughts and her head smacked back against the wood as her assailant shifted position in response.

“You put that girl down this instant!”

Well, there was a voice that she would recognise in an instant. Hermione's shoulders sagged. She wondered if she had ever been happier to hear Molly Weasley’s shrill shouting.

“We have procedures for this Alastor. Ones that you insisted on. Put her down now.”

“But who is it?” Mad-Eye - the real one - protested as he set Hermione down, slower than she would have liked.

“This is Hermione,” Molly said, articulating every syllable of her name as if she was talking to a child, “I told you about her coming today.”

Mad-Eye huffed something that may have been protest or agreement before shuffling off without further comment, or notably, an apology.

Mrs Weasley managed to bustle Hermione further down the corridor - into an expansive kitchen that was just as dank as the hallway had been - sit her at a bench seat and call for Ron to collect her trunk before Hermione could say thank you or even a brief hello. Both of which she finally managed to mutter as Molly handed her a cup of tea and a bubbling phial of pain relief potion for her throat.

“That bloody man will be the death of me, fancy treating you like that? We maybe at war, but there is no reason for anyone to lose their manners.”

Hermione wanted to reply that it hadn’t been his lack of courtesy that had offended her but thought better of it as she uncorked the potion and took it down in one, grateful that she had the tea to take the taste away.

Ron appeared in the kitchen as Mrs Weasley was explaining to Hermione that she would be sharing a room with Ginny and that the Weasleys had been asked to come here by Dumbledore. People - the soldiers for the light - needed somewhere to congregate now that Lord Voldemort was back, and The Burrow would no doubt be under surveillance.

Hermione couldn't help but agree with the plan, but she didn’t understand why Professor McGonagall couldn’t have just told her as much. She wondered whether adults liked to luxuritate in the knowledge that they had a secret that the wouldn’t tell as much as children did.

Ron slid into the seat next to her, rolling his eyes at his mother's diatribe about the state of the oven and gestured to Hermione’s empty phial while Mrs Weasley was peering over saucepans on the stove. Hermione murmured that she would explain later which made his eyes widen but, thankfully, he said nothing.

Ron filled her in on his summer while his mother cooked and Hermione rubbed her neck and glanced around at the visible mould and crumbling brick. There was a smell of damp that seemed to be getting closer and closer to her the longer she sat still and there was a dripping sound coming from a place she couldn’t identify.

I am happy to be here, I am happy to be here.

Hermione repeated the mantra to herself as Molly interjected information here and there about the house and grounds, who was a permanent resident and which bits were forbidden extra — managing to say a lot and nothing at all. Hermione kept a polite smile on her face the whole time. She didn’t want to be rude to Mrs Weasley, especially after she had saved her from Mad-Eye Moody - who it seemed Barty Crouch Jr did a better job of impersonating than they ever realised - but she still wasn’t over the Easter Egg incident from the year before. It sounded petty, even in Hermione’s own mind. But it wasn’t about the Egg, it about what the Egg represented. Somehow Molly thought Hermione was the type of girl to play with Harry’s affections. That had hurt. She had felt the Weasley matriarch knew her better than that. Though, she could admit that her feelings had been comforted a little by Sofiya Krum’s steadfast belief in her at the end of the year.

Before long Molly sent Ron off on some errand and asked Hermione to help with the cooking, previous summers at the Weasley house had left Mrs Weasley in no doubt of Hermione’s limitations as a chef, so she was left pealing the vegetables as she waited for Ginny to finish with whatever menial task she had been working on that afternoon.

Hermione caught her finger on the side of the small knife she was using and rolled her eyes. Of course she had cut herself. This day was becoming ridiculous.

I am happy to be here, I am happy to be here.

Hermione thought about home. Her mother would be getting in from work now and telling her all about the latest trash novel she was reading. Jean Granger loved to read about psychology and ancient history, but she would tell anyone who would listen about the newest page-turner she had invested in. Her father would still be at the practice, probably still sulking that his daughter had gone, with the intention of visiting her friend in a week or so.

David Granger had not been happy about the planned trip. He was fine about Hermione visiting her friend Ron, as she reminded him, but then her parent’s thought she was at the Burrow, as she hadn’t told them otherwise. As her father had continued brooding, Hermione had been tempted to say that Bulgaria was a damn sight safer for her than England was right now, but she had held her tongue.

In the end, following mounting pressure from her mother - Jean Granger had refused to perform any root canals until her husband agreed - David Granger gave his begrudging consent for Hermione to visit Viktor. Though without any grace.

Hermione had kissed him on the cheek and given him a hard hug as she left. She had felt her dad sink slightly into her hold when she had whispered that she loved him. She hoped it would go some way to getting him to forgive her.

Hermione dipped her finger into the bubbly water in the sink and rooted around in the cupboards for a plaster. Mrs Weasley had disappeared, no doubt in search of another one of her offspring to delegate a job to, and Hermione wondered about how the owls would find them if the house were unplottable. She had told Viktor in her last letter that she was heading off to the Weasley’s when she had suggested a date for their visit. Hermione hadn’t expected this level of security. She would have to check with Ginny at the earliest, private, opportunity. She somehow doubted Ron would be keen to allay her concerns about missing the post.

An hour after her rude reception, Hermione was finally sent out of the kitchen, with two plasters on her fingers, to find Ron and Ginny and get a tour of the dilapidated house. Ginny’s enthusiastic greeting and colourful language regarding Mad-Eye did more to heal Hermione than the potion she’d been given, and the girls linked arms as they poked their heads around doors, Ron trailing along behind them. At a room labelled Master’s Study, they had only just opened the door when the sound of large, scuttling feet inside caused them to rush to slam it closed again. They were a bit more cautious in their explorations after that.

The youngest Weasley’s told Hermione all they knew about the ‘Order of the Phoenix’ away from their mothers prying ears, which, unsurprisingly, wasn’t much more than reciting who had been in and out of the house over the last few weeks. It seemed most of their teachers were part of the Order in some capacity, along with a few other witches and wizards that the others hadn't recognised. Ron recounted, with expected loathing, that Professor Snape had been their only a few days ago. Hermione let Ron prattle on about his dislike of the Potion’s Master without challenge, while she would normally say it was rude to berate a teacher this particular one had recently insulted her teeth and Hermione was secretly glad she hadn't had to run into him herself.

The lack of information about what the adults were up to - as well as the enforced cleaning regime - was a source of great frustration. Ginny mentioned that Fred and George were in the process of constructing a prototype listening device to use for the next meeting so that they could learn more.

More than anything Hermione imagined the Weasley children were missing being outside. The garden out the back was forbidden except for a small patch of paving stones nowhere near big enough for an impromptu game of Quidditch. Hermione had spent enough summers with the Weasley’s to know that cooping them up, without a physical outlet for their frustrations, always led to problems.

After idly looking around much of the upper floors, reluctantly, Ginny and Ron stomped off to finish their tasks before dinner, leaving Hermione to complete the tour on her own. She found herself back in the large entry hall and stood in the doorway of a shabby sitting room for a few minutes before deciding she may as well head back to the kitchen and help. Perhaps there she might see some of their visitors for herself? Ginny had whispered to her while Ron was cowering from a large cobweb that there was a rather gorgeous middle-aged wizard that came by quite often. He apparently had an authoritative, booming voice and a winning smile aswell as being something of a natty dresser.

Hermione stared up at the chipped crown moulding and frowned. Grimmauld place would have been the perfect location for a BBC adaptation of a Dickens classic, all rotten floorboards and peeling wallpaper. It had an air of faded grandeur that would have set the scene for a once prosperous family that had fallen on hard times. Hermione wondered what the place had been like when Sirius was growing up, while she doubted it would have ever have been such a neglected mess while permanently inhabited, some of the darkness in the atmosphere felt deeper than the dust lining every surface. If walls could talk, what stories would they have to tell? Hermione recited the old saying to herself. She imagined the walls of this house would have nothing nice to say.

As Hermione regarded a patch of plaster where you could see no less than three different layers of exposed wallpaper, she trod on a loose floorboard, resulting in a drawn-out creak worthy of a horror film and a sudden billowing of ancient moth-eaten curtains that released an air-splitting scream from within.

Hermione hazarded a glance at the wall as her heart raced in her chest. She wasn’t sure what type of portrait had curtains to cover it apart from those being unveiled at art galleries, though one look at the painted witch in front of her suggested this particular one wouldn't draw an awed crowd.

“Filth,” the portrait spat at her after it was done wailing, the old face twisted with rage. Hermione watched as every brush stroke line on the witch’s faces contorted into hard, imposing contours.

“How dare you be here! In the house of my fathers, you are not fit to clean the floors. Mudblood scum.”

I am happy to be here, I am happy to be here.

“The shame, the degradation, the…”

Hermione stopped listening and coughed to clear her throat while she prayed the water in her eyes wasn’t too discernable. She supposed she could always blame it on the dust. She reminded herself of Viktor’s words from the school year, he had told her that many people in their world would think her inferior, and how it would be their mistake. Hermione sniffed and blinked hard. It might have only be a painting, a bloody rude painting, but it didn’t mean she wanted the cow to see she had upset her, or anyone else that might be around for that matter.

Hermione thought about tugging the tatty curtains over the perpetually scowling face but decided against it. Instead, she lifted her chin in the air and continued down the corridor, giving herself a little shake as she went. Unfortunately, Hermione’s lofty glance meant that she collided something low on the ground, forcing her to land on her bum. Once she had groaningly pulled herself back up, Hermione gaped as she realised she had knocked over not just a house elf, but a very elderly one at that. What the hell was going on with this place? Would nothing go right today? She immediately reached out a hand to help him as she got up onto her knees. Hermione noticed his shabby robes as he winced away from her fingers, and she hoped he wasn’t seriously hurt. 

“I am so sorry, I didn’t see you there. I was walking rather quickly, and I’m afraid I…”

“Filth,” the small elf spat and Hermione stepped back on reflex.

“I’m sorry?” she asked but the elf didn’t appear to be listening, he got himself up under his own steam, scowling at her the entire time and muttering things under his breath. Hermione couldn’t hear the details but his tone was decipherable enough, she wasn’t welcome. Hermione wasn’t sure why she had come at all.

The elf walked past her until he stood in front of the portrait Hermione had been insulted by and dropped to his knees. “My Mistress,” he wailed, “what have they done to your house? What should Kreacher do? How can I serve you…”

The elf was cut off in his ranting subjugation as he was knocked across the corridor again, this time deliberately. Hermione stared first in shock, then in horror as out of the darkness Sirius Black emerged, looking as murderous as he had done over a year ago.

“Mr Black, that was hardly necessary,” Hermione said primly, though, a tiny part of her whispered that after being attacked on arrival and screamed at by a painting, it was about time someone came to her defence. She immediately hated herself for the thought.

Sirius, however, ignored her, he was too engaged in a stare-off with the old elf. Eventually, after a few moments of tense silence, the elf stalked off, muttering about the stain on his Mistress’ house, returning to punish him for what he had failed to do for his Master.

Hermione stared after Kreacher, wondering what else would be in store for her over the week while Sirius kicked his boots against the skirting boards releasing clouds of dust that only seemed to make him angrier. His distraction gave Hermione the chance to regard him without attracting his notice. She had thought a lot about Sirius Black after herself and Harry had helped him escape on the back of Buckbeak. How could she have done otherwise? It wasn’t often you saved a man’s life. When Hermione had first seen Sirius in the Shrieking Shack, he had looked possessed, hollow and utterly terrifying. His quest for bloody vengeance had seemed to be the only thing animating his entire person; it certainly hadn’t been food or access to running water. Now he looked better, cleaner at any rate, but his eyes, which had once been manic and unfocused were now... Blank.

“I see you have had the immense pleasure of meeting my mother,” Sirius said bitterly, “and her devoted elf.”

“That is your mother?” Hermione asked, horrified. She pointed at the ugly witch, that bore no resemblance to the man in front of her for emphasis.

“Yes. I can’t find a way to get her off the wall I’m afraid, had no idea the mad old bag had put a picture up after I left. You’ll get used to her eventually. I never managed it, but you might.” With a final venomous glance towards the portrait, Sirius flicked his wand in its direction, and the curtains sprung closed, and all was quiet again.

Hermione found herself impressed by the magic, so much so that she almost forgot about the earlier altercation. Almost.  

“Mr Black,” Hermione said, drawing herself up to stand with her back straight, “You really shouldn’t attack your elf. I realise he is a little, well, whatever he is. But they are sentient creatures with feeling just like you and me and cruelty really isn’t the answer. I don’t know... ”

“What you don’t know, Miss Granger,” Sirius spat, “Could fill an ocean, or… maybe even all of them.” He swayed and pressed himself against the wall and Hermione realised with growing disgust, that he was drunk, in the middle afternoon. “Don’t presume to pontificate at me in my own house, and don’t look at me like that.”

Sirius’ nostrils flared and Hermione expected him to carry on berating her, instead, he left shortly after, stomping up the stairs in his heavy boots. Hermione thought about shouting after him. He really didn't have an excuse for kicking the poor elf. Kreacher may not have been polite, but Sirius was a grown man. But, she held her tongue, frankly, she didn't have the energy for another argument. Tearing her eyes away from his retreating form, Hermine pushed open the kitchen door, hoping some dinner would settle her nerves and help her sleep.

Viktor was stood in long shorts, with his legs wide apart, manipulating his weight to rest over his left knee and trying to balance for the third time. It wasn’t going all that well. After Hermione had shown him some basic Yoga moves during the school year, he had managed to get a hold of a book with weird, unmoving pictures and had been practising himself. Viktor had the hang of some of the more natural stuff, and the positions helped stretch out his back and legs after training, but he was struggling with the intermediate level, he never seemed to be able to get his limbs to do what he wanted them to do when he wasn’t on his broom. Viktor wondered if he would always be as uncoordinated on the ground as he had been as a child. Honestly, he had hoped to grow out of it by now. When he was sixteen he had brought it up with his mother, who had reassured him as best she could while insisting that he was just like his father and that Grigor was always fully in control of his body when it mattered. Horrified, Viktor had never raised it the issue again.

An owl tapping against the window distracted him, and Viktor kicked the book - open on the floor - under his bed, he would have another go later.

After he let the bird in and searched his room for treats, Viktor scanned the latest letter from Hermione - shorter than most - until he found a section that slowed his perusal and made his face split into a wide grin. All thoughts of yogic failure behind him.

In your previous letter, you asked if I was still intending to come to Bulgaria, this week I spoke to my parents, and they are happy for me to come to visit you. If you still want me to, that is? I don’t want to presume. They asked whether it might be possible for me to travel with a friend? If that is okay with you, and you have the extra room, I would like to bring Luna, who you have met. Would you mind if we came the week after next? I don’t want to impose on you, so let me know if that doesn't work, or if you no longer have time for me to come. I understand how busy you are with training and your mastery. I will wait to hear from you.

Viktor dropped the letter down onto his desk and sped out of his room to try and intercept his mother before she headed out for dinner.

Hermione was going to keep her promise. She was coming.

Chapter Text

Hermione dropped onto the old bed in the cramped room she was to share with Ginny and tried not to cringe as the tired springs dug into her body at weird angles. She thought of all the magic in the world that had already been invented, and yet somehow not a single wizard had ever attempted to replicate a Tempur mattress. Hermione pulled the thin duvet up to her chin and twisted the edges around her hands, trying to prevent any of the frigid air from getting into the bed with her. Not only was Grimmauld Place falling apart, creepy and damp, it was also freezing at night. Dragon had taken one look at their new surroundings and refused to get out of Hermione’s trunk at all, and she found she could hardly blame him. Hermione had managed to wedge open the lid, using a few of her old textbooks, and Dragon had bedded himself down in her jumpers. He was no doubt a good deal more comfortable at that moment than she was.

All in all, a happy, restful night of sleep seemed unlikely. Hermione was debating whether to brave the wrath of Mrs Weasley to go out in search of another blanket - or maybe the materials to start a small fire - when she heard socked feet rush across the cracked wooden floor and Ginny all but fell on top of her.

“Get your claws out of the covers and let me in Hermione,” Ginny demanded as she grabbed at the insubstantial blanket.

Hermione, realising that another person would make the temperature almost habitable, gave in quickly and the girls huddled together in the darkness. As Ginny twisted in the sheets, Hermione moved back cautiously to give her some more room. She supposed that a lot of girls her age would find sharing a bed hugely irritating, but to her, someone that had never had many friends, it was a chance to experience things she had never gotten to do when she was little.

Muggle primary had afforded her no opportunity for sleepovers, even though she had heard them talked of often. At the time Hermione had not felt envious at all, there hadn’t been anyone there she had wanted to spend more time with, and frankly, she had liked the way she got to relax when she was back home. In the safety of her own living room, Hermione could talk about whatever she wanted, and was never afraid to say what she liked or didn’t for fear of falling foul of whatever was currently in favour. But now, with real friends, Hermione was pleased to note how different it was. Sure, they all teased her for her love of books and her constant spouting of facts no one else cared about, but it never felt overly malicious.

Ginny peddled her legs under the blankets until she got comfortable, and when she stopped she stared into Hermione’s face until they both adjusted to the dim light. “I’m so glad you are here.”

Hermione shrugged. “I’m not so sure, it’s great to be with you but… this place its-”

“Yep,” Ginny interjected, “it's rank and filled with misery but what is it you always say, ‘misery loves company’? Imagine what it’s been like with just Ron’s whinging and scrubbing to fill my days.” Hermione made a comforting noise and pushed her hands under the worn pillow - pillow, singular.

“So, tell me all about the plans for Bulgaria,” Ginny prodded happily, “I can’t believe your parents said yes!”

In spite of herself and her surroundings, Hermione grinned. “I don’t know anything yet. I sent the dates to Viktor, but I don’t know much else. It would be sort of weird for him to send an itinerary. It wasn’t all that easy, my Dad was pretty close to saying no, but my Mum convinced him in the end,” she replied.

Hermione had known Ginny would want to ask more questions, and though she had managed to give her friend prior warning of her trip, the letter she had sent before arriving at Grimmauld Place had been deliberately scant on information, partly because Hermione didn’t know many details herself but also because a tiny part of her delighted in having something to tell.

“That would never happen in my house,” Ginny mused, “more like the other way around. Dad’s a soft touch, Mum on the other hand. Well, you know.”

Hermione bit her lip. “I do know, and that's why… Listen, Ginny, please don’t be angry with me.”

“Angry at you? Whatever for?”

The bed creaked and Hermione felt Ginny shuffle closer. She was dreading this, she hated disappointing people, but there was nothing to be done.

“My Mum wanted me to go with someone, she said it was because the journey would be safer in a pair, but I think it was more so that I wasn’t at Viktor’s house by myself.” Hermione paused and took a breath, “I asked Luna, and she’s going to come.” Ginny was silent and Hermione fought to keep her pitch even. “I really wanted you to come with us, but I knew there was no way we could convince your mum and I didn’t want to get your hopes up.”

Ginny made a muffled noise of frustration, and it took Hermione a moment to realise her friend was groaning into her pillow.

“Fuck!” Ginny exclaimed, the word splitting the silence of the room. She pounded a fist into the bed - that the dilapidated mattress could ill afford - before she sagged back down. “Not you, just… I’m so annoyed, I would have loved to go with you, but you’re right, there is no way my mum would say yes, even if I’m not doing anything worthwhile here.”

“Harry should be here soon,” Hermione ventured in a quiet voice.

“I’m going to pretend you didn’t mention that.”

“Which is your prerogative,” Hermione replied, happy to drop the subject. At another time, when Ginny was in a better mood she could always attempt to comfort her friend by reminding Ginny that she didn’t have to travel anywhere to see the object of her affection - as Harry came to her home every summer.

Ginny sighed. “I’m glad your taking Luna, she will be thrilled and she will be an excellent buffer for your nerves. I’m just going to hate being left here.”

“It will only be a few days, a week at most.”

“It will feel like an eternity of deprivation,” Ginny said dramatically. Hermione would have normally laughed at such theatrics but in this case, she was almost in agreement, she had not yet been at Grimmauld one full day and it had past by incredibly slowly. Instead, she braved the chill to stretch out her arm and pat Ginny’s hand, hoping to give some small comfort.

“We’ll write you letters,” she promised.

“I know you will, it's just not going to be the same. It's not your fault but its so crap.”

“I know,” Hermione agreed.

“I suppose I don’t feel so guilty about asking to be the little spoon now,” Ginny said in a mock pouty tone which did make Hermione laugh. The girls moved around carefully, doing all they could not to dislodge the blanket. “Well this is cosy,” Ginny observed as she pulled Hermione’s arm around her tighter, “and I suppose it's good practice for you, what with you seeing Viktor so soon. Though I imagine, he would insist on being the big spoon, being the gentleman that he is.”

Hermione instantly felt flushed and was glad of the darkness. “Oh please,” she replied, hoping she didn’t sound as breathless as she felt, “he’s still living with his parents, and it's not like we will be sharing a room let alone a bed.” Though even as she said it, Hermione couldn’t help but imagine what would happen, just for a moment, before she quickly shut the door on those thoughts.

“If you say so,” Ginny singsonged and Hermione was reminded of how her friend managed to wind up all of her brothers with what always appeared to be minimal effort.

“I do,” Hermione replied curtly.

“Careful Hermione, I can hear your disappointment.”

“You can go back to your own bed if you carry on,” Hermione chastised as she shoved Ginny’s shoulder.

“So violent, does Viktor know about this side of you?”

Hermione tried for an indignant reply, but she couldn’t suppress a giggle, and soon both girls were laughing wildly. Their entertainment came to an abrupt stop a few moments later when they heard footsteps coming past their bedroom door. The steps seemed to pause for a moment, but then they were trailing off again, down the corridor and up the next flight of stairs.

“I suppose we better go to sleep,” Ginny said, her voice much quieter now. “No doubt there will be an endless list of scintillating tasks for us to undertake tomorrow.”

“No doubt,” Hermione replied bitterly. She tried to push the thought of tomorrow out of her mind and instead focused on using her left foot to drag the right leg of her pyjama pants back down.

“Hermione?” Ginny murmured, as she shuffled back into Hermione’s hold.


“You better tell me everything when you get back… and I mean everything.

“I will,” Hermione promised, though she felt awkward even at the thought of what that implied.  

“Good,” Ginny replied, “I love you, I would say sweet dreams but as we have already established, with your head full of Viktor-”

“Ginny!” Hermione bit out in warning.

“Oh all right then, spoilsport, good night.”

Hermione smiled into her pillow. “Goodnight Ginny.”

Viktor appeared in the well-hidden apparition point for the small central town near his home and was quietly pleased with himself for not swaying as he did so. Apparition had not come naturally to him, and he had fallen over the first hundred or so times he tried it. Landing on his feet had never been a strong suit of his. Viktor nodded in brief, polite greeting to the lady who arrived behind him and quickly made his way out of the quiet alley, and into the throng of people milling around in the twilight.

Viktor adjusted his coat, pulling the warm sheepskin lining around his neck as he glanced up at the stars. He loved this time of year. It was hot during the day and cool and crisp at night, and the good weather always had the same miraculous effect on the general populous; everyone seemed happier and more satisfied, able to smile at strangers as they completed mundane tasks or travelled to their places of work.

Viktor followed looping streams of orange and yellow lanterns that lined the streets around the bars and restaurants, not getting much attention as he went. He had lived in the same small town his entire life, and while the people were incredibly proud of their homegrown talent, they never treated him like a star. Instead, they seemed to take a perverse sort of glee in not noticing him. He had often heard a shopkeeper or bar owner say ‘oh that's just Viktor’ to an interested outsider, wanting to stress how normal they found it all, arguably to make themselves seem superior but for whatever reason, Viktor was glad of it.

Viktor was glad of the boots he had decided on as kept a quick pace through the cobbled street, and now, totally alone with his thoughts for the first time all day he was free to imagine a time - thankfully very soon - when he might not be making a solitary journey.

Filip and Mikhail were already there when Viktor finally arrived at the pre-agreed upon bar, once again proving the age-old argument that in the case of meeting up with a group the person that lived the closest was invariably the last to arrive. His friends had opted to sit outside, which Viktor was glad of, on a small wooden table that let them watch the comings and goings around them. Viktor waved as he approached and rushed into the outdoor area lit by more modest versions of the lanterns from the main street, feeling the subtle warming charms against his cheeks as he stepped over the perimeter.

Filip stood up and pulled him into a hug while Mikhail punched him on the back and handed him a butterbeer. Viktor lowered himself onto the free chair and the three friends delighted in catching up on their recent comings and goings. It was an adjustment, not seeing each other every day like they had for the last seven years, but it hadn’t diminished their relationship at all.

After Mikhail finished outlining the early plan for his full-time Charms Mastery, now that a professor had accepted him, he turned to Viktor, “So, what’s new with you? Have you got any further with sourcing a flat? How is training?”

Viktor grinned betraying a lot of how he felt. “Training is going well, in the beginning it was hard, so many new things to learn but it's starting to pay off. The team feels more cohesive, there is an anticipation in our play that wasn’t there before and…” Viktor trailed off for a moment and his friends exchanged a look. “I could talk more about it, I would love to at some point but…  two days ago I found out that Hermione’s coming here, to Bulgaria, and I can’t think of anything else.”

Viktor didn’t have to wait long for a reaction from his friends. Filip whooped loudly, drawing the curious attention of some nearby tables and Mikhail begrudgingly handed their momentarily obnoxious friend a small wad of notes.

“Betting against me?” Viktor asked, but it was clear he was without rebuke. Mikhail had been adamant that Hermione would never be able to convince her parents to come.

“Never,” Mikhail replied with a smile, “just a friendly wager.”

Mikhail got the attention of a barman to order more drinks as Filip excitedly listed off ideas of what they could do during Hermione’s trip. Viktor tried not to look like he was taking too many mental notes, but it was apparently clear he needed help when Mikhail smirked at him. “Surely you're not worried?” he asked incredulously. “If Hermione is coming she's still interested.”

“Or she could just want to see Bulgaria,” Viktor hedged, and Filip snorted.

“Yes because all British school girls dream of coming to a rural town they’ve never heard of for their holidays,” he said sarcastically.

Mikhail eyed Viktor appraisingly before handing over a fresh drink. “I will never understand how you get so flustered around this one girl. Hermione is great but it’s not like she's the only girl you have ever spoken to, and I would hardly describe her as intimidating.”

“Can’t you?” Viktor replied with a smirk of his own, “I forgot to mention, Luna’s coming.”

Mikhail's hand briefly tightened on the neck of his bottle - a reaction so small Viktor would never have noticed if he wasn’t looking for it - and he suddenly became incredibly interested in a patch of condensation on the table. Filip rolled his eyes at their usually stoic friend's behaviour. “Really?” he pressed, “I hadn’t been aware you were inviting all of the girls from Hogwarts School. Did you ask anyone for me?”

“I wasn’t, and I didn’t. Hermione asked if she could bring Luna along and I didn’t see that it would be a problem. Her parents thought it would be safer for her to travel with a friend,” Viktor explained.

Filip laughed into his drink. “You mean they thought their daughter needed a chaperone to visit ‘international quidditch star’ Viktor Krum?”

“Her virtue is safe with me,” Viktor protested as he shifted in his seat.

“Sure it is Viktor, sure it is.”

“Can we talk about something else?” Viktor pleaded. He really didn’t need any excuse to think about Hermione in that way, but he wasn’t lying, she was safe with him. Not to mention his mother would have forty fits if she thought anything like that was going on under her roof.

“Of course,” Filip agreed, “what are we going to do with Hermione while she's here?”


Filip nodded aggressively, “Yes we. I am seeing her right? I know she's here for you but, well, I miss her too. Not in the same way you do but-”

“Yes,” Viktor interjected to cut Filip off, “I have a few ideas, but I want to try something… Muggle,” he admitted a little sheepishly.

“Muggle? Like what?”

Viktor sighed, “I have no idea, I need your help.”

Filip grinned, “Of course you do.”

On the morning of her first full day at Grimmauld Place, Hermione sat in the kitchen to eat breakfast and was assigned her very own cleaning duty, thus enabling her to join the rest of the underage Weasley children in whatever circle of hell this was. While the chorus of groans and protests rang out amongst the porridge bowls, Hermione tried to keep calm, she had an out after all. Though, she was especially annoyed to discover she had been called away from her own family to tidy up a neglected townhouse.

Moans about the cleaning up turned into further exasperation as Molly told informed them there was going to be an Order meeting later that night after they had all gone to bed. Again, Hermione kept herself in check, and while she couldn't help but complain, she did so less than the rest. She had stopped expecting to be told pertinent information long ago, and the adults keeping stuff from them wasn’t unexpected. Additionally, she was currently hiding - or rather not disclosing - her onward journey from Mrs Weasley and as such, Hermione decided it was wisest to keep a low profile and do what she was asked to with as much grace as possible.

Following a lengthy deliberation over how to effectively separate the twins, Mrs Weasley sent Hermione and Ginny to the Black family library, with a smile that told Hermione the matriarch thought she was doing her a favour. Hermione had to concede - if only non verbally - that it was the best piece of fruit in the rotten barrel until she was told she couldn’t actually touch any of the books.

“It’s just this house dear,” Mrs Weasley had said, “we suspect many of them are likely to be cursed.”

Great, just great.

Hermione and Ginny made their way into the library, grumbling as they went, and stood at the furthermost wall. They had a list of jobs from Molly for that particular room and they had decided to tackle the tasks grossest first. As such, they were beginning with the skirting boards and attempting to chase out whatever insect that appeared to have colonised there.

They were just about to open the only book they were permitted to touch today, a battered edition of housecleaning spells, when they heard voices. Ginny eyed Hermione for a long moment and then tilted her head in the direction of the muffled sound. Hermione agreed, and walking quietly the girls moved past a particularly rusty looking stack, revealing Sirius and Remus sitting in a worn pair of armchairs in front of an unlit fire.

Hermione knew by now that the two men had been friends while they were at school and at one point closer than brothers. However, if she hadn’t known it she would never have believed it to look at them. Both Sirius and Remus seemed to be drowning in their own pain, not that it stopped them from noticing each others, they just didn’t seem particularly adept in solving it.

Sirius had a bottle in his hand that was clearly alcohol, and he was drinking straight from the neck without bothering to use a glass in between, despite the early hour. Hermione recognised the torn label as Firewhiskey from having seen it behind the bar at the Three Broomsticks. The girls shuffled indecisively as Remus looked at his friend with poorly concealed exasperation that Sirius was purposefully ignoring.

“I’m sorry,” Hermione stumbled out, awkwardly announcing their presence. She had no interest in getting on the wrong side of Sirius after the day before, and she did not want him to suspect they were eavesdropping. “Molly sent us in here… to clean, we didn’t realise you were…. We’ll just be going.”

Hermione gripped Ginny’s wrist and made to turn around; they could ask Molly for a different job, they could come back here when Sirius retreated to wherever he normally hid for most of his time. Hermione didn’t think Mrs Weasley would mind, she seemed to avoid Sirius’ presence more than anyone else currently in residence.


Sirius’ voice - loud and cold in the tired old room - pierced the air behind them and Hermione was unsurprised by the nasty glint in his eyes when she spun back to face him. “Pardon?”

“I understand you aren’t staying with us very long… much more pressing places to be.”

“Pads,” Remus chastised, but to no effect, Sirius leant forward in his battered seat.

“I hear Eastern Europe is beautiful at this time of year.”

Hermione felt herself stiffen in shock. “How did…”

“Sorry, Hermione,” Ginny said quietly, “Fred got a hold of your last letter and you know what the twins are like, everyone knows.”

Hermione’s face must have reflected the embarrassment she felt as Ginny slid closer to her and dropped her voice so their audience couldn’t hear. “Don’t worry, there wasn’t any teasing, I think the boys are too awed for that. But… you might want to watch out for Mum, I don’t think she was all that happy.”

Hermione swallowed and tried not to fidget, that was an unexpected development. Still, there was nothing she could do about it now and, she told herself, Molly didn’t have any real power over whether she could go or not. Her own mother and father had agreed and by the time she left Hermione would have put in a week of helping out for no reward, and would no doubt resume as soon as she returned. They had no say in her summer, whatever she chose to do with it, or wherever she decided to spend it.

Clenching one hand into a fist, Hermione forced herself met Sirius’ eyes with what she hoped was an unaffected gaze. God only knew why he had it in for her, but frankly, he could stick it. She had rescued the man from a certain, unjust, and untimely death, and she was tired of his attitude.

“Yes, I will be travelling to Bulgaria next week, not that its any business of yours.”

“Easy there kitten,” Sirius shot back but the dark edge had gone from his voice, he appeared to be almost smiling at her now.

“Don’t you kitten me, Sirius Black,” Hermione snapped and turned on her heel to make a hasty retreat. As she heard Ginny scurry to catch up she thought to herself that both her and Sirius had now each had a turn to stomp off dramatically. She could own that the childish behaviour was barely acceptable in someone of her own age, so who knew what it said about Sirius.

Hermione had just got to sanctuary promised by the open library door when Ginny pulled her back before she could reach the corridor. Hermione made to protest but Ginny placed a finger over her lips and in the sudden silence she could hear the conversation continuing behind them.

“Must you wind her up? I realise you are scrambling for something to do, but tormenting children seems a bit harsh. She's a good girl, Sirius,” Remus said, and Hermione was embarrassed by how much those words pleased her, especially coming from a former teacher.

“Of course you like her, I bet she was a right little teacher's pet while you were there.” That assessment, although not surprising given its source, pleased Hermione much less and she was happy to hear Remus scoff.

“She’s just too easy, I can’t help myself,” Sirius admitted after an uncomfortable silence.

“You’ll be the death of me.”

“You can’t blame me, surely? It’s been a long time since I’ve had anyone other than the voices in my head to fight with and honestly, those guys get repetitive after twelve years stuck in a cell. The rest of you treat me like I’m on the verge of a significant mental collapse. At least the girl calls me on my shit.”

“We all call you on it, Sirius, you just don’t listen, you never have.”

“Whatever you need to tell yourself Moony.”

Ginny and Hermione look at each other worriedly, before heading to the kitchen to be redeployed.

Later that day Hermione was unenthusiastically sweeping a high ceiling with a magically extended broom when she had her first sighting of the twins, well, one of them since breakfast, or, more importantly, since Ginny’s revelation about her letter. Hermione narrowed her eyes and briefly thought about turning her cleaning instrument into a weapon until she thought better of it.

“Fred,” she called out. The twin in question took one look at her stony countenance and increased his pace. “No you don’t, come back here Fred Weasley.”

Not one for being ignored, Hermione chased after Fred down the dingy corridor and decided to utilise the element of surprise and jumped on his back. However, as this was the first time in her memory that she had ever even attempted to launch herself at and onto another human, she miscalculated the speed and distance required and rather than stopping Fred in his tracks they both fell to the floor.

“What the bloody hell is up with you Granger?” Fred shouted as he rubbed his knee before backing himself against the hall wall.

“Care to tell me why the whole house seems to know about my love life, Freddy.”

Fred sagged. “Oh, that's what this is about? For a blissful moment I thought one of my favourite fantasies was going to play out in real life.”

Hermione pulled herself up to kneel and rubbed her elbow that had collided with the hard wooden floor. “What are you on about Fred?”

He grinned toothily at her, “You, me, a hallway that hasn't seen a cleaning charm in over a decade, ahhh sweet romance.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Be serious for a moment, I had to endure some pretty barbed mocking from Sirius Black of all people this morning, I should think you could manage an apology.”

Fred got to his feet and proffered his arm to Hermione who warily accepted his help. “I don’t see why we need to say sorry, unless you’re put out that you missed the dramatic reading of your letter, George did a voice and everything it was fantastic.”

Hermione huffed and made a futile attempt at dusting off her jeans. “I don’t like people knowing my business.”

Fred shrugged, entirely unconcerned. “It’s not like it was going to stay quiet for long. Hermione, your family, you should know by now that everything is our business and you will be mocked accordingly. Also, where’s your sense of charity? There is less than nothing going on here Granger, we need the entertainment.”

“Fine,” Hermione gritted out, giving up her anger and picking up her broom again, “It’s not as if I could have expected better.”

Fred smiled, “Before I leave your wonderful, dusty presence I wanted to check something, have you spoken to my brother about you going?”

Hermione tilted her head to the side, “Not yet, why?”

“Ronniekins didn’t seem to enjoy it much,” Fred reported with his familiar air of mischief, “he missed the comedy value entirely I would say.”

Hermione waited for Fred to disappear from view before she vented her frustrations on the ceiling, only to end up with a hair full of dirt for her trouble. She should have expected that the twins would be unrepentant, but it didn’t mean she had to like it.

If she was honest with herself, Hermione knew she deliberately hadn’t raised the trip with Ron. If the previous year had taught her anything, it was that their friendship had limited strength, and that limit seemed to be as soon as the world around them deviated in any way from the status quo. Ron had not covered himself in glory when it came to Viktor and it made Hermione uneasy, she didn’t know how to approach this situation. Ron was likely to become upset if she didn’t speak to him about it, he didn’t like to be the last to know anything, but at the same time, she didn’t want to feel like she was rubbing it in.

Hermione took one last look at her broom and decided to give it up as a bad job. When cleaning almost seemed like a pleasant alternative to speaking to her friend she knew she was avoiding the issue, and not just Viktor, she was acutely aware that neither of them had mentioned Harry since her arrival and more than anything she needed some of Ron’s no-nonsense reasoning to assuage some of her guilt.

Hermione eventually found Ron, her friend was a floor above where she had been stationed, half-heartedly trying to remove a trail of Ivy that had somehow started growing within the walls of the house. Hermione passed him the tea that she managed to make in the kitchen, and the two of them sat on the floor, looking out of one of the smeared windows.

Hermione’s fingers tapped against the outside or her mug, and she leant her head back against the cold stone wall. “Ron, have you spoken to Harry at all since we left the Express? I won’t be cross or tell on you if you went against Dumbledore’s instructions. I just want to know.”

Hermione had been holding on to some small hope that Ron had flouted the rules to stay in contact with their friend. She had speculated that the twins might have had some way to communicate in the magical world that would have not required owls, and as such a better chance of remaining undetected.

Ron shrugged a little shamefaced, “I haven’t sent anything, I wanted to but I was worried he might end up in more trouble.”

Hermione nodded. “I’m worried. Harry was… the events of last year are going to affect him for a long time and I can't help but think that not having any contact from the wizarding world for months on end is going to make it worse.”

Ron set his cup down and rubbed at his face, his pale skin quickly turning pink. “I know, but what can we do? We’re stuck here, under almost more supervision than we would have a school.”

“Maybe we could speak to Sirius?”

Hermione couldn’t leave it, while in the Muggle world she had no one she could talk to about it, no one with any ability to do anything in any case.

“Mione, I’m not sure that's such a good idea,” Ron replied, “he's… well, he's not in good shape. Ginny said that you’ve had a few run-ins with him, but honestly it’s the tip of the iceberg. Despite him being here all of the time we hardly ever see him, and when he is around its like he could fly off the handle at any moment.”

You’re telling me.

“I know,” Hermione agreed, and she did. She had briefly considered asking Professor Lupin but she suspected that he would just repeat what Dumbledore had said. Sirius, on the other hand, didn’t seem like he was overly concerned about who had given what order. “But he's still Harry’s Godfather, that must count for something.”

“Of course, but if you must speak to him don’t let my Mum find out, and try and catch him in one of his rare good moods.”

“I’ll do that.”

There was silence as they drank their teas and Hermione stared out of the window again until she heard Ron awkwardly clear his throat. “So, you're going to Bulgaria?”

“Yes, I am,” Hermione confirmed, “next week, Luna is coming and I will be there for a few days.”

“To see him?” He asked quietly.

“Would I go for any other reason?”

“No, no I suppose not.”




Chapter Text

After talking with Ron - if their stilted, barely making eye contact encounter called be called a conversation - Hermione had agreed to delay approaching Sirius until they had at least tried Mrs Weasley. The plan had been to appeal to Molly’s maternal instincts and obvious concern for Harry’s ongoing welfare to get more information.

An opportunity presented itself at breakfast the very next day. Hermione was sandwiched between the twins, leaning into George for warmth, and to avoid whatever it was that Fred was subtly working on next to his breakfast plate. Sensing a rare moment of quiet, Ron took his chance.

“You know who loves sausages?” he asked as he took one out of the large serving tray in the middle of the table. “Harry, Harry loves sausages. Say, Mum, when is Harry getting here?”

Hermione resisted the urge to face plant the table, but it was a close-run thing. Sometimes when dealing with the boys around her, there was nothing left for Hermione to do other than let her face connect with a hard lacquered wood and scream her rage, or in this case disbelief, into its unforgiving surface. She knew that as Gryffindors subtly wasn’t exactly their wheelhouse, but Merlin, that was painful. And they wondered why they weren't allowed to be an active part of the war effort.

Molly, no doubt used to years of children asking questions seemingly out of thin air, barely batted an eye. “Oh don't you worry about that, Dumbledore has it all in hand.”

“I know, but we haven’t been able to send him any owls and-”

“Ronald,” Mrs Weasley interrupted sternly, putting down her saucepan to give the matter her full attention. “He will get here as soon as he is supposed to, and not a moment before. It’s not for you to think on.”

Hermione directed her long ago patented ‘I told you so’ look at Ron and he mumbled something that sounded like ‘fine’ in response, followed by a few words she was sure he would’ve gotten a thick ear for if Molly had heard.

Hermione had tried to tell him that Sirius was the only viable option. The only thing more dependable than Dumbledore’s vagueness was the Weasley matriarch's steadfast belief in the headmaster, whatever his motivations. Hermione hoped, for all their sakes, that Molly knew more information than they did, and was satisfied that their friend was safe and above all happy, but she doubted. It.

Despite shooting gloating looks at Ron all through breakfast, Hermione was feeling much less confident in her plan by the time she left the kitchen to go in search of Sirius. If she had learnt anything since she had entered the magical world, it was that the ‘best plan’ they had wasn’t necessarily a good one, often it was the only option. That was how Hermione had found herself staring up at a three-headed dog in her first year, and being chased by a werewolf in her third, and now it was driving her further and further up the winding stairs of the old townhouse, to Sirius’ room.

Hermione had parted ways with Ginny on the second-floor landing and said she would catch up with her later. Ginny, unlike Ron, had offered to come. Hermione had been tempted to take her up on it, however, some instinct told her it would be best to go it alone, she was already planning on entering Sirius’ private space very much without invitation, it was probably best to do so as unobtrusively as possible.

When Hermione made it to Sirius’ door, she stood still for a few moments building up the courage to knock. There was a name plaque on the door, faded like everything else in this house of nightmares, but still legible. Engraved in what looked like a small child's handwriting was Sirius Orion Black with the constellation that gave him his name lightly etched over the old letters. Suddenly, Hermione felt even more unwelcome, looking at the perfectly timed reminder that Sirius had lived here, and that he had never been happy.

With a determination she did not feel, Hermione rapped softly on the door and waited for a response, mostly unsurprised when none came. Hermione knew that Sirius was in there; he rarely came to breakfast, preferring to make himself something in the kitchen when they had all left if he ate at all. When Remus was in the house Sirius would dutifully seek him out and sit by his old friend, but Remus was not at Grimmauld, and Hermione knew if her former professor was not in the house, Sirius would be hiding in his room.

Hermione debated knocking again, but the room beyond the door was silent, save for a few rustles every now and again, and so she knew he would have heard her. Instead, knowing it was rude but doing it anyway, Hermione lightly pushed on the door. She had no desire to irritate Sirius more than she already had, but she had no idea when she might evade Mrs Weasley again. It was now or never.

With a whole host of reservations, Hermione entered, expecting to be confronted by an angry Sirius Black; instead, she found a very unhappy looking Hippogriff.

“Buckbeak?” she asked dumbly, as she stepped back towards the relative safety of the doorway.

“Of course Buckbeak,” Sirius replied with amusement, “how many Hippogriffs do you think I’ve befriended on my travels?”

“If half the stories I’ve heard about your school days are true it could be any number,” Hermione replied shortly, trying to ascertain if the being in front of her remembered their time together, hopefully his successful rescue was burnt into his memory.

Buckbeak had looked huge tied up next to Hagrid’s hut; in the mid-sized bedroom of a London townhouse, he looked monumental. Hermione tried not to take her eyes away from Buckbeak’s face, but she couldn’t help noticing the assorted animal carcasses amongst what looked like a ruined side table the animal was using as bedding.

“That doesn’t seem… sanitary,” she heard herself say.

Sirius only gave a dry chuckle in response, and Hermione let herself believe that his lack of open hostility might mean he would be open to speaking to her.

One problem at a time, Hermione.

Pushing herself away from the wall she had sheltered against, Hermione slowly walked towards Buckbeak and steadily dropped into a sweeping bow, before waiting, hunched over, until Buckbeak returned her opening and then sat back down amongst his destruction and folded his vast wings over his body.

Hermione watched Buckbeak breathe for a few moments before she turned to look at Sirius on the other side of the room. He was further away from the window, so much so that he was almost entirely in shadow. While there were not the remains of small rodents littered around his feet, ‘his side’ could hardly be described as tidy.

Patches of the walls behind him had been viciously clawed at; faces had been ripped off photos and books were reduced to shreds. Other areas had been kept as pristine as it was possible for them to be in this mould infested residence. It was as if Sirius couldn’t decide whether he wanted to remove every trace of memory or preserve it like a shrine.

“What are you doing here, Hermione?”

There was a hard and unfortunately familiar edge to Sirius’ voice, and Hermione abruptly turned away from a tattered family picture she had been studying to face him. She gathered up her courage, and gave herself free reign to babble, knowing that if she left it too late to respond Sirius would impose his own conclusion about her presence and his imaginings were hardly likely to be favourable.

“It’s about Harry, we, myself and Ron that is, we are worried about him. Dumbledore won’t let us write, and before the end of term he was already so broken, he must be so lonely, and you of all people must know…” Hermione cut herself off, wishing that she had thought far enough ahead to plan what she wanted to say properly.

“What must I know, poppet?”

Hermione bit her lip and decided to be honest, she had never been much of a liar, especially when under pressure. “You understand what it feels like to blame yourself for something that isn’t your fault-”

“How would you possibly…”

“-because of what you said in the Shack last year.”

“You really do think you’re smarter than everyone else don’t you?” Sirius sneered.

Hermione sucked in a breath and fought the urge to bow to Sirius as a show of respect like she had with Buckbeak. “No, actually, I don’t,” she countered. “Especially not when it comes to people. I’m sorry… I only meant to ask if you could speak to the Order, to get Harry brought here. Surely he would be safer in this house, surrounded by all of these people than where he is now, alone and unprotected in the Muggle world, with people that don’t love him.”

Sirius was silent for what felt like an eternity, but Hermione managed to hold her tongue, mainly as she was terrified of what she might say if she opened her mouth again. She knew Ron would be struck dumb when she told him about this - after her scorn for his clumsy approach earlier she had managed to top it. That's right Hermione, approach the unstable, isolated wizard, violate his sanctuary/ personal hell, and while trying to get him onside, mention the worst event in his life.

After a long moment of fidgeting and self-chastisement, Sirius sighed and sank onto the end of his bed. “That's a nice idea, Hermione, it really is, but unless you haven’t already noticed, I simply do not have the clout to get Harry here.”

“But Sirius... ”

“But nothing,” he replied softly, “I do not have the power to control my own fate, let alone my godson’s.”

Hermione tried to think of something to say, but in her heart, she already knew she had lost their current battle. The silence descended again, and this time it was even more oppressive and only broken by the sound of Sirius shuffling through scrunched up copies of the Daily Prophet that lined the floor until he finally retrieved a half-empty bottle of Firewhisky.

Hermione had the fleeting notion that the heir to the Ancient and Noble House of Black was about to start on some cleaning mission of his own, and that thought lasted until he uncorked the bottle and glugged down a large enough measure to make Hermione wince.

“Sirius,” Hermione said hesitantly, “it’s ten in the morning.”

Sirius looked at her while he rubbed the sleeve of his jumper over his wet lips. “Thank you for that, Hermione. I can assure you that while, admittedly, there were gaps in my education, I did learn to tell the fucking time.”

Hermione had too, and she knew it was time for her to leave, now. Sirius was clearly at the end of his willingness to cooperate, and so Hermione gave a final bow to Buckbeak, even though the Hippogriff appeared to be sleeping, and put her hand on the door handle, depressingly happy to be returning to cleaning.

“He’s lucky to have you, you know, Harry I mean.”

Despite Sirius’ words being uttered at a reasonable volume, Hermione wasn’t entirely sure they were meant to be heard. She debated with herself on the threshold for a moment before turning back around. “He might not think that anymore, not now he has been left on his own for months.”

“I was on my own for years, Hermione, left to rot away into nothingness” Sirius replied, “it doesn’t stop you recognising what a friend looks like.” 

Hermione had to endure a further week of seemingly unending life at Grimmauld Place before Luna arrived. Her friend opened the front door and promptly blew away the cobwebs - both real and figurative - from Hermione’s vision. If it hadn’t been so desperately welcome, Hermione would have laughed at the sight of Luna and her father standing in the gloomy hallway. They couldn’t have looked more out of place if they were trying, and if Hermione had learned anything about the Lovegoods, it was that nothing they ever did was pre-planned or done for effect.

They had been accompanied and seen over the magically enforced threshold by Tonks, a youngish, fairly clumsy Auror that Hermione had met the day before. Tonks’ usually bubblegum pink hair had shifted to lime green, no doubt to show off her talent by matching Mr Lovegood’s robes.

Hermione rushed downstairs as soon as she heard the first sign of a commotion, having been on high alert for Luna’s arrival since breakfast.

“I wasn’t sure you would be able to come here,” Hermione began. She had asked Luna in her last letter where it would be best to meet; her friend had assured her that she would come to where Hermione was and offered no more detail or explanation than that.  

Luna’s father stepped forward, putting his daughter’s trunk on the floor. “I am a member of the Order; in something of an auxiliary capacity. After all, one cannot rely on the Daily Prophet for an independent or truly representative press.”

“No Daddy,” Luna agreed gravely, “especially not now they have Heliopaths on their payroll.”

“Indeed, fire spirits are unpredictable at the best of times, but when surrounded by people with corrupt morals their effects can be devastating.”

Hermione followed the conversation between father and daughter like she was watching a tennis match. As much as the random words made her head spin, Hermione knew by now not to bother trying to interject or ask further questions; the answers would only add to her growing bafflement.

Seemingly finished with their discussion, Luna rooted around in a pocket at the front of her robes and eventually handed a folded piece of parchment to Hermione. “A map of Bulgaria,” she said excitedly, “Daddy had it in his collection.”

“A little out of date I’m afraid,” Mr Lovegood conceded with a smile, “I’ve never been, but I’ve heard it’s delightful. Thank you so much for inviting Luna, Miss Granger, I look forward to hearing all about your travels when you return. Anyway, I must be off. The paper does not run itself. Now darling,” he said, turning to his daughter, “remember to-”

“-keep my eyes and ears out for Wrackspurts, I will Daddy.”

Tonks offered to take Mr Lovegood to the nearest apparition spot, and one of the twins materialised and offered - worryingly gallantly - to carry Luna’s case upstairs.

“I think we better check that trunk before we open it later, I always have a bad feeling whenever one of them is helpful.”

Luna grinned, “It’s so good to see you.”

“You too.”

“So, Bulgaria… are you ready?”

“Yes,” Hermione answered succinctly.

Luna’s head tilted to the side as she regarded Hermione carefully. “Just how terrified are you?”

“Very,” Hermione replied just as quickly as she had before and Luna laughed.

Before she could offer any words of wisdom or otherwise, Ginny came down the stairs in a clatter to greet Luna warmly. “Come on ladies. My Mum is deep in dinner prep for the Order meeting tonight so we can make ourselves scarce for the next hour or so without fear of getting caught.”

Despite the tight ship Mrs Weasley was running at number 12 Grimmauld Place, the girls were able to steal away into the living room nearest the front door and catch up undetected. It wasn’t hard to understand why three such girls were so eager to spend time together; Hermione had never had many friends to speak of, especially not female ones; boys had surrounded Ginny since birth and Luna had never had anyone so much as try to understand her.

While they told stories of their holidays so far, people came in and out of the little sitting room with a great deal of regularity. Some stayed for a few moments to have a cup of tea or read from the stack of papers on one of the low coffee tables, and some only pushed their heads in the doorway for a quick greeting.

Though the space was undoubtedly musty and cramped, it was one of the nicer rooms in the house and one that the ‘clean up crew’, as they were calling themselves, had managed to make something of a success of.

Ginny and Hermione told Luna all they knew about the Order, which didn’t take long, as well as the identities of each of the adults that dropped in. There were a few wizards Hermione hadn’t yet met, but Luna was relatively well informed and could fill in some of the blanks thanks to her dads work on the Quibbler.

After a while of being blissfully undisturbed, Sirius and Remus entered their comfortable space. Unlike the others that had so far crossed the doorway, the two men did not acknowledge the small cluster of girls perched in three too big armchairs. Instead, they moved to the other side of the room and busied themselves with talking in hushed tones. Even from a distance, Hermione could see that Sirius was upset about something, and she tried to stop herself from watching too closely less she was rightly scolded for being nosey. Remus was trying to calm Sirius down already, and it wasn’t her business, after all, she had her own headstrong Gryffindor friends to worry about. That and the fact that Hermione had been avoiding Sirius since she had last properly spoken to him. After their conversation about Harry, they had done little more than mumble greetings in the others direction if they happened to pass each other in the corridors.

Once Remus had apparently conceded whatever argument he was having with his friend and sank back into his seat, Hermione went back to concentrating on her own group. Neither Ginny or Hermione were at all shocked when, twenty minutes after the last of the Marauders had entered, Auror Tonks returned to the house and immediately joined the two men, sitting herself down on the arm of Remus’ chair, despite there being a few others close by that she could have used.

When Luna looked at them blankly, Ginny sat forward and motioned that she would fill in their blonde friend later, it wouldn’t be good to get caught speculating about the love life of a former professor, even if Mrs Weasley had loudly been doing so the day after the last meeting.

Molly had talked about Remus needing someone to look after him, how he needed fattening up and some of his clothes mended. Hermione felt that was probably one of the most depressing reasons imaginable to enter into a relationship; she knew Remus had had a hard life, but surely he should love his chosen partner, and not just be with them to alleviate loneliness, or avoid darning charms. But Hermione held her tongue. For all Hermione knew Remus desperately returned Tonks’ affection, but as he would never be drawn on the subject, no matter which of the adults asked, she was unlikely ever to know.

There would be time to get Luna up to speed on the romantic melodrama captivating the Order in semi-privacy later. It had been decided that Luna would be sharing a room with Hermione and Ginny. There wasn’t really space enough for two, let alone three teenagers, but none of the girls minded the decision, and it was a damn sight more favourable than sticking their friend in one of the countless decrepit rooms on her own, especially so soon after her arrival.

Hermione was telling Luna about her attempts at summer homework, and the ongoing adventures of Dragon when the door opened again. There had been so many comings and goings that afternoon that Hermione didn’t even look up, not until she felt Ginny’s sharp elbow in her ribs.

“What?” she hissed.

Ginny discreetly nodded her head in the direction of the door frame, and if Hermione didn't know any better, she would have said her friend was blushing. Walking in was an Auror Hermione did not recognise, she knew his profession, though he didn’t have a uniform apart from a small badge pinned to his chest. Hermione knew, from her extensive reading, that higher ranking Aurors wore their own clothes, not dissimilar to the Muggle CID, though this wizard looked nothing like any law enforcement officer Hermione had ever seen in real life or on the telly. He was tall and broad, with the most amazing skin and eyes you could just get lost in.

“Kings!” Sirius called from the other side of the room, reminding all of the witches staring unblinkingly that there were other people present.

The wizard indulgently smiled at Sirius, and the expression took him from ‘crane your neck to have a good look’ attractive right up to ‘Jesus Christ on a bicycle, is it hot in here, or is it just my insides melting?’ breathtaking.

“Ladies,” he greeted as he walked passed their chairs, and if Hermione had thought his face was compelling, it was nothing to his voice.

“Wow,” she said, absently checking the order of her hair.

Ginny leant back against her chair and sighed. “You wouldn't think anyone could wear that much purple, and still look so damn good.”

“Well, my Dad wears a lot of purples,” Luna said, as she sat up to take another look. “Though... He looks rather different in it.”

Their conversation continued to lull until they could hear Sirius’ voice above all others. “Moony, do you remember when witches looked at us like that?”

“Honestly, Pads? Not even vaguely.”

Though the underage amongst the houseguests were not allowed to join the Order meetings they were permitted to eat dinner with those that arrived for them. Hermione suspected that Mrs Weasley would have prefered it to be otherwise, and the only reason Molly didn’t push the point was as she couldn't do two dinner servings on meeting days. If her hunch was correct, Hermione was grateful. The dinners were as close as Grimmauld Place got to exciting and she did her best to get to know everyone as well as she could. Hermione figured that it would give her a good shot at working out what they did for the Order, or at least, what the recruitment standard was.

For that night's meal, Hermione was sat in the middle of the table, with Luna on her right and Ginny opposite. Ron was at the other end, lost amongst his brothers that were in attendance. Unfortunately - it seemed a cruel word, but it was how she felt - Sirius was on her left. Though he largely ignored her, apart from carrying out what Hermione imagined were ingrained pureblood practices such as pouring her water, it was still awkward. Not because of anything Sirius himself was doing, as such, but because it put her in the front row for his nightly fight with Mrs Weasley. It had become as reliable as the damp that lined the walls and usually started over Sirius’ drinking and went on from there. Mainly it was ignored, not just by those in attendance but by Sirius himself. Only tonight Mrs Weasley seemed more vicious than usual, and Hermione only just caught the warning glint in Sirius’ eyes before things escalated.

“Kings,” Sirius began, very deliberately pouring himself a liberal top up, “when is Dumbledore getting here? I want to talk to him about Harry; he should be here with us where it's safe.”

Hermione avoided looking at the man next to her, though she did manage a smug glance at Ron.

Kingsley, however, did not manage to vocalise a response; instead, Molly interjected, and then they went back and forth about Harry and the appropriateness of the conversation concerning the underage people present until Mrs Weasley was so red she looked fit to explode. And then she did, verbally.

“He’s not James, Sirius!”

A silence descended over the table as if the audience had taken a collective breath. Hermione didn’t know the ins and outs of what had gone before, but she knew enough to realise Molly had crossed a line. When Sirius spoke again all of the violent energy had disappeared from his voice, replaced with ice like resolve.

“I'm fully aware of who he, of who my godson, is, thank you, Molly. I am the only family he has.”

“He has us, we’ve always taken care of him.”

“Then why aren’t you doing that now?”

“Because we are following Dumbledore’s orders, something you could try doing yourself. This is war, not a chance to relive your misspent youth.”

Hermione did her best not look in either Mrs Weasley or Sirius’ direction, as did most of the table, however, that only left her looking to where Tonks was once again in Remus’ personal space.

Hermione couldn’t say that she had much experience or even understanding of love, or, other urges that drew people together. One of the only couples she was around who showed any comprehension of respect and affection were her parents, and apart from the few stories they had shared, Hermione had no understanding of how their friendship moved from mutual interest to courtship and beyond. As such, Hermione felt she was watching proceedings with a very untrained eye, although she was no less interested than Ginny. Maybe that was why she couldn’t work out if Remus was enjoying the attention of the young, vibrant witch, or, as his expression suggested, that he was in some sort of chronic abdominal pain.

Ginny leant across the table as the animagus witch tried yet another conversation tactic. “Doesn’t know what an interested witch looks like my foot,” the redhead sniggered.

Eventually, after pudding - a very intensely eaten apple crumble, with everyone’s eyes firmly fixed on the bowl in front of them - the teenagers were dismissed.

“What the hell is going on with your mother? I’m going to have indigestion for hours. No one should have to eat a shepherds pie that quickly,” Hermione whispered as strolled up the stairs, only to realise they were not as alone as she had previously thought.

His heavy boots gave scant warning before Sirius fell into step behind them. “Usually if someone is that uptight I begin to suspect a lack of sexual fulfilment, but considering there are seven of you,” he said with a pointed look at Ginny, “I think I might be barking up the tree.” Ginny looked green, but Sirius only smirked. “Maybe she just fancies me?”

Hermione saved a spluttering Ginny from response by asking her own question. “Aren't you staying for the meeting?”

“Not much point kitten, I’m not allowed to do anything,” he grumbled before overtaking them and trudging up the next flight of stairs.

“He seems happier than your letters suggested,” Luna observed.

Hermione sighed. “It's an ever moving feast.”

Despite the tense atmosphere the house seemed to create, the few days they had planned for Luna to stay ahead of their trip past by quickly. The Extendable Ears that the twins promised would allow them to find out more once again failed, and the teens were pretty despondent after that. For Hermione and Ron, all they really cared about was Harry, and as none of the adults would be drawn into discussing their missing friend, Hermione absolved herself - at least for now - to go to Bulgaria without guilt.

Instead, Hermione focused on trying to keep Luna from cleaning, she was her guest, and while it was not her house - thank God - Luna was not a servant. Strangely, however, Luna seemed to enjoy the cleaning, or rather, conversing with the various indigenous species within Grimmauld Place, and, as well as talking to creatures ‘within the walls’, Luna had taken to spending time with Buckbeak. That Sirius didn’t seem to mind was a miracle all in itself, and as such Hermione decided not to question it, in case it would break the spell.

Before they knew it the day for their visit dawned. Hermione had never travelled abroad magically, and though she was excited, her and magical travel did not have the best track record and it only added to her growing anxiety. Predictably, Luna’s presence helped, her friend did not allow Hermione to dwell on negatives and would promptly cut her off if she began vocalising her seemingly unending list of ‘what if’ questions. Instead, Hermione focussed her energies on organising what was needed to be ready for the off. Her trunk had been packed for three days, though she hadn’t been able to resist the temptation to reorganise it routinely. After a hard day scrubbing and banishing pixies or mould, it served as a reminder that she was going.

Soon after breakfast, they found themselves on the outskirts of London, in a small suburb where the houses all had neatly manicured hedges and lawn ornaments, waiting, as inconspicuously as possible, around a rather battered tennis ball.

Viktor had taken care of all of the arrangements and had seemed incredibly happy to do so, something Hermione was extremely glad of. Mrs Weasley had employed the tactic of not discussing Hermione and Luna’s upcoming departure as if it wasn’t happening, which was the best thing for everyone. Mr Weasley had been prevailed upon to drop them off - as unhappy as she may have been, Molly would never hear of the two of them going unaccompanied - and Viktor would be there to greet them when they arrived. Hermione tried to say that she was glad of that as well, but her real emotions seemed to be a sort of happily terrified? If there was such a feeling.

As they stood in a weird circle making polite conversation, routinely checking the time, Hermione was reminded of a similar occasion, when they had been taking the port key to the Quidditch World Cup.

Arthur indicated they had five minutes remaining and Hermione pulled Ginny into a hug. Her friend had flatly ignored her mother's request to help out Ron with an upstairs dressing room that morning and had instead insisted that she would be coming to see them off. Mrs Weasley had muttered something about being lucky she only had one girl to contend with before reluctantly releasing her youngest from her clutches.

“I cannot believe you are going without me,” Ginny said despondently as Hermione pulled away.  

“Now, Ginny,” Arthur began, “I dare say there will be plenty of time for your own adventures,” he said reassuringly as he pulled his daughter into his side. “You girls be good now, and if you need anything, or want to come back earlier than planned, for any reason, you just owl me okay?”

“Yes, Mr Weasley,” Luna and Hermione responded in tandem.

All too soon, or finally, depending on the emotion that was driving Hermione at the time, Arthur told them to pick up their bags and grab the ball. Hermione did as instructed, though she couldn’t shake the feeling that a dog had enjoyed a fair bit of time with this particular port key in his mouth.  

Hermione looked at Luna, who had been typically calm all morning, even when faced with Hermione’s growing nerves and Ginny’s upset. “Thank you for coming with me,” Hermione said quietly, “I might have chickened out otherwise.”

“Of course, Hermione, where else would I be?” Luna replied with a smile. “But I am sure you would have come.”


“Of course, it’s scary now, but when we were at Hogwarts, you used to say that when you were with Viktor, everything seemed simpler. Do you remember?”

“Yes,” Hermione replied. She did remember that it was funny how in all of the build-up she had forgotten how he made her feel when they were together.

“It will be like that again.”

Hermione nodded, resolved to face whatever would follow and then the tennis ball began to glow. There was no more time for insecurities. They were on their way.

Hermione felt sick, and not the kind of sick like she’d had that morning which had meant she could only anxiously nibble on a piece of toast. This nausea came not from butterflies but from being whipped through the air and hurtled through space as if your body was attempting to break the sound barrier without your consent. Hermione had said it before, and she would repeat it until she no longer drew breath, she bloody hated magical travel.

The next sensation Hermione was aware of was the absolute certainty that she was going to fall, just like she had when they had arrived at the World Cup the previous year, which really would not have been the best start to seeing Viktor again, beginning on her bum.

Mired in her embarrassment for an event that hadn’t even happened yet it took Hermione’s mind a few moments to register that she had stopped moving and that her feet had not hit the ground. Instead, she was being held against something, someone … Viktor.

“You caught me,” Hermione said absently against his shirt.

Viktor smiled down at her - had his smile always been so wonderfully reassuring? - “I think you have been away too long Hermione, you forget that catching is my speciality.”

He held Hermione there, his arms banded around her tightly until he gently placed her on the ground, allowing her to step away from him. Viktor was everything she remembered only more. Hermione was sure she had never seen him without some huge winter coat on before - apart from when they had first met - though, in the beautiful, warm but breezy day one wouldn’t have been needed. Viktor was wearing a button down shirt in a brilliant white that made the darkness of his hair stand out, and he shifted around awkwardly enough to indicate to Hermione that it had probably been a deliberate ‘make an effort’ choice. She thought of the pale pink jumper she had pulled on that morning, with its pearl applique neckline and tortoiseshell buttons on the back and smiled. The top had been from a pile of clothes her mum had added to her trunk ‘just in case’. Hermione had been embarrassed at the time but she felt glad of it now.

“Hi,” Hermione eventually managed as she nervously twisted the bag strap on her shoulder.

“Hello, Hermione,” Viktor returned softly.

At first, Hermione thought Viktor would say more until he suddenly shook his head and abruptly turned to apologise to Luna for not helping her with her own landing. Hermione would have been amused if she hadn’t been stunned only just to remember herself that she and Luna had been travelling together. Her friend had had no issue with her descent from the sky, and Luna and Viktor shared a warm greeting, that was a lot less intense than the one that had preceded it.

“I take you home now, okay?” Viktor asked as he guided them towards a well-trodden path. “I would offer to apparate but it is not a strong suit of mine, and with two of you it would be difficult.”

“That’s fine,” Hermione replied quickly, she would much rather walk anyway.

The girls walked on either side of their ‘guide’, and after a few seconds, Hermione smiled when she felt Viktor wrench her bag off her shoulder and put it on her own. She made no protest, and her grin widened when his warm, familiar, comforting hand engulfed hers.

Hermione hadn’t been sure what to expect with regard to where the Krum’s lived. She had seen enough mention of the age of Viktor’s family, and their apparent wealth, in the scathing Witch Weekly articles, to know it would be grand, but anything else was a mystery.

Hermione had never cared much about property, and even less about titles, so she wasn’t sure what to call the building they were ushered into. Manor or something similar she supposed, though that seemed too pretentious for the feeling it gave her. The grounds were extensive and gorgeous, and the inside even more beautiful. She was relieved when Viktor hadn’t stopped them outside to ‘take a good look at the house’, like some gentleman of old presenting chattel for a ladies approval. To Viktor, it was just his home, and his attitude made Hermione less conscious about the three-bed semi she had grown up in.

After removing their shoes at the main entrance, Viktor reluctantly let go of Hermione’s hand. “I have to go, I am very sorry to do this so soon after you have arrived, but I have to train. I have arranged to miss some sessions over the next few days, but I need to go to this one.”

Hermione was initially disappointed, but she didn't hold it against Viktor in the least. She knew from his letters how hard he had been working, and he had already prepared her, so she knew he had some unavoidable obligations over the coming week.

Before Viktor could apologise again, a large door at the end of the corridor opened, and Sofiya Krum swept into the hallway looking every bit as effortlessly glamorous as Hermione remembered. “Viktor, are you still here?” she asked teasingly.

Viktor rolled his eyes at Hermione before turning to greet his mother. “Yes, Mama, I am just going.”

“Well go then, your coach will not wait, and you are not even in your kit. I will look after our Hermione and Miss Lovegood.”

In one swift movement, Sofiya managed to wave her son away and sweep Hermione into a hug. “It is lovely to see you again Hermione, and Miss Lovegood it is wonderful to meet you. Come, let us have tea.”

The ‘small’ sitting room Sofiya took them to was approximately the same size as the ground floor or Hermione’s house but for all that it was cosy, peaceful, and decorated in a palette of blue and silver with, thankfully, not a speck of dust to be seen.

“Thank you for letting us stay,” Hermione said as she was handed a cup and Luna echoed her sentiments.

“Do not be so ridiculous, no thanks are needed, I am delighted you are here. I cannot tell you how much I have been looking forward to having you. We only had the one child, and then all of Viktor’s close friends were boys, I confess I feel quite outnumbered at times. While you are here, you must treat the house like it’s your own. Viktor will show you to your rooms when he is back from training, and tomorrow we can take you on a tour of the grounds to help you get your bearings.”

The girls quickly expressed their agreement while Sofiya passed around cakes and asked after their journey.  

“Now, girls, you must tell me all about yourselves, the only information I have is from my son, and while Viktor talks of you often,” Sofiya said with a pointed look at Hermione, “you must understand that it is all through the filter of a man, and as such I never hear any of the information I want.”

Luna grinned impishly, “What would you like to know?”

Viktor arrived home three hours later in significantly more pain than he was generally in following a practice. His concentration had not been what it should have, and he had paid the price with a few Bludgers to the ribs, as well as the harassing of his teammates who knew all about his request for leave and his reason why.

Not wanting Hermione to see him in such a state, Viktor entered through the kitchens and showered before going in search of his guests. He found them pretty quickly, they were ensconced in his mother's favourite sitting room, lounging on sofas with a forgotten tea tray between them. Sofiya was telling a story from her school days that Viktor had heard several hundred times before and as he hadn’t been noticed he took the opportunity to observe Hermione.

She looked exactly as he remembered, which was no real surprise as he had seen her only months before, and yet she seemed more real sitting in his house laughing with his mother. Her head was resting against the back of her chair, and her curls spilt over the brocade covering. Not wanting to get caught staring, especially by his mother, Viktor made a show of making noise to announce himself and pushed the door open further as if he had just arrived.

“Ah, Viktor, you have returned, could you take the girls up to their rooms? I believe they might want to unpack and explore a little bit before dinner.”

“Of course Mama, we will see you at later.”

Hermione thanked Sofiya for the tea, and the two girls followed Viktor up the main staircase, asking about his training session. Luna’s room was first on the corridor, and Viktor was pointing out Hermione’s door further down when Milenka came speeding around the corner, narrowly avoiding a slim side table and crashing into the girls that were unfamiliar to her.

“She's excitable,” Hermione said with a laugh, righting herself before dropping down to pet Milenka head.

“She needs a walk,” Viktor explained, “would you like to come? It would be good way to see the close grounds.”

“I would like that,” Hermione replied, more shyly than he had expected, and Viktor found himself stepping forward without conscious thought.

“I think I might stay here if you don’t mind, I’m rather tired.”

Luna’s voice shook Viktor out of his thoughts and reminded, once again, him that he was supposed to be hosting two people.

“No, that is no problem at all, we will come and find you when we get back so I can show you the dining room.”

Viktor then stepped back to allow Hermione and Luna a few words before showing the former to her own room. Though he saw Luna make a friendly shooing gesture towards Hermione, he ignored it.

Hermione made quick work of looking around her room and dropping off her bag before she and Viktor were on their way down to the kitchens. This time, like after he had met them from the port key, he pulled her small hand in his with little hesitation. Viktor had no idea how long it would be before he had the chance to visit with her again, or if she would even want to. Viktor was determined to take all of the opportunities he was offered, and to invent as many as he could.

“I think I like your friend all the more for her desire to remain well rested.”

Hermione hit his arm as ineffectually as she always did, and Viktor grinned.

The kitchen was, as usual, a hive of activity. For the most part, the family elves allowed Viktor to continue using this part of the house, only because he stayed out of their way. He had told Hermione all about the elves they had in residence, and even though she had heartly expressed her distaste for the practice, Viktor was convinced she could be brought around, especially if she happened to witness one of them hitting his father when he came in to swipe biscuits before dinner.

As Viktor opened a cupboard to get Milenka’s lead, Hermione stood off to the side watching the ongoing work, until she spied some of the care baskets he had been putting together all summer, resting on the end of the nearest workbench.

“Oh, are these for one of your mum’s projects? She was talking about her charity work earlier.”

“No its…”

But before Viktor could finish, Hermione had turned over the label and had no doubt seen a very familiar address.

Viktor rubbed the back of his neck, he hadn’t intended Hermione to find out like that. He was always going to tell her what he had done in case she found out from Harry. But, unsure of her reaction, he hadn’t planned to mention it on their first day together.

“You told me about Potter and I… I thought about what you would do if you could have...”

“Viktor,” Hermione tried to interject.

“... I should have asked you first, and I know that you did not…”

“Viktor,” Hermione said again, louder this time.

“Was it the wrong thing to do?”

Instead of replying, Hermione pushed up onto her toes and placed her hands on either side of his face, looking into his eyes searchingly for a long moment before she kissed him sweetly, determinedly, but all too briefly. When she pulled away, she stayed close, smiling at him. “Viktor you are amazing, I can’t tell you what this means to me, what it will mean to Harry. Thank you.”

Viktor didn’t let her go, he couldn’t, not with her so close. Instead, he waited until she had planted her feet and then returned her kiss. He was a little rougher with her than Hermione had been with him, but he couldn’t have held himself back if he tried, which he definitely wasn’t. It was strange to realise he hadn’t truly appreciated how much he had missed her until Hermione was standing in front of him, offering her affection.

Viktor had known from the moment he met Hermione that if they pursued any kind of relationship, there would be separation in their immediate future. He had known that distance would be a part of his life as soon as he had chosen his profession. He had expected it. But Hermione hadn’t, her feelings were a variable, and now she was stood in his family home, with her soft hands on his rough cheeks, thanking him for intervening in her life, for trying to take care of something for her, for acting like a partner.

“I would send Potter a thousand baskets if that is the way you choose to say thank you.”

She smiled at him as her cheeks flushed and the last few weeks melted away. Hermione leaned forward as if she would kiss him again only they were knocked into by Milenka, who clearly felt she had been ignored for long enough.  

“Okay, okay, I get it, we’ll take you for a walk,” Hermione exclaimed as she took the leash off the side and clicked it around Milenka’s leather collar.

“Hermione,” Viktor said as he watched her playfully wrestle with his dog.


He stepped right up behind her and pulled her into his body, wrapping his arms around Hermione’s middle until she sagged against him and he kissed her cheek. “I’m so glad you are here.”

“Me too, Viktor, me too.”

Chapter Text

Hermione woke on her first full day in Bulgaria well rested and happy. As promisingly bright sunlight peeked in through the gap in the heavy curtains, she allowed herself to linger under the covers for longer than she typically would, quietly remembering the day before.

In detail.

After discovering what he had been doing for Harry, Viktor had taken Hermione outside and soon let Milenka off the lead so they could follow on behind at a more comfortable pace. They had held hands as they chatted about all that had happened since Viktor had said goodbye in front of Hogwarts main doors and despite all of it having been discussed before, in their many letters, neither seemed to mind the repetition. Hermione had especially enjoyed all of Viktor’s news about training as she could see the light in his eyes and hear the inflexion in his voice - that before she had only been able to imagine - when he talked about being amongst his beloved team. The reality was so much better than Hermione could have supposed it to be. Viktor, free from school to take up his chosen profession, was becoming surer of himself, he was more at ease than Hermione had ever seen him during his time in England.

Milenka had apparently given the pair up as a lost cause and let herself back into the house and collapsed into her basket by the time they had returned, and not long after they parted ways at the top of the grand staircase. Viktor had pushed Hermione off towards her bedroom with a soft kiss to her cheek that she had felt all the way down to her toes. Hermione had turned around when she reached her door, and Viktor had still been standing there at the end of the corridor, waiting for her to turn in before he left, like she had known he would be. When Hermione had finally closed the door, she had wondered why so many novels seemed to paint reliability as such a negative trait in would be romantic heroes, for herself there was nothing more appealing.

Hermione gently rolled on to back in the large bed. The room she would have during her stay was a beautiful rose colour, a pink that not even Hermione could find fault with, and all of the units and doors were accented with copper. It was opulent, comfortable and lush, without being over the top, and Hermione found she liked it immensely. She supposed that if you came to a place ready to be pleased by everything you saw, it was likely that you would be so, however, in this case, she would have found it difficult to find fault even if that had been her purpose.

Hermione’s breathing slowed, and the room fell to near silence. It was strange to wake up alone and not to hear distant sounds of life as other occupants went about their business. Though the peace was lovely, after a few weeks of sharing a room, it was a touch lonely to be by herself with no one to share her thoughts with.

For a few moments, Hermione dared to imagine what it might be like to roll over and find Viktor laying, relaxed in sleep, on the other pillow. Unlike most boys she knew that were around their age, Viktor was incredibly well put together - both a product of his fastidious schooling and rigorous training - his clothes, hair, shoes, everything was always neat. Hermione wondered if that started the moment he opened his eyes or whether Viktor blinked awake delightfully ruffled. Did he lay on his back or on his side? Would he face in or out? Would that change if she were there? What side did he prefer? What did he wear to bed? Was he as warm as she imagined?

Hermione turned and allowed her right hand to reach under the covers to the other side of the bed, towards her imaginary sleep partner. Even knowing no one was there her hand quickly snapped back, embarrassed by her actions though she knew no one could see her.

There was no not thinking about Viktor though, in a bed inside his family home, where she had been welcomed with both figurative and literally open arms.

He was everywhere.

Hermione had noticed - when she finally made a proper inspection of the room late the previous evening - that far from the art she’d expected to find, the room was littered with intimate family photos, some of Viktor when he was little more than a baby though most were of him in more recent years. From the limited interactions they’d had, Hermione hadn’t got the impression that the Krum’s were the type of parents that bragged about their son, no matter his amazing accomplishments, so she strongly suspected Sofiya had added these additions, to what was clearly a guest bedroom, ahead of her arrival. Hermione smiled to herself at his mother’s obvious pride as well as her attempt to grease the wheel of their courtship, as if such a thing were needed.

Any more thoughts, embarrassing in nature or otherwise were cut short as a knock sounded at her bedroom door, and Hermione pushed herself out from under her plush covers. Padding over in bare feet she found Luna in the corridor, fully dressed with her hair up in some elegant yet confusing twist and a camera around her neck. 

For a brief moment, Hermione was disappointed that it wasn’t Viktor coming to say good morning, something that must have read on her face as Luna absentmindedly petted her shoulder before walking into Hermione’s bedroom and throwing herself back onto the bed.

“He’s not here,” she said dreamily, as she attempted to make a duvet angel whilst staring at the ceiling.

“I can see that,” Hermione replied as she closed the door and started pulling items out of her trunk. She really should have unpacked her clothes when they arrived, but she hadn’t been bothered to, and she knew somewhere her mother’s hands were itching without the woman having a clue as to why.

Luna grinned, “I meant in the house, not in this room.” In response to Hermione’s enquiring glance, Luna passed over a small piece of paper. “There was a note pinned to your door.” Hermione took it eagerly before opening the windows to make a better guess at what to wear.

“He has neat handwriting, with medium size letters and no visible slant which I am sure you find as conclusive as I do.”

Hermione pulled a top over her head and muttered her agreement without really listening. She was too eager to read the note to concentrate on Luna’s theories. It didn’t take long to digest, just a few short lines in which Viktor managed to apologise, twice, for his unavoidable, early training session. He explained where breakfast would be served and that they could wait for him in his mother’s sitting room when they were finished, though Sofiya herself would be out visiting a friend all day.

After reading the note through one last time, Hermione checked that Luna was still occupied with messing up her bed and then added the note to the stack of letters in the bottom of her trunk. Not that keeping or even bringing the correspondence was anything to be ashamed of, however, Hermione was a little sensitive about the bright pink ribbon decorated with silver hearts that she had purchased on a whim and wrapped around the bundle, and she would rather have kept it to herself.

The girls found the bright, inviting breakfast room with the help of the only sarcastic house elf Hermione had ever met and took places next to each other at the oak dining table where they heartily filled their plates. Luna was trying to talk Hermione into splitting another muffin with her when Grigor Krum’s broad form appeared at the doorway. Greetings were exchanged, and if they were more sedate than his wife's had been the previous day, happily they were no less earnest.

Hermione tried to sit still and smile calmly but it was an effort, while she knew Grigor was warmer than his stern appearance suggested, she still had to fight the urge to stand up next to her chair and offer a curtsy or possibly even a salute, there was just something about Viktor’s dad that commanded respect. He carried himself in a way Hermione imagined a military general would.

As Grigor sat down, Luna swiped another lemon and poppy seed muffin and placed half of it on Hermione’s plate, knowing that she wouldn’t argue about it now, and so Hermione relented, herself knowing that she would regret stuffing herself later.

Grigor asked after their parents and their journey and all the usual things polite conversation dictated before he got to questions he was evidently more keen on asking. 

“So, Miss Granger, Miss Lovegood, how are things at home? I would imagine that England is a little…. different after events at the end of your last term.”

Hermione nodded, life at home was very different, as Grigor had put it, and only likely to become more so, but she was unsure of how much she should say, and how much she was even able to say. The Order of the Phoenix was not so secret an organisation that its name could not be mentioned, but Hermione imagined its members and doings were to be held in the strictest confidence, which made her wonder again why so many students were allowed to run around Grimmauld Place without induction proceedings or specific rules. They might not have told the young magicals living in the house what they were up to, but it wasn’t hard to make educated guesses once you knew who was involved.

Grigor placed several pieces of newly appeared toast on his plate and had begun to lather them with jam when he pressed further. “What of the threat of the Death Eaters ?” he asked, his voice dripping with scorn as he mentioned their name. “I gather they are still calling themselves that this time around. Have they begun to make demands of the populace?”

“No,” Hermione replied, pushing the last crumbs of her own food away. “At the moment we believe they are trying to keep their dealings, and even their existence, out of the public eye.”

Grigor seemed to contemplate her answer before pouring himself a large cup of coffee and finally nodding. “I had suspected as much. They are best served by operating in the shadows while they can still do so.”

Hermione and Luna remained silent; for herself, Hermione felt she had little to add to the conversation. The Art of War had never been a particular strong suit of hers.

“I apologise if I am making you uncomfortable,” Grigor said, “but I had wondered if there was more going on than had been reported in the papers.”

“They haven’t yet monopolised the press,” Luna said, sitting up straighter in her seat. “But they will.”

“Indeed,” Grigor answered gravely, “I believe you are correct. It does not matter how often these things happen, they always seem to follow the same lines, and yet people still act surprised at the outcome.”

“Has it been so many times?” Hermione asked, she knew conflicts had gone before, mainly from her History of Magic class, but most of those they had studied had been ancient battles.

Grigor nodded. “Where there is power or at least the perception of it, there will always be greed and corruption. Over the years measures have been put in place to try and make men care for each other, but they will always be circumvented by people who want more.”

The disdain in Mr Krum’s voice had brought a chill to the room that had driven away all of the cheer that had been present only ten minutes before.

“In Europe, most of the old magical families still take their responsibilities seriously. In the middle ages if you owned land you automatically became responsible for the people that lived upon it, those that were reliant on it for their food and survival, their concerns became your concerns. It was a system that largely worked and was very much the forerunner to local government and that model has continued in some form or other until this day. Some people may not like the way things are done, but it does not give them an excuse to go scampering about their homeland, doing whatever they please while being too cowardly to show their faces.”

As Hermione chewed on the side of her lip, several elves appeared to pack away the used breakfast things cheerfully, and the oppressive atmosphere in the room happily faded when faced with their exuberance.

“My apologies ladies, this… situation is not something I should talk of over the breakfast table; it brings forward memories from my childhood that I would rather forget.”

As Grigor made a concerted effort to lighten his countenance, and engage Luna in conversation about her father's paper, Hermione was left to quietly imagine how wonderful it would be to contrive a meeting between Mr Krum and Lucius Malfoy. She was convinced that they would hate each other on sight… and what a glorious sight it would be for everyone else to watch how it would all play out.

After Luna finished telling them about the current plans to expand The Quibbler’s distribution network, Grigor drained his cup and rose from the table. “Please excuse me, I have meetings for the rest of the day, please make use of Sofiya’s sitting room when you are done. I understand Viktor will be back in a few hours.”

Hermione said her goodbyes and watched Grigor’s retreating form all the while wondering if Viktor would become more like his father as he grew up. At present he was such a complete blend of his parents it was hard to imagine him becoming more austere and commanding, but he was still very young, so anything was possible.

Luna leant over the nearest arm of Hermione’s chair and followed her gaze. “Impressive as Mr Krum undoubtedly is, I believe Sofiya would be the one to watch in a fight.”

Hermione tidied the crumbs from around her plate as she considered. “I think I agree with you; mothers usually are the most dangerous, when properly provoked. But Grigor isn’t one I’d want to cross either.”

“No,” Luna agreed with a quirk of her head, “but he would probably make it quick.”

Hermione shrugged, “It’s a sound theory, but I wouldn’t imagine we will ever know conclusively.”

“You don’t think so?” Luna asked before looking at her for a long moment. “Hermione, your role in this war has been fated since you met Harry on the train in the first year, and if you and Viktor carry on as you are, do you really think he's going to stay in a manor thousands of miles away and just wait to hear how it all turned out?”

Hermione suddenly wished the elves had left the last of the muffins, just so she could toy with something between her fingers, to absorb her nervous fidgeting. “To be honest, I had been trying not to think about it.”

“I think you might be out of time there.”

In Sofiya’s sitting room the girls took up the seats they had used the day before and Luna soon dived into a stack of magazines that were conveniently placed in a small basket by the side of the sofa and began pouring through - to assess the competition, or so she said - while Hermione pondered on her relative sense of ease. She wasn’t as nervous as she had been before they had come, a portion of the unknown had been removed, and it was enough to give some breathing room. Hermione’s previously incapacitating anxiety had been replaced with bubbles of anticipation that she was finding much easier to cope with.

As they idly discussed what the plan might be for the day, Luna looked up from her stack, stood and pressed a magazine into Hermione’s waiting fingers, a magazine with Viktor’s oh so familiar face staring out at her from the cover.

With the limited Bulgarian she had so far mastered, Hermione could tell it wasn't a Quidditch or even a broader sports publication, it looked to be more lifestyle in orientation and that, she supposed, was the reason for Viktor being dressed in a shirt that was open at the collar and rolled up to his elbows. The possessive part of Hermione - a part of herself she tried to deny even existed - wanted to reach into the page and pull the crisp linen sleeves back down over his arms and button up to the top of his collar. The reaction was so strong and so instant she had to laugh at herself. After all, it was far from the first time that Hermione had seen Viktor on a glossy magazine cover - the boys in Gryffindor tower had an impressive collection of ‘Krum paraphernalia’ - but in those she had seen previously, he had been depicted in some variant of his professional kit. That was the side of himself that he was used to trading in, so much so that Hermione barely even noticed pictures of him like that, this was entirely different.

Viktor looked older in his ‘normal clothes’, more worldly too, Hermione thought he looked more desirable but she was hardly an objective audience, she had long found him attractive. However, not for the first time, she found herself thinking about how other women would view him when they saw it. She shelved the thoughts almost immediately - there was nothing to be gained from wondering anywhere in that direction.

Hermione looked down at the glossy, public version of Viktor and he stared right back, for several seconds their eyes locked before the image version of him stuffed his hands in his pockets and awkwardly looked away. Hermione smiled at the burgeoning muscles she could see in his forearms as his hands tensed, though she mainly managed to cover her reaction with her hand. Just like his real-life counterpart, she had no intention of making ‘cover star Viktor’ uncomfortable.

Hermione made a bit of a show of looking at the headings down on the bottom of the page while surreptitiously looking up at the photo Viktor under her lashes.  

The set of his shoulders looked less defensive than Hermione had observed in any of his pictures from the world cup, and if she looked hard enough she could see something in his eyes that hinted at how happy he was to be gaining his new position, but there was still an awkwardness there.

Hermione debated opening the magazine. The cover promised that the enclosed exclusive interview was extensive, but still, her hands didn’t move. She realised it would feel like cheating. Why try and learn something from an article written for public consumption when she could ask questions and hear answers meant just for her? She wasn’t even particularly drawn by the guarantee of more pictures. Hermione supposed they weren't as tempting when the real thing would be coming back any moment to take you, and one of your best friends he was hosting, out for the day.

Finally, Hermione put the magazine down on the seat next to her and listened as Luna read out excerpts from her growing pile, feeling quite pleased with herself for her uncharacteristic restraint.

This time when Viktor returned from training, he felt less like he should rush. Hermione had taken his absence in her stride the day before, showing every bit of compassion and understanding he had known she was capable of, and more besides. Viktor knew it was no good to be continually apologising for things that were not in his power. Leaving the pitch and dressing room at a reasonable speed gave him time to luxuriate in the knowledge that she would be there when he got home, waiting for him.

Viktor had managed to concentrate better during his training session, or at least there was an improvement on the day before. While he doggedly stalked the practice Snitch with determination, he hadn’t been able to help flexing his left hand every so often, it was as if he could still feel Hermione’s fingers, gently pressed against his. Incredibly the memory was more efficient than any warming charm he had ever employed for an early morning practice, so he allowed himself the momentary lapse in concentration every ten minutes or so.

Viktor had also managed to get away with slightly less ribbing than he had endured the day before, and substantially less bruising, though a few of the more verbal players hadn’t been able to resist an opportunity to blow kisses at him as he threw his bag over his shoulder and left the grounds.

When Viktor got back to the comfort of his family home Hermione and Luna were in his mother’s sitting room, just as they had been the day before. They had been just as easy to find, and Viktor felt a special joy in following the sound of Hermione’s delighted laugh as he walked closer to them down the corridor.

This time he didn’t wait at the door, he was too eager to get going with the day he had planned for them. He was even more keen to do his best to show Bulgaria in its best possible light. Filip had flippantly referred to it as the ‘ all this could be yours ’ portion of Hermione’s stay, and, as much as Viktor had reprimanded his friend, the phrase had gotten stuck in his head.

“Good morning ladies, I hope you both slept well,” Viktor said, announcing himself as he walked in and received enthusiastic greetings from both of the young women sat before him.

Hermione smiled widely and made some pretty comments about the room his mother had arranged for her and Viktor was content to bask in her attention for a few moments until he saw a miniature version of himself, clad in a shirt worth a days salary, looking up at him from a sofa cushion next to Hermione.

“I wish you hadn’t seen that,” he said quietly, though he resisted the urge to either turn the magazine over or hide it back in the large pile Luna had stacked in front of her.

“Why?” Hermione inquired, apparently puzzled. She glanced down at the cover as if it would reveal a secret before looking back up at him quizzically.

“It is embarrassing,” Viktor admitted. Desperately, he tried to remember anything that he had said in the interview, but he was drawing a blank. He could remember the constant, irritating and surprising loud flash of several cameras as well as an over exuberant wardrobe lady that managed to unbutton more of his shirt every time she sashayed past, but nothing else. He was sure there were at least one or two awful quotes in there, there always were. When Hermione made it clear that she hadn’t strayed further than the cover he felt somewhat relieved.

“I have not done a proper photo shoot before,” Viktor said, looking down at the image of himself once more before focusing on Hermione. “It was soon after I was back from England, and the news broke that I was joining Vratsa.”

“How was it?” Hermione asked as Luna leant forward to get a look at the cover for herself. The blonde’s expression was, as usual, completely indecipherable.

“Horrible,” he acknowledged with a put upon smile he imagined was more of a grimace, and Hermione laughed.

“You like you’re enjoying it, just a little bit,” she cheekily replied, lifting the magazine and waving it in front of him. Viktor playfully narrowed his eyes.

“My mother requested I make an effort not to scowl; she wanted to keep the pictures.”

Hermione’s smile widened, and Viktor’s breathe caught. “And you did what she said? Who knew you could be so adorable?”

Viktor took a step forward and dropped his voice, though his teasing tone remained. “I would have hoped you would know, Hermione.”

She blushed, and Viktor was ready to push his triumph, but Luna began to aggressively clear her throat, breaking his boring stare into Hermione's eyes.

“Are we heading off?” She asked conversationally. “Only, I’m not sure I can convincingly pretend I’m tired at 11 o'clock in the morning.”

Viktor’s laughter continued the entire way back up the main stairs.

Hermione pushed her over-sized sunglasses up and into her wild curls as she stared at the myriad examples of stonework on display at the Rila Monastery. Shade from the various buildings cut angular shadows all over the flagstone ground, and in the distance, she could see the ever-present lush green hills and mountains of the Bulgarian landscape.

Viktor’s hand - that had been pressed against or near the small of her back since they had arrived - skimmed the side of her waist as he pulled them closer together. Hermione raised an eyebrow, but he only smiled and nodded his head towards a procession of tourists moving past; not one of them looking where they were going, apparently more focused on the informative spiel being blasted into the huge headphones they all wore.

Viktor had arranged a sightseeing day, and the weather could not have been better, and while everything had been incredibly engaging and beautifully scenic, this was by far the best of all of their stops. Every worry Hermione had in the world felt a million miles away while walking around the tranquil grounds and she couldn’t wait to tell her parents about every detail.

Hermione and Luna followed Viktor as he cut a path through the milling tourists that were occupied by staring up and taking pictures. They eventually made it to the top of the hill, to a small paved platform that had been designated as a viewing point and Hermione reflectively grabbed Luna around the wrist; her friend had a habit of standing far closer to the edge than Hermione deemed safe.

“Do you like it?” Vikor asked her quietly as Luna stood back and Hermione released her death grip. The blonde then scampered off to get a closer look at some detailed etchings on a far wall.

“It’s beautiful,” Hermione replied. There was something so peaceful about the building up in the hills that was not interrupted even by the scores of visitors.

The pair took a step back from the platform to allow the next group a turn and went off in the direction Luna had headed to, pausing to let a small group on a guided tour being led by a very pristine looking man in a blazer that seemed far too bulky for the sunny day.  

“... Founded in the 10th century by St John of Rila, a hermit canonised by the Orthodox Church …”

Hermione blinked as ample flashes accompanied the fastidious man’s words and smiled as she noticed the very bored looking children bringing up the rear of the group.

“... Destroyed by fire at the beginning of the 19th century, the complex was rebuilt between 1834 and 1862 .”

“That is not quite the whole story,” Viktor said as he led Hermione towards some shade provided by one of the smaller buildings. “St John was a half blood who struggled with his magical side and how it aligned with his deeply religious values. He worked the land but eventually became a priest. He became so revered because of his miracles - that seem less miraculous once you understand his true heritage - that he came here to seek solitude.”

“You know a lot about him?” Hermione inquired, picking up on the hint of fondness in Viktor’s tone.

“He is the patron saint of the Bulgarian people,” Viktor explained. “I was brought up to understand the story of St John as the story of a man who chooses to serve the people around him ahead of himself.”

Viktor stared down at her and Hermione wasn’t sure if it was the rising heat of the day or the softness in his gaze, but she was definitely feeling a little flushed. Fortunately, she was saved from responding by Luna returning and brandishing her camera.

“We should get a picture, of the three of us,” Luna said excitedly, “to remember the day by.”

Viktor smiled indulgently at her friend and asked Luna were she wanted them, and Hermione felt herself fall a little harder for him in that moment. As Luna fussed over getting them into the right position to perfectly frame the backdrop, Hermione remembered watching The Grinch over the Christmas holidays and specifically how his little animated heart would get bigger and bigger till it was almost popping out of his green chest. That was what it felt like, watching how Viktor cared for those she cherished. Hermione wondered how you knew if you were in love, it wasn’t something she had ever really thought about before. Was there a definite sense of understanding it or did you have to determine you were experiencing the right emotions from a list? A tick box or quiz that would give you all the answers? And then Viktor squeezed against her side bringing her back into the moment, and she realised she didn’t care about the hows.

“Cheese,” Hermione said brightly, at Luna’s prompting. Not that it was necessary, her smile was already radiant.

Once they were home from their excursions, there was only just time for a quick change to be downstairs in time for dinner. Sofiya and Grigor wanted to take the girls out for an evening during their stay and Hermione had been very flattered, and incredibly nervous, about the invitation. She had asked a few questions during the day about what she should wear and the like, Viktor, in turn, had made it clear that the Krum’s were not ones to get overly dressed up for a meal which he seemed to deem the end of it. However, while Hermione would agree that they, in general, seemed like a substance over style sort of family, Sofiya had come to a school sports event in incredibly substantial jewellery.

In any case, Hermione had packed several dressy-ish outfits, again at the insistence of her mother, and while she suspected she would never be effortlessly attractive, she could at least scrub away the day-old suncream and make an attempt at beating her hair into submission. Laid back or not, she didn’t imagine Sofiya Krum would have been comfortable with Hermione going to dinner in her Muggle denim cut-offs, however much Viktor had seemed to admire them.

Floaty summer dress and flat sandals decided on, Hermione and Luna made their way downstairs to meet with the Krum’s, who thankfully did not look like they were attending a black tie gala and they apparated to the restaurant.

The out of the way venue the Krum’s had arranged was understated yet sleek, and the family were greeted in a way not dissimilar from how Hermione and her parents were welcomed when they visited their local - and favourite - Chinese.

Sofiya ordered wine, and they discussed the sights they had seen during the day - which was met with much enthusiasm - as well as their plans for the rest of the summer - which was met with less. Hermione was something of a sun baby, and she lamented that the freckles that had come out across the bridge of her nose would likely fade by the time they got back to school, as she was destined to be shut away in Grimmauld Place until they picked up the Hogwarts Express.

“I understand that Miss Lovegood has travelled extensively,” Grigor said after he and his wife were discussing their upcoming travel plans.

“That depends on your definition of extensive,” Luna replied thoughtfully, “I have been to many places, but I do not feel like I have truly lifted the veil on many of them, I have not seen beyond the presented and understood the organisms that are at work in simply maintaining the status quo.” Luna got up from her seat after swiping a breadstick, “but I have been to Salem, and that was fantastic,” she declared before excusing herself to go to the bathroom.

Hermione watched Viktor’s parents stare after her friend and decided to take pity on them. “You get used to it,” she advised with a smile, which, after a moment, Grigor returned.

“I no longer wonder at Mikhail’s fascination. I doubt anyone like her has ever appeared in one of his books. His father will be over the moon.”

Sofiya chucked and offered her agreement but Hermione’s head fell to the side in confusion, and she turned to Viktor for an explanation, but Viktor seemed to be attempting to carry on as if his father hadn’t said a word. She was determined to get it out of him when they were alone.

Sofiya broke the silence, mentioning an upcoming work trip of Grigor’s that Viktor would be accompanying him on. It seemed that despite his full-time job, Viktor was still the eldest - and in this case only - child of a large estate, and it was expected that he occasionally worked with his father to better understand its running in preparation for one day taking over. Hermione had a sudden urge to ask if he was worth as much as ten thousand pounds a year but decided against it; she didn’t think those around the table would understand the reference.

“I am looking forward to it,” Viktor acknowledged as the waiter delivered their drinks and Grigor looked on proudly.

Sofiya smiled, “It is amazing to me that you are finding time to fit it in at all, what with training, preparation for your mastery, and language lessons you are stretching yourself to the limit.”

Viktor flushed, but Hermione couldn’t understand why. “You’re learning a new language?” she asked with interest. In all of their correspondence, she couldn't remember him mentioning anything.

“Not new no,” Viktor replied awkwardly and then didn’t seem inclined to say much else.

Never one to be accused of being slow, Hermione sat forward as she fiddled with her napkin. “You’re taking English lessons?”

Viktor nodded.

Hermione had never considered that Viktor might have wished to keep up his English study, though a part of her she didn’t want to focus on to hard while being so closely scrutinised by his parents was delighted to hear it.

“Did you not notice the vast improvement from his letters, Hermione?” Sofiya asked. “Viktor’s spoken English had improved after last year, but his written was still lagging.”

“Honestly, I thought you were using a translation charm,” she said with a shrug, and Viktor’s head snapped towards her.


“Yes,” Hermione replied easily. “After all, you did show me that you could do one when we were studying together last year. When you changed the text in your planner so I could read it.”

Grigor coughed loudly on his first sip of wine which almost completely covered his bark of, “Show off.”

Sofiya dramatically sat back in her chair with one hand on her chest. “Oh, Grigor, you cannot crow here, I seem to remember long ago when someone - who shall remain nameless - went to great effort to show a young witch how it was possible to change a pipe cleaner into a diamond tennis bracelet with only one overly dramatic swoop of his wand.”

Sofiya demonstrated the wave with a flourish worthy of an end of pier Muggle magician and the table laughed as Luna regained her seat.

“Thank you, wife, in my defence, at the time I had no way of knowing that you were a more practical sort of witch,” he said affectionately. “Though it’s not as if you can tell me you are opposed to jewellery,” he continued as he fingered one of the large stones hanging from her ears.

Sofiya shrugged. “Once I learnt you were a man of substance I was happy for you to present me with such gifts, once I was sure they hadn’t started life as bits of discarded potion kit.”

As the lighthearted conversation continued the waiter approached for them to order their food, and Hermione, sensing Viktor was still a little embarrassed from his earlier revelation, decided to be bold, or, well, as brave as she could be and still be herself.

When her turn came, Hermione gritted her teeth and gave her order in what she imagined was just about passable Bulgarian. She made a show of looking at the waiter for as long as possible, ostensibly to check he had understood what she had said, which thankfully he appeared to have done, but to also avoid the rest of the tables gaze.

“I started learning at the beginning of Summer,” she said, answering the unasked question that she could feel in the air. “I’m not great, as I’m sure you can tell, but I’m sticking with it. I can’t use a translation charm forever, especially with you speaking such good English,” she said, braving looking in Viktor’s direction, “it would hardly be fair.”

Hermione was sure Viktor’s parents had made some kind of positive response, but all she could focus on was Viktor’s hand; it had appeared on her knee when his mother tongue had first left her lips, and his grip had only got tighter during her explanation. It was then that Hermione realised that it was rather pleasing to have such an intelligent partner, you were saved so much of the explaining of the awkward bits as the right person could fill in the blanks of what you wanted to say - but lacked the ability - for themselves. She didn’t have to expressly say she was doing it for him in some overblown romantic gesture. He got it.

As the waiter approached Luna, Hermione immediately felt guilty that she had been too wrapped up in her own thoughts to help her friend navigate the menu, albeit with her partial understanding, that was until said friend smiled brightly and ordered in Bulgarian that was nothing less than perfect, adding a few lines at the end that Hermione couldn't make head nor tail of, but that the rest of the table apparently did, given their raucous laughter.

“Luna?” Hermione asked completely puzzled.

Luna brushed some of her long hair over her shoulder. “It seemed like a good idea to learn a little bit.”

“And you're already fluent?”

Luna shrugged, “Almost… languages are not difficult for me.”

As Hermione turned her stunned face back across the table, Viktor caught her eye. ‘You get used to it,' he mouthed with a smirk, and Hermione shoved his arm. 

The five dinner guests quickly separated off once they arrived back at the Krum’s house, all were incredibly full from a lovely meal that had been shared and heartily enjoyed and Hermione could feel her bed calling her name. Viktor’s parents said a quick goodnight before walking further down the corridor to their room, and Hermione watched Grigor place his hand on Sofiya’s back as he led the way. When they were almost out of view Sofiya’s head leant against her husband’s shoulder before her soft laughter rang out at something he had inevitably said.

Viktor trailed behind the girls as Hermione said a quick goodnight to Luna, they had agreed between them earlier that Luna would get herself ready for bed and then knock to spend some time in Hermione’s room. Though they were both tired, Hermione needed to talk about everything that had happened in the short time they had been in Bulgaria more than she needed rest, and it was also a good time for them to write the first of their promised letters to Ginny.

Hermione then said a quick goodnight to Viktor, making sure to thank him for the day before she disappeared into her room to get herself ready, and to clear up the mess she had made of her room getting prepared for dinner so that herself and Luna could comfortably sit on her bed without being buried in an avalanche of her discarded clothes.

Before long there was a knock at the door and Hermione rushed to open it, only to find herself in the reverse situation from the one she had been in that morning. Instead of finding a sleepy Luna there was Viktor, and he looked far too intense to have been tired at all.

“Erm, Hi, Hermione, I… I just wanted to say goodnight, properly,” he stammered, and Hermione nodded as she wrapped her arms around her middle. She was suddenly incredibly self-conscious as she realised she was stood in front of him in ratty pyjamas and wild hair, but pretty quickly she saw he was dressed for bed too. His feet were bare, and she could see his toes out of the bottom of navy blue pyjama trousers that scrapped along the floor.

“Oh, okay,” she murmured, unable to make a more verbose response.

“Well,” Viktor said hesitantly as he stepped forward and Hermione held her breath as he loomed above her, seeming to fill up the doorway. On instinct, her head fell back so she could regard his face, and Viktor’s fingers trailed along her jaw until his palm rested against her cheek and she could feel the heat of his skin warm her chilled flesh. Hermione sagged into his possessive grip as he folded himself till his lips met hers, then she leant against the doorframe - thankful for its support - as he eagerly, and silently, implored her to open her mouth and then pressed his tongue inside.

They had kissed before, many times and Hermione had enjoyed each time immensely, now though there was something different about Viktor’s kiss. She could feel for the first time that Viktor had a desire for things to escalate, for them to move past what they were already doing. In each other occasion, the kisses they had shared had been the climax, the glorious crescendo of all the moments that had gone before them; right then, with Hermione pressed between a slim piece of wood and his hard body it felt like only the beginning. But she was not afraid, she wasn’t ready for more, but she trusted Viktor, possibly more than she trusted herself. He would know her limits.

After a time they broke apart for air and Viktor leant his forehead against hers, his steady rasps laying evidence behind Hermione’s earlier musings.

“Good night, Hermione,” he said finally, and with a single, hard, meaningful press of his lips against her forehead, he was gone.

Chapter Text

When Hermione woke on her second full day in Bulgaria, she wasn’t alone. Luna had appeared at her door right after Viktor’s very welcome, if unexpectedly intense, goodnight kiss. Her friend had shuffled into the room clad in an oversized, plaid nightdress, clutching a book of complex charms that she had offered to Hermione as she closed the door. Before Hermione had even awkwardly attempted to ask how much she might have seen, Luna had settled herself into one of the large armchairs in front of a picture window, overlooking the well-manicured lawn, leading up to a small pond.

“I thought you might want to peruse that volume,” the blonde had begun, gesturing to the book in Hermione’s grasp as she pulled open the heavy curtains to stare out into the moonlight. “My dad picked it up in a second-hand store at the start of the school holidays. It’s old, though we couldn’t say for definite how old. A lot of the spells they refer to have fallen out of common use.”

Hermione walked across the heavy carpet and dropped into the chair opposite Luna, who was still avoiding her eye contact. Instead, she had been tracing the lines on the lawn with keen interest. “I thought it might be a help,” Luna had finished, before letting her chin rest onto her folded hands on the back of the high backed chair, propping herself up like a child who was excited to be allowed to stay up past their bedtime.

Hermione had smiled at her friend as she opened the book with the delicate care its age required. She would never know how Luna had come to understand her so thoroughly in such a short period, but she was immensely grateful that she had. Hermione wanted to talk about Viktor more than she had ever wanted to discuss any relationship before, romantic or otherwise, but she had always been a private person, only partly by choice. As a consequence, Hermione often felt more comfortable voicing her emotions once she had been given time to process them on her own, and nothing made her feel more settled in times of upheaval than learning.

After several hours debating the surprisingly varied application of an antiquated darning charm, there hadn’t seemed to be much point in Luna returning to her own room, and so the girls climbed into bed together. Despite Luna’s regular turning throughout the night, Hermione felt she had slept better than she had in weeks.  

Hermione had only been awake for a few seconds when there was a loud knock at her bedroom door, and after a blurry eyed look at the clock, she pushed herself out of bed.

“At least you know who it is this morning,” Luna offered sleepily, and Hermione gave her a withering stare.

“Hilarious, Luna, just hilarious.”

Hermione didn’t have time to question her state of dress or readiness before she opened the door, later she would suppose that was down to feeling more comfortable around the Krum family. After all, the previous day had been the first time she had spent an entire day in Viktor’s company, and it had gone a long way to making her not only more comfortable around him but also with the emerging relationship.

As expected, Viktor was waiting on the threshold of her door, dressed in comfortable clothes with a hand raised as if he was preparing to knock again.  

“Good morning,” he greeted brightly before he seemed to get a good look at her sleep-rumpled state and flushed. “I am sorry. I did not mean to wake you.”

“You didn’t,” Hermione replied with a wave of her hand, outwardly dismissing his discomfort, though her toes bit into the carpet beneath them with her own. “I just haven’t got around to getting ready yet.”

“Right,” Viktor replied awkwardly, “I should leave you to get on with that then.”

He turned as if he would march down the corridor as fast as possible before Hermione called him back. “Viktor?” she said with amusement.

“Yes?” he replied looking at her as if he was ready to be dispatched to undertake whatever she might ask of him.

Hermione smiled and stepped further out of her door. “What did you come here to say?”

“Oh,” Viktor grunted, rubbing the back of his neck. “I wanted to tell you I was planning to work in the library this morning; we can have breakfast in there if you like. I have some preliminary work to finish for my mastery studies, but I know that might be a boring way to spend your time… you and Luna are welcome to explore the grounds or…”

“Viktor,” Hermione interrupted, “the library sounds great.”

Viktor nodded, and Hermione tried to hide her smile. She wasn’t sure why he was so discombobulated this morning, but it was nice to feel like the more in control one for a change. As Viktor paced back down the corridor, towards her door, Hermione straightened out the bottom of her pyjama top and vowed that she wouldn’t look in the mirror before she showered. She had no desire to see what her hair might look like at that moment.

Viktor’s fingers brushed against the back of her hand and Hermione looked up into his usual, more confident expression. With only one glance between them, it felt like the tables turned again.

“Have I told you yet how happy I am that you are here?” Viktor asked as he pulled on the bottom of one of her curls, seemingly captivated by its stretch and bounce.

Hermione smiled shyly, “You know, I don’t believe that you have.”

“That is very bad of me,” Viktor replied, his voice lowering as he stepped forward and his head dropped to meet hers.

In a rush, Hermione’s mind was brought back to the previous night and the intensity of their last shared kiss. No amount of charm spell discussion in the world was going to help her indefinitely. She was stuck between waiting for him to kiss her and reaching up to meet him halfway when Viktor suddenly jerked forward.

“Son,” Grigor greeted with a slight twist of his lips, and it took Hermione a moment to recover enough from his sudden appearance to realise that Viktor’s father had seen him going in for a morning kiss and had cuffed the back of his head. She tried her best not to laugh or die from embarrassment as she greeted Grigor and her teeth were firmly pressed into her bottom lip as he disappeared down the corridor, presumably on his way to breakfast, and to make his wife laugh at his antics.

“You could have told me he was there,” Viktor whispered, though he didn’t sound very chastised. At that moment Hermione could see him for the young man he was, rather than the more mature version of himself he typically presented; Viktor was wavering between mortification and humour every bit as much as she was.

“I didn’t see him,” Hermione insisted before lifting herself up onto her toes to kiss Viktor’s cheek. The kiss was brief and in comparison to their heated exchange the previous evening, positively chaste. But it was also casual and unstudied in a way that spoke of their growing familiarity with each other, and it was that aspect that Hermione clung to hardest.

“That does not count as full apology,” Viktor countered with a mock pout, and Hermione gave into the threatening giggles as Luna made a show of stepping slowly out of the door, one arm stiffly stretched out in front of her as the other hand covered her eyes.

“You don’t have to do that Luna,” Hermione said, “I am behaving perfectly appropriately.”

“I am sure you are,” Luna agreed as she found the far corridor wall with her splayed fingers. “Though it doesn't hurt to practise these things every now and again, you never know when they could come in handy.”

Viktor had woken up that morning determined to be the most gentlemanly version of himself. He had reflected on the kiss he had shared with Hermione the night before, and he couldn’t help but feel a little ashamed of himself. While he was sure he hadn’t pushed her any further than she would have wanted to go, Viktor knew that he had ‘let himself off the leash’ so to speak. Enough so that had felt Hermione’s fractional retreat from his lips as they said goodnight.

When Hermione had agreed to stay Viktor’s father had summoned him to his office where he had sat through a somewhat uncomfortable conversation regarding the conduct expected in his household, by a member of his line, followed by a summons from his mother that had led to a discussion along the same vein, though expressed rather differently.

When Viktor had first invited Hermione to come and stay with him, he’d had notions of being in his own flat by then and being able to show her around and spend time together without being under the ever watchful eyes of his parents. He had also never imagined she would bring along a friend in any of those scenarios. It was always just them. Now Viktor could fully appreciate how ridiculous those imaginings were.

Hermione was still young, and while the years between them were small in number, the gap between their stage of life was vast. Although he had understood all of this academically before she had come to stay, Viktor now considered that he realised it on a more emotional level. He had a responsibility to ensure that Hermione felt comfortable with the physical side of their relationship, as she had no experience a bad one now could negatively affect her for the rest of her life and Viktor could not live with that. He had decided that in this, as in all things, he would wait for his witch to take the lead. Viktor would be charm itself and hold his other… impulses, back until he knew such things were welcome. For now, he would have to be satisfied with his… imaginings.

During the weeks that they had been apart when situations had become stressful or difficult, Viktor had closed his eyes and day-dreamed that Hermione was with him, and despite his more embarrassing wanderings of mind, most of these scenarios had been nothing more than - slightly embellished - hashed together memories. It had allowed him to feel closer to her while there were oceans between them.

Sometimes Viktor would get flashes of Hermione standing outside the gates of Hogwarts, she would be about a hundred or so paces away, and while he focused in on her face, the rest of the crowd would fade into nothing. Sometimes he would get blurred glimpses of her at the Yule Ball, flashes of blue and sparkling lights. But those particular recollections were elusive; no sooner would Viktor begin imagining the exact shade of her gown and the light in her eyes, and then, just like that, dream Hermione would disperse.

Most of the time, whether she had been voluntarily sought or had involuntarily appeared, Viktor’s remembered Hermione would look just as she did when they had worked together in the Hogwarts library; buried in an ill-fitting jumper and staring into a book as if the closeness of her nose to the page impacted the depth of knowledge she could learn from within. It was precisely because the image had become so dear to him that Viktor found his current situation, pressed up next to Hermione in the library at his family home, both strangely familiar and wonderfully novel.

The Krum library was substantial by private collection standards, and Viktor enjoyed the small room very much. His mother hated that traditional libraries in the houses of her peers were seen as spaces for the men of the house, often an extension of their studies, and so when she took up occupation in the manor after marrying his father, she redecorated. Gone were the oppressive dark wood stands, replaced with more neutral tones and shorter stacks that allowed the light from the triple aspect windows to flow in. Flowers of all kinds were placed on as many surfaces as she could manage, as long as they didn’t go anywhere near the rarer volumes. It couldn't compete with the grandiose scale of Hogwarts, but as he had the best thing he had found there with him, Viktor found he had no desire to complain.

As soon as he had opened the door, Luna had asked to be pointed in the direction of their books on local mythology, and they hadn’t seen her since, though Viktor fancied he heard mumbling from differing locations around them every now and again.

Viktor looked down at the next section of his form and flicked through the papers he had stacked in front of him to find the relevant information. As he got to the bottom of the pile, Hermione leaned over, nudging his arm and Viktor smiled as she unconsciously sought to spread herself out further.

He bumped her shoulder, "Do you need more space?"

Hermione startled, blinking out of her previously focused state before she looked down at the desk where she had been edging Viktor's materials off the surface for the last hour. "Sorry," she said shyly, "I'm kind of territorial when I study."

"I remember," Viktor replied fondly. He had been trying for light teasing, but his words came out more intensely than he had planned and his meaning seemed to expand in the air around them until they drained the already quiet room of any background noise.

Viktor coughed self consciously and fiddled with the edge of the nearest parchment until Hermione, with a hesitant smile, seemed to take pity on him. "What are you working on?"

“I have forms to complete before the mastery begins, registering my studies and implements with our government. This one is the most complicated,” Viktor explained, gesturing to the stack in front of him, “it will allow me to continue working with a staff."

"I didn't know you used one?" Hermione replied, putting down her quill and flexing her ink-stained fingers.

“Do you not remember the Durmstrang entrance when we visited your school? Fillip will be disappointed.”

Hermione laughed and twisted herself in her chair - ones that were much more comfortable than they had made use of when studied together before - “Of course I remember! But you didn't take part in that. You walked in at the end with Karkaroff. You looked like you wanted the ground to open up and swallow you, as it was, I didn't get a chance to feel sympathetic, I had just seen you materialise for the first time since the World Cup and, unlike you, our second encounter was a surprise to me.”

Viktor grinned. “Would it help if I told you I was sorry?”

“It would if I had any faith that you meant it,” Hermione replied tartly, and Viktor poked out his tongue at her. “So the staff?” She asked, dragging them back onto topic.

“We sometimes used them at Durmstrang. They are often used in schools in this part of the world. Karkaroff, in particular, was fond of them, he thought they would intimidate an opponent.”

“Do they require more skill to wield than a wand?”

Viktor considered his response. “Not more,” he conceded, “just different. Better for some magic than others.”

“Is it better for transfiguration?” Hermione pressed, and Viktor saw that she had the bit between the teeth. He supposed he had never had any interest in vapid women and Hermione was the polar opposite of that, though he did sometimes lament that it was impossible to get anything past her, and he suspected she wouldn't be too thrilled at his explanation.  

“Not particularly,” he responded finally, and Hermione’s head cocked to the side.

“Then why?”

Viktor shifted in his seat. “I like using it, but also, it is a way of remembering Karkaroff, and all he taught us.”

Hermione stiffened in her seat before she gripped a curl in the front of her hair and began twisting it around her fingers. “I will never understand why you admire him so much.”

“I know,” Viktor replied. He understood her reasons for disliking his old Headmaster, even agreed with them for the most part, and he might never be able to make her understand, but it didn’t mean he could switch his feelings off.

Despite her visible agitation, Hermione placed her hand on his forearm in a gesture of comfort. “Have they heard anything from him? Where he might be?”


Hermione nodded. “Maybe we should change the subject?”

Viktor huffed out a breath and thought for a moment before he smiled. “Would you like to know what I have planned for tomorrow?”

Hermione’s frame relaxed and her lips curved into a smile. “I thought I wasn’t allowed to know our itinerary ahead of time.”

“Maybe I will make an exception.”

“Really, you have told me many times, and I quote ‘I should focus on enjoying the time, not worrying what comes next’.”

Viktor huffed out a laugh at her overacted impression of him before picking up his form again. “Oh, if you do not want to know…”

Hermione grabbed his arm and put her other hand on top of his stack of papers. “Okay, what are we doing?” she asked eagerly.

Viktor twisted in his seat to face her better and tried as hard as he could to push down his nerves. He reminded himself that nothing could be as terrifying as asking her to the Yule Ball. “I have a practice game tomorrow,” he said, wondering if she had remembered him mentioning the upcoming games in his letters. “I wondered if you would like to come with me, to watch. I know it's it..."

“I would love to,” Hermione said, cutting him off, “I would love to come.”

Viktor tucked Hermione closer against his side as they made it through the main entrance gates to the Vstra stadium, on reflex he pulled his hat down further over his eyes. Though it was still early, and only a practise friendly game with another Bulgarian side, there were already a vast number of people coming in, and Viktor didn’t want Hermione to get lost in the growing crush, or to be seperated from her if he was recognised and surrounded.

He tried not to look like he was grinning too broadly or preening too much; his father had told him there was nothing less appealing about a person then when they decided to ‘show off’ their partner as if the were some rare cufflinks they had just acquired. So he tried his best not to look smug, but Viktor couldn’t help keeping her close. While he might not have been the most comfortable on the ground - his father had also told Viktor he would grow out of looking like he was too tall and thin for his feet, but in his opinion that hadn’t happened yet - he gave into the ever-present temptation to keep her safe.

Viktor steered them towards a quieter patch, beyond the souvenir stands, and looked around for his friends, all while making sure Luna was never more than a couple of paces away from them. Though he had no doubt the diminutive blonde could look after herself, he was dealing with enough pre-game nerves - friendly match or not - to cope with such a distraction ahead of the game.

Fairly quickly Viktor spotted Filip’s dark blond curls above the milling heads, mainly as his friend was bouncing on his feet, as was typical when he became overly excited. Filip had always suffered from an excess of energy, but unlike himself, Viktor’s friend was incredibly gracefully with it. His mother had often remarked that Filip had a dancers line, an observation that had proved accurate when duelling, but only when Filip could be trusted to concentrate.

There was a break in the crowd in front of them as the announcement came for the fans to start taking their seats, and it was enough for his friends to spot their approach, and Filip, ever lacking in anything approaching reserve, immediately started running towards them. Viktor tried, valiantly, to move Hermione out of the way, but despite his professional aptitude, he was nowhere near quick enough. Filip had Hermione off her feet and up in the air before Viktor could so much as warn him to be careful.

Hermione looked torn between admonishing Filip for his recklessness and being delighted by his chosen welcome, which she returned warmly, but more calmly that Filip had managed. Conversation flowed happily between the knotted group for a short while, and Viktor became momentarily distracted in it until he spotted Head Coach Rakov standing in front of the player's tunnel. The stern man made a wind-up motion, and Viktor knew he didn’t have long, he was grateful of the leeway he'd already been given in arriving later than most and as such wanted to make sure he didn’t push it. He was also incredibly thankful that they’d had the luck not to bump into any of his teammates on their way in. Viktor had been loathed to mention anything about Hermione coming to the match to the rest of the players, but it had been let slip when there was a general enquiry about the seats he had requested in the player's box. Several of the player's wives/ girlfriends/ mistresses did not get on and as such careful planning of the seat allocations was sometimes required to ensure there was not more action off the pitch than on.

“Look after them,” he instructed looking at Mikhail. He knew the girls were in excellent hands, but it was worth making the point.

“I will see you after,” he muttered into Hermione’s hair before squeezing her hand and jogging over to Coach Rakov. The man had no real expression on his face, not that that in itself was unusual. Viktor was very used to the man not revealing much of what he was feeling.

“Sorry Coach,” he said before Rakov pressed a hand to his shoulder, eying him wryly. Viktor wondered if the older wizard remembered what it was like to be young and in love, he had never met the man’s wife, though he knew he had been married over forty years.

“In you go, Krum,” Rakov grunted, and Viktor took off at a pace to get to the changing rooms.

Hermione watched Viktor’s back as he made his way into the ‘player’s walk’ in the centre of the stands and a small frisson of excitement fizzed in her belly. The last time she had been anywhere near a proper Quidditch stadium, Viktor had been playing for his national side, and it had been the night they had first met. Hermione had looked at pictures of him strewn around the campsite and had casually wondered about the boy with the scar in his eyebrow; now she had answers to all of her idle questions and more. Now, she supposed, she had the boy as well as her answers.

When Viktor disappeared, Hermione allowed herself to be swept away in Filip’s happy recollections of his holiday so far and his eager questions about how she was enjoying Bulgaria. Mikhail surprised her by offering her a warm if slightly studied hug and then stepped back to allow her to fall back into Filip’s orbit.

That Viktor’s friends were excited to be attending the match was hardly in any doubt. They both mentioned how they had visited the stadium together often as children and on holidays from school. For herself, Hermione was incredibly grateful to have the two former Durmstrang students with them, as she had no idea where she was supposed to be going, and there seemed to be a lot of people in attendance for a friendly match.

Seemingly catching her wide, sweeping glances, Mikhail cut off Filip’s happy ramblings to explain. “Vstra is putting out a new team, and people want to see them play ahead of the official league matches. I am sure Viktor has been too modest to say, but him being here will have drawn a larger crowd.”

Hermione supposed that made sense, in so much as sporting fixtures ever did to her and she felt comfortable enough to ignore the growing swarm of people as they decided to heed the constant recorded tannoy advice and find their seats. Like at any Quidditch match this meant a lot of climbing. While at Hogwarts the stands were separated into individual towers, here in the Vstra stadium there was a giant oval ring that was suspended high in the air above some complicated scaffolding. As Hermione carefully trudged up staircase after staircase, forcing herself not to look down, she couldn’t understand why no one had considered a magical means for this but thought better of commenting. Who knew what kind of painful, discombobulating solution someone might stumble upon, then she would be kicking herself.

Filip’s energy applied to everything he did; therefore it was hardly a surprise that he was bounding ahead and encouraging Hermione to do the same. However, she got the impression every now and again that he seemed to be hurrying her, which was strengthened by Mikhail and Luna seeming to lag behind.

When they arrived at the player’s box, Hermione found herself sat between Luna and Filip, with Mikhail on Luna’s other side. Hermione privately reflected on how comical it was that the two matches she had attended outside of school had been viewed in the luxury of the best boxes available, as someone who had no real care for the sport. Hermione had a momentary pang when she considered how much Harry would have liked to be there, but she pushed it away. She couldn't influence at the moment, and it would have been incredibly rude to be sullen with Viktor’s friends for the sake of one of her own.

Mikhail disappeared over to a kiosk to get them an array of snacks as people filled in around them, jostling excitedly for their places. When he returned, he threw a programme at Filip who went through the players on each team with the girls and explained who they were along with a brief synopsis of their history before he looked at the clock at the far end of the stadium and saw they had little time left.

“So, we got you something,” he said, sitting back in his chair and pulling out the backpack that he had stowed under his seat earlier. After a few minutes of fruitless rustling, he picked a folded down paper bag that he handed to her. Hermione, as someone who had had all too many boys as friends growing up, smiled at his attempt at wrapping.

“You shouldn’t have,” she responded automatically. “What is it?” she asked even as she opened up the bag and a light knitted top fell across her knees.

“It’s a Vstra shirt,” Mikhail explained, “we thought you might like one for the game.”

“Games,” Filip corrected, “I am sure this will not be your last.” Hermione had begun to grin before Filip’s smile took a wicked turn. “It is a child’s one,” he said, pointing to the large label attached to the side with a giant cartoon version of the Vstra Vultures mascot. Who knew a vulture could be made to look so… cheerful?

“That's mean,” Hermione protested with a pout as she tried to hold back her laughter.

“I know,” Filip agreed, thoroughly pleased with himself. “We looked at pet ones first!”

“What Filip means to say,” Mikhail bit out exasperated, “is that we thought this one might fit you better than the small ladies one.”

Hermione felt very much like commenting about their assumption, kindly meant or otherwise but was cut off by Filip hurrying her to her feet. “You have time to change before the match. Go, go, go now!”

Hermione must have looked unsure as Luna leaned across Filip to grab her hand. “Do you want me to come?”

“No, no I’m fine,” Hermione replied, her issue hadn’t been with going alone. “You stay where you are.”

Hermione stepped out of the rickety bathroom stall and thought about the no doubt vast amounts of money that had been spent on the stadium, and the obvious lack of allocation towards restrooms. Even ones, such as this, in the ‘plush’ parts of the stands. She dropped the jumper she had put on that morning on the side of the sink - carefully avoiding the puddles of splashed water - and straightened out her new shirt.

Hermione was pleased to discover that Quidditch jerseys were a lot more understated and classic than Muggle replica football shirts. The kit the boys had gotten for her was a long sleeved jumper in a fine-knit, dark blue that had the clubs logo embroidered above her left breast. Hermione tilted her head and pulled at the ends of her curls in an attempt to flatten the poofing caused by changing clothes and caught sight of lettering that was across her shoulder blades. ‘KRUM’ was clearly visible in bold, silver letters.

It self-consciously made her smile. It was nice that Viktor's friends had brought it for her. Hermione had considered buying one for herself when Viktor’s signing had been made public, but even if she had, she didn't think she would have been brave enough to get it out of her trunk and wear it, especially not to one of his games. Filip presenting it to her made Hermione feel like she was allowed to, and, after all, the boys were both wearing theirs, both with Viktor’s name and number on the back.

She made one final attempt to wrestle a curl and resolved to give up but before she could leave the bathroom door swung open and three of the most beautiful women Hermione had ever seen walked in. She was suddenly assaulted by a barrage of noise; the fast pattern of different voices and the clattering of heels. The girls… women, walked into the space and brushed past her as if they didn’t even know she was there.

In a matter of seconds, Hermione was back to standing alone in the dimly lit bathroom, only now she could hear the muffled voices of the women that had entered as they chattered to each other through the stall doors.

Hermione tugged at the bottom hem of her top and glanced at herself in the mirror. They certainly weren’t wearing anything like she was in. No sports tops, jeans and trainers for them, but they must have been known to the players - be here to watch them - the bathroom was attached to the player’s box after all.

Hermione stifled a sigh and pushed herself through the bathroom door.  

Why did models have to be so tall?

When Hermione regained her seat, Mikhail gave her a small smile before looking back down at the programme that was now spread across his lap as he explained something to Luna. Filip pushed a styrofoam cup of tea into her chilly fingers - it was a warm day, but up so high they were subjected to the will of crosswinds - before he subtly started indicating some of the more famous people around them.

While Hermione had never had much interest in the lives of the rich and famous she did laugh at some of the more outrageous society stories Filip related, more because of his sensational delivery than anything else, but her gaze kept landing back on Mikhail and Luna as they quietly but animatedly conversed. Hermione was sure she had never seen Mikhail talk so much.

“Filip?” she began, trying to sound as unconcerned as possible.


“What is happening over there?” Hermione asked and indicated her head in the direction of their other friends.

Filip followed her gaze before raising his shoulders in a half shrug and sighed. “Probably a bit less than I would like.”

“I’m sorry?”

“We, Viktor and I, think Mikhail might have a crush on your friend.”

“Really?” Hermione exclaimed and then cursed herself for being an idiot. All the little comments over the last few days suddenly made a whole lot more sense. She wondered if Luna knew, and if so why she hadn’t told her.

Filip nodded. “It is unusual for him, very unusual.”

Hermione watched as Mikhail smiled at something Luna said and sat back in her chair. “I had no idea.”

“If it is any consolation, I cannot see him doing anything about it. At least not yet.”

“Why ever not?” Hermione wondered aloud.

Filip drew closer to her and dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Not all of us move as quick as Viktor when our interest has been peaked.”

Hermione flushed. “He didn’t move that quickly,” she defended, “I didn’t see him for months after we first met.”

“No,” Filip agreed in an airy tone, “but then he was rather determined to get to England after you had met, and how long did he wait to find you once he got to the school? Two, three days at most?”

“Maybe two,” Hermione conceded as she feigned interest in a bag of sweets left on the arm of her chair.

Filip bumped her shoulder. “I am only teasing Hermione. It is why Viktor is so good at what he does. He knows what he wants, recognises it when he sees it and makes sure he gets there first.”

Hermione cleared her throat, “Maybe we should concentrate on the Quidditch. Who did you say was playing Seeker for the other side?”

Filip grinned at her. “If you wish….”

After the match was over - a respectable three hours and twenty-five minutes of game time - Filip and Mikhail guided Luna and Hermione down a small side street until they arrived at a large pub that wouldn't have looked too far out of place in a London suburb. It was vast on the inside, and Hermione suspected some charms had been rendered to the walls to increase the space, judging by the number of people that had already swarmed there, it could have comfortably held a couple of hundred people.

Most of the occupants of their box were there, and Filip excitedly informed them that this was where the teams would come for an after match drink. The pub was wizarding, even if the location was not and notice-me-not and Muggle repeller charms supposedly covered the entirety of the grounds. After the brief history of the building that held Hermione’s rapt attention, much of the talk focused on the game that had just occurred, and Hermione found it was just as challenging to contribute to the chatter even when she had been there.

Viktor had won - or, rather, his team had - and he had got off the broom safely, which had been all Hermione had cared about, but not in that order. Though, she could say, with the help of Filip’s ever-present roaring in her ears during, that Viktor had acquitted himself well. Hermione supposed she would have to try and desensitise herself to the dangers of Quidditch if Viktor was planning to continue his career for a decade or more - and if they continued to be together. Though, four years of school competitions hadn’t dampened her worry for Harry every time he played, so she wasn’t entirely confident of her success.

Soon after they arrived a man Hermione didn't recognise joined their group and drew Filip into a detailed discussion regarding one of the formations that had been attempted late in the match and Hermione must have glazed over as she found Mikhail walking towards her.

“Come on, Hermione,” he said kindly, “let’s go to the bar.”

Hermione all but jumped at the welcome invitation and followed on dutifully, although she had to bite down the first ten variations of ‘do you fancy my friend?’ that popped into her mind and instead focused on the bar in front of her and what she wanted to drink. Until her attention was entirely consumed by a pair of large hands that appeared, one either side of her, boxing her in and gripping onto the weathered bar in front. Hermione would have poorly reacted had she not recognised them, the hands and the subtle aftershave that she could pick up from the warm body that had slotted up behind her without her notice.

“You were not wearing this earlier,” Viktor said as he slowly ran one hand over the lettering emblazoned across her shoulders. She was glad there was no mirror behind the bar, so Viktor could not see her smile.

“No, I was not,” she agreed. “Your friends had a little present for me.”

“And for me, it would seem.”

Viktor’s voice was husky, and Hermione flushed but was saved from speaking as Mikhail pushed a butterbeer towards her along the surface of the bar before drifting back over to the little group they left. Now they were alone - or as alone as they would be that evening - Hermione spun in place and faced a fresh from the shower Viktor, cheeks still pink from the exertion of the day's match.

“You played well,” Hermione said, smiling up at his welcome face.

“There you sound like an expert, and we both know you have no desire to be that,” he said with a grin. “Come on; I want to introduce you to some of the team.”

Hermione had just been pulled away from a stilted conversation with Viktor’s coach when she crashed into another player she recognised from Viktor’s team, who, if Hermione didn’t know better, she would have said seemed to have deliberately placed himself directly in her way.

“Who is this little treat you are keeping all to yourself Krum?” he asked in heavily accented, yet perfect English. Once again Hermione found herself lamenting her lack of languages prowess.

“Bakalov, this is Hermione, Hermione this is Dragomir Bakalov,” Viktor said, giving the introductions succinctly and, Hermione suspected, a little reluctantly.

“Nice to meet you,” Hermione said kindly, smiling up at the man who was a little taller than Viktor and a good deal more confident in his body. Dragomir had one of those ready smiles and winking faces that would have been happily at home in a men's shaving or toothpaste advert. She had no problem imagining him as someone that woke up every day only to promptly move into the bathroom to grim widely in the mirror at what he found there.

“Nice to meet me?” he parroted back with what appeared to be mock affront, “I see my reputation has not preceded me. How upsetting. It is never nice to meet me, Hermione, it’s either spectacular or it's nothing at all.”

“Bakalov,” Viktor warned, though he didn’t seem especially put out when Dragomir just laughed.

“I’m sorry, Hermione, I am being childish. But who knew emotionless Krum could have so many buttons to push.”

Hermione was sharply put in mind of an older, more arrogant Cormac McLaggen, but as Dragomir was not one of Viktor’s close friends she brushed off her initial dislike. He was by no means her problem.

Later, as the hours seemed to tick by quicker, once talk of Quidditch had become a little more scarce, Hermione found Luna and managed to have a conversation just the two of them for a short while. Hermione wanted very much to bring up Mikhail, but she didn’t feel like this was the right place, for one someone could have easily overheard, and for another, she was unsure how much Luna knew about the other boy's feelings, or how she felt in return. She had no desire to make her friend awkward on this trip.

A while later, Luna had been commandeered by some philosopher or other, and Hermione found herself standing near a high table watching the events going on around her until her peace was disturbed and she was unexpectedly surrounded by the women from earlier, the incredibly beautiful gazelle-like women who had come into the bathroom.

“Hi,” one of them - the one with hair so dark it was black - said and Hermione returned her greeting a little awkwardly.

“We’ve not seen you at the matches before, are you one of the player’s little sisters?”

The irrational side of Hermione, the side that made her jump into a fight with Ron without even thinking wanted to get into a snit and make some sort of comment back, but thankfully she had only had two butterbeers and as such was still functioning with complete clarity. And, honestly, she wasn’t sure there had been any malice in the woman’s enquiry. She might have been fishing, but if she had bad intentions, she was certainly better at hiding it than Parvati and Lavender had ever managed to be.

Dragomir, who Hermione had earlier decided she wasn’t bothered if she spoke to again, sidled over as Hermione was debating on how to respond.

“No,” he answered as he put an arm around her shoulders, and Hermione fought against the urge to shake it off. “She's with Viktor,” he explained.

With, with?” the blonde with corkscrew curls asked, eyeing Hermione appraisingly.

“Is there any other kind?” Dragomir replied, “but never fear ladies; I am here to console you.” In a move so smooth Hermione was sure it was practised, Dragomir released her shoulders before inserting himself into the group of girls and steering them off in another direction, throwing a wink at Hermione over her shoulder.

Soon the only evidence they had been there at all was the faint sound of tinkling laughter, but Hermione found herself stuck still, staring after them, and worrying.

“What are you thinking so hard about?”

Viktor’s voice interrupted her thoughts as he came up behind her again, dropping his chin on her shoulder and his hands at her sides.  “Nothing?” she replied, unconvincingly even to her own ears.

Viktor stood back up to his full height and easily saw over most of the milling patrons to where Dragomir had secluded himself on the far side of the room, flanked by female attention. “Do not worry about Bakalov; he can handle himself.”

Hermione snorted. She did not doubt that Dragomir was more than capable of getting himself in and out of precarious situations. But that wasn’t what had affected her. “And… and you?” Hermione replied tentatively, “Can you…  handle yourself?”

Viktor’s hands tightened around her before he gently turned her in his grip, his achingly familiar face looked confused, and Hermione flushed.  

“I’m being silly…” she admitted, knowing she was being insecure and forcing Viktor to allay fears that he had already comforted her over several times, but she didn’t know how to stop herself. “I’m going home soon and well, those girls they’re everywhere.”

“They are,” Viktor admitted as his brows furrowed. “There are also boys everywhere in England. I have heard they are almost half the population of your country.”

“You know what I mean,” Hermione protested, and she was glad that she had managed not to stamp her foot despite her petulant tone. Though she was grateful for Viktor's reaction to her need for reassurance was an attempt at humour rather than exasperation, she needed him to be more serious now.

“I do,” he nodded before seemingly thinking over what he wanted to say. “Hermione, I wasn’t interested before you, and I’m definitely not interested now.”

Viktor pulled on the soft knit of her jumper that was resting against the inside of her left wrist and pulled it up far enough to allow him to draw small circles on her flesh with his calloused thumb. “You know I thought about buying one of these jumpers for you and sending it by owl before you came, but I didn’t because it felt a bit... presumptuous.”

Hermione sagged, as ever comforted by both Viktor’s words and actions. He always seemed to know what to say. “I thought about buying one too but didn’t for the same reasons.”

Viktor’s lips quirked and he used his grip on her wrist to pull her closer. “I think after the last few days I am beginning to presume a more.”

“I think after the last few days I’m happy that you are doing so.”

“I was hoping that when you went home, you might be okay with me asking if you would be my girlfriend.” Hermione almost completely stifled her gasp but was not wholly successful, she saw Viktor tense in response and hated that he seemed to lose some of his resolve. “I know it will be very hard with the long distance, but it feels a bit silly to be still calling you my friend. You are not a penpal.”

Hermione stepped forward, closer into Viktor’s shadow and used her free hand to grab his. “I would be very happy if you asked me that.”

Very happy was something of an understatement but as it was the only words that had come out of her mouth she supposed they would have to do. Hermione had forced herself to not read too much into how Viktor had left Hogwarts at the start of summer. She had explained to Ginny, Ron and even Harry, more than once on the train ride back that labelling what they had between them was foolish, because of the myriad of factors working against them. But a small part of her had opened up to doubt. Doubt in his feelings, doubt in their constancy, doubt in her own. Hermione hadn’t expected this, but she was thankful for it. What had seemed like the best route forward now seemed ill-considered, they would need more commitment from each other if long distance was going to work.

Viktor seemed happy enough with her choice of words, not a particularly effusive person himself, Hermione supposed he was more comfortable with plain speech. He squeezed her hand, and a more mischievous glint appeared in his eyes. “I do not know if I can ask now; you have ruined my plans.”

Hermione grinned at his teasing and how his shoulders had relaxed. “In which case, I will leave everything to you, I wouldn’t want to be presumptuous.”

Viktor let go of her wrist, and his fingers trailed up her arm till his hand rested on her shoulder, Hermione looked up, and Viktor looked down, and everything around them seemed to melt away. Until Filip shouted at them as he bounded over, looking stressed.

“Come on lovebirds! We have to move now. Hermione, they are starting a pub quiz, and you are sitting next to me.”

Hermione giggled at the absurdly intense and possessive look on Filip’s face. Being both directed at her and about something so benign as a quiz the intensity was rendered ridiculous.

“Who else would I be with?”

Filip crossed his arms and tapped his foot. “Apparently you talked one of the player’s ears off about some potions paper you read, and he was looking for you when they started setting up. We have to go now.”

“Alright,” Hermione replied giving what she hoped was a rain check look to Viktor before she trailed off behind Filip.

“We claim dibs, don’t we Viktor,” Filip continued even though he had already carried his point.

“We most certainly do,” Viktor replied, with a lot more severe intensity than Filip had managed and Hermione was wholly unable to laugh at it.

Chapter Text

Viktor stood on the old, uneven flagstone pathway and watched as Hermione folded over a page in the Muggle notebook she was carrying and hurriedly jotted down a few thoughts. His eyes followed her around the small, vaguely well-kept garden, him cataloguing her movements in the same way that she logged everything she found. Viktor had asked Hermione to come house hunting with him over breakfast, and she was clearly taking her role - whatever she had decided it would be - seriously.

Hermione was wearing a white sundress that flittered around her knees, it was a wholly appropriate choice for the weather and the activity, and yet it had still distracted him for most of the morning. Viktor couldn’t remember another time when he had seen Hermione wearing a dress, apart from at the Yule Ball, and she looked just as beautiful now, only in a very different way.

The white, floaty fabric of the skirt flounced as Hermione darted about, but Viktor couldn’t tell what the top half of the dress looked like as Hermione had put on an oversized cardigan that disguised most of the rest of her form. As ever, Viktor thought she looked, and was, adorable. However, the letting agent they had that day did not seem to share his views. His obvious frustration with Hermione’s lingering and lack of outward exclamations over property features had made the man muttered under his breath and roll his eyes almost continually over the last two hours. Hermione hadn’t seemed to notice; she was too engrossed in making her notes. Viktor was sure he would be presented with a synopsis of them later. He wanted to tell her he didn’t care about points and measures, he wanted to know how Hermione felt in each place if there was any she was more comfortable in than the others. He wanted to ask what changes she would have made, but he didn’t feel able to articulate any of that, and so he settled for following along behind her as she observed the details.  

The agent cleared his throat, no doubt in an attempt to draw their attention to the fact that they had been stood in the front garden for ten minutes without even trying to make it inside, and when Hermione finally looked his way, the exasperated man opened the door with a flourish.

Viktor held the door for Hermione as the agent preceded them, excitedly walking around the room and pointing out the ‘finer’ details of the listing. The house was not much larger than a standard cottage, but plenty big enough for himself and the occasional houseguest. The current owner’s taste was what Viktor’s mother would have called unoffensive, and while it was not difficult to change decoration, it did make it easier to imagine yourself living somewhere when everything was minimal. Viktor’s eyes swept around as the agent continued to overexplain everything as if neither himself or Hermione had encountered such a thing as a window before and might need to be acquainted of its function.

“... as you can see the primary living space is open plan, the designated kitchen area is seperated off by a state of the art island and fitted with all the latest in magical cooking aids… three bedrooms upstairs one that would make quite the impressive master… a lovely bay window overlooking the rockery… a wonderful collection of succulents that separate the informal garden from the formal... ”

Viktor, being of a more practical sort, ignored the no doubt world class shrubbery and instead, looked around to satisfy himself that the structure of the building was sound. Anything else could be worked out later, but his father would be utterly disappointed in him if he purchased a house that wouldn’t at least remain standing during his lifetime.

The agent finished his shpiel and hot-footed it into the garden, Viktor suspected he was rushing off to have a few puffs of a pipe or possibly even a shot of a calming draft. “You two have a look on your own; I’ll just be outside.”

Viktor released a large whoosh of air when the man left and willed his ears to stop ringing. Merlin, the man could talk. This was the third property they had visited so far, and at least he seemed to have finally got the message that the hard sell wasn’t working.

Honestly, Viktor wasn’t even all that interested in nosing around. So far in his hunt, he had only managed to see five places, and three of those had been today. While he was very keen to get his own home, he took no joy in this part of the experience. The agents he had used and been a mixture of fawning and inept which had made it all rather painful so far. A deep-seated feeling of confusion magnified this discomfort. It didn’t seem to matter what questions the agent asked he had no real opinion, he didn’t know what he wanted. Outside of a budget and a location radius that is.

Viktor was sure that asking his mum would be a backwards step. While she might have been able to breeze in and think of a hundred things Viktor had never even considered, he was confident she would continue to find fault with all that she saw, to ensure he stayed under her roof a little longer.

Viktor smiled to himself as he spied a tell-tale cloud of grey smoke float past the window and walked over to Hermione as she was inspecting a bookcase built into the wall behind a sofa. “What do you think?” He asked, taking a quick look at what appeared to be a full page of notes clutched between her fingers.

Hermione glanced about the place with a shrug. “I’m not sure. It’s perfectly lovely I suppose. I’ve just never thought of you as the type of person that would be happy in a cottage, not for your first place anyway.”

“No?” Viktor replied, “What kind of place can you imagine then?”

“A flat? Sky high on some ridiculous floor number, with huge windows and neutral colours, perfect for a bachelor pad,” she explained with a tiny wrinkle of her nose. “Somewhere you can have parties, eat cheese straight from the fridge, and not pick up your socks.”

Viktor laughed. “Instead of parties imagine mastery work, and I am very offended that you would think I am untidy.”

“I apologise most sincerely Mr Krum,” Hermione replied tartly, “but I am afraid it's tough not to stereotype. I live most of the year with boys after all, and dirty socks on the floor are only the tip of the iceberg.”

Viktor pulled Hermione into a hug and saw that the smoke outside had disappeared. “One day I will understand all of the sayings you use.”

Hermione giggled against his chest. “How would I get my fun then?”

Viktor pinched her side before swiping her notebook from her now relaxed fingers and skimming the first two pages. “Not for me?” he summarised quickly, and Hermione’s distaste flashed over her face before she could stop it making Viktor chuckle. For all that Hermione could be indecisive and awkward, she certainly knew her own mind. She had felt uncomfortable wholeheartedly voicing her opinion on what would become his home, but she had made her feelings clear regardless.  

The joy was promptly sucked out of the room as the unmistakable sound of the back door opening reached them. Viktor sighed and released Hermione from his hold and turned to face the reappeared agent.

“So, what do we think?” the man began brightly.

“Not this one,” Viktor replied evenly.

The agent's eyes dimmed for a moment before he seemed to recharge and turned his attention onto Hermione. “Well, not a problem, for a client such as yourself Mr Krum I am sure only the very best will do.” Viktor rolled his eyes so hard he was sure he could see the back of his head. “So, Miss Granger wasn’t it? What is it that you are you looking for? In our line of work, we often find that it’s the witch’s decisions that really sway things.”

Hermione flushed and was looking at the man as if he had two heads. While Viktor had no problem at all with the agent’s assumption, he was never keen on Hermione’s discomfort, unless it was a direct result of his teasing.

“We would like to look at apartments next,” he replied in her place, as he walked forward so he could take Hermione’s hand and give it what he hoped was a reassuring squeeze. “That was what you wanted right darling?”

Hermione’s head snapped to his, though her look of confusion quickly morphed into accusation, and Viktor was especially glad the agent was still in the room, for fear that otherwise, he might have been the first wizard ever to be beaten to death by a notebook.

Viktor answered a few more of the agent’s questions as the man began sorting through his stack of listings before he acknowledged Hermione’s constant tugging on his hand. He dropped his head down so his voice wouldn’t carry over the small space.

“I think you might be right about apartments; that was all.”

“Oh, that was all, was it darling?”

Viktor smirked. “Yes, dear.”

The agent approached waving a smaller pile and suggested they head to the next property, Viktor readily agreed. As the man took off down the garden path to the nearest apparition point, Hermione relaxed her death grip on his hand and rested her head against his shoulder.

“You really are infuriating, Viktor,” she said affectionately.

“Do not be upset, Hermione,” Viktor murmured and gestured to the agent disappearing ahead of them. “Come on, and bring your notebook. I hear the witch’s opinion really sway these things.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes as she angrily swiped her hair out of her face. “I’ll get you back when I’m not so tired, Viktor Krum, who knew viewing houses could be so exhausting?”

“I would pick you up, but I think it will make you madder at me,” Viktor said as he took his hand out of Hermione’s to wrap an arm around her waist.

“Good call,” she replied into his jumper as they begrudgingly quickened their step.

Hermione marched down the quaint, cobbled street with a broad smile on her face and a skipping Luna at her side. The sun was beginning to set and every now and again a sweet smell would waft over to her from the flowers planted in large terracotta pots outside the various bars and restaurants they passed by. The whole scene would have been wonderfully idyllic - picture perfect even - if it weren't for the constant, nagging interruption of her thoughts.

“Where are we going?” Filip’s voice whined, and Hermione shook her head to clear the uncharacteristically poetic train of her thoughts. She resisted the urge to turn around and appease him, Filip had sounded increasingly like a bored child the further they walked, she just knew he would have his face contorted into a little pout, and that would batter against her resolve to keep quiet.

“You will see… soon,” Hermione replied brightly, in her best imitation of Matilda’s Miss Honey, as Luna attempted to control her giggles.

“You said that fifteen minutes ago, Hermione.”

I did,” Hermione replied through gritted teeth, her mimicry of the perfect primary school teacher falling away in the face of Filip’s growing petulance. “But we are very close now.”

Filip snorted and muttered something under his breath, and once again Hermione was able to see the funny side. Up until now, she had considered Viktor’s handsome, energetic friend to be practically above reproach, seeing him grumpy was a glorious reminder that even the incredibly attractive could be immature, faulted, and oh so human.

“Haven't you ever heard the saying that in life the journey is the real reward?”

“No, I have not,” Filip snapped, “and do not pretend that you would ever say something so feeble if you weren’t enjoying torturing me so much.”

“He does make it rather easy,” Luna sing-songed before picking up the pace of her skip and moving ahead.

“Who knew that you were so impatient Filip?” Hermione questioned as she went back to observing the shift from day to night all around them.

“We did,” Viktor and Mikhail answered in tandem and from up ahead Luna lost the battle with holding in her mirth.

As they continued up the busy street, Hermione heard quickened footsteps behind her, and she knew it was Viktor without looking around. Mikhail would not have singled her out for a private conversation, and despite his mounting frustration, Filip would be too frightened of Viktor to attempt to throttle her… in his presence at least.

“As much as I am enjoying the journey,” Viktor said with a deliberate eye roll that made Hermione smile, “will you be revealing soon? Filip does not like surprises unless he is organising them.”

“Yes, it’s just around this corner.”

Viktor looked sceptical but Hermione smiled widely, and he shook his head fondly before falling back, no doubt in an attempt to appease his unhappy friend. Hermione tried to feel sympathetic, but she was honestly too excited to be anywhere near successful.

Viktor had suggested meeting everyone for drinks after their, unfortunately fruitless, house hunting expedition, but Hermione had suddenly had another idea. As they had no formal plans for the evening apart from getting together, she had thought it would be an excellent opportunity to organise a Muggle night out. None of Viktor’s friends had ever seemed the type that would find it beneath them, and Hermione had often thought during their time together that Viktor would find a lot of things available in the Muggle world interesting.

For herself, Hermione felt she had a curiosity that would almost be equal to theirs. When they knew where they were going of course. While she had a much higher understanding of Muggle culture, she hadn’t had many opportunities to experience it. Hermione had all but left the Muggle world for most of the year when she was only eleven and hadn’t had any friends to speak of before that. Her entire Muggle socialisation, outside of her home and primary school, was limited to a few children’s parties when she was very small, and the only activities they had afforded were the dubious delights of bouncy castles and rainbow jelly.

When they had arrived back at Viktor’s house, stacks of property details in hand, Sofiya had pounced on him to discuss what they had seen, and Hermione had taken her chance to get Luna in on her plan. A few short inquiries in the local town and they were ready to go.

Hermione sped up to grab Luna’s hand as they made an abrupt turn around a corner and then, they were there, in a vast, almost abandoned looking car park. The neon glow from the retro-styled signage was virtually invisible due to the lingering amount of daylight and the building needed a new paint job, but Hermione was too eager to notice.

“What on earth….?”

“Is this it?”

What is it?”

Hermione allowed the confused voices to continue for a moment before she turned. “We are going… bowling!

“And what exactly is that?”

“Are we doing it… in there?”

“That building looks a bit...”


“That's part of its charm,” Hermione insisted. “Come on,” she gestured, pulling Viktor forward towards the building and hoping the rest would follow without much further protest.

They had almost made it inside the rickety automatic doors when Mikhail made himself heard. “You know there was an easier way to get here, right?”

Hermione took a large slurp of her drink enjoying the obnoxious noise it made and tried to morph her face into something resembling an encouraging expression as Mikhail stretched out from his seat, with all the grace of a put upon Prince, and selected his ball to take his turn. His mouth pinched as his borrowed shoe caught on a sticky patch of floor and Hermione tried not to laugh at his obvious discomfort.

For two relatively, and one professionally, sporty guys, the wizards were not doing well, though most of it wasn’t their fault. They had been flummoxed by the unusual noise of arcade games and the thunderous clearing of any remaining pins. The request to wear shoes that had been worn by a whole host of other people had Mikhail almost retreating for the door - stopped by Luna softly asking if he would be her partner, which had made Hermione smile - but, despite their apparent uneasiness, they were trying and for that Hermione loved them all the more.

Filip had picked the brightest, pinkest ball available, and was currently sharing the assist ramp with a little boy from the family playing next to them, much to the child’s obvious delight. Filip had been charmed to discover that Muggles had actual attire for the recreational activity after spotting a men’s team practice at the far end of the lanes, and between his returned exuberance and Luna’s insistence on speaking to the balls and encouraging them, Hermione was more than content.

After Mikhail had made a decent attempt, it was Viktor’s turn. Not that you could tell from the screen above their heads. Luna had talked the others into letting her type in the initials and Hermione, thinking her friend seemed like a toddler who wanted to press the buttons in a lift, was happy to let her despite her inexperience. The problem with that decision only emerged later when it became clear that the 'code' Luna had used was indecipherable to anyone else, they could only discern that it was apparently hilarious as Luna laughed every time a new name flashed.

Viktor kissed the side of her forehead, and Hermione glanced across the table laden with all of the food that the bowling alley had to offer. Hermione was ignoring all of the flying saucers, and other assorted crap Filip had bought but was working her way through a cup that had made Viktor laugh as he said it was as big as her head and a basket of fried chicken strips. While Hermione had never been a big one for sweets, growing up with dentists had made her terrified of cavities, she did love fizzy drinks, and she didn’t often get to indulge anymore. Pumpkin juice was okay, but it was no Coke Zero.

Hermione watched as Viktor selected a ball and stood at the end of the lane, practising his throw a couple of times. She could tell that he was getting far more into the bowling than he wanted to let on. That was the competitor in him. Viktor wanted to win. It was something Hermione could understand, maybe not in a sporting context but she had the same drive academically. She didn’t just want to get good marks, she wanted the best, and not just that she wanted to beat other people to do it.

Luna slumped down on the seat next to her and helped herself to a big cloud of pink candy floss as Viktor bent to finally release his ball.

“You seem preoccupied Hermione.”

Hermione flushed and only just suppressed her jump surprised at the turn of her own thoughts. She had been wondering how appropriate it would have been to buy Viktor a pair of jeans, and if it was okay for a girlfriend to do something like that, how long would it be into their relationship before such a thing seemed normal and not… well, a little pervy.

“I'm feeling very like Ginny at the moment,” Hermione replied as Luna rested her head on her shoulder and followed her line of sight.

“I think she would be proud of you.”

Hermione giggled, “You might be right.”

Before Viktor got back to the seats, Filip got up and the two were quickly roughhousing, Hermione was sure if Mrs Weasley were there - heaven forbid - she would have blamed such behaviour on the sugar they had consumed in the last hour. Mikhail joined the boys not long after, though whether to break it up or take part was unclear, Hermione left them to their own devices seeing her opportunity for a private chat with her friend.

“Luna,” she began cautiously, as the blonde tucked an impossibly large bit of the candy floss into her mouth, puffing her cheeks up like a hamster.  “What's going on with you and Mikhail?”

Luna shrugged before visibly gulping down a large chunk of what was in her mouth. “He is interested,” she replied matter of factly, “but he's not made any declaration, as of yet.”

“And how do you feel about that…”

Luna shrugged again, “We will see.”

The boys finally broke apart, and Luna nudged Hermione to take her turn, she glanced at Viktor as he moved past her to retake his seat, and the back of his hand purposefully brushed against hers as he did so.

“What’s the score again?” she asked with faux confusion as she rounded on the boys, holding her chosen ball against her hip.

“Luna’s winning,” all three responded at once, with varying degrees of cheer and Hermione beamed at them.


When they arrived home later that evening, Viktor felt exhausted but happy. He doubted Hermione had intended them to stay out so late when she had made her plans, but after Luna had won the first round, without noticeable effort, there was a clear case of wounded male pride that made them play another shot, and then another. Not that continuing had done them any good. Luna had prevailed again in the second round, and Hermione the third which had made her so happy she was nearly bouncing. She may not have cared the slightest bit about any sport, but Hermione enjoyed winning.

His friends had enjoyed their trip into the Muggle side of his home town as much as he had. And even though Filip complained about Hermione’s ‘unfair advantage’ for the entirety of their walk back to the apparition point, he did so while carrying Hermione on his back for her ‘victory lap’, so he couldn't have been too upset.

Viktor walked the girls around the back of the house and opened the door, ready to run his hands down the wall to activate the lighting charms, only, when the door opened, he found he didn’t have to. There, in the main kitchen were his mum and dad, sitting up at the rarely used island, eating sandwiches on their third best china with large glasses of red wine.

Viktor was stunned into inaction by the sight. He couldn’t remember a time his parents had ever dined anywhere other than one of the appointed rooms, or in such a relaxed fashion.

“We felt like being informal this evening,” his mother said with a soft smile as she stood to refill his father's glass.

Viktor nodded absently before gesturing for the girls to come in and closed the door behind them. “You will be able to do this more when I move out.”

Sofiya did not respond; however, her eyes narrowed, and she seemed to grip the wine bottle between her fingers with less than her usual grace.

“Do not upset your mother, Viktor, not while she's holding a weapon,” his father warned before tipping his glass in his wife's direction.

“It is a wine bottle,” Viktor said with confusion as his father just grinned at him.

“In the hands of a capable witch I do not doubt that it could be as dangerous as a wand. You will learn in life to never turn your back on an angry witch,” he said with a significant look at Hermione.

Viktor walked over to the cool cabinet to fetch some drinks for the girls as they excitedly told his parents all about their evening, Luna told them about her wins which seemed to particularly please his mother before she turned towards the other side of the kitchen.

“Oh, Hermione, there was an owl for you. It must have been a couple of hours ago now. It was very persistent in waiting for a reply, and stayed for around thirty minutes before it eventually left.”

Hermione got to her feet as her brows pinched. “Strange, I wasn’t expecting to hear from anyone.”

“I left it over there,” Sofiya said, gesturing to the other side of the kitchen.

Viktor handed Hermione a glass of water as she passed him on her way to the now shut window and Viktor leaned against the stall she had been using, angling forward to steal a piece of chicken off his father's plate. His father’s loud protests about using his professional skills for ‘evil means’ were cut dead off when Hermione opened her letter, and then, a moment later glass smashed all over the kitchen floor.

Hermione stalked into the ensuite bathroom she had luxuriated in during her stay and gathered up her toiletries in one swoop before returning to the bedroom and throwing them on top of her hastily made bed. In front of a growing mass of her possessions, sat the trunk she had been packing. One glance inside would tell you that the job she was doing was far from her usual organised efforts. But then she didn’t feel much like herself. Ever since she had received Sirius’ hurried note the night before, Hermione’s stomach had been in knots. She had wanted nothing more than to leave for England straight away, but Viktor’s parents had stepped in, and as much as Hermione hadn’t liked it, she could see the logic in not crashing back to Grimmauld in the middle of the night. Harry wasn’t even there yet.

‘Everything will look better in the morning’ Sofiya had said. Hermione wasn’t sure if it was her words, Grigor’s warm hand on her shoulder or the worried look in Viktor’s eyes that eventually made her relent, but back down she did. When she had calmed enough to realise what she had done, she profusely apologised for the broken glass and accepted the offer of tea before being sent off to bed. Luna had joined Hermione in her room for a few hours, but neither had said much, they merely held hands over the duvet as the realities of what the next year would be like began to sink in.

A trial, Sirius had said. His note was short and to the point, explaining what had happened and the Wizegamot’s planned action. He made a crude comment about the Ministry’s inability to distinguish actual security threats and reminded her that the world was different now. It made Hermione think of the Headmaster’s speech at the end of the year, up to now she had only remembered the call for unity, but, on reflection, it was so much more than that. It was a reminder of the dark times that lay ahead and a warning that not everyone was willing to accept that an old enemy had returned.

The Ministry had made their move. How much longer would they have to wait before they could make theirs?

Hermione rolled up the clothes she had worn and folded them around the more precious items in her trunk. Magical cases had additional protections on the inside to prevent breakages but old habits died hard, and Hermione felt better when she had something to do while her brain buzzed.

After getting up as early as possible and dressing quickly, Hermione had opened her door and left it ajar in case Luna came looking for her and was afraid of waking her up. As such the warning knock that came a moment or two later sounded was louder than Hermione had gotten pleasantly used to and she smiled at Viktor as he pushed the door the rest of the way open and walked into her bedroom.

He didn’t say anything as he entered, though he returned her smile. Hermione wondered if he was as disappointed as she felt though really she already knew he was. She knew her place was with Harry, but it couldn’t make her happy about leaving Viktor. She had felt nothing less than utterly welcome during her stay, and she would sorely miss their time together.

Hermione realised that if she were serious about pursuing a relationship with Viktor, there would now always be a part of her that would feel as if she weren’t in the right place. Since she was eleven, Harry had been the most important person in her life, and she had made him her priority; Hermione was sensible of the fact that there would be a time in the future, if they survived this war, where that might no longer be the case.

Viktor wistfully eyed Hermione’s half-packed trunk before sitting on a clear patch of bedding, raising an eyebrow when he could see Dragon, slumbering peacefully from within a nest made of Hermione’s summer pyjamas.

“You brought him with you?”

Hermione managed a proper smile when she could hear the amusement in Viktor’s voice. “Dragon comes with me everywhere.”

The ‘because you gave him to me’ remained unsaid, though she knew Viktor would understand.

Hermione picked up the few pairs of flat shoes she was still yet to pack and went about organising them while Viktor ran a finger down Dragon’s scales, being careful not to touch the clothing that was wrapped around the tiny, slumbering beast.

Hermione was incredibly grateful that even in her distressed state she had managed to pack her underwear first. It was bad enough saying goodbye to Viktor at all, to do so surrounded by pieces of well-worn cotton would have been unthinkably embarrassing. Well, a stack of pale cloth and the one red pair of briefs that she had purchased on a whim at the start of the holidays, not that she had built up the courage to wear them yet, or to think about what buying them had meant.

“Can I help?” Viktor asked eventually, as he folded his hands in his lap.

“No, it's okay. I’m nearly done, but thank you for offering.”

Her reply was met with silence as if neither of them knew what to say. It was the first time since she had arrived that Hermione had felt awkward and she hated it.

“I feel dreadful for cutting short our time together,” she blurted. They had planned on a whole week, and they had only just managed half of that time. “I hope you will forgive me and maybe… maybe I could come back next summer?”

It was as brave as Hermione could force herself to be, and when she saw Viktor shake his head slightly, she feared for the worst until he settled his hands in front of himself, resolved.

“I cannot wait until then. I would like to come back with you. If you will let me.”

There was silence again only this time, Hermione was not scrambling for anything to say, she had all too much to say, but the words were jumbling up and over each other in her mind.

“You would… but what about…,” she managed ineloquently. Hermione wanted Viktor to come with her, more than anything, but she didn’t want to get too excited. He had commitments and a life that was separate and far removed from her and her issues.

“I can do what I need to come, Hermione, my question is do you want me to?”

The hopeful note in his voice that he took no trouble to hide made Hermione move before her mind caught up. She dumped the clothes she had been holding and launched herself towards him so that her arms wrapped around Viktor’s neck. “I would very much like you to come.”

Viktor secured his arms around her back and pulled her into his lap. “I already booked out practice sessions. I was clearing time to be with you this week.”

“Are you sure?” Hermione asked as she let herself exhale against his chest. The next few days were likely to be incredibly rough, and oh so selfishly she would feel so much better if he were with her.

“Yes, if I go and I can make sure someone looks after you while you look after everyone else.”

Hermione held Viktor tighter and wondered how she could make this happen, Grimmauld Place wasn’t exactly somewhere you could show up with an uninvited guest, not least because it wasn’t her house. After running through a few options, she decided to send a note to Auror Tonks. Hermione just hoped she could do what was needed.

An hour later, with an affirmative and rather effusive response from Tonks in her pocket, Hermione, Luna and Viktor were ready to head to Grimmauld Place. Their trunks were all packed - she had learnt over the course of the morning that Viktor’s had been packed up overnight - and they were in the main hall, saying goodbye to Viktor’s parents.

“Write to me Hermione,” Sofiya said as she gave her a warm hug, “as my only child has seen fit to fly the nest without reason I may not hear about you as much as I have in the last year.”

“I will be in the same country Mama,” Viktor replied under his breath, but his mother paid him no attention.

The girls stepped back as Viktor’s parents surrounded him to say their own goodbyes and Hermione noticed that Grigor was relating something that looked rather grave when Luna coughed to get her attention.

“You realise this is going to be very weird?” she said as she gestured an arm in Viktor’s direction.

Hermione sighed. “I do.” In reality weird was an understatement. She had the impression from her short response that Tonks had made the executive decision to keep quiet about Viktor’s sudden arrival, probably for the Auror’s own amusement.  

“Do you think he is ready?” Luna asked as Viktor’s mother grabbed both his cheeks.

“Not at all.”

“Excellent,” Luna replied brightly, “after all, only the very best things happen unexpectedly.”

“I hope you are right,” Hermione said with little conviction.

“I always am… eventually.

Chapter Text

They - the two teenage girls and their Bulgarian souvenir - landed with a muted pop on an unknown grassy bank, thankfully they were not overlooked. Hermione staggered away from Viktor’s firm grasp and willed her stomach to settle. While she may have preferred not to look ridiculous in his presence, it was either brace her legs and lever forward or be sick all over him. She chose the former.

As she focused on her breathing, Hermione glanced around at their surprisingly idyllic surroundings. Tonks had suggested a small Muggle park as a preferred apparition spot and Hermione had readily agreed. It was far less conspicuous than suddenly appearing on the street outside of headquarters. London Muggles may not have been interested in the goings on around them, but they weren’t totally oblivious.

Hermione was grateful for a few moments outside in the summer air before she had to re-enter the stale confines of Grimmauld place once again. While she was sure the work to improve the house had continued in her absence, Hermione doubted she would be witness to much improvement.

“Hermione?” Viktor said as he laid a hand on her lower back and rubbed in gentle, rhythmic circles. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she responded automatically, though why she couldn’t have told you. She was clearly not fine. She typically struggled with side-along; it was worse when carrying an additional passenger. Viktor had said before they left that apparition wasn’t his strong suit, and he had certainly not been lying.

Once the watery taste left her mouth, Hermione straightened herself out and tried to give Viktor a reassuring smile before she looked over to check on Luna, who was looking a little green around the gills herself. “Shall we go?” she asked with forced cheer before wrapping her hand tightly around Viktor’s.

Hermione had been trying to put on a brave face for Viktor’s sake, but she knew he could probably see through it. In just the few days they had spent together she realised how much closer they had become and she had never been much of an actress in the first place. She was worried about Harry, and her guest’s reception and her anxiety had been growing ever since she had woken up that morning.

Luna had squeezed her hand before they had left the Krum’s home, and Hermione had once again found herself incredibly grateful for her younger friend. There would have been no one better for her to have taken on that trip, and a small part of her held on to a hope that one day - impending war notwithstanding - they might be able to repeat it.

Once they had recovered and regained their bearings, they cut across a small area of rose bushes and headed towards the east gate. Hermione knew she had found the right spot when she could see Tonks - sporting shoulder-length blue hair - leaning up against a twisted up tree in the distance.

Despite their momentary nausea, the three walked unencumbered, and Hermione was very grateful to Sofiya who had thought to shrink their trunks before they left, rather than sending them on.

“Wotcher, Mione,” Tonks greeted as soon as they got close enough. Her smile seemed genuine, and Hermione was pleased her instinct to contact the young Auror had been correct.

Tonks straightened and placed a piece of gum in her mouth before looking Viktor up and down with a smile tugging at her lips. “Thanks for your note, by the way, Hermione. I can’t think why you didn’t reach out to Molly.”

Luna giggled which made the tips of Tonk’s hair lighten and then Viktor stepped forward, pushing an arm against his chest and giving a bow. “Madame Tonks, I am Viktor Krum, I am pleased to meet you. Thank you for your service in escorting myself, Hermione and Luna.”

Tonk’s eyebrows waggled at Hermione over Viktor’s bent frame, and Hermione shook her head in lieu of a response. She still wasn’t used to Viktor’s more formal ways. He had such a relaxed demeanour most of the time and so they often surprised her. After getting to know his parents, she could understand where he got it from. Such things were expected of him in his world.  In a way, although it wasn’t what she had grown up with, Hermione felt it was damn preferable to the way a teenage boy would usually greet someone who had done him a favour - so she decided not to comment.

“Pleasure is all mine,” Tonks replied with a widening grin and then met Viktor’s outstretched hand - not with the shake that he had been anticipating but with a fist bump. “I’m a big fan of you, and this entire situation,” she finished turning to look at Hermione with a wink.

The anxiety carrying butterflies Hermione had been dealing with all morning started to beat faster against the walls of her stomach, and she tried to give Tonks a stern look, but she knew she had failed when the Auror laughed.

“Come on then kids!” Tonks said while motioning them with one arm towards the exit. “Time to get this show on the road.”

The teenagers dutifully followed her direction, and Luna fell into step with Tonks as Viktor grabbed Hermione’s arm. “What was she saying?” he asked, confusion etched all over his face. “She speaks so fast!”

Hermione smiled. “I’ll explain everything later,” she said, she was too nervous about their upcoming reception to do so now.

Viktor nodded though he looked a little apprehensive and Hermione bumped his shoulder until he smiled and grabbed her hip, pulling her towards himself. “That went well?”

Hermione shrugged. “I think so.”

“Will they all go well?”

Hermione grimaced. “I hope so.”

The fading lacquered door closed behind them, and once again, the peaceful light from the outside world was shut away. Hermione eyed the same dank, cold corridor and allowed herself a small sigh. At least this time she was entering flanked by people she cared about.

Viktor enlarged their cases and piled them by the door, and Hermione took a few steps forward to see who was around only to inadvertently wake up Mrs Black portrait. She had heard it so often by now it seemed only like noise, she was far from as affected by it as she had been when she had first arrived weeks ago. If anything, it made Hermione feel bored. Even the old hags insults hadn’t changed since she had been away — Home Sweet Home.

Hermione was rolling up her sleeves ready to attempt to close the moth-eaten, largely ineffectual curtains when she was pushed back by Viktor standing in front of her. His face had darkened as he regarded Sirius’ mother, and the painted lady seemed to pause for a moment before she began again. Viktor stalked forward and swiftly pulled the covering across though when he turned back around, he still looked troubled.

“It’s just a portrait,” Hermione offered with a shrug.

“You should not have to live here, with that,” he muttered, and Hermione twinned her fingers with his before rising on her toes to kiss him on the cheek. She would have said more, but a commotion at the end of the now quiet corridor was quickly spotted, and Sirius came barrelling in from the kitchen, with Remus not far behind.

“The travellers return ay?” the man of the house greeted loudly, and Hermione noted that he did not seem surprised, horrified, angry, indifferent or any of the other million things she had imagined he might.

“Tonks let us know you were coming back early,” Remus explained, at a volume much more suited to their indoor location than Sirius’ had been. Hermione noticed a faint blush on her former professor’s cheeks as he mentioned the young Auror, and she wondered whether Tonk’s feelings remained as unrequited as they had been at the start of the holidays.

“Viktor, is it?” Sirius asked jovially, and with almost no trace of the alienated, wrongly imprisoned convict in his manner. He stepped forward to shake Viktor’s hand, and they shared a few words over something Viktor was supposed to have done in a match that Hermione had no knowledge of. Hermione looked on quietly and wondered if she would ever get the true measure of Sirius Black, he was such a mix of seemingly contradictory parts, not helped by the hardships of his life.

Sirius turned to her with a wicked gleam in his eyes that Hermione already knew him well enough to fear. “You’re a dark horse, Hermione,” he observed in an exaggerated whisper, far louder than his already overly loud speaking voice. “Who knew your taste ran to international Quidditch stars?”

Hermione was thankful for the houses ability to dim all natural light as she felt her face flood with heat. “Thank you, Sirius, I didn’t expect this to be awkward at all, and you have made it so much better,” she sarcastically replied which only seemed to please him more.

“Viktor this is Sirius Black, of the Ancient and Noble House of Black,” Hermione recited with a mocking curtsey. “You may have heard of him; he is also Harry’s Godfather.”

“I have heard of you of course,” Viktor replied kindly, showing all of the grace Hermione had never possessed by not mentioning where from. Hermione imagined the news of an escaped convict that was incarcerated for murdering thirteen people would have made the newspapers on the continent just as much as it had at home.

“And this is Remus Lupin. He is a former professor of ours specialising in Defence Against the Dark Arts.”

Remus and Viktor exchanged a polite greeting and, despite Sirius’ need to take the piss out of her, Hermione felt warmed by how their first interactions had gone. “I suppose you could call them weird uncles,” she offered finally. “They’re as close as I have to family in the wizarding world. The Brady bunch we are not.” Please meet my family Viktor, the convict, the werewolf and oh so many more.

When three sets of eyes looked at her inquiringly, Hermione realised what she had said. She waved a hand in front of her face. “Muggle thing.”

Sirius looked at her appraisingly. “With your curly mop, you could almost pass for a Black.”

“Though thankfully for you, Hermione, you don’t have the deranged look in your eyes that would truly confirm it,” Remus countered, and Hermione and Luna giggled.

“Thanks, Moony. You complete twat.”

“Well, things to do,” Remus said, ignoring Sirius poking out his tongue like a child. “Viktor, I’ll show you where you’ll be staying.”

Hermione gave Viktor a nod of encouragement and then he was led off up the stairs. Luna disappeared into the kitchens in search of something to tide her over before dinner, and Hermione was just about to ask about Harry when the corridor was overwhelmed by the sound of a door slamming above, followed by heavy footfalls and a further fiery crash.

“Harry arrived this morning,” Sirius needlessly explained, and Hermione felt her shoulders tense.

“How is he?”

Sirius looked towards the upstairs landing contemplatively. “Not the best.”

“I should go up and see him,” Hermione said as she pushed her teeth into her bottom lip.

Sirius nodded, but his earlier carefree expression had been washed away. He looked older. The emotional weight he carried around on his shoulders was almost visible again. She was halfway up the first set of stairs before he called to her.

“Hermione,” he said, and she paused, “remember to wear your thick skin, okay? He’s hurting.”

Hermione forced herself not to stop at the threshold of the boy’s room, for fear that if she did, she would never work up the courage to cross it. Her apprehension was as insurmountable as it was ridiculous. She had spent the whole summer desperate to see Harry, and now he was here - a single door separated them - and she was stalling. After a quick knock, Hermione pushed the door open and sucked in a breath to calm herself enough to get through the next few minutes.

Harry and Ron were sat on the sides of their respective beds on either side of the room, facing each other, though there didn’t seem to be much conversation going on. Ron gave her a glance that screamed caution and Hermione bit down the resentment such a warning triggered within herself. She wasn’t entirely socially awkward; she knew not to barrel in - especially when it came to Harry. Hermione shook herself and tried to remember that Ron was trying to be helpful, even if he did so in a way that infuriated her.

Hermione turned her attention away from Ronald and looked at Harry, and the sight of him made her heart hurt. There was kinetic energy about her friend that was present even with him sitting mostly still. It was like there was a buzzing under the surface of his skin that warned he might get up and run at any moment. Hermione wanted to hug him in greeting, but she could tell from the set of Harry’s shoulders - and the fact that he had yet to acknowledge her presence - that it would have been far from welcome.

After a moment’s indecision, Hermione sat next to Harry on his bed, sitting far enough away so that she wasn’t crowding him. She wasn’t sure it was the best idea, but the room was small, and the alternative was sitting next to Ron, and she was concerned that would appear to Harry as if it was them against him, which would be unhelpful and far from the truth; her and Ron hardly ever agreed on anything.

“It’s so good to see you, Harry,” she said earnestly and tried not to babble when she was met with silence. “We have missed you very much.”

Hermione let her fingers twist in her lap and tried to keep her mouth clamped shut. She wasn’t known for her patience, or anything approaching it. Her mother had once told her, in the gentle way that only a mother could, that she could sometimes lack empathy. Hermione had agreed, however, with her friends, it was different. She tried to fight down her nature and let conflicts move at a pace the other person was comfortable with. It was excruciating.

After several moments Harry finally met her eyes, but the coldness there shocked her, even though she had been expecting it.

“I’m sure it’s been terrible, Hermione, off with your boyfriend, you must have been cut up.”

Hermione opened her mouth to retort, but the words died on her tongue. She didn’t have anything to say in response, in many ways, she agreed with Harry’s attack. Though it hadn’t seemed fair to her, or Viktor, for her to stay at home for Harry’s sake, she couldn’t say she wouldn’t have felt the same in his shoes. Harry had been dealing with months of isolation, and he should never have been made to suffer that after the events of the previous year.

Hermione was saved from response as Ron sat forward. “Harry, mate,” he interjected, more softly than Hermione would have previously thought possible. “That’s not fair.”

Hermione was stunned into silence as Harry’s head whipped to the other side of the room. “Isn’t it?” he snapped.

“No,” Ron replied, without rising to his friend’s temper. “It’s not.”

Harry scoffed before turning away from Ron. “I suppose I shouldn’t be furious, at least with you dating Viktor I’ve now got someone looking out for me.”

“What do you mean?” Ron asked, and Hermione swallowed away some of the dryness in her throat so she could respond.

“Viktor has been sending Harry parcels as we couldn’t,” she replied quietly, but her repentance was not enough for Harry.

“Does that absolve your guilt, Hermione?” he challenged.

“I would think you know me well enough to understand that it doesn’t.”

“Well, at least you managed to drag yourself away from your little vacation to spend some time with me before I’m forcibly removed from the wizarding world. Thanks, Hermione, your kindness is staggering. We all know there’s nothing you love more than a lost cause.”

“It won’t come to that,” Hermione said, wishing she felt as confident as her words. But Harry wasn’t listening.

“It’s a shame really that I’ll be carted out without time for goodbyes. I would have liked to thank Viktor for his help. Help that my so-called friends couldn’t be bothered to give.”

Hermione allowed herself a heavy blink before she looked into Harry’s angry face. “He’s here actually… Viktor, I mean, if you wanted to speak to him.”


“...What the bloody hell?”

Hermione tried to tell herself that loud voices, however angry, were better than silence. She didn’t believe herself, but she tried. “Viktor, he came back with us. When I heard about Harry’s news, he offered to come.”

“Why is he here?” Ron shouted as Harry began some other rant that Hermione couldn’t quite hear, though she thought she made out some disparaging remarks about an ‘extended vacation’.

She gripped her knees and sighed inwardly. This wasn’t helping. The trouble with battles is that you can’t fight them on all fronts. If she had believed that Harry just needed to get it all out of his system, Hermione would have sat herself down and weathered whatever he had to say, but her friend didn’t operate like that. He was mad, but most of all he was disappointed, and he would need time before he got over it - time she was happy to give him.

Ron was still shouting at her, apparently having no idea that she had tuned out a while ago and Hermione decided that the best option open to her was to stick a pin in the current situation and revisit it when she could speak to the boys one on one.

“I’m going to unpack and sort myself out before dinner. I will see you then,” she offered as if they hadn’t just descended into shouting at each other, and she left the room without looking back.

Viktor managed to smile and nod in what he hoped were all the right places as Mr Lupin, the former professor, showed him around the room he would be staying in. It didn’t take long. The cramped quarters were more akin to what he had endured on the boat rather than the comforts of home, and he could only imagine his mother’s horrified reaction if she were to see it, but at least they had configured a way for him to avoid sharing. He knew Hermione was sharing a room with her two friends and that she enjoyed doing so; as such, he had feared not being alone. Viktor had always believed that the enjoyment of sharing your personal space diminished rather rapidly when you did not know the person who was about to infringe upon it.

Mr Lupin asked a few of the usual questions Viktor had come to expect when he first met anyone, and he answered as he would normally, slipping back into his public persona, giving his answers automatically and not elaborating unless it was unavoidable.

Slowly, Viktor detected that the former professor was skirting around, wanting to ask about his relationship with Hermione. As Viktor realised that the information would probably filter to the rest of the interested parties in the house, he decided to let Mr Lupin know in clear terms that he fully intended to return home in a couple of days and that his sole reason for tagging along had been to ensure Hermione’s safe return and comfort. Though he purposely didn’t look at any of the crumbling furnishings around him when he mentioned comfort.

Mr Lupin seemed satisfied, and Viktor was relieved to have some of the first interactions of his stay over with. He assumed - even from their short meeting - that he would not have got off as lightly if Mr Black had been the one to show him around though he did not doubt that a conversation would crop up at some point.

Meeting Sirius Black had made Viktor glad of his ample press experience for the first time. Up to that point, their host was a man he had only known from the wanted pictures that had terrified him a year or so before. Viktor had seen darkness growing up, and his father had taken great pains so that he would be able to recognise it even in those that tried to hide it. Despite the fancy clothes and the nice-ish manner he presented, Sirius was very much someone that had that untempered rage lurking within. Thankfully, Hermione had filled him in on the leading players as much as she was able, but Viktor intended to remain cautious. He hadn’t survived seven years of schooling amongst the sons of blood purists and thugs by applying his faith blindly.

After packing away the small number of possessions he had arranged to bring with him, Viktor left his room, resolved that he couldn’t hide in there forever. He was eternally grateful for Hermione’s belief and support, but he wouldn’t hide behind her, he came to make her life smoother - if that was in his power - not the other way around.

As he walked out onto the landing, he could easily hear Harry’s raised voice, though the exact words were not clear. Viktor imagined he could probably guess at most of what was being said. A moment later, a door opened above, and Viktor looked up the next set of stairs in time to see Hermione dart out, with Weasley in hot pursuit.

Viktor debated following Hermione but decided against it. He had known that Weasley was hardly likely to take the news of his arrival well and he seemed to be the type of character that was unable to carry on without venting his frustrations; it was probably best to let him do so now rather than at a less opportune moment. Though Viktor didn’t relish leaving Hermione to handle the situation by herself, he knew his appearance would likely make it worse. The inevitability of him telling the younger boy to go fuck himself was likely to make people more hostile towards his stay.

He stood on the stairs for a moment before deciding he should try and speak to Harry while there was a chance they could converse alone, and he didn’t wait for an answer to his quick knock before he walked into a room just as dingy as his own.

Viktor covered the small floor space quickly and sat onto a bed opposite Potter. The younger boy had been looking at the doorway when he came in - in the direction his friends had left in - but once he was inside Harry had quickly refocused his attention on the bricked up window on the outer wall.

“Hi,” Harry offered awkwardly.

“Hi,” he returned. Viktor knew he would have to pick up the mantle to begin the conversation but he wasn’t particularly adept at discussing feelings, his or anyone else’s, especially while doing so not in his native tongue. “Are you well?”

“Not really no,” Harry replied with a sigh, and he rubbed a hand over his face.

“Did you want to talk about it?”

Harry shook his head, and Viktor hated that he was relieved.

“Thanks for the parcels and stuff, that was decent of you,” Harry said.

Viktor shrugged. “It was what Hermione would have done if she could.”

Harry snorted, it was an angry, disbelieving sound and Viktor instantly wanted to defend Hermione, but he knew enough to tread carefully. Potter had seen him when he was gripped in his rage - when he had been stunned and then accused - and Harry had been kind enough to give him the space he needed. Viktor would try to do the same.

“She did what she thought was right.”

Harry shook his head as he shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe, I know that you… you like her and... stuff… but this is between Hermione and me, okay.”

Viktor nodded. “I only wanted to remind you that she is your friend. The moment she found out about what happened she wanted to leave immediately, she looked more shocked than when I had the head of a shark.”

Harry laughed in spite of himself, though he almost looked annoyed for not being able to hold onto his mood. “Why did you do that, the partial transfiguration? I never got a chance to ask.”

Viktor stretched out his legs. “I thought it looked cool.”

Harry smiled for the first time since Viktor had entered the room. “It did,” he replied, “it really did.”

Chapter Text

Viktor only left Harry once he got the younger boy to smile, albeit hesitantly, for more than a minute. After a few awkward walls of silence that had felt insurmountable, Viktor remembered how big a Quidditch fan Potter was and so he pushed himself into talking about his developing career and hopes for the future. Despite his intentions, the words didn’t come easy. Regardless of the sheer number of times he had done the same with the press or fans, Viktor felt uncomfortable talking about himself - and inadvertently, his fame - with people he knew.

While he had been explaining some of the more complex drills he had been shown since joining Vstra, Viktor realised that he never felt self-conscious when discussing the same things with Hermione, and although she was no fan of Quidditch herself, she never made him feel like he was boring her. ‘If it’s important to you, it’s important to me’ - she had used that phrase when he had been telling her about the practice game, and it had stuck in his head, mainly because he felt the same way.

Over time, Harry’s curiosity overtook his anger long enough for him to ask questions, albeit reluctantly, and Viktor was glad of it. As much as he didn’t like the way Harry was treating Hermione, he understood it. It had taken him three weeks at home, and being summoned into his father’s study every night to find some peace with what had happened in that maze. Guilt and regret had threatened to consume him, and Viktor had relied on the fact that his father would neither let him drown, or let him shut out those that had been trying to help. Viktor couldn’t imagine what he might have felt like if he had never had the option of speaking to those closest to him.

Viktor closed the bedroom door behind him, satisfied that he had done the best he could. He was delighted to spot Hermione at the end of the shabby hall, apparently trying very hard to look like she wasn’t waiting. It saved Viktor the job of hunting down in the unfamiliar house. After seeing Weasley chase after her, he’d had a horrible feeling that he would find her slumped on a stairwell, just like after the Yule Ball. Instead, Hermione looked relieved, and unless he was very much mistaken, she hadn’t been crying recently.

“Thank you,” she said softly as he approached, and tilted her head towards the door he had just left.

Viktor shrugged. “Not sure how much good I did.”

“I’m sure you helped more than you know. And even if nothing changes, it doesn’t matter,” she replied with a shrug of her own. “You tried. Harry will appreciate that, and so do I.”

Viktor nodded. “How was talk with Weasley?”

Comfortingly, Hermione rolled her eyes and Viktor was satisfied, for now. Her exasperation he could cope with, but not her distress.

“Let’s talk about that later,” she dismissed with a wave of her hand. “We’ve had enough angst for one day. How about I show you the rest of the place?”

Viktor eyed the decaying hallway and wondered what exactly was in store for him. “Is it all…?”

“As bad as it looks?” Hermione replied with a muted grin. “Yes!” Viktor was unsure how to respond, and in the quiet, Hermione babbled. “Could you maybe not mention how bad it is to your mum? I don’t like the idea of Sofiya knowing you were subjecting you to this,” she said as she gestured to a panel of mouldy, peeling wallpaper and bit her lip.

Viktor smiled. “Do not worry, Hermione. I will never mention it, and remember, I invited myself.”

“Thank you for being here,” Hermione replied earnestly and threaded her fingers with his. Viktor felt a warmth spread from the connection of their hands up his arm.

“Thank you for trusting me. I know how important this - these people - are to you. They must be for you to suffer this,” he said as he eyed a light fitting above that was in danger of shattering the moment someone so much as breathed near it.

Hermione giggled as she pulled on his hand to guide him down the corridor. “Now, Viktor, I never took you for a snob.”

Viktor bristled at the label but as he was still making sure he stood far out of touching distance from any piece of wallpaper or upholstery he knew it wasn’t a completely outlandish accusation. “I am not. I am very laid back - because of my career I have stayed in some very basic places, but at least they had benefit of being clean.”

Hermione didn’t answer verbally; however, she did tilt her head to acknowledge his point as she led him down two sets of stairs and into the family library. Though far from as grand as Viktor could tell it would have been in its heyday, the room was at least habitable. Viktor had seen enough to know that even when clean the house would not have been to his tastes, he would never understand why so many of his peers insisted on such gothic architecture, it was like putting a sign in your front garden to remind the Ministry to raid you as often as possible. Gargoyles and turrets = illegal activity occurs within. House elf heads mounted on the wall = blood has been spilt in our parlour.

Hermione showed him around some of the stacks, and they talked about who was in the house currently, and who was likely to arrive in the next few days. Viktor understood that he would meet most of the other adults at dinner.

“Which one is your room?” he asked her as they walked down a recently cleaned stack of Transfiguration volumes. “If I need to find you.”

“In case of an emergency?” Hermione asked with a teasing tone, and Viktor took a step closer, returning her natural smile.

“Of course, what other reason would I have?”

Hermione looked down at the muted carpet as she blushed and Viktor linked his fingers around her delicate wrist to lead her to a crushed velvet sofa that had seen better days. “So, this is where you have been?”

Hermione nodded. “It’s not much, and it’s certainly not home, but it’s where I’m needed now.”

“It is not what I pictured when I was reading your letters.”

Hermione sighed. “I wish I could show you some of my world, my real world. You showed me so many wonderful things, and I would love to be able to return the favour.”

Hermione’s head fell back against the sofa, and Viktor delicately trailed his fingers along her jaw. “We will have our chance, Hermione.”

“I hope so,” she softly replied, and Viktor felt himself relax, he then realised just how quiet her words had been and how he’d had no difficulty hearing them.

“It is quiet,” he observed as he played with the ends of her voluminous hair.

Hermione’s tilted to face him. “It is,” she replied with evident confusion.

“I imagine this is rare,” Viktor said as he shuffled closer to her, “in a house with so many, to get such a peaceful moment?”

“It is,” Hermione breathed out as Viktor leant forward and brushed his lips against hers. Steadily he allowed his attentions to increase until he pulled away to let them breathe. As he drew back, he affected a contemplative look and pinched his brow.

“What’s wrong?” Hermione asked as she pressed her palm against his cheek with concern.

Viktor looked thoughtful and tried to hide the gleam from his eyes. “I am sure I can taste dust.”

Hermione shoved him as he had planned. “You are, horrid.”

“I should show you I am sorry?”

Hermione nodded, even as her cheeks warmed. Her blush was not as evident as she was now sunkissed from all of her summer exploring, but Viktor was close enough both to see and to enjoy it. He kissed her in apology until their grim surroundings were the furthest thing from either of their minds.

Dinner was a predictably tense affair. Hermione hadn’t seen Mrs Weasley all day, and though she had planned to avoid the matriarch, their lack of interaction was not by design. When Hermione had finally braved asking where Mrs Weasley was, she was informed that she had temporarily returned to the Burrow for some supplies. And yet, despite not having faced Molly, Hermione day’s had been littered with contentious encounters. After leaving Harry to strew in his juices she had been chased down by Ron, and his demeanour had been far from friendly.


After making a hasty retreat from the boy’s room, Hermione decided to head to the kitchen and make a start on some lunch, and then go and find Viktor. Unfortunately, her plan was derailed when she heard quick steps behind her. Hermione didn’t need to turn to know who it was; Harry would hardly have been in a rush to continue their conversation, and she was sure she had never seen Sirius rush before, even when a werewolf was chasing him.

“Ron, I really don’t want to do this now,” she snapped and walked through into the cool kitchen, managing to stop herself from slamming the door in his face.

“Well, I really didn’t want you to bring Viktor here, but you have, so it has to be now,” Ron snapped in return as he brushed passed her and blocked her path.

Hermione’s frustrated resentment boiled inside of her. She had spent years trying to understand what it was about Ron that got her so angry so quickly, but maybe she would never know; whatever it was affected him in the same way.

Hermione eased her way past him and opened up the cooling cabinet, she could see his nostrils flaring as he took a deep breath, but she was determined to stand her ground. Hermione imagined Ron was trying to hold on to his temper, though she knew his resolve wouldn’t last long. He just couldn’t help himself.

They had always been like this, ever since they had first met. As little as a year previous, Hermione had deluded herself into thinking that their dynamic was an eruption of misplaced passion. Now though she felt she knew better, and their constant friction just made her sad. He had defended her no more than ten minutes ago, and she wasn’t even surprised; Ron was loyal to a fault. But that quality was no longer enough to mask everything else he was. Once Hermione would have scolded herself, and forced herself to put her own needs to the back of her mind - she would have told herself to be kind and thanked him for trying to defend her to Harry. Hermione would no longer let any such words escape her lips. A real friend - she told herself - didn’t need to be thanked for doing what was right.

“Why?” she asked finally. She decided to shut out everything else and go to the heart of Ron’s issue, Viktor. “What possible reason could you have for not liking him?”

“You know why, Hermione,” Ron said as he dropped slowly into a chair.

Hermione forced herself to place the butter knife she had retrieved from a drawer, down onto the table. “If you call him the enemy, Ron, I swear I will hex you mute.”

Ron’s eyes narrowed. “This is bigger than a poxy tournament, this is war, and you don’t know him.”

“I know him well enough.”

“How do you know he’s not faking it to get information? He’s spent years being taught by a Death Eater.”

Hermione scoffed. “You think that he-who-shall-not-be-named is information gathering by seducing a teenage Muggleborn?”

“Seducing!-” Ron began, but Hermione ignored him.

“And if being taught by a Death Eater is your only evidence for potential evil then we’re all a threat to the side of the Light. We’ve had our fair share of circumspect educators, not to mention Voldemort himself in the first year.”

Ron ground his teeth but he was mercifully silent, for a moment Hermione thought he wouldn’t say anything else until he levered himself out of his seat and awkwardly placed a hand on her side. “I just think we should be careful - you should be careful,” he gritted out, and then he left.


Hermione hadn’t seen Ron or Harry for the rest of the day, Viktor had eventually found her, and after a brief tour, they had peacefully spent their time with Ginny and Luna.

Hermione accepted the vegetable platter that was working its way around the table and took the opportunity to eye Harry, who was sitting quietly and playing with his food. He seemed to be the focus of everyone’s thoughts, given how many eyes around the room took their chance to regard him. Hermione was discomforted - though not surprised - to see that Viktor was garnering just as many covert glances.

The unusual silence with only the gentle clunking of serving dishes couldn’t last, Hermione had known that from the heavyweight that had sat behind the noise; they were in the eye of the storm. When Mrs Weasley finally relinquished her tasks and took her seat at the table, any semblance of accord was firmly shattered.

“Hermione, Luna, it’s lovely to have you back,” she said, though Hermione could tell from her eyes that she was far from pleased. “Though, it was not a good idea for you to come back with an uninvited guest.”

Hermione shared a glance with Luna before both girls went back to looking at their plates. Hermione didn’t think she was a coward, she certainly had no problem sticking up for what she thought was right, but she didn’t respond well to passive aggression. She had grown up as an only child to plain speaking parents; if Jean Granger had something to say about her child’s actions or behaviour, she said it, she didn’t needle Hermione until she broke. As far as Hermione was concerned, she had done nothing wrong.

Molly was not put off by the lack of response and sat down her cutlery. “There are precautions associated with the comings and goings here. They are important and set by the members of the Order, you have been allowed to stay here as a courtesy, but there are rules, rules I had thought you were mature enough to understand.”

Hermione gripped her fork tightly in her fingers and reminded herself that Molly wanted her to protest, to act like a child so that she could further her own point. Fortunately, she took great comfort from Viktor sitting next to her and she felt shielded next to him, and because of that she was able to hold her tongue.

Tonks cleared her throat as Mrs Weasley began again, and the Auror leant over Remus with the pretence of wanting more wine. “They contacted me, Molly,” she said with what appeared to be causal indifference. “I cleared it with Kings before saying yes, so it’s all sorted. Can someone pass the broccoli?”

“Even so,” Molly continued as a few of the occupants of the table jumped to do something to fill the silence after Tonk’s opening. “I am afraid it isn’t appropriate for him to stay.”

Hermione stuffed a large potato in her mouth and had to chew quickly to stop herself from choking on it. Though she had expected Molly to voice an objection, her method rankled. Who was ‘him’? Talking about Viktor as if he wasn’t present was beyond rude. It was fine for Mrs Weasley to treat them like that - well, it wasn’t, but anyway - but Viktor was an adult, a man who had never been anything but kind and gracious a day in his life. Hermione felt Viktor was someone to be treated with respect.

Hermione’s resolve to keep quiet was diminishing; when she was attacked, she could stand it - just about - but she had never been very good at seeing those she cared about treated poorly. Hermione could feel herself getting ready to say something. She felt the same as she always did when she was going to take a stand; slightly sick in her stomach even as her spine straightened. Only before she could open her mouth, Viktor gripped her thigh, just above her knee. He squeezed once, and Hermione understood, he could speak for himself. Only Viktor didn’t get the chance.

“I’m not sure what you mean by appropriate,” Sirius said while applying ample seasoning to his dinner, “but Hermione’s mother has been informed of Viktor’s visit and has given her blessing.” He didn’t even look at Mrs Weasley as he said it, he just continued with the shakers before selecting a few more items out of dish Remus was holding.

Hermione’s eyes widened, but as soon as she saw the hard edge to Sirius’ stare, she knew to keep quiet. It was well known that she was no liar, and they both knew that he had uttered a rather colossal fib.

Hermione continued to regard her plate without feeling able to eat as Molly and Sirus exchanged barbs that got progressively heated.

“It’s my house, Molly,” Sirius said eventually, and to Hermione, as well as most of the table, it felt like the argument was over - Sirius had played the trump card and it was one that everyone young and old understood - under my roof, subject to my rules.

Molly visibly bristled and gestured towards Sirius, pointing her knife for emphasis. “That may be, but while they’re here, they are under my care, and I have some say over what goes on.”

“Over your own children certainly,” Sirius agreed quickly.

“Over them all.”

Sirius pushed his plate away and leant over the table. “Not over Harry, you have no say in his life; he’s not your son.”

“He’s as good as!” Molly protested loudly. “Who else would he have if not for my family?”

Hermione felt the room take a collective breath, and she waited, helplessly, for what might happen next. Sirius’ expression changed, his face lost all of its angry lines, and his eyes became blank, and yet he seemed even more dangerous than before. He gripped the edge of the table as his voice became a low hiss. “Me, Molly, he has me. I am his family, and he is mine.”

Hermione looked at Remus, hoping he could do or say something to smooth everything over; he was the peacekeeper among them. But he was too busy trying to hold his oldest friend in his seat to be able to intervene. Harry had gone rigid, and the blood had run out of his face, he looked between Sirius and Mrs Weasley as if changing his mind every second over who to defend or chastise. His discomfort made Hermione want to scream. Couldn’t they understand how much pain Harry was in? She understood Sirius’ rage, even if she couldn’t condone it, what she couldn’t comprehend was why Molly thought it was worth picking the fight now? No one would have ever have contested that she cared for Harry, but why did she need to crow about it? Why did she need to deny Sirius such an integral part of himself that he had been unable to act on for so long? In many ways being Harry’s Godfather was what kept him going, undoubtedly it had motivated him to get out of Azkaban.

Mrs Weasley brandished a spatula in Sirius’ direction as her face grew blotchy, Arthur was doing his best to calm her by whispering into her ear, but it didn’t seem to be working, and Hermione knew how this would end. Badly, maybe even bad enough to be irreparable. She hoped Viktor would shrug off the ‘dinner theatre’ as something not to be overly concerned about, but Harry wouldn’t. He was too fragile. It was the least she could do after her failure over the summer to try and do something now that would help him.

“Mrs Weasley,” she said tentatively, eventually having to repeat herself a couple of times before she was heard. “Thank you for thinking of my… best interests, I am sure my mother would appreciate your… diligence, but I think we should listen to Sirius, it is his house.”

As planned, reminded of what the discussion had been about in the first place, Mrs Weasley rounded on her, and Sirius stormed out, leaving his abandoned plate behind.

Hermione managed to extract herself from the kitchen about an hour after Sirius left it. The talking to Molly had been planning to give her had been curtailed by Viktor politely explaining that he had sought only to accompany her and Luna home and would be returning in a few days. Mrs Weasley had been rather charmed by Viktor’s old fashioned manners, and dropped all of her objections, to offer him another slice of cake.

Hermione could tell, knowing Viktor as well as she now did, that his politeness was largely affected. Viktor wasn’t much of an actor, so she knew he had done it to make life easier for both of them, which she appreciated, even as she lamented that it had been necessary. Hermione cringed at the lack of welcome he received, though it did stop her worrying about what might happen when he hopefully met her parents - it couldn’t be worse than what happened here.

Hermione had reluctantly left Viktor in the care of the remaining Weasley’s around the table - after the adults had abandoned the room to do whatever their current orders were. She had whispered that she was sorry but he had smiled at her in that way of his that made her realise he didn’t seem to be bothered at all, and she promised to come back soon.

She declined the offer of joining the game of exploding snap that was starting up and left the table, picking up Sirius’ abandoned plate as she left the room. More than anyone Sirius needed to eat, he was still skinny after his time in Azkaban and on the run, but she knew he would be too stubborn to return to the table. Argumentative as he was, Hermione had observed that Sirius never seemed to seek out trouble, though he certainly did not shy away from it if it came to him.

Hermione was comforted by his door being slightly ajar and decided that Sirius wouldn’t find company entirely unwelcome, even if he hadn’t been expecting her appearance.

When Hermione entered his room, it was almost too dark to see, and she remained standing at the threshold until her eyes adjusted. The first thing she noticed was a pile of feathers and broken furniture, but there was no Hippogriff sleeping amongst the mess.

“Where’s Buckbeak?” she asked quietly. Even though she hadn’t seen Sirius since she entered she knew he was in there, she could hear his breathing.

“Hagrid took him,” he answered in a ragged voice, and Hermione had the horrible suspicion that he had been crying. “Apparently, it’s inhumane to keep a sentient creature locked in the upstairs bedroom of a dilapidated townhouse.”

The - but it’s fine to keep me here - was left unsaid but Hermione heard it as loudly as Sirius was emoting it. She didn’t think there was anything she could say that would ease the pain of the last decade and half of Sirius’ life and so she concentrated on the here and now walked towards the faint outline of the dresser and placed his plate upon it.

Sirius sighed, and Hermione wanted to hug him, but she thought better of it. Instead, she moved back towards the wall as Sirius emerged from the shadows and activated a dim side lamp. “Thank you, Hermione.”

She shrugged. “It’s only your plate. I thought you might still be hungry.”

Sirius shuffled forward to take his seat and regarded her from behind his ruffled hair. “I didn’t mean that, as you well know.”

“Someone had to say something; it was more a distraction than an argument. You don’t owe me anything. But if you insist that you do could you maybe seek out Harry tonight? I think he would appreciate some time with you.”

Sirius tilted his head to the side and for a moment Hermione thought he was going to tell her to keep her nose out but he eventually nodded, and Hermione considered it a win. She thought about thanking him for that stunt he pulled about her mum’s consent, but she thought better of it. Somehow she knew Sirius wasn’t in the mood to hear about his good deeds. He was a man that dealt with his past by continually reminding himself that he was to blame for all of it, no matter how untrue that was. He seemed to believe his penance for James and Lily’s murder was never to view himself as a decent man again. It was heartbreaking. All the more so because Hermione could see all of those traits in Harry, it would only get worse for all of them as the war continued.

Sirius took a mouth of food as Hermione let her hands drift over the raised wallpaper pattern behind her back. “She doesn’t like me, and she never has,” Sirius said, bitterly. “Molly thinks I’m impressionable and rash, which I suppose am.”

“She doesn’t dislike you,” Hermione argued, “Mrs Weasley hides her worry that way. If we’re all just children and we can all be bossed around, maybe she can keep us all safe. You threaten that and yes, you are impulsive, but your heart is in the right place, she knows that.”

Darkness crept across Sirius’ face, and the intensity of it made the hair on the back of Hermione’s neck stand on end,  but the next moment it was gone, and his mouth was pulled into his easy smirk, and his eyes were blank.

“You’re only saying that because I let your boyfriend stay here.” Hermione flushed but she didn’t respond, she was still getting used to Sirius’ abrupt change of mood. You could say what you liked about Harry and Ron being childish, but there was an ease in having friends that could stay in one state of mind for weeks on end - even if that emotional state was one in which they were at loggerheads with her, at least they were consistent.

Sirius’ grin widened as he picked up on Hermione’s obvious embarrassment. “Keep to your own rooms mind; I’m not having her proved right.”

Hermione nodded, rather woodenly. “I promise.” It was an easy one to make; she certainly wasn’t brave enough to go scampering off to Viktor’s room in the middle of the night. For one, you never knew who you would come across in the house, and for two, she had no idea what she would have done if she had ever made it inside. Her fate behind that door scared her more than getting to it - and it had nothing to do with the wizard himself, at least not really, but her lack of experience and understanding of what to expect terrified her.

“And I believe you. It’s him I don’t trust.”

Hermione’s eyes narrowed. “Why don’t people like him? Viktor is a perfectly lovely person.”

Sirius scoffed. “I’m sure he is poppet, but he’s also a teenage boy - professional career or not.”

“Therein speaks the voice of experience,” Hermione replied sarcastically and Sirius had the gall to laugh.

“Something like that, I distinctly remember being his age, and that’s why I’m cautious. Where is he, anyway?”

“With Ginny and the twins.”

“You’re brave,” Sirius replied with a low whistle, and despite herself, Hermione felt a twinge of panic.

“He can handle himself,” she said, trying to convince herself as much as him.

Just at that moment, there was the faint sound of a distant crash, and Hermione edged towards the door. “I think they are still a little too in awe of him to prank him; they’re probably just showing off.” The sound of another crash drifted up the stairs, and this time Hermione ignored Sirius’ smug look and made towards the door. “I’m going to check on him.”

Viktor tucked Hermione closer to him as they sat next to each other on the sofa and let his mind pack away the events of the last few hours as he enjoyed the relative quiet. All in all, it had gone about as well as he had expected, which was not well at all but he reminded himself that these people were all cooped up together rather unnaturally, which led to tensions that would typically be ignored boiling to the surface. He could tell Hermione was rather upset by it on his behalf, and he had done what he could to reassure her that he was in no way damaged by anyone’s ill opinion, or that he had been used as a chip in whatever ongoing byplay existed between Mrs Weasley and Mr Black.

The only thing that bothered Viktor was the knowledge that he would have to leave Hermione there. The old house was joyless, and she deserved so much more. But, depressing as it was, it was a wake-up call, there was darkness ahead, and it was more certain in her world than his, though Viktor was sure if it were allowed to flourish it would bleed through to everywhere eventually.

But such heavy thoughts were for a different time. Instead, Viktor watched the casual conversation and activities around the room. The adults he had seen at dinner had all disappeared, and he was left with the rest of the Weasley clan and Luna. Harry had joined them half an hour before, but so far he had said nothing, Viktor noticed how Potter looked over at Hermione every now and again - he hoped it meant they would reconcile soon. He also saw Ron looking over from his position on the floor; he was taking on one of his brothers in a game of wizarding chess though he seemed to be spending a fair amount of time looking up at him and Hermione and scowling. Every time the redhead did it, Viktor moved Hermione a little closer to him. He was pretty sure she knew exactly what he was doing - if he had interpreted her eye-rolling correctly - but he couldn’t help himself. He was never going to be able to trample down his competitive nature, especially when he didn’t remotely want to.

When Hermione was finally in bed, she stared up at the ceiling, worried about how Viktor was feeling after the tense interactions from the day. Being with Viktor was a strange thing for her in so many ways. Hermione felt like she assumed a kind of motherly role with most of the boys in her life, whether they liked it or not. She scolded them, made sure they ate their dinner, did their homework and stayed happy. Viktor was different. Hermione didn’t feel like he needed her in the same way, and though she was worried about him, part of her already knew that he would be fine.

“Well this is nice, like old times,” Ginny said into the darkness and Hermione snorted.

“Old times? We were only gone for a few days.”

“It felt like an age here,” Ginny protested. “And it’s so nice to see Viktor in the flesh again.”

Hermione rolled her eyes, but unfortunately, no one could see it in the darkness. “I know what you are implying, Ginevra Weasley, but I’ll have you know I had my own bedroom at Viktor’s house.”

“Still,” Ginny responded, clearly unperturbed. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so gone on a person since you were mooning after Lockhart.”

“Simpler times,” Luna said softly, and Hermione silently agreed.

Chapter Text

By the time everyone sat down for breakfast the next day, the atmosphere had significantly cooled. Sirius wasn’t present, but that was hardly unusual; on an average day, no one could expect to see him until early afternoon, therefore, his absence wasn’t taken to mean that he was suffering any lingering effects from the night before. Hermione wondered if specific things even bothered Sirius anymore, or if each new tragedy was just water added to the wave that seemed to crash over him from the moment he woke. She supposed it didn’t matter how he felt the pain, just that he did, and that everyone else seemed powerless, or in some cases unwilling, to help him.

Molly was present, though any similarities she may have held to the witch they had seen at dinner were lost as Bill had arrived late the night before and all of her time and attention were spent fussing over him. The reprieve was delightful for everyone, well, except Bill. Mrs Weasley talked about his job at the bank and his rising reputation with the goblins and Hermione, Ron and Ginny exchanged amused glances as Bill was soundly henpecked for his earing and the length of his hair. For most men with such vibrant red hair, the choice to grow it out could have been misguided, but on Bill, it looked great.

The eldest Weasley wasn’t Hermione’s type, not that she was entirely sure she had one, but she could see why others would find him attractive, and it seemed even Luna wasn’t impervious to his charms as she almost dropped an entire spoon of cereal over her skirt when he first started talking. Hermione had kicked her from her place opposite, and Luna had blushed but shrugged in a ‘can you blame me?’ kind of way that made Hermione laugh, something she hadn’t been readily able to explain to the rest of the table so and she had quickly got back to her toast.

Viktor excused himself to get ready for the day, whispering to Hermione not to go running away with curse-breakers with a grin on his face that she returned and before long the only people left at the table were herself, Harry and Professor Lupin.

Hermione’d had too much on her mind to sleep well, and so she had stayed around to have a second cup of tea. Professor Lupin seemed to be preoccupied with his own thoughts, and Harry had only come downstairs when they were already halfway through the meal. Mrs Weasley had promptly forgotten about her firstborn for the first time that morning and had swiftly pulled a plate together for Harry, he had thanked Mrs Weasley and then said nothing further.

Harry looked as if he had slept as poorly as she had and Hermione was both biting down her urge to coddle him at the same time as searching for an opener that would seem innocuous yet interesting enough to tempt him to answer. Navigating the ever-changing tides of social norms were never Hermione’s strong suit, and as such, she nearly threw her hands up in relief when Professor Lupin set down his cup and turned his attention to Harry.

“What do you have on for today, Harry?” he kindly asked as he picked up a lingering piece of crispy bacon from one of the large serving platters that had been left on the table.

Harry stopped picking at the toast on his plate long enough to shrug. “Don’t really know. I guess I should start on my prep reading, now that I have my books.”

“I could help you if you want?” Hermione asked hesitantly, and Harry’s head snapped to hers with a much less sanguine expression.

“You’re okay thanks, Hermione,” he said, with false politeness that he didn’t try to hide. “I’m sure you’ve got much more important things to do than worry about me.”

“Harry I-”

“Save it,” he interrupted before pushing back his chair so hard it scraped against the cold tiles of the kitchen floor. In the rickety old house, Hermione could hear every stomping step he took, all the way back to his bedroom before his door slammed and the house was quiet once again.

Hermione was lost to her thoughts, so when she felt a large hand land on her shoulder, she jolted. She hadn’t even registered that Remus had got up from the table. “Hermione-” he began kindly, and Hermione felt her throat itch. It wouldn’t do for someone to be kind to her right now. Her eyes became watery, and she interrupted before her former professor could say anymore.

“It’s okay,” she replied weakly, “if I were in his shoes, I would feel the same.”

She had expected Remus to leave, thereby removing himself from further childhood histrionics, Hermione imagined he’d got enough of that while he was working as a teacher. But unexpectedly, professor Lupin pulled out the chair next to her and fell into it with a sigh. “When Sirius came back from Azkaban, and we were able to have a proper conversation for the first time, he screamed himself hoarse,” he said as his eyes lifted towards the ceiling.

Hermione felt a little sick remembering Sirius as had been in the shack, rabid and manic, it had been terrifying as a child facing danger again with her friends, though now that she now more of the man her fear had gone, it just made her feel sad.

“It wasn’t your fault, Remus,” Hermione replied mechanically, not a hundred per cent sure she agreed with her words. Remus hadn’t been much older than them when Sirius had been imprisoned, and from what she had learned before that they had spent almost a year at odds, doubting each other in the face of the growing conflict. Yet still, she couldn’t imagine the same happening to her friends and not doing anything about it.

Hermione looked over at Remus’ scarred face and sighed, if there was anyone less convinced of his ability to change the world around him she hadn’t met them. Her father would say she was full of the ideals of youth, but she was learning that the system didn’t always work. Maybe Remus’ protests would have achieved nothing, but in her heart of hearts, she believed he should have tried.

As if reading her thoughts, Remus sat back in his chair and stared at the ceiling once again. “Thank you, Hermione, but I’m not sure I can agree with you. I should have done something.”

Hermione nodded, “I should have too. I know Professor Dumbledore had his reasons, but I knew how upset Harry was when we left Hogwarts. I should have sent a letter and faced the consequences afterwards.”

“Deep down he knows why you didn’t contact him, he even knows he might have acted the same way.”

“Not Harry,” Hermione said immediately with total conviction, “Harry would have sent a letter no matter the consequences.”

Remus regarded her as he had so often while he was her teacher. “You do not have his rebellious streak, Hermione, it’s hardly a capital crime. Not like mine. He should forgive you, and he will.”

“Sirius has forgiven you?”

“Of course,” he answered brightly though his eyes looked pained. “He was always the best friend amongst us, he forgave us from transgressions more easily than anyone else, possibly because to Sirius we were his family. But he will never forget, and maybe that’s for the best.”

After deciding that a third cup of tea before ten in the morning was probably not the best idea, Hermione left a sombre looking Remus in the kitchen and ventured up the rickety, woodworm invested staircase to Viktor’s room. By the second flight, Hermione realised how being out of Hogwarts for nearly two months had impacted her conditioning.

The corridor was quiet when she finished climbing, and it was no wonder, there was only one other occupied room on the floor. While Viktor had managed to score a private bedroom, Molly had put him into the room furthest away from the one Hermione was sharing with Luna and Ginny, it didn’t feel like a coincidence.

After softly knocking on the door, Hermione found Viktor sat at his desk, on the only chair in the sparse room, leafing through a stack of papers each with a coloured bar on the top.

“Mastery,” he said, answering her unasked questioned as he smiled in greeting.  

Hermione walked over to him to look over his shoulder. She couldn’t glean much, he worked in Bulgarian, and she was still finding the language woefully tricky. “Is it sad to say I’m almost jealous?” Hermione asked without feeling as self-conscious as she once would have. “I’ve finished all of my summer work.”

Viktor chuckled as he performed the same translation charm he had demonstrated in front of her so many months before and then handed her over one of the stacks for her to get a better look. Hermione took another needless glance around the room as she debated where to sit, though she already knew what the only option was, the bed. She supposed in this instance, it was less suggestive than his lap - a place she had comfortable sat many times at Hogwarts - and yet weirdly it felt more so.

Viktor continued to pull around papers and so, convinced he wasn’t paying too much attention, Hermione sat on the very edge of the bed, so close to the side in fact that she felt as if she could fall off at any moment, and yet the real chance of landing on the floor still seemed preferable to getting comfortable on the scratchy cover he would be using for a couple of days.

The silence stretched between them and after a time, it was all Hermione could focus on, in place of their usual, comfortable banter were the groans and toing and froing of the house around them. Just as Hermione began to debate leaving again, Viktor abruptly stood with a laboured sigh before turning his chair to face her

“It was not like this in Bulgaria,” he began plainly, and Hermione nodded. “Or Hogwarts.”

“No. But it was different there,” she tried to explain.

“There is an atmosphere here, I understand,” Viktor said the word as if he was testing it out though he couldn’t have been more right.

“It’s not about you, not really, it’s just that tensions are high, with Harry and Mrs Weasley and Sirius. No one knows what’s going on.”

Viktor nodded. “I think if I were to get caught kissing you in the doorway here, I would get worse than a cuff around the ears,” he observed with a wink and Hermione felt relieved to laugh. Her mind flooded with the memory of that morning and Hermione was astonished to realise how long ago it already felt. She had taken such open displays of affection for granted while she was staying with Viktor, such freedoms seemed lost to her now. Lost to both of them.

Hermione had left the door open when she first came in; despite wanting nothing more than a little privacy and sanctuary from the madness of the house. It didn’t seem worth risking it the possible insinuations that would follow, not after Molly’s behaviour and Sirius’ warnings the night before. However, it was a decision Hermione came to regret when, just after the awkward silence had been broken, the door was pushed open, and the twins came bounding.

“Interrupting something are we?” Fred enquired as he folded his arms across his chest and tried to look serious. He failed. Mainly because of the excessive wagging of his eyebrows.

“Come on, Hermione, there’s cleaning to be done,” George said as he pulled on her hand encouragingly.

“I’m talking to Viktor,” Hermione protested, shaking him off.

“Sure you are,” Fred said.

“That’s why we’re here,” George replied.

“Can’t have Grimmauld Place becoming a house of ill repute.”

“I beg your pardon,” Hermione seethed, and Fred tutted.

“No underage witches in rooms with wizards while unsupervised,” George instructed in a shockingly accurate mimic of Argus Filch.

“Who knows what kind of hokey pokey could be going on.”

“Hokay what?” Viktor asked, and Hermione felt her temper sore. She glanced at Viktor who was looking between the twins like a spectator at a tennis match, a spectator that had turned up to find that the centre court at Wimbledon had been carved up into raised beds for marrows.

“We are six feet apart,” she protested through gritted teeth.

Now, you are,” Fred said dismissively.

“But who knows what would have happened if we had been ten minutes later,” George chimed in.

“Obviously, we intend no slight on your prowess, Viktor.”

“Oh, of course not. I’m sure ten minutes would mean you’d barely be getting started.”

“An athlete of his calibre, one would hope so Georgie.”

“Indeed, they would Fred; indeed, they would.”

Viktor rolled his eyes and dramatically slumped in his seat and Hermione pushed her teeth into her bottom lip to stop herself from laughing. Despite his display, she could see the pink in Viktor’s cheeks from the turn the subject had taken and she thanked her lucky stars Ginny was nowhere within hearing distance.

Knowing that the twins were likely to keep up their shenanigans until she capitulated, and not wanting Viktor to be subjected to any more of it while he was trying to work, Hermione got up. “I’ll see you later,” she softly said to Viktor and handed back his paperwork.

“You are leaving, with them?” Viktor asked with a raised eyebrow, and Hermione smiled.

“They may seem like idiots, but deep down, they have good intentions, very deep down. I have a strong suspicion that if they’re up here, Molly is back from wherever she disappeared to after breakfast.”

Viktor sighed and grabbed her hand as she tried to pull away. “Someday there will not be so many interruptions.”

Hermione shrugged in an attempt to cover her awkwardness before herding the twins out of the room. As the door closed, Hermione rounded on both of them before taking off in a march towards the ground floor.

“Boys, you really are being ridiculous, I am perfectly capable of looking after myself.”

“No chance, Hermione,” Fred scoffed.

“If you’d have seen the way you were looking at him at dinner last night,” George continued with a shake of his head.

“A lustful gaze, wouldn’t you say Georgie?”

“I certainly would Forge, I certainly would.”

“The dear boy could have been in real trouble.”

“You cornering him in his room like that.”

“The poor lamb.”

By this point, Hermione was blushing so hard she wasn’t sure how there was enough blood left in her body to allow her to continue walking. Fred grinned at her red splattered cheeks and bumped her shoulder. “Come on Granger, you brought a boy home, you should have known you were going to get pasted.”

“Consider yourself lucky,” George added, “imagine how bad we’ll be when Ron brings a witch to dinner.”

Hermione both sincerely hoped to be present and to be as far away as possible when such a dinner took place.

Far too soon for her liking, Hermione once again found herself in a ratty jumper with the sleeves pushed back and an unfamiliar cleaning solution in her hands. Fortunately, she had been found by Viktor after the twins had gone off in search of further mischief, and with her guest’s help, she had been working on clearing an unknown infestation from the large, dark curtains that lined the far side wall of the attic. So far it had been resistant to anything they had tried, and this afternoon Mrs Weasley had given her a product of her own creation as a last-ditch attempt.

Molly had handed her the bottle with a rough explanation of the contents ‘in case Hermione found it useful someday’. Hermione hoped it was unlikely that she ever owned a home that needed innovative solutions to get it sanitary enough to be lived in, but once again she kept her mouth shut and prayed that her return to Hogwarts would come around before she bit through her tongue entirely.

Despite the nature of their task for the afternoon, Viktor was in an uncharacteristically bright mood. Though Hermione had never believed him to be half as sullen as the rest of the world seemed to, she wouldn’t have called him carefree either. Viktor just wasn’t a what-will-be-will-be kind of person, he was laid back, and he rarely imposed his opinion on anyone, but he was also serious. His sobriety was one of the things Hermione liked most about him, not least because it made her feel far less conscious of her own disposition.

Hermione had always been more self-aware than any young person could happily be, and she was sure she wasn’t a girl that anyone described as ‘fun to be around’. After meeting Viktor, she considered that maybe ‘fun’ was a more relative term than she had previously thought. If they could be happy working together side by side in the library, enjoying a few whispered words whenever they could, did it matter if anyone else thought such a thing was enjoyable?

Hermione uncapped the unique solution, doused the curtains in front of the largest window and took several quick steps back as a cloud of blueish smoke began to curl out from underneath them. Viktor only shrugged when he saw the reaction, and so Hermione didn’t see much point in worrying about it. With nothing else to do but wait, Hermione took advantage of the peace and folded herself down against the furthest wall.

Under the guise of practising for his next session with his master, Viktor made full use of the wand he was allowed to carry by transfiguring bits of debris into various articles of cleaning paraphernalia and had them zoom around the room. He stopped when the feather duster he charmed intentionally bopped Hermione on the nose but somewhat unintentionally caused her to sneeze. He folded down next to her and rubbed her back until she finished sneezing, but Hermione waved off his apologies, she was more taken with studying the ornately carved, gold inlay handle of the duster that had landed in her lap.

“This is rather beautiful,” she observed as she ran a finger down the conjured wood. Transfiguration was easily one of her favourite subjects, but she had never worked on anything with this level of detail.  

“Are you impressed?” Viktor asked with a raised eyebrow and Hermione made an effort to mask her rabid curiosity behind a more neutral expression.

“It’s a little over the top for a duster,” she replied primly, and Viktor laughed.

“One day, I will blow you away with my magic, then you will gush and tell me how amazing I am.”

“Don’t you get enough of that from Quidditch?”

“I get none of that from you for Quidditch,” Viktor reminded her archly, “so I will have to settle for how gifted I am with transfiguration.”

“Keep practising,” Hermione said with a cheeky smile and passed the duster back to him.

“You should have told me when we met that you were such a mean witch,” Viktor protested with an exaggerated pout.

“You should have known how it would be between us when our first meeting ended with you in considerable pain.”

The smile dropped from Viktor’s lips, but his face remained warm as he brushed a thumb across her cheek. “Maybe I did. Maybe I to one look at you and decided it was worth it regardless.”

Hermione laughed to cover the fact he had stolen away her voice and buried her head in his shoulder while she collected herself. The blue smoke began to dissipate, and if Hermione concentrated on the quiet, she was sure she could hear a faint thunking sound. She really didn’t want to look to see what might have dropped out of the mouldy upholstery. She picked up the duster that was now lying limply in Viktor’s fingers and studied the handle again.

“In all seriousness, could you show me how you did that? The carving is amazing.”

Even though she couldn’t see Viktor’s face, Hermione could feel his smug smile in the lines of his body. She nestled closer against his chest as he began to explain the process in a calm, warm tone.


Viktor rearranged himself on the floor until he was satisfied he could demonstrate the required wand movements without disturbing Hermione, who was still pressed against his chest. He broke down the complicated incantation he had used into four distinct parts. The spell was at the simpler end of the work he would be expected to master over the next two years, but he knew that Hermione would not have covered certain parts of the theory in her schooling so far. Though, he didn’t have a problem explaining it to her by extrapolating from less advanced principles that he knew she was already familiar with.

Viktor wondered at how much easier it was to be himself now that he had her. He had always been conscious of himself and the way he spoke, even without the language barrier, he would never be a poetic man. He was far too practical and yet over the months he had come to know Hermione, he had found that she earnestly didn’t seem to care, it freed him up in ways he hadn’t been expecting. For the first time in his life, Viktor found that he spoke freely with someone outside of his immediate family and close friends. Even if he blundered, forgot a word of misused a phrase, Hermione would simply try to help him unpick it. It was rather alarming to consider that before now, he had thought that the most he might get was some who tolerated his weaknesses to benefit from the upsides of his profession and notoriety. He knew now he wouldn’t settle for anything less than someone that could see entirely past it.

Viktor turned the duster back into a feather and began transfiguring it, slower than he had before. As the gilding work began to appear - as if the gold were being poured down the carvings - Hermione felt heavier against him. Viktor suspected she was falling asleep, she hadn’t looked like she had slept well the night before and given the constant drama of this household he wasn’t surprised.

Viktor had just finished speaking when the attic door opened, and Sirius Black walked in. The older wizard may have appeared more serene than the twins, but Viktor was under no illusion that he was there for an entirely different reason.

Viktor almost scoffed when he remembered that he had been relieved that coming along on this trip hadn’t meant meeting Hermione’s parents yet. He was rather anxious to make a good impression on David Granger, and he had wanted to take a bit more time to prepare than Hermione’s sudden letter allowed. But, to Viktor, David Granger had more in his favour with each interruption he was forced to put up with. Most notably that he was only one man, and there were only so many times he could force his presence upon them in a single day. A problem not faced by a household of busybodies.

In her tired state, it took Hermione a few moments to register that they were now observed and Viktor knew the exact moment she noticed Sirius as her spine stiffened before she arched her head.

“Can I borrow Viktor for a moment?”

If Viktor hadn’t been so irritated about being removed from such a comfortable position he might have laughed at the kind sounding request Mr Black made, especially considering it was asked directly of Hermione and not himself.

Hermione sighed, and the exaggerated burst of air sent curls flying over the front of Viktor’s jumper. “Would it be possible for me to spend ten minutes in his presence without being interrupted?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about poppet,” Sirius replied nonchalantly, though with a grin that told them both he was aware of the twin’s actions earlier. Viktor suspected that the entire household already knew, the brothers didn’t seem the type to be able to keep a thought in their head, much less hold back on sharing something they thought was funny.

“Fine,” Hermione huffed, “but maybe you can ask anyone else that wants a word today to keep it to themselves?”

“Hermione,” Viktor interrupted and kissed the side of her head to smooth her ruffled feathers. “It is fine, I will see you later.”

Viktor didn’t see the point in avoiding a conversation he had known would happen eventually, he was even minded to tolerate Mr Black’s enquiries further than he would have from most. Firstly because they were staying in his house and he had been raised show manners as well as to respect his elders. Also, Viktor couldn’t ignore that Mr Black had stood up for him the night before, even though it had been plain for anyone to see that he wanted to avoid Mrs Weasley like the plague. Viktor had also detected what he thought to be genuine affection for Hermione in Sirius’ actions, not all the time, but on the odd occasion, his underlying feelings seemed to peak through without Mr Black noticing.

In so many of the relationship dynamics Viktor had witnessed around his girlfriend over the past year, Hermione was the caregiver and not a care receiver. She was the ‘mum’ of the group. Hermione fussed over her friends and supported them when they struggled, whether they liked it or not. Viktor didn’t yet know whether the lack of reciprocation was because it was done in private and he simply didn’t see it, or because her friends believed Hermione was too strong to need it, or even that she was actively refusing help. In Viktor’s estimation, Hermione’s relationship with Sirius seemed more balanced than most.  

Once Hermione had glared at Sirius long enough to ease her irritation, Mr Black led Viktor outside, through the mercifully deserted kitchen, and into a small patch of worn grass lined with ancient paving masquerading as a garden. It wasn’t much, but Viktor was immensely grateful to be outside. He had been cooped up in the house since they had first arrived, and he could feel the lingering tension seep from his body as the gentle wind hit his face.

Mr Black moved to the far side of the space and removed a considerable disillusionment charm, unveiling a motorbike and sidecar that thrummed with magical energy.

“It’s not much,” he said as he discarded his robe and opened up a box of not particularly well-organised tools, “but it beats being in there most days. The garden is more extensive than what you can see but in no better condition. In any case, the Fidelis only extends this far, so we have to stay within the confines to remain safe… Or so Dumbledore tells me.”

His words were tinged with a bitterness Viktor didn’t understand, but he thought better of questioning it. Viktor imagined that Mr Black’s emotional state was not the reason he had been summoned to the garden and so instead, he decided to play along and hopefully speed up whatever the older wizard had in mind.

Viktor gestured towards a set of wrenches that Sirius had laid out on the cracked paving. “Can I help?”

Mr Black eyed him shrewdly before shrugging in reply. He showed Viktor a spot underneath the sidecars body that needed mending - something about it not having been built for a half-giant - and then crudely explained what was needed in layman’s terms until Viktor understood.

They worked in silence for ten minutes or so, and Viktor got lost in the task at hand, thankful that he hadn’t been dispatched to clean another cupboard or condition a carpet. He had never been very good at cleaning, he didn’t have any natural affinity for the particular set of charms it required, but this he could handle. Coming from Durmstrang Viktor had been conditioned to ‘hard labour’, and as the focus often needed meant that everyone else around him was as quiet as he was, he was left with enough time and peace to organise his thoughts. Such times had been a  blessing for an introvert at a boys boarding school and had probably been one of the early indicators of how he would succeed in his chosen profession. There was nowhere more peaceful than hundreds of feet up in the air.

The downside of having enough time to process your thoughts were the realisations that came along with it. In this case, the recognition that Filip was literally going to kill him when he found out he had asked Hermione to be his girlfriend. Not only because Viktor had done so without the planned fanfare - or even any notion of the heartfelt declaration his friend had insisted upon - but also because Filip and Mikhail had both been in the pub when it happened and Viktor hadn’t let on.

When he looked up to move out of the light so he could check his work so far, Viktor found Mr Black was regarding him with an amused smile pulling at his lips. “You and Hermione are not very alike, are you?”

Viktor straightened up and considered the question come observation. He didn’t immediately agree, in many ways he felt himself and Hermione were very similar, but then, he wasn’t exactly sure what the older wizard was referring to.

Sirius chuckled. “If I had called Hermione out here for a chat and then set about fixing my bike, she would have nearly burst with the need to pester me with questions about what I wanted. Not you though. You’re either very calm or very good at faking it.”

Viktor couldn’t fault Sirius’ deduction, he very much suspected the man was right, but he wasn’t a lover of games, verbal or otherwise, and he was beginning to lose patience with the entire Order and their seemingly endless need to hear the sound of their own voices. Wasn’t the whole point of these people being here that they had a war coming? Surely they had more important things to do with their time?

“What is it you want from me?”

The happy expression died on Sirius’ face in an instant, and he twirled a washer in his fingers as he leant against his bike. “I wanted to get an idea of your intentions towards Hermione.”

Viktor tilted his head as his arms crossed over his chest. “Why do I owe you an explanation?” he asked politely but forcefully. His father had taught him that a man did not need to explain his actions to all and sundry, only to those people that had earned his respect and trust.

Sirius’ face remained blank, but Viktor was sure he could detect something of a twinkle in his eye, it reminded him that somewhere within the gaunt, burdened wizard in front of him was a man much younger than his parents.

“I was wrong,” Sirius barked out with a dry chuckle, “maybe you are more alike than I thought, in some ways.”

Viktor debated what to say, but in the end, he went with his gut; honesty was always the best option when you were on solid ground. “I care for her, I will treat her kindly and with respect.” Well, it was honest, it was just… edited, and in any case, Viktor didn’t imagine Mr Black wanted chapter and verse on a teenage romance.

The intensity of the moment passed, and Sirius handed Viktor another tool so he could finish what he started. “Well, my protective and nosy bit is out of the way, but that wasn’t the only reason I brought you out here. I thought you could do with a break. The house can get… overwhelming at times. Too many people, too much noise, not enough freedom.”

Mr Black glanced up at Grimmauld Place with a look that hinted at a sense of resigned revulsion and Viktor followed his gaze. “You grew up here, Hermione said.”

“I did,” Sirius responded, and Viktor picked up on the signals that the conversational avenue was closed.  

“How about you?” Sirius asked after they had gone back to working on the bike, “Durmstrang and all that… it’s intense over there, isn’t it?”

Viktor tightened the bolt he was working on more firmly than was strictly necessary. “My family is not dark,” he replied and raised an eyebrow when Sirius put his hands out in front of himself in contrition.

“Now, I didn’t say that.”

“But it is what you were wondering.”

Sirius sighed. “I apologise, life was very black and white when I was growing up. No pun intended.”

Viktor nodded. “It is okay, I am learning this about your country, pureblood means a different thing here than it does back at home, people make assumptions.”

If he had expected Mr Black to look shamefaced, he would have been disappointed though at the same time they seemed to have cleared the air, and Viktor got the distinct impression he had passed whatever test had been laid out in front of him.

After Viktor declared he was finished, Sirius moved around the bike to see how he had done. “Not bad,” he said as he brushed a hand over the neatly ordered cabling, “not bad at all. Tell me, how’s your charm work?”

Viktor shrugged. “Better than my potions.”

Sirius laughed. “You and me both. Come on,” he said as she chucked another wrench at him, “there’s a whole load where that came from.”

After half an hour of being in the attic in her own two things became clear to Hermione, first that Viktor would not be re-immerging anytime soon and second, that the cleaning product Mrs Weasley had devised was far harsher than she had imagined. She was grateful she had been warned in advance to open the windows as after the earlier reprieve the smoke turned a darker blue and began to pour around the room like an odd mist akin to something Neville would have accidentally conjured up in their potions classroom.

Not having anything else to do, Hermione decided she had put off talking to Harry as long as she possibly could, and it was time to begin chipping away at his mountain of resentment. She found him in one of the smaller reception rooms, sitting with a copy of the Daily Prophet on his lap, and scowling.

It wasn’t that day’s paper, of that Hermione was certain. The Order hadn’t wanted to risk having one delivered to the property, and as such, they were at the mercy of the people that came and went more freely to bring them one. Once a paper arrived, the students would have to wait for it to do the rounds with the adults before they would get a look in. But, no matter how many days or even weeks old the paper was, Hermione knew what Harry was looking for.

“There’s nothing in there Harry, I checked this morning,” she said softly and walked in, hovering at a safe distance.

Harry started, clearly he had not noticed her enter the room, but he masked it quickly, and after a few moments, he was back to staring at the parchment. “How can they keep ignoring it?” he asked.

Hermione shrugged unsure what to say and then she thought back to Grigor Krum and his complete lack of surprise at the Ministry’s actions. He had seen it all before. All of the adults had. “It’s easier not to admit it,” she explained gently.

“For who?” Harry bit out.

“For them. It’s easier to point the finger at Dumbledore and pretend it’s all part of some plot to make him a more powerful wizard. They’ve probably said it so much they’ve even started believing it themselves.”

“But how can they think we’re all lying? Why would we?” Harry demanded. “Cedric’s dead, and his life meant more than this.”

There was quiet after his statement, talking of Cedric was still difficult for everyone and Hermione blinked back the tears that threatened when the usual motif of smiling Hufflepuff overlaid with an unseeing corpse stormed through her mind’s eye.

Harry continued to jab at the paper with his finger as he read out some of the more incendiary lines and Hermione braved moving further into the room until she was sat down next to him. Hermione remembered seeing Harry during the holidays after their second year, she had run up to hug him when he first arrived at the Burrow, and Harry had looked embarrassed when he admitted he hadn’t been cuddled since she had said goodbye to him at Kings Cross. The memory made her sick. How much had he needed physical affections this summer? More so than ever, and no one had been there to give it to him. She reached over to pull his hand away from the paper and intertwine her fingers with his.

“I just keep hearing it,” he admitted softly, and Hermione leaned back into the mouldy couch to see him better.

“Hear what Harry?”

“Kill the spare,” Harry said, rubbing his face with his free hand. “That was all Cedric was to him, someone in the way, a minor inconvenience and then he was dead. We’ve done things at school that no one else would ever dream of; trolls, Devil’s Snare, Basilisks and werewolves but I never thought… it all turned out okay, I never thought...”

“It’s not your fault, Harry.”

“You shouldn’t say that, Hermione. You wouldn’t say that if you had been there.”

“Someone has to, and you need to listen, you weren’t the reason Cedric was there. Voldemort killed Cedric Harry, not you.”

“Why can’t I believe that?”

“Because you’re you.”

Harry only nodded, he seemed to have exhausted himself with his earlier speech, and so Hermione prattled on about nothing, intermittently reading some of the more light-hearted news stories from the paper until Harry’s head fell slowly into her lap.

“Can I get you anything?” she asked as her fingers carded through his thick unruly hair.

“Chocolate” he responded in a muffled voice, “there’s some of the stuff from Viktor’s last hamper at the end of the sofa.”

Hermione fished out the treat and broke a bit off for Harry who insisted she tried some herself.

“Oh my god!” she exclaimed a moment later, “that is amazing. What is even in that?”

“Coconut, I think,” Harry mumbled around the chocolate in his own mouth.

“Wow,” Hermione said, reaching for another piece.

“You’re going to have to marry him, you know that don’t you? Now that I’ve had this, I can’t go back to Dairy Milk.”

Hermione rolled her eyes, and for a while, all that could be heard was the intermittent rustling of foil and paper.

“So, a trial?” Harry said and removed himself from her lap to sit up and face her.

“We’ll be here, all of us.”

“I know,” he admitted before leaning back. “The Dementor attacked in front of Dudley, you know?”

“I heard,” Hermione replied, and while she might have felt some sympathy her small amount of concern was entirely overwhelmed by what Harry had gone through, helped along by her feeling that Dudley wasn’t the most delightful human in the world.

“He might never be the same,” Harry said and turned insistent when Hermione scoffed. “I’m serious, you should have seen him, he was barely coherent.”

“From what you have told me about your cousin, that’s hardly a shift in his personality.”

“You can be a real bitch about people you don’t care for.”

Hermione shrugged. “I know.”

“It’s one of your better characteristics,” Harry said as he grabbed another piece of chocolate out of Hermione’s fingers and half smiled when she scowled at him. “You really think he’ll be okay?”

“I’m certain,” Hermione replied confidently, and she tutted at Harry’s disbelieving expression. “He got over having a tail, Harry, I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

Chapter Text

With all that Hermione had learned about time and it’s myriad rules during her third year, she still felt that she failed to understand its passing. Before she had gone to Bulgaria, during her stay at Grimmauld Place, the days had crawled by seemingly without end. Since she had returned, the time had flown past before she could think about trying to hold onto it. Viktor was leaving again. 

Hermione hadn’t allowed herself to get truly upset when they were parted at the end of the previous school year. She had thought it was foolish to put too much pressure on a relationship that might have drifted away to nothing once distance and vastly different circumstances became more apparent. But then Viktor’s first letter had arrived, and then he had sent another, and then another. Their relationship had drifted away from the possible ‘holiday romance’ definition - where all amorous attentions could be put down to fleeting feelings - and was becoming something real.  

Hermione didn’t believe there was any point in commanding herself to be positive this time. She’d never had the best control of her emotions, and though it was her temper that was most likely to be touched, she could feel extreme sadness just as much as anyone. But it wasn’t only sadness; there was a good amount of hostility mixed in there too. Hermione wasn’t proud of it, but she had never been very good at not getting her own way. She wasn’t even sure what she would have wanted to happen for the best in this situation, but Viktor leaving without a firm plan of when she would see him again was far from ideal. 

Tonks had arrived that morning, full of easy smiles for everyone - more for Professor Lupin than anyone else, but who was counting? - and quickly, predictably, tripped over Kreacher and woke up Mrs Black. Hermione tried to smile when Tonks greeted her warmly, but she guessed she wouldn’t fool any person trained to look for deception as she imagined any recruits of Mad-Eye would be. Hermione found she liked the Auror a good deal more than most of the frequent visitors to Headquarters, but Tonks was there to escort Viktor to his port key location, and so she couldn’t be as happy to see her as she would typically have been. 

Viktor had tried to push back on having an escort, for someone as famous as he was, he was reluctant to cause a fuss and was confident he could manage it without help. But Moody had shot his request down in flames before Viktor had even fully finished his sentence. In any case, the location they were using for his departure was different than their arrival; apparently, they rotated it. 

With Tonks’ drawing the entire house down to the corridor with all the noise, the adults decided to have an impromptu meeting to review the current goings-on at the ministry. Harry protested that he should be allowed to join, but he was refused, despite hearty agreement from Sirius which honestly probably went against him in the long run.

For the remaining inhabitants, the draw of Order meetings had lost some of their lustre. Once the door shut on the kitchen and the silencing charms were up, they dispersed around the large house to spend the morning how they liked, without a cleaning product in sight. 

Viktor had pushed back his time of departure till after lunch, and when one o’clock rolled around, Hermione could sense he was dragging his feet. It was heartening to find that he was as reluctant to leave as she was for him to go, despite the surroundings and some of the company he’d had to enjoy , but she knew he couldn’t reasonably delay any longer. Viktor had a training session that very evening, his coach liked them to train for the eventuality of playing at night, and he had already missed all that he was allowed over the previous week. 

Soon, too soon , they were standing together in the unwelcoming welcome hall with Viktor’s battered travel bag at their feet. Ostensibly they were alone, Hermione certainly couldn’t see anyone else, but the gentle creaking of the stairs from above led her to believe there were probably a few faces pressed against the bannister on the next floor up. She wanted to be mad at them, for infringing on a private moment, her last foreseeable private moment, but she didn’t have the heart for it. 

Hermione looked pointedly upwards until Viktor followed her gaze and gave her a wry smile. Rather than saying anything, and possibly alerting their audience, he looped his fingers around her wrist and gently tugged her into the front reception room of the house. 

“I will not shut the door,” Viktor said gesturing at the three-inch gap he had left between the door and the frame and Hermione nodded. A shut door would likely lead to one of the adults poking their head in to ‘check that everything was okay’.

Hermione rearranged her feet on the over sanded wooden floorboards as her eyes fixed on Viktor adjusting and then readjusting the neckline of his thin, green jumper. It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate the more private location, but now that they were there, without the almost invisible buffer of her friends in the wings, she didn’t know what to do with herself. All morning they had drifted around together side by side and very obviously not talked about him leaving, now that they had no choice but to do so, Hermione felt as if she had nothing to say. 

“I am leaving you again,” Viktor said and despite herself, Hermione smiled. When in doubt, blurt out the elephant in the room and hope for the best. 

“You are,” Hermione agreed with forced cheer. “I thought it was supposed to get easier? Isn’t that what people say?”

Viktor grunted. “Then why does it feel worse?” He laughed mirthlessly before he tilted his head, smiled at her and Hermione managed to return it. 

“I suppose we need to get used to it… goodbyes I mean. If we are going to try,” Hermione offered, once again drawn to look to the floor until she heard Viktor’s feet creak against the uneven floor. Towards her. 

“You were all the way on the other side of the room,” he said fondly, “we should stay close while we still can.”

Hermione laughed, but the quiet sound died when Viktor reached to hold her nearest hand between both of his. She looked down at his skin, lighter and more calloused than her own and pushed passed the lump in her throat. “Thank you, thank you for everything. When you first invited me to stay, I was so ner... I… I had a lovely time and thank you for coming back here, with me.”

Viktor looked around the room before gazing back at her face. “You will be okay here?” He asked with concern. His tone hinted at his doubt, but Hermione shrugged. 

“It’s only a week or so, and then we’re back at school.”

There was a shared look between them, Viktor clearly would not have thought of Hogwarts as a safe place for her to be, and Hermione couldn't disagree. 

“You will tell me if you are not?” Viktor pressed as his thumb rubbed circles into her wrist. Along with his gentle concern, she was sure the action was meant to soothe, but it made Hermione want to run away. If it had been her and Ron one of them would have turned this into an argument by now, they would have regretted it later of course, but the harsh words would have served their purpose of avoiding the onslaught of emotions at the time.

“I will,” she replied finally, and honestly.

Viktor seemed to take her word for it though whether he was any happier than she was about their current predicament she couldn’t tell. Viktor turned away to look at the door, and Hermione - paranoid about extendable ears and hovering self-appointed magical guardians - followed his gaze. But there was no trace of any eavesdropping. 

Viktor’s fingers momentarily tightened on hers as he drew Hermione close. “When we were in Bulgaria after you saw me play I said that I wanted to ask you something.”

Hermione’s mind flew back to their night in the pub, where she had been overwhelmed by his fans and her feelings. “You did.”

Viktor further closed the gap between them, and now he looked less hesitant. There was a quirk to his smile that she recognised, he had it whenever he was flirting with her. “I never asked.”

Hermione flushed, even as she set her resolve. She was determined to play him at his own game, or, more likely, die of embarrassment in the attempt. “I assumed you knew the answer from our conversation. I would have thought my response made the asking redundant.”

“I think not,” Viktor contested with a shake of his head. “Somethings should be clear between two people. Do you not agree?”

“Was that your question?” Hermione asked with a raise of her brow, and Viktor laughed. 

“No,” he said, and he drifted a warm hand over her side as if reminding her he could tickle her into submission at any point. “I wanted to ask if you would be my girlfriend, properly this time, like I had planned to.”

“Before I ruined it you mean?”

“That is not what I said.”

“You implied it.”

“Hermione!” he cut in with mock exasperation, “please can you answer my question?”

Hermione’s teeth pressed into her bottom lip as she curled into him. “Yes, Viktor, I would like to be your girlfriend. Very much.”

Whatever Viktor was going to say in response was cut off by a tell-tale clatter ringing out from the hall beyond the door that separated them from the real world. Viktor sighed and pulled Hermione in for a hug before the rest of the house could besiege them. “Have a good journey back to school, my girlfriend.”

Hermione returned his embrace fiercely before Viktor pulled away from her, giving himself enough space so he could draw an arm between them and rub his thumb along her bottom lip before pressing his mouth against hers achingly slowly. Hermione pushed herself up onto her tiptoes until she couldn’t hold herself up any longer. But before she could inch away, Viktor’s arm snaked around her middle and held her to him. 

Eventually, they parted, and Viktor pressed a kiss against her forehead and twisted a hand into her curls before he backed away quickly. “I will speak to you soon,” he promised as he left the room without looking back. He’d done the same thing when he left her before, Hermione realised, as she had stood outside the gates of Hogwarts and watched him the whole way until he joined his ship. It had felt like rejection then. Hermione understood it more this time. She forced the ‘don’t go’ that threatened to leave her lips back down into her chest, where it felt like it burned her lungs. But she wouldn’t say it. It wasn’t fair. 

Hermione was left standing alone in the living room with the horrible moth-eaten sofa as she focused on the noise outside, as she waited for the front door to shut. She had the familiar, horrible sensation of prickling at the corner of her eyes that grew stronger every time she tried to ignore it. If anyone asked she would say she was tired of all the dust and refuse to comment any further even if they never believed it. 

When the final lock clicked back into place and feet began to beat a retreat, Hermione sagged where she stood. That was until the door flew open and she was attacked by a red-haired mass moving at incredible speed. 

“Don’t look so glum, you’re officially the envy of most girls on the planet at the moment,” Ginny said with a wide grin as she pushed Hermione’s hair back off her face and pinched her cheeks. Hermione imagined that was a sign she looked drawn. She tried to rally with the comfort of Ginny’s care, but the overwhelming urge to pout would not be abated. 

“I don’t care about that,” she replied despondently, “I just wish he could stay, or that I could see him more easily.”

“I know, Hermione that’s why you’re his girlfriend,” Ginny said with an affectionate roll of her eyes before she stood behind Hermione and began to push on her shoulders. “Come on. I’m sure we can convince Remus to give you some of his chocolate stash if we ask nicely.”

“The dark stuff?” Hermione asked, feeling more hopeful.

“I think we’d need a limb missing for that, but I’m pretty sure he’d offer up some of the milk if you give him your saddest face-” Hermione turned, ready to offer her thanks “-just like that,” Ginny said and pushed her into the kitchen. 

Viktor dropped his bag by the back door in the kitchen and walked through his quiet home in search of his parents. They were out on the veranda at the back of the property overlooking the rose garden and enjoying the afternoon sun. His father was sitting behind an open paper, no doubt reading the obituaries with not a care that everyone else found the habit morbid, and his mother was working at a large table that must have been brought out there for use. 

“Viktor! You’re home,” she greeted with delight as he walked onto the patio. 

“Mama,” he replied warmly, stopping to kiss her on the cheek. “What are you doing?”

She sighed. “Somehow, I agreed to finalise the table plan for the upcoming ministry charity gala. Ana and Mirela could not agree on anything, and Lidiya has had a falling out with Antonia over the proper amount of tulips to use in the garlands. So I find myself in the precarious position of being the only one on the committee most people are talking to, for now at least.”

His father folded his paper and pulled out a seat, which Viktor gratefully took, sagging a little under the weight of Grigor’s hand as it was suddenly placed on his shoulder. 

Sofiya picked up another tacky orange strip, representing some rich person or other, and deftly moved it to the other side of the complicated looking board. “I got a great education, and this is what I use it for,” she sighed before pulling up all of the tabs on another table with a snort of disgust. 

“Do not be so ridiculous darling,” his father admonished, “without you, it would be out and out war at every benefit we have to attend, and it’s not as if these things are the sum of all your talents.”

Viktor wished he could have been spared the horror of seeing his mother blush at his father’s compliment, but he was sat directly opposite, so there was no escape. Thankfully, relatively speaking at least, the conversation quickly turned to the Order and his stay with Hermione. Viktor related all that he could, which wasn’t much. He hadn’t been around the adults a great deal, though he supposed it was some comfort they were taking security seriously, given they would be responsible for Hermione’s care for the foreseeable future. 

“And what of Grimmauld Place?” His mother asked with interest. “My Great Aunt visited it once, a lifetime ago now. It must have been when Walburga and Orion Black got married. She said the townhouse was rather beautiful, in an old-world kind of way.”

“It is…” Viktor began hesitantly before ordering what he wanted to say in his mind. “Its… charms have faded after quite a few years of neglect.” He didn’t want to go into too much detail. If his mother had any idea what Grimmauld was like, she would have seen it burned to the ground before she let her only child stay there. Viktor thought the inhabitants were far more deadly than the house itself, but his mother would not likely see it the same way.

“Wonderful,” she replied absently, fiddling with two tags that were next to each other but not moving them. “Your father and I have often discussed buying an older property to renovate. Something to sink or teeth into now that work on this house is largely complete.”

Viktor took one look at his father and confirmed that this was definitely news to Grigor and so he wisely kept his mouth shut. 

“I must go and send an owl or three,” she said as she stood to head back into the house. “I am glad you are back, my son. Will you be home for dinner after training?”

“Yes, Mama.”

Viktor turned as his mother disappeared inside and helped himself to some lemonade that still felt cool despite the heat of the day. 

“You enjoyed your stay?” his father asked with interest before shaking his head when Viktor silently offered him a glass. 

“Yes, Papa.”

“Even though it was a shithole?”

His keen observation was enough to startle a laugh out of Viktor. “How did you know?” 

His father shrugged though his eyes fell onto his paper that was now resting over his mothers work, to protect her carefully made plans. “Rebellions rarely care about creature comforts; in fact, they tend to shun them actively. It makes them appear more moral, ‘look at what we suffer for what is right’.”

“You do not sound approving?” Viktor observed.

His father reached for his coffee. “I agree with their ideas, I am no staunch conservative, but their application is lacking. Dumbledore was a prominent figure in the fight against Grindelwald, at least at the end. He understands the other side in ways most of us can’t, but I see no evidence that he uses that knowledge to his advantage.”

Grigor must have recognised the intrigue Viktor couldn’t disguise as he smiled at him before ruffling his hair. “There is much I have to teach you still. I hope I have enough time to give you all the remaining important lessons before life does.” 

A few days after his return, Viktor was half-convinced that his coach was trying to kill him to make up for his missed training sessions. It was the only thing that could have accounted for the number of drills they’d had to work through that morning. The only comfort he’d had, as he was charging directly into one of their bat-wielding beaters for the third time, was that Hermione had sent him a letter which he had saved to read when he got home. 

Viktor collapsed onto the bed in his room after he had used the last of his energy to have an ice bath and then walk it off. He pulled out Hermione’s letter, fully intending to find peace within its pages before he drifted off to sleep. However, once he reached the halfway point on the second page, he felt as if he had been thrust into burningly cold water again. 

At first, Hermione wrote as if little had changed since her last letter, she spoke of fights with the twins, Remus and Tonks’ ‘relationship’ being spoken of often by Molly, and Luna heading home with her father until a new section started. It was unlike Hermione to suddenly being a new topic in the middle of a letter, but as soon as Viktor’s eyes darted down the next paragraph, her distraction was explained. Harry’s planned hearing had somehow become a full trial, in front of the entire Wizengamot and though he had seemingly been exonerated, Viktor read each line with growing alarm. 

He remembered the feeling of waking up on the damp Quidditch pitch in the dark, surrounded by people that believed the worst of him. His heart was pulled along as much by Hermione’s unusually sloppy writing - showing her frustration and worry - as her words. 

Before he thought to reply, Viktor gathered up the letter and walked to his father’s study, all earlier fatigue forgotten. The change of plan at the ministry felt like something important, a single drop of water maybe, but one that was part of an ever-changing tide. 

His father had been different that summer, since the last task of the Triwizard. At times he could be preoccupied and secretive, at others he wanted to speak to Viktor as much as possible, to impart things without explanation for their relevance or get his son’s take on the news of the day before offering his own, more nuanced, opinion. Whatever was going on, Viktor felt he would feel more at peace when his father knew of it, and hopefully, he would be able to impart some of that ease onto Hermione. 

“Sir?” he knocked on the open door, and his father stepped away from the bookcase where he was searching among the stacks. 

“Viktor?” his mother greeted, walking over from the window seat. Viktor hadn’t seen her when he first came in, though he wasn’t surprised, they often worked together during the day. “I thought you would be resting after training. What is it?” 

He knew from his mother’s concerned expression that he wasn’t doing an excellent job of hiding his agitation. “I’ve had a letter from Hermione. It is easiest if you read it.”

Viktor handed his father the short stack of parchment with the relevant page on top. He trusted his parents not to read what was beyond their interest, not that Hermione was of the overly floral persuasion. 

Grigor skimmed through the page with a grave countenance before handing it back and leaning on his desk. “Thank you for showing me this Viktor, but you must not worry. Potter has the backing of Dumbledore; he will be fine.”

“You are sure?”

“I am.”

Viktor folded the letter and placed it back into his pocket, but he was reluctant to leave, there was something else, a shadow that had fallen over his father’s face that he wanted to be explained, but he wasn’t in the habit of questioning his parent’s motives. 

His mother looked between them before she took him by the shoulder. “Viktor, why don’t you go and rest? You are barely standing.”

Viktor agreed, and after a short goodnight, he walked back out of the door, though once he got into the corridor, he hovered. The act made him feel eight years old if he got caught he would feel even more childish, but there was a concern in the centre of his stomach, something that would not settle until he knew more. 

“It’s happening again, isn’t it?” He heard his mother’s muffled voice just clear enough for him to make out. “The government will do nothing?”

“It would appear they are picking a different battle to hide the real ones from public view.”

There was silence and then the sound of clinking glass and his mother’s heels across the parkay flooring. “How far do you think it will come this time? Europe?”

“I do not know for certain, who can? But Voldemort is a fool if he doesn’t at least attempt to acquire Grindlewald’s old supporters. Half of his own are imprisoned, and most that remain here could be converted to his cause with ease.”

“But what would be the allure of power in England be to people who have probably never even left their own towns let alone their country?”

“It would be the beginning, an example, a victory that could become a franchise that could be packaged and dispatched all over the world.”

“You sound very sure for someone that declares he is not certain,” his mother observed shrewdly, and Viktor could imagine his father shrugging.

“These things always follow patterns; my father taught me that. This time it will not matter if they cross the sea. Viktor has made his choice, Hermione staying here would not have gone unnoticed. We will be dragged into it at some point.”

The room beyond the door fell silent, and Viktor crept away. He had never considered that inviting Hermione would have had ramifications in the brewing conflict. Though whatever his father’s plan was for riding out the seemingly unavoidable war, he hadn’t advised Viktor not to invite her. 

Viktor was not a man accustomed to inaction, and so it took him longer than usual to fall asleep. He promised himself that in the morning, he would start researching more effective ways of communicating with Hermione, he sensed there might come a time when they would need to communicate with expediency and privacy. 

Viktor told himself it was just the war and his concern for Hermione that made him think such a thing was necessary. It certainly wasn’t how a letter could never reflect the exact hue of the freckles across her nose - darker now after being in the sun - or the way her hair bounced and flayed in such a way that it almost made a sound. Certainly not. 

Chapter Text

Hermione laid back on her narrow bed and tried to ignore the creaking of the bedsprings. Luna had gone back home, and Ginny was off bothering the twins about something, so their room was quiet. She read through the last passage of Viktor’s letter again as her eyebrows pinched and her feet restlessly walked up the nearest wall. 

Harry had become even more sarcastic and despondent following his trial and at this point not even Sirius’ reminiscing about his school days was able to snap him out of it. Viktor being Viktor he had included a few politely worded suggestions on how to approach Harry in his latest letter. They were all well and good, and Hermione was sure they would be precisely the sort of thing someone would appreciate, just as she was confident that she could no more pull off a ‘soft, undemanding and compassionate approach ’ than she could change the weather by merely wanting to. 

Hermione had reasoned that she could try to push herself existing self to the side for the moment and force herself into a new personality to help her friend. However, the problem with emulating any of Viktor’s - admittedly more mature - approaches, was that they didn’t sound like her. Not at all. Harry was at the point now that if she started ‘acting funny’ he would probably assume she was either in on some grand plot or that she had agreed to help ‘manage’ him and his behaviour, which was ludicrous. Hermione had never needed asking to try and moderate Harry; she’d been trying to keep him out of trouble since the first year. Admittedly, woefully unsuccessfully.

Hermione set the letter down on the bed and contemplated looking for something to distract her in the library until another slamming door downstairs alerted her that Harry and Ron must have come back in from their brief time outside. She had a moment, just a single second of wanting to leave Ron to it for a little while longer, but even while she was thinking it, Hermione had gotten onto her feet. It simply wasn’t fair. 

She joined the boys in the kitchen where Ron was throwing together a few plates of leftovers and Harry was mid-rant about the only topic he wanted to discuss anymore. Headmaster Dumbledore. 

Hermione made tea and joined them at the table where she and Ron made a passable effort to talk about anything else until they gave in.

Harry tore into a sausage roll and banged the table, dislodging the cutlery that they hadn’t bothered using. “He’s been here Hermione, and he couldn’t even be bothered to speak to me. Last night after dinner, it was him and me in the corridor, and he didn’t even reply. He just hurried off as though I wasn’t even there.”

If Harry had made the complaint a few months before, Hermione would have been stunned. Their headmaster had always had time for Harry, but she had seen his reserve at dinner. She believed Harry, she always believed Harry , but right now she wasn’t sure winding himself up over this was helping. What he needed was a distraction; unfortunately, there was precious little of it to be found at the Order Headquarters. 

“I’m sure he’s just busy, Harry,” Hermione replied. She knew how hollow the excuse sounded, but honestly, she didn’t have a better explanation. 

“Doing what?” Harry pressed.

“Running the school?” Hermione offered up with a shrug. 

“Schools on holidays.”

“That is actually a common misconception,” Hermione began until she was cut off. 

“Doesn’t look like we’re there to me,” Harry said, making a dramatic show of looking around himself for further proof. “Unless… maybe the ministry is telling the truth after all? Maybe I’ve tried so hard to do anything for attention that I’ve managed to completely miss the fact that we have travelled back to Hogwarts.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “I didn’t mean that as you well know. But teachers still have work to do during the holidays, and most of them have other callings on their time. Writing papers, sitting on boards, reviewing the education programme for the coming year. Not to mention hiring new staff.”

“You’re not helping, Hermione,” Ron injected, and Hermione crossed her arms defensively.

I'm not helping?” she asked in a voice that she knew the twins would describe as shrill. “At least I’m trying .”

“What do you mean?” Ron spluttered, wiping pastry crumbs onto the back of his hand. “I am trying.”

“Well I agree with you there, you’re very trying Ron.”

The impending argument was paused as Harry’s chair scraped back, and Hermione and Ron both stopped in their tracks. “I’m going to find Sirius.”

“Okay, Harry.”

“See you later mate.”

The kitchen fell silent as Hermione played with the cubes of butternut squash and beetroot that were left on her plate. So much for trying to be a good friend, she chastised herself. For approximately the hundredth time that day, she wished Viktor was there.

“I saw you got a letter today,” Ron said, but when Hermione looked up, he was eyeing his plate with intensity. 

“Yes, I did.”

“Luna?” he inquired offhandedly.

“It was from Viktor. Luna wrote yesterday.”

“I heard that you were… boyfriend and girlfriend now?”

Hermione speared a little red square onto the end of her fork to compete the alternating pattern she had started and tried not to fidget. “That’s right. He asked me while I was in Bulgaria and then again here actually.”

Ron frowned. “He asked twice? Why would he do that?”

“Because some people don’t take things for granted, Ronald,” Hermione replied, though there was less bite in her words than before. “I better go back up,” she continued, desperate to get out of the silence that had descended into the kitchen as she put her plate in the sink, quickly jerking her hands away from the magical scrubbing brush that Mrs Weasley had activated before she left that morning. 

“I’m sorry you know… about some of the things I said, at the ball.”

Hermione spun on her heel. “Some of the things?”

“Alright, Mione, keep your bloody hair on. I’m sorry, okay, for all of it.”

“Fine. Apology accepted,” Hermione said. She knew she was graceless, but it was because she didn’t really forgive him, just like he didn’t really mean his apology. But they would go through the motions and hope it would be better because they had played lip service until it happened the next time. 

Ron nodded and then tilted his head in the direction Harry had left in. “We need to try and keep the peace this year, for Harry.”

Hermione thought that it was all rather dependant on whether or not he was planning on being an idiot in the near future. But in light of their recent truce, she held her tongue. “For Harry,” she replied and left the room.

After Viktor left, Hermione decided to spend more time out of the house. She wasn’t one to crave the outdoors in the same way that the boys did, but she did prefer to spend her days at Hogwarts in the library, which could never be described as cramped. The only option available at Grimmauld Place was the tiny courtyard at the back of the house. The patio slabs were mottled, mouldy and damp to the touch even when the sun was beating down directly overhead, but it was quiet, and Hermione needed that more than other comforts. 

That particular morning the twins had gathered their younger siblings (and Harry and Hermione) into one of the highest rooms to practise some levitating spell they were adapting and Hermione had managed to slip away after she watched Ginny gently returned from the upper shelf the spell had lifted her to, assured that in this instance at least, Fred and George had some idea of what they were doing. 

She closed the back door behind her with some care and walked over to the beaten up looking shed that was behind Sirius’ motorbike. The Weasley’s had given up trying to play pick up Quidditch, the space wasn’t big enough, and Molly had forbidden them all from having their brooms inside the house - knowing that despite their best intentions the temptation to use them inside would have been too much for them to ignore. Hermione selected Ginny’s broom - at least she hoped that was the one she grabbed - and pulled it out of the cramped shed and sat with it in the centre of the patio. 

Hermione had been thinking a lot about this. Flying. Since her argument with Viktor on the Quidditch pitch, Hermione had focused heavily on her fears. Viktor had come here for her, and she thought it might make her feel better about his absence if she began to work on her block. That, and if she was going to be his girlfriend, she should at least try to understand the thing that he was famous for. She had no delusions of playing or even becoming an enthusiast, but she hoped that floating off the ground and maybe doing a turn or two might have been within her capabilities. Maybe. Eventually. 

“Are you trying to set that thing on fire?” 

The sudden question made Hermione jump. She had been staring too hard lost in her thoughts. She hadn't realised that the back door had been opened. 

“I know you’re not allowed a wand but attempting wandless on that scale seems like a bit of a leap, even for you.”

Sirius Black stepped into the yard and blinked at the full sun in the sky. He seemed to change before her eyes, becoming younger and more carefree just by being outside. After stretching out his arms, he took a deep breath before he crossed his legs and sat down next to her. Hermione crossed her arms at the invasion and would have probably ignored his question if she hadn’t heard the door open and seen Professor Lupin join them outside. He didn’t join them on the floor. 

"No," she replied as if Sirius' question had been an earnest one. 

“Then what?”

“Nothing,” she replied with a shrug.

 “You realise you’re not very convincing, don’t you? I would hate to be the one to break that to you,” Sirius said. His words were saying one thing, and his face was saying quite another, as ever. 

"You realise you’re incredibly annoying?” she replied, and Sirius gripped the front of his shirt in mock afront. 

"He’s also very perceptive, Hermione,” Remus said with a wry smile. “In my experience, it’s often best to indulge his nosiness and let him know what he wants to know. It makes for an easier existence.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Moony.”

Hermione sagged and played with an uneven stone on the ground. “It’s kind of embarrassing,” she admitted softly.

Sirius smiled, one of his rare genuine ones. "Believe me, poppet; there is literally nothing you could tell us that we couldn't top."

Though Hermione didn’t doubt it, she wasn’t comforted. “I don’t imagine you were as awkward as I am at this age.”

“No, I wasn’t, but then, we can’t all be like me,” Sirius preened.

“Perish the thought,” Hermione muttered, but it seemed neither of them noticed. 

Remus drew closer, his body blocking out the afternoon sun. “That… is a matter of opinion.”

“Yes, it is Moony, mine.”

“Well, I think Hermione deserves to know - since you are keen to talk about embarrassing incidents - that before you asked Marlene McKinnon to the winter formal, you sweated so profusely that you had to change your shirt.”

“That,” Sirius contested, pointing a finger up at his friend, “was a sweltering day.”

“In January?”

“Whatever,” Sirius waved him off. “This conversation does not need audience participation.”

“Perhaps not,” Remus replied with a grin, “but it could do with some of the truth, which you only have a passing relationship with.”




“Drama queen.”

Hermione, attempting to use their distraction for her benefit, began to edge away from Sirius towards the back door until he turned and caught hold of one of her trainer laces.

“Oh no you don’t. Sit and spit it out.”

Hermione released his fingers from her shoe with a little sniff and pulled the broom over her legs as a very impractical security blanket. “I argued with Viktor,” she said finally, not making eye contact with either man. “It was while he was at Hogwarts. I didn’t want to try to learn how to ride on a broom. I’ve never managed it, not since the first year. He was overly persistent, and I was… I suppose I was rather… petulant-”

“Imagine that,” Sirius muttered, and Remus elbowed him.

“-I’m trying to get over my fear, I thought if I sat and considered it rationally for a while, I would start to feel better about trying again.”

“I believe all that thinking might be where you are going wrong.” Hermione wanted to protest, but she could see the logic of Sirius’ argument even if it irritated her no end. “Hermione, do you trust me?”

Hermione shifted her legs as she thought about it. Sirius Black was dramatic, melancholy, rude, withdrawn and unpredictable… and yet. “I do,” she replied, “but fear, my fear, is irrational. I trust Harry, and yet I can’t let him take me out on a broom, even though he has tried, several times.”

Remus walked forward and took the broom off her legs, laying a hand over it until it was gently hovering near his waist. “I’ve never thought of fear as irrational, Hermione, and you are certainly not an irrational person.”

Sirius stood and offered a hand to pull her to her feet. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want, but understand we will never let you fall.”

“Not even as a joke?”

Sirius pushed some hair out of his eyes as he seemed to bite back his first retort. “Contrary to the prevailing beliefs of those in this house, I am capable of being responsible.”

Hermione contemplated the hovering broom and tried to find a way to articulate why it scared her so much. “It’s not just that, not just the… falling bit.”

“I didn’t think so,” Sirius acknowledged, “these things are never simple, and for all my ribbing, I do understand where you are coming from.”

“You didn’t like flying?”

Sirius laughed. “No, of course not, I loved it! Flying was everything I ever wanted. It was complete freedom. But experiences do not always feel the same to different people.”

Hermione scuffed her shoe and avoided their eyes. “I don’t like feeling out of control.” She felt the same as she had when she had been ten years old, and Christina Bryant had drawn in pen all over her newish backpack. ‘It was an accident’ their teacher had said, it hadn’t been, but that was entirely beside the point. It had been messy, unorganised and it wouldn’t wash off. 

Remus lowered the broom a fraction, and it buzzed near Hermione’s knees like an insistent insect. “In some cases, you have to practise to get good enough at something and then, with that confidence, you can get the control back.”

“Like what?”

Sirius thought, rocking back on his heels before he snapped his fingers. “Like being an animangus; the first few transformations were terrifying as I wasn’t a hundred per cent sure I could get back.”

Hermione had a flash of herself as a cat but chose not to let on how she had blindly trusted the Polyjuice potion she had made in the second year, Sirius would never allow her to live it down.

“What made you do it anyway? Even though you were frightened.”

Sirius smirked. “Booze and bravado.”

“Drunk?” Hermione said, blinking rapidly. “You attempted an animangus transformation, unsure of the outcome, drunk?”

“Hermione, if we were to go through everything I’ve ever done that you would not approve of, we would be here and till we both look as old as Remus here. Come on, have a go.”

Hermione still wanted to say no. The broom looked reasonably innocuous, hoovering at such a low height, but she hadn’t survived this long in the magical world without seeing beyond the face value. She watched quietly as Sirius stepped over to the broom himself and gestured for her to the do the same. 

“Look, I’ll go on with you first, and Moony will be on the ground in case you need him.”

Hermione looked up at his eager face and just like that her hesitation died. Not because she wasn’t scared, she was terrified, but she could see how much Sirius needed this. He needed her trust. She said a silent prayer to a God she had never truly believed in and took off her jacket.


If Hermione had thought that Viktor would have been the most unwelcome visitor to Grimmauld that summer - in the eyes of Molly at least - she had been mistaken. Fleur Delacour breezed into the cramped, dusty townhouse a few days before they were all due to depart for Hogwarts in all her smiling, shimmering glory. For the first time in several weeks, Harry was at a complete loss for what to say as the French girl greeted him affectionately and Hermione watched with a twisted sort of humour as Ron looked between the former object of his appreciation and his older brother who had brought Fleur along.

Fleur was due to start her internship at Gringott’s and had somehow wangled Bill as her primary instructor. Hermione would have laughed if their air between Bill and his mother hadn’t been so tense. Mrs Weasley had taken one look at the tall, confident, iridescent part Veela and had seen something or likely many things, she didn’t care for, and she wasn’t above making it known. 

Fleur, however, was somewhat used to not finding approval from women and therefore dealt with the clipped comments with a good deal more grace than Hermione would have in her elegant shoes. 

Hermione had managed to catch her briefly before they all went into lunch. She had grown to respect Fleur after the Yule Ball and her quick assessment of Roger Davies. Not to mention her kindness when she was dealing with the vile letters from the public. 

“I didn’t expect to see you,” Hermione said warmly, and Fleur gave her a wide grin.

“It is nice to see a familiar and friendly face.”

“What have you been up to since you got to London?”

“Chasing my prince charming,” Fleur said with a smirk, gently inclining her head to where Bill was sat in all of his dishevelled glory between Sirius and Ron.

“Chasing, you ?” Hermione replied incredulously, and Fleur laughed. It was a beautiful sound that seemed to echo and bounce around the room like light reflected off a prism. Half the men in the room turned in the blonde’s direction, and the other half seemed to be trying hard not to follow suit. Hermione noted Ginny’s exaggerated frown and tried not to snort. 

“I know. Isn’t it delightful?” Fleur said with an adorable wrinkle of her nose. “Bill is rather wonderful in a… rustic sort of way, and very intelligent. Do you know Hermione, I think I might be smitten.”

Hermione thought they made a rather striking pair, and an interesting one too. “Good for you,” she said kindly. 

“Good for both of us,” Fleur replied knowingly. “I understand I am not the only international visitor this holiday?”

Hermione suddenly found herself lost for words at Fleur’s good information, but she was saved from having to formulate a response by Molly calling them all in to sit down. After the usual mele of people finding seats and getting food Hermione ended up sat between Sirius and Harry, at the other end of the table from where the action was which was a refreshing change, if no less awkward. 

Mrs Weasley pumped Fleur for information at every given opportunity. Who were her parents? What had she studied? What were her career prospects? The list went on and on. Bill tried, several times, to interject into proceedings but he got precisely nowhere, mainly because Fleur was doing just fine batting back without his help.

As the rest of the table tried to pretend it wasn’t happening, Sirius sat back in his chair and openly watched the saga while picking at far too many buttered rolls.

“You are enjoying this far too much,” Hermione whispered under her breath as he topped up his wine glass. 

“Entertainment is rather thin on the ground, Hermione, I’ll take what I can get.”

“Do you think Bill likes her?” Hermione asked with interest. She wasn’t the best at reading people’s intentions, especially those of a romantic nature. She couldn’t see how Bill would not be interested in Fleur, but then, from what she had already learnt, boys didn’t always know what was good for them.

“I would say so. He was asking Moony all sorts of questions about Veela earlier.”

“Why would he ask…?” Hermione began, but Sirius cut her off. 

“Remus dated a Veela back in the day, and a half one at that,” he related with a grin as if he had just told her his friend had achieved something of the same magnitude as climbing Everest. 

Hermione looked over at her careworn former professor and tried to see past the scars on his face to the glint in his eyes. She’d had a bit of a crush on him when he’d been their teacher, nothing as over the top as her ‘heart adorning, sigh-inducing, starry-eyed’ affection for Lockhart, but something. She had put it down to her limited exposure to adult men below the age of a hundred on the school staff and nothing more. She knew that having a crush on a teacher was a relatively harmless thing, especially given how her mother could wax lyrical about Mr Dawkins who had taught her O Level maths, but like all of those silly romantic notions, they disappeared as quickly as they cropped up.

Hermione looked away from Remus to where Fleur was still talking to Mrs Weasley and saw how Bill looked on with poorly concealed admiration. “Mrs Weasley won’t be happy,” she observed quietly.

“No, she won’t,” Sirius readily agreed. “But there comes a time in every man’s life when he must stop listening to his mother above all others, and give that honour to his wife. Or so my father used to tell me.”

After that Sirius seemed lost again, trapped in some memory of the past, despite all the people around him. Hermione stopped bothering him for the rest of the meal until he had finished eating his stew, and she passed him some pudding. When the sight of an individual spotted dick failed to get a laugh out of him, she sucked in a breath and lamented her bleeding heart when she couldn’t look away from the sadness in his eyes. 

“Sirius, did I ever tell you about the time I accidentally turned myself into a cat?”

Chapter Text

Hermione sagged into the familiar, itchy but not unpleasant, bench seat and let the chaos of the train carriage wash over her. Though they had spent a large portion of the Summer together, something about their return to Hogwarts always made her ragtag collection of friends giddy. It was as if the chatter, trunks and steam made them momentarily believe that they had just remet on the platform.

Harry was pressed up against the far side of the compartment, looking out of the window and trying to pretend he wasn’t interested in his surroundings. Ron was next to him, and Ginny and Luna flanked Hermione. The later was attempting, for the third time in as many minutes, to convince them of the multiple usages for x-ray specs. Luna remained undeterred no matter how many times Ron insisted that the issue wasn’t what you could do with them, but if they existed at all. Ginny was sulking. 

As they were now approaching the outskirts of London, it was a safe bet that no one else would be joining their carriage. Hermione was grateful. It was a relief to be able to settle with her thoughts and not to have to force herself to be polite to strangers, or worse, vague acquiesces. 

Neville had poked his head around