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Fleur traipsed back across the lawn to the Beauxbatons carriage, where Madame Maxime was waiting for her. Her silver hair fluttered banner-like behind her in the slight breeze. Did she ever have days where her hair lay lank and greasy and hopeless?
Harry and Ron watched her go – Harry wearing the closest thing to a smile I'd seen since the Third Task, Ron with an abstracted, dreamy look of dog-like devotion. Stupid boy.
Sometimes, though, he surprises me. After a few seconds, Ron blinked, shook his head, and turned back to us. Or to me, at least – Harry was still watching Fleur.
"Wonder how the Durmstrang students are getting back," he said. "D'you reckon they can steer that ship without Karkaroff?"
Harry turned back to Ron and me again, looking as if the question had not occurred to him yet. It had occurred to me, of course. I was just about to tell Ron what Viktor had told me about the Durmstrang students' journey to Hogwarts – without mentioning Viktor, of course, since that would only make Ron mad and then he would stop listening to me – when a familiar deep voice spoke up from our left.
"Karkaroff did not steer," said Viktor. I felt my expression brightening as I turned to look at him. "He stayed in his cabin and let us do the vork," Viktor continued. "Could I have a vord?" he asked me.
Oh, dear. He was going to ask me about visiting him in Bulgaria over the summer again, wasn't he? My smile faded. "Oh... yes... all right," I said, and allowed him to lead me away through the crowd of Hogwarts students waiting for the horseless carriages.
"You'd better hurry up!" Ron hollered after us. "The carriages'll be here in a minute!"
Honestly! How could Ron be so jealous of Viktor and so blind about how his mooning after Fleur made me feel all at the same time? Idiot, I thought, shaking my head.
When we were out of sight and earshot of Harry and Ron, Viktor turned to me.
"Herm-own-ninny," he began, shifting his weight from foot to foot, "It has been very nice being here in Britain, at Hogvarts, vith you." I looked at down at my fingers, twisting together in front of me. "I vould very much like to show you my home," he went on. "Bulgaria is very beautiful in the summer."
"Viktor," I said, raising my face to meet his eyes, "it has been very nice having you here, at Hogwarts, with me. I enjoyed all of the time we spent together, especially the Yule Ball. Thank you for asking me; it was wonderful!" He smiled. I will miss that smile, I thought. I continued, resolutely. "I would love to see Bulgaria, and to see you there, sometime, but I don't think I can come this summer. My parents won't let me travel alone that far, and they've probably already planned our holiday."
Viktor's expression darkened again. "I am sorry to hear this," he said, "but if vot Dumbledore says is true, the vorld is getting more dangerous, so perhaps it vould not be safe for you to come this summer."
"Yes," I agreed, relieved. "But I can still write you letters." Impulsively, I reached out and grabbed his hand, then hurried on, "I will miss all our long conversations, but letter writing will be almost as good, since you'll be so far away. I'm very glad that you're my friend, and I'd be sad to lose your friendship."
Viktor looked briefly away, sighing. Squeezing my fingers, he said, "I am glad that you are my friend, too, Herm-own-ninny. I vould be happy to receive letters from you."
"And you'll write back, of course?"
"Of course." He looked at me with a very odd expression on his face. For one terrifying moment, I thought he might be going to kiss me again. Not that it hadn't been very pleasant when he'd kissed me after the Yule Ball, or in a quiet corner of the library stacks on Valentine's Day, but I'd just told him that I thought it would be better if we continued our relationship as just friends. And if he kissed me, I wouldn't be able to recompose my expression well enough before we got back to Harry and Ron, and Ron would see it and go spare. When Viktor pulled me closer, however, he merely wrapped his arms around me. "I vill miss you, Herm-own-ninny," he said.
I hugged him back. "I'll miss you, too, Viktor," I said, my voice catching unexpectedly. He held me for only a moment longer, stroking the back of my head, then released me.
"Now," he said, smiling crookedly, "if you are going to write me letters, you vill need my address." He fished for a quill and a spare bit of parchment in his pockets, and wrote it out for me in his fine bold hand.
"And you'll need mine," I said, returning the smile, as I took the parchment and quill from him. I wrote my address, which he tucked away in his inside pocket.
We stood there in subdued silence for a few moments. "Vell," said Viktor, looking at his wristwatch, "ve had better be getting back. Your friends vill be vaiting for you."
"Yes," I said. Then, on another sudden impulse, I stood up on my toes to kiss him on the cheek. "Good luck, Viktor."
"Good luck, Herm-own-ninny," he said, returning the valedictory kiss, on my forehead.
We walked back to where we had left Harry and Ron. I had time to arrange my face into a suitably impassive expression before we got there. I struggled not to smile, though, at the sight of Ron craning his neck to look for us over the crowds.
Ron observed me narrowly when we returned. I hope he didn't see anything not to his liking.
Viktor spoke to Harry. "I liked Diggory. He vos alvays polite to me. Alvays. Even though I vos from Durmstrang – with Karkaroff." He frowned as he said this.
"Have you got a new headmaster yet?" asked Harry.
Viktor shrugged, then stuck out his hand for Harry to shake. Though I knew that Viktor was unfailingly polite, so he would shake Ron's hand anyway, it still was a bit of a surprise that he did. I'm not sure why. Maybe the surprise was that Ron accepted it. As Viktor turned to walk away, Ron's brow creased in the adorable way it does when he is thinking very hard about something. Then Ron said, suddenly and a bit too loudly, "Can I have your autograph?"
This time I really couldn't restrain myself from smiling. The grin bubbled up like the fizz on a newly-opened bottle of Butterbeer, so I turned away, pretending to watch the rapidly approaching line of horseless carriages, to hide it, while Viktor, wearing an expression of pleased astonishment, fished in his pockets again for his scrap parchment and quill and gave Ron his signature.
Sometimes Ron wasn't such a "stupid boy," after all.