The Sugar Quill
Author: Elanor Gamgee and Manu (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Fraternizing with the Enemy  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer: The world portrayed in this fic (and we’re starting to suspect that the actual world) belongs to J.K. Rowling. The characters belong either to J.K., Arabella and Zsenya or themselves. We only own William Sommers, Zachary Hall, Clive Bosher, Josef, Lourenço Pereira, Antônio Castro, Kevin Dodd, *coughcoughourselvescoughcough* and a few fans.

Authors’ Note: The Viktor Krum portrayed in here is in no way related to the Viktor in either Manu’s “When Words Aren’t Enough” or Elanor’s “Moody Slavic Man”. Also, this is the sequel to “Lost Her, Have You?”, so it would be kind of nice if you’ve read that first. J

Thank you to Jedi Boadicea for betareading!

Fraternizing with the Enemy

A Harry Potter fanfiction by

Manu

and

Elanor Gamgee

Ron looked around Diagon Alley, unable to wipe off the stupid grin that had been on his face for most of the morning. The Chudley Cannons were signing autographs for the fans! It was too great to be true.

It was officially the best day of Ron’s holidays.

Of course, that wasn’t very hard to accomplish. The summer hadn’t been exactly wonderful, had it? Harry’s letters had been short and disconcerting, and Hermione’s... well, Hermione’s letters hadn’t been exactly frequent, since she had spent most of the summer annoyed at him.

Maybe things would get better once Harry came to the Burrow. Ron was still waiting for Dumbledore to give the Weasleys permission to go and pick him up, although he had a nagging feeling that having Harry in their house wouldn’t be as much fun as it usually was.

He twirled his Cannons’ hat around in his hands. It didn’t matter. He was going to get the Cannons’ autographs, and nothing could be bad enough to ruin that.

He looked over at Fred and George, who were next to him, talking to their mother. She was asking something about the League Cup, which was weird, since she had never been a big Quidditch fan (Ron still couldn’t comprehend how she was able to sleep at night after having missed the opportunity to go to the Quidditch World Cup).

Their father had been working like crazy lately, and he wouldn’t have been able to go with them even if he wanted to. And he did want to, or at least Ron thought he did. His father hadn’t had the time to actually talk with his children, these last couple of months.

So their mother had insisted on accompanying them, because of ‘all that was happening’. Ron really didn’t see the point. He had protested to his mother about it until she got that scary glint in her eyes. The glint that meant that if he didn’t agree with her going with them, he wouldn’t go at all. And then, of course, he had agreed with everything she said.

However, he still thought it was a stupid idea. After all, if the Death Eaters wanted to pop out from thin air and murder everyone in the middle of the day, it wouldn’t be a middle-aged housewife who would stop them. She would only get herself killed too.

He shook his head slightly to clear his thoughts. The Cannons’ autographs. He was going to get the Cannons’ autographs.

Oh, this is going to be so much fun,” said Fred for the third or fourth time.

Ron nodded. Fred and George were the ones who had told him about this signing, with big grins on their faces and a somewhat wicked look in their eyes. Ron had been suspicious. Well, he was always suspicious of the twins... but of course, it wasn’t as if he’d miss something like this only because the twins seemed to be looking forward to it a little too much.

“I don’t get why you two are so anxious to get there,” said Ron, voicing his thoughts. “You don’t even like the Cannons.”

“What are you talking about?” said Fred. “I love the Cannons. They make me lose my breath, and get the hiccups...”

“And fall from the chair, and roll on the floor...” added George.

“And really, cry from laughing so much every time they play,” finished Fred.

Ron scowled. After all these long years, he should have known better than to mention the Cannons to the twins.

“Bloody hilarious, they are. We should at least say thank you for the fun, right?” said George.

“Did you see that last pathetic game against-”

“Fred, George, that’s enough,” said their mother in her most intimidating shut-up-now-or-else tone of voice.

Ron opened his mouth to say that he didn’t need her to defend him, when he remembered that he had already got her angry that morning. He shouldn’t fuel her temper, especially now that they were so close to the autograph signing. And besides, it was funny to see the twins look so whipped, even if he knew that the effect of their mother’s reprimands on them was usually very short-lived.

“We want to go because players from other teams are going too, did we forget to tell you that?” said Fred, probably deciding to answer properly, in his mother’s presence.

“What other teams?”

Fred and George exchanged a look and grinned.

“Well, little brother, enough to say that we wouldn’t miss the opportunity to attend this lovely signing with you for the world,” said George.

Ron had opened his mouth to demand to know what the hell they were up to when Fred nudged him.

Look, we’re here.”

They had arrived at Quality Quidditch Supplies. The giggling fans carrying autographed scarves and pictures that were leaving the shop and almost bumping into the passers-by in their blind giddiness left no doubt of the fact that there really was an autograph signing event going on. Ron suddenly forgot all about his brothers’ fishy behavior.

Maybe he had been born with his eyes naturally trained for it, but the first thing Ron noticed upon entering the crowded store was the table on the far left, with Keeper William Sommers and Beater Debora Jade in their bright orange Chudley Cannons robes.

Or maybe it had something to do with the fact that their table was the only one with no fans to block the view of the players.

“Right, Debora, your turn,” Ron heard Sommers say as he approached them. “Who was the third Seeker to play for the Cannons?”

Oh, that’s easy,” said Debora, grinning cheekily, her feet propped up on top of the table. “Zachary Hall.”

Ron blinked. It almost seemed like they were quizzing each other to pass the time. He was forcefully reminded of Hermione. If her just-for-fun quizzes had anything to do with the Cannons, maybe he would actually have some fun.

“Now, Will, tell me...what was the first foul ever committed by the Chudley Cannons?”

“Cobbing,” Ron said promptly, before he’d thought. He blushed when both players jumped on their seats and turned to face him.

Oh!” exclaimed Debora, looking at him in awe as if he’d just done something amazing, like... answering correctly what the first foul ever committed by the Cannons was. Heh. “William, oh my God, a fan! He’s a fan!”

“Yes, I can see him,” answered Sommers coolly, although his eyes also looked somewhat surprised. “You can stop shaking my arm now.”

Jade let go of his arm, her eyes never leaving Ron. She seemed as excited to see him as he was to see her.

“Sorry, Will, I just... I really feel like doing the happy Snoopy dance right now.”

William snorted. “Snoopy is, apparently, some kind of dog,” he explained to Ron, noticing his puzzled expression.

Oh... of course,” said Ron, feeling even more confused than before, though he’d never admit it. He was amazed that even though his father couldn’t stop talking about Muggle things, he still didn’t know anything about them, it seemed. He would just have to owl Hermione later and ask her about this Skoopy.

“Don’t mind Debora, kid, she tends to get overexcited easily,” continued Sommers with a somewhat paternal look in her direction. “She acted that way to all the—” he let out a cough “—many fans we attracted today.”

Debora nodded fervently in support.

“Do you want us to sign something?” said Sommers.

Oh, yes, autographs, Ron suddenly remembered. Well, he didn’t need autographs right now, he’d be happy to just stand there all day listening to the two of them talking. Although yes, autographs would be nice.

He nodded and handed William Sommers his orange Cannons’ hat.

William dipped his quill in the inkbottle. “What’s your name, kid?”

“Er... Ron. Ron Weasley.”

Sommers finished writing his name with a flourish, and then handed the hat to Debora, who eagerly autographed it.

“I really love this hat, it’s so cool,” she said, handing it back to him with a big grin on her face.

“Er...” said Ron, his ear growing hot. He knew he was smiling stupidly. “Thanks.”

Oh, you’re welcome! It really is!” exclaimed Debora.

Sommers rolled his eyes at her, though he was smiling, and then turned to Ron. “You want a Chudley Cannons badge, kid? Even with—” he coughed again “—so many fans, I think there are still some...”

But Ron had stopped listening; what he saw on the other side of the store threw him completely off track.

He finally understood Fred and George’s secrecy about the whole signing, finally understood their excitement about it. Finally understood the wicked grins.

“Well, little brother, enough to say that we wouldn’t miss the opportunity to attend this lovely signing with you for the world.”

Oh, how he hated his brothers.

Ron looked again to make sure that it hadn’t just been his eyes deceiving him.

It hadn’t.

He groaned.

Wasn’t Krum supposed to be in bloody Bulgaria?

~**~

“And this is the table where you’ll be signing. I do hope it’s acceptable?” Clive Bosher, owner of Quality Quidditch Supplies, turned to Viktor with an anxious expression on his face.

“It is fine,” said Viktor dully. He wished the man would just leave him alone, so he could get this over with.

“Is there anything else I can get you, Mr. Krum? Something to drink? Extra quills?”

“No, I am fine. The doors will be opening soon, yes?” The sooner it began, the sooner he would be finished, and the sooner he would be able to…see to other things.

“Yes, in about five minutes.” Bosher seized Viktor’s hand for the fifth time that morning and pumped it vigorously. “I can’t tell you how much we appreciate this, Mr. Krum. Our little store is so proud to have you here. I know your fans will be thrilled to see you. Just can’t wait to see you back on the pitch again.”

“Thank you,” said Viktor. He extracted his hand from the man’s sweaty grasp and wiped it surreptitiously on his robes.

Bosher grinned at Viktor, pulling a large ornamental pocket watch from his robes. “Goodness me!” he exclaimed. “I must see to the doors.” He scurried away, barking orders to a young assistant who had been waiting nearby.

Viktor settled himself behind the table in a hard wooden chair. There were several quills lined up on the table, ranging from a luxurious blue plume to a simple brown owl feather. Viktor picked up the owl feather and played with it idly. He had known he would regret letting his coach talk him into doing this signing, and he had been right. Now, as he faced the prospect of two hours of scribbling his signature for giggling girls and boastful men, he wished for nothing more than to be alone in the mountains, flying. But Josef had insisted that this signing would be good for his career, that after taking a year off for the Triwizard Tournament he needed to promote his return to the Vultures.

However, Viktor might not have agreed if he hadn’t had another reason for wanting to return to England. Ever since Hermione had left Bulgaria three weeks before, he had longed to see her again. He felt like he had hardly gotten to see her at all during her week’s stay, as her parents had been with her every minute, it seemed. It hadn’t been until the day before she had left that he had gotten her alone; he had invited her to go for a walk with him in the woods behind his house. He could still remember every word of their conversation clearly, though he had tried many times to forget it.

“Hermione,” Viktor said, as soon as they were out of sight of the house. He stopped and took her hand.

She turned to him then, looking slightly reluctant, but smiling that brilliant smile. “What is it, Viktor?”

“I…I want you to know how much it means to me, that you have come to visit. I had hoped you would…”

She looked slightly guilty, turning her eyes downward to their joined hands. “Of course I wanted to come. After all you had told me about your country, I wanted to see it for myself. And it is beautiful here.” She looked up at him with these last words, and he thought the look on her face was asking him something, but he couldn’t tell what.

“I confess I have been selfish,” Viktor said, taking a step closer to her. “I only wanted to see you again. To have you to myself, without your friends nearby.”

She looked up at him, opening her mouth quickly and then closing it again, as if she had bitten back whatever she had been about to say. Viktor reached up and stroked her hair.

“What is it?” he asked. “You can say anything to me, Hermione.”

She turned her head to the right, away from his touch. “Viktor…I…I came here to see you, because...because we’ve been such good friends.” She placed the slightest of emphasis on the word “friends”, and Viktor frowned.

“Yes, we are good friends,” he said, boldly placing his arms around her waist. “But I hope you know that I also think of you as more than that.”

She stiffened slightly in his arms. “Viktor…”

“I love you, Hermione.” There, he had said it. The thought had been in his mind ever since he had seen her emerging from the Muggle airport, hair flying out behind her.

She stared at him, eyes round. “Oh…Viktor…,” she breathed.

Viktor didn’t know what reaction he had been expecting, but this seemed as promising as any he could think of. He leaned forward slightly, intending to kiss her, but her next words stopped him cold.

“I’m so sorry.”

“What?”

She closed her eyes, looking pained, and gently but firmly removed his arms from her waist. “Viktor, I…I can’t do this. I’m sorry. I don’t…”

She couldn’t seem to bring herself to finish the sentence, but she didn’t have to. Viktor took an unconscious step back, feeling like a complete idiot. What had he done?

“Viktor, please,” she pleaded. “I care about you very much, I just…don’t…”

Love me, thought Viktor bitterly, though he didn’t say anything out loud.

“I’m so sorry, Viktor, I never meant to hurt you,” she continued. “You know I never would have come here if I had thought it would hurt you. I do care about you. I meant it when I said we’ve been such good friends—”

“Is it…someone else?” said Viktor stonily. He couldn’t look at her as he said the words, but he had to look once they were out of his mouth. He had to see her face.

What he saw made him wish he hadn’t looked. She blinked, a shadow passing over her expression, before squaring her shoulders and saying, “No, of course not.”

Viktor sighed inwardly. Potter. He might have known. Despite all of her protestations to the contrary, she still cared about Potter. She probably even loved him. Viktor was suddenly savagely glad that she was leaving the next day.

“Viktor,” she said, stepping forward and laying a hand on his arm. Viktor flinched at the contact. If she noticed this, she ignored it. “I don’t want to lose you…as a friend.”

He forced himself to meet her eyes, so full of sincerity. He still couldn’t disappoint her, no matter how much it hurt him in the process. “That,” he said, “could never happen.”

The words were difficult to say, but, he thought as he was rewarded with a relieved smile, they had been worth it.

Now, as he sat waiting for the influx of fans, Viktor pulled out the bit of parchment he had received from her just two days ago.

Dear Viktor—

Of course I would like to meet you for lunch while you are here. I will ask Mum and Dad to drive me up to London that morning, as I need to go to Diagon Alley to buy more parchment as well. Also, can you recommend any other O.W.L. practice materials? I’ve gone through all I have and I know I need more practice before school starts—they are coming up so quickly. I will meet you at Quality Quidditch Supplies at noon.

Hermione

He noted, somewhere in the back of his mind, that her letters prior to her visit had always been signed “Love From Hermione”, and he wondered if the change had been made purposely. In any case, he had to admit to himself that he still harbored some hope of changing her feelings. Maybe if he continued to be her friend, continued to show her how much he cared…maybe then she would realize she actually loved him after all. Maybe she would even forget about Potter.

“All right, ladies and gentlemen, here we go!” Bosher shouted from the door. A moment later, he pulled the enormous glass doors open and a tide of chattering people flowed in. There were shouts of excitement as people recognized their favorite players, but Viktor soon tuned them out as he focused on signing the hats, books, bits of parchment , and blinking pictures of himself that were placed in front of him. He was slightly pleased to note that the pictures of himself looked just as disgruntled as he felt, blinking slowly as if unable to discern what all the commotion was about.

Once the initial crowd had been satisfied, there was a brief lull, and Viktor took a moment to look around the store. There were ten Quidditch players signing altogether, and there were five tables set up, one for each team represented. Viktor was the only player from the Vratsa Vultures, which didn’t seem fair to him at all. But, as Josef had said, he was the most popular, and his appearance at this signing would reflect well on the whole team. In reality, he suspected that his older teammates simply knew better than to get themselves into these things.

Directly opposite from Viktor were three players from the Ballycastle Bats: Seeker Hull Hullington, a tall man with blond hair and a fair complexion, Chaser Kevin Dodd, who had recently joined the team and was clearly thrilled about attending his first signing, and Reserve Seeker Maureen Knight. Viktor had not recognized the woman when he had first seen her, and had assumed she was some sort of support person for the team. She, however, had recognized him, and had immediately come over to introduce herself and shake his hand, dark ponytail swinging behind her. She was perhaps three or four years older than he was, and had spoken about her team with a kind of fierce devotion that impressed Viktor. More impressive, perhaps, was the fact that she had not giggled once in the whole time she had been speaking to him.

To the left of the Bats’ table were two members of the Kenmare Kestrels, one of whom Viktor recognized rather better than he would have liked. Seeker Aidan Lynch sat looking slightly dazed, as though he hardly knew where he was, and Beater Padraig Connelly had to remind Lynch to sign his name whenever a piece of parchment was placed in front of him. Viktor pushed away a slight feeling of guilt over the ploughings he had subjected Lynch to in the Quidditch World Cup last year. That was Quidditch, and if Lynch couldn’t learn to recognize a feint, then he would suffer for it. However, from what Viktor had heard, Lynch had fallen for the Wronski Feint more times than any other Seeker on record.

In the far corner of the store, a table was set up for Lourenço Pereira, and Antônio Castro, of the Braga Broomfleet, from Portugal. Viktor had been disappointed to learn that neither spoke very good English, as he had been eager to talk to them about their team’s exciting performance in their game the previous month against the Bigonville Bombers.

Adjacent to them was one last table. Viktor had to hold in a snort of derision as he glanced over at the two members of the Chudley Cannons who had shown up to the signing. Seeker William Sommers, an older man with a lined face, and Beater Debora Jade, a younger, pretty woman with red hair, were deeply involved in a discussion about something. The discussion, it seemed, had been going on for some time. Viktor was unsurprised, as they had had virtually no autograph-seekers to distract them from it. He felt a bit sorry for them, sitting there in their conspicuous orange robes, knowing that their team had not won a match in over one hundred years. Still, he had to have some respect for their seeming determination not to give in to defeat. Hadn’t he felt the same thing, in the World Cup match last year?

The chimes on the door rang out as another group of patrons made their way into the store. Viktor soon had a line at his table again, and went back to scrawling his name and nodding and grunting at the excited comments coming at him from all sides.

Viktor was glad he had only agreed to sign for two hours, because the time was torturously slow, even though he was kept busy. He kept glancing at the clock over the door, which featured a minute-hand shaped like a Seeker on a broomstick and a second-hand shaped like a Snitch.

With fifteen minutes left to go, Viktor put down his quill for a moment and flexed his hand. There was an autograph spell he could use, of course, but fans generally preferred the real thing.

He looked around the store again, stretching his neck, and saw a familiar face. It was Hermione’s friend, Ron. What was his last name? Viktor couldn’t remember. But it was somehow comforting to see a familiar face here, even if it was one he barely knew. Ron turned around and saw Viktor looking in his direction. Viktor nodded and raised one hand in greeting.

“Mr. Krum! I can’t tell you what a delight this is! My sister and I talk about you all the time, how talented you are! Oh, would it be too much trouble to sign this Bulgaria scarf? I got it at the World Cup last year and it would mean so much to me…”

Viktor turned to see a heavyset woman with thick black hair standing in front of him, holding out a scarf eagerly. Viktor took it wordlessly, glancing up at the clock once again. Ten minutes to noon.

~**~

Ron couldn’t help feeling a little surprised that Krum had actually greeted him. He wasn’t used to being remembered, and especially not by an international Quidditch star whom he had never treated quite so well.

It was nice, but it didn’t stop Ron from being relieved when an excited fan made Krum look the other way.

“You’re friends with Viktor Krum, kid?”

It took Ron a moment to realize that Sommers was addressing him. And then he felt like kicking himself for not paying attention to the Cannons Captain. He would normally tell anyone suggesting that he was friends with Krum to sod off, but well... this was William Sommers and all.

Uh... no, not really. We’ve just... seen each other once or twice.”

Debora opened her mouth as if she wanted to say something, but in that moment Ron’s mother joined them.

“Ron, dear, that young man who just waved at you...” Ron started nodding impatiently for her to finish. Apparently someone remembering Ron was as much of a miracle to everyone else as it was for him, what with everyone mentioning it. “Isn’t he that friend of Hermione’s? The Quidditch player?”

No, Mum, thought Ron, feeling irrationally annoyed, he’s a floor sweeper, that’s why he’s giving out autographs in a Quidditch signing event, you know.

“Yeah,” he said instead.

Oh, go talk to him, dear. Don’t be rude.”

“I... uh...” He searched his brain frantically for an excuse. “I’m in the middle of something here,” he said triumphantly, indicating William Sommers and Debora Jade with his head.

His mother turned to them and smiled as if she’d just seen them there. “Oh, hello. I’m Ron’s mother, nice to meet you.”

She shook their hands. Ron flushed with embarrassment.

“I’m sure that they wouldn’t mind giving you a second,” she said.

Oh, not at all,” said Sommers, before Ron could do something, anything, to stop him.

“To speak with Viktor Krum? Really, as if we’d make him stay here...” added Debora.

Ron hadn’t thought he’d ever feel like telling a Cannons player to shut the hell up.

He sighed. It wasn’t as if he still hated Krum. He had even been able to ask for an autograph - granted, he'd thought at the time that he would never see the bloke again, but still... maybe saying a "hello" wouldn't hurt.

There were only two real problems: Fred and George. There was no way in hell he'd utter a word to Krum if there was any chance at all of the twins hearing. Or worse, joining in. He cringed at the thought.

His worry was proven unfounded, though, as he found them by the Ballycastle Bats table at the other side of the room, talking (no, wait, flirting) with the Reserve Seeker, Maureen Knight. He shook his head. He could most definitely see why they were hitting on her, but honestly, their mother was in the room.

“Do you want me to come with you, dear?”

“NO!” He received weird looks from all the three people around him. “Er… I mean, you don’t need to, Mum, it’s okay.”

~**~

“Thank you so much, Mr. Krum. You don’t know what an honor it is to meet you in person. I was at the Quidditch World Cup last year and I just couldn’t believe how well you flew. I said to Lisa here, I said, ‘Lisa, that Viktor Krum is amazing. You just wait - he’ll catch the Snitch yet.’ Didn’t I say that? Didn’t I, Lisa?” The young woman paused for breath and looked anxiously at her friend.

Her friend, a shorter woman with extremely blonde hair, smiled in a placating manner and nodded. “Yes, she did.”

The first woman resumed her excited chatter, her honey-colored hair bouncing around her head as she spoke. “You see, I knew you’d get the Snitch. I’ve watched your career, I knew you wouldn’t let anything stand in the way. It’s really amazing - yes, that’s K-a-t-h-y, that’s right - it’s amazing how far you’ve gotten at such a young age. I know being in that tournament was quite an honor and all that, but I must say I am happy to see you back on a broomstick where you belong.” She gave him a dazzling smile.

Viktor finished signing a picture and handed it to her. “Thank you,” he said uncomfortably. He wasn’t sure how much more he could take of this. Thank goodness it was almost over.

The two women moved away from his table, the first one still chattering her thanks. Viktor raised his head to see who was next in line and came face to face with Ron.

“Hey,” said Ron, not meeting Viktor’s eyes.

Viktor nodded. “Hello.” He reached for a picture from the stack next to him.

“No, I—” said Ron. He coughed. “I... already have one.”

Oh, yes.” Viktor remembered that-- he had been surprised, and pleased, when Ron had asked him for his autograph just before he left Hogwarts. He had always thought the red-haired boy disliked him for some reason. They had never even spoken, except for that time in the library, when Malfoy had come in... “How are you?” he asked.

“Fine. You?”

“I am fine. I have been training hard for the upcoming Quidditch season. My coach feels that I wasted valuable training time last year.”

Ron gave him a look; Viktor couldn’t tell if it was unfriendly or not.

Viktor cleared his throat. “Have you seen Hermione?” It occurred to him that she might have come to Diagon Alley with Ron’s family. She had mentioned that she often did, as her own parents were Muggles and often felt uncomfortable in the wizarding world.

At this, Ron gave him a decidedly suspicious look. “No,” he said. “Why?”

“I thought she might have come with you.” He ran his eyes over the crowded store, looking for a familiar head of brown hair. She was supposed to be here any minute, and his anxiety to see her was mounting.

“Well, she didn’t,” said Ron shortly.

Viktor frowned at his tone. What was wrong with the boy? He shrugged and changed the subject. “Are you having a good summer?”

~**~

Ron wrinkled his nose. Was he having a good summer? Well, Hermione was on the verge of driving him completely barking mad and he hadn’t even seen her for the last two months, and besides... well, he was best friends with Harry Potter. That was enough to know just how good a summer he was having.

“Yeah, it’s fine,” he lied. “You?”

“It has been dull since Herm-own-ninny left,” Krum answered, looking away as soon as he finished the sentence.

It was as if a ton of bricks had just fallen on Ron’s head.

He felt his ears grow hot as his fists clenched by themselves. Of course Hermione had gone to Bulgaria. It was quite obvious, now that he thought about it. He had just convinced himself that her owls were taking so long to get to the Burrow because she was annoyed at him. He had convinced himself that that talk she had had with Krum at the end of fourth year had actually been about how sad it was that they would never see, or write, or even think about each other ever again. He had convinced himself that Hermione had enough sense to realize that Krum was a prat.

Actually, if real bricks had fallen, they wouldn’t have caused any damage to his unbelievably thick head.

“So you... um, enjoyed her visit, did you?” he said, trying to sound casual and even-toned about it.

It didn’t come out casual and even-toned at all.

Krum gave him a weird look and, a few moments later, replied with a simple, “Yes.”

Ron wondered if the fans would kill him if he just knocked the git out right now.

~**~

“So you... um, enjoyed her visit, did you?” Ron’s voice had an odd, strained quality to it. Viktor wondered what Hermione had told him—whether she had told him about how Viktor had tried to kiss her.

“Viktor, I... I can’t do this. I’m sorry. I don’t...”

Viktor blinked and tried to keep his expression neutral. The thought of anyone else knowing about that moment was almost too much to bear. “Yes,” he said.

Ron’s face flushed. The bells on the door of the shop rang out then, and Viktor looked past Ron to see Hermione standing in the doorway.

Viktor couldn’t help the grin that formed on his face when he saw her. She was standing there, a few books in her arms as always, with her hair spilling down around her shoulders. He had missed her so much.

“What is it?” said Ron, turning around. Viktor started; he had forgotten Ron was there.

Hermione was smiling back at Viktor. But when she saw Ron, her smile froze on her face and she looked back and forth between Viktor and Ron. Viktor was suddenly reminded of a Doxy he had trapped in his mother’s garden the week before.

Finally, after a long moment, she drew herself up, clutching her books to her chest, and walked over to Viktor’s table. She smiled again, but Viktor could see that her expression was forced this time. “Hello, Ron. Hello, Viktor,” she said.

“Hermione,” said Viktor. “It is good to see you again.”

Ron didn’t say anything. He was staring at her with an odd, almost repulsed, expression on his face.

Hermione cleared her throat. “So, are you ready to go to lunch, Viktor?”

Viktor started to answer, but before he could, Ron muttered, “I’ll bet he is.”

Viktor knit his eyebrows; what was wrong with Hermione’s friend today? He certainly was acting strangely. Maybe he had some sort of illness.

Hermione’s cheeks went pink. “Ron,” she said, gritting her teeth. “May I talk to you for a minute?” She turned to Viktor. “I’ll be right back.”

Viktor just nodded and watched as Hermione put her books down on the table, hard, then grabbed Ron’s arm and steered him behind a broomstick display. There was definitely something strange going on here.

~**~

“What is the matter with you?” said Hermione in a sharp whisper as soon as she stopped dragging him.

Ron was struck by the fact that her face was flushed in anger even though she was the one to do all the lying. It was just... she was just so...

Actually, he was glad that she already seemed to be furious. That way he wouldn’t feel guilty about yelling at her, because damn, he really, really needed to yell at her right now.

“Why didn’t you tell me you went to Bulgaria?”

To his surprise, she didn’t tell him to shut up or even to keep his voice down; she just let go of his arm and avoided his eyes uneasily.

“What are you doing here, Ron?” she asked after a moment, in a much softer tone.

As he watched her cross her arms over her chest and bite her lower lip, the only thing Ron could think was that it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that Krum was back, and it wasn’t fair the way Ron had had to find out that he was never truly gone. It wasn’t fair that Ron’s best friend had been dating some bloke behind his back for months and lying to him about it. And it definitely wasn’t fair that he couldn’t stop himself from caring so much about it all.

“I could ask you the same question, but I reckon it’s pretty much obvious,” Ron snapped, not really sure if he was angry at her, at Krum, at himself, or at the world.

He decided that, at the moment, it didn’t matter.

~**~

“... e-l-a. Yes, that’s it. And could you sign if ‘To one of my favorite fans’?” The girl pushed her wavy black hair back from her face and flashed him a nervous smile. Viktor grunted and scrawled his signature on the picture, wishing she would be quiet so he could hear the whispered argument going on a few meters away.

“I could ask you the same question, but I reckon it’s pretty much obvious,” came Ron’s voice, perfectly audibly.

Viktor stole a glance at the two of them. Hermione, blushing furiously, looked over at him. When she saw Viktor looking at them, her face fell slightly. She turned back to Ron.

Viktor wrinkled his brow. Why was Hermione so upset? What was going on?

“Excuse me, Mr. Krum?” Viktor looked up to see a middle-aged woman and two small boys looking at him expectantly. “Could we get your autograph?”

Viktor nodded and peeled two more pictures off the stack. He scribbled his name on them, tuning out the woman as he strained to hear Hermione and Ron’s conversation again.

It wasn’t too difficult, as Ron seemed much less concerned than Hermione did about being overheard. “Blimey, Hermione, why the hell didn’t you tell me you went to Bulgaria?”

Viktor’s quill froze and he looked over at Hermione. Her face was still flushed, and she looked as though she didn’t know how to answer. Ron was glaring at her, a furious expression on his face, and his hands were in fists at his sides.

She hadn’t told her friend about her trip? Was she that ashamed of Viktor? Or did she have other reasons for hiding it? He stared at the pair of them, and for the first time, noticed something like... hurt... on Ron’s face. Hermione was avoiding Ron’s eyes, and her hands were twisting together nervously. But why would she be so upset at what Ron had said to her? Unless...

“Ron, can we please discuss this later?” said Hermione in a low whisper that Viktor had to lean forward to hear.

Ron snorted loudly. “Oh yes, I know you’re in quite a rush to get back to your boyfriend.”

“He’s NOT my boyfriend. He’s my FRIEND, Ron,” Hermione snapped back. Viktor winced—even though he had known it was true, it still hurt to hear her say it like that.

Hermione’s next words were so soft that Viktor could hardly hear them. “Like you are my friend, supposedly.”

Viktor looked over and saw the way she was looking at Ron as she said this, and all of his suspicions were confirmed.

We are both your friends, he thought, shoving the two signed pictures across the table to the young boys, but not in the same way, apparently.

~**~

“He’s NOT my boyfriend. He’s my FRIEND, Ron. Like you are my friend, supposedly.”

Ron’s first thought was to wonder what exactly that comparison of Hermione’s was all about. What did her relationship with him have to do with her relationship with Krum?

“Really?” he asked, almost by reflex.

What was really bothering him was the fact that he wasn’t so much happy to hear that Krum and Hermione were just friends as he was... bothered by the fact that she had described his relationship with her the same way.

Or maybe ‘bothered’ wasn’t the right word...he had had that feeling before, and he somehow knew that he knew the proper way to describe it. He also knew, though, that he wasn’t planning on enlightening himself any time soon.

“Why would I lie to you about something like that, Ron?” said Hermione, in a voice that gave him no other choice but to believe her – not that she had said it with confidence or even her usual no-nonsense tone. Exactly the opposite, actually; her words had sounded anxious, slightly irritated, and just... true.

He looked in Krum’s direction, and was a bit surprised to see him watching them, even though it was kind of obvious he would be. Ron had forgotten about Krum during most of the argument, even though it had been about him. It really didn’t make much sense.

Krum looked away as soon as Ron caught him, and fixed his stare back on his fans. Ron only caught his eyes for about half a second, and maybe it was just his imagination, but he had the impression that Krum was...well, jealous. He would have laughed if he weren’t so blushingly embarrassed. The idea of Krum being jealous of him was too amusing, and sort of ironic. Why it was ironic was something Ron didn’t want to mull over.

He eyed Hermione again, realizing that somewhere along the line, his anger had dissipated. Maybe she had had some logic behind the comparison that had bothered him so. Her relationship with him did have something to do with her relationship with Krum, and it had been Ron himself who had...he would have said ‘intruded’, but he actually felt like he was entitled to get in the middle of her business with Krum.

“Hermione?” he said, trying to measure his tone of voice for the first time since he had seen her by the doorway of the shop.

She released her breath, probably also feeling the battlefield vibes vanish.

“Yes?”

“Really, why didn’t you tell me you went to Bulgaria?”

Hermione rolled her eyes, but she didn’t seem as defensive, as nervous, or even as annoyed as before. She didn’t look like she felt attacked by his question, and Ron, bewildered, wondered how he had managed to accomplish that.

“Well...” she said after a moment. “You would make fun of me.”

“I wouldn’t—” He stopped himself. They both knew he would.

Hermione raised a cheeky eyebrow at him. He couldn’t help smiling at her. They stood there for a while, just looking at each other, until Hermione glanced at something behind him and then looked at her watch.

“Er... look, I have to go. Viktor and I are supposed to have lunch...”

Ron narrowed his eyes. “Are you sure you’re just—”

“Friends have lunch together, Ron,” said Hermione, a bit impatiently.

“Right, I know,” said Ron. “I was just...”

“I know.” She smiled softly. “See you on September the first, okay?”

“See you,” said Ron, almost to himself.

As Hermione walked away, her hair moving a little with each step she took, Ron realized that that was it. She had just succeeded in driving him totally out of his mind. And the scariest of all was that it... it wasn’t that bad.

“Hermione.”

She turned around so quickly that Ron wondered whether she was actually expecting him to call her back.

“Yes?”

“D’y’want to stay at my house the week before school starts?”

~**~

Viktor looked down, the picture he was signing blurring before his eyes. He held his breath, a last, desperate glimmer of hope kindling in his heart as he waited for her to answer Ron’s question.

There was a pause. Then: “I’d like that very much.”

Viktor exhaled and sagged in his seat. He’d been right, and he’d been so wrong at the same time. There was someone else, but it had never been Potter. It was all quite obvious now.

“Viktor?” Hermione’s voice.

“Excuse me, but I was next in line,” said another female voice.

Oh! I—”

Viktor took a deep breath and looked up at her at last. He handed the picture he had just signed to the woman. With effort, he met Hermione’s eyes.

“Viktor?” she asked uncertainly. “Are you ready to go? It’s past noon.”

He looked over the line of people still waiting for his autograph, most of whom were shooting jealous or impressed looks at Hermione, and for the first time he was grateful for their presence. It would make the lie he was about to tell marginally less difficult.

“There is still a line,” he said, not looking at her. “You should have lunch with...your friend instead.”

She didn’t answer right away, and he finally had to face her. Her forehead was wrinkled, and her eyes showed embarrassment mixed with pity and – Viktor forced himself to acknowledge it - relief.

She glanced over her shoulder at Ron, who was still standing by the broomstick display, watching this exchange. Then she looked back at Viktor, and, by her expression, obviously realized that Viktor had overheard their conversation. “Viktor, I—”

“It is all right,” said Viktor. “Go.” He hoped she would go quickly, before he changed his mind.

But then she smiled, her eyes filled with gratitude, and Viktor couldn’t help but be glad he had said it. She reached across the table and squeezed his hand. “I—I’ll write to you soon,” she said.

Viktor nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Her hand was warm around his, and he found it difficult to let it go. But he did.

She gave him one last smile before gathering up her books and turning back to Ron. Viktor shifted his gaze to the red-haired boy. He wondered if Ron truly appreciated Hermione as much as she deserved. Seeing the look that Ron gave her, he thought it might be possible, and his heart sank. He wondered if he himself had ever really had a chance.

Ron and Hermione spoke quietly for a moment, then Ron looked up at Viktor. Viktor gave him a look which he hoped conveyed what he would do to the boy if he should hurt Hermione.

Ron gave him an awkward smile. “Hey,” he said. He hesitated, looking back at Hermione, then turned to Viktor again. “Nice Wronski Feint.”

Viktor blinked. “Thank you,” he returned automatically.

But Ron was already smiling at Hermione again, and Viktor watched with a pang as they turned toward the door of the shop.

“Will you sign my broomstick now?” said an impatient voice, and Viktor turned to see a small girl with blonde pigtails holding out a battered Shooting Star. Viktor took the broom without a word, and, with one last glance toward the door, went back to signing autographs.

The End

//
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