The Sugar Quill
Author: Elanor Gamgee (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Moody Slavic Man  Chapter: Chapter Two: Asking Her
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Part 2: Asking Her

Viktor crept down the ship’s corridor as quietly as he could, favorite Baranof racing broom in hand. The other students were still asleep. He knew that Karkaroff would be as well; Karkaroff slept in nearly every day, preferring to let the students take care of themselves in the mornings. The ship was unusually quiet without the chattering of the other students, or the high-pitched giggling of the girls. The only sound now was the slight creaking of the timbers as the ship rocked slightly from side to side in its moorings, and the soft thunks of Viktor’s heavy shoes on the wooden deck.

Viktor reached the gangplank and emerged onto the shore, stopping for a moment to gauge the weather. It was a cold and clear Saturday morning, perfect for flying. And it was made even more perfect by the fact that no one else seemed to be stirring yet, not in the castle, and not in the Beauxbatons carriage looming in the distance.

He made his way toward the Quidditch pitch, enjoying the sharp tang of the cold morning air as it hit his lungs. This was his favorite time of day. This was the time when he was free—no reporters, no girls following him around, and no one telling him what to do or putting expectations on him. This was the time when he could do as he pleased.

Viktor reached the deserted Quidditch pitch and walked out to the center, looking around at the high stands that surrounded the open space. He admired Hogwarts for its Quidditch pitch. This was much nicer than its barren and rather uninviting counterpart at Durmstrang. Not that Viktor had been able to play much Quidditch at Durmstrang in quite some time—ever since he had joined the Vratsa Vultures as a professional player, his captain had insisted that playing for the school would decrease his skills. In any case, he spent so much time away from Durmstrang training with the team that he would not have been able to play there anyway. It was just as well, he mused as he mounted his broom and took flight. He never enjoyed Quidditch that much anymore, not the way he used to.

Viktor rose and circled the goalposts at the end of the field, relishing the cold wind whipping through his hair. It was strange—flying had brought him a sort of fierce joy when he had been younger, as if he could have stayed on his battered old Lada broomstick forever if given the chance. That was why he’d been thrilled when Anton Topalovitch, scout for the Vultures, had approached him about training for the team. Playing Quidditch professionally had seemed like a dream come true at age twelve, when he’d begun his training. Even when he’d joined the team three years later, it had all still seemed too good to be believed.

Now, he knew better. It was still Quidditch, it was still the sport he loved, and he had been able to convince his parents to move out of their cramped city apartment and build a new home in the country with his earnings. But he was no longer the same. He no longer felt the joy that had led him to Quidditch when he was younger—that joy was now taken from him, bit by bit, every time he went out for a game. He was no longer flying for the joy it brought—he had other people to please now, other expectations to live up to. Sometimes he felt that the only time he was truly himself was when he was like this, flying all alone, with no one watching.

Viktor dived sharply and let his fingers trail over the frozen grass. He wondered briefly how the Hogwarts students felt about missing an entire year of Quidditch. He thought suddenly of the girl in the library—was she a Quidditch fan? —but he pushed the thought away quickly. He didn’t want to think about her, not this morning. He quickly turned his thoughts back to the missing year of Quidditch. It would have upset him, when he’d been younger, when Quidditch was all that mattered. He realized suddenly that he was missing an entire year of Quidditch too—he had had to take a leave of absence from the team to compete in this tournament. He was supposed to be continuing his training and practicing regularly while at Hogwarts, but somehow these early morning flights were the most he had managed to do. He could only imagine his team captain’s reaction to this news; Conrad Boyar was not a man who took Quidditch lightly, and he insisted on the same level of dedication from his team.

The sun was rising higher now, and pinkish light was spreading across the sky. Viktor rose too, soaring high above the stadium. He vaguely wondered what would happen if he just kept rising, higher and higher, and never came back. This thought often occurred to him when he was soaring on his broom like this, especially back home when he would go flying in the mountains. What if he kept going, further and further, and was never seen again? He’d never do it, of course, but there was a strange exhilaration in the idea that he could.

Viktor saw movement on the grounds, far below, and his knew that his solitude was over. He knew that he should go back to the ship, knew he should work on that egg. Karkaroff had swept into his cabin just the night before to demand why he had not yet solved it and have a look at it himself. The corners of Viktor’s mouth turned up slightly as he recalled the outraged look on Karkaroff’s face when he hadn’t been able to figure out the egg either. Karkaroff hated any of his efforts to be thwarted, particularly those involving cheating.

Viktor soared down once more, taking the return as a steep dive, which he pulled out of at the last second, then made a gentle landing and dismounted. He paused for a moment, letting his legs get used to being on the ground, and letting his mind shift away from its introspection. Then he threw his broom over his shoulder, and headed back for the Durmstrang ship.

 

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Viktor spent the morning in his cabin, examining the golden egg from every angle and searching through Box Without Hinge, Key or Lid: Eggs and Their Magical Significance for ideas. He was interrupted only when Poliakoff stopped by the ask if Viktor had seen his Puffskein ("Belenko! She’s missing! When I woke up, the tap was running, and she was gone!"), and when Pashnik pounded on the door to tell him that he had better come out and scowl at the water-stains on the deck, because nothing else seemed to remove them. Viktor ignored them both and kept working.

By noon, however, he was no closer to solving the mystery and was feeling thoroughly frustrated. He went up to the castle for lunch, hoping that he would feel more focused after eating. But he felt his thoughts scatter even as he entered the front doors of the castle, as if physical proximity to the girl from the library immediately caused his brain to short-circuit.

He made his way to the Slytherin table, avoiding the end where Draco Malfoy sat, trying to catch his eye. Viktor didn’t like Malfoy. He’d seemed nice enough in the beginning, that first night that the Durmstrang students had arrived. Malfoy had waved them over, been more than friendly. But since then Viktor had watched him with the other students, had seen the way he behaved. Viktor told himself that his attitude had nothing to do with the way the girl looked at Malfoy, as if she thought being boiled in oil would be too good for him. No, it wasn’t because of her. But he could still see, quite clearly, the infuriated look on her face as Malfoy had called out across the hall, "Look at the stunningly ugly Mudblood!"

That was when he had realized that she was Muggle-born. He knew it should matter to him, or rather, it was supposed to matter to him, the way Karkaroff and the other Durmstrang professors told it, but it didn’t really bother Viktor at all. He had never really known any Muggle-born witches or wizards, and he found that this information had only served to make the girl more intriguing.

Viktor chose a seat, telling himself it was merely a coincidence that he had a clear view of the girl from where he was sitting. She was over at the Gryffindor table, with Potter and the red-haired boy, talking earnestly. Viktor helped himself to some stew and began eating.

He had visited the library every day this week, hoping to have an opportunity to approach her, to ask her to the ball. Now that he had an excuse, a reason to be talking to her, he was anxious to get it over with. But he’d never had another opportunity like the one he’d had on the day of his failure—she was always with one of her friends, or the giggling girls were milling about, or the eagle-eyed librarian was hovering too nearby.

Pashnik dropped into the seat next to him. "Viktor! You moved too quickly! I was calling you—didn’t you hear me?"

Viktor shook his head, still eating.

Pashnik grinned. "One track mind," he said, ladling stew into his own bowl. "Did you solve it yet?"

It took a moment for Viktor to understand what he was asking; he had still been watching the girl. Viktor shrugged. "Not yet," he grunted.

Pashnik followed his gaze and grinned. "What are you looking at?" he asked.

Viktor turned to him, startled. "Nothing."

Pashnik’s grin grew wider. "Found a partner for the ball yet?"

Viktor frowned, his face growing warm. "Not yet," he said again.

Pashnik glanced down the table, to where the three Durmstrang girls were sitting, and dropped his voice. "I am going to ask Edina this afternoon. Do you think she will say yes?"

Viktor snorted without meaning to. He looked down to the table and saw Edina giving Pashnik a huge smile. "Perhaps," he said sarcastically. Pashnik didn’t seem to have heard him, as he was busy grinning back at her.

Viktor sighed inwardly and turned back to look at the Gryffindor table. The red-haired boy was shaking with laughter now, while Potter was slumping his seat, and the girl was giving them both a reproachful look. Suddenly she pushed back her chair and said something to them, then stalked toward the doors to the hall.

Viktor’s heart rose a little. She was probably going to the library. And most of the students would still be here in the Great Hall, eating lunch. This could be his chance to talk to her alone. He quickly finished his stew and gulped down some pumpkin juice, muttered an excuse to Pashnik (who wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention, caught up as he was with making stupid faces at Edina, who seemed to think this display extremely attractive), and left the hall.

When he got to the library, however, it was empty. Only the librarian, Madam Pince, was there. She gave him a suspicious look as he entered, swept his eyes over the empty tables, and then walked out again. Viktor let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. Where is she? he thought. Where else did she go? He suddenly realized how very little he knew about this girl. But that was why he wanted to talk to her—to get to know her, to find out more about her.

He did want to talk to her, didn’t he? A nervous spasm gripped his stomach. Stop it, he told himself firmly. When you see her, you will speak to her.

Viktor walked restlessly down the corridor, wondering where to go next. Could she have gone outside? Was there somewhere else in the castle she liked to spend time? He decided to take a walk around the grounds, and tried to look as purposeful as possible while doing so, to make sure that no one would stop to ask him questions.

After twenty minutes, he had to admit defeat. He hadn’t followed her quickly enough. The adrenaline that had been fueling his restless search began to ebb a little, and Viktor felt strangely deflated. Not willing to face the frustrating confines of his cabin again, he decided to return to the library anyway. Perhaps if he did more research, the egg’s meaning would become clear.

When he walked into the library again, however, he was stopped in his tracks by the sight of a brown head, bent over a notebook, at the table he’d become accustomed to watching. He paused and stared at her for a moment. So she had come here after all. He knew that much about her, at least. The girl glanced up, met his eyes briefly, and then quickly bent over her work again.

Viktor glanced around the nearly deserted library. This was what he had wanted—an opportunity to talk to her without anyone else around. Why was he hesitating?

Don’t think too much, he told himself, forcing his legs to move toward her table. He went to stand directly across from her. She didn’t look up. In fact, she didn’t seem aware of his presence at all.

Say something, said the voice in his head.

"May I sit here?" he managed to get out. He hoped that his nervousness didn’t show on his face.

She looked up sharply, her mouth open slightly in surprise. "Er...of course," she said, sounding taken aback.

Viktor pulled out a chair and sat down, trying to fight the feeling that she was going to tell him to go away and leave her alone. Now that he was here, sitting across from her, he didn’t quite know what to say. But he knew he had to say something—she was still looking at him, and her eyes had narrowed the tiniest bit, taking on that slightly suspicious expression he had noticed before.

"I am Viktor Krum," he said, holding out a hand, not knowing how else to begin.

She gave him a look he couldn’t quite read, but shook his outstretched hand, flashing him a brief smile. "Hermione Granger," she said, her voice kinder now. Somewhere beneath all of his nerves, Viktor noted that she had a beautiful smile, one that he wouldn’t mind seeing directed at him more often.

Viktor racked his brain for something to say, and remembered the Daily Prophet article. "I have been hearing that you are the top of your class. You work very hard, yes? I see you in here often."

The girl blushed, and Viktor wondered if he had said the wrong thing. "Well," she said, "you must work quite a bit yourself, to have become a champion."

Viktor grunted, not sure how to respond. He didn’t really want to talk about the tournament, not with her.

"And the way you faced that dragon!" she went on, "I didn’t think of…I mean, I never would have thought of the Conjunctivitis Curse. That was brilliant."

Viktor watched her, surprised at this sudden burst of enthusiasm. He was used to thinking of her as pensive and reflective; this sudden passion was new information. It somehow made her even more attractive.

She shifted slightly, and he realized that he had been staring. He dropped his gaze to the notebook in her hand. "What are working on?" he asked, to break the awkward moment.

She looked down too, seemingly surprised at the sudden change of topic. "Oh!" she said, "This is for the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare, S.P.E.W. for short. Did you know that elves have been enslaved for centuries? To think that our fellow magical creatures would be abused in such a way for so long, and no one has done anything about it! That’s why S.P.E.W. was formed. Our short-term aims are to gain fair wages and working conditions for house-elves. Eventually we hope to get an elf into the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, because it is appalling that they are so under-represented now. So far we have been recruiting members and working on our leaflet campaign. Oh! And I forgot the bit about wand use—another of our long-term aims is to change the law forbidding elves to use wands…"

Here she paused to take a breath, and Viktor, who had been nodding and trying to follow this impassioned speech, all the while marveling at how he ever could ever have thought that this girl was quiet and reserved, broke in quickly.

"I want to ask you something."

"Yes?" she said, turning her gaze on him, and looking like she thought she knew what was coming.

Viktor had a sudden panicky jolt, wondering if she was already working out how she would reject him. Just ask her, he told himself sternly. This is why you came here. He took a deep breath, and then said, "Will you go to the Yule Ball with me?"

She stared at him, as if she hadn’t heard what he’d said. For a moment he wondered if he had actually said the words out loud, or if they had only been in his head, the way he had practiced them a thousand times.

She was still staring mutely when he heard the giggle behind him. Not now! he thought angrily, whipping around. A group of girls had entered the library. One of them, a blonde with a Bulgaria scarf around her waist, waved and giggled again when she saw him looking in her direction.

Viktor turned back to his companion. He didn’t want her to see this, didn’t want her to be a part of this. She was too good for it. She was still looking slightly dazed as he leaned forward and dropped his voice. "Will you think about it?" he asked, hoping his gruff whisper didn’t betray his nerves.

She nodded without saying anything. Viktor’s heart sank. Then she gave him another one of those smiles—a tentative one, to be sure, but it gave him hope nevertheless.

Viktor stood up quickly, wanting to get away from the giggling girls as quickly as possible. He nodded at her. "I will see you later, then."

He strode quickly out of the library, his irritation mounting as the girls followed him. Determined to ignore them, he made his way quickly out of the castle and headed back to the ship.

She will never say yes now, he thought. She would think he was an arrogant fool. She would think that he actually enjoyed those girls following him around. After all, she already thought that, didn’t she?

Without meaning to, he remembered the way her eyes had shone when she had been telling him about her house-elf rights program—S.P.E.U., was it? He wished he had paid closer attention. But the sight of her talking animatedly, focusing her attention on him, had been fairly distracting. He had found that his image of her had been remolded several times, even in their brief conversation, and he wondered how many other surprises lay beneath that unassuming surface.

He wanted to find out. He wanted to get to know her. The only question was: would she let him?

 

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