Part 2: Asking
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
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.
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
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
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
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?