The Sugar Quill
Author: Elanor Gamgee (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Moody Slavic Man  Chapter: Chapter Three: Waiting for Her
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Part 3: Waiting for Her

Viktor looked up at the sound of the library door opening. A tall, dark-haired girl entered, followed closely by a shorter, blond boy. Viktor scowled to himself as the two walked past his table, deep in conversation. He'd promised himself that he wouldn't look up every time the door opened; after all, he was only in the library to study. If he happened to run into her - Viktor frowned and bent over his Ancient Runes textbook again.

It had been four days since Viktor had finally gotten up the nerve to ask her to the ball, and she hadn't been in the library since. At least, not while he had been there. Was she avoiding him? Most likely, he thought sourly. He had seen her in the Great Hall at mealtimes, and she had seemed...tense. He had managed to catch her eye just the evening before at dinner, but she had only given him a nervous smile and turned away. Viktor could still feel the way his stomach had dropped.

But she had said that she would think about it.

This thought was not very comforting, as Viktor now harbored little hope that she would say yes. In fact, he was beginning to doubt that she would say anything at all. Perhaps her silence was her answer.

He wished he could know for sure, either way. This interminable waiting was worse than rejection. He knew he should just give up on her and ask someone else...but he could think of no one else with whom he would want to attend the ball. And besides, he couldn't seem to help looking for her whenever he entered the Great Hall, or to stop himself from spending his free time in the library, hoping to meet her there.

The library doors opened again, and Viktor mentally cursed himself as his head snapped up. He let out a groan when he saw who had entered; Pashnik was bounding over to his table in his usual enthusiastic manner.

"I thought you might be skulking in here again," said Pashnik, far too loudly. Madam Pince, the irritable librarian, shot him a reproving look from behind her large oak desk. Pashnik didn't seem to notice. "Karkaroff wants to see you," he continued.

Viktor was about to ask why Karkaroff wanted him when the sound of the door opening made him turn his head again. Five girls entered the library - Viktor recognized them right away as five of the gigglers. One of them, a blonde, saw him looking in their direction and immediately tried to catch his eye. Viktor quickly dropped his gaze to the book in front of him.

"Let's go then," he said curtly to Pashnik, gathering up his books and standing. He led the way out of the library, not really caring whether Pashnik was following or not. He ignored the girls still standing by the door, though he could feel their eyes on him.

Viktor moved so quickly that he was nearly in the Entrance Hall by the time Pashnik caught up with him. The shorter boy made an enormous show of pretending to be winded, resting his hands on his knees and panting. "What was that-"

"Excuse me," said a voice behind them.

Viktor swiveled around. The blonde girl from the library had followed them. She gave Pashnik a disdainful look, then turned to Viktor. "Can I talk to you for a moment?" she said coolly.

Viktor could hear the grin in Pashnik's voice as he said, "I'll wait outside for you, Viktor." And he heard Pashnik move across the hall and out through the doors, leaving the Entrance Hall completely deserted except for Viktor and the girl. Viktor stared at her. She had a scarf with the Bulgarian colors tied around the waist of her black robes. He wondered if she realized how ridiculous it looked.

She shook her short blonde curls back from her face and smiled up at him cheekily. "I was wondering if I could go to the ball with you," she said with a giggle.

Viktor continued to stare at her. She didn't seem embarrassed, or even nervous. In fact, she didn't even seem to care how he answered. It was almost as if she was asking him on a dare - which, he realized suddenly, she probably was. It was as if she wasn't even a person.

Or as if she didn't think that he was a person.

Viktor felt a sudden wave of nausea. The girl was still looking up at him, waiting for him to respond, an idiotic grin on her face.

Viktor turned toward the door. "No. I do not think so," he muttered, still feeling slightly sick. He escaped through the front doors, not looking back.

Pashnik was lounging against the wall outside. He grinned when he saw Viktor. "Another one asked you to the ball?" he chuckled. "What is that - three, or four, now?"

Actually, it was six, but Viktor was not about to tell that to Pashnik. He merely grunted in response and descended the stone steps in front of the castle. Pashnik followed, and fell into step beside him.

"I am going to find a spell to conjure some flowers for Edina on the night of the ball," said Pashnik. "Do you think she will like that?"

Viktor grunted again. To no one's surprise, Edina had agreed to go the ball with Pashnik, and he had been talking about his plans for the evening nonstop ever since.

Pashnik was eyeing him now, an amused look on his face. "I thought you would know, since you are such a ladies' man," he said. "Have you said yes to any of your lovely admirers?"

Viktor merely gave him a warning look and kept walking.

"Well, why not?" said Pashnik. "You need a partner for the ball, and…unless you've asked someone already?" Pashnik stopped and looked at him. Viktor didn't say anything.

"You have," Pashnik crowed, punching him on the arm. "Viktor Krum, you old dog! How could you do something like this without telling me?" He pretended to wipe his eyes and put on a high, teary voice. "Our little Viktor is growing up…"

Viktor shot him a disgusted look and kept walking. Pashnik hurried to catch up. "So," he said, "who is she?"

"What does Karkaroff want?" said Viktor loudly, ignoring Pashnik's question.

Pashnik frowned, but answered, "How would I know? I am only the messenger." He then proceeded to regale Viktor with an imitation of Karkaroff's imperious manner, but Viktor wasn't listening.

He was thinking about what Pashnik had said. Maybe he should have said yes to one of the girls who had asked him to the ball. Was he stupid to wait for…her? What if she never responded at all? What would he do then? Maybe he should have accepted the blonde girl's invitation just now. Then he thought of the way she had acted, and the sick feeling swooped through his stomach again. He knew he would rather attend the ball alone than with someone who looked at him like that.

He thought of her and imagined the disgusted look on her face if she could have seen the way the blonde girl had acted. He smiled briefly to himself. Then he wondered…did she look at him the way he looked at the blonde-haired girl? After all, he was a stranger to her, too. And she hadn't given him any indication that she might say yes.

But she hadn't said no, either. Yet.

They had reached the ship now, and Viktor led the way up the gangplank, Pashnik still chattering away behind him. When they reached the corridor leading to the cabins, however, they stopped short. Water up to their ankles covered the deck.

"Not again," groaned Pashnik.

Viktor stared at the door to his cabin, which was ajar. He sloshed down the hallway, holding his robes up out of the water. Reaching the door, he cautiously eased it open.

The water had seeped into his cabin as well, easily flowing over the raised threshold. The bottom of the bedspread was soaking wet, and several pieces of parchment were floating around in a sodden mess, along with a few books and quills.

The cause of the mess became evident when Viktor raised his eyes and saw Belenko, Poliakoff's wayward Puffskein, swaying happily on the bedside table next to Viktor's golden egg. It emitted a low hum when it saw Viktor, and rolled right over, knocking the egg off the table.

"No!" Viktor cried. He dropped his books, darted forward and caught the egg before it could hit the water. He could only imagine what might happen to it if it got wet.

Pashnik applauded in the doorway behind him. "Nice catch!" he said.

Viktor placed the egg gently on his bed, and then pulled out his wand. "Assiccare," he muttered, waving his wand over the floor. The water disappeared instantly, leaving the books, parchment, and quills strewn about on the floor.

Viktor picked up the Puffskein, which hummed steadily in his hand. "Take this," he said, tossing it to Pashnik. The Puffskein hummed louder as it soared through the air and landed in Pashnik's outstretched hands. "Tell Poliakoff to keep his pet in his own cabin."

Pashnik threw him a mock-salute and headed down the corridor. Viktor could hear him casting Drought Charms every few feet.

Viktor looked around his messy cabin. He would have to deal with this later - he had to go see Karkaroff now. Sure that Karkaroff wanted to check on his progress with the egg, Viktor picked it up and made his way out into the corridor.

Karkaroff's cabin was at the opposite end of the ship. It was, of course, the largest, and had the best view, situated as it was near the prow. The students' cabins were much smaller by comparison, and all except Viktor had to share.

Viktor had only had occasion to visit Karkaroff's cabin once before: when Karkaroff had summoned him to tell him about the dragons he would be facing in the first task. Viktor hadn't bothered to ask how Karkaroff had found out what the task was. He had been fairly certain he didn't want to know.

Viktor knocked on the door.

"Enter," said the gruff voice from the other side.

Viktor pushed open the door, carefully balancing the egg in his other hand. Karkaroff, who had been seated at his ridiculously ornate desk in the corner, rose to greet him.

"Viktor!" he cried unctuously. "Do come in! Have a seat." He indicated a dragonhide-covered armchair. Viktor carefully deposited the egg on a table and sat down.

"You wanted to see me, Headmaster?" said Viktor, with as much respect as he could muster. He had never liked Karkaroff, but he always tried to be polite.

Karkaroff laughed pretentiously and seated himself at the desk again, smoothing his fur-trimmed robes as he did so. "Of course, Viktor, of course," he said warmly, but Viktor could detect a note of something else in his tone. "I wanted to see how you are doing."

"I have not worked out the egg's clue yet," Viktor replied dully, staring down at the red velvet bed covering to avoid seeing Karkaroff's yellowed teeth grinning at him. Karkaroff's teeth always made him think of the Graphorns he had seen once, in an exhibition of dangerous beasts that he had attended with his father.

Karkaroff seemed unconcerned. "There is time," he said. "There is time."

Viktor looked up at him in surprise. Hadn't that been what Karkaroff had wanted to see him about?

But Karkaroff was leaning forward in his chair now, twirling his goatee around one finger and giving Viktor an appraising look. "The ball is approaching," he said simply.

Viktor nodded, unsure whether or not he was expected to respond to this statement.

"The champions will be expected to lead off the dancing," Karkaroff continued, still twirling his goatee.

Viktor nodded again. He saw irritation flicker in Karkaroff's eyes, but the older man covered it with an insincere laugh.

"Do you have a partner?" Karkaroff asked.

Did he? Viktor wasn't sure. But he knew that this wasn't the answer Karkaroff wanted to hear. So he nodded and said, "I have asked a girl from Hogwarts."

Viktor couldn't tell whether this news pleased Karkaroff, or made him angry. The look on his face was difficult to read. Viktor wondered how Karkaroff would react if he told him which girl from Hogwarts it was. He decided not to test his luck.

"I met her in the…dining hall," said Viktor steadily. It wasn't a lie. The first time he had seen her had been there, in the Great Hall, on the first night he had arrived. He and the other students had been following Karkaroff out of the hall, when Karkaroff had stopped dead, staring at Harry Potter. She had been right behind Potter, with the red-haired boy. Of course, he hadn't really seen her then as anything but Potter's friend. But now…

"Ah...good," Karkaroff was saying, a note of relief in his voice. Viktor could almost guess what Karkaroff was thinking as he relaxed into his chair. He thinks that the girl must be in Slytherin, if I met her at a meal. A Slytherin girl would be acceptable in Karkaroff's eyes, because, as Draco Malfoy liked to remind people at every meal, Slytherins were purebloods.

"Well," Karkaroff went on, "I wanted to tell you that we will be having a small reception by the ship before the ball, so that I can meet my students' partners." He flashed Viktor another yellow-toothed smile, and Viktor bit back a flash of anger. Pass judgment on them, you mean, he thought. "The reception will begin forty minutes before the ball. You will be there?"

Despite the interrogative tone, Viktor knew that it was not a question. He nodded mutely.

"Good, good," said Karkaroff, clapping his hands together and rising. "And now I will let you go back to working on that egg."

Viktor rose, scooped the egg off the table, and departed. As he made his way back to his cabin, he wondered if he should have told Karkaroff the truth about whom he had asked to the ball. But a small voice inside his head told him that he had done the right thing. After all, this way, Karkaroff couldn't force him to ask someone else. He only hoped that she wouldn't be too uncomfortable attending the ball with him under Karkaroff's eyes.

Of course, he thought grimly, throwing the egg down onto his bed again, this all assumes that she will agree to go to the ball with me in the first place. How could any girl possibly be worth all this?

But she was. Viktor looked up through the porthole toward the castle. He didn't know why, but he knew that she was worth it.

 

********************************

 

The next day, Viktor left lunch early to look up housekeeping charms in the library. The girl had been sitting with her back to him today, so he'd decided he might as well get started on cleaning up the mess Belenko had made. The house-elves had done a good job of cleaning up the books and parchment on the floor, but a pervasive smell of mildew still hung over his cabin. Indeed, Viktor thought that the entire ship could do with a good Mold-Removing Charm, and maybe even an Air-Freshener Spell, if he could find it. Though all the Durmstrang students had become very good at Drought Charms recently, the many floodings had still left their mark.

Viktor settled in at his usual table and began leafing through Charm Your House Clean. He was just about to take out his quill and jot down a useful Bed-Making Spell when a shadow fell over him.

"May I sit here?" said a soft voice.

Viktor looked up quickly. It was the girl. He hadn't even heard the door open, but there she was, standing over him with a calm smile, waiting for him to give her permission to sit down.

"Of course," he said, sure that she must be able to hear his heart pounding.

She pulled out the chair and sat down facing him, her hands folded on the table in front of her. She smiled, and Viktor thought once again how beautiful she was when she did this. "I would be honored to go to the ball with you," she said, "if you would still like to take me."

Viktor felt himself smiling broadly back at her. He couldn't seem to help it. His heart was still pounding, but now it was with relief and happiness, instead of nerves. "I would," was all he said.

She was still smiling at him, and only when she turned pink and looked down did Viktor realize he had been staring. He cast around for something to say.

"There will be a reception," he blurted out. She looked up at him, puzzled. "Before the ball," he explained, "for the Durmstrang students and our…partners. Do you mind attending?"

"Oh!" she said. "No, I don't mind."

"Good," said Viktor. An awkward silence settled over them again.

"Er…what are you studying?" she asked brightly, gesturing at the book in Viktor's hand.

Viktor looked down at the book in surprise; he had forgotten it was there. "Oh…this is not to study. This is for the ship…it is a long story," he said apologetically.

She looked slightly disappointed, but she pressed on. "So what is your favorite subject then?"

Viktor looked at her carefully. She seemed genuinely interested in the answer. This wasn't like the many times he had been asked such questions by reporters or fans. She truly wanted to know what he thought.

"Transfiguration, I think. It is the most challenging. I have been studying some Advanced Transfiguration with your Professor McGonagall…" Here he saw her mouth twitch, and he wondered if he was pronouncing the professor's name correctly. She didn't say anything, however, so he continued. "I have been learning much here. She is a much better teacher than the one we have at Durmstrang."

She drew herself up proudly at these words. "Professor McGonagall is an excellent teacher," she said, pronouncing the name slowly and clearly, but not drawing attention to his blunder. She was tactful; Viktor liked that. "I love Transfiguration as well," she continued. "What sorts of things are you studying?"

So Viktor told her about the large-object transformations he had been doing, and how he had just started on human transfiguration. She made a jealous sound when he mentioned the latter, and said, "Oh! I can't wait to get to that!" She seemed truly interested in hearing about what he had learned, and listened avidly as he described a recent lesson where a classmate had spent three-quarters of an hour with rabbit ears before he'd realized what had gone wrong.

"Have you managed any human transfiguration?" she asked eagerly.

Viktor paused, looking down at the table. None of his attempts so far had been very successful. "I have been having some trouble with it," he said, slightly embarrassed. "I am still working on it."

"Oh," she said. There was another awkward pause. "So that's why you've been spending so much time in the library."

Viktor looked up at her, wondering if the truth would frighten her away. But he wanted her to know the truth. He wasn't sure why. Something about her made him want to be honest.

"Yes," he said, feeling brave and reckless, "but I also was wanting to talk to you. I was coming here every day, but…I did not have the courage to approach you."

She stared at him, an odd, almost suspicious expression on her face. The air around them seemed to have become more serious, more charged, somehow.

Finally she smiled nervously and looked down. "Well…I'm glad you did," she said.

They sat there for a moment in silence, Viktor watching the top of her head bent over the table, one long curl falling down in front of her face. She was tracing little figure eights on the tabletop with one finger. He wanted very much to reach out and push that stray curl behind her ear. But he didn't. He wasn't sure what stopped him.

Finally, she looked up at the clock over the door. "I have to go to Arithmancy," she said with an uncertain smile. "I'll…talk to you later?"

Viktor smiled back at her. "I will be here," he said.

She stood up, swinging her heavy bag over her shoulder. As she moved away toward the door, Viktor spoke again.

"And-" he began. She stopped and turned around to look at him. "Thank you," he finished, looking into her brown eyes.

Her forehead wrinkled in puzzlement for a moment, but she gave him a half-smile. "Thank you," she said.

And she turned and left the library.

//
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