The Sugar Quill
Author: Elanor Gamgee (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Moody Slavic Man 2: Bright in an Azure Sky  Chapter: Chapter Three: As the World Goes By
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A/N: Thanks to ziusik and Zsenya for giving Rositza a village of her own

A/N: Thanks to ziusik and Zsenya for giving Rositza a village of her own.  Thanks to Zsenya and Jedi Boadicea for the betas.

 

 

Chapter 3: As the World Goes By

 

The next morning Viktor was especially careful to cast Revealing Charms ahead of him as he flew, though he could not truly have said whether he was glad or disappointed when they revealed that he was alone on the mountain.  The image of Rositza Christova stayed with him, but he did not relish the thought of seeing her again.  In fact, he'd meant to avoid the beech copse altogether.  It wasn't worth it to risk another sighting.

 

But his curiosity got the better of him, and he edged closer to the copse, casting charms along the way.  It too was deserted.

 

Good, he told himself, now I can do what I came to do yesterday.  But after a few half-hearted loops through the trees, Viktor gave up.  His mind was not on Brown Ballistas or Levine Lunges today.  Instead he skimmed low over the treetops, to the mountain's peak, and looked down on the village.  It was odd, really, that he had lived so close to Muggles all his life, and yet had never been curious about them.  All he knew of them came from his professors at Durmstrang, who detested them, or from his father, who, though his job at the Bulgarian Ministry often involved protecting Muggles, had no particular love for them. 

 

And perhaps that was why Rositza intrigued him as she did, why he kept thinking about her.  For she contradicted everything he had ever learned about Muggles and their slow, stupid ways.  Most of the villagers were too afraid to venture far up the mountain, let alone into the woods on the far side.  And yet she had come, alone, just to be by herself in the clearing.  She had seemed small and delicate, and yet she must have been brave to be there alone.

 

He swept his eyes over the crowded rooftops in the village below.  He wondered which house Rositza Christova lived in, what her life was like.  He tried to imagine living without magic, and found that he couldn't.  For the first time he wished he had elected to take the "Muggle Studies" class that had been offered to the Durmstrang students last year at Hogwarts. 

 

"Oh, no, Dumbledore," Karakaroff had said with a laugh, when Professor Dumbledore had informed them of this option.  "Just the basics, if you please.  No need for such nonsense.  And in addition I will be tutoring my students in some of the subjects they would otherwise miss this year."  By which, of course, he had meant Dark Arts Lessons.  Viktor had been quite thankful when these "tutoring sessions" had fallen by the wayside early in the school year; Karkaroff, it seemed, had had other things on his mind.

 

But now, looking down at the industrious streets below, he wondered if Muggles really might be worth studying after all.  It was quite something, wasn't it, that they got along without magic? 

 

He resolved to ask his father about it, when he got home, and slipped quietly down the mountain.

 

But when he brought the subject up at dinner that night, his father's reaction was hardly what he expected.

 

"Why do you ask?  Have you seen something?" his father pressed, the moment Viktor mentioned the village.

 

"I...no," Viktor stammered.  "I was just...curious."  He had not told either of his parents about the Memory Charm of the day before, and he wasn't sure why he lied to his father now.  But he was taken aback by the intensity with which his father questioned him.  "Is something wrong?"

 

His father glanced quickly at his mother, who looked down at her plate with pursed lips.  He sighed and rubbed at his forehead.  "I am sorry, son.  There have been more rumors of Death Eater activity in the area.  The Muggle Explanation Unit has been on full alert for three days, in case anything should happen."

 

Viktor felt his breath leave him.  He hadn't expected it to happen so soon, or so quickly.  Or so close.

 

His father raised his head and forced a smile.  "But why do you ask about this, Viktor?  Does it have something to do with your friend?"

 

Viktor stared at him.  How did he know...

 

"Nikolas."  Viktor's mother gave her father a quick look and shook her head warningly, and Viktor understood.  They thought he was asking about Muggles because of Hermione.  The swift shadow of an old pain passed over his heart, and was gone.

 

"I was just curious," said Viktor, "with all...that has been happening."

 

This had the desired effect; his mother looked down abruptly, and his father gave him a sad smile and nodded his head in understanding.

 

And Viktor's questions were still unanswered, his curiosity now fueled by a sense of unease. 

 

 

~**~

 

 

He knew, the next morning when he rose early to fly, that he should stay away from the beech copse.  He also knew that he wouldn't.

 

He stayed close to the tops of the trees as he approached the copse, and cast a Revealing Charm ahead of him.  The air around the copse shimmered blue - there was someone there, but not someone dangerous.  Viktor's heart thumped in his chest.  Silently he descended between two large oak trees and hid his broom in the lower leaves of the nearest one.  Thrusting his wand into the inner pocket of his robes, he crept forward through the trees.  He stopped behind a tall bush and peered out into the clearing.

 

She was there, sitting on the grass, leaning back against a large rock.  She was bent over her notebook, her pencil moving across the page in long, precise strokes.  Occasionally she would glance up at the trees above her, biting her lip, and then return to her work.

 

Viktor suddenly felt very stupid, standing just outside the clearing watching her.  Why had he come anyway?  He had had no dealings with Muggles.  He would probably slip up if he tried to talk to her, and have to put another Memory Charm on her.  And this, he found, he was loath to do.

 

"Are you going to talk to me?" she said, not looking up from her notebook.  "Or do you plan to hover behind that bush all morning?"

 

Viktor stared at her, and she glanced up at him.  "Well," she said with a smile, "are you?"

 

Viktor cleared his throat and stepped into the clearing.  He felt stupid, and silly, and was now painfully aware of the contrast between her Muggle clothes - a long flowered dress today - and his own red school robes.  "I...I was just...taking a walk."

 

"And your path led you here."  Her tone was light, but her face was slightly pink as her eyes returned to her notebook. 

 

"I...suppose it did."  He stood awkwardly at the edge of the clearing, and there was a silence, broken only by the distant cry of a nuthatch and the scratching of her pencil.

 

She glanced up at him.  "Well, sit down, why don't you."

 

Viktor hesitated, then stooped and sat in the grass a few feet away from her.  She smiled at him.  "So you must be real, and not a ghost of the mountain, if I have seen you twice now."

 

Viktor frowned.  "No, I am not a ghost."

 

"Why have I never seen you here before?  I come here often, to draw."  Her eyes were on her notebook again, but Viktor could see that the movement of her pencil was aimless now, drawing doodles along the side of the page.  He began to feel that he was not the only one who felt awkward, and it gave him a small measure of comfort.

 

"You were not here yesterday."

 

She gave him a quick, sideways look.  "No.  I was at church, with my family."  She paused, and then smiled at him.  "But you did not answer my question."

 

"I have been away, at school," he said.  "In England."

 

She looked up at him.  "So far away?  Oh, I would love to travel there.  I have read so much about it."

 

Viktor was relieved that she didn't ask him the name of the school.  He didn't know what he would have said. 

 

"You have never been there?"

 

Rositza sighed heavily.  "I have never been anywhere.  Sometimes I feel as though I will rot away in Pupgorodok."  She clutched at her notebook, and a shadow passed over her face.

 

Viktor didn't know how to respond to this sudden burst of anguish, so he didn't say anything.  Rositza shook her head slightly and gave a small, sardonic laugh.  Then she pulled her knees up and rested her notebook against them.  She ran her pencil absently across the page.

 

"What are you drawing?" asked Viktor.

 

Rositza looked up at him, and her face went pink.  "It is nothing,"  she said quickly.  "Just silly sketches and imaginings."

 

She was embarrassed, he realized, so he didn't pursue the subject, though he was very curious to see her drawings.  He wondered what kinds of things Muggles drew.  No doubt houses and pails and ordinary everyday objects.

 

Viktor tried to think of something to say, and could think of nothing.  Rositza looked up at him from under her dark eyelashes, then, with a sheepish movement, she shut her notebook.  Viktor was slightly hurt.  It wasn't as if he would have looked at her drawings, if she did not want him to.

 

This is ridiculous, he thought.  He shouldn't even be here in the first place, and now he was feeling slighted by something so trivial?  Hadn't he learned a thing in the past year?

 

Disgusted with himself, Viktor stood and brushed the grass off of his robes.  "I have to go," he muttered.  "I have to get to practice."  It was true; his first practice back with the Vultures was today, and he could imagine that Conrad Boyar would have several choice words for him if he were late.

 

"Practice?" repeated Rositza, and Viktor stopped in his tracks. He cursed his own stupidity, letting something like that slip.  Now how would he explain?  Frantically he searched his memory for any mention that Hermione might have ever made of Muggle sports.

 

"An athlete," Rositza said in a musing sort of way, and Viktor could not tell whether it was surprise or disappointment that tinged her voice.  "Hmm, let me guess which sport."  Her lips twisted into a smile as she looked up at him appraisingly.  It was unnerving, if not unpleasant, to be appraised so by those dark eyes.  Her gaze fell on his face.  "Boxing?"  Viktor stared at her.  "No, I suppose not.  Hmm..." She cocked her head to one side, then raised her eyebrows doubtfully.  "Is it football?"

 

This, at least, Viktor had heard of.  He had a vague memory of a fan letter once, from a Muggle-born wizard who had written him a point-by-point comparison of football and Quidditch.  He had not been able to follow it then, nor had he seen the challenge in a game played on the ground with only one ball, but the memory was enough to go on for now.

 

"Yes," he said.  "I must go."

 

"Do you always fly away so quickly when people talk to you?"

 

Viktor turned and stared at her in alarm.  "What?"

 

She gave him a puzzled glance.  "Well, you just got here, and now you are leaving.  Have I frightened you?"

 

She was teasing him, he realized.  She had no idea about the Baranof floating gently in the leaves of the oak tree a few meters away.  He felt his shoulders relax, and he looked down at the top of her head for a long moment; her eyes were downcast again, and she was doodling on the grey cover of her notebook.

 

And then, to his own astonishment, he heard himself answering her, in that same light, bantering tone.  "I do not wish to disturb your solitude."  Where had that come from?  Perhaps he had been spending too much time with Pashnik lately.

 

But to his even greater surprise, Rositza lifted her head and grinned.  "I do not mind so much.  I...like the company."

 

Viktor felt his face go red, but he nodded.  "Then perhaps I will see you here tomorrow, and I will not have to leave so quickly."

 

"Perhaps."  Rositza met his eyes briefly.  "Goodbye, Viktor Krum."

 

"Goodbye."

 

Viktor turned and walked out of the clearing, pausing only once to look back.  Rositza had opened her notebook and was sketching again.

 

"You had better hurry, or you will be late," she said, not looking up, and Viktor flushed.  He hurried back to the oak trees to get his Baranof.

 

 

~**~

 

 

"Grubo, get in there!  Sarac, Veneva, what do you think this is?  A friendly pick-up match?  Move in on that Hawkshead!"  The voice of Conrad Boyar, magically magnified, echoed across the Vratsa Vultures' practice pitch.  Viktor was, as ever, amazed that his coach could keep up such a steady commentary, often punctuated with growling oaths and threats, all while wielding his Beaters' Club with intense ferocity.  Indeed, it wasn't unusual for Boyar to send a Bludger in the direction of a player he thought needed "waking up" on the pitch.

 

"Krum!"  Kiril Tsvetanov looped Viktor and pointed toward the other end of the pitch.  "Ligachev's spotted it."

 

Viktor swung around in alarm and saw Anton Ligachev, the reserve Seeker, hurtling toward the ground.  He snorted. "Feint," he grunted.  It was too obvious, the way Ligachev's broom wobbled slightly, the way his eyes darted up to see if Viktor had taken the bait.  If this was the way Ligachev had played Seeker during the time Viktor had been away, it was no wonder that the Vultures had only won four matches.

 

"Tsvetanov, stop chattering and get on that Quaffle.  Ivanova's been trying to pass it to you for five minutes."  Boyar sent a Bludger racing toward Kiril, and he had to roll right over on his broom to avoid it.  Viktor dodged the Bludger and rose higher over the pitch, training his eyes for the Snitch. 

 

The practice had been going on for nearly thirty minutes now, and Viktor had already caught the Snitch twice.  Boyar had had the team in the air straightaway; no wasting time standing around talking for him.  The closest thing Viktor had gotten to a "welcome back" from him had been a gruff, "Hope you're not believing your press, boy.  I don't care how many pieces your heart is breaking into, you get that Snitch."  The other players, to whom that awful Witch Weekly article was clearly an old subject of discussion, had laughed, Tsvetanov even punching Viktor's shoulder in what he clearly thought was a friendly fashion.  Viktor's face had burned, and he'd gritted his teeth as he had mounted his broom.  He wondered how many times he would have to hear about that wretched article.

 

Viktor executed an absentminded Lopes Lurk as he scanned the pitch.  It was comforting, somehow, to be back in practices with the Vultures, but it was also a bit tedious.  Nothing had changed - Boyar's biting comments, the too-eager smiles of the reserve players, and most of all, Viktor's own sense that it didn't even really matter if he caught the Snitch.  But he himself had changed.  He'd seen things that no one could see without being changed somehow. 

 

And now, back where he had always wanted to be as a child, he was bored.

 

He thought idly of Rositza's comment -  "Is it football?" - and entertained himself idly trying to remember the rules of that Muggle sport, at least as they had been explained to him in the half-legible scrawls of that fan letter.

 

The moment the rustle of silver wings glinted at him from across the pitch, however, Viktor's mind was back on his business.  He spurred his Baranof up and sped over the two reserve Chasers in his path, until his fingers closed with practiced ease around the smooth golden ball.

 

"So you haven't forgotten how to catch that Snitch!" roared Conrad.  His whistle cut through the air, and all the players flew down to the ground. 

 

Boyar regarded them all darkly.  "A decent enough warm up," he said after a moment, and though he had taken the amplification spell off his voice, it still cut across the pitch and echoed around the stands.  "Fifteen minutes, and then I want everyone back here to work on strategy."  He turned and headed toward the stands, not sparing them a backward glance.

 

Viktor rolled his shoulders back and stretched his arms.  It had been some time since he had been on a broomstick quite that long, and he was stiffer than he should have been. 

 

"A bit out of shape?" came a teasing voice behind him, and Viktor turned to see Susannah Ivanova, one of the Chasers, grinning at him.

 

"I am fine," he said, more defensively than he had meant to, dropping his shoulders.

 

"Do you mean that you didn't keep up with Conrad's six hour a day practice schedule?"  She widened her eyes in mock-surprise.  "Do you mean that you could not find time, what with facing down dragons and going to class?"

 

Viktor smiled, almost against his will.  "I practiced," he said.

 

She smiled.  "You don't need it anyway.  It's good to have you back."  She glanced over her shoulder at Ligachev, who was talking loudly to Grubo at the other end of the pitch.  "Maybe we will win a match once in awhile now."

 

Viktor shrugged.  It pleased him, though, to hear such praise from her.  Susannah Ivanova was, quite simply, the finest Chaser he had ever seen.  An offhand remark from her about his skill meant more than all the covers of Quidditch Today ever could.  And she had always treated Viktor as an equal on the team, always listened seriously to his opinions on tactics, even when the other, older players had acted as if he was nothing but a young upstart.  He doubted she would ever know how much he appreciated that.

 

Susannah looked around, then leaned in closer.  "How was...the tournament?"  she asked in a low voice.

 

He looked at her quickly.  The question was innocuous enough, but something in her manner put him on his guard.  Dumbledore's words rang in his ears.  Be careful about whom you trust.  His heart sank at the thought of Susannah Ivanova, the great Chaser, one of the few Quidditch players he actually respected, being unworthy of his trust.  But he could not be too careful.

"It was...intense," he said.  He knew that news of Diggory's death had not reached the press, so it was unlikely that she would know anything about the tournament aside from hearsay.

Susannah lifted one eyebrow, her dark eyes studying him.  She looked as if she wasn't sure whether she wanted to say more.  "I have heard...some things," she said at last, and her voice was so low that Viktor barely caught it.

"Things?" said Viktor lightly.  Warning bells were going off in his head now.  "What kinds of things?"

She hesitated.  "That a student died, and not because of the tournament."  She raised her head and looked him in the eye.  "That you - "  But then she faltered and broke off her gaze.

Viktor took an involuntary step backward.  That you tortured him, she had started to say.  How could anyone know that?  Had rumors spread so far, in the wake of that disastrous night?  He felt the bile rising in his throat, and he forced himself to remain calm.  It was not your fault, he told himself.  It was not your fault.

Susannah looked up at Viktor, a smile on her face.  "I'm sure it was nothing," she said.  "Just rumors."  But her wary eyes studied Viktor's face, as though they expected to find an answer there to some question she hadn't asked.

"Team!" boomed Boyar's voice.  "Over here."

Susannah gave Viktor one last fleeting smile as she turned to walk over to Boyar.  Viktor followed.  Boyar launched into a labored description of new strategies, but Viktor's mind was not on them at all.  He went over the rather disturbing conversation in his mind.

It wasn't until later during practice, when he was up on his broomstick once again, watching the Chasers practice the new "Octopus Maneuver" that Boyar had developed, that he realized what his brain had been trying to decipher.

That you tortured him, he had thought she was going to say.  That you were responsible.

But that wasn't it at all, he realized, remembering the dark look of knowledge in her eyes.  He cursed his own stupidity.  Hadn't he learned yet, that these things were bigger than himself?

That You-Know-Who is back.  That's what she had been ready to say. 

Viktor swung around, his eyes picking out Susannah at the other end of the pitch, hovering next to one of the goalposts and talking with Irina Prandzheva.  She must have felt his eyes on her, because she turned and looked at him.

She knew.  The expression on her face told him so.  She knew that You-Know-Who was back, and hadn't even needed the confirmation from him to make it real. 

But whether that knowledge terrified or delighted her, he could not tell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

//
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