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Evolution by sophie_hatter
Chapter 24 : Where the Grass is Greener
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 8


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It was still dark when Ginny arrived for training that December morning, over an hour before the scheduled meet time. The rest of her teammates would probably still be in bed, but Ginny wanted to make the most of the milky dawn light to get in some extra practice. The cold air her made breath cloud in front of her face, and threatened to freeze her hands to her broom, but she shrugged away the discomfort. She began by practicing a series of intricate flight patterns around the stadium interspersed with agility exercises, weaving through and around the goals at increasingly dizzying speeds.

As she worked, she cast her mind back to October, and the game against Appleby Arrows, the day that she had really staked a claim to the number 6 robe. It seemed like a lifetime ago, rather than just a few short weeks. She considered it to be her first ‘real’ match, the first time she had been selected on merit rather than as part of a ‘development’ squad.

In the end, the Harpies won convincingly, leaving a dejected Appleby team to return to Lincolnshire unrewarded. Ginny had been a bundle of nerves that day, but as the referee blew whistle and threw the Quaffle high, they suddenly melted away, and she thought of nothing but the game. She was in the air for just over two hours, but to Ginny it felt like only a few minutes. She flew exceptionally well, picking up several key interceptions, and even ending the game as top goal scorer. Ginny had started the game just another squad player, but she finished it as the Harpies newly crowned super-star.

Yet despite her success, it had been a bittersweet day for Ginny. Then as now, Harry encroached on her thoughts. She was painfully aware of his absence from the stands, even though she wasn’t without support from her family. Her parents were there to cheer her on, along with Ron and Percy, and when she went to find them afterwards, they were delighted and excited to have seen her play so well. Her father, she knew, would be here later today as well. He hadn’t missed one of her matches since, “and I’ll be here for every one of them you’re ever playing in, love,” he had told her firmly.

Ginny’s teammates were quick to compliment her on her performance, but there were one or two voices of dissent amongst the congratulations. Could Ginny possibly sustain this level of play? Perhaps it was a fluke, a flash in the pan. Yet Ginny continued to pick up starting places, continued to turn in match-winning performances. In training and in matches, she made shots, catches and interceptions that left the opposition gasping and her team-mates applauding. She seemed unable to stop scoring, and her season’s points tally rocketed. Ginny found it darkly amusing that her career should have taken off so stratospherically just when her personal life was such a disaster zone. Training had become her escape, her solace, and her supremacy on the pitch was a very welcome side effect of that.

She decided to wrap up her extra training with some strength work, repeated dropping from her broom as it hovered high above the arena floor to hang by her arms, before hauling herself back up again. Her shoulders burned and her biceps screamed with agony by the time she saw the rest of the team making their way into the arena in dribs and drabs. Expecting the other Harpies to join her in the air, she was surprised when Gwenog instead beckoned her down. As she landed, she noticed a tall figure striding across the pitch towards them, wearing a long cloak with the hood drawn up against the cold.

Gwenog clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention. “Right then, ladies. I have some excellent news for you! We may be flying high in the league this year, but there’s always room for improvement, and last week I was delighted when Meredith managed to tempt an old friend to join us on a temporary basis as a guest coach.” She indicated the team manager standing next to her.

Meredith Mennadwyn beamed at the assembled Harpies. “We’re extremely fortunate to have him here with us, and I know you’ll be very excited to be working with him.”

As Meredith talked, the man drew nearer and lowered his hood. Anything further that the team manager might have had to say was drowned out by exclamations and whoops from the Harpies. The man under the hood was Viktor Krum! He smiled shyly at the assembled Harpies, and raised a hand uncertainly to acknowledge the reaction. Ginny was struck again by how awkward he seemed on the ground in comparison to his elegance in the air.

Meredith waited for the noise to die down before she continued. “As most of you will know, Viktor has been grounded for a while, and it’s a real privilege to get access to his expertise while he recovers.” Ginny was among those who nodded at this. She remembered discussing his Snitch Sickness earlier that year with Cosima and Valmai. Meredith raised her hands to quell the discussion and then continued. “Viktor will be working with our Seekers to improve their tactical choices and flight manoeuvres, although I am sure those of you that play other positions will have much to learn from him. His condition means he’ll mostly be observing from the stands, at least to start with. Today’s training session will be his first with us – the first of many, I hope.”

Gwenog surveyed her team, looking pleased by how excited they all were. Typically though, she wasn’t about to allow them any time to process the news. “Right then! What are you all still doing down here? Let’s get in the air and get started!”

Krum didn’t say a single word during any of his first three training sessions with the Harpies. He sat high up in the stands, wrapped him his thick black cloak, alternately watching the play with an intensity that sometimes made Ginny uncomfortable, and scribbling notes in a leather-bound notebook. Then, on the fourth morning, he asked Gwenog and Meredith to divide the three Seekers from the rest of the group. From that point forward, they spent every session performing truly terrifying looking dives and catch exercises, each more brutal than the last. Even Ginny, still pursuing her own, punishing training schedule, was glad that she played as a Chaser.

Despite the step up in their training, the Seekers still seemed thrilled to have Krum as their coach, and the improvement in their skills was clear for the entire squad to see. As the Harpies next fixture loomed, a home game against the Montrose Magpies, there was a lot of interest about which of them would be picked to start. Ginny, Cosima and Valmai joined the group of witches gathered around the noticeboard as Gwenog pinned up the team sheet.

“Ooh! It’s Morwen!” squealed Cosima! “Wow! I really thought it would be Lucy, she’s so much better!” Ginny winced as the Seekers cast Cosima some extremely filthy looks, but as usual, the tiny round witch didn’t notice.

“You’ve got the number 6 robe again, I see, Ginny,” remarked Valmai. “That’s five matches in a row now. I’d say that makes you a regular.”

“Of course she is! She’s our lucky talisman!” piped up Cosima. “You’re having a great season Ginny, really fabulous.”

Ginny smiled at her friends. At least there’s one thing in my life that’s going well, thought Ginny to herself. Hopefully everything else will start to look up soon too.




 

On the morning of the match against the Magpies, Ginny sat quietly on a bench, right at the top of the Harpies stadium. Krum had been coaching the Harpies for a little over two weeks, and today was the first match they would play with him on the Harpies bench, so expectation was high. As she sat, Ginny pulled her blue winter cloak more tightly around her to keep out the December chill. Although it was a match day, it was still very early, and she was the first player to arrive. In a few hours time, these stands would be full, packed to bursting with excited witches and wizards. For now, it was just Ginny. She watched as, on the arena floor far below, Arnold directed a couple of younger wizards who were draping the stadium in match-day colours. The huge green and gold banners that featured the Harpies logo were interspersed with much smaller ones featuring the black and white colours of today’s opposition, the Montrose Magpies. With Christmas was only a few days away, Arnold was also draping the edges of the stands with seasonal garlands of holly and yew, festooned with beads, baubles, and charmed lights.

Ginny loved match days. Arriving early to soak up the atmosphere was rapidly becoming a habit, a vital part of her match preparation. She loved the excitement and the camaraderie and the roar of the crowd. She didn’t think she would ever get tired of pulling on her match robes, or hearing the stadium announcer calling her name to the assembled spectators. It was an incredible feeling. She cherished every moment and felt very privileged to be a part of it, even when she was just a lowly member of the training squad, but it was only now that she was a fixture in the starting seven that she really felt that she deserved to be here. With several matches under her belt and some real confidence in her abilities, her pre-match nerves were under control, and she was really looking forward to the game ahead.

It fact, there was only one thing about match days that troubled her. She didn’t share it with anyone. Not Cosima, not Valmai, no-one. She didn’t think anyone else would understand, especially since she herself found it so confusing. Her hand slipped unconsciously to her throat, immediately finding the source of her disquiet: the amber pendant that Harry had given her, hanging on its elegant silver chain.

This morning had been no different to any other match day, as she sat at her dressing table, agonising about whether or not to wear it. It had become almost a ritual, the last thing she did before leaving her house. Her kit bag would be packed, her broom carefully prepared, her robes neatly pressed, while she sat in her bedroom and started at the necklace that lay in front of her, coiled into a sinuous heap that seemed to glow from within.

The internal debate was always the same. On one hand, she felt as though she ought to cast it aside, now that Harry was no longer a part of her life. Then again, she had always worn it whenever she was flying, and although she wasn’t generally superstitious, she felt it brought her luck. Eventually, as with every other match day so far, she had scooped it up and fastened it around her neck, telling herself that it really didn’t mean anything. As she tucked it inside her robes, she resolutely ignored how good it felt, warm and reassuring against her skin, as though that was exactly where the Goblins who made it had always intended it to be. She dreaded Valmai ever finding out about it, sure that her sharp-tongued friend would have a field day if she ever saw it.

“Good morning,” sounded a male voice.

Ginny nearly jumped out of her skin. Lost in thought, she hadn’t noticed anyone else joining her on the benches. Turning to her right, she was surprised to see that her companion was Viktor Krum.

“I am sorry. I did not vish to startle you. You are Ginevra Veasley, yes? I remember you from the vedding of your brother.”

“Yes, that’s right. It’s good to see you again.”

He smiled in return. “I think that Hermione Granger is your friend, yes?”

“Yes, I’ve known Hermione for years,” Ginny replied, feeling a pang of guilt as she did so. She was still ducking Hermione’s continued suggestions that they meet.

“Tell me, how is she? It is many months since ve have exchanged letters.”

Ginny felt a little awkward answering given how little contact she had had with Hermione recently, but felt she knew enough to at least give Viktor a little news. “She’s doing very well. She loves her job at the Ministry here, and from what I hear she’s making a real difference.”

“I understand that she is being courted by another of your brothers. Ronald?”

Ginny hesitated briefly before she responded, conscious of Viktor’s past attachment to Hermione. But even accounting for Viktor’s naturally serious expression, his tone seemed light, so Ginny saw no reason not to be equally open in return. “Yes, she is. She moved in with him about a year ago, and they seem very happy. I mean, she hasn’t tried to murder him in his sleep or anything, which I think is a very encouraging sign.”

Viktor laughed at her joke. “Vell. I am pleased that she is happy. As your English saying goes, you cannot vin them all.”

Viktor’s laughter was infectious, and Ginny found herself chuckling with him. “No, I don’t suppose you can.”

“You know, ven I saw you at the vedding all that time ago, I remarked to your cousin that I felt you vere very pretty. I have not changed my mind.”

Viktor’s tone was respectful as he delivered the compliment, but he stared intently into her eyes as he spoke. She could see both admiration and hunger glinting there, and the unexpected turn in the conversation took her by surprise. She felt her cheeks colour slightly. “Um... Thank you,” she stuttered, suddenly unsure of herself. It was strange. She had always been popular with boys as a teenager, and at one time she knew should would have handled the situation with far more aplomb, but Harry had been the centre of her world for over four years and she supposed she was out of practice.

“I vonder,” continued Viktor, “I have been in Anglesey for only a short time and I vould like to see more of the island. If you have some free time, vould you perhaps show me? If you vill be my guide here it vould be my pleasure to buy you dinner in return.”

“Oh! Well, that’s a very kind offer but I don’t know if that’s appropriate now that you’re coaching us.”

“Vot is there to object to? You are not a Seeker so ve do not really vork together. And I do not choose vich Chasers are to play in the matches.” He smiled winningly.

He had her backed neatly into a corner, and Ginny felt she couldn’t do anything else but accept. “In that case, of course I’ll show you the island. But I’m afraid I’m spending Christmas with my family and I leave tomorrow morning.” As she spoke, she realised she felt some genuine regret about that. She wasn’t at all sure that Viktor Krum was really her type, but perhaps a date with someone new was just the thing she needed to bring some fun back into her life.

Viktor looked delighted. “Then I vill eagerly avait your return.” He dipped his head politely by way of a farewell. “I vish you good luck in the game today, and of course, a very merry Christmas.”

And with that he was gone. Unconsciously, Ginny’s hand returned once again to the chain around her neck. She suddenly felt more confused than ever. Here she was, still wearing Harry’s necklace, having just accepted a date with Hermione’s ex-boyfriend. Ginny had a horrible feeling that her life was about to get even more complicated.




 

As Christmas drew ever closer, the euphoria Harry felt when his rift with Ron healed seemed like a very dim memory indeed. Ginny remained as elusive as ever, and Harry had no contact with her at all. He wrote her several more letters, but each time, Pigwidgeon returned empty-beaked. Harry tried to reassure himself that at least she had not returned them, but it was very cold comfort.

As if it wasn’t all difficult enough, suddenly Harry couldn’t open paper or a magazine without seeing Ginny’s face emblazoned there. The Harpies were on a massive winning streak, spearheaded by Ginny as their new golden girl, and the press couldn’t get enough of her. She was constantly in the sports pages of the Daily Prophet, and if the copies of Witch Weekly that Hermione left lying around in the drawing room were anything to go by, they seemed determined to interview her for almost every edition. Ginny looked phenomenal in every single photograph. She seemed fitter, sleeker and more athletic, her hair shone and her skin seemed to glow. Harry thought privately that if she had been trying to show him what he was missing, she really couldn’t have done a much better job. Sometimes, as Ginny’s image twisted and turned on the page, he thought that maybe, just maybe, he could see a sadness behind her eyes, but then it would be gone in a flash, leaving him wondering if he had just imagined it.

Now Christmas was looming and he had nowhere to go for the first time in many years. He was incredibly sad not to be celebrating with the Weasley family, but part of him was relieved - he really didn’t need any more reminders about how much he missed Ginny. He couldn’t quite face spending Christmas alone at Grimmauld Place either, so he volunteered for all the Christmas shifts at the Auror office that no-one else wanted to do. If I’m going to be miserable, I might as well be productive and miserable, he reasoned. The office seemed like as good a place as any to spend Christmas Day.

However, even that plan was thwarted when Gawain called Harry into his office just a few days before Christmas. At first, Harry thought he might be in for another dressing down following his mistakes at Constantino Papadakis’s flat; the Head Auror had not minced his words during the debrief afterwards. Instead, he found Gawain puzzling over the shift allocations for the holiday period.

“Harry, there seems to be a problem with the staff rota. I’ve got you down for at least one shift every single day between now and the 2nd January. That can’t be right. Can you remind me which days you wanted to take off?”

“No, it’s right,” confirmed Harry. “I thought, since I don’t have any family, I could cover the Christmas period for everyone that needs the time off.”

“Harry, that’s very noble of you, but no-one could possibly work this many shifts and still stay sane, never mind keep focused on the job in hand,” said Gawain, smiling. “I’m pleased you can be flexible, but I’ve been looking back at your shift patterns, and you’re already working far more than anyone else. Everyone needs time off, you know - even you. Especially you, in fact, given your close call with Jugson. I told you then, I thought you needed a break. I’ll rework this and let you know when I need you.”

The revised Christmas rota was distributed later that afternoon, and Harry was dismayed to discover that he wouldn’t be required to work any shifts at all, for an entire two weeks. Absolutely everyone else was on shift at least twice, so Harry’s perceived good fortune drew several good-natured if a little envious comments from his colleagues.

Sighing, Harry resigned himself to spending Christmas at home, with just Kreacher for company. In a perverse sort of way, he realised he was looking forward to it. The old elf’s morose manner would complement his own feelings about the festivities perfectly. However, when Hermione realised what he had in mind, she was horrified.

“Harry! You can’t possibly spend Christmas alone!” she insisted. “You must come to Hampstead with me and stay with Mum and Dad.”

Since all Harry wanted to do was mope, joining in with the Granger family Christmas definitely wasn’t something he liked the idea of, so he mumbled vaguely about work. Unfortunately, for Harry, Hermione immediately produced Ron’s copy of the shift rota and launched into an excited description of her mother’s famous sugar-free Christmas pudding recipe. Harry shot Ron a dirty look. Ron looked guilty and examined his fingernails.

As it turned out, Harry enjoyed the Granger Christmas far more than he had been anticipating. It was very quiet compared to Christmas at the Burrow, with just the four of them, plus Hermione’s elderly grandmother. The fact that it was a Muggle household helped enormously. There were no magical papers or games, or references that could remind Harry about his ex-girlfriend. Instead, there just interesting, ordinary conversation, Muggle television and a Christmas pudding that defied Harry’s expectation by being very good indeed. It was an odd experience to do so many of the things familiar from the Christmases of his childhood, but in an atmosphere of warmth and welcome, rather than the hostility and suspicion he remembered from the Dursley house.

As he lay in bed on Christmas night, full of mince-pies (also sugar-free, of course), and a glass of Mr Granger’s excellent malt whisky, Harry realised he would be sad to leave the following morning. He felt safe here, away from the magical community and insulated from the disaster his personal life had become. He would have loved to have stayed longer, but although Mr and Mrs Granger insisted he was welcome, he felt that he really couldn’t impose on them once Hermione left. She had tactfully avoided mentioning it, but Harry knew she would be expected at The Burrow on Boxing Day, as usual. His heart burned a little at the thought that she would be seeing Ginny. Just days earlier, Grimmauld Place had felt like his sanctuary, and now the prospect of returning there alone made him feel cold and empty.

However, Hermione was once again Harry’s saviour, as she had been so many times before. As he sat at the breakfast table with the Granger family on his final morning in Hampstead, a regular tapping sound alerted Harry to the presence of an owl outside the kitchen window.

When Mrs Granger saw it, she visibly jumped. “Gracious! I swear I’ll never get used to that!” she exclaimed, as Hermione moved to open the window. “The poor thing must be freezing out there!”

“It’s for you, Harry,” Hermione told him as she took the note from the owl’s leg. Harry couldn’t think who could possibly be writing to him here, especially when he didn’t recognise the handwriting on the envelope. He couldn’t help but notice that Hermione didn’t seem at all surprised though.

The letter was brief, but entirely welcome.

Dear Harry,

I heard on from your friend Hermione that you won’t be spending Christmas at The Burrow this year. I know that Christmas Day is behind us now, but I would be delighted if you would join me for a couple of days here in Kent. I know that Teddy would love a visit from his Godfather.

Hoping you are well.

Andromeda Tonks

Harry cast Hermione a grateful look, which she returned with a knowing smile, and declined Mrs Granger’s offer of another coffee (black, naturally). He decided to head to Kent via Diagon Alley, where hopefully he would find a toy shop open on Boxing Day. He smiled as he left the house; he had a Godson to spoil.




 

As soon as Harry had left, Hermione went upstairs to pack her bag for her trip to The Burrow. She wished her parents had accepted Mrs Weasley’s invitation to join them, but they had politely declined. She wasn’t surprised; she knew that they still found the magical world strange and bewildering. And as much as she would miss them, she was looking forward to seeing Ron, and hopefully spending some time with Ginny.

Hermione hadn’t seen Ginny since that awful night in September, almost four months previously. She had bumped into Arthur Weasley at the Ministry recently and learned that Ginny hadn’t been home to The Burrow in almost as long, seeing her family only when they attended her Quidditch matches. It wasn’t like Ginny to shut herself away like that, cutting herself off from her family and her oldest friends, and she was far more worried about her friend than she had admitted to anyone. Hermione knew all too well how badly Harry had taken the split, and couldn’t imagine that it had been any easier on Ginny.

She had seen the pictures of Ginny in the press. For all the glamour and the adulation, Hermione had never seen her friend look quite so skinny, and she definitely seemed to be missing her characteristic sparkle. Hermione couldn’t talk to Harry about it, for obvious reasons, and it was still a very touchy subject with Ron, one that Hermione felt was best avoided. With no outlet for her concerns, they had nagged away at her. As a result, she was eager to see Ginny in person, reasoning that it was the only way to be sure how the other witch was really coping.

Bags finally packed, Hermione exchanged hugs with her family. Then, she stepped out of the back door and went to the end of the garden where there was a space behind the rickety old shed that was well away from the prying eyes of the next-door neighbours. When she was finally satisfied that no one could see her, she turned smartly on the spot, and disapparated with just the slightest ‘pop’.

Appearing at the end of the path down to The Burrow, Hermione admired at the decorations strung from the trees that lined the path. Some of them blew raspberries at her as she passed. She assumed that those were the ones that had been supplied by George.

As soon as she pushed open the door, she was swept up into a floury hug by Mrs Weasley, before Ron extracted her and pulled her into an embrace of his own.

“Oi! You two! Get a room!” came George’s voice from across the room.

“Oof!” Ron abruptly broke away, rubbing his head and looking balefully at his brother. On the ground nearby lay the remains of the mince pie that George had thrown at them.

“That’s quite enough of that, thank you!” said Mrs Weasley, flicking her wand at the mince pie and directing it into the rubbish bin.

The four of them chatted for a few minutes, with Mrs Weasley enquiring about Hermione’s parents, and what the Granger family had done on Christmas day. Then she turned to her sons, and despatched them on errands.

“Ron, take Hermione’s bags upstairs to her room, please! I’ve put her in with Ginny again.” Ron gave Hermione an apologetic look before he picked up the bag and headed to the door. Meanwhile, Mrs Weasley was still giving instructions. “And George, can you fetch the photo album from the study? The one that Bill and Fleur gave me for Christmas? I want to show Hermione some pictures of Victoire.”

Once the two men had left the room, Mrs Weasley looked around conspiratorially and then spoke rapidly in a low voice.

“Hermione, love, I wanted to ask you while it’s just the two of us. How is Harry? We haven’t heard anything from him for months. Trying to get anything out of Ron is like trying to get blood from a stone. Of course it’s terrible what happened between him and Ginny, but I can’t help worrying. Harry’s like a son to me.”

Hermione sighed. “To be honest, Molly, it’s difficult to be certain. He’s doing better than he was. When I talk to him, he sounds fine and he seems to be functioning okay. But I know him too well. He’s so withdrawn. I know he still feels awful about what happened. He misses Ginny terribly, and all of you as well.”

Mrs Weasley’s shoulders sagged a little. “I’m sure he does. Will you tell him he’s welcome here whenever he likes? Well, as long as Ginny isn’t here would probably be for the best. Not that she’s ever here very often nowadays, she’s so busy with the Harpies.” Hermione could hear the sadness in Mrs Weasley’s voice, and understood exactly how painful the older woman found the division in her extended family. Still, inwardly at least, Hermione was delighted. She knew how difficult Harry found his estrangement from the Weasley family, and was sure he would welcome the olive branch. But there was something that she needed to check first.

“Mrs Weasley, are you sure everyone else here feels like that? I know Ron was unhappy with Harry, and although they’ve worked through that, I wasn’t sure how the rest of the family felt.”

“Well, I suppose I can’t pretend that he’s especially popular with all of my boys. George was very angry at the time, and so was Bill. But Charlie’s always been more of a ‘live and let live’ type, and Percy’s been something of a calming influence. He and Arthur have both seen Harry at the Ministry, and I think they were worried about him too.” Then Mrs Weasley straightened her shoulders. “But they all know that this is my house, and what I say goes. If I say it’s alright, then it’s alright. Bring him along for New Year. I’d love to see him.”

At that moment, Ron and George returned and tried to get through the doorway at the same time, each boisterously trying to shoulder the other out of the way.

“Boys! A little decorum please! You’re not teenagers anymore thank you very much. And George, if you’re not careful you’ll damage that album. Put the kettle on, Ron, and then go and call the others - I think we should all have a cup of tea and a mince pie. If George hasn’t used them all for target practice of course.”

The promise of Molly Weasley’s home baking swiftly brought the rest of the Weasley family to the kitchen. As might be expected, Ron led the charge for the mince pies, with George and Percy in hot pursuit. Arthur at least made a point of welcoming Hermione before he joined the scrum for the pies. Bill and Fleur were away in France, but Charlie had made the trip home from Romania.

“Just for a few days, but it’s good to be here,” he said, as he kissed Hermione on the cheek.

Ginny was the last to appear in the kitchen, coming in from the garden wearing sports gear and with flushed cheeks that made Hermione think she had been out running. She thought Ginny seemed a little awkward around her at least to begin with, so she made a point of greeting her as warmly as possible, and Ginny definitely seemed to relax a little. But while the youngest Weasley sibling joined in with the jokes and the conversation around the table, Hermione still thought she was quieter than usual. More than once, she thought she caught Ginny throwing her a speculative glance that seemed out of place. Something definitely wasn’t quite right. Maybe she wanted to talk about Harry? That would be a positive step, at least. Hermione resolved to try and get some time alone with her friend as soon as possible, although it wasn’t until late in the evening that an opportunity presented itself when she found Ginny curled up on the battered sofa in The Burrow’s tiny study.

“Mind if I join you?” she asked, settling herself down before Ginny could really object.

“Not at all,” Ginny replied, setting aside the magazine she had been reading, and Hermione was pleased to note that she sounded genuinely welcoming. “I feel terrible that I haven’t seen you in such a long time.”

Hermione smiled warmly at her. “I know it’s been a difficult time and I didn’t want to intrude. How are you?”

“Much better, thanks. I just needed some time to sort my head out. You know, really work things out for myself. I’ve just been focussing on me, making sure that I was back on an even keel. But I’m much happier now, honestly.”

It sounded to Hermione that Ginny was trying to convince herself of that as much as anyone, but she let it pass, and the two women fell easily into conversation. Hermione told Ginny about her career at the Ministry, and they laughed about Ron’s attempts at domestication. Ginny talked about Valmai and Cosima, and her cottage in Holyhead. But as the conversation turned to Ginny’s career, and life with the Harpies, Hermione thought that she suddenly seemed uncertain.

“Ginny, is something the matter?” she asked

“Oh, well. Nothing’s the matter as such. It’s just a little bit awkward, that’s all.”

Hermione smiled at her. “Just spit it out, Ginny; I can tell there’s something bothering you.”

Ginny took a deep breath. “Had you heard that Viktor has started coaching the Harpies?”

“Viktor Krum? I may not be a Quidditch fan, but it’s been hard to miss the headlines in the Prophet. I hope you’ve been able to get to know him. He’s actually very sweet, you know.”

Ginny pursed her lips. “To be honest, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. You see, Viktor asked me out. On a date.”

Hermione tried not let her surprise and disappointment show. Ginny was thinking about dating again? Clearly a reunion with Harry was not on the cards anytime soon, despite what Hermione might have been hoping for. “Oh! I see,” she said slowly. “What did you say?”

“Well, I told him yes. But we haven’t been out yet. I wanted to talk to you first, make sure it was OK.”

“With me? Why?”

“Erm... because you used to go out with him. I didn’t want to upset you.”

“You’ve accepted a date with Viktor Krum, and it’s me you’re worried about?”

Ginny pulled a face. “You’re the only one of his ex-girlfriends that I’m friends with, as far as I know.”

“A couple of teenage snogs hardly made me his girlfriend! But you know what I mean, Ginny.”

Ginny was quiet for a few moments before she answered. “You’re talking about Harry, aren’t you?”

Hermione just nodded.

“It’s been almost four months now!” said Ginny, sounding exasperated. “Aren’t I allowed to get on with my life? We both have to move on eventually!”

“Of course, of course,” soothed Hermione. Inwardly, she thought that Ginny had reacted with considerably more feeling than the tone of the conversation warranted. She wasn’t at all sure whether she ought to pursue that with Ginny, but concern for her friend got the better of her. “Can I ask you something, Ginny?”

“Of course.”

“I know this is hard for you to hear,” said Hermione, softly, “and if you really want to see if there could be anything between you and Viktor then of course you have my blessing. It’s just that I know how much Harry meant to you. Are you sure you don’t still have feelings for him?”

Ginny shrugged. “It isn’t something you can turn off like a light switch, you know.” Hermione couldn’t help but notice that she didn’t even bother to try and come up with a convincing excuse.

“You know he regrets what he said to you, don’t you?”

Ginny simply sighed. “I know he does, but it’s too late for that now. Things weren’t right between us even before it happened. I lost count of how many arguments we had last year. We were living separate lives, and it just wasn’t working. Being Harry Potter’s girlfriend wasn’t easy. It was really hard work and I don’t think I want to go back to that. It’s for the best, it really is.”

Even as Ginny spoke, Hermione thought her words lacked conviction. “It’s okay, Ginny. As long as you’re sure. I’m sorry to bring it up, you know it’s only because I care what happens to you.” she said, reassuringly. “I just want you to be happy.”

“I know, Hermione. Thank you.”

Even though Ginny’s tone was warm and genial, Hermione thought she sounded utterly exhausted. She remained entirely unconvinced that Ginny really had space in her heart for a new relationship, but she had done all she could, for the time being at least. She and Ginny were back on an even keel, and that would be enough for now. She leaned forward to hug her friend. “Well, it’s been a long day. I think I might head up to bed,” she said, hoping Ginny would follow her lead.

Instead, Ginny gave her a small smile, and reached for her magazine instead. “I think I’ll stay down here for a while. I like it when it’s quiet. I won’t be long.”

In fact, Hermione had been in bed, lying in the dark and worrying about her friend for what felt like hours before she heard light footsteps on the landing, and the soft sound of someone carefully raising the catch on the door. As Ginny climbed into bed across the room, Hermione finally felt herself drifting off to sleep. Her final conscious thought was to hope her friend slept well.




 

Two days after returning from Devon, Ginny arrived at the main wharf in Holyhead Harbour, to find Viktor waiting for her. She felt so nervous that her hands were shaking, and she rammed them into her pockets so that he wouldn’t notice. Viktor himself looked extremely relaxed as he greeted her with a chaste peck on the cheek, and if he spotted her anxiety, he was far too polite to say anything.

“I thought we would start by exploring the harbour, then head up into town and I can show you the shops,” she explained, as they started to walk.

“Ah! Vot is this obsession that vitches have vith shops? It is just the same in Bulgaria.”

“Oh! Well, we can always do something else,” said Ginny quickly. “But there are some really interesting ones, not just clothes shops.”

“Ginevra, I am only teasing you.” Ginny looked at Viktor and saw a spark of amusement in his dark eyes. She felt herself relax a little. “I sure that anyvere that you take me vill be perfect.”

Ginny returned his smile, and led the way along the quayside, pointing out a few local landmarks as they walked. As the afternoon wore on, she realised she was enjoying herself very much indeed. Viktor was charming and attentive, and although the intensity of his gaze was disconcerting it was also deeply flattering. With his dark brows and hooked nose, he certainly wasn’t conventionally handsome, and on more than one occasion in the past, Ginny had wondered exactly what Hermione had seen in him. However, now that she had spent some time alone with him, she found that she understood. Viktor kept it well hidden, but he had charisma, and more time she spent in his company, the more attractive he became. The time passed quickly, and when she checked her watch, she was surprised to see it was past seven o’clock. No wonder she was hungry!

“So, where would you like to eat?” she asked Viktor. “Did you see anywhere you wanted to try?”

“I am sure that Holyhead has many excellent restaurants. But I do not think that any of them would be suitable. You have been very kind to me today, and I vish to properly repay your hospitality. I think perhaps that there is somevere else that may have a table for us. You permit?” He held out his arm to her.

Ginny paused for a second. She barely knew Viktor, and her mother had always warned her not to apparate anywhere with strange men. Then she mentally shook herself. She was a grown woman, and Viktor was hardly a stranger. He had been a guest at her brother’s wedding, and a good friend to Hermione over many years. Smiling broadly at him, she took his arm and together they disapparated.

When they reappeared, it took Ginny only a few seconds to get her bearings. They were in a small side street, just off Diagon Alley. Ginny had rarely ventured this way, since it was mostly lined with high-end shops selling more costly items, well beyond the means of the Weasley family.

Vikor bowed courteously, and led her a few paces further down the alleyway, stopping outside a bow-fronted building with a very discreet sign that identified the premises as L’Oeuil de Triton*. Ginny raised her eyebrows in surprise. Viktor was certainly aiming to impress.

“Wow,” she said. “This is where we’re going? But doesn’t it get booked up months in advance?”

“I have never found this to be a problem,” Viktor told her, as he pushed the door open. “Vot is the point of being an international Quidditch player if I cannot get a table in votever restaurant I choose?”**

Ginny had barely crossed the threshold when a short, chubby wizard wearing a black, star spangled robe with a bright scarlet sash hurried to greet them. “Good evening, Sir! Good evening Madam! Do you have a reservation this evening?”

“No. Ve do not,” replied Viktor.

The chubby wizard looked regretful. “I am sorry, sir, but we are fully booked...” As he spoke, Viktor lowered his hood. As soon as the other man recognised his famous guest, his demeanor changed immediately. “Mr Krum! What an unexpected pleasure!” He pumped Viktor’s hand up and down enthusiastically and smiled obsequiously. “Of course we can accommodate you and your delightful companion! I shall see to it that our best table is prepared immediately!”

The wizard snapped his fingers and several more of the restaurant’s staff had descended on them. One deferentially helped Ginny remove her cloak, while another presented her with a glass of champagne. Glancing to her right, she saw that Viktor was receiving similar treatment. Moments later, the chubby wizard returned, and ushered them to a secluded table in an alcove towards the back of the restaurant. As Ginny took her seat, one small doubt flickered into her consciousness: Harry wouldn’t have traded on his name like that. She quashed it as quickly as it flashed through her mind, determined to enjoy the remainder of her evening.

The meal was excellent, and Ginny had to admit that Viktor was correct - Holyhead had nothing similar to offer. Ginny hadn’t ever eaten such marvellous food before, and she wasn’t sure whether it was Viktor’s company or the third glass of champagne that left her feeling a little light-headed. Either way, she was glad that he was there to see her home again, and she didn’t object when he walked her to the doorstep and kissed her goodnight. As she closed her front door leaving him outside, her mind was whirling.

She could still feel the familiar butterflies of excitement that Viktor had awakened with his kiss as they fluttered in her stomach, but they were accompanied by a hard lump of guilt in her throat. She forced the confusion to the back of her mind, telling herself that she was finally moving on. She was single, and therefore perfectly at liberty to kiss whomever she wanted. But although she didn’t remember it in the morning, the eyes that haunted her dreams that night weren’t black as coal; they were bright emerald green.




 

A/N - Oh dear! Another long delay between updates! I’m sure you’re keen to hear my feeble excuse this time:-). In actual fact, I’ve got a lot more writing done (this is the first of 5 chapters that I have almost ready to go), as I wanted to get the whole of the Viktor Krum storyline written and be sure it worked before I released it. I’m pleased to say that I’m pretty much there with it, so I hope you won’t have to wait so long again!

Thanks, as ever, go to my super beta reader, CambAngst. I’m sure you must all have read his amazing story, Harry Potter and the Conspiracy of Blood, by now - I’ve been banging on about it for long enough! If you haven’t, now is a great time to check it out, because it’s FINISHED! so, you get the absolute treat of reading it all the way through! And, if you’ve already read it, you’ll know what a great writer he is, and you’ll want to check out is fab new story, Marked. It’s a belter!

*This means 'The Newt's Eye' in French

**This line is paraphrased from one found in Chapter 8 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling.


 


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