Continuing Tales


A Harry Potter Story
by MsBinns

Part 25 of 45

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He disliked Sofia almost as soon as he stepped off the train and it had nothing to do with Viktor Krum. In France, not knowing the language had been discomforting, but at least he understood the alphabet and could make an attempt to speak the words. Here nothing looked familiar and, to make matters worse, Hermione didn't seem to understand it any better. She kept muttering about how she thought the O with a line through it was like an F and the letter that looked like an H was actually E, but that didn't help them at all. Ron had grown moderately comfortable traveling in the Muggle world the past forty-eight hours, but everything from the moment they stepped off the train was foreign. He had difficulty remembering a time he'd ever felt more lost in his life.

The air was cold inside the station and the drab grey walls didn't make it feel any more welcoming. There was iron grating on the wall too, which looked like an attempt to be decorative, but just made him feel like they were in a kind of prison.

Ron and Hermione clung to each other in the busy train station as travelers hurried past them. He tried to remind himself what on earth had convinced him agreeing with Hermione's foolish desire to continue traveling eastward was a good idea. Men in suits bustled past them. Beggars were lined up along the walls with tattered clothing, mangy looking dogs, and signs Ron could not understand. He couldn't even figure out which way the exit was, not that they'd have any idea where to go if they did manage to locate the exit. He glanced to Hermione, who looked just as flustered as he did.

A voice suddenly blared through the building from overhead and loud foreign words filled the cavernous room. Together with the sounds of trains departing and people talking, Ron could hardly hear himself think. He edged closer to Hermione, unnerved by both the noise and the crowd.

"So where is this flat of Viktor's?" He bent down and barked the words into her ear. "Do we know how to get there from here?"

"It's not a flat!" Hermione shouted back over the din. "He has a house south of town."

"Well, where are we? North of town?" Ron looked helplessly around the station, hardly believing how poorly prepared they were. She'd slept the last three hours on the train and he'd been reluctant to wake her, especially since her sleep had been mostly peaceful and tremor-free. They pulled into the station with no map of the city and nothing more than an address Hermione had from last year. As far as plans went, Ron would have difficulty coming up with a more poorly devised one. Still, he recalled her attempt at an explanation about not going back and the way the words had failed her. The last thing he wanted was to remind her how rashly she'd acted and how little sense this plan actually made. "Look there, is that the city?" He pointed instead to a wall that looked like it had a map on it. Clinging to Hermione's hand and watching for anybody that looked at all suspicious, Ron led her across the room to the map of the city.

The map might as well have been written in Gobbledegook. Aside from recognizing what lines represented roads, neither he nor Hermione could make much sense of it. They assumed the large red dot to the north indicated where they were, but if Viktor did indeed have an estate south of town, they had their work cut out for them. It looked to be at least thirty kilometers south of the red dot.

"Maybe I could ask somebody?" Hermione looked around hopefully, but there was nobody else looking at the map.

"Be careful," Ron warned as she looked around hopefully for someone. He didn't like the idea of Hermione tapping on some stranger's shoulder and asking for help. She didn't seem too confident either. Every time she seemed to work up the courage to ask somebody, they continued on in a hurry and she retreated back to Ron.

"Can you help us?" she finally asked a matronly looking woman, who nodded her head up and down, but continued past them. An older gentleman with silver hair stepped alongside them next and Hermione again attempted to speak to him. She got as far as pointing to the map and saying "help", before he too nodded his head and hurried away. Their closest ally came in the form of a teenage girl who shook her head when they asked her to assist them, but nodded her head and walked away when Hermione asked if she knew Boulevard Aleksandr Karavelov. Finally, a disheveled young man with stringy brown hair approached them. He reminded Ron very much of a Snatcher in both his appearance and smell and his greasy hair looked like it hadn't seen shampoo in a while.

"You help, no?" he asked in broken English. Hermione looked back to Ron warily, who shrugged his shoulders at the same time that he tightened his grip on her hand.

"We need help, yes," she spoke hesitantly.

"I help." The young man gave a crooked smile to reveal several missing teeth. He pressed his hands to his chest, shook his head from side to side and then pointed at the map. "Here."

The red dot that he and Hermione had thought indicated their location seemed to be correct. Ron felt triumphant that they'd reasoned that much.

"Do - you - know," Hermione spoke slowly to the young man who didn't seem all there, "do you know Boulevard Aleksandar Karevalov?"

The man shook his head no, but pointed to a spot on the map.

"You don't know where it is?" Hermione looked crestfallen as again the young man shook his head. Still, he was pointing to a spot on the map south of town.

"You do know where it is?"

"Da," he pointed to the map, but again shook his head from side to side.

"Hermione, I think yes means no here," Ron mumbled out the corner of his mouth as recognition finally dawned on him. The people who had walked away while nodding, this bizarre –albeit helpful – fellow shaking his head. "I think he does know where it is."

"This is Boulevard Aleksandar Karavelov?" Hermione pointed to where his finger was.

"Da." He grinned again and shook his head.

"Thank you!" She looked so happy she might cry. "Thank you," she repeated again though Ron was quite sure the young man had no idea what she was saying. He stood there with his crooked grin and just stared at the two as they hugged.

"Thank you," Ron repeated in a decisive manner that he hoped would indicate that he could leave now. Instead, the man just held out his palm.

"Thank you." Hermione's voice wavered a bit as the man did not go away. His palm remained outstretched and he began speaking very quickly and angrily to them in Bulgarian.

"He wants us to pay him," Ron muttered as the man thrust his palm at Ron this time.

"Da . You pay." He shook his head.

"You want money for telling us where something is?" Ron snorted. "You're mental."

"I help." The man was growing increasingly agitated.

"We've got no money, mate, sorry," Ron remarked callously, turning away to leave the young man behind.

"It's true. We don't have any money to pay you," Hermione spoke slowly and a bit more kindly than he had. Laughing at her attempt at kindness to the beggar, who was growing increasingly loud and irritated, Ron moved his arm around her body to turn her away, but as he did he spotted another youth, this one with a black bandana covering his greasy hair, creeping up behind Hermione and clearly eying the beaded bag around her body. When Ron whirled around to confront him he scampered away, but the one who had assisted them made a sudden grab for Hermione.

Ron seized his wrist firmly before his greedy hands could reach her. He saw the stringy-haired young man wince slightly and cry out in pain as Ron bent his arm around at a painful angle and tightened his grip.

"Bad idea," he growled and was pleased to hear that "ow" sounded the same in English and Bulgarian. "You helped us and we appreciate it," he muttered through clenched teeth. "We said thank you, now goodbye." He knew the young man couldn't understand a word he was saying, but the look in his dark brown eyes indicated he clearly understood what Ron meant. Ron released his hand and practically flung the young man across the train station.

Cursing loudly at them in Bulgarian, he walked over to join a group of young people, who looked equally disheveled, standing against the far wall.

The disturbance caused many in the station to look at Ron and Hermione curiously. Ron stood up a little taller, as if challenging anyone else who wanted to have a go at them to come now. They hadn't survived all they had this year only to fall prey to a couple slimy Bulgarian pickpockets. Hermione looked alarmed by the whole course of events, her face still frozen in the same look of shock she had when the young man grabbed at her.

"I think he just wanted to get paid. I - I don't think he was going to try to rob me," she stammered.

"No, the fellow behind you was," Ron informed, amazed at her ability to still think the best of people. She gasped and immediately looked behind her to the place where the man, who was now long gone, had been sneaking up. "Come on, let's get out of here." Ron looked around at the many pairs of shifty eyes he was now noticing. "Let me hold the bag." He took the beaded bag from over Hermione's shoulder and shoved it into an interior coat pocket beside his wand. Then, wrapping his hand firmly around hers, he led them out what he could only guess was the exit.

Hermione was quiet as they stepped out the doors of the train station to Sofia. The city outside was as busy as it had been in the rail station, with people bustling about on the cold May morning. The dark clouds overhead blocked any chance of sunlight and it made the cold grey city look like the kind of place where Dementors would thrive, save for the bright orange buses and yellow automobiles that roared by.

Ron looked to Hermione, hoping she wasn't thinking what he was, which was that coming to this strange country was a terrible idea. She'd been so desperate to keep moving back in Dijon, her lip quivering and tears threatening behind her eyes, that he hadn't even thought about the fact that neither of them knew how to speak the language or navigate the city. All they had was an address.

Taking a breath, he squeezed her hand a bit tighter and walked to another large map outside the station. They'd figured things out with less. Surely, they could find the best way to Boulevard Aleksandar Karevalov. As soon as they approached the map however, they were swarmed by men in heavily accented English offering to get them a cab.

Ron recalled what they had learned about customs here and nodded his head vigorously, repeating the word 'no' loudly as he shielded Hermione from them with his body, the same way he had hidden her from the nosy journalists back at the Ministry. Eventually, the men all realized they would not be getting any business from him and they relented.

"Do you think can we Apparate there?" Ron studied the map, feeling none too eager to try to navigate this foreign city the Muggle way. "We know it's a real place. You know the address."

"He has protective enchantments all around the property," Hermione informed quietly. "You know, to keep out reporters and fans."

"Right," Ron grumbled.

"So, what do we have to take one of those?" Ron motioned to a great orange bus that rumbled past them.

"I suppose we ought to just take a taxi." Hermione chewed on her lip.

"A taxi? Is that like when we rode to King's Cross in that car with Harry third year?" Ron tried to recall the last time he'd heard the Muggle term.

"Yes." Hermione looked up and down the street, eying the people who were climbing into the yellow automobiles.

"Won't we need money for that?"

"Oh, right." Hermione's teeth continued to gnash on her bottom lip and she grew quiet. He knew what she was thinking. They could ride in the taxi the same way they'd ridden on the train. They could use magic to get past the problem of payment. They needed what little money Hermione had left for Australia.

"I'll do it," Ron offered so she didn't even have to suggest it. He knew she hated it. Using magic for such unethical practices did feel wrong. He knew his dad would not approve, but then he didn't see any solution. They didn't know how long they would have to spend in Australia locating her parents. They needed to hold onto what little Muggle money they had. Besides, this whole thing was the Ministry's fault. If their sodding Portkey hadn't messed up the first time they'd already be in Australia.

"Do it at the end," she murmured quietly, sounding ashamed that she was agreeing to it. "When he asks for payment."

"Okay." Ron rubbed his thumb against the back of her hand, trying to let her know what they were about to do was okay somehow. They had no other choice. He saw her inhale sharply and nod her head in acceptance, before leading him into a great mob of people on the pavement.

Most of them were encumbered with baggage and waiting to grab one in a constant stream of yellow automobiles. Hermione led the way, but Ron stayed right behind her, his body flush with hers and his hands wrapped protectively around her waist as they shuffled through the mob. The beaded bag was pressed snugly between their bodies where nobody could attempt to grab it while they moved together through the crowd. If she felt at all uncomfortable about the close proximity of their bodies, she said nothing. He only wanted to keep her safe. The fact that she was intimately positioned right in front of him, her backside pressed against him and his hands locked firmly around her, was his way of ensuring nobody laid a finger on her. He kept a watchful eye out for anyone who might approach them while Hermione kept an eye out for an available taxi.

They moved forward together like one, legs moving in unison and her feet practically on top of his. The tightly packed crowd unnerved him and only made him snug up closer to her. They were soon pressed so tightly together, Ron wagered he'd likely have a stiffy if they weren't surrounded by so many people and he weren't so uncomfortable and nervous.

"Are we going to get one?" he asked in annoyance as he watched people all around them climb into taxis.

"I'm trying!" She attempted to stick out her arm, but each time it looked like she had one flagged down, somebody else would crowd in front of her and take it. Growing exasperated and increasingly more agitated as people bumped and crowded past them, Ron inched forward. Keeping her in front of him, he shoved past two men, bumped in front of another and stuck out his long arm. Hermione turned around to gape incredulously at him when a yellow car immediately stopped short in front of him.

"Youngest of six boys, remember?" he grunted as he muscled his way toward the cab and opened the door. "I'm used to having to fight for stuff. Hurry up and get in before someone else takes it." He glanced behind at the pushy and frustrated group of people and all but shoved Hermione into the open door.

"Boulevard Aleksandar Karavelov," Hermione tried to speak in her best Bulgarian accent. The driver peered around and looked at the two of them. He was a thickset man with tufted grey eyebrows that curved upwards and Ron couldn't shake the feeling that he was surveying the two of them with amusement as they huddled in the backseat. "Boulevard Aleksandar Karavelov?" she repeated, this time forgoing any attempt at an accent.

"Da, da," the driver acknowledged and pushed a button up next to the steering wheel. Ron saw a timer immediately begin to count up as the driver sped away, quickly leaving the station behind.

Hermione let out a loud sigh, looking relieved that they were, at last, on their way. He wasn't sure whether they could relax yet, but at least they were moving somewhere. That's what she seemed to care about most. They weren't standing still or gaping at a map, they were moving forward. Reaching across the seat, he moved his hand on top of hers. He reckoned the driver probably couldn't understand a word they said, but Ron was reluctant to talk about anything in great detail in his presence so they traveled in silence in the backseat. He knew that under any other circumstances Hermione would likely have her face pressed against the glass, drinking in the sights of the old city, but she remained huddled against him the entire trip, appearing deep in thought.

He couldn't tell whether it was the clouds overhead, but the city outside was as grey and bleak as the inside of the train station. The block concrete buildings all looked identical. Though they did pass several onion-domed cathedrals and green tree-lined streets, most of the city contained the same bland rectangular buildings. After three left-hand turns in a row, Ron began to wonder whether the driver was purposefully taking his time to get them to their destination. He was quite confident they'd passed by the same old statue of a lion more than once. Hermione remained silent against him, hardly seeming to notice. A great snow-capped mountain stretched before them, which Ron hoped meant they were finally moving south. They sat silently in the back seat for what felt like the better part of an hour, drawing closer and closer to the mountain, until the driver finally began barking at them in Bulgarian and pointing out the window. They were on a narrow street right at the base of the mountain. Everything was very green here and the buildings all had gates and were larger than any inside the city center. Ron hated to admit it was actually quite nice.

"Forty-two," Hermione said to the driver, "four, two." She held up her fingers to clarify. The driver nodded his head and sped around a curve in the road finally slowing by a great iron gate with a number thirty-eight on it. The one next-door read forty-four.

"Ne znam," the driver sighed, looking out the window at the lack of a number forty-two. Then he turned around to face them, presumably to demand payment. "Plashtam."

"Now, Ron," she whispered under her breath.

"Plashtam!" the driver repeated, sounding much more agitated.

Ron took out his wand and said the incantation as he aimed it squarely at the driver, who immediately stopped asking to be paid and instead began scratching his head. Hermione closed her eyes, like it pained her to use magic in such a manipulative way, as she opened up the door and retreated from the car in a hurry before his senses could return to him.

Ron noticed the car was slow to drive away and he kept waiting for the beefy driver to turn it back around and accost them for doing a runner. Only when the car disappeared around the bend did he exhale a sigh of relief.

"It feels so wrong," Hermione muttered, walking to the edge of the street. "It is wrong."

"He was trying to get one over on us, Hermione," Ron laughed.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean he was a con!" he snorted. "He took us west then east then west again and all we had to do the whole time was go south."

"Oh." The passive comment indicated how little attention she'd paid on the trip here.

"So don't think about it," Ron tried to assure.

"The train was still wrong. They weren't trying to cheat us."

"What other option did we have?" he tried to argue rationally.

"We stole. We broke the law." Ron had no reply for her. They'd had similar arguments this year when they had been forced to steal food with the help of Harry's invisibility cloak. Then their options had been steal or starve, but that hadn't seemed to matter to Hermione.

"We're here." Ron took her hand in his and gave a supportive squeeze. "Don't think about it."

Hermione gave a loud sigh that he couldn't quite make sense of and focused on the houses before them. They were well outside the city center in a very green neighborhood with houses that seemed to grow right into the mountainside. The houses were all quite modern though, red-roofed homes with electronically wired gates all around them and fancy automobiles parked outside. Hermione looked back and forth between number thirty-eight and forty-four.

"His house should be right here. I'm quite sure it's forty-two," she stammered. "Maybe it's like Grimmauld Place?"

"Well, then we can only get in if we're Secret-Keepers," he reminded. He didn't bother mentioning that none of these fancy Muggle estates looked like the kind of place in which Viktor Krum would live anyway.

"Right." Hermione sighed and dropped down onto the gravel path, her back against the stone wall of house number forty-four. "I don't get it. His house has to be right here."

Ron remained standing and looked down the boulevard before his eyes rested again on the roots of the mountain that stretched out before them. The massive mountain was the only thing here that reminded Ron of Viktor Krum. He raised his hand up to his eyes to block out the sun, which was finally starting to peak out from behind the clouds, and looked up the mountainside. There, nestled in amongst the trees, about halfway to the top, he could see something that looked like a building.

"You don't reckon that's his house, do you?" Ron followed the property line between houses thirty-eight and forty-four up the mountain. "Behind that big group of trees? There's a bit of stone there and I think I see a chimney."

"You think that's a house?" Hermione rose to her feet and turned around to follow the line of Ron's hand..

"It might be. It seems like a place he would live, doesn't it?" Ron shrugged.

"I suppose." Hermione's eyes fixed on the tiny bit of stone tucked into the trees. "It is quite hidden."

"Think we can Apparate there and see?" Ron laced his hand in Hermione's.

"But he said he has enchantments," she lamented. "They're meant to keep people away."

"We should still be able to Apparate outside of it though, right? Just to that batch of trees up there and then we'll walk the rest of the way," Ron spoke hopefully. He wasn't keen to learn all the ways Durmstrang taught its pupils to keep out unwelcome visitors, but surely the enchantments couldn't stretch that far. "It's worth a shot, right?"

They looked around the street for any Muggles, then she squeezed his hand and the next thing he knew they were standing underneath a dense canopy of tall fir trees. It was dark beneath the trees, dark enough to be more than the slightest bit unnerving, and he felt a cold chill in the air. It felt like the same kind of cold when Dementors approached.

"It's just the wind," Hermione assured, likely feeling his hand tighten around hers, but Ron cast the incantation regardless. It was the first time he'd uttered Expecto Patronum since his pitiful attempt to conjure one in the Battle and he was surprised at how easily his silver terrier burst forth now. Its presence, as well as the ease with which he'd been able to cast it, cheered him immensely. The little dog weaved between the trees adding a faint silver light to the dark forest.

"That's really good," Hermione admired.

"Thanks." Ron felt a sudden spring in his step.

"Mine never look that good," she muttered and cast a simple Lumos charm to add some more light as they began to pick their way through the woods. Ron could hardly believe Hermione Granger sounded envious about a bit of magic he had cast. "No matter how hard I think about it."

"Well, it's not really supposed to be a spell you think about." Ron shrugged and pushed back a low-hanging tree limb so she could pass by.

"Well, you do have to think." Hermione frowned. "You have to think of a memory."

"Yeah, but you don't really…think about the memory," he continued to explain, his silver Patronus still leading the way. "You feel it." Ron desperately hoped his sense of direction was taking them toward where he thought he'd seen the chimney. "You remember how it made you feel, how it makes you feel now. It's not about thinking. You just…sort of let it fill you up."

"What memory did you use for this then?" Hermione inquired, looking at the fully corporeal terrier that was still trotting along in front of them. Ron went suddenly silent. He wasn't sure how she would react if he told her it was the way she'd moved against him two nights ago in the sleeper car and the way she'd stumbled over the words that she wanted him just as much as he wanted her. He hoped his silence would make it obvious so he wouldn't have to speak, but her eyes stayed on him. "It's quite good," she pressed.

He could lie. He could tell her he used the memories that had helped him conjure the terrier back in those DA meetings. He could tell her it was being sorted into Gryffindor back when he was eleven and making the Quidditch team fifth year. His Patronus had never been this strong before though. In DA meetings, those memories had fueled it for a short time and then it faded away. This was different. He reckoned it was because each memory of Hermione seemed to melt into another. The past ten days of kissing and touching and holding hands and talking about how much she wanted him and how kissing him was like getting her Hogwarts letters were all he could feel at the moment. The Burrow, his family, the horrors of the Battle all seemed so far away. He reckoned he'd never have difficulty with the Patronus charm again. Even here, his uncertainty being in this dark wood and the concern weighing on him that this plan would dissolve into nothing faded if he just remembered the way her body arched against his on the train. So he told the truth.

"You," he finally mumbled, desperately hoping they could just continue walking and ignore it. "It's you."

She immediately stopped in her tracks and looked up at him, dashing all his hopes that she wouldn't dwell on the confession. Her eyebrows were sloped downward, the same way they did when Professor McGonagall corrected her about a spell she thought she knew by heart. Ron shifted his weight uncomfortably, but she just continued to stare up at him. Ron didn't know if he should say something. He couldn't tell whether she wanted to talk or she wanted him to talk. He didn't like either possibility. She'd think he was a pervert if she knew those were the memories he used to conjure the terrier. He caught one last flash of silver out the corner of his eye before it flickered and died. "Look!" He called out then, choosing to ignore the moment that had just passed between them. There was a great stone wall right where his Patronus had disappeared and he quickly marched toward it, eager to leave his words and her reaction behind.

Hermione followed after him and he hoped she'd just leave the confession alone and remember that this sodding wall was the reason they were in this dark wood. The wall was massive and made from interlocking flint and stones layered atop each other. It looked to be at least ten feet high, although it was difficult to see the top as the limbs of the great fir trees surrounding it obscured it from view.

"You think this is it?" Ron walked up and pressed his hands against the stones. "It looks like a wall Krum would build."

"And what does that mean?" Hermione challenged.

"Just that it's big - " Horizontal boards lay between the layers of rock in places and Ron ran his hand down the length of one. "- and cold and grumpy."

"How can a wall be grumpy?" There was laughter mixed with her obvious disapproval of the comment.

"Well, it's not letting us in." Ron took several steps away from the wall, but the further back he went the more the great fir trees seemed to surround it. He still could not make out the top of it and could not catch so much of a glimpse of the chimney he'd thought he'd spotted from the bottom of the mountain. "And I can't see a sodding thing. So yeah, it's grumpy."

"Viktor's not cold and grumpy."

"Well, his fucking wall won't let me see anything," Ron growled. Hermione frowned at his language choice and continued to walk down the massive wall. It seemed to stretch on forever. Ron wondered whether it was magic or whether the estate behind the wall was really that big. Either possibility annoyed him.

Finally, they came to a large wooden door. It was dark heavy wood with no ornamentation aside from an old iron handle. Ron pulled on the handle and nothing happened. He threw all his weight against it and it didn't move. Hermione tried every other spell she knew to unlock it, but the door wouldn't budge.

Fed up with the impossibly long and ridiculously high stone wall and the heavy door that wouldn't move, Ron scrambled up a tree to see if he could get a glimpse over the top of it. He climbed high up the limbs, chuckling at Hermione's pleas to be careful that reminded him far too much of his mum. The limbs of the great spruce tree bent beneath his weight as he attempted to peer over the branches. A weird light-headed feeling took over him as soon as he did and his eyes couldn't focus. His ears felt like they'd been filled with cotton and he could no longer hear Hermione fussing at him on the ground below. Every time he ducked his head to try to look through the limbs of the tree more seemed to get in the way.

"This is definitely it," he informed her as he dropped back onto the ground, huffing and puffing from the exertion of climbing the tree.

"Did you see anything?" Hermione reached out to brush the needles out of his hair and off his shoulders.

"No, but I felt all funny, my eyes couldn't focus. Plus I couldn't hear anything." Ron swept the dirt and bark off his trousers. "It felt like a spell."

"Well, that's…that's good." Hermione tried to be hopeful. "We're here. This is right."

"Yeah, this is definitely Krum's," Ron agreed.

"So we just wait," Hermione stated simply as they looked around the dark forest tentatively. He could sense she felt just as unnerved at the thought of staying there underneath the dense canopy of trees, but he had nothing else to offer. So he slumped against the rough stone wall and he waited for Viktor Krum to show up.

He didn't like being lost. He didn't like riding Muggle trains. He didn't like being in a foreign city. He didn't like being surrounded by Muggles. He didn't like this dark forest, he didn't like this magic wall, and he didn't like the fact that they were waiting around for Viktor Krum. But he liked that they were doing something.

In the days at the Burrow, he felt like all he'd done was wait. Life was supposed to start anew with Voldemort gone, that's what people had said that night of celebration up in Gryffindor tower. But if life at the Burrow was what life after the war was, Ron wanted no part of it. It was all painful reminders of his brother at every turn and every conversation. Life last week was all guilt and horrible reminders that his family would be forever incomplete. He traveled from his bedroom to the kitchen and back up to his bedroom and that had been his life.

Now that they were moving, creeping eastward across the continent, Ron finally felt his life moving again. He'd been on hold for a while now, not just the past week, but all year. Their mission and promise to Harry had put everything else in his life on hold, but now he was moving again. The further they traveled, the better things felt. They were sharing things now, him and Hermione, things real couples did. Not just snogging and holding hands. They had fallen asleep and woken up and brushed their teeth together. They'd gotten dressed for the day in each other's company without too much blushing and only a simple request to turn around when it had come time to change her knickers. They'd navigated two foreign cities and five different rail stations together. They'd taken trains and taxis and hiked halfway up a mountain side together and Ron felt like his life was moving again.

Hermione rested with her head in his lap now, the rest of her body sprawled out across the forest floor, and he combed his hands tenderly through her hair. It was the first time he'd done anything like it, weaved his long fingers through the mass of hair like a brush, and she seemed to delight in the intimate action. Her lips even curled into a smile as the sun grew higher in the sky and finally began peeking through the trees. As they entered what he realised was day three with just the two of them, he came to the terrible realisation that part of him never actually wanted to get to Australia.

This world, where only the two of them existed, was quite wonderful. This world where they tasted and flirted and touched and there was no one there to interrupt or tell them there were more important things to worry about.

Waiting outside the massive walls that guarded Krum's house should have been maddening. They didn't have any idea how long they'd be waiting or even if they were in the right place, though Ron was quite sure whatever lay behind the wall had to be protected by magic. Even if they were in the right location, it meant their saviour would be none other than Viktor Krum, whose presence Ron had barely been able to stomach at his brother's wedding. Waiting around for Krum should have been a bore, but Ron found, after the Dijon rail station and the sleeper car and everything else after and in between, that he didn't mind waiting so much. Things happened when they waited, if he was patient.

She was rambling about Sofia, blurting out random facts of trivia that Ron, recalling the vow he'd made about making her smile on the train to Belgrade, pretended to enjoy. After an hour of waiting they pulled out what was left of their bag of crisps and Ron had learned that the mountain they were on was called Vitosha and the park here was the oldest in the Balkans. After two hours, she informed him there were both bears and wolves in these mountains and he consequently made sure his wand was readily accessible. He learned that there was a cathedral in Sofia that was older than Hogwarts and had once hosted the Warlock's Council. The more she rambled, the more he wondered if this is what a seventh year at Hogwarts would be like, cuddling like this while Hermione told him things. By three o'clock, Ron was hungry again, but one ham sandwich later, and there was no still sign of anybody coming or going from the massive door. By five o'clock, they began preparing for a night out under the stars and debating when they should set the tent up in the forest. By six, Hermione was contemplating a dinner of baked beans on toast with what was left of the food his mum had packed.

He should be frustrated. They both should be. But a night camping in a tent suddenly didn't sound too terrible. They were both sitting up against the door, seated side by side now and looking out into the forest of spruce trees whose beauty Ron was finally beginning to appreciate. There were certainly worse places to spend a night, though he could do without the thought of bears and wolves roaming around. They were passing a flask of water back and forth and it reminded Ron very much of how they'd shared the wine in the train compartment to Budapest. Recalling how that night had gone, he couldn't help but wish the water were wine.

"You have to admit, in light of what's happened, bringing Pig would have been good!"

"Right, because you wouldn't have looked out of place walking around Dijon with an owl in your pocket," she laughed at the absurd notion.

"No more than that woman with the dog in the pram!" he reminded Hermione of the ridiculous sight on their way to the Gare de Dijon. "And don't tell me you're not regretting bringing my Cleansweep now."

"We couldn't fly anywhere even if we'd brought it!"

"Just admit that both were good ideas, in light of what's happened."

"Both would have been good ideas if we were traveling in the magical world."

"Just admit that I had a good idea," Ron maintained.

"I tell you when you have good ideas. Those weren't good ideas. Pig would hardly have made it to Paris!"

"You don't give him enough credit."

"Who? You or the bird?" Hermione laughed some more, a light and happy sound he realised he hadn't heard in months. He wanted to move in and kiss her then, but he kept hearing her words about needing time and recalling the way she'd cut last night's kiss short. He was about to ask her about it, about what needing time while also wanting to do 'stuff' meant when they heard the pop.

It was so soft Ron almost thought he had imagined it, but Hermione's head had shot up too. The sound had definitely come from behind them and the thick stone wall that seemed to be protected by magic.

"Did you hear that?" Her eyes were wide and hopeful and she leaped to her feet. Trying to hide his disappointment, Ron was slow to get to do the same. Viktor Krum was the entire reason they were here beneath these trees, after all, it was not just so they could cuddle and flirt and maybe talk about snogging. "Viktor?" she called out tentatively. "Viktor, is that you?" she called a bit louder.

"Krum!" Ron barked through the door as he hammered on it with his fists.

"Viktor, it's Hermione Granger! From Hogwarts! Please, if it's you, answer!" she pleaded. There was a long pause, but they could hear the sound of a twig breaking.

"Hermy-oh-ninny?" Ron thought he'd never been so happy to hear the thick Bulgarian accent from the other side of the wall.

"Yes!" Hermione cried, a bit too enthusiastically for Ron's liking. "Yes, it's me!"

" 'Vot are you doing here?"

"I'm – well, I'm traveling and I need your help."

"You are alone?"

"No, I'm not. Ron Weasley is with me." she explained through the wall. The comment was met with silence. "From Hogwarts."

"But that is all?" His voice sounded after a long pause. Ron couldn't help but think he sounded disappointed.

"Yes. Listen, Viktor, we need your help!" Hermione cried plaintively. There was no response for what felt like minutes, but then Ron heard the thick wooden door open slowly and the sharp angular profile of Viktor Krum appeared from behind it. Ron couldn't help himself from snaking an arm around Hermione's waist possessively at the sight of Krum.

" 'Vy are you here?" he inquired. He still had the stupid little beard and his thick black eyebrows were sloped into a frown.

"We're traveling and we need your help," Hermione confessed. "Please." Ron's hand rested just low enough on her hips to indicate to Krum that their relationship had changed even more since last he'd seen them. The action caused Krum to look grumpier than usual, but he opened up the wooden door to allow them to enter. Hermione broke away from Ron's grasp to pass through the narrow door first. Ron followed closely behind her, looking Krum right in the eye as he did.

"Come inside." The invitation came out much more like an order than a request as Krum motioned to the multi-story house in front of them. It was larger than the Burrow and much older than the houses at the bottom of the hill where the taxi had dropped them off. The first floor was made entirely of stone and had so few windows it looked almost like a fortress. Ron craned his head back to gaze at the second floor. It projected over the bottom floor in an odd fashion, a bit like the additions at the Burrow, but this design looked intentional and was supported by elegantly curved beams of a dark wood. This looked exactly like the kind of place, as much as Ron hated to admit it, that Viktor Krum would live. Ron could see Hermione was impressed by the ancient looking home. He suddenly wished he still had his arm around her waist.

"You vould like something to eat?" Viktor asked immediately upon leading them through the heavy wooden door to his home. The inside of his house from floor to ceiling was made almost entirely of stone with just a few beams of exposed wood. Mostly it was grey and brown though, not unlike the city of Sofia. Still there was something magnificent about the old house, even Ron had to admit it. Perhaps it was the mere fact that Krum had his own home.

"We really just need to talk to you about getting in touch with your Ministry," Hermione spoke anxiously as Ron watched her drink in the sight of his impressive fortress-like home too. It reminded him a bit of the inside of Hogwarts. They passed through a sitting room with a heavy iron chandelier and there were several large portraits on the wall that winked and snored. Though the walls here were a warm sandy color, the carved wooden ceiling and dark furniture made it seem somehow darker. Ron barely had time to look at the metal plates and coat of arms on the wall or the massive fireplace before Krum led them to his kitchen.

Like his family's kitchen at the Burrow, there was a cast iron stove at the heart of the room, a large table, and a scullery off to the side, but the comparison ended there. Instead of small cupboards there were open shelves and a long row of copper pots hanging on the wall. There was a huge grill that looked to be warmed with coals and the walls were covered with dried bunches of red peppers, garlic, and onions on woven rope. There were marble floors and a great wooden ice box double the size of any he'd seen before.

Ron tried not to gape.

"Please, sit," Viktor offered.

"We just need to get in touch with your Ministry." Ron remained standing.

"The Council is closed. I have just come from there," Viktor responded just as shortly as Ron. He turned his attention back to Hermione. "Tell me 'vy you are here, and 'vy you need to see the Council, Hermy-oh-ninny."

"HER-MY-OH-NEE!" Ron thundered suddenly, unable to contain himself. "It's not that difficult to say!"

"Ron!" Hermione looked horrified.

"That is 'vot I said," Krum stated plainly, looking sourly at Ron.

"No, it's not! It's Her - my - oh - nee!"

Viktor frowned at the outburst and just looked to Hermione, his thick black eyebrows sloped into a frown.

"This is true?" he inquired glumly.

"Er, yes," she responded meekly. "That's…how you say my name."

" 'Vy did you not tell me I say it wrong?" He looked suddenly shameful and embarrassed. Ron stood a little taller.

"You were close enough," Hermione dismissed and glared at Ron. "It's really no matter."

"You should have told me I say it wrong," Krum mumbled crossly.

"I think she did," Ron muttered.

Krum sighed and pulled out a heavy chair at the long wooden table then and took a seat. He motioned for both of them to do the same, but neither did.

"You should be careful here, you know?"

"Why is that?" The words sounded too much like a threat for Ron's liking.

"Because people here know you."

"Yes, well, we've already encountered the autograph seekers back in London," he dismissed haughtily.

"No, I am not talking about people vanting autographs." Krum's voice was deadly serious. He motioned again for them both to take a seat. "If you go to the Council you 'vill be recognized. You must be careful."

"You mean there are still supporters of Voldemort around?" Hermione asked worriedly.

"Yes," Viktor nodded his head. "There are people here not happy at vot you and Harry Potter have done."

"Unhappy enough to try to kill us?" Hermione inquired nervously. Ron knew she was likely thinking about their encounter in the alleyway after taking the Portkey from London and the voices and shadows that had begun to approach from around the corner.

"Maybe." Viktor nodded his head. He looked very serious again, but Ron couldn't remember if the great grumpy bloke always looked that way. "You 'vill stay here tonight. Tomorrow I vill take you to the Council."

"We don't need you to put us up," Ron replied immediately. The thought of a real bed after the flimsy mattresses in the sleeping car sounded wonderful, but he would not be the houseguest of Viktor Krum. He did not want to owe him a debt of any kind. Every time he looked at his large curved nose and stupid little beard all he could think about was what his kisses with Hermione had been like. He thought he was past all this, but seeing Krum set him on edge and he couldn't help the questions that flooded him. He wondered if she had enjoyed it, how he had initiated it, and if it had been more of a snog. Ginny had said it was a snog.

"You say you are traveling, no? And you must get to the Council? You cannot stay in Sofia on your own. You 'vill stay here," he stated simply again and gave a shrug. Ron couldn't help but think Krum appeared to be looking more to Hermione than to him as he said the words.

"Oh, no, Viktor, we don't want to be a bother," Hermione stated politely.

"Do not be foolish. I have extra rooms 'vere no one is staying," Krum shrugged. "You 'vill stay."

Ron saw Hermione's eyes urging him to simply accept the hospitable gesture and he bit his tongue.

"Now tell me, 'vy are you in Bulgaria and 'vy do you need to see the Council."

Hermione sighed and finally sat down at the long wooden table.

"It's a long story."


A Harry Potter Story
by MsBinns

Part 25 of 45

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