Continuing Tales


A Harry Potter Story
by MsBinns

Part 27 of 45

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His head was pounding like it had been the morning of Fred's funeral. His muscles ached, and even his eyeballs hurt again. He cursed himself for drinking so much. He couldn't be moving this slowly. They had to go to the Ministry today and hopefully continue on to Australia. His legs were slow to swing to the other side of the bed and when his feet touched the floor he felt a chill pass through him. The stone floor was freezing and he cursed himself for not making a fire before going to sleep.

Only when he looked about the room and saw Hermione's empty bed did the rest of the night begin to return to him. Fuck it all, if he hadn't been an arse and done it again. Ron lowered his head to his hands, as if it would somehow relieve the throbbing in his temples, while he tried to paste together the hazy memories he had of the night. He could remember dinner well enough. He recalled Krum's cold soup and the meat dish he'd eaten out of a copper pan. He remembered the awful Bulgarian spirit he'd insisted on drinking despite Hermione's protestations. Then the night got fuzzy. All he remembered was that it had been bad.

It had been all about Krum. He knew it had. Everything he'd ever felt in his heart about the git had come out of his mouth last night after four glasses of rakia. He'd had a go at Hermione too, about her obvious jealousy of his physical relationship with Lavender and how weird she'd been about getting close to him since learning the truth. Of course, he hadn't even told her the truth. He hadn't told her all she did was toss him off. He hadn't told her it was the same day he learned she was taking McLaggen to Slughorn's party, the same party she was supposed to be going to with him. But he had fucked things up, just like he had now.

How quickly he'd forgotten the internal vow he had made on the train to Belgrade. He had promised to do whatever it took to make her happy and all it took was two hours in Krum's presence and he'd made a mess of things. He hadn't made her cry though. She'd been angry more than she had been sad, which he figured was a good thing. He'd faced angry Hermione many times and had always managed to make it right. He could make this right.

The bed was made up neatly now as if she'd never slept in it. He wondered how early she'd woken up and if she was merely washing up or if she had already gone downstairs in her dressing gown to get warm. Perhaps she was already downstairs with Viktor enjoying breakfast. He squinted out into the morning light as he slowly turned from her empty bed and peeled back the curtains. The sun was barely up and most of its rays hadn't even reached Viktor's home, tucked in as it was among the trees. He was grateful for that as even the little light that reached into the room made him wince. The more he walked about the room, the more nauseous he felt.

Pulling on a pair of trousers and a flannel shirt, he fought against the urge to retch. Slowly, he walked down the wooden stairs to the great room where they'd eaten dinner, suddenly recalling how he'd practically felt up Hermione on these stairs last night right in front of Krum. The night just kept getting worse the more he recalled. He dreaded having to face her.

She was nowhere to be seen when he finally reached the kitchen, but Krum was standing in front of the ice box in a sweat-soaked t-shirt. He looked as if he'd just run the mountain. Ron remembered his bold declaration last night about running the mountain too. Judging by Krum's appearance, he reckoned he wouldn't have made it even halfway. He gave an uncomfortable nod of recognition toward Krum before glancing around the great room again, peering over by the great stone fireplace and into the front hall.

"She is out in the garden," Krum informed.

"Oh. Thanks," he forced out the words.

"You 'vould like some coffee or tea?" He held up a mug in question then. The only time he'd drank coffee before, Ron hadn't been a fan, but George told him it could help sometimes after a night of drinking if there was no Hair of the Dragon. Cursing himself for not bringing his brother's antidote for these terrible after-effects, Ron agreed in the hopes that it would help get rid of his churning stomach and the horrible pounding in his head.

Krum poured a small cup and slid it to him from across the counter. Ron took a sip and did his best not to grimace at the horridly bitter substance. "It 'vakes you up, no?" Krum laughed, which was a sight Ron found quite odd. He didn't think he'd ever seen it before and tried not to choke as he nodded his head. "It is Turkish. Hermy-oh-ninny did not care for it either," Viktor chuckled, then seemed to realize his error as he looked to Ron. "Her. My. Oh. Nee," he repeated slowly until he saw Ron nod in approval. Sounding frustrated with himself, he gave a loud sigh. "It is a difficult name to say."

"It's from Shakespeare," Ron remarked, feeling himself wake up already as he continued to drink the awful substance. He thought it might be better with some cream or sugar, but figured that would make him look weak in front of Krum.

"I am not familiar with Shakespeare," Viktor frowned.

"It's a Muggle author from a long time ago. Hermione says he wrote loads of plays and poems and stuff."

"You know her very well." Krum sounded a bit impressed that he knew Hermione's namesake. Ron just shrugged. "You are friends for a long time?"

"Since we were eleven," Ron admitted and saying the words out loud made him realise Hermione had been a part of his life for nearly half the time he'd been alive.

"And you are…making her happy?" Krum inquired hesitantly then and Ron was alarmed by the personal nature of the question. He was tempted to tell Krum it wasn't his business whether he made Hermione happy or not, but he swallowed the words as they rose in his throat.

"Some of the time," he actually managed a laugh and plopped down onto a stool. Krum seemed to pick up on the defeated nature of Ron's comment. He seemed to sense it likely had something to do with why Hermione had secluded herself out in the garden this morning.

"My falcon has returned," he spoke then in an uncomfortable attempt to break the silence. "So I can send him off 'vith a letter for your parents if you 'vould like."

"Yeah, I reckon we should," Ron scratched his head, wondering what he could possibly say to his parents to explain their situation. "What time should we leave for the Council?"

" 'Ven she comes inside and 'venever you are ready."

"Why were you at the Council yesterday?" Ron inquired, with a hint of suspicion.

"They haff asked me to help negotiate a new act."

"An act about Quidditch?" Ron perked up suddenly.

"Yes. An international transfer agreement about playing in club leagues across the continent," Viktor dismissed nonchalantly as if the matter were boring.

"An international transfer agreement? You mean like you could come over to England and play for Chudley?" Ron's interest was piqued.

"Yes, but why would I play for Chudley?" Viktor scowled.

"Well, they've only won the league twenty times!"

"The English League," Krum scoffed.

"Everyone knows the English league is the best!" Ron fired back. "And if the Cannons just got rid of stupid Gavin Gludgeons and got a Seeker who was worth a Sickle they wouldn't be so terrible! Gorgovitch and Tuckfield are two of the best chasers in the league." Krum looked unconvinced. "You can have the best Chasers in the world, but if you've got a rubbish Seeker it means nothing!"

"It is not just the Seeker," Krum remarked humbly.

"It is! Our house team was rubbish until Harry came along," Ron dismissed. He'd gotten into this argument many a time with Harry, Seamus, Dean, and anybody who cared to argue it with him. "That doesn't mean Angelina and Katie weren't great Chasers and, obviously you need a good Keeper," Ron puffed his chest out slightly. "But at the end of the game it's always the Seeker. You control the game."

"But look at the 'vorld Cup. If I haff no good Chasers, the game is lost. I could not 'vin 'vithout my teammates," Viktor argued.

"No, they can't win without you." Ron insisted, hit with the sudden realization that he was having the same conversation with Krum he'd had many times with Harry. He was having a conversation with Viktor Krum. His gaze drifted out the window to the garden then, where he knew Hermione was somewhere resting.

"You are a Keeper, no?" Krum asked suddenly.

"Huh?" Ron jerked his head away from the window.

"In Quidditch, you are a Keeper?"

"Oh – er – yeah, how do you know?"

"Hermione has told me. You helped 'vin the Championship at Hogwarts, no?"

"Yeah, I suppose. I mean I was on the team and we won."

"She said you 'von the Championship,"

"She said that?"



"In her letters."

"She wrote about me in her letters?" Ron looked on in surprise.

"Yes, quite a lot." Krum gave a laugh then that seemed to disguise more than a hint of disappointment. Ron let the admission sink in a moment. He stared down into his half-drunk cup of coffee, warming his hands on the sides of the ceramic mug. "So Chudley has 'von the English league twenty times?" Krum changed the conversation abruptly.

"Twenty-one actually, but er - not since 1892," Ron admitted. "Had a bit of a rough stretch."

"You think that is a rough stretch? Dobrich has not won since 1768!" Krum chuckled with laughter. "They have great Seeker, but terrible Keeper and their Chasers cannot keep up."

"Did you – er - have a good season?"

Krum muttered something about playoffs and Ron could see him disguise a scowl behind his coffee mug. Silence resumed between them and again Ron looked out toward the garden. Krum seemed to follow his gaze out the window. "You know - " He cleared his throat uncomfortably. "I am not 'vanting…to be 'vith Her – my – oh…" There was a long pause as he seemed to struggle with the last syllable, "-nee."

Ron kept looking out the window, unsure how to react to the honest confession. He had no idea why Krum was trying to have a conversation with him about this. It was bizarre and uncomfortable and he just wanted him to stop. Yet the desire to finally get an answer to the question that had eaten away at him for so long was too much.

"But you were, weren't you?" he mumbled then, his hand in front of his face. "With her, I mean?"

"Yes," Krum readily admitted. "But I 'vas always…" He let out a deep sigh then and scratched his head. "I think I cared much more for her than she cared for me." Ron grunted in reply, unsure what to make of the placating words. "I always thought it seemed her heart 'vos 'vith someone else." Krum turned from the window then and looked at Ron with what Ron could see was, of all things, an amused smile. "Now I am thinking that person 'vas you."

Ron swallowed some more of the terrible Turkish coffee to avoid having to say anything or look at Krum, finding it hard to believe this conversation was even happening.

"She is very strong," Krum offered what almost sounded like words of comfort then. "She does not like to say 'ven she is wrong."

"I'm not sure she's the one who was wrong," Ron sighed, finally looking to him apologetically and hoping he would understand the nature of the remark.

"Oh, you're awake," Hermione's voice suddenly sounded from beside the door to the garden.

"Just talking," Ron replied casually, hoping Hermione could see and hear that they were being civil, that he was no longer insulting Krum or correcting his English. They were simply having a conversation about her. She couldn't know that, of course, and he looked to Krum for help.

"Yes. Ron 'vonts me to come play for Chudley," he replied immediately and Ron felt a rush of affection toward the Quidditch star he hadn't felt since he was fourteen.

"Does he?" Hermione asked quietly, not turning her eyes to Ron.

"He says we should head to the Ministry – the Council rather – quite early," Ron spoke up then.

"Yes, early is better," Krum affirmed.

"Well, then we'd better hurry up," Hermione stated coolly. "We need to get a message to your parents when we get there." She finally looked to Ron.

"Well, K - Krum said he can - his falcon can leave this morning," Ron stammered, looking back to Krum again for help.

"Yes, he is very fast and can be in London in three days." Krum sounded oddly proud of the bird.

Biting his tongue, Ron didn't bother saying that in three day's time his mum would have alerted the Prophet and called out a search party to track them down if she hadn't already.

"Well, that's great," he replied instead. "That's great. We'll write a letter now and send it off." He looked to Hermione hopefully, but she seemed to ignore him.

"Yes, I do not know if you ''vill be able to at the Council."

"Do you have some parchment?" Hermione posed to Viktor. "I can write the letter. You - " She spoke sharply to Ron. " - Can go get ready."

"I can help," he insisted.

"I'll do it."

"I can write the letter."

"Why don't you just - "

"Hermione, they're my parents, not yours," he grumbled in exasperation and then immediately wished he hadn't said it. The mere mention of the word 'parents' caused her head to jerk up suddenly and she seemed somehow even angrier with him than she had been. "I just – I mean – I can write to them…"

"Fine. You write them," she replied coldly.

"There is someone else if the Council does not let you reach the Ministry," Krum spoke up then, attempting to defuse the tension and talk about who they could appeal to for help. Hermione didn't look at Ron once while they discussed details about traveling to the Council in the city center. Whenever he opened his mouth, Hermione looked annoyed. Even Krum seemed to pick up on the tension and he dismissed himself from his own kitchen as they sat there in silence. Ron had the parchment Krum had given to him stretched out before him, but made no effort to write.

"Did you hear what I said last night?" he mumbled, "after I put out the light?"

"I'm not talking about this here," she stated flatly.

"He's gone to have a shower," Ron protested. "Come on, Hermione, you have to talk to me!"

"Not after the way you acted last night!" she fumed, exiting the kitchen and marching up the stairs. He had hopes that when he saw her, last night would be like a distant memory. She wouldn't remember his jealous comments, groping hands or the accusations he'd hurled at both her and Viktor. Parchment and quill still wrenched in his hand, he kept quiet and followed her up the stairs.

"Can we talk about it here?" he requested once they crossed the threshold into the room they'd shared last night.

"Honestly, Ron, I don't know what else there is to talk about." Her shoulders sagged in defeat, the anger suddenly gone from her voice. There was a sad and resigned look on her face that surprised Ron, like she was lamenting the end of something. "We can't move forward if you are still living in the past. And you are clearly still stuck in the past."

"But did you hear what I said last night?" he asked urgently, closing the door behind him as his heart beat erratically beneath his chest. This wasn't just another typical fight with Hermione. The things he'd said and done last night had fucked everything up.

"Yes, I heard it," Hermione replied shortly, looking him in the eye briefly before rifling through her beaded bag for a change of clothes. "I'm really not interested in excuses."

"No, look, Hermione, look at me, please," Ron pleaded, walking over so he was standing in front of her, but her attention remained on the bag and the clothes she was looking for. "I'm not - I'm not trying to make excuses," he stumbled. "I'm just trying to explain - "

"An explanation is an excuse," she fired and returned to rummaging through the bag.

"But it's not - " he tried to protest.

"We don't have time to talk about this. And quite frankly, I'm tired of talking about it," she sighed. "Let me get dressed, you write a letter to your parents, we'll go with Viktor to the Council and see if we can get to Australia and then…"

"Then what?" Ron felt a sinking feeling in his chest like Hermione was giving up on him.

"And then we'll find my parents."

Mum and dad,

Is everything okay back home? Our Portkey to Paris didn't take us to Paris. I don't know where it took us, but we thought there might be people after us so we went to Dijon and then took a train to Bulgaria. We haven't had any problems and are staying with Viktor Krum. He is taking us to the High Council in Bulgaria. We're hoping we can talk to Kingsley and keep going to Australia. I hope you weren't too worried. We're all right.

Ron lifted the quill from the parchment for a moment, looking at all the times he'd written 'we' on the page. He wondered if they were even a 'we' anymore. She seemed so sad before she'd left to have a shower. Signing the words 'we're all right' didn't feel right either. They were so far from all right. Glancing down at his watch, he looked down to the parchment, tempted to write more. Somehow the words on the page didn't seem to capture the magnitude of his problems.

I think I really messed up last night. He stared at the sentence for a long time and then added more. And I don't know how to fix it.

Hearing the door click, he quickly vanished the words off the page and just scribbled both their names at the bottom.

"Ready to send out."

"Good, his falcon's out in the garden." She hardly glanced his way, even though Ron knew she was well aware his eyes were glued to her.

The shower seemed to have washed away the sadness. Now she was just angry. Angry like she had been when he came back and rejoined her and Harry in the Forest of Dean. She didn't talk to him. She avoided looking at him. When she did look at him she cast him a look that was a confusing mixture between resentment and what looked like disappointment.

Krum seemed to sense the heavy air between them. Fortunately, there was not much talking on their journey to the city centre. Krum walked much like Ron had through the streets of Dijon, suspiciously peering around corners and down alleys. His Floo Powder had taken them to a pub that looked quite like the Leaky Cauldron and was located in the city centre. From there, he'd shepherded them down Muggle streets to the exterior of a splendid old cathedral. The cathedral was an enormous building with a great bell tower and great circular domes piled atop each other. It was open to the public and there was already a queue to get inside.

"This looks crowded," Ron whispered, wondering why Krum was taking them sightseeing.

"It is." Krum strode confidently through the doors into the house of worship. Ron's mouth dropped open at the splendor that greeted him inside. It was old inside, very old, with great chandeliers that hung down hundreds of feet from the great domed ceilings covered with murals. The marble floor beneath them was cracked and their footsteps seemed to echo about the massive interior. "Come." Krum marched away from the main altar to a dark alcove where several small votive candles lit up a statue. He grabbed a candle, lit it and placed it carefully on a rough patch of stone in front of the statue. He waited several seconds, crossed himself with his hand and stood up abruptly. Ron wasn't sure whether Krum was actually paying his respects to some Bulgarian saint or getting them entry to the Council. Silently, he led them away into another dark alcove and then another until all the golden grandeur of the main entry was gone. Now there was just darkness and a door before them, quite unlike any other door in the cathedral.

"Push it," Krum ordered to Ron, who looked skeptical.

"This door wasn't here before you lit that candle, was it?" Ron deduced. Krum pushed the door open.

"No, it 'vas not." And they began descending down the stairs. Ron kept expecting lifts to appear at any moment, but they traveled in silence down flight after flight. He could hear Hermione huffing beside him to keep pace with him and Viktor.

"You all right?" he inquired softly, but she simply ignored him, took in another deep breath and quickened her steps. "Are we meant to walk all the way down?" Ron inquired crossly, hating the Bulgarian Council already. They'd been walking down the dark narrow staircase for nearly ten minutes already.

"For the visitor entrance, yes."

"And are we going to have walk all the way back up as well?"



"It…depends on your visit," Krum mumbled.

"Depends on our visit?"

"Just do not speak," Krum warned.

"Don't speak?"

"Yes. Let me speak," Krum muttered as at last the stairs stopped and they reached a very heavy wooden door. Krum opened the door with a Bulgarian incantation and a flick of his curved hornbeam wand.

The space inside was surprisingly bright, especially compared to the dark stairway they'd spent the last ten minutes walking down. It was a great cavernous room, not quite the size of the Atrium at the Ministry, but the walls were covered in glazed ceramic tiles and painted with the bright red and green of the Bulgarian flag. Pictures of national Quidditch teams and famous wizards, most of whom Ron had no idea about, but whom he was confident Hermione likely did, also covered the walls.

They passed many pairs of curious eyes as Viktor led them down the corridor to a chamber where he ushered them to the side and immediately began talking with a man behind a desk. The man seemed amiable enough, smiling when Krum first arrived and even sharing a laugh. Ron quickly heard the tone of the conversation change though. Despite the fact that he could not understand a word Viktor said as he barked at the grey-haired man, Ron could tell the conversation had taken a turn for the worse.

"That doesn't sound good," he remarked to Hermione in a futile attempt to lift the heavy and uncomfortable air between them. She said nothing in reply, her jaw set firmly and her eyes looking ahead to where Viktor continued to argue for their right to continue traveling. The grey-haired man still smiled on occasion and even gave a few helpless laughs and a shrug of the shoulders, but the tone of the conversation didn't improve.

"What?" Ron asked as soon as Krum turned around to face them. He didn't look too pleased, but then Ron reminded himself Krum always looked like that.

"Since you are not on official Ministry business, they cannot set up a Portkey for you," he explained, sounding rather annoyed.

"Not official Ministry business?" Ron laughed. "Do they know who we are?"

"Yes, Andon says there are even some who are calling you zlatem golyum trio."

"Zlat – um, goal – yum?" Ron attempted to mimic.

"Yes, it means great golden trio," Krum explained. Ron looked behind Krum and saw the man give them a smile and a wave.

"Well, then, shouldn't that mean – shouldn't we be able to- "

"You are just a duo here."

"You mean we'd need Harry," Ron muttered in annoyance and Viktor just nodded.

"Can we contact Harry?" Hermione inquired.

"I am afraid not."

"Can we contact the Ministry?"

"That is Dimitar Danchev who is in charge of intercontinental communications," Viktor explained with an unusually grumpy scowl. Ron was cheered slightly that he looked as annoyed with his countrymen as much as Ron and Hermione were. "He – er - does not refer to you as zlatem golyum trio."

"You mean you've got a Death Eater in your Ministry?"

"He is reformed."

Ron snorted at the statement, thinking of more than a few so-called reformed Death Eaters who had never truly changed their spots. "But as you are not on Ministry business, he 'vill not help you."

"Would he help Harry?" Ron fired.

"He 'vould have to, yes, but you are not Harry Potter," Viktor pointed out. "He 'vill not let you send a message." He looked oddly determined then and sat down on the bench, lowering his voice to a whisper. "But he cannot stop me from sending one. Tell me 'vot you 'vould like to say and I 'vill send it."

Hermione dictated the message to Viktor, which sounded much more eloquent than the letter Ron had scribbled that morning and sent off with Krum's falcon. After some more angry barking in Bulgarian in an office further down the hall, Dimitar Danchev finally allowed Ron and Hermione to step into his office.

He was a tall man with short dark hair clipped close to his head and piercing blue eyes. He wore dark burgundy robes and an enormous frown as he watched Ron and Hermione walk behind Krum to a brass basin in the middle of the room. Krum unfurled the parchment they'd written outside and quickly added Kingsley's Ministry address to it. Danchev seized a small box off his desk and stoically handed it to Krum. Krum spoke brusquely, took a handful of the powder inside the small tinderbox, sprinkled it into the fire and then dropped the parchment into it.

Ron watched with wide eyes as the basin immediately burst into green flame and then went out again, the parchment gone.

"So it's like Floo Powder?" Ron remarked brightly.

"Yes, it is the same idea."

"And so he'll write back then?"

"Yes, if he is in his office and gets the message he can write back."

"So until then…?" Ron looked around Danchev's office uncomfortably.

"We wait," Hermione spoke for what felt like the first time all morning. Dimitar Danchev stiffly motioned to an armchair in the corner of the room. Ron waited for Hermione to take the seat, but she remained standing, arms folded across her chest. Ron stared at the empty basin, listening to the gold clock on Danchev's deck tick, waiting for the green flames to reappear. Nobody tried to speak or in any way alleviate the tension. It made last night's awkward dinner look paltry in comparison. Dimitar Danchev tapped his foot impatiently and at one point began barking at Krum and pointing at his watch.

Ron wondered what would happen if Kingsley was not in his office. The thought of waiting here in this office or this Council or this country another day made him sick. When they'd entered Sofia on the 9 AM train yesterday, he hadn't given a second thought to putting his hand on Hermione's hip or wrapping his hand around hers, but he hadn't touched Hermione since last night and any words even spoken in her direction were rebuffed. He was tempted to pull her outside to the corridor so they could just have it out and be done. He ran through all the reactions she might have. He figured she could do one of three things. She could cry, she could yell at him or she could ignore him like she already was. He figured nothing could be worse than the latter.

Before he could think on it any further, the basin burst into green flame. Ron immediately got to his feet and marched over to look back down inside it once the flames went out. There was a square piece of parchment with a Ministry stamp resting at the bottom. He reached inside to fetch it, but Danchev spoke sharply from the corner. Though he couldn't understand what Danchev was saying, Ron stayed his hand, waiting instead for Krum. He was surprised when Krum handed him the parchment first, an action which only seemed to further irritate Hermione.

Reluctantly, she stepped forward and peered over his shoulder as he opened it up.

Ron and Hermione,

Thank you for making contact with me! Molly has been beside herself with worry as has poor Archibald Darling. I offer my apologies on behalf of the Ministry for the trouble you encountered. Rest assured, there was no foul play involved with your Portkey. Mr. Darling reported to my office immediately after you departed, informing me that he had mistakenly directed you to the Portkey to Nantes. It was his first day back on the job and apparently the bellicosity of Mr. Weasley unnerved him. We tried to locate you as soon as we were made aware of the error, but you were nowhere to be found in Nantes. Things here are slowly returning to normal. Though several Death Eaters have been brought in, Theodore Nott's murderers have still not been found. As such, you acted accordingly and did the right thing in diverting your course. I am glad to hear the Bulgarian Council has been helpful in assisting you and I will pass your note along to your mother and father. Please let me know what your travel plans are and if I may be of any further assistance. Again, I apologise for the mishap.

Please continue to take the necessary precautions and stay in touch,

~ Kingsley Shacklebolt
Minister of Magic

They were both silent.

Ron read the words through a second time, trying to process what it meant. Archibald Darling hadn't done a thing. Their Portkey wasn't sabotaged. It had all been a mistake. They weren't being followed. They had simply been told to take the wrong Portkey. If they had just taken the Portkey back to London, they would have been in Australia three days ago.

Hermione said nothing, just continued to stare into the empty basin as well. She'd messed up. She'd reacted without thinking. He knew she was thinking it, the same way he was. They both had thought the worst.

"It was just a mistake." Her voice was high and breathy like he knew it got when she was upset. He wanted to tell her it was okay, that he had been just as nervous and afraid. He wanted to remind her that for hours afterward he'd seen every passerby on the street as a threat and that he'd hardly relinquished his wand. But he remained silent, staring into the basin the same way she was. The realisation last night on the train was sharper and more painful than ever. They both were so far from normal.

"This is good thing, no?" Krum replied unsurely, clearly seeing both their muted reactions. Ron was suddenly reminded that they were still in Dimitar Danchev's office and they still had to figure out how to leave Bulgaria. As if reading his mind, Viktor spoke to Danchev once more, then ushered them out of the room while he disappeared behind another door to work out their traveling needs. They sat on the bench in silence, both clearly still thinking about Kingsley's note. He wondered what she'd do if he put his hand on her thigh or even her shoulder. He wanted to do something to let her know it was all right, that he thought there were people after them too and he didn't blame her for taking them to Dijon. He'd quite liked Dijon. He'd liked the trains and the closeness they'd shared. He'd liked the first few hours in Sofia, everything until he'd seen Viktor Krum and forgotten everything he'd promised himself.

"So you have missed the Portkey to Ufa and Novosobirsk and it 'vould take days to set up another with the Ministry in Russia. I tried to negotiate an agreement, but it is a difficult time to be setting up Portkeys internationally."

"Why?" Ron inquired flatly. Hermione was still silent, still wearing the same troubled expression she had upon first reading Kingsley's letter.

"They are transporting many prisoners."

"Well, we're not prisoners!"

"So here is 'vot I can do," Krum ignored the rise in Ron's voice. "I 'vill travel 'vith you by Floo Network to my home in Varna," Viktor explained. "There is a permanent Portkey there that 'vill take you to Turkey. There you 'vill take another and continue onto India 'vere you can pick up the Portkey you had already planned in Phuket and end, as planned, in Australia."

"You worked all that out just now?" Ron raised his eyebrows.

"I 'vorked out nothing," Viktor shrugged dismissively. "They are Portkeys that are already in place. I am just looking at schedules." Ron remained quiet as Krum explained everything in further detail, even the part where he insisted he travel with them to the first Portkey in Turkey.

"You 'vill haff an escort to accompany you in Turkey. This is not something I haff arranged - " Krum noted Ron's protesting expression " - but is something the Turkish Council 'vonts to provide you. The Indian Ministry as 'vell."

"Thank you," Hermione replied appreciatively. Ron couldn't help but think she looked much too pleased by the news that they wouldn't be alone for the next few legs of their journey. He felt a part of him sink. It was like she was pulling away from him every second that ticked by.

Krum seemed to pick up on the uncomfortable air between them and said little as he led them out of the Ministry. Ron had apparently done a fair job staying quiet at the Council and they did not have to climb the fifty flights of stairs and instead were able to use the Floo Network to take them back to the pub in the city centre.

Ron was desperate to lift the tension. He was desperate to get Hermione to say something.

"Do you want to get a drink?" Ron looked to Krum hopefully as he looked about the pub. "As a – er – thank you for – for - "

"We have to hurry up and keep moving, don't we?" Hermione spoke sharply, "the other Portkeys are on a schedule." Krum looked disappointed to have to agree.

They were back on Vitosha Mountain for all of five minutes and then they were in Krum's lavish home in Varna. Ron didn't even have time to take in the grand estate as they just hurried out the door to the streets of Varna where they gathered around an empty container of salad cream to take them to their next destination. The whole thing transpired so quickly. One minute they were in a pub in Sofia and the next they were in Turkey where their escort was patiently waiting. He was a bearded Turkish man named Murat, who took his job very seriously and seemed unimpressed that Bulgaria had chosen to put such an important mission in the hands of a Quidditch player. He spoke little English, but seemed able to communicate with Krum.

"He is professional security," Krum informed. "He says he guarded the Muggle Prime Minister this year."

"That's like Kingsley!" Ron remarked, impressed that they required such a security detail.

"He 'vill take you to India," Krum assured and he turned to Hermione then. "Take care, Her-my-oh-nee," he bid farewell and kissed her on both cheeks. Ron swallowed the jealousy that instinctively bubbled inside him, reminding him that it was simply custom and politeness. Stiffly, he offered his hand to Krum.

He was tempted to say he didn't know what they'd have done without him, but all he could offer was a simple thank you. He could see, even at those simple words, a flicker of surprise, in Hermione's still dark and stormy eyes.

"Be careful," Krum warned. "Remember there are still many that do not like you."

"We're sure he's not one of them?" Ron looked to Murat cautiously. The serious man had a thick bushy black beard and enormous eyebrows that looked like great black fuzzy caterpillars above his eyes.

"He vill keep you safe," Krum assured. Ron bristled a bit at the comment. He felt a bit like he'd been replaced by this Murat fellow. He didn't need anyone else to protect Hermione. Even if she didn't want him protecting her at the moment, he could do that on his own. Still, he thanked Krum again, and together with Hermione followed after Murat to the next Portkey.

It felt odd to walk and not hold her hand. She walked alongside their detail, trying her best to ignore Ron. Murat said little and walked at such a brisk pace there was thankfully little time for conversation anyway. The next Portkey was an old Muggle newspaper that took the three of them to an unnamed village on the banks of a bright turquoise sea. Tufts of brown grass and small thorny shrubs rose up from the pebbled shoreline. It was a beautiful location and Ron could see even Hermione was impressed. Murat allowed them little time to linger however and ushered them to the next Portkey, the lid of an old rusted rubbish bin.

The lid took them next to a crowded train station where Murat bid them a stoic goodbye and a bright-eyed and enthusiastic young man named Rajiv picked them up. It all happened so quickly, Ron could only imagine what their original travel plans would have felt like. Rajiv was much closer to them in age, much more talkative, and seemed more eager to practice his English with both Ron and Hermione and to tell them everything he knew about where they were. Ron was grateful for the conversation after the last thirty minutes of silence.

They were in a business district in South Mumbai, Rajiv informed, crammed with offices and banks. It was mid-day and Ron found it impossible to believe that this was the city when it wasn't so crowded. Apparently, if they had arrived just four hours before they would have been witness to millions of workers alighting at the train station to get to their offices. As it was, there already seemed to be millions of people waiting to get on the trains and Ron was anxious to leave the crowds behind. It was just as busy outside however and Ron's first instinct was to reach for Hermione's hand, but she stayed abreast with Rajiv.

Palm trees, damp Indian air and -R on was relieved to see - some signs in English, greeted them outside. They were in a place called Churchgate, full of dazzling old buildings built like none he had ever seen before right next to skyscrapers like those in London. It was busy and bright and surprisingly green and tropical.

They were in India. Ron looked around with wide eyes, hardly believing that ten minutes ago they had bid goodbye to Viktor Krum. He reckoned he was the only Weasley to ever go to India. He reckoned this was probably the only time he'd ever be here. Hermione was still obviously choosing to ignore him and they had two more Portkeys yet before they even reached Phuket, but he was determined to enjoy this.

"Hey, look at that!" Ron pointed eagerly to a great clock tower that dwarfed the palm trees ahead. "It looks like London."

"Rajabai clock tower, yes." Rajiv appeared to enjoy his enthusiasm. "We are headed that way!"

"Raj – a – buy?" Ron attempted.


"Is our Portkey there, then?"

"It is close. The clock tower is on the university campus and we must pass through."

"The university?" Hermione spoke and Ron could see she looked a bit annoyed at how she had been left out of the conversation thus far.

"Yes, the university library is there. This was the original campus."

"The library?" Hermione pushed ahead of Ron, now quite clearly fighting for Rajiv's attention.

"Hermione loves libraries," Ron informed, brushing past her in turn.

"Yes, well, I would take you inside, but I am afraid now we are having only ten minutes to get to the next Portkey." Rajiv looked up at the clock tower and then back to his own watch.

The grounds of the university were beautiful, with fountains and sculptures and old gothic architecture that reminded Ron somehow of London, despite its obvious native style. As soon as they passed what Rajiv explained was the convocation hall they were transported to the world of the train station again. Crowded streets were full of pedestrians and mopeds and cars, great red buses and three-wheeled vehicles. Rajiv led them across the street and down the pavement, which was lined with vendors selling brightly colored cloth and food that smelled delicious.

"We'll not have time to eat, then?" Ron made no attempt to hide his disappointment as he walked briskly with Rajiv.

"I am afraid not." Rajiv seized Hermione's hand as she fell behind him in the crowd. Ron felt no jealousy flare up inside him though. He could quickly see this was just becoming a contest across continents of who would speak first. He was well aware he'd fucked up last night, but he was quite certain she had too, and her behaviour toward him this morning was hardly exemplary. He knew he'd messed things up, but he was also confident ignoring him wouldn't help make it right. They both were in the wrong now, but neither would admit it.

Rajiv pulled them down small side streets where grey buildings were dotted with brightly-colored laundry that hung over the balconies. The scenery in the city changed so much Ron almost wondered if he had missed a Portkey somewhere along the way and they were just being transported to entirely different cities. The dusty residences gave way to dazzling buildings and bright lights, which Rajiv informed them was the city financial center, but then they were back in lush tropical gardens. Ron glanced at his watch, the Rajabai clock tower now far behind them.

They passed a gnarled old tree and a building painted a fantastically bright shade of red and Ron hardly had time to take in any of it. He was so intent on looking around and taking in the sights while also keeping apace with Rajiv and Hermione that he didn't see where he was going and he bumped headlong into another pedestrian.

"Sorry!" Ron reached out apologetically only to see a young Indian woman looking up at him. She was dressed smartly in professional clothes and her dark hair fell around her face in waves that made her look quite pretty.

"I'm sorry," she returned his apology in perfect English, making no effort to shake off his hand on her arm.

"Er, no, I'm sorry," Ron stammered, unsure what to make of the way the pretty young woman, not much older than himself, was looking at him. It reminded him a bit of the way Lavender did.

"It's all right. Really." She offered him a small smile and replied again in perfect English.

He heard Rajiv call his name then from further down the pavement and when he whirled around he saw Hermione could see the way the young woman was looking at him, too.

"Sorry!" he blurted out one last time and then raced after the two of them.

Hermione glared at him as she walked forward and Ron had the strange urge to laugh at the petty jealousy no different from the kind he'd shown Krum. They were the same, him and her. Their anger, their jealousy, their stubbornness in refusing to admit when they were wrong. He thought about their conversation on the sleeper car the first night, back before things had really gone pear-shaped. Like chalk and cheese, they were, that's what he'd said and she had been reluctant to agree. He wondered if she saw it now, how similar they both really were when it came to things like this, how her jealousy was actually no different from his.

"Just this way," Rajiv directed them through a door into a tiny dark building with no windows. They passed through a narrow corridor to a room where an old witch sat atop a very tall desk. Ron knew she was a witch because the quill in front of her was scratching out words in a giant book without her even touching it and the picture behind her head featured three alchemists walking around a table with a steaming cauldron atop it.

Rajiv conversed with the woman rapidly in a language he couldn't decipher, but whose lyrical sound he decided he liked. The woman nodded her head and opened up the curtain on the other wall with a lazy wave of her wand to reveal shelves upon shelves of junk. There were rusted tin cans and food wrappers, an old wireless and a stack of magazines. The witch looked down into her open book and then motioned to a brightly colored umbrella on the bottom shelf, smiling finally at Ron and Hermione in a way that made Ron wonder if she knew who they were. He thought about Krum's revelation about how some in Bulgaria called them Zlatem Golyum Trio. He found it hard to believe people around the world might recognize his mop of red hair, but if their picture had been in the Daily Prophet it had probably circulated elsewhere.

Rajiv pulled the umbrella off the shelf when his watch indicated their departure time was near and instructed Ron and Hermione to grab hold of it. They were transported within seconds in the rough manner slowly becoming second nature to Ron to a dusty patch of ground surrounded on three sides by walls the same colour as the earth.

"Where are we now?" Ron surprised himself at his ability to land on his feet this time.

"In the center of the country," Rajiv informed. He led them out of the alley, past the sandy-colored walls to what Ron could see was a small village along a barren stretch of road. "Now, we must walk."

At the words, Ron recalled this was always meant to be the longest time between Portkeys. He remembered Percy saying something about an hour walk between the Portkeys in India back at the Burrow. He wondered if they were back on course now and whether that tiny village with its sandy coloured-walls was where they were meant to arrive originally. If they were, it meant Hermione's plan had worked. Her determination to move forward and find Krum, despite its nearly four day detour, had gotten them back on track.

The dusty road they traveled along was lined with green fields full of angular long-eared cattle, who despite the lack of a fence seemed perfectly content to remain in the field. Ron worried for a moment about how out of place they seemed, but he quickly realised Rajiv was speaking to people they passed on the dusty road. He seemed proud as he escorted them along, passing tiny villages that Ron could now see were wizarding villages where many curious pairs of eyes looked at them, smiled and waved.

"Did you lot know about Voldemort then?" Ron interrupted as Rajiv conversed with an older gentleman, who looked at Ron and Hermione, while he talked with Rajiv.

"We were starting to hear stories," Rajiv informed. "This man says strange people began appearing here, telling them about a Lord of Darkness and all the things he would bring."

"Death Eaters all the way over here?" Ron frowned.

"Is that what you are calling them? Death Eaters?"

"That's what we called them," Ron emphasized the past tense. Rajiv began talking again with the old man.

"Yes, he says these people promised a way to defeat death and attain glory over Jādū-Nahim," Rajiv explained and seeing Ron's confused expression at the foreign term he quickly elaborated. "Muggles, you call them, I believe, people without magic?"

"Yeah, Muggles."

"These people promised these things, he says." The old man continued to jabber on to Rajiv. "They came more and more often, frightening the people because they came even when they were not welcome."

"Were they English? Like us?" Ron asked, now looking at the old man more than Rajiv. He pressed his hand to his chest when he asked the question and the old man seemed to understand.

He shook his head and then said some more words.

"He says not all of them were."

"But some of them were from here?" Rajiv translated for Ron very quickly.

"Ha." the old man nodded his head.

"So there are Death Eaters all over the world," Ron said the words softly to no one in particular, though he knew Hermione could hear them. The old man pointed down the dusty road and spoke very rapidly.

"He says there was a young man in that village who liked what he heard." Rajiv paused in his translation as the man continued. "He says he would disappear sometimes, but the people know he joined them. The Dark Ones, that's what they call them."

"And do they know he's dead? Voldemort, the leader of the Dark Ones?"

"Yes, and he is asking me to thank you. They have not come back, you see. They have not been bothered since and he has read that you have helped to make this happen."

The old man reached out then and grabbed Ron and Hermione's hands.

"This has happened before, see. Madyha Pradesh has one of the largest magical communities in the world. They are untouched, here," Rajiv explained. "They are not bothered by Jādū-Nahim. Everyone you see here is magical." Ron looked out on the stretch of land they'd traversed and the land still ahead with awe. "He says he lived through this once before, long ago when he was a boy, but it was much worse. You have stopped the worst from happening again." The man reached up then and touched Ron's face with his leathery old hands. "He says you are very brave and that you have much love in you." The man touched Hermione's face then. "That that is the only thing to triumph against such darkness."

Ron looked to Hermione unsurely, the mention of love in their hearts after having spent most of the morning ignoring each other seemed funny somehow.

"Right. Thanks," Ron remarked, still trying to make sense of the entire revelation that Death Eaters had come here and the people here believed he had helped stop it. He wondered what the man would do if he ever met Harry. They continued down the road and Rajiv continued to talk more about the quiet villages along the road. One was the home of a champion winged horse rider and the other an apothecary who had invented a cure for Vanishing Sickness. Finally, they entered a village. Rajiv's chest puffed out as he led them to a copper kettle beside an empty fire pit at the center. Ron knew it was a Portkey and he was reluctant to grab hold of it, knowing it would mean leaving this bright vibrant country and the friendly people who lived here. He quite liked India more than any place they'd traveled so far and imagined what it would be like to visit under happier circumstances when he wasn't being ignored by Hermione.

The kettle took them to a tiny strip of white soft sand next to beautiful turquoise water. Ron could see tiny fishing boats and immediately smelled the first catch of the day being unloaded from one.

Thailand. Now they were in Thailand.

"Ron and Her – my - won?" A heavily-accented voice spoke from behind them. Ron and Hermione both spun around, neither one trying to correct the pronunciation.

"Yeah, yeah, that's us!" Ron turned around eagerly to see a wiry old man with a face full of wrinkles and bright brown eyes.

The man placed his palms together in front of his face and bowed toward the two of them.

"I am Chao Nai Thim." He spoke in thick heavily-accented English. "Come with me." The one syllable words seemed to be much easier for him to say. Rajiv cleared his throat and offered them both a brave smile in an attempt to disguise his obvious sadness at having to depart.

"This is where I leave you, I am afraid. Good luck in your journey."

"Thank you." Hermione spoke kindly.

"Yeah, thanks, Rajiv." Ron extended his hand to the young man.

"If you ever come back to India." Rajiv reached into his pocket and handed Ron a piece of paper with his name and address on it.

"Right. Yeah." Ron nodded his head, sad to bid goodbye to the bright young man who had made the last hour and a half with Hermione far less uncomfortable than it could have been. "Thank you."

Rajiv nodded his head and grabbed the kettle that had brought them here. Then he was gone.

"This way." Chao Nao Thim turned around, leading Ron and Hermione away from the beach.

"Can you tell me where on the island are we?" Hermione inquired.

"North." Chao Nao Thim talked as slowly as he walked and Ron found himself hoping they didn't have as far to walk in Thailand as they did in India. "Can you tell me about King – lee?" The elderly gentleman turned the question back on Hermione, smiling so that the wrinkles on his face multiplied. They passed food vendors who looked to be returning home with food baskets slung over their shoulders and several orange-robed monks on the road as they followed after the old man. There was a peace and serenity to this place and its hazy humidity. Life moved at a different pace here, Ron could tell, and he wasn't just referring to the pace at which Chao Nao Thim was moving.

He'd never been to a beach like this with its bright water and palm trees. There were several long-tailed boats moored out in the harbor as they walked by small thatched huts right on the water and Ron began wondering which one belonged to Chao.

Hermione spoke to the old man about Kingsley, about how he was Minister of Magic now and the important role he'd played this year in the war. Ron listened and learned that Kingsley had met the old Thai man twenty years ago on Ministry business in Indonesia. This old man used to be an Auror himself and it made Ron think about getting old and what it would be like to be an ex-Auror, to be old and shriveled and talk about all the incredible things you used to do. He'd get old one day and would probably move just as slow as Chao Nao Thim. All of the awesome things he, Harry, and Hermione had done would be nothing but stories one day, too. It was an odd thing to think about as they walked along.

The longer they walked, the fewer huts there were. Ron noticed they no longer passed anyone on the road. In fact, the road was really not much more than a path now that wound its way through shrimp ponds and palm trees.

Chao's house looked just like all the others they had passed. It was a wood hut with a thatched roof, built just on the edge where the jungle met the sand, but inside it was clearly the size of at least two houses. Ron's eyes immediately ignored the rest of the trappings inside the home and instead fixed on the small dark pool in the corner where he knew they'd be journeying. Ron felt his stomach twist about at the thought of somehow diving into the inky black water.

"Sit," Chao commanded and pointed to two seats by the far window while he began busying himself in the kitchen. Hermione obliged and Ron joined her at the small table for two. The table was beside a window that looked out over the water, which in the evening sun no longer looked so turquoise. The view had instead changed colors and they looked out on a vibrantly pink sunset. Ron looked to the gorgeous view and then back to Hermione. It was a perfect moment, the kind of setting he was quite sure people would pay galleons to go to with their girlfriend.

"Eat." Chao placed a large plate full of various foods in front of them, temporarily diverting Ron's eyes from Hermione. Ron wasn't sure what most of the food was. He could see dumplings and pancakes and cashews, but there were meats he didn't recognize and something that looked like bogeys, but tasted like peanut.

Chao sat across the room in the kitchen, smiling and waving for him to continue eating. Ron wondered what Kingsley had told the old man about them. It would have been a perfect date if Hermione had been speaking to him, or if she'd even look at him. She was oddly determined not to talk first. Her stubbornness would not let her speak, even though he could see she was admiring the view and the odd, but surprisingly delicious cuisine.

"What do you think this is?" Because he couldn't take not speaking to her, Ron held up a narrow strip of meat.

"Squid," Hermione replied shortly. "It's squid." Ron was so grateful for the reply he didn't even remember to be disgusted by the revelation of what he'd just eaten.

"What about this thing here that looks like a bogey?" Ron picked up the slimy substance.

"Jellyfish, maybe." Hermione examined a piece of it on her own plate.

She was talking to him. Her voice was still stern and cold and she still wouldn't look at him, but she was speaking again. Ron's heart soared.

They finished the small amount of food Chao had presented them in silence, mostly because Ron couldn't figure out what else he was supposed to say. He didn't know how to apologise for being jealous. He didn't ever think about it or contemplate why he felt the way he did, he just felt it. She wanted an apology though, he knew she did, bu he wasn't the only one in the wrong. She'd been jealous too, just the same as he was, whether over a simple kiss or something more. So maybe she should be the one to apologise. Maybe they should both apologise. Or maybe neither had to say they were sorry for wanting to be the only people to kiss each other. It was only human, after all. He reckoned it only meant they both cared.

To avoid gazing at her and watching her avert her eyes to the food on her plate, he kept turning to look at the dark pool in the corner that he knew they'd have to jump into soon, which only made him more uncomfortable. It was about the size of his bed at the Burrow and the space around it was tiled and neat, which made it look oddly out of place in the ramshackle hut. The trepidation that had first crept inside him when he learned about sapsoon back at the Burrow returned the longer he looked at it. He squirmed in his seat as he recalled what his dad had told him. He still detested the feeling that accompanied Apparating the normal way. The thought of being squeezed while you were submerged under water, never mind in an inky black pool like the one behind him, twisted his stomach into knots. It was so dark Ron could not even see the bottom of it.

"It is safe," Chao spoke. "You will jump in and it will take you. You relax. You do not worry. It is safe," he assured again.

"We don't have to do anything?"

"You keep wands in hands. That is all."

Hermione stood up from the table first and followed Chao to the pool. She did not appear to have any of his hesitations. She listened intently to Chao as he went over the directions and described where they would arrive and how they must kick to the surface on the other side. Ron was still working up the courage and going over his directions in his head when she jumped into the dark pool without him.

Shouting her name, he leapt in after her with nary a second thought about what lay beneath the dark water. The water was shockingly cold and felt somehow heavier than normal water, like they had jumped into a pool of oil. When he opened up his eyes beneath the water, he could barely see Hermione in the darkness. He got the sudden feeling like they were both being pulled down a giant drain at the bottom. Her eyes were wide, as terrified as his likely were, as the sucking sensation pulled them down further and he reached for her hand. For the first time, she didn't withdraw. She gripped his hand back so tightly it felt like the bones in his hand were breaking as the pressure under the water increased and continued to suck them down. He felt like minutes were dragging by until suddenly he felt the pressure release. He could see light at the surface and finally when he kicked with his legs he was able to swim up to the light. Ron kicked upward furiously, the freezing cold and burning in his lungs momentarily reminding him of an icy pool back in the Forest of Dean.

Hermione was kicking beside him too, her hand still locked around his. He pushed her up toward the light ahead of him and looked around at the dense canopy of green trees as he broke through the surface.

They were in Australia.


A Harry Potter Story
by MsBinns

Part 27 of 45

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