Author's Notes: Thanks as always to t_geyer for finding my many mistakes (especially doing the comma thing), encouragement, opinions and all the rest but most of all, for her biggest achievement, putting up with me for so very long. Thanks also to Bambu, who started out by skimming through these and offering reassurance but whose feedback often seems to have become the deciding factor that keeps me plugging away at this monster. The characters will never be mine, but JKR hasn't sued me for playing with them (so far).
And yet more thanks to spike's_lady for her help making everything as canon compliant as it's possible to be when canon seems to vary so much from edition to edition, book to book within the series and even within the same volume.
If Hermione had been sure that Viktor's scowl was entirely due to his natural reticence, she would have found his treatment of the reporters who waited outside Portree's grounds amusing.
"My lawyer gave a statement yesterday. I haff nothing to add," the taciturn Seeker told Rita Skeeter and several of her international colleagues as he shouldered his way through them, head down so that his face was almost hidden behind his shaggy hair. Through his fringe, he must have glimpsed her. His head lifted, his mouth lost its downward mien and the softness in his eyes banished all her doubts.
His efforts to break free of the huddle of reporters gained new impetus and he had a clear foot of space as he wrapped an arm around her and drew her into a Side-Along Apparition.
The last thing Hermione saw before she disappeared was the scheming expression on Rita's face. Tomorrow's headlines would be interesting.
She stumbled as they arrived and grabbed a handful of Viktor's coat for balance. They were on a gravelled road bordered by high hedges, but Hermione was barely aware of that. All she saw were gleaming eyes of darkest umber.
And then he kissed her.
He had kissed her during those long ago months, touching her as if she were a porcelain doll that might break if he were too rough.
His lips were warm, firm and more compelling than Hermione's dreams of him.
She traded her grip on his jacket for one on a fistful of hair at the base of his neck as they deepened the embrace, body pressed tight against body.
His lips and his hands were conveying everything he struggled to put into English. He loved her. He adored her and he definitely no longer viewed her as a little girl.
"I haff been vaiting a very long time for that," he whispered.
He draped an arm around her shoulder to guide her up the track. It was familiar and disquietingly different. There was little to choose between Viktor and Severus for height and both of them tended toward lean and wiry but Severus's extra years has rounded a few corners where Krum was still all sharp planes and angles. Their hands were equally elegant and dexterous and even had the same sallow tint, but where Severus seemed to glide at her side, Viktor struggled to match his gait to hers.
"Where are we?" Hermione asked, feeling the unmistakable tingle as she passed through magical wards.
Viktor smiled, squeezing her shoulder. "Vait."
Hermione gave him a glance that said she wanted to know now, but would let it slide for a while.
They crested a ridge and, through a fine drizzle, Hermione caught her first sight of a shallow valley. The drive ended in a semi-circle big enough to park three cars. From there a wooden footbridge crossed a small stream, and the path wound through a well-tended floral wilderness to reach a whitewashed house.
"This is my home," Viktor stated.
Hermione found a smile coming to her face unbidden. She could have guessed that Viktor would value privacy over luxury, but it was heart-warming to have that confirmed.
"It looks lovely."
Viktor gave a deprecating shrug. "It is less... old-fashioned inside. For the tourists, you know? And for you. I think my Herm-i-own-ee, she vant electric kettle and refrigerator."
"She definitely wouldn't say no," Hermione admitted. "It's a rental property, then?"
"I rent six months. Then maybe buy." He watched Hermione through the cover of his hair. "I am thinking, if you are liking then, ve are choosing together, maybe."
The words were so tentative that her instinctive urge to flee was momentary. "And if I don't know what I want six months from now?"
"I vill rent some more." His lips twisted up at one corner. To a stranger, it would barely qualify as a smile.
"But I am thinking maybe before then I vill persuade you that I am not so bad fellow." He pulled some keys from his pocket, pressing them into Hermione's hand.
Severus was right. If you can't be in love with someone who loves you, being adored is the next best thing.
He watched as Hermione made her way around the house, like a puppy set free in its new home, not surprised in the least when she began pulling books from their boxes to examine them.
"There are few in English," he warned.
Hermione looked up, grinning. "Then you'll have to teach me Bulgarian."
"And Latin and Russian and German?" he asked.
Hermione paused. "Maybe some day." The smile was back, gently teasing him, animating her whole face. "For now, you can translate."
"As you vish, but I am thinking that my books are not vhy you vere vaiting for me?"
The laughter instantly faded from her eyes. "No, I wanted to make sure you were okay... I saw the news and I felt like it was my fault. I thought you'd hate me."
Viktor shook his head, sitting down beside her. "I could never hate you. I am knowing vhen I am leaving Bulgaria, I vill be... taking sides. I cannot be going back until The Dark One is destroyed. It vould not be safe."
Hermione felt awed. "Won't you miss it?"
Viktor frowned. "It must be. It is impossible for me to stay and not be one of them."
Hermione watched as he struggled to put his thoughts into words. "I love flying, even vhen little. At Durmstrang flying and books are the only freedom. A vay to escape, yes?"
"And vhen I am chosen to play..." He shrugged. "I am not vanting to be famous, but I vould be foolish if I did not take the money, but I study also and vhen I have finished playing, I vill do something useful. I vill not be like your Bagman."
"You've still given up so much," Hermione sighed.
"But all I vant is right here," Krum replied.