A/N: So things haven't been going very well with me over the past few months and they're not getting any better. I'm really sorry it took this long to get a new chapter out, and that I haven't replied to anyone that tried to ask about the story, and I really want to say that it won't happen again but I'm afraid I'm not in the position to make such promises at the moment. Puppy Love is not abandoned, it'll just get updated at a much slower pace than planned. It's not permanent and it's definitely not intentional, it's just that when your whole system shuts down... it just does. Again, I'm really sorry. I'll try my best.
Check out my profile for more details/updates on my other stories.
It sounded like Ginny but distant. Without opening her eyes Hermione mumbled something in response. There were other voices, all as dull and distant, but she paid them no mind.
She felt a gentle hand on her back. The owner had a voice a few octaves deeper than Ginny's. "Hermione, you are sleeping on your food."
She jerked in her seat, mumbling incoherently and looking as utterly ruffled and lost as she felt. Her hair, frizzy once again, was tied in a messy, lazy bun at the back of her head. There were dark circles under her eyes and she reckons bits of eggs and bacon sticking to her cheek if the grease sliding down her chin was of any indication. Harry, who sat facing her, offered her a napkin but Viktor was quick to clean the mess and reheat her coffee with a flick of his wand.
"Thank you," she mumbled, reaching for the warm cup and taking a sip.
"Sugar?" he offered next to her. She shook her head. She never liked sugar in her coffee, or milk. It served its purpose better as it is, black and harsh and bitter on her tongue. Viktor, on the other hand, seemed to disagree as he dropped at least six or seven sugar cubes in his own cup.
It took her a while longer than usual to take in her surroundings. She couldn't understand why the general atmosphere of the Great Hall felt different. Her own Gryffindor table seemed more boisterous than usual, which she found strange considering that just the night before one of their own was almost attacked. The ones that spoke from the Slytherin and Ravenclaw table did so in whispers and many were looking towards her. At first Hermione assumed that it's to do with her housemates being loud, but then the caffeine finally worked its magic.
Hermione looked at Viktor, sitting next to her on the Gryffindor table and then towards the Slytherin table where's he's supposed to be. She was met with several Slytherins staring coldly back at her, Malfoy's crowd in particular that stuck around Viktor during the first few weeks of his arrival.
"Don't ask me," said Ginny when Hermione turned to her, poking at her breakfast with no intention of eating it. "We were hoping you'd know."
The rest of the students from Durmstrang were also missing from the Slytherin table. Something didn't feel right, and it wasn't just the looks and whispers and Viktor's presence next to her and his peers' absence from their usual table, or even Harry and Ginny's caution for that matter, but it was the way in which Viktor regarded the whole ordeal nonchalantly. He was reading a copy of The Daily Prophet and drinking his too-sweet coffee as if he's been doing it since his arrival.
He reached for the coffee pot across the table and refilled her cup.
"Oh, er, thanks," she said. She hadn't realized that she's finished her first drink already.
"You are very welcome," he said, giving her a quick smile before returning to his paper.
She narrowed her eyes at him. He was definitely up to something, she just knew it, and that something will most likely turn her hair grey.
Things got even more confusing with the twins' appearance. They were late, for starters, and also more cheerful than one would consider normal at such an early hour.
"Mornin', Granger Danger!" greeted Fred with a wide grin, taking the empty seat next to her.
"You forgot your book," said George, taking his place next to Viktor. He opened the book to a random page and his grin turned mischievous. "Oooh, mating rituals!"
Hermione recognized Veela: Myth, Legends, and Facts in George's hands. She must've left it in the common room in her hurry to get breakfast. Viktor lifted his open newspaper out of the way in time for her to attempt to swipe it out of George's hands, but he was too fast for her slowed reflexes. Fred laughed.
"Give it back, George," she said, glaring at him.
He ignored her and spoke to Viktor. "What'd you even need rituals for? I thought you just look at women and poof they're mad for you."
Viktor scoffed. "Of course not. That only works for the women, we men have to impress."
"Typical," he grumbled, going back to a passage in the book.
"Alright you've had your fun," said Hermione, making another attempt for the book but once again George successfully pulls it out of her reach.
"A simple heartfelt confession is not enough sometimes," he started reading out loud, "and herein lies the Veela's greatest conquest—winning his mate's affections the old fashioned way, or what is known to the common man as courting."
She was half-tempted to shove Viktor out of the way and lunge at the grinning redhead, and she would have if it weren't for Fred's hands on her shoulders holding her back.
"Come now, Granger, let the boy learn!" said Fred. "Who knows, such tips might come in handy one day when dear Georgie starts looking for a mate."
She growled in response and shook herself free. She was about to get up and around Viktor to forcefully take the book from George's tight grip, but the next passage he read caught her interest.
"The first step he takes he must with great caution and some trickery, for if he fails he will further distance himself from his mate," he read. "He is to initiate contact but from a safe distance, just enough to entice her but not startle her, and he must do it in a manner that piques her curiosity and encourages her to invite him into her territory."
The Hogsmeade trip. Was that a trick? Had he known how to pronounce her name the entire time but feigned ignorance to get her to make that bet with him?
"The next step is showcasing his affection for her through countless extravagant offerings, and such offerings vary depending on the Veela being courted. Most Veela start with jewellery or fine clothing or sweets, but if his mate continues to refuse his offerings he starts getting creative and some of the female Veela take advantage of that as their suitors will never stop until at least one offering is accepted."
The sweets from Honeydukes, Tomes and Scrolls, and whatever it was he wanted to give her for the Yule Ball. She hadn't accepted any, unless if he counted his promise to not get himself bankrupt as an acceptance of an offering. She knew from the very beginning that he's trying, and that he'll likely never stop until she explicitly tells him how she feels, but it never occurred to her that his current attempts were all a part of some kind of ancient mating ritual. She herself wasn't stalling, but she hadn't put the process on hold as she had originally thought. It had already started, not since the Triwizard Tournament commenced but since his confession at the World Cup.
Ginny was the first to notice the colour draining from Hermione's face. Her expression reminded her of Ron's face at the ball when he saw her with Viktor. "That's enough, George."
Viktor responded instead, always quick to sense an anomaly in any situation concerning Hermione. He lowered the newspaper to the table and looked at her with concern. "You are ok, Hermione?"
He quickly looked away before she could begin forming a response, as if his name was just called. Hermione followed his line of view and saw Ron standing before him, both hands clenched by his sides. She hadn't even heard him approaching, lost as she was in her own now chaotic world, and he himself was too engaged with whatever silent battle he was having with Viktor to spare her a word or glance. His expression held pure contempt and nothing of the fear from the previous night.
That's when the entire hall fell into silence. Hermione didn't need to look around to know that all eyes were on them, for barely twenty-four hours have passed since the two wizards nearly clashed.
George was the only one oblivious to it all; still absorbed with a reading he himself probably didn't think he'd find fascinating. "During this time it's imperative that all young, fit males of any species refrain from approaching the courted Veela with similar intentions in mind, especially when the courting Veela in question has already faced several rejections. Male Veela are possessive of their mates and are generally prone to aggression when it comes to the smallest possible threat. A love-struck yet rejected, agitated male Veela's first instinct to competition is to eliminate it."
The sound of the Patil twins entering the Great Hall was made louder due to the stillness, but the girls didn't seem to notice or care. Padma didn't leave her twin for the Ravenclaw table as she normally does every morning. Instead she continued walking with her sister and stopped next to Ron, looking at Viktor with a rather bold, haughty expression as opposed to her sister's evidently pleased one. It was then Hermione realised that she didn't know a thing about Padma Patil, or what she could possibly be like as a person.
"Well, I for one am glad to see that you've come back to your senses," said Parvati to Viktor. "Poodles are quite the menace, aren't they?"
Viktor looked like he had absolutely no idea what she was talking about, and chances are he didn't. Even Ron took a moment to frown at Parvati. Hermione had to fight back a smile by taking a good gulp of coffee.
Padma looked displeased with the friendly exchange. She turned to Ron. "Care to join us at our table?"
Harry and Ginny looked at Ron, more perplexed at his silence than at Padma's sudden invitation, but Ron was looking at Viktor again with the same fury from before.
"I will not hurt you," said Viktor, breaking the silence, except his voice held none of the promise Hermione expected. It was faint, but she managed to catch it. He said it in the voice of the creature.
Padma's lips curled in disgust and Hermione thought it a wonder that she ended up in Ravenclaw and not Gryffindor like her sister.
"I'm not afraid of you," declared Ron without breaking eye contact.
There was no warmth in Viktor's smile but at the same time it wasn't predatory and Hermione found comfort in that. "Good."
"Guests ought to be careful to not overstep their boundaries," said Padma, staring down at Viktor as she would something foul, "Fame doesn't give you a free pass around here, but decency on the other hand can get you pretty close. I'd assume you'd learn that by now, what with being around Harry this entire time."
"We haven't really-" Harry started.
"Come then, before our breakfast gets cold," she said to Ron, ignoring Harry completely. Ron hesitated but then allowed her to lead him away. The look he briefly threw Hermione's way was one of betrayal and it made her nauseous.
"What's with them?" asked George, finally taking in the changes around him. "Did I miss something?"
Viktor snatched the book from his hands, closed it and passed it to Hermione before returning to his paper with a disgruntled huff.
"I think Ronnie started something," said Fred to George, shrugging. "Doesn't look good for him, of course, but if we start a betting ring…"
"As nice as that sounds, Freddy, we might not have the time for it if our presentation proves to be as successful as promised," said George, giving Viktor a wink and a nudge. "Isn't that right, Vik?"
"I am not seeing anything," he said without looking up from his newspaper. "I am thinking maybe you don't have anything."
"Patience, good sir!" said Fred.
"Aye, good things come to those who wait!" said George.
Hermione noticed Parvati still standing behind Harry looking like she was trying to find an empty seat, which was strange because at least a dozen seats were unoccupied around them.
Hermione smiled. "You don't have to wait for Lavender to join us. Just take any seat."
Parvati looked shocked at the friendly invitation. She smiled warmly. "I'd love to, Hermione, but it appears that there isn't any room left."
"What are you talking about? There's plenty of space."
"Oh, you'll know soon enough." She exchanged quick knowing smiles with the twins and it puzzled Hermione. She thinks that she should be at least a tiny bit anxious by now but so many strange things have happened so far that there's barely any room left for anything in her very sleep-deprived, very confused mind.
Harry nearly jumped out of his skin when Parvati placed a hand on his shoulder and leaned close to his ear. "I'll see you later then?" she asked cheerfully.
"Err, sure, yea," he mumbled. She squeezed his shoulder before sauntering towards the end of the table where her group usually sat.
Hermione took note of her elegantly braided hair and of the glittering butterfly clips in between and began to wonder if it had anything to do with the Yule Ball. The thought alone filled her with dread. She covered her face with her hands and groaned. If the situation is what she thinks it is then it won't be easy to diffuse.
Viktor looked over his paper at her but she ignored him and said to Harry, "did something happen last night?"
"You're one to ask!" Ginny answered instead, unable to contain her frustration and confusion and anger any longer. "What's gotten into you? Just last night you were sending search parties and tearing your hair out looking for Krum!"
At hearing that Viktor stopped reading to run his fingers through her hair, gently prodding her scalp for bald spots, his brows furrowed in concern.
She smiled and lowered his hand from her hair. "She didn't mean it literally, Viktor. I'm alright."
"Hermione!" Ginny hissed.
"I found him in the end!" Hermione snapped. "Clearly it's all worked out."
Ginny's eyes were wide with shock. At first Hermione thought she was simply blowing things out of proportion, but then she looked to Harry and saw that his expression was matching Ginny's. The two of them exchanged worried glances. At first Hermione was angered at the sight, but then she realised that she hadn't told them about what happened after they bade her good night. She hadn't told them about Daniela's letter that somehow led her to finding Viktor in the kitchens, or that there's some truth in T. J. Scamander's book, or that Viktor was much closer to being a full-blooded Veela than Fleur herself.
Hermione also hadn't told Ginny about their almost-kiss, but looking at the way the redhead was currently regarding Viktor she decided to leave that bit for another time.
She sighed. "Sorry, I didn't get to sleep much last night. I snuck out to continue looking for Viktor."
"She is finding me in the kitchen," Viktor provided, his newspaper now closed and folded on his clean plate. "I was with house elves. They are very nice, but I don't think they are liking Hermione very much. I don't know why. I like Hermione."
Ginny's hazel eyes snapped towards him, aggressive and fiery. "I didn't ask you, now did I?"
Viktor looked startled, as if Ginny had thrown something solid at him.
"Ginny!" Hermione gasped.
"We need to talk," she said to Hermione, all business-like and pressing. "In private."
Hermione opened her mouth to protest, to defend Viktor over more silly fears and claims that held no ground, but they were quickly distracted by the appearance of the missing Durmstrang students. They were walking behind each other in a straight line towards the Slytherin table, perfectly disciplined as always, carrying large trays filled with delicious-smelling delicacies Hermione assumed to be from the students' respective home countries. The Slytherins certainly looked pleased with the offerings. Hermione saw Karkaroff from the staff table looking utterly stunned, meaning that whatever this is it wasn't something the headmaster had planned. It made Hermione worry.
The students from Durmstrang set the plates on the Slytherin table towards the side where fourth to seventh years sat. They then bowed respectfully before turning around and making their way towards the Gryffindor table to take the empty seats surrounding Viktor, Hermione, Harry, Ginny, and the twins. This caused the entire hall, save for the now confused Slytherins, to erupt into loud whispers that were hardly even whispers to begin with. No one bothered pretending, every single soul in the hall was confused beyond words and wanted answers immediately.
"Viktor–?" Hermione started, only to be shushed by the twins, whom she just noticed were huddling close to her and Viktor with wide, excited grins plastered on their faces. She blanched. "Oh…oh no!"
"Oh yes indeed, fairest mate of all!" said Fred.
"Ladies and gentlemen please keep your hands and feet and brooms to yourselves at all times," said George, surprisingly formal.
"And without further ado, Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes proudly presents," said Fred to Viktor, pausing with a dramatic flair, "the greatest investment you'll ever make."
It was perhaps the shortest, most chaotic prank she's ever seen in motion. The Slytherins had barely started before everything edible came to life around them. The things that didn't explode or house insects set free upon unfortunate girls that went for the sweets first made the students that dared take a few bites very, very sick. Something that looked like a fruitcake with bananas for arms had removed itself from its plate and started throwing tarts and pumpkin juice at its closest victims, which happened to be Crabbe and Goyle. The table was reduced to screaming, thrashing, broken plates and discarded cutlery. Oddly enough none of the mess reached the Ravenclaw table that was the closest, however the Ravenclaws along with the Beauxbatons students were still quick to abandon their seats. It would've gone on forever had Dumbledore not stood on his feet and ceased the varying cuisine's assault on his students with a wave of his wand.
Pin-drop silence, save for the continued vomiting and crying and swearing of some of the Slytherins. And then, just as suddenly, laughter broke out from all around the hall and nearly shook the castle.
To say that Karkaroff was mortified would've been an understatement.
"You…you…you!" he wheezed, barely able to breathe through his rage, staring at his students and at Viktor in particular with a look that suggested murder.
It looked like Dumbledore was trying to calm him but Hermione couldn't hear him over the laughter, and he'd fail anyway even if he were to physically restrain him for Karkaroff was past reason. He was already storming towards his students like an angry grey cloud, and at some point he had lost his grip on the English language and started shouting in Bulgarian.
Hermione's heart dropped to her stomach. The last time Karkaroff was mildly upset with Viktor he had forced him to run laps throughout the breakfast hour. Whatever he's going to do to him now, he won't be holding back. She looked at his peers, suddenly scared that they were furious with Viktor for making them partake in the prank and then getting them in trouble, but to her surprise and relief they didn't look like they cared at all. If anything they looked rather proud of their achievement.
"So," began Fred, "shall we wrap this up before your headmaster locks you away for all eternity?"
Viktor wasn't paying any mind to Karkaroff. He was still looking thoughtfully at the mess their prank left behind and at the Slytherins that were being hurriedly ushered out by a notably furious Snape and a more shocked McGonagall, no doubt to be taken to the infirmary or the dungeons.
"It was funny," he finally decided, looking away from the mess and towards Fred, "but not…how you say?" he frowned, mumbling under his breath before finally coming to the word he was looking for. "Ah, yes, innovation!"
He looked at Hermione as he said it, beaming with pride even though he hadn't exactly used the word correctly, and under normal circumstances she might've praised him but at the moment all she wanted to do was throttle him for taking part in this prank and landing himself in even more trouble than necessary.
"Oh come on now, we gave you the best we could without getting expelled!" said George, gesturing at the still laughing hall. "I mean, just look at that! And that!" he pointed at Karkaroff, still screaming in Bulgarian at the top of his lungs and hauling his students off their chairs, one burly boy at a time. "That must be worth something!"
Viktor didn't look very convinced.
Fred placed his hands on Hermione's shoulders and turned her to face Viktor. "What about this, then? Surely that's worth something to you?"
One of the reasons Hermione hadn't scolded anyone yet was because she was trying so hard to hold herself back. Normally she wouldn't find such pranks funny, but she couldn't help it. Malfoy and Pansy had been one of the people that hurt Viktor the night before and seeing them screaming and getting pelted with desert was the most satisfying thing in the world. And apparently Viktor saw it on her face before she gave up the pretence and started giggling uncontrollably.
He smiled, still looking at her. "Ok. I accept."
The twins jumped off their seats to high-five each other over Viktor and Hermione's heads.
"We will talk more later," said Viktor, downing the last bit of his coffee. He snapped his fingers and trays full of freshly baked cookies, brownies, and scones with jam and cream appeared on their table.
"Viktor, what just happened?" she demanded, or rather she tried to make herself sound cross and demanding and failed just like the way she had tried and failed to contain her laughter.
"Later," he promised, grabbing a scone and planting a quick kiss on her cheek. "I have to see what Karkaroff wants first."
Thankfully he left before his headmaster could reach him and haul him off like he did with the rest. Hermione quickly stopped touching the spot he kissed when she noticed Ginny staring hard at her.
She cornered Hermione in the common room. She stood blocking the stairway towards the girls' dormitories with her hands on her hips. "Spill." She demanded.
Hermione complied, managing to keep her impatience in check by reminding herself that the last time her friends saw her she was a complete mess and that their coercion was coming from a place of genuine concern. Once again she felt compelled to keep the almost-kiss from their knowledge and did just that, at least for the time being, or until Ginny stops looking at her the way Ron occasionally does whenever the subject of Viktor and Veela mating is broached.
"…and then when I got back Lavender and Parvati were still asleep of course, but I couldn't really, so I started reading Scamander's book and the next thing I know it's morning," Hermione said, fishing the book in question out of her bag and offering it to Ginny.
Ginny wouldn't even look at the book. She went from resembling Ron to Molly. Hermione wasn't quite sure if she should be happy or worried. Ginny briefly looked at Harry, who was standing by the unlit fireplace, then back at Hermione. "And you don't think there's anything… strange with all that's happened since?"
"I'd like to think that Daniela's letter was more than just strange."
"Daniela's letter is the only thing that makes sense, Hermione."
"What are you saying?" she anxiously looked between her friends. "You're not… you're not saying you believe that woman, are you?" she scoffed before Ginny could answer. "It's ridiculous! You've been around Viktor. You know what he's like."
"Except we don't really know him and neither do you," said Ginny, her words easily cutting through Hermione's logic. "I'm not saying I believe this Daniela woman completely, but I do believe my brother when he said that he saw something."
"Oh for goodness' sake–!" she started.
Harry cut her off. "She's right, Hermione. Ron doesn't lie about these things, and you know him better than you know Viktor."
She pressed her lips into a thin line and dug her nails into her palms, now upset with the both of them but mostly with Harry for being right. She may not believe that Viktor is as vicious as everyone thinks, but she also knows Ron very well and she knows what he looks like when he's truly scared.
"What we're trying to say is," said Ginny after a pause, "maybe there's some truth to Daniela's letter."
They're inclined to believe the letter because they haven't seen him, she suddenly realised. They haven't seen him look so ashamed and vulnerable. They didn't know exactly how much he regrets losing control, or how underneath all that obsessive doting he's extremely considerate of her needs.
"Look, you haven't exactly been yourself this morning and we're worried," started Harry. "I tried talking to Ron last night after we all went to bed to make sense of what exactly happened between him and Viktor."
"And?" Hermione prompted after a pause. "What did Ron say?"
"He didn't say anything," Ginny answered instead. "He was so shaken up by what happened he couldn't speak even to Harry, or sleep for that matter. I don't know how he managed to get a hold of himself this morning but he did to face Viktor and you–" she suddenly stopped, taking deep breaths to prevent herself from fully lashing out, then continued in a low voice, "you just sat there and let him take it."
"There was nothing to take, Viktor barely said two words to Ron!"
"Oh bloody hell, will you stop defending him already!"
"I will not!" Hermione's voice rose to a shrill but she stopped caring. She was becoming too upset and impatient with her friends and their stubbornness. They were starting to sound like everyone else and she couldn't stand it, not from them, and not towards Viktor. "I will defend him against anyone as long as he's innocent."
Ginny snorted. "And what exactly makes you believe that he's entirely innocent, the fact that you're his supposed mate?"
It stung on a deeper level than she'll ever admit, but Hermione pushed it down. "Right, because surely you are not biased."
"Even Harry agrees with me! He almost attacked Ron and you cannot deny that without looking stupid because the whole bloody school saw it!"
"I'm not denying anything nor am I saying I'm happy with what happened! It all happened so fast and Ron was creating a scene. Viktor misunderstood. He thought Ron was hurting me. He was only trying to defend me but it got out of hand."
"Rubbish! He would've known that Ron wouldn't hurt you if he's so bloody attuned to your feelings. Stop making excuses for him and face facts, Hermione. He wanted to hurt Ron because he sees him as a threat."
Hermione felt a cold chill seep into her bones. A love-struck yet rejected, agitated male Veela's first instinct to competition is to eliminate it. That's what the book had said, or the part George read, but surely Viktor wouldn't…?
The book is about full Veela, Hermione reasoned, and from what she's read so far a good portion of it relied on a collection of myths and legends and stories passed down from past generations. There was even a disclaimer at the beginning stating that the part of the book concerning male Veela is mostly comprised of theories rather than solid facts and should be treated as such, as there hasn't ever been a recorded sighting of a full-blooded male Veela and that studies on current male part-Veela is fairly new and on-going. It's possible that that piece of information is either false or applies only to full male Veela.
And Viktor simply wouldn't kill anyone, ever, because he may be persistent and infuriating and dense when it suits him but he is not a killer. No amount of rejections will make him one. He wouldn't even get agitated, he'd just grin and try harder.
Hermione didn't get the chance to voice those thoughts. Lavender crawled through the portrait hole and walked towards them with an uncharacteristically serious look on her face, for once not caring to know the cause of the shouting or of the tension in the room. She as holding a newspaper in her hands.
"Sorry to interrupt, but I really think you should see this," she said, giving Hermione the newspaper.
Hermione didn't need to search for the answer. It was on the front page. Durmstrang Veela Reveals Dark Side, Attacks Student by Rita Skeeter.