She was still cursing her own stupidity when she unceremoniously dropped onto the ground a moment later. She scrambled to her feet immediately and pulled out her wand, just in case. There was someone standing in front of her, but because of the bright light shining through the open doorway behind the person, it was hard to tell who it was. She could definitely tell that it was a he from the silhouette. A tall, dark haired and large nosed he. They took a step forward and blocked the glaring sunlight with their body.
"Herm-own-ninny," replied the slouchy Quidditch player.
"Viktor," repeated Hermione, still in shock. "What are you doing here? What am I doing here? Where are we?"
"I vanted to vish you a happy birthday."
"Yes, well, you could have just sent me a card." The Bulgarian shrugged.
"I haff not seen you in almost two years. It is a Saturday, no? You do not have any classes today."
"I haff missed you. It has been too long." He took a step closer and smiled down at her. "You haff turned into a very beautiful voman," he said as he reached a hand out to her hair. She automatically took a step back.
"Please, don't. You don't know...."
"Vat is wrong?" A look of confusion settled on his face. Her body wanted to take another step back, but she made herself stand her ground. This is Viktor. Only Viktor. She fought for control of her pounding heart. I cannot continue being scared of every male I meet.
"It's all right, Viktor. I...I was just still shocked, that's all. You didn't answer my question. Where are we?" At this, he smiled.
"You remember how I told you that my team vas touring the vorld this year?" She nodded. "Come and look for yourself." He took her hand (it took all her self control not to flinch) and led her outside. Once she stepped out of the doorway and saw where she was, she gasped. They were standing on the roof of a building with nothing above or around them but the sky. There were other people, Muggles, she noted, walking around the edge of the platform, talking to each other and pointing into the distance. Most did not bother to notice her or Viktor, but one young girl took one look at her robes and pulled at her mother's arm to ask about them. Self-consciously, Hermione immediately divested herself of the black robes and stored her wand in her pocket. She carried the robes slung over her arm as if it were a trench coat.
"Where...?" she asked, looking to Viktor. He smiled again and tugged her forward.
"Come." He brought her to the edge and leaned against the guardrail. She looked down and felt her knees almost buckle under her. She grabbed onto Viktor's arm for support. He looked down at her in concern.
"You are not afraid of heights, are you?"
"N-no. Usually, that is. But I've never been this high up before. Where are we?" He smiled, but still did not answer her question.
"I am sure you can figure it out for yourself." He knew how much she loved to solve puzzles and wanted to see how long it would take her to figure this one out.
She took a step back so that the view was not so dizzying but not so far back that she couldn't make out the scenery below. They were in the middle of a large metropolitan area cut through by a river. To the right was a large body of water and to the left she saw another building the same height as the one she was standing on, except it had a large antenna sticking up from it. The people around her were still speaking English. But with an accent. It sounded very...American. To confirm her suspicions, she looked up at the sky. The sun was definitely higher than it had been when she had left her room.
"Are you bloody out of your mind? You've taken me out of the country?" Viktor started to look worried.
"You do not like it?"
"It doesn't matter if I like it or not, Viktor. I'm still a student. A minor. I can't just go cavorting around the globe with you. I'll get in trouble. I'll...."
"I'm sorry, Herm-own-ninny," he said, trying to calm her down. "That vas not my intention. I only vanted to show you what it was like up here in the sky. I know you do not like flying on broomsticks."
She sighed. It was impossible to stay mad at someone who had so earnestly tried to please her.
"Thank you, Viktor. But how am I supposed to return? My friends will be worried about me and start looking for me. I can't stay here."
"I haff another Portkey for your return, but it does not activate for another half hour."
"Oh," she said as she realized she was stuck here. Another question popped into her mind. "How did...?"
"Shhh. Let us enjoy the view for now. I vill answer your questions later." She complied and turned towards view again. It was incredible, and much better than being on the back of a broom. Or a hippogriff or thestral for that matter.
When she felt him put his arm around her, though, she quickly shrugged it off.
"Stop. Please, don't."
"Vat is it? Is there someone else, Herm-own-ninny? Have you found a boyfriend?" She could tell he wasn't angry, just disappointed.
"No. No, it's just that...." She couldn't very well tell him why she was feeling so uncomfortable at his touch. But his questions had made her think of Snape and gave her an idea. "There is somebody else that I'm interested in, but I don't dare tell him."
"Vy not? Who is it?"
"I...I can't tell you. I'm sorry." And the look in her eyes told him that she truly was.
"It is all right. I understand. And I hope that you vill be happy. I am sure this person, whoever he is, vill be able to recognize how vonderful a voman you are." Hermione thought of Snape again and snorted.
"Somehow, I don't think he will."
Viktor brought a hand to her chin and tilted her face up so that she was looking straight into his eyes.
"You are a beautiful, brilliant vitch, Herm-own-ninny. I know the rest of the boys in your school could not see it two years ago, but I did. And you have only grown even more beautiful, and I'm sure, even more brilliant. Who can possibly resist you?"
Instead of finding comfort in his words, Hermione trembled. Could what he said be true? Was it her fault that Draco had done what he did? She had never considered herself very attractive, but if what Viktor was saying was true.... Get a grip, Granger. He's just trying to make you feel better. There's no way you're that irresistible. Think about Ron and Harry. Well, not Ron. But Harry. And Neville. And...even Snape. Yes, thinking of her unattainable Potions professor grounded her back to reality.
Viktor had felt her tense at his words, but when she looked back up at him there was nothing but gratefulness in her eyes.
"Thank you Viktor. That was very kind of you."
"You're velcome, mil edna. You know that I vill always speak the truth to you. Now, tell me about this man you are so interested in." Before she could voice her protestations, he continued. "You do not have to tell me who he is, but surely you can tell me why you are interested in him?" Hermione opened her mouth again to tell him no, but then closed it, realizing that what he said was true. There was also the added bonus that Viktor hardly knew who Snape was and wasn't going to be speaking to any of her friends anytime soon, so she really could speak freely about him. It was wonderful, to be able to share with someone else all the amazing things she was coming to understand about the man.
"Well, he's not exactly the easiest person to get to know; there's a lot about him that he doesn't exactly show to everyone around him. Because he can't." She realized how obtuse she was sounding, so she elaborated. "He's been hurt a lot in the past, and it's made him vulnerable. But he puts up this front...." At Viktor's confused look, she decided to start over again. "He's been down to the darkest of places, but was strong enough to come back up. He's suffered more than I can imagine, and yet somehow he continues to endure it. He's self-sacrificing, brave, and the most intelligent man I know."
"Herm-own-ninny, did you just describe a man or a myth?"
She had to giggle. "Oh, he's real enough. But now you see why I like him so." She had been leaning forward on the railing with her arms crossed, looking into the distance as she described Severus, but now she turned and looked at Krum. "You know, he kind of reminds me of you. I mean, you both have similar features." They both blushed at that, she because of the verbal faux pas she had made, and he because he knew why she had made it. To cover their mutual embarrassment, he changed the subject.
"You vill have to write to me more often now and tell me vat happens between you and this mystery man of yours."
"Viktor!" She knew he was teasing her and swatted at his arm. He was happy to see her smile, but after a glance at his watch, he grew serious again.
"Come, it is almost time." He led her back into what she now realized was the emergency stairwell. "No one vill see you disappear in here."
"Wait," she said as he handed her the other half of the ticket stub, "how did you get first Portkey onto my nightstand?" But it was too late. Again, she felt the familiar tug at her navel. Her last thought before she disappeared was that she had also forgotten to ask him where this Portkey would take her.
Of course. She should have guessed. The Quidditch pitch. It was lucky for her it wasn't a game day, but then, Viktor had probably foreseen that possibility. She put her robes back on and made her way back to her dormitory, hoping no one had noticed her absence.
Her hope had been in vain. When she entered her common room it was to find almost all of Gryffindor crowded around the six central figures of Professor Dumbledore, McGonagall, Snape, Harry, Ron, and Ginny. Snape! What was he doing there? It was the first time she had seen either him or Dumbledore in their common room, and the tableau they presented only confused her even more. McGonagall was questioning her three friends while Snape was alternately pacing the floors and jumping in to bark at Harry or Ron. The two boys looked scared but bewildered. Ginny was trying to get to get either authorities' attention and finally resorted to shouting, "BUT I KNOW WHERE SHE IS!" Everyone stopped then and turned to look at the youngest Weasley. Everyone, that is, except for Dumbledore, who was looking directly at her. Before Ginny could elaborate, the headmaster spoke up.
"Thank you, Miss Weasley, but I believe that your assistance is no longer necessary." Snape gaped at the old man before turning to look where he was looking. At the sight of Miss Granger, apparently safe and unharmed, his breath caught in his throat. The next second he was storming towards her, and her eyes widened at the fury on his face.
"Where have you been?! How could you disappear...."
Professor McGonagall was fast enough to intercept him.
"Professor Snape, now that the girl has returned, perhaps it is time that you returned to your own house." He looked around at all the gaping Gryffindors as if he suddenly realized they were there. Fortunately, Dumbledore came to his rescue.
"Come, Professor, I believe the good Professor McGonagall is right. Why don't we leave the situation in her more than capable hands?" He led the Head of Slytherin out of the Gryffindor common room. But just before he disappeared behind the portrait door, he turned around and winked. The entire house erupted into giggles and whispering. It took three tries before McGonagall could be heard above the din.
"Children, back to your rooms. There is to be no more talk of what happened." She knew her command would be useless, but she had to try, regardless. "Miss Granger and Miss Weasley, stay here with me. And no, Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley, that does not mean you may stay too. Now leave us." At her words, the entire common room emptied itself until only the three women were left.
"Now, Miss Weasley, I understand you had prior knowledge of Miss Granger's disappearance?"
"Ginny, what are you talking about?" interrupted Hermione. Ginny looked at her and then back at the stern glare of Professor McGonagall before continuing.
"I received an owl from Viktor Krum earlier this week, ma'am. He wanted to surprise Hermione with a special birthday present. And so I left it for her on her nightstand. I didn't know what it was, but when I saw the opened gift box I...."
"So that's how it got there...." Hermione instantly regretted speaking up as it brought her professor's full attention to her.
"Miss Granger, do you understand how much trouble you are in right now?" snapped McGonagall. "Now explain where you have been for the last hour."
"But it wasn't my fault, Professor. I didn't know whom the present was from. I thought...." Better not say whom you thought it was from. "I opened the box," she started again, "and all I saw was this." She held up the torn piece of paper. It wasn't the same one that had been in the box, but it was close enough. "When I touched it, it turned out to be a Portkey." This news elicited gasps from both Ginny and McGonagall.
"Do you know how dangerous...."
"But I didn't know! Anyways, I'm safe, and that's all that really matters, isn't it?"
"But where did you go?" asked Ginny, too curious not to ask. McGonagall realized she probably should have scolded the Weasley girl, but was also much too curious about the apparent romantic gesture to say anything.
"Well...." Hermione hesitated. "He took me to the top of one of the Twin Towers." Two more gasps.
"Are you telling me he transported you all the way to America? To New York City?" Hermione nodded sheepishly.
"Wow," sighed Ginny, dreamily.
"Hmph," snorted McGonagall. "Well you can tell your beau that the next time he wants to give you a present...."
"He's not my beau," insisted Hermione. McGonagall responded with a dubious look.
"In any case, there will be no more Portkeys from him, do you understand?"
"I will not have any more of my students disappearing on me. And to think, it was Professor Snape who discovered that you were missing. How am I ever going to show my face to him again? Miss Weasley, after your own disappearance during your first year, I would have expected you to come straight to us with what you knew."
"I'm sorry, Professor." Professor McGonagall held her glance of disappointment on the two of them a second longer before sighing.
"Well, what's done is done. But to make sure you both have learned your lessons, that will be ten points from each of you for reckless behavior."
"Yes, ma'am," they both replied, grateful that more drastic measures had not been taken. Their Head of House looked up the staircase at all the slightly open doors.
"You may all come down now. We are finished here." The doors opened slowly, but the students spilled out quickly as soon as the professor left.
"Hermione! What happened?" asked a second year girl.
"Was it really from Viktor Krum?"
"Did the two of you kiss?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. It would be a long afternoon.