A/N: Apparently my continuity is almost as horrible as my updating habits... :P I didn't write the accents (except for Viktor's) in this chapter, mainly because if Harry's had the translation charm cast on him, they shouldn't even be there. A huge thanks to the reviewer who pointed that out. :) Revising this is gonna be a real bitch, I think, with all these plot and character issues that keep cropping up.
A word of warning: things heat up a bit, relationship-wise, in this chapter. There's nothing R-rated (IMO, anyway), but I figured I should let you guys know in case you'd rather not read that bit.
That said, many thanks to all of my wonderful reviewers, as well as everyone who added this story to their favorites or alerts. You guys are awesome! And extremely patient!
A shocked silence hung over the pitch for a long moment. Then, like the high, irritating drone of an insect, the murmuring started. It was small at first, hardly noticeable, but rose in pitch until things once again hovered near the usual volume--an ear-splitting roar.
Even then it seemed eerily quiet to Harry, as if he were underwater, his hearing liquid-muffled. Maybe it was just nerves?
He took his place on the pitch, hoping the jello-like quality of his knees wouldn't hamper his kick-off. It would be humiliating--in the oh-sweet-Merlin-I'm-never-going-to-live-this-down sort of way, at that--to screw something up right off the start, when he'd done just fine--excelled, even--in his only two professional games to date.
In that moment of quiet before the game began--while the team Captains were shaking hands and the referee was reiterating the rules they'd all heard a thousand times over and could probably recite word-for-word--Harry glanced over at Viktor. The dark-haired Seeker was standing in his usual moody slouch, his expression grim--as it tended to be whenever he was under the public's eye.
As if sensing Harry's desperate need for some sort of calming influence, Viktor's dark eyes flickered over to meet his own. A faint smiled curved upwards at the edges of his lips. It was a mere ghost of the teasing Cheshire grin Harry was fast becoming used to (uncommon though it was), but it was for Harry and Harry alone, and that was all that mattered.
He gave a weak smile in return, doing his best to hide the fear that threatened to bubble up inside and drown him.
The whistle was blown, a sharp, harsh sound that was hardly audible against the backdrop of screaming, chanting, and jeering fans. Fourteen players exploded into action, slamming their feet against the pitch and shoving off with shocking speed.
The quaffle was snatched out of mid-air by one of the Sharks' Chasers and held against his chest as he (Zoravkov if the announcer's frenzied chatter was to be believed) rocketed off in the direction of the goal posts.
Harry tracked the man's progress with his eyes, clutching his Beater's bat a little more tightly; his palm was slippery with sweat, and he would rather Avada himself than drop his bat in front of a stadium full of people. Taking a few slow, lung-achingly deep breaths to help steady his singing nerves, he shot off in pursuit of the nearest bludger.
Twenty minutes and a few goals later found Harry hammering yet another enchanted leather ball with all his strength. An unpleasant jolt shot up his arm, but it was worth the momentary pain; the bludger careened off towards one of the opposing Chasers.
Unfortunately (well, for the Vultures, anyway), Angelov managed to duck in time, and the bludger shot off in pursuit of Ivanova instead.
A little more fortunately, the next bludger he whacked nearly knocked Hristov, the Sharks' Seeker, clear off his broom. The crowd roared its appreciation--or outrage, depending on which team they supported--as the light-haired man reeled from the impact.
"Another great hit by Potter! He's really been Beating up a storm out there today, ladies and gentlemen. He's not the only Vratsa player showing some serious determination; Dimitrov, who was out for a number of matches last season with a recurring shoulder injury, has been a scoring machine today with three consecutive goals to his name. Vultures lead the Sharks fifty to ten."
A blue-robed Chaser--Lovkanova, if Harry's memory served him correctly--shot past, the quaffle tucked under her arm, and Harry sent another bludger after her. His accuracy was dead-on, but Lovkanova wasn't about to make herself an easy target. She barrel-rolled to the left, out of the bludger's intended path, but she still didn't manage to escape it entirely.
Instead of the bludger to the head it was meant to be, she took it to the shoulder; she dropped the quaffle, and Dimitrov, who'd been flying underneath her, caught it.
Harry watched with a satisfied smile as Dimitrov streaked away down the pitch, heading for the goal hoops.
He paid for his momentary distraction by not seeing the bludger coming up behind him until it was nearly too late. He jerked sideways a split second before it smashed into his head, throwing his arm up reflexively. He recovered quickly from the near miss, though, and shot off after the Bludger, beater's bat at the ready.
One vicious swing later, Zoravkov's nose was gushing blood like a fountain, and another roar went up from the crowd as Ivanova scored on a tricky behind-the-back pass from Dimitrov.
Volkov swooped down to fly beside him, a wide grin splitting his face as he listened to the crowd's enthusiastic response. "We're pounding them!" he announced gleefully in rapid Bulgarian, punctuating the exclamation with a swipe at a nearby bludger. It connected with a resounding crack, sending the enchanted leather ball streaking off towards one of the blue-robed players across the pitch.
Volkov's excitement was contagious. Harry felt an answering grin forming on his face as he shouted his agreement.
Volkov opened his mouth to continue, but was interrupted by the announcer's cry. "And it looks like the Seekers have spotted the snitch!"
Both Beaters whipped around, scanning the sky for Viktor. He was easily identified--he and the Sharks' Seeker were rocketing straight down, performing what looked like a Kamikaze run against the pitch, and almost every eye in the stadium was focused on the two speed-blurred figures. They were neck-and-neck, both lying flush against their broom handles in a desperate bid for more speed as the ground drew nearer.
They both pulled up at the last moment, streaking away after the snitch as it apparently decided that staying still was vastly overrated. It shot off towards the Sharks' goalposts with the two Seekers in close pursuit.
The tiny golden ball stopped there, fluttering near the center post.
So close they almost appeared to be fused together, the two men were scarcely more than a flailing mass of tangled limbs as they came to an abrupt halt near it. They elbowed and shoved each other, grabbing blindly for the snitch.
Viktor was renowned as the best Seeker in the world for a reason, though, and when it was all said and done, he was the one to hold it up, triumphant.
They celebrated the win, of course; there was plenty of hugging and back-slapping and bellowed congratulations between teammates as they all crowded around their Seeker. Though elated by the outcome of the match, it wasn't the teary-eyed, overwhelmed-with-emotion, scream-yourself-hoarse sort of win. After all, it was only a regular season game (albeit one against a very skilled opponent). No, that kind of rejoicing would be saved for the playoffs.
With the roar of the crowd--twenty thousand strong--still ringing in their ears, they flew their victory lap and shot off towards the locker room. They had a night of boozing and dancing and clowning around to prepare for--after interviews and autograph signing, of course.
Oh, the trials and tribulations of life as a professional athlete.
The locker room door had barely closed behind them before Viktor was shoving Harry back against the nearest wall, catching his mouth in a hard, almost desperate kiss. Their tongues battled, more out of reflex than any real need to establish dominance. There was more spit involved than was actually attractive, but neither of them seemed to mind.
Viktor pulled back after a moment and began to mouth his way down the long column of Harry's neck, aiming for the juncture where it met his shoulder. The (surprisingly aggressive) rasp of lips and stubble against his skin was heaven, especially when Viktor reached his destination and bit down on the flesh, using just enough pressure to leave a mark.
Harry moaned, taking Viktor's sweat-musk scent deep into his lungs when he inhaled. Even musky, dirty, and sweating to high heaven, Viktor was one of the best things he'd ever smelled. He ducked his head and darted his tongue out to lick a stripe up the side of the Seeker's neck, ending just below his jawline.
Viktor full-body shuddered at the sensation, then growled, nipping at his earlobe in retaliation. Harry leaned his head to the side, giving Viktor the chance to mark his skin up to his heart's content. Even as he did so, his hands shifted downwards to settle at waist height, clutching Viktor's hips. His grip was just shy of bruising.
Judging from the ragged, wanton sound the action tore from Viktor--silent, stoic, always-in-control Viktor--he wasn't at all adverse to the display of strength.
Viktor pressed himself even closer, if that was possible, and nudged Harry's thighs apart. He rubbed his knee against the growing bulge evident through the sweat-darkened fabric of Harry's Quidditch breeches.
Harry arched into the contact, tilting his head back and groaning. His eyes stayed open, though, and when Viktor's fingers reached up to tangle in his sweat-soaked hair, gripping a little too tightly to compensate for the wetness, he latched onto Viktor's neck with his teeth.
Spurred on by the pressure against his crotch and the sharp pain of his hair being tugged--albeit rather gently--he began biting (and then sucking and licking) the mother of all hickeys into a patch of skin just below the Bulgarian's jaw. A bitten-off moan escaped him, muffled even further by Viktor's salty-hot skin against his lips, as they rocked together, lost in their own little two-person world of heat and friction and ecstasy.
Their two-person world abruptly became a three-person one, however, when a sock--sodden and reeking of sweat--whacked Viktor in the back of the head. He shied away from the projectile, startled, and Harry's head collided with the underside of his jaw. He jerked away from the younger boy, letting loose a torrent of cuss words in his native tongue.
"Come on, not in front of the rest of us!" Dimitrov complained from somewhere farther into the room. Viktor rounded on him, Death Scowl in full force. Harry did the same, but his attention was directed at Dimitrov's feet, which were sporting only one sock between the two of them.
Having identified the sock-thrower, Harry calmly snatched the material up with his thumb and pointer finger, grimacing, and chucked it back. His Beater's aim wasn't quite as good without a bat in hand, though, and he missed Dimitrov's face by several inches. It sailed harmlessly over his head and landed on the floor by Levski's duffel bag.
Viktor's countryman, who up until that point had been busy trying to peel himself out of his far-too-clingy Quidditch breeches, glanced over at them and smirked. It was clear that he was thoroughly enjoying the situation. "Actually, I'd like to keep watching if you don't mind," he said mildly.
"Perv," Viktor accused, scowling at him, too, before turning back to Harry.
The mood was ruined by that point, though, and he did little more than ghost his mouth over Harry's before stepping back and walking--duck-footed stride even more pronounced than usual--over to his designated locker.
Harry, a little pissed off that they'd been interrupted just when things were getting good, shot the two overly-amused Bulgarians a venomous look as he followed Viktor's lead. They smirked back at him, entirely unabashed, and Levski even had the guts to crack a blue-balls joke, eyeing the pronounced bulge in the front of Harry's breeches.
Harry snarled at him silently, but even with all the muscle he'd put on over the course of the summer, Levski wasn't the least bit intimidated. He was immune to death glares--after all, he had spent several years already in the company of Viktor Krum.
Harry and Viktor both stripped down hastily; the faster they got into the showers--and out of Levski and Dimitrov's sights--the better. After shedding his clothes, Harry grabbed his shower supplies--towel and soap. He crossed the locker room in what felt like record time. Noticing Viktor padding after him, also divested of his uniform and protective gear, he reached back and twined Viktor's fingers through his own, urging him to walk faster by tugging on his arm.
Once out of the locker room, Harry dropped his towel by the doorway and made a beeline for the farthest, most isolated shower stall. He could feel the amused eyes of his teammates on them as he passed by, leading Viktor, whose expression seemed to be lightening by stages the farther he got from Dimitrov and Levski.
Reaching their destination, Harry released Viktor's hand to fumble with the hot and cold knobs. After a moment, steaming hot water gushed from the shower head, sluicing over them and running in long rivulets down their chests as they centered themselves underneath the spray.
Viktor took the soap from Harry's hand and stood behind the shorter youth, lathering his body with soap suds in sweeping, leisurely strokes. He nuzzled at the back of Harry's neck as he worked, pressing a series of lingering kisses to the sensitive skin at the nape of his neck.
Even with Viktor dragging things out, teasing Harry relentlessly, it wasn't long before he was finished. He'd scrubbed every inch of Harry's body within reach--including his hair, which remained unruly even under the pounding spray of the shower. A quick rinse off, and then it was Harry's turn to exact his revenge.
He rubbed circles across Viktor's back to start off with. Next, he trailed his nimble hands--Seekers' hands, although they'd been put to a much different use of late--over the Bulgarian's shoulders and down his sides. He kept his touch light, teasing even. Hard, solid muscle jumped under his hands as he slid his palms over Viktor's stomach, tracing random patterns in the leftover suds with his fingertips.
Viktor sighed against his ear, murmuring, "If you keep that up, Harry, ve are going to haff more problems than just getting out of here vithout being trampled by reporters. I don't know if you haff noticed, but our teammates are of a rather impatient breed."
He glanced downward meaningfully, as if his point hadn't been made clear enough by words alone. Harry followed his gaze and grinned. "A bit late to stop now, don't you think?"
"Actually, your timing's just about perfect," a gravelly male voice--distinctly Volkov--called out from the entrance to the locker room. "Get your horny asses out here and dressed, you two! Everybody else is almost ready, and we've got an after-party to carouse and over-indulge at!"
"Fuck the after-party!" Viktor shot back, the frustration showing quite plainly in his voice. He didn't wait for a reply, diving in for another water-drenched kiss.
Laughter exploded from the doorway, followed by various raucous exclamations of mock pride ("Aww, he said 'fuck'! Our little Viktor's growing up!"), not to mention a few more gutter-minded comments ("Bet he wants to fuck more than the just the after-party...").
Thankfully, the Vratsa Vultures as a whole tended to have a small measure of mercy for each other, and they all pretended not to hear the rhythmic sounds of love-making (well, the ones that could be heard over the roar of every single shower running full-blast, anyway) echoing in the other room as they finished getting dressed.
Getting out of the locker room after the game proved to be quite the endeavor.
Well, doing it without being harassed by the media did, anyway. Zograf was almost mobbed by reporters when he tried to leave, and came staggering back into the locker room only moments later, looking as if he'd been witness to something rather frightening. "It's a madhouse out there!" he exclaimed, shaking his head, still looking a bit dazed from the multitude of near-blinding camera flashes.
Volkov shot the Keeper a look that quite plainly said, 'Well, duh.'
"What did you expect?" he asked, amusement coloring his voice as he finished stuffing his sweat, blood, and dirt-coated Quidditch robes--the latter caused by an almost-but-not-quite collision with the pitch--into his duffel bag and attempted to zip the bulging fabric shut. He turned his attention away from his shell-shocked fellow Vulture to struggle with the zipper and, when that yielded no better results, to rearrange some of the haphazardly-packed gear within.
"I knew it would be bad--I mean, it's Harry Potter, I'm not an idiot--but that..." He gestured wildly at the closed door. "That? That is ridiculous. Letting him go out there right now would be like throwing him into a nest of hungry Acromantulas!"
Harry, overhearing the "Acromantula" comment, shuddered. He'd actually experienced that particular event before, and would take fighting off every last one of Aragog's zillion or so children over facing the media circus waiting outside. Actually, he'd take a one-on-one duel with Voldemort over the reporters. He'd always hated being the center of attention, and while he knew 'International Quidditch Star' was a really dumb career choice if he wanted to stay out of the limelight, the pros were outweighing the cons so far. He supposed he could live with it, provided things quieted down after a while.
Those were the key words, though, weren't they? 'After a while.' 'After a while' certainly wasn't going to do him any good in the now.
He really didn't want to go out there--doubtless, the reporters were ready to eat him alive. Still, there was no other option. The anti-Apparation wards on the locker rooms were necessary for the security of the players (and to keep the paparazzi from snapping as many nude pictures of said players as they liked), but they were damned inconvenient.
Taking a deep breath to steady himself for the coming onslaught, he shoved the door open and stepped through it, Viktor close on his heels.
Zograf was right; the chaos and jostling that greeted him the second he stepped outside was borderline ludicrous. Cameras were flashing and people were shouting, pushing and elbowing each other to get to the front of the crowd.
Harry was reminded strongly of a pack of wolves, snapping and snarling at each other to decide who would get the first bite (ahem, question). The more ruthless and cunning were at the front, the "nice guys" forced to less desirable positions at the back. They would be left to scavenge for scraps after the others had taken their fill.
Even the analogy itself was rather frightening--if the reporters were the wolves, that meant he was the prey.
He must have frozen in the wake of all the chaos and disorder, because a gentle nudge came at the small of his back and he found himself being pushed forward so the rest of his teammates could slip out behind him. Zograf, Dimitrov, and a few of the reserves bolted for it, but the rest of the team stuck around out of some twisted, self-sacrificing sense of loyalty.
Viktor waited patiently, standing at his elbow and scowling ferociously at anyone that so much as glanced in his direction. (And there were a fair few people glancing at him--he was, after all, one of the best Seekers in the world (maybe even the best) and attracted reporters like flies to honey, no matter how much he disliked the attention.
Harry did his best to answer everything intelligently--not necessarily with the full, unedited truth, but decent, halfway thought-out answers nonetheless. Questions came at him swift and hard, a verbal barrage the likes of which he'd never even seen before, let alone suffered through. The media crowded closer, snapping pictures and yelling their questions at increasingly higher volumes lest they go unnoticed.
From the center of the melee, a short, scruffy-looking wizard with an abnormally large nose shouted, "Potter! How do you feel about the fans' reaction?" Harry started, surprised. He hadn't needed the translation charm to understand that one; it had been in English. English with an ungodly heavy Scottish burr, which very nearly required a translation charm in itself, but still--English. Why in Merlin's name was a British reporter there?
Someone else piped up in Bulgarian, attempting to overshadow the previous speaker, and yet another followed suit--the always-dreaded domino effect.
He could already feel a migraine coming on.
Silence, thick and heavy as one of Viktor's old coarse-furred Durmstrang cloaks, fell over the Gryffindor Common Room as Harry stepped through the portrait hole. He tensed up immediately, already anticipating the endless sea of questions that were sure to come. Even the mere thought of standing there and pretending to have some last vestige of patience left was daunting, and he hoped fervently that the Gryffindors would have mercy on him and just leave the subject alone.
No such luck, of course.
He'd barely gone a couple of steps before a lanky boy with remarkably bad acne, a third or fourth year from the looks of him, called out, "Hey, Potter! Since when are you a Beater?"
"I thought you were a Seeker?" someone else chimed in.
"Yeah, what's that all about?"
"Have you been practicing with them all summer?"
"What's it like, playing professionally?"
Harry ducked his head and played deaf, ignoring the questions. He skirted the edge of the room, determinedly pretending not to hear any of its occupants, and headed up to the dormitory. He'd spent two and a half hours being peppered with questions by the media; he figured he'd done enough question-answering for one night.
Ninety percent of what people were yelling had probably been answered at some point in those interviews, anyway. If they had a real, burning need to know, they could read the goddamn newspaper. He was sure he'd be plastered all over the front page the next morning; any news at all about him seemed to be "big news".
The dorm was empty when he got up to it, which he was thankful for. As drained as he was, he really didn't want to deal with a certain jealous, back-stabbing redhead. In fact, peeling off his clothes and falling into bed was about as much as he could manage after the stress of the game, the media's hounding, and the fun-but-exhausting after-party he'd just left.
He used the bare minimum of attention he could get away with to cast the protective charms on his curtains, and then tucked his wand under his pillow, rolling over and flopping out in a boneless sprawl that took up most of the bed.
Breakfast the next morning was absolute hell.
Harry had barely gotten the chance to sit down and fill his plate before a post owl was alighting on the table beside him, delivering the newest edition of the Daily Prophet. Harry absently tucked a knut into the small pouch attached to the owl's leg before turning his attention to the paper.
He paid no mind as the owl snatched a piece of bacon from his plate and took wing again, too busy grimacing at the massive headline that dominated the front page-- "Boy-Who-Lived Revealed As Vratsa Quidditch Star!" Underneath it was a picture of him from the night before, squinting unattractively under the onslaught of camera flashes. (Sometimes heightened vision wasn't a good thing.)
Viktor was visible over his shoulder, and the look on his face was familiar--Harry had begun to refer to it as "The Patented Viktor Krum Media Scowl". Viktor hated having his picture taken almost as much as he hated giving interviews, and it showed.
Harry had to admit, though, the surliness was rather...dare he say endearing? A faint smile graced his lips as he followed the curves of Viktor distinct profile with his eyes, from the hawk-like nose to the strong jawline to the thick, heavy eyebrows, angled together into a forbidding scowl. He would never be described as conventionally handsome, but Viktor's face held more character than any pretty-boy model's ever could.
His eyes strayed farther down the page, skimming the article--might as well see how badly they'd twisted his words this time, right? He didn't doubt that they would be. His track record with the British media was rather abysmal, after all, and it was highly likely they'd screwed something up somewhere.
He still had no clue how the British reporters had gotten to the pitch so quickly. Why would they have any interest in a Bulgarian Quidditch game? They shouldn't have even heard about his unveiling until long after the game finished, and by that point he might have been lucky enough to maneuver his way through the hoards and Apparate away to the after-party without much hassle.
Upon further inspection of the article, he was grudgingly pleased to find that most of his answers were given with an acceptable degree of accuracy. They weren't perfect, but they vaguely resembled his original replies, so he could maybe forgive the media a bit of artistic license.
Any small amount of relief he might have been feeling about the lack of vicious slandering and questioning of his character and/or mental stability in the article was swiftly dispelled, however, by the arrival of a scowling redhead in hand-me-down robes.
"Bet you feel right smug about this, don't you?" Ron said bitterly, tossing a second--and, it should be noted, far more unkempt--copy of the Prophet onto the table. "You claim you don't want to be famous, you just want to be normal," he sneered, "and then you prance around like a great bloody git, making sure they plaster you all over the front page. You're a real piece of work, you know that, Potter?"
Harry stared at him, flabbergasted. Ron Weasley was calling him a git? How was it even possible for someone to be that much of a hypocrite? Was he dropped on his head as a baby? Hexed one too many times? There had to be something.
"I do want to be normal!" he snapped back. "And you've got no room to be talking, Weasley. You abandon your best friend, out of jealousy, mind you, and you've still got the nerve to call me a hypocrite? What the hell kind of person does that make you?"
"That's enough, you guys! Stop it! Just stop it!"
Both Harry and Ron jerked around in surprise as a third voice joined the fray--a very familiar one, at that, although neither of them had ever heard it raised in anger before. Neville stormed over to the table and shot Ron a glare, one with a shocking amount of venom behind it. "I'm sick of listening to you both tear each other apart like a couple of rabid animals! You don't have to get along, but can't you at least stop snarling at each other every chance you get?"
Ron opened his mouth to retort, but after a second glance at the infuriated look on Neville's face, he settled for a nasty parting glare and made his retreat. Neville couldn't really be called much of a fighter, but two against one still wasn't much for odds.
"Wow, Neville," Harry commented as he watched Ron stalk away. "Unleashing your inner lion, eh?"
"I...I guess you could say that, yeah."