November, 24th

Author: Ищущая (ichuchii on rambler ru)
Beta-reading in Russian: Ollnik
Translation into English: belana & merry1978. This translation is authorized by Ищущая and is posted here with her consent.
Rating: G
Paring: indistinct
Genre: general
Author's disclaimer: not mine. Everything belongs to J.K. Rowling, the rest – to the director of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire".

х х х

He has been sitting in his cabin from the moment he returned to the ship. His body was aching. The Chinese Fireball, while looking small and clumsy, turned out to be agile and malicious. Enraged, it not only crushed half of the eggs, but with a brush of its wing almost jammed Victor into the rocks. His back was still aching, even after Stephania's balm. It was a good thing that he managed to stand up right after the fall – the judges apparently decided that the injury was minor. Karkaroff didn't let him go to the tent for the first aid and ordered him to go to the ship right after the end of the task.

Maybe, he should have disobeyed, but he didn't want to quarrel with the Headmaster. Anyway, the Englishmen were strange folks, who knows what sort of medicine would have those Mediwitches used. In spite of all "fair play" talk and the notorious British traditions, it was obvious from the beginning of the Tournament that nothing was going to be right. Starting from the fact that there were four champions...

The door creaked, and the hurricane lantern swayed.

"Victor?" Yuri shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other on the doorstep. "May I?"

There was only one place to sit in the cabin – the bed, so Victor moved a bit, wincing in pain. Apparently, the injury was serious. He was hurt during the Quidditch matches many times and got used to it. But that pain under his shoulder blade felt bad.

"Are you all right?"

Oh... He thought that Yuri had came on business – but if that was only for a sympathetic talk... No. Karkaroff will surely stop by in the evening, and one meaningless conversation for one day is quite enough.

"Everything's all right. Sorry, I am not in the mood. Go away." Yuri, though, just looked at him in silence, and after a short pause Victor added more calmly, "I'm tired. I want to be alone."

He also didn't want to fight.

"This won't take long."

Krum tensed, but nodded.

"Have you heard of the Yule Ball?"

Suddenly he wanted to burst out laughing. Saint Sophia... The ball was the last thing on his mind.

"It is a month away. What bothers you so much?"

The irony was unnecessary – Yuri became sulky, turned to face him, and sat down crossing his legs – he was getting ready for a serious talk.

He didn't have a chance to become a champion. Everyone knew it: Karkaroff, Victor, even Yuri himself... There were only three real candidates: Krum; Peter, the Arithmancer and the best Illusions Master – it was him who created the Phoenix at the Welcoming ceremony, – and Valentine, the Transfiguration genius and the second-best in the Dark Arts. The best was Victor himself, and so he had been chosen by the Goblet, all the talks of daring notwithstanding.

But Yuri was on the team because he was the best in taking the strain off and preventing quarrels. And moreover he was a decent Legilimens. Although he didn't use this skill on his mates: the one time during the voyage when Victor felt vague anxiety while standing on the deck alone at night, he threw a Stupefy so strong that it convinced Yuri not to use his classmates for exercising.

"There are some strange rumours," Yuri said at last.

It seemed, Victor exhausted his luck limit during the task. He knew all along that Stephania's attention to his persona will lead to no good. He regretted again that ridiculous quarrel they'd had, that destroyed the fragile armed neutrality status between them right before the departure from school.

"What do you need that English girl for?"

Now his weariness became a benefit. He could throw his head back and smile indifferently.

"I see no reason why I should report my private life to you."

"Oh, please! Don't tell me this bushy-haired kid is your private life! That woman, Skeeter... She might believe this nonsense. But don't take me for a fool."

Until now the rolling of the ship went unnoticed, but the moment his back touched the wall, he felt sick. He waited for the grey haze under his eyelids to disappear and continued smoothly, "Maybe Hermione caught my attention, because she is Potter's friend."

"Friend? Or girlfriend?" If Yuri had not have raised his hands in reconciliation, Victor would have hit him. "What? Are you going to tell me that you wanted to know Potter's weak spots? C'mon, both of us have seen this four-eyed wonder. Not impressive." He went silent for a while, then added some acidity, "But I must admit he is as good flyer as you are."

"And will be even better." The yell of the English commentator still rang in his ears, "He can fly! Are you watching this, Mr. Krum?" He was. He saw that the boy was really good, a true Seeker, miniature and lightweight. The kid needed to improve his technique and gain some experience, but he had talent. Maybe, in a couple of years they will meet again during the next World Quidditch Cup... If the Bulgarian National team someday acquires real Chasers.

"If he lives long enough," Yuri added with a trace of laughter.

Victor has heard the rumors that something has been happening to Potter every year. He tried not to pay attention, as he had been busy enough without it. But Hermione's name was mentioned altogether with Potter's...

"What did you hear this time? And from whom?"

"I've gained this information from our new Slytherin classmates, with whom we are friends now, just like the organizers of the Tournament had wanted us to." Both snorted. "Do you want a full version or just my summary?"

"Summary, please."

He also wanted to know just how much he could trust Yuri. If only he felt a bit less sick...

"Hmm... Before I start, be so kind, drink this."

"What is this stuff?"

Victor sniffed the contents of the bottle. It smelled like pine trees.

"Stephania's treat. She said, when I would see you turn green, I should give this to you. I think it's about time."

The liquid tasted bitter and turned to be very effective against nausea. Even the back hurt less. He should really thank Stephania, even if she would just declare that she did not give a toss about him, and it was only the matter of upholding the honor of the school. The thing was, that this declaration would be nothing but a simple truth.

"Are you ready? Then listen. It is obvious that Hogwarts' houses had never had a special liking of each other. Especially Gryffindor and Slytherin, of course. The fact that they have two champions now has widened the division. It is good for us – for you. As far as I understand, Hufflepuff had never been taken seriously, but suddenly this Diggory boy showed up... By the way, he is a Seeker too. If I find out that Delacour plays Quidditch too, I will seriously reconsider my ideas about the Champion selection criteria." Yuri smirked. "But that's beside the point... Discipline has never been a strength here, not like at our school. However, Potter broke a record in this regard. And during his first four years here Dumbledore has never punished him. Even after that unbelievable story with the basilisk. By the way, you do remember that Potter is Parcelmouth, right?

Victor nodded. Karkaroff have discussed the issue with him. After the champions had been announced, they urgently tried to remember everything they knew about this English Boy Who Lived.

"I don't quite understand the fuss about the House points. I can see why the kids are so strong on it, but why the seniors worry about this rubbish... Never mind. It is important that Potter is Dumbledore's pet. It is unlikely, but possible that Dumbledore himself threw the boy's name into the Goblet."

"Uh-huh. Tell me something I don't know, something apart from the information Karkaroff told you to repeat. By the way, tell him I understood everything perfectly well the first time."

Yuri gathered himself up, as if before attacking, narrowed his eyes appraisingly, and then declared in a peremptory tone, "You're a fool."

"Don't push it."

"I'm trying not to. If you understand everything so well, why do you need this..." he stumbled over the name, "Herm-own-ninny? What do you know of her? Who told you that Dumbledore hadn't asked her to help his favorite?"

"And you say I am a fool."

"Tell me. I will find a way to make others bite their tongues, just explain why you trust her so much."

"Maybe because she was the only one who didn't chase me though the library with a desire to have my signature on a parchment, a book, a robe... and other things?"

Yuri snorted.

"You still can't get used to the fame, can you? It seemed to me that during the World Cup you played to the audience pretty well."

"You'd be surprised, but when I find someone who doesn't care about my fame, it comes as a pleasant surprise to me."

"That is obvious enough. Don't you understand this could have been set up from the moment Dumbledore saw the Durmstrang team list?"

Victor recalled disheveled hair, stubborn brown eyes, stacks of books on the table and thick rolls of parchment, full of notes in neat handwriting; her unexpected remark about the qualities of Boomslang skin during one of their usual amusing arguments. He laughed out loud.

"It's nothing but paranoia, Yuri. This much you can tell Headmaster Karkaroff. Now tell me what you have to say and leave. I'm really tired today."

Yuri bit his lip.

"Alright, listen then," he said after a brief pause. "The Yule Ball is a month away. As far as I can see, it's her who you intend to go with. But before this... I would say reckless act, but you wouldn't listen anyway... please, think of one thing I'd like to tell you. I do know why you chose her. As you do. You pitied her, Victor. You saw yourself in her: a talented half-blood among pureblood wizards – pureblood in Merlin knows how many generations. You have much in common – at least, I see it. Both of you are as stubborn as mules. Both can not and do not wish to adjust. Both are as smart as three out of four purebloods could never dream to be. Am I right? You remember perfectly well just how nasty your school life had been up to the fourth year, that's why you make up a little fairytale for her now. A tale of great love – the one you needed. A tale of a sympathetic and loyal friend.

Victor made an effort and restrained himself from a blow, mainly because Yuri was talking to him and now - not to Karkaroff and before the first task. Because there was anxiety in his friend's voice, no matter how carefully he concealed it behind the mockery.

"Not everyone will understand you at school. Even here, not everyone accepts your choices, and you know it. You can deal with it, I'm sure. If you win the damned Cup, they will let you date even a Hungarian Horntail, never mind a Muggleborn. Those who won't like it won't dare to say a word. But this will happen only if you win the Tournament." He went silent, then added, a bit nonplussed, "That's all I wanted to say."

They sat in silence for a while.

"Do you really think I haven't known that?" Krum asked him calmly at last.

"I was afraid you have," Yury snorted. "That's the deal, champion. Think some more about it. If you go on as you've decided, I will help you. Peter is in too, you know. Peter and me will easily bite Valentine's head off if necessary, so don't you worry about him. Stephania is a bitch, but she is on your side. Not bad, eh? But you will have to deal with Karkaroff yourself, I'm afraid."

"It hasn't really crossed your mind that Hermione could be really important for me, has it?" asked Victor a little wide.

"Don't let anyone see it then," Yuri answered harshly. "Not our lot, not... others."

They sat in silence for a few minutes, not looking at each other.

"Rest now. How is your back?"

"Almost as good as new."

"Almost? I will ask Stephania for more balm."

Yuri stood up. He made a reach to the doorknob and added in a rush without looking back, "Watch your back with Moody. He's one of those Aurors who used Unforgivables right and left at the end of the First War."

Victor stood up, ignoring the pain, and squeezed Yuri's shoulder. Yuri froze for a second, then nodded a thanks. "Dark times lie ahead. Be careful."

"Like I have a choice."

Yuri left. Victor lied down again and toyed with the golden egg. He already heard the shrieks and wheezes. It meant that he opened the egg the wrong way or the conditions were wrong. Hmm...

He couldn't concentrate, though, Yuri's nonchalant remark about Valentine still fresh in his ears. The weariness gradually abated, he felt better, warm inside. The First Task was over, two more to go. He should just concentrate and become the best. That's what he always did.

It occurred to him suddenly that the Tournament was not only his personal competition. If he wins, it'll be not only his own victory. Some people have already understood it, some have not. Well, maybe, he should explain.

He found a bottle of red wine from his father's vineyards, left the cabin and stopped in front of the wardroom door. He grinned stepping inside and looked at his classmates.

"It's somewhat dark in here. Will you light the lamps, Peter?"

Krum approached Valentine, purposefully ignoring the latter's wry smile. Something was still missing, a feeling of completion maybe, and he vehemently wanted to celebrate a not quite bad beginning of the Tournament.

"I have a toast," Victor said at last, pouring the wine into the glasses that Yuri brought with a knowing smile. "To our professors, who taught us so many useful things. To our classmates back at school, as it's while striving to surpass them we have learned so much."

Valentine hesitated before taking the glass. He looked away; behind Krum's back Stephania murmured in Bulgarian, "I really do love this freak..."

"And to our enemies present here, who make our life exciting, Victor."

The wine was rough.

Tomorrow he will invite Hermione to the Yule Ball and begin examining the egg, but today... Let the life today be exciting.

"Whatever you've planned to do, halfblood," whispered Valentine barely moving his lips, so quiet that even Peter who stood nearby couldn't hear him, "I wish you luck. Just be careful in your choice of friends."

Victor narrowed his eyes, but Valentine already raised his glass.

"I have another toast. To new friendship. And to new love."

Peter whistled, Stephania laughed, Yuri gave a friendly shove to Valentine.

"To love!"

The glasses clinked.

The End