After reading the article, Hermione quietly left her friends in the library, and went to find the person she felt she most needed to explain things to. From what she had seen so far, she expected that despite his stoic nature, Viktor was the least likely person to jump to wild conclusions. True to form, the often imposing Bulgarian had launched his questioning by asking if she was alright, and only agreed to hear Hermione's plan once he was convinced of her welfare.
Once she'd explained her idea, Viktor gave that small lopsided smile of his and raised her hand to his lips, softly kissing her knuckles. In a surprisingly gentle tone, the Durmstrang star assure her he'd do anything he could to help his 'Minny'... the compromise they'd come up with for her name.
So a few days later when Luna floated by to hand Hermione a circulating copy of the Prophet, she eagerly flipped through the pages to find Rita Skeeter's latest fabrications, and nearly spat out her pumpkin juice at the hilarity of:
Titillating Triwizard Trysts – Viktor Krum reveals his shocking rendezvous with not only Hermione Granger, but also his competition and love rival; Harry Potter. Mr Krum, of international Quiddich fame, revealed that he and Miss Granger have shared “many an exciting evening together” with Mr Potter.
Unable to continue reading because of her laughter, Hermione glanced over her shoulder trying to spot Viktor. To her surprise, the dark eyed Seeker was already making his way over to the Gryffindor table. Ginny obligingly budged up to make way for him, and Viktor wasted no time in giving Hermione their customary kiss to her knuckles, even as he reached around her back with his free hand to clasp Harry companionably on the shoulder.
“This does not overstep your plan I hope, Minny?” Viktor asked, his voice rich and heavily accented.
Hermione squeezed his fingers as she smiled up at him warmly. “No, it's perfect.”
Unsurprisingly, Fred and George were outraged Hermione hadn't gone to them first, and promised they'd do their best to add to the sensation surrounding her and Harry's... and Viktor's... supposed relationship. However, what was unexpected was both Cedric and Cho approaching Hermione, asking if there was anything they could do to help; the latter even complimenting her on how well she was handling the media attention.
So a few days after Viktor's supposed interview was published, two separate sensational stories ran in the Prophet. One revealing the sordid exploits of Harry Potter and the Weasley twins, who seemed to have included as many puns and innuendos as they could into their 'exclusive interview' about their being with Harry “at the same time”.
The second was a 'tearful expose' from Cho Chang, revealing that she suspected Cedric of spending time alone with Harry in the prefects' bathroom, where Rita Skeeter had helpfully added:
Young Mr Diggory declined to comment on the nature of his relationship with Mr Potter, however a source close to the pair revealed that the Hogwarts champions “liked to help each other out”.
Two days later, an article ran featuring a collection of surprise on the spot 'interviews', where the peroxide blonde had ambushed those identified as being close to Harry... since it seemed the so-called journalist had forgotten about Hermione for now, too hungry for any juicy gossip.
The piece included a picture of a dreamy looking Luna and surprised looking Neville, the former stating that Harry was “always very kind and gentle with us, when we're together”, and the latter nodded is agreement. There were quotes from Seamus and Dean, who'd declined having their pictures taken, but insisted that “thanks to Harry, we figured out we're gay”.
There was also a photo of the old Gryffindor Quiddich captain; Olive Wood, who'd apparently revealed that Harry could “ride more than just a broom”. It was accompanied by a slightly blurry photo of some of the current house team, Angelina Johnson was clearly recognisable... who was quoted as 'gushing' about how skilled Harry was, a sentiment that was echoed by Katy Bell.
However, there was a figure with her back to the camera, with a sheet of long hair that looked suspiciously like Ginny from behind. The unknown young woman had been overheard saying: “Harry being able to catch the snitch in his mouth is no coincidence”... something that had gotten raucous laughter from most of the older members of the student body.
Over the next few weeks, Hermione had discovered what an unexpectedly caring soul Viktor was. The Bulgarian had not only convinced some of his Durmstrang compatriots to also drop 'hints' about nights spent with Harry, but had even managed to get the Beauxbatons' champion to issue a small statement when asked if she'd also spent time alone with the Boy Who Lives. Fluer had stated: “But of course, 'arry is so lovely”... before suggesting that all four of the champions often spent evenings if not whole nights together.
So it was safe to say that two weeks after the original article was published, the whole affair was looking more and more farcical than it already was. However, the true icing on the provebial cake came from the most unlikely of sources.
Malfoy of all people had sidled up to Hermione in the library one evening, trying his best not to make it obvious he was actually talking to her. At first she'd been rightly suspicious, after all they hardly had a good track record. However she relented and agreed to hear him out, when Malfoy revealed that Rita Skeeter had recently published an uncomplimentary article about his mother, and he was desperate for some pay back. So perhaps against her better judgement, Hermione relented to his offered help, though tact on a warning about making his statement as vague but believable as possible. Shockingly, Malfoy didn't disappoint.
The Prophet's last article on the subject featured what promised to be a truly sensational expose on not only Harry's love life, but Hermione's as well. She'd initially blanched at that revelation, but stoically kept reading... helped by the fact Viktor had been beside her, stroking his calloused thumb across her knuckles. By the end of it, Hermione couldn't help grinning; and if she actually liked Malfoy, she'd have probably hugged him.
There was a fully page dedicated to the supposed steamy affair between the trio, one that stated that Viktor was merely a friend who'd stepped in to 'throw' people off, since Malfoy's blood status meant he couldn't associate with muggle-borns. There was a dramatic but lamenting tone to the article, which focused more on Hermione and Malfoy's apparent 'star crossed romance', and cited the Slytherin as saying: “She is everything I could ever want in a woman. Brains, wit, understated beauty.”
And when question why he referred to her with either her surname of derogatory words, he stated: “It pains me to hurl insults at her, but I... we... have to keep up appearances, to hide our romance. The only reason I'm coming forward now, announcing my love for her, is because I'm a very jealous person. I don't want anyone to think she belongs with anyone but me. And she will always be Granger to me, until she's a Malfoy.”
Truthfully, Hermione thought he'd laid it on a little thick, though she supposed the people who genuinely read the Prophet as a source of news would lap it up. It helped that he'd also hinted about some passionate nights that had included Harry, and suggested that not all of them had involved Hermione.
Though the piece de resistance was probably a quote from Professor Snape, who was apparently quoted as drawling: “Oh... those three. Yes... they're often at each other. I dare say the whole school has heard them carrying on.”
From then on, all Hermione had to do was sit back about watch the glorious fallout. She'd had one more covert conversation with Malfoy, who'd informed her that his father had already been angered over Skeeter's article on Mrs Malfoy, but was now of the war path demanding the journalist's immediate resignation... which was apparently just for starters. Hermione didn't much care for whatever else Mr Malfoy planned to do, but she managed a pleasant 'thank you' to Hogwarts' resident ferret.
And as the month drew to a close, Hermione was pleased to see the whole things had blown over. The continuous 'revelation' had truly thrown in to do the original article, and she had to admit Malfoy had helped with hammering the final nail in the coffin. So it was with a sense of satisfaction that she settled her hand into the crook of Viktor's elbow, pleased with the knowledge that they could now go out in public without glancing over their shoulders, and finally led him towards Hogsmeade for their very belated second date.