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Debts of Honor

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July 31, 199_
Malfoy Manor

Mr. Harry Potter,

I am writing to thank you for the favor you have done for me during the war. Your kindness and selflessness are truly noble, and I was glad to hear of your elevation. No one is more deserving of such an honor than you and your compatriots, and that is plain to see.

Though it is not customary to expect repayment of favors done in wartime, and particularly not across lines as ours was, I would offer you the debt all the same.

You may retain this letter as proof of such a debt to be repaid at your leisure between our two houses. Alternately, if this does not suit, there is a way the House of Malfoy may repay the debt more immediately. If such a thing would be of interest, I would be honored to call upon you and your wife at your home at a time of your convenience.

I look forward to your response.

In your debt,
Lady Narcissa Malfoy, nee Black

July 31, 199_
Malfoy Manor

Miss Hermione Granger,

I am writing to apologize most profusely for the wrong my sister has done to you in the war, and for my own inaction in the matter. Though she was not one to be reasoned with in her later days, I could sometimes and very occasionally temper her madness. That I did not make the attempt in my own home has remained my most regretted act during this war. My own inaction at that time haunted me into action during the final battle, when I chose to lie to the Dark Lord in order to protect your friend, and so end the battle on favorable terms for the side of the light.

I am so terribly sorry for what happened to you, Miss Granger, and I am sorry for not attempting to thwart it. My sister’s choice in act was cruel and torturous and entirely unnecessary. 

Though it is not customary to hold debts of honor from actions in wartime, and indeed this debt, should it be held, might rightly be taken between House Granger and House LeStrange, I must have my part of the shame.

Please retain this letter as proof of the debt of honor the House of Malfoy has to the House of Granger, to be called upon and repaid at your leisure, or the leisure of your heirs. If this does not suit, there is a way that the House of Malfoy may repay the debt more immediately. If such a thing would be of interest, I would be honored to call upon you at your home at a time of your convenience.

I look forward to your response.

In your debt,
Lady Narcissa Malfoy, nee Black

“So you and I got one of these but Ron didn’t?” he asked, wrapping his fingers around a mug as they sat at the kitchen table of the Black Townhouse on Grimmauld Place. The room was as depressing as it ever was.

Hermione nodded.


“Is it?” she asked. Hermione shifted in her chair. It was uncomfortable, but that was nothing new. “Is it really? I mean, aside from the cruciatus which I could almost write off as the horrors of war, my arm hasn’t stopped hurting. She used a cursed blade, you know. I have to take iron pills every day from a muggle chemist, and I take a weekly blood replenisher potion, because the wound won’t stop the slow bleed. It’s like I’m constantly menstruating or something. Oh, don’t give me that look. And there’s no known cure, so it looks like I’ll just be changing the bandages three times a day for the next hundred and twenty years. Or leave a trail of blood everywhere I go. I mean, as war wounds go, I suppose it’s not terrible. I still have full use of the arm, even through the pain. And I have nightmares, but I’m sure all of us do. Still. You told her her son was still alive, and her sister carved up my arm for sport. I understand her point. And Ron really doesn’t figure into any of that. At least not with Draco’s mother.”

“Hmm,” Harry considered audibly as he munched on a halfway decent scone Kreacher had come up with. “You answered yet?” he asked around his mouthful.

Hermione shook her head, then remembered herself and answered properly. “No. I feel like I should, but I just don’t know what to say. And I don’t particularly want her in my house, though I get her point.”

Harry looked confused. “There was some kind of hidden meaning in that?”

Hermione smiled, and considered what sort of pleasure reading Harry might not have done when he had the opportunity. Probably not Jane Austen, for one. “Yes. She’s putting herself at our service and our convenience, and offering to come to us, which is kind of a big thing. It’s not just the favor or the debt. It’s… well, it’s an acknowledgement that we’re her equals. And if I lived in a big house with servants to clean and provide tea by just ringing a bell, then it would be quite convenient for her to come at my beck and call. But as I live alone in my parent’s former semi-detached, I haven’t vacuumed in months, and I have nothing proper to wear, it’s less convenient to me than just meeting in a cafe or something. But a cafe wouldn’t allow privacy, and it wouldn’t make the point she’s trying to make. It’s just that we live in different worlds. And so what is an honor given by her is rather an inconvenience for me. But that doesn’t mean I want to snub her, you know?”

“Why don’t you want to snub her?” he asked after he swallowed this time, mercifully. “I’m considering it, honestly. Or maybe just not answering.”

Hermione shrugged and was silent for a moment. “You know, I think part of it is I just want to move on. And the fewer people I feel like I have to avoid in the magical world because of Tom Riddle’s insanity, the better. And if we can make some sort of amends, I don’t want to just say no out of hand. Not just because of who she is, her family, her background. I mean, that’s what they do to muggleborns, you know? I don’t want to sink to that level.”

Harry nodded silently. “And the other part?”

Hermione took a sip of her tea. It wasn’t terrible. Kreacher did at least make decent tea. “Well, its possible but not probable that she might have an idea of something to do with my arm. Some helpful thing, that is. That wouldn’t quite pay off the debt, I don’t think, but it would be a good start. But even if that’s not it, it might be interesting. I mean, I don’t want to say it will go this far, but my parents always treasured the genuine friends they had from other generations, and, well, that’s something of theirs that I can take with me no matter where I am. No matter where they are, or what they’ve forgotten. I’ve got to take my gifts from my parents when they come. And perhaps this will turn out to be like that.”

Harry blinked several times. “You’re looking forward to being friends with Draco’s mum?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Did you just miss everything I said up until that point?”

He raised an eyebrow and took a sip of tea. “No, everything until that sounded totally reasonable.”

She shook her head. “Okay, so what about you? What are your objections?”

“Other than the fact that I have no idea how to behave in front of gentry?”

Hermione waved him off. “Just mind your manners and ignore the rest.”

Harry cocked his head and stared at her. It seemed like he was waiting. The penny, however, refused to drop.

“What?” she finally prompted.

“Manners? You mean, the lovely code of conduct that was instilled in me by the Dursleys? Be silent, make no eye contact, make no noise, and do all the washing, cleaning, and cooking? Or the free-for-all-but-don’t-be-caught rules of the Gryffindor Tower? Which set of manners should I employ in this situation, Hermione?”

Hermione took this in in silence. She’d really just thought… well, she’d thought that Harry and Ron were both raised with manners and just chose not to use them because they were, in a word, boys. Which was a terrible piece of gender bias if ever there was one, and she was mildly horrified to have made such an assumption for years.

She nodded silently then caught herself. “I…” Oh, this was awkward. She was really trying to take a step back in micromanaging the boys, now that they were out of school. And it was really hard sometimes. “Would you like me to teach you?”

Yes,” he replied emphatically. “I mean, Gin and I want to have kids at some point, you know? And as the youngest, and the only girl, she didn’t learn much about this either. And it’s not like I learned a lot of useful parenting skills from my aunt and uncle. I figure stuff like this can only help. But would you mind if Gin sat in on the lessons, too? I mean, if she wants to?”

Hermione took a deep breath and took this all on board. “Alright. I can’t promise you’ll be ready to be presented to the Queen by the time we’re done, but I can get you from where you are now to instinctively polite behavior. If you do me a favor in return.”

Harry looked at her askance.

“No, it’s just, I don’t want to meet her at my parents’ house. Let me meet her here. Let’s do that together. That way you don’t have to face the meeting alone, just you and Ginny, and I don’t have to vacuum, or deal with the angst of that meeting alone, either.”

Harry gave her a look. “Please. You could have just asked. I’d rather you be there anyway. So, what do you say? Let’s answer these letters together, and then we’ll do a month of lessons to get ready. Well, get ready for the meeting, and for the rest of life. But look. I know Grimmauld Place is nothing to get excited about, but come and stay. I know you really don’t want to be at your parents’ house.”

“Honestly, Harry, I don’t want to be here, either. No offence. My parents’ house is a lot more comfortable than this.”

“Are you going to sell it, eventually?”

Hermione shrugged. “It’s not mine. I’d hoped I could bring them back, restored memories, perhaps. But either way I didn’t plan for them to not return, and I’m not sure I could fake their deaths properly. Anyway, I’d need to report them missing to the police, and if I’m going to go that route, I really need to do that soon, and that means I need to make up a hell of a story for why I’ve waited so long. And then I’ll have to wait for them to be declared dead, which will take a while.”

Harry nodded and sipped his tea. “I’ll help. You know I will. We’ll figure this out. Should we ask Ron, or are you two on the outs right now? Not trying to be judgy. It’s just hard to keep up with you two.”

Hermione kept it all on the inside. “Perhaps we won’t involve him this time. Besides, we’ll all see each other at the ceremony in two months. At which point I hope I’ll be ready to meet the Queen.”

“Yes,” Harry said dryly. “I can’t wait to be knighted. My aunt will be so proud.”

August 2, 199_
12 Grimmauld Place

Lady Narcissa Malfoy,

Thank you for your letter. 

I would like to join with my friend whom you have also written to and invite you to have tea with us on August 31st at ten o’clock in the morning. My wife will also be present. We look forward to listening to your proposals.

Until then,
Harry Potter, OM
& on behalf of Hermione Granger, OM

August 2, 199_
Malfoy Manor

Mr. Potter & Miss Granger,

I am in receipt of your letter and will be honored to call upon you both, with Mrs. Potter, in a month’s time.

Likewise I look forward to joining with the wizarding nobles of our country so that we may witness the much deserved elevation of yourselves and your two compatriots in two months time. If I may be of service before this event, I hope you will not hesitate to call upon me.

In your debt,
Lady Malfoy

“Okay. What do you think that last bit is about, then?” Harry asked, sharing the letter between Hermoine and Ginny over dinner at Hermione’s still unvacuumed house.

“Ginny, your thoughts?” Hermione asked, before sharing her own.

“I honestly have no idea what might be going through that woman’s mind. I’m not entirely convinced it isn’t the obvious: she’s maneuvering for influence wherever she can, to salvage whatever she can. I mean, her husband is in Azkaban and from what I’ve heard her son now lives out of a bottle most days. I can imagine she’s not quite in the mood to just host garden parties all summer long.”

Hermione sighed. “In the big picture, I think you may be right. In part, at least. But I doubt her motives are so simple. That she is reworking her social relationships is obvious from these letters. And it will gain her influence. Whether that influence is small or large has yet to be revealed, but time will tell. But cunning and ambition were the hallmarks of her house in Hogwarts, and though I am loathe to judge all people by the house they were sorted into when they were eleven, a successful Slytherin would play the long game, have several exits in case of emergency, and a whole set of motives which may occasionally conflict one another, which would actually be a good thing, as they would be prepared for a variety of outcomes. And she is certainly a successful Slytherin.”

Ginny snorted. “How do you figure that?”

She’s not in Azkaban, and her trial was quick. The woman hosted the Dark Lord in her home for some unknown but significant length of time, for heaven’s sake. And perhaps more impressively, her son is not in Azkaban, despite conspiring to kill the Headmaster, and being the lynchpin on an attack at the school, all of which had witnesses. And we followed the trial. She was just convincing. Her lawyer had all the exits covered. It clearly wasn’t a case of a judge-in-pocket. It all came down to her last move in the final battle. That secured her entire future, and no wonder she feels she owes you a favor Harry. If you hadn’t played along with her, had we still won the battle, she would have been bound for Azkaban, she and Draco both. That was the one witnessed action on which her lawyer built the entire character of a reluctant death eater, turning spy at the most useful moment.”

Harry and Ginny had nodded along as they sipped their red wine and ate their roasted chicken with table manners not quite as appalling as Hermione remembered from school, or even their terrible time camping and travelling.

“But what about the last line?”

Hermione considered the page again. It was nice paper. Then again, all her notes had come on nice paper.

“Well, I think her stating what she did about the ceremony has several meanings. One that seems clear to me is that she will greet us about as warmly as she thinks we will take when we see each other, which given the fact that there will be reporters present should be a hoot the next day. Personally, I’d lay a bet on an air kiss to one cheek, should our acquaintance go so far by then.”

“But if that’s the case,” added Ginny, “I can’t see her doing well with any of her old set.”

Hermione shrugged. “I’m sure that’s her entire point.”

“So you really think she’s ready to just totally cut out that entire part of her life?” Harry asked, clearly in a pensive mood.

“If you think about it, that’s a decision she made at the last battle. And she did it to protect herself and her son. I mean, really. She cut herself off from her own husband. After that choice, I imagine the rest was rather easier. And she’s busy seeking out new connections. We might not end up best mates - I mean, can you really see her down at the pub with Neville and Dean? - but it wouldn’t be bad for us to be friendly with her.”

“Oh, do tell why that would be the case, ‘Mione,” Harry said. “I mean, it does now seem clear why she wants to make up to us. But the reverse?”

Because! If we’re being honest about this pure-blood business being utter nonsense, then that doesn’t just go one way. And if we tear down the walls and say that half-bloods and muggle-borns are just as good, and should be accepted without blinking, then so are so-called pure-bloods. Just as good. Should be accepted without blinking. So why should we decline such an overture? Just because she has ulterior motives? Well, so have I. I want to change the entirety of Wizarding Britain, and I wouldn’t mind having some friends in high places. Or at least some friends that know how you’re supposed to act when you’re in high places. Which brings me to the last line. That might be about clothes.”

Ginny and Harry spoke at the same time.



“Do you know the right balance between subtle and excellent, skewed to the side of formal-enough-to-meet-the-Queen? Because I don’t. But I bet Lady Malfoy does. And I bet she would introduce us to her modiste, and give advice.”

“Now that’s a thing, isn’t it? I mean, the Queen’s a muggle, right? But all these anti-muggle purebloods get excited to have tea with her, or whatever.”

Ginny snorted. “That’s because she hands out the best toys. Exceptions can be made, dear husband.” She patted his hand for good measure.

Lessons commenced and began with posture, speech, and where to and not to put one’s hands. And then lessons regressed and covered the more elementary portion of why manners mattered. 

“It’s the social contract, you know? So if we have an agreed upon way to act, despite growing up in different areas and different families, then we won’t accidentally cause offense. There’s a bit of health and hygiene thrown in there, especially with refraining from touching your own face. The idea is that if you have something contagious, you’re less likely to pass it on by touching people if your hands are essentially clean, and if you touch your own face then touch someone else, you’re more likely to transmit whatever you have. It’s a courtesy. I mean, you may know you’re not contagious, but other people don’t. And can you trust that they aren’t? So you do them the courtesy of not touching your own face and freaking them out, and they do the same for you. All the rules make sense in context, and not all of them have that context at any given time, but that’s no reason not to be courteous if it’s in our ability to do so.”

And then they moved on to table manners. For two weeks, Hermione ate her dinner with the Potters, and when Kreacher saw what she was doing, he muttered around her less. This was a small mercy, given how resistant both Harry and Ginny were to changing their eating habits.

“I’m not saying you have to do this all the time. I mean, it would be good at first, until you can do it without thinking. And after that, use the manners when you want to. But until then, I’d say go cold turkey. Practice everything as often as you eat.”

“I have to agree with Hermione at least on eating while you talk. It’s dreadful to watch, honestly. Mum and Dad never do, and most of my brothers don’t, but Ron does it all the time and I just can’t take it,” Ginny added.

Harry gave her a look. “But you do it, sometimes.”

She sighed, but answered audibly because she now realized it was the polite thing to do, and was catching herself more and more. “Yes, but that doesn’t mean I really want to.”

“If you think about it,” Hermione said, trying to be a reconciling force, “It’s really all about three things. First, you’re less likely to choke if you just concentrate on chewing. Second, you’re more likely to take smaller bites that you chew thoroughly so that it’s not so long in between what you might wish to say, and that’s better for your digestion. Third, it’s about patience. If you’re so impatient to speak that you must do it while you are chewing, perhaps you’re not giving your conversational partner enough time.”

And so the lessons continued.

At the end of August, they all had to go shopping. Harry didn’t have anything beyond his school uniform, and hand-me-down clothes that never fit properly, and despite the fact that none of them presently had a) guardians or b) jobs, they each had a reasonable amount of money in the bank. They had all decided to take the Headmistress up on her offer for any departing seventh years to return for an eighth year, which hadn’t stopped Harry from proposing to Ginny, and it hadn’t stopped Ginny from taking him up to Scotland to be married as soon as possible, and without her parent’s permission.

The eighth years would be housed separately, in suites, and would be afforded more freedom, as they were all adults, and the same went for any couples who had decided on a hasty post-war marriage, of which the Potters were only one.

But all three of them needed new clothes and supplies for the upcoming year at Hogwarts, and Ginny and Hermione insisted that they needed some new, decent muggle clothing, both for leisure, and more formal wear.

“It just makes sense for each of us to have a suit. A decently colored, totally normal suit for interviews and formal meetings and such. We could top it at some point with some formal wizarding cloak, and have the best of both worlds.”

“I thought you said she wanted to take us shopping,” Harry pointed out from inside a curtained dressing room in a muggle shop on the high street. Even here he didn’t want to mention her name in public, and neither Ginny nor Hermione could blame him.

“Yes, but we’re not meeting her for the first time until tomorrow, and we need clothes before we leave for Scotland the day after tomorrow. Any shopping with her will be taking advantage of those new, expanded privileges we’ve been given.” It was Ginny who answered him, and interestingly, it was Ginny who had the least expanded privileges of the three, given that she was a year behind.

“Who do you think they’ll get to teach Defence this year?” Hermione asked, changing the subject as she picked out a different style of jeans for Harry to try on.

“Please. After the last three years, an illiterate vagrant would do a better job,” Ginny pointed out, silently nodding at Hermione’s choice.

“Try these,” Hermione said, folding them up and scooting them under the curtain. “Sad days when Death Eaters are your best Defence professors,” she said quietly.

“Not the Carrows,” Ginny whispered vehemently. “Torturers and crap teachers, both.”

After Harry’s choices were made and paid for, they took themselves off to a men’s formal wear shop they had passed that advertised tailoring services. They eventually gave the shop the muggle address for Hogwarts that Hermione knew and Harry had forgotten about. If nothing else, Harry would have a decent, tailored suit ready to meet the Queen. That couldn’t be half bad.

The same happened for Ginny and Hermione’s suits, when they got to the appropriate store, and it was nearing dinner time by the time they were done.

“I really don’t want to eat at the Leaky, but if we eat around here, we won’t get back to Malkin’s in time to pick up our uniforms,” Ginny pointed out.

“Meh. Let’s pick up our uniforms tomorrow. Come back to my house. There’s a fabulous Indian take-away nearby and we can dine like kings,” Hermione said as they made their way back to the Tube station.

“But will we dine like Knights in the Order of Merlin?” Harry asked philosophically.

“Gah!” Ginny and Hermione responded more or less at the same time, and swung packages laiden with casual clothes at his legs.

“Oi! Stop that!” he yelped, shielding himself with his own bag of clothes and dancing away from them down the escalator. “I’m a fragile butterfly, I am. And I bruise easily,” he added.

At that both women dissolved into giggles. Hermione was relieved to see an easy smile on Harry’s face. It wasn’t something she’d seen very often lately, and it soothed something in her she hadn’t realized was upset.

Over a kingly but perhaps not a knightly feast that perhaps included not quite as many vegetables as it ought, Hermione brought up a sensitive issue. Well, sensitive to her, at least.

“So, I’ve mentioned that Viktor and I have started writing again. And I’m, well, I’m not exactly sure what to make of his letters. I mean the first one was just to see if I was okay, and to see if the letter could get through. That was obvious. But the second… well. I owe him a letter. I’m quite overdue, really. And I have no idea what to say.” She looked back and forth between Harry and Ginny.

“Are we allowed to read the letter, or should we just guess at its contents?” Harry asked mildly, eating his food with relish, but at a sedate speed with small bites that were very well done indeed.

“He hasn’t trashed you, has he? I’ll kill him if he’s trashed you,” Ginny said, almost but refraining from gesturing with her fork.

Hermione cleared her throat and blushed. “Maybe you should just read the letter. But you’ll keep it private, won’t you? Especially when he talks about quidditch strategy?”

“He talks to you about quidditch strategy?” Harry mused, confused. 

Ginny turned to him. “Maybe he does it in a very compelling fashion?” She sounded dubious.

Meanwhile, Hermione reached into her beaded purse and pulled out a stack of letters three inches thick, held together with a ribbon that had seen better days. She pulled out the top letter without undoing the ribbon, and dropped the stack back in her purse.

Hermione handed it over to Harry and he held up the sheaf of unfolded paper between him and his wife so they could both see.

Moments in and explitives were being softly breathed. Which meant it was worse than she thought.

Merlin,” Ginny whispered, her eyes feverishly scanning the page.

“Holy shit, Hermione,” Harry whispered not long after. And then, “Wait, when did he write this… Christ Hermione!” And then he went back to reading. And then there was silence for a very long time. Hermione watched as eyes got rounder, as expressions flitted across their faces, and she remembered the letter herself.

My heart aches for you. She could hear him say it. There would be an eternity of longing as he said the word ‘aches’, but now she was just being ridiculous. He just meant that because she went through something terrible and he didn’t. And he did obliquely mention embracing her several times, but friends hug. There was a lot of hugging after the final battle. And she and Ron were… well, very briefly something, though it petered out and just as well. God, she didn’t even know how Vitkor felt, but he made her feel so much more than Ron did. And Ron did hold her. And kissed her. And whispered kind and complimentary things in her ear. And Viktor’s words on a page did more for her. He moved her to laughter and tears and so much longing she was desperate and probably for much more than he was willing ever to give her.

Oh, God she was a terrible person. 

And she hadn’t even fully broken it off with Ron. She might have done that earlier, too, along with answering Viktor’s letter in a timely fashion, but they had promised to give a summer’s worth of thought to it, and she was a woman of her word.

But there was probably nothing there in the letter. It was long, but they usually were. He was passionate in his descriptions, but he was a passionate man. He’d asked to see her, but that was probably just a very bad idea that she would have to politely decline, because she’d seen a recent picture of him in the Prophet and he hadn’t gotten any less captivating. It wouldn’t do to make a complete ninny of herself and do a reenactment of her second year crush on the unattainable. Because really, what kind of future could she have with Viktor anyway?

None. There was nothing there.

But his words were beautiful. And he learned English for her. Well, okay, he just learned English, but she got to benefit from his dedication to the task, whatever his reasons, and that was a lovely bonus. And his words did flow so easily, and he’d written back so quickly, and all in one evening, it seemed, not like previous letters that had taken him weeks to compose, the sweet boy.

“Fuck, Hermione,” Harry said, finishing more slowly than Ginny, and folding the letter. He went to hand it back to her, but Ginny caught it first.

Ginny held the letter up between them. “This man is desperately in love with you, Hermione. His heart nearly bled on the page. Tell me you already wrote back to him with the names of your future children picked out.”

Hermione blinked. And then she blinked again. “You know I haven’t,” she pointed out. “And I’m not really sure he feels that way,” she said quietly. “That’s why I wanted you to read the letter. I don’t know how to respond.” She looked back and forth from Harry to Ginny.

Harry was looking at her like she was stupid.

Ginny looked ready to spontaneously combust.

“Come on,” Hermione cajoled. “Use words. I need help.”

“How can you not see that he’s in love with you?” Harry asked quite reasonably, considering Ginny's wordless gesturing. “I don’t get it. I mean, I can see it. If I can see it, it should be obvious in general, I think.”

“He never said he was in love with me,” Hermione argued. “And he doesn’t say it in this letter.”

“He’s given you roses,” Ginny pointed out.

“His family grows roses. It’s their industry. That and breeding guard dogs. And I’m glad he didn’t send me one of those.”

“Okay,” Ginny said, opening the letter back up. “You asked for it. We’re going through this line by line.”

“That might be helpful,” Hermione admitted, pushing aside her dinner for the moment.

“Okay. Right here. In the first four lines he has utterly and completely declared himself. He’s done everything short of saying, Hermione, I love you, please consider marrying me.”

“Wwwh-jd-wh-wha… no he didn’t!” Hermione finally managed to say.

“And I quote: ‘My dearest Hermione,’ point one. ‘My heart aches for you,’ point two. ‘At night it is you I pray for, my dearest friend,’ point three. ‘My most dreaded fear is a long life stretching out before me without you in it,’ point four. Shall I translate?”

“Yes,” Hermione breathed out, still not exactly and completely seeing their point, because Viktor was just like that. He was passionate and flowery and he always had her all mixed up.

“Right. Point one: You are the person I hold most dear in the world. Point two: My heart is breaking, thinking of you. Point three: You are the person I think most of, who consumes my thoughts, and whom I pray for. Point four, and do pay attention to this Hermione: My only fear in life is that we won’t end up spending our lives together after all.”

“Bu… he… didn’t… say that,” Hermione defended.

“Uh,” Harry responded. “Pretty sure he did. I mean, he’s really eloquent, and you’re clearly the reason behind that-”

“-You don’t know that!” Hermione snapped. “He said he learned English, he didn’t say why!”

Ginny held up a finger. “Let’s take this line by line. All in good time. We’ll get to mandatory English lessons in a minute. Let’s review. First four lines. He’s being very clear with his intentions from the start.” When Hermione opened her mouth, Ginny held out her hand again. “Even if you can’t accept that he is desperately in love with you and both sounding you out and working up to being able to admit it bold as brass, you have to admit that from these four lines alone at least that he cares very, very deeply for you, and if you aren’t considered his best friend, I’d be shocked.”

“But, Harry’s my best friend,” Hermione said, her own heart aching a bit.

Harry smiled at her. “And you two are my best friends. Best friend-slash-wife,” he said, looking at Ginny, “and best friend-slash… sister,” he said, looking back at Hermione. “You can have two, and they can be different.”

“Right. Moving on to the second paragraph, he has a very obvious and reasonable urge to kill Bellatrix, but Mum beat him to it. But what we can read in this is that in addition to caring very, very deeply for you, he’s protective of you. There’s only one reason a guy wants to know the names of people in your past who have hurt you, and that is so they can hunt them down. A fine and reasonable instinct, and it does him credit.

“Third paragraph. He says he doesn’t have words to describe his relief that you’re alive and able to carry on in life, but you know, I bet he does. But I bet he doesn’t think you’re willing to hear them yet. He’s an extremely tactful man, our Viktor. And he’s not going to say those words yet because I bet they mostly all involve diamond rings and the promise of orgasms and night time snuggling.” 

Hermione took that in with a bit of trouble, but perhaps not as much as she might have. It was true that he really couldn’t say what Ginny had, not at this point in their relationship. It would be a bit of a jump, really. And he certainly didn’t lack for words in the rest of the letter. He had plenty of them, and they were all absolutely perfect. She nodded silently, thinking about many things.

“Fourth paragraph. Where are we? Here we go. He’s begging you to visit, to see you in person. He says he’s desperate to see you, Hermione, and he hides that little nugget behind his parents politely looking forward to your arrival. Right there. Black and white. He’s desperate to see you again. Desperate. Let me reiterate: Viktor is desperate to see Hermione. All is forgiven, your the one he treasures most in the world, and Viktor is desperate to see Hermione. What is Viktor? Desperate to see you. I’d say he buried the lead, but it was all right there in the first four lines. After hearing about his breaking heart we can hardly be surprised at all about his desperate need to see you, except perhaps for the fact that he admitted it boldly. And he did. Mostly. Only slightly hidden, but possibly just so you could gloss over it if you didn’t feel the same way.

“Fifth paragraph. You consume his every thought. He wants you to be happy, and I’ll bet he himself wants to be right next to you when you are. And also, veiled reference to sex, and since he’s making it, it’s clearly him he imagines you having sex with.”

“What! What?” Hermione cried out. “There is no such thing! Read it out. There is no such reference, Ginny Potter!”

“And I quote, “You will sigh, not in sadness, but in safety, and contentment and pleasure.’ He’s not talking about sighing while eating chocolate, Hermione. He’s clearly referencing a sigh of pleasure at the extremely sexual way he’s just touched you.”

Hermione spluttered. “You-you-you just think that because you’re newlyweds!”

Ginny raised an eyebrow and looked at Harry. He looked at Hermione and shook his head. “Nah. If a guy actually has the guts to talk to a girl about her sighing in pleasure, trust me. He’s thinking about sex, a lot, her, and preferably with him. Anyone arguing anything else is just someone trying to backpedal and be nonchalant about just how much they want to bang the other person. Trust me. It’s a guy thing.”

Hermione was red to the roots of her hair. “Viktor… doesn’t… think that way about me,” she argued, but a tiny, tiny voice pointed out that he might. He could. He was a man. And sometimes, when they were together so long ago, sometimes, sometimes he would look at her like he would give her his soul, if he could.

But whatever they had was pure. And innocent. Children with crushes and holding hands. And now he was older and so wise, so responsible…

And so damn sexy you want to climb him like a tree, an entirely unhelpful voice whispered in her head.

“Hermione,” Harry began gently. “I love you. You’re the most intelligent person I’ve ever met. And this is clearly your blind spot. Everyone has them, or so I’m told. Mine was Tom. Yours is apparently Viktor. I saw you at the Yule Ball all those years ago. And I get that we’re talking about now and not then, but ‘Mione. You were gorgeous, and Viktor almost drooled. The only time I’ve ever seen the man genuinely smile is in your company. At the very least can you accept that your seventeen year old boyfriend had heroic restraint and did not let you in on the secret that all seventeen year old boyfriends have?”

Hermione smiled despite herself. “And what secret is that?”

“That they want to have sex with their girlfriend at every opportunity.”

“True,” Ginny added. “So true. Some are very bad at hiding it.”

“Viktor wasn’t like that!” Hermione argued fervently. 

“No, he was the perfect gentleman on the outside. I could take a lesson from him. But that’s the outside,” Harry said. “You’re the one who always talks about manners and their purpose.”

Hermione’s brain stopped dead.

The purpose of manners and politeness was to convey a socially acceptable message (in the best way) and not give offence, so that social situations could smoothly flow, despite people having different assumptions and different emotions. Your own reaction stays inside, and remains your own business. And you share it with those you wish to, in private.

And Viktor Krum had impeccable manners. Absolutely impeccable. It was one of the things she really lov-- highly valued about him.

And the thing about people with impeccable manners was that you’d only find out what they really thought about you if they deigned to tell you.

Somewhere inside of Hermione, the other shoe dropped.

Woodenly she nodded and sightless eyes tried to see what she never had seen.

“Sixth paragraph,” Ginny said gently. “His heart is breaking. He wants to hold you, comfort you, probably also have very gentle sex with you and give you lots of orgasms, but he’d never rush you into that knowledge. He wants to hold you while you cry, and he’s desperate for you to understand how much he wants to be there for you. And we’ll earmark this one to be cross-referenced with him wanting to move out of Bulgaria and closer to someone he loves.

“And then he shifts gears because you’ve apparently asked him to in his last letter, and he is damn amusing when he talks quidditch. I can see why your eyes don’t glaze over.

“Now on the ninth paragraph, cross-referenced with the sixth paragraph, you’ve apparently urged him not to move away from his loved ones and this is maybe his least veiled thing yet, and maybe also his most obviously veiled thing. Its clear there’s something here he’s not telling you, but maybe he’s not saying it because it’s so bloody obvious. Point one, he doesn’t care about individual teams, he’s trying to go for a general region. Cross-reference with his intense language immersion in English , it is clearly a region that primarily speaks English . If we assume he’s not trying to trade to Canada, America, Australia, or New Zealand, that leaves us and Ireland. I’ll grant you the others are possibilities, but then, so is Britain, and since his best friend lives in Britain, we’ll put that at the top of his list, shall we?” 

Hermione slowly nodded, eyes still wide and unseeing.

“Now, his parents have also had plenty of time to acclimate to his decision, which probably means years. Also cross-reference with his language study, which has been going on most intensely for the last two years. This means that Viktor has been quietly and studiously planning to move, right about now, to England, for at least the last two years. And Hermione, forgive me for stating the obvious, but right about now is when you were due to be finished with school.”

“Hard to date,” Harry pointed out, “when you’re in different countries. Probably a lot easier if he moved here, first.”

Her mouth was dry. She blinked, but it didn’t help.

“And then he concedes what must have been a previous point you made about keeping your loved ones close, and points out that’s why he’s moving. He’s moving. To Britain. He’s been preparing for years. To be closer to you, when you were ready for closeness. Because he loves you. It’s all right there in black and white, paragraph nine, with cross-references.”

“That… makes sense,” Hermione whispered, still staring off at nothing that could be seen.

“Paragraph ten, and he might be the most genuinely romantic person I’ve ever heard of. Also, he fantasizes about you. Some are quite tame and only concern you achieving peace and happiness. You can bet the rest are a lot sexier.”

“X-rated, even,” Harry added.

Hermione blushed again, involuntarily thinking of Viktor, his hair longer and curling around his eyes as it was in the photo, his face more sharply angled, his biceps considerably larger.

Then she stopped herself short, because she was still eating dinner with friends and going through his letter with a fine-toothed comb.

“Right. Next?” she asked, and as she blinked, she came back. With her came the realization that Viktor quite fancied her.

“Paragraph ten, he’s now fluent in English, and let’s be honest, he writes better letters than we do. One of his parent’s house elves has learned English so you will be comfortable when you visit his ancestral home. And he’s asking for a reading list from you Hermione. This is a keeper in so many ways. And in the beginning of the paragraph he says that if he’d known English would be so important to him he would have learned it, when, earlier? No, not generally earlier. By the time he was seventeen. Why is that age important? Oh, wait, it’s the age he spent a year in your company. Was he tongue-tied a lot of the time?”

Hermione smiled sadly and nodded silently.

“Don’t expect him to be when you see him next,” Ginny said with a saucy smile.

“Paragraph eleven, he’s talking about retiring in extremely vague terms. Many variables, he says. Yes, and you’re one of them. Veiled reference to looking forward to being with you.”

Hermione just accepted it.

“Paragraph twelve, and I’m totally disgusted that he’s an athlete, a scholar, a polyglot, and a musician. Marry him, Hermione. You’re the only one who deserves him, and it seems he’s the only one who deserves you. But clearly every time he plays his cello, he thinks of you, and no one else. And a veiled reference to the fact that he has no other romantic entanglements.”

Hermione just accepted that, too.

“Paragraph thirteen, his life is boring without you in it, and he’s sent you more roses, you lucky cow. Veiled reference to the endurance of his love for you, just add water.”

Hermione nodded, her eyes open in more than one way, now.

“Paragraph fourteen, and we’re drawing to a close now, his heart is breaking for you, all he wants is for you to heal, write back to him, and let him hold you in person, and possibly give you the snog of your life and several children. He signs it ‘with all his heart’.”

Ginny looked up. “This man is desperately in love with you, Hermione.” She folded up the pages and handed them back. “I can’t believe you’ve had this in your hands all summer long and still gave Ron all that time to think about something you already knew the answer to.”

“But I didn’t,” Hermione defended. “I actually did have to think about it. I mean, Viktor has been just a friend for so long, and it looked like something was actually going to happen between Ron and me, and I’d imagined that for so long.” She paused and looked at the letter in her hand. “And then I got this letter. And I was so confused,” she whispered. “I didn’t have it all out like you did, but… he made me feel. And it’s been hard to feel,” she ended, almost inaudibly.

Harry spoke then, after getting up and coming around the table, standing behind her and putting his arms around her shoulders, leaning his head on hers. “If it had been Viktor you kissed right after the final battle, if it had been Viktor who held you in his arms and spoke softly to you right then, how would you have spent this summer, Hermione?”

She groaned. There was no question at all in her mind. “Probably in his bed. But that’s not necessarily the best way to make life-long decisions.”

Harry still held her, with his head on top of hers.

Ginny spoke up this time. “No, but it does stand in stark contrast from how you spent your summer when it was Ron you kissed, and Ron you held. And you’ve spent the whole summer considering it. And you don’t want Ron. Do you want Viktor?”

The answer was instant and obvious.

“Short-term, definitely. Long-term, I have no idea. And it’s clear to me now… oh, God. It’s clear to me now he’s been planning for the long-term.”

“This man is desperately in love with you and you need to write back to him.”

Hermione sighed. It was a sigh of sadness. And a sigh of guilt. “Yes,” she said, to all of it.

August 30, 199_
The Granger Residence
London, UK

Dear Viktor,

I’m so sorry its taken me months to respond to you. I have excuses but none of them are very good. I will say I had a lot to think about, and some of that involved you.

Thank you for the letter, and thank you for the roses. I will bring them very carefully, by hand if necessary, to school with me, and they will remind me of the peace I find with you. Your letter will go with all your others, to be reread at night when the darkness is thick and the nightmares are unavoidable. This letter was particularly beautiful, and like the roses I will keep it close to me at all costs.

I don’t wish for your heart to ache, you know. But I’m honored to be the subject of your prayers. It may be the reason I survived, against all odds, and when others better than I fell.

I should write more, make this a longer letter, but I get so tired at night now, and the blood replenishers never quite manage against the cursed wound on my arm. And it was only at dinner tonight that I realized, well, many things. My own mind, one of them. And I’d waited so long, I didn’t want to wait any longer.

I’m sorry if I’m being obtuse. I do wish, in a way, that I could just speak to you and be near you, but I’ve gone and wasted that opportunity while I was trying to figure some things out.

Oh, God, I can’t end a letter like this. Let me give you something bright and lovely. I saw your picture in the paper the other day. You were scowling, of course, but I could see past that. Your hair has grown out, and it was curling entrancingly around your dark eyes. You were posed with a broom over your shoulders in a rather tight shirt with no sleeves, and your hands hanging just so over the broom. Your arms were thick with muscles, thicker than I remembered, and your chest broader. Your face was more angular, as if all the remnants of your childhood were entirely gone. Mine are, too, in my own way. I’d lost a lot of weight but not for any good reason except starvation. I’ve put weight back on again, but it’s different now, somehow. I look in the mirror and I don’t see a child anymore. I can’t remember the last time I looked into my own eyes and saw a child, but now even the last remnants are gone.

I’ve just reread that, and it doesn’t sound terribly lighthearted, but my point is that while the remnants of our childhoods are gone, it sounds like you still want me in your life, and that brings me genuine happiness, Viktor. And I very much want you in my life. I look forward to experiencing first hand how you have changed, and how you have only deepened and grown from the boy I knew once.

There is so much more to say, and I wish I could say it now, but some of it I have no idea how to say and so I will hide behind the need to sleep. And you may trust, dearest Vitya, that when I wake in terror in the night, it will be your words in your remembered voice that bring me a shred of peace. And now, your flowers, too. Eleven are in a vase on my desk. One stands by my bedside, a small fragrant bulwark against the darkness.


PS - the point I was actually trying to make by describing the photo of you is that you mentioned several times wanting to hold me, or imagining holding me, and the photo gave me an updated idea of what it might be like. And so I find that picture of you a bright and lovely thought. What will it be like to be held by those arms, against that chest? To see that scowl soften, one eyebrow quirk and a slow smile form all the way to those dark eyes? No hearts that ache, here, just arms that hold and lips that sigh in safety, contentment, and pleasure. And that is a bright and lovely thought, for me. (And if you don’t like the idea of me drooling over your promo shots, kindly refrain from looking edible in them.)

PPS - J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit . Jane Austen, author of Pride and Prejudice . Terry Pratchett, author of Wyrd Sisters . All have written far more than this, but these are the places to begin. 

PPPS - I’m sorry this letter isn’t longer. I’m sorry I made you wait so long for a response. I’m sorry for so many things, really, and wish I could change so much, and I can do nothing of the kind. If you’re not dreadfully upset with me, write me back at Hogwarts. And if you are dreadfully upset with me, Viktor, I’m so sorry, for everything. You are kind and good and deserve so much better than broken, cursed people like me.

Fuck. I’ve gone and ruined the end of the letter again. So be it. I’ll post it tomorrow regardless and by the time you read it, I’ll be in Scotland again. So be it.