Hermione slowly fought her way back into consciousness. The first thing she became aware of was someone stroking her hair and a warm hand gently enveloping her own. Her eyes slowly opened to the welcome sight of Viktor's dark eyes gazing down at her.
"Viktor? What am I doing here? I..."
She stopped in mid sentence as the memories of the past 24 hours began to filter into her consciousness.
"Do you remember vhat has happened?"
He brushed a loose tendril from her face and tightened his grip on her hand.
"Can you tell me?"
She swallowed hard and looked up into his eyes, swimming with a mixture of concern and anger. He spoke not a word as she told him how she was abducted from the back yard.
"I was so stupid Viktor. I walked right into it."
"You vere not stupid. Vas not your fault."
"I tried to fight them. I messed up. I was so scared I couldn't think straight."
"There vere four of them Hermione. No vone could haff fought off four death eaters at vonce. Do you know vhere they took you?"
"No, I was out cold the whole time. Woke up in some kind of cell."
"Do you remember anything about it?"
"Not really. It was so cold and...dark."
Viktor's jaw clenched at the thought of her thrown into a dark cell somewhere all alone.
"Vhat happened? Do you remember?"
Hermione saw the restrained fury in his face and decided it would be best to omit how she was molested for the time being. Instead she told him about the curse they put on her, the voice, the way they were able to determine what her greatest fear was and use it against her.
"I've never heard of a curse like that Viktor. It was...horrible."
"Moody knows about them. Old magic, dark magic."
"Moody was here?"
"You don't remember?"
She sifted through her most recent memories.
"He..he took the curse of me didn't he? Professor McGonagall was here too wasn't she?"
"She still is. Moody went to get...someone. He'll be back."
"Hermione, there is something I need to tell you."
"What is it? Somethings wrong isn't it?"
"I know who is behind all of this. I know who did this to you and the others."
"Remember when I told you of my...family?"
"I haff listened to their hatred my whole life, but I neffer thought...if I had known they vere capable of such things..."
As the meaning of his halting words became all too clear, her heart ached at the distress in his voice.
"Oh Viktor. You're family is involved in all of this? Are you sure?"
"Yes. I am sorry Hermione. Please forgive me. If I had known..."
"Forgive you? Viktor, there is nothing to forgive."
The guilt in his eyes made it glaringly obvious he didn't believe her. She sat up and looked into his eyes.
"Viktor, this is not your fault. I'd be dead right now if it wasn't for you. You are not responsible for your family."
He gazed into her eyes and saw none of the recrimination or disgust that he had been expecting. Her unwavering belief in him made him even more sure of his decision.
"Either vay, I am going to stop them Hermione."
His words sent a chill through her heart.
"What do you mean stop them? How?"
"They think I vish to become one of them. If I can make them accept me, I can find out who their leaders are."
"Become one of them? No! Viktor, don't do this."
"Hermione, I haff to do this."
"No you don't. Let Moody and the aurors take care of it, That's their job, not yours!"
"I can't do that."
"Why not? Tell me why it has to be you."
"Hermione. it could take months, years even for the aurors to round them all up. The truth is they may never find them all. How many people will be hurt before then? I have a chance to stop them all, now. I need to do this. I cannot stand by and allow people... allow you to be hurt. Do not ask me to do that. I cannot. I love you."
Seeing the resolve in his eyes, she knew any attempts to dissuade him would be pointless.
"You don't have to do this alone. Is Moody going to help you?"
"I believe so. He vants to hear vhat I know."
"Why did he leave then? Where did he go?"
Viktor took a deep steadying breath before answering.
"He vent to get Veasley."
"Mr. Weasley? What can he do?"
"No, he vent to get...Ron."
She looked at him silently for a long moment before responding.
"Hermione. Ron...he vas also bewitched. Like you vere."
The color drained from her face at his words.
"I do not know. Some time ago. Before the others. He vas sort of test case. The curse didn't go quite right though."
Hermione took in his words silently. She felt suddenly shaky and sick.
"Is that why...why he did what he did? Is that why he changed?"
This was the question he had been dreading having to answer. The moment he had to tell her that she had been wrong about Ron. That he hadn't meant to hurt her. He had avoided this conversation as long as possible, knowing full well it might send her back into the arms of another. He didn't want to lose her, but that dreaded moment was upon him regardless.
"Yes. I believe so. Moody went to find him. He is bringing him back here. He will be fine as soon as he is freed from the curse."
Hermione's mind reeled over his words. Why hadn't she seen? Why was she so quick to believe Ron would knowingly hurt her? They had been friends for so long and she had just abandoned him. She had run out on him when he needed her the most. What kind of person would do that to someone they cared about.
Viktor blanched at the guilt flooding her eyes. He had expected just this reaction, but it didn't make it any easier to watch.
"Hermione, is not your fault. How could you haff known?"
"I should have known though. It was Ron. I knew it wasn't like him. I shouldn't have run off like that."
"Hermione, if you had stayed eventually he vould haff hurt you. He vould not haff vanted to, but he vould haff. You did the right thing Hermione. For both of you. And... I am not sorry you came to me."
She suddenly noticed the pain in his voice and realized how hard it must have been for him to be the one to tell her this. She didn't want him to think that she regretted finding him again, no matter how painful the reason for it was. She reached up and laid her hand against his cheek.
"That's not what I meant Viktor. I'm not sorry about that. I just...."
He took her hand and kissed her palm.
"I am sorry. I should not haff said that. You haff enough to think about right now."
"Viktor, I'm not sorry I came to you."
He leaned down and pressed his lips to hers and for a moment all the guilt and confusion disappeared and there was only Viktor.
A loud disturbance from downstairs ended their kiss abruptly. The unmistakable sound of Ron's voice brought reality crashing through. Viktor reluctantly released his hold on her and moved away.
"I vill see if I can help. You should probably vait here until the curse is destroyed. Seeing you right now might set him off."
She nodded sadly as she watched him walk away.
Viktor descended the stairs to find Moody and Potter had indeed arrived with a struggling Ron between them.
"Get your hands off me. Where the bloody hell are we?"
He scanned the room with furious eyes and only quieted when his eyes landed on Viktor.
"What the hell is he doing here? Wait...this is Hermione's house isn't it?"
Moody pulled him by the scruff and set him down hard in the sofa chair restraining him with one arm.
"Get your bloody hands off me!"
Moody looked at McGonagall.
"He's cursed all right. Sit still boy!"
Ron's struggles ceased as he suddenly hunched over in pain as the same counter-curse used on Hermione was forcibly applied to him. Once the curse was cleansed from his mind he slowly sat back up, extremely quiet, the anger in his eyes gone.
"What happened? Harry?"
"Take it easy Ron. You had a bit of a nasty curse on you. But you're going to be just fine now."
Ron's eyes clouded over as he began to sift through the memories of the past months.
"Oh my god. What have I done?"
"It wasn't your fault Ron. You didn't have any control over it."
A look of alarm spread across his paling face as certain memories found their way into his consciousness.
"Hermione. I...Where's Hermione?"
"She's fine. I'm afraid they got to her too. She's resting now, and I think you better do the same.
Viktor watched as Ron nodded weakly, all resistance gone. He looked up apprehensively as Moody approached him with stony grimace.
"We need to talk. Now."
Hermione had risen after Viktor's departure, determined not too be a such a burden to everyone. After grimacing at her unkempt reflection in the mirror she showered and sat down to untangle her stubborn curls. She had almost tamed them when a welcome face poked his head in the room.
"Hey, you're not supposed to be up and about yet!"
She smiled at his indignant reprimand.
"I'm fine Harry."
"I'm fine Harry! I can't just lie around and be useless."
"I hardly think you're being useless Hermione."
"Oh Harry. I've really messed everything up haven't I?"
"You haven't done anything Hermione."
"Haven't I? I left Ron with a curse on him. I didn't do anything to stop it. Why didn't I see it? I didn't even think about why he was acting that way. I just... left."
"There was no way you could have known."
She continued on refusing to listen to any appeasement.
"And now I've gotten Viktor involved in this whole mess."
"No you didn't! Viktor's family was involved long before this Hermione."
"Yes, but he didn't know. He wasn't a part of it. He wouldn't be putting himself in danger if it weren't for me."
"Not because of you Hermione, for you. He loves you."
"Hermione, are you in love with him?"
She knew what he wanted to hear, but also knew lying would only make things worse.
Resigned disappointment filled his voice.
She shook her head silently before burying her face in her hands.
"Oh God Harry what am I going to do?"
"Tell him the truth. He's got to find out eventually."
"How can I do that? None of this was his fault."
Harry looked at her helplessly, at a loss as to what to say.
Harry and Hermione turned as Ron stuck his head into the room.
"Can I come in?"
Harry backed towards the door sheepishly.
"I'll be downstairs if you need me."
Hermione and Ron simply stared at one another for a long time before he spoke. She looked into his eyes and saw the old Ron again, the same goofy, insecure Ron who she thought she had loved for so long.
"I'm sorry Hermione. I can't believe...I didn't mean to... I would never hurt you like that."
"I know. I shouldn't have left like I did. I wasn't a very good..friend."
"Of course you should have. I'm glad you did. If I had hurt you I wouldn't be able to forgive myself."
"Ron, can I ask you something?"
"Why only me? I mean, why was it only me you turned on?"
"I'm not sure. Moody says they were using our fears, our weaknesses, our faults against us."
She laughed humorlessly.
"I'm your biggest fault then?"
He looked scandalized at her interpretation of his words.
"No! You aren't the problem Mione. I am. I..I was afraid of being rejected. I always have been, you know that. I guess because we got together my biggest fear was rejection from you. I kept hearing this voice in my head. It kept telling me the only way to stop you from rejecting me was to...hurt you. It's sick, but I couldn't get that voice out of my head."
Hermione could hear the voice so clearly, the same voice that had told her to hurt herself. All the insane things it said had been so reassuring, so right.
"I'm sorry Ron. I should have done something."
"Like what? No. You did the right thing. If you'd stayed....something a lot worse might have happened. I love you Hermione. Anyway, it's over now."
Hermione was rendered mute by the certainty in his face. She felt torn in two. She still cared for him, how could she not after everything they had been through together, but she knew now that she didn't love him, hadn't ever truly loved him as more than a friend. Finding Viktor again had shown her the difference between love and simply caring for someone. But if none of this had happened she would still be with Ron right now, oblivious to the difference. She didn't want to hurt him. None of this was his fault. Looking up at his unknowing face and thinking of Viktor downstairs planning how to take down his own family to protect her, she knew no matter what she did or said now, she would end up hurting someone she cared for.