Title: This Once
Rating: M (adult content, abuse)
Summary: Could he make her whole again? "His heart was shattering in his chest, hemorrhaging his soul and bleeding his conscience dry."
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, nor any of the innumerable characters and content therein. I am making no profit from this jumble of words.
This Once: Chapter One
In the aftermath, she couldn't even divine who ultimately was at fault. It had all blended together into a turbulent, boiling mess of arguments and resention. It had progressed between them to that point. There was no more right and wrong. Just a jumbled, insurmountable wall of fights about lost quidditch gloves and disconnected intimate moments.
She couldn't even remember the last time he'd said her name tenderly, instead of lacing it with spite. And it had been tender, in the beginning. In the suspended reality of the war's aftermath. Harry had lain at death's door, insensible for near six months in a coma, leaving them to flounder in a Voldermort free world that might still cost them The-Boy-Who-Barely-Still-Lived. They'd clung together as if making love would magic him back to breathing on his own, as if Fred could be risen from the dead with kisses. They'd sobbed together, lit funeral pyres together. Then Harry had woken up. And time had restarted again.
Ron had been picked up as a second-stringer for the Chudley Canons. His boyhood dream come true. Harry had gone to the Auror Academy to follow in Sirius's footsteps, and Hermione had packed herself off to an apprenticeship under a healer to deal with what she'd been dealing with all along within the Order without formal training. All three had been high on life and ecstatic to see the dawning of their previously set aside dreams taking fruition. Two weeks into picking up the pieces, and everything had slowly started to fall apart for the duo of the trio.
And so, Hermione Granger, healer and war hero, found herself storming out of her own office. Abandoning it midday, for all that she usually left later than closing, after flooing from a trip home for a quick lunch. Tears streamed down her face, to complete her humiliation of having to use her own workplace as a safe haven rather than her flat. A receptionist sputtered as she tilted past, her coworkers startled concerns ultimately waved off with a wild hand from the distraught witch as she stumblingly continued on her way.
Rushing, covering her face with her own hair to disguise the truth, she quickly slipped into the nearest lift. It was blissfully empty. She held herself, hunching over into her lime green work robes as she punched the Apparition Deck lever, hoping no one would board between floors.
Her wish was not to come true. Shuddering and jerking, the lift careered sideways after the sixth floor to the dismay of it's single passenger to grind to a stop at six-and-five-sixths, the Machinson or 'Mangled' Ward. She sniffled and further ducked her head as a group of wizards boarded. Silence filled the void as the lift once again flew through St. Mungo's, expanded by necessity during the Dark Times of Voldemort's last uprising. Hermione blearily stared at the ceiling reflected in the mirror shine of a passengers dragon hide footwear, grip tightening on her robes as the lift jerked back into motion. Then the boot she was glazing off into shuffled.
The voice was low, like a bass drum over the expanse of her rattled consciousness. With a soft rolling Slavic accent that suddenly and clearly matched the turned out booted toes. She'd known that voice. Oh, she'd known that voice.
"Viktor?" her voice shuddered, tongue thickened by swallowing sobs and tears through her nose. The two other men in the lift shifted uneasily, and she looked up into the familiar dark eyes that shuttered as she pushed back her long curls to examine them.
"Vik-" she breathed out suddenly, hitching on a gasp as she lost control of the tears that once again began sweeping down her face in a salty torrent. Embarrassment now at an all time peak, she gave up and bent into her palms, seeking to shelter herself behind them. The men with him began muttering softly in Bulgarian.
She could hear Viktor swallowing as he shuffled towards her. Large, roughly calloused hands shyly pulled at her own, gently guiding them away from her sodden countenance. Her hands fell to her sides, once again clutching at her healer's robe, as he let go to jerkily pull off his fingerless seekers gloves. Slowly, haltingly, he raised a single hand to brush a thumb across the crease of her lips. She flinched. A muscle in his already sharp cheek pulled. The muttering behind Viktor halted abruptly as a slew of sharp words in his native tongue escaped his taught lips.
"Vhat has happened?" His hands were on her instantaneously to steady her as she swayed, her own finding purchase in his crimson uniform as she shook her head from side to side.
"Vhat-", the lift door opened. He exhaled sharply at the unwelcome sound. Hermione couldn't help but shiver as he wrenched his arms around her, encompassing her small form with his reassuring embrace, grateful for his attempt to shield her from prying eyes. Grief poured our of her, soaking his already sweat damp jersey as he tightened his hold. There wasn't anything to be said, really.
He lead her out of the lift, shifting his hold on her to a single arm, responding in clipped, growling Bulgarian to his companions entreaties as they exited to the apparation deck. They were quickly enough forgotten, even as Hermione became more and more uncomfortably aware of the people milling about the deck. Her fingers bit into his side, and she dipped her head to let her hair hide her face once again. His own dark head swept the deck until his keen eyes caught glance of single empty visitors couch, and he couldn't help but to scowl blisteringly at a man approaching it as he lead the now quietly weeping Hermione to the chaise. The other man quickly turned and scuttled away as Viktor settled the distraught woman onto the seat and back into his arms.
Running his hands up and down her lithe arms, he softly crooned to her in Russian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian; all the the sweet words he knew. Gently sweeping her hair off her neck as her face fit to the hollow of his throat, his thoughts raced.
"Ah, mila, no more tears now." His accent garbled the English words as he bottled up his anger. "You'll tell Viktor everything, yes?"
It felt as if Hermione's whole body contracted with the force of a single sob. Viktor slammed his eyes shut, hastily muttering a Disillusionment and Muffliato Charm, cloaking them with his magic. Pulling back, he cradled her face, so very small in his large palms, and lost his breath again at the sight of her split lip and slowly darkening chin.
Viktor was the one person Hermione couldn't lie to. He was like Veratiserum personified. She could lie to herself, she could lie to the rest of the world but Viktor always knew. Some girls kept a diary, others let share with their girlfriends; Hermione had Viktor. Her Pensieve via owl post. After the fiasco of the Triwizard Tournament, when they'd finally started returning on the promise of exchanging letters it had become brilliantly clear that the language barrier between them had been blinding. Far from owning the pigeonhole of "purely physical" he'd been re-categorized in her brain as "linguistically bogged". His letters were eloquent and painstakingly grammatical, and in later years his lagging spoken English had only haltingly caught up to his written capability, much to his frustration.
"Who has done this." His flat, ominous tone would brook no further argument or bush beating. And Hermione, wrapped up in his protection and strength that she'd so missed had not the heart to fight back the name that flowed forth so easily.
"Ron." She'd slipped her face back against his shirt, unable to look at his expression for this particular tale. Her self-disgust was almost palpable.
"Veasley? I thought maybe a patient, or.." he trailed off, vision tightening as he dampened his rage to focus on her hurt and his fixing it, "How. Vhy."
"I went home for lunch early." She'd begun to wind down, listening to his heartbeat. "We... argued."
"Yes?" he was trying so hard no to be impatient. So very hard.
"I called him some names. We were both upset."
"And he beat you," the tamped growl rumbled in his chest as she shook her head into his robes. "But that is not whole truth."
"There was a woman in our bed." The fingers wrapped around her tightened their vice like hold. "Lavender Brown, an old schoolmate. At first I thought he was upset that I was home early, and I was... then I found her in the bedroom. But," she choked, "it was like he was more upset that he'd gotten caught than what he was doing. No remorse. I couldn't stand it. I can't stand it anymore. Viktor, oh god! How could he?"
"Tell me. Is okay, just... tell me everything."
"Lavender flooed out. I think I threw something at him. At her. I don't know. And his face, oh god, his face," Ron's expression had twisted into something the like of which she had never seen before in his nature. As if something inside of him was trying to escape the confines of his rage. The words were tumbling out now, flowing like water from a dam, and she couldn't stop herself. "He threw me up against the wall. I think he might have banged me around a bit to get there, I don't remember, but I'd dropped my wand. Then he started... hitting me. Really, having a go at me as well as he could. I can't do this anymore. I managed to shake him off and flooed to my office. I can't do this." There was appalled amazement in her words.
"Mila, mila tell me this is first time," his voice shook, "please tell me only this one time."
Hermione's sobs were devastating in the silence, and she trembled from the adrenaline of it all, reliving the events even as she spoke of them. Past arguments, every painful memory flitting through her mind. "He's never raised a hand to me before. He's pushed me during some arguments. But I've done that too. I've smacked him when he's flirted with other women, and-"
"You are vitch, Hermione, it doesn't make it vright," he hissed, cutting her off.
"I know that! I know! What's wrong with me?" The excuses she'd made herself believe, so many times before. A slow hysteria was seeping into the conversation. Hermione gasped for breath, and Viktor's chest was heaving with pent up emotion.
"Is this vhy you stop vriting? You vere afraid?" Viktor cursed himself hollowly, for making any of it about himself. But her silence had hurt. Not that it mattered, now. His eyes throbbed as he pushed her sleeves up to trace snaking lines of angry red marks and mottled purpling bruises. He hoped to God that this was the worst of it.
"No. Yes. No, I mean, he was jealous and I wanted him to be happy. He always got upset when he saw your letters. I wasn't afraid of, well, this." Her eyes were shut, not wanting to see her own shame. "I didn't want to stop writing. I missed our letters. So much."
His only concession to the angry, bitter tears that itched in the back of his throat was a ragged exhale. This woman. The woman he'd loved from his childhood. His sweet, studious, gold hearted woman had survived a war. The murder of her parents. The deathbed of her best friend. For this? His heart was shattering in his chest. He desperately wanted to leave her in safe quarter so he could hunt Weasley down and show him what had made him a name in the war. Then leave him to drown a pool of his own bodily fluids.
"Ve go to ministry. You vill talk to the aurors. You vill make a report. Then ve talk to Potter."
"But Viktor, I can't-"
"NO, Hermione," he panted, "you vill do this. He vill not go unpunished. If ministry does noffing, I vill take care of it." His eyes burned like coal. "I promise." He held her gaze steadily, and raised her hand to his lips in a salute, pulling it to rest on his chest. "You vill not see him again. You vill not talk to him again. I vill collect your things for you. His family vill think no less of you. They vill understand.
"Never again, mila. Never. Again."
And then something snapped inside Hermione. Like she'd magicked the air clear and suddenly she could breath. The sounds of people stepping around them, the bustling background noise began to filter in. She took a deep, calming breath. And then another. Like helium filling up an already heavy balloon. Her hysteria subsided, and she sniffled a bit before trying to reason out his plan of action.
"Harry's on honeymoon with Ginny."
Viktor bit back a crooked grin, "Then ve owl. For your protection, he must know."
"But, I don't have anywhere to stay," her brain felt like mush. "I can't stay with Arthur and Molly, I don't even know if I can bring myself to talk to them about this."
"You vill stay vith me. I have house vith lots room, no problem. Ve send owl to Veasley's parents too, if ve must." He cursed English, and his heavy tongue. The language that reduced him to a dullard at every inopportune, nerve wracking moment.
"Viktor, I can't let you do all this for me."
"Vhy not? No. Please, Hermione. Let me do this vone thing for you. Let me help you. Please." He would get down on his knees and beg next. She was the only one who could get him to do what Deatheaters and Voldermort's hellfire couldn't accomplish over all those years.
"I don't deserve this. Not from you." The dratted tears had nearly started again. Hermione felt like a leaky faucet. Viktor would probably need to be towel dried down his front when she was done with him. A small, shaky hand traced a dark lock of hair to a nose that had been broken more than a few times, gently rubbing the bridge where she knew his tension headaches began before she quickly pulled back her hands. This felt like acceptance. This felt like relief.
"Of all people, loff, you deserffe the vorld." He cradled her further into his arms once again and apparated them away.
Author's Note: For re-readers, this has been touched up (as many things in this story have been over the now full year of my working on this story). Forgive my brush strokes? Thanks for reading, and please let me know what you think!