Title: This Once
Rating: M (adult content, abuse)
Summary: Could he make her whole again? Maybe just this once. Good things always come at a price, but neither Viktor or Hermione expected their twice found love to be so hard won.
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 Twenty Six
Draco jerked his shoulder out of Morrisey's grip before theatrically brushing off the collar of his abused robe, glaring at Harry balefully.
"It's simple, scarhead."
Harry rolled his eyes at the throwback of an insult, twirling his wand in one hand in distraction as he attempted to reign in his baser instincts to hex what remained of the Malfoy line.
"I've been working on infiltrating several international… groups." Draco's undertone implied everything Harry needed to know about the affiliations of the targeted organizations; Death Eaters and pure blood ideology was still as prevalent in wizarding society as it had been before the war; they just weren't socially acceptable social and political views any longer. "Playing both fields, if you want to muggle-ize it."
Harry snorted at the quip, eyebrow upraised at Draco's attempt at humor. "And one of them has Bulgarian ties?" he hedged, pushing for a link between the current situation and Draco's obvious subterfuge.
"Exactly," Draco's eyes never left Harry's, pegging him with a solemn stare that left no doubt as to his loyalties and intentions.
Morrisey backed off, stowing his wand to hunker down onto the other corner of Harry's desk, grabbing spare parchment and a quill to take notes as the two men bickered.
"Someone was buying up a substantial amount of dark artifacts, a lot of them; enough to be suspect even in our circles. And I know the people who move that kind of thing." Draco floundered on the wording, placing himself in the same category as the same men that he was trying to put out of business, but it was a matter of fact. He hands were just as dirty as the rest of them. He shifted in his chair, ill at ease with the thought.
Harry steepled his hands, staring rather skeptically at the other man's obvious discomfort. "I thought you were in the process of retracting Malfoy Corporations from such business dealings, that you'd severed old ties."
"Yes and no; I have been restructuring. But I kept in contact with a lot of my old man's friends. Purposefully." There was something like a glimmer of maniac glee in his otherwise closed off expression. "I wanted to pull them down from the inside out. Not everyone got rounded up after the ministry tightened its leash." The most active Death Eaters had fallen with their master, but many of his agents were financial supporters, people who had contributed to the cause without actually participating in the power grab that had ultimately lead to Voldermort's downfall. They had operated under the radar enough that they couldn't be legally implicated as having been active aggressors in what had amounted to genocide.
"Are you trying to convince me that you're suddenly a muggle-lover?" Harry scoffed as Draco flinched at his accusatory tone, his already pale knuckles whitening in their grip on the flimsy arms of his visitor's chair. Harry continued on, unmoved. "That you've completely thrown away everything that your family suffered and died for?"
"Not necessarily, no." Here Draco tilted his chin up, defiantly. "Muggleborns push to eradicate long-held traditions, just because they don't understand them. It's slowly eroding our culture. That I haven't stopped believing. Now I just understand their reasoning and lack of… Granger called it acculturation." Hermione had lectured him on the subject often enough. "But I'm not here to defend myself to you, Potter," he sneered.
Harry shook his head. "What do you know about the buyer?"
Draco noticed the downshift in suspicion, twitching a little at the abrupt immediacy of the other mans acceptance of his own honesty. "I've been tracking his movements through a couple of suppliers I know on the Eastern front. He was trading in massive amounts of obscure potions ingredients that are known to be used in less-than-legal brews. It was suspicious."
Realization flashed across Harry's face. "You're the Quick-Quill informant."
Draco nodded, his expression pinched, before he replied dryly, "Well spotted."
"Why the hell didn't you just volunteer this information in the first place?" bit back Harry, in frustration.
"My hands were tied," snarled back Draco. "I couldn't break silence without putting my entire operation at stake." He leaned forward, hands digging into his trousers as he clutched at the fabric there, restlessly. "Technically I'm still taking a huge risk by being here at all. I had to make it look like I was being arrested just to get into the building."
"I'm sure the Prophet is going to eat that up," muttered Harry.
"You think?" snapped Draco, his head filled with the amount of lost revenue and possible social repercussions.
Harry rolled his eyes. "You couldn't have notified me sooner, then?"
"I didn't have any specific information to give you, half-whit." Draco was locked in a desperate mental battle to keep from throttling the auror, "I told you, my hands were tied."
Viktor knelt, arms wrenched behind painfully behind him. He was roped down by magic and held in place by a golem, but that was the least of his current concerns. Utter disbelief sat like a rock in his gut as he stared at a dead body. Or, what should have been a dead body. He quickly collected himself from the brief mental fugue that had taken hold as he heard Hermione audibly groan from across the room. He saw that she was groggily attempting to push herself upright as she emerged from unconsciousness, which was a good sign given the force of the impact her head had received after having been stunned at a rather close distance. Somewhat relieved, he turned his attention back to the man who had seemingly risen from the dead.
"Poliakoff?" he gruffly posited. "Serge Poliakoff?"
The man sneered, contorting the mass of scars that crisscrossed his face. Viktor dimly remembered pulling him out of a ministry raid, the other man having taken a spell blast to the head at close range. The surviving members of his group had collected the bodies from the skirmish later, after the aurors had left the building they'd been occupying, and Viktor had only given himself a few minutes with which to dispose of his former-friend's corpse on a makeshift funeral pyre in the middle of some godforsaken field. Or, so he'd thought.
"How did you…?" He began hesitantly, in Bulgarian.
Poliakoff had once been an aid to Headmaster Karkaroff, and while the man had treated both of them abominably, as his aid Poliakoff had been much better at hiding his disgust for the man. The older student had truly been a good ally to have within Karkaroff's ranks, but beyond that he was the closest thing to a best friend he'd ever had. Viktor was a loner by nature, but they had been childhood friends, and the other boy had taken several beatings meant for him over their years at Durmstrang. He'd shown unfailing loyalty to his close friends. Although other other boy had sided with the Death Eaters and had played a minor part in the war, they'd all been treading a thin line in those days; it had been an expected outcome given their education.
Poliakoff let a grin slip onto his face. "Like I should tell you?" He spat onto the ground in derision. "I owe you nothing."
Viktor wracked his brain for a reason, but could think of nothing substantial enough to warrant the effort his former friend had put into his attempted revenge, other than his obvious betrayal of their cause. But Poliakoff hadn't been as invested as most of the wizards in the Death Eater cell in which he'd immersed himself, and Viktor had had nothing personally to do with the events that had lead up to his friends 'death'.
Viktor frowned. "At least tell me why-"
"Why should I give you the pleasure?"
Poliakoff motioned to a golem, who moved to tie up Hermione, magically restraining her arms after tossing away her wand. Viktor had been stripped of his after being blindsided by a stunner upon arrival, Hermione receiving much the same treatment.
"Without a reason, you're just a senseless lunatic," snarled back Viktor, jerking his arms against the dead weight of the golem's restraining hold. The only response made by the creature was to increase it's already bruising grip.
"You want to know why?" The smile was gone, replaced by a slow-building rage as Poliakoff crouched down in front of him, leering menacingly into Viktor's face. His old friend's already sharp Slavic countenance had become even more angular in emaciation, as if the man hadn't remembered that nourishment was still required for his continued existence. He grabbed a hold of Viktor's chin with one hand, wrenching the other mans face to focus directly on his as he ground his wand-tip into a cheek with the other. "You need a reason? Traitor?"
Poliakoff shook with fury, deep heaving breaths that wracked his slight frame, and Viktor could almost smell the tainted magic rolling off of his body. Viktor felt malignant, quivering disgust within his own soul as it recoiled from the darkness within the other wizard's husk of a body. Shrouded in black robes, his previously curly hair was matted to his head in disarray, and his once meticulously manicured beard was a mess of stubble and bare edges of scar tissue that poked through the overgrown bristle on his chin.
"You would do all of this to me just because I broke rank?" Viktor sneered, raising an eyebrow as he fought to keep from flinching as Poliakoff jabbed his wand further into his cheekbone. "Surely you realize that being bitten in a den of snakes-"
"That I could have forgiven," interrupted Poliakoff. The light had dimmed in his eyes, and he dropped his hands from their grip on Viktor's face. He stood to walk way into a natural alcove within the rock face, arms locked behind his back as he fell into the habitual parade rest that Durmstrang had drilled into all of them from childhood. The action was so familiar, so reminiscent of their school days, that it made Viktor's jaw clench.
"Well, what's changed now?" challenged Harry, livid. "You're giving me information that would have been useful hours ago, you know, before we'd gotten the piss taken."
Draco's hands gripped his biceps as he crossed his arms over his chest. "Because I know where they might be, Saint Potter," he spat, voice deathly flat in its seriousness. "I owe Granger a debt. One I damn well intend to repay, no matter what hell my handler might rain down on me for going against orders."
"Who's your handler?" Harry had mirrored his body language, arms crossed and back ramrod straight as he attempted to stay civil.
Draco snorted. "Snape, who better?"
Harry simply stared at him in disbelief.
"The connection is familial, it's only proper that I maintain contact with the man regularly, and if anyone has the knowledge…"
"That's so transparent it's ridiculous," muttered Harry, unbelieving.
"Exactly." Draco rolled his eyes. "Who would believe any of it at all? The best way to keep anything hidden is within plain sight."
Harry threw up his hands in disgust. "Just tell me the location."
"You're the one badgering me for details, daywalker," pointed out Draco, with one pointed finger outstretched.
Zombie references were at least a new genre of insults to add to the pejoratives thrown at him daily from detainees. "Yes, well, out with it," gritted back Harry, between clenched teeth.
"One of the deliveries was made to an abandoned manor in Pernik, there's an enormous cave system nearby. Muggles used to use them for religious ceremonies, but we-" he backtracked, still obviously uncomfortable with placing himself in the same category, "-Death Eaters would use them for revels, because they're so uncharted."
Harry nodded. It sounded like a plausible location. "Who should we be expecting?"
"One of Viktor's old littermates with a massive grudge."
Viktor turned to look at Hermione as she slowly pulled herself off the ground, struggling to rise to her knees with her arms now magically bound to her sides. She was laboring for breath, and something inside Viktor snapped at the sight, knowing that she was still recovering from being poisoned - At the hands of the man in front of him. Viktor grit his teeth, lips thinning into a stern line as he fixed his sight back onto Poliakoff's own eyes icily as the other man gazed intently at the witch's struggle.
"This one…" Poliakoff let his voice trail off, stopping as he moved to haul the witch up by her throat. Viktor let out a low growl, snapping his body forward against his restraints as the other man caressed her face, smoothing curls out of her vision as Hermione glared at him, defiantly. "It's all because of her, isn't it?" He squeezed her throat, long fingers pinching into her cheeks as she tried to wrench her face away, flinchingly. "Isn't it?" he snarled, leaning his face so close to her own that Hermione couldn't help but close her eyes as he exhaled sharply, his wet breath rank against her skin.
"Leave her out of this," barked Viktor, struggling against his restraints with more vigor.
Poliakoff's face blanked, eyes vacant for a half moment before turning to focus his pinched features on Viktor, hand steady at Hermione's throat despite her frantic gasps for air. "No…" he scowled, dropping Hermione to the ground with a look of disgust., before turning to glare hatefully at Viktor. "It's your fault she died."
His mind was racing. Viktor's entire body shuddered with the sudden chill that ran through his body. "You-" Viktor choked out in a half whisper. It was the only explanation, and the pictures flooding his brain were so brilliantly clear that the world blurred and his vision swam. "You were?" The letters. The exchanges that he'd written off as his baby sister's ease of affection towards his much old friend. The holes in his wards, and the telling use of wintergreen… "Ivanka-"
"Don't you speak her name," shouted Poliakoff as he cut Viktor off with a boot to his chest. Viktor sputtered as his own breath was cut short by the impact, heaving air into his lungs in gasps. Hermione let out a small noise of distress, and the quidditch player struggled to quickly regain his composure. Polikoff hissed tremblingly, incensed with the other man's bravado, his voice going unsteady with emotion. "You haven't the right."
They'd been childhood friends even before Durmstrang, as Poliakoff's family had been on equal social standing with the Krum's in the small, tight-knit world of the Bulgarian wizarding community. The other boy had often visited Chinik Kushtichka during the summer months. Ivanka had trailed after them both as only a younger sibling could, wanting to be a party to every game and adventure. And, loving his sister, Viktor had often indulged her. The three had spent many happy days together in play, until propriety had deemed the mixing of company less than acceptable. Poliakoff had begun to dote on her over the years as well, and the other boy had made it a point to never draw attention to the obvious infatuation with himself that Ivanka had nurtured into her more mature years. They'd had an unspoken gentlemen's understanding; family members, especially much younger siblings, were romantically off-limits.
Or so he had thought. As time went on and Ivanka had pursued other wizards, Viktor had assumed that she had moved on past the childhood crush she's had on his best friend. Viktor had known that his sister had been writing to a young beau in those last months of her life, but he'd never found out the identity of what he'd assumed was a fleeting romance. After her death, he'd been unable to find any letters that she'd kept, and over the years his mother hadn't located them either.
And he had looked again, recently, knowing that there was a chance that they were the missing link to the recent attacks. He'd assumed that Ivanka had charmed her letters to self-destruct if anyone went snooping through her things, a common tactic with witches her age, as he couldn't find a trace of any correspondence among her things. After her death they'd sealed the door to her wing of the family quarters, and tried desperately to move on. It had been a traumatic experience to pull down the wards on those rooms in order to go looking for clues, however much time might have passed. He'd tried very hard to put her death behind him.
Apparently, her lover had not. His closest friend, who he had watched burn into ash, all those years ago, or so he'd thought. An odd sort of indignation swelled within his chest even as he caught his breath. It was unbelievable that his sister had kept such a secret from him, from any of his family, so well.
"You," Viktor began, coughing as the words stuck in his throat. "You, and her?"
Poliakoff's face went red in indignation, even under the mottled disfiguration that stretched across his cheeks. "It was your betrayal that put her in the grave my friend," he spat, fiddling with his wand and tightening the restraints that bound Viktor's legs. "I loved her." It was a solemn statement, and Viktor didn't doubt the other man's sincerity. Poliakoff's knuckles were white as he gripped his wand, something twisted and vicious forming on his once handsome mouth. "And you traded her life for nothing more than muggle trash."
"Kill me then." Viktor's heart felt leaden as he contemplated the possibilities. "Take your vengeance, long past due."
Ivanka's favorite sweet had been mint-cauldrons, decadent chocolate covered wintergreen mints. She'd received a whole box of them at Christmas every year past her sixteenth birthday, when she was of legal age for engagement. That he'd never suspected anything between the two, despite his nearly consuming paranoia, was a damning oversight on his part. He's assumed that the mints had been a gift from his parents or a relative, none the wiser. They had been indulged as children. They weren't something that would have been out of the ordinary for Ivanka to have received as a casual gift.
A cruel smile emerged from the parade of emotions the crossed Poliakoff's face, and Viktor felt his stomach drop with knowing anticipation.
They were all huddled up inside an intact building, watching an auror fiddle with some type of advanced tracking device that made a Foe Glass look like a child's toy. The tracker was obviously attempting some sort of triangulation technique, but George knew better than most – a fact that had surprised both his brothers. It would take more than a few minutes of fiddling to track down wherever Hermione and Viktor had been whisked off to. The former twin had continued working with the ministry after the war, well beyond producing his line of shield helmets and other gear. He'd offered his expertise in the way helping to develop new technological advancements in aurory field equipment, and tracker's tools were just one of the many things he'd stuck his ginger head into helping the ministry to tweak.
"This is doing my head in." George groaned, grinding the heel of his hand into an eye in frustration.
"Budge up." Charlie shoved a tin cup of tea into George's unoccupied hand, sitting down next to him on the wood floorboards. They had been prohibited from transfiguring anything more comfortable. Apparently the ministry took a dim view on any further collateral damage their operation might incur for the time being, at least pertaining to their current location.
"Thanks." George tipped back the tea with little thought, before sputtering, spilling down his front. The drink had been piping hot. "A little warning might have been nice."
"I'll remember to check your nappy next time, alright?" drawled Charlie, eyebrow raised.
Sirius growled at the both of them. "Children. Please." He ran a hand through his hair, pacing, before stopping to glare at the tracker full force. The other man simply shuffled in place, uncomfortable with the Marauder's intimidation tactics. Sirius's eyes bore into him like hot coal, and did less to motivate him to work quicker as much as they made the poor man's already nerve shot hands feel even more ham-fisted.
"When the hell is Harry getting back?" queried Bill, trying to pull Sirius's attention away from distracting the tracker.
"How about just now," exclaimed Harry, tiredly, from the threshold of the shop's door.
"Well." George could only blink, setting down his cup. "That was convenient."
"Nice entrance. Now, could you possibly move your arse out of the way," snapped Malfoy, and Harry quickly stepped forward to make room for him inside to doorway.
George gaped. "You again?"
"I don't have the time to explain, so, would you all just trust me on this, please?" Harry pleaded with both his eyes and his open handed gesture for forgiveness as Sirius stared, skeptically, at the Malfoy heir.
Draco scoffed, "Like you have any place to talk, Potter. I wasted ten minutes trying to convince you that I wasn't bloody terrorist."
Bill couldn't stop himself from laughing as Harry shot daggers at the blond for his less than helpful remark. "Easy now, lad." The werewolf crossed his arms, leaning against a wall in bemusement. "Or you might fit right in with this lot."
"Look, Malfoy's been working with the ministry, and he has a lead as to where Hermione and Viktor might be." The whole room seemed to snap to attention, and even the tracker stopped working to turn around and give Harry both ears in anticipation.
Malfoy cleared his throat, jittery at the attention. "I have good reason to believe that they might be somewhere in the Duhlata cave system in Pernik. In Pernik, Bulgaria, I mean." He gestured to Harry to continue.
"And I'm in a good position to agree with him." He pushed his glasses further up on his nose by the bridge, surveying the men gathered in the room with a sharp eye, quelling any dissent. Harry nodded to the tracker, who'd begun to frantically fiddle with his instruments, "Right. So, I'll keep in touch with you. Let me know when you have a better idea of an exact location," The other man's response was an absent nod, and Harry then turned back to nod at the rest of the men, who stood at rapt attention. "We're off to Pernik. I've already arranged a portkey."
"No plan?" hedged Bill.
"Is it really worth the effort?" Harry was already out the door, tossing the remark over his shoulder, and the rest of the group began to file out after him.
George shrugged. "Good point, really."
"Then what do you plan to do with us?" demanded Viktor.
Poliakoff laughed, duly. "You think I'm that stupid?" He turned, facing Hermione, who was by now taking in the situation with wide eyes, fully awake but obviously unaware of what had passed between the two men due to the language barrier. The disfigured wizard motioned to a golem who moved to pick up Hermione by her bound arms.
"My apologies, Mrs. Krum, if I don't better introduce myselve."
Hermione's eyes were narrowed in confusion at the lack of mockery in the address, as if it was actually her title.
"Oh-ho, he did not tell you?"
Hermione simply pursed her lips, refusing to deign their captor with the satisfaction of giving his obviously ill intentioned question a response.
Viktor struggled furiously against his restraints as Poliakoff gently took Hermione's chin, tilting it so he could peruse her eyes with a maniacal grin.
"Oh my, Viktor, you did not tell her, da?" Poliakoff cackled at Viktor's hateful glare. "You are his vife."
Hermione simply tilted her chin up, glaring balefully into the madman's face, but he merely continued on, eyes now fixated on the pained expression beginning to grow on Viktor's face.
"He took you to bed vhile vearing thees," he plucked at her betrothal band, reaching behind her in mockery of an embrace. "Means you are hees sŭpruga. But he didn't expect to lieve long, did you Viktor?" Poliakoff sneered at Viktor, twisting the band harshly against Hermione's skin before pulling back to stare at her, hatred burning in his eyes. "He thought I vould make you hees vidow in due time, da, moyat priyatel?" Poliakoff hatefully wound his fingers into the witch's hair, stopping her from hiding her shell-shocked expression behind the curls as she began to tilt her chin down towards floor. "Ve can't haff you as Madam Krum, now can ve? Take her avay."
"Vhere are you taking her?" Viktor shouted, struggling even harder than before. "Leaf her be!"
Poliakoff laughed, this time with a more maniacal tinge to the sound than his previous lack of mirth. "This is vhere I reveal all? I think no. Take her avay."
Viktor's breath caught and he felt like his chest was going to collapse in on itself as he watched tears of frustration and anger gather in her eyes. She struggled against the golem, angling her body so that she could speak to him as the creature dragged her away down the stone corridor.
"I love you. I love you, Viktor," she choked out.
"Hermione." Low and pained, Viktor couldn't stop himself from allowing the uncertainty of the moment cloud his reaction, but when he saw Poliakoff sneering out of the corner of his eye, he quickly rallied. He wasn't going to let the situation dictate his response, and he'd be damned if he minced what could possibly be his last words to her. "I love you. I have always loved you. No matter vhat happens, I vill find you. I vill find you."
Another golem grabbed ahold of her other shoulder, helping the first creature as Hermione stuck in as well as she could, struggling to keep from being separated from the man who up until that second she hadn't even known was her husband.
"You bastard!" she couldn't help but half shout, half sob at Poliakoff. "You haven't even said why you're doing this! Who are you? Why?"
The golem's drug her away, painfully wrenching her arms high behind her shoulders, hoping to detour her desperate thrashing. Poliakoff merely looked on, with an odd sort of satisfied detachment on his face, which seemed to only enrage Hermione even more.
Viktor could only watch, helplessly, as she disappeared further down the corridor, the eerie silence of a sound ward descending upon the room. Viktor exhaled raggedly, biting his tongue bloody to choke back his own despair.
sŭpruga - wife
moyat priyatel - my friend
It has been a LONG time. Sorry for the absence. I was well and truly blocked on this part of the story. I feel like I wrote myself into a corner, and it took forever to get myself out of it. Action is not my forte, and it took quite a bit to figure out how I wanted everything to climax. I wanted to get it right, and to make sure that I was happy with how things were unfolding rather than giving into the temptation of rushing through it. I'd envisioned how the rest of the story would unfold, but this particular bit was always a bit murky for me.
Also, thanks for the encouragement. Your reviews mean a lot to me, and I was definitely given a nice push from the kind words left by people who were discouraged by the lack of updates. Thank you. You don't know how much I appreciated it at the time.
Serge is a first name take from a Russian-born French modernist painter named Serge Poliakoff, and you can google image search to see his works. However, Poliakoff himself is actually a canon character, and I spent quite a bit of time trying to research him. A lot of the information we have on this character is actually pulled from behind the scenes press and movie featurettes. He's the "I vould like some wine" fellow in the book. According to the movie featurettes, he's actually Karkaroff's assistant, and I thought that it would only make sense to have Viktor ally himself with someone that had privileged access to the headmaster's offices and personal agenda. I really wanted to use a canon character, too, and Poliakoff was pretty much it. It made sense to they might have been family friends, as I imagine that the Bulgarian wizarding community must have been small enough for that to be a convenient possibility. The actor that portrays him in the film actually originally responded to a casting call to play Viktor, and the director was so impressed that he had the role of Karkaroff's aide written into the script to keep him on as an extra.
I have this vision of Poliakoff and Ivanka as star-crossed lovers, giving into the temptation to start a relationship but wanting to keep it a secret until Ivanka was of an age that they might seek parental approval… but Ivanka dies, leaving Poliakoff a bitter shell of a man. A more unhinged version of Snape, maybe, since Poliakoff's 'Lily' returned his affections. And, rather than seeing the dark lord and the war as the reason for her death, he hones in on Viktor's role in having placed her in danger. I'd actually argue that Viktor's family already had a target painted on their backs in the first place given that they had publically allied themselves against Grindelwald and by extension Voldemort, but that's something else entirely.
And yes, Hermione is particularly stunted when it comes to understanding wizarding culture and tradition, but to be fair, it's not entirely her fault. Most of the intricate ins and outs of wizarding culture don't seem to be written down in books in the series, and I doubt that she would have understood the boundaries and technicalities of an old-world betrothal pact other than perhaps a cursory knowledge that she showed with recognizing what bands mean in the first place (what better way to trap someone into marriage than to have tricky betrothal magic?).
I'd also be hesitant to embrace a culture that so soundly rejects me at a certain level, as an aside. That had to be frustrating for Hermione as a muggleborn. I imagine that wizarding culture is transmitted through families just like most any other culture, and wizards just aren't aware that people new to the culture simply don't know certain things. It just seemed like everyone expected Harry and Hermione to know everything, and yet no one was all, "Here's your introductory book to the wizarding world, telling you all about this weird ass alternate dimension you've just entered." That would be pretty counter-productive to the plot, I know, but still. That would be kind of awesome if JK actually wrote something like this. Seriously.