Word Count: 3301
He is detained after the raid on Fleur’s wedding: a foreign national, a public figure, Viktor knows that his appearance at the joining of two “dissidents” within the new regime is something to be examined. He is held for nearly eight hours before he is finally released from the depths of the Ministry, his travel visa suspended and his wand handed back by a tiny, frog-eyed woman in a pink cardigan with the promise that his presence in England will not go unnoticed.
Viktor leaves the Ministry as quickly as he can, turning up the collar of the fine coat he wore to the wedding against the cool evening chill. He wants to find a place to stay, a nice meal, maybe a way back to Fleur and Bill in Devon, but finds himself in a pub instead, slinking down past the bustling entry to Knockturn Alley and through Diagon’s half-empty sidestreets until he stumbles into the old haven for the wandering and the lost: the Leaky Cauldron.
It’s busy for a Sunday night, the tavern nearly full to bursting, and Viktor weaves through the crowd and manages to find an empty chair at the corner of the bar. He orders a glass of firewhiskey and the seat beside him empties almost as soon as he begins his drink, but despite the crowd no one moves to take it. Viktor does not notice, too wrapped up in the last twenty-four hours to truly pay attention to the present, and as he swallows the last of his glass he feels something rubbing against his back, a hand placed casually on his shoulder. He turns and the woman who has suddenly appeared beside him is small and Asian, with ink-black hair done up in a loose bun and a locket around her slender neck that falls below the hollow of her throat, rests in the dip of her cleavage, over her heart. She orders a gin and tonic without any preamble, and “Another of whatever he’s having, Tom, just put it on Al’s tab.”
The woman crosses her legs at the knee once she sits down and Viktor appraises her silently. He is used to displays like this: drinks and compliments from admirers and hangers-on, women looking for paparazzi flashbulbs and fifteen minutes of celebrity. Sofia was full of women like that; he should have expected London would be the same.
He accepts the second glass of firewhiskey without complaint. “Vot you here for?” he asks, curling his hand around the glass. “Business or pleasure?”
The woman turns toward him in her chair, positioning herself so that her knees brush his. “I’m here for you,” she says, a surprising Scottish lilt to her voice, “But so are those two handsome gents in the corner.”
He expects fans when he glances past her, but the men sitting just beyond the ring of light around the bar are older, grizzled figures, clad in heavy black robes and nursing pints of mead. One man lifts his mug to his lips and the sleeve of his robe slips downward; Viktor can just make out the tattoo on the inside of his forearm, something that might be a heart or a snake or a skull, and suddenly, almost as if from a distance, Viktor realizes that woman beside him is not simply an attractive stranger. He knows her – he cannot remember her name, but he knows her.
When he looks back the woman meets his eyes, bringing her glass to her lips with an impressively manicured hand: the nails are smooth and polished, tips edged in navy blue, but it’s the ring on her finger that catches his attention. There, resting heavy on the middle finger of her right hand, is a silver phoenix, shining like a mirror in the warm golden light of the bar. His mouth goes dry.
“I have a room upstairs,” she says, leaning in as she slides a room key across the counter. Her lips brush against his jaw. “And an extra broom. Meet me there in five minutes, and we’ll see just how well Bulgaria trains their Seekers to react when death is on the line.”
Viktor covers the key with his hand. His voice doesn’t falter. “Better than Irish team, at least.”
Oliver Wood swoops down on his Cleansweep and nearly catches Viktor by surprise: the night is cold, the wind picking up, and he’d been so focused on keeping watch and keeping upright on his broom that he didn’t realize the time. “Eleven o’clock and all is well,” Wood says with a half-grin, “Everything good on your end?”
Viktor nods, flexing his fingers against the handle of the broom. Wood is a decent partner: they’ve been sharing a grotty little flat since Viktor’s induction into the Order of the Phoenix, and they get on well enough – similar tastes, similar hours, two men alike in exasperation over Sweden’s chances for the Cup. They’ve been patrolling over London since six and they’re due for a shift change in another hour, but for the first time in weeks the skies are quiet, the world below as safe as it ever is, and it’s –
“Is that Chang?” Wood asks suddenly, and Viktor sharpens his focus onto sudden movement on the ground – red sparks are flying and rushing up the street toward the Ministry is Cho Chang, her overcoat buttoned up and a half-dozen scrolls of parchment peeking out through the closed flap of her satchel. Less than six steps behind her are two black-cloaked figures giving chase, and something hard and angry falls to the pit of his stomach, cold tendrils of fear and dread creeping their way up through his lungs, into his throat. Cho changes direction and cuts through a nearby alleyway, but from this vantage point Viktor can see that this is only a part of the trap the hooded figures are forcing her into: there’s more of the group down at the other end of the labyrinth of sidestreets, wands out and waiting.
Viktor dives spectacularly as the men on her tail catch up; he drops sharply, nosedives without warning, and from somewhere behind him he can hear Wood swearing as he follows close behind, the two racing toward the ground at unreasonable speeds. Viktor comes up barely inches off the ground and leaps off, tossing his broom to the side as he races down the alley to where Cho – hair and satchel flying out behind her – is locked in a duel with the two who’ve cornered her. One is already down for the count, his body crumpled at odd angles and his head bleeding profusely, but the other is still standing, sending an impressive curse her way that she blocks, but still sends her flying backward into the wall from the force. Viktor launches a hex at Cho’s assailant that turns his legs to literal jelly, the bones melting away inside as he falls in a puddle of limbs to the ground.
Cho is curled into herself against the wall, cradling her knee against her chest; Wood gets to her first, kneeling down to examine her injuries. She’s bleeding heavily, her leg slashed to ribbons, and Viktor gets down there with them, tearing off part of his robes and tying it around her leg, trying to make a tourniquet.
Wood is livid. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Chang, walking out alone in broad damn daylight?”
“One, it’s nearly midnight. Two, the Floo Network’s being watched,” she grits out, “McLaggen – bloody fuck, Oliver, be careful with that – he and I were working on family trees for the – mmf – the Records Room at the Ministry.”
Wood scoffs. “Prettyboy McLaggen couldn’t watch your back?”
“Back is fine,” Viktor says, completely serious, “Is leg vot’s real trouble,” and Cho laughs a little at that.
Wood glares at him. “Can you get out without us?” Wood asks, and the blood is bright as it seeps through their tangled fingers, applying as much pressure as they can. She needs a Healer, soon. “Cho, can you Disapparate on your own?”
She’s gone pale. “Not far,” she mutters, “Not by myself. Who’s the closest?”
Wood looks to Viktor. “Shacklebolt,” Viktor tells her, “But he is vith Muggle Minister. Ve could, Vood, ve could get her to –”
Cho interrupts him: “Not both of you – Snatchers are out, they’ll be here soon. Oliver, help me up, we’ve got to get these to HQ as soon as we can. Viktor, you’re on cleanup. Get hold of Hestia once you make it out – she’s the contact for the whole mess, she’ll make sure our trail goes cold. We’ll be at the Spinnets, Alica’ll help us better than anyone.”
Viktor nods and claps his hand against Wood’s shoulder as they both lift Cho up from off the ground. He summons his broom and catches it in midair, he flicks his wand and Vanishes the lumpy mess of flesh spilled across the pavement. The other wizard is unconscious but there’s no time to dispose of him properly; he can hear Snatchers calling out for their lost members of their party – the three of them will just have to run while there’s still time, take the chance and bolt.
Viktor mounts his Nimbus, ready to kick off, and looks back at Cho over his shoulder; before Wood Disapparates them both, he thinks he sees her smile.
Oliver has gone to spend the holiday with his parents and Cho’s family is abroad, and with the Weasleys and the Lupins gone into hiding Cho has taken it upon herself to make it a “memorable holiday” for Viktor. She strings up fairy lights in the sitting room and puts Celestina Warbeck on the Wireless, orders them Indian takeaway from the Muggle place two blocks over and cracks open three bottles of Vipertooth Vodka with a manic grin he hasn’t seen since he was last patrolling with the Weasley twins.
“Truth or dare?” she asks later, half-drunk and stretched out along the length of Oliver’s ratty soda with her feet in Viktor’s lap. She passes him the vodka and he raises his head from where he’d been resting, eyes closed, to take a long pull from the bottle.
“Truth,” he says, and at her question – “Are you a virgin?” – Viktor sputters indignantly and nearly loses his grip on the bottle. “Vot did you say?”
Cho moves so that she’s sitting up, her elbows propped behind her on the armrest, and asks again, “Are you a virgin? Be honest, Krum – the whole point of the game is if it isn’t uncomfortable, then it’s not worth asking.”
Cho holds out her hand for the bottle and Viktor passes it without comment, feeling his face flush a deep, hot red as it takes him what feels like ten minutes to mutter, “No.”
“Ooh. Y’know, I bet 'Witch Weekly' would pay big money to get this scoop. How old were you? Was she a fan?”
“She vos friend,” is his annoyed response, “Is friend. Iskra, her name. Iskra Poliakoff, she is girl from home, known since children. Her brother, he vos same year at Durmstrang. She – how you say, she vos older. I vos sixteen, she vos eighteen.”
“Where’d you do it, then?”
Cho hands him back the bottle and Viktor takes a long swallow; he stares at it when he’s finished, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. What’s left of Cho’s lipstick has left an errant smudge against the rim. “On pitch, after game. She lost, lost bad, and vanted to make up, da?"
Cho laughs and Viktor swats her leg good-naturedly, careful not to hit the sore spot on her knee. “Your turn,” he tells her, and when Cho responds with a derisive laugh he shrugs and says, “Is fair.”
“Fair,” she snorts, “You don’t know the first thing about fair,” and then, after a minute, “Cedric Diggory. I was fifteen.”
He should have known: before this, Viktor’s most vivid memory of Cho Chang was of her chained to a rock leagues underneath the Hogwarts lake, the thing Cedric would miss most. “Vere did you –” he starts to ask, realizing too late how painful this must be for her, how hard it must be to remember something so good mixed with something so terrible. Viktor apologizes, trying to backtrack, but to his surprise Cho waves him off, tipping her head back and closing her eyes. She takes a long pull from the bottle, finishing it off.
“Cedric and I… it was the night before the Third Task, and we snuck off, see?” Her voice starts soft, but the sadness still spills through. “Thought we were so clever, running down to the lake under a Disillusionment Charm, and I knew – I knew it was wrong, the time was wrong, all the stars and planets, everything out of alignment, but he… he didn’t push. He didn’t. I wanted it, too. I wanted it, and it didn’t matter if it was an unlucky night because tomorrow everything would fit, and we fit, Cedric and I, we – we fit…”
Cho trails off, pulling her locket out from underneath her collar and twirling it between her fingers. She meets his eyes and her own are dark, wet with unshed tears. “Do you know why I wear my heart out here?” she asks, not bothering to wait for his response before she tells him, “Because I don’t have one left to give.”
The light through the window is low, gas-lit, and it casts dark shadows over both their faces as Viktor moves, crawling over her so that her bent knees press against his chest. Cho does not try to move away; she shifts slightly and brushes her hair over her shoulder, revealing the smooth, pale column of her throat. “I loved him,” she says, voice tight, “I loved him. And it killed him.”
The empty bottle of vodka is sitting between them, now, and Cho plays with the cool glass, running her fingers nervously over the neck of it. She is drunker than he thought she was – three bottles of vodka split between them, they both are. “It vos not you,” he says, low and serious, “Bad luck is bad luck. It is not you.”
Cho blinks hard, but no tears fall. Viktor cups her cheek with his hand, making her look at him. He watches as Cho’s eyes open slow and wide, watches as Cho’s eyes flicker down to his mouth. She leans forward without warning and kisses him, soft and warm; she loses her grip on the vodka bottle and when it falls with an empty thud to the carpeted floor, Viktor pulls back and mutters, “Sŭzhalyavam.” He brushes his thumb over her cheekbone. He doesn’t move.
Cho doesn’t kiss him back, and then she does.
It is the last night of April and their paths have crossed again: they are both stopped for an overnight stay in Carrickfergus, waiting for safe passage – him to London, her to Hogsmeade. He is tired of transport and ferry, ready to go back to his regular patrol, ready to get back to Oliver and the Order and a dirty, dangerous city that is beginning to feel like home. Cho has been in the field since New Year’s, disappearing the morning after their reckless intoxicated kiss without a word, without a note; the only news he’s had of her is staticky snippets over the Wireless, thirdhand gossip along the chain of the underground. The Weasley twins have run of the house they’re in, broadcasting Potterwatch with Lee Jordan and from one of the upstairs bedrooms. Viktor is asked to give foreign commentary and Cho is there for the field beat, and Viktor has not seen Cho since that cold Christmas Eve and it is strange, he thinks, sitting across from her on the bed while Alicia Spinnet speaks into the microphone and gives emergency medical advice, strange to think of all the distance, real and imagined, that fills up the space between them.
In two days’ time, the final battle will begin. Now, they share a meal in a borrowed kitchen; now, they hide together against the dark. Alicia turns up the Wireless once George and Fred have cleared the dishes and Lee slings his arm around her waist, swaying in time with the music. Alicia bats him away good-naturedly, only to be caught on the turn by a grinning George, who grasps her hand and twirls her before she can find the words to protest. Cho cheers them on from her armchair by the fire and Fred leans against the wall Viktor is standing against and cocks a grin his way, tells him, “Fight you for the last bird, mate.”
Viktor knocks his shoulder with his own – a friendly gesture, one he hardly would have thought to do five months ago, a year. “I am terrible dancer,” he tells him, “Ven I first come with Vrasta, it vos as Chaser – all known to me is to crash in people.”
It is not exactly the truth, but his answer makes Cho laugh: a pretty sound. “Seeking should have given you something resembling grace – better reflexes, at least,” she says, and Cho bounces up from her chair and holds out her hands. “Come on up, then. I’ll teach you.”
Fred pouts histrionically as Cho brushes past him and Viktor mutters his objection under his breath, letting her draw him out into the center of the room all the same. George spins Alicia out and back into his arms and Fred turns up the volume on the Wireless – the new song starting is an instrumental piece Viktor doesn’t recognize, heavy on the fiddle, a bit more upbeat than the last one. It’s like Christmas never even happened: Cho stands straight in his arms, the top of her head barely even reaching his chin, her eyes warm and serious as she lines their bodies up to her liking. Her hand is small and surprisingly strong in his.
“Good,” she says softly, glancing down at their feet and then up into his eyes as she leads him across the narrow sitting room. “See, you’ve already got the basics down, but if you’re not very confident and your partner is, it’s more than all right to let her to show off a bit – as a distraction, you see?”
Viktor laughs. “As distraction, da.”
“Like so,” Cho says, and she twists in his arms, twirling so that her skirt fans out around her. The ends of her dark hair catch the light as she moves and Viktor turns them both with a hand on her waist, feeling just how very light she is, fragile as a bird. Her hands press lightly against his chest as they move through the room and she laughs brightly as he unexpectedly spins her again, laughs for the first time since they met without guilt, without restraint.
He missed her. He’s known her for less than a year and he missed her.
In forty-eight hours they will be at Hogwarts, fighting for their lives, but now Lee moves in to steal Alicia back from George, now Fred cackles at Viktor from the corner, calling out, “Leave it to the Quidditch star to sweep the girl off her feet!”
The song ends and his hands are still clasped in hers, resting warm at the bend of her waist. “It’s fine,” Cho says to Fred, but she’s looking up at Viktor with something not quite apprehension, something not quite hope. “We’re all friends, here, aren’t we?”
“Ve are,” he agrees, “All of us,” and when his eyes meet hers she smiles so warmly that it feels like the lights in the room get brighter, like all the colors change.