Chapter Six – Darkness

Please Note

Please note that this is the alternate chapter six of “Red Ribbon Redux.”

Even though he was only half awake, Harry could feel the shift in the magic in St. Mungo’s early next morning.  A warmth pressed against his back and a strong arm was wrapped protectively around his waist, pulling him toward Viktor’s chest.

Harry stirred and the grasp loosened slightly, and he felt the arm draw away.  A moment later and he was alone in the bed, an emptiness sinking into him.  He reached out, wanting comfort, and Viktor’s hand grasped his, a light kiss skating across his knuckles.

“There are Bulgarian guards,” Viktor assured him after several lazy moments.  “No vone can get in here.”

“Not even Ministry Aurors?”  Harry’s mind turned to Tonks and Kingsley Shacklebolt.

“Not even them.”

Over the next two days, Harry remained in his room, answering respectful questions from a law-wizard while Viktor held his hand.  He could hear when his guards changed shift and even the occasional altercation when someone tried to get through, but he was left in peace. 

“A Ron Weasley, Ginny Weasley, and Hermione Granger tried to talk their way in—several times,” a healer quietly informed Viktor.  “They claim they’re friends with Mr. Evans.”

“My only friend is Kevin Entwhistle,” Harry whispered, his blind face turning toward them.  “How did they know I was here?”

“Someone leaked the story,” the healer responded.  “Everyone knew we went into lockdown and then Dumbledore and Umbridge were taken in.  Somehow, it seems, the line of their questioning was reported.  It didn’t help that you disappeared in the middle of the night.”

Harry knew on Saturday that Viktor was reading the paper, and although he was curious, he didn’t ask.  Part of him didn’t want to know. 

His mind turned back to Grimmauld Place, wondering what had happened—what was happening—there, whether or not Sirius was safe.

He swallowed and turned toward Viktor, playing with the strong fingers that were limp in his hand and drawing patterns on his palm.

Although Sirius was his godfather, Harry had never been close to him.  When they had first met Harry had thought Sirius had betrayed his parents to Voldemort and had hexed him quite badly.  It was only later when Professor Lupin arrived that he learned the truth—that Lupin had been one of his father’s best friends and had never mentioned it, not once, and then after an interrogation of Sirius, that he was his godfather and had never cared enough for Harry, letting him be raised by Muggles and the violent Vernon Dursley who was better off gone and forgotten.

The relationship had only deteriorated from there. 

Sirius would write him letters all through his fourth year, and occasionally Harry had answered them, wanting to know more of his parents.  What he learned he really wished he would not have.

James Potter had been a confirmed atheist.  He had fallen for his mum when they were eleven and actively pursued her until, as Sirius claimed, she had run out of excuses.  They had only dated a year when they were married—but James had insisted that Lily renounce her Muggle religion as wizards didn’t believe in such superstition.  He was open-minded enough to marry a Muggle-born but not to accept her faith.—And Lily had done it.  She had sent her Bible home to Petunia, which Harry now had, and according to Sirius never attended another service.

She had died an unbeliever, although Harry liked to think that she must have practiced her religion in secret.  Still, he hated James Potter for making his mother do that and had wished that his mum had been stronger in the face of adversity.

When Sirius had learned that Harry himself was religious, he had sent Harry a long letter about what a cow his aunt was, how she was always jealous of Lily and her ‘talents,’ and that such a creature wasn’t worth the air she breathed.  He also accused her of corrupting a Potter, and even went so far as to tell Harry that his magic would abandon him if he didn’t give up his ‘foolish notions.’

Harry, of course, had promptly burned the letter and all of the others that followed.

He thought he’d heard the last of Sirius Black when his letters trickled out and then stopped just after the final task.  Then he had been taken away, to the so-called Headquarters, and found himself trapped in a nightmare.

Sirius was there, always staring, accusing.  He had tried to steal and burn Lily’s student Bible, but fortunately Harry’s accidental magic had thrown him across the room and even out a window, the Bible dropped safely on the ragged carpet.

Mrs. Weasley, of course, had berated him all through dinner that night.  No one seemed to care that Sirius had been trying to destroy his property, although Snape had looked at him with a new level of respect in his black gaze.

Sirius had also decided that Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger would be the best influences on Harry—and it appeared that Dumbledore agreed.  All of the Weasleys had been living in Grimmauld Place that summer and Granger, who had no connection to the Order, who was underage and a Muggle-born, had taken up residence as well.  Her annoying cat Crookshanks liked to follow Harry around when he wasn’t in Granger’s presence, and Harry began to wonder if the cat could somehow communicate with the witch and was spying on him much as Mrs. Norris seemed to spy on students for Filch. 

The twins were also now seventeen and able to perform magic outside of school, and Harry found no mercy from them.  They’d bound him with magical ropes and left him in a cupboard his second day, and no one had thought to look for him when he missed both dinner and the following breakfast, until Ron and Granger had found him when they went to clean the room.  Harry had had nightmares for days afterward, remembering the cupboard Uncle Vernon had forced him to sleep in before Aunt Petunia said they should show “Christian mercy” and it wouldn’t do for Reverend West to hear about it.

Everyone—even Sirius who was supposed to be his godfather—had thought it was a good laugh.  His trunk, at least, was naturally warded and had several locks on it so that the twins couldn’t get in, though Harry knew they’d tried.  He’d been rather satisfied to see that their fingers were bandaged and unable to heal with magic, which had at least curbed their exuberance for a week and a half before they strung up Harry by his shoelaces in the attic.  At least he had Buckbeak for company.

Then there were the other members of the order.  Mad-Eye Moody, the real Mad-Eye Moody.  Dung Fletcher.  Emmeline Vance.  Dedalus Diggle.  Hestia Jones. Elphias Doge, although Harry had never seen him.  Kingsley Shacklebolt and Nymphadora Tonks.  Severus Snape.

Harry watched them the entire four weeks as he had nothing better to do.  He saw how Tonks often stared at Lupin too long, but how Sirius would lead her away after supper and would appear satisfied and smirking several hours later.  Emmeline Vance had quietly taken Harry aside and tried to tell him how wizards believed only in the power of magic and it was blasphemy for him to sit at the table Sunday morning, dressed in a starched shirt and sober tie, and read his Bible during breakfast.  Harry had responded that religious freedom had been supported in Britain for several hundred years, and he didn’t think the government would appreciate a renegade faction of the population trying to deny him his rights.

Granger had huffed and spluttered after that before launching into a lecture on how the wizarding world was a self-contained autonomous government, and Harry should be thankful for all the privileges afforded to him.

She hadn’t been very pleased when he’d snapped, “What, like freedom to visit my own relatives?”

Tonks had tried a slightly different approach.  For a while Harry thought she was trying to seduce him as she’d always take a form of a beautiful girl his age with long hair and full lips.  She told him that wizards were better than religion, that they didn’t need such antiquated ideas, that it would make him weak and helpless until his magic became so weak that his wand would no longer work for him.

Harry had begun to understand a bit more of the wizarding world.  If people really believed that and stuffed those thoughts down Muggle-borns’ throats, he could see why so many gave it up or assimilated into wizarding culture completely. 

Tonks, however, had made a fatal mistake in her reasoning.  Harry loved his religion more than his magic.

Now Harry wondered what happened to Grimmauld Place, if the secret was safe, if Sirius was safe.  He didn’t like Sirius—quite the reverse, in fact—but he didn’t actively wish him ill.  He knew and accepted that he was innocent of the crimes that had sent him to Azkaban, and he shouldn’t have to suffer the punishment for them again, especially when he’d been free for two years.

Viktor’s hand lay limp and unmoving in Harry’s own, and Harry carefully traced down the index finger, memorizing the feel although he could not see it.  He turned the hand over and lightly placed his palm to Viktor’s, feeling just how much larger it was.  He blushed, and a moment later Viktor’s fingers curled between his own, and their joint hands were lifted until a quiet kiss was placed on the back of Harry’s hand.

“Why is there an indent along your palm, even through the callouses?” Harry asked quietly, turning toward where he knew Viktor was sitting.

There was a rustle of paper and then another kiss to his hand.

“It is a scar,” Viktor quietly responded, his own fingers now playing with the ribbon at Harry’s wrist. 

“Is it new?”

There was a long pause, as if Viktor was thinking.  “Yes,” he finally said.

Harry nodded, pressing their palms closer so he could feel the scar more fully.  “What’s it from?”

“It is—it is ritual,” Viktor replied huskily, his voice low. 

A shiver ran down Harry’s spine and he leaned closer.  “A ritual?”

“Yes,” he responded, kissing Harry’s knuckles gently.  “It is for red ribbon—ve cannot do it if our intentions are not pure—if ve do not truly think ve can make the admired happy, my luff.”

Harry blanched, but Viktor continued, quietly.  “Ve cannot speak off ritual any more than that, or I vould tell you.  But it is a trial.  Perhaps that is vhy red ribbons are so rare.  Ve must fight for honor off our luff’s hand, Harry Evans, and bleed for it.”

“How long?” Harry asked, his blind gaze now trained on his lap.

“Fife months,” Viktor whispered.  “Or a little longer.”

Harry’s breath hitched in understanding.  Five months.  It had been just over five months since Viktor had returned to Durmstrang, to Bulgaria. 

“Oh,” he murmured.  It seemed woefully inadequate to the unspoken declaration. 

“I haff luffed you longer,” Viktor continued, his voice solemn. “You vere too young, are still too young, but I vould not vait for someone else to claim your heart, not vhen I saw vith my own eyes how much you vere admired.”  He took a deep breath and Harry waited for him to continue.  “Herm-own-ninny vas vorst,” he finally spat.  “I vatched as she followed you everyvhere, as she chased other boys and girls who vould haff vanted you avay, how she spread those vile lies about how it vas only a matter of time.”

“I didn’t—she—“ Harry could feel his breath speed up as he imagined the girl who constantly followed him everywhere.  “She has to know how much I—she’s horrible,” he breathed out.

Strong arms surrounded him and he found himself in a firm and loving embrace.

“Breathe, Harry,” Viktor murmured into his ear and he was being rocked gently for the first time he could ever remember, safe and warm and loved.  He breathed in Viktor’s scent, trying to place it, a warm spice mixed with the cold of Bulgarian winds that he managed to retain even in an English hospital.  It was soothing to him.

When Harry finally pulled away, his unseeing gaze searching for something and only finding blackness, he felt alone again—empty—wishing he could have lost himself forever in the comforting warmth.

A strong thumb caressed his cheek lovingly and Harry sighed at the contact, leaning back against the pillows with a small smile.

“So I kept you safe vhile I vas there, took that vitch to the Ball so that you might be free to haff fun vith friends, distracted her avay from you.—And then I claimed you for my own.”

“I hate Hogwarts,” Harry said after a long pause, looking toward what he thought was a window, as he could feel the warmth of a winter sun shining through.  “I’m a half-blood.”

“I know,” Viktor said carefully after a long pause.  “I thought that Hogwarts allowed Muggle-borns, too, yes?”

Harry nodded in agreement.  “I—I’m Christian, Viktor.”  He took a deep breath, his ears pricking for any sound from Viktor but he heard nothing.  “I was raised that way, I always will be, but because I am a half-blood I have been—encouraged and pressured into giving up my religion.  I’m permitted no allowances.”

There was a long moment that stretched tensely between them until Viktor’s warm hand cupped the side of Harry’s face.  “There is Orthodox Church in Bulgaria,” he whispered.  “Some Protestant.  Vizards do not practice in general, so you vould be among Muggles, but the name off Krum is respected even among them.”

Harry breathed out in relief.  “Really?”

“I vould not lie to you, Harry,” Viktor murmured and a lingering kiss was placed on his forehead, over the bandages.  “I vant you happy.  I vant you, all off you.  I vould convert for you,” he added huskily and Harry’s head snapped toward him, disbelief flooding through him.

“Don’t you—don’t you believe that it will weaken your magic?  That you’ll lose it?” he squeaked, unable to comprehend why a wizard, any wizard—even one who professed to love him—would be willing to do such a thing. 

Viktor laughed quietly.  “Old Vifes’ tales, Harry.  There are stories that marrying Muggle vill mean that they vill steal your magic and leaf you Squib.  Utter nonsense.”

“Then why?”

“Vizards and vitches vill use any reasons as there is general distaste for Christians.  Vitch burnings and the like in Vestern Europe.  Ve did not haff such problems in the East.”

Harry’s lips formed an “oh” and yet no sound came out, he was so startled.

“I vill vrite to Bishop today or tomorrow,” Viktor concluded, the sound of robes swishing as he settled back into his chair.  “Delegation vill take it and baptism can happen.  Baptism, yes?”

Harry nodded dumbly.

“I vould prefer Orthodox Church for myself as it has much culture and history for Bulgaria, but if you vould like other…”

“No,” Harry squeaked.  “Orthodox is fine—for me even.”  He blushed and looked away again.  “I want Bulgaria to be my home when—when we live there.  And, well,” he took a deep breath, “it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t compromise as you’re converting for me.”

There was a pregnant pause and Harry wished desperately that he could see Viktor, understand a little of what he was thinking.

“When do the bandages come off?”

“Tomorrow,” Viktor responded after a moment.  “Ve can even haff you released for your church.”

Harry smiled. 

“That would be nice,” he finally whispered, his fingers entangled with Viktor’s.

Harry could feel the early morning sun when he next awoke, and he grinned into his pillow.  He could feel Viktor curled around him, lightly stroking his upper arm as if to soothe his sleep.  All too soon, there was bustling in the corridor and then muffled voices, rousing Viktor completely until he had once again vacated the bed, probably settling into a nearby chair to watch Harry sleep or glance at the door.

“No vone,” a voice answered sternly, somehow audible and clear.  “This room is under Bulgarian authority.”

“Harry,” a girl—Ginny—answered, “is a friend of mine.  I need to apologize for something that happened earlier this week and thank him for saving my dad.”

Harry groaned.  Trust Professor Dumbledore or someone to tell Ginny Weasley that.  They were always trying to make him sound like a hero, as if him saving something wizard would make him less Muggle.  They tried to form connections that weren’t there and ignored the few threads that held him to the wizarding world, starving them until sometimes in the dead of night he wondered why he even bothered to carry a wand if he could just break it over his thigh and never return.

He’d been staying for Kevin before, his best friend, and also out of fear that if he didn’t learn to fully control magic, it might overwhelm him later in life.  Now, though, now there was someone else, someone to both take him away and let him remain unhindered and free from persecution.

Viktor.  Victorinus Krumus.

“I also need to tell him,” Ginny was now saying loudly, “what’s been happening at school.  It’s absolutely shocking.”

A gentle hand cupped the side of his cheek, and Harry leaned into it.  “What’s absolutely shocking?” he groggily asked Viktor. 

“Your high master is under probation—probation, yes?”

Harry nodded sleepily. 

“He is left in advisory capacity and cannot meet vith any students unless the Head off House is present.  Parents are calling for his resignation.”

“And will he?”

“It is being most likely.  It is expected that there vill be new high master for next year or that he must share post vith someone else.”

“Joy,” Harry murmured and Viktor began to lightly stroke his hair. 

“All vill be vell if you vish to return.”

“If?” Harry asked, his closed eyes searching in the darkness and still seeing and finding nothing, the bandages cutting him off from his senses.

“There are other options,” Viktor breathed out, and Harry heard a small tussle on the other side of the doors and then the sound of someone being dragged away.

“If you say so,” Harry returned before trying to drift back to sleep and being unable to.

When the healers arrived half an hour later, it was Viktor who gently unwrapped the bandages and wiped away the remaining lotion from his face with careful, precise movements.  His glasses were carefully settled on his nose, and Harry wondered how they had arrived from Hogwarts.  Harry listened as the shades around him were drawn and then, after far too long, his eyes fluttered open.

Everything around him was dull shapes and part-darkness.

A healer came forward and muttered a spell, and then Harry saw color, the outline of a strong nose, the flutter of thick eyelashes, the curve of full lips that had kissed him when he couldn’t see.

Harry reached forward and traced Viktor’s jaw line, hoping that he really was seeing and this wasn’t all a dream.

“Hi,” he breathed finally and Viktor gifted him with a half-smile, his dark eyes soft and brooding.

“Hello,” he offered in return, their gazes locked for a moment too long.

“Mr. Evans,” the Healer asked, a young witch with red hair pulled back into a ponytail.  “Are you feeling any pain?”

Harry hesitated a moment and shook his head.

She nodded.  “Follow the light of my wand without moving your head,” she instructed and then there was a bright light and Harry was looking at as it moved—center—left—right—up—down.  Her fingers reached up into his fringe and then she was examining his scar.  “Clean bill of health,” she finally announced, much to Harry’s relief.  “You need to be careful over the next week or so and get nothing in your eyes—even shampoo.  They’ll still be sensitive and we don’t want a relapse.  Your eyelashes will take a month to fully grow back, but you can hardly notice.”

“Eyelashes?” Harry asked confused, looking between Viktor and the Healer.

“The Scourgify removed several of your eyelashes as it was cast rather strongly, Mr. Evans,” the Healer said regretfully.  “I wouldn’t be surprised if your eyebrows are a bit thinner than you’re used to, but once again, it will only take a month or so for it to grow back.”

Harry glanced at Viktor and looked away again, feeling awkward now that he wasn’t lost in a sea of darkness.

The healer walked out again, leaving the two alone. 

Viktor squeezed Harry’s hand, his thumb running against the red ribbon still around his wrist.  “Get dressed, Harry,” he murmured, “and I vill take you home.”

Harry looked around and saw his trunk had been brought and was sitting undisturbed in a corner.

“Take all the time you need.” And then Harry found himself alone again, his eyes gazing at the crimson ribbon around his wrist.

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