The first time Yuri saw Professor Nikiforov, he didn’t think much of him at all. His hair was ridiculous, for one thing - long, silver, and stupidly impractical. And his age; why the fuck had they hired someone who looked like he’d barely finished school himself? He’d been hoping that this year they might actually get a Defence teacher with some real experience, but Nikiforov looked like he’d sooner ask a boggart to dance than banish it. And when he stood up to make his welcome address, smile bright and false, robes so dressy and blatantly expensive they made Yuri sick, he found he couldn’t focus on a word Professor Nikiforov was saying.
He sounded like the home Yuri had no memory of. He sounded like Yuri’s long-dead parents, like his Grandpa who lived down in Cornwall and sent him letters every week. He sounded the way Yuri didn’t, and in that moment Yuri fucking hated him for it. So he shoved his plate away and stormed out of the Great Hall, felt the stares crawling over his back as quiet fell, just for a moment. As the doors swung shut behind him he heard Nikiforov break the silence with some comment he couldn’t quite make out, and then laughter.
Yuri wasn’t even sure he’d be able to sit through one whole class of him, let alone two years. But he needed this N.E.W.T., and he was going to get it - vain, inexperienced professor or not. That evening, he sat alone with Potya curled up in his lap by the common room fire, leafing through the giant fucking tome of a book that had been set as required reading for this year’s Defence course. When he went to bed, he dreamt of death and silence.
Nikiforov turned out to be a walking contradiction. At first, Yuri only knew the face he’d put on during his welcome speech; wide smiles and vacuous jokes, where he’d manage to talk about everything and nothing all at once. Which, Yuri noticed, was a skill all of its own. At the start of class all the typical questions had come, how old are you? Where are you from? What did you do before this? Nikiforov had somehow managed to dodge every single one. It was as admirable as it was suspicious. And while the rest of the class might be distracted by stories of chasing dragons, Yuri was not. It was probably all lies, anyway. Rather, he was distracted by the cadence of Nikiforov’s voice, the softness of his vowels. And he fucking hated it.
“Now,” Nikiforov said quietly, and the sudden steel in his voice was enough to make the whole class fall silent. “This is an important year and an important subject, and I know you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t think so.” A small smile was still present, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “We’re starting the term with binding hexes; you won’t need your textbook today.” Whispers rippled through the classroom as Nikiforov picked up the registration parchment, eyeing it thoughtfully. His pale gaze flickered up and caught Yuri’s own. “Yuri Plisetsky. Assist me, please.”
Yuri’s spine prickled, his interest in practical demonstration warring with his desire to tell Nikiforov to go fuck himself. He didn’t really want to be losing Slytherin points this early on, though.
The silence was broken by the loud scraping of his stool against the tiled floor as he stood up.
“Good!” Nikiforov was smiling brightly again now, and Yuri wanted to curse it off his stupid face. “Please join me here at the front.” As Yuri approached, Nikiforov made a small gesture with his fingers and in the blink of an eye his wand was in his hand, as though it had always been there. The whispers grew louder, and he twirled it casually as he continued to speak. “What Yuri is so kindly about to help me demonstrate is a fundamental skill in the defence repertoire. If you ever meet a troublesome… opponent, it can be crucial in subduing them.”
Yuri stalked to the correct position and turned, raising his own wand, the wood warm and familiar beneath his fingers. Nikiforov was studying him intently, and for the first time his smile seemed genuine. “Yuri,” he said softly, and Yuri wanted to rip his voice from his throat for the presumption. He didn’t want to hear his given name like that here, in smooth syllables almost no one else in his life could achieve. “Feel free to try to counter, but don’t feel too bad if you can’t.”
He’d considered he might lose. Yuri was a top student, and Nikiforov seemed like an idiot, but he also understood the importance of never underestimating an unknown value.
What Yuri had not considered, though, was the fact that he might fucking faint.
The next thing he became aware of was the high, arching wooden beams of the hospital wing ceiling above him as he blinked slowly awake. His head throbbed, and the last thing he expected or wanted to hear was Professor Nikiforov’s voice exclaiming loudly, “Yuri! You’re awake!”
“And now I wish I wasn’t.” He turned to find long silver hair and Nikiforov’s excessively anxious expression hovering beside him. “Why am I here? And why are you here?” The air smelled faintly medicinal, and the windows were dark. What time was it?
“You collapsed.” Nikiforov seemed slightly more subdued as he continued. “Nurse Giacometti thinks you’ll be fine, but we’re still not sure what caused it. Perhaps it was my fault, the hex was—”
“You give yourself too much credit, Victor!” Nurse Giacometti strode in, shaking his head. “You should have called for me as soon as he woke up.”
“It was only a minute ago,” Nikiforov objected, and as Yuri sat up he found a warm mug filled with something that was bubbling suspiciously pushed into his hands.
“Drink this.” He downed it as quickly as he could, trying to ignore the revolting sensation of it practically crawling down his throat. But it was worth it; the pressure on his head almost immediately lifted. “Better, Plisetsky?”
Beside him, Nikiforov raised an eyebrow. “So, you can be polite.”
“Some people deserve it more than others.” Nikiforov’s lips twitched in amusement. “Why are you still here?”
Nikiforov sat back in his chair and regarded Yuri thoughtfully for a moment, finger pressed to his lips. “Because I care, Yuri.” And there was that insincere smile again, though his eyes were sharp.
“That’s a load of shit,” Yuri spat out. “You don’t even know me.”
Nikiforov shrugged, expensive robe slipping off his shoulder a little. “Think what you like. But tell me one thing – what do you remember from before you collapsed? Did you hear anything? See anything?”
“I…” Yuri paused. Had he? It felt as though he were missing something, like he’d made a misstep somewhere and now couldn’t go back. “…No, I didn’t.”
Nikiforov looked strangely disappointed. “Look, Yuri – I know you dislike me, but you can trust me, okay?”
Yuri laughed; he couldn’t help it. “Why should I? Everything you do is fake.” The expression on Nikiforov’s face froze – and he knew he shouldn’t be talking to a teacher like this, and surely anyone else would take points, but Nikiforov.... “You didn’t answer a single question in class. Did you think I didn’t notice?”
Nikiforov swallowed, and Yuri stared at the bare lines of his throat in the shadows of the low-lit room. “I wondered.” Then the composure was back, his tone light. “Why, what did you want to know?”
“What did you do,” Yuri shot back immediately, “before you taught here?”
“I taught elsewhere,” Nikiforov said smoothly. “At Beauxbatons. You look surprised?”
Yuri sneered. “What, did you get fired or something?”
“Maybe I just got a better offer.”
Yuri gripped the bedsheet in his fists, knuckles turning white. “And why would Hogwarts want to employ you? I wanted a teacher with experience this year; I need to do well.” He bit his lip to stop himself from talking, staring at the wall so he wouldn’t have to see Nikiforov’s expression.
“Yuri,” Nikiforov began hesitantly, and his voice was so soft Yuri couldn’t stand it. “You will do well. And I think we need to talk more; stop by my office sometime. Meanwhile,” Yuri looked up, startled, as a heavy thump shook the bed. “Here’s your books and homework. You won’t be out of here until the morning, so make sure you keep up!”
Part of him wanted to say thank you, but instead he just nodded. “I will.”
“And dinner should be finishing now, so I’m sure your friends will be along soon. Think about what I said, Yuri.”
Then he was gone, in a whirl of silver and silk.
Yuri was halfway through his Arithmancy homework when Otabek and JJ finally turned up, JJ with a ridiculously suspicious bundle squirming in his arms.
“Give her,” he demanded, and JJ made an elaborate bow as Potya leapt down to nuzzle against him.
Otabek frowned. “What happened? Are you alright?”
“I dunno.” He stroked Potya gently and let her curl up in his lap. “Nikiforov was here for ages though, it was weird.”
JJ shrugged. “It happened in his class, didn’t it? Of course he’d be worried. Or maybe you’re just that cute.” He grinned, and Otabek elbowed him in the side.
“Fuck off, JJ.” Yuri tapped his quill against his cheek thoughtfully. “What was he like in the seventh-year class?”
“Popular,” Otabek said, tone bland.
JJ looked faintly indignant. “Hey, but when he started getting into it, he really knows what it’s like!” His voice dropped to a dramatic whisper. “He’s been there, you know?”
“He told you that?” Yuri felt wrong-footed; how could JJ know something like that?
“No,” Otabek interrupted dryly. “But JJ spent the class creating a very dramatic past for him.”
“I have a feeling, okay? And my feelings are usually right.” Yuri rolled his eyes. “Anyway, are you gonna be okay for the quidditch match this Sunday? Beating Slytherin will be too easy if you’re not there.”
“As if I’d ever give Gryffindor the satisfaction,” he bit back, and returned Otabek’s small smile. “See you tomorrow? I still have a shitload of homework to do that Nikiforov gave me.”
Otabek nodded, then pulled a small bundle out of his robes. “Here, we brought you dessert. Take care, okay?”
“Thanks,” he said quietly, but they were already walking away. He tried to ignore the hollow ache in his stomach. Otabek had been his friend, first, but being in different years and different houses wasn’t easy. And then when Yuri was a third-year JJ had attached himself to Otabek, and there had been nothing he could do because he wasn’t one of them. But things weren’t so bad now; he’d eventually come to the conclusion that JJ was tolerable, and would possibly go so far as to say he had two friends.
Yuri shook his head and picked up his quill again. He couldn’t afford to get distracted.
Life returned to normal, weeks passed which then turned into months – and before he knew it December had come and Yuri still hadn’t taken Professor Nikiforov up on his offer. Talk. He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t curious, but he didn’t like the way Nikiforov made him feel. Nothing had really changed – in fact, Nikiforov no longer called on him at all in class. Hadn’t sought him out since. All that remained was the way Nikiforov looked at him, so intently, like he was something fascinating he’d never seen before.
The tipping point turned out to be an insultingly low mark on an essay, which Yuri was convinced he didn’t deserve.
So it was a mid-December evening, when the glass windowpanes greeted the sunrise with prisms of ice, and breath clouded in the air, that he marched up to Nikiforov’s office, essay rolled up under his arm. He didn’t even have time to knock before a bored voice called, “come in.”
Yuri frowned and pushed the door open, wood heavy and smooth under his palms. Nikiforov’s expression of shock in the gloom as he looked up and saw Yuri was priceless – he felt strangely satisfied, that he’d forced from Nikiforov perhaps the most genuine expression he’d let slip so far.
“This room is fucking freezing,” he said by way of greeting, and let the door swing shut behind him. “Isn’t one of the benefits of being a teacher that you get fires all the time?”
Wordlessly lifting his wand, Nikiforov waved it carelessly in the direction of the grate. A fire sprang to life immediately, crackling so loudly Yuri couldn’t help but jump. A warm glow lit the room, gleaming on the curve of Nikiforov’s lips as he smiled. Okay, so maybe his nonverbal magic was impressive. Yuri could admit that; it didn’t mean he had to say it. Instead, he sat down in the armchair nearest to the fire without waiting to be invited.
“What made you decide to come?” Nikiforov sounded curious, and twirled his wand between his fingers in a way that was surely meant to look casual. But Yuri could see the tension in the line of his shoulders, the tightness in his smile. Nikiforov was nervous.
He brandished the parchment. “This!”
Nikiforov raised an eyebrow, and stood to take the parchment on his way to sprawl on the larger sofa. It made Yuri intensely aware that this was not some indistinct teacher’s space, it was Nikiforov’s space; his robes were gone, instead dressed only in a loose flowing shirt, and extremely well-tailored trousers. His hair spilled down over his shoulders, glimmering in the firelight. “I’m sorry,” he said, smile turning bright and bland, “are you disagreeing with my assessment?”
“I’m here to ask why.”
“Yes, you certainly are here.”
Silence reigned as it dawned on Yuri that the fucker had done it on purpose. “You—!”
“Honestly, I didn’t think it would work!” The words tumbled out in a rush, composure gone, and Yuri would have just stood up and stormed out if not for the earnestness and tinge of desperation on Nikiforov’s face. “Look, but it wasn’t one of your best, and—”
“Fine.” Yuri just wanted it over with at this point. “Talk. Tell me why you’re here, why this is so fucking important, why you don’t just call me Plisetsky like every other teacher here.” Nikiforov closed his eyes, tilting his head back. Yuri’s eyes were drawn to his throat again, the elegant line of it in the soft light of the fire. He looked so young. “How old even are you?”
“Twenty-eight,” he said, then smiled, a small rueful twist of the lips. “Soon to be twenty-nine, actually.”
“And you’re wasting your life away in a school like this because…?”
“I’m not from here, you know.”
Yuri rolled his eyes. “No shit.” He wanted to say more, wanted to ask Nikiforov where he was from; hear it confirmed rather than just assuming, but the words wouldn’t come. He frowned and stared into the flames.
“I imagine that’s why you hate me?” The room seemed to be getting smaller by the minute, and the warmth was becoming suffocating. “Because I remind you of home.”
“You don’t know anything about me!” Yuri didn’t even realise he’d shouted until the contrast of the deafening silence that followed. Nikiforov finally opened his eyes.
A knock sounded at the door. “Victor?”
Nikiforov made a noise of frustration and sat up, lowering his voice to continue urgently. “Yuri, look, I knew your parents. They—”
The door swung open. “Victor, the headmaster needs to see you right away—” Professor Katsuki peered in and looked between them curiously. “Is everything all right?”
Yuri took a deep breath. If it had been anyone else he might have snapped at the interruption, but Professor Katsuki was one of the few teachers he actually liked these days, even if he was head of Hufflepuff. “Fine,” he said shortly. “Just leaving.” He got up and snatched his parchment back, throwing Nikiforov a frustrated look. “Thanks for the feedback, but I still have some questions, when can I—”
“Next week.” Nikiforov gave him a tight smile and stood up. “The Christmas holidays will start or – are you going home?”
Professor Katsuki was beginning to fidget in the doorway, fingers drumming against the wood. “Victor, it’s really quite urgent.”
“No, I’m not,” Yuri said impulsively. “So I’ll be back to hear the rest. You’d better have a good reason for this shitty mark.”
Nikiforov rested a hand on Yuri’s shoulder as he escorted him to the door. He looked as though he wanted to tell Yuri something else, but his gaze kept flicking to Professor Katsuki. In the end, all he said was, “make sure you go straight back to the dungeons, it’s getting late.”
As he walked back alone in the cold, he could still feel the phantom grip of warm fingers digging into his shoulder.
He wrote to his Grandpa straight away, Potya curled up in his lap, purring softly. It wasn’t difficult to explain it away with the need to study seriously for his N.E.W.T.s. He would miss seeing his grandpa, but – this was important. Yuri had always been discouraged from asking too much about his parents and how they died, and if he had a chance to finally learn something…
PS, he added to the bottom of the letter, have you ever heard of someone called Victor Nikiforov?
The sole downside of Potya was, of course, that she couldn’t deliver letters to Cornwall for him. It was almost midnight but… fuck it, it wasn’t hard to make it up to the Owlery without getting caught.
Yuri slept badly, and dreamt of Nikiforov. His hair, his eyes, his throat working to speak though nothing emerged but silence.
At breakfast the next morning, he sat at the Gryffindor table. Which, for Yuri, meant shoving between Otabek and JJ just to stop them being attached at the hip for one fucking second.
“I’m staying here for Christmas,” he announced, grabbing some toast and cramming it in his mouth. Otabek raised his eyebrows; JJ looked suspicious.
“Is everything okay at home?” There was a crease between Otabek’s brows now, the one he always got when he worried.
Yuri swallowed, reaching for the pumpkin juice. “It’s nothing like that.”
“Oh?” JJ, still narrowing his eyes, pushed his plate closer to Yuri. He never bothered bringing his own when he sat with them, and promptly stole JJ’s fork and stabbed some bacon.
“Nah, I, uh,” he glanced around, realising he really didn’t want to talk about the real reason while surrounded by Gryffindors. “I’ve got a… study thing. With Nikiforov.” Now they just looked confused.
“With Victor?” Otabek said it so casually Yuri’s mouth dropped open. “I thought you were doing well in Defence.”
“I’m one of the best, fuck off. And why the fuck are you calling him Victor?”
JJ grinned. “All the seventh years do, he asked us to. I think he got into shit for it from the headmaster though.”
Yuri swallowed. It felt weird to think of him as Victor, like a friend. “He didn’t ask us to.” He flushed at the petulance in his own voice.
“I thought you hated him,” Otabek said mildly. “So why are you voluntarily staying here to study with him over the holidays?”
Yuri pushed JJ’s plate away in annoyance. “Reasons, okay, maybe we should talk about this later.”
He saw the moment Otabek and JJ made eye contact, and then the slow smirk that spread across JJ’s face as they apparently came to the same conclusion. “It’s okay, Yuri, I totally get it.”
“Probably half the school feels the same way,” Otabek said, lips almost curving in a way that told Yuri he was really fucking amused.
“Yeah,” JJ said, patting Yuri on the shoulder as though he needed consoling. “I mean, I’d fuck ‘im.” He felt Otabek kick JJ under the bench.
“Look,” Yuri stood up so suddenly he almost knocked Otabek’s goblet over. “It’s not like that, okay? I’ll owl you guys. And you’d better not forget to send me Christmas presents.”
As he headed back to the Slytherin table he heard JJ call out behind him. “Enjoy your private tuition!” He flipped JJ off without looking back, and tried to ignore the warmth creeping up his neck.
The reply from his grandpa arrived later in the day; he must have written back immediately for it to have arrived so quickly. As Yuri expected, he sounded disappointed, but understood how hard Yuri was working. But, at the end…
Yurochka, where on earth did you hear that name? Did someone mention him to you? Please, stay away from them. If anyone offers to introduce you, refuse. All you need to know is he’s dangerous and I don’t want you near him. Please, Yurochka, promise me.
Yuri dropped the letter onto his bedside table and hugged Potya close, heart pounding. What the fuck was going on?
The school was almost eerily quiet in the holidays. Especially during winter, when thick, white snow covered the grounds outside and wildlife seemed to hide itself away until spring. When walking the freezing hallways, Yuri usually had no company except Potya and the ghosts – and that was only if Potya deigned to leave the cosy confines of the common room.
On the first day, he sat alone at breakfast and ate almost nothing. He watched the teachers’ table, now only half full, and it struck him that teachers, too, would have family they wanted to spend Christmas with. But Nikiforov was still there, poking at his porridge, seemingly lost in thought. Perhaps they had more in common than Yuri had been willing to consider. Then Nikiforov looked up, gaze meeting Yuri’s, and smiled. Fuck. Nikiforov’s hair was tied up today, a few strands falling loose over his cheeks. All Yuri could think of was JJ’s casual ‘I’d fuck ‘im’, and tried to ignore the growing heat that left him shifting uncomfortably. He’s dangerous. It seemed hard to believe. Yuri was the one calling the shots here, wasn’t he? He left his toast half-eaten and hurried from the hall. Later. He’d go to find Nikiforov later. Right now, he just wanted to clear his head. Hurrying out, it struck him a little too late that he hadn’t brought his cloak or scarf with him. Fuck it, he just wanted a short walk.
He trudged through the snow and eventually made it down to the Great Lake, now frozen and covered in a thick sheet of ice. Occasionally, dark shadows moved beneath, like the Giant Squid was lazily contemplating whether or not to break through. Yuri hoped not, the ice looked perfect for skating. He drew his wand and muttered an incendio to melt away a patch of snow so he could sit down. The grass was a little charred, sure, but at least it was dry. He sat and hugged his knees to his chest, watching his breath cloud the air in front of him. He’d never thought to bring his skates from home; there was a small lake near his grandfather’s house that he used every Christmas holiday. He hadn’t imagined he’d miss it this year.
“Yuri!” A voice called, and Yuri would know that soft accent anywhere. He turned and saw Nikiforov hurrying down the slope towards him, a dark bundle in his hands. “I saw you leave and you weren’t even wearing a cloak! Here—”
As Nikiforov reached him, he wound a soft, blue scarf around Yuri’s neck. Yuri wrinkled his nose. “Really? You brought me a Ravenclaw scarf?”
Nikiforov grinned, wordlessly clearing away the snow beside Yuri with a flick of his wand, and sat down beside him. “Ungrateful brat, it’s all I have.” Silence fell as Nikiforov stared out over the lake, smile falling from his face. Yuri tugged the scarf up so it covered his nose, and something about the scent of it was comforting and reminded him of home. Home before Cornwall. He didn’t have much left of it inside him except vague memories, distorted sounds and smells. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, and his heart ached with missing something he barely knew. He was such a fucking idiot.
“I never expected you to be a Ravenclaw,” Yuri said, voice muffled by the thick scarf. “And how does that even work if you didn’t grow up here?”
Nikiforov blinked and glanced sideways at him. “You know, you’re the first person to ask me that.”
Yuri shrugged. “It’s obvious, isn’t it?”
“Everyone else accepted it at face value. What house did you expect me to be, incidentally?”
Yuri smirked and pretended to think about it. “Hufflepuff. Maybe Gryffindor.”
“Cruel, Yuri.” Nikiforov laughed and shook his head. “It’s not that interesting though, they put the sorting hat on me like anyone else.”
“What did it tell you?” Yuri asked, curious. He couldn’t imagine going through a sorting now he was older, but it made him wonder if the result would be the same.
There was a long silence that made Yuri think perhaps he’d pushed too far. But Nikiforov didn’t seem offended, just lost in thought. “That… if I were a child, I would be a Slytherin for sure. So much determination and ambition, and willing to do whatever it takes to get there. Now?” He shrugged, expression darkening. “Well, I’ve achieved most of that ambition. It said I would do better to focus on expanding my knowledge and passing it on to others. So, here I am.”
“I guess you’re an okay teacher,” Yuri said, and tried to ignore how it made his heart lighten when Nikiforov laughed, expression brightening.
“That means a lot coming from you,” he teased, “all the other teachers told me you have very high standards.”
Yuri flushed. “I’m in Slytherin for a reason. I’ve got things I want to achieve, too.”
Nikiforov stilled. “And those are…?”
He’d never actually told anyone his ambition before. Not even his grandpa, because all it would do is worry him, not wanting Yuri to end up the way his parents did. He’d almost told Otabek and JJ, one night when they’d all got drunk on firewhiskey, but he hadn’t been able to get the words out. He didn’t think he’d fail, he wouldn’t fail, but it still felt like something that was his. Sitting here with Nikiforov, though, surrounded by snow on their island of green, it seemed somehow different.
“I,” he cleared his throat, not wanting his voice to waver. “I’m going to be a curse breaker.”
Nikiforov’s smile was like the sun dawning, his eyes suddenly bright. “Yuri! I knew it, I knew you would make the right decision, even if—” He cut himself off, grin fading a little. “Your parents would be proud.”
Yuri’s eyes suddenly stung with unshed tears and he turned, glaring at the lake. For once, he didn’t want to talk about his parents, the ache still too sharp in his chest. “Can we—” he broke off and took a deep breath. “Can we talk about this later? I just want to… can you skate?”
Nikiforov clapped his hands together, taking the change of subject without letting his expression flicker even a little. “Bien sûr!” He got to his feet and drew his wand again. “It was very popular at Beauxbatons, actually. Stand up?” Yuri joined him, and watched warily as Nikiforov grabbed his wrist and tugged him down to the side of the lake. His gloves were warm and soft against the chill of Yuri’s skin. “Okay, raise your left foot for me?” Yuri did so, watching as Nikiforov leant down. His brow was furrowed and eyes intent as he muttered something and tapped Yuri’s boot with his wand. Instantly, it sprouted a blade at the same time as the insides seemed to grow warmer and softer. Yuri’s mouth dropped open, and Nikiforov winked. “Just simple transfiguration. Now the other?” Wordlessly, Yuri lifted his right boot to be transformed, and then watched Nikiforov do the same to his own. “Much more convenient than actually carrying boots around, don’t you think?”
Instead of responding, Yuri just stepped onto the ice and skated away, slowly looping in circles and figures of eight to warm up; it had been a long time. Nikiforov called out indignantly, hair streaming behind him as he caught up. He was out of breath when he slid to a stop beside Yuri, but he looked happier than Yuri had ever seen him. “Can you jump?” He challenged, and reached back to fasten his hair more securely. “Careful not to disturb the Giant Squid, I’m not sure he’d take too kindly to you crashing about over his head.”
Yuri grinned; this was just what he needed. “Of course I can. Don’t break anything, old man.”
It felt better than any skating he’d done in years; spinning and jumping until his lungs burned and legs ached, pausing only occasionally when Nikiforov caught his eye, a mesmerising figure of silver and black, surrounded by gently falling snow.
“Yuri!” Nikiforov glided over to him, cheeks red and strands of hair sticking to his temples. “We should probably head back; the snow’s getting heavier and I think we may have missed lunch.” He looked slightly guilty, but Yuri didn’t give a shit if they’d missed lunch. He felt like he could have kept skating forever.
“It’s fine,” is all he said, and this time it was Yuri who grabbed Nikiforov’s hand and skated away, leading him back to the grass. He remained silent while Nikiforov transfigured their boots back to normal, tugging the scarf more tightly around him as the cold set in again. “When can I…”
He just managed to stop himself from saying, when can I see you again? like some kind of love-struck idiot. Fine, maybe Nikiforov seemed decent after all, and maybe Nikiforov’s voice had gone from something he couldn’t stand to something he couldn’t get enough of – but Yuri was just here for information. He felt calmer, now, ready to hear the truth about his parents.
Yuri bit his lip as Nikiforov smiled, eyes crinkling at the corners. He couldn’t believe it.
“Is tomorrow okay?” They began to walk back up towards the castle through the falling snow, thick grey clouds promising it was here to stay. Nikiforov pulled a face. “I have a load of meetings, but I’ll be free in the evening.”
The rest of the walk back was quiet; Nikiforov seemed lost in thought, and all Yuri wanted to do was curl up on the common room sofa with Potya and a book. The rush of warmth that came when Nikiforov pushed open the heavy side door to let them back in was a welcome relief. Yuri reluctantly unwound the scarf and held it out, but Nikiforov shook his head.
“You can keep it,” he said, and Yuri’s fingers tightened around it. “See you tomorrow, Yuri.”
“Enjoy your meetings,” Yuri called, and Nikiforov laughed as he walked away.
That night Yuri slept alone in his dormitory, blue scarf around his neck, dreams full of a comforting, familiar scent and warm hands that knew him better than he knew himself.
Nikiforov wasn’t at breakfast. There were a few other Slytherin students staying for the holidays, but for the most part Yuri had the common room to himself. He spent most of the day trying, and failing, to concentrate on homework for his other subjects. With five N.E.W.T.s, he couldn’t afford to slack off. But none of his Arithmancy problems seemed to make sense, and Ancient Runes seemed like more of a foreign language than usual. He slammed his books closed in frustration, and instead grabbed parchment to write to his grandpa and Otabek. JJ would probably be with him anyway, so there wasn’t much point writing a separate letter.
Deciding what to say to his grandpa was harder than he expected. “By the way, the guy you told me to avoid at all costs is actually pretty nice and we went ice skating yesterday?” He didn’t want to lie, but everything he wrote sounded ridiculous. He screwed up the parchment and tossed it into the fire. Maybe tomorrow. Otabek was easier because he could just say exactly what was on his mind. The worst Otabek and JJ would do is laugh at him.
Nikiforov wasn’t at lunch or dinner, either. Worry gnawed at his stomach, but he tried to ignore it. Nikiforov had meetings, right? He was just busy, right? He slipped out of the Great Hall before dessert was even served, certain that if he could just get to Nikiforov’s office—
There was no answer when he knocked. Yuri leant against the door and sank down to the floor, thinking. Maybe he was in a meeting with the headmaster, or… his rooms? He hadn’t told Yuri where to meet him, but…
“Hey, Georgi!” he yelled, “I know you’re around here somewhere!”
It didn’t take long; Georgi was known as one of the few ghosts that would come whenever he was called. Personally, Yuri thought it was pretty pathetic, but it did have its uses.
“What is it, little Yuri?”
Yuri stumbled to his feet as Georgi emerged through the door behind him, expression melancholy, makeup eternally smeared down his cheeks from tears that would never dry.
“I need you to help me with something.”
Georgi seemed to cheer up a little at that. “Are you suffering in love? Has your darling rejected you? Do you need me to—"
“No, Georgi, I need to find someone.”
Yuri exhaled slowly, trying to keep his expression pleasant. Whatever worked. “Yeah, sure, forbidden romance and all that so I can’t ask anyone else, you know?”
Georgi clasped his translucent hands together and looked as though he might cry of happiness. “Thwarted! I know your pain too well, Yuri. Leave it to me. Professor Nikiforov, I presume?”
“How—” Yuri stared at him in disbelief. “No, never mind. You know where he is?”
“One moment.” Georgi winked at him, then floated upwards and disappeared through the ceiling. Yuri wondered if there was anything in this castle that Georgi didn’t see. It was an unsettling thought. At least he didn’t have to wait long – not even five minutes later, Georgi was back and beckoning for him to follow. They got lost a few times thanks to the moving staircases, as Georgi kept forgetting that Yuri wasn’t capable of passing through walls. It felt like they’d been walking for hours when Georgi finally stopped in front of a small spiral staircase. “Just up here,” he stage-whispered, and winked again.
Yuri had never been happier that the castle was practically empty. “Thanks.”
As he headed up the dimly-lit staircase he heard Georgi call out behind him, “let me know how it goes!”
Like fuck I will. When he reached the top, there was a door with soft light spilling out from underneath the crack. Finally.
He thumped on the door a few times, and when no response came eventually called out, “it’s Yuri!”
A moment later he heard the lock click and pushed the door open, suddenly hyper aware of how dry his mouth felt, and the feeling of uncertainty still lingering in his stomach. Nikiforov was sat at a desk, hair loose and head bent low, quill scribbling furiously. A seemingly frozen bottle sat beside him in a wooden bowl, as did a small empty glass.
“Yuri.” Nikiforov’s voice was warm. His hand slowed and he let the quill drop, finally turning so Yuri could see him. His face looked pale and drawn, eyes tired. “Sorry I didn’t—I should have thought to be in my office.”
“What the fuck happened?” Yuri was too tired and worried to be anything but himself. For some reason that seemed to make Nikiforov smile.
“A lot. Sit down?”
Yuri finally turned to take in the rest of the room which, really, was a lot smaller than he’d thought it would be. And bare – it made him realise he’d somehow expected Nikiforov to be the type with too many possessions. But the few shelves only contained books, and the small bed pushed against the wall on the far side was simple and not much different from his own dorm bed. If Nikiforov had a vice, it was clearly clothes – the wardrobe was the one thing that seemed stuffed full, all as expensive looking as he’d come to expect. He sat on the sofa in front of the fire, jumping when the grey blanket beside him suddenly moved.
“Meet Makkachin!” Nikiforov beamed. The blanket was, in fact, a dog. “He’s very old now, so all he really does is sleep, but he’d love to be stroked.”
Yuri slid his fingers through Makkachin’s fluffy coat. “He’s cute.”
“Makkachin’s been everywhere with me,” Nikiforov said fondly, and it struck Yuri that perhaps that was the reason there was almost nothing here: he never stayed in one place for long. “Sorry, I’ve just got this last seventh-year essay to finish marking.” He turned back to his desk, and Yuri was suddenly reminded of what Otabek had told him.
“My friend told me that all the seventh years call you Victor,” he said, and Nikiforov seemed to wince slightly.
“Ah, yes… the headmaster wasn’t very pleased with me, but now it’s too late.” He carried on writing, quill looping elegantly across the page. “But that’s how they did it at Beauxbatons! I don’t feel much like a professor anyway, to be honest. This job isn’t for me.”
Yuri shrugged. “You’re decent at it.”
Nikiforov paused, quill poised but unmoving. When he spoke again, his voice sounded strange. “You can call me Victor too, if you like.” He laughed, but it sounded forced. “Not in class though, but… that doesn’t really matter anymore.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Nikiforov—Victor—pushed the papers in front of him away and reached for the frozen bottle beside him. When it didn’t move he made a frustrated noise and tapped it gently with his wand; all the encrusted ice fell away into the bowl beneath. His hand was trembling a little when he lifted the bottle to pour some of the liquid into the small glass beside it, which immediately frosted up around the sides. He downed it in one and then stood, coming to sit on the rug in front of the fire, facing Yuri.
“Victor?” He said the name defiantly, just because he could. “Tell me what’s going on.”
“I’m not even sure where to start anymore.” Victor looked up at him, eyes pale, mouth twisted unhappily. “But, I suppose: I came to this school because of you. I wanted to find you.”
A cold feeling prickled up Yuri’s spine. He’s dangerous. “Because of me?”
“I didn’t even know for sure you were alive.”
The edges of Yuri’s vision darkened. “Why… why would I not be?”
“You don’t even remember that much?” Victor’s forehead creased in consternation, “Yuri, how do you think your parents died?”
His stomach lurched and Yuri thought he might be sick, bringing his hand up to cover his mouth. “I…” He took a deep breath. “All I was told was that there was an accident while they were working. They were curse breakers too so… it’s a dangerous job, I know that. But I never…”
Victor looked deeply sad, bowing his head slightly so his hair hung forward, glowing in the firelight. “It wasn’t an accident, Yuri. Your parents were murdered. As were mine.”
He didn’t expect the tears. He didn’t think he had any left to shed over his parents. But then his face was wet and Victor blurred in front of him. “Ugh.” He wiped his face on his sleeve angrily, “and what then?”
“Our parents worked together in Russia, Yuri. Not by fighting dark wizards directly, but by undoing all the terrible traps and curses they would leave behind. They were some of the best.” Victor looked fiercely proud, and Yuri’s heart swelled. “But, eventually they became too notorious. Powerful people wanted them gone. I was… seventeen, when it happened.”
Victor levitated the frozen bottle to him again, pouring and downing another shot. Yuri watched his throat move as he swallowed, lingered on the wetness on his lips. “So I was five. I don’t remember anything from back then.”
“I don’t know what happened at your house, exactly,” Victor said, circling the rim of the glass with his finger. “Your grandfather must have got you out in time. When I heard what happened I assumed the worst. But later I heard rumours…”
The anger simmered deep inside him; that this had been kept from him, that his parents’ lives had been purposefully stolen from him, that there was nothing he could do about it. He stood up. “I wish I could have defended them. Been old enough to – to do something.” Victor stood up too, somewhat unsteady.
“You still can, Yuri. Do exactly as you have been doing, and continue their work.”
Yuri set his jaw and nodded. “Thanks for telling me.” Silence fell, broken only by the warm crackling of the fire. “You came all the way here to tell me that?”
Victor shrugged. “I was tired, Yuri. I’d spent so long fighting, so long thinking everyone died that night that when… at first, I thought you might be in France so I went to Beauxbatons, but new information led me here. If you were alive, I wanted you to know the truth.”
There was a finality in the way he spoke that made Yuri’s stomach twist. “That doesn’t mean you’re leaving, does it?” Something akin to panic tightened his chest. “You only just got here, you can’t fucking leave me.”
Eyes widening, Victor raised his hand as though to reach out, but then dropped it. “Yura, Yura, I can’t stay. Things have changed.”
Yuri looked up at him, eyes narrowed. “I don’t want you to go back to Russia without me.” A stunned silence followed, and Victor’s mouth parted soundlessly. Yuri wanted to kiss it, bind Victor to him because they were connected now, and always had been even if he’d never known. “I want to go back with you, and find the people who did it. I want to make them pay.”
“Oh, Yura.” The nickname rolled off his tongue so gently and privately it made Yuri’s heartbeat quicken unbearably. A strange smile played about Victor’s soft lips. “Don’t worry about that, I killed them all myself.”
Yuri stared at him in shock, breathing shallowly. He’s dangerous. “When?”
Victor tapped a finger against his lips. “One was the night it happened. After they killed my parents they came for me, but I was already awake. I was ready. The others I tracked down one by one. I never finished my final year of school. I didn’t trust the authorities to punish them; I wanted them gone.” He reached out and touched Yuri’s cheek, something sad lingering in his eyes. “I can’t do what our parents did, or what you’re going to do. But I still have a job to do, and I’m one of the best.”
“Aren’t—” Yuri’s throat tightened, and his skin burned where Victor’s fingers rested. “Isn’t everyone after you, then? That’s not—that’s not legal.”
“Not as such.” Victor withdrew his hand. “It may not be officially sanctioned, but anyone can see that what I do has merit. I just have to be… circumspect.”
“Stay,” Yuri said suddenly, “why do you have to go now? I need you, you can’t – you can’t tell me all these things and then fuck off forever.”
“It wasn’t my intention.” Victor gently shooed Makkachin off the sofa and sat down, drawing Yuri down with him. “Something came up. I have to go back and deal with it, because likely no one else will.” He bit his lip, avoiding Yuri’s eyes. “It’s possible they have a connection to the group that killed our parents.”
When Victor still didn’t look at him, Yuri reached out and yanked on his shirt, bringing him close, and Victor’s breath was hot on his face. “Don’t you – don’t you understand what I’m telling you?”
Victor’s hands came up to cover Yuri’s, briefly meeting Yuri’s eyes before his gaze dropped to Yuri’s mouth. “I do.”
It was Yuri who surged forward and kissed him, pushing Victor back down onto the sofa to straddle his hips. Victor was pliant beneath his aggression, mouth hot and wet and tasting of alcohol. His hair spilled out over the cushions, and his hands came up to rest on Yuri’s waist. “Yura,” he murmured against Yuri’s lips, and Yuri sat up a little, letting go of Victor’s shirt and moving one hand to stroke Victor’s neck.
“I want to help you.”
Victor pulled him down for another soft kiss. “Then promise me you’ll stay here and finish your studies. Join me later. I’d be glad of your help.”
Promises, promises. Yuri didn’t want to talk about it anymore. He wanted to wake up and find Victor had packed for them both, had arranged everything so that he and Yuri could – could go home. In the face of what Victor was doing, studying suddenly seemed to mean so little. He wanted to learn, but books could only teach him so much. If he could be out there, doing good like his parents with Victor by his side… he wanted it so badly it hurt. But for now, he still had Victor here with him. Instead of answering he shifted, felt Victor hot and hard beneath him, saw the sharp intake of breath and the way Victor’s eyes darkened, and kissed him again. He didn’t want to talk promises.
When Yuri awoke, Victor was already gone, room bare and empty like no one had ever lived there at all. Yuri wished he were still here just so he could tell Victor what a fucking coward he was. I thought we had more time.
Back in his own room, letters from Otabek and JJ sat unread on his desk. His trunk lay open on the floor, and he sank back onto his bed, hugging Potya to him, blue scarf wrapped around his neck as he stared at it.
Its emptiness felt like an invitation.
Remember, Victor? I never fucking promised a thing.