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Over The Edge by Arithmancy_Wiz

Format: Novel
Chapters: 21
Word Count: 95,337
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Contains Slash (Same-Sex Pairing), Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Drama, Mystery, Romance
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Krum, Albus, Hugo, Rose, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Other Pairing, Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione

First Published: 06/10/2012
Last Chapter: 02/03/2013
Last Updated: 07/04/2013

Summary:
absolutely perfect banner by violet ephemera @ TDA





Viktor Krum, celebrated athlete turned drug-addled has-been, and Rose Weasley, a woman too young to know better than to get involved with him. When their paths cross, something awakens within them. Something powerful enough to drive them both over the edge. FULL SUMMARY AT THE END OF CHAPTER ONE


Chapter 1: Chapter One: Prologue: The Man In The Suit
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Author’s Note: This story will contain several mature themes, including drug abuse. As a staffer, I can promise it won’t break any of the Site Rules, but I will be making full use of the Mature rating – something I’ve never attempted before. Also, there’s a line towards the end of this chapter that could be interpreted as referring to an adult/minor pairing. Rest assured, the woman involved is in her 20s. There is, however, a very large age gap (30 years) between the main pairing. If that bothers you or just doesn’t appeal to you, you may wish to find another story to read. Thanks for taking a look. I really hope you enjoy it. Full Summary at the bottom of the page.

Prologue: The Man In The Suit

December
24, 2031

Two men, both nearing middle age, sat facing one another in the center of an otherwise empty room.

With only the sweat-soaked air filling the space between them, there was nothing to stop one man from leaning forward in his chair and slapping the other across the face. It was an idea that had undoubtedly already crossed both their minds. And while the man in the suit didn't seem the violent type, the same could not be said of his companion.

"I'll ask you again," said the man in the suit. "Do you know why you are here?"

Viktor Krum said nothing. He just took another long drag on his cigarette, which was now little more than a nub between his stained fingertips. He inhaled deeply, holding the smoke in his lungs for a long moment before allowing it to slowly trickle out from between his lips. The grey tendrils drifted forward on an invisible breeze and directly into the other man's face. The man in the suit made no attempt to wave away the noxious cloud. Instead, his own breathing seemed to slow, as if trying to suck the second-hand smoke up into his own flared nostrils.

"This is a serious matter,” said the man in the suit. “You realize that, don't you, Mr. Krum? That neither of us is going anywhere until you give me the information I’m looking for? How long this takes is entirely up to you. But you've known me long enough to know that one way or another, I will get answers."

Still Krum said nothing, and the man in the suit was forced to watch as his prisoner's attention drifted further and further from the business at hand. His gaze had become fixated on a spot just over the man’s shoulder. Krum stared at it for so long and with such unflinching intensity that the man in the suit was finally compelled to turn around and see what had him so mesmerized.

But there was nothing there. Just a blank cinder-block wall. A wall just like every other wall in the room - like every other room in the building. The whole place was completely whitewashed: the ceilings, the floors, even many of the people dressed all in white. It was like a madhouse... which, in some ways, was exactly what it was.

"Mr. Krum," the man in the suit said, turning back around so the two were once again face to face. "If she were here, what would she tell you to do? Do you really think she –"

But Krum cut the man off, speaking for the first time that afternoon. "You vant to know vhy I think I'm here? It that your question for me?”

Krum’s accent was faint, his Bulgarian roots all but obliterated thanks to decades spent living abroad. Still, to the trained ear, the heavy V sound of Eastern Europe was still detectable, particularly when the speaker was under duress.

"Well, yes," said the man in the suit, his even tone belying any sense of excitement he may have felt at Krum’s sudden willingness to engage. "That, among other things. But we can start there, if you like. Why do you think you've been brought here, Mr. Krum?"

Krum took one last drag on his cigarette before letting the tiny nub fall to the floor, pressing it into the ground with the heel of his shoe. "I'm here because my life has gone to shit.” His words were lifeless, devoid of all emotion. “Vhy else is someone brought to a place like this? Men come here vhen they have nothing left to lose. Vhen there isn’t anything left in them to kill. How disappointing that must be for you...”

“Disappointing?” repeated the man in the suit, pushing his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. “And why would that disappoint me, Mr. Krum?

“Because men like you... Like us. We’re the ones who like to do the killing. It’s no fun if they’re already dead inside.”

The man in the suit gave him an almost imperceptible smile. "Insightful, Mr. Krum. So tell me, why is it then that your life has 'gone to shit,' as you say?"

Krum laughed, a low mirthless sound that bubbled up from deep in his gut. "It's in my book, or haven't you heard? It comes out next veek. I can sign a copy for you if you like.”

Krum patted at his chest and legs as if checking for a spare pen he might have tucked away somewhere. Of course, the outfit they’d put him in after stripping him naked and leaving him in a darkened cell overnight didn’t have any pockets. They hadn’t even allowed him laces for his shoes.

Krum shrugged. “Ah, vell. It seems I left all my quills in my other prison vear. I’ll have to give you a...vhat do they call it? A rain check.”

"Do you think this is funny, Mr Krum? Miss We-"

"Don’t you say her name! Don't you fucking dare to say it in front of me, you Правителствено прасе!"

And with that, all traces of the calm façade were gone. Viktor leapt to his feet, preparing to lunge at his captor. His fingers were already outstretched, itching to encircle the other man’s neck. But the instant his soles hit the floor, Viktor felt his entire body being snapped back into place. Invisible bonds snaked their way around his legs and chest, pinning him to his chair. And the more he struggled against them, the tighter they seemed to squeeze.

Throughout it all, the man in the suit never so much as batted an eye. In fact, he seemed to almost be enjoying himself, watching as Krum fought against his restraints, his face growing redder and redder as the breath was forced from his lungs.

"I seem to have struck a nerve with that one, haven't I, Mr. Krum?"

Viktor continued to struggle but his strength was fading fast, too oxygen-deprived to carry on fighting. With one final grunt, Viktor collapsed in on himself, his body slumping over as much as his restraints would allow.

"Such a display,” the man in the suit said, shaking his head in feigned disapproval. “Perhaps we should discuss this issue further. Explore why the mere mention of her name seems to leave you in such a state." Krum said nothing. He was too busy gasping and sputtering as the air raced back into his starved lungs. "No matter. We can return to that subject later. But what an interesting subject it is, don't you think?"

Just then, there was a loud knock at the door.

Both men turned in their seats. The man in the suit scowled at the interruption but called out, "Enter!"

The heavy metal door that marked the only entrance into the room swung inward, opening just wide enough for a young man with untidy dark hair to stick his head through. The little of his body that was visible was dressed in a dark green uniform. When he spoke, his words were clipped, almost militaristic in tone.

"They need you now, sir. On level six,"

The man in the suit clapped his hands together once before resting his chin on his fingertips. He looked genuinely disappointed at this sudden change of plans.

"Well, it looks like you’re in luck," he said to Krum. "There's some poor bastard up there in worse trouble than you." He stood up, and for the first time, Krum saw that he had been concealing something behind his back. “See something that interests you?” he asked, catching the look of surprise on Krum’s face.

The man in the suit picked up the object, making sure Krum could see what it was.

It was a book: new and shiny, the spine barely broken. It was Krum's book.

Her book.

"I got an advance copy,” the man in the suit said, looking down at the book before focusing back on Krum. “A titillating read, to be sure. Had the wife and I blushing a bit there towards the end. But really," he whispered, lowering his head so his mouth was only inches from Krum's ear. “You're old enough to be her father. Tsk-tsk, Viktor. What will people say? Especially when they hear you screwed the mother too." The man in the suit straightened up, dropping the book onto Krum's lap. "Feel free to take a look while I'm gone. Of course, you already know how it ends..."

The man in the suit winked at Krum before turning his back on him. Seconds later, he was gone, the door closing behind him.

Viktor stared down at his lap. The book seemed to stare back up at him, his name spelled out in giant letters across the front.

Viktor Krum: Over The Edge

He had hated the title the moment she'd suggested it. But she'd insisted. Only now was he beginning to understand what she'd meant by it. Though he still wasn’t sure to which of them it referred.

His eyes moved slowly down the cover. It was the first time he'd seen it in its final form. She had wanted it to be a surprise...

Underneath the title, in smaller type, it read:

The True Story of a Quidditch Legend, His Despair and His Final Redemption

At least the despair part was proving true. Krum wasn’t so sure about the redemption.

Then, at the very bottom, in the smallest print yet: her name.

A Biography by Rose Weasley

Viktor Krum began to cry.


*Правителствено прасе – government pig in Bulgarian, according to an online translator


Full Summary: Fifty-three year old Viktor Krum is a shell of the man he once was. A crippling injury long ago put an end to his Quidditch career, and a subsequent drug addiction nearly took his life. Now on the brink of sobriety, he’s agreed to let the publishers at Fletcher and Sons print a book about him – a chance to not only escape his financial troubles but to restore some measure of respectability to his once-beloved name. Enter Rose Weasley, an up-and-coming author with a serious case of writer’s block. She’s been tasked with the job of helping turn Krum’s stories into publishing gold. Things get complicated, however, when the two find themselves embroiled in a scandalous affair, where their thirty-year age difference is the least of their problems. It turns out Krum’s troubles might not be as far behind him as they'd thought. Someone, it seems, isn’t ready to forgive Krum for his past mistakes, jeopardizing not only he and Rose’s relationship, but maybe even their lives.
 


Chapter 2: Chapter Two: Joseph Heart
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A/N – Another warning: this chapter contains some adult language. It’s so unlike me to use any in my writing, but I really outdid myself on this one. Also, in regards to a time-line (in case it’s not clear), this chapter takes place approximately six months prior to the events depicted in the prologue. Thanks again to anyone who takes a look, and a special thanks to Perelandra from the forums for answering a few publishing-related questions for me, though I’m sure I still got a few things wrong.






Viktor Krum: Over The Edge

By Rose Weasley

An Excerpt From Chapter One

...There was a time when Viktor Krum had more money than he knew what to do with. His years as a top athlete had paid well. Obscenely well, some might say. During the height of his career, he was rumored to have made more money in a single Quidditch match than most wizards made in a lifetime. Back then, he’d been focused solely on the game – too dedicated to his training to have the time to spend his growing fortune. But nothing lasts forever. A severe spinal injury – one that could have left him permanently paralyzed – meant an early end to an otherwise stellar career already more than a decade in the making. He was only twenty-eight. Far too young to be forcibly retired....






Chapter TwoJoseph Heart

Six Months Earlier

"Those lying, two-faced bastards! Don’t they know I'm Joseph goddamn Heart and I don't take shit like this from anyone, especially not from snot-nosed little twerps like them? Just who the hell do they think they're fucking with?”

They knew exactly who they were fucking with, but Rose Weasley wasn’t about to point this out to her boss. She had been with the man long enough to know it was a bad idea to interrupt him when he was in the middle of one of his self-righteous tirades.

Even at seventy-four, Joseph Heart was still a mental and physical force to be reckoned with, especially when he thought someone was trying to play him for a fool. Rose knew that getting in his way now would be akin to standing in the path of an avalanche, watching as it came barreling down the mountainside at two hundred miles per hour.

Unfortunately, no one had thought to mention any of this to the new guy.

"Legally, we don't have much standing to –"

"I don't give a fuck about legality!" Heart shouted, banging his fist so hard that some of his tea went splashing over the rim of his cup and onto his desk. "I want those fuckers to know you don't mess with Fletcher and Sons unless you're soft in the head. We're gonna send those SOBs over at Penman's a message, you hear me? Try and screw us over? Yeah, well, we'll see who screws who in the end."

Rose couldn’t help but feel sorry for the man seated beside her. Bernard Haverdash, the latest in a long line of ever-changing corporate lawyers assigned to handle Mr. Heart's personal legal dealings, clearly hadn’t been warned what he was signing on for when he accepted his new post. Dressed in a dark blue suit, the creases in his pants ironed to within an inch of their life, he looked like the sort of man who had hoped to make a good impression his first day on the job. That had been his first mistake. Heart hated kiss-ups. The only thing he hated more were lawyers.

Haverdash glanced over at Rose as if hoping she might inject some sanity back into the conversation. Rose gave him an apologetic shrug before turning to her boss and saying, "You'll get them, Heart. You always do in the end."

This wasn't just flattery on Rose's part. It was the truth. At the end of the day, Heart always got his way. Such was the power of a man with extraordinarily deep pockets, a questionable sense of morality, and an inability to take no for an answer.

Despite these apparent flaws in his character - not to mention the nearly incessant swearing - Rose was rather fond of Joseph Heart. He was excellent at his job, which involved running England’s premier Wizard-only publishing company. Generous with his time to those he deemed worthy, Heart was also the only man Rose had ever seen go toe-to-toe in a drinking game with Rubeus Hagrid and come out the winner.

Most men Heart's age were happily retired, glad for the chance to spend their golden years relaxing, reaping the benefits of years of hard work by spending the day golfing or chasing after their grandchildren. But not Heart. They'd have to carry the man out of his office in a pine box. Retiring was for quitters, he'd say, and Hearts weren't quitters.

"The gall of it all!" Heart continued, his already ruddy complexion now purple with indignation. "Not to mention the fucking waste of time. Is there no decency left in this bloody business?"

Once again, Rose wisely held her tongue, though she couldn't help thinking that was a rather audacious accusation coming from the likes of Joseph Heart. The man made a career out of playing dirty. Only this time, it seemed, he hadn't played dirty enough.

At least not for the likes of Regina McFey.

House-witch-turned-mega-author, Regina McFey, had spent the last six months shopping around for a publishing company to print the latest in her long-run of sexually charged stories, marketed as something to 'capture the imagination of the modern magical woman.' The word on the street was that she'd had a falling out with her last publisher and was on the hunt for someone new. She and her agent had been in and out of meetings with Heart almost every day for the past two weeks. But in the end, her old publisher had swept in at the eleventh hour with a deal too good to refuse, and Heart had been left with nothing to show for is efforts.

Rose knew it wasn't just the wasted time and loss of potential revenue – which could have totaled in the millions – that was making Heart so angry. It was also the fact that he'd thought he’d finally pulled one over on Penman & Ives, only to have the whole thing slip through his fingers at the last possible moment.

Penman & Ives Publishing Inc. was the only other Wizarding publisher in England with enough clout to rival Fletcher and Sons. This hadn't always been the case. Penman had, for many years, been little more than a smut-peddling operation, selling the kind of books Heart used to describe as 'for woman in need of a good fuck.' That was until McFey arrived on the scene with her new brand of risqué romance stuffed with just enough plot to pass as acceptable for distribution in local bookshops. The books were, in all senses of the word, a knockout success. Ten thousand copies sold in the first week. A hundred thousand more by the end of the year. McFey's brand of racy novels for women became the next big thing, and Penman & Ives had been there to cash in on it every step of the way.

And that's where Rose came into the picture.

Rose Weasley was, in almost every way imaginable, the exact opposite of Regina McFey. She was twenty-four – more than twenty years McFey’s junior. Never married. No children. Still trying to get her fledgling career off the ground. She lacked all the qualifications that made McFey such a hit with the thousands of middle-aged witches that comprised the bulk of her audience.

The one thing that Rose and Regina actually had in common was that they were both writers.

Two years ago, Rose had penned her own novel: a short, sentimental piece, based loosely on the tales her parents had told her regarding coming of age under the ever-watchful eye of the invasive wizarding press – who’d been all too interested in anyone even remotely connected to 'the famous Harry Potter.' The book had been well received by the critics - even with Rose’s relative lack of experience - but it was not a commercial success. The public, initially excited at the prospect of an inside look at the lives of the Potters and Weasleys, had lost interest once they realized the book contained no actual details about the families’ personal lives. It lacked scandal, and scandal sells.

But in the end, that was exactly what Heart had been looking for.

“We need something fresh,” he'd told her at their first meeting last year. "Readers... they’re fickle. They’ll eventually get tired of this romance rubbish and be ready to move back to something more wholesome. Something they can read without worrying their kids will get a hold of it and start asking questions. And you, my dear, are going to be the one who writes that special something.”

Rose had been quick to decline his offer of a contract. It wasn’t that she wasn’t interested in writing another novel. She just simply wasn’t able. No matter how hard she tried – how long she sat at her desk, quill in hand – the words would not come. It was as if she had literally lost the ability to write. Rose was, she feared, destined to be a one-hit-wonder, if a person whose book sold less than a thousand copies could be considered a 'wonder' at all.

So Heart had offered her another deal: to join Fletcher and Sons as an assistant literary agent, tasked with the very unglamorous job of schlepping through the thousands of unsolicited manuscripts the company received each year. The premise for the offer was that if she couldn't write the next best seller, maybe she’d be able to find Heart someone who could.

"To hell with them!" Heart had leapt from his chair and was now snapping his fingers as he paced around his office – no small feat considering the place was packed to the rafters with boxes and furniture. Heart’s wife, it seemed, had once again kicked her husband out of their million-dollar flat, forcing him to set up temporary residence in his office. The couple’s marital spats were an ongoing affair and Rose had long ago learned it best to avoid the subject whenever possible.

“Regina’s a has-been anyway,” Heart was saying. “We’re better off without her. Let Penman have her, for all I care. She'll be lucky to sell half as many copies with this new novel. Worst one she's written yet. Waste of perfectly good ink, if you ask me.”

Now Haverdash looked truly flummoxed. “But I thought you just said –”

"Goddammit!" Heart bellowed, kicking at a half-opened box that appeared to have been packed in haste, the corner of a red and blue checkered tie peeking out of one corner. He had stopped pacing just long enough to look down at his new lawyer, who he towered over in an almost comical fashion. “What are you still doing here, Haventon?"

Oh boy, Rose thought. Heart didn't even know the poor man's name.

"You wouldn't know a good idea if it fucked you five ways ‘til Sunday. Now, get the hell out of my office." When Haverdash failed to move, Heart shouted, "Go!"

Haverdash jumped to his feet, and Rose watched as the young man gathered up his belongings and bolted from the room.

As soon as he was gone, Heart let out a snort. "Lawyers," he said, flashing Rose the briefest of smiles. "They make life hell but damn if it ain't a joy to watch them squirm. Now," he said, his face serious again, "how the fuck are we gonna make me some more money?"


Chapter 3: Chapter Three: Albus Potter
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Viktor Krum: Over The Edge

By Rose Weasley

An Excerpt From Chapter Two

...In the months that followed his injury, the pain of rehabilitation coupled with the realization that he would never again play professional sport, changed Viktor. He became dark and moody, resentful towards anyone who expressed even the mildest show of sympathy. But thanks to a loophole in his contract and several lucrative endorsements, the money, at least, kept rolling in. And with more free time – and more freedom – than he could ever remember having, Viktor was determined not to let his fortune – or what remained of his youth – go to waste...






Chapter Three: Albus Potter

Rose Weasley was exhausted. Not to mention desperate to get out of the high-heeled shoes some sales-witch had convinced her would be as comfortable as they were fashionable.

The meeting with Heart – if it could really be called such a thing - had continued on for another hour or so before the old man had finally collapsed at his desk, worn out and hoarse from all the shouting. Rose hadn’t been expected to add much to the conversation. It was her job to simply sit there and listen, throwing in the occasional nod or murmur of agreement just to prove she was paying attention. Heart didn’t have any children of his own – nor anyone that could really be considered a friend – so with his wife temporarily out of the picture and his secretary on vacation, the role of human sounding-board had once again fallen on her shoulders. And it was a role that always left her feeling drained and longing for a good night's sleep.

By the time she left Heart's office, it was nearing six o’clock and Rose was more than ready to pack up and head home for the day.

After a quick stop at her own office to collect the day’s post, and another at the corner market to grab some take away, she was all set to settle in for a quiet evening at home. That was until she spotted a familiar face waiting outside her front door.Albus Potter was perched on the top step of the narrow stoop that marked the entrance to the building where Rose had been living for the past six months. His elbows were resting on his boney knees, which were just visible beneath his oversized tan shorts. His dark hair was sticking out in all directions as though he had forgotten to comb it before he left the house. With his head bowed, it looked as if he was deep in thought, or else trying to figure out what had gotten stuck to the bottom of his trainers. Though only a few months younger than Rose, today her cousin looked more like a wayward teenager than a young man with a proper job and decent place to live.

“You ought to be more careful,” Rose said as she drew near, shifting the bag that held her supper from one hand to the other, her post still tucked up under her arm. “My muggle neighbors don’t take kindly to loitering. I wouldn’t put it past Mrs. Larson on the second floor to ring the police if she spots you out here – the old bat.”

Al looked up at her, a mournful expression spoiling his otherwise handsome face. In that instant, Rose knew any chance for a quiet evening alone had just flown out the window.

“What’s the matter?” she asked, already knowing the answer.

Al let out a pitiful sigh. “It’s Amelia. She’s gone and –”

Rose held up her hand, silencing him. “Come on,” she said, letting out a little sigh of her own as she nodded in the direction of the front door. “I’ve got a bottle of wine in the fridge. We can pop it open and you can tell me all about what she’s done this time.”

Al stood up and dutifully followed Rose up the three flights of stairs that lead to her small studio. The flat, which had once served as attic space for the tenants that lived below, was little more than a single room, with low-sloped ceilings, a bed that also served as a sofa tucked into one corner, and a kitchenette so tiny it could have been built for a doll’s house. Still, the space was clean, the neighborhood quiet, and – most important – the rent cheap. On her meager salary, it was the best Rose could hope to afford living that close to the center of London.

Rose set her things down on the narrow kitchen counter and removed two glasses from a nearby cupboard. Next, she crossed to the fridge and extracted a bottle of off-brand wine, pouring two generous glasses before handing one to Al.

“Thanks,” he said, taking the drink and plopping himself on the floor in front of the window that looked down onto the back garden.

The light from the sun, which was just starting to set – a sure indication that the last few days of summer were upon them – was filtering in behind him, casting shadow across his boyish features and bathing the small space in a warm yellow glow. Rose slipped the wine bottle back into the fridge before settling down beside him, pushing the window open to let in the faint breeze that had begun to stir. She stared at her cousin for a long moment, watching as Al raised the glass to his lips, downing half the contents in three large gulps.

“That bad a day?” she asked.

Al nodded, puckering his lips as the taste of the cheap wine hit his tongue. “The worst,” he said, using the sleeve of his t-shirt to wipe at his mouth. “She’s dumped me. Again.”

Rose said nothing. She just leaned back, quietly sipping her wine as Al launched into his latest tale of heartache and woe. It was nothing new. Rose had heard it all a million times before. Al and Amelia had been dating since their school days. She was a nice enough girl - from a good family, mild mannered and polite. She was supportive of Al, who was restless by nature, hopping from one job to the next – though he seemed to be settling nicely into his new position at the Ministry. Something his father had no doubt set up for him. The twosome did genuinely seem to enjoy each other’s company. But at least twice a year, they would get into a huge row – always over something completely trivial – and split up, vowing they would never, ever speak to one another again as long as they both lived. Their self-imposed exiles from each other’s lives would last for about a month before they would break down, make up, and go back to being a doting couple.

Rose had long ago stopped trying to rationalize the pair's volatile relationship. As best as she could figure, the two of them must actually enjoy the ongoing drama – thrive on it even. Why else would they subject themselves to all that misery? Without it, maybe they were afraid their lives would just be...ordinary.

Still, Rose and Al had always been close growing up and she felt it was her duty as his cousin and friend to at least pretend to offer a sympathetic ear. It wasn’t like he came to her looking for advice. Rose was not exactly in a position to counsel anyone on the subject of love. Her romantic life was, for all intents and purposes, pretty much non-existent. Working all hours of the day for a boss who considered taking time off to be the eighth deadly sin didn’t accord her much opportunity to cultivate a social life. Not that she didn't want one.

“And so she dumped me,” Al was saying, his shoulders slumping at he recalled the tragedy of it all. “Right there in the middle of the party, in front of her entire family. Can you believe that?”

“Hmmm...” was about all the reply Rose could muster. She realized belatedly that she hadn’t been paying all that much attention to what Al was saying. “Sounds like a quite a fight.”

“It wasn’t just a fight. It was a goddamn assault!" Al was on his feet again, crossing back into the kitchen, and was now in the process of helping himself to some more wine. “It’s over this time, I mean it," he said as he refilled his empty glass. "There’s no way I could take her back after what she said. She humiliated me. And for what? Just to prove her parents right? That I'm not good enough for her?”

"You know she doesn't think that –" Rose tried to interject, but Al wasn't looking to be consoled.

"Well, it just proves how much she knows. I happen to be up for a promotion at work, did you know that? Haven't even been there two months yet. I guess they – unlike some people – appreciate what I can do.” Al took another long pull on his drink, emptying the glass for a second time. When he finally came up for air, he looked over at Rose and asked, “You got anything to eat? I’m starving.”

And so for the next two hours, Rose found herself playing host to a not-entirely-welcomed dinner guest. She had gathered up some plates and silverware, and the two had dined picnic-style on the floor. Rose served them each half of the sandwich she'd picked up on her way home, along with a half-eaten packet of crisps she kept stashed in the pantry for emergencies. Al had refused the complimentary apple that had been tucked in alongside the sandwich but did manage to finish off the remainder of the wine – not bothering to ask Rose if she wanted any more for herself. Rose didn’t mind sharing, but at that moment, she was glad that she didn’t keep anything stronger in the house. With only the sofa-bed to sleep on, Rose really didn’t want Al to have to spend the night because he was too drunk to find his way home.

“We should go out,” Al announced once their plates had been washed and put away again.

“What, now?” Rose glanced over at the clock that hung on the far wall. “It’s getting kind of late...”

Al let out a loud bark of laughter, the wine having dampened his ability to control the volume of his voice. “It’s only half-past eight. Since when is that late? You’re such an old ninny sometimes, Rose, you know that?”

“I am not! Some of us had to work all day, in case you forgot. Then I got to come home and listen to your problems all evening. And I’ve got to get up early tomorrow. And I’ve got this stack of papers to sort. And –”

Al threw up his hands in mock surrender. “Relax, will you? I didn’t mean anything by it. I just thought it might be nice to get out. Have a laugh. You know, a bit of fun? You remember fun, don’t you, Rose? That thing we used to do before you got this job of yours...”

“And what’s that supposed to mean? What’s wrong with my job?”

Al was leaning against the small sink, the dishrag he’d been using now slug over one shoulder. Rose was eyeing him from the other side of the table, and he seemed to shrink under the intensity of her stare. “Oh, come on,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Let’s not do this...”

“No, if you’ve got something to say, say it.”

Rose watched as Al’s cheeks began to take on a pinkish glow, though whether from embarrassment or the alcohol, she couldn’t be sure. Either way, he seemed to sense this wasn’t shaping up to be a fair fight. His inhibitions were lowered thanks to all the wine he'd ingested, and she was overtired and stressed from a long day at work. But that didn't stop him from plunging onward.

“It’s rubbish!” he shouted. “Your job is rubbish. Your boss is a complete prat, the hours are ridiculous, and the whole thing has turned you into a...I don’t even know anymore. We used to have a good time, you and me. We’d go out. Have fun. Back when you were still —”

“Still what?” she demanded. “Back when I was still what?”

“Dammit, Rosie!” Al wadded up the damp rag and threw it down on the counter. "Why do you always have to be like this? So –" But he stopped there, his brain seeming to finally catch up with his mouth. He ran an exasperated hand through his thick hair, making it stand up on end, as if he’d just stuck one of her dinner forks into an electrical outlet. He exhaled slowly and his expression softened.

“I didn’t come here to fight with you. I’m sorry. I’m being an arse. I’ve had too much to drink. You know how stupid it makes me. Your job is fine. It’s great, in fact. You’re great.” Rose pulled a face, refusing to be so easily mollified. “Come on. Don’t look at me like that. What do I know about jobs anyway? I’ve never kept one for more than a few months.”

That much, at least, was true, though if he really was up for a promotion, maybe her cousin was at last starting to grow up. And as much as Rose wanted to be angry with Al – scold him for showing up at her place unannounced, dumping his problems all over her and then insulting her in her own kitchen – she couldn’t muster the energy to stay mad at him. She was just too tired. And maybe just the tiniest bit afraid that there might be some truth behind his accusations.

“Anyway...” Al said after a long pause. “I should get going. Let you...get on with things. Thanks for dinner.”

“Yeah. It’s been an absolute pip of a night.”

Al crossed over to her and put an arm around her shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. “And I mean it, you know. You really are great.”

“Liar,” Rose said, elbowing him in the ribs. “You just like the free drinks.”

“Yeah, well, they're not bad either.”

When she was alone again at last, Rose kicked off her shoes and collapsed onto the bed. She sighed as her head hit the pillow, her red hair fanning out around her. She could hear the manuscripts that had come in the day’s post calling out to her from the kitchen where she'd left them. But she just couldn’t be bothered. Even if it meant more work for tomorrow.

As much as she loved Al, spending time with him was staring to resemble her time spent with Heart. In other words: exhausting. It hadn’t always been that way. Al had been right about one thing. They did have fun together, once upon a time. They’d go out almost every night: to the shops, to the pubs. They shared a similar circle of friends, which included some of the other members of their extended family, along with some old classmates from their days at Hogwarts. For a while there, it seemed like she spent more time with Al than with just about anyone else. Now, however, looking back, she couldn't help but wonder how much of that was because of actual shared interests, and how much of it was out of convenience. A person didn't have to spend a lot of time making friends when you had as many siblings and cousins as she did.

This was all, of course, back before she’d started her new job. Back when she had the free time to spend with anyone. Back when she was still trying to be a writer.

There was a sudden knock at the door.

Rose let out a groan. “Go away, Al! I haven’t got any more wine.”

A second knock, this one even louder than the first.

Rose swung her feet over the edge of the bed before crossing back into the kitchen.

“What?” she barked as she yanked open the door.

But instead of Al, Rose found herself face-to-face with her downstairs neighbor.

“I won’t have it!” Mrs. Larson cried, her wrinkled face pinched with agitation. “I won’t bloody take it, you understand, girl?”

Mrs. Larson was very old, though just how old, Rose couldn’t be sure. That evening, the woman was dressed in a housecoat and slippers, the yellowing lace of her faded nighty visible just below her knees. The whole ensemble looked to be about two sizes too big and thirty years past its prime. Her thinning grey hair had been recently set and clung to her pink scalp in tight ringlets. When she spoke, her voice was low, her Scottish accent thick.

“I won’t take no more of your bloody birds outside my window. Hooting at all ‘ours of the day and night. It ain’t right, I tell you. It just ain’t right.”

“Mrs. Larson, I told you –”

“I know what you bloody told me!” As the woman spoke, the loose skin that hung like jowls around her mouth quivered. “You say they aren’t yours, but you’re a liar. I can see it in your eyes.” The woman shoved a crooked finger into Rose’s face.

“Mrs. Larson—” Rose tired again, taking a step backwards, but the woman wasn’t having it.

“And I’ve got proof this time, girl.” She stuck her hand into one of the oversized pockets sewn into the front of her dress and pulled out a crumpled envelope. She waved it in front of Rose’s nose, having to stand up on tiptoes to reach. “If the bird ain’t yours, why has it got a letter addressed to you hanging out its beak? Answer me that one, if you’re so smart. I have a right mind to open it. It came through my window, after all.”

“You haven’t any right!”

Rose was starting to lose patience. It was bad enough she had the woman banging on her door at all hours of the day and night, claiming Rose was making a racket when she hadn’t been doing anything of the sort. But snooping through her post? That was over the line. If the old hag started sticking her nose where it didn’t belong, Rose could find herself out on the street. When wizards elect to live in muggle neighborhoods, they have to be discrete. If Mrs. Larson figured out that her upstairs neighbor was a witch, the Ministry could step in and force Rose out of her flat. It wasn’t a common practice, but it wasn’t impossible either.

“If it comes in my window again, you bet your britches I’ll open 'em. I’ll open 'em all. There's something unnatural about you, girl!” And with that, she flung the letter at Rose before turning around and shuffling off back downstairs, the belt on her robe trailing behind her.

Rose bent over and scooped up the letter, which had fallen to the floor. There was nothing besides her name written across the front. No other clues as to who had sent it. Curious, she quickly stepped back inside, shut the door, and tore open the envelope.

The note inside was short – the colorful language leaving no doubt about the identity of its author.

Rose,

I’ve found you the book you're going to write for me and it will make those bastards at Penman & Ives weep like the little bitches they are. Now, tell me, what exactly do you know about Viktor Krum?



Chapter 4: Chapter Four: Mr. Brooks
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Viktor Krum: Over The Edge

By Rose Weasley

An Excerpt From Chapter Three

...There had been drinking, of course. A new woman every night. Drugs too, though his publicist somehow managed to keep the worst of it out of the papers. But it wasn’t until he met and married his second wife that the real spending began. Flats in London, Paris and Milan; expensive artwork and jewelry; extended vacations that would go on for weeks, sometime months at a time. The man denied himself nothing. And if those around him were at all troubled by Krum’s growing appetite for indulgence, not one of them bothered to speak up - perhaps too afraid of being cut off from the man who financed the lavish lifestyles they’d grown so accustomed to...





Chapter Four: Mr. Brooks

By half-past eight the next morning, Rose was back in Heart’s office, feeling as though she'd never left. But this time, it was she and not Heart who was doing most of the talking.

“It just wouldn’t work,” she told her boss for what must have been the third time since she'd taken up her usual seat in the chair opposite him, his oversized mahogany desk stretched out between them. “It’s out of my area of expertise. Besides, there must be hundreds of people who’d kill for the chance to get their hands on this deal. I appreciate the offer, really I do. But I think we both know I'm not the right person for this.”

Rose’s speech was sounding rehearsed, which was probably because she’d been repeating the same phrases over and over in her head for the past twelve hours. She’d had to read Heart’s note through several times before finally being able to identify the name Viktor Krum. Not being a big fan of sport, Rose hadn’t immediately made the link between the name and the old gossip about a once-famous Quidditch player who'd fallen out of favor with his fans before disappearing from the public eye. What little she did know about him came from brief glances at the tawdry headlines that had littered the front pages of the wizarding tabloids her female cohorts at school had been so fond of reading.

The more she thought about it – mulling it over as she lay in bed the previous night – the more Rose became convinced she was absolutely the wrong person to write a book about Viktor Krum. She knew almost nothing about sport, and even less about the man himself. Surely Heart would do well to find another author.

“Well, you’re right about one thing,” Heart said. “I can think of about a dozen people in this building alone who’d give their first born for this opportunity. The question is, my dear, why in the hell aren’t you one of them?”

Rose wasn’t sure how to answer Heart. She supposed it was rather unusual – a young writer without much experience turning down the chance to put her name on something that had the potential to make them both a lot of money. Besides, how hard could writing a biography be? At least that was Heart's argument. She wouldn’t really be responsible for providing any of the content for the book. All she would have to do is listen to Krum’s story, polish it up enough to make it presentable for publishing, and walk away – her bank account all the fatter for it. Surely even she, still deep in the throes of some serious writer's block, could cobble together something.

Rose should be jumping at the chance, begging Heart to let her have a go. Instead, she was begging him to find someone else.

“It’s not that I don’t want to do it,” she said. “But what do I know about Quidditch? Or Krum, for that matter? He was before my time. Why not give it to Hemsley? You liked his last manuscript well enough to order a ten thousand first-run printing. And he’s a nutter for sport.”

Heart waved away the suggestion. “No good. Hemsley’s already started his next project. Besides, he’s not qualified for something like this.”

“Marcus then. He spent half his career as a sports reporter. You don’t get much more qualified than that.”

“Marcus is a bloody todger. Besides,” Heart said, leaning forward, his hands clasped together and resting on his desk. “I don’t want a sports reporter. We’re talking about a biography here, not a column for The Daily Prophet. What I want is you.”

“But why?" Rose honestly couldn’t fathom Heart’s insistence on the matter.

“Because I don’t want to publish a book about goddamn sports. I want to publish a book with some depth. Do you understand me?” Rose shook her head, and Heart ran an exasperated hand through his thinning hair. Rose noticed for the first time that morning that the man wasn’t wearing his wedding ring. “What did I tell you when I first hired you? Do you remember what I said?”

Rose thought for a minute. “Don’t be late, and don’t ask for overtime pay?”

“No, no! What I said about your writing. Dammit, girl, don’t be thick.”

Rose thought about it for another second, recalling the first meeting they’d had in this very office one year before. “You said my writing had...heart.”

“Exactly,” he said, pointing a pudgy finger at her. “What I’ve got here is some deadbeat has-been who wants to try and make a quick Knut off a name that used to be worth something. Bloody brilliant,” he said with a role of his eyes. “Now don’t get me wrong. People will eat this shit up and that’s why I made the deal. The public will pay anything to peek under the sheets of the rich and famous – or the formerly rich and famous, as the case may be. But you know what would sell even better? Better than a book about a man who pissed away his good fortune and now wants to be pitied for it?"

Rose shook her head again.

“A story with some heart. Make people root for this guy again. Make them think there’s still some of their precious Quidditch hero left inside him after all these years. Now you’ve got a book people can feel good about reading. Oh, look at Krum, they’ll say. He’s just like me. Made some mistakes but is picking himself up and carrying on. Now there’s a bloke I’d like to read about. Blah, blah, blah. And if they get to hear all the scandalous details along the way, so much the better. But suddenly I’ve got a book that’s gone from guilty pleasure to bestseller. Now do you understand?”

Rose did understand – or at least she was starting to. Heart was asking her to spin the tales of a washed-up celebrity into something that was palatable enough to read around the dinner table. This would, Heart hoped, make the book suitable for a wider market, and the bigger the potential audience, the bigger the potential revenue.

From a business standpoint, it made perfect sense. And though Rose still wasn’t convinced she was the right person for the job, this added twist peaked her curiosity.

“Is there?” she asked Heart after a long pause.

“Is there what?”

“Anything left in him. Is there any of that Quidditch star still in there?”

Heart shrugged. “Hell if I know. Never met the bastard. But it doesn’t matter if there is or not. It only matters if people think there is. And you are just the type of person who can convince them to care.”

“That doesn’t seem very honest—”

“Who said anything about honesty? I’m talking about product and profit. We give the public a product they’ll love and we all get a slice of the profit.”

Rose leaned back in her chair. She had unconsciously begun to pull at a small piece of thread that had come loose from the hem of her skirt. What Heart was suggesting didn’t sit well with her.

“Look,” he said, standing up and walking around the desk to seat himself in the chair next to hers. “Maybe there is something good inside this guy. And maybe you’ll be doing us all a favor – him included – by getting his story out there. I’m not asking you to lie. I’m just asking you to put a little bit of yourself in the book. Soften the edges. There’s enough goody two-shoes in you to make up for whatever he’s lacking, I’m sure.”

Rose couldn’t help but smile at that. Flattery wasn’t Heart’s strong suit. If he were better at it, she thought, glancing down at his naked ring finer, perhaps he wouldn’t be in so much trouble with his wife.

“So, what do you say, Rose? Are you up for it?”

Rose hesitated. She could feel her resolve beginning to fade, knowing she’d regret saying yes the minute she left his office. But Rose also knew that by hell or high water, Joseph Heart would get his way in the end.

"I'll...think it over,” she said at last.

Heart leapt from his chair – no easy feat for a man his size. “Great. That’s fan-fucking-tastic.

Rose stood up too, though with much less enthusiasm. She could already feel the weight of decision pressing down on her.

She stared at her boss, but he had already turned his back on her, now busy rifling through the mountain of papers on his desk. It was clear their meeting was over and Rose was being dismissed. Without another word, she turned around and headed for the door. Just as she was about to close it behind her, she heard Heart call out.

“Oh, Rose?” She poked her head back into the office. “Think it over fast, will you? He’ll be here to meet with you at four o’clock sharp.”






The headquarters for Fletcher and Sons Publishing House occupied the fourth floor of a five-story building located in London’s West End. The area was home to some of the city’s best shopping, and as a result, the streets below were always crowded with bargain hunters and tourists, all jostling their way on and off the buses or the Tube, arms laden with shopping bags and brightly colored packages.

Despite the fact that the ground floor was currently occupied by a department store that specialized in outdoor sporting goods, the offices of Fletcher and Sons were quiet - tomblike at times. The sturdy brick façade and thick paned windows (not to mention a touch of magic) meant that none of the constant drone that defined city living made its way up to the fourth floor. And certainly none of it could be heard in Rose’s office.

Rose had been assigned to the smallest room, tucked in the farthest corner of the building. Judging by its size and the faint yet ever-present smell of bleach, she was sure the space must have once served as storage room for office supplies and cleaning products. The room did, at least, have a window, but it was situated just below where the wall met the ceiling, meaning it was too high to see out of. But on a clear day, it let in just enough sunlight to illuminate the room and convince Rose she hadn’t been relegated to working in a glorified broom closet.

Most people would consider the space gloomy, if not downright depressing, but Rose found that it more than suited her needs. She’d been able to set up a desk against one wall and a filing cabinet against the other. Just like in her tiny flat, Rose made do with the little space she’d been given. She'd even carved out a spot to set up the coffeemaker her mother had given her on her first day of work.

“Don’t make your coffee with magic,” her mother was fond of telling anyone who would listen. “There are just some things wizards will never do as good as muggles, and making coffee is one of them.”

Still, as much as Rose liked her makeshift office, it wasn’t an ideal spot for holding important meetings. She didn’t even have the floor space for a visitor’s chair. So unless she planned to conduct her business with one of them standing in the doorway, Rose was going to have to find somewhere else to meet with Krum.

She settled on the main conference room, located in the center of the office suites. It was surrounded on all sides by walls made of thick glass. Even the doors leading in and out were glass. Being inside was a bit like being trapped in a fishbowl, but it was the only communal space on the entire floor aside from the kitchen and the bathrooms. And somehow Rose couldn’t imagine Viktor Krum being up for a chat in the loo.

At ten minutes to four, Rose gathered up her pen and a fresh notepad and headed towards the conference room. She was planning to arrive early so she could be waiting when Krum arrived. She was none to happy, therefore, to turn the corner and catch sight of someone already seated at the long conference table set up in the center of the room. The man was sitting with his back to Rose, sorting though several documents that were peeking out from the top of his briefcase. As she pulled open the door, the man spun round to face her.

Rose wasn’t sure she could have picked Viktor Krum out of a crowd. She had only ever seen a few pictures of him and that had been years ago. Even so, Rose was absolutely sure the man sitting at the table was not Viktor Krum.

First, he was much too young: thirty-five maybe, with pale blonde hair and clear blue eyes. Krum, she knew, had to be in his fifties by now, had a much darker complexion, and was certainly much taller. The man sitting before her was far too short and scrawny to have ever played professional Quidditch.

“Oh, sorry,” Rose said, pausing in the doorway. “I didn’t realize anyone else booked the conference room this afternoon.”

She took a step back as if to leave but the man stood up, reaching out a hand in greeting. “Ms. Weasley, I presume?”

His tone was relaxed and she accepted his hand out of politeness, giving it a brief shake. “Do I know you?”

“No," she said. "Well, not yet anyway.” He let go of her hand and adjusted his tie. “I’m Mr. Brooks. Peter, if you prefer. May I call you Rose?” Rose stared at the man, and when it was clear his name wasn’t ringing any bells with her, he added, “I’m Mr. Krums’ lawyer. You were told I was coming, weren’t you?"

“Mr. Krum’s lawyer?"

"Yes, that's right."

"I see...” Rose did her her best to hide her surprise. Never having collaborated on a book before, she wasn’t sure what was considered standard protocol for these sorts of meetings. Nonetheless, she found the man’s presence unsettling. It seemed awfully early in the process to be getting lawyers involved. She hadn’t even formally agreed to take on the project yet. “And where’s Mr. Krum?” Rose found herself looking around the room as though expecting to see him ducked behind one of the large swivel chairs or else crouched beneath the table like a child playing hide-and-seek.

The man made a noise that sounded like a cross between a cough and a laugh. “Well, that’s putting the cart before the horse, don’t you think?”

Rose didn’t like the way the man seemed to end every sentence with a question, though she found she had quite a few questions of her own. “I don’t understand. Is Mr. Krum joining us or not?”

“Seeing as he doesn’t know anything about the book, I’d say not. But we’re both here, so shall we get down to business?”

“Wait a minute,” Rose said, putting up a hand. “Did you just say Mr. Krum doesn’t know about the book?”

Now it was Brooks’ turn to look confused. “Didn’t Mr. Heart tell you...?”

“Tell me what exactly, Mr...?”

“Brooks," he reminded her. "But please, call me Peter.”

“Alright, Peter. I don’t understand. If Mr. Krum doesn’t know about the book, then why exactly are you here?”

“To square everything up, of course. Get all the papers signed. Confidentiality agreements and all that. I assumed you were aware of Mr. Krum’s situation. When I spoke to Mr. Heart a few days ago, he said you were very open to the idea and –” Brooks stopped. The look on Rose’s face must have told him he might as well have been speaking mermish for all the sense he was making. “...and you don’t what I’m talking about, do you?”

Rose didn’t know what he was talking about, but she was starting to get an idea. His mention of having spoken with Heart a few days ago hadn’t slipped her notice. Funny how Heart had forgot to mention that little fact in their meeting that morning. “I’m afraid, Mr. Brooks, I don’t. It appears we’ve both been misinformed."

“Well, you are Rose Weasley, aren’t you? The author?”

“Yes, I’m Rose Weasley. I mean, I don’t know so much about the author part but —”

“You mean you’re not a writer? Heart promised me a real writer.”

“I am a real writer!” Rose hadn’t meant to shout at the man, but this whole situation was trying her patience. Just what exactly had Heart gotten her into?

“Look,” Brooks said, stepping back and gesturing towards the table. “Why don’t we have a seat? Clearly we’re not on the same page here, if you’ll pardon the pun. Maybe we can start over and bring each other up to speed on what’s going on.”

The man’s tone had taken on a condescending air, and Rose wasn’t in the mood for a heart-to-heart. What she really wanted was to find her boss and give him a good kick in the pants. Still, she couldn’t think of a way to extricate herself from the situation without looking like a complete idiot. Brooks already knew she was there to attend a meeting. It wasn’t like she could pretend she suddenly had somewhere better to be.

Rose drew in a long, steadying breath before accepting the seat she’d been offered. “Okay, Mr. Brooks. You start first. Tell me, what exactly do you mean by Krum’s situation?"

“Well, Ms. Weasley,” he said, a faint smile tugged at the corners of his lips. “I hope you don’t have any dinner plans because this could take awhile...”


Chapter 5: Chapter Five: Viktor Krum
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Viktor Krum: Over The Edge

By Rose Weasley

An Excerpt From Chapter Four

To the casual observer, Viktor Krum seemed to be living a fantasy, filled with all the extravagance money could buy. But on the inside, things were beginning to fall apart. The lingering pain from his career-ending injury continued to plague him, and like so many before him, Vikor began to self-medicate. Alcohol was his drug of choice, but there were days when it just wasn’t strong enough to dull the pain. Soon he was seeking out more potent substances, which opened him up to an entirely new way of life. His party-loving friends were soon replaced with even more unscrupulous characters. Some were his suppliers, keeping him doped up and suggestible. The rest were an assortment of enablers just hoping to cash in before the well ran dry...






Chapter Five: Viktor Krum

Krum’s situation, as it had been explained to Rose, was this: The man was broke. Virtually indigent, at least according to Brooks. Whatever fortune the former sports legend may have amassed over the years was now gone. What was even worse, his lawyer warned, was that if Krum didn’t find a new source of revenue soon, he’d lose what few belongings he still had that hadn’t yet been repossessed by the bank.

And so, in an effort to help ease his client’s financial woes, Brooks had come up with the brilliant idea of selling off Krum’s life story to the highest bidder. A quick exchange of personal information for cold hard cash. He’d even managed to line up a few interested parties, mostly of the tabloid variety – the kind of papers that were always lurking nearby, waiting to sink their teeth into the latest scandal. The plan would have worked too, if only Krum hadn’t refused to go though with it. In fact, he’d gone so far as to threaten to fire Brooks if the man ever so much as suggested anything like it again.

“But if Krum’s so opposed to a few silly newspaper articles," Rose said, "what makes you think he’ll ever agree to let Heart publish an entire book about him?”

The two were still seated at the conference table, and based on the steady stream of Fletcher and Son's employees she’d seen filing past on their way towards the lifts, Rose knew it must be well past quitting time. And the fact that most of them were sporting umbrellas and raincoats didn't bode well for her walk home. Still, Rose was determined to hear Brooks out, if for no other reason than to gather ammunition for her inevitable confrontation with Heart.

“The thing you have to understand about Krum,” Brooks said, “is that he’s a very proud individual. And also a very private one. In the end, I just don’t think he could allow himself to be –”

“Exploited?”

A look of annoyance flashed across Brooks’ face. “I was going to say exposed, but call it what you like. The fact of the matter is, the man doesn’t have a lot of options left. His days of playing sport are long over. He’s fallen too far out of favor with the public to bring in any endorsement or sponsorship deals. And it’s not like he’s got a host of other marketable skills to fall back on. The only thing he was ever really good at was playing Quidditch. Without that, what has he got to offer? Frankly, it’s this or nothing.”

Brooks grabbed one of the empty glasses lined up along the center of the table. The instant he touched it, water began to fill the cup as is being poured from an invisible pitcher. He took several large gulps before turning his attention back to Rose.

“You think I’m being cold, don’t you? Talking about Krum this way?”

“No,” Rose said, though in truth, the thought had crossed her mind. “I was actually wondering why you’re going through all this trouble for him. I’m no expert but lawyers don’t usually go out looking to find their clients jobs, do they? Plus, if he’s as broke as you say, how is it that he can afford to retain your services? Wouldn’t it be simpler for you to just drop him and focus on your other clients?”

Brooks let out a snort. “Now who’s being cold?”

“It’s not a matter of being cold, Mr. Brooks. It’s a matter of being practical. If working for Joseph Heart has taught me anything, it's to always be practical when doing business. So tell me, really. What’s in this for you?”

Brooks took another swallow of his drink before setting it back down on the table. “I like you, Rose. Heart was right. You are a sharp one.”

Rose ignored the remark. At the moment, she was too mad at Heart to give a damn what he thought about her.

“You want to know the truth?” Brooks asked, leaning back in his chair. Rose nodded. “Okay, here’s the truth. I don’t have any other clients. At least not at the moment. Krum’s it. The only one.”

“I see...” Rose was doing her best to keep her tone neutral, but her suspicions regarding Peter Brooks were mounting quickly. “And why is that?”

“Because...” he started, but then paused, as if bracing himself for what he was about to say. “Because he’s my father.”

"What?" Rose didn’t know what she had been expecting to come of the man’s mouth, but it certainly wasn’t that. “Krum’s your father?”

“Well, stepfather, actually. Former stepfather, if you really want to get technical. He married my mother when I was three. She was his first wife. He was her second husband. They were only together for a couple of years, but he was always good to her. And to me, even after they split.”

“So this is what - your way of repaying him? A debt of gratitude? Trying to get your father to sell out to the highest bidder – having him humiliated in the papers – that seems an awfully funny way of saying thank you.”

Rose knew she was being harsh. She didn’t know this man, or his true motives. But she couldn’t help herself. Something about Brooks just rubbed her the wrong way. Not to mention her growing annoyance with Heart. He had to have known about this. What was he thinking getting them mixed up in some old family drama? That wasn’t like him at all.

“I wasn’t trying to humiliate him,” Brooks said. “I was trying to help him. I still am. But I’m not a miracle worker. The man is stubborn as hell, and I’m doing my best here. It’s either this or he ends up on the streets. So what would you have me do? What would you do?”

Brooks’ arrogance and professionalism were starting to slip away. He was no longer just a lawyer looking to cut a deal for his client. He was a man trying to help someone who had once shown him and his mother a little kindness.

“Look,” Rose said, trying to steer the conversation back into neutral territory. “I can appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I don’t see how this is going to work. You still haven’t explained how you plan to convince Mr. Krum to go along with any of this. I mean, I assume you’re planning to tell him about it at some point.”

“Of course! I mean, I wouldn’t move ahead with any of it unless he was fully on board.”

“And yet here you are...”

“This is different. I only came here to set up the ground rules. Like I said, Krum’s a very private man. He won’t agree to anything unless he knows certain details are off limits.”

“What sort of details?”

Brooks hesitated. “I’d...rather not say. I’ll let him explain that, if and when the need arises.”

“Al lright,” Rose said, letting that matter drop for the time being. “Say I sign your papers – promise to avoid any topics he’s uncomfortable with. Do you really think that’s enough to convince him to move forward with the book?”

Brooks didn’t answer right away. After a brief crack in his façade, his lawyering instincts were kicking back into high gear and he seemed to be considering his next move. “No. No, I don't think it will be enough. But I do know something that might do the trick.”

“And that would be what, exactly?”

“You.”

"Me?" Rose asked, unable to keep the skepticism out of her voice “What in the world can I do? I’ve never even met the man.”

“Exactly.” Brooks leaned forward, his hands resting on his knees. His tie had worked itself loose from its clip and it swayed as he spoke. “Anything I suggest to him he’ll reject straight away. I pushed my luck too far already. I don’t doubt he’s serious when he says he’ll fire me if I bring anything like this up again, step-son or not. Mind you, not that I’m getting paid for my troubles. But if you were to suggest it, he might be willing to at least hear you out.”

“But why me?” Rose suddenly felt like she was reliving her early conversation with Heart. Here she was once again asking why she was so essential to this ridiculous plan. What was it about her that made people think she was capable of things that were clearly beyond her abilities?

“Because you’re a writer. A real one... or at least that’s what you shouted at me when we started this meeting. Think of it this way. Imagine you’ve been told some sleazy magazine wants to cash in on your past mistakes. You might take offense to that. Krum sure did. Now, what if instead you were told that some pretty little author was interested in writing a book about you. One that lets you tell your story to the world on your own terms. Well, that doesn’t sound nearly so tawdry, now does it?”

“Pretty little author?” Rose repeated. “Now that’s offensive.”

“It’s not meant to be, honestly. Though I won’t lie, the fact that you’re easy on the eyes certainly doesn’t hurt matters. It’s just that you're...not threatening. You’ve got the kind of face people can trust. Added to that the fact that you’ve been published, and not just in some crummy tabloid... Who knows, Krum might even be flattered you asked.”

Her "pretty face" aside, Rose knew this man was delusional if he thought for even a second that she would be able to convince Krum to let her write a book about him. Persuading people to do things they didn’t want to do was Heart’s specialty, not hers. Besides, just how exactly was she supposed to convince Krum to go along with this whole book idea when she wasn’t sold on it herself?

Rose was just about to point all of this out to Brooks when he held up a hand, silencing her objections before she had a chance to voice them.

“I know this is a lot to ask, but I’m desperate here. Please, just...” He stopped, reaching into the breast pocket of his suit and pulling out a folded piece of paper. He scribbled something on it before folding it back up and handing it to Rose. “That’s the address for a local pub Krum likes to frequent. The owner’s an old friend of his. He’s there most nights until closing. Always sits in a little booth in the back, away from the others. Just go and meet with him. You don’t even have to mention the book. Just see if you can stand the man. If you can’t, we’ll drop the whole thing. Pretend like I was never here. If, on the other hand, you hit it off... Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

So there she was once again, being strong-armed into a plan she knew was a bad idea. Why did no one believe her when she said this book deal wasn’t going to work? It had seemed a rotten fit when Rose thought the idea had been Krum’s. She wasn’t any fonder of it knowing he wasn’t even aware of her existence. Rose supposed she could say no, refuse to meet with the man, but her gut told her it would be a waste of breath. Heart would find a way of reeling her back in, one way or another.

Rose looked down at the scrap of paper. The addressed wasn’t one she recognized. “All right,” she said. "One meeting. But that’s all I’m agreeing to.”

“Of course,” Brooks said, “That’s great. Just great.”

Yeah, great, Rose thought to herself. Fan-fucking-tastic.








As soon as Brooks was gone, Rose gathered up her things and marched off towards Heart’s office. She was all set to give the man a good telling off, but it seemed she'd missed her chance. Heart had already left for the day, his door locked up tight, no lights visible through the frosted glass. She knocked anyways, just on the off chance that he might still be inside, but she was greeted with only silence.

Rose sighed, weighing her options. She could plant herself outside his door, waiting there until he returned. That way, at least, she’d be sure he wouldn’t give her the slip. He’d have to come back sometime that evening. Of course, that was assuming he hadn’t managed to patch things up with his wife and been allowed to return home. In that case, as it was Friday, Rose would be forced to spend the entire weekend at the office - not exactly an appealing prospect.

So she scratched the idea, resigning herself to the fact that she would just have to wait until Monday to speak with him. Perhaps it was for the best. Confronting Heart while she was this upset probably wasn’t the smartest idea. His affection for her meant he cut her a lot of slack, but he was still her boss, and yelling him wouldn’t be the wisest of career moves. Besides, if she waited to talk with Heart until after she'd met with Krum, she would be able to tell her boss that she’d done everything she could but that the whole book deal just wasn’t going to happen. There was no doubt in her mind that Krum would shoot the idea down just as fast as he’d done with the tabloid tell-all. But if she went through with the meeting, spoke with Krum face-to-face, she could at least tell Heart that she'd honestly tried but he'd turned her down. Without Krum, there was no book. And with no book, there was no need for an author. Once Krum official refused to participate, Rose would be off the hook.

At least that’s what Rose told herself as she prepared to head home, stopping by her office on the way to collect her usual pile of unread manuscripts – which was growing out of control thanks to all the recent meetings and last night’s unexpected visit from Al.

She spotted it as soon as she arrived home: the small note taped to her front door.

Rosie,

I stopped by on my way home from work but I guess I missed you. Your mum wanted me to invite you over for supper tomorrow. Hugo’s finished his first round of training and she’s putting together a bit of a celebration dinner for him. Nothing fancy, but you know how she can be.

Dad

Hugo, Rose's younger brother, was studying to be a Healer. He’d already completed the necessary two years of post-Hogwarts schooling, and now it seemed he’d finished the first of the three rounds of specialized training necessary to qualify as a full-fledged Healer. Rose knew each round of training took about six months; she couldn't believe so much time had passed since Hugo had started his work at St. Mungo’s.

St. Mungo’s hadn’t been his first choice when it came to his residency. Hugo had hoped to go abroad, to study at one of the wizarding hospitals in America. Rose was pretty sure this had more to do with a certain blonde-haired American he’d met while at school than because of some desire to travel the world. Still, he’d been devastated when his application was denied and he’d been forced to stay behind in London. Not that there was anything wrong with St. Mungo’s. It had a fine set of programs for Healers of all specialties, or so Rose had been told. Plus, staying in the country meant Hugo could go on living at home free of charge. Being a Healer-in-training was one of the few jobs that seemed to pay less than her own, so a bit of free room and board courtesy of Mum and Dad could go a long way.

With the exception of Al, Rose hadn’t seem much of her family during recent months. She was just so busy. They all were. Hugo with his training, she with her job. Both of her parents still worked too. Her father had been with the Auror Department since before she was born, and her mother had recently accepted a top position at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. That had caused a bit of tension once her father figured out that her new job title meant his wife would also now technically be his boss. But he’d gotten over it once he realized she wouldn’t actually be in charge of telling him what to do.

“I get enough of that at home,” he’d said to Rose when he thought her mother wasn’t listening.

Rose glanced back down at the note still clutched in her hand.

Knowing her mother, 'coming over for supper' meant that Rose would be expected to arrive by noon and not leave again until after tea on Sunday. This wouldn’t normally be a problem. Aside from the extra work she brought home with her from the office, Rose’s weekends were pretty open. But if she was going to spend most of Saturday and Sunday with her family, that would mean that if she wanted to meet with Krum before talking to Heart on Monday, she was going to have to go see the man tonight.

Rose's stomach dropped. Promising Brooks she would meet with Krum at some unspecified date and time was one thing. Going out to see him that very night was another thing altogether.

Rose glanced over at the clock. It was already after seven. If she was going to go, she needed to leave soon. It was bad enough she’d be meeting the man at a pub on a Friday evening like it was some sort of date. There was no way she was staying out with him past ten. Rose knew a lot of otherwise perfectly decent bars that could get very dicey that time of night, especially for a woman out alone. Plus, staying out with a strange man until the wee hours of the morning could give off the wrong impression. This was, after all, supposed to be a business meeting.

What Rose really needed at that moment was a glass wine to calm her nerves. But as she hadn’t yet had the chance to replace the bottle Al had finished off the night before, she was forced to settle for a glass of water, which she filled at the kitchen sink and carried with her into the bathroom.

Lucky for Rose, she wasn’t one of those women who needed a lot of time in front of the mirror before leaving the house, and as there wasn’t a lot of variety in her wardrobe, selecting an outfit didn’t take long either. In no time at all, Rose was primped, dressed and out the door.

Finding the pub turned out to be easier than she expected. Within ten minutes of leaving her flat, she was standing in front of an old four-story brick building tucked into a narrow side street set off from the main road. Above one of the doors hung an iron sign coated in peeling paint that marked the entrance to The Olde Friar’s Pub.

The door was flanked on either side by windows that were so pitted and cracked, looking through them was like looking through a kaleidoscope, only without all the pretty colors. There was a menu board resting against the wall to the right, but whatever was written there was now too faded to read. Clearly the owners weren’t using it to draw in the dinner crowd.

Her first impressions of the place weren’t great, and as Rose reached out for the doorknob, she braced herself for she might find waiting on the other side.

The inside of pub wasn't all that much better than the outside. At one time, it might have been a respectable gathering spot for London’s more wealthy gentlemen. At least the dark oak paneled walls, oversized marble fireplace, and arched windows along the back seemed to suggest some measure of wealth. But that was perhaps more than a century ago by now. These days, the pub was poorly lit, crammed too full of wobbly looking tables and stools, and the smell that permeated the air was an unpleasant mix of stale beer and day old sausage.

To Rose’s surprise, the place was packed, though the caliber of the cliental left something to be desired. Most of the patrons were older and looked like the sort who started drinking at noon and didn’t stop again until closing time. The only exception was a small group of university students seated near the door. They seemed to be celebrating something: a cricket victory perhaps, or the end of the school term.

A single bar took up the majority of the front room. It was situated along the far wall opposite the door, and accented by a large mirror encased in a tarnished gold frame. The counter, complete with brew taps, stood about four feet tall and was lined with bar stools, most of which were occupied. The shelves behind the counter were stocked with the usual assortment of mismatched bottles, a few of them hung upside-down, the rest packed in tight along dusty shelves.

There was a second room, separated from the first by an arched walkway. It was even darker back there then in the main bar, and as soon as she caught sight of it, Rose knew it was where Krum would be. Tucked away in the corner, set off from the other patrons, just like Brooks said.

Rose debated heading straight over. From her position just inside the door, she couldn’t see who else might be back there. She didn’t even know for sure if Krum was there that evening. She decided instead to head to the bar. She was still in desperate need of that glass of wine.

There was a single bartender on duty – an older gentlemen in his seventies. Rose wondered if this was the owner Brooks had mentioned. He moved with the sort of languid pace that suggested he’d been serving drinks for longer than Rose had been alive.

“Chardonnay, please,” she said when he'd made his way over to her.

The man made no reply, turning his back on Rose only to reappear several minutes later, glass in hand. He set the drink on the counter, pushing it towards her.

“Thanks,” Rose muttered, picking up the glass, not all that surprised to find that the stem was sticky to the touch. The wine itself was bitter but oddly refreshing - certainly no worse than the cheap stuff she was forced to drink at home.

Glass in hand, Rose placed a few coins on the bar before turning around and scanning the room. There were several empty seats but no empty tables. Unless she wanted to stand while she sipped her drink, she was going to have to either make friends with one of these strangers or head to the back and see if she could find Krum.

She hadn’t taken more than three steps towards the archway when she felt someone close in behind her. Before she had the chance to turn around, the person leaned in and a husky voice whispered something in her ear.

“If you aren’t a Veasley, I’ll eat my vand and buy this whole place another round of drinks.”

She spun to face the stranger.

As it turned out, Rose could pick Viktor Krum out of a crowd. Only there wasn’t any need.

He was standing right in front of her.


Chapter 6: Chapter Six: Viktor Krum, Part II
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Viktor Krum: Over The Edge

By Rose Weasley

An Excerpt From Chapter Five

...The drugs he took not only made him stupid, they also made him mean. On more than one occasion things turned violent and that, it seemed, was the end of the line for most of his inner circle. His agent dropped him, his second wife divorced him, and the last of his friends – if he ever had any – abandoned him. Viktor Krum had done the once unthinkable. He’d gone from illustrious Quidditch star and infamous party-boy to detestable has-been, and finally, forgettable nobody. His once celebrated name was relegated to little more than a footnote in the annals of Quidditch history. Viktor Krum had faded into oblivion...





Chapter Six: Viktor Krum, Part II

The scent of him registered first: a heady mix of white musk, cedar and cigarette smoke. It reminded Rose of being outdoors, lost deep in the woods while a campfire smoldered somewhere nearby.

The next thing she noticed was his size. Rose wasn’t short, having inherited her father’s tall, lanky frame – something that left her feeling awkward and boyish for most of her childhood, but which she’d grown to appreciate once she realized that unlike most women, she could eat just about anything she pleased and still almost always fasten the top button of her jeans. Still, Krum towered over her, to the point where she was forced to crane her neck just to look him in the eye. And it wasn’t just his height. He was wide too, with broad shoulders, thick legs and muscular forearms – one of which was covered in a large tattoo that snaked up the length of his arm before disappearing beneath the sleeve of his dark collared shirt. Despite the time that had passed since he’d last played professional sport, Krum managed to retain the look of an athlete, albeit one that had softened a bit with age and neglect.

His face was much like she remembered it from the tabloids. Coal-black eyes lined with dark lashes, all set beneath thick, misshapen brows. His nose was long and crooked, probably having been broken and reset at least twice over the years. His black hair – now flecked with grey – was cut short, a day’s growth of matching beard visible along his jaw. The only thing about him that seemed entirely unfamiliar was the collection of deep wrinkles etched across his forehead and gathered at the corners of his eyes. They didn’t make him look old so much as experienced – as if telling the world this face belonged to a man who had seen and done a lot during his lifetime.

The overall effect, while not exactly handsome, was nonetheless striking. It was easy for Rose to imagine a time when women might have been lined up outside his door, vying to be the next notch on his bedpost. And while there was still an air of confidence in the way he held himself – a glint in his eye that warned other men they'd do well to keep a close watch on their girlfriends and wives – it wasn’t quite enough to mask the sense of weariness that seemed to lie just below the surface.

Krum was staring at Rose, examining her with the same intensity she'd been focusing on him. He was waiting for her to say something. Rose opened her mouth but no sound came out. She was at a loss for words – not a desirable quality for a writer.

Lucky for her, a local football club – the members sporting matching jerseys and covered from head-to-toe in mud – chose that moment to come bursting through the front door, shouting at one another as they shoved their way into the pub. The place was already crowded, but the new arrivals seemed to fill the small space past its breaking point. What had seconds ago been quaint and intimate now felt downright claustrophobic. Not to mention the noise. Between the scrapping of the table legs as they were dragged across the stone floor in an effort to clear away some space, and all the sudden cries for “more chips and beer!” Rose could hardly hear herself think, let alone speak.

“Come on,” Viktor said, placing a hand on the small of her back and giving her a gentle nudge.

Rose allowed herself to be steered out of the main bar and into the adjoining room. As soon as she passed beneath the archway that separated the two spaces, the noise level dropped off sharply, the men's shouts now little more than a distant hum, like bees under water.

The room itself was smaller than she’d expected, just large enough to accommodate the single booth that had been set up in one corner. Unlike in the main bar, the walls here weren’t covered in wood paneling. They, like the archway, were made of brick. Between that, the two old kerosene lanterns that hung from nails on either side of the table, and the noticeable chill in the air, Rose felt like she had stepped out of the pub and straight into an wine cellar, like the kind found in the basements of old manor homes.

Viktor followed Rose into the tiny room, taking what she guessed was his usual seat at the table. There was a half-empty glass already waiting there for him. She watched as he picked it up, swirling the contents around several times before taking a sip.

Though aware that he hadn't actually asked her to join him, Rose took the seat opposite Krum, doing her best to keep her dress from riding up her legs as she scooted across the upholstered bench. He offered no objection to her company, saying only, "You might as vell drink up. It von't be any better once it's lost its chill."

Rose looked down at the glass still clutched in her hand. She’d almost forgotten she was holding it. Heeding his advice, she took a small sip before setting the glass down on the table next to his. He was right. The wine was already starting to grow stale.

Sitting across from her, leaned back in his seat, one arm now draped over the top of the booth, Viktor Krum looked totally relaxed and completely at ease. In other words, the exact opposite of everything Rose was feeling at that moment. While she’d hoped to get things over and done with as soon as possible – returning home in time to meet her self-imposed ten o’clock curfew – now that she was there meeting with Krum face-to-face, Rose felt tongue-tied.

Krum wasn’t at all what she’d expected, not after everything Brooks had told her. Smartly dressed and well-groomed, Krum didn’t look like a man down on his luck. And for some reason, this disturbed Rose. The man was on the verge of being kicked out of his home, left penniless on the street. Yet there he sat, looking all dapper and self-assured. If it was so easy for him to conceal his financial troubles from the world, what else was the man capable of hiding?

"You still haven’t told me,” Krum said, giving Rose another once-over. “Am I right, or do I owe everyone out there a round of drinks?"

As he spoke, Rose detected the faintest remains of an accent. She couldn't remember now where he was from. Romania, maybe. Or was it Bulgaria? He'd been the topic of local gossip for so long, Rose had all but forgotten the man wasn't actually from England. He'd played for one of the local Quidditch teams at some point late in his career, but she couldn't for the life of her remember which one.

Unable to think of any good reason to lie about her identity, Rose said, "Your money is safe for now. And so is your wand. But how did you know who I was?"

Krum reached out a hand and tugged on a strand of hair that had fallen loose from its knot and now lay against her cheek. "Fortunately for you, you seemed to have inherited the rest of your looks from your mother."

Rose wasn't sure whether this was meant as a compliment to her mother or an insult to her father. Either way, she hadn’t a clue how Krum knew what her parents looked like. She remembered someone once mentioning how her Uncle Harry had met Krum while they were both still at school, but it never occurred to Rose that Krum might have met her parents at the same time. Of course, that would have been decades ago. More likely, Krum was recalling what he had seen and read in the papers. Her family was known to make an appearance in The Prophet every now and again, despite their best efforts to avoid it. That was, after all, how she'd recognized Krum.

"And do you have a first name, Ms. Veasley?" Krum asked her. "Or vill I be forced to spend the rest of the evening calling you...Ginger?”

Krum smiled but she didn’t return the gesture. Rose despised nicknames, especially those involving the color of her hair. Rose-red. Cherry Top. Rubylocks. Rose had heard them all and hated each one of them more than the last.

"Of course I have a name. Everyone has a name."

Krum smiled again. "And are you going to tell it to me, or must I guess? Though guessing could be fun..."

He was teasing her, trying to get a rise, but Rose could feel the wine starting to kick in, steadying her nerves and leaving her in a more forgiving mood. "It’s Rose. My name is Rose.”

"Rose." He repeated the word, letting the sound role slowly off his tongue as though the letters were unfamiliar to him. It was unusual and just a tiny bit unsettling to hear her own name echoed back in such a manner.

"Yes, Rose," she said, pronouncing it as normally as she could. "Just Rose.”

“Vell, just Rose, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Krum picked up his drink, tapping it against her own glass as if someone had just given a toast.

"I don't suppose there's any need to ask you your name, is there, Mr. Krum?"

Krum raised his glass to his lips, downing the remaining contents in a single gulp before setting the glass back on the table. “Mr. Krum,” he repeated, sounding amused. “How very proper of you. I bet it vas your mother who taught you to always respect your elders.”

And there it was again. That teasing tone of his. If Rose didn’t know better, she’d think the man was flirting with her.

“But no,” he continued, “I von't deny it. Though I must admit, it's not often I'm recognized in here. Not many of our kind in a place like this."

Rose looked around, realizing at once what he meant. Other than the unnatural silence that enveloped their small corner of the pub, everything else about the place was entirely non-magical. No floating candles. No self-sweeping brooms. No drinks that refilled themselves without the help of the bartender. This was a muggle pub. Viktor Krum, it seemed, preferred to spend his evenings enjoying the type of anonymity only a non-wizarding establishment could provide him. Rose didn't know why she found this so surprising. Brooks warned her Krum was a private man. What better place for an ex-Quidditch star to hide than a pub where no one would believe such a sport was even possible?

"No, I don't suppose you would," she agreed.

"Then it's quite the turn of fortune that ve found each other, vouldn't you say, Rose? Almost unbelievable..."

He flashed her another coy smile, but the skepticism in his voice didn’t escape her notice. There was something in the way he looked at her that told Rose he didn't for one second believe their meeting there tonight was simple coincidence.

Instead of answering him, Rose took another long pull on her wine. Viktor too had shifted his attention, removing a pack of cigarettes and a matchbook from inside the pocket of trousers. She watched as he placed one of the cigarettes between his lips, letting it dangle there while he tore off a match, striking it against the book's cover. It sparked once before igniting. He cupped his free hand around the small flame as he directed it towards his waiting lips. He inhaled deeply before pulling his hands away and flicking the match into his empty glass. There was a faint sizzle as the flame went out.

He caught the look of disapproval that must have flashed across her face. "My one remaining vice," Krum said, turning his head to the side as he blew out a long trail of smoke.

Rose looked down at his empty tumbler, the extinguished match now resting at the bottom. "Are you sure about that?"

"Go ahead. Smell it." He slid the glass in her direction.

"What? Why? What’s wrong with it?"

Krum shook his head. "So many questions for such a simple request.”
 
When Rose failed to respond, he picked up the glass and handed it to her. She took it, examining it for a long moment before giving it a reluctant sniff.

"I don't smell anything." She sniffed again, deeper this time, but all she could smell was the sulfur from the match.

Krum took the glass from her, setting it back on the table before removing the cigarette from his lips and tapping it against the rim, dislodging the ash that had gathered at the tip.

"I don't get it,” Rose said, not at all sure what had been the point of all that.

"Vhat's to get? I told you smoking vas my only vice, and I meant it."

"So...you don’t drink alcohol? At all?”

“Does that surprise you?”

Rose wanted to say yes. Of course it surprised her. Everything about this evening was surprising her. Based on all she’d heard about him, including what Brooks and Heart had told her, alcohol wasn’t the worst of Krum’s addictions. She supposed it was always possible that he’d cleaned up his act. He didn’t appear to be intoxicated, at least not at the moment. Still, even though she’d just met the man, Rose had a hard time imagining Krum living on the straight and narrow.

Of course, Rose didn’t say any of this. She just shrugged and said, “To each his own. I guess it's just a good thing you know the owner.”

Rose realized her mistake at once. How would she, a supposed stranger off the street, possibly know that Krum was friends with the owner? But Krum didn't seem to notice. He just took another long drag on his cigarette.

“I guess it is."

In truth, Rose didn't care one way or the other about the cigarette. Personally, she found smoking to be a disgusting habit, but if Krum wanted to suck all that poison in his body, on his head be it. And she clearly didn’t have a problem with drinking. But she wasn’t feeling as blasé about the matter as she was pretending. Rose was, after all, there to discuss a book deal with Krum. And on the very slim chance he accepted her offer, any lingering addictions the man might have could be a major concern, not only for her but for Heart too. A lot of work goes into publishing a book, and Fletcher and Sons could wind up losing a significant amount of money if Krum turned out to be too drunk or stoned to pull his own weight.

"You have something on your mind,” Krum said, as if he’d reading her thoughts.

"And what makes you say that?”

Krum took one last puff before setting down his cigarette, balancing it along the rim of his glass. A small trickle of ash rained down onto the table.

“Your face, it’s an open book. Has no one ever told you that?" Rose shook her head. "Now that surprises me. You see, I’ve been reading it since the moment you valked through that door. Every thought you’ve had. It’s written right there. And there. And there.”

As he spoke, he reached out a hand, brushing his finger against first one cheek, and then the other, before tracing an invisible line across the length of her forehead. His touch was feather-light, little more than a whisper against her skin.

Rose felt an unfamiliar heat begin to rise up from somewhere deep in her chest. It wasn’t embarrassment she was feeling. It was more like an awakening, her body tuning into her surroundings in a way it hadn’t done before. She saw then what was happening. Since the moment he crept up behind her, catching her off-guard, Krum had been subtly dominating their exchange, manipulating the conversation, asking questions he already knew the answers to. And he wasn’t just playing head games. The hand on her back that had directed her away from the crowd. The tug of her hair. His fingers on her cheek. Krum was wasting no time demonstrating his physical dominance over her. Rose could see it now but was unsure what to do about it. Was this the way Krum behaved with everyone, or was it a special show designed just for her?

And yet, despite his need to control the situation, he’d still given Rose several opportunities to confess her motives for being there that night. That pronouncement alone would have been enough to knock him off his game. So why hadn’t she responded? Why didn’t she just blurt it out right now? Could it be that she was afraid to ask Krum about the book? Afraid of what he might say? Her own thoughts might be written across her face but she hadn’t a clue what was going through Krum’s mind. His manner might be playful but Rose had no doubt there was something much darker lurking below the surface.

There was a muffled thump somewhere off to her left. Rose turned around.

A fight had broken out in the main barroom. One of the small tables had been knocked over and now lay on its side. Shards of glass and broken beer bottles littered the floor. From where she sat, Rose could see two men standing so close to one another they were almost nose-to-nose. They were shouting, one man pointing a finger in the other’s face. She couldn’t make out any of what they were saying. Whatever silencing charm Krum had put around the small alcove was continuing to deflect the majority of the noise.

Rose looked over at Krum. He too had noticed what was going on. With a resigned sigh, he took one final drag on his cigarette before tossing it into his glass and rising to his feet. “Ernie’s going to be pissed tonight.”

Rose didn’t know who Ernie was, but if she had to guess, she’d say it was either the not-so-friendly bartender she’d met earlier, or the owner Brooks had told her about – or perhaps both.

Rose stood too, and together they passed under the archway and back into the main bar. The sudden noise was deafening compared with the relative silence of their insulated booth. All around her, people were shouting and jeering, egging the two men on. The men, meanwhile, had begun shoving one another, both of them unsteady on their feet from a heavy night of drinking. It was impossible for Rose to tell what they were fighting about – too many voices mangled together to make much sense of what anyone was saying – but it was obvious to her that if someone didn’t step in soon, the scuffle would devolve into an all-out brawl.

“All right, you two, that’s enough.”

Krum stepped forward, placing a hand on the shoulder of the man nearest to him. He was much smaller than Krum and wearing one of the blue and white striped jerseys that marked him as part of the gang of rowdy footballers. His would-be opponent was a good deal taller than him but at least two stones lighter. Rose recognized the second man as one of the university-aged boys she’d seen sitting near the door when she'd first arrived. He couldn’t have been more than eighteen or nineteen, and Rose would have wagered a day’s pay that he’d never been in a fight before in his life.

Krum gave the smaller man’s shoulder a light tug, but the man shrugged him off. He was shouting something – the words too slurred to make out but his meaning crystal clear. Whatever the younger man had said or done, it had ticked this guy off something fierce and someone was going to pay.

Krum tried again to steer the man away, reaching out to grab his arm, but he missed. The man had already moved out of range, lunging himself at the boy. His fists were up and swinging wildly. His aim was off but by pure luck he managed to graze the boy’s cheek. It wasn’t enough to break his jaw, but it sent the student stumbling backward and into a nearby table. More bottles crashed to the floor, sending bits of glass flying in every direction. Several of the bar’s older patrons had already abandoned their seats, while those that remained were now sent diving for cover.

The younger man soon regained his footing, narrowly avoiding another blow to the face. He wasn’t much of a fighter, but instinct alone compelled him to at least try and defend himself. As the other man made to lunge again, the boy pulled back his fist, ramming it straight into his attacker’s stomach. The man let out an audible groan. The punch had caught him square in the gut. But instead of slowing him down, it only served to further enrage him. He lifted his arm and swung again. This time his aim was spot on. His meaty fist smashed right into the boy’s nose. There was sickening crunch, and then the blood began to flow. The boy crumpled to his knees.

That, is seemed, was all Krum would stand for. He jumped forward, grabbing the older man by the shirt-collar. This time he wasn’t gentle. He yanked the man backwards, his feet momentarily leaving the floor before Krum spun him around, shoving him into a nearby chair, where he collapsed with a heavy thud.

“I said, that’s enough!” Krum’s commanding voice echoed around the room, and then everything went quiet. For a second, Rose thought someone had cast another silencing charm. But soon sound began to refill the space, like air rushing into a vacuum.

The small man sat panting in his chair, his face red and covered in the thin sheen of sweat. The younger boy was still on the ground, moaning softly. One of his companions had rushed over and was holding a handkerchief up to his face, trying to stop the heavy outpouring of blood.

The bartender emerged from behind the counter, carrying a large plastic bucket and several old rags. He made his way over to the boy, helping to lift him into a chair before spreading the rags out around his feet, sopping up the pungent mix of alcohol and blood. Several of the older man’s teammates had also stepped forward, doing their best to control their friend, who was still muttering and cursing under his breath. A few of the other onlookers were attempting to reset one of the tables that had been knocked over during the fight.

Rose stood nearby, feeling helpless. She looked over at Krum, but he had his back to her. Rose knew that with a few flicks of their wands, they could set the whole room right again. She might even be able to fix the boy’s broken nose, though she’d never tried to mend bone before. Of course, she couldn’t do anything, at least nothing that involved magic. Crossing into muggle territory meant effectively checking her wand at the door, which only made Krum’s fondness for the little pub all the more unusual.

“Come on,” Krum said. “It’s time to go.” He had turned and crossed back over to where Rose was standing, still tucked beneath the archway. It appeared Krum had intervened as much as he intended to for one evening.

Rose nodded. She felt guilty leaving the pub while it was still in such a state, but she knew Krum was right. Wizards had be careful when it came to intervening in muggle affairs, even ones as mundane as a bar fight.

They were only steps from the door when she heard someone call out to them. “Where do you think you’re going, grandpa?”

Rose glanced over her shoulder. The smaller man was back on his feet. He seemed to have sobered somewhat in the aftermath of the altercation, but he looked just as mean as ever, still itching for a fight.

“Are you deaf?” he shouted when Krum failed to face him. One of his man’s friends whispered something in his ear but he brushed him away. “I said, where do you think you’re going? What’s the rush? Is it past Red’s bedtime? Got to get her home and tuck her in? I wouldn’t mind putting that one to bed, if you know what I mean.”

Krum had stopped moving, though he still refused to turn around. Rose, however, wasn’t quite so willing to hold her tongue. “Why don’t you piss off?”

It was hardly the most clever of retorts, but Rose couldn’t help herself. This guy was being a total arse.

The man laughed. “Red’s got a mouth on her, hasn’t she, grandpa?" he said, his eyes still trained on Krum's bak. "Better keep an eye on her before someone finds a better use for her pretty little lips. What do you say, Red?" The man made a rude gesture with his hands. "You ready for a younger model? I'll even let you call me Daddy. I bet that’s right up your alley.”

Before she could react, Krum was on the move. He was running straight for the other man. It was like two boulders colliding, the force strong enough to knock them both to the ground. Krum landed on top, pinning the smaller man down. The younger boy may not have known how to put up much of a fight, but Krum battled like it was what he’d been born to do. He was relentless. Blow after blow, each one perfectly aimed to cause the maximum amount of damage. Every punch, every time flesh met bone – it was as mesmerizing as it was horrifying.

“Stop it!” Rose ran forward. She tried to grab Krum’s arm, but he was too quick and too strong, his actions fueled by a toxic mix of adrenaline, ego, and pure, unadulterated rage. Rose couldn’t think of anything more lethal.

This was no drunken brawl, and the other patrons seemed to realize this only second after she did. Several of the larger men gathered around, trying to pull Krum up and off the stranger, whose face was now obscured by the blood flowing out of his nose and mouth. It took several tries and more than six people – including the bartender and Rose – before they were able to yank the two apart. As Krum was lifted to his feet, Rose caught a brief look at the smaller man before glancing away again. The sight was bad enough to make her stomach turn.

The group of men now had Krum by the arms and they were dragging him towards the door. For one horrible second, Rose thought they might be planning to take him out back and give him a taste of his own medicine. She ran after them, unsure what to do. Call for help, maybe? Pull out her wand?

Fortunately, there was no need. By the time she caught up, the group had already released Krum, shoving him up and out the door. He stumbled once before falling forward onto the pavement, landing hard on his knees.

“Go home, old man!” one of them called before turning and heading back inside.

The rest of the group followed. The bartender was the last to leave, standing in the doorway for several seconds before he too disappeared inside.

The night sky wasn’t fully dark yet, the faintest traces of deep purple still ringing the edges of the low-lying clouds. Rose knew she couldn’t have been in the pub for more than a half-hour, but she breathed in the fresh air like she’d been trapped underground for a month.

Rose wasn’t used to all this violence. She didn’t know if this sort of thing was normal out there in muggle world, but in her sheltered little existence, it was enough to leave her feeling weak in the knees. And the more she thought about, remembering the way the blood had poured out from between the man’s lips, the sicker she felt.

Only after she was sure she wouldn’t heave all over him, Rose took a few hesitant steps toward Krum. He was still on the ground, his back turned to her.

“Are you alright?” she asked, her voice sounding a lot more calm and collected than she felt. For a moment he said nothing, refusing to look at her or even acknowledge her presence. “I said, are you okay?”

Still there was no reply. Then, to her utter dismay, Rose heard Krum begin to laugh. A low, guttural sound, that rang out in the narrow alleyway. But even that wasn’t as shocking as what came next.

“Vell,” he said, finally looking up at her. “I guess now you’re sure to have something interesting to vrite about in our book.”




A/N – Thanks to a recent review, I’ve tried reformatting my dialogue a bit, and I hope it’s more reader-friendly now. And not that there are many people reading this, waiting for updates, but to anyone who might be interested, I’m working hard to post new chapters once a week. I was a little long this time, but I'm trying!


Chapter 7: Chapter Seven: Hugo Weasley
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Viktor Krum: Over The Edge

By Rose Weasley

An Excerpt From Chapter Six

...And oblivion is where Krum remained for much of the next decade. Other than a brief stint in jail following a charge for public drunkenness, the man disappeared, withdrawing from the world and all its problems. And the world withdrew from Krum too. For the first time since childhood, Viktor wasn’t the center of a media circus; his face no longer plastered on the front of every tabloid; his every move no longer reported on in the gossip columns. There was a new sort of silence in his life, and Krum found he liked the quiet...



Chapter Seven: Hugo Weasley

There were at least a hundred different questions Rose could have asked Krum in that moment. Like how in the world did he know about the book? As far as she knew, only three people were privy to that information: herself, Brooks and Heart. She certainly hadn’t told anyone, and there was no way Heart would have let a thing like that slip out. He wouldn’t want anyone to know they were in talks with Krum until after everything was signed and in the bag, otherwise someone else – namely Penman & Ives – could swoop in and try to steal Krum out from under them. That only left Brooks. But he was the one who'd insisted Rose come to the pub – that she be the one tell Krum about the book. If Brooks had spilled the beans, what could have happened during the past few hours to make him change his mind?

Rose would have also liked to ask just what exactly had possessed Krum to attack a total stranger in the middle of a muggle bar? He could have killed someone. Or, if the man’s teammates had turned out to be the vengeful sort, could have landed himself in the hospital...or the morgue. Krum was lucky the men hadn’t dragged him outside and knocked him senseless. And Rose wasn’t half convinced he wouldn't have deserved it either. The other man had been a jerk, no question about it – beating up on that kid and running his mouth off at her. But had it really warranted such a brutal thrashing? Rose certainly didn’t think so.But Rose never got the chance to ask Krum any of this. The man was still too busy laughing to proffer a proper reply.

No, she realized. He's not laughing. He's choking.

It was a terrible sort of sound, a dry rattling deep in his chest that shook his entire body. He was still on his knees but was forced to bend over, placing his hands on the ground in front of him to keep from falling face-first onto the pavement. On and on it went, the rasping heaves so violent Rose started to worry Krum might pass out from lack of oxygen.

She stepped over to him, reaching out a hand and placing it on his shoulder. “Are you all right? Can you breathe?” Rose hadn’t seen the other man land any solid blows, but now she wondered if Krum might not have taken a punch to the chest, cracking a rib and puncturing a lung. That, she knew, would be way beyond her ability to mend.

But finally, the coughing began to ease, Krum’s body falling still once more.

“Are you all right?” she asked again.

Krum tried to respond but he was still too out of breath to speak.

Rose squatted down beside him, sitting back on her heels as she tried to get a proper look, checking for any visible signs of injury. “For a minute there, you sounded like you were about to cough up a lung. Guess that's what smoking will do to you, huh? Can you sit up?”

Krum tried again to speak. This time he was able to manage three stifled words. “Leave. Me. Alone.”

“Don’t be absurd. You’re hurt. Let me help –”

“I didn’t ask for your help. I don’t need your help.” The rage she’d glimpsed in the pub had returned, and it emanated from him like steam rising off of hot asphalt. The look on his face told her that any further objections on her part would be nothing but a waste of time.

Rose stood up, putting some distance between them.

So be it, she thought to herself. She hadn’t wanted to come to this stupid pub anyway. She hadn’t wanted to meet with Krum, and she certainly hadn’t wanted to be made a fool of. The man had known all along why she was there, so why hadn’t he just said so upfront instead of stringing her along? Not to mention the fact that she’d been forced to watch him beat a man to a bloody pulp, and was now being scolded for daring to try and get him back on his feet before those drunken idiots decided to come back and finish what Krum started. It was beyond prideful, no matter what Brooks said. Viktor Krum was insufferable, plain and simple, and Rose was more than ready to wash her hands of him. Book deal be damned.

“Fine,” she said, throwing up her arms. “Have it your way. You can crawl home, for all I care. Goodbye, Mr. Krum. Have a wonderful life.”

And with that, she turned around and stalked off into the night, refusing to so much as glance over her shoulder until she was home again, locked up safe inside her flat.



Rose slept poorly that night, her subconscious playing and replaying the day’s events, preventing her from drifting off into the deep sleep she so desperately needed. By the time seven o’clock rolled around, Rose was awake again, feeling anything but rested.

She’d initially been excited by the idea of spending the weekend with her family. Going home meant being treated to three square meals a day and, if she was lucky, a chance to lie out in her parents’ back garden. Rose spent most of her waking hours hidden away in her tiny office – arriving by six and sometimes not leaving again until after eight. There were times when she seemed to go days without seeing the sun, and the dreary London weather didn’t help matters. But her parents lived out in the country – or at least what felt like the country compared to her urban dwelling. If the clouds stayed away, she’d have two whole days to soak up as much sunlight and fresh air as she could stand. It would have made the perfect send-off for the summer, which was all too quickly drawing to a close.

Yes, Rose usually look forward to her trips home, but not today. She tried to tell herself it was just that she was tired, or because she had so much work catch up on. But the truth was, she couldn’t shake the lingering unpleasantness of the previous evening. As much as she wanted to pretend she didn’t give a damn about him – how she wasn’t responsible for the well-being of a man she'd ownly known for thirty minutes – Rose found her thoughts returning again and again to the infamous Viktor Krum.

Rose was inclined to blow off her family and spend the rest of the weekend in bed hiding under the covers. But she couldn’t do that to Hugo, or to her mum. Even though she’d never outright told them she was coming, Rose knew her mother would be expecting her and would have already gone to the extra trouble of fixing up her old room – the one Rose had slept in as a child – and making sure the cupboards were stuffed with all of Rose’s favorite foods. Considering the sorry state of her own cupboards, that was a particularly enticing prospect.

Accepting this visit as just another part of her daughterly duties, she dragged herself out of bed, and after a long soak in the bath and several cups of strong coffee, Rose started to feel almost human again, if not exactly cheerful. By noon she was standing at her parent’s door, a small overnight bag slung over one shoulder.

The Weasley house hadn’t changed much in the five years since she’d moved out. It was still too small, even with one less person living inside, but it never seemed to occur to either of her parents to sell the place and buy something bigger. Perhaps once they retired, or if they ever managed to get her brother out of the house.

The home itself was a modest, two-story brick structure with a small stone inlay that encircled the front door. On top was a slanted thatched roof that curved and bubbled out over the windows on the upper floor. The gardens in the front and running around the sides were overgrown but inviting, smelling of lavender and catmint, which despite its name, always reminded Rose of a cinnamon stick that had been left sitting on a warm stovetop.

Inside, the house was divided into two main living areas. There was the bottom floor, which included the living room, dining room, and kitchen, and was where the family spent the majority of their time. And there was the top floor, which housed the three bedrooms and the home’s only bath. Four people using a single loo hadn’t been Rose’s idea of a good time, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as being forced to share a bathroom with five teenage girls like she’d had to do at school. The flat she lived in now might be small but at least she didn’t have people banging on the door while she was bushing her teeth or leaving their dirty underpants lying on the floor.

“Hello,” Rose called out as she pushed open the front door. She hadn’t bothered knocking. It had once been her house too, after all. “Anyone home?”

There was no reply. In fact, there wasn’t any noise at all. No clanging of pots and pans in the kitchen, no one tromping up and down the creaky wooden stairs. There weren’t even any lights on. The whole place was totally still.

Rose wasn’t alarmed, but she did think it unusual to find the house so empty on a Saturday afternoon, especially when she’d been told to drop by.

“Hello?” she called again.

This time she got an answer, only not the one she’d been expecting. Archibald – the now-ancient gray tabby cat that had wondered into their garden when her brother was still in nappies and staunchly refused to leave again – appeared in the entryway, his bushy tail erect, his rounded belly so fat it scraped along the ground as he walked. He sauntered over to Rose, giving her a quick sniff before rubbing up against her leg.

“Hello, Archie,” she said, leaning over and giving the cat an affectionate pat on the head. “Where is everyone?”

As if in reply, the cat turned and headed off towards the kitchen. Rose dropped her bag and followed suit.

The kitchen was tucked into the back of the house, a large square window above the sink letting in the sunshine and bathing the space in a homey yellow glow. Through the window, Rose could see the outline of a man. He was several meters away, his back towards her, but even at that distance, there was no mistaking the mop of red curls and rangy silhouette of her brother Hugo.

Rose opened the back door and stepped out into the garden, following the stone path that wound down towards the shed where her father stored his collection of tools – none of which she could ever remember him using. Hugo was standing just beyond the end of the path, his back still turned towards the house. As she drew closer, Rose could hear him talking to someone.

“Right,” he was saying. “That’s what I told him. Fat lot of good that did.”

He shifted a bit and Rose could see that he was holding something small and rectangular up against his ear. She was surprised to realize it was a mobile telephone, like the sort muggles used.

Hugo seemed to catch sight of her then, flashing her a warm smile and holding up a finger to indicate he’d be done in a moment.

“I know,” he said to whoever was on the other end of the call. “He never listens. Look, I’ve got to run. Can I call you back later?” He paused. “Uh huh. Right.” Another pause. “Alright then, you too. Bye.”

Hugo lowered the phone, pressing a button on the front before turning his attention back to Rose. When he did, she could see that her brother was grinning from ear to ear.

He held the phone out for her to see “It’s a mobile."

“So I figured. I’m surprised you can get it to work.” Rose cast a quick glance over at the house. Muggle electronics were notoriously unreliable when used near magic, and these days, all wizarding homes were surrounded by any number of charms and spells. Some were for security, but most were just for convenience, like the chilling charms that keep food from spoiling, or spells on the windows that alerted parents if their children ever tried to sneak out after curfew.

“It won’t work inside. That’s why I’m out here. I’ve got to stay about fifty feet from the house or else all I can hear is this loud hissing noise.”

“Hmmm...” Rose said. She was eyeing the besotted look on her brother’s face with mounting suspicion. “And just where did you get this fancy new mobile?”

Hugo smiled sheepishly. “Billy sent it to me.”

Ahhh, Rose thought. The elusive 'blonde somebody' Hugo had been hoping to follow off to America.

“That was nice of him. It looks expensive.”

Hugo glanced down at the phone as if the idea that it might have actual monetary value had never occurred to him. “Maybe...” he said before giving it a squeeze and tucking it into the pocket of his trousers. "What are you doing here?"

"Dad invited me. Apparently there's to be a feast in your honor, or so I've been told."

"Oh, that," he said, waving away the idea. "That's just Mum being..."

"Mum?"

Hugo laughed. "Yea, that about sums it up."

"Speaking of, where is everyone?”

“At work.”

“On a Saturday?”

Hugo shrugged. “You know how it is. Some emergency or another. Mum figures she’s the only one smart enough to sort it out, and Dad figures if he stays behind, Mum’s likely to show him up in front of all his buddies. So off they go...”

Rose nodded, thinking that sounded just about right. To this day, she couldn’t decide whether her parents were the worst couple she’d ever met or if they were actually a perfect match. They were always arguing about something, but whatever the problem, they never seemed to stay mad for long. A few hours later and it was like the whole thing never happened. Still, Rose couldn’t understand how two so very different people were able to make it work.

Maybe the best a person can hope for is to find someone to balance out the worst of their oddities...or else to find someone with so many of their own they don’t notice all of yours.

“You eaten lunch yet?” Hugo asked her.

Rose shook her head. Not only had she not eaten lunch, she’d skipped over breakfast too. “No. But I’m starving.”

“Good. Me too.”

So the two of them headed off back towards the house. After raiding the cupboards – which were full, just like Rose knew they would be – the pair took their plates, loaded down with dumplings, Cornish pasties, and pudding, and returned to the garden. They ate while perched at the small iron table set beneath one of the many maple trees that grew along the property.

There was silence for several minutes, each of them occupied with the task of eating. Between mouthfuls, Rose finally managed a muffled, “If I ate like this everyday, I’d be too big to fit through the front door.”

Hugo swallowed a heaping spoonful of pudding. “Don’t I know it. I’ve gained at least half a stone since I started at the hospital. Mum insists on making me lunch to take in, so now I’m eating this stuff pretty much morning, noon and night.”

Rose didn’t imagine their mother had to insist all that hard to get Hugo to take a packed lunch into work. He was just like their father: a bottomless pit when it came to food but way too lazy to fix it himself. And it didn’t hurt that their mother wasn’t half bad at cooking. She was no Granny Weasley, but she could hold her own in the kitchen.

When they had both finished cleaning their plates, Rose looked up at her brother. “So tell me about Billy.”

Rose couldn’t remember a time when she hadn’t known that Hugo was gay. It wasn’t something he’d ever had to sit down and tell her. She just knew. It hadn’t been quite so obvious to her parents. To her mother’s credit, she’d taken the news in stride, reassuring Hugo that whatever made him happy was good enough for her. Their father, on the other hand, hadn’t handled things near as well. There had been a lot of sighing, a fair bit of eye-rolling, and several attempts to ascertain whether Hugo wasn’t sure this wasn’t just “some sort of phase.” Hugo had assured their father it was not, and after that, neither of them ever discussed the matter again. Hugo went right on living his life while their father remained in comfortable denial, referring to the boys his son brought home for dinner as nothing more than Hugo’s “special friends from school.”

It couldn’t always be easy for her brother, forced to tiptoe around his sexuality, even in his own home. But there were times when Rose envied Hugo. Not for being gay, but for being so comfortable with himself. Her brother had such an easy way about him, the kind of relaxed confidence that seemed to draw people in. He didn’t have to go looking for friends – or boyfriends – because they always seemed to come looking for him.

“Billy is...perfect,” Hugo said, that stupid smile once again plastered all over his face. Rose had seen her brother smitten before but this was different. He seemed to be glowing inside just thinking about the man. “He’s finishing up his first hospital rotation too. He’ll be done next week. He’s thinking of specializing in mental healing, which of course he’d be brilliant at. Billy’s so introspective, you know the type. Only he’s not flashy about it. He doesn’t try to analyze every little thing you say. He just sits there and listens. I mean really listens. And then he’ll say something so amazing you think, where in the hell does he come up with this stuff?”

Her brother was positively gushing, and Rose thought it was sweet, if a little over-the-top.

“He sounds great,” she said. “Really wonderful.”

“He is wonderful. I can’t wait for you to meet him. You’ll love him.”

“I’m sure I will.”

Hugo continued to fawn over ‘perfect Billy’ for the next hour, requiring little in the way of response from Rose. She imagined her brother would be more than content to keep discussing the man straight through till Monday if Rose didn't stop. It wasn’t that she begrudged her brother for finding someone who made him happy, but listening to other people talk about their love lives only served to remind her how she didn’t have one of her own. She wasn’t like her brother. She didn’t draw people in the same way he did, didn’t have a rotating door of admirers. It wasn’t like she hadn’t been in relationships before. She had, and a few of them had been serious, or so she’d thought at the time. Still, she just wasn’t as easily infatuated as Hugo – didn’t have that one person to always go back to like Al and Amelia. Being on her own wasn’t something Rose was ashamed of, but it wasn’t something she enjoyed dwelling on either.

“So, how’s work?” It seemed Hugo had detected her waning interest in the subject of all things Billy and was attempting to turn the conversation back around to Rose.

“It’s okay.”

“Okay?” he repeated, sounding unconvinced. “Okay as in not particularly terrible? Or okay as in, if I don’t get out of that place soon I’m going to be 'okay' with throwing myself off a bridge?”

Rose smiled. “Maybe a bit of both.”

“Ahhh,” he said, giving her a knowing look. “You want to talk about it?”

Rose was inclined to say no. She didn’t want to dump her problems on her brother. Then again, that’s what siblings were for. So she told him, filling Hugo in on Heart’s idea about the book, her meeting with Brooks, and of course, last night’s encounter with Krum.

“He sounds like a real tosser to me,” Hugo said after she’d finished her story. Rose was glad to hear her own opinion of the man validated, even if it was by someone who’d never met him. Hugo was no more a fan of sport than she was, so Krum’s status as a former Quidditch hero held no sway with him. “What do you think your boss will say when you tell him you won’t be writing the book?”

Rose picked up a leaf that fallen onto the table, examining it with interest. “Well, there’s liable to be a lot of shouting. And cursing. But that’s nothing new.”

“Sounds like a bit of a tosser himself.”

“Heart has his moments. But then I guess that’s true of all of us.”

“See,” Hugo said, pointing a finger at her. “That's exactly the sort of thing Billy would say. Always looking at everything so rationally. If it were me, I’d tell them both to stuff it. Who needs the lot of ‘em?”

Rose smiled at her brother. She was starting to think this trip home might turn out to be just what she needed after all.

The two remained in the garden for the rest of the afternoon, taking turns filling each other in on the daily dramas that constituted everyday life. Hugo told her about all the bizarre injuries and illnesses he’d seen during his training – a few of which she was really glad he hadn’t mentioned during lunch. She, in turn, told him about the horrible manuscript she’d been sent last week – one that involved a love story between a man and his hippogriff. That had sent them both into a fit of giggles, and the pair would have likely gone right on laughing and gossiping like teenagers straight through suppertime if they hadn’t heard the telltale POP! that meant someone had just Apparated nearby.

“Mum and Dad must be back,” Hugo said, turning towards the house.

He stood up and Rose followed, the two of them making their way back inside. Rose was expecting at any moment to hear her parents’ voices calling out to them. Instead, the pair were greeted by a loud knock at the door.

Rose looked over at her brother. “You expecting someone?”

Hugo shook his head. Together they moved through the kitchen, Rose hanging back while Hugo went on into the hall. She heard the front door open, followed by the sound of muffled conversation, but it was too quiet for her to make out what was being said.

A minute later, Hugo returned.

“Who was it—?” she started to ask but stopped once she realized someone was following close on Hugo’s heels.

“This guy says he knows you. Claims it’s real important that he speaks with you.”

Peter Brooks stepped into the kitchen. The man did not look well. He was dressed in the same suit she’d seen him wearing yesterday, his eyes blood-shot and puffy from lack of sleep. Rose got the distinct impression that he hadn’t been home since the last time they spoke.

Brooks made as if to shake her hand but seemed to think better of it. “I’m so sorry to intrude on you like this. But as your brother said, I really do need to speak with you.”

Rose didn't know what to say. She couldn’t for the life of her imagine what Books was doing there, standing in her parent’s kitchen, looking so disheveled. She didn’t make a habit of covering her tracks whenever she left the house, but she certainly hadn’t told anyone where she’d be spending the weekend.

“How did you know I was here?" Rose asked him.

“Heart told me. Or rather, when I couldn’t reach you at home, he suggested I try here.”

“Ever heard of sending a letter first?” Hugo muttered under his breath.

Brooks ignored him, though Rose was sure the man had heard him. “I understand how this must look, but as I said, it’s important. Is there somewhere we might talk...in private?”

Brooks tossed a glance over at Hugo, who in turn looked over at Rose. Rose gave her brother a reassuring nod, which he seemed to understand meant he was free to leave.

“I’ll be upstairs,” he said, turning to go but not before shooting Brooks the kind of look their mother was so fond of using on their father.

Once they were alone, Brooks got straight down to business. “I heard about what happened last night. I’m so sorry. I would never have suggested you meet with Krum there if I thought things might get so out of hand.”

“Out of hand? That’s a bit of an understatement, don’t you think? Your father tried to smash a man’s head in.”

“Step-father,” he corrected. “And you don’t know the half of it.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well...” Brooks lowered his voice as if about to confide a secret to her. “It turns out this wasn’t his first run-in with a muggle.”

Rose wasn’t sure whether or not this news surprised her so she said nothing, letting Brooks continue on.

“In fact, there have been more than a few incidents over the years, or so I’ve been told. Honestly, this is all news to me. I had no idea he’d been out there picking fights. I hadn’t realized things had gotten quite this bad. I thought he was just short on cash. It seems the others were relatively minor. His old friend down at the pub – the owner, I can’t think of his name... Anyway, apparently he’d been keeping an eye on him before I came back into the picture a few months back. Only I guess he beat this muggle bloke up something terrible. Ended up going to hospital. Well, the Ministry can’t just let that sort of thing slide. From what I’m being told, there were a lot of witnesses. That many memory modifications...”

His voice trailed off, but Rose knew that wasn’t the end of it. If it were just a matter of Brooks wanting to apologize for Krum’s behavior, he could have sent her a letter or else stopped by her office Monday morning.

Was he there to check on her, to make sure she hadn’t gotten hurt during the scuffle? Or was he, perhaps, about to scold her for leaving his father behind in such a state?

“What exactly do you want from me, Mr. Brooks?”

“I'm getting to that," he said, a hint of impatience coloring his tone. "Krum... Well, he’s been arrested. They’re holding him at the Ministry right now.” Before Rose had a chance to reply, Brooks went on, “And that’s not all of it. He’s refusing to talk to anyone. Not even to me, and I’m his bloody lawyer. So,” he paused, seeming to steal himself for what he was about to say next. “So the reason I’m here is because if Krum doesn’t explain himself soon, he’s looking at an extended trip to Azkaban..."

"And..." Rose promited.

"And here’s the real kicker. The only one he’ll agree to speak with is you."


Chapter 8: Chapter Eight: Viktor Krum, Part III
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Viktor Krum: Over The Edge

By Rose Weasley

An Excerpt From Chapter Seven

...With the quiet came reflection and a newfound desire for sobriety. But getting clean was only the beginning. Leaving behind the drugs and the alcohol meant creating a new way of life, one that included new disappointments and new sources of humility. For Viktor – a man who had been showered with a lifetime’s supply of wealth and adoration before he was old enough to appreciate it – this meant a change in the way he thought about himself. His worth could no longer be determined by his athletic prowess or the amount of money he had. Even his name no longer held any sway. Viktor had to find a new way to define who he was, to crawl out from under the shadow of his own ruined reputation. He was a changed man, to be sure...only the world didn’t yet know it...



Chapter Eight: Viktor Krum, Part III

It took a lot of convincing but Rose finally agreed to accompany Brooks to the Ministry, barraging him with questions as they traveled the few blocks that lead from her parent’s favorite Apparition spot to the Visitor’s Entrance located on the east side of Whitehill Road in the heart of London.

“What will happen next?” Rose asked as they climbed into the small lift that would take them down into the heart of Ministry Headquarters. It was at least the fourth time Rose had asked that question in the last ten minutes. The fact that he didn’t bother pointing this out was a testament to how much Brooks must have wanted her help.

“He’s entitled to a hearing, but as it’s still the weekend, I don’t imagine that will happen until at least Monday morning.”

“And ‘til then?”

“They’ll hold him here, I expect. They aren’t likely to ship him off to Azkaban without presenting the charges against him first. At least I certainly hope not.”

The lift ground to a sudden halt, the gates sliding open and allowing the pair to step out into the nearly deserted Atrium. The small cafes and newsstands that lined either side of the long corridor were all closed up, not a shopkeeper in sight. Rose figured there must not be enough weekend traffic to justify the cost of staying open for the few people unlucky enough to find themselves trapped inside the Ministry on a Saturday night. Still, it was eerie to see the normally crowded space looking so empty.

“Do you think that’s likely?” she asked. “Do you really think they’d send him to Azkaban over one silly bar fight?”

“It’s not just this fight. It’s all of it: his past run-ins with the Ministry, his reputation. Krum hasn’t exactly been working hard to endear himself to people. And if he continues to refuse to offer up even a half-hearted defense for himself...” Brooks didn’t bother to finish the thought, allowing Rose to draw her own conclusions about Krum’s fate.

“And he didn’t say anything to you? Anything about why he attacked that man?”

Brooks shook his head. “Not a word. He might as well be mute for all the talking he’s doing. I’m not a criminal lawyer, mind you, but I know enough to be sure Krum’s not doing himself any favors by keeping his mouth shut.”

“But it’s his right not to talk —”

“Of course it’s his right, but that doesn’t make it smart. The Ministry can’t go around looking like it’s soft on muggle-baiting. That’s Public Relations 101. So unless Krum makes it clear he didn’t attack that bloke because he was a muggle, the Ministry will have no choice but to treat it as a hate crime.”

“That’s ridiculous! It wasn’t anything of the sort—”

“You know that,” Brooks said, cutting her off again. “And I know that. But the rest of the wizarding world doesn’t know a damned thing except what the Ministry tells them. If they charge him with a hate crime, then it was a hate crime, simple as that.”

The pair had been talking as they made their way across the Atrium but fell silent once they reached the visitor’s check-in, which was empty save for the middle-aged security wizard stationed behind the counter. As was required of all non-employees entering the Ministry, the two of them handed over their wands for inspection. They, in turn, were each presented with a visitor’s badge, which they were instructed to pin to their shirts and make sure to keep visible at all times.

As soon as their wands were returned and they were once again out earshot of the guard, Rose continued on with her line of questioning. “And what is it exactly that you expect me to do here?”

“Whatever you can,” Brooks told her as they turned and headed toward the main lifts. “Just get him talking. See if you can’t convince him to explain himself.”

“But why can’t I just explain what happened? I was there, after all. I saw everything.”

Everything except whatever happened to Krum after I left him sitting alone in that alleyway.

There was a pause as the pair stepped into one of the waiting lifts, this one much nicer than the one at the Visitor’s Entrance. With a quiet clink!, the golden metal gates slid closed and the lift lurched forward.

“It won’t do any good,” Brooks said, removing the badge from his shirt and shoving it into the pocket of his wrinkled suit jacket. “Though I imagine someone will get around to taking your statement eventually. The Ministry isn’t trying to figure out what happened. They have plenty of witnesses who can tell them what they saw, at least that’s what the Hit Wizards who picked Krum up are saying. In other words, they know what Krum did. Now it’s just a matter of proving why he did it. Hell, I’d like to know why he did it.”

The lift slowed as a cool female voice announced, “Level Two, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, including Auror Headquarters, the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office, and the Wizengamot Administration and Support Services.”

The gates opened again and Rose stepped off first, glancing to her left, in the direction of her parents’ offices. She half-considered running off and finding them. Surely they – having worked for the Department for all these years – would be of more help to Krum than she could ever hope to be. But Brooks was already on the move again, seeming to be in a hurry now, stepping out of the lift and immediately turning right before disappearing around the nearest corner. Rose had no choice but to follow after him.

“Did you speak with them? The Hit Wizards I mean?” Rose asked, almost running now just to keep up with him. Rose had met a few such wizards in her day — none of them very pleasant. Though to be fair, she supposed being friendly wasn’t exactly a top priority for those whose job it was to pick up criminals and cart them off to Azkaban.

“Not personally, no. But I read their report. One of the few things I’ve actually been able to get my hands on.”

“What did it say?”

“About what you’d expect. Krum, it seems, didn’t put up much of a struggle. He allowed himself to be brought in without incident. Thank God for that, at least. We don’t need resisting arrest added on top of all the other charges.”

Rose was hoping Brooks would say more. Her conscience was once again gnawing at her, and she was desperate to know what kind of state Krum was in when the Hit Wizards had found him. And just where exactly they had found him. Was he still outside the pub, or had he managed to make his way home by then? But Brooks had stopped talking. He had stopped walking too, and Rose had to throw up her hands to keep from crashing into him. They had traveled down several long hallways, entering an area of the Ministry Rose hadn’t visited before, and they were now standing outside a plain metal door. Without bothering to knock, Brooks turned the handle and together they stepped inside.

The room they entered was small, not much bigger than Rose's kitchen. There was a desk in one corner, surrounded on all sides by glass that reached up to the ceiling, which was covered in a thick layer of peeling white paint. Behind the desk sat a woman Rose guessed to be in her fifties, dressed in a set of dark green robes and sorting through a thick stack of files. She looked up as they entered.

“Take a seat,” Brooks told Rose, gesturing towards the row of empty chairs lined up against the far wall. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

Rose sat, watching as Brooks made his way over to the woman behind the desk. Rose tried to listen in but everything – at least everything the woman was saying – was too muffled by the glass for Rose to make out. She did, however, hear Brooks repeat her own name several times.

As she sat there, it occurred to Rose just how odd this whole situation was. Surely suspects – even those accused of relatively minor offenses – weren’t often afforded the courtesy of speaking with anyone they wished. Krum would be given access to his lawyer, of course — though he clearly wasn’t interested in Brooks’ services, even if they were free of charge. But why in the world would she — someone with no legal expertise, someone who barely even knew the man — be allowed to just waltz in and speak with a prisoner simply because he had asked her to come? No wonder Brooks wanted to make sure the woman behind the desk knew who Rose was. Or should she say, who Rose’s parents were.

Brooks returned a few minutes later, taking the seat beside Rose.

“So what now?” she asked.

“Now we wait.”

And so they sat there for what felt like hours. Brooks seemed glad for the respite, clearly feeling he'd done his duty by getting Rose this far. He wasted no time getting comfortable, leaning back in his seat, his legs stretched out in front of him, head tilted back. His eyes got heavy before finally closing, his breaths coming slow and steady. Rose couldn’t blame the man for taking advantage of the brief reprieve. If his wrinkled suit and day-old beard were any indication, Brooks probably hadn’t slept going on thirty-six hours. Maybe longer. Still, tired or not, Rose couldn’t relax. Not when there were still so many unanswered questions.

“Krum knows about the book,” Rose said to Brooks.

He was silent for a long moment, Rose half-convinced he'd fallen off to sleep. But after a time, he offered her a muttered, “That’s nice.”

“Nice? Don’t you mean odd?"

“Why would it be odd?” he asked, stifling a yawn. “It’s why you went to meet him last night, isn’t it? To tell him about the book.”

“That’s just it. I didn’t tell him anything.”

That got Brooks’ attention. He opened his eyes, turning to look at her. “What do you mean you didn’t tell him?”

“I mean, didn’t tell him anything. Someone had already beat me to it.”

“But who?” Rose just stared at Brooks, and after a moment, he seemed to catch her meaning. “What, you don’t think I told him, do you?” Rose said nothing. She just continued to stare at him until he finally sat up in his chair. “But that’s absurd! I’m the one who sent you there. Why would I do that if I’d already told him about the damn thing?”

Rose shrugged. “Well, if not you, then who?”

“I—”

But any further thoughts Brooks might have had on the matter were going to have to wait. The door – the one that blended so seamlessly into the wall Rose hadn’t even noticed it was there – swung open, and out stepped a very tall, very serious-looking man, sporting a shaved head and wearing the same deep green robes as the woman behind the desk. The man said nothing. Instead, he lifted his arm, gesturing at the pair of them with a quick wave of his fingers.

Rose stood, expecting Brooks to do the same, but he remained where he was. “Aren’t you coming?” she asked.

Brooks shook his head. “Only one visitor at a time.” He shot a glance over at the woman behind the desk. “They’re very firm on that rule.”

“But...” Rose began.

“Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. Remember, just get him talking. I can handle the situation from there.”

Rose wasn’t convinced – either at her ability to get Krum talking or Brooks’ ability to deal with whatever came next. The man was a bloody entertainment lawyer. What the hell did he know about keeping someone out of Azkaban? The fact that he'd had to ask for her help at all told Rose everything she needed to know about Peter Brooks’ ability to "handle the situation."

But there wasn’t time to argue the point. The bald wizard cleared his throat. Rose took one last look at Brooks, who gave her a reassuring nod, before she turned around and allowed herself to be escorted from the room.

There first stop was a small holding area. Once inside, she was directed to turn over her wand and, according to the sign on the wall, any other magical devices or substances she might be concealing. Rose handed the man her wand, assuring him it was the only “device” she was carrying. After a few waves of his own wand, the bald wizard seemed convinced and once again gestured for her to follow him onward.

Next, they entered a long corridor lined on either side by more doors that seemed to melt into the walls. There were no windows, but the area was flooded with light. Too much light. The unnatural shine reflecting off the polished marble floors made Rose squint.

They'd traveled about halfway down the hall when the man stopped short, pausing in front of a solid white door with a large black seven emblazoned in the center. He looked down at Rose, his expression as unreadable as the wall behind him.

“You have ten minutes,” he told her. “You aren’t to touch the prisoner at any time. If you feel threatened, you’re to call out and one of the guards will come to collect you. Otherwise, you are not to leave the room until I return for you. Is that understood?”

Rose nodded, trying not to show her surprise. This man was talking as if she were about to come face to face with a dangerous felon. Was this standard procedure for all visitors, or did they know something she didn’t? She supposed she had witnessed Krum try to beat another man to within an inch of his life. Still, she hardly considered him a threat to her personal safety. Maybe that was a mistake on her part.

“And remember,” the wizard was saying, reaching out for the door handle, his wand still clutched in his free hand. “Don’t touch the prisoner.” And with that, he pushed open the door and ushered her inside before slamming it shut again, locking her inside.

Rose was greeted by an unexpected though not altogether unfamiliar sight. Viktor Krum was seated at a small table set up in the center of an otherwise empty room. His large hands were resting in front of him, and when he looked up at her, she saw a coy smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. If she didn’t know better, Rose would have through they were back at the pub, Krum waiting for her to join him at his usual booth. All that was missing was the cigarette dangling from between his lips.

Aside from his clothes – which now consisted of nothing but a thin cotten shirt and matching trousers – and the extra day’s growth of beard, Krum looked just as she had left him. Better, in fact. He was upright, as opposed to on his knees in a dirty alley.

“Vell, if it isn’t just Rose Veasley,” he said, not missing a beat. “Two nights in a row. People vill start to talk, don’t you think?”

Rose had to give the man credit. There he was, sitting in an interrogation room with the threat of prison hanging over his head, and he was still being cheeky with her. That takes balls, she thought. No doubt about it.

But Rose was determined not to give Krum the opportunity to start playing head games with her again. “What do you want?” she asked, getting right to the point.

“Don’t you at least vant to sit down?” He used his foot to push out the chair opposite his. Rose noticed that the rest of his body remained still. She wondered what type of spells the guards used to keep their prisoners in their place.

Rose ignored the invitation. “What do you want?” she asked again.

“Vhat do I vant?” Krum repeated, feigning confusion.

“Brooks, he showed up at my parent’s house this afternoon. He said you wanted to speak with me, so here I am. Now what is it that you could possibly have to say to me that you couldn’t say to him?”

Krum flashed her a brief smile. “I like that.”

“You like what, exactly?”

“I like that you came vhen I called for you.”

Rose felt a quick pop of heat pass through her body, a mix of embarrassment and indignation, and maybe something more. But she did her best to keep the discomfort from showing on her face.

“Either say what it is you want to say," she snapped, "or else I’ll turn around and leave right this minute. There’s a guard out there who I’m sure would be more than happy to chat you up, if that’s what you're looking for.”

“Fine,” Krum said. “Ve’ll talk. But first...” He prodded the chair again with his toe. “Sit down.” When she refused to move, he added a reluctant, “Please.”

Rose hesitated before finally relenting, though she was careful to stay well back in her seat, keeping as much distance as possible between herself and the table.

“There,” she said once she was settled. “Are you happy now?”

“Very.”

“Good. Then talk.”

Viktor was drumming his fingers against the tabletop. At first, Rose thought it was just his way of stalling for time. But looking closer – noticing the faint yellow stains on his fingertips – she realized it was probably subconscious, his body's way of coping with the nicotine withdrawls. The thought made Rose smile to herself though she wasn’t quite sure why.

“Vhat ever shall ve talk about?” Krum asked, still sounding as if he hadn’t a care in the world.

“Oh, I don't know. I suppose we could start with the weather. Maybe discuss a few current events. I’m not one for sport, but I suppose that’s always an option, given your background. Or maybe,” she said, dropping the sarcasm, “you could just tell me what the hell you were thinking last night.”

Rose was doing her best not to get worked up. She was, after all, there to try and help Krum – to get him to tell the Ministry that he wasn’t going around attacking muggles for no good reason. But now that she was in the room with him, Rose was finding it very difficult to keep her cool.

“Vhat can I say? I lost my temper.”

“Lost your temper? Is that your excuse?”

“It’s not an excuse. It’s vhat happened.”

“No,” she said. “What happened is that you nearly killed a man and now the Ministry wants to send you to Azkaban for committing a hate crime against a muggle.”

Krum let out a derisive snort. “Who told you that?”

“Your lawyer!”

“My lawyer is an idiot.”

“That idiot is your son. A son that’s trying to keep you out of prison. Why won’t you speak with him? Do you want to spend the rest of your life locked up?"

“There are vorse things than Azkaban, Ginger. You’re still too young to see that, but you vill...someday.”

“Bullshit,” she said. “Don’t get philosophical on me. And don't call me Ginger.”

This wasn’t working. Krum wasn’t interested in helping himself. It sounded to her as if he was already resigned to his fate. Rose should have just left it at that, but for some reason she couldn’t. She pressed on, almost as if she were trying to get a rise out of him – not, perhaps, the smartest thing to do to a man with a short fuse.

“I mean, who does this?” she continued. “Who refuses to let people help them? Brooks is trying to keep you out of prison, to keep you off the streets, and this is how you repay him? By refusing to even talk to him?”

“I didn’t ask for Peter’s help—”

“Yeah, well, I’ve heard that one before, haven’t I? You don’t like help. We get it. So why ask me to come here then? Answer me that then, why don't you.”

The provocation seemed to be working. The smile on Krum’s face was slowing slipping away, but the look that replaced it wasn’t one of anger or annoyance. It was weariness. The same weariness she had detected in him last night, the one that seemed to seep in through the wrinkles around his eyes. The one he seemed so desperate to hide from the world.

“Vhat do you vant from me, Rose?”

“I want you to –” she began, but then stopped.

What did she want from him? For him to explain his behavior? What good was that to her now? He did what he did. Nothing was going to change that. And she wasn’t looking for an apology either. He hadn’t done anything to her, except perhaps waste her time by asking her to come down there to see him. So what then? She could see with her own eyes the man was fine, at least physically. That should have been enough to assuage her guilt over abandoning him the night before. If the man didn’t want to defend himself against the charges, it was no business of hers. Krum had committed a crime. And a pretty serious one at that. Who was she to decide what sort of punishment he deserved? So what was it then that she wanted from this man?

“I want to write a book about you.” The words tumbled out before Rose even realized what she was saying.

“You vhat?"

“Oh, don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about," she said, tired of all the pretense. "I know you know that’s why I came to see you at the pub last night. I don't have a clue how, but you knew all the same. So if you won’t tell me why you’ve asked me to come here, I’ll tell you the real reason why I came. I want you to let me write the book. I can do it. I know I can.”

Those last few words were more for her benefit than his, but she meant them all the same. She wanted to write this book. She didn't know why the sudden change of heart - why it took her until that moment to realize it, but she felt in her gut that it was the right thing to do. And not because Brooks had asked her to, or because Heart would give her hell if she refused. She wanted to write this book because she wanted to tell Krum’s story, whatever that story may be.

Viktor sat there, seeming to drink it all in. His face gave away nothing of what he thinking, and Rose didn’t push. She let him consider it, mulling it over at his own pace. The final call would be his, after all.

Krum gave a quick glance around the room before focusing back in on Rose. When he spoke, his tone was measured but Rose was sure she could see him fighting back a grin.

“Well," he said, "seeing as I may have some free time on my hands, I suppose that vould be alright by me.”

 
END OF PART I

        


Chapter 9: Chapter Nine: An Old Friend
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Part II

Chapter 9: An Old Friend

Two weeks. That’s how much time had passed since Rose had last spoken with Krum.

She’d meant it when she’d said she wanted to write a book about him. And he – at least as far as she knew– had meant it when he agreed to let her do it. But as much as Rose would have liked to get right down to business, there was still the small matter of Krum’s incarceration to contend with first.

Just as Rose suspected, Brooks had pulled a lot of strings to get her into that initial meeting, but he only had so many favors to call in, and even Rose’s last name wasn’t enough to garner her unbridled access to a Ministry prisoner. So she was forced to wait, allowing the legal system to run its course. Brooks did his best to keep her apprised of Krum’s situation – Krum having at last agreed to let his son help defend him. They’d already made it through the initial hearing, where the formal charges were presented: simple assault and outraging the public decency. Brooks assured Rose that this was good news – the Ministry deciding not to pursue hate-crime charges after all. Still, he was far from in the clear. Krum was still facing some serious charges that, if convicted, could land him in Azkaban for years. There was no word yet on when the trial would begin, or if there would even be a trial; Brooks was hoping to score Krum a plea deal that would keep him out of prison altogether. But for the moment at least, the main focus was on getting Krum out on bail. Once he was back at home, they could work on putting together a proper defense.

“Do you think we should just put the whole book idea on hold until after this is over?” Rose had asked Brooks during their last meeting. He’d stopped by earlier that week, poking his head into Rose’s office, filling her in on the latest developments in the case. “I mean, Krum does have more important things to focus on at the moment.”

“As long as he’s willing, I say push forward with it as best you can. There really isn’t much he can do for himself at this point except stay out of trouble, and having something else to focus on might be the best way to ensure that. Besides, I’m doing what I can, but if this goes to trial, the man will need more than an entertainment lawyer to see him through. And good legal counsel isn’t cheap. The sooner this hits the bookshops, the better for both of you.”

So Rose had thrown herself into her work, surprised by how much she was able to accomplish without actually speaking to Krum. Of course, the majority of the book would have to come from him: his stories, his recollections, his thoughts and feelings. But it was going to take more than just copying down whatever the man said; the story would need direction and focus and – just like her boss had told her from the start – it was going to need heart. If Rose wanted to find the right framework for the book, she was going to need a better understanding of who Krum was as a person, to immerse herself in all the things that reminded her of him. And there seemed only one logical place to start: Quidditch.

Rose wouldn't exactly call herself a Quidditch fan, but it was next to impossible to be raised in the wizarding world without having at least a basic understanding of how the sport was played. Still, she was surprised to learn just how little she actually knew about the game. According to the books she’d checked out from the library, Quidditch was nearly a thousand years old, with the earliest recorded match dating back to 1050, when players used enchanted rocks to knock their opponents off their brooms. The sport was now being played in more than two dozen countries, with at least fifty professional teams comprised of more than five hundred players operating at any one time. Revenues from ticket sales alone brought in close to a twenty million Galleons a year, with another ten to twenty million earned though merchandizing and advertising. There was no dobut that Quidditch was a big moneymaker for all parties involved – and that, for a time, had included Krum.

Krum, Rose was learning, had been somewhat what of a prodigy. He’d been picked to play on Bulgarian’s national team when he was just seventeen, appearing in his first World Cup before he’d even completed his schooling. Krum would go on to compete in another seven championships – the last one as a seeker for the Tutshill Tornados, and for which he was rumored to have been paid upwards of a half-million Galleons, the highest sum ever given to a player for appearing in a single match. It would also prove to be Krum’s final game.

Rose knew that Viktor’s career had ended after he sustained a serious injury, and she knew that injury had been the result of a nasty fall, but what she hadn’t known was that the fall had occurred during a practice session. Injuries outside of actual matches, she learned, were rare because players practiced on pitches protected by any number of enhancements that were banned during actual play. It was just before the start of what would have been Krum’s tenth season as a professional seeker; he’d been trying out a new defensive move when he’d lost control and collided with another player. The force of the impact knocked Krum off his broom – a common occurrence for a Quidditch player – but one of the spells that was designed to slow down his descent had failed, and Viktor plummeted more than twenty meters before crashing to the ground. If it hadn’t been for the quick spell work of the team’s mediwizards, Krum might have died right there on the pitch. He survived, but not without suffering major damage to his spine, which left him unable to walk for almost a year. There had even been an inquiry following the incident, accusations of sabotage on the part of another player. But no proof of any wrongdoing was ever found. It was just an accident. A tragic one, but an accident nonetheless.

Rose learned something else about Krum’s injury. According to The Quidditch World Almanac of 2004, even before his fall, critics were already speculating that Krum’s career was coming to an end. They claimed Krum’s best days were behind him, that ten years on, his body was starting to show major signs of decline. He was less agile, less able to dodge bludgers and weave between oncoming players. The sport, they claimed, was ready for a new generation of athletes. Krum, in other words, was simply getting too old to keep up. Even without the injury, Viktor’s days as player had been numbered – a bitter pill to swallow for a man who’d just turned twenty-eight.

Rose had just finished reading through an article on the long-term effects of spinal cord damage when she heard a knock at her door. She looked up from across her desk to find Joseph Heart standing in the doorway, holding a newspaper in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other.

“I figured you could use this,” he said, passing her the cup. The coffee inside was still steaming.

Rose took it, pushing aside the papers on her desk in order to make room. Heart had been over the moon when she’d told him she’d agreed to write Krum’s story. He’d even promised to bring on some additional help to take over her normal workload until the book was done. That had been almost two weeks ago and the manuscripts were piling up fast. Literally. There wasn't an inch of spare room left anywhere in her office. If he didn’t hire someone soon, there wasn’t going to be any place left for Rose to sit.

“I assume you’ve heard the news?”

It was Sunday morning, two weeks and a day since Rose had gone to the Ministry to see Krum. Weekends were quiet around the office, with only a few dedicated souls willing to venture into work outside of normal business hours. Heart was no exception; Rose couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen her boss in the office on a Sunday. His wife didn’t allow such things, saying it was bad enough he was there from sunup to sundown during the week. Seeing Heart standing in her doorway could only mean one of two things: either he and his wife still weren’t on speaking terms, or else Heart had something very important to discuss with Rose that couldn’t wait until Monday. Judging by the wedding ring once again visible on his finger and the cup of coffee she was guessing was meant to serve as a peace offering, Rose was inclined to believe it was the latter.

“What news?” she asked.

Heart tossed the folded newspaper onto her desk. It was already open to the Entertainment section. The headline at the top of the page read:

Quidditch’s Former Bad-Boy In Trouble Again

Rose looked up at Heart. “Is this today’s paper?”

“Hot off the presses this morning.”

“How did they find out about it?”

“Who knows? Actually, I’m surprised the whole story didn’t leak out long before now.”

“But what —” Rose began, but he cut her off.

“Just read it, will you?”

Rose turned her attention back to the newspaper.

After almost a decade out of the public eye, fifty-three year-old ex-Quidditch star and former media darling Viktor Krum has once again found himself on the wrong side of the law. Sources confirm that the former sport hero is back in Ministry custody following a bar fight earlier this month that sent at least one person to hospital. No reports yet on the cause of the fight, but some are already speculating this could be a sign that Krum is once again using drugs.

Witnesses – all of them Muggles and whose memories have now been modified – report that Krum was not alone in the pub at the time of the alleged incident. He was said to have been in the company of an unidentified younger woman, though there is no record of anyone else being found on-scene when Krum was taken into custody, and so far, Krum is refusing to name names. No trial date has been set but records show that Krum was released late last night after posting bail, which was set at one thousand Galleons. Krum has long been rumored to be facing serious financial troubles. It is unknown at present how or where he secured the funds necessary to ensure his release.

That was it. That was all it said. Rose read the story over for a second time just to make sure she hadn't missed anything. When she was done, she said, “So I guess he’s out then.”

“Certainly looks that way.” Heart was staring down at Rose, a curious expression on his face. She wondered if he already knew that she was the unidentified woman Krum had been spotted with that night.

When Heart failed to say more, she asked, “Is there anything else...?” Rose knew there was something more going on. There was no way Heart came all the way down there just to show her some silly tabloid story.

He paused a moment, stepping further into the office and closing the door behind him. “We need to talk deadlines.”

“Okay...”

“Publishing is all about timing, Rose. Have I ever told you that?” She shook her head. “Well, it’s true. You’ve got to hit the market while it’s hot. You only get one chance at these things. This business with Krum – his arrest– it’s terrible news, and I feel for the poor bastard, really I do. He’s caught some tough breaks over the years. But it doesn’t have to be all for naught. Do you understand what I’m getting at?”

Rose shook her head again. “Not really.”

“What I’m trying to say here is that we need to act fast. Get ours while the taking is good.”

Now Rose was starting to get the picture, and it wasn’t pretty. “You want to use this – this attention he’s getting – as free advertisement for the book?”

“I don’t want to use it for anything. It is what it is. I’m just suggesting we take advantage of it. The man is back in the public eye whether he likes it or not. And I can guarantee that this,” he said, pointing down at the newspaper, “isn’t the last the press will have to say on the matter. Depending on how this trial plays out, we might be in for a real media firestorm. You know how those vultures can get once they sink their teeth into something. I’m just saying we have a chance to make the best of a bad situation.”

“Don’t you mean exploit a bad situation?

“You’re looking at this all wrong, kid. You’ve got to stop seeing Krum as the victim. He’s positioned to make a lot of money if this book does well. We all are. We didn’t create this mess, but that doesn’t mean we can’t ride the wave.”

As much as she hated to admit it, Heart had a point. Like Brooks said, Krum was going to need money if this all went to trial, and the book did have the potential to bring in a lot of cash, even more so now that Krum was back in the headlines. People would be more interested than ever to hear what the man had to say for himself.

“And just how soon do you expect this wave to roll in?” Rose asked. “What kind of deadline are we looking at?”

“Three months.”

Three months? You’ve got to be joking.”

“I never joke about money, Rose.”

“But...no, that’s just not possible. A project like this will take six months at least. Maybe more.”

Heart shook his head. “That’s way too long. In six months, the whole scandal could be over and done with and we’ll have missed our chance. Look,” he said, “you might have a hell of talent for writing, but you’ve got no clue about running a successful publishing operation. It’s one thing to hit the market with a new idea – something fresh and unexpected. It’s another thing to be chasing after it once all the interest has come and gone. We need to lead the way on this one. Anticipate the demand. So either this book goes out before Christmas, or the whole deal is off.”

“But—“

“This isn’t up for negotiation, Rose. I don’t care if you have to chain yourself to the man, live on his fucking doorstep. You get in there and get this done before the world goes back to forgetting why they ever cared about Viktor Krum.”

Rose just sat there, unsure what else to say. Three months? It was preposterous to even suggest she could put together anything decent in such a short amount of time. She was going to have to follow Krum around morning, noon and night if she wanted to have even a prayer of meeting such a deadline.

“Buck up, Weasley,” he said as if reading her thoughts. “I’ve got a feeling this is all going to work out just fine.”

“And what makes you so sure?”

He shot a look at the newspaper still resting on her desk. “A mysterious young woman? Don’t tell me that wasn’t you.”

“So what if it was? I was only there—”

Heart put up a hand. “Hey, I don’t want the details. I’ve got enough legal troubles of my own. But you saw what it said – Krum’s refusal to name names. You know what that means?” But Rose just shook her head. “It means he’s trying to keep you out of this. Keep the press from hounding you like they’ve hounded him for the better part of four decades. How many people do you know who’d keep their mouth shut when faced with such an opportunity?"

“Opportunity?”

“Let’s put it this way,” Heart said, crossing back to the door and yanking it open. “I don’t know too many blokes in his predicament who’d pass up the chance to throw around the name Weasley once the Ministry came knocking at their door. Maybe it helps him, maybe it doesn’t. But it certainly wouldn’t hurt his case if people knew he’d spent that evening in the company of the daughter of two of the country’s highest-ranking law enforcement officials. He’s taking a risk by keeping it to himself, and from what I know of the man, he’s not the kind who sticks his neck out for just anyone. So if you ask me, I'd say you’ve made yourself a friend, Rose. So do us both a favor and try not to fuck it up.”




Her brief conversation with Heart had given Rose a lot to think about. Was it really possible that she was the reason Krum had been so reluctant to speak up in his own defense? That he was somehow trying to protect her from what might happen if people found out she’d been with him that night? It sounded a little far-fetched. Why would a man she barely knew risk what might be his best shot at avoiding prison just to spare her from having to handle a little unwanted attention from the press?

Still, it would explain why no one from the Ministry had bothered to come around and take her statement yet. If Krum hadn’t told them, then it was possible they didn’t know she’d been there, that she’d witnessed the whole thing. Brooks knew, of course – and she suspected he’d been the one who’d told Heart – but as his lawyer, he’d be obligated to keep his mouth shut unless Krum gave him the go-ahead. With the possible exception of the bartender, all the other witnesses had been Muggles. They wouldn’t have been able to identify her; even most wizards wouldn’t know who she was just by looking at her – the exception being Krum, of course, who had spotted her coming a mile away.

Rose could have gone back and forth on the issue for days, but she didn’t have the time. With only three months to turn in her final draft, Rose didn’t have a single second to waste. So she got back to work, spending the rest of that morning and the better part of the afternoon jotting down a list of questions she wanted to ask Krum. Despite all the research she’d done, there was still a lot she didn’t know about the man. When had he first started playing Quidditch? He'd been so young when his career had begun, had there ever been anything else he’d wanted to do with his life? What had it been like growing up in Bulgaria? Did he ever return home to visit? Were his parents still alive?

Rose didn’t even know if the man was married. She didn’t think so, but she couldn’t be sure. She knew he’d been married at least twice – once to Brooks’ mother and once to a woman he’d met not long after sustaining his injury. But both marriages had ended in divorce. Had he ever gotten around to finding wife number three? Besides Brooks, did he have any children of his own?

And then there was the matter of the drugs. There wasn’t any way around it. She was going to have to ask him straight-up about why and how his life had taken such a dark turn. Rose wasn’t looking forward to broaching the topic with him, but she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t curious about what his answers might be.

By four o’clock, having come up with enough questions to fill three books, Rose knew there was nothing left for it but to find Krum and start getting down to business. After managing to track down his address – which Brooks had given to her at their last meeting, but which had soon been swallowed up by the mountains of paperwork that threatened to bury her alive – Rose gathered her notes, hit the streets, and went off in search of Krum.

The address she’d been given led her right into the heart of one of the poshest areas in all of London. It was the kind of neighborhood where it wasn’t unusual to spot celebrities, bankers, politicians, and even a few foreign dignitaries just out for a stroll, walking their dogs, or else playing with their well-dressed children in any of the impeccably manicured parks set up for their use only. The streets there were wide, at least by London standards, lined on either side by grand stucco houses, their white fronts sporting long, narrow balconies with rod iron railings and perfectly tended flowerboxes. Even the shops and restaurants were exclusive, with prices high enough to scare away any tourists who might wander into the area. It was a respite, a sanctuary for the rich and famous set up right smack in the city center.

Despite its obvious wealth and charm, Rose found it an odd match for Krum. It seemed kind of stuffy for a man of his reputation. Not to mention the cost. Rose couldn’t even begin to imagine what property in the area must run. It certainly wasn’t the type of neighborhood where she expected to find a person who was hurting for money.

Krum’s address turned out to be a four-story row home that had probably once belonged to a single family but had long since been converted into individual flats. Unlike most of the other houses in the area, the homes on this street were made of brick, which while still expensive-looking, made the place feel more homey, just a bit less ostentatious than the rest of the neighborhood. The front door, painted a bright blue, led into a grand hallway that occupied most of the first floor. Just inside the door sat a row of post boxes. Rose spotted Krum’s name on the box labeled Four. As there were only four boxes total, she assumed that Krum must be living alone on the top floor. She moved on, stepping further into the hall, her heels clicking against the marble floor, half-expecting to be stopped at any moment by one of the residents, or else a round-the-clock security guard wondering what a girl like her was doing in a place like this. But there was no one else in sight, so she crossed to the stairs and started making her way up.

Rose was just climbing the last flight of steps when she spotted someone heading down in her direction. He was tall, middle-aged perhaps, and dressed in a dark suit and tie. Catching sight of her, he slowed his pace, staring at Rose from behind his thick-framed glasses. But as soon as they were level with one another, he broke off eye contact and hurried past her without saying a word.

A friendly bunch, Rose thought to herself. Living here must be a real hoot.

Reaching the top landing, Rose spotted a solitary door at the far end of the hall, a little number “4” hanging just above the peephole. She looked down again at the small scrap of paper on which she’d written Krum’s address before stepping forward and rapping her knuckle against the frame.

A muffled voice from somewhere inside let out a string of profanities. This was soon followed by the sound of heavy footsteps heading in her direction.

“For fuck’s sake, vhat do you vant now—” Krum was shouting as he yanked open the door but stopped short once he caught sight of who was on the other side. “Rose?”

Krum was standing just inside the door. He was clean-shaven, dressed once again in his own clothes. His hair was damp, and the strong scent of soap and cigarette smoke preceded him out into the hall.

“Is this a bad time?” Rose was suddenly feeling very stupid for having not checked first to make sure it was all right for her to stop by. She’d been so distracted by her conversation with Heart and the thought of all work they needed to do, she hadn’t stopped to think that Krum might not be up for visitors just yet. He’d only been released from custody the night before.

Krum’s attention had moved from her face to the hall behind her, as if checking to see if she was alone. Rose turned around but saw no one else. After a pause, Krum looked back down at her. “No, it’s fine. Come in.”

He turned around and Rose was left to follow after him. The space she entered was incredibly bright, the far wall lined with windows, sunlight flooding in and reflecting off the crisp white walls. The space itself was huge, at least ten times the size of her own tiny flat, with tall ceilings that must have reached up at least twelve feet.

The space was very open. From where she stood, just inside the door, she could see off to her right sat the kitchen, looking like it had been carved out of marble and chrome, every surface spotless, as if the space had never been used. Off to her left was the dining and living room. The furniture there was sparse, but what little was there was dark and heavy, crafted from a mixture of oak and leather. The whole place had an industrial feel about it, which seemed entirely at odds with the old historic charm of the neighborhood. The space wasn’t cold, but there was something distinctly masculine about it.

Krum had crossed in front of her and was now seated in one of the leatherback chairs positioned opposite the couch, facing away from the windows that looked down onto the street below. He was watching her as she took in the space around her.

“You don’t like it?” he asked

“What?" she said. "I mean, no, it’s not that at all. It’s lovely...”

“Only not vhat you vere anticipating? Were you expecting a cardboard box, perhaps?"

Rose looked aghast. "No, I—"

But Krum was smiling. "Don’t vorry. I’m vell aware that Peter vill have filled you in on all my money problems. The boy never could keep his mouth shut.”

“He was only trying to help. He just wanted to make sure I understood—“

“You don’t have to defend him," Krum cut it. "I’m not angry. And it’s not like it’s a secret. The whole vorld knows I’m broke, so vhy shouldn’t you?”

“So how then—” But Rose couldn’t bring herself to finish the question.

“How do I afford to live here? Is that vhat you vant to know?” Rose gave a little shrug. It sounded so rude to hear it said out loud. “It vas a gift, of sorts.”

“From who?” she asked, not able to help herself.

“From an old friend. She thought I might like a place to lay low for a vhile.”

“That’s quite a friend, to give you all this.”

“You could say that.” Rose must not have looked convinced because he added, “I swear, it’s all on the up-and-up. I didn’t murder the previous owners, if that’s what you’re thinking. No bodies stuffed in the closet. At least not yet. Check for yourself, if you like. The bedroom’s just through there.” He pointed towards a pair of double doors set into the far wall.

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“Good. Now that that’s settled, vhy don’t you sit down and tell me vhat you’re doing here.” He gestured at the couch, and Rose joined him, perching on the edge of her seat and setting the papers she’d brought with her from the office down on the coffee table in front of her. “So, to vhat do I owe this great pleasure?”

“I’m here to talk business.”

“Business? Vhat business?”

Rose hesitated, not sure if he was teasing her or if he'd actually forgotten about the book. What other business could the two possibly have to discuss? “I’m here to talk about the book...”

“Ahh, that business. Very vell then. Vhat do you have to say about it?”

“I spoke with Heart this afternoon. Do you know him – Joseph Heart?”

“Ve’re...acquainted.”

“Well, he seems to think it’s best for everyone if we get this book done as quickly as possible.”

“I agree. The sooner the better.”

“Right, but I’m not sure you understand just how soon we’re talking about here. Heart wants it done in three months." Rose let that bit of news hang there for a moment, giving Krum time to process just how absurd it was. But he just sat there, nodding his head as if what she was saying made perfect sense. “You do realize it means I will...we both will have to put in a lot of hours over the coming weeks. And I know you’ve got...other matters to attend to.”

Krum laughed. “Matters to attend to? Is that vhat they call being arrested these days? Are you always so mindful of what you say, Rose Veasley?”

“I’m being serious here.”

“So am I.”

"So you're saying you're still okay with all this?"

"Shouldn't I be?"

"Well, yes, but–"

"Good," he said. “I take it you’ve come prepared to get right down to it.”

“Excuse me?”

Krum pointed down at the stack of papers resting on the table. A single piece of parchment was sticking out above the rest, the writing across the top clearly visible. Rose Weasley’s Questions for Krum.

Rose moved to gather up the papers, setting them on her lap before folding her arms across the top. “They’re just my notes,” she said, feeling foolish. She hadn’t meant for him to see that. She’d wanted to give him the impression she knew what she was doing, that she was a professional. Instead, she was looking more like a silly schoolgirl prepping for her next big exam.

“Don’t worry,” he said, still smiling. “No need to be embarrassed. I like a girl who comes prepared. So go ahead then, Rose Veasley. Ask me your questions. I am, as they say, at your mercy.”

 

A/N – First, a little site plugging. In case you haven’t heard, the Dobbys are starting this weekend! It’s my first time at the planning helm, so to speak, so if you aren’t a forum member already, you should really consider joining up and participating. All the staff have been working hard, and I hope they will be extra fun for everyone this year. Second, a BIG thanks momotwins for Beta-reading this chapter for me. She (and her stories) are wonderful. And finally, of course, thanks to anyone out there reading this. If there are still people out there following along, the romance hits full swing next chapter. Hopefully the build-up has been worth the wait!


Chapter 10: Chapter Ten: The Voice in Her Head
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Chapter Ten: The Voice in Her Head

“How old are you?”

“Fifty-three.”

“Where were you born?”

“Plovdiv.”

“What was your childhood like?”

“...Uneventful.”

And so it went. For two long weeks, Rose spouted off question after question, covering every topic imaginable, quickly burning through the list she’d brought with her to their first meeting. Krum, for his part, would respond with as few words as possible, being so vague at times that he might as well not have bothered to answer her at all. The only topic he seemed even remotely interested in discussing was Quidditch.

“How was it that you first got involved in the sport?”

They were seated at his dining table, just as they had been every day for the past week. Rose had offered to meet with him somewhere else – down at her office perhaps, or at some other neutral location of his choosing – but he’d declined, preferring instead to stick closer to home. Rose couldn’t blame him. So far, he’d managed to keep his current location a secret, but once the press found out where he was hiding, they’d be on him like a Bowtruckle on wood.

“There was a local team,” he told her. “They played in the voods behind my house. Their seeker had come down with dragon pox the night before some big match. A friend and I, we vere horsing around on our broomsticks, chasing after birds. One of the players happened by -- asked if I’d be interested in chasing something a bit harder to catch. I said yes, and the rest is...history.”

“And you’d never played Quidditch before then?”

Krum shooks his head. “Not once.”

“Did you win?”

“Oh God, no,” he said with a laugh. “The other team wiped the pitch with us. But afterwards, the men took me vith them to the pub, to drown our sorrows, as it were. Next thing I know, they’re all shitfaced and some girls I’d never seen before are shoving their tits in our faces like we’d just von the fucking Quidditch Cup. And I thought to myself, damn, if this is what happens when you lose, what must it be like to actually vin a match?”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “And you were how old at the time?”

“Don’t be so judgmental, Rose. It doesn’t suit you. Besides, it was a learning experience. You should try it some time. Cut loose once in awhile.”

“This isn’t about me,” she reminded him.

“But it could be...”

Rose ignored that little aside, asking instead, “And were your parents at that first match?” She’d already tried several times to broach the subject of his family, but so far she was having no luck getting him to open up on the matter. Rose was hoping that coming at it from another angle might loosen his tongue, but Krum saw right through her efforts.

“You’re wasting you time,” he said, tapping his cigarette against the rim of his ashtray, which was already overflowing with discarded cigarette butts. He’d been chain-smoking since she’d arrived earlier that afternoon, and she wondered if there wasn’t something on his mind. She was getting used to the smell, but the smoke itself still left her feeling lightheaded – not an uncommon sensation around Krum, she was quickly learning. She would have objected, asked him to at least open a window, but it seemed to relax him, giving him something constructive to do with his hands while they talked.

“And why is that?” she asked, looking up from the notebook where she’d been jotting down his answers – or lack thereof.

“Because there’s nothing there. Vhatever you're looking for, you won’t find it buried in my childhood.”

“Who says I’m looking for anything? I’m just trying to get a sense of who you are. Don’t you think your family had any influence on the person you are today?”

He smiled at her. “Not in the way you think.”

“And how do I think?”

He took another pull on his cigarette. “You think a man like me -- a man with my problems. He must have had a real shit of an upbringing. Vhy else would his life have turned out to be such a mess?”

“I never said—”

“Well, I hate to break it to you, Ginger, but my dad didn’t beat me, and my mother never called me a disappointment. My problems are my own and have got nothing to do with my family, so quit barking up that tree.”

“Fine,” Rose said, setting down her quill. She was doing her best to keep her temper in check but this whole process was starting to grate on her nerves. Krum was starting to grate on her nerves.

So what if he was right, that she was digging for something that might not be there? She had to try something. They’d been at this for nearly two weeks now and Rose still didn’t have a single thing she could use for the book. She was no closer to understanding Krum than she was when she’d first met him more than a month ago – save for the fact that she now knew he’d been a randy teenager, possessed an upper-cut nasty enough to bust a man’s face open, and seemed to genuinely enjoy trying to make her squirm.

She supposed Heart would love it. It would feed right into what the press was already saying about him: that Krum was an impulsive bad-boy with a penchant for trouble. But Rose wasn’t writing for the tabloids. She wanted to write a real story, something she’d be proud to put her name on. Besides, she knew there was more to Krum than this drivel he was giving her.

“Fine,” she said again. “Then what do you want to talk about?”

Krum stubbed out his cigarette, looking over at the now empty pack on the table beside him. “I want to talk about dinner.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s nearly eight," he said, taking a brief glance at his watch. "You’ve interrogated me right through my supper. And I can be a very cranky boy when I’m hungry.”

He winked at her and Rose felt that familiar flash of heat – the one she’d felt that night in the pub when he’d stroked her cheek, and again at the Ministry when he’d teased her about being at his beck and call.

She ignored the feeling, looking down at her own watch. He was right. They’d been at this for hours. ”All right,” she said, closing her notebook. “I suppose we can stop for the night. We aren’t exactly making a lot of progress here anyway.”

Rose made to stand up but Krum reached out a hand, wrapping his fingers around her wrist, holding her in place. “And just vhere do you think you’re going?”

She blinked. “I’m going home. You just said—”

“I said I was hungry. I didn’t say I was finished with you yet.”

Rose looked down at her hand still clasped in his. Where his looked weathered and strong, her hand looked pale and weak. “What exactly did you have in mind?”

Krum let her go, reaching into the breast pocket of his shirt and pulling out a new pack of cigarettes, which he tapped against the table but didn’t open. “I’ve decided I’m going to let you buy me dinner. You owe me that much, at least.”

“Oh, really? And how do you figure that?”

“My generous hospitality, of course. I’ve velcomed you into my home nearly every day this week. The very least you can do is buy me dinner.”

“This place doesn’t even belong to you.”

Krum gave her a dismissive wave. “A technicality. I’ve still given you the pleasure of my company, and that must be worth something to you. So vhat do you say?”

Rose hesitated. She knew he was teasing her; she was starting to grow accustomed to his flirtatious way of addressing her, the same way she was now so accustomed to his accent that she hardly noticed it any more. Rose knew she didn’t owe him anything. Still, a part of her was afraid to refuse. What if he took it as an insult? He might be even less inclined to open up with her, and time was ticking away on her deadline. That said, she couldn’t exactly forget what happened last time the two were out in public together.

“Well?” he asked, looking up at her.

“All right,” she agreed, even as the little voice in her head told her this might be a very bad idea. “But only if we make it quick. I’ve got to go into the office early tomorrow. I haven’t been in all week.”

Krum clapped his hands together once. “Vonderful. Then it’s a date.”



“Isn’t this place kind of...fancy?”

Rose had half-expected to be ushered off to another seedy pub – somewhere they were sure not to be recognized – but Krum had something else in mind. He’d led her out of his building and down several side streets before stopping in front of an upscale Italian restaurant - the kind with cloth napkins on the tables and waiters who'd refill her water glass without being asked.

Rose looked down at what she was wearing. It wasn’t exactly jeans and trainers but she was far from ready for a night on the town. Her skirt was wrinkled from hours spent sitting at Krum’s table, and one of her boots had a scuff on the toe. “I’m not exactly dressed for the occasion.”

Whatever this occasion might be.

“Relax,” he said, opening the door and gesturing her inside. “With a face like yours, I can promise you, no one is looking at your shoes.”

The air inside was cool, the lighting dim. It was busy for a weeknight, but they didn’t have to wait long. Within minutes, they were being led to one of the few empty tables in the back, their escort a petite girl no older than Rose, dressed all in black, her pale blonde hair cropped short and sticking straight up in the back. Rose didn’t care for the way she looked at Krum – like he was something for her to sink her perfectly white teeth into. But she didn’t have time to object. The woman had already handed them their menus, and with one last look at Krum, she disappeared into the crowd.

They were silent as they perused their menus, glancing up only once their waiter had arrived. He offered the wine list to Krum, who declined. The waiter then turned his attention to Rose.

“Water is fine."

Krum looked over at her. “Don’t abstain on my account.”

“I’m not,” she assured him, though that was only half-true. As much as Rose could have used a drink at that moment, she really didn’t feel comfortable indulging in front of Krum, knowing he’d given up alcohol. But more than that, she was concerned about the cost. She wasn’t sure if he’d been serious when he’d said she could buy him dinner. Rose made a point of carrying around a bit of Muggle money in case of emergencies, but she wasn’t sure how far her cash might go in a place like this.

After they’d placed their orders and the waiter had gone, Krum turned to Rose and said, “All right, now it’s my turn.”

“Your turn for what?”

“To ask you some questions.”

“And why would you want to do that?”

“Let’s just say I’m interested in what you have to say.”

She considered this for a moment, weighing her innate desire for privacy against her need to keep Krum talking. She supposed she couldn’t expect him to share his most intimate details with her unless she was willing to give him something in return.

“Fine,” she said. “What is it you want to know?”

He leaned back in his seat. “Let’s start with an easy one. How old are you?”

“Twenty-four.”

“That’s young.”

“Not so young,” she said, not really sure why she felt compelled to argue the point. What was it to her if Krum thought she was young? Young compared to what -- to the other women he let buy him dinner?

“And how old are your parents?”

She had to think about that for a moment, doing some quick maths in her head. “Fifty. No. Fifty-one. Mum will turn fifty-two in a few weeks. Why?” But Krum just shrugged. “That’s the second time you’ve brought them up, you know. My parents.”

“Is it?”

“Yes, it is. You mentioned them in the pub. You said I looked like my mother. Have you ever met my parents?”

“I thought I was the one asking the questions.”

“You are. I mean, you can. Ask me whatever you like. But tell me first, do you know my parents?”

Krum dropped his eyes, focusing for a moment on his water glass, swirling it around before setting it back on the table. “I met them once or twice, a very long time ago. Long before you were born.”

“Really? Where?” For some reason, the idea of Krum knowing her parents tickled her.

Krum put up a finger. “You’re not playing fair, Rose. I answered your question. It’s my turn again.”

“Fine,” she said, letting the matter go for the moment but making a mental note to follow up on it later. “What else do you want to know about me?”

He was looking at her again, his face serious. “I want to know why you came to see me that night at the Ministry.”

“What do you mean?”

He leaned forward in his seat. “I mean, why did you come? You didn’t exactly look thrilled to be there.”

“Of course I wasn’t thrilled. You’d been arrested. Who in their right mind would have been thrilled to see you like that?”

“Oh, I can think of a few people. But that still doesn’t answer my question. Why did you come?”

“I told you that night. I came because I wanted to ask you about the book.”

“And why else?” he asked, still staring at her. He seemed not to blink, as if refusing to break eye contact for even a second.

Rose couldn’t take the intensity, averting her eyes, suddenly very interested in a tiny droplet of condensation that had formed on the outside of her glass. “Are all your questions going to be like this? Wouldn’t you prefer to know my favorite color or something? It’s blue, by the way.”

Krum smiled. “You’re excellent at changing the subject when the topic doesn’t suit you.”

“I could say the same about you.”

Krum looked like he was about to reply but their waiter appeared then, carrying a tray of food. He carefully removed their plates, setting them down on the table, their contents steaming.

“Is there anything else I can get you?” he asked, looking first at Krum and then over at Rose. Krum barely looked up at the man, giving him a dismissive wave.

“No, thank you,” Rose said, making a point to smile at the waiter in an effort to make up for Krum’s rudeness. The waiter gave her a curt nod before departing, leaving the pair alone once more.

“Vell...?” Krum asked, ignoring the food that had just been set in front of him.

“Well what?”

“Are you going to answer my question or not?”

“Can’t we put the interrogation on hold while we eat? You were the one who said you were so hungry.”

Krum agreed and the two fell silent again. Rose busied herself with her food, the name of which she hadn’t recognized but which turned out to be a bowl of tiny square-shaped pasta stuffed with cheese and covered in a pale brown sauce that tasted like toasted butter. It was good, if a bit too rich for her liking, and after only a few bites, she was already getting full.

“You don’t like it?” Krum asked, watching her push the noodles around on her plate.

“No, it’s fine. I guess I’m just not that hungry after all.”

Krum set down his fork and folded his arms across his chest, the tattoo on his forearm clearly visible against his black shirt. She’d tried to ask him about it – the odd collection of letters and symbols he’d thought were important enough to display so prominently on his body – but it was just another one of those topics he’d refused to discuss.

“Do I make you uncomfortable, Rose?”

“Of course not.” But the words sounded just a bit too earnest, even to her ears. He said nothing but she could swear he wasn’t buying her denial for a second. Just like he’d said that night at the pub: he could read her like a book. “Didn’t you have some other questions you wanted to ask me?” Rose was desperate to change the subject. The truth was, Krum did make her nervous, only she still hadn’t figured out why. Or maybe she had, and she just wasn’t ready to admit it yet.

“Feeling talkative now, are we?” he asked, his mood brightening.

“You should try it sometime. It would make this whole book process go a lot faster. The sooner we’re done, the sooner I can stop pestering you.”

“Is that what you think you’re doing? Pestering me?”

Rose shrugged. “Well, I am, aren’t I? I mean, you certainly don’t act like you’re enjoying the process.”

Krum didn’t answer. He’d pushed aside his plate, resting his arm on the table. “Give me your hand.”

“Why?” she asked, immediately suspicious of where this was going.

“Give me your hand,” he repeated. After a pause, Rose set down her napkin and held out her right hand, which he took in his. He ran his fingers across the small gold chain that hung around her wrist. “Tell me about this.”

“It’s a bracelet.”

“I can see that. But vhat’s the story? Every time I see you, you’ve wearing it. It must be important to you.”

She looked down at her hand. He was still stroking the thin chain, the tips of his fingers brushing her skin in a gesture that felt oddly intimate. And she let him do it – just like she’d done that first night. Those first few touches.

“So what’s the story?” he asked again.

“No story,” she said, keeping her eyes on his fingers. “It’s just an old bracelet. I’ve had it for years.”

“And was it a gift?”

“Of sorts, I suppose.”

“From who?”

“Just an old friend,” she said, using the same line he’d given to her when she’d asked him whose flat he was staying in.

“And is this 'old friend' a man, by chance?”

"And what if he was? It was a long time ago."

"You must have cared about him deeply if you're still wearing this. Did you love him?"

That seemed to break the spell, and Rose lifted her hand from his, placing it back on her lap. “Does it matter?”

“You’re deflecting again. It's just a simple question. Yes or no. Did you love him?”

“I think it’s my turn to ask another question," Rose said. "Tell me, are you married?”

"Does it matter?" He grinned at his own cleverness as he used Rose’s words against her.

Rose was about to reply when something caught her attention. It was after nine and the restaurant had emptied; only a few of the tables were still occupied, but Rose had noticed someone near the bar. Someone she was pretty sure she recognized. He had spotted her too and was now waving over at her.

Krum turned around, catching sight of the man. “Do you know him?”

“I think I do...” she said. “Will you excuse me?”

Without giving him a chance to respond, Rose stood up, Krum watching her intently as she set her purse down on the table and headed over to the bar, which was clear on the other side of the restaurant. As she drew closer, her initial suspicions were confirmed.

“I thought that was you,” Albus Potter said, hopping down off his barstool, giving Rose a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek in way of a greeting. “What in the world are you doing here?”

“I was just about to ask you the same thing.”

Her cousin was positively beaming, the grin on his face reminding Rose of exactly how Hugo had looked when she’d caught him talking on the phone with Billy. He was a lot more put together than the last time she’d seen him. His clothes were no longer wrinkled; his hair had been cut and now lay flat against his scalp. He looked taller somehow, though Rose was sure that was just her imagination.

“You look great,” she told him, and she meant it.

“I feel great. That’s why we’re here. We’re celebrating.”

“Who is? Celebrating what?”

Al looked around as if checking to make sure the coast was clear. “Well,” he said, keeping his voice low. “Amelia and me, we’re going to...that is to say...we’re having a baby!”

Rose's mouth fell open, the way that, until that moment, she imagined only happened in cartoons. “What?” Rose shouted. The bartender shot her a look, and she quickly lowered her voice. “What do you mean you’re having a baby? How is that even possible?”

Albus laughed. “Well, Rosie, when two people love each other very, very much—”

"I know how babies are made, Al. But...what happened? I thought you two had broken up.”

“We did. I mean, we were. But then, well, we weren't anymore. We didn’t plan it but...Well, isn’t it just great, Rose? We’re going to get married and everything. Do it up all proper like. We’re going to be a family.”

Rose could hardly believe what she was hearing. Barely a month had passed since Al had shown up at her flat, swearing up and down that he and Amelia were never getting back together again. And now they were having a baby? And getting married?

“Well, say something...” he said, looking at her.

“I—” But Rose didn’t know what to say. Albus looked positively over the moon about the whole thing. What was she supposed to do -- tell him that this was just about the worst idea she’d ever heard? The two of them fought like children and now they were going to try and raise one? This had disaster written all over it.

But of course she couldn’t say any of that. It wasn’t her place. And besides, she didn’t have the heart – not the way he was looking at her, grinning like he’d just won the lottery.

So Rose plastered on her most convincing smile and said, “Congratulations, Al. That’s really great.”

“Thanks," he said, and he seemed to genuinely mean it. "You’re the first one I’ve told. We just found out for sure last week. It’s the first night Amelia’s felt up to leaving the house. You know, morning sickness and all that...only I guess it’s more like night sickness in her case.”

Rose nodded as if she understood exactly what he was talking about, though nothing could have been further from the truth. Rose had about as much experience with babies and pregnancy as she had with playing Quidditch. In other words: none whatsoever.

“Is she here then?” Rose asked, looking around for any sign of Al’s girlfriend. Correction, she thought. Al's fiancé.

“She’s in the loo. She was afraid she might start hurling again.”

“Sounds fun.”

Al laughed. “I guess it will all be worth it in the end. But what about you? You haven’t told me what you’re doing here. Are you on a date or something?” He looked off in the direction of her table, which was now obscured by a large group of diners who were making their way towards the door.

“Err...” she began, not really sure how to answer him. She hadn’t thought so at first, but after the way Krum had been looking at her, stroking her hand, she wasn’t so sure anymore. On a date with Viktor Krum. It had a certain ring to it.

“Well, you should hop to it, Rosie. We aren’t getting any younger. I mean, look at me. I’m gonna be a dad!”

She knew he was teasing, but she didn’t appreciate the tone. His girlfriend had been pregnant for all of about five minutes and already he was an expert on families and relationships.

“I guess I should go check on Amelia,” he said. “Make sure she isn’t in there puking her guts out. Promise not to tell anyone you know about the baby, all right? Amelia will kill me if she finds out people already know before she’s had the chance to tell them.”

“My lips are sealed.”

“Thanks, Rose. You’re the best.” He gave her another peck on the cheek before turning around and heading off towards the bathrooms.

Rose stood there for a long moment, contemplating what had just happened. She couldn’t wrap her brain around it. Albus was going to be a father.

Still mulling it all over, Rose made her were back toward her table, but as she drew close, she saw that it was empty. Krum was nowhere in sight.

“Excuse me,” she said, flagging down their waiter as he passed by, arms laden with empty plates. “The man who was sitting here. Do you know where he went?”

“What, the rude one? Oh, he left.”

“Left?”

The waiter nodded. “Yeah, just a couple of minutes ago.”

“Did he say where he was going? Is he coming back?”

The man shrugged. “Dunno where he went, but I doubt he’s coming back. He already paid the bill.”

“He paid?”

The waiter nodded again. “Left a nice tip too.” When Rose failed to say anything, he asked, “Is there something more? Only these plates are getting heavy...”

“Oh, no,” she said. “Thank you.”

The man gave her a half-hearted smile and left.

Rose didn’t understand what was going on. Where had Krum gone? What could have made him up and leave in such a hurry? Rose looked around. Her purse was missing too. It had her wand in it, and all her money. Without it, she wouldn’t be able to make her way home. She sincerely hoped Krum had thought to take it with him when he left. Everything else was easy enough to replace, but she was rather fond of her wand and hated the idea of having to buy a new one. And they weren’t exactly cheap either.

Not sure what else to do, Rose turned around, left the restaurant and headed back towards Krum’s flat.

Ten minutes later, she was back at his door, banging her fist as loud as she could, praying he was inside. After a long pause, she heard movement on the other side. Seconds later, the door swung open.

“There you are,” she said, slightly out of breath from having just climbed four flights of stairs. Krum was standing in the doorway, one arm resting against the frame as if trying to stop her from coming inside.

“Where else would I be?” His tone was flat, all the traces of his earlier good humor wiped away.

“What happened to you? Why did you leave the restaurant?”

“It was getting late.”

“Late?” she repeated. “You up and took off because it was getting late?”

“Yes, Rose. It’s late, and I’m tired. Vhat is it you want?”

She opened her mouth but words failed her. What exactly was going on here?

“Well...?” he asked.

“I...I wanted to make sure you were all right.” When that failed to elicit a response, she added, “And I want my purse.”

Krum sighed. He dropped his arm and turned around, heading back inside. Rose followed him, though he hadn’t exactly invited her in. He crossed to the counter, picking up her bag and handing it to her.

“There,” he said. “Now you have vhat you came for. So goodnight, Rose.”

He turned his back on her, a clear indication she was meant to see herself out, but Rose remained where she was. She didn’t have a clue what had gotten into him but she wasn’t about to let him off the hook that easily.

“Wait just a minute,” she said. “You don’t get to behave like this. You asked me to dinner and then disappear halfway through? What kind of way is that to treat someone? It’s rude.”

He spun back around, one eyebrow raised. “Rude? You think I’m the one being rude?”

“Yes, I do.”

He smiled, but the look was devoid of any humor. “That’s rich coming from you.”

“Me? What did I do?”

“You left me there, sitting at that table like an idiot. Vhat was I supposed to do?”

“What are you talking about? I didn’t leave you. I was only gone for five minutes. What’s the problem?”

“Don’t play dumb, Rose. It’s not your style.”

“I’m not playing at anything. I honestly don’t know what you’re on about.”

“Then you’re not the girl I thought you were. Goodnight, Rose.” Krum crossed back over to the door, holding it open, waiting for her to leave.

“No,” she said, still standing her ground. “I’m not leaving until you tell me what’s going on. What exactly did I do that was so wrong?”

Krum said nothing for a long moment, seeming to steady himself for something. Finally, he looked up at her. “You should go, Rose. Before I lose my temper.”

But Rose had no intention of leaving. It was like being back at the Ministry all over again. She was intent on pushing his buttons, trying to get a rise out of him. In a way, she was no better than the man at the pub, the one who kept insulting Krum over and over again until he’d finally snapped. Rose knew she was playing a dangerous game here, but she couldn’t stop herself.

“You think you’re the only one around here who gets to lose their temper?” she asked, slamming her purse back down on the counter. “Well, guess what? I’m pretty pissed myself at the moment. I’ve been trying for weeks to get you to talk to me, but you keep shutting me down. And now you’re doing it again. Well, I’ve had enough. You either say what’s really bothering you or else I walk out that door and you can write this goddamn book yourself.”

“Rose, I’m warning you...”

“To hell with your warnings,” she said, crossing over to where he stood, looking him straight in the eye. “I won’t let you bully me around. I’m not afraid of you.”

He looked back at her. They were only inches apart now. He was still holding open the door. “I won’t tell you again—”

“Stop talking to me as if I’m some silly schoolgirl. I’m not a child, Viktor.” It was one of the few times she'd had cause to addressed him by his first name. It felt odd against her teeth.

“Aren’t you?” he asked, his voice low.

“Aren’t I what?”

“I saw you tonight, Rose. Playing me like the old fool I am.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I saw the way you looked at him. You left me behind without a second thought.”

“Left you? I didn’t—” But Rose stopped. Something occured to her then, only she didn’t want to believe it. Could it possibly be true. “Are you...jealous? Of Al?”

Krum looked bemused. “Oh, is that his name?”

“But...you don’t think... He's not..." She wasn’t even talking sense anymore. Her mind was racing. Could they really be talking about what she thought they were talking about? Had Krum gotten the wrong idea, thinking she’d ditched him to run off with another man? Another man. That implied that she already had a man. That she was somehow with Krum. She looked up into is face, which seemed to have aged a decade in the last five minutes. “Why are you jealous, Viktor?”

Krum had leaned in, resting his weight against the door. He was so close now she could feel the heat of his body against her skin. “Don’t make me say it out loud.”

It wasn’t the answer she was looking for, but his meaning was more than clear. “I think you’ve misunderstood,” she said, her voice calm, even while her heart pounded in her chest. “Al’s not my boyfriend. He’s my—”

But he cut her off. “I don’t really give a damn who or what he is. I think I’ve made my intentions more than clear tonight, Rose. Now you must decide. The choice is yours.”

He was staring at her so intently now she could almost feel her knees start to give way under the pressure. Her choice. Her choice to do what? What intentions? The invitation to dinner. The flirtatious questions. The fingers on her wrist. Had he been sending her signals all night that she'd been either unwilling or unable to see? And it wasn't just tonight, Rose knew. A part of her had sensed it that first night at the pub, and almost every moment she'd spent with him since. Every little touch, every wink, every coy smile. It wasn't a just a show. It was all for her.

So where did that leave her? If a part of her had known what he wanted all along, then a part of her must have been planning for this moment. Deciding what her answer would be...

“The choice is yours,” he said again, leaning in until his chin was almost flush against her cheek. “Just, please, leave a man with at least a shred of self-respect. Only the ones we care for can truly strip us of our dignity.”

Rose gasped, her mouth falling open. “But that’s...That’s a line from my book!”

“I know,” he said, his lips only a whisper away from her own.

“But how did you--?”

“I told you,” he said, looking deep into her eyes. “I can read you, Rose. And I know all your secrets.”

Maybe it was the intimacy of his words – the way he already seemed to be inside her. Maybe it was Al’s warning that she needed to step up before life passed her by. Or maybe it was simply ego, the allure of hearing her own words whispered softly in her ear. Whatever the reason, he'd triggered something deep within her, a low hum that traveled through every nerve in her body. It had been a long time since Rose had felt like this, like she was on the precipice of something big. Something primal. Something raw and full of need.

And so Rose made her choice. Maybe it was stupid, foolish even. But it was hers to make.

She reached out then, taking his hand and peeling his fingers from the door, which swung closed with a soft click, sealing them inside.

“There’s no going back, Ginger,” he whispered, his breath hot on her cheek.

Rose shuddered once and said, “Then I guess we better make this good.”





A/N - Another huge thanks to momotwins for being wonderful enough to look this over. She suggested I beef up a few areas, which I did, so any remaining mistakes are all my own. Any and all reviews are always welcome! Thank you to anyone still reading along.


Chapter 11: Chapter Eleven: The First Mrs. Krum
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Chapter 11: The First Mrs. Krum

What happened between them in the hours that followed was – if not exactly magical – at the very least unexpected. And yet a part of Rose felt as if this was right where they'd been headed all along.

He’d taken her to his bed, made love to her in a way that was at times frenzied, and at other times painstakingly slow. Up until then, he’d been forced to rely on his words to tease her; but with her body now at his disposal, his fingers, his lips – every inch of him – had joined in the fun. They’d said little to each other as they moved, speaking only in whispered moans, falling asleep in each other’s arms only to wake a few hours later and begin the climb all over again.

When Rose awoke at seven the next morning, she found herself alone and naked in Viktor's bed. She was wrapped in a sheet, the mattress still warm and damp from the night’s activities.

The door to the adjoining bath slid open and she turned to find Viktor standing in the doorway. He was naked too, his skin damp from the shower.

“Did I vake you?”

Rose shook her head, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. She was getting her first proper look at her new lover, illuminated by the sunlight that poured in through the sheer curtains draped across the window. Even unclothed, his body looked dense, even with the hint of softness around the middle. She could see now that the tattoo on his forearm continued up his bicep and over his shoulder, snaking its way around to his back. His skin was a rich, even tan, the hair on his chest flecked with the same gray as the hair on his head. Rose realized it was the first time she’d ever seen a man of his age naked before, and she wasn’t disappointed.

He seemed to sense her scrutiny, but it only made him smile. He wasn't shy with her; he'd proven that last night. Whatever insecurities he may have, his sexual prowess wasn't one of them.

She stayed where she was, watching as he dressed in his usual uniform of dark trousers and matching shirt. When he was done, he ran his fingers through his wet hair, making it stand on end for a moment before falling back into place.

“The bathroom is all yours,” he said, moving for the door. He seemed to reconsider then, turning back around and crossing to the bed, where Rose lay still buried beneath the covers. He leaned down, capturing her lips in his. The kiss was slow and deep, and she was tempted to reach out and draw him down on top of her. But she was too slow; he’d already released her. “Take all the time you need,” he said, and he was gone.

If it had been anyone else, Rose might have thought she was being given the brush-off – told to clean herself up and hit the road like a cheap one-night stand. But she knew that wasn’t what he meant. She’d seen it in his eyes last night, felt it in kiss. He wasn't rejecting her; he was giving her space, time to process what had happened. He already knew her well enough to know it was only a matter of time before the doubt and the guilt set in. He was giving her the chance to decide how she felt with no pressure or input from him. When she was ready to talk, he'd be waiting.

Rose threw aside the covers and shuffled off to the bath. Ten minutes later, she was dressed in the same clothes she’d worn the day before, her wet hair hanging loose around her shoulders.

“Good morning,” Krum said as she entered the kitchen. There were two mugs of coffee resting on the counter and he slid one over to her.

“Thanks,” she said, taking a sip. The coffee was strong and bitter, nothing like the kind she kept at home – the cheap stuff that came in a can. It tasted like it had been ground fresh that morning.

Krum picked up his mug, taking a seat at the table, and Rose followed suit. “I’d cook you breakfast,” he said, “but I’m afraid my talents don’t extend much past the bedroom.”

“That’s all right,” she said, taking another sip of her coffee. “I’ve got to head into work anyway.”

“So soon?”

“It’s just for today. I haven’t been in for ages. If I don’t show my face soon, people might start talking – think you’ve kidnapped me or something.”

“Or something,” he said with just a hint of a smile. He picked up her hand, lacing his fingers through hers. “And you’re...all right?”

She knew what he meant, and she gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. “I’m not as fragile as I look, Viktor. It will take more than what happened last night to take me down.”

“Is that so?” he said, looking amused. “I’ll be sure to remember that for next time.”

Next time. She liked the sound of that.

“I should go finish getting ready,” she said, and he nodded, letting her go but not before stealing another kiss.

Rose left him, disappearing back into the bathroom, doing what she could with her hair, smoothing out the wrinkles in her skirt – hoping like hell she didn’t look like a girl who’d just spent the night with her legs in the air. The last thing she needed was for people at work to find out about her and Krum. It wasn’t like she was going to get fired for it – there was no law against sleeping with someone you just also happen to be writing a book about. But it looked bad. Really bad. No, she thought. Best to keep this one to ourselves.

She reemerged a few minutes later, looking as presentable as she was going to get. “Well, I guess I’m off—” But she stopped, pausing mid-stride.

There was a stranger standing just inside the front door. He was tall, though not as tall as Krum, who was standing beside him, looking as if he’d like to be anywhere else at that moment. The man looked to be in his fifties, with thinning brown hair and thick-framed glasses, dressed in the sort of no-nonsense suit and tie that seemed a hallmark for all the under-paid government officials of the world. He’d been in the middle of saying something to Krum but had gone quiet, both men turning to face her as she entered the room.

“It seems I’ve interrupted something,” the man said, looking first at Krum and then back over at Rose. It wasn’t an apology; he didn’t sound the least bit sorry for the intrusion. In fact, if Rose had to guess, she’d say the man looked almost amused.

“I can wait in the other room,” Rose said, not liking the way the man was looking at her – like he’d just caught her standing there in nothing but her underwear.

She made to turn round but Krum put up a hand. “It’s fine, Rose. Our guest vas just leaving.”

The man stayed where he was for a long moment, eyes locked on Rose. At long last, he looked away, turning his attention back to Krum. “Very well, Mr. Krum. We’re done for now, anyway. But I’ll be back soon...to see how you're getting on.”

Krum had already yanked open the front door, practically pushing the man out into the hall. “I look forward to it.”

As he turned to go, Rose realized something. She’d seen this man before. It was a few weeks ago, the day she’d first come to see Krum. She was in the stairwell; the man had been heading down while she’d been on her way up. She hadn’t thought much of it at the time, but as this was the only flat on the fourth floor, the man had to have been coming from Krum’s place.

“Who was that?” Rose asked as soon as the man was gone. Krum had slammed the door shut, locking it behind him.

“It’s no one.”

“I saw him before. Do you know—”

“I said it’s no one.” And there was a finality in this tone that warned Rose not to press the issue.

“All right,” she said, grabbing her purse up off the counter and slinging it over her shoulder. She didn’t believe him but she had no interest in spoiling their perfectly good night together by getting into a row. “I guess I’ll be going then.”

She was staring at Krum, waiting for some sort of response, but his eyes seemed suddenly distant, like a black cloud had fallen over him. Rose felt an uneasy weight settle in her stomach. But as quick as the cloud had appeared, it was gone again; he was back, shaking off whatever he’d been thinking on. He reached out his hands, grabbing her by the shit collar and gently pulling her into him.

“This is nice,” she said, liking the way her body seemed to fit so perfectly in his. He nuzzled her hair with his nose, mumbling something unintelligible that she took to mean he agreed. “Shall I come back later then? We can work more on the book...amoung other things."

She regretted it almost as soon as she'd said it. Krum’s body went still, and Rose could have sworn she felt him retreat from her just ever so slightly. “No,” he said. “Not today. I have things I need to do. Later, maybe.”

The weight in her stomach seemed to grow. Was it possible she’d read him wrong? That he was, in fact, trying to brush her off now that he’d had his way with her? She hated herself for even thinking it – for being one of those girls who got insecure and paranoid at the first smell of rejection – but she couldn’t help herself. Sex changes things. There’s no way around it.

As if sensing her doubt, he released her body, taking her face in his hands. “I’m not sorry, Rose. I hope you aren’t either.”

“I’m not,” she said. And she wasn’t. At least not yet. But that didn’t stop the fear from creeping in and settling heavy in her chest. She’d thought last night was the start of something. Now she wasn’t so sure.

He gave her another soft kiss on the lips before letting her go. “Have a good day,” he said.

“You too...” But he was already gone, leaving Rose to see herself out.




She arrived at her office a few minutes later, settling in behind her desk, inwardly sighing at the prospect of spending the day drudging through all the paperwork that had piled up in her absence. The sheer fact that she could still fit into her office suggested that Heart had finally managed to bring on some extra help. She should have been happy about the new hire; there was no way she could meet her deadline while still keeping up with her normal day-to-day responsibilities. But something about it felt wrong. The idea that she’d been replaced – even temporarily – bothered Rose. She couldn’t help but feel like she was being kicked to the curb...again.

It was just after noon when a sharp rap on the door pulled her attention away from the rejection letter she’d been in the middle of writing. She looked up to find a familiar face standing in the doorway.

“Peter!” Rose cried, nearly jumping out of her seat at the sight of him. “What in the world are you doing here?”

No offense to the man, but Peter Brooks was about the last person on planet earth Rose wanted to see at that moment. He was Viktor’s son. The child – even if only by a marriage that had long since been dissolved – of the man she’d just spent the night with. Even as she thought about it, she could smell the scent of Krum’s soap rising from her skin. She positively reeked of the man. She was sure Brooks could smell it on her. Step-son or not, the thought of him knowing what happened, the things she’d let Krum do to her... It was mortifying.

He was looking down at her, a curious expression on his face. “Is this a bad time?”

She did her best to wipe the guilt of her face. “No, no. Of course not. Come in.”

Brooks stepped inside. There was still no place to sit, so he settled for hovering near the wall, hands shoved into the pockets of his trousers.

“So, what’s going on?” Rose asked, working hard to keep tone casual.

“Well, I was just off talking with Heart, and I figured I might as well pop in and give you the good news while I’m here.”

“Good news?”

“About Krum’s case.”

Of course. How could she have forgotten? Krum was still in the middle of a major legal battle, one that could land him in Azkaban for years if things didn’t go his way. Great, she thought. Not only had she slept with a man she was supposed to be working with on a million-dollar book deal, but her new lover just also happened to be facing serious prison time. Rose was feeling stupider and stupider by the second.

“W-- What news?” she asked with the faintest quiver in her voice.

But Brooks seemed not to notice. “It looks like we may have worked out a plea deal, and a really solid one at that.”

“That’s great. Would it keep Krum out of prison?”

“Well, not completely, no. But he’d only be looking at three to six months, and that’s certainly a hell of a lot better than the three to six years he could be facing if this goes to trial.”

“Do you think Krum will go for it?” Already Rose was skeptical. She had a hard time imagining Krum agreeing to something that meant automatic prison time, even if it was a reduced sentence.

Brooks shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. You’ve spent more time with him lately than I have. What do you think?”

Rose adverted her eyes, taking a sudden interest in the ink blotter on her desk. “I really don’t know him all that well.” This was actually the truth, or at least a version of the truth. She might 'know' him in the biblical sense, but his mind was still very much a mystery to her.

“No matter. I guess I’ll find out for myself soon enough.”

“Well, thanks for stopping by to let me know...” Rose said, eager to get Brooks out of her office.

“Actually, that’s not the only reason I dropped by. There’s something else I need to discuss with you.”

Rose felt her mouth go dry. “Oh, really?”

“Heart told me about the his plan to get Krum’s book out by Christmas. That’s soon.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Well,” he said, “that got me thinking. You’ve got a lot of ground to cover in just a few months. And I’m just guessing here, but I bet Krum’s not being quite as, shall we say forthcoming, as you might have hoped.” Rose gave a noncommittal shrug, which Brooks seemed to take as confirmation. “I figured as much. Anyway, I’d love to help you, but to be honest, I don’t know as much about the man as I should. We had some good times when I was a kid, and he’d pop by for important events – birthdays, graduations, that sort of thing – if he was sober enough to remember what day it was. But I don’t really know him, at least not enough to give you the kind of information you need. But,” he said, finally getting to the point, “I do know someone who does.”

He reached into his shirt pocket, pulling out a scrap of paper and passing it over to her. Rose looked down. It was another address. If Brooks thought she was heading off to another godforsaken back-alley pub, he was out of his mind.

“It’s for my mother,” he said, pointing down at the paper. “It’s the address of her summer home. She’ll be there for another couple of weeks before heading south for the winter. The woman’s like a bird – migrating to warmer climates at the first hint of Autumn. Anyway, I’ve told her all about you and she’s anxious for the two of you to get together and talk.”

“Your mother?" Rose was confused. What business could she possibly have to discuss with Brooks’ mother?

“The one and only. Trust me, if anyone in the world knows Krum, it’s her. They’ve stayed in touch all these years. I mean, they aren’t all buddy-buddy or anything like that, but I bet she could tell you just about anything you’d want to know about Krum. Give you another perspective on the man.”

Rose had to admit it was an interesting proposition. Brooks had told her at their first meeting that he was just a kid when his mother married Krum. Peter had to be in his mid-thirties by now, which meant that his mother must have known Krum going on three decades. And it wasn’t like she was getting a whole lot from Viktor at the moment; it was too early to know if last night would change any of that. Whatever this thing was that was going on between them, Rose still had a book to write and a deadline to meet. If Krum wasn’t going to help her, maybe it was time to look elsewhere for answers.

“Well, what do you say?” Brooks asked.

Rose thought about for another moment before saying, “Sure, why not? I guess it can’t hurt to meet with her, hear what she has to say.”

Books flashed her a grin, clearly pleased that she was taking to his suggestion. “Great. She’s around all afternoon. Stop by whenever you finish up here.”

Rose blinked. “What, you mean today?”

“Sure. I mean, unless you already have plans...”

No. Rose definitely didn’t have any plans. Krum had made that more than clear this morning.

“All right,” she said, looking down at the address again. “I guess today’s as good a day as any.”

And just like that, Rose found herself agreeing to a meeting with the first Mrs. Viktor Krum.




If Rose thought Krum’s flat was lavish, it was nothing compared to what was waiting for her at the home of Peter’s mother. The address Brooks had given her took Rose all the way to Hoddington, a small village about eighty kilometers outside of London. The house – though it looked more like a hotel than any house Rose had ever been in – was, in every sense of the word, a grand country estate. It was a three-story brick structure, with six white chimneystacks that rose up into the sky like Corinthian columns, and at least a dozen windows on every floor. As she drew close, Rose noticed that none of them were covered. There was no need. The house was set so far off the main road, there was no chance whatsoever of a nosey neighbors just happening by, peering in for a closer look.

Rose wound her way up the gravel drive, stopping once she reached the front door. She’d barely finished knocking when the heavy door swung inward, bringing Rose face-to-face with Mrs. Brooks. Or at least she assumed it was Mrs. Brooks. She was a no-nonsense-looking woman who Rose guessed to be in her early sixties. She was plain, wearing no make-up, her stringy black hair knotted in a bun at the base of her neck. Her outfit that day consisted of a dark blue dress that fell just past the knee and a pair of very sensible-looking shoes.

“Mrs. Brooks?” Rose asked.

“Not hardly,” the woman said, her tone a perfect match with her stern expression. “I’m Mrs. Baker, the housekeep. You must be Ms. Weasley. Peter said you’d be dropping by. Mrs. McKenna is expecting you.”

“Who?”

But the woman had already turned around, leaving Rose to follow her inside. “Mrs. Lidia Brooks-McKenna,” the housekeeper called over her shoulder. “She’s the lady of the house. I assumed you knew.” There was a hint of something distasteful in the way she addressed Rose, as if Rose were less of a guest and more like an annoying fly at a picnic.

The housekeeper led Rose into the main hall. The inside of the house proved even grander than the outside. Off to her right, Rose could see an old-fashioned reception room, complete with a stone fireplace big enough for her entire family to fit inside, which was really saying something. Hanging above the mantel was a very old-looking tapestry, like the kind that lined the halls of Hogwarts. On the other side of the entryway was the formal living room. It too had an oversized fireplace, which Rose guessed was original to the home. There were no tapestries there, but Rose did spot about half-a-dozen deer antlers lined up like trophies along one wall. The whole effect made Rose feel like she’d stepped back in time by about a hundred years. Any moment now, Jeeves the butler would come and ask to take her coat, bringing her a snifter full of cognac before ushering her off to the parlor.

“Margaret, was that the door I heard?”

Rose turned around. A second woman had just entered the hall. She looked to be in fifties, handsomely dressed, her designer clothes perfectly pressed, her hair cut short in a style that flattered her long, pointed face. She was petite, about a head shorter than Rose, and very slim. Her smile was warm, her jewelry expensive. Everything about the woman seemed to ooze confidence and class. This, Rose knew, had to be Brooks’ mother.

“And you must be Rose,” she said, reaching out a hand, which Rose accepted. The woman’s palm was cool and smooth, her grip strong.

“Yes,” Rose said. “It’s very nice to meet you, Mrs...” But she paused, not sure how to address the woman. What had the housekeep called her again?

“Oh, none of that ‘Mrs’ business around here,” the woman said. “Call me Liddy, please. This house may be stuffy but I most certainly am not. It’s first names only around here. I insist. Now,” she said, shifting gears, looking down at her watch. “It’s nearly two. I take it you’ve eaten lunch?” Rose nodded. “Good.” She turned her attention to the housekeeper. “Margaret, give us an hour and then bring in the tea. That should give Rose and I a chance to settle in. And tell Robert to whip up some more of those biscuits he made last week. They were absolutely to die for.”

The housekeeper nodded. “Very good, ma’am.”

“Come now,” Liddy said, looping her arm through Rose’s as if the two were old friends. “We have some serious business to discuss.”

Liddy led Rose down the hall and towards the back of the house, stopping once they’d reached a small door at the end of a long corridor. The door led to a small study – every wall covered from floor to ceiling in beautiful rosewood bookcases. Where as the rest of the house felt stuffy and cold, this room warm and inviting, as if begging Rose to curl up in front of the fire and get lost in a good book.

Rose must have looked impressed. “It’s wonderful, isn’t it?” Liddy asked, smiling at Rose. “It was Walter’s – that was my late husband’s name. Walter Reginald McKenna. The man did love his stories.”

Rose stepped forward, admiring one of nearby shelves. The spines of the books were perfectly aligned, looking almost unbroken, many of them bound in leather, with gold designs inlaid across the covers. Rose didn’t recognize most of the titles. Some, she was pretty sure, weren’t even in English.

At the end of one of the rows of books sat a small collection of family photographs. Rose stopped, examining them with interest. There was one of Peter standing beside a pretty young woman Rose guessed was his wife. There was several shots of Liddy posing with a much older gentleman with thinning grey hair and hollow cheeks – the dearly departed Mr. McKenna, perhaps. Rose was just about to ask Liddy about it when she spotted a familiar face in a photograph near the back. The picture was small, set into a polished silver frame. There were four people, all well dressed and smiling for the camera. The couple on the right was Liddy and the man Rose guessed to be her husband. But the other couple...

“Is that Heart?” Rose asked, picking up the photograph and spinning around to face Liddy, who was now perched on one of the nearby settees.

Liddy reached out and took the photo. “What, you mean Joseph? Yes, that’s him,” she said, tapping one of her long painted fingernails against the glass. “And that’s Cynthia beside him. You know, I can’t for the life of me remember when this was taken. Peter’s wedding, maybe? Or was it when we took that trip to Paris? That’s the worst thing about getting old, Rose. All the days start to bleed together.”

She handed the photograph back to Rose, who returned it to its place on the shelf. “I’m sorry,” Roes said, still not understanding. “But how do you know Joseph Heart?”

Liddy laughed, a light tinkling sound that reminded Rose of the little bells that her mother used to hang on the Christmas tree when she was a child. “Oh, Joe and I have known each other for years. I was the one who introduced him to Cynthia.”

“His wife, you mean? Mrs. Heart?”

Liddy nodded. “Of course, though I don’t tend to call her that. That would be a rather formal way of addressing one’s own sister.”

“Sister? You mean Heart is your—”

“Brother-in-law. Yes, that’s right. Has been for many decades now.”

Well, this was a twist Rose hadn’t seen coming. “And that would make Peter his...nephew?”

She nodded again. “They’ve always been close. The two never had children of their own, so I guess you could say Peter was a bit like an adopted son to them. But come,” Liddy said, patting the cushion beside her. “We have other things to discuss.”

Rose obliged, still mulling it all over as she took the seat next to Liddy, removing her notebook and quill from her bag. A whole lot of unanswered questions were suddenly falling into place. No wonder Heart had been so intent on this book deal. Krum was, in a very roundabout sort of way, a part of his extended family. Maybe Peter had come to Heart for help, looking for a way to make some fast money for his down-and-out former stepfather. Or maybe it had been Liddy’s idea. Perhaps she’d told her sister about Krum’s situation, and she in turn had passed the news along to her husband. Rose wondered if that was why Heart and his wife had been fighting last month. She couldn’t imagine Heart being excited about the idea, no matter who had mentioned it to him first. He knew better than to mix business and family. But it would be hard to stick to his guns if his wife, sister-in-law and nephew were all pressuring him to get involved. Rose wondered just how much of this Krum was aware of.

“So, where do we start?” Liddy asked, interrupting Rose’s musings.

“Well,” Rose said, looking down at the notes in her lap. “I suppose we should start at the beginning. How did you and Viktor first meet?”

Liddy turned out to be a much easier interview than Rose had expected, especially after spending the past two weeks trying to drag information out of Krum. The woman was completely open with Rose, almost a little too open, answering all of Rose’s questions in as much detail as she could remember. Rose had to resort to using shorthand just to keep up.

They started with the couple’s first meeting, which had been at the home of a mutual friend.

“Viktor was rather well known by them,” Liddy said. “And I have to admit, I was star-struck. I wasn’t always this rich.” She gestured towards the line of windows that looked out onto the stables. “This is all Walter’s, or at least it was until he died three years ago. Now it’s mine, and one day it will be Peter’s. But I didn’t come from money. I was just a poor little shop girl when I met Viktor. I can’t say I hated the idea of being with a man who could provide for me financially. I suppose that’s part of what drew me to Walter too. But you mustn’t think of me as some old ninny, out to nab herself a rich husband. I loved my husbands – all of them.”

Rose made a noncommittal noise. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe the woman. The look in her eyes when she mentioned Viktor and her late husband suggested she still cared deeply for both of them. Still, it was rather telling that the woman only seemed to fall in love with men who just happened to have very deep pockets.

By the time tea arrived an hour later, they’d already moved on to another topic. Liddy told Rose what she knew of Krum’s family – which was admittedly not much. Apparently Krum hadn’t been any more interested in discussing his childhood with Liddy than he had been with Rose. Next, they discussed Peter and how fond of him Krum had been.

“He never wanted children of his own,” Liddy said, “but he was a wonderful father to Peter.”

Rose had a hard time visualizing Krum as a father figure. He seemed too rough around the edges, and dare she say it, too selfish to pay attention to the needs of a small child. Liddy, however, seemed convinced of Krum’s affection for Peter.

“I wouldn’t say the two are close now, but back then...” She paused, seeming to remember it like it was yesterday. “Well, let’s just say Peter really looked up to him and Viktor would have done anything for him.”

“But you’ve stayed in touch with Krum all these years?”

“Off and on. Not so much at first. I’d like to think we ended things amiably, but a divorce is hell on both sides and anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar.”

“And why did the marriage end?” Rose wasn’t sure the woman would answer her. It was an incredibly personal question, but she’d been very forthcoming thus far, and Rose figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.

Liddy sighed. “Who ever really knows with these sorts of things? We were young, too young perhaps. I loved him, and he loved me, but that’s not always enough. Once the real world creeps in, you either face it together or you go your separate ways.” There was a pause, and Rose thought that was the end of it, but Liddy continued, her voice softer now. “Viktor is... like a flame. He burns bright and hot – drawing you in, filling the darkness. And then suddenly, it’s gone...the warmth, the heat. And you’re left in the black, cold and alone.”

The woman’s eyes grew distant for a moment, as if she were recalling the exact second when the light had gone out on her and Krum. Rose too was remembering: remembering the scalding heat, the flesh on fire, the warmth that brought her to life. It was exactly how she’d felt last night, wrapped in Viktor’s arms.

“But,” Liddy said, returning them both back to the present. “We grew up, learned we were better off as friends. Though I will say, there was a time when I had no contact with him at all. None of us did. He fell into a dark place, Rose. It was a hard time for all of us, him most of all.”

“You mean the drugs?”

Liddy nodded. “And the alcohol, and the reckless behavior. I shut him out. Maybe that was wrong. I don’t know. But when you care about someone, watching them self-destruct is just too painful to bear. I wasn’t strong enough to handle it. I’m not proud of it, but it’s the truth.

“So you don’t really know all the details then? Of what he got up to?”

“No, I don’t,” she said, her words pointed. “And I don’t care to ever know. You’ll have to talk to Gigi about that. She was there for the worst of it, until she couldn’t stand it any more either.”

“Gigi?”

“Gigi McFey. Viktor’s second wife. Hasn’t he mentioned her?”

Rose’s mouth fell open. “Gigi? As in short for Regina? Viktor was married to Regina McFey? The author Regina McFey?”

“That’s right,” Liddy said as if she’d just made the connection. “She’s an author too. Writes romance novels or something of the sort. Do you know her?”

Know her? She was the reason Rose had a job. Her stories were why Heart had brought Rose on at Fletcher and Sons in the first place. In a way, Regina McFey was the reason Rose was writing Krum’s book.

“Not personally, no,” Rose said, keeping the rest of her thoughts to herself.

“Well, all the better for you. I’ve only met her a few times myself, but she’s a right bitch, if you'll pardon the language. At least that's the way Viktor tells it. Though I suppose after what he put her through...” Liddy let her words trail off, leaving Rose to draw her own conclusions.

There was a knock at the study door. They both turned and a moment later, Mrs. Baker stuck her head inside. “I’m sorry to interrupt but Mr. Langley’s just arrived. Shall I tell him to come back tomorrow?”

Liddy looked down at her watch. “Can that be right? Four o’clock already?” She turned to Rose. “I’m afraid we’ll have to cut this short. We’re off to Saint Tropez in a few weeks. Bertram will be tending the house while I’m gone and I’ve promised to show him around.”

“That’s fine,” Rose said, gathering up her notes and stuffing them into her bag. “You’ve been a great help.”

Liddy smiled. “It was a pleasure. I haven’t had this captive of an audience since Walter died. Come, let me walk you out.”

She took Rose by the arm and led her back toward the front door. Rose was just about to make her goodbyes when the woman put a hand on her shoulder. “Please, Rose,” she said, her expression solemn. “Whatever I’ve said today, I want you to know, I think Viktor is a good man. Deep down, I really believe that.”

“Sure,” Rose said. “I understand.”

Liddy studied Rose’s face for a long moment, her hand still gripping Rose’s shoulder. “I hope you do. And I hope you’ll remember that once it’s all over.”

“All over? I don’t know what you mean.”

“Of course you don’t,” Liddy said with a knowing smile. “None of us – not me, not Gigi, not the hundreds of other woman that have passed through that man’s life. None of us know anything until it’s too late. Just keep this in mind,” she said, patting Rose’s arm. “He means what he says, but he’ll break your heart. He doesn’t know any other way.” Without waiting for a reply, Liddy reached around her, opening the front door. “It was very nice to meet you, Rose Weasley.”

“Yeah,” Rose mumbled, too stunned by the woman’s words to proffer a proper reply. But just as she was about to leave, something occurred to her. Rose turned around. “Just one last question. Krum mentioned something. He said the place he’s staying in – that it’s from an old friend. Is he talking about you?”

Liddy laughed, though the light didn’t quite reach her eyes. “I’m as old a friend as Viktor’s got. And by the looks of you, darling, they are only getting younger.”



By the time Rose returned to her flat, her head was reeling.

From the business with Heart and McFey to Liddy’s warnings about Krum being a serial heartbreaker, the meeting with Brooks’ mother had left Rose with far more questions than answers. And now that she was alone with her thoughts again, she felt her mind returning over and over to the events of the previous night. Had it been a mistake? What effect would it have on her ability to work with Krum going forward? Did he care at all for her. Or as Liddy had put it, was she just another one of the hundreds of women who had passed though his life, not knowing what hit her until it was too late?

Rose collapsed on her bed, lying there for a long time, watching as the room around her grew dark, shadows playing across the walls.

It was nearing ten o’clock, Rose having just drifted off to sleep still fully dressed, when she heard a soft tapping at her door. Rose woke with a start. Angry at the interruption, she vowed that if it was Mrs. Larson from downstairs, she was finally going to give the old bat a piece of her mind.

Not bothering to look through the security hole, Rose yanked open the door, but the person waiting on the other side was most definitely not Mrs. Larson.

Viktor Krum was standing in the hall, shoulder propped up against the doorframe. Rose felt her heart give a loud thud in her chest at the sight of him. She didn’t know yet if that meant she was happy to see him or not.

She must have been staring at him for a long time because he finally said, “Vell, aren’t you going to invite me in?”

She ignored the question. “What are you doing here? And how do you know where I live?”

Krum smiled. “I told you, Rose, I know all your secrets. Oh,” he added, “I almost forgot.” He reached into the back pocket of his jeans. “Here,” he said, handing her a tiny package wrapped in brown paper, a red bow tied around the middle. “Open it,” he said when she failed to move.

Rose untied the bow and slowly peeled back the wrapping. Inside was an unopened pack of cigarettes. She looked up at Krum and then back down at the package. “Thanks, but in case you haven’t noticed, I don’t smoke.”

Krum gave her another smile. “Neither do I...at least not anymore.”

“Is that so? And why this sudden change of heart?” Krum said nothing, continuing to look down at her. “What, are you saying your giving it up...because of me?”

“Unless you’d prefer I kept at it...” He reached for the box but she snatched it away, tossing it into the rubbish bin set just inside the door. “See,” he told her. “I knew you’d like it. Besides, I don’t want you to think I’ve been lying to you.”

“And why would I think you’ve been lying to me?”

“Because I told you once before that smoking was my only vice. And vell...let’s just say, I recently got a taste of something a bit more refined, and I’ve decided that maybe it’s about time for an upgrade.”

Rose looked at him, seeing the same lust in his eyes she’d seen the night before, and God help her if it didn’t make her weak in the knees. Even with Liddy’s warning still ringing in her ear, she felt something deep inside her start to stir again, her body revving like an engine stuck at the starting gate. There was no question what he came there for, and in that moment, with that smoldering look on his face, the smell of his cologne, the hint of a pout on his perfect lips... Rose couldn’t have turned him down even if she wanted to, and she really didn’t want to.

“Would you like to come in?” she asked, stepping aside and holding the door open for him.

Krum smiled. “I thought you’d never ask.”
 


Chapter 12: Chapter Twelve: Some Bloke
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Chapter Twelve: Some Bloke

For the next two days, Rose never ventured past her own front door. Viktor left her side only once, to return to his own flat to gather up a fresh change of clothes and a toothbrush. The toothbrush had been a good idea – the clothes had been unnecessary.

Viktor had barely made it inside her flat before they’d fallen on each other. After a quick romp on the kitchen floor, they’d tried moving to her bed, but the low-angled ceiling proved too much of a challenge for Viktor.

“Dammit,” he’d sworn under his breath as he banged his head for the second time. “I’m too damn old to play at being a contortionist.”

Rose tried to explain to him that there was a very easy solution to their problem, but as good a lover as Viktor was, he wasn’t one for relinquishing control. So Rose had been forced to come up with an alternative arrangement. They’d settled for the floor, spreading out a quilt and surrounding themselves in pillows. It reminded Rose of the tents she and Hugo had made as children, gathering up all the blankets they could find and draping them across the furniture, turning the family’s living room into a makeshift fortress.

“How do the other men stand it?” Viktor asked her. They were still on the floor, though they’d come up for air long enough to order dinner – eating lukewarm Chinese take-away by firelight. It was far from glamorous, but at that moment, Rose couldn’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else.

“Stand what?” she asked, attempting to pick at her noodles with a pair of chopsticks that had come free with the food. The two hadn’t even bothered to set out plates or silverware.

“That bed of yours. Forget the ceilings. The mattress is so small, there’s hardly room for one, let alone two.”

Rose gave up on the chopsticks, tossing them aside, using her fingers instead. “And who says there have been others?”

Viktor stopped mid-bite, his mouth falling open.

“Relax,” she said. “I’m only joking. There have been others, though you’re the first to complain. Maybe they just had better moves than you.” Viktor let out a huff, snatching the carton of food out of her hands. “Hey! I wasn’t done with that.”

She made to grab it back but Viktor held it just out of reach. “Perhaps you should have thought of that before you insulted my talents.”

Now it was her turn to let out a huff, though she couldn’t quite keep the smile off her face.

Rose was happy. For the first time in a very long time, she found herself letting go – not overanalyzing everything, not playing through every possible scenario in her head. She knew it couldn’t stay like this forever. Eventually, she was going to have to decide what it was that was going on between them and just how far she could allow it to progress. But not now. Not in that moment. This weekend was theirs and she refused to be the one to spoil it.

“Can I ask you a question?”

It was nearing ten o’clock, their dinner left forgotten on the floor. The room was now dark, the only light coming from a bare bulb that hung over the kitchen sink. They were once again spread out on the quilt, a thin blanket covering Rose’s bare legs, Krum’s head resting in her lap. She was stroking his hair, which was thick and soft. In the dim light, the brown strands looked almost black. Rose would have given anything to have been born with such dark hair.

“Can I ask you a question?” she said again when he failed to answer her. This time Krum let out a low grunt that she took to mean yes. The man was so relaxed, he was like a puddle in her arms. “Where do you live?”

“What do you mean?” he asked, his words muffled by sleep. “You’ve seen my place.”

“No, not the flat you’re in now. The one you lived in before—”

“Before I moved in to Liddy’s place, you mean?”

Rose’s hand fell still. “How did you know—?”

“I told you,” he said, rolling onto his back so he could look up into her face. “We’re old friends. We stay in touch.”

“And you’re not mad? About me going to see her?”

“Vhy would I be mad?”

“I don’t know. Because I didn’t ask you about it first. I would have, only it all happened sort of fast. And after that morning, I wasn’t even sure—”

Krum sat up, pressing his finger to her lips, silencing her. “You don’t have to ask my permission to speak to someone, Rose. You’re your own person. I don’t control you. Do you understand?” She nodded. “Good. I don’t ever want to hear you make that mistake again.”

Rose thought that an odd thing to say, but she was too relieved he wasn’t mad to ask him what he meant. Besides, she had something else on her mind. “So if I’m really free to talk to anyone I like, that would mean I could talk to Regina?"

Krum raised an eyebrow. “I see you and Liddy covered a lot in a single afternoon.”

“We went over a few things, yes. So what do you think? Would you mind if I talked with her?”

Krum reached out, tucking a strand of hair behind Rose’s ear. “I don’t think you ought to do that.”

“But why? You just said I could talk to whoever I like.”

“Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. The woman would eat you alive, Rose. And I mean that in the worst possible way. She’d happily see me with a stake through the heart. I can’t see her letting you past the front door once she figures out what you’re up to.”

“She can’t be that bad—“

“Oh, she is. Trust me. And then some.”

“Viktor, I’m sure I can handle her. What’s she going to do? String me up by my ankles and leave me for the wolves.”

“For her, that vould be a good day.”

Rose stuck out her lip. “You don’t think I can take care of myself. I told you before, I’m not a child—”

“Fine,” he said, throwing up his hands. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Rose must have looked like she was about to say something else because he added, “What? Is there someone else you’re just dying to talk to? And you better not say that bloke from the restaurant.”

Rose felt a warmth rise up in her cheeks. “About that... I have a little confession to make.”

“Oh really?”

“That bloke? His name is Albus. And he’s not my boyfriend.”

“What is he then?”

“He’s my cousin.”

“Your cousin?” Krum repeated. “And you didn’t think that was worth mentioning before you tried to seduce me.”

“Me seduce you?” Rose’s voice clocked in about an octave above normal. “I’m pretty sure you were the one doing all the seducing.” Krum was the one who had come on to her, after all. In the pub. In the restaurant. Even in the middle of the bloody Ministry. And she was just about to remind him of all thiswhen she noticed the corners of his mouth twitching upward as he tried to suppress his amusement. She gave his shoulder a playful shove. “Well, I’m glad you find this all so funny.”

“That I most certainly do.”

He leaned into her, capturing her mouth in his. The kiss lasted a long moment before Rose finally pulled away. “Hey, no fair,” she said. “You still haven’t answered my question."

"And what question is that?"

"Where is it exactly that you live?”

Viktor brushed his lips against her cheek before standing up and crossing into the kitchen. She watched as he removed a glass from the cabinet, filling it at the sink. When he finally looked over at her again, his face was half-obscured in shadow. “And this is off the record?”

“I’m not a reporter, Viktor. But sure. Why not? It’s off the record. Besides, Brooks already told me you have a flat here in London. I was just wondering where it is.”

He took a long sip of his drink. “I did tell Peter that, and as far as he knows, it’s true.”

“But it's not true?”

Krum shook his head. “No, it’s not. But it’s important Peter doesn’t know that.”

“Why?”

“It just is.”

“All right. So where is it that you’ve been living then?”

“I was in London, up until a year ago. I sold the flat. Well, had it stolen out from under me is more like.”

“And since then?”

“I own some land. Quite a bit, actually, which I acquired in a manner not entirely legal. If Peter knew about it...”

“Then he might be forced to report you, as an officer of the court.”

Krum nodded. “Something like that. And once it’s known that I have assets I haven’t claimed. Let’s just say, I have enough legal troubles to deal with at the moment.”

“And where is all this land?” Rose asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.

“Bulgaria.”

She thought about that for a second. “Is it near where you grew up?”

Krum drained the last of his drink, setting his glass in the sink. “You could say that.”

“And what does that mean?”

“It means it isn’t just near where I grew up. It is where I grew up.”

“You mean you bought your childhood home?” That was a surprise. Rose hadn’t pictured Krum as the sentimental type, especially in light of his reluctance to talk about his past.

“Yes, and about a hundred acres on either side.”

“What do you do with it all?”

“What’s there to do? I live there when I must, though there isn’t much left of the house itself. It’s been falling apart for years.”

“Why don’t you fix it?”

Krum smiled. “Everything is so simple in your eyes, isn’t it? Repairs cost money, and in case you’ve forgotten, that’s just one of the many things I don’t have anymore.”

An idea occured to her then. “But it’s important to you, right? The house and the land?”

“Of course. It’s my home.”

“Then don’t you see?” Rose said, getting to her knees. “This is exactly why you need to help me write this book. It could be the answer you’re looking for. If it does well, there will be a lot of money to go around. Enough for you to fix up the house, or build another one if you like. Don’t you see that?” She was starting to sound like Heart, but she didn’t care. Her boss had been right about one thing: this book could be just what Viktor needed. “But I can’t write it myself. You’ve got to open up with me.”

He flashed her a crooked smile. “I thought I was being quite open with you last night.”

“I’m being serious. I can’t write this book without you.”

He studied her for a long moment, seeming to take in every inch of her. She knew she must look a mess: hair sticking up, dressed in nothing but an oversized t-shirt that did little to hide her more sensitive areas. Not exactly the best look for holding an important business discussion. But is seemed to work because Viktor nodded.

“Alright,” he said. “I’ll do vhat I can to be more open with you.”

“Good,” she said jumping to her feet.

“Where are you going?”

“To get my notes.”

“Now?”

“No time like the present,” she called over her shoulder, already rifling though her satchel, crossing into the kitchen a moment later, notebook and quill in hand. Krum was already seated at the table, and she took her place in the chair opposite his.

“What is it?” Krum asked. Rose had paused, tapping her quill against her chin.

“I just thought of another question.”

“Already? You haven’t looked at your notes.”

“This one isn’t on my list. I want to know how you knew that line. The one from my book. The one...”

“The one I used to get you into bed?”

Rose stuck out her tongue at him. “Ha Ha, very funny. I’m serious. I want to know where you got it from.”

“I read it in your book. Where else would I get it from?” She stared at him, trying to gauge if he was telling her the truth. Seeming to sense her skepticism he asked, “What, does it surprise you to learn that I can read?”

“Of course not. That wasn’t at all what I was thinking. It’s only, no one has read my book. I mean, if you don’t count the ones related to me, I don’t think more than a hundred people in the whole world have read my book.”

“Make that a hundred and one.”

“So, what?” she asked, leaning forward. “Were you checking up on me? Making sure my writing was up to par?”

“Do you really think I’m so cynical?”

“What then? Was it just some sort of coincidence? Am I supposed to believe you just happened upon my book somewhere?”

“I never said it was a coincidence. And I didn’t just happen upon anything. It was given to me.”

“By who?”

“Maybe given isn’t the right word. Perhaps 'left in my care' is a better way to put it. Either way, Peter should be more careful about what he leaves behind when he stops by for a visit.”

“So you got it from Peter?”

Krum nodded. “More or less. Looked to me like he got a copy off your boss. There was a note tucked inside. It seems you come highly recommended.”

“Wait a minute,” Rose said, putting up her hand. “So Heart gave Peter a copy of my book, and then...what? Told him to read it? See if he thought I was up to the job?”

“That’s what I took from it.”

Something else occurred to Rose then. “So that’s how you knew about the book in the first place, isn’t it? You knew about it that night at the pub. You’d already seen the book and the note by then. That’s how you knew who I was and what I was there for.”

He tapped her on the nose. “Now you’re getting it.”

“But why not just tell me up front? Why all the song and dance that night?”

Krum shrugged. “You can’t deny an old man a bit of fun every now and again.”

“I’m not sure I’d call that night fun.”

“Well, it had its moments.”

Rose paused. Speaking of that night in the pub, there was something else she’d been meaning to ask him, but she was loath to bring it up, afraid it might spoil Krum’s good mood. But she’d have to ask him about it eventually. Might as well do it why he was full up on good sex and take-away. “Have you spoken with Peter recently? He told me about the plea deal.”

Krum had begun drumming his fingers on the tabletop, just like he’d done that night at the Ministry. He’d been true to his word; Rose hadn’t seen him smoke a single cigarette since he’d arrived at her flat two nights ago. She knew he must be desperate for one by now.

“We...discussed it,” Krum said.

“And?”

“And that’s it so far.”

“Do you have any idea what you’ll do?”

“No.”

And that was all he seemed prepared to say on the matter, and Rose didn’t press. She would just have to trust that if he wanted to talk about it, he’d know she’d be there to listen.

She reached out, giving his hand a light squeeze before getting to her feet.

“Where are you going now?” Krum asked, watching as she flittered off down the hall. “I thought you wanted to work on the book.”

“I do, only I’ve decided I want to take a bath first. And when I get out, we’re going to get down to business.”

“And by business, you mean...?” But Rose just shot him a look. Krum sighed. “I vas afraid of that. I don’t suppose there is anything I can do to persuade you to come back to bed instead?”

“Not a chance,” she said as she ducked into the bathroom. There was a long pause before she stuck her head back out into the hall. “Then again, you’re welcome to come in here and try.”




It was Monday morning and Rose had finally sent Viktor home, their weekend of debauchery reaching its inevitable end. This time, however, when they’d parted ways, Rose wasn’t plagued with near as many doubts or fears as she had been after that first night. He’d promised they’d see each other again soon. Very soon. And she believed him. Whatever this was they were getting into, Rose knew now that it had only just begun. As to whether or not Liddy’s warning would prove true and that Krum would ultimately break her heart – she supposed only time would tell.

Rose had just finished getting dressed, preparing to head into the office for the morning, when she heard a knock at the door. She opened it to find Albus standing on the other side.

“Al! What are you doing here?”

“It’s nice to see you too,” he said. He was dressed in a set of industrial-looking green robes – not something he’d opt to wear unless he was heading off to or returning home from work.

“Sorry,” she said. “Of course it’s good to see you. I’m just surprised you’re up and about this early.”

“I’m a family man now,” he said, standing up just a hair straighter. “Got to get to work and earn a living. Aren’t you going to invite me in?” He was peering around her shoulder. From his vantage point, he had a direct view of the living room, still covered in blankets, pillows strewn everywhere. “What have you been doing in there? And what’s that smell?”

Rose quickly stepped out into the hall, pulling the door shut behind her. “Err...it’s nothing. Just a bit of rearranging. So what’s up?”

Albus shook his head as if clearing his thoughts. “Right. I’m here with good news.”

“Good news? I’m not sure how much more of your good news I can take. Don’t tell me Amelia’s having twins or something.”

“Don’t even joke about that,” he said, his face turning white at the mere thought of it. “You know twins run in the family.”

“Sorry. I was only joking. So what’s the good news then?”

Al reached into the pocket of his robes, pulling out a small white envelope, which he handed over to her.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Just open it.”

So she did, pulling out a single sheet of heavy cream-colored paper, an intricate gold boarder running along the edges. Written in perfect script was a message that read:

Dear Ms. Rose Weasley and Guest,

You are cordially invited to celebrate the union of Amelia Elizabeth Strong and Albus Severus Potter On Saturday, the First of November, at Four o'clock. The Wedding will be held at St Andrew’s Church. Reception to follow at the home of Mrs. M. Weasley, Ottery St. Catchpole. Please R.S.V.P. no later than 15 October.

Rose looked up at her cousin. “The first of November. That’s only—”

“Six weeks.”

“But that’s so soon. What’s the rush?”

Albus sighed. “It’s all Amelia. She refuses to be fat at her own wedding. Says being forced to waddle down the aisle is too undignified or something. She told me if we don’t do it soon, then we have to wait until after the baby comes.”

Rose thought that sounded like a perfectly reasonable idea. Why rush down the aisle? They’d have plenty of time to plan a wedding after the baby was born.

But when Rose tried to point this out to him, Al immediately started shaking his head. “No way. We’ve got to do this thing up right before that baby pops out. Her father nearly hexed me into next week when we told her parents she was pregnant. I don’t know what he’d do we weren’t married before it’s born.”

“You’re not children, Al. People have babies out of wedlock all the time.”

“Yea, well, you try telling him that and see how far it gets you. The way he sees it, Amelia’s a victim in all this. Like I somehow tricked her into getting knocked up. Anyway,” he said, gesturing down at the envelope, “I wanted to deliver that in person. I figured since you were the first to know about the baby, you should be the first to know about the wedding.”

“Thanks,” she said. As much as she thought this whole wedding idea was a terrible mistake, she appreciated the gesture.

“And hey,” he added, pointing to the top line on the invitation. “See that there? It says Ms. Weasley and Guest. So make sure you bring someone, all right? Maybe whoever it is that’s been helping you 'rearrange' in there...”

“Goodbye, Albus,” she said, pointing in the direction of the stairs.

He laughed. “Okay, okay. I can take a hint. I guess I’ll see you around then.” Al started to leave and Rose was just about to head back inside when he called out, “Oh, hey, I almost forgot. Be careful when you head out today.”

“Why?”

“There’s some bloke hanging out in front of your building. About this tall.” He put a hand up to his shoulder. “A young guy. Curly hair. Sort of twitchy. Ring any bells?”

Rose shook her head. It didn’t sound like anyone she knew.

“Didn’t think so,” Al said. “There’s something off about him.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing. He’s probably a friend of Mrs. Larson. She draws a strange crowd.”

But Al didn’t look convinced. “Still, just be careful, okay?”

“Okay,” she said. "I promise."

With a final wave goodbye, Al turned around and disappeared down the hall. Rose waited to make he was really gone before heading back inside and locking the door behind her.




“We’ve got one hell of a situation here, Rose.”

It was twenty minutes later and Rose had just arrived at the headquarters of Fletcher and Sons. She’d been planning to spend the morning organizing the notes she’d made last night before heading over to Krum’s later that afternoon to continue on with their work. She hadn’t even had a chance to sit down at her desk before Heart’s secretary had shown up at her door, telling Rose that Heart needed to speak with her right away. The instant she’d stepped inside her boss’s office, he’d slammed the door behind her, gesturing her into a nearby chair and tossing a newspaper onto her lap. Then he promptly began pacing the length of his office.

Rose had a very bad feeling about all this.

“I’m not going to even bother to ask if it’s true,” he said. “I’d have to be blind not to know that was you.”

Rose was confused. Very confused. She could gather from the paper he’d just thrown at her that someone must have printed another article about Krum, but she didn’t see why that would have Heart so worked up. Free press is free press, after all.

“What are they saying this time?” she asked.

Heart stopped his pacing. “You mean you haven’t seen it yet?”

Rose shook her head. “No. Why? Is it bad?”

“Jesus Christ.” Heart ran an exasperated hand through his hair before snatching the paper from her and flipping to a page near the back. He sighed, handing it back to before resuming his pacing. “Jesus fucking Christ.”

Rose looked down at the paper and immediately felt her stomach drop.

Krum’s Mysterious Woman Identified: Witness in Muggle Attack is the Daughter of High-Ranking Ministry Officials and Accused Man’s Lover

Beneath the headline was a picture: a grainy black-and-photo of two people caught mid-embrace. And not just any two people. It was a picture of her and Krum.

She looked up at Heart then back at the photo and then up at Heart again. “I don’t understand—”

“Well that makes two of us. Bleeding hell, Rose. I told you to work with the man, not sleep with him.”

Rose was beyond mortified. She couldn’t even begin to put into words the level of shame and embarrassment coursing through her.

Her eyes moved back down to the paper still clutched in her hand. Her heart was beating so fast she had trouble focusing in on the small type. She read the article once, twice, three times. Each time through was worst than the last. They knew everything. They knew her name. Knew she’d been there that night at the pub. They even knew she was writing a book on Krum. And the photograph. There was no mistaking her there either. The photo showed her standing in front of a window. She was alone, dressed in nothing but Krum’s shirt. After a few seconds, the picture changed and Viktor –bare-chested, his hair a mess – could be seen stepping up behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist as she turned her head to kiss him. There was no chance of it being an innocent embrace. It looked tawdry, ever to her eyes.

“But how—?” she asked, looking back up at Heart, who was now leaning against his desk. It was all she could think to say.

“Fuck if I know. Where the hell were you two? Don’t tell me you were stupid enough to do this at some hotel.”

Rose looked back down the photo. The window she was standing in front of was Krum’s – the one in his bedroom that looked out onto the street below. It must have been taken that first night, during one of the brief respites they’d had between go-rounds.

“No,” she said, surprised to hear the tremor in her voice. “That...that was at his place.”

“I’ve got to say, kid, this was not smart. Not smart at all.” Heart was shaking his head, looking down at Rose with an almost pitying expression. “I know a girl’s got to get her kicks, but with him? I thought you had more sense than that.” When she failed to say anything in her own defense, another idea seemed to occur to him. “Oh, hell. Don’t tell me you’re falling for this guy? Look, I don’t care who you throw your legs up for but I’ve got millions riding on this deal, Rose. Do you hear me? Millions. If this is just some itch you’ve got to scratch, I don’t give a fuck who or what you do on your own time. But I need this book. I’ve got people to answer to and I can’t tell the board that profits are below estimates because some washed-up has-been had his way with you and didn’t call you back.”

Rose felt like she’d been slapped in the face, or worse, like she was being scolded like some teenager who’d just been caught letting her boyfriend cop a feel in the back of her parents’ car. Get her kicks? Scratch an itch? What kind of a girl did Heart think she was? But what could she say? She couldn’t justify her behavior. She’d known it was wrong to get involved with Krum. They were supposed to be working together, not sleeping together. She could have really messed things up for all of them.

“I’m sorry.”

“Fuck sorry, Rose. I don’t want sorry. I just want this book done and in my hands by the first of December. Whoever or whatever else you do or don’t do between then and now, frankly, the less I know about it the better.”

“But what about the papers? When people see this, won’t they think the book has been...compromised?”

Heart let out a loud snort. “Compromised? Rose, this is publishing company, not the goddamn United Nations. The only thing this is going to do is ramp up the hype. Nothing makes a story sell like sex and scandal – and based on that photo, I’d say we’ve got both in spades. The only thing I care about here is that you’ve still got your head in the game and not...somewhere else.”

This was bad, no matter what Heart said. She didn’t want to sell books this way. And she certainly didn’t want her personal life laid out for all to see. And what about Viktor? Would he suspect she was somehow behind it all. That she'd planned this and then leaked it to the press just to generate a little publicity for herself? If he thought that, he might never speak to her again.

Rose jumped to her feet.

“And where do you think you’re going?” Heart asked. “Not to Krum’s, I hope.”

“But I have to warn him.” That, and she needed to explain to him what was going on before he had the chance to get the wrong impression. He wouldn’t be happy, but better he find out from her than read about it in the papers.

“Don’t bother,” Heart told her. “He’ll already know.”

“How can you know that? Maybe he hasn’t seen the story yet.”

“Get a clue, Rose. They know where he lives, remember?” He pointed down at the photograph. “If he’s smart, he’ll have already found himself a new place to hide.”

Rose paused. “Then what should I do?”

“I’d suggest you do the same.”

Rose looked at her boss, her eyes wide. “What do you mean? You think I need to go into hiding? They’ve got their picture. What more could they want with me?”

“That’s not how this works. Like it or not, you’re part of the story now. And the world is going to want a piece of you.”

Rose didn’t like the sound of that at all. “Then what am I supposed to do?”

“If it were me, I’d head home.”

“To my flat? Won’t that be the first place they look?”

“Not to your flat. I mean home – to your parents’ house. I can’t think of too many reporters who’d be able to sniff out the home of two Ministry officials, especially not ones with the kind of connections your parents have. And even if they could, they’d be too scared to do anything about it. A bunch of little chicken shits, the whole lot of them.”

Her parents’ house. Heart was right. If she wanted to keep out of the public eye, that would be the place to go. Still, she hated the idea of being chased into hiding. Would anyone really care enough to come looking for her?

“But what about the book?” she asked. “How am I supposed to get it done if I’m tucked away somewhere while Krum is off on his own?”

“Let me worry about that for now. Peter and I will get him situated, and then we’ll find someway of getting you two back in the same place...though perhaps we should send along a chaperone this time.” Heart smiled at her but Rose wasn’t in the mood for a joke. “Look, kid. Things are gonna be fine. We’ll get this worked out. In the mean time, head home. I’m sure your parents will be happy to see you. You’re always saying you don’t have enough time off, so consider this an early holiday.”

Rose nodded. He was right. There was nothing more she could do for herself at the moment – or for Krum. It was beyond embarrassing to have her sex life out in the open for everyone to see, but the story itself would probably blow over in a few days. These sorts of scandals always did. Rose wasn’t anyone important. How long could the public care about a two-bit author whose book no one had ever read – no matter who she was or wasn’t sleeping with? She would just have to lay low for a spell – ride it out as best she could. She just hoped Krum would be waiting for her when it was all over.

“Look at it this way,” Heart said as Rose made to leave. “Everyone gets their fifteen minutes. It just looks like yours came a bit early.”
 

a/n - this chapter is dedicated to marina (tell_me_what_the_truth_is) for being my expert on all things British, and to JChrissy for being what I’m sure is my only remaining reader. 



Chapter 13: Chapter Thirteen: Mr. and Mrs. Ron Weasley
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Chapter Thirteen: Mr. and Mrs. Ron Weasley

Any lingering doubts Rose had about her need to “get away” for a few days were quickly put to rest.

As soon as she stepped out of Heart’s office, all eyes were on her. She felt the red-hot glares of her co-workers burning into as she passed through the halls. Heads popped up from behind desks and out open doorways. Even Heart’s no-nonsense secretary flashed her a look that said she knew exactly what Rose had been up to and she wasn’t impressed. No one said anything to her as she went, but the raised eyebrows and bemused expressions spoke volumes. Rose Weasley was hot gossip and everyone in the building knew it.

Rose kept her eyes glued to the floor, darting into her office and slamming the door shut behind her. She grabbed her trusty satchel up from off the desk and began cramming it full of papers, not bothering to look at what she was packing. She had to get out of there – and fast.

Ten minutes later she was standing on her parents’ doorstep. She’d been planning to stop by her flat first, to gather up a few belongings – her toothbrush, clean underwear, and enough clothes to last her the week. But then she’d remembered Al’s warning about the twitchy-looking fellow parked outside her building. What if he was with the press? He could have followed Krum to her flat, been waiting out there for her all weekend. And even if he wasn’t, chances were, someone else would be scouting the place by now. With the story out there for all the world to see, it was only a matter of time before the less reputable papers started sniffing around, hoping to track down some morsel of information that could twist to serve their needs. Rose knew enough about her parents’ experiences with the press to know that once they got a whiff of something juicy, there was no telling how far they’d run with it.

Rose reached for the doorknob but stopped. Heart had made it sound like heading home was the easy choice, but now that she was there, she wasn’t so sure anymore. She hadn’t lasted ten seconds at the office – all those shrewd looks being hurled in her direction. Was she really expecting it to be any different at home? Her parents were bound to have seen the article. Did she think she could just show up, plop down on their sofa, and have everyone go about their business as if nothing was wrong? Of course not. They, just like everyone else, would want to know what the hell she’d been thinking getting herself caught up in such a mess. And Rose didn’t have a clue what to tell them.

Rose dropped the satchel and plopped down on the front stoop. She sat out there for a long while, contemplating what to do – too afraid to go inside but unable to think of anywhere else to go. After a time, she heard the front door open. Seconds later, her brother appeared beside her, sitting down next to her, hands resting on his knees.

“You planning on staying out here all day then?” Hugo asked.

Rose shrugged. “Seems as good a place as any. At least it’s not raining.” She glanced in the direction of the front door. “Are Mum and Dad home?”

“They sure are. Seemed to think it was a good morning for calling in sick to work.”

Rose’s insides gave an involuntary lurch. “So they’ve seen it then?”

“What, you mean the picture of you in your skivvies? Yeah, they’ve seen it. It was pretty hard to miss.”

“And...?” Rose was almost afraid to ask.

“And they’re worried about you. We all are. Mum was ready to come out and drag you inside once she realized you were here, but I convinced her to let me give it a go first. I figured you might not be ready to handle her just yet.”

“Thanks,” Rose said, flashing her brother a half-hearted smile. “I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready to face her again. Or Dad, for that matter.”

Hugo leaned over, giving her shoulder a gentle bump. “Oh, come on. It’s not that bad. Remember the time you failed your potions exam – or when you broke Dad’s wand? You thought they’d never speak to you again. But they got over it. Face it, Rose. You’ve got a family that’s going to love you no matter what you do. It’s nauseating, I know, but it’s just something we have to learn to accept.”

Rose smiled. “It is a bit sickening, isn’t it?”

Still, this wasn’t like coming home with bad marks. This was big. The article had mentioned her parents by name. She’d dragged them all into this mess without their knowledge or consent. While true that, even in her wildest dreams, she couldn’t have predicted that things would end up like this, it didn’t change the fact that she’d brought this down on all of them.

“Look,” Hugo said, seeming to read her thoughts. “You aren’t going to be able to please everyone all of the time. You’re an adult now, Rose, and sometimes you’re going to do things your family doesn’t like. But in the end, you’ve just got to follow your heart and learn to live with the consequences."

Rose looked over at her brother. “And when did you get so wise?”

“I have my moments.”

“Great,” she sighed. “First Albus and now you. Looks like my boys are all grown up.”

“What’s Al done now?”

Rose sighed again. “That’s right. You won’t have heard the good news yet. He’s getting married. Stopped by this morning to drop off the invitation.”

“Married, huh?” Hugo considered that for a moment. “Well, good for Al.”

Rose shot him a look. “You’re kidding, right? It’ll be a disaster. He and Amelia can’t be in the same room together for more than five minutes without getting into a row. I give the marriage a year, and that’s being generous.”

Hugo raised an eyebrow. “Well, that’s a bit rich coming from you, don’t you think? Ms. I’m-dating-a-man-twice-my-age-with-a-criminal-record-and-drug-problem. You really think you’re in the best position to go around commenting on the quality of other people’s relationships?”

That shut Rose up. Her brother was right, of course. Who was she to decide when it was right between two people? To the rest of the world, she and Krum must look like a terrible match, and yet, when she was with him, something about it just felt right. Maybe it was the same for her cousin.

“So,” Hugo said, standing up. “You ready to go inside and face the music?”

“Yeah, sure, just give me another five or six years to work up the nerve and I should be good to go.”

“Oh, come off it. It won’t be that bad, I promise. And if it is... Well, I can always come out of the closet again. That should put your relationship troubles in a bit of perspective.”

Rose laughed in spite of herself. “You’re too kind.”

He smiled, reaching out a hand and pulling her to her feet. “Hey, that’s what little brothers are for.”

Hugo was right. Facing her parents was nearly as bad as she’d expected, at least not at first. There had been a lot of awkward silences – interrupted every so often by a loud sigh from her father, who seemed to be doing his best to abide by the rule that if you don’t have something nice to say, keep your trap shut.

On the surface, her mother seemed to be handling things about as well as could be expected given the circumstances – asking the occasional question, giving Rose an affectionate pat on the knee when the situation called for it. But Rose knew there was more bubbling underneath. Her mother wouldn’t sit still, constantly getting to her feet, bringing in fresh cups of coffee, even though no one had touched the first two rounds she’d set out.

Hugo stayed by Rose’s side as long as he could before eventually having to head into work. Rose sent him one last grateful smile before watching him throw on his coat and disappear out the door.

They were alone at last, just the three of them: Rose sitting on the sofa, her mother perched beside her, her father seated across from them in his favorite easy chair. A heavy silence had settled over them, punctuated only by the loud ticking of the grandfather clock resting on mantelpiece above the fire. Someone was going to have to say something. It was only a matter of figuring out who would be the first to break.

Unsurprisingly, it turned out to be her mother.

“So,” she said, shifting in her seat, angling herself towards Rose. Her mother’s voice was calm, but Rose could tell she was having to work hard to keep it that way. “We didn’t know you were writing again. That’s certainly good to hear. I always thought you had such a way with words.”

Rose looked over at her mother, wondering for a moment how she knew about the book before remembering that too had been mentioned in the now infamous article.

“Yeah, sorry about that. I meant to tell you before. I guess it slipped my mind.”

Her father let out a grunt, but her mother ignored him, keeping her attention on Rose. “Well, that’s understandable. You’ve been busy. I’m sure you would have told us about it when you had the time.” There was a long pause before she added, “And we didn’t know you’d been seeing anyone either.”

Her father mumbled something that sounded a lot like, “Guess that slipped her mind too.” This time her mother shot him a look, but he’d already gone silent again.

“Well...” Rose began, not really sure how to reply. She wouldn’t exactly say that she and Krum were “seeing” each other. It wasn’t as if he was her boyfriend. They’d sort of bypassed the dating part, skipping right to the sex. Though Rose doubted that was the sort of thing her parents would want to hear. “It’s...complicated.”

“Of course it is,” her mother said just a bit too cheerfully. “These things always are. And it’s not that we aren’t happy you’ve found someone—”

“Ha!” her father barked, unable to hold it in any longer.

Her mother whipped her head around. “Will you stop that, Ron? If you’ve got something to say to Rose, then say it. Otherwise, you can stop all your grunting. You sound like a Neanderthal.”

“Me the Neanderthal?” he father said. “He’s the one who can hardly string three words together. It’s Dumb Krum, for Christ’s sake. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten what’s he’s like. Happy for her, my foot.”

“Ron! Stop it.”

But now that the floodgates were open, her father was going to have his say. “Oh, come off it, Hermione. Don’t tell me you’re all right with this? It’s Krum. Your Krum. It’s just too bizarre.”

Rose spun in her seat, looking straight at her mother. “What does he mean, your Krum?”

But her mother wasn’t looking at her. She was too busy shooting daggers at her husband. “Oh, now we’re getting to it then. This isn’t even about Rose, is it? It’s about your insecurities. I’d have thought that after thirty years, you’d have gotten over this sort of thing by now.”

Her father let out a derisive snort. “Of course it’s about Rose. What, just because I think the man is one rung up from pond scum means I must be jealous of him?”

“Well, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know exactly what it means,” her mother said. “You’re always doing things like this. Letting your temper get the best of you. We were having a perfectly civilized conversation until you went and lost your head. Weren’t we, Rose?”

Rose opened her mouth to respond but her mother was already talking again. It was as if Rose had suddenly gone invisible. They were saying her name, but the fight wasn’t about her. It had been the same way growing up. One minute they’d be telling her something important, and the next they’d be trying to tear each other’s heads off. This is what she meant when she said didn’t understand how they made their relationship work. It was the same with Al and Amelia. Why did all the couples in her life seem so hell-bent on making each other miserable?

“Besides,” her mother was saying. “Maybe this is just what Rose needs. She’s young. She’s got to experiment. Explore her sexuality—”

Her father threw up his hands. “No. No. We aren’t going there. I’ve had enough. You two can sit here and swoon over the man all you want, but I’m out.”

He was already on his feet, heading for the front door, yanking it open so hard the coffee mugs rattled against the tabletop.

“And where exactly are you going to go?” her mother called after him.

“Anywhere is better than here!”

And with that, he was gone, slamming the door shut behind him.

There was a long pause during which neither of the women said anything. Finally, her mother let out a loud huff, muttered something about fetching more coffee before disappearing into the kitchen. Rose, feeling shell-shocked, was left alone to try and make sense of what had just happened. She knew better than to try and go after her parents, to persuade them to talk this through. Hopefully, all the needed was a little time.

Besides, it wasn’t like Rose was going anywhere anytime soon.

Once she was sure her mother wasn’t coming back, Rose grabbed her satchel and trudged upstairs to her room – or at least what was left of it. Her parents had converted it into a guest room not long after she'd moved out, but the bed was still the same. So was the chest of drawers pushed up along the far wall. The overstuffed reading chair she’d kept in the corner was now gone, replaced by droopy houseplant that looked like it hadn’t been watered in days. The room was a lot smaller than she remembered, but it still had all the essentials: a place to sleep, a desk in the corner for writing and, most importantly, a lock on the door.

With nowhere to go and no one to talk to, Rose figured she might as well try and get some work done. She could use the distraction, anything to keep her mind off her troubles. She spent the next few hours hunched over her desk, attempting to get down on paper all the things she and Krum had discussed the night before. Save for the sound of her mother going up and down the stairs, the house was quiet.

She'd expected the work to be harder, what with all that was going on, but she found the words came easily for her, traveling from her brain straight through her fingertips. It was calming, the steady scratch of the quill across the parchment – a familiar rhythm that calmed her nerves.

It was late afternoon by the time she finally set down her quill, messaging her cramping hand, her finger stained with ink. There was a quiet knock on the door and Rose turned around to find her mother standing in the doorway, peering in at her.

“Am I interrupting?” her mother asked.

“No, not at all. I think I’ve done just about as much as I can for the moment.”

Her mother nodded, stepping inside and taking a seat on the edge of the bed. “It’s so nice to see you at it again.”

“At what?” Rose asked.

“At your desk. Writing. You used to spend hours in that chair, tucked away in here, working on your stories.”

“Did I?”

“Oh, yes. You’d have stayed locked in here for days if we’d let you. I can’t count the number of times I had to send your father up, threaten to throw you over his shoulder and carry you down for supper. And as soon as you’d cleared your plate, back up here you’d run. You must have written a hundred stories by the time you started school. As soon as you finished one, on you went to the next. All of them written right there, in that chair.” She pointed at the spot where Rose was sitting. “Don’t you remember?”

Rose shrugged. She did remember, but it all seemed so long ago. She felt so far removed from that little girl who had begged her parents for a new set of writing quills every Christmas, promising she’d repay them once she’d sold her first book and made her fortune.

Rose had always gotten the impression that her parents thought writing was a waste of time. They didn’t begrudge her passion, but they didn’t really understand it either – perhaps hoping she’d grow out of it in favor of a more practical career. But now, looking at her mother, Rose wasn’t so sure anymore. She had a dreamy expression on her face, a smile pulling at the corners of her lips as she thought back on all that time Rose had spent plugging away at her stories. It was as if those memories made her mother happy.

Rose shrugged again. “It was only silly kid stuff.”

“Perhaps. But you loved it all the same, and that’s what counts.”

Rose stared at her mother for a long moment. “Is Dad going to be okay with all of this?”

Her mother sighed. “You know your father, Rose. He just needs time. He’ll come around.”

“And what about you? What did he mean when he said your Krum?” Rose was thinking back to her past conversations with Viktor. He’d admitted knowing her parents but had refused to say why or how. She'd sensed there was more to the story, something he hadn't wanted to tell her.

Her mother looked away, glancing out the window before turning her attention back to Rose. “Whatever I say about that, it will come out sounding wrong. What’s more important is what’s happening now. You know your father likes to dwell on the past, but I don’t. Let’s just leave what happened well enough alone and focus on the here and now.” Rose waited, expecting her mother to say more but she didn’t. Instead, she stood up, crossing over to where Rose sat and patting her gently on the shoulder. “Now, I better let you get back to that book of yours.”

Rose nodded, watching as her mother turned to leave. “Hey, Mum?” she called out, and her mother turned back around. “And you... You’re really all right with this? With him and me, I mean?”

Her mother stood there for a long moment, carefully considering her reply. “It doesn’t matter what I think, Rose. It only matters what you think. As long as you’re safe and you’re happy... Well, your father and I can learn to live with the rest. You’re an adult now. You don’t need our permission.”

Rose smiled. She knew that already, of course, but it was good to hear her mother say it out loud. A part of her was still curious about what her mother hadn’t said – about Krum. But she didn’t want to push it. And in truth, Rose wasn’t really sure she wanted to know. She may be an adult, but there were just some things between parents and children that were better left unsaid.




The rest of the week passed pleasantly enough, all things considered. Thus far, Heart’s prediction had proven correct. Either the press didn’t know where Rose was hiding, or else they were smart enough to know that being caught trespassing near the home of two Ministry officials was a very bad idea.

Rose couldn’t bring herself to check the papers for more stories. When she asked Hugo if he’d spotted anything else, he just shook his head and said, “No. Well, at least nothing new. A few more ran a reprint of the original, but nobody’s got anything new to say.”

Her mother seemed to be getting on with things. There’d been a flurry of letters from friends and relatives, ostensibly writing to offer their support or vilify the papers for publishing such rubbish. But in reality, they’d all just wanted to know if the story was true. After the first dozen, her mother had stopped opening them, tearing them up and throwing them directly in the bin, declaring them to be from “the biggest bunch of busybodies I’ve ever met.”

Rose’s father was fairing about as good as anyone had hoped. He’d stopped grunting at Rose every time she entered the room, deciding it was better to just pretend none of this really happening. He’d even stopped rolling his eyes whenever anyone in the house mentioned Krum’s name. He’d just act as if he hadn’t heard a thing, going about his business like he didn’t have a care in the world. This arrangement suited Rose just fine. It wasn’t like she wanted to discuss any of this with her father anyway. Still, she had to admit, the man’s ability to deny reality was astounding. She supposed this was how her brother felt anytime the subject of his sexuality came up.

As for herself, she was managing. She’d made some good progress on the book. It was oddly freeing to be back at home. She could work at her desk or out in the garden, and when she was done for the day, she’d come downstairs and find the cupboards stocked, the laundry washed and put away, and dinner sitting on the table. Rose didn’t know how her parents did it. All she had was herself and a tiny rented flat to take care of and she couldn’t even manage that half the time. But at her parents’ house, there was a rhythm, an unspoken schedule that everyone was required to follow. Meals were eaten at the correct times, things were put away when they weren’t being used, and Rose was left with nothing to do but write from sunup to sundown. She covered so much ground in just a few short days, she started to think she might actually meet her deadline. That was, of course, assuming she’d be able to speak with Krum again.

The last time Rose had seen Viktor was when he’d left her flat on Monday morning. It was now Friday afternoon and she hadn’t received so much as a note letting her know he was okay. She didn’t know what to make of it. Was he just hiding out, laying low until this all blew over? Or was he purposely avoiding her, believing she was somehow to blame for all this mess?

Heart had promised he’d work on getting Krum settled, setting up a way for the two of them to meet in secret, but every time she tried to ask Heart about it, he’d give her the same answer.

“He’s in the wind, kid. But don’t sweat it. He can’t stay gone forever. If we don’t find him, you can bet the Ministry will. They don’t look kindly on felons who just up and take off before their court dates.”

If this was meant to put Rose at ease, it wasn’t working. But there was little she could do about it. She’d just have hope that Krum was smart enough not to stay away for long. In the end, he’d only be making it harder on himself. As far as Rose was concerned, better to deal with the press than the Ministry.

As to what would happen between the two of them when he did finally return, Rose tried not to dwell on it. She was pretty sure he’d at least help her finish the book. Beyond that, she’d just have to wait and see.

Rose was just about to wrap up her work for the day, having spent the afternoon sitting at one of the small tables on the far side of the garden, when she heard the backdoor open and her mother call out to her from across the lawn.

“Rose, come inside. There’s someone here to see you.”

Rose’s heart skipped a bit. Was it her boss? Had Heart come to tell her they’d found Krum? Or better still, was it possible that it was Viktor himself?

Rose gathered up her things, sprinting back towards the house. She bounded through the open door, rushing straight past her mother, calling out, “Is he here? Is it—”

But Rose stopped, skidding to a halt in the middle of the kitchen. There was no need to ask who it was. Their guest was already seated at the breakfast table, eyes locked on Rose.

It wasn’t Heart. And it certainly wasn’t Krum.

It was none other than Regina McFey.


Chapter 14: Chapter Fourteen: Regina McFey
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Chapter Fourteen: Regina McFey

She was beautiful, only beautiful wasn’t at all the right word to describe the woman sitting at her parents’ kitchen table. Rose knew a lot of beautiful people, but not one of them could hold a candle to Regina McFey.

She was in her forties, with a body women half her age would kill for. Her skin was an even bronze, too perfect to be from the sun, her lips full and pouty. Yet there was something harsh about her - the way her eyebrows formed two perfect arches across her wide forehead. The way her hair was so straight it looked like she’d gone at it with an iron. From the long, pointed fingernails to the cheekbones sharp enough to cut glass, Rose was sure Krum had been right when he’d said this woman could eat her for lunch.

“So this is the famous Rose Weasley,” Regina said. Her voice was low, a deep sultry tone better suited for the bedroom than the kitchen. She held out her hand, forcing Rose to step forward to shake it.

“Can I get you anything to drink?” Mrs. Weasley asked. “Tea, maybe, or coffee?”

Rose glanced over her shoulder. She’d almost forgotten her mother was standing there.

“No,” Regina said, holding on to Rose’s hand for just a second too long before finally letting go. “We’re fine here.”

Her mother flashed the woman a polite smile, which Regina ignored, before exiting the kitchen, leaving the two of them alone.

“I assume you know who I am?” Regina asked, and Rose nodded. “Good. That will make this a lot easier on both of us. Now, sit.”

The woman gestured toward the table, and Rose obeyed, feeling the woman’s eyes on her as she moved. Rose was suddenly wishing she’d thought to put on something nicer than a pair of old jeans and her brother’s faded sweatshirt when she’d gotten dressed that morning.

“Your picture doesn’t do you justice, Rose. You’re much prettier than I expected.”

Rose said nothing. The truth was, she’d been thinking much the same thing about Regina. She’d seen photographs of the woman before – those tiny black and white prints publishers like to stamp on the back of books. But they did nothing to convey her true presence. She was authoritative, commanding, and more than a little scary.

“At least we can be grateful for that,” Regina went on. “Just imagine how much worse this would be for all of us if you’d turned out to have a face like a troll.”

“Excuse me?”

“Oh, come now,” Regina said, catching sight of the look on Rose’s face. “You seem like a reasonably intelligent girl. Can’t you just imagine the horrible things they’d write about you if you were...unfortunate-looking? I’m not saying I condone it. I’m merely pointing out the fact that it doesn’t hurt if we can all agree you aren’t horrible to look at.”

Rose didn’t have the first clue how to respond to such a proclamation. And just what was with all this ‘us’ and ‘we’ business? What was it to Regina how unfortunate-looking she was?

“I’m sorry,” Rose said, putting up a hand. “But I think I’ve missed something. What exactly are you doing here? Did Heart tell you to come?”

Regina laughed as if the very notion of her doing something on behalf of Joseph Heart was nothing short of insanity. “Oh, Rose. Letting a man tell you what to do? How passé. No wonder Viktor has his eye on you.” Rose’s jaw clenched at the mention of his name but Regina seemed not to notice. “I’m here to do you a favor."

"A favor?" Rose repeated. "And why would you want to do that?"

"Because I see a lot of myself in you, Rose.”

“You do?” That was certainly a surprise; Rose couldn’t think of many people in the world she had less in common with than Regina McFey.

“Of course. I’m an author. You’re an author. I’ve been dealing with the press for years, and you’re certainly making a name for yourself at the present. And then there’s that little fact of me having been married to Viktor. And you...” She paused, tossing her dark hair over one shoulder. “Well, it seems we’ve shared a few things in that department too. The big difference between us is that I’ve got experience with these sorts of things and you don’t. Which is precisely why I’m here to help you.”

“Help? Help me with what?”

“With this little mess you’ve gotten yourself into.”

Little mess? Is that what Regina thought of Rose’s predicament?

“I still don’t understand—” Rose began, but Regina cut her off.

“How much do you know about Viktor? I mean really know about him?”

Rose had to think on that for a second. She knew the basics, of course: how old he was, where he’d been born, the fact that he was an only child. And she knew quite a lot about his career, and not just the bits they’d discussed directly. She’d picked up a lot of information through the research she’d gathered while Krum was being held at the Ministry. Then there were the more personal revelations: the fact that he’d given up drinking, and now smoking, and all the things Liddy had told her about Krum being a kind father to Peter, and being a good man underneath it all. And, of course, there were those most secret of details – the ones that can only be learned though being intimate with another person.

“I know a fair bit,” Rose said. She’d meant it to sound assertive but the words had fallen flat.

Regina raised one perfectly sculpted brow. “Oh, do you now? Tell me then, Rose. What does Viktor like to eat for breakfast?”

Rose hadn’t the faintest idea. They’d spent the night together several times now but they’d never had occasion to share a morning meal.

Regina seemed to sense her uncertainty. “No matter,” she said. “It was a silly question anyway. I’m sure you know the important things.”

“Like what?” Rose knew she shouldn’t ask – shouldn’t let herself be pulled into this game of who knows Krum better. She didn’t have anything to prove to this woman. Still, she was curious. What exactly did Regina consider to be important when it came to knowing Viktor Krum?

“How about the drugs? Has he talked to you about them?”

“Of course. I mean...I know he was involved with certain illegal substances.”

“Involved with illegal substances?” Regina repeated, sounding amused. “Are those your words or his?”

Rose hesitated for a beat. “...Mine.”

“Of course. Viktor would never be so tactful. I take it then that he hasn’t discussed the matter with you.”

“No,” Rose admitted before quickly adding, “But it isn’t like he’s kept it some great secret. The whole world knows he got involved— I mean, that he took drugs.”

Regina gave her a cold smile. “Of course. You’ll have read all about it in the papers. And we know the press always prints the truth about everything, don’t we, Rose?”

Rose felt a warm flush begin to creep up her neck. The woman was right. Just look at the way the papers were sensationalizing her own story. Who knew how much of what they’d said about Krum’s problems were true? Maybe things hadn’t been as bad as the press had made them out to be. Or maybe they’d been a whole lot worse.

“So you haven’t got around to the drugs yet. Fine. Then how about his injury? Surely that’s come up by now.”

“Of course it has. I’ve been learning all about spinal injuries.”

“Well, bully for you. Then you’ll know all about the pain.”

“The pain?” Rose asked.

“Yes, dear, the pain. You must know all about it, seeing as the two of you are so close. The man’s been suffering with it nearly every day for going on thirty years, and no one can do a damn thing for him. Surely he’s at least mentioned this to you?”

When Rose failed to respond, Regina leaned forward, elbow on the table, her chin resting in her hand. “Now see, this surprises me. I’d have thought a smart girl like you would have known more about what she was getting herself into. I mean, look at this place.” She gestured around the kitchen. “I bet your family just adores you. I bet your parents raised you to be a proper young thing. Beware of strangers. Look before you leap, and all that. And they’ve welcomed you back home with open arms, despite what you’ve done to them.”

“Done to them? I haven’t done anything to them.”

“Haven’t you, though?” Her expression was sympathetic but her tone told Rose she was enjoying every minute of this. “What do you imagine people are thinking about you right now?”

Rose just shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“Well, I’ll tell you. Right about now they’re thinking one of two things. The first group,” she said, holding up one finger. “They’ll be thinking you’re a bit of a... How can I put this delicately? A loose woman. A harlot. A slut.”

“But I’m not—”

“That’s not the point. If people think you are, then you are. And right now they’re thinking you’re a girl from a good home and a nice family who was all too happy to toss her morals aside to grab herself the inside scoop on this little book deal she’s got going. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with using the assets you’ve got to get ahead. But then, everyone isn’t as open-minded as I am, Rose.”

“But that’s not at all what happened. I didn’t get involved with Viktor as some twisted way of advancing my career. That’s nonsense.”

Regina just shrugged. “Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean people won’t think it’s true.”

Rose couldn’t argue with that. She’s said nearly the same thing to Heart, though not in those exact words. She’d been worried people would think the book was somehow compromised because she’d gotten involved with Krum. Heart said it wouldn’t matter – that it would still sell. But he hadn’t exactly bent over backward to convince her it wasn’t true.

“There’s another possibility,” Regina went on. “I mean, not everyone will think you’re sleeping around just to get ahead. Some people will think you’re just too stupid to know better. I mean, Viktor? Really? Of all the men in the world, you chose to get involved with him? That doesn’t say much for your judgment, does it?”

“But you’re the one who married him!” Rose could hardly believe what she was hearing. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

“Yes, but that’s the point. How many women have come before you, Rose? Dozens? Hundreds? And where are they now? How many of them stuck around? I was one of the first. How was I to know any better? But you. What’s your excuse?”

“But...I mean...What about Liddy?” Rose was starting to sound desperate, but what could she do? She had to at least try and defend herself against the awful things Regina was saying. “Liddy hasn’t abandoned him. The two are still friends. I spoke with her just last week—”

Regina let a snort. “Viktor doesn’t have friends. And as for Liddy? Think about it. All alone in that big old house of hers. She’s always had a thing for men with power. With Viktor, it was the fame. With that latest husband of hers, it was the money. She wants to feel important. To be someone. What better way to feel special than to be the one Viktor comes crawling to when he’s got no where else to turn? The truth is, she’s the only one desperate enough to take his calls. Of course, until you came along, that is.”

Rose couldn’t take much more of this. She didn’t know what to think anymore. Half of what Regina was saying made sense – the rest was just too horrible to believe.

“Why are you doing this?” Rose asked. “What do you want from me?”

Regina leaned back in her chair, examining Rose, who was working hard to keep her bottom lip from trembling.

“I don’t want anything from you, Rose. Like I said, I’m only here to help – so you can understand what it is you’re dealing with. Viktor Krum destroys lives. He destroyed his own and he did his damndest to destroy mine. Now yours isn’t looking so good at the moment, and I’ll just bet Viktor’s nowhere to be found.”

Regina let the words hang there for a long moment. She must have known by the look on Rose’s face that she was right – that Viktor was in the wind, leaving Rose to fend for herself in the shitstorm that was falling down around her.

“Think about it,” Regina said, pushing back her chair and getting to her feet. She grabbed up her purse from off the table, flinging it over her shoulder. “You’ll see I’m right. The only question now is how long will you wait to do something about it?”

Several hours later, after everyone had already gone off to bed, Rose woke to the sound of a faint tap-tap-tapping at the window. Throwing aside the covers, she padded across the darkened bedroom, her bare feet slapping against the wooden floorboards. The window was open a sliver and perched on the edge of the ledge was a little white envelope. She reached out, snatching it up and tearing it open. The moon outside was just bright enough to make out the first few words written across the page.

Pack your bags, kid. We’ve found him...






The rest of Heart’s note was short and to the point. Viktor had finally gotten in touch with Peter. Krum refused to say where he was staying, admitting only that Rose would “know where to look” should anyone need to find him. It was all the invitation Heart needed to start sending out the cavalry, which in this case, consisted solely of Rose.

Go get him, Heart wrote. Get him, bring him home, and let’s put this whole mess behind us.

If only it was that simple.

Traveling via “official” channels was out of the question. Rose didn’t know for sure if the Ministry was out there looking for Krum, but if they were, it would be simple enough for them to track her movements. Rose had no intention of leading them straight to the man’s doorstep. If the Ministry wanted to find him, they’d have to do it without any help from her. That only left one option.

She arrived at Heathrow airport just after dawn, purchasing her ticket with the money she'd borrowed from her parents' emergency fund, which they kept beneath a loose floorboard in the kitchen. It was the first time Rose ever had occasion to ride in an airplane. She decided it was a lot like traveling by Portkey, only in very slow motion.

After a brief layover in Vienna, she landed in the capital city of Sofia at four o’clock local time. She didn’t have an exact address, but Krum had told her enough about his old neighborhood for her to narrow down the list of possibilities to a small area on the outskirts of town. Unable to speak the language, Rose was forced to communicate with the taxi driver using nothing but a few crude hand gestures and the occasional reference to an outdated map she’d picked up on her way out of the airport.

It took more than an hour of driving in endless loops before she’d finally spotted it.

“Stop!” she yelled, banging her fist on the glass that separated her from the front of the cab. The taxi screeched to a halt. The driver looked over his shoulder and into the backseat. He was muttering something Rose couldn’t understand, but judging from his tone, she figured it was probably something rude. She just nodded, passing him a wad of bills that was more than sufficient to compensate him for his troubles. She’d hardly finished closing the cab door before the car lurched forward and speed off into the night.

The house was nothing special – a two-story brick home of indeterminate style with mismatched shingles on the roof, some of which seemed held into place by nothing more than a little tape and a lot of wishful thinking. Krum hadn’t been exaggerating when he’d said he’d bought up all the surrounding land. There was nothing but acres of grass stretching out in all directions. Behind the house, off in the distance, Rose could see an expanse of trees that led up into the hills beyond. It was somewhere deep in those woods, she knew, where Krum first played Quidditch.

Rose climbed the concrete steps and up to the front door. Letting out the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding, she raised a hand and knocked.

There was silence for a long moment before a familiar voice called out, “Who’s there?”

Rose hesitated for just a second before answering. “It’s me. It’s Rose.”

Another long pause and then the sound of heavy footsteps coming from somewhere inside. At last, the door swung open, and for the first time in nearly a week, Rose found herself face to face with Viktor Krum.

She couldn’t tell if he was pleased to see her or not. There was a vacant look in his eyes, almost as if she’d woken him from a deep sleep. He stared blankly down at her for several seconds before stepping aside, making room for her to enter.

Rose passed through the doorway, following Krum as he led her down a narrow hallway and into what she guessed to be the living room. It was hard to be sure; most of the space was taken up by a large four-poster bed situated in the middle of the room. It wasn’t the only thing that looked out of place. There were blue plastic tarps spread out across the floor, another one draped over the window, blocking out all traces of the setting sun. A single lamp sat on the floor in one corner, doing little to illuminate the space around them. Traces of sawdust floated in the air, settling on her skin like a fine powder.

“Don’t mind the mess,” Krum said, taking a seat in a faded armchair that looked old enough to be in a museum. “There’s a leak in the upstairs bath. I’ve been forced to set up shop down here, at least temporarily. Please, sit.”

Rose looked around. There were no other chairs so she was forced to settle for the bed, perching herself on the edge closest to Krum. “You weren’t kidding about this place needing a bit of work.”

Krum’s eyes scanned the room as if trying to see it from Rose’s perspective. “It’s not always like this. I vasn’t anticipating visitors.”

Rose considered saying something nice – telling him it wasn’t all that bad, that a bit of paint and a good cleaning could really spruce the place up. But she decided they were past the point of swapping idle pleasantries and instead cut straight to the point.

“I’ve been sent to bring you home.”

“Is that so?” he asked. “Sent by who?”

“Heart, of course. And Peter.”

“Peter got my note then, I take it. And now you’re here to collect me.”

“That’s not exactly the word I’d use, but better me than the Ministry. You can’t stay hidden away here forever. They will come looking for you eventually, you know.”

“Who says I’m hiding? If I’m hiding then I’m doing a pretty piss-poor job of it. You found me without any trouble.”

“Fine,” Rose said, not loving his tone. “So you’re not hiding. Then what is all this? A holiday? A sabbatical? A little well-deserved time off?” There was an edge to her voice, the own words sharp and accusing. She could hear it but she didn’t know how to stop it. It was becoming a habit with Krum, these sudden swings of high and low. She was always left feeling as if there was more he wasn’t saying, purposely leaving her in the dark. And she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t more than a little miffed that he’d just up and taken off without so much as a warning about where he was going or if he ever planned on coming back.

“I just needed some time away,” he said, not quite meeting her eye. “To think on things.”

“Well, that’s just great. And would you care to tell me what it is you’ve been thinking on? I mean, if you’ve changed your mind about the book, the least you could do is have the decency to tell me to my face.”

“And what if I have changed my mind? Then what?”

“Then I guess that would be the end of it, wouldn’t it? Heart won’t be happy, but he’ll get over it.”

“And you?”

“What do you think? I’ll go back to my day job. I had a life, you know. Long before you ever came along. Things were going just fine for me.”

“Only just fine?” he asked, but Rose ignored the question. She wasn’t about to let him turn this around on her.

“So you’ve decided not to help me finish the book. Is that what you’re saying?”

“No,” he said, keeping his voice level. He seemed intent on remaining calm, no matter how upset she was getting. “I haven’t decided that. Only I thought perhaps you might have.”

“Me? Why would you think that? I’m the one who came to you about the book, remember? Why would I want to back out now?”

“Things have changed.”

“Things, sure. But not me. Not on this.”

Through the darkness, Rose thought she saw the corners of Krum’s mouth pull up just a fraction of an inch. “Fine,” he said. “Then it seems we’re agreed on that much, at least.”

“Agreed?”

Krum nodded. “Agreed that ve’ll finish the book. Together.”

“Oh.” She’d been expecting him to put up more of a fight – not that she wanted to argue the point. “Well...good. That’s settled then.”

“I suppose it is. And as for the rest of it?”

Rose didn’t have to ask him what he meant. He was talking about them – the two of them – and whatever it was they’d gotten themselves into. She’d spent the better part of the day asking herself that very same question. On the plane. In the taxi. But she hadn’t been able to come up with a good answer.

Regina’s warnings still rang fresh in her mind, and the humiliation of having her privacy stripped away by the press was like a fresh wound, threatening to rip open anytime she thought about it. But she couldn’t deny that she still felt drawn to him – to the smell of his cologne, which lingered in the air, rising up off the mattress every time she moved. Drawn to his body, which even through the darkness seemed to align itself with hers. The thought of his hands around her waist, his lips pressed against hers; whatever was inside of her that called for him – desired him – was still very much alive.

“I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head. “I’ve never been in a situation like this before. This is new territory for me.” She looked over him, hoping he’d say something – clue her in on what he was thinking. But he just sat there, eyes locked on hers.

“Look,” she continued. “Whatever it is you’ve been out here thinking about, I just want you to know that it wasn’t me. I didn’t tell anyone about us. I wasn’t the one who leaked it to the press. Whatever else happens, I just... I thought you ought to know.”

Viktor seemed to consider this for a long moment. “Is that why you think I came out here? Because I was angry with you?”

“It crossed my mind.”

“Well, it didn’t cross mine. I never for a second thought it was you.”

“You didn’t?” She could hear the surprise in her voice. “Then why did you disappear? You should have stayed. We could have figured this out together.”

Viktor leaned back in his chair, his chin resting on his fingertips. “That isn’t how this works. It isn’t how I work.”

“So what, you just go at it alone then? It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or feels. You just do whatever you want?”

“It’s better that way.”

“Better for who? Better for you, maybe, but not for me.”

“You only think that way because you don’t know what’s good for you. If you did, we wouldn’t be in this position now.”

Rose sat up a little straighter. “So you do blame me. You think this is all somehow my fault.”

“I didn’t say that. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I blame myself for bringing this mess down on both of us.”

“That’s absurd. This isn’t any more your doing than mine. I could have said no. I could have stopped this if I’d wanted to, but I didn’t.”

Viktor gave her a wry smile. “It’s sweet that you think that, but it isn’t true. And even if it was, it’s just more proof you don’t know what’s good for you.”

“Wait a minute,” Rose said, holding up a hand as if she were back at school. “Am I hearing this right? Are you really suggesting that I had no role to play in making this happen? That you were what – too irresistible to refuse? Once I caught your eye, you were going to have your way with me and I was powerless to stop it? That’s a bit rich, even for you.”

“That isn’t what I mean—”

“The what do you mean? Are you...breaking it off?”

“Do you want me to?”

Rose opened her mouth but no words came out. She was thinking back on everything that had happened over the past few weeks. Her life, so safe and predictable, tucked away in her broom-cupboard of an office; it suddenly felt a million miles away. Since meeting Krum, everything had been turned upside-down. She’d been chased out of her flat, forced to move back in with her parents – one of whom could barely stand to look her in the eye. She’d become a target for trashy gossip and innuendo. It wasn’t at all what Rose wanted for herself. Getting out now would be the smart thing to do. Wasn’t that exactly what Regina had been trying to tell her? Rose’s brain was telling her to run and never look back. But her heart was saying...

“No,” Rose said at last, looking Viktor straight in the eye. “I don’t want you to break it off.”

Viktor let out a long sigh. After a moment, he got to his feet, crossing over to the bed, taking a seat beside her. “I was afraid you might say that.”

Rose felt her heart sink. “You’re going to dump me anyway, aren’t you?”

Krum reached out, taking Rose’s hand in his. He began slowly tracing the lines on her palm with his fingertip. “That’s just it. I can’t.”

“You can’t what?” she asked.

“I can’t bring myself to stay away. That’s why I came out here – to put as much distance between us as possible. I thought it might help.”

“Did it?”

“No.”

“Good,” Rose said. “Because I don’t you to stay away. I like it better when you’re around.”

Viktor smiled. “You’re the first person in a long time to feel that way.”

“Well, that’s their loss then, isn’t it? I say forget the lot of them. I don’t give a damn what they think.”

He smiled again. “You’re cute when you’re lying.”

Rose cocked her head to one side. “So, you think I’m cute, do you?”

“I think you’re trying to change the subject.”

“Is it working?”

“No,” he said, cupping her face in his hands, leaning in until their lips were nearly touching. “But I think I know something that might.”

 

A/N – I have almost no words to describe how much angst this chapter has caused me. I’m not even close to happy with it but I know if I wait until I am, there’s a good chance I’d never write another chapter on this story again. Onward and upward, right?



Chapter 15: Chapter Fifteen: Peter
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Chapter Fifteen: Peter

They spent the night in Bulgaria, catching the first flight back to London early the next morning and arriving at Viktor’s flat just as the sun was starting to make its way up over the horizon. There was no one waiting there for them when they arrived – no men with cameras hiding in the hedges, hoping to snap a photograph of the pair as they hurried inside. Climbing the three flights of stairs, her hand clasped tightly in his, Rose allowed herself to believe that the worst of their problems might finally be behind them.

“Do you vant to come in?” Viktor asked. He’d removed a set of keys from inside the pocket of his trousers, fiddling around with them until he found the one he was looking for.

Rose was sorely tempted to say yes. Now that they were back together, she was hesitant to let him out of her sight, almost as if afraid he might up and take off on her again. But she couldn’t stay. There were things she needed to take care of first. Viktor was home now, back where he belonged. It was time she did the same.

Rose shook her head. “I can’t. I’ve got a few loose ends I need to tie up first.”

“Tomorrow then?” he asked, pulling her into him and kissing her softly on the lips.

“Tomorrow for sure.”

Rose’s first stop was to the office. She’d been avoiding the place for days, too chicken to face her co-workers after everything that had happened. But it was early Sunday morning, and that meant the office was sure to be empty. Rose figured now was as good a time as any to check in. Besides, wasn’t she the one who’d told Viktor she didn’t care what people thought? They’d both known that wasn’t entirely true, but she felt it was only right to at least try and pretend like she’d meant it. It wasn’t like skulking around in the shadows was going to stop people from believing what they wanted. She’d just have to try and not let it get to her – not let it drive a wedge between her and Krum.

Rose was right about the office; it was dark and quiet when she arrived. After making herself a strong pot of coffee, she set about sorting through the week’s post, which had been left in large heaps on top of her desk. After an hour or so, having dealt with everything that required her immediate attention, Rose set the remainder of the letters and unread manuscripts aside and headed off towards Heart’s office. She didn’t actually expect her boss to be in at this hour, especially on a Sunday, but on the off chance he’d stopped by to catch up on a few odds and ends, she thought she’d better at least drop in and make sure. Rose knew he’d be waiting to hear from her, wondering if she’d manage to find Krum and bring him back home.

As expected, she arrived to find Heart’s door shut and the shade drawn. On a whim, she grabbed the handle, giving it a gentle twist. With a soft click, the door swung open and Rose stepped inside. There were no boxes on the floor, no hastily-packed suitcases stuffed into the corner – a sure sign that Heart and his wife were currently on good speaking terms, at least for the moment. Glancing around to make certain she was alone, Rose crossed over to Heart’s desk, which was empty save for an oversized calendar that lay open in the middle, the word DECEMBER printed in large black letters across the top of the page. Rose couldn’t fail to notice the giant red circle drawn around the first of the month. It was the day she was due to hand in her manuscript.

Just two short months to go.

Pulling a scrap of paper out of the rubbish bin, Rose dashed off a quick note, filling Heart in on her return and letting him know that Krum was once again back in the country. With any luck, work on the book could now once again proceed as planned.

Rose’s next stop was to parents’ house. It too was empty, everyone off at work, despite it still being the weekend. Not wanting to waste the time sitting around waiting for their return, she hastily scribbled another note, letting her parents know she’d decided to move back into her own flat. For a moment, she debated telling them about the money she’d “borrowed,” but in the end decided that was something best discussed face-to-face.

After gathering up the remainder of her belongings and stuffing them into one of her brother’s old overnight bags, Rose locked the front door, pulled out her wand, and Apparated home.

She’d been away from her flat for little more than a week, but already the space felt foreign, despite the fact that everything was just as she’d left it the morning Albus had stopped by with the invitation to his wedding. Pillows and blankets still littered the floor. Empty take-away cartons peaked out from the top of the bin. Rose half-expected to see Krum sauntering out of the bathroom, his hair a mess, a sated smile playing on his lips. It was almost as if none of the last seven days had happened.

Almost.

Rose spent the rest of the day reacquainting herself with her surroundings. She wasn’t one for doing a lot of heavy cleaning, but after having been away, Rose found herself enjoying the temporary interlude into domesticity. She made quick work of it, emptying all the bins and cleaning out the cupboards. She even went so far as to scrub the kitchen floor. It wasn’t exactly glamorous, but Rose couldn’t deny the innate satisfaction that came from having expertly folded linens and a bath clean enough to eat out of. It was something she’d no doubt inherited from her mother, who prided herself on maintaining a perfectly ordered home without benefit of a single house-elf.

By ten o’clock the next morning, having spent a peaceful night alone in her own bed, Rose once again found herself standing outside Viktor’s front door. She knocked once, waiting patiently for the sound of footsteps on the other side, but she was met with only silence. She knocked again.

Still nothing.

For one terrible moment, Rose thought the man might have up and run off on her again. But to where? And for what purpose? Hadn’t they both agreed that he needed to stay put, at least until after this business with the Ministry had been settled?

“Viktor?” she called, banging her fist against the door. “Viktor, are you in there?”

From somewhere inside, Rose thought she heard something: a low moaning, like that of a wounded animal. She pressed her ear to the door, wondering for a moment if she hadn’t imagined it.

But no, there it was again – so faint she could barely hear it through the thick layers of wood and plastic. Whoever, or whatever, was making that noise, she knew it couldn’t be good.

Rose grabbed at the doorknob only to find it locked up tight. After a quick glance over her shoulder to make sure no one was watching, she pulled out her wand, whispering, “Alohomora.”

The door sprung open and Rose took a tentative step inside, wand poised at the ready. At first glance, everything appeared to be in order. No overturned chairs, no curtains ripped from their hangings and strewn across the floor. The place looked just as it always did, only Krum was nowhere in sight.

“Viktor?” she called for a third time, her voice steady despite the growing apprehension that sat like a rock in her throat.

There was another soft moan emanating from somewhere off to her left. Wand still clutched in her hand, Rose made for the bedroom. As she passed through the doorway, she caught sight of him. He was sprawled face-first on the carpet, his body still, arms stretched out in front of him, his own wand lying just out of reach.

“Viktor!” Rose yelled, rushing forward and dropping to her knees beside him.

She took quick stock of him, scanning his body for signs of injury. No blood. No wounds of any kind, as least as far as she could tell. But he’d been sick, violently so. Vomit stains littered the carpet, a large, wet spot visible on the leg of his jeans.

“Viktor, wake up!” she shouted. She was shaking him, trying to illicit any sort of response. But there was nothing. No movement of any kind. Just that terrible moaning.

Working on instinct, Rose rolled him over, having to wedge herself between him and the bed in order to get enough leverage. He was heavy, so much bigger than she was, but she managed it, settling him on his back and quickly pressing a finger to his throat. His pulse was steady but weak. Much, much too weak.

With his face now pointed skyward, Rose could see how drained of color it was – an unsettling shade of grey so pale it made the dark skin under his eyes look like fresh bruises. His lips were drawn tight across his teeth, his eyes clamped shut, as if gritting himself against some unspeakable pain. He looked bad. Very bad. Far worse than she’d seen him that night outside the pub.

“I’ve got to get help,” she said, more for her benefit than his, commanding her body to obey her brain’s instructions.

But before she could move, almost as if in response to her words, Viktor’s eyes flew open. They were unsteady, wide and searching, rolling around in their sockets for several seconds before finally coming to rest on her face.

“Viktor,” she said, immediately cupping his cheeks in her hands, turning his head towards her. “Can you hear me? It’s Rose. I’m going to find you some help, okay?”

His gaze was unfocused, but she could see him struggling to take in her words. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but no sound came out.

She put a steadying hand on his chest. “It’s all right. Don’t try and talk. I’ll be right back. I’ll find someone—”

He opened his mouth again, this time managing to eek out a single word. “Stay.”

“I will. I’ll stay with you. But first I’ve got to get help. We need to get you to hospital.”

But he was already shaking his head, or at least that’s what she thought he was trying to do. He didn’t have full control of his muscles, his head just sort of lopping from side to side.

“No... Stay here...Everyone...”

And though the words were slurred, spoken in little more than a whisper, the panicked look in his eyes told Rose everything she needed to know. If she went for help, there would be no keeping this quiet. Even if she somehow managed to get him out of his flat and into St. Mungo’s without being spotted, how long would it before The Prophet caught wind of it? It would only take one – a Healer with loose lips, a relative of a patient stopping by for a visit. Someone would recognize Krum and that would be that.

Still, what did that matter, really? He was sick. He needed help. As long as she got it for him, who cared what happened next?

He cares, Rose thought. Even in this state, he still cares.

She hesitated for a long moment, torn over what to do next. Finally, taking his hand in her’s and squeezing it tight, she said, “It’s okay. We’ll stay here. I’ll figure something out. I promise...”

Viktor looked up at her, and just as she thought he might try to say something more, his eyelids fluttered, eyes rolling back into his head. And then the darkness swallowed him, and he was gone.



“You did the right thing, Rose. Remember that. Whatever else happens, you did the right thing.”

She was huddled on the sofa, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders, but it was doing little to fight off the chill that had settled over her, freezing her insides until she felt numb to the world around her. Peter Brooks was seated in one of the chairs opposite her. It was the very place Krum had sat during her first visit to his flat. She remembered that stack of papers she’d had with her that day – the long list of questions she’d planned on asking him. Now there was only one question weighing on her mind.

“I just keep wondering,” Brooks went on, the heel of his shoe tapping against the floor, the only sign of agitation he’d shown since he’d arrived. “Just imagine if you hadn’t come when you did. No telling how long he might have been lying there before anyone found him.”

He’d been talking like that for a while now, a running stream of “what ifs” Rose couldn’t bear to think on. So she tuned him out, letting his words fade into the background until his voice was little more than a gentle hum buzzing in her ears.

There was movement on the other side of the room, and Rose leapt to her feet, the blanket she’d been huddled beneath falling forgotten on the floor.

“How is he?” she asked, pouncing on Hugo before he’d even finished pulling shut the door that led back into the bedroom.

His face was drawn, so serious. Not at all like the lighthearted little brother she was used to seeing – the one who was always around with a quick joke or a crooked smile to cheer her up when she was feeling down. This was the face of a Healer-in-Training, a man who one day soon would make his fortune doing what he could to heal the sick and save the dying.

“He’s resting,” Hugo said.

Rose nodded, allowing herself the briefest sigh of relief. “And will he...?”

“He should be fine, though he’s going to be out of it for a while, I expect.”

“How long is a while?” Brooks asked. He was on his feet now too, crossing over to where the two of them stood.

“A day,” Hugo said. “Maybe two.”

“And after that?” Brooks asked him. “We aren’t looking at any residual effects here, are we?”

Rose looked over at Peter, thinking that a rather odd choice of words. But Hugo was already shaking his head.

“I can’t swear to anything, obviously, but I’ve seen this sort of thing before. I doubt we’re looking at any permanent damage done. I’m assuming this isn’t his first go-round with this sort of thing. The majority of it will be out of his system by morning. Once that’s gone – assuming he doesn’t get into anything else – he should come out of it just fine. Tired,” he added, “but okay.”

“Tired I can handle,” Brooks said. “It’s what comes next that worries me.”

Rose blinked, turning her attention first to Brooks and then back to her brother. She felt like she was missing something, her brain too slow to follow what was happening. “I don’t understand,” she said. “What’s coming next? What happened to him in there?”

Brooks and Hugo exchanged a long look.

“Do you want to explain it to her, or should I?” Brooks asked, his attention still focused on Hugo. “I expect it will sound a lot better coming from you.”

“What will sound better?” Rose demanded. “What are you two on about?”

“Look, Rose,” her brother said, his voice soft, as if addressing a child. “This sort of thing just happens sometimes. It’s no one’s fault. Addiction is a powerful thing. Sometimes people just...slip up.”

“But I don’t—” she began but then stopped herself. It had suddenly dawned on her what was going on here, what it was they were implying. But no. Surely not. They couldn’t possible think...

She turned to Brooks, as if hoping he might tell her she’d misunderstood, that they weren’t suggesting what it was she thought they were suggesting. But the man’s eyes were trained downward, unwilling or unable to meet her gaze. “No,” she said. “No, Viktor wouldn’t—” But she couldn’t even bring herself to say the words aloud.

Hugo placed a steadying hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay, Rose. I know it’s hard, but you’ve got to understand. People with this sort of history... I mean, I’ve seen people in hospital, sober thirty years until suddenly...they just aren’t anymore.”

“And you?” she asked, pointing a finger in Peter’s direction. “You believe this? You think Viktor did this to himself?”

But it was Hugo who answered her. “It’s not an issue of “doing” anything. He probably just miscalculated the dose. If it’s been a while since his last episode, he may have overestimated how much his body could handle. It’s a common mistake in patients who relapse.”

But Rose was already shaking her head, taking a step backward, putting as much distance between herself and her brother as she could manage. “You’re wrong. Both of you. I just saw him yesterday and he was fine. And I’ve been working with him for weeks now, and he never showed a single sign—”

But Rose stopped again, all the events of the previous days and months playing over in her mind. Had there been signs? Sure, his behavior had been a bit erratic, but Rose had just assumed that was part of his personality. But what if it wasn’t? What if the fury she’d seen that night in the pub had been fueled by something more than just ego and wounded pride? And the mood swings, that near-constant oscillation between sultry and sullen; had those been a sign of something? And hadn’t she just been thinking to herself not two days ago how it always seemed as if there was something Viktor wasn’t telling her? Was this it? Was this the secret he’d been keeping from her?

Rose crossed back over to the couch, collapsing onto it as if her legs could no longer support the weight of her own thoughts.

How could she have missed it all? Could she have really been so blinded by...what? Infatuation? The need to prove herself? Her desire for him to be something he wasn’t? That she’d overlooked what was right in front of her? It wasn’t as if she could claim she’d had no warning. She’d spent the last two and a half months combing through the man’s past, unearthing every grisly detail she could. Not to mention her conversations with Liddy and Regina. Hadn’t they told her something like this was bound to happen?

A long moment passed before Hugo finally broke the silence that had fallen over the room. “I should get going,” he said, looking down at his watch. “I was due back at the hospital an hour ago.” There was something in his voice that made Rose think there was more he wanted to add, but he seemed to think better of it, saying only, “I’ll come back and check on you both tomorrow.”

Rose made no reply, not trusting herself to speak. She couldn’t even bring herself to look at him as he turned and made his way towards the door, Brooks following close on his heals. The two men shared a brief exchange, their voices hushed. Rose didn’t even bother to try and make out what they were saying. She’d heard all she cared to for the moment. Next came the sound of the door opening and then quickly closing again. And then silence.

She hadn’t realized he was back in the room until she felt the sofa shift beneath her.

“Do you want to talk?” Peter asked as he took up the seat beside her.

She could feel his eyes on her, but she refused to meet his gaze. She was too angry with him, as if this whole mess was somehow his fault. And maybe it was. The book had been his idea, after all. If he hadn’t convinced Heart to get on board with it, Rose would never have been given the assignment. She would have never gone to meet with Krum that first night. That would have been no fight. No arrest. No threat of Azkaban hanging over his head. No articles in the newspapers, no scandalous photos. No reason to seek an escape.

“I know it must have been a shock,” Peter said. “Seeing him like that, and all. But like your brother said, these things happen.”

That got Rose’s attention, and she spun in her seat to face him. “Is that all you two can say? That these things happen?”

“Well, it’s true, isn’t it? I mean, this won’t have been Krum’s first fall off the wagon.”

“And what? That’s supposed to somehow make it all okay?”

“Of course it doesn’t make it okay,” Brooks shot back. “But what would you rather I say? How this whole situation is a real shit of a surprise? To talk about how unbelievably fucked up it all is? Cause I could, you know. I mean, Christ, Rose. The man is like a father to me. He helped raise me. He’s met my kids. God knows my mother is still in love with him. You don’t think it bothers me to know he’s using again? Cause it does. It kills me.”

Rose said nothing. It was the first time she’d seen any real emotion from Brooks since he’d arrived. Even before today, he’d always played it cool, taking Krum’s arrest in stride, doing his best to pitch in and help with the book where he could. But not anymore. He was opening up, reminding Rose that she wasn’t the only person in the room who cared about what happened to Krum.

“I really thought we had it this time,” he went on, talking more to himself now then to her. “He’d been clean for so long. And this book— it was going to be his ticket out. I really let myself believe it was all going to work out. And you,” he added, turning his attention back to her. “Well, let’s just say, I was feeling hopeful.”

Rose just sat there, letting Peter’s words sink in, feeling her anger with the man start to fade. It wasn’t his fault; she knew that. From the beginning, he’d only been trying to help. It might have been a mistake, but at least his intentions had been good. So what about her then? What was her role in all of this? Brooks had done what he’d done to try and get Krum out of a jam. What was her excuse?

Brooks let out a low snort, a sound that fell somewhere between a laugh and a groan.

“What?” she asked, looking over at him.

“Do you know what I was doing this morning? Before you called?” Rose shook her head. “I was down at the Ministry, filing a motion to get the charges against Krum dismissed.”

Rose sat up a little straighter. “Really?”

Peter nodded. “Yep, and it was a good one too.”

“How so?”

“Well, I won’t bore you with all the technical mumbo-jumbo, but let’s just say I found a new angle. Something I hadn’t tried before.”

“And do you think it will work?”

Brooks shrugged. “Probably not. In fact, I’m almost sure that it won’t.”

Rose slumped back down in her seat, feeling the tiny glimmer of optimism quickly fade away. “Then why even bother?”

“Because it’s what we do," he told her. "We keep trying. Because you know what? One of these days, something just might stick.” Rose gave him a quizzical look, but Brooks seemed not to notice. “And I’ll tell you something else. Viktor... he’s a good man."

"Your mother said the same thing about him."

"Well, it's true. God knows he does everything in his power to make you forget it sometimes, but it’s in there. Buried down deep, so low I don’t think he even knows it’s there. But just between the two of us, I’ve got to say. If there’s anyone in the world who can bring it out of him, I think it just might be you.”

 

A/N - Comments, especially suggestions for improvement, are always welcome.


Chapter 16: Chapter Sixteen: Viktor and Rose
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Chapter Sixteen: Viktor and Rose

Rose stayed by Viktor’s side for the remainder of the morning and into the afternoon. Peter had offered to hang back, to help her attend to Krum, but Rose had declined, pointing out the fact that there wasn’t much either of them could do for him at the moment. What little there was to do she could manage on her own. And in truth, Rose was ready to be rid of Peter, at least for the time being. She might not blame him for what happened, but that didn’t mean she was eager for his company.

As soon as Brooks had taken his leave, she’d returned to the bedroom, removing Krum’s soiled clothing, tucking the covers tightly around his now naked form. Next, she’d turned her attention to the floor, doing her best to remove all traces of the sick that had already begun to seep into the carpet.

The whole time she was working, Krum remained oblivious to her presence, giving no sign at all that he knew she was in the room with him. For the moment, he looked calm, peaceful even – dead to the world around him. He was so still, in fact, that on more than one occasion, Rose found herself creeping over to his bedside, placing a gentle hand on his chest just to make sure he was still breathing.

It wasn’t until that evening that Krum showed any real sign of life at all.

The tremors came without warning, ripping through his body in waves so violent, it was as if great volts of electricity were being shot through him. His entire body succumbed to the quakes, his arms and legs jerking wildly in all directions, punching and kicking at the empty air around him. At one point, the convulsions got so bad, Rose was forced to climb onto the bad, straddling Viktor’s chest and pinning his arms to his side. All the while, he was shouting – barking out commands that were either gibberish or else in a language Rose couldn’t understand. Either way, it was clear they weren’t directed at her. Krum was hallucinating, his mind having conjured up some terrible image that seemed to both confuse and horrify him.

And then, just as quickly as they had appeared, the convulsions began to recede, taking the worst of the delusions with them. His body, now feverish to the touch, gave one final shake before finally falling still.

After that, Rose couldn’t bring herself to leave his side for even a moment, too afraid of what the next round might bring. So she pulled out her wand, conjuring herself a chair, which she arranged at the edge of the bed. For the rest of the evening and well into the night, Rose sat there, a silent bedside vigil, prepared to react at a moment’s notice. But he made no further movement, even when she took his hand in hers and gave it a gentle squeeze. And eventually, despite her best efforts not to, Rose drifted off to sleep.

She awoke a few hours later, feeling no more rested than she had before she’d fallen asleep, only now with the added benefit of a crick in her neck and a tingling in her legs from having spent most of the night twisted up like a pretzel.

“Hello, Rose.”

At the sound of her name, Rose opened her eyes, the room around her still shrouded in darkness. She immediately looked down at the bed, finding Krum lying just as she’d left him, only now his eyes were open and alert, trained right on her face.

Rose sat up in her chair, the stiffness in her back making the task more difficult than it should have been. “Hello, yourself,” she said, her voice still thick with sleep. “How are you? How are you feeling?”

“Better than I look, I expect.”

Rose placed a hand on his cheek, which was thick with stubble. Right away, she could tell that his fever had broken, his skin dry and cool against her own. “Have you been awake long? What time is it, anyway?” She looked over at the clock, which normally sat on the bedside table, only to find it lying on the floor, the digital readout blinking 12:00. She must have accidentally knocked it over when she’d been attempting to restrain him.

“Early, I think,” Viktor said. “It’s only just starting to get light outside.” He turned his head toward the window, where the first faint traces of pale pink light had begun peeking in through the breaks in the curtains.

“You should have woken me,” Rose said. “You must be hungry. Or thirsty. You haven’t drank hardly anything for nearly a day now.”

“I’m all right,” Krum told her, but his voice was raspy, and she knew his throat must be raw and dry from the vomiting and loss of fluids.

“I’ll get you some water," she insisted. "Or maybe some tea. Do you think you could hold down toast if I made some for you?” She was already on her feet and heading for the door when he stopped her.

“Rose?” he called, his voice soft but commanding. “I’m okay.”

She turned around to face him, about to protest, but the look he gave her told Rose she might as well save her breath. After a pause, she nodded. There would be plenty of time to fuss over him later, she supposed.

“Sit with me,” he said, patting a spot on the bed beside him. Detecting her reluctance, he added, “I promise, I won’t break.” Rose nodded again, crossing to the bed and carefully climbing in beside him. He lifted his arm, making space for her to curl up next to him. She did, nestling her legs against his, her head resting on his bare chest, his arm now draped around her shoulder.

They lay there together for a long time without speaking, Rose listening to the steady thump-thumping of his heart while Krum used his free hand to gently stroke her hair.

It came without warning, a sensation that started in her gut and quickly rose into her chest. It burned for a moment in her throat before escaping through her lips, half-hiccup, half-sob. She hadn’t even known she on the verge of crying until she felt the tears start rolling down her cheeks.

She immediately brushed them away, fighting to regain composure. But it was a losing battle. All the anxiety and the fear of the past twenty-four hours came rushing over of her like water bursting through a broken damn. While he’d been unconscious, she’d been able to hold herself together, focused on keeping him safe and alive. But now that he’d come back to her, holding her body tight against his, she allowed herself to feel the weight of what she’d almost lost.

“I was just so worried you’d—” she tried to say. But the rest of the sentence was quickly lost as another round of quiet sobs sent more tears spilling down her face and onto Krum’s chest.

“I know,” he said, still stroking her hair. “But it’s all right now. I’m okay. You saved me, remember? Everything’s going to be okay.”

“I’m sorry,” she said after a few minutes had passed and the worst of the tears had finally run their course. “I shouldn’t have fallen apart like that.”

“It’s all right. I understand.”

“I just thought you'd—”

But he pressed a finger to her lips, stopping her. “I know. But I didn't.”

She nodded, letting another heavy silence fell between them. It stretched on for so long that Rose started to think Krum must have fallen back asleep – until finally, in a voice so faint she could barely make out the words, he said, “I’m sorry too.”

Weather from the crying or simply from lack of sleep, it wasn’t long before Rose herself dozed off again. When she awoke for the second time, she found the bedroom flooded with light and Krum nowhere in sight.

Rose immediately leapt out of bed, checking first the bathroom and then the living room before heading off towards the kitchen. When she found Krum, he was seated at the breakfast table, his bare legs peeking out from beneath the hem of his bathrobe, two empty mugs resting on the table in front of him.

“I vas going to make us some coffee,” he said, gesturing down at the cups. “But I don’t seem to have made it very far.”

“Here, let me,” Rose said, taking the cups and crossing into the kitchen.

She returned a moment later, handing Krum one of the steaming mugs before settling herself in the chair opposite his. She watched him as he slowly raised the cup to his lips, taking a few small sips before setting it back down on the table.

“How are you?” she asked. With the sunlight pouring in around them, Rose was getting her first proper look at Krum. She couldn’t help but notice how exhausted he looked, his face drawn and tired. Though Rose was pleased to see that at least some of his color had started to return.

“Just a little weak on my feet, is all,” he assured her.

“I could help you back into bed, if you like. Or onto the sofa. You might be more comfortable—”

But he cut her off with shake of his head. “Please, Rose, just...” But he stopped, too tired to argue. “I’m fine right here. Really. But you’ll be the first to know if I change my mind.”

Rose nodded, taking a long sip of her coffee. It tasted burnt, not at all like it did when Viktor made it.

“Your brother stopped by,” Krum said, picking up his own mug only to set it back down again without drinking.

“What? When?”

"Half-hour ago. Maybe less. I didn’t vant to wake you. You look so peaceful when you’re sleeping.”

“But Hugo...? Didn’t he want to speak to me?

“Oh, I’m sure he did,” Viktor said, looking almost amused. “But considering what he must think of me at the moment, I didn’t see how denying him this one request was going to make much of a difference.”

There was a sinking feeling in the pit of Rose’s stomach. “What did he say to you?”

“About vhat you’d expect. He told me that, as much as he hoped otherwise, it didn't appear to him that I’m likely to drop dead anytime soon.”

“He didn’t?" Rose asked, feeling both surprised and just the tiniest bit annoyed to hear that her brother had behaved so hostile towards Viktor.

“Well, no,” Krum admitted. “At least not in those exact words. But I got the message.”

“He’s only trying to look out for me.”

“I know. And I wouldn’t expect anything less. He’d be a fool if he didn’t wish me dead right now.”

“Viktor, don’t...” Rose began, but he’d already turned away from her, his gaze now focused on the window. They both watched as a garbage truck rumbled silently down the street, the noise unable to penetrate the thick glass.

“It’s all right, you know,” he said once the vehicle had passed out of sight.

“What is?”

“To ask me what happened. I know it must be veighing on your mind.”

It was true; Rose did want to know what happened. But more important, she wanted to know why. Why had he thrown away all those years of hard-won sobriety? Why had he risked everything he was trying to rebuild for himself? Was it really just a matter of slipping back into old habits? Peter and Hugo had made it sound as if this sort of thing was almost to be expected of someone with Viktor’s past.

But it was also true that, while she was curious to hear what he had to say for himself – how he could even possibly begin to offer some sort of justification for what he had put them both through – she was also afraid. Afraid of pushing him for answers before he was ready. And, if she was being totally honest with herself, afraid of what those answers might be.

“We don’t have to talk about it right now,” she said. “It can wait until you’re feeling stronger.”

“I think strong may be a relative term in this situation.”

“Fine. Then it can wait until your feeling more yourself. Does that sound better?”

“Not really, no.”

“Then what is it you want me to say?” Rose asked with more than a hint of agitation coloring her voice.

“I want you to say vhat it is you’re thinking. You deserve that much, at least.”

Rose opened her mouth, but then stopped. He was right. She did deserve an explanation. “Fine,” she said. “Then tell me. What happened?”

He sat there for a long moment, seeming to gather his thoughts. At last he said, “I don’t know.”

“I don’t understand,” she said. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means, I don’t know what happened. I don’t remember anything.”

“You’re joking?”

“I can assure you, I’m not.”

“Well, that’s just perfect, isn’t it?” Rose snapped “If you were just going to play dumb about it, why bother to bring it up in the first place?” She made to stand up, but he grabbed her wrist, holding her in place. His grip was strong, despite his weakened condition.

“Wait,” he said. “It’s the truth. I swear to you. I don’t know vhat happened. I don’t remember—”

“How can you not remember?” She was fully on her feet now, looking down at him where he sat. And for the first time ever, he looked small to her.

“I don’t know. There were times before. Back when I... But it’s just blackness.”

He was struggling with this; she could see it in his face. But whether it was because he didn’t want to talk about it, or because he honestly couldn’t remember what happened, Rose wasn’t sure.

“So what do you remember then?” she asked.

He thought about it for a moment, and she could see the wheels turning over in his mind. “I remember you and I arriving back here. I remember coming inside. I remember lights and then...nothing.”

“Viktor, that was two days ago.”

“I know...”

Rose reluctantly resumed her seat at the table, expecting him to say more. But when he failed to add anything further, she asked, “You know what Brooks thinks happened, don’t you? And my brother?” Krum nodded. “So are they right? Did you take something?”

“I told you, I don’t—”

“I know what you told me,” she said. “What I’m asking you is, is it possible that you took something? I mean, do you keep any here...in the house?” His hesitation was answer enough. “Where? Where is it?”

After a long pause, he leaned forward in his seat, whispering something into her ear - telling her a secret Rose didn't want to know. She listened, saying nothing, keeping her expression neutral. When he was done, he pulled away, falling back into his chair.

“If you’re going to do it,” he said, “do it now.”

She gave him a solemn nod before standing up and exiting the room.

When she returned a few minutes later, he asked, “Is it gone?”

She nodded. “Yes, it’s gone.”

“All of it?”

She nodded again. “Every last drop.”







Brooks, it turned out, had been right when he’d told Rose that his latest attempt to get the charges against Viktor dismissed wouldn’t work. He’d stopped by later that afternoon to check on Krum and deliver the bad news in person.

“So it was a waste of time,” Rose said after Peter had finished relaying all the legal technicalities of why the motion had been denied.

“Not necessarily,” he said. Peter went on to explain to them both that while the counsel had declined to dismiss the charges outright, they had agreed that there was sufficient cause to hold a second evidentiary hearing.

“And that’s good news?” Rose asked.

“Definitely,” Peter said. She looked over at Viktor, who was seated on the sofa beside her. He hadn’t said so much as two words since Brook’s arrival. “Of course,” Peter went on, “it’s still a long shot. But I think we’ve got a real chance with this one. The goal here is to get them to drop the public decency charge. The assault charge we can handle. Even if you’re convicted, we aren’t looking at more than a few months probation. The problem with the other charge is that there is no fixed sentence. It could be more probation, or it could be... Well, it could be a whole lot worse.”

Rose again looked at Krum, waiting for him to offer some sort of reply, but he just sat there, his expression unreadable. “Well, that’s great then,” she said.

“It is,” Brooks agreed. “The only catch here is that we’ve got just two weeks to prepare. But I’m not too worried about that. I’ve...brought on a little extra help.”

That caught Krum’s attention. “What do you mean? Who did you bring in?”

But Peter was already on his feet. “Nothing to worry about, I promise. Just a few old friends from school who owe me a bit of a favor. Well, I should be getting on. Let you get some rest,” he said to Krum.

Rose stood up too. “I’ll walk you out.”

As soon as the two were out of earshot, Brooks turned to Rose and asked, “So how is he holding up?”

Rose shrugged. “All right, I guess. He says he doesn’t remember what happened.”

“I’m not surprised. When he was using before, he’d lose days, even whole weeks at a time. You’d pick him up and he wouldn’t even know what day it was, let alone where he’d been or what he’d gotten into. He could have gone anywhere. Done anything. And he wouldn’t have a clue.”

“That’s scary to think about.”

“Terrifying, actually. At least for those of us on this end of things. I guess this is just more of the same.”

“Yeah, I guess...” Rose said.

“What?” Brooks asked, raising an eyebrow. “You don’t believe him? You think he remembers what happened?”

“No. I mean, I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Look,” Brooks said, shoving his hands into the pocket of his trousers. “I don’t mean to add any more to your plate here, but...”

“What is it?” Rose asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.

“What I said before, about the time crunch being our only issue? Well, that isn’t exactly true. There is one other thing.”

“Which is?”

“While it’s true what I said in there - that we’re probably only looking at probation on the assault charge - that’s going to depend on a few things.”

“What kind of things?”

“Some of it’s technical, and I can take care of that on my end.”

“And the parts that aren’t so technical?”

Brooks sighed. “Think of it like this, Rose. Probation is...Well, it’s a bit like playing the odds. You can’t lock up everyone; there just isn’t the space or the money to put away every person who breaks the law. So you hedge your bets, pick the people you think will cause the least amount of trouble and let them keep their freedom. But give the courts any reason to think that you’re just going to go out there and make an even worse mess of it... Well, that makes everyone look bad, doesn't it?”

“So you're saying..."

“This hearing, it’s all for nothing if Viktor can’t keep his nose clean. If word got out about any further incidences... Let’s just say Krum can kiss any hopes of probation goodbye.”

“Which means—”

“Which means that for the next two weeks, if Krum so much as takes an extra does of Hiccupping Solution, then you and I better know about it first. In other words,” he said, dropping his voice until it was little more than a whisper. “For the next two weeks, that man it not to leave our sight.”

Since Brooks was already busy preparing for Krum’s upcoming hearing, the task of watching Viktor fell squarely on Rose’s shoulders. For the first few days, he was still too weak to do much of anything other than lie around, which was just fine as far as Rose was concerned. It left her with plenty of time to work on the book.

At first, Rose had considering ditching the whole idea, telling Heart that, like it or not, the project was off – or at least on permanent hiatus until Krum was back on his feet and Rose was sure that bogging him down with difficult questions about his past wouldn’t send him off the deep end again. But in the end, she’d decided against it. Abandoning the book now would mean that all their hard work had been for nothing. Not to mention the fact that there was still a lot of money to be made, and Viktor’s debts weren’t going to pay themselves. Rose would just have to remain vigilant for signs that her questioning was stirring up something in Viktor that was better left alone.

After a few days of extended bed rest, Krum’s strength began to return. His appetite still wasn’t what it had been, and he seemed to tire easily, but his color was back, and he was no longer unsteady on his feet. Once the boredom began to set in, Rose knew things were finally getting back to normal.

“Do you mind?” she asked.

She was seated at the breakfast table, her notes spread out in front of her. Viktor was standing close behind her, looking over her shoulder, his breath hot against her ear.

“Vhat are you doing?” he asked.

“What does it look like? I’m writing. Or at least I’m trying to.” When he just continued to stand there, she added, “Is there something you need?”

He was reading over the section she’d just been writing – a brief recount of one of Krum’s first professional Quidditch matches. “That’s wrong,” he said, pointing to a spot halfway down the page. “It was a Suicide Plunge. Not a Wronski Feint. People think they’re the same but they’re not. The first requires the Seeker to roll out of the dive. With the other, it’s more of a sharp pull just before the player smashes into the ground.

“And this,” he said, pointing at another spot a few lines further down the page. “The Keeper’s name was Finney, with two N’s. You’ve got it here with just the one. The rest,” he said after taking a moment to read over the remainder, “is fine.”

“I’m glad you approve,” Rose said.

It took him a second to notice the bemused expression on her face. “What?” he asked.

“Nothing,” Rose said, still smiling. “Nothing at all.”

It went on like this for the remainder of the day, and the several days that followed - Rose trying to write while Viktor stood over her shoulder, occasionally making suggestions, but mostly just muttering under his breath whenever he spotted something he didn’t like.

“I’m never sullen,” he said at one point, snatching what was to be the last page of chapter twelve up off the table. “You've written here that I'm known for being sullen. Brooding, maybe. But never sullen.”

Just when Rose was sure she couldn’t stand another second of his interruptions, a thought occurred to her. “You know,” she said, calmly taking back the sheet of parchment and placing it on the pile with the rest of the pages she'd completed that morning. “I’ve got about a hundred of these at my office. Dozens of unread manuscripts just waiting to be looked over. Would you like me to bring you some? I’m sure whoever Heart hired to handle them while I’m away wouldn’t begrudge the help.”

Rose thought she saw the faintest trace of pink color Viktor’s cheeks. “I’m bothering you, aren’t I?”

“I didn’t say that. I just thought you might enjoy having something to do while I work.”

It wasn’t a lie. Not really. Rose had been wondering for days what Viktor had done to occupy his time before she’d arrived on the scene. He didn’t seem to have any hobbies. No friends to visit with. No job to go to in the morning. She’d considered asking him what it was he normally did to stave of the boredom, but after giving it more thought, Rose decided she might be better off not knowing. This, at least, was something he could do without getting himself into any sort of trouble.

But getting Krum out of her hair was only one reason Rose was so anxious to drop by the office. She was in desperate need of a change of scenery. She’d been shut up in Viktor’s flat for going on a week straight, and she was starting to show the first signs of cabin fever. She knew Krum had to be suffering from the same sense of claustrophobia; Rose never mentioned her conversation with Brooks, but she got the distinct impression that Viktor understood why it was that she was there - why she hadn’t returned to her flat since the incident. Perhaps he understood that it was for his own good, and the less said about it, the easier it would be on all of them. But Rose also knew that Peter was scheduled to drop by later that evening to discuss a few matters with Krum regarding his upcoming hearing. This meant Rose would be able to slip away for a few hours unmissed.

“Then it’s settled,” Rose said. “I’ll drop by the office tonight and pick out a few for you to read. And now,” she said, pulling out a fresh piece of parchment and waving it in his direction, “unless you fancy writing the rest of this yourself, I suggest you make yourself scarce before I lock you in the loo.”

Her plan worked out even better than expected. As much as he denied it – insisting he was only doing it as a favor to her – Krum seemed to genuinely enjoy reading over the manuscripts she’d brought for him. He’d make a great show of drawing bright red lines through paragraphs that failed to impress him, or else underlying parts he wished to read aloud to her.

Over the following days, the pair of them slipped into a steady rhythm. Rose would work at the table, Krum on the couch. They’d interrupt each other only on occasion, to read each other a few lines or ask for the other’s opinion on something. They’d eat their meals together, take breaks at the same time, and whenever the weather permitted it, set their work aside in favor of taking a walk around the neighborhood.

Rose didn’t know if it was all those years playing Quidditch outdoors, or simply his relief at being away from the flat, but the moment they stepped outside, something changed in Viktor. He seemed to stand a little taller, breath a little deeper. The sunlight, the gentle breeze — it seemed to invigorate him.

Rose was enjoying their time away as well, though maybe not quite as much as Krum. October had arrived, bringing with it a noticeable drop in temperature. The chill seemed to have no effect on Viktor – probably the result of all those years playing sport in the freezing rain and snow. But it was nice being out, just the two of them, walking hand-in-hand as the wove their way up and down the tree-lined streets – the sidewalks littered with brightly-colored leaves that crunched beneath their feet – and past row after row of shop windows, which were already full of Halloween decorations and advertisements for half-price candy.

It was late on Thursday afternoon, the pair having spent the better part of an hour wandering through one of the many parks that dotted the affluent neighborhood. They had stopped to catch their breath, coming to rest on a small bench that overlooked a nearby pond.

They sat without speaking, watching as a flock of small birds landed at the water’s edge, dipping their beaks in and sending ripples across the surface of the water before taking off again, disappearing into the tangle of branches overhead.

It was Viktor who broke the silence first. “Peter seems to think we’re ready for tomorrow.”

The hearing was set to begin at nine o’clock the next morning. Brooks had stopped by the previous afternoon, ostensibly to go over some last minute preparations with Viktor, but Rose had a sneaking suspicions he was really there to makre sure that Krum was still sober and fit to stand before the counsel.

“Well, that’s good, isn’t it?” she asked, sensing something in his tone that made her think he wasn’t so sure.

“Of course,” he said. Then, as if knowing he wasn’t convincing her of anything, he added, “And by this time tomorrow, this might all be behind us for good.”

“Do you really think we’d know that soon?”

Krum shrugged. “Anything's possible.”

Rose had already offered several times to escort him to his hearing. Not out of fear that he might get into trouble without her – Peter would be by his side the entire time, so she wasn’t concerned about that. She’d offered to go with him as a show of support, a gesture of good faith. But he’d declined.

“It will only make this more of a circus than it already is,” he’d said.

She couldn’t argue with that. They’d been lucky of late. Krum’s brief escape to Bulgaria had thrown the press off their scent. Rose had thought she’d spotted a lone photographer or two hanging outside Krum’s building, but until the last few days, they’d spent so much time locked up inside his flat, there hadn’t been anything to report on. The interest in Krum – and her by extension – had subsided. But the hearing tomorrow could change all that, especially if the two of them arrived at the Ministry arm-in-arm. And then there was the matter of Heart to contend with. She didn’t really expect him to stir up trouble, but she also knew the man well enough to know he wouldn’t pass up an opportunity for a little free publicity should "trouble" present itself.

“And after the hearing?” Rose asked. “What happens then?”

It was a loaded question, but she couldn’t help herself. They’d been getting along well enough; Rose would even go so far as to say she’d enjoyed spending so much time with him, at least once he’d gotten back on his feet. But there was still so much they hadn’t discussed. And now Rose was beginning to wonder if they’d ever get around to addressing all the things that remained unsaid between them.

Krum considered her question for a long moment, perhaps thinking the same thing she was.

But in the end, all he said was, “I guess we’ll find that out tomorrow.”
 


Chapter 17: Chapter Seventeen: The Man in the Suit, Part II
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Chapter Seventeen: The Man in the Suit, Part II

“I’ve been thinking about titles for the book.”

Rose was seated on the edge of the bed, flipping idly through a magazine while she waited for Viktor to finish up in the bathroom. Rose had never known Krum to linger in front of the mirror, usually preferring to let his appearance match his devil-may-care attitude. But not this morning. Not when there was so much riding on the outcome of his hearing.

“Oh, really?” Krum asked, having to raise his voice to be heard over the sound of water as it flowed from the tap. “And vhat have you come up with?”

“What do you think of Reaching New Heights: The Viktor Krum Story? It’s got a certain ring to it, don’t you think? A bit of a play on words, you know, with heights and flying and all that. Of course, we could always go with something more direct, but I’m kind of partial to it as is. What do you think?” When Krum failed to reply, she called out, “Are you still alive in there?”

“Still alive.”

“Well, what do you think?” Another long silence, and Rose was starting to get the message. “You hate it that much, do you?”

“I didn’t say I hated it.”

“You didn’t say anything. But fine. I can take a hint. I’ll just have to come up with something else, I guess.”

A minute later, Krum emerged from the bathroom. He was clean-shaven, his hair still damp at the temples. He was already dressed in the outfit they’d selected the previous evening – a well-tailored grey suit and matching tie.

“Here,” he said, pulling a set of jet-black robes from out of the wardrobe and handing them over to her. “Help me on with these, will you?” Rose took the garment, slipping it first over one shoulder and then the other. When he was all settled, he stepped back, taking stock of himself in the mirror before turning to face her. “Well, how do I look?”

She examined him for a long moment. “Very respectable. Only, here,” she said, reaching out and fiddling with one of his lapels until it lay smooth against his chest. “Now you’re perfect.”

“Perfect you say?” She was standing just inches from him, and he reached out, encircling her waist and pulling her body flush against him. He was smiling that mischievous smile of his, the one that had been so conspicuously absent over recent weeks.

“I did say that, didn’t I?” she said, looking up at him.

“Yes, you did.”

He kissed her then, long and slow. It was the first real kiss they’d shared since returning from Bulgaria. When their lips finally parted, Rose found she was a little breathless – a not entirely unwelcome sensation, but one that brought with it a whole realm of new uncertainties.

But there was no time to consider them just then. There was a knock at the door.

“That’ll be Brooks,” Rose said, breaking free of Krum’s embrace and heading out into the hall.

It turned out Viktor wasn’t the only one paying an unusual amount of attention to his appearance that morning. Opening the door, Rose was greeted to the sight of Peter dressed in a pair of pale blue robes so near in color to his eyes that Rose wondered if he hadn’t had them specially made to match. She’d never seen him so dressed up before, or looking so nervous.

He’d barely made it through the door before asking, “Where is he?”

“I’m here,” Krum said, stepping out of the bedroom. At the sight of him, Peter seemed to visibly relax, as if relieved just to find Viktor upright and conscious.

“Great,” Peter said. “Then we best get going. We don’t want to be late.”

Krum nodded, turning to face Rose one last time. All traces of the good humor he’d displayed only moments ago were gone. He was all business now, their brief kiss all but forgotten.

“You’ll do great,” she told him, giving him what she hoped was a convincing smile.

“I don’t think I’m really expected to do anything.”

He turned to Peter, who nodded in agreement. “He’s right. All he has to do is stand there and look pretty.”

“Even better,” Rose said. “I guess all that primping this morning won’t go to waste then.” Krum’s expression remained stoic, and Rose dropped her attempt at good humor. “I’ll be here you when you get back. We’ll celebrate this all being over with, yeah?”

Krum nodded again, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. “Until later then?”

“I’ll be waiting.”

The next few hours seemed to crawl by at a snail’s pace until Rose began to think the day might never end. She did her best to keep busy, but it was hard. Despite what she’d said to Krum, Rose was not at all convinced there would be anything worth celebrating when he returned. Writing was out of the question. She was far too distracted to focus on her work. Getting out for a while might help. Perhaps taking a walk – letting the fresh air clear her head a bit. She even considered dropping in on Al, or Hugo, or perhaps one of the other countless friends or family members she’d been avoiding of late. But she quickly scratched that idea. Aside from the fact that most everyone she knew would be off at work this time of the morning – and even if they were at home, that she wouldn’t have a clue what to say to them after all that had happened – Rose knew she couldn’t leave. Good news or bad, she wanted to be there when Krum arrived home, and as she had no idea how long a hearing like this might last, the only thing for it was to sit around and wait.

After fretting away much of the afternoon, splitting her time between staring out the window and pacing around the living room, Rose was almost relieved when she heard a knock at the door. At this point, Rose didn’t care who it was. She was just happy for the distraction.

The face that greeted her was a familiar one, only she couldn’t immediately place it. The man standing before her was tall, well-dressed, and sporting a thick pair of glasses that were just a shade too large for his long, pointed face. It was the suit that finally clued her in on his identity. It was the same one he’d been wearing last time she’d seen him – that morning after she and Viktor had spent their first night together. She’d walked in on them during what she’d assumed at the time was not an altogether pleasant conversation. She remembered how eager Krum had been for the man to take his leave.

“Ms. Weasley, isn’t it?” the man asked. Not bothering to wait for an answer, he said, “How nice it is to see you again.” His tone was amiable enough. Maybe a bit too good-natured for Rose’s liking. There was something about it that didn’t ring true, though she couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was. “I don’t know if you remember me, but—”

“I remember you just fine, thanks,” Rose said, beating him to the punch. There was nothing amiable about her tone. She didn’t know who this man was, but she’d taken an instant disliking to him. Maybe it was the way he’d looked at her that first morning, as if she should have been embarrassed at being caught with Krum. As if it was any of his business. “Viktor’s not here."

“Is that so?”

“Yes. And I don’t know when he’ll be back, though I don’t expect it will be anytime soon.” She regretted saying it almost at once. For some reason, she didn’t like the idea of this man knowing she’d be alone in the flat for any extended period of time.

“Well, that is an unwelcome surprise,” the man said, though Rose didn’t think he sounded all that disappointed. Or surprised, for that matter. “It seems I’ve made the trip for nothing. What a shame. I do so hate wasting my time.”

There was a long pause, and Rose knew there was more he wanted to say, only he was waiting for something, as if hoping she might beg him to tell her what he was up to. But Rose wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. She just glared at him in stony silence until he was finally forced to continue on without any prompting from her.

“It’s nothing, really,” he said. “Only, as I’m already here...” The man reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small, white envelope. He looked at it for a long moment, as if torn over what to do. After giving it some thought, he finally held it out to her, saying, “I really shouldn’t be showing you this. But like I said, I hate to have come all the way out here for nothing.”

Rose glanced briefly down at the letter but made no move to take it. The man was making a good show of looking nervous, as if he really was offering her something he ought not to have been sharing. But Rose wasn’t buying it. There was a hint of something akin to glee in his eyes, as if this was all some sort of game for which he would soon be declared the winner. Rose didn’t know what was going on here, but she knew whatever it was, it wasn’t good.

Rose pushed the envelope back in his direction. “If you shouldn’t be showing it to me, then perhaps you had best keep it to yourself. That way we can be sure that neither of us will get into any trouble.”

The man’s expression faltered, a brief flash of annoyance coloring his face. But he quickly recovered himself. “Well, perhaps you’re right,” he said, tucking the envelope back in his pocket. “It’s not like I won’t be stopping by again soon, anyway. I have been known to make quite a pest of myself when there’s something I want. Of course, Viktor will already know all about that.”

“Well, I guess we have something to look forward to then,” Rose said.

“I suppose we do.” And with that, he turned to go. Rose was just about to close the door on him when she heard him call out, “Oh, and one more thing, Ms. Weasley. Do make sure to tell Krum about our little chat, won’t you?”

“And just who exactly should I tell him I’ve been chatting with?”

But it was too late. The man in the suit was already gone.

Who the man was and what he’d really been up to, Rose couldn’t say. On any other day, she might have been inclined to dwell on it further – to try and pinpoint just what exactly it was about the man that conjured up such feelings of dislike and mistrust. But for the moment, Rose had more immediate worries to concern herself with.

It was half-past three and there was still no word from Viktor. Rose couldn’t decide if this was a good sign or not. If the two had returned early, it might have meant the council had rejected Peter’s arguments straight off, effectively crushing Viktor’s last, best hope for avoiding Azkaban. The fact that they’d been gone this long might suggest that the council had at least consented to hear Brooks out – to let him present his case in its entirety. Or maybe they had rejected his argument, and they were at that very moment arranging for Krum to be taken into custody. Was that even possible? Rose didn’t think so, but she couldn’t be sure. Peter had been very clear when he'd said that was Krum’s last shot at freedom. But had he meant that literally? Was it possible that Krum might not return at all?

Rose was so consumed with this one terrible possibility that she almost missed the sound of the front door swinging open. Before she even had the chance to ask what happened, Viktor crossed over to her, scooping her up in his arms, burying his face in her hair.

“We did it, Ginger,” he whispered in her ear. “We actually fucking did it.”




The change in him was immediate. It was as if a weight had been lifted off him. He looked ten years younger and about a thousand times lighter than she ever remembered seeing him. It wasn’t until now, when it was all over, that Rose really understood how much the hearing had been weighing on Viktor. Not that she should have expected anything less. It was just that he so rarely shared his feelings with her, it was easy to forget sometimes that he had any feelings at all.

“Now remember,” Brooks had been quick to remind him. “We aren’t totally out of the woods yet. There’s still the matter of probation to contend with. One toe out of line and they’ll haul your butt back into court so fast, you’ll be lucky not to get whiplash.”

But even that wasn’t enough to dampen Viktor’s spirits. “Peter, the eternal optimist,” Krum had said after Brooks had departed for the evening. “Or maybe that’s just a lawyer’s way of saying job well done.”

But Rose knew what Peter had been trying to get at. The hearing had been a step in the right direction – and an important one at that. But it wasn’t the end of their problems. Not by a long shot.

Not to say that Rose wasn’t feeling relieved herself. How could she not be? Whatever else happened, this was still very, very good news. She was so relieved, in fact, that it wasn’t long before the unsettling encounter with the man in the suit completely slipped her mind.

“We should take a trip,” Viktor declared as they were lying in bed later that evening.

“A trip?” Rose had been browsing through an old copy of Quidditch Teams of Britain and Ireland she’d uncovered in the bottom drawer of Krum’s nightstand, but she set it aside, looking over at him. “You’re not serious, are you?”

“Of course I am. And vhat’s to stop us? With the Ministry business behind us, I’m free to go where I like.”

“But, Viktor—”

“Come on, Rose. Don’t tell me you’re not as sick of this place as I am. We’ve been locked up in here for weeks. A change of pace vould do us both some good. Besides,” he said, leaning over and brushing his lips against her ear. “It could be romantic.”

Rose was about to point out that just because the hearing had gone his way didn’t mean he was free to up and take off whenever he fancied. The terms of his probation had yet to be decided, but somehow Rose doubted that ‘romantic getaways’ were the type of thing the Ministry had in mind. But she didn’t get the chance. Krum had already turned his attention from her neck to her mouth, quickly swallowing any objections she might have been about to raise.

It took him a long moment to realize that she wasn’t kissing him back.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“It’s nothing,” Rose said, not quite meeting his eye.

“You’re lying,” he said, but Rose just shrugged. “But aren’t you happy? I thought now that this was all over—”

“Of course I’m happy. I’m very happy. It’s wonderful that things have worked out for you.”

“For us,” he corrected.

“Right. For us.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“It’s nothing,” she said again. “I guess I’m just a little distracted, is all. It’s been a long day.”

“That it has,” he agreed. “But I think I know just the thing to take you mind off of it.” He leaned in to kiss her again, and this time she turned away, his lips met with nothing but empty air. He let out a long sigh. “All right, Rose. Out with it. Vhat’s going on here?”

“I don’t know.”

“I thought we were okay, you and I. This morning when we kissed, it seemed like you—”

“I know,” Rose said, cutting him off. “I mean, I did. I felt it, and it was nice. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“I think perhaps I do.” Rose gave him a quizzically look. “It’s because you’re no longer attracted to me.”

“No!” she insisted. “That isn’t it at all.”

“Because I could understand... After seeing me like that, how I might disgust you.” His words were soft, defeated.

“Viktor, how could you even think that? I’ve been here by your side everyday, around the clock. You don’t do that for some who disgusts you.”

“Then what it is?”

“I...” she began again. But she honestly didn’t know. Something felt wrong between them, and as much as she wanted to, she couldn’t make the feeling go away. “I guess I just need more time, is all. To process everything.”

“Time,” he repeated, sounding skeptical. “How much time?”

“I don’t know. I guess as much time as it takes.”





“I think it’s about time I went home,” Rose announced over breakfast the next morning. The two had said little to each other since they’d awoken, last night’s conversation still hanging thick in the air.

“Right now?” Krum asked, eyeing her from across the table.

“Well, no. Not right this second. I meant later tonight. After work.”

“So you’re planning to go into the office then?”

“Well, it is Monday. That is was normal people do on Monday morning.”

“Since when are you a normal person?”

He’d meant it as a joke, but Rose wasn’t laughing. “Since always,” she said. “We aren’t all retired Quidditch players with rich ex-wives, you know. The rest of us have to go out and earn a living.”

“Fine,” Krum said. The smile he gave her was tight, but to his credit, he didn’t take the bait, though it was obvious even to her that Rose was itching for a fight. “I’ll help you get your things packed this evening—”

“I won’t be needing any help, thanks,” she said as she pushed her plate aside and got to her feet. “I’m sure I’ll manage just fine on my own.”

Where her sudden ill-temper came from, Rose couldn’t say, but it followed her around for the remainder of the day, like a black cloud hanging low over her head. Even Heart’s elation at hearing how much progress she’d made on the book wasn’t enough to snap her out of it.

“This is great,” he said after she’d handed over a stack of papers that included a final draft of chapters one and two. “Really excellent work here, Rose.”

“And I should have another chapter done by Friday,” she said.

“Fantastic,” Heart said, flashing her a rare smile. “And here you thought you’d never get it done in time. But what did I tell you, huh? I knew you’d find a way. Must be all that business with Krum’s hearing that’s got you working overtime.” Rose gave him a non-committal shrug, which he didn’t seem to notice. “Only it’s a bit of a shame, isn’t it, that it all got resolved so soon? Mind you, it’s not like I wanted to see the bastard wind up in Azkaban, but we’ve still got a ways until the book’s released. You wouldn’t be willing to flash the camera again, would you? I mean, I wouldn’t say no to another shot of the two of you in your underwear. Less if you can manage it.”

Rose shot him a look.

“Only kidding,” he assured her.

But Rose wasn’t so sure.

By late that evening, Rose was back in her own flat, having made quick work of unpacking the few belongings she’d had with her at Krum’s. Sadly, the familiar surroundings did little to lift her spirits, and as the week dragged on, Rose felt her mood continue to darken.

There was no word at all from Viktor; his sudden absence from her life after all the time they’d spent together was unnerving. More than once she made to reach out, to write him a letter or maybe just to drop by unannounced. But each time something stopped her. Was it that she really wanted to see him, or was she just feeling guilty, anxious over what he might be getting up to now that he was on his own again?

Viktor might have been giving her the silent treatment, but the same couldn’t be said of her family.

Hugo was the first to stop by. He’d wasted no time asking her about Krum, but the question felt perfunctory. It was clear he was a lot more interested in how she was doing.

“I’m fine,” she’d told him, but he hadn’t been convinced.

“You can talk to me about it, you know. Whatever you say, it stays between us.”

“Healer-patient confidentiality?”

Hugo smiled. “Something like that.”

But she’d waved away his concern, telling him not to worry. She was getting on just fine. “Besides,” she said. “I’m the big sister here, remember? I’m the one who’s supposed to be checking up on you.”

“You’ll have plenty of chances for that,” he said. “I’ve no doubt.”

He turned to leave then, but she stopped him. “Hugo?”

“Hmmm?”

“He’s not a bad man, Viktor.”

“I’m sure he’s not.”

“He’s just—”

“I know,” Hugo said. “Besides, you remember what I told you, don’t you?” She shook her head. “You can’t please them all, Rose. You’re the only one of us who’s got to live with the consequences.”

Next up after Hugo came the letter from her mother. Rose knew her brother would never tell their parents about what Krum had done, but it was clear from the tone of her note that her mother was worried. Even Mrs. Larson, her batty downstairs neighbor, seemed to sense that Rose was having a bad go of it. Instead of throwing her usual conniption at the sight of a few stray owls perched outside her window, the woman had taken it upon herself to start collecting Rose’s post and leaving it in neat piles outside her front door. Not exactly an invitation to tea, but Rose appreciated the gesture.

Another week passed and still no word from Krum. Rose was actually starting to wonder if she’d ever see him again when there was a knock at the door. Her heart leapt in her chest, though whether from excitement or dread, she wasn’t sure.

But in the end, it didn’t matter.

“Al!” she cried, pulling open the door.

The look on her face must have told him she’d been expecting someone else because the first words out of his mouth were, “Yep, just me, I’m afraid. Sorry to disappoint. Mind if I come in anyway?” He was dressed in jeans and trainers, tiny droplets of water clinging to the fabric of his coat. Rose hadn’t even realized it was raining.

It took her a second to gather her bearings; for a moment there, she’d been so sure it would be Krum on the other side of the door. But eventually she stepped aside, ushering him in. He peeled of his wet coat and tossed it over a nearby chair.

“This isn’t a bad time, is it?” he asked.

“No, not at all.”

“Because if you’re expecting someone...”

But Rose just shook her head. “Nope. I’m not expecting a soul.” Once they had settled into their usual spot beneath the window, Rose asked, “So, is this a social call, or have you been sent by the family to make sure I’m not contemplating a dive off of any tall bridges?”

“Neither,” he said. “Though if they knew I was here, they’d probably have me checking the place for sharp objects.”

"Or a rope."

"Hmmm...I hadn't thought of that one. I'll make sure to remember that for next time."

“Okay, so if this isn’t a welfare check, then why are you here? If it’s to talk about a certain person I may or may not have been seeing, I’ll tell you now, I’m not in the mood.”

Al laughed. “When is it, exactly, that you became so self-absorbed, Rose?”

“Excuse me?” she said, hands on hips. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“I hate to break it to you, but you love life isn’t really my top concern at the moment. In case it you’ve forgotten, I’m getting married tomorrow.”

Rose blinked. “What?”

“So you did forget.” Al just shook his head. “I’ve got to say, Rose. I’m kind of offended here.”

Rose couldn’t believe it. Her cousin – perhaps even her best friend in the world – was getting married tomorrow and it had completely slipped her mind. She’d hardly given his upcoming nuptials or the fact that he was only months away from becoming a father more than a passing thought for weeks. Al was right. When had she become so self-involved?

“Oh my God, Al. You’re right. I’m so sorry. I didn’t even—”

“It’s okay,” he said. “I was only teasing. I mean, not about getting married. That part I’m dead serious about. But I know you’ve had other things on your mind.”

“That’s no excuse. Al, I really am sorry. Truly, I am.”

Al just shrugged. “It’s fine, honest. No permanent damage done.”

And she knew he wasn’t just saying that. He really seemed to mean it. He was smiling at her. More than smiling, he was grinning – that same goofy grin she’d see on Hugo’s face whenever she caught him thinking about Billy. Billy? When was the last time she’d thought to ask Hugo how his own love life was going? What was wrong with her? How had she let her life become so singularly focused on one man? On Krum?

“Earth to Rose,” Al said, waving a hand in front of her face, bringing her back into the present.

“Sorry,” she said. “What were you saying?”

“I asked you if you're planning on showing up tomorrow, or if I’m going to have to give your seat away to that charming woman downstairs. You know, the one with all the cats. I saw her on the way up, and I’ve got to say, that housecoat she’s wearing could really class up this wedding.”

Rose laughed in spite of herself. “Of course I’ll be there. I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”

“Good,” he said, getting to his feet. “Now that that’s settled, I better get going.”

“Already?” she asked. It had been so long since she’d seen her cousin; she realized then how much she’d missed him. Not just over the past few months, but maybe the past few years, as they’d begun to slowly drift apart, life pulling them in opposite directions. And now he was getting married, and Rose suddenly felt like she was about to lose him forever.

“I’m getting married tomorrow, Rose. No offense, but hanging with you isn’t exactly how I pictured spending my last night as a bachelor.”

Rose smiled. “Right, I forgot.”

“See, there you go again. Forgetting my wedding. Be careful or I might just start taking it personally. Oh, and one other thing,” he said as he pulled on his coat, which was still flecked with raindrops. “Do you still have that invitation I gave you?” Rose nodded. “Yeah, well, the offer still stands.”

“What offer?”

“You and a guest. That’s what it said. So, you know, if there was anyone you wanted to bring...”

“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.”

“You do that,” he said, and he was gone.

It was several hours later, as Rose was lying in bed with nothing but the darkness for company, that an answer came to her.

Seeing Albus had reminded her of something, of the last time he’d dropped by her flat unannounced. She’d had so little patience with him that day, for his ongoing dramas with Amelia. At the time, she’d thought it was simply because she’d heard it all before: the fighting, the threats, the inevitable reconciliation. And surely that was part of it. But maybe there’d been another reason.

She’d done much the same thing to Hugo only a few days later, when he’d tried to open up to her about his relationship with Billy. No more than five minutes into that conversation and Rose had been ready to move on, unable or unwilling to take his declarations of love seriously, knowing how fickle he could be in his affections. But was that really an excuse for being so disinterested?

And what about her parents? How often had she written their relationship off as odd, or else wondered to herself why two so very different people would want to bother working at something that, at times, seemed to make them both so miserable? All the bickering, the disagreements, their inability to see eye-to-eye on almost anything. Surely that wasn’t how love was supposed to look. At least that’s what she’d told herself. Now she wasn’t so sure.

It was easy to believe she’d distanced herself from Viktor because of all they’d been through. That maybe he was right – seeing him lying there on the ground, so helpless, surrounded by his own sick, had changed her feelings towards him. Or else that his relapse had broken some sort of unspoken trust, opening her eyes to what it meant to be involved with a man like Krum. But if that was the case, why hadn’t she bolted weeks ago? Sure, they had the book to finish, but that hardly necessitated her moving in with the man. Brooks had said he needed watching, but he could have hired someone to do that, or else done it himself. But they’d both understood it had to be her – because she was the only one who cared enough to make sure the job was done right.

So what did it all mean? Why had she suddenly felt so compelled to run out on him now that the worst of it was over? He’d run off in some misguided attempt to do what he thought was best for her, but she wasn’t that noble. The thought that he might be better off without her hadn’t even crossed her mind. The real truth was that she’d left because she was scared. The second the hearing was over, the second life had began to look as if it might return to normal, Krum had started talking about their future – about taking romantic trips together. And what had she done? She’d run out of there so fast, she didn’t even have time to consider what it was she was running from.

So there was her sad little truth. Viktor might be the addict, the one who couldn’t get his act together. The one with a string of failed relationships and more demons than he seemed able to handle. But she was the pathetic one. The one who was scared of commitment, of jumping in with both feet. Of ending up with a stupid grin on her face. Scared of falling in love.

Rose flung aside the covers and leapt out of bed. Not bothering with clothes, she grabbed her coat and threw it on over her pajamas. The night air was cold, the rain still falling in heavy sheets, but Rose hardly noticed. Moments later, she was sounding outside Viktor’s flat, pounding her fist against the door so loud she’d be lucky not to wake everyone in the building. And she continued knocking until at last the door swung open.

It was obvious she’d woken him, his hair a mess, his eyes heavy with sleep. But Rose didn’t care. She’d come there to say what it was she had to say, and she wasn’t leaving until it was done.

“It’s late,” she said before he had the chance to ask her what she was doing there at such an hour. “And I’m sorry for that, but this can’t wait until morning.”

“All right,” he said. “What’s going on?”

“There’s something you need to know. Something I need to get off my chest.”

“I’m listening.”

“There are...” she began, but then stopped. Taking a deep breath, she tried again, and this time the words came fast and furious. “There are about a million reasons why you and I shouldn’t be together, do you know that? You’ve done things in your life I don’t approve of – that I’ll never approve of. You can’t seem to stay out of trouble. You make me forget about the other important people in my life. The very thought of you and I together makes my father want to kill himself – or kill you. You have two ex-wives. Two! One whom I’m pretty sure is still in love with you, and another one who I’m pretty sure wants to see you dead.

“No one thinks this is a good idea. Well, maybe Peter, but he’s a lawyer, so his opinion doesn’t count. You and I can’t even go out in public together without causing some sort of stir. That has to say something about us, right?

“And I’ll tell you something else,” she added, pointing a finger at him. “I’m mad at you. I’m mad that you went and did something stupid. Twice, in fact. That fight in the pub – what was the point of that? And then nearly dying, and leaving me to be the one to find you? It was selfish. You’re selfish, and I deserve better than that.

"Oh," she added. "And one more thing. You're too damn old for me."

She paused then to catch her breath. Krum was staring at her, clearly waiting for her to go on. When she didn’t, he asked, “And is that everything?”

“Well, no,” Rose said. “There was more, only I can’t remember what it was. But I think I’ve made my point.”

“I’d say you’ve made it loud and clear. So now what?”

Rose thought on it for a moment. She clearly hadn’t planned this out as well as she’d thought. Still, she’d come this far. No reason to hold back now.

“Now you can answer me one question,” she said.

“And what question is that?”

“Tell me, how do you feel about weddings?”
 


Chapter 18: Chapter Eighteen: Mr. and Mrs. Albus Potter
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Chapter Eighteen: Mr. and Mrs. Albus Potter

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Rose asked.

They were standing at the bottom of a steep flight of stone steps that led up to the church where, at that very moment, a throng of anxious guests sat eagerly awaiting the moment when Ms. Amelia Strong would become Mrs. Amelia Potter.

All traces of last night’s storm were gone, the sky overhead now a brilliant shade of blue. The air around them was crisp and cool, and smelled of all things autumn – like warm apples, spiced cider, and dried leaves. In other words, it was the perfect day for a wedding – or so Rose imagined that to be the sort thing people would say. Personally, she didn’t think there was such a thing as a perfect day for getting married.

“It was your idea to come,” Krum reminded her.

“I know.”

“And you’re the one who invited me, remember?”

“I know that too.”

“So what’s the problem? Have you changed your mind?”

“No...” Rose said, not sounding at all convincing. “Why? Have you?”

Krum shook his head. “No, but he’s your family, not mine. Of course, if we did leave, that means we could go back home and finish what we started last night...” The hand that had been resting at the small of her back inched its way slowly southward.

Last night. After she’d finished her little temper-tantrum in the hall, Krum had stood there for a long time, armed propped against the doorframe, seeming to mull over everything she’d just said to him. He put up no argument, offered no defense against her accusations. He’d just thought it all through before nodding in apparent agreement and inviting her inside.

She didn’t know what sort of reaction she’d been expecting, showing up there in the middle of the night, shouting at him so loudly it was a miracle she hadn’t woken half the neighborhood. Anger, maybe. Or defiance. Maybe she’d even been expecting him to counter with his own list of reasons why he thought they’d be better off going their separate ways. But he hadn’t done anything. He’d just listened to her, accepted what it was she’d had to say, and that was apparently that.

As for finishing what they’d started? Well, they hadn’t actually started anything. But when he’d made to kiss her goodnight, she’d met his lips with more enthusiasm than she’d been able to manage for weeks. Rose, it seemed, had taken all the time she needed, and when that moment finally came again, she’d be ready for it.

“Well?” Krum asked. “Vhat’s it going to be? Are we going in or not?”

Rose sighed, a noise that was quickly swallowed up by the sound of church bells ringing out overhead.

“Now or never...” he said, raising his voice to be heard over the clanging that was now echoing down street.

Rose sighed again. “Then I guess it better be now.”

The church was full to bursting by the time they finally made their way inside. Everywhere she looked, Rose was met with smiling faces. Some she recognized – friends of Al’s, the kind of extended family members she only saw on special occasions. Or at funerals. There were also a lot of people Rose was pretty sure she’d never seen before. Friends of Amelia’s, no doubt.

“This is quite the crowd,” Krum whispered in her ear as they took up their seats in a pew near the back.

Rose had to agree. There must have been at least three hundred people crammed inside the tiny church. And what little space wasn’t occupied by guests or members of the wedding party was taken up by any number of enormous bouquets of deep red roses or giant candelabras that were nearly as tall as she was. Rose had been expecting something smaller, more intimate. She’d assumed the short engagement and impending arrival of the baby wouldn’t have left a lot of time for wedding preparations. Apparently, she’d been wrong.

The ceremony itself turned out to be short and to the point. As neither the Potters nor Amelia’s family were particularly religious, the event was generally free of the sort of recitations and prayers that could take an already drawn-out affair and make it absolutely unbearable. Rose still thought they could have done without the best man’s speech on the joys of love, life, and the eternal gift of holy matrimony. But as far as weddings go, Rose had to admit, it wasn’t the worst one she’d ever attended. Besides, she’d made a promise to herself to be more okay with all this love stuff. What better place then this to test her new resolve?

Before too long, the old wizard officiating the proceedings was announcing, “Then with the exchange of these rings, I now declare you bonded for life.”

There was a long kiss and then everyone was on their feet as the bride and groom made their way down the aisle, taking their first steps as husband and wife. As they drew near to the back, Rose caught Albus’s eye, holding it just long enough for him to flash her a wide, toothy smile. And then, with a quick wink of his eye, he was gone.

The reception was being held outdoors in the cherry orchard behind the Burrow – the lopsided, six-story house where Rose’s father had lived as a child. The home still technically belonged to her Granny Weasley, though the woman spent less and less time there since Rose’s grandfather had passed away the previous year. These days, her grandmother seemed to prefer staying elsewhere, dividing her time equally among her six children and countless grandchildren – most of whom were old enough to have children of their own.

Weddings at the Burrow had become a sort of Weasley family tradition. Rose didn’t know how far back the practice stretched, but Albus would be the third grandkid in less than five years to hold his wedding reception there. Rose had to admit, the place was perfectly suited for the task. The expanse of land directly behind the house was flat – ideal for setting up tables or laying out a dance floor. It was surrounded on all sides by high tress that provided not only shade in the summer, but a certain amount of privacy should any muggles happen by.

Rose and Viktor arrived to find the garden already teeming with guests. A large marquee had been set up in the center of the yard, a vast white and gold tent large enough to hold the hundred or so people already milling about, awaiting the arrival of the new bride and groom. On one side of the marquee, several large tables had been erected. In the center of each sat a three-foot high vase full of what Rose guessed to be lilies, though they weren’t of any variety she’d ever encountered before. They were a deep shade of blue, a perfect compliment to the Bluebell flames that burned brightly in all four corners of the tent, keeping the November chill at bay.

“Looks like we’re in for quite the party,” Krum said, taking in the sight before them.

Rose nodded. “It certainly does.”

The pair entered the tent and were just snaking their way through the crowd when Rose heard a familiar voice calling out to her.

“Oy, Rosie!”

Rose turned, catching sight of her Uncle George, watching as he attempted to push his way through the crowd and over to where she were standing. He was a tall man, though not as tall as her father, sporting the same mop of red hair as the rest of the Weasley family, only his had started to go grey around the temples. He was dressed that evening in a set of mud-brown robes with orange and green piping. The hat he was wearing looked about two sizes too small and only partially obscured the fact that he was missing his left ear.

“Didn’t see you at the ceremony,” he said once he’d finally reached them. “Thought maybe you’d decided you were getting too famous to be caught rubbing shoulders with our sorry lot. It’s been too long since any of the Weasleys made it onto the front page. Mind, you might be the first to do it in your underwear.”

And so it begins, Rose thought to herself. But before she could reply, her aunt appeared, saddling up beside her husband and handing him a glass of champagne.

“Now, George,” she said, “don’t tease the poor girl. I saw her come in just before the ceremony got underway.”

“Is that a fact?" he said, looking first at Rose and then over at his wife.

Her aunt nodded. “Just because you’re blind as a bat doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t see past the end of our own nose.”

“Blind?” her uncle huffed. “Who are you calling blind, woman? I’ll have you know there’s nothing wrong with my vision. I could spot a Bowtruckle at a hundred meters with one hand tied behind my back.”

“I’m sure you can,” her aunt said, taking her husband’s arm and steering him off in the direction of the Hors d'oeuvre table, but not before flashing Rose the briefest of smiles.

Rose mouthed a silent “thank you” before watching her aunt and uncle disappear back into the crowd.

“Charming fellow,” Krum said as soon as they pair were out of earshot.

“He doesn’t mean anything by it. That’s just how he is with people.”

“If you say so...”

As it turned out, her Uncle George was just the first in a long line of people who stopped to chat with them as the pair tried unsuccessfully to make their way over to tables, which were filling up at an alarming rate. Rose didn’t care so much about the food as finding a place to sit. She’d only had them on for them for a couple of hours, but the shoes she was wearing – the only pair she owned suitable for the occasion – were pinching her toes, and she knew if she didn’t take them off soon, she was liable to hex the damn things until there was nothing left but two foot-sized holes in the dance floor.

Al’s younger sister, Lily, was the next to appear. On her arm was a boy Rose had never seen before. He was short and stocky, with a round face and an expression that told Rose he was about as thrilled to be there as she was.

“You think we could make a break for it?” he’d whispered to Krum as soon as Lily’s back was turned. “I tell you, I don’t know how she always manages to talk me into coming to these sorts of things. I guess you and I are just a couple of whipped men, huh?”

As soon as they were gone, Viktor shot her a look, but Rose just smiled. “Are we having fun yet?”

“I’m overjoyed.”

After Lily came her Uncle Charlie, followed by someone Rose thought might be her second-cousin twice removed, or else maybe her great-great aunt on her father’s side. It was hard to keep track; there were just so bloody many of them. Krum must have been thinking along the same lines.

“You aren’t actually related to all these people, are you?”

Rose grimaced. “I’m afraid so. Or at least most of them.”

“It’s terrifying.”

“You’re telling me.”

Rose had just spotted a pair of empty seats next to one of the two champagne fountains set up at either end of the tent, when another familiar face popped into view.

“Uncle Harry,” Rose said, releasing her grip on Viktor’s arm and waving over at her uncle. Rose loved all the members of her family, if not always all at once, but she held a special place in her heart for her uncle. Of course, she supposed most of the wizarding world held a special place in their hearts for the great Harry Potter. Still, Rose didn’t have to feign enthusiasm; she was genuinely pleased to see him.

“Hey there, Rose,” he said, giving her a quick peck on the cheek. “It’s good to see you. Does Al know you’re here? I know he was worried you might not make it.”

Rose nodded. “Yeah, he does. We saw him at the church. Oh,” she said, as if just remembering, “and this is—”

She made to introduce Viktor but he’d already stepped forward, arm outstretched in greeting. “Harry Potter,” he said. “It’s been too long.”

Her uncle took Krum’s hand, giving it a hearty shake. “That it has. What’s it been, twenty years now?”

“Something like that. I suppose congratulations are in order.”

“I suppose they are,” her uncle replied, giving them a weary smile. “I swear, it feels like it was just last week we were throwing one of these for James – that’s our eldest. Got married over the summer.”

“Two in less than six months. That can’t have been easy.”

“And we’ve still got another one to marry off yet. Though, I think we’ve still got a bit of time before our youngest is ready to fly the coop, so to speak.”

Rose watched with fascination as the two men chatted amiably for another few minutes. It was the first time Rose had ever seen Viktor hold an actual conversation with anyone, other than herself or Peter. Both men spoke with confidence and ease. It was a trait Rose was used to seeing in her uncle, but one she hadn’t had occasion to observe in Krum. It was oddly humanizing, and Rose liked it.

“Well, I guess duty calls,” her uncle said at last. A man Rose assumed to be the photographer had just appeared at Harry’s side, informing him that his presence was requested at the head table. They wanted to snap a few photos of the parents with the bride and groom before dinner got underway. “Good to see you, Viktor,” he said with a quick nod in Krum’s direction. “You too, Rose.”

And with that, they waved him off, finding themselves alone again at last.

Dinner turned out to be a Cornish game hen, the small birds smothered in a tangy orange glaze and set atop a pile of roasted vegetables. It wouldn’t have been Rose’s first choice of fare, but as she hadn’t had to cook it, she wasn’t really in any position to complain. Plus, there was the champagne. At first, Rose had declined the waiter’s offer of a glass, not sure whether or not it was a good idea to drink in front of Krum. But he’d told her not to worry.

“Besides,” Viktor said, “if I had this much family swarming around, I’d be drinking too.”

Swarming was the perfect word to describe her relatives’ behavior that night. All throughout dinner, the pair continued to be harassed by various members of her extended family, each claiming to be over the moon to see her, eager to wish her well. But Rose wasn’t buying it for a second. She was thinking back on her mother’s words – what she’d said as she’d flipped through all the post that had arrived while Rose was camped out at her parents’ house.

“They’re the biggest bunch of busybodies I’ve ever met.”

It seemed they were at it again. With the expectation of Harry, Rose was convinced they were really just vying for an opportunity to ogle her date. Not that she shouldn’t have expected as much. She’d known it might turn a few heads, the two of them arriving there arm-in-arm. And it wasn’t just that he was famous – or infamous, as the case may be. The Potter and Weasley families were no strangers to a little infamy now and again. But it was because he was there with her – her escort for the evening. After what had been said in the papers, how could people not be curious? Still, Rose had hoped that given the occasion, their presence might fly under the radar. Clearly, that had been wishful thinking.

The only people Rose had yet to run into were her parents. Well, she hadn’t actually seen Hugo either, but that didn’t really surprise her. While it was always possible that he was avoiding her, more likely, he’d simple been called into work. Hugo might not have been Krum’s biggest fan at the moment, but he’d made it pretty clear during their last conversation that as long as she was happy, that was good enough for him.

As for her parents, that was a showdown she could do without, at least for the moment. She wasn’t in the mood to deal with her father’s disapproving looks, or to watch her mother pretend as if there was nothing odd about Rose bringing Krum as her date. Rose loved her mother but the woman was a terrible liar. It wouldn’t take more than five seconds for Viktor to see through her futile attempts at good cheer. Rose supposed that was a trait she and her mother shared. Krum had told her as much at their first meeting; he could read her like a book.

Once dinner was over, the waiters made quick work of clearing off the tables and whisking them away to places unknown. The band took up their place in one corner; the rest of the space was soon filled with mismatched chairs and wooden benches, which were immediately snatched up by the oldest of the attendees.

“I’m starting to think this is a conspiracy,” Rose said, finding a spot at the end of one of the benches just wide enough for her and Krum to sit.

“What is?” he asked.

“The serious lack of seating. It’s like they don’t want us to sit down. Afraid we might get comfortable and never leave.”

“I think it’s because they’re hoping people will dance.”

“Oh,” Rose said. She hadn’t thought of that.

“Besides, I could care less about the chairs. Vhere the hell do they put the loo in a place like this?”

Rose looked around, but she couldn’t locate any signs pointing the way to the restrooms.

“Just go in the house,” Rose told him, nodding in the direction of the Burrow.

“I don’t think that’s for guests.”

“I’m not a guest. I’m family. And since you’re my date for the evening, I say that entitles you to piss in peace. The bath is on the third floor.”

“And you’re sure it’s all right?”

“Of course,” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “It’s fine. Just make sure to stay out of the attic”

“Why? Vhat’s in the...” But he stopped himself. “Never mind. I don’t want to know.”

Alone for the first time that evening, Rose tried to make sense of the day. Aside from the probing looks and pointed questions, things weren’t going as terribly as she’d expected. She wouldn’t go so far as to say she was enjoying herself, but having Krum by her side had helped keep at bay the sense of emptiness that came with seeing her best friend moving on with his life.

Speaking of empty, Rose looked down at the flute in her hand. Dry as a bone. She glanced around for a waiter, but there was no one in sight. Sighing, she got to her feet and made her way towards one of the fountains, refilling her glass from one of the many streams of the amber liquid that seem to shimmer in the light of the lanterns that had been strung overhead.

She was just watching them roll out the cake – one of the bakers hurriedly patching a section of the frosting that had begun to melt under the heat of the lights – when a small voice said, “Hello, there.”

Rose looked down. A girl, no more than six or seven, was standing in front of her, staring up at Rose with obvious interest. She hair was blonde – a rarity at this party – and she was wearing a pale yellow dress draped in several layers of lace, two large bows tied at the sleeves. It was just the sort of thing Rose’s mother would have forced her into at that age.

“Hello, yourself,” Rose said. “Aren’t you a little young to be in line for champagne?”

The girl let out a tiny giggle. “You’re funny. What’s your name?”

“Rose. What’s yours?”

“Victoria Elizabeth Strong,” the girl replied in a practiced tone.

Rose had been right. She wasn’t a Weasley. The girl must have belonged to one of Amelia’s relatives. “Well, it’s very nice to meet you, Victoria.”

“It’s nice to meet you too, Rose.” The girl looked like she was about to say more when she caught wind of someone calling out her name.

“Victoria, dear? Where are you?”

“I’d better go,” the girl said, giving Rose one final giggle before running off into the crowd.

“Making friends?” Krum asked.

She hadn’t seen him return, but she flashed him a quick smile. “You know me. I can’t resist a little girl talk every now and then.” Rose took a long pull on her drink before setting it down on a nearby table. “Fancy a dance?”

Krum gave her a sharp look. “I don’t dance.”

“Says who?”

“Says my two left feet.”

“Oh, come off it. I thought athletes were supposed to be all quick and agile.”

“Former athlete,” he reminded her. “And I was. When I was on a broom. There isn’t exactly a lot of complicated footwork required in Quidditch.”

“Oh, don’t be a spoil-sport,” she said, sticking out her lip. “Just one little dance?” When he failed to respond, she leaned in, whispering in his ear, “If you’re good, I might just let you cop a feel.”

Krum raised an eyebrow. “Here? With your whole family watching us?”

Rose shrugged. “They’re going to stare anyway. Might as well give them a show.” She leaned into him, pulling his tie until his face was only inches from hers. Then she kissed him.

“Just how much, exactly, have you had to drink tonight?” Viktor asked once she’d released him.

“Not nearly enough.”

After several more attempts to refuse her, Viktor finally relented, allowing Rose to take him by the hand and lead him out onto the dance floor. Krum seemed hesitant to get too close, so Rose took it upon herself to position his hands at her hips before wrapping her own arms around his neck. The music was soft and slow, and they swayed in time to the beat.

After a long silence, Rose looked up at him. “Do you think you’ll ever want this again?”

“Want what?”

“This,” she said, gesturing at the space around them. “A wedding. Marriage. Do you think you’ll ever want to do it again?”

“No,” he said, needing no time at all to formulate an answer.

“Why not?” His response hadn’t surprised her, and she certainly wasn’t fishing for any sort of promise for their future. She was just genuinely curious about what he had to say on the subject.

“Because twice is more than enough, don’t you think?”

Rose shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not.”

“What about you? Do you see yourself valking down the aisle one day?”

Rose shrugged again. “I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to picture me in a wedding dress, don’t you think?”

Krum pulled back slightly, as if to take in the full sight of her. “No, I don’t think it’s hard to picture at all.”

“Still...” Rose said, her voice trailing off. Her gaze had landed on a spot just off to her left, where Albus and Amelia were dancing cheek-to-cheek. They were grinning, laughing and whispering in each other’s ears, totally oblivious to everyone else around them. “They look happy, don’t they?”

“They are happy.”

“What about children?” she asked.

Rose’s eyes had moved from their smiling faces down to the small bump just visible beneath Amelia’s gown. She’d gotten her wish; she hadn’t been forced to waddle down the aisle. In fact, to Rose, the woman never seemed more graceful.

“What about them?” Krum asked.

“Well, you’ve been married twice, but no kids. Don’t you like children?”

“Not particularly, no.”

“What about Peter?”

“Peter isn’t a child.”

“No, but he was when you married his mother.”

“That’s different,” Viktor said. “I inherited Peter. I didn’t create him.”

“That doesn’t seem to matter to him. He said you were a good father. He told me so the first time we met.”

“Peter’s easily confused.”

“Well, he didn’t sound confused to me. And besides, you must have done something right to make him stick with you after all this time.”

“Maybe so,” Krum said. “But it’s not the same. When they’re your own flesh and blood... Vell, there isn’t anyone else to blame when they screw up their lives.”

Rose looked up at him. “Is that what you think your parents thought of you? That you were a screw-up?”

Krum laughed. “I see you’ve finally mastered the art of interrogation. Am I getting paid for answering all these questions, Ms. Weasley, or is this off the record?”

Rose felt her cheeks go pink. “You’re right. I’m sorry. You don’t have to answer. Let’s just blame that one on the champagne.”

“No, it’s all right. I don’t mind.” He paused for a moment before continuing on. “My parents were long dead before the worst of it started. I was able to spare them that grief, at least. Let them go to their graves thinking they’d done their job. And what about you?” he asked, “Do you want to be a mother someday?”

Rose shook her head. “I don’t know.” And that was the truth. Rose wasn’t sure what her future held, or even what she hoped it might hold one day. “I’ll tell you what I do want, though.”

“What’s that?”

“More of this,” she said, resting her head against his chest and tightening her grip on his neck. “More of you and me...and dancing.”

“I’d like that too,” he said.

“And I’ll tell you what else I wouldn’t mind.”

“What?” he asked.

“I wouldn’t say no to a piece of that cake.”






Krum was right, as it turned out. Rose did have too much to drink.

It was nearing midnight when the two finally left the party, which was still in full swing, poised to stretch on until the wee hours of the morning. Rose was feeling a bit unsteady on her feet, and Krum had offered to take her back to his place. But Rose wanted to go home, to sleep in her own bed. Viktor agreed, taking her by the hand and Apparating them back to her building before helping her up the three flights of stairs and into her flat.

The moment they were inside, Rose stripped of her dress, letting it fall unbidden onto the floor. She made to kick of her shoes only to realize she wasn’t wearing any. She must have taken them off at some point and never got around to putting them back on.

Rose crossed over to the bed, wearing nothing but her bra and underwear, and plopped down on to the mattress, not bothering to pull back the sheets.

“Comfortable?” Krum asked, and she could hear the note of amusement in his voice.

“I’m getting there.”

Her eyes were closed, but she could hear the sound of his footsteps as he drew near to the bed. “Well, I’ll leave you to it then,” he said, bending over and kissing her forehead.

Rose opened one eye. “You’re not leaving, are you?”

“You’re tired. I vas going to let you rest.”

Rose sat up, reaching out and taking his hand, which she pressed to her cheek. “You know, I’m not that tired...”

“You could have fooled me.”

“I’m just relaxed,” she said. “That’s not the same as tired.”

Rose was pulling on his arm, forcing him to sit down beside her. They were face-to-face now, and she barely had to lean forward in order to press her lips to his. It started slowly, but soon the kiss deepened – sharp and lustful, stretching on until her tongue began to tingle. Rose shifted positions, throwing one of her bare legs over his body until she was straddling his hips. She kissed him again, pressing her nearly-naked form flush against him. She tugged at his shirt until it came loose from his pants, running her hands up his chest and around to his back, desperate for the feel of skin on skin. But it wasn’t until she began to fiddle with the buckle of his belt that she felt him pull away.

“What is it?” she asked, her voice breathy with anticipation.

“This is wrong,” he said.

“What? No it’s not. It’s perfect.” And she made to kiss him again but he turned his face away, her lips brushing his cheek instead – just like she had done to him not so long ago.

“You’re drunk,” he said flatly.

“Is that what this is about?” Rose let out a laugh. “Don’t worry. I’m not that drunk. Besides,” she said, kissing his neck, “it’s not like we haven’t done this before.”

“That’s not the point,” he said, and there was an edge in his voice that caught Rose’s attention.

She stopped what she was doing and looked down at him. “Then what is the point?”

“You said you needed time.”

“I know. And I took it. Now I’m ready to be with you again. Can’t you see that?” She was practically throwing herself at the man and he was turning her down cold. She tried once more to kiss him, but he just stood up, forcing Rose to scramble off his lap in order to keep from falling on the floor. “What the hell is wrong with you?” she demanded.

“I don’t want to do this, Rose.”

“Do what? Be with me?”

“Of course I want to be with you. Just not now. Not like this.”

“I don’t understand—”

“Don’t you see, Rose? I’ve fucked enough drunk girls to last ten lifetimes. I don’t need to prove anything by sleeping with another one tonight.”

There was no venom in his tone, but that didn’t lessen the sting, his words like a slap to the face. “Fine!” she snapped, stripping back the covers and crawling into bed. “Then I guess we’re done for the evening. I’d offer to show you out but I’m probably too drunk to find the door.”

“Rose—” Viktor began, but she’d already turned her back on him, rolling over so her face was now pointed at the wall.

For a moment he said nothing. She might have thought he’d gone if she hadn’t been able to sense him there, his eyes boring into her back. Finally, she felt the mattress shake as he sat down beside her. He ran a hand over her hair and down across her bare shoulder.

“I didn’t mean to upset you,” he said. “It’s just that when I have you again, I vant to have all of you. I want you there with me. For every second of it. Can you understand that?”

Rose said nothing. She was listening, trying to make sense of his words, but her brain was fuzzy from the alcohol. And she was suddenly feeling very sleepy.

“Do you understand?” he asked again.

Rose could feel her eyelids growing heavy, but she rolled onto her back so she could look him in the face. “Yeah, I get it. You want all of me.” She parroted his words back at him, not really taking in their meaning.

“That’s right,” he said, but his voice seemed suddenly very far away, as if talking to her from the other end of a long tunnel. She heard him speak again, though this time the words were not only faint, they were garbled too. What was it he’d said? She didn’t know for sure.

But whatever it was, it made her smile. And then she drifted off to sleep.

 


 

*It's not exactly a full quote, but the phrase “bonded for life” comes from Chapter 8 of HPatDH.

 


Chapter 19: Chapter 19: The Intruder
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Chapter 19: The Intruder

Rose awoke the next morning to two very unwelcome surprises.

The first was a pounding in her head, something akin to having a small elf trapped inside her skull, using her brain as a drum set. Her mouth was dry and tasted like wet socks and stale champagne, and the small sliver of sunlight sneaking in through the curtains might as well have been a torch pointed directly in her face. It had been a long time since Rose had woke up with a hangover. But as far as she was concerned, it hadn’t been nearly long enough.

She discovered the second surprise as soon as she’d managed to drag herself out of bed, shuffling off in the direction of the bath. The flat was empty. There was no sign of Viktor anywhere. Rose tried to think where he might have run off to, but thinking only made her head hurt more. So she settled instead for climbing into the tub, letting the hot water pour over her until the mirrors were fogged with steam and the water began to run cold.

By the time she finally dragged herself back out of the bathroom, Krum had returned. He was standing in the kitchen, an assortment of bags and take-away cartons spread out on the counter in front of him.

“What’s all this?” she asked.

“What does it look like? It’s breakfast.” He’d begun removing items from the bags, carefully lining them up one beside the other.

“And just how many people are you planning on feeding this morning?”

“That depends. How bad are you feeling?”

“Bad enough to know I’m better off sticking with wine from now on.”

“Have you taken anything yet?” Rose shook her head only to immediately regret it. She made a mental note to avoid any other sudden movements; she could actually feel her brain beating against her skull. “Here,” he said, filling a glass of water from the tap and handing it to her along with the small bottle of pills she kept beside the sink for just such emergencies. “Once you’ve got those down, ve’ll move on to food.”

Rose took a seat at the counter, watching as Viktor began removing lids and tossing them into the bin. Eggs, sausage, bacon, a carton of chips. On and on it went.

“Is all this really necessary?” she asked. Right now, Rose thought she’d be lucky to hold down a piece of toast and maybe some tea. This was turning into a veritable feast.

“Are you really going to question my expertise in this area?”

He had her with that one. She supposed if anyone would know how to treat a hangover, it would be Krum.

He grabbed a plate, spooning up a little bit of everything before passing it over to her. She stared down at it for a long time before taking a tentative bite. Not terrible, she decided. So she took another bite, and then another, and once she was sure that what she was eating wasn’t going to make any sudden return appearances, she dug in, finding that the food was actually helping to take the edge off the worst of her headache.

“See,” Krum said when she’d finished cleaning her plate. “I told you I knew vhat I was doing.”

“I suppose it was bound to happen eventually.”

“There is one more thing,” he said, reaching into one of the plastic bags and removing a folded newspaper, which he passed over to her. “I picked this up vhile I was out. There’s something in there I thought you might want to see.”

She looked down. The paper was already open to the Society Section, the headline at the top of the page reading:

Another Potter On The Way: Harry’s Son Marries Expectant Fiancée In Private Weekend Ceremony

Rose quickly scanned through the article.

Albus Severus Potter, youngest son of Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley-Potter, wed longtime girlfriend, Amelia Elizabeth Strong, yesterday in a private ceremony held just outside Otterfield, Devon. The couple, already expecting their first child, began dating...

Rose skipped a few lines, picking up the story again on the next page.

...The guest list included Fabius Whitmore, Head of the Goblin Liaison Office; Zachariah Crestor, acting Chairman for the Committee on Muggle Relations; and Euvegenia Lumpkin, Headmistress at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Also in attendance were several members of the Holyhead Harpies, as well as former Quidditch star Viktor Krum, who is rumored to be dating Rose Weasley – cousin to Albus and niece of Harry Potter...

Rumored to be dating? Rose rolled her eyes. Yeah, and who was it that started that rumor in the first place? Just because it happened to be true...

She read over the remainder of the article, but there were no further mentions of either herself or of Krum. Beside the article was a collection of small black and white photographs, the first a shot of Albus and Amelia as they stood over their wedding cake, the second a picture of her Uncle Harry shaking hands with someone Rose didn’t recognize. The last was a shot of the dance floor, several couples waltzing in and out of the frame. She was just about to look away when she caught sight of it; it only lasted a couple of seconds, but there was no mistaking them. One moment the frame was empty, the next moment it wasn’t, the vacant space suddenly filled with the image of her and Krum. They were dancing, her head resting against his chest, his arms around her waist. The camera stayed on them just long enough to see Viktor smile down at her, and then the pair were gone.

Rose watched the scene play out several more times, as if waiting for something else to happen. But there was nothing. Just this tiny glimpse of them, another couple in the crowd, looking – dare she even say it – normal.

Rose refolded the paper before passing it back to Krum. “Hardly more than a mention this time. It looks like you and I are old news.”

“A travesty, I’m sure.”

Rose smiled. “However will we survive?”




The rest of the weekend passed without incident, and before Rose knew it, Monday morning had rolled around and it was time to get back to work.

She arrived at her office promptly at eight, only to find Heart already waiting there for her. Her boss, it seemed, had spent at least part of his weekend catching up on a little light reading.

“Rumored to be dating?” he asked, pacing around the small room. “And a grainy black and white photo? Is that really the best you two could muster?”

“We weren’t trying to muster anything,” Rose said.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you aren’t even trying anymore.”

“We aren’t trying. We were never trying. Believe it or not, some people actually enjoy a little privacy. Besides, it was Al’s wedding, not ours.”

Heart sighed. “Don’t I know it. Still, I suppose it’s better than nothing. With you two, I guess I just have to take what I can get.”

Heart’s disappointment over the complete lack of scandal the pair had caused quickly faded as Rose began filling him on the status of the book, which was really starting to come together. In the days that followed, her writing took on an almost frenzied pace, the words coming fast now that the end was in sight. At times, it was all Rose could do to get them down on paper before they flittered from her brain and were lost forever.

By the time mid-November rolled around, the bulk of the writing was done, and the focus shifted from getting the words out to getting them ready for print. Meetings with her editor became an almost daily occurrence. The man, despite his timid appearance and an unusual affinity for sweater vests, proved to be excellent at his job, plowing through Rose’s chapters with lightning speed. Rose quickly realized that not only did he have a great eye for detail, but he also possessed an uncanny ability for recognizing what it took to make a bad story better, and a good story great, and Rose was thankful for all the help she could get.

There were other meetings too, with the woman in charge of designing the book jacket, and the team who would be handling all the publicity once the book was finally released. On one occasion, Rose even found herself taking a meeting with Bernard Haverdash, the anxious young lawyer she’d meet in Heart’s office all those months ago. She was glad to see he’d survived that first encounter, though she was feeling a lot less affection for him once she saw the stack of legal documents he had for her to sign.

Her presence at most of these meetings was more of a courtesy than anything. Her opinion wasn’t really required, or even wanted, when it came to hammering out the remaining details. She’d been hired to write; the rest was to be handled by those whose job it was to take her story and turn it into a product that could be sold to the masses. Despite this fact, Rose was enjoying the chance to observe the process from the inside. Her first novel hadn’t been expected to earn the publishers a lot of money, so the task of taking it to print had been kept to the bare minimum. But this time, with millions at stake, no detail was to be overlooked, no expenses spared. This was no longer just her book, Rose was realizing. Sink or swim, it belonged to all of them now.

Viktor, it turned out, was the only one of them not swept up in the rush of last minute preparations.

The deal Peter had arranged with Heart, one decided on long before her work on the project began, had included a clause that prevented Krum from having any obligations regarding the promotion or advertisement of the book. Rose couldn’t even being to fathom how Brooks had pulled off such an arrangement. Knowing how hard her boss was squeezing her for every last ounce of free publicity he could get, Rose couldn’t imagine what Brooks must have said to get Heart to go along with such an agreement.

“How did you manage it?” she asked Peter when he’d stopped by her office the following day, curious to see how things were coming along now that the deadline was less than a week away.

Peter shrugged. “He’s my uncle. I guess I’m harder to say no to than most. That,” he said, “or I’m just really good at my job.”

Considering the fact that he’d managed to keep Krum out of prison, Rose guessed there was more than a small chance it was the latter.

“Speaking of,” she said. “Any news on Viktor’s probation?”

“We’ve got a hearing set up for next week. They’ll go over the specifics with him then. You know, like how often he’ll be required to check in, what he has to do if he wants to leave the country – that sort of thing. I’m not expecting any surprises.”

“Good. I could do without any more surprises for a while.”

Peter nodded. “You and me both.”

He turned to leave but Rose stopped him. “Can I ask you something else?”

“Sure.”

“Why didn’t you tell me Heart was your uncle the first time we met?”

He considered that for a moment. “Would it have helped my case?”

“No.”

“Well, there you go then. Besides, I’d say things worked out all right, wouldn’t you?”

Now it was Rose’s turn to consider. Yes, she decided. She supposed things had worked out just fine.




The day they had all been waiting for had arrived at last.

It was 1 December, and the final draft of Rose’s book was due in to Heart by close of business that afternoon. Of course, it would still be a few more weeks before the book was released to the public, but for Rose, this was it. Once she handed over that manuscript, her part of the bargain was done.

There was only one thing left for her to do.

“How long do you have to decide?” Krum asked her.

It was nearing two o’clock, Rose having managed to slip away just long enough to meet Viktor for a late lunch. When they’d finished at the restaurant, he’d insisted on walking her back to the office. It was cold outside, the temperature hovering just above freezing, and there was already talk of an early snowstorm headed their way. But Rose was happy for the excuse to be out in the fresh air, having spent the better part of the last month locked up inside, huddled behind her desk for hours on end. Krum, as usual, seemed obvious to the cold.

“About three hours,” she said, looking down at her watch. “If I don’t decide on a title by then, Heart says he’ll be forced to go with one of the editors’ suggestions.”

“Are they any good?”

“The suggestions?” She shook her head. “No, not really. I mean they aren’t terrible, but none of them feels quite right.”

“Then I guess you’d better come up with something quick.” Rose said nothing to this, which Krum seemed to take as a bad sign. “Vhat, don’t tell me you’ve given up already? That’s not like you. You’ve still got a few hours left.”

“No, it’s not that,” she said as they rounded the corner and onto another side street, the wind whipping at her hair, sending it flying in all directions.

“Then what is it?”

“I don’t know. I guess it’s just really hitting me now. That this is it. After today, it will all be over.”

“Not all of it.”

“No,” Rose agreed. “There’s still the release to think about. Heart’s already planning this huge party. Apparently he’s sent out invitations to anyone even remotely connected to publishing. I hear he even sent a few over to Penman & Ives, just to rub it in. I’ve never seen the man looking so giddy.”

“Good for him,” Krum said. “But that’s not exactly what I meant.”

They’d slowed their pace, Rose taking the opportunity to look over at Viktor, but he was staring straight ahead, eyes focused on the sidewalk in front of him.

“Oh,” Rose said, keeping a close watch on his face. “You meant about us.” He nodded. “Well, you have to admit, it will be different from now on. They’ll be nothing forcing us together anymore. It’ll just be...”

“You and me,” he finished.

She nodded. “Yeah. Just you and me.”

“Does that scare you?”

“A little.”

“Me too.”

They walked the remaining blocks in silence, arriving outside Rose’s building just as the first snowflakes began to fall. It felt like a sign, the universe trying to tell her something, only she didn’t have a clue what that might be.

“I have something for you,” Krum said. He was looking at her now, watching her as she watched the snow falling down around them.

“What, like a present, you mean?”

He nodded. “Yes, like a present.”

“But it’s not my birthday.”

Krum smiled. “I know.”

“Then what’s the occasion?”

But he ignored the question. “Do you want it now? Or would you prefer to vait until later?”

Rose gave him a quizzical look, but his face remained impassive. “If I say I want it later, do I at least get a hint about what it is?”

“No. No hints. You can have it now, or you can have it later. Those are your only options.”

“Fine,” she said. “I’ll take it now. No, wait!” she cried, throwing up her hands. “I’ve changed my mind. Give it to me later. Tonight. Over dinner. I’ll cook us something special. It will be like our own little party, to celebrate being done with the book.”

Krum seemed to consider her proposal. “Fine. Tonight then. Shall we say six o’clock, at your place?”

It was already after three, but that still left her with more than enough time to make sure everything was in order before she handed her manuscript over to Heart for what would be the very last time.

“Six it is,” she said, and she leaned forward, planting a quick kiss on his cheek.

“And what about your title?” he asked as she turned around, prepared to head inside and out of the cold.

“Oh, that,” she said, as if it were nothing. “It turns out, you’ve just given me the perfect idea.”

Krum raised an eyebrow, looking suddenly suspicious. “Have I now? I don’t suppose you’d care to share with me vhat that idea is.”

Rose leaned in again, but this time, instead of kissing him, she whispered something in his ear. When she done, she turned around and bounded for the door. She was nearly out of earshot when she heard him call out to her.

“Over the edge of what?”

But Rose just smiled, tossing him a little wave over her shoulder. And with that, she was gone.

The manuscript was waiting for her when she returned to her office a few minutes later – still sitting on her desk, just where she’d left it before heading out for lunch. It certainly didn’t look like anything special. It could have easily passed for any one of the dozens of manuscripts that arrived in the post everyday. Just another pile of papers, another collection of words strung together to tell a story. And yet, this one was all hers. It was the very embodiment of everything she’d been working for over the last few months, maybe even the last few years. The girl that had started this story – the girl who’d spent all those years scribbling away at her desk – was not the same girl who was standing there now. Her life had changed. She had changed. And in most ways, Rose was sure it was all for the better.

A big part of that was Viktor, of course. Having him in her life was like nothing she’d ever experienced before – the highest peaks always followed by that inevitable plunge back down to earth. It was like living her life on a rollercoaster. Though Rose had to admit, she wasn’t hating the ride. But it was more than that. More than him. The act of writing, of putting words on paper again, had reawakened a passion inside her she’d thought she’d lost. It left her with a sense of purpose and fulfillment, something that reading a thousand, or even a million manuscripts, could never provide. For the first time in a very long while, perhaps even for the first time ever, Rose felt hopeful about the future, for the thousands of doors just waiting to be opened.

Rose grabbed a quill from off her desk, scribbling something on the front page of her manuscript before picking it up and heading off towards Heart’s office. It was empty when she arrived, so she placed the stack of papers carefully on his desk where he was sure not to miss it.

Rose looked down, allowing herself one last glance at what she’d done. The ink from her note was still wet, and it glistened softly in the light.

At the top, she’d written out the title. Over the Edge.

And beneath that, a single word, meant just for Heart.

Fan-fucking-tastic.




Rose had promised to fix dinner for her and Viktor – a nice idea, in theory. The only problem was that Rose’s culinary skills were pretty much non-existent. And even if she did know how to cook something special, it was unlikely she’d find any of the necessary ingredients waiting for her in her kitchen.

The latter, at least, was an easy problem to fix. Rose made a quick stop at the market, gathering up an array of foods she hoped could be combined into something edible. Bags in hand, she arrived outside her flat just as the watch on her wrist ticked out five-thirty. She had a half-hour before Krum was set to arrive.

Rose slipped her wand into her purse, fumbling in her coat pocket for her keys, surprised not to hear the familiar click! as the hammer slide out of place. For a half-second, Rose figured she’d just been in such a hurry to get to work that morning that she’d simply forgotten to lock the door.

If she’d had more time, she might have realized that wasn’t the case. She had locked the door; it just wasn’t locked anymore.

There wasn’t time, however. The door was already swinging open, and all other thoughts quickly fell away as her brain was consumed by one simple fact.

There was someone in her flat, and they were pointing a wand straight at her chest.
 


Chapter 20: Chapter 20: Regina McFey, Part II
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Chapter 20: Regina McFey, Part II

The bag Rose was carrying slipped through her hands and crashed to the floor.

Regina McFey was standing in her kitchen, arm held aloft in front of her, wand trained directly on Rose.

“Careful,” Regina said, allowing herself a brief glance at the groceries that now littered the floor before focusing her attention back on Rose. “We wouldn’t want to go making a mess, now would we? Not when you’ve got such a tidy little space like this to call home. A bit small for my taste, but I suppose anything is better than living with Mummy and Daddy.”

She was all smiles, as if this was nothing more than a pleasant chat between old friends. But none of the good humor reached her eyes, which were wide and calculating, like a predator examining its prey.

Rose found herself rooted in place, too stunned to move, her own eyes locked on the wand pointed straight at her chest.

“Well, come in and shut the door, why don’t you,” Regina said. “I would so hate to be interrupted when we’re about to enjoy a little girl time, just the two of us.” It took Rose a moment, but she finally managed to regain enough of her wits to get her body moving again. She made to bend down, prepared to pick up the items she’d dropped, but Regina stopped her cold. “Not so fast,” she warned. “That can stay where it is. I don’t need you getting any cute ideas.”

Rose slowly straightened up, using the toe of her boot to nudge the bag out of the way so she could close the door. As soon as it was shut, Regina gave her wand a little flourish, and Rose heard the familiar click! of the lock as it slid into place, trapping them both inside.

“Let’s sit, shall we?” Regina nodded in the direction of the bed, and Rose obeyed without comment, crossing over and settling herself on the very edge of the mattress.

She watched as Regina gave her wand another small wave, conjuring up a chair, which she placed in the center of the room, the two women now sitting face-to-face. Quarters were tight, and Regina had no choice but to position the chair near the bed, but she was careful to stay just out of reach should Rose get any ideas about lunging for her wand.

“What do you want?” Rose’s voice had finally returned to her, her brain and body once again communicating normally, even as her heart pounded against her ribcage.

“Come now, Rose. Is that any way to greet an old friend? If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you weren’t happy to see me.”

“We aren’t friends.” Rose would have thought the wand, which was once again pointed at her chest, would have made that fact rather obvious.

“And whose fault is that? I reached out to you, Rose. Warned you this sort of thing could happen. But you wouldn’t listen. And now look how things have turned out?”

“What do you want?” Rose asked again. Rose knew she was in a bad spot, but she couldn’t quite mask the edge in her voice. The woman had, after all, just broken into her home, and Rose wasn’t in the mood for playing games.

“Everything in its own good time, Rose. Isn’t that how the saying goes? I was never very good at turning a phrase, though I hear you have quite the talent for it.”

Rose said nothing. She was too busy trying to decide just what was going on here. Was Regina attempting to scare her? To show off – prove she was the one in control? Or was she actually intending to use her wand? And if so, to what end?

“I won’t lie,” Regina went on, her words calm, detached. “I was so sure that after our last little heart-to-heart, you would have gotten the message. I figured you’d have been smart enough to take my advice. That it hadn’t all been a waste of my time. So you can just imagine how disappointed I was to find out that you hardly gave my words a second thought. You ran right back to Viktor that very night. Went halfway around the world, as I heard it, just to find him and bring him back home.”

“How do you know—”

“Oh, come on now, Rose. Do you really think after all this time, I wouldn’t have found some way of keeping tabs on Viktor? Not that it’s all that hard, mind you. Not when there are so many people out there trying to do the same.”

“Why would you want to keep tabs on him? But I thought you hated Viktor.”

“Of course I hate him. That’s what makes it fun.” Rose wasn’t following, but she wasn’t sure yet if it was simply because she didn’t understand, or because Regina wasn’t actually talking sense. “Still,” she continued, “once I realized that you couldn’t be reasoned with, I knew I was going to have to find a more effective way of getting through to you. But of course, that isn’t a problem either when you’re dealing with someone like Viktor. A man with that many weaknesses is so easy to manipulate. It almost takes all the sport out of it.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh, Rose. Must I really spell it out for you?” She paused, but when it was clear Rose wasn’t getting it, Regina sighed and said, “I did what I had to do to get your attention. If you wouldn’t listen to reason, I figured I’d just have to scare some sense into you.”

Rose, who had been doing her best to remain calm, unsure where the situation was headed, felt a sudden flash of anger rise up in her chest as she realized what Regina was saying.

“It was you!” she shouted, her fury momentarily making her forget the wand still trained on her heart. She made to jump to her feet, but Regina was too quick for her. She raised her wand just high enough to let Rose know that if she moved even one more inch in her direction, she’d be blasted straight into next week. So Rose reluctantly resumed her seat, but the anger inside her continued to burn white-hot. “You drugged him. You could have killed him. He nearly died because of you!”

Regina smiled. “Your loyalty to him is touching, if misguided. Viktor was never in any danger. I lived with an addict for years, remember? I knew how much he could handle. Though I’ll admit, it took him down faster than I thought. I expected him to put up a struggle, but he never had the chance. I guess he was telling the truth when he said he’d been keeping clean all these years. Still, it made the memory modifications easier. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to make people forget when they’ve been wronged, even with the help of magic? I guess the mind is just funny that way.”

But Rose didn’t think there was anything funny about it. What Regina was saying was unconscionable. And it wasn’t just that she’d risked his life to make some sort of twisted point, thought exactly what that point was, Rose still wasn’t sure. She’d let Rose think Viktor had done it to himself. She’d made Rose doubt him – made him doubt himself. It was inexcusable.

“When that still failed to get the message across,” Regina said, her manner breezy, as if they were discussing nothing more than a botched recipe or a potion gone awry, “I decided it was time to call in some reinforcements.”

“Reinforcements? For what? What are you talking about?” None of this was making sense. Rose still didn’t know what Regina wanted from her, why she was there, telling her all of this. If she was able drug Viktor, risk his life just to serve her own purposes, and then sit there talking about it as if it meant nothing to her, what else was the woman capable of?

“Well, you can’t honestly think that after all this time, I’m the only one out there who wants to see Viktor pay for his crimes. Even you can’t be that thick. After everything he’s done, I’m only surprised there aren’t more of us out there looking for blood.” The way Regina said the word blood sent a chill down Rose’s spine. “Of course, I was surprised to find out that Hemsley was already on the case.”

“Who is Hemsley?” Rose could hear the desperation in her voice as she struggled to keep up with what Regina was saying.

Now it was Regina’s turn to look confused. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten him already? He’ll be so disappointed. He said you two had a very interesting chat. You certainly made quite the impression on him.”

“I don’t—” But something had stirred in the back of Rose’s mind – a conversation she’d nearly forgotten about until that moment. The one with the man in the suit who’d visited Viktor’s flat the day of his hearing. Could that be the man Regina was referring to? Was he Hemsley?

“Benedict has been working at the Ministry for years now,” Regina continued, as if Rose hadn’t said a word. “Shocking who they let in these days. Well, once he caught wind of Viktor’s little stunt with that muggle in the pub, good old Benny couldn’t resist the chance to track Viktor down. I have no idea what he thought he was going to do, but the man always did have a flair for the dramatic. I take it he’d been following you two for weeks by then. But still, just imagine how shocked he was to arrive at Viktor’s flat one night and see you standing at the window, dressed in nothing but your underwear, looking like you’d just been given the ride of your life. Having a pretty face does have its drawbacks, Rose. It makes you memorable. Easy to identify. I suppose it’s just unfortunate for you that Benny had the foresight to bring a camera.”

So Rose was right. The man in the suit was Hemsley – the same man, it seemed, who’d taken that first photograph of her and Krum and leaked it to the press. But that still didn’t explain who Hemsley was or what sort of business he had with Viktor. And truthfully, Rose didn’t care. Not with Regina’s wand still poised to take her down at a moment’s notice. Still, Rose didn’t see what other options she had, aside from keeping the woman talking.

“And what does he – Hemsely – have to do with any of this?” Rose asked.

Regina gave her a cold smile. “Oh, Benny and I are old acquaintances. I can’t believe Viktor never mentioned him to you. Though I guess we went through this all before, didn’t we? How you’ll never know Viktor the way I do.” Regina paused, as if waiting for Rose to argue the point, but she didn’t, so Regina continued on. “The three of us go back a long way, Benedict, Viktor and I. His brother Tommy was an old teammate of Krum’s. I wouldn’t say the two were chummy – Viktor was never much of a team player. But he was a pleasant enough man, or so I’ve been told. Is this ringing any bells yet?”

Rose shook her head. The name meant nothing to her.

Regina just shrugged. “No surprise there, I suppose. Tommy wasn’t exactly a star player. Mediocre was, I think, one of the nicest terms I heard applied to him. But they can’t all be prodigies like Viktor, now can they?

“Anyway, it wasn’t as if he had some bright future ahead of him. He’d probably have been forced out of the game in a few years anyway. Though I suppose they said the same thing about Viktor at the time, so who knows? Not that it really matters. Three years after Viktor’s injury, Tommy was dead, and that should have been the end of it. Only it’s never that simple, is it?”

“What happened to him?” Rose asked, still eager to keep the woman talking, but also curious about what any of this had to do with her and Krum. It was ancient history as far as Rose was concerned. She couldn’t have been more than a year old when all of this happened.

Regina gave her another indifferent shrug, as if the man’s death was of no consequence to her. “Your guess is as good as mine. The Ministry has it listed as an accident. A drowning. Others say he was pushed. If you ask me, the man took a swan dive off the that bridge because he just couldn’t take it anymore.”

“Take what?”

“The harassment. The guilt. The accusations. It was him – Tommy. He was the one who failed to put up the proper protections that day. The ones that would have saved Viktor from that fall. Tommy ended Viktor’s career just as sure as I’m sitting here. Nearly killed him too, don’t forget that. I’m not saying it wasn’t an accident, but that’s a heavy burden for even the strongest of us to bare, and no one ever accused Tommy of being strong.”

Rose didn’t know what to say. This was all news to her. She hadn’t come across any of this while doing her research. The nearest she'd found were a few vague references to rumors of possible tampering on the part of another player, but they’d never found anything to support those claims, and no one had ever been accused of any wrongdoing as far as she knew. Was never once thought it was anything more than an accident. Of course, she'd been a lot more interested in what happened afterwards than with the event itself.

“You have to understand,” Regina said. “Viktor was still a hero back then – more popular than ever. People were routing for him, still holding out hope he’d recover and return to the game. But everyone with half a brain knew that wasn’t going to happen. The Quidditch world is a small community, Rose. And an unforgiving one at that. Tommy was a pariah from that moment on. Even those who despised Viktor were anxious to see Tommy get what he deserved.”

At the mere mention of revenge, Regina’s grip on her wand seemed to tighten, and Rose was forced to sit up a little straighter in her seat.

“And that’s how I first met Benedict,” Regina continued. “He started showing up at the house, begging to speak with Viktor. He thought if Krum would only speak up on his brother’s behalf, tell the world that it was an accident, then maybe people would leave him in peace. But of course, Viktor wouldn’t have any part of it. He blamed Tommy just as much of the rest of them. Forget the fact that he was getting on as a player. That his body was already showing signs of breaking down, or that he had no business trying those stupid tricks of his. Viktor saw himself as the only victim in all of this, and he wasn’t afraid to be vocal about it either. He crucified that man, dragging his name through the mud until there was nothing left. A few months later, Tommy’s dead. And to this day, Benny blames Viktor for his death.”

Rose was speechless, her plan to keep Regina talking momentarily forgotten in her shock over what the woman was saying. Could any of this really be true? If it was, surely Rose would have heard something about it before now. After all the research she’d done, all the time she’d spent with Krum, how could he have failed to mention something like this?

Regina seemed to mistake Rose’s doubt for something else, because she said, “The truth hurts, doesn’t it, Rose? Is it hard knowing how truly cold and unforgiving a man Viktor really is?”

That wasn’t at all what Rose had been thinking, but now that Regina had pointed it out, she couldn’t get the image of Viktor turning Benedict away, refusing to help a man desperate to save his brother, out of her mind. Still, even if Regina was telling her the truth, that couldn’t be all there was to the story. Viktor had just lost everything – his career, his livelihood, and for a while, even his ability to walk. Wasn’t it to be expected that he might hold a grudge against the man who was at least partially responsible? But to drag his name through the mud, to hound him even after his brother had begged for Viktor to put an end to it all – was that sort of behavior “to be expected?” Had Krum known at the time that the man might have been suicidal?

Rose’s uncertainty must have been written across her face, because Regina was smiling again, seeming to enjoy the pain her words were inflicting. “Benny stopped coming around after Tommy’s death. No point in it once his brother was dead, I suppose. As for me, I’d nearly forgot about them both until I ran into Benny a few years back. He was reluctant to talk to me, as you can imagine. Not that I could blame him. But once I explained to him how Viktor and I had gone our separate ways, he soon realized how much we had in common.”

“And what’s that?” Rose asked.

“How much we both hate Viktor, and want nothing more in life than to make him pay for what he’s done.” Her words were cold, matter-of-fact, devoid of all emotion, as if her hatred had become so all consuming, she couldn’t even recognize its influence on her anymore. And that more than anything made Rose’s blood run cold.

“So this is what?” Rose asked. “Your way of showing me what kind of man Viktor really is? To scare me off?”

Regina laughed. “Oh, Rose. You and I both know we’re way past the point of scaring you off.”

The woman’s arm must have been growing tired because she allowed it to drop until it was resting just above her lap. But the grip on her wand remained just as tight as ever. Rose longed to get her hands on her own wand, but that was impossible, at least for the time being. It was in her purse, which was lying beside the bags of groceries still sitting just inside the door. Rose was growing more and more certain that it was only a matter of time before Regina made her move. And if the woman decided to use her wand, Rose would be powerless to defend herself. What Rose really needed to do was run, but there was nowhere to go. The front door was the only way in or out of the flat, save for the windows. But they were three stories up, and it was a long drop to the ground below.

Rose knew her best bet for coming out of this unscathed was to stall for time. Viktor was set to arrive at six, and the clock on the wall now read quarter-till. If Rose could just keep her talking until then, maybe between the two of them, they could subdue Regina before anyone got hurt.

“What was in the envelope?” Rose asked, saying the first thing that popped into her mind. “The one Benedict tried to give me the day of Krum’s hearing.”

“Oh, that,” Regina said with a dismissive wave of her hand – the one not busy clutching her wand. “Nothing but a bunch of old newspaper clippings about his brother’s death. He got some fringe publication to print a few stories on it years ago, and now he carries them around like their proof of all the terrible crimes Viktor committed against his family. It’s pathetic. But then that’s Benny for you. Pathetic and weak. Him and his brother both.”

“I thought you said you were friends.”

“Acquaintances,” Regina corrected. “That’s hardly the same thing. Personally, I can’t stand the man. If he really blames Krum for his brother’s death, then he should have manned-up and killed Viktor years ago. He talks a good game, but he doesn’t have the balls to follow through on any of it. Still, you know what they say. The enemy of my enemy and all that.”

“Why haven’t you killed Viktor then? You seem to hate him enough for it.”

“I do hate him. Make no mistake. But you’re still missing the point. Benny wants justice for his brother – an eye for an eye, as it were. I, on the other hand, prefer revenge. With Krum dead, I lose my chance.”

“Revenge for what? What he really that terrible a husband that you carry a grudge after all these years?”

Regina laughed, but it was just as cold and unforgiving as her smile. “The man really has been keeping secrets from you, hasn’t he? I told you when we first met that you had no idea who he was, or what he was capable of. Let’s put it this way, Tommy’s isn’t the only blood Krum has on his hands.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” But Regina had gone suddenly quite, apparently having said all she intended to on that matter. So Rose was forced to try a new tactic to get her talking again. “He’s not the man you think he is, at least not anymore. Viktor would never do anything to hurt me.”

Regina just shook her head. “You’re still so naïve, Rose. I guess that’s just one of the many luxuries of youth, isn’t it? But actually, for once, you’re right. I don’t expect Viktor will hurt you, not physically, anyway. That’s not how he operates when it comes to the women in his life. But even if it was, surely you can see by now that I won’t ever let it get that far. Viktor won’t hurt you, Rose, because I’ll have already done it for him.”

And in that moment, Rose knew. She knew why Regina was there in her flat, brandishing a wand at her. It wasn’t to warn her. Or to scare her off. Not even to rub in her face what sort of terrible person Viktor might be. No. Regina was there for one reason and one reason only.

She was there to kill her.

The realization seemed to shoot through Rose’s body like a bolt of electricity, and she jumped to her feet, poised to run. But Regina was ready for her. She was on her feet now too, her wand once again held high, this time pointing straight at Rose’s head.

“Don’t make this any more difficult than it has to be, Rose. I don’t want to have to restrain you, but I will if you can’t behave.”

That was when Rose realized something else too. Regina was crazy, perhaps even downright evil, but she wasn’t stupid. She could have killed Rose the second she’d walked through the door. One flick of her wrist and Rose would have been dead before she’d even had time to realize what was happening.

That had to mean Regina was waiting for something. Or for someone. And that meant there was still time.

Rose slowly resumed her position on the edge of the bed. She could feel the sweat dripping down her back, adrenaline pumping through her veins, blood pounding in her ears. But she forced herself to hold it together. If she could keep Regina talking for just a little while longer, Viktor was bound to be there soon. Rose wasn’t crazy about the idea of Krum walking in on them. Who knew what Regina might do? But Rose had no way of warning Viktor, so she’d just have to trust that Regina had meant it when she’d said she wanted Krum alive.

“You understand that this isn’t about you,” Regina said, her voice now sugary-sweet, though no less chilling than the cold detachment she’d displayed moments ago. She had resumed her seat too, her wand tucked safely at her side though still trained on Rose. “I mean, I like you, Rose. Really, I do. Like I told you before, I see a lot of myself in you. This is all just a bit of bad luck on your part, I’m afraid. You see, the reason I can’t kill Viktor is because it would be too kind. He’s been slowly killing himself for years. At this point, it would be like putting a wounded animal out of its misery. He doesn’t care about saving his own life, so what kind of punishment is it to take it away from him? But you... Well, now there’s something he does care about. He loves you.”

“How could you possible know that? You’ve never even seen us together.” But Rose stopped. She was trying to apply reason to a situation that was entirely unreasonable.

Regina didn’t seem to notice. She took the question at face value, saying, “But I have seen you together. You two just can’t seem to keep out of the papers, can you?”

There was a quick slash of her wand, and Rose flinched. But instead of the bright light of a curse headed in her direction, a scrap piece of paper had materialized out of thin air, drifting down until it landed on Rose’s lap. She picked it up. It was a newspaper clipping, the one about Albus’s and Amelia’s wedding. And there was the photograph, the one of her and Krum dancing together.

“Do you know what it’s like,” Regina said, “to wake up and find that on your doorstep? It’s like he’s trying to rub it in my face how happy he is. Viktor doesn’t deserve to be happy!”

Regina’s face flushed with anger. It was the first real spark of emotion Rose had seen from her, the words so laced with bitterness and hatred that Rose might have pitied the woman if she hadn’t been so afraid of her.

“So this is his punishment,” Regina said, her tone once again cool and collected. “He loves you, so you die. And he can spend the rest of his life knowing he’s to blame.”

“You’ll be the only one to blame, Regina.”

“Perhaps, but only in the literal sense of the word. Let’s face it, Rose. You and I both know Viktor well enough to understand that he’ll blame himself for this. And it wil eat him alive.”

Rose knew instantly that she was right. Krum would find a way to see this as his fault. And if Regina had been right about what happened to Tommy, Rose wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to discover that Viktor blamed himself for that too. Maybe that had been another reason for all the drugs. Another demon he was trying to keep at bay.

Rose watched as Regina’s eyes glanced briefly over to the clock on the wall. Rose could sense she was running out of time.

“You won’t get away with this,” Rose said, throwing caution to the wind. “They’ll catch you, and you’ll end up spending the rest of your life in Azkaban. Are you really willing to throw everything away just to spite him?”

But Regina was already shaking her head. “You underestimate me, Rose. The only one around here going to prison is Viktor.”

“You’re planning to frame him.” It wasn’t a question. Rose didn’t even have to ask. She could tell from the glint in Regina’s eye that it was what she’d planning all along.

“It’s almost laughable how easy it will be. I mean, after what happened with that muggle? Nearly beat someone to death for hurling a few insults. That doesn’t sound like a very stable man, if you ask me. Is it such a leap to think he might not lose his temper again – perhaps during a little lover’s quarrel? Next thing you know, you’re dead and he’s left holding the bag – or should I say, the wand?” She made a little wave with her wrist as if to emphasize her point.

“Then why not just kill me and get it over with?” Rose didn’t know why she’d said it. It sounded almost as if she were egging the woman on, goading her into making her move.

“And what?” Regina scoffed. “Leave you decomposing on the carpet until Viktor arrives? The Ministry may be full of idiots, but the Aurors mean business. You of all people should know that. They have ways of figuring these things out. No, he’s got to be here when it happens. It’s just lucky for all of us that I’m so good with memory charms. But even if I weren’t, who do you think they’d believe? A washed-up has-been with a violent streak? Or me? I’ve made a name for myself, Rose. Women around the world hang on my every written word. I’ve got a husband, a child. A new name. And what has Viktor got? Besides you, that is. And by then, you’ll be long gone. Don’t you see? No matter what, I win. As long as your dead and Krum is suffering, I'll always win.”

And with that, there was nothing left for Rose to say. This was how it was going to end. The woman in front of her had lost all ability for rational thought a long time ago. She was single-minded, completely focused on destroying Krum. And to do that, Rose had to die. If not this moment, then soon. It wouldn’t be over for Regina until one or both of them was buried six feet underground. Rose’s choice to be with Viktor was literally going to be the death of her. And despite it all, she couldn’t bring herself to regret it.

Even with the fear still coursing through her, and all the anger she felt towards Regina for what woman was about to steal away from her, Rose felt a clarity she wouldn’t have imagined possible. An ability to accept the certainty of her own demise. Rose knew in her heart that she wasn’t coming out of this alive. The best she could hope for now was to find away to keep Regina from blaming it all on Krum.

If Rose had to die, then she’d die taking Regina down with her.

Rose lunged at the woman, catching her entirely off-guard.

She was already reaching for Regina’s wand, and had nearly managed to wrap her fingers around it, when the woman realized what was happening. Regina yanked her arms up and away, but she wasn’t fast enough. Rose had managed to grab a hold of the top end of the wand. There was a loud snap! as the thin piece of wood shattered in two.

“You little bitch!” Regina screamed.

She flung the useless piece of wand aside and grabbed Rose’s hair with both hands, spinning her around and thrusting her forward. Rose stumbled twice before slamming into the wall. She was on the ground in an instant, rolling onto her back just in time to avoid Regina’s incoming kick to the face. It missed her by inches, and Rose could hear the wind rushing past her ear.

She scrambled to her knees, trying to crawl away, when Regina grabbed her by the shirt, yanking her backwards. The woman was strong – much stronger than Rose had anticipated. It was all Rose could do to keep pushing forward until she broke free of the woman’s grasp.

What occurred next came so fast, Rose didn’t even have time to process what was happening. She’d grabbed the edge of the counter, attempting to pull herself to her feet. And that’s when she feels it – something cold and smooth beneath her fingertips.

Rose grabbed at it, wheeling around just in time to see Regina lunging straight for her.

There was a sickening squelch and the instant feeling of something warm and sticky coating Rose’s outstretched hand. The woman gave a small gasp of surprise, and then staggered back several paces. That’s when Rose saw it: the black handle of the knife sticking out of Regina’s stomach.

Regina dropped to one knee, putting a hand out to steady her fall.

“What have you done?” she asked, her eyes wide with surprise.

For a moment, Rose was frozen in place, captivated by the bright red spot that was slowly speading across the front of Regina’s blouse. But the shock and horror of what was happening was quickly overridden by one simple thought: Rose was alive and she needed to get the hell out of there.

Rose made for the door. She grabbed the handle, only to find it locked. Whatever spell Regina had put on it was still holding fast. She could hear the woman moaning behind her, but Rose refused to look. Instead, she began searching for her purse, digging around in it until she came up with her wand, which she raised high into the air.

“Aloha—”

But that was as far as she got before she felt the impact and the pain overtook her. A horrible, ice-cold fire that spread through her back and arms. It took her breath away, stole the spell from the tip of her lips. And for a moment, even made her forget who she was. It was just pain.

Rose dropped to her knees at the foot of the door. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Regina lying motionless on the ground a few feet away. But something wasn’t right. The one small part of Rose’s brain still capable of rational thought recognized that something was wrong with the scene in front of her. Something aside from the great pool of blood now covering the carpet.

Regina was on her back, dead eyes staring up at the ceiling, hands folded and resting on her chest as if offering up one last silent prayer. But the knife was no longer protruding from her stomach, nor lying at her side. It was gone.

And then, just before the world went black, Rose understood.

The knife wasn’t gone. It was lodged in her back.
 


Chapter 21: Chapter 21, Epilogue: Rose Weasley
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Chapter 21, Epilogue: Rose Weasley

Part III

December 24, 2031

He could hear her approaching, the rhythmic clack-clacking of her heels as she made her way down the long corridor, stopping only once she’d reached the door to his holding cell. There was a pause, just long enough perhaps, to steel herself against whatever was waiting on the other side; then the door swung open, and Viktor Krum found himself staring up into the formidable face of Hermione Granger.

More than three decades had passed since he’d last laid eyes on the woman, but Krum would have recognized her anywhere. Those large brown eyes, always wide and alert. That look of practiced control, which never seemed to fully mask the current of emotion that lay just below the surface. For Krum, the resemblance between mother and daughter was haunting in its exactness. Could the rest of the world really not see what was so obvious to his eyes?

She crossed the empty room, saying nothing as she perched herself on the edge of the chair opposite his. He waited in silence as she crossed and uncrossed her legs before finally planting both feet firmly on the ground, knees locked, hands folded in her lap. For an instant, her gaze, which had been focused on him, strayed down to the book still clutched in Krum’s hand.

When she finally spoke, the words came soft and quick, like a well-rehearsed speech she’d been playing over and over in her mind for weeks. “I have something I’d like to say to you, and I think it would be best if you didn’t interrupt until I’ve finished.” She paused a moment, waiting to see if he’d offer up any objections. When he didn’t, she continued on. “You should know upfront that I’ve read your file. I know what it is you told the Aurors who questioned you – what it is you said happened that night. But you should also know that I don’t believe a single word of it. I think it’s nothing but a bunch of practiced lies from a man who’s become an expert at hiding the truth. I won’t deny that it makes for a compelling story, but that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t think you’d said one honest thing since they brought you here.”

She paused again, as if waiting for him to argue the point. But Krum said nothing, giving no indication either way as to the validity to her claims. He just remained in his chair, head bowed, eyes trained on the floor in front of him.

“That said, I’m not here to ask you what happened. Firstly, because I don’t think you’d tell me. And second, because anything you might say, I’d feel obligated to pass along. And while I may be prepared to confront the truth, I don’t think the same can be said for the rest of my family.”

She shifted in her seat, and Krum looked up just in time to see her eyes once again flicker to the book now resting in his lap. He realized it was probably the first time she’d seen a finished copy. He wanted to say something to her about it, but he didn’t dare. She’d asked not to be interrupted; granting her that request was the very least he could do.

“In light of all this,” she continued, “I expect you’ll be wondering what it is I’m doing here. Well the answer is simple. I came for Rose.”

The mere mention of her name was enough to make his breath catch in his throat. Though unlike with Hemsley, this time there was no rage or fury. The sound of it spoken aloud by the woman seated before him – spoken with more affection than even he was able to manage – Viktor felt only sadness.

“As I’m sure you saw for yourself, Rose was never much for confiding her feelings to others, but I’d like to think I understand what it was my daughter was going through these last few months. I was young once. As were you, I dare say.” Viktor couldn’t help but smile at that. How long ago that all seemed now. “Still, I believe Rose’s affection for you was genuine, and that the feelings were...mutual.”

She seemed to struggle with the word, and Viktor had to fight to hold his tongue. For once in her life, Hermione Granger was wrong. Viktor knew Rose cared for him, but there was no doubt in his mind that her ‘affection’ was nothing compared to what he felt for this woman’s daughter. The fires that burned in Rose weren’t just for him – they were for life, for everything that should have been hers for the taking. As for Viktor, Rose was his life, and without her there was no future for him.

“I’ve always prized myself,” Hermione continued, her tone matter-of-fact, “on being able to see what others couldn’t, and in this case, I think I’ve seen more than enough to understand. Of course, that puts me in difficult position. You see, I believe in justice, Viktor. That the rule of law applies to everyone. I’ve made a career out of it. A life. What would I be if I threw it all away now – even for her? Still,” she added, speaking more to herself now than to him, “emotion is a powerful thing. It makes us do things we’d otherwise never even consider. In the end, what aren’t we capable of doing for the ones we love?”

She let the words hang there, as if this time she really did want an answer. But Viktor had none to give.

“Very well,” she said, and she was back on her feet, looking down at him with an almost pitying expression etched into the soft lines of her face. “I don’t expect we shall be seeing each other again. I’m sure you can understand why.” And with that, she crossed to the door, stepped through, and disappeared from sight.

Viktor remained where he was, waiting for the sound of the lock as it clicked into place. But there was only silence. Then, after a time, more footsteps. Only these were heavier, the loud thump of rubber soles smacking against the marble floor.

Seconds later, Albus Potter entered the room, immediately closing the door behind him, sealing it shut with a quick flick of his wand. He was still dressed in the same green robes he’d been wearing earlier, when he’d arrived with a message for Hemsely, alerting the man to a matter requiring his attention on the sixth floor. Viktor had recognized him then, but said nothing, and now the boy was back, hovering just inside the door, as if too scared to draw any nearer to Krum. He was clearly nervous, a thin line of sweat visible above his lip, his dark hair standing on end as if he’d been running his hands though it over and over again. Even his arms seemed to shake, though that didn’t stop him from raising his wand and pointing it straight at Viktor’s chest.

Krum was the first to break the silence. “I vasn’t expecting you’d be the one to do it. I’ll admit, I didn’t think you had it in you.”

“What do you know about me?” Albus’s words were soft but defiant, even as the wand in his hand seemed to tremble.

“I know enough to know that pretty new wife of yours von’t be pleased if you don’t come home tonight.”

“Well, then I guess I better make sure I don’t get caught.” And with that, Albus raised his right arm until the tip of his wand was level with Viktor’s head. “For Rose,” he whispered.

There was a blinding flash of light, and it was done.




The sun was bright overhead, the December air cold and thick with the smell of brine as it blew in off the ocean.

He could feel the wind at his back as he slowly wound his way up the rocky path that ran parallel to the coast. The gravel slid beneath his feet, making the climb a treacherous one, the crashing waves beckoning him from far below. Eventually, the path began to narrow before finally disappearing into the brush; he’d reached a small plateau, the wide expansive of grass dotted with sea lavender and gorse.

She was waiting there for him just as he’d been told she would, her long hair whipping in the wind as she sat on the bench resting just feet from the edge of the cliff. The roar of the ocean masked his footsteps as he drew near, and it wasn’t until he took up the seat beside her that she seemed to realize he was there.

“You look terrible,” he said.

Rose Weasley turned to face him, taking in the sight of his hollowed cheeks and red-rimmed eyes. He seemed to have aged a decade in the weeks since she’d last seen him. “I had a knife thrust in my back. What’s your excuse?”

“Prison,” Viktor said flatly.

“So I hear.” Rose watched as Krum reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He studied it for a long moment before putting it away again unopened. “Smoking again, I see.”

He gave her a half-hearted smile. “In light of everything, I didn’t think you’d mind.” Rose said nothing, and Viktor asked, “What have they told you?”

Rose shrugged. “About what you’d expect. That Regina’s dead. That I’m lucky to be alive. And that you’re to spend the rest of your life in prison.”

“And what have you told them?”

“That’s just it, isn’t it? I can’t tell them anything. At least nothing that makes any sense.”

“You don’t remember then?”

“No thanks to you.”

She let the accusation hang there, waiting for him to deny it. Instead, he simply replied, “Good.”

Rose rounded him on him then. “Good? Are you serious? How is you being locked up in prison for a crime you didn’t commit in any way good? You’re innocent.”

“That not what the evidence says.”

“That’s only because you tampered with it. The same way you tampered with my memories. Only you didn’t do near a good enough job on the latter.”

Viktor looked genuinely startled. “So you do remember?”

“Some of it. But nothing that will help you, and nothing I can prove.”

“Then how can you be so sure I didn’t—”

“Kill someone?” Rose cut in. “Accidently stabbing me in the process when I tried to intervene? Isn’t that what you’ve confessed to?”

“Something like that.”

“But it’s not the truth.” There was the faintest trace of doubt in Rose’s words as her mind fought to reconcile everything she knew about the man beside her with the hazy memories of what really happened that terrible night.

“It might as well be the truth. It’s vhat would have happened if I’d arrived in time.”

“What are you saying? That you wanted Regina dead?” Rose hadn’t meant to say the woman’s name aloud, and it tasted like bile against her tongue.

“If it would have meant sparing you from all of this, then yes. I’d have killed her a thousand times over.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“Actually, I do.”

There was a heavy pause, and when Rose finally spoke again, her words were small and hesitant. “But you didn’t kill her, did you?”

Viktor sighed, his whole body seeming to collapse in on itself. “No, I didn’t.”

“Of course not. How could you have? Not when I’d already done it first.”

The memories were nothing more than fractured pieces of light and sound. It was like trying to view the world through a broken mirror, smashed into a million tiny pieces until the images were no longer recognizable. Only there was one thing Viktor hadn’t been able to completely obliterate from her mind: the feeling of warm blood dripping through her fingers.

“Why?” she asked him. “Why say you did it when you know it was really me?”

The look he gave her was bittersweet. “After everything that’s happened, do you really have to ask?” In truth, Rose could have probably guessed what his answer would be, but she needed to hear it all the same. Maybe having him say it aloud would force Viktor to realize what a terrible idea this all was. “I did it to keep you safe.”

It’s what she’d thought he’d say, only it still didn’t make sense. “Safe from what? It was self-defense, Viktor. They don’t send people to Azkaban for defending themselves.”

“They do if they don’t believe you.”

“Why wouldn’t they believe me? It’s the truth, isn’t it?”

“You have no proof.”

“And whose fault is that? And besides, even if they don’t believe me – if there are consequences for what I did – then they’re mine to deal with, not yours.”

“I von’t let you go to prison, Rose. Not even for a single day. It would crush you. Kill you.”

“And it won’t do the same to you?”

“There’s a lot less of me left to kill.”

“All the more reason to tell the truth then.”

“Dammit, Rose,” he said, pounding his fist against his thigh. “I just vant you to be free to live your life. Can’t you at least let me give you that?”

“But who says I won’t be free? If you just let me tell the truth, this whole thing could be behind us once and for all. Isn’t that what you want? For it all to just be over with?”

But Krum was already shaking his head. “It won’t ever be over, Rose. You don’t ever break free of her. If you admit to this, everything you do, every step you take, vill be tainted with her death. She’ll be the black cloud that follows you for the rest of your life. She was my problem. It was me she hated. I vasn’t there to stop her, but I won’t let her hurt you anymore.”

“Can’t you see this is what she wanted?” Rose was practically shouting now, desperate to make him understand. “It’s what she planned all along. For you to end up in prison. You’re playing right into her hand.”

“I’m only trying to do vhat’s right, Rose.”

“And what’s right about me spending the rest of my life without you?” She should have been crying by now, only she wasn’t. She’d cried too much over the past few weeks to shed anymore tears now. But she could still feel the squeezing pain in her chest that threatened to steal her breath away. “You told me once that there were worse things in life than Azkaban, and that someday I’d understand that. Well, guess what? I understand now.”

“Rose,” he whispered, his face heavy with sadness. “I’m not going back to prison.”

She turned away from him then, her eyes gazing out over the ocean, stretching on to the horizon, which shone like gold in the distance. For a moment, the only sound that filled the space between them was the steady crashing of the waves below.

“You plan to run then,” she said, sounding more resigned than surprised. “Does Albus know?”

“It was his idea. This all was, though I don’t think he planned it alone.”

“And I suppose he just forgot to mention it to me when he arranged this little meeting?”

“We both agreed you had enough to focus on without being an accessory after the fact.”

“He could lose his job over this. Maybe worse.”

“He knew the risks. He did it for you. We all did.”

“That’s not fair.”

Viktor shrugged. “Maybe not. But it’s the truth.”

“And that makes it all right?”

“Risking something for someone you love?” he asked. “Yes, I’d say that makes it more than all right.”

There was another long silence as a strong gust of wind rolled across the grassy knoll. Rose shivered, drawing her coat tighter around her shoulders.

“It was her, you know,” Rose said at last, her voice so soft it was nearly lost on the wind. “She’s the one who drugged you. I remember her telling me as much before she... Before it happened.” Krum said nothing, and Rose looked over at him. “That doesn’t surprise you?”

Viktor shook his head. “No, it doesn’t.”

“You mean you suspected her all along?”

“Not exactly, no. But I did wonder. If anyone would have known how to do it, it would have been her – all those years vatching me do it to myself.”

“But why didn’t you say anything? You let me accuse you of—”

But he stopped her. “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t have any proof. And even if she did have a hand in it, it wouldn’t have changed the fact that she was only able to get away with it because of vhat I’d already done to myself. You can’t frame an entirely innocent man, Rose. There’s always some truth, even in the best of lies.”

“And what about Tommy? Is there any truth in what she said about him? Are you responsible for that too?” It had taken a while for her conversation with Regina to return to her, but everything that had happened prior to her lunging for the woman’s wand had slowly started breaking through the fog of her altered memories. There were parts she wished hadn’t come back: the look in Regina’s eyes, so cold and calculating, the way she’d seemed to enjoy toying with Rose, like a cat eyeing a mouse just before the pounce. And of course, the accusations she’d made against Viktor.

“Probably,” he admitted. “Though to vhat extent, I doubt we’ll ever really know.”

“But you blame yourself?”

“Shouldn’t I?”

“I don’t know,” Rose said, and it was the truth. “Should he have been blamed for what happened to you? Am I to blame for what happened to Regina?”

Krum sighed. “I guess ve all have a little blood on our hands.”

Rose turned in her seat to face him full on. “What did you say?” His words had been muffled, said more to himself than to her, but they’d triggered something in her brain. Another memory.

“It’s just a figure of speech, Rose.”

“Yes, only it’s exactly what Regina said. I remember it now. She said Tommy’s wasn’t the only blood on your hands. Do you know what she was talking about?”

“The woman was out of her mind—”

“I know that. But I also know that it meant something to her. Whose blood was she talking about?”

“I don’t know—” he began, and Rose immediately made to jump in, to force him to try and think harder about what she could have meant. But he put up a hand, stopping her, the tortured look on his face warning her to hold her tongue. “I don’t know for sure, but I think I have a pretty good idea.”

He seemed reluctant to say more, and it took all of her restraint to keep from shouting at him to tell her what she wanted to know. She couldn’t understand her own desperation. Viktor was right; Regina had been out of her mind. Rose was trying to rationalize something that wasn’t rational. But knowing that still wasn’t enough to quell the desperate need to make sense out of what had happened – to identify what it was that could drive a person to do what she’d done.

“You have to understand,” Viktor said, and he seemed lost in his own memories then. “It was all a very long time ago. I was already so far gone by then. Ve’d argued in circles about it for months, but she wouldn’t listen. I should have known she’d find a way to get what she wanted, but I guess I didn’t vant to believe she was capable... I swear to God, if I had known, I never would have—”

“Never would have what?” she pressed, unable to help herself. “What happened?”

“She was pregnant.”

Rose heard herself let out an involuntary gasp as what Viktor was telling her began to sink in. “You didn’t—”

But Krum was already shaking his head. “I never touched her. Ever. But I tortured her all the same. I made it clear I wanted no part in what she’d done. And when she lost... When it ended, a part of me was actually glad. She knew it. Blamed me for it. As if somehow I’d made it happen just to spite her. As if my not wanting the child was enough to cause its death. She never forgave me for it. So there,” he said, turning to face her. “Is that enough motivation for you?”

Rose didn’t know what to say. The story was at once both horrifying and oddly...relieving. It didn’t change the fact that Regina was insane, and there was no justification for what she’d tried to do to Rose – or to Viktor. Yet, in some small way, it humanized her again. It turned Regina from the monster she’d become in Rose’s imagination back into a mere human – albeit one who’d been twisted by years of dwelling in her own hate and grief. But a human nonetheless.

“But you know that’s not true, don’t you?” Rose asked. “You know you’re not to blame for what happened.” There was that word again. Blame. They couldn’t seem to get away from it. Was that what happens when tragedy strikes, she wondered. The world unable to move on until there’s someone there to take the blame?

“Sometimes I don’t know what to think anymore.”

It wasn’t the answer she’d been hoping for, but she didn’t press. There was nothing she could say to him to ease whatever guilt he might have been feeling – for the chain of events that had been set in motion all those years ago. Rose had always been taught to believe that time healed all wounds, but now she wasn’t so sure anymore.

Maybe time just finds new ways to make you bleed.

“I had a visitor while I was in hospital,” Rose said.

“Is that so?” Viktor asked, though he still seemed to be lost in his own thoughts, as if fighting against his own distorted memories.

“Two, actually. Peter came to see me.”

“Did he now?”

“He said there was something he thought I should have.” Rose had begun pulling at the fingers of her glove, peeling it off, exposing first her hand and then the tiny gold bracelet hanging from her wrist. “He said you had it on you when they took you in. That you’d given it to him for safe-keeping.”

Krum allowed himself a half-smile. “I see it wasn’t so safe, after all.”

“It seems not. But as you promised me a present...”

“I just figured it was time you replaced that old one of yours.”

“I couldn’t agree more.”

He said nothing to this, though she was sure he understood her meaning. For a moment, they both stared down at the delicate band, which shimmed slightly in the waning light of the sun, which had begun its slow descent toward the horizon.

Finally, Viktor looked up. “You said you had two visitors while you were in hospital. Who was the second?”

“Oh, right,” she said as if just remembering. She reached into her coat pocket, pulling out a thick white envelope, which she passed over to him. She watched as Viktor opened it, exposing several large bundles of cash, each neatly stacked and wrapped with an official-looking seal. “It’s your share of the proceeds from the book. Heart stopped by with it a few days ago. Said pre-orders are through the roof. I asked him what he expected you to do with all that money, especially with you being locked away. And in muggle currency, no less. But he seemed to think you’d come up with something.”

Krum was still staring down at the envelope, his expression unreadable.

“If you ask me,” she went on, “there’s enough here for a man to rebuild his life. Disappear somewhere and never come back. Only question is, where will you go? Back to Bulgaria?”

Krum shook his head. “Too obvious. It will have to be somewhere new. America, maybe. Or perhaps a little shack on the beach, tucked away on some deserted island where no one’s ever heard of me. A man could get used to a view like this.” His eyes traced the skyline, the endless expanse of blue and white, so vast it seemed to stretch on forever.

“Sounds nice,” Rose said. “Only, do they make shacks big enough for two?” Krum looked over at her just in time to see her remove a second envelope from inside her pocket.

“No,” Viktor said at once. “I can’t let you do that.”

“And why not? It’s my money. If I want to use it while away the hours on a beach somewhere, I think I’ve earned the right, don’t you?”

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it. Be serious, Rose. Think about vhat you’re saying.”

“I am. I’ve never been more serious about anything in my whole life.”

“But it won’t be safe. They’ll be looking for us, always. You can’t think Hemsley will ever let this go – not vhen he had me so close in his grasp.”

“All the more reason to take me with you. You’ll need someone to watch your back.”

“And what about your family. There’s no coming back here. If you leave, you may never see them again.”

Rose would be lying is she said the thought of never seeing her family again wasn’t almost enough to make her change her mind. She loved her family – her parents, her brother, Albus, all of them – and living without them would be almost unbearable. Not to mention what losing her would mean to all of them. Still, she couldn’t help but think back on what her brother had once said to her:

You’re an adult now, Rose, and sometimes you’re going to do things your family doesn’t like. But in the end, you’ve just got to follow your heart and learn to live with the consequences.

“I know all that,” she said. “And I’ve made my choice. Unless, that is, you don’t want me...”

“You know there is nothing I want more than to have you by my side. Always. I love you, Rose, but I didn’t go through all this just so you could throw your life away. I vant you to have a future. To be happy. Don’t you understand that?”





“I do understand. You’re the one who doesn’t get it. If you think for one second that any future you’re not a part of will make me happy, then you don’t know me at all.” She grabbed his hand, clenching it tightly in hers. “So what do you say? Are we in this together?”

Viktor looked at her for a long time, seeming to study every inch of her face before squeezing her hand in return. “Together,” he agreed.

Rose smiled. “Good. And besides, living life on the lam – it sounds kind of exciting. In fact,” she added, her smile widening, “I’d say it sounds like a great idea for a book.”
 

 

 

 

Author’s Note – I’ve tired to keep these to a minimum, but I hope you’ll allow me a little leeway here, seeing as this is the first novel I’ve ever (EVER!) completed. I know it’s far from perfect, and there are parts of the plot I’d definitely change if I had it to do it all over again, but I really put my heart into making this the best story I could, and I’m honestly and sincerely thankful to each and every person who read (and particularly reviewed) it along the way. And I have to offer a special thanks to Jchrissy, who even in the throes of terrible writer’s block or general self-loathing for my own writing, reminded me why I wanted to write this story in the first place. I’d like to think I learned a lot throughout the process, even though I know I still have a lot left to learn, and if you have any departing critiques or comments, please don’t hesitate to leave them. Thank you again for indulging me by reading my story. It really, truly was a pleasure to share :)
 


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