...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!
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