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Chapter 15 : Chapter Fifteen: Peter
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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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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