Chapter 2 : Chapter Two
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Three loud bangs rang out in the distance, shattering the morning silence and signaling to Rose that Viktor Krum was awake at last.
She arrived a few minutes later to find him hunched over his workbench, his cotton shirt already soaked through with sweat.
They’d taken to calling it his workshop, but Rose thought that was being generous. In truth, it was more glorified tent than actual building: four wooden beams planted into the soft earth, a faded canvas tarp strung across the top to keep out the worst of the rain. There were no walls. No windows. There wasn’t even a door. But considering how long it had taken them to clear away the surrounding brush, Rose wasn’t about to argue the point.
When Viktor first suggested the South Pacific, Rose had been imagining white, sandy beaches dotted with palm trees and hibiscus -- the kind of flowers local girls liked to wear in their hair or else tucked behind one ear. What she’d found instead was jungle -- endless stretches of dense vegetation that blanketed the island, leaving only a small band of open shoreline ringing the edges. Stepping inside was like crossing into another world, one continuously bathed in an unearthly green glow that was as beautiful as it was strange. Everything familiar disappeared inside the forest. The bright sunlight. The lapping of the waves. Even the ocean breeze seemed unable to penetrate the thick rows of trees, leaving the air inside heavy and still. IIt was exactly what Rose imagined life would be like inside a simmering vat of her grandmother's hot pea soup.
Rose made no sound as she approached the workshop, her soft footsteps swallowed up by the wet earth. Viktor was turned away from her, and from where she stood, she could see the muscles in his back bending and stretching as he toiled away at whatever was in front of him. Even after all the time that had passed and all the abuse he’d suffered, there was still no denying that Viktor maintained the look and feel of an athlete -- solid and strong, something that no doubt came from decades of intense physical training, not to mention a large helping of god-given luck.
Rose rapped a knuckle against one of the exposed beams. Viktor looked up from his work, spinning around to face her. In one hand he held a small metal object that reminded Rose of an old-fashioned doorknocker. In the other was a chunk of wood roughly the size and shape of a cricket bat, only rounder along the edges.
Rose eyed the latter curiously. “Is that a weapon, or are you planning on taking up a new sport?”
Viktor glanced down at his hands before giving her a half-hearted shrug. “Neither, actually. Though now that you mention it...” He paused, bouncing the wooden object up and down as if feeling the full weight of it for the first time. “A veapon isn’t a half-bad idea.”
Rose smiled, catching the faint hint of his accent, which had a tendency to creep into his voice whenever his guard was down. She’d grown so accustomed to it over the past two years, she hardly noticed it anymore. But it was still nice to hear, that hint of something familiar amidst the sea of change that had become a necessary way of life.
The first thing they’d done after leaving London was alter their appearance. Nothing magical, of course. Magic was too easy to trace. They’d both agreed early on that they wouldn’t use their wands unless it was a matter of life or death -- an agreement Rose was finding surprisingly easy to stick to. Viktor had already been looking thin by the time he’d escaped from Azkaban, the drop in weight hollowing his cheeks and drawing out the lines in his face. The transformation would have left most men his age looking emaciated, but there was a robustness to Viktor that belied his fifty-six years, something even his time in prison couldn’t fully erase. His dark hair was longer now then when they’d first met, curling up at the base of his neck and flecked with the same grey that peppered his beard. His naturally dark skin was an even deeper shade of tan, giving him the look of a man who’d been born on the island instead of the other side of the world.
Rose, on the other hand, seemed to stand out wherever they went. She’d tried more than once to dye her hair, but the naturally red hue would start to bleed through within days. She’d even tired chopping it all off, going at it with a pair of nail scissors in the bathroom of some cheap motel in a city whose name she couldn’t remember. But instead of turning her into another face in the crowd, the haircut had only served to turn her into her brother.
Rose had changed though, just in more subtle ways. She was thinner now too, her once round face looking long and drawn, her features somehow sharper than she remembered them. Even her eyes, which were the same deep shade of brown as her mother’s, looked almost black these days. Perhaps it was simply a byproduct of age. At twenty-seven, Rose wasn’t a child anymore. She’d been through too much in the past few years to have any illusions about that. Maybe now she was just finally starting to look the part.
“I’ve been thinking about going into town,” Rose announced without further pretense. She’d been mulling over the idea all morning, thinking of a way to bring it up with Krum. She’d been hoping to introduce the idea with a touch more finesse, but the words had just sort of slipped out, and it was too late now to take them back.
Viktor made no reply, but Rose could feel the tension seep into the space between them, descending like a vacuum, sucking the air from the room.
She was sure he could feel it too, but he said nothing, so Rose pressed on. “It looks like the rain has stopped. And we need a few things for the house.” At the mention of the word, she hitched a thumb in the direction of the bungalow, which was only half-visible through the trees. “And I thought I’d pick us up something for dinner.”
Viktor remained silent as he resumed his spot on the bench, his eyes drifting back to whatever it was he’d been working on. Until six months ago, Rose hadn’t even known the man knew how to carve wood. He’d disappeared early one morning only to return a few hours later with a handmade table and a set of matching chairs, which he’d presented to her as if they were nothing more than a couple of coconuts he’d found lying on the forest floor. They weren’t fancy -- the table barely large enough for two -- but that hadn’t stopped her from being impressed. When she’d pressed him about, he’d only shrugged. “We needed somewhere to eat,” he’d said. “And now we don’t.”
Rose continued to wait for some sort of response, but Viktor was suddenly refusing to meet her gaze. Not that she could blame him.
Their last venture into town hadn’t exactly gone according to plan. One moment everything had been fine -- the pair walking side-by-side down one of the dirt paths that cut through the center of the village. But in an instant, everything had changed. Something inside of Rose snapped. She couldn’t breath. She couldn’t think. It was like being trapped inside one of her nightmares, only she was wide-awake.
She’d never experienced anything like it before or since -- Viktor half-dragging, half-carrying her home, she on verge of hysterics. It wasn’t hard to understand his reluctance; it was an episode neither of them were eager to repeat.
“How long will you be gone?” he asked, still refusing to look her in the eye.
“A few hours. Maybe more.”
“Do you want me to go with you?”
The words hung there for a long moment, and Rose steadied herself for the lie to follow. In truth, Rose was terrified at the idea of heading off alone. Having no idea what triggered it, she felt powerless to prevent whatever had happened from happening again. Still, something inside of Rose told her that if she didn’t face her fears soon, things would only get worse. Her world was already so small; if she let it shrink any further, it was liable to disappear completely.
“No,” she said, and she hoped she sounded more certain than she felt. “I won’t be long. Besides,” she added, forcing a smile, “haven’t you got a weapon to finish?” When it was clear Viktor wasn’t going to object, Rose turned to leave, half-afraid she’d lose her nerve if she waited any longer. “I’ll be back soon,” she called over her shoulder.
She was almost out of earshot when she heard him call back.
“I’ll be waiting.”
The journey into town took almost to an hour. Cars were strictly forbidden on the island, so Rose was forced to make the nearly three-mile trek on foot. The sun overhead was hot, but Rose was careful to stick close to the shore, using the winding coastline as a guide until the first glimpses of civilization came into view.
There was only one village on the island, serving as both the center of daily life and the main port of call. Visitors were a rarity here, most tourists not bothering to venture this far east, preferring to stick closer to the four-star hotels and luxury resorts that sprang up like weeds on many of the neighboring islands. The few that did come never stayed long, and the four hundred or so permanent inhabitants of the tiny island were left to go about their business without interference from the outside world.
The majority of the locals made their living fishing tuna or else harvesting vanilla beans, the scent of both perfuming the morning air as Rose drew nearer to town. She encountered a few familiar faces as she went, earning a couple of polite nods and guarded smiles from those who managed to catch her eye. On the whole, the residents had been quick to welcome her and Viktor into their small community; they seemed to regard the pair with a sort of benign curiosity -- more of a novelty than anything else. Rose, in particular, had made quite the impression, her flaming red hair a point of interest for the local children, who’d taken to tucking strands of rust-colored seaweed into their own dark manes as a form of modest salute to their newest resident.
Of course, this was before last week’s “incident.” Apparently, the charm of playing host to a couple of reclusive strangers had started to wear thin once they’d realized one of their new guests might be off her rocker.
Rose hadn’t been lying when she’d told Krum they needed a few things for the house. With no electricity and only a modest amount of running water, keeping the place stocked with even the most basic necessities proved a challenge. Not to mention the bugs -- more than a few of them large enough to be confused for small cats, minus the fur. But they’d learned to adapt, buying only what they needed to last the week and filling in the gaps with breadfruit, coconuts and bananas, which grew in abundance on nearly every corner of the island. It was a whole new way of life for Rose, an existence completely stripped of excess. And to her surprise, she found herself exceedingly well-suited for the task.
From end to end, the village was no more than a mile long, and half again as wide. It was divided down the center by a winding dirt road with small shops and thatch-roofed huts lined up along the edges. Very little was made on the island itself, with most items having to be shipped over from mainland, two thousand kilometers to the south. The general store -- which sold everything from toothpaste to bunion cream -- was located only a few meters from the water’s edge, perched up on stilts to avoid flooding during high tide.
Rose opened the shop door, the faint tinkling of a bell somewhere overhead announcing her arrival. A sudden rush of hot air hit her like a wall of bricks as she stepped inside. It was like walking into a sauna, one with the heat turned on full blast. Two large fans circled lazily overhead, powered by a generator that hummed like a lorry engine somewhere out back, but their affect was miniscule at best. Just one more reason not to prolong her trip any more than necessary.
Five rows of wooden shelves lined the walls, most of them completely bare. It had obviously been a while since the last shipments of goods had arrived at port. Rose picked her way through the small space, the fine layer of sand that covered the floor crunching beneath her feet as she sorted through the puny selection. She was just about to make her way up to the long rosewood table that served as a checkout counter when she felt someone step up close behind her.
Rose spun around, nearly dropping what she was carrying.
It was a woman, someone Rose was sure she’d never seen before -- a rarity on an island so small. She was a good head shorter than Rose, outweighing her by at least two stone, the apron tied around her thick waist pegging her as owner of the store -- or at least the person tasked with running it for the day. She had a round face and deep-set eyes that were partially obscured behind a heavy layer of fringe that brushed against her eyelashes when she blinked. If Rose had to guess, she’d have put the woman in her late thirties or early forties, but her flawless complexion, dark and smooth, made it impossible to know for sure.
She was studying Rose, giving her the sort of look Rose usually associated with finding dog excrement on the bottom of her shoe.
She continued to stare at Rose, as if waiting to see if she might collapse into a fit of hysterics. Clearly news of Rose's last trip into town had spread fast. Finally, the woman broke off eye contact, pausing her visual appraisal just long enough to pull a basket from a nearby shelf and shove it in Rose’s direction.
“Here,” she said, holding the basket out to Rose. When Rose failed to take it, the woman began prodding her in the chest with it. “Here, here,” she repeated, before adding something in a language Rose didn’t understand.
As a child, Rose had been forced to study French, spending hour after hour conjugating verbs with her Aunt Fleur. It had been her mother’s idea, insisting that it was important to expose children to language while their brains were still pliable enough to absorb it. Her father had thought the whole idea was rubbish, and back then, Rose had agreed. But her mother had been right, of course, as was usually the case. All these years later and Rose was finding those childhood lessons were coming in quite handy, though she doubted keeping one step ahead of the law was exactly what her mother had in mind at the time.
Unfortunately, the language spoken my most of the locals was nothing like what she’d learned as a child. The woman might as well have been speaking mermish for all Rose could understand. Still, Rose wasn’t a complete idiot. She got the message, accepting the woman’s offering with what she hoped was an appreciative-looking smile. Rose dumped the contents of her arms into the basket before handing the woman a small wad of bills. The woman eyed the bills suspiciously before tucking them into the pocket of her apron, apparently satisfied. Money, it seemed, was a language neither of them had any trouble understanding.
Rose was just about to head for the door, new purchases in hand, when something strange caught her eye. It was brief -- lasting no more than a few seconds -- a small flash off in the distance, barely visible through the open window. But there was no mistaking it -- that bright red mop of hair.
Without thinking, Rose push passed the woman, nearly knocking her to the ground in her haste to get to the door. The woman called after her, but Rose neither knew nor cared what she was saying.
Rose knew it was crazy to even think it, but who else could it be? She knew only one person in the whole world with hair that red -- aside from herself.
Her brother. Hugo.
She nearly cried the name aloud as she sprinted out into the street, the contents of her basket threatening to spill out and onto the ground. The flash of red had been moving east, away from town, and Rose turned and headed off in that direction as quick as her legs would carry her. She ran as hard as she could, feet sliding over sand and stone as she searched the landscape for any sign of her brother.
Her thoughts were moving nearly as quick as her legs now. How had he found them? What was he doing on the island? Who else knew they were there?
They were important questions, but for the moment, Rose couldn’t bring herself to care about the answers. All she cared about now was seeing her brother again. It had been fa, far too long.
But Rose didn’t see her brother. She turned her head left to right as she ran, but there was no sign of him anywhere. No sign of that telltale crown of red she was so sure she’d seen only moments ago.
And there was something else Roes didn’t see.
The hulking figure of a man heading straight for her.
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