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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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?
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