Chapter 7 : The Pomegranate Sirens
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Author's Note Just quickly before the queue closes! I'm sorry I left you hanging with the last chapter - so here's a little bit of an "info dump", so to speak, to make up for it. Enjoy, and I'd love it if you left me a review telling me what you thought! XOXO, Kalina
Author's Note, Revisited This chapter has been fully edited. Please re-read to understand better. And yes, I know Freddie Stroma is Cormac McLaggen in HBP, but here he's an OC, so humor me. :P
Daniel Craig as Maxwell Blackthorn
Hugh Dancy as Hugo Weasley
Clive Owen as Rasheed al-Hariq
Rachel Weisz as Rahima Said
Freddie Stroma as Scott
Morgan Freeman as the Dutchman
"Let go of my hand, Rasheed." Grace's voice had dropped an octave, and she relaxed her tense muscles. Causing a scene anywhere near Rasheed nearly always led to disaster - especially in public places. His hand loosened its grip and fell from her wrist, so she continued to peruse the pomegranates.
"These look a bit ripe, don't you think?"
"Hm." She placed the large red fruit back and shook her head at the toothless vendor. He was trying to sell her on an under-ripe mango, and Grace's insides churned at the thought. She could sense Rasheed but a pace away, his chin lifted, eyes ever-alert for any sign of danger. Easily she picked up a basket of dates.
"What do you think of these?" she asked. "Plump, no?"
Rasheed's eyes narrowed. "I want that urn, Grace. I'm prepared to pay for it."
She placed the basket back where she had found it and turned to face him again. Pursing her lips, she studied her options. This was her occupation - her vocation. Steal and resell. It had always been such. And lately, with that undeniable restlessness stirring in her blood, she found her options to be ever-more limiting. At first, she didn't answer. But at his growl - that half-sigh, that angered half-sigh, so familiar to her - she opened her mouth to speak, one hand on a grapefruit.
Rasheed's eyes stared at her. No emotion came from them, but his devilish grin, the one she had so often fallen for, flashed again at her.
"Six hundred," he said. Grace grunted, and he leaned closer to her - indecently so - and whispered in her ear. "In Galleons."
Galleons. Such a saccharine promise. Rasheed had always known where to hit - and where to hit hard. Grace had not felt the metallic feel of her native currency in the last five years. Promise of payment in such terms made it hard for her to resist.
Rasheed saw it. He saw her mouth open and close, her eyes alight with smoky desire. Every nerve in Grace's body was on end - six hundred Galleons! It was a dream come true. Her chapped lips opened and she attempted to push words from her throat when she heard Hugo's voice calling her.
"Grace!" he shouted. "Grace, where are you?"
Her fist curled around a green banana and she felt the sweet, sticky fruit ooze out of its skin. The vendor had long since given up trying to scold her. Rasheed glanced over at where Hugo was making his way through the crowd and cursed softly under his breath. He let his heavy hand rest upon Grace's shoulder and bent down once more.
"Twenty-four hours, Grace." His voice sent a chill down her spine. "You know where to find me."
And then, in a swirl of pomegranate dust, he vanished into the swirling mass of people.
"Grace!" Hugo's voice carried her name over everyone's head, and with an electric energy, she turned to wave at him.
"Here!" she called. "I'm over here." She saw Hugo's eyes find her face and a smile break his lips as he worked his way towards her. Both of his hands were thrust in his pockets and he looked quite smug.
"That didn't take too long," she remarked laughingly. "I almost expected you to be gone an hour, Hugo. You and the stamps - sweet Merlin, it's a love story." Her eyes were happy and he smiled at her.
"Only if someone would write me a ballad," he answered jokingly. "I've gotten three of the O'Keefes, and one Rémar. Not too bad, given it was only twenty minutes."
Only twenty minutes? Grace blinked as she handed the vendor his money. Picking up the basket of dates, she replied: "Hugo, that's fantastic. But, there's news." Hugo looked at her, eyes wide, and opened his mouth. Grace waved away his words.
"So quick to assume the worst!" She laughed shortly. "No, nothing of the sort. But come on, let's go."
He nodded as she pulled him behind her, making their way out of the market and back towards home.
"You look distraught," he commented as she shoved her way through the throng. The basket of dates was balanced precariously between Grace's hip and her wrist, and she ran her free hand through her short black mane.
"I'm fine, Hugo, really!" Grace forced a laugh for his benefit. "Here, let's pick up some fish. Nile perch for dinner, what do you say?"
Hugo grimaced. "Not with your cooking skills, that's for sure."
Grace's lip curled in an amused smile. "I'll prove you wrong some day. Just you watch."
- - - - - - - - - -
"She won't yield." Rasheed's voice was guttural and low, his anger barely masked by the low bow he swept his boss. "Sir, she won't yield."
The Dutchman's eyes narrowed and he stared. "And you would presume to know this."
A dark shadow fell and flitted across Rasheed's face. He grit his teeth, his jaw tight and the muscles standing out stark against his rough skin. "I would, sir."
The Dutchman turned and seized a lemon from the basket beside him. Flicking open a pocket knife, he slit the fruit open, letting the acid juice drip down his fingers and into his lap. He sucked one of the slices and offered the other to Rasheed.
"No, thank you, sir," he replied. The Dutchman's glittering eyes bore through him, and Rasheed was forced to look away.
"Scott," he called. The Dutchman's eyes still upon him, he waved to the young boy. "Get over here."
"What," the Dutchman started, "not Kurt?"
Rasheed stared at his boss. "Scott can do just as well as anybody. I would have thought, sir, that by now you knew that."
A small bemused smile crept across the Dutchman's face. "Indeed. And I will have you know, Rasheed, that I do. Take the boy. But take Kurt with him."
Rasheed flicked his gaze from the young man to his boss. A muscle twitching in his jaw, he bowed, and left. Scott followed him without a sound, his steps cat-like and light. Rasheed stomped.
"You've been briefed, I presume?" he asked, ruffling the boy's hair. Scott shoved his hand away.
"'Course. Who hasn't? Pretty young tomb raider, a Lawless, of course. Two companions, priceless vase. She doesn't want to sell it? Fine, we steal it."
Rasheed cut his gaze from the hallway to the boy's face. "It's a lot more complex than that, kid."
"I'm sure it is," Scott replied, fingering his belt loop. "But if that's the gist, then there shouldn't be a problem. I'm good in a knife fight."
"She's unable to perform magic, so you're at an advantage. Although I'm told you prefer skin brawls to fancy spells."
Scott's grin was malicious. "The way humans were born to fight."
- - - - - - - - - -
"Where the hell were you?"
Hugo grimaced and Grace rolled her eyes. "Black, always a pleasure. You'd be a better guard dog than my dad's Rottweiler."
Black's upper lip curled in distate. "What a fucking lovely comparison, Lawless."
"You were always one for that, Black," she quipped, and thrust his basket into his hands. "Here. Dates. You're welcome."
He snarled and did not thank her, but opened the door. They passed through and into the squalid living room that had become a communal food room, bedroom, and office. Parchment and old, leather-bound books littered the floor, while remnants of a half-eaten couscous lay on the table, littered with raisins and fish, cold, and buzzing with flies. Grace wrinkled her nose.
"You know, for the only one of us not being on the ERMF, you could afford to do a bit of cleaning," she remarked acridly. "This place stinks like a pigsty."
"ERMF?" asked a voice, and Grace craned her neck towards the kitchen of sorts. Rahima appeared, carrying a steaming rag. "Remind me again, what does that stand for?"
"Egyptian Registry of Magical Felons," answered Hugo. "Grace and I are both on it. Black, funnily enough, is not."
"And why is that?" Rahima asked reproachfully, approaching Black. She pointed to an armchair. "Sit."
He complied and bent his bare torso forwards. Gently, Rahima applied the hot rag to his bare shoulders and began pointing her wand at various places in his body. As she muttered incantations under her breath, Hugo and Grace shared a look.
"What," started Grace, "are you doing?"
"Magical acupuncture," replied Rahima. "Max owled me and told me he was feeling tense. So I came over." She cast her dark gaze about the room. "Though it seems to me it might have been a little more ... sanitary had we done it at my home."
"Can't disagree with that," Grace laughed, and went over to the bookshelf, pulling a heavy tome from the middle row. She curled up on one of the better couches and dropped the book in her lap. Spotting Black's pack of cigarettes on the coffee table, she reached forwards and picked it up, shaking one out.
"Hello, fire," she mused. Hugo rolled his eyes, and Rahima looked as though she might've wanted to say something, but she bit her tongue and bent over Black's back once more.
"Oy!" shouted Black. "Those are mine! Cost a pretty fortune, too," he protested. A single glare from Grace told him to be quiet. Picking up the lighter, Grace ignited the end of the cigarette and took a short drag.
Smoke filled her lungs and she coughed, her hand shaking as the first ashes fell to the floor. Eyes watering, she looked up at her companions - who all of them were staring at her as if she were mad - and began to giggle.
"We've a proposition for the vase," she announced, waving the smoke out of her face. "Six hundred Galleons."
Black's eyes narrowed and he looked at her intensely. "Whose offer?"
Grace dropped his gaze. "Rasheed's."
Black swatted Rahima's gentle hands away. "Never," he growled. "Not to that viper."
Grace stood up, exasperated, and began to pace the room. "It's six hundred Galleons, Black!" she cried. "And why would it bother you so - it's just another artifact." She took another drag of the cigarette. "This is what we do. We steal and we sell. It's how we survive. How we've been surviving."
"With six hundred Galleons we could live for an entire year like kings," Hugo mused. "But something doesn't feel right."
Grace snorted. "Aren't you Mr. Literary Foreshadowing, then," she snarled. "None of us have touched Galleons in years. Galleons! They are fucking Galleons!"
"Grace, I do think we've gotten the point you're making," Rahima answered softly. "What do you know so far about this vase?"
"Its age and its former location. And that it was protected by Infection," Black sighed, rising up from the armchair. At the mention of the Pest, Rahima looked troubled, but quickly washed away her worries by vanishing into the kitchen. She reappeared later and poured Grace a glass of water.
"Here, drink it," she said. Grace complied, and sat down again.
"Black, I know you want to keep it. It's a fascinating object, but honestly, six hundred!"
"I don't think it's worth six hundred at all," Hugo announced abruptly. Grace, cigarette hanging from her lips, looked up suddenly.
"Think about it logically. Almost three thousand years old, and protected by Infection - one of the most violent Pests known to wizardkind. It shouldn't be worth six hundred Galleons, it should be worth six thousand."
"Six thou..." Grace's eyes went wide and her lips twisted into an eager smile. "We can milk him for more money!"
Black stood up and began to walk around. "What does he want with it, Grace? Has he told you that? Do you have any idea why he wants the urn?" He turned to stare at her. "What do you know about Rasheed?"
Grace met his eyes, stare for stare. "He wants power."
"And the urn must have some kind of properties that make it alluring to him." Hugo swore. "Having it fall into his hands would be ill-advised."
Grace furrowed her brow. "Yes, I can see that."
Black kept looking at her. "You'll go with Rahima, Grace. And you'll tell him No." Rahima thrust his head forwards and he growled at the sudden tension in his shoulders. Grace's mouth quirked.
"He won't be pleased by that a single bit."
"Let him salivate." Hugo's voice came at her from behind. His glasses had found their way back onto his face, and he flipped through a heavy tome. "We can afford it. Hell, it's not even his by right. Not even ours."
Grace raised her upper lip in half a snarl. "If I had ever bothered to believe in karma, I'd be a shuddering, nervous wreck by now. Luckily, dead pharaohs are exactly that. Dead." She shrugged as she stamped out the cigarette on the floor, littering the house with more ashes and dust. "They can't touch us."
"And well do I know it," Hugo responded. "How long do you have?"
"The old cliché," Rahima muttered. She wiped her hands with the cloth. "All right, Max. You're done. Feel better?"
"Like a dog in Egypt," he muttered, straightening. "Cat-country."
Grace laughed. "And you are one!"
Black's eyes narrowed. "You're the proper bitch here, then."
She affected hurt. "Touché, touché. Thank Rahima, don't let all your manners go to canine waste." She was suitably satisfied when he did so. Rahima flashed him a grateful smile and sighed, pulling out her wand.
"Really, sometimes I feel like a mother of wayward children," she said as she swept the room clean. Grace flopped back down into an armchair.
"Thank you. And, as per Black's darling request, would you mind accompanying me to market tomorrow? Apparently I need some kind of protection." She shot him a dark look which her companion promptly chose to ignore.
A ghost of a smile fluttered about Rahima's face. "I suppose I could clear my morning for such a thing," she replied, amused. Grace jumped up.
"Brilliant. Now, let's eat, because that fish is not getting any fresher. And I'm starving."
- - - - - - - - - -
Grace could not sleep that night. Waking up in a cold sweat after hours of tossing and turning, she slithered out of her sleeping bag and wandered towards the living room. The constraints of being unable to use magic itched at her, as they always did, when she saw the chaos reigning silently over the room. She lived in deplorable conditions, this she knew. Sighing, she bent down towards the nearly empty couscous plate, and scooped used cigarette butts, a broken lighter, and dirty socks into the dish. Walking towards the kitchen, she did not anticipate the crash that she made, nor the heavy steps - not hers - that thundered towards her after.
Immediately she crouched, muscles tense, and backed her way towards the living room. Her heels made no sound as they pressed against the dirty wooden floors, her weight was taught and stretched through her abdomen. The intruder's steps were nearing. She groped behind her for something - anything - to use as a weapon. Silently, her fingers curled themselves around the neck of a table lamp.
Slowly, the figure came into her view. Through the darkness, she could make out the form - it wasn't one familiar too her.
"I wouldn't move if I were you," Grace growled, her hands throbbing around the lamp. A wand's light flashed into her face and she was quickly blinded. Stumbling back, her head hit the wall.
"Oh, my goodness!" she heard, and quickly was hauled back up to her feet. "Grace, you mustn't scare me like that!"
Rahima. Grace blinked. It was Rahima. Of all the things - !
"I scare you?" Grace was astonished. "I was about to throw a lamp at your head! What are you doing here anyways?"
Rahima rolled her eyes as she sat Grace down on the couch. "I'd forgotten a vial, and I didn't want to wake you, so ..."
Grace gritted her teeth. "And it couldn't have waited until tomorrow?" she asked blithely. Rahima stared at her.
"Tomorrow's market day. You and I tell Rasheed that you're not selling, and then I have to go see my brother. His wife's pregnant."
"Congratulations," Grace answered distractedly. "Did you find it, though?"
Rahima wordlessly handed her the vial. A brown seed lay there, spitting small green shoots, swallowing them, and rubbing itself against the glass casing.
"Tentacula seedling," Rahima said matter-of-factly. Grace glared at her.
"What on earth were you doing bringing that into our house?"
Rahima waved her words away. "Hush. I'd been studying it when Max owled me, so I stuck it into my bag without much thought. Really, Grace, you're too suspicious for your own good. Rather like Max." She rose, offering Grace her hand. "Come, now. You should get to bed."
Wordlessly Grace followed her, her eyes darting into corners hidden by the shadows. Rahima was right. After days of strenuous activity - fighting, hunting, raiding, the list went on - a long, soothing sleep would only be well-deserved.
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