Chapter 2 : CHAPTER TWO
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After surviving a week co-operating with Scorpius Malfoy, Rose was certain she could survive anything. He was rude, arrogant and had a supreme superiority complex. All that power had well and truly gone to his head, Rose decided, sneaking a look at his face as they touched down at the Tangier-Boukhalef Airport. It had pleased her to no end to realise he was uncomfortable on planes: he had gripped the arm rests while crossing the Straits of Gibraltar. In fact, Rose realised, he had gripped the arm rests when they flew over the English Channel.
The moment she stepped off the plane Rose was slapped in the face by a hot, dry wind. Her hair whipped around her head and she snarled at the sky, hating the sun glaring at her from above, mocking her.
“I hear the nights are mildly cooler,” Scorpius called smugly, seeing her expression.
“I hate you,” Rose mumbled. She could feel her skin burning already. Her bag bumped against her legs and she shaded her eyes from the blinding sunlight, her mind skimming over the previous week, especially the weapons training. She had detested handling a gun; abhorred the feel of the metal, so cold and deadly, against her skin, but she had persevered, outdoing Scorpius in the end. Their instructor said it was about getting a feel for the weapon, forming a connection to it. The only thing Rose felt for her gun was a deep revulsion. Still, she had to admit she wasn’t bad with it. She hit the target more times than Scorpius, could strip the weapon down and reload it faster than Scorpius and her smaller hands made manoeuvring it smoother. He hadn’t liked that, and made some mumbled comment about how being closer to muggles in terms of blood status must have given her an advantage and Rose had contemplated using him for target practice.
He had, surprisingly, apologised for that afterwards; Rose figured his male pride was simply wounded. She knew he wasn’t a snob.
Scorpius checked their luggage at the airport; they had a flight out to Casablanca in two hours. They were meeting Albus at a busy cafe with a wide view of the Bay of Tangier. It was mid-morning, and Rose wished they had more time – worry for her cousin had been eating away at her, understanding a little more thoroughly exactly what he had been doing for so many months. The taxi wound through the Grand Socco, darting through traffic and Rose looked out the window hungrily as they went, her eyes devouring the city square. She saw women in colourful clothing selling vegetables by the roadside; saw numerous cafes, their old, decayed colonial grandeur speaking of a different time; and the turn off for the Medina and the way to the Mendoubia Gardens. In the distance she could just see the top of the Sidi Bou Abid Mosque.
Al was waiting for them in the cliff-top cafe, which was crawling with tourists, and Rose grinned at the sight of him, looking casual and like he belonged in this exotic part of the world. He raised his eyebrows at her and she laughed, folding him in a quick hug.
“You look like crap,” Rose smiled as she sat down. His hair was sticking up in all directions, and it appeared he hadn’t shaved the whole time he had been in Tangier. His face was wind and sun burnt, the skin around his eyes creased and cracked and he looked much older than his years. He grinned, showing white teeth.
“You wait; I’m sure you’ll look like crap after six months undercover,” Albus nudged her under the table with his foot. “Although I bet you’re being put up in the most expensive motel in Marrakech.”
Rose smiled. “I believe I have access to a spa.”
“Figures,” Albus laughed. “Here I am, slumming it in the Kasbah.” A tiny brunette woman emerged from the cafe, carrying a tray with four cups of tea. Rose could smell the mint before she set it down and she watched with interest as the woman slid into the chair beside Albus. He threw an arm around her shoulders in a familiar manner.
“Who is this?” Scorpius asked and Rose rolled her eyes. He was so direct he may as well have been an axe.
“I’m Isobelle,” the woman said softly, meaningfully. She had a slight accent that Rose could not place; perhaps Spanish, perhaps Italian with a hint of something else thrown in. She watched them watch her, her large doe-like brown eyes flicking between their faces with a trace of worry.
Scorpius frowned. “We were supposed to meet you in Casablanca.”
“I know,” she nodded, seeming to relax under his brashness, “but you have to understand, it’s extremely difficult to get away at the moment. One of our members was revealed as a sympathiser the other day and hauled off. We haven’t seen him since and I suspect he is dead.”
“It’s dangerous,” Albus said quietly, his hand tightening on her shoulder. “We’re all being watched very closely.”
“How many sympathisers are there?” Rose asked, sipping her tea. The mint was refreshing on her tongue, helping to soothe the terrible heat of the air around her.
Isobelle shook her head. “I couldn’t begin to tell you. We aren’t nearly as organised as the humanists.”
“Humanists?” Scorpius echoed. His tea sat untouched. Rose wanted to kick him – they were supposed to be posing as tourists.
“The pet name given to the For Humanity gang,” Albus said quietly. “They gave it to themselves, of course.”
“Why are you helping us?” Rose asked Isobelle quietly. The other woman smiled sadly.
“Because it is wrong for them to hate you simply because of what you are,” she answered softly. “There is no cause for it, nothing real anyway, only fear, and we cannot live in fear. Where is the chance for peace when everyone is looking over their shoulder, watching their neighbour, scared for their children. Meeting Albus, getting to know him...only cemented that belief.”
Isobelle slid a piece of folded paper across the table towards Scorpius, who took it casually, unfolding it. He frowned.
Albus smiled. “It’s charmed, mate. Rose will know what to do.”
Rose nodded. “Family secrets,” she explained as Scorpius raised his eyebrows.
“It’s all I have been able to discover,” Isobelle said. “If I find out more, I will contact you.”
“So how do we make contact with Cass and her people in Marrakech?” Rose asked, her eyes swinging to the Bay and quickly back when Al began to speak.
“She’ll come to you, if you make yourself obvious enough,” he said. “She has spies planted all over the city. Just take yourself to a bar, get drunk and shoot your mouth off.”
“That simple?” Scorpius frowned.
“Yeah mate. They’re desperate for as many people as they can get, especially after their last assassination didn’t come off too well – the wizard they were targeting got away, and Cass is convinced it was down to numbers,” Albus told Rose and Scorpius. “She might watch you a while before speaking with you; it’s her way of working out whether you’re just the bitch and moan type or the type to take up a weapon and easily murder innocent people.”
“What’s it been like, Al?” Rose asked quietly, pulling her lip between her teeth.
“You’re going to see things that will give you nightmares, hear things that will keep you awake half the night,” Albus said in a sad, flat voice. “I didn’t want to believe it, until I saw it. You’ve read the reports, but nothing will prepare you for seeing it in the flesh.”
Albus had nothing new to tell them, so they took a taxi back to the airport. Al was heading back to the Kasbah to sleep before his shift at the base that night and Isobelle was on her way into the city. At the airport, Rose waited while Scorpius spent twenty minutes at the flight desk, arguing about changing their booking. It was mid afternoon by the time they boarded their flight to Marrakech, and Rose was tired, hot, cranky and sick of his company already.
The snow-capped Atlas Mountains towered behind the city, like sentinels guarding some ancient treasure. She barely had time to get her bearings when Scorpius was ushering her into a taxi and they were zipping through the ancient, winding streets of the Medina, heading closer to the heart of the city. Their motel was something out of a dream. Rose climbed from the taxi, pushed the hair and sweat from her eyes and looked at the building appreciatively.
Built in the traditional style, the motel had a central courtyard with a sumptuous garden. It was, they were told, actually several Marrakchi riads combined into one. As they were led down a dark passageway, Rose felt she was entering Aladdin’s cave. She looked around in wonder, not doing anything to hide her awe, her senses taking in the colours and sounds; the tiny birds that flitted everywhere, the date palms and figs, the ripe smell of fruit and mint and the almost invisible sound of water trickling from a fountain. Each architectural feature ran seamlessly into another: the rows of arches around the central atrium, the carved timber, and all the sharp lines and smooth curves of an otherworldly design.
Outside their suite, Scorpius put his arm around her waist and planted a kiss below her ear. Rose froze, feeling every single muscle in her body tense. He tightened his grip, fingers digging into her skin. “At least look like you’re enjoying it,” he whispered, running his nose the length of her neck and along her collarbone, a show for the dark, willowy man who had escorted them.
Rose took a deep breath and twisted around, putting her hands on his chest. She leant up and kissed his cheek, threw back her head and laughed merrily. “Oh Scott, you say the naughtiest things. Can we just go in already? I want to see the city, and you promised you’d take me out for dinner.” She added a pout for good measure and flicked her pony-tail.
“Of course, pumpkin - anything for you,” he said sweetly, taking her hand.
She let go of him the moment the door had closed on them, wiping her fingers on the front of her shorts. It was ridiculously hot; sweat dripped down her back and the side of her face and she could feel it pooling along the top of her hips. She laughed. “Pumpkin?”
Scorpius ignored her and she shrugged, not caring. A warm, dry breeze sauntered in through the wide arched windows with all the subtly of a freight train. It slammed into them, throwing the sheer white curtains wide. Rose stood and watched them dancing.
Their suite was beautiful. It had a private balcony that looked out over the pool, and all the windows faced in towards the central courtyard of their riad. She wondered who was in the rooms across from them; another young couple perhaps, enjoying their honeymoon for real. The ceiling of their suite was high vaulted and hand-painted in such an intricate geometric design that Rose stood and stared at it until her neck hurt. The walls were a soft cream, and paintings, antiques and other beautiful artefacts decorated the room, which was at least sixty square metres in size, almost as large as Rose’s flat in London. The bathroom was marble and the most beautiful place Rose had ever seen, with a bath tub large enough for four people. The suite contained all the modern amenities: air-conditioning, satellite TV, phone, internet, and even a safe. There was also a large living room space endowed with a patterned woven carpet.
“It’s important that we maintain our cover at all times,” Scorpius said, flinging their suitcase onto the King bed with such force it bounced.
“I have done this before, you know,” Rose said wearily, wandering slowly around the room, fingers trailing over the furniture, the fabrics and the colours. It was another world and she breathed it in, feeling oddly drunk. She turned to look at Scorpius, standing near the bed, a lithe, pale thing in this world of colour and bursting fullness. She wondered if he ever noticed anything around him simply because it was beautiful and therefore, worth noticing.
His face was grave. “Not like this you haven’t.”
“Right and I suppose you infiltrate terrorist organisations all the time,” she muttered.
“Prickly, aren’t you? Not get your beauty sleep last night?”
“I just don’t like being taken for an idiot.”
“I’m only saying this is serious,” he said in a low voice.
She sighed. “I know; there is no need to continually remind me.”
He said nothing, straightening and looking around the room with feigned interest as he stretched. Rose heard his joints pop and he groaned, twisting from side to side. “I’m aching. Planes are uncomfortable things.”
Rose considered him a moment, before reaching into her handbag and pulling out some painkillers. She tossed them to him. “Here; two with water.”
“Thanks,” he said, sounding surprised.
“Anything so I don’t have to listen to you complain.”
“You can be a real bitch, you know that, don’t you?” he muttered, swallowing his tablets dry, not seeming to notice the bitter aftertaste. “How you haven’t gotten killed so far is beyond me. You’re rash and abrasive and that sort of attitude will get you in trouble. Think before you speak.”
Rose sighed and grabbed at the suitcase, riffling through it, making sure she tossed his clothes out and onto the floor. She held up her swimsuit in triumph.
“What are you doing?”
“We are going to enjoy the sights by the pool, husband,” she said. “Then we are going out to dinner. We are, after all, on our honeymoon.”
“You’re right,” he said after a moment of silence where Rose thought he was going to refuse and make her stay in their room. “We need to maintain pretence of-”
“Yes, yes,” she said airily, wandering to the bathroom to get changed. “Lighten up, Malfoy. You’re so uptight I’m surprised you haven’t split your brain in half.”
Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the colours, the sounds and the smells of this Northern African paradise that made Rose speak her mind so clearly to her senior officer. His eyes narrowed and he strode across the room with an expression of thunder and Rose had the terrible feeling he was going to hit her. Instead, he stopped just inches from her, looking at her seriously.
“We are at war, Weasley.”
“Scorpius, listen, I didn’t mean to imply that you...oh forget it; I’m just tired and hot and feeling a little overwhelmed at the moment, okay?”
He gave her a hard look but nodded, rubbing at his face. “Get changed and we’ll go out.”
They made it to the pool and not much further, Rose falling asleep on a sun lounge that was thankfully parked in the shade. When she woke, Scorpius was beside her, sunglasses on, pretending to read a tourist brochure. Rose knew he was really watching everyone around them, his eyes soaking up faces and descriptive detail.
She stretched and yawned to let him know she was awake and he gave her a sunny smile that startled her until she remembered they were supposed to be newlyweds. Playing the game, Rose reached over and ran her fingers through his hair, smirking when she felt his body stiffen.
“What time is it?” she asked, continuing to play with his hair. He reached up and removed her hand gently, holding it against his chest instead. She could hardly believe that in the sweltering heat he was cool to touch.
“Nearly seven. If we’re going out to eat we’d better go now.”
Rose sighed, reclaiming her hand and swinging her legs to the side, sitting up. In the shadow of the growing night that was sneaking across the city she almost glowed she was that pale. Scorpius too, she noticed. “At least we look like tourists. You do know that the occasional dose of sun is good for the body, don’t you?”
He scowled and stood up and Rose had to smother a giggle. He looked ridiculous in his Hawaiian print board shorts but she supposed she looked no better in a bright pink bikini that clashed with her hair; she vowed suddenly to burn it and buy another one tomorrow, in a more flattering shade. She liked the pool and had decided to spend more time there, when they weren’t working. Scorpius offered her his hand and she let him pull her to her feet.
Back in their room, Rose flopped on the bed. “Can we eat here?”
“I thought you wanted to go out?”
“I’ve changed my mind; it’s so hot I can barely think straight.”
Scorpius sighed and unceremoniously threw the restaurant menu at her. Rose skimmed it, decided what she would eat and then announced that tomorrow, she was visiting the spa. She needed a massage and some pampering. Scorpius reminded her curtly they were on a budget, and were in Morocco to work, not indulge themselves.
“Unless you want to rub my back for me?” she said, rolling onto her front, wanting to niggle him, just a little more. It seemed annoying Scorpius would be her only form of amusement for the next month or so, and in the current situation facing their world, she needed the occasional laugh.
“I will kill you before this is over, you know that, don’t you?” he muttered, and she heard him stalk out onto their private balcony. She changed her clothes and they made their way to the dining courtyard hand in hand, smiling and looking for all the world like the couple they were pretending to be. They smiled at each other over their meal and laughed at each others jokes. Scorpius even went so far as to spoon feed her dessert, and Rose could tell he was working hard not to shove the cutlery down her throat.
After dinner and a shower came the part Rose was not overly enthused about. Back in the suite, they stood either side of the large bed, looking anywhere but at each other. Eventually, she sighed, reaching for the light cover and throwing it back. The bed was big enough so that she wouldn’t have to touch him so Rose climbed in, kicking the crisp cream sheet all the way to the bottom. It was so hot it was suffocating. She rolled onto her side and felt the bed dip slightly as Scorpius lowered his weight onto the mattress. He didn’t say anything, and neither did she. He didn’t even move again once he’d lain down, so Rose flipped onto her back, wriggling around, trying to get comfortable. Sweat had beaded on her brow again, even though she was only five minutes out of the shower. Every article of clothing on her body felt too tight, constricted, and she was only wearing her light pyjamas.
She sighed, flinging her arms out, moving her legs, shifting her hips from side to side, her head twisting on the pillow. It was ridiculous. How was anyone supposed to sleep in this watery heat?
“Will you stop that?” Scorpius hissed from the darkness. Rose lay still, bunching her fists in the bottom sheet to prevent herself from screaming in sheer frustration. She was still awake at midnight, when a sultry breeze came striding through the windows and the chorus of frogs and birds was almost deafening.
“Air conditioning,” she mumbled gratefully, remembering. “Where’s the bloody remote?” She sat up, pulling at her hair and climbed off the bed, moving quickly around the room, searching.
“What are you moaning about now?” came a sleepy voice from the bed. Merlin he was a light sleeper. “Come back to bed.”
“Why, do you miss me already?”
“God, you’re a pain in the arse.”
“Where’s the air con remote?” Rose growled, shutting the windows forcefully.
“Because it’s hot, Scorpius. Hot, hot, hot. Those of us with blood in our veins feel the heat, okay?”
He tossed something across the room at her. It landed on the floor, narrowly missing her foot and she scooped it up. “If you turn this place into the Arctic you will wake up dead.”
“Such wonderful pillow talk, Malfoy.” Rose climbed back onto the bed, fumbling with the remote in the dark, muttering to herself. Scorpius switched on the small lamp near his side of the bed.
“Weasley, why are you in your underwear?”
Rose looked down at herself, noticing that her pyjamas were gone. “Weird. I must have taken my clothes off and not realised. I told you I was hot.”
Scorpius flopped over onto his belly and buried his head under the pillow, and Rose could still hear his grumbling as she lay back down, smiling as cool air washed over her skin.
So what do you think? I am still creating a sense of place and character but the story picks up very soon.
reviews are love
edited 24.11 for typos
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