Chapter 24 : Twenty-four
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She might well ask. At the moment, they were standing several feet away from a stinking pile of trash, and they could hear the scurry of rodent-feet. Around the far corner came sounds of a raucous street fair, and furtive shadows lurked near it. The other end of the alley was dark. Everywhere was thick, dry dust, except for that stinking kitchen midden, which smelled wetly of rotting entrails and sour milk.
‘“Three reasons," said Harry calmly, releasing her from the embrace in which they’d Disapparated and taking her hand to guide her down toward the dark end. The directions to the hotel had been very clear. “It’s warm, which I feel we deserve, being late December, and coming from northern climates as we do. Second, they have an excellent wizard hotel— much better than England and France, by the way, and the food is better. Third, it’s one of the few warm places where you haven’t made any bitter, life-threatening enemies. I didn’t fancy taking on trolls or Darkers on this trip, and I suspected that you would rather not, either. Besides, I’ve never been here, have you?”
“No, I missed Egypt on my world tour. That’s how I managed to avoid making enemies. Mind you, I’m not complaining, just wondering—”
It had been a long day, and they had Apparated into an earlier time zone, losing an hour in the process. The distance was such that they decided to take three Apparates. Better safe than sorry, Harry pointed out. Now they were walking down a Muggle street in Luxor on their way to the magical neighborhood. Because of a history of terrorism, the entire neighborhood was warded against foreigners Apparating in. There were also restrictions on Disapparating, because of artifact smuggling. Their luggage had been sent out that morning, so all they had to bring was themselves.
They rounded the corner of the dusty, dark alley and emerged into the gardens and terraces of the Ra Dynasty Hotel, an imposing and ancient edifice that had been converted to a modern luxury resort. The lush front gardens were blazing with torches and lamps, flowers and fountains, palm trees and statues. It was spectacular. Flying carpets were coming and going at the front door, where two liveried doormen in purple and gold robes and turbans were posted, opening the doors, hailing taxi-carpets, helping people in and out.
Harry guided her up the shallow steps of the terraces and gradually toward the front doors. Graínne looked about with interest, pausing to admire a statue or smell a rose. She was very casual, but Harry became aware of a tension in her bearing, and her eyes continually returned to the entrance of the hotel.
“One of them is an Animagus,” she murmured. “The dude on the left.”
“Doormen? Duly noted,” he murmured back. She was intuitive; even though there was no hint of danger, she was alert to something. Perhaps it was only the habits that came with her gift; she automatically spotted and cataloged Animagi. He guided her more purposefully forward, as there was a break in the carpet traffic. “We’re really going to have to take a flight, you know.”
“Yes, I wouldn’t like to miss the opportunity. Never had a carpet ride before.”
“The dude on the left” stepped forward to block their way as they approached the doors. “Sorry, no Muggles,” he said flatly, rudely. He was not a native. Graínne thought he might be American, but with other influences in his accent.
“We’re not Muggles,” Harry objected firmly. “We had to Apparate into a Muggle road, as you should well know, because of the terrorism restrictions. We would never have made it to the door if we were Muggles because of the distraction warding. Now, I know for certain your manager will not like guests who have reserved the executive suite to be treated so shabbily.”
He looked balky, despite the mention of the most expensive accommodations the hotel boasted. People used that line all the time to get by him. The other doorman looked like he wanted to intervene, but he didn’t get the chance.
“Are you a registered Animagus?” Graínne asked sharply, in her best impression of McGonagall.
The first doorman gaped at her. “Wha—?” he gasped, going pale.
“Take your gecko ass out of the way,” Graínne whispered, drawing her wand from her sleeve on instinct. Something seemed a little wrong about all this. Not very dangerous, but a little.
The other doorman, whose badge proclaimed him to be Feisal, whisked open the door and called “Mr. Harrison!” very loudly. Then he leapt and tackled the Animagus, who was starting to run away. Harry automatically put Graínne behind him and drew his own wand. He stunned both doormen as the manager came running out. Mr. Harrison drew his wand and turned on Harry, but Graínne grabbed his wrist in a vice-like grip that made the oily-looking man’s eyes fairly bug out.
“You so do not want to hex him,” she said coolly, squeezing. “He’s Harry Potter, and I can and will break your wrist if you do not drop that wand.”
“Harry Potter?” he squeaked, alarmed. The wand dropped from his hand, which was quickly going numb, but the pain in the wrist was getting to be harsh.
“I hated to stun both of them, but I wasn’t sure who was right and who was wrong,” Harry explained apologetically, looking down on the limp doormen. He was very conscious of the gathering crowd. “Graínne, you can let him go now—”
“He was going to hex you—!”
“But he’s not now—”
“You don’t know that,” she hissed. She pointed her wand at the two prostrate doormen and hogtied them, still holding on to the manager.
“Did you know that hogtying seems to be a very American thing to do?” Harry asked her casually.
“I didn’t, no. Is it really?”
“I don’t know of anyone else except you and your brothers and dad who do it. Well, Ron and I do, because you taught us, but most of us British do a sort of caterpillar thing.”
“Yes, I seem to recall that. Hogtie is so very humiliating, though.”
“That’s why Ron and I like it. Probably why the old school Aurors don’t care for it, though.”
“I can see your point. But even in the traditional British form, a prisoner could move. Hogtie prevents that completely. Rolling over or wiggling across the floor is completely impossible—”
The manager whimpered. His wrist really hurt now. Graínne gave a little start of surprise, as if she had forgotten him. “Oh. Uh. Did you know that one is an Animagus?” Her voice went from casually chatting to very hard, very fast.
“No!” he squeaked quickly.
Harry and Graínne both turned and looked at him measuringly. It was a little too quick, that denial. They glanced at each other and nodded.
A wizard in khaki uniform robes burst out of the door next. He had sandy red hair and lots of freckles, and he was built rather solidly, like a rugger. “No one moves!” he shouted in an Irish accent, pointing his wand from Harry to Graínne and back.
“Law enforcement?” Harry asked quickly.
“Aye, Lieutenant Cary O’Fallon, Alexandria Division. You are?”
“Harry Potter, Auror, UK.”
“And you?” He looked next at Graínne.
Lieutenant O’Fallon looked confused. “Sister?” he asked Harry, surprised.
“Wife, you idiot,” Harry growled.
“Lieutenant O’Fallon,” said Graínne mildly, squeezing Harrison’s wrist a little tighter to prevent him from struggling. He whimpered in pain again. “Were you wanting an Animagus?”
“Ani-- well, that would explain the thefts! Who is it?”
“That one there, on the right. And I think you’ll want to talk to this Mr. Harrison here as well,” said Harry, and with a wave of his wand he handcuffed Mr. Harrison, who immediately started howling denials. Lieutenant Cary O’Fallon took the two into custody, and Harry released Feisal. The Potters apologized nicely to him and pressed a large tip upon him to compensate in the most token of manners for the inconvenience and discomfort. Mr. Driscol, the assistant manager on duty, registered Harry and Graínne himself, and escorted them and their trunks up to their suite.
“The theft problems have been going on over a year,” he explained, keeping his voice low as they entered the lift. “The owners suspected there was more than one person involved. We hired extra officers from Alexandria, and when one of the ambassadors lost some valuables here, Law Enforcement opened an investigation and assigned more officers. That’s where Lieutenant O’Fallon came from. This is one of the safest places to stay in all of Egypt. The owners will be so grateful!”
“There’s no guarantee that those two are responsible,” said Graínne reasonably, raised in an innocent until proven guilty legal climate. “It could be mere circumstance.”
The lift doors opened onto a locked door, which he opened with a key, which he gave into Harry’s hand. “This is the only lift that accesses your suite, and the attendant, Daoud, will not bring anyone to your door without your permission. The night attendant for this lift is Azim. He goes on duty at midnight. As for circumstance, Mrs. Potter, time will tell, of course.” He agreed with the obsequious readiness of a well-trained tip-seeker, a casual acknowledgement that she was entitled to her opinion, especially because she had money, but there was really no doubt in his mind over the guilt of the parties in question. “Here we are, sir and madam. May I get anything else for you? A late supper? A masseuse or two?”
“Let me see—” Harry looked around the parlor room, spotted the ice bucket with the champagne in it and two crystal champagne flutes beside it, a plate of fruit, and shook his head. “Anything, Graín?”
“Just the door closed behind you,” she said with a dazzling smile so that her words could not be construed as rude.
Harry held out coins, but Driscol shook his head. “No, thank you sir. Our regular bellhops will be glad to accept tips, but I cannot. Please let us know if we can serve.” He bowed his way out.
Harry locked the door and warded it before he turned to look at Graínne, who was looking around the parlor of the finest suite in the hotel. She was wearing a silk Estari couture suit of emerald green that fit like a glove, but no wizarding robes at all, a pair of green stiletto heels, a charming little hat (which she was now taking off), and her hair was up in a smooth French twist, the curls magically tamed for the day. Harry shrugged out of his suit coat and hung it on a hanger from the closet by the door, and loosened his tie as he glanced around the room, but his eyes went back to her. She was peering into the bathroom, her curiosity a cover for the sudden wave of nerves she was experiencing. She needed to be normal.
“Oooh, a Jacuzzi.” Her voice echoed on the marble surfaces. “This is decadent. Makes the Head Girl’s tub look like a bird bath.” It’s silly to be nervous. He’s seen the scars, he’s fine with your body, and you want him. Last night you had to talk him out of having sex. He’s said he wants you.
“Champagne, love?” he called, opening the bottle carefully.
“Please.” She looked into the bedroom. “Wow! It’s like Arabian nights in there!”
“Really? Veils and camels and scimitars? Geniis and forty thieves and Caves of Wonder?”
She laughed, crossing to him to accept a glass. “Well, silk veils and gilded stuff, anyway. It certainly looks like the Cave of Wonders, but the legends I recall have that as a very deadly place. So let’s not make that association. Mmm, thanks, I have been needing a drink! I stayed away from liquor at the reception, as our family and friends were imbibing so very freely. Who knew my father and your uncle would go head to head with tequila shots?” She began to prowl around the room again.
“Yes, Sev and Zanni will have back orders on hangover remedies. My aunt developed a quick liking for McGonagall Black Label, didn’t she?” He pretended not to notice the nervous babble or the prowling, but acknowledged to himself that there’d been a lot of build up to this event, and he was rather anxious about it himself. It’s Graínne, the only woman you ever actually wanted to do more than kiss with, he reminded himself. She came back to be with you. Last night you practically had to hold her off at arm’s length until she would stop trying to seduce you. Don’t be a prat.
“I’m afraid my mother will have drunk her into the ground, if that’s what they were competing with. She grew up on the stuff. Used to make cough syrup for us with it, mostly honey and a little family distilled. And let us not even contemplate what poor Dudley will feel like tomorrow, between the Weasleys and the Camerons.”
Harry chuckled a little darkly. “Think of it as penance. He may be okay now, but he’s still an arse, and I owe him quite a bit of payback.”
Time to change the subject, she saw. “You look fabulous, have I mentioned that?”
“Don’t recall. So do you.” He recognized the change for what it was, but didn’t care to have compliments at the moment, so he made a change of his own. “Sorry about what happened downstairs—”
“I started it,” she laughed. “Oh, darling, we are going to call attention to trouble wherever we go. That’s what we’ve always done, it’s how we’re made. I only hope I’m not really an adrenaline junkie like Mom always said I was.”
“If you are, then we are two of a kind, Mrs. Potter.”
She grinned at the name. Suddenly all her anxiety vanished, and Harry came into the center of her attention. Her beloved Harry. The only one she had ever loved or wanted.
“I rather liked you coming to my defense like that. Almost as much as I have liked coming to yours, lately.” He could see something change in her face, the tension falling away, and felt a rush of relief. Everything would be fine, now. Love and desire came back into focus.
“I like both of those, too. Very natural-feeling, very— I don’t know, like the universe is all lined up in the correct places. Good. Right.”
“Yes. This is how we were meant to be.” With a wave of his hand, he lowered the level of lighting, and walked toward her. “Know what?” he asked, setting his glass down as he passed a convenient table.
“What?” She watched him approach, smiling.
“We’re married and alone.”
She laughed, putting her glass down on the nearest table and looping her arms around his neck as he pulled her tightly to him. “So we are, at long last! No one is going to interrupt us, we can’t get embarrassed or yelled at—”
He silenced her effectively.
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