Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to JK Rowling. I am merely telling a story in her world for the fun of it.
AN: Thanks to my beta team Velvet Mouse and Sovran for their work on this project. For those who are interested, you can join my Yahoo Group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/in_my_own_words/ to get updates on future chapters.
After a half hour of climbing through the labyrinth of caves beneath the temple of Itzamna, Ginny stepped out onto the upper steps of the temple and sank down onto her haunches with her head cradled in her crossed arms. Above her, the Yucatan night was brightly lit by the waning full moon. The Milky Way threaded across the cloudless heavens like a silvery path. With summer past and the dry season just beginning, a cool breeze caressed the jungle trees and played across the peak of the temple. The night thrummed with the buzz of insects, and the chattering of spider monkeys was interrupted by the occasional growl of a hunting jaguar. Among the vibrant sounds of life, Ginny could barely distinguish the inelegant fumbling of Wendal and Sarah as they tried to extract themselves from the tomb.
The breath of the jungle was a muted backdrop, however, to the turmoil within Ginny. Her heart was thundering in her chest like an enraged erumpent, and her breath was bellowing as she sucked in the cool night air.
She was scared and angry, but beneath it all was a whispering voice telling her that it would be so simple, just a matter of a few well placed spells and hexes, and she would never have to deal with them again. “An accident,” she said in a whisper. “A simple accident.”
Biting her tongue and shaking her head, she focused on the pain and willed away the dark thoughts. She had to be in control. Closing her eyes, she sought out the calm center that resided within her. It wrapped about her, and she felt herself come into focus. She fought back a sob as the adrenaline that had propelled her upwards from the tomb disappeared, leaving only pain.
Her body was screaming in agony. With every breath there was a flare of fire in her side, and she was certain that she had bruised, if not broken, a rib in the initial moments of the fight. Her hands were scraped and raw, her shoulder throbbed in pain, and she knew that the stiffness in her back meant she had a nasty bruise from the cutting curse her clothes had deflected.
“Curator Weasley?” a voice called from behind her. It was concerned and deep, but Ginny found it was getting hard to concentrate. Was that Wendal?
Shivering in the night air, Ginny was aware of a cool, sticky dampness along her side. Reaching down, she found her shirt wet and plastered to her skin beneath her jacket. Bringing her hands up in front of her face, she could see her tanned skin glowing in the moonlight, dripping with dark blood. When had she been hurt? Dimly, she recalled the burning line of fire along her side from the initial attack.
“Merlin!” A thin face floated in front of her, taking her hand. “We need to get you to a healer. Sarah …” The voice faded away, as Ginny slipped into darkness, the blood dripping from her hand.
She was in the cavern behind Slytherin’s statue again, the smell of dank earth filling her nostrils as people shouted around her. There were flashes of light, and she could see the limp form of Remus Lupin sprawled across the tunnel floor. His chest was rising and falling in short gasps, but his eyes were vacant.
She could not remember why her back was against the wall or why she was even in the shadowy basilisk lair. Worried for Remus, she tried to reach for him, but her body was sluggish and her hands were entangled in something.
She was so cold. Cold and numb, and she was scared. High pitched laughter echoed through the cavern, and it chilled her heart. Tom was happy. He was happy because of the trap, she suddenly remembered. The trap for …
Where was Harry? Panicked, her gaze darted about the room until she saw Harry. He was running toward her, his green eyes wide in fear, burning with purpose even though his face was caked with dirt and blood. He was screaming her name, and she was confused.
Why was he worried? She was only resting. Looking down, her head spun as she saw her clothes drenched in blood. She could see white bones protruding from her chest, and her hands were pressed against her abdomen, holding in purplish coils of what looked like sausage.
“Ginny!” Harry screamed. His voice was like thunder in her ears. “Don’t die. Please don’t die. I’m so sorry. Ginny! Ginny! Gin …”
Flailing at the sheets, Ginny gasped and opened her eyes to an undulating ceiling of day-lit canvas. Confused, she sat up and looked around before realizing that she was in one of the tents curse breaking teams always set up near the sites in case of injury. Because of the seven other cots covered by crisp white linens and the large potion cabinet along one wall, she was certain it was not the tent near Itzamna. No, this was more like the medical tent near her offices in Merida.
Taking several, deep, calming breaths, Ginny massaged her temples. Curse breaking was a dangerous career, so waking up in a hospital tent was the least of her concerns. The dream, however, bothered her. She thought she had put that moment aside long ago.
It had been the summer after her seventh year, and she was a few months into her apprenticeship for Gringotts. She had not yet left England when Harry, Ron and Hermione appeared at the Burrow one evening in late July. They had discovered that the last Horcrux was hidden within Hogwarts itself. Over the next few days they planned the expedition to Hogwarts, and Ginny convinced Harry to bring her along now that the Unbreakable Vow to complete school, which her mother had forced her into before her sixth year, was fulfilled.
The prospect of being at Harry’s side as he searched out the pieces of Tom’s soul had filled Ginny with an eager zeal. The letters from Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and the brief time she spent looking for the Horcruxes before her seventh year, had instilled in her a glorified fantasy of Harry’s task. More importantly, Bill was teaching her many tricks of the trade, and she desperately wanted to try her hand at a real challenge instead of the theoretical tombs she was instinctively unlocking.
Ginny had a knack for curse breaking. From the first moment she took up the theoretical work, it was like flying a broom. She knew how to ferret out the traps and the hidden tricks that protected one curse or overlayed another as easily as she could loop, roll, and dive in the air. It was a puzzle, and while everyone else fumbled with the individual pieces, she had the final picture and only needed to find the proper piece and make it fit.
It was simple to convince Harry to let her join in the expedition, as Remus, Tonks, and Mad-Eye Moody would also be there. They had traveled to Hogwarts and descended into the Chamber of Secrets again before delving into the lair of the basilisk itself.
Behind the statue of Salazar Slytherin, they found a frightening series of challenges left by Voldemort. For Ginny, it was more than the nightmare of facing the Chamber again, for as they struggled through the traps and curses, she found herself fumbling to break curses she had breezed through days before. It was as if someone had put blinders on her so that she could only see what was in front of her. Her instincts failed her many times, and often misled her. Several times, Harry had stepped in to direct her efforts, and by the time they had reached the staff, Ginny was unsure that curse breaking was her calling.
Ravenclaw’s Staff rested in the sleeping chamber of the basilisk. The chamber was worn smooth as glass by centuries of the monster’s scales rubbing against the walls. In one wall, a niche was carved deep into the granite, and the staff rested on a wooden stand within.
Her revealing charm indicated no magic beyond the staff itself and the soul within it. But, when Harry took the staff from its resting place, they all heard the audible click in the chamber and saw the flare of magic that sealed them all in the tunnel. Frantically, they tried to escape as Voldemort himself appeared in the chamber with several Death Eaters. Voldemort and the Death Eaters dropped their Portkey as the first curses were cast.
The battle was intense. Harry and the others covered Ginny and Hermione as they worked to unseal the Chamber so they could escape. Trusting in Harry and her friends, Ginny worked diligently and brought down the wards after several minutes, but it was too late.
As she turned around, she saw the green light of the Killing Curse strike Mad-Eye Moody, and another silvery spell engulf Remus Lupin. His screams echoed in the Chamber, and Ginny responded without thought. She sent Remus’ attacker flying into the wall, where he crumpled bonelessly, a smear of blood on the stone from where his head hit. Struggling to reach Remus, she never saw Voldemort, but the cutting curse he sent at her tore her open and slammed her into the wall.
Snippets of dreams and occasional flashes of panic were all that she remembered past that moment. The next thing she did remember was waking up in the Hogwarts Hospital Wing a week later, Harry asleep in a chair next to her, holding her hand. She later learned that Voldemort had attacked her to distract Harry, who lost the staff in order to save her. Voldemort had retreated with his Horcrux, and Harry had been forced to keep her alive with his rudimentary knowledge of medical charms, as he was the only one left healthy in the entire debacle.
Hermione and Ron had been knocked out and hurt by falling rocks. Tonks had been hit with the Cruciatus curse and been held under it for a long time. She had been out of action for several weeks, but Ginny had been the worst. She had been in the hospital for two months healing from her injuries, and she still bore the scar from that attack. Despite his best efforts, Harry had healed her too quickly, and it had left a mark.
Pulling herself into a seated position, she opened the front of her shirt and let her fingers play along the raised skin that trailed between her breasts, down across her abdomen, and over her right hip. It no longer bothered her. For years, she had refused to wear any clothes that revealed skin, but in time she simply accepted it as a lesson hard won. It was just damaged skin; there were worse things, as the war had taught her.
The loss of Ravenclaw’s Staff changed the war and their lives. Harry, Ron, and Hermione had disappeared a week after Ginny woke up. The relationship that she and Harry had been fixing crumbled because of her injury. Harry was unwilling to risk her life in a crusade that he was certain would be fatal to him, but the fault of their separation did not lay entirely with Harry. Ginny had taken the opportunity to leave. She had been hurt, lost, and scared. Retreating to Egypt and helping Harry from a distance while she finished her apprenticeship allowed her to deal with her wounds in her own way.
But some wounds still remained and would never scar over, she decided as she swung her legs off the edge of the bed. Ginny stood and hissed in surprise. She remembered the pain that had coursed through her body and was surprised that, other than a slight stiffness in her side, she was healed. Walking to the end of her bed, she found her clothes piled on a small table.
Tamping her feet into her boots, she laced them up and stood. She grabbed her field jacket off the stool. There was a large tear in the left side where the cutting curse had hit her, but otherwise it was in good shape. Her wand and a few small personal effects were on the stool under the jacket.
Grabbing her wand, she repaired the rip in the jacket and pulled it on. The charmed field jacket became cool against her skin, making the heat a bit more bearable. Grabbing her watch, she checked the time and date. It was nearing noon, which meant she had been out for about 12 hours.
Besides a few Galleons and Sickles, two necklaces lay on the stool. One was the jade amulet she had claimed as her first right in the tomb. The other she snatched up instantly and secured about her neck. The necklace was a tear drop pendant of crystal clear quartz the size of her middle finger. Suspended in the quartz was a single white feather. The pendant was held by a braided rope in an intricate knot. As the quartz settled over her heart, she became calm and the last cobwebs of sleep and doubts fled from her conscious mind.
Fingering her necklace, Ginny picked up the other amulet. She began to slip it over her head, before she stopped and held it in front of her face. Despite being clean of magic, something was off about the amulet. It called to her, and she was tempted to turn it over to the goblins, but she had checked it. Although most magic could be seen with a revealing charm, there were some that resisted all detection even with extensive spellwork. Her instincts told her it was perfectly safe. She could unravel its mysteries herself, she decided. Pocketing the amulet, she grabbed the Galleons and whistled a cheerful tune as she walked out of the tent.
Once outside, she was beyond the silencing charm that covered all healer tents, and Ginny was assaulted by the bustling sound of the base camp for all Gringotts operations in Central America. Unlike New York and Brasila, the headquarters for North and South America respectively, Central America did not have a Gringotts branch office. Historically, there had been a Gringotts branch in Mexico City that had been established to support the Spanish wizards and their “treasure hunting” during the early colonization of the area. However, a goblin uprising during the 1800’s ended in the death of several dozen prominent Spanish wizards, and the wizards purged the goblins from Mexico and seized the gold.
Ginny doubted that any purge of goblins would keep them out of an area if they desired to be there. Instead she was certain that it was the bizarre lack of any native wizarding population in the Yucatan or the isthmus leading to South America that had forestalled further exploration by the goblins. There were several native populations of wizards scattered about Northern and Central Mexico, but the early explorers had come to the conclusion that the Yucatan peninsula was one of the rare anomalies that occurred in isolated populations, and that magic had been bred out of the region millennia ago. It was not until 1910 that it was discovered that the Maya had a native wizarding population in their past that had disappeared several hundred years before the first European wizard ever set foot in the jungles.
For the last century, most of the curse breaking teams in Central America had either been independents or teams from North America sent to investigate a new find. However, the magic of the Maya was unlike any seen by most Western wizards, and the tombs ended up being almost impossible to crack. Over the years, the Mayan tombs had claimed dozens of teams, but more teams continued to be sent because the tombs that were opened paid out rich dividends.
When Ginny had arrived in the Yucatan right after the end of the Second War, there were two teams operating in the Yucatan under the direction of the Senior Curator of the Americas. She had taken the charms specialist position in one of the teams, but both teams died in the first tomb she entered with them when the hexologists ignored all the suggestions and warnings she gave. So, she had alerted the goblins and opened the tomb with the team they sent to help her. She had then been promoted to hexologist and given her own team to run. Through vigorous research and her own brand of intuitive luck, Ginny had led first her team, and then two others, through dozens of Mayan and Aztec tombs.
As the treasure began to flow like a river from the Gulf of Mexico to the shores of England, Gringotts took notice and created the Curator of Central America position and gave it to her. They had assigned four teams to her, and during the previous two years, she had added an additional two. Now they were considering opening a branch office in either Mexico City or Merida.
In the meantime, Ginny had to make do with her makeshift headquarters near Merida. The camp was a series of a thirteen large tents arranged in two concentric circles around a classical period Mayan temple that rose above the scrub filled plains. The outer seven tents belonged to the regional healer and the six curse breaking teams that Ginny managed. They were large and well appointed tents that easily held a full team plus their gear. Although simple in appearance, the magically expanded interiors were well furnished and heavily decorated by the treasure the teams earned.
The inner tents held the administrative staff for Central America. Two of the tents contained the voluminous research materials Ginny had collected in her seven years in the Yucatan. Another was home to the five goblins that worked with her and kept track of the treasure found on the sites. The next two tents housed Ginny’s administrative staff and their offices and personal quarters. The last tent was her personal domicile. As a curator she rated private quarters, and although her tent was smaller than the team tents, she preferred it to sharing a tent with five foul mouthed and lonely wizards.
Walking toward the inner ring of six tents, Ginny noticed Hexologist Bashir’s young apprentice coming out of his tent, burdened with a chest as long as he was tall. Ginny grinned. Apprentices were not allowed to use magic unless they were practicing curse breaking. It was to build up strength and stamina and to become accustomed to the hard life curse breakers lived. Bashir’s apprentice, Adalay Diggory, was only a few months out of Hogwarts, but he did show promise. Now, if she could remove his fascination with Satterfield, she could propel his career forward.
Ginny fell in step beside Diggory as he walked past the inner tents. “Morning, Apprentice Diggory,” Ginny said. “When did Hexologist Bashir get back from Ahwah?”
Startled, the tall boy stumbled a bit and dropped the box. Ginny caught it with a quick levitation charm and held it in place as Diggory grabbed it again. “Sorry, Curator Weasley,” Diggory said throwing her a dazzling smile. For a moment, Ginny saw Adalay’s older brother Cedric as he had been during the Triwizard Tournament in Ginny’s third year. Cedric had died when Voldemort was resurrected during the culmination of the tournament. Adalay had only been two at the time, but the resemblance was uncanny. The two were almost identical, except Adalay had his mother’s dark complexion.
“My fault entirely, Mr. Diggory,” Ginny said. “Where are you headed with that?”
“To the temple,” he said with a proud smile. “Hexologist Bashir let me open the tomb at Ahwah. This is my virgin prize.”
Ginny grimaced. Even after years as a curse breaker, she could not get over the blatant chauvinism among curse breakers. Tombs were always referred to as women, and the euphemisms that followed were as colorful as they were vulgar. Until more witches entered the field, Ginny had little hope for a change in the slang of the teams, but it still grated on her nerves.
“I really didn’t expect it,” Diggory said, continuing on, blithely unaware of Ginny’s frown and dark look. “We were in front of the burial chamber, working through the manual. I was resting a bit and staring at these glyphs when one caught my eye. It reminded me of something in that packet you gave me. So I dug it out and then it all came together.”
“You keep my cultural packet on you?” Ginny asked, surprised.
“Hexologist Bashir insists on it,” Diggory explained.
Ginny nodded. Alexander Bashir was one of the few curse breakers that had respected her from the moment they met. Intelligent and competent, the Hong Kong born Englishman was an adventurer at heart and had refused several curator posts to stay inside tombs. Ginny had considered it a coup when she had convinced him to come to Central America rather than to continue serving in the Orient despite Senior Curator Patil’s lucrative offers.
“It was a right spot of luck that I decided to look up the glyph I didn’t recognize,” Diggory continued as the two stepped into the cool shade of the temple. “The glyphs were flanking the entrance to the tomb, just a single column on each side. We had passed them off as pure balderdash ‘cause they read like a babbling hex, but then I checked your notes and caught on that columns of glyphs were always paired. So quicker than a house elf can clean, I translated the stuff and opened the tomb.”
“Most tombs are like that,” Ginny said, clapping him on the shoulder again in congratulations. “A little trick and misdirection does as much as a well contrived curse.”
“Yeah, well, I always dreamed my virgin prize would come from some spectacular find, but I guess it don’t really matter,” Diggory said as they came to a set of stairs leading down into the tomb. Ginny’s office was to the right, and she knew Diggory was taking his prize to the vaults the goblins had installed in the lower catacombs of the temple. “Hexologist Bashir was crowing like a rooster about me. I think I could even cast a Patronus right now.”
“You always remember your first,” Ginny said. Her virgin prize had been earned in a small tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Bill had wanted her to gain her confidence back after the incident with Ravenclaw’s Staff, and she had led the team through the small tomb from the first trap to the burial chamber. For her first right, she had claimed a clay tablet with the story of the tomb’s occupant on it. The tablet still sat on a shelf in her office and was one of her most prized possessions. “Good job, Mr. Diggory, and, when you’re done with that, let Hexologist Bashir know I’d like to talk with him. I have another site for you lot to clean up for me.”
“Sure thing, Curator Weasley,” Diggory said before disappearing down the stairs.
Ducking underneath a limestone archway, Ginny made her way down a narrow passageway to her office. Although most of the administrative work was handled in the tents, the goblins had turned the temple into a temporary bank to hold all the treasure. The catacombs beneath the temple had been enchanted and burrowed out to protect the items that were stored on site. Each dig had its own vault, and the five goblins assigned to her region were responsible for maintaining the records and guarding the gold and treasure.
Eventually, all the administrative functions would be moved into the reclaimed temple, but the goblins were buried under several backlogged tombs. Ginny was hoping that the message from London was about sending her more goblins or increasing her teams. As much as she hated to admit it, suspending Satterfield’s team was going to hurt her. Although she was well ahead of her projected totals for the year, she was six months behind on the list of tombs the goblin surveyors had mapped out the previous year.
Taking the last turn that would lead to her office, Ginny was surprised to see light spilling into the corridor, and to find that the entrance to her office was wide open. However, she could hear Sarah’s voice chatting amicably with another person.
Stepping through the limestone doorway, Ginny entered her office. It was no more than fifteen paces square, but the far wall had been charmed to show a stone half wall of an upper balcony overlooking the Yucatan rain forest. The rest of the limestone and granite walls were covered in cherry stained maple book shelves. Sarah was arranging paperwork on Ginny’s mahogany desk and chatting with Wendal Coombs, who was seated in one of the two plush leather reading chairs in the far corner of the office.
As she stepped into the room, Wendal leapt to his feet and was at her side in two long strides. “Curator Weasley,” he said. “Are you okay? Healer Devon assured me that you’d be fine, but there was so much blood and it took forever to create the bloody portkey and it was so dark …”
“Calm down, Wendal,” Ginny said, patting the man’s arm. “You got me out of there, and I’m fine. You did good. No point in beating yourself up over it, unless you didn’t want me to survive.”
“N-n-no! I’d never … I …” Wendal exaggerated wildly with his hands, backing away from Ginny in horror.
Ginny laughed at the shocked expression on Wendal’s face. “I’m putting you on, Wendal.” As Wendal calmed down, Ginny took a deep breath. “You saved my life, Wendal. I wasn’t in control yesterday, and it almost cost me. You watched my back, and I’ll never forget it.” Ginny turned from Wendal to look at her assistant. “You too, Sarah. Your impeccable timing kept us both alive.”
“Anyway,” Ginny said, brushing her hands together as if to clean away the conversation, “is Satterfield’s team back in camp yet?”
“No, Curator,” Sarah said. “But I sent some of Bashir’s men down there last night to observe and make sure nothing was stolen.”
“Good thinking,” Ginny said, as she walked behind her desk and sat down. A roll of thick parchment was waiting for her. It had a blue ribbon wrapped about it, and the red wax Seal of Gringotts was unbroken. “Depending on what this is, I want Bashir’s team to clean out and catalogue Itzamna.”
“They’re going to protest, Curator,” Sarah said. “They’ve been in the field for four months and are due some time off. The men I sent last night were swearing like jarveys when I told them they were going out again.”
Ginny sighed and rubbed her temples. “They will get Satterfield’s share of the treasure as well as their own if they’ll do it. And they’ll get a week off before their next assignment, in addition to what they’re owed.”
“I’ll draft the papers. Is there anything else?”
“Just a minute,” Ginny said as she picked up the missive from London. The moment she touched it, the wax seal dissolved, and the ribbon fell to her desktop. Unrolling the parchment, she scanned the short message and frowned.
A meeting regarding activities within the Yucatan Peninsula and developing prospects has been scheduled for 2pm on the afternoon of October 1st, 2011 in the Eastern Conference Room, South Corridor, at Gringotts Diagon Alley. Your presence is required for this meeting. The attached ribbon is an international portkey scheduled to transport you two hours after opening this letter.
Please be prompt,
Goblin Elder Forgelaw
Director for Central America
“Director Forgelaw wants to see me tomorrow in London,” Ginny said. Crumpling the message, she dropped it into her wastebasket where it was devoured.
“London?” Sarah and Wendal exclaimed in unison.
“That’s … well, unprecedented,” Wendal said. “Are you being promoted?”
Ginny shook her head. Although curators were regularly called out of the field for various reasons, they rarely traveled to London. Ginny had been called away several times in the last few months, mostly to New York where Gringotts had a large office. Maybe if she had been away for several years they would want her to return, but she had been in London in May for the Day of Remembrance. She had taken the time to meet with Director Forgelaw at the time, and he had been very pleased with her work. “I’m not sure what they want.” Taking a deep breath she squared her shoulders. There was no point in worrying over something she could not control.
“Sarah, recall Assistant Curator Stone,” Ginny said. “My portkey leaves in about two hours, and I’ll be gone a few days at least. Have him draw up the disciplinary papers and a request for a board of inquiry for Satterfield’s team. I’ll fill out the request before I leave. Also, get me a field promotion form for Wendal.”
“Yes, Curator,” Sarah said. “Is there anything else?”
Ginny stood up and began to pace behind her desk. “I wanted to talk to Hexologist Bashir, but it will wait. Get those things done and get one of the others to pack a bag for me.”
Sarah nodded and disappeared out of the doorway leaving Ginny and Wendal alone. “Is there anything I can do?” Wendal asked, walking up to her desk.
“No, not at the moment,” Ginny said chewing her lip as she paced. The voice in the back of her head was warning her that whatever Gringotts wanted would not be pleasant. Someone was pulling some big strings to bring her back to London, and she only knew a few people who could do that. Few of them were interested in her professional or physical well-being.
Wendal nodded and began to leave the room before Ginny spoke again. “You’ll want to clear out of Satterfield’s tents before they get back. Have Sarah move you into Mr. Stone’s quarters. There are a few extra rooms there.” Ginny grabbed a piece of parchment and scribbled a note and then marked it with her seal of office. “And thanks. Thanks a lot.”
“Anytime, Ginny,” Wendal said as he took the parchment and left the room. As he walked away, Ginny easily heard his last statement echo in the corridor. “I’ll do anything for you.”
Tapping her foot impatiently, Ginny cursed the bureaucracy of Gringotts for the twentieth time that day. Her portkey had dropped her into the arrival room at Gringotts; however, the time difference meant that she had arrived at five o’clock in the evening and during the shift change. So, instead of moving through check in, she had been forced to wait nearly an hour for the goblins to send someone to verify that she had not brought any contraband products back with her. Although much easier to deal with than a Magical Law Enforcement international checkpoint, the goblins had a way of making even simple tasks feel like torture.
She was clear of Gringotts now, but the dinner crowd was milling through the entrance to Diagon Alley, and Ginny was stuck behind a large family with four young children. The mother was frazzled, the father was talking business with an associate, and the children were squawking and milling like a flock of indignant chickens. Ginny was sorely tempted to Apparate to the Burrow, but reasoned that she had come this far without Apparating and could wait a few more minutes.
Ever since her injury during the debacle with Ravenclaw’s Staff, Ginny had avoided Apparition. Her injury had never healed properly, and when she Apparated, the constricted feeling left her huddled on the ground sobbing in pain. Except for emergencies, it was not worth the pain she would be in for hours afterwards.
Just as Ginny was about to scream at the gaggle in front of her, the family exited Diagon Alley, and Ginny followed closely behind. She stepped around them on the other side and slipped through the crowded and smoky interior of the Leaky Cauldron. Walking to the public fireplace, she dropped a sickle in the bowl, grabbed a pinch of Floo powder, cast it into the fire, and called out, “The Burrow.”
After a dizzy trip, she stepped out of the fireplace at the Burrow into the living room of her mother’s house. Vanishing the soot with a casual wave of her wand, she took in the home she had grown up in. Although she had not lived at the Burrow since she was eighteen, Ginny considered the ramshackle house that was held together more by magic than wood and nails to be her home. It was a constant in a life that never allowed her to put down roots. She had never regretted her choice of careers, but it bothered her that there was little beyond her life than her work. The small voice in the back of her mind reminded her that she could have a home and a family if she were just willing to be selfish for once.
In retrospect, a selfish attitude might have been a better choice for many aspects of her life. After the war, she had been drowning in her obligations. The press and the Ministry had been relentless in the pursuit of her as well as the rest of Potter’s Companions. They had wanted answers and interviews and to give awards, but Ginny was trying to put her life back together and to help her family
There was not a wizarding family in Britain, or in most of Europe, that did not have an empty hole in it after the war. The Weasley family had been no different, losing several members, but even in all of the grief that remained from those days, Ginny knew that those who had died had done so for a cause much greater than themselves.
Her brother Percy had been the first casualty. The war had been all consuming in the fall of 2002 when he had fallen at the ICW. To this day, no one completely understood Voldemort’s decision in attacking the ICW during a formal dinner. In his raid, Minister Scrimgeour, most of the ICW, and numerous dignitaries had been killed. Percy’s body had been found in front of a barricaded door, several Death Eaters’ bodies strewn about him. He had died so that his family and the families of numerous others could escape.
Just as Ravenclaw’s Staff had been a mistake for The Order, the ICW Massacre had been Voldemort’s mistake. Voldemort was no longer just a British problem. Now, his reign of terror was a problem for the magical world as a whole.
Ginny had been in Egypt when she learned of her brother’s death and then her father’s promotion to Interim Minister of Magic. Arthur Weasley had accepted his duty steadfastly, and the cost that came with it. Ginny had more than once considered trying to convince him to step down, if for no other reason than to protect the family which became a regular target of Death Eater attacks.
But Arthur had become the Churchill of the Second War. His reforms had been harsh and sweeping. Under his direction, the Aurors had been set loose on the Death Eaters and their sympathizers. Capturing Death Eaters became a suggestion rather than an order. As her father had once said on his weekly talks on the Wizarding Wireless Network, “Every Death Eater captured is only a burden on our strained resources. It is not an option we choose lightly, but one that is necessary to protect our children, to ensure that they grow up to make better decisions than their parents.”
Her father’s weekly chats were quoted and replayed regularly on the Day of Remembrance, and he was revered as much as Harry Potter, the Savior of the Wizarding World, and his Companions. A part of Ginny’s heart had died when her father had been killed while spiriting Draco Malfoy away from Severus Snape. Still, his death had been the first step in ending the war because Draco had been the secret keeper for Lord Voldemort. But that did not fill the empty hole in Ginny’s heart, her mother’s life, or the Burrow that Arthur had so lovingly built.
But the final battle had still awaited them like a simmering volcano. None of them had known, while they were preparing to tear down the wards around Azkaban, just what that eruption would entail. That moonless night on the desolate rocks of Azkaban had made her understand the Muggle belief in hell and damnation. Never before had she witnessed so avidly the depths of depravity a desperate wizard could unleash. Of the fifty wizards and witches who had been there that day, only twenty-three Heroes of Azkaban had survived with their lives and their sanity, and Hermione had not been one of them.
Ginny swallowed and buried those memories. No one but Ginny and Harry were meant to face Voldemort, but Hermione had followed them. Hermione had followed them and died. Ginny had never forgiven herself because she could have stopped Hermione. Her mistakes had presented the choice that had led to Hermione’s death
Instead she had tried to atone initially, but Ron had avoided her for months, only speaking with Harry and Susan Longbottom. So Ginny had retreated to the Burrow with the rest of the family. In the months following the war, Ginny had remained by her mother’s side. Even surrounded by her family, Molly had been struggling with the overwhelming grief that had slammed home with the close of the war.
Despite her own grief and loss, Ginny had been consumed with helping her mother and brothers. So her own wounds were buried and left untreated and she and Harry never dealt with the consequences of the war until they had returned to each other after Ron had finished hiding from the family. But, by then, the damage was done, and they had lost their chance. And so, they had each gone their separate way.
Pushing aside the old doubts and regrets, Ginny stepped across the living room. The ordered clutter that filled the Burrow, the result of her mother’s endless war to keep the house tidy and her family’s desire to be them selves, was more pronounced today. The floor was littered with toys which meant that any number of Ginny’s young nieces and nephews were around. However, the house was eerily silent.
“Hello?” Ginny called out, entering the kitchen and looking around. Despite being dinner time, the table was clear and had probably not been used since lunch. “Is anyone home?”
She glanced at the family clock, an ingenious device that held several dozen spoons with a picture of a family member on each one. The spoons told where each person was, either at home, work, school, or even if they were in mortal peril. During the war, the clock had become her mother’s safety blanket. Wherever she went, it was beside her even though all of their hands had remained on mortal peril for many years. All the hands were pointed at various locations, and only her mother’s and her own were pointed toward home. “Mum?”
A door opened somewhere above, and there was a creak on the stairs. “Ginny? Is that you?” her mother asked. She came down the stairs and stepped into the kitchen. Although the war had taken a toll on her family, Molly Weasley had weathered it well. Her red hair was now shot with grey, and she kept it tied back in a bun. Although not as plump as she had been when Ginny was at school, her mother had filled out a bit with so many grandchildren to cook and care for, and she still was a formidable witch both in her temper and her protectiveness of her family.
Ginny took after her mother in both stature and looks. Childhood pictures of them could only be distinguished by the color of their hair. Although Ginny had her mother’s red hair, it was highlighted with the darker red of her father’s and grandfather’s. And although raiding tombs for a dozen years had kept her trim and toned, Ginny had little doubt that a few kids would add to her curves. Not that she would ever have kids, she reminded herself.
The moment her mother entered the kitchen, she rushed over and enveloped Ginny in a rib crushing hug. “Oh, Ginny! I was so worried,” Molly said and then released Ginny and glared at her. “What were you doing in those Merlin forsaken tombs? Your hand was on mortal peril for six hours yesterday. How many times have I told you that you shouldn’t be involved with such a dangerous activity as curse breaking? Honestly, how are you going to meet anyone crawling through cursed graveyards?”
“Mother!” Ginny exclaimed, cutting her mother off. There was no point in letting Molly Weasley get into a rant. “I’m perfectly fine. There was just an accident, and I got hurt. The healer fixed me up in a jiffy, and I’m no worse for the wear.”
Molly was biting her cheek, like she wanted to say more, but she only nodded. “I just worry about you, dear,” Molly said, ushering Ginny over to the table. “Do you want some tea? Or some supper? I’ve got left-over roast.”
“That’s okay, Mum,” Ginny said, pulling out a chair and sitting down. “It’s only lunch time for me, and I ate before activating the Portkey. A spot of tea would be nice, though.”
“Right then, dear.” Molly filled the kettle with a wave of her wand and then set it to simmering on the stove. In a few seconds the cooking spells had the water boiling. “So why are you back? I wasn’t expecting you until Christmas.” Molly put the kettle on a tray, and then gathered up a few cups, sugar, cream, and some biscuits and scones, before depositing it all on the table.
Ginny thanked her, poured the water, and let her tea steep as she nibbled on a scone. “Director Forgelaw wants to meet with me tomorrow. So I was hoping I could kip here for the night, and maybe tomorrow night. If you have room, that is.” Ginny motioned at the toy littered floor.
“Oh, the grandchildren just left an hour ago. I haven’t cleaned yet, and since they’re always here, I sometimes wonder if it’s worth it.”
“Well, then, I can use my old room.” Ginny grinned and took a sip of her tea. She sighed. “It’s nice to drink something that isn’t coffee.”
“I don’t know how you can drink that stuff, dear,” Molly said. “But you can’t use your room. Jane and Minerva are staying the night.”
“Ron’s letting them out of his sight?” Ginny asked, only partially joking. After Hermione died at the end of the war, Ron had devoted himself to his young twin daughters. They rarely left his side those first few years from what her brothers had told Ginny.
“Well, it is his and Susan’s first anniversary.”
“Oh, yeah. I forgot,” Ginny said. When both Harry and Ginny had disappeared after the war, Ron had begun spending time with Susan Longbottom. Neville and Susan had been close friends with Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny during the war. Neville had wanted a better world for Susan and their young son, Frank. So he had become deeply involved with the Order of the Phoenix and Harry’s search for Voldemort, even though he did not know exactly what he was doing.
When Lucius Malfoy and Nagini had been killed by Harry during his third attempt to retrieve the Staff of Ravenclaw, an enraged Voldemort had gone after Ron and Hermione. Neville had been their Secret Keeper, and he died to protect his friends. Ron had never forgotten that act. Because of Neville, Ron had his daughters, and so he and Hermione had been there to help Susan with her son. After Hermione’s death, their friendship had slowly turned to love.
Work had kept Ginny from the wedding, as it had been announced only a month prior to the event. She had sent her congratulations and a gift to her brother and Susan, but she did not see them until Christmas. No matter what, Ginny always kept the holidays free to be with her family. And she had been interested to see Ron and Susan together. Fred and George had been spreading rumor that an unexpected pregnancy had forced the marriage. But that was quickly dispelled by a letter to Penelope. Still, Ginny was curious about the change in her brother’s relationship with Susan. So she had cornered him and just asked him if he was happy.
“Of course I’m happy,” he said. They were on the third floor landing, and Ron kept trying to maneuver around Ginny. “Why wouldn’t I be?” For a moment he looked angry.
“I didn’t mean it like that, Ron,” Ginny said. “I’m, well, It all … it all kinda blindsided me. I mean, last time we talked, you were shutting everyone out but the girls.” Ginny grabbed his chin and pulled his head down so she could see his eyes. “You can’t lie to me. Ron. I want to hear it from you and not the gossiping mob downstairs.”
He stared at her for a few moments before a deep sadness filled his eyes, and he said, “That first month, you know, after everything. I just kinda shut everyone out. Me an’ the girls an’ a bottle of Firewhisky at night. That was all. And it was so bloody effing hard. I was so lost, Ginny. I know you lot wanted to take the girls away, but I couldn’t let you. I knew … was so bloody certain … that if they weren’t there … if I didn’t have something to make me get up every morning … maybe I just wouldn’t have got up ever again.”
“Ron, we just wanted to help you.”
“But I didn’t want your help, or Harry’s or anyone’s!” Ron snapped. “I wanted ‘Mione and I couldn’t have her because …” He closed his mouth, turned away, and leaned against the wall, but Ginny hung her head because she knew the end of that sentence.
“I’d always thought Harry was there that summer,” she said.
Ron shrugged. “Yeah, sorta. He showed up everyday, but I kept slamming the door in his face. I was just so mad.”
Stepping forward, she snaked her arms around him and hugged him when he did not flinch away. “So what changed it all?”
“Susan,” he whispered. “She came over three weeks after the funeral. Just barged into the house, bundled the kids off to her mum’s, poured all my Firewhisky down the drain, and yelled at me for hours.”
Ginny smiled into his back. “I sometimes wonder how that girl got in Hufflepuff.”
Ron snorted. “Temper like an ornery dragon, but she just wants to help.”
“And she helped you?”
Ron turned around and held Ginny at arm length. “She was the only one who could. She understood, and I needed that. It kinda just took off from there. The girls don’t really remember their mum, and Susan was around all the time so they latched onto her.”
“I hope you didn’t marry her just to give the girls a mum,” Ginny said.
Ron shook his head. “No, things just clicked after a while, but it took a long time for me to come to grips with it all. I always thought I was cheating on Hermione or being unfaithful to her memory, but I’m not. It’s what Hermione would have wanted. The girls need a mother, and I care about her, Gin. I really do. We are … we’re good for each other.”
Ginny nodded as she saw the truth in his eyes, and she kissed his cheek. “I’m glad, Ron. I’m glad you’ve found someone.”
Lost in thought, Ginny missed the next statement by her mother except for one word. “Pregnant?” she asked.
“Well, they haven’t said anything,” Molly said, “But Susan was glowing when she came over for breakfast yesterday. I wasn’t certain, but then she turned green the moment the eggs hit the table, and I just knew.”
“I’ll have to send them something,” Ginny said. “So why aren’t the girls over with Penelope? The girls and Barty are thick as thieves.” Few family members referred to Jane and Minerva as anything other than the girls since, much like Ginny had been, they were the only female children.
“Oh, they’re over there now. Tonks dropped Sirius off this morning, and you know how Sirius and Barty are. Barty insisted that Sirius come over, and he didn’t even make much of a fuss about the girls.”
“I thought Barty liked the girls?” Ginny asked.
“Oh, he’s at that age,” Molly said. “Percy started Hogwarts with Frank this year, and Barty is trying to act mature and the girls are too young for him.”
“Poor Penelope.” Ginny smiled. Penelope and Percy had married the year Ginny finished Hogwarts. Their first son, Percival Ignatius Weasley II, had been born ten months later, and Bartholomew Cornelius had followed two years after that. Young Barty had not had much time with his father, as Percy had died the following year when the International Confederation of Wizards was attacked by Death Eaters during their election conference.
Unlike Fleur, her eldest brother’s wife, Ginny and Penelope were good friends and corresponded regularly, although the letters had been fewer and fewer since Ginny had become a curator. “So what is going on with Penelope?” Ginny asked.
“She’s seeing someone,” Molly said.
“Really? I thought she was going to wait until both the boys were at Hogwarts.”
“Well, they’ve only gone out to dinner a few times. He works for the Department of International Cooperation, and he’s always traveling.”
“More friends than a couple?”
“Penelope says so, but he did give her a very nice emerald bracelet for her birthday. I hope she lets him in. She really needs someone to spend time with when the boys go to school. No one should be alone.” Ginny rolled her eyes as Molly gave her a meaningful look.
“Mum, I’m not going into this again.”
“Ginny, I won’t ask you to give up your job, but there is more to life than the past. I’ve seen you with the children. You would be a great mother, and you always have such a look of longing …”
“Stop it!” Ginny slammed her hand on the table, spilling her tea and sending the remains of her scone to the floor. “Why do you always do this? Why can’t you just accept that this is the life I chose?”
“I just want you to be happy.”
Ginny could tell that her mother was holding on to her temper tightly, but every time she returned home they fought over her job and lack of a husband like two dogs over a bone. “I’m happy where I am,” Ginny replied.
“You’re too overworked to be happy,” Molly said. Her face was red. “You’ve buried yourself in those tombs and hidden from the world ever since Harry and you broke up. You can’t pine over him forever, young lady. You’re thirty years old. You won’t be able to have children forever.”
“Don’t you have enough grandkids as it is, Mother? Do you really need me pumping them out?” Taking a deep breath, Ginny turned away from her mother and closed her eyes. “I made my decision. Why can’t you just accept that?”
“Harry is with Tonks. You should move on, too,” Molly said, and Ginny groaned.
“I wish you’d drop that,” Ginny said, turning back to face her mother. “Harry has always felt guilty about Remus’ death. He’s the one that took him after Ravenclaw’s Staff, and the curse Remus took there eventually killed him. Harry’s doing what’s best for his godson, and with him traveling the world, he’s not even doing that well.”
“I worry about you, Sweetheart.” Molly reached out and cupped Ginny’s face and then brushed a stray lock out her eyes like she had done hundreds of times when Ginny was a young girl. “You never let anyone in. You wear this mask when the family is around and work yourself like you need to atone for something so horrible that no one else can bear your burden. I’m your mother. I just want to help. I want you to be happy. Please let me in. Please.”
Ginny swallowed heavily, her eyes as wet as her mother’s. Blinking back the tears, she did the only thing she could. In a thick voice, she asked, “Mum, why didn’t you remarry after Dad was killed?”
The question caught her mother off guard, and her rosy skin paled until she appeared to be caked in flour. As if fighting off the debilitating effects of a Dementor, she shakily nodded and said, “Ginny, I – you can’t – what do you …” she trailed off and then sighed before taking Ginny’s hands, and Ginny swallowed nervously, regretting asking the question now, even if it meant she had spared herself. “What your father and I had, that love and devotion, it can’t be replaced. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t find someone else. I’m bound to him by our love, and I can only wait until I join him. But you all need me here. I can’t leave you because I love you just as much.”
Leaning over the table, Ginny kissed her mother on the cheek and looked deeply into her eyes and willed her to understand what she was not saying, what she could not say to anyone, maybe not even to herself. “Then you can understand why there will never be anyone else for me.”
Ginny watched her mother’s eyes cloud with thought and then widen in understanding before she nodded. And they sat across from each other as the tea became tepid and then cool, neither talking, but both understanding the other more than they had before.
The next afternoon, Ginny was in a side room of Gringotts waiting to be waved through security. She gritted her teeth and smiled politely as the goblin, she thought his name was Anroc, examined her wand and then waved a smooth black crook over her head and then down each side of her body. Taking the rod over to his desk, he stared at it intently.
Raking her hands through her hair, Ginny tapped her foot in irritation. The delay was her fault, as Ginny refused to get on London time for a single day and had slept until noon. Still, Ginny had been in the employ of Gringotts for twelve years, and she wondered how long she would have to be with them before they just let her through without the dog and pony show.
Anroc walked back over to her and smiled. “You can go in now, Ms. Weasley. You are expected in the conference room at the end of the south corridor. Here is your wand.”
“Thanks,” Ginny smiled and took her wand. She turned on her heel and strode toward a statue of Anubis on the far wall of the room, her shoulder-length red hair swirling about her neck. “Thieves tread lightly,” she stated as she approached the weather worn statue. It stepped to the side at the password, reminding Ginny, not for the first time, of the gargoyle that guarded the Headmistresses’ office at Hogwarts. Behind Anubis was a narrow corridor lit every few feet with glowing orbs. Ginny ducked into it as Anubis resumed his post behind her.
Like all corridors in Gringotts, this one was made from granite blocks, square hewn and laid together with parchment thin joints. It was uncomfortably narrow, and the arched ceiling was within easy reach if Ginny wished to touch it. Ginny was certain that the narrow granite passageways that twisted, dipped, and sometimes dead ended were a reminder to the goblins of their past as slaves and builders for the Wizarding world. Many of the tombs and sites Ginny had raided had the unmistakable aura of goblin craftsmanship, the same aura that permeated Gringotts. The only difference was the utter silence of the tombs.
Her footsteps echoed loudly in the hall, mingling with the hundreds of echoed voices and footsteps of the wizards and goblins who worked in the area. Ginny doubted even the sharp-eared goblins could pick out an individual noise. Every sound blended into a low murmur, like water rushing over jagged rocks. For Ginny, the low murmur was like laughing at a funeral. Gringotts was ancient, and the stones vibrated with the weight of thousands of years of history and untold magic. She knew, like all the tombs she had ever visited, that if there ever was silence, she would begin to hear the story that the building was whispering.
The trip to the south corridor took nearly ten minutes of walking through various corridors and pressing herself against the stone wall to let goblins and other wizards and witches slip past her. The narrow passageway spilled her into a corridor that was massive by comparison. Although it was not much larger than a hallway at Hogwarts, the south corridor could easily fit four wizards side by side and the vaulted ceiling extended nearly three times Ginny’s reach. The South Corridor housed offices for every human barrister, appraiser, craftsman, and curse breaker who worked for Gringotts.
Glancing to her left, Ginny debated visiting her office. She had not actually entered it since she became a curator, and there was probably a mass of paperwork that she needed to peruse; however, she was cutting it close already. If there was one thing that would anger a goblin, it was being late to a meeting. Most curse breakers learned early on that it was better to get a few months of dangerous assignments by missing a meeting than to face a goblin that was angry with you for showing up a minute late.
With a shrug, Ginny turned left and walked at a quick clip down the immense corridor. She still had a quarter hour to get there, but the conference room was at the end of the corridor, nearly half a mile from where she stood. Several colleagues greeted her, but she begged off any conversation with her worry about being late. Most offered an apologetic smile and told her to catch up with them later.
Ginny reached the conference room with several minutes to spare. Taking a breath to calm her nerves, she pushed open the deep red mahogany door and stepped inside. The room was twice the size of the Gryffindor common room. Instead of the gray granite of the corridors, the walls were faced with a deep blue granite that sparkled in the flickering torchlight from the millions of pieces of mother of pearl that were part of the stone. The granite was highly polished and reflected the light so that the room was very bright. The wall on her left was inlaid with a gold and silver map of the world. Various gems marked sites that had been explored, and the size and expense of the gem represented the wealth recovered.
Walking up to the map, Ginny’s attention was drawn to Central America. When she had joined Gringotts, there had been only a smattering of small peridots adorning that region. Her efforts now had it glistening with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds.
Her success among the ruins of the Mesoamerican tribes had secured her a position as the youngest regional head in Gringotts’ history. Despite the extra work, Ginny was proud of her accomplishment. Since her appointment two years ago, she had brought in almost a quarter billion Galleons worth of treasure and artifacts. Bill had told her on several occasions that the High Council was very impressed with her work, and that she might be promoted to Senior Curator of the Western Hemisphere by the time she was forty.
Ginny smiled at the thought. Senior Curator of the Western Hemisphere meant that she would be the second most powerful human in Gringotts, only behind Adbel Smythe, Senior Curator of Egypt. Bill had been ecstatic about the prospect, but her mother would be furious if Ginny took that job. Although, Ginny considered, maybe now she would be more supportive after their heart to heart the previous night.
Caressing the two carat diamond that marked Mexico City and Montezuma’s tomb, Ginny just wished that her family would be happy for her. Although Bill understood the allure of the job, none of her family understood that being a curse breaker kept her sane. The long days, the danger, the nights of exhausted, dreamless sleep, kept her in the present. She did not have to think about the future or her past. She simply lived for the moment and survived, and for the most part she was happy.
Ruefully shaking her head, Ginny buried the thought. She was not here to deal with Harry. Ginny turned towards the center of the room where the main conference table rested. At a dozen paces wide, the table was a cross section of some ancient petrified tree. Two dozen high backed, rather uncomfortable looking wooden chairs were spaced about the table. No one was at the table, which meant she was meeting in one of the private rooms on the north wall.
She noticed one of the panels of blue granite was pushed slightly inward, and a flickering yellow light was spilling out onto the floor. Moving across the room, Ginny pushed the cool granite door open, surprised at how easily it moved despite its obvious weight, and stepped into the room. “Sorry I’m not earlier,” she apologized as her pupils adjusted to the dim light in the room.
“That’s okay, Squirt,” a familiar voice laughed.
“Bill?” Ginny asked, her eyes adjusting to the dim light to see her eldest brother seated in a comfortable leather armchair by a crackling fire place. “What are you doing here?”
“Waiting for you,” he motioned toward the empty armchair across from him. “And it’s a good thing too, since you are two minutes late.”
Ginny genuinely smiled for the first time that day and took a few steps toward her brother and mentor. Leaning over, she caught him in a hug and kissed his cheek. His body was firm from years of travel and hard work. His tanned cheek held the aroma of sand and heat, and something flowery that was probably from his wife Fleur. Stepping back, Ginny took him in. “Egypt has been good to you,” she complimented him. His blue eyes were sparkling, and his Weasley red hair was still tied back in a pony tail, and still thick, defying all genetics. Even Ron was starting to lose his hair, but Bill had some how broken that family curse. He still wore the dragon fang earring. Dressed in field clothes, he was lounging comfortably, and eyeing her with a mixture of amusement and something else. Ginny thought it was regret, or maybe nervousness?
“Well, Egypt was good to me, Gin,” Bill explained. “I just hope my new job here is as kind.”
“New job?” Ginny sat down in the empty chair across from her brother, confused. “Why didn’t you mention anything in May at the memorial?”
Bill shrugged. “The goblins hadn’t officially offered it yet, and we’d been talking for almost a year and I didn’t want to jinx it. Besides, Remembrance Day isn’t the best place to talk.”
Ginny nodded in understanding. The Second War had ended in May, a few months before her twenty-third birthday. Almost seven years after Professor Dumbledore’s death, Harry had confronted Voldemort on the desolate island that housed Azkaban after Voldemort’s secret keeper had betrayed him to the Order.
The war had been hard on them all, and in respect to all whose lives had been cut short, whose promises had been unfulfilled, few announced good news on that day. “I understand. But why the new job? I thought you liked Egypt. I was even hearing that you might eventually replace Smythe as Senior Curator.”
Having Bill return to England was a shock to Ginny. He had returned to Egypt at the prompting of the Order to prevent Death Eaters from uncovering even more weapons and recruits among the desperate and often criminal treasure hunters that hovered about the curse breaking teams in Egypt. His return to Egypt had been fortuitous for Ginny, as he was able to take her on as his apprentice, and that had rekindled his love of curse breaking. He had told her many times during her apprenticeship that working with her reminded him every day why he had become a curse breaker in the first place. And it helped that Fleur, his wife, preferred being abroad to being in England.
“Well, he was grooming me to take over when he retired,” Bill stated, “but that is still ten or fifteen years away. I can go back when all the kids are at Hogwarts. I want to spend some time with my family. Phillip turns ten this year and goes off to Hogwarts next year. Brian and William are growing bigger every day, and Arthur just started walking. I’ve missed a lot of their lives because of the war or because I’m always in tombs or doing projects for Mr. Smythe.”
Ginny nodded in understanding. “You don’t want them to grow up just seeing you on the brief breaks between digs.”
“Field work pays well, but it can’t make up for missing Arthur’s first step. And besides, Fleur is expecting again. I think a job in the home office is just better for me now.” There was regret in Bill’s voice, and Ginny felt sorry for her brother. He loved curse breaking.
The first day of her apprenticeship, they had been sitting in a room very similar to this, drinking butterbeer and eating sandwiches, when Bill had asked her what she thought curse breaking was.
For a few moments she couldn’t think of an answer, but then she said, “It’s about retrieving treasure, isn’t it?”
“That’s what the goblins say it is,” Bill said solemnly. “And according to this book,” he pulled a small book from his pocket and handed it to her, “that is the correct answer.” It was not much bigger than her hand, and was several hundred pages thick. The well worn leather cover was etched with the silvery title: Gringotts’ Curse Breaker Manual.
As much as she wanted to open the book and read, Bill’s comment made her pause. He was serious when he said that she had the correct answer, but there was more that he was not telling her. It was the same as when she once caught him with his girlfriend when she was six, and he had informed his sister that they were tickling each other. She knew it had been more than tickling, even though he had been tickling his girlfriend.
“So,” Ginny asked slyly, “what are Bill Weasley’s thoughts on curse breaking?”
He grinned and cast a silencing charm on the room. “Most of the people you will be working with agree with Gringotts, Squirt. They’re curse breakers because the one who opens the tomb gets first right, and then they all get a percentage afterward.”
“I didn’t know that,” Ginny said truthfully. “I thought you were all just paid like an auror or something.”
“No, for most it is about the percentage they take,” Bill explained. “Unfortunately, it means that they take shortcuts and they make mistakes trying to reach their goal. Curse breaking is very dangerous.” Bill was suddenly very serious. “That is why Mum was so mad when you told her you were apprenticing with me. I’ve known ten curse breakers who died trying to get into various tombs. And dozens more who’ve spent months, if not years, in St. Mungo’s because they were eager to get the gold.”
“If it is so dangerous, why have you never been hurt?” Ginny asked, figuring that this was really the first lesson he wanted her to learn.
“Oh, I’ve been hurt,” Bill laughed, “But I’ve never been seriously injured because I’m not doing this for the treasure.”
“Why are you a curse breaker then?”
“Do you remember when you told me you wanted to be my apprentice?” Bill asked, surprising Ginny with the change in direction. Ginny nodded her head. “Do you know why I agreed after saying no so many times?” Ginny shook her head. “It was that last night before you went back to school. You’d cornered me in the library at Grimmauld Place and told me that you would be a curse breaker whether I apprenticed you or not because you were tired of being left out and not understanding what was going on. You wanted to know why magic was the way it was and why things like horcruxes and prophecies existed. And you were certain, like Harry and the rest, that the answers were in the past, and you could only uncover them if you sought them out.”
“I still feel that way,” Ginny argued. “I’m not interested in treasure, Bill. I’m fascinated by magic and how the ancients did things differently than we do today. I want to know and study the tombs and the hexes they have placed on them, because it is the only way to understand. It’s fascinating.”
A soft expression crept across Bill’s scarred face, not much different than how he looked at his wife. “I do this for the same reason. I do not care about the treasure, or how much I get. I’ve never taken a single piece of gold from any tomb I’ve opened as my first right. I only take scrolls and knowledge.”
Bill leaned forward and caught her eyes and held them. “You must remember that an unopened tomb is like a stasis spell. It is a glimpse into a moment in time that we can never return to. That tomb holds all the clues to figuring out who those wizards were and why they did things. The spells that protect that knowledge are as much a part of that knowledge as any scroll I have taken. A true curse breaker cares nothing about treasure. A true curse breaker simply finds treasure as a side effect of unraveling the mysteries of magic and the past. That is what I will teach you, and that is what will make you love this job.”
Ginny had always been thankful to Bill for teaching her. If he had not instilled a love of curse breaking in her heart … she shuddered at the thought of who she would have become. “Sometimes …” Ginny began softly, lowering her head so Bill could not see her face. “Sometimes we have to make choices between two things we love more than life itself. And when we choose, we always give up a part of ourselves.”
For a time there was silence between the siblings. Bill was obviously lost in his memories of Egypt as Ginny fought to stay in the present and not be sucked back into a past that she had been forced to give up. But it was her job that let her go forward and avoid what she had left behind: the memory of Harry Potter.
During the war, Harry’s search for the Horcruxes had brought him into Ginny’s life with regularity. Sometimes she would even go off and help him, or be pulled back into the Order and the direct fight against Voldemort. For a time, they had fought their relationship, but in the end they had given in and become lovers. She had been certain that they would survive. Together they were stronger. They had made an excellent team that lasted to the Final Battle, where it all fell apart.
Brushing aside the clinging spider webs of memory, Ginny broke the silence. “So, what is your new job?”
“That is why I asked you to come in today,” Bill replied, a sad note in his voice that made Ginny wary. “With your success in Central America, Gringotts is looking to expand beyond the traditional tombs and burial sites. However, they don’t want to waste current resources on wild goose chases, so they asked me to gather retired and independent curse breakers who can validate a site. I’m the new Curator of Independent Sites.”
“What does that have to do with me?” Ginny asked angrily. “I’m happy where I am, and I’m not interested in leaving.”
“Oh, I know,” Bill said, “I’d never try and take away your Mayan temples, but part of my job is to deal with all the independent researchers that approach Gringotts. I ensure their contracts with Gringotts are kept and that they do not overstep their bounds.”
“My question still remains, William. What does that have to do with me?” Bill was obviously dancing around the subject and did not want to tell her what the real intent of the meeting was.
“One of the researchers wants to study one of your sites,” Bill stated. “He only wants first pick of what he finds and has given up all percentage of the find on the condition that you assist him. He wants an expert, and you’re the expert. So, the goblins agreed.”
“Which site …” Ginny started to ask, but quickly stopped as she noticed Bill’s worried expression. She had assisted independents before, and she usually ended up being a glorified tour guide. This was obviously not one of those occasions, and she had a suspicion she was not going to like her client. “Who is he?”
“Ginny,” Bill began, trying to placate and explain. “You need to understand that I fought this for nearly two weeks. I tried to convince them that Assistant Curator Stone would be a better choice, but the contract is very insistent. He requested you by name.”
It all clicked in her mind, and Ginny looked at her brother. “It’s Harry.”
Bill nodded his head. “I’m sorry, Gin. There is nothing I can do about it. If you want …”
Ginny waved his offer away with a flick of her hand. “I will never understand why you lot think Harry and I hate each other. I don’t need your protection. I don’t need you keeping him away from me.”
“Ginny, I’m just worried about you. He should not have just left you like that and turned his back on everything.”
Ginny sighed, and stood up and walked across the room and began studying a Chinese ink scroll on the wall. Although he had not said it, Ginny had heard Bill’s real concern in his voice, the concern most of her brothers had. After the defeat of Voldemort, it had been several days before Ginny and Harry had been found among the ruins of Azkaban. Only she and Harry knew why Voldemort had been defeated, and the sacrifice they had made that day was something they had both left buried in the rubble of Azkaban. After the weeks of healing, the dozens of parties and awards ceremonies, and the endless questions from friends, the press, and the Ministry, they had told the world what they wanted to hear, that Voldemort was dead and was never coming back.
She and Harry had tried their hardest to delay the inevitable. For two months they had tried to live their lives and be nothing more than friends. Finally, there was no choice left, and they met for the last time on the grounds of Hogwarts, underneath the tree they had ended up beneath after their first kiss seven years earlier.
The setting sun burned red and orange over the Forbidden Forest, and the Black Lake was a burnished molten gold. He was standing beneath the tree, a knapsack beside his lanky frame, and his scratched and worn Firebolt was leaning against the trunk of the oak tree. They had not decided to meet here, or even told each other, but she had known he would be here, just like she had known he was leaving the world behind like she was.
Walking up to him, she dropped her own knapsack and sank down on her haunches. She watched the tentacles of the giant squid hover over the golden lake surface, soaking up the last rays of the sun as she ignored the aching need for Harry that was burning in her veins. They had decided that this was for the best, but she just … Stay then. Reward yourselves. Stop being the heroes. Take your happiness, the voice at the back of her mind whispered. Closing her eyes, she pushed it away and said, “I’m heading for the Yucatan. They need a Charms Specialist for one of the teams there.”
“I’m heading back to Egypt,” Harry said, his voice was conversational, but Ginny could hear the anguish underneath it.
“Do you think you’ll find it there?”
“No more than in the Yucatan,” Harry said. “But it’s a place to start. Besides, the Ministry wants me to speak with the Council of Elders in Cairo.”
Ginny sighed and glanced up at the castle and Gryffindor Tower. “Are we just running away? Are we being cowards because we really don’t know? Because we are scared?”
She could feel the weight of his gaze on her, and she gathered her resolve and turned her face upwards to stare back into his green eyes, the eyes that had always flamed her passion for him and always would. His dark hair was still growing back in and his lightning bolt shaped scar, the curse he had received as a fifteen-month old child, was barely noticeable on his tanned skin. A hand-shaped silvery burn scar on his left cheek and neck had taken its place. The sister of that scar wrapped about her upper right bicep, hidden beneath her sleeve and unknown to everyone but Harry and her. For a moment, she saw all the love he held for her in his eyes, but then he closed them and set his jaw. “It’s too much of a risk. Eventually, it will wear us down, and then what?”
“The war is over, Harry! We won. There has to be a way for us to be happy. We deserve it more than anyone!”
“Hermione and Neville deserved to live, too. So did your dad and Percy. George deserves to see again, but it’s not going to happen, Gin, and you know it.” He bowed his head and she knew he was crying, because she was crying, her tears hot and salty on her lips. “The war is over, and it needs to stay that way. How could we face Ron and tell him that, because we want to be happy, his girls, all that he has left of Hermione, will suffer?”
Ginny nodded her head.
“Someday, Gin. I promise.” His hand brushed her cheek, sending an electric shock through her body that left her weak at the knees, and then he was on his broom and soaring into the sky. She watched him until he passed over the wards and Disapparated. Standing up, she touched her cheek and watched the empty sky until night feel. “I’ll always love you,” she whispered and then tapped the portkey bracelet Gringotts had given her, and she was gone in a rush of light and sound.
Although they had occasionally caught up with one another at family gatherings over the years, they had moved their separate ways. Ginny had buried herself in the Yucatan and been promoted quickly until she had attained her current position. As far as she knew, Harry had done the same. Gallivanting across the world, his name became synonymous with accomplishing the impossible. From tombs to dark wizards to political missions, Harry was always in the thick of the world scene, and now after years of avoiding her, he wanted her. He had asked for her specifically, and she could not walk away.
“You don’t understand, Bill. None of you ever have,” Ginny quietly explained. She rarely talked about Harry and their relationship, or lack thereof, but he needed to understand so that she could do her job. “I don’t hate him, Bill. I never have, and I never will. Yes, there are a lot of issues we have never aired out, but he left for a good reason. I wish I could tell you, tell anyone, but you just need to trust me.”
“How do you know that?” Bill asked warily.
“We have been corresponding for almost two years,” Ginny answered, turning around and returning to her chair. She reached over and grabbed her brother’s hand, and squeezed it, gently tracing his wedding band with her finger. “He has been asking about the Maya. I figured he was planning another excursion, and I figured it would be with me tagging along as his guide.”
“You should not have to do this, Gin. I see how you watch him at the Burrow. You still love him, and he is taking advantage of that for his mysterious quest.”
Ginny smiled softly and shook her head. “No, he is finally asking me for help in the only way he can, Bill. I need to do this. I need to be able to talk to him without the family there, without having to worry about owls being intercepted, or the press hounding him. I will help him, and you will not interfere.”
For a moment, Ginny thought Bill would continue the argument, but, to her relief, he reluctantly nodded his head in acceptance. “I know you can take care of yourself, Gin. I just worry about you sometimes. I want you to have a life beyond work, and you can’t have that if you live in the past.”
“I’m a curse breaker, Bill. Just like you,” Ginny smiled sadly. “My entire life is rooted in the past, and uncovering those secrets. Harry is just one more tomb I have to break into.”
“If anyone can, Squirt, it will be you,” Bill said. “Just be careful.”
“I will,” Ginny replied and then leaned forward. “So what site does Harry want to visit?”
“Dzibilchaltun,” Bill stated. Ginny cringed and then let her head sink into her hands, so she could rub her temples. A headache was already beginning to form.
“He would choose that one,” she muttered.
“What is wrong with that site?” Bill asked. Although he knew everything about Egypt, and Ginny was certain her brother had yet to find a curse or ward he could not unravel, he was never one to show an interest in anything outside of the Mediterranean.
“Besides it being a very popular Muggle tour site,” Ginny explained, “it is also rumored to hold the tomb of the Mayan wizard who founded their culture. In the last century, eight teams have tried to break into that tomb. All of them lost members and three teams never came back.”
“Maybe I should pull the danger clause?” Bill suggested.
Ginny shook her head. “Harry would not ask for me if he thought I would be in danger. He knows something, just like always. When does he want to start?”
“In two days.”
“Have him meet me at the field office in Merida. We’ll put our team together there.”
“Sure thing, Squirt. Do you think you have time to stop by and see Fleur and the kids?”
Ginny shook her head. “No, I have some issues to deal with in the field. Thanks for the offer though.” Ginny quickly stood and kissed her brother on the cheek before wishing him well and leaving the conference room.
Once in the hallway, she leaned back against the cool wall and let the nervousness and fear she had kept in tight control bubble to the surface. Bringing her hand to her throat, she traced the quartz pendant through her clothing. “You’d better be coming back for real this time, Harry,” she whispered. “I’m tired of lying.”