"Pretty, isn't it?" Bill asked, climbing out onto the roof to join Ginny in the warm night. She shifted over to make room for him, but didn't look away from the sky; above her, thousands of stars glittered like diamonds over the busy markets below.
"I like it," she said, nodding. "I don't want to leave." And she didn't. Egypt, for all that it had left her thirsty and sunburnt and with more freckles than ever, was wonderful. There was so much to see – and Bill knew all the interesting places – and more to the point, there was nothing here to remind her of Tom. She still heard him and still dreamed of him, but it wasn't like Hogwarts, where she could imagine him prowling through the halls, or lazily raising his hand in lessons, or like her bedroom at home, where she'd spent most of the last summer writing to him.
Tom – pale, and tidy as he was – would be very out of place in the hot, dusty markets, and probably wouldn't be interested in exploring pyramids with Ginny and the rest of the family, nor wouldn't have the patience or humour to deal with the language barrier between them and the locals (Fred and George's impression of Percy and his translation book was uncanny, after days of perfecting it).
No, Tom wouldn't like it here at all, and that made Ginny feel very safe, and reminded her that there were places he couldn't reach and – thanks to Harry – wouldn't ever reach.
"Yeah, it's been nice having you all here," Bill said, rubbing the back of his neck. "Busy, and noisy, but nice. Wish Charlie could have made it, but it's getting harder and harder to pull him away from his dragons."
"Mum said he's coming to the wedding," Ginny offered.
"That's short term, though, Gin," Bill said. Both of them jumped as Percy shrieked from inside. A moment later, the twins' cackles drifted through the open window, shortly followed by the first of Mum's shouts. Ginny and Bill sniggered.
"You think he'll stay there?" Ginny asked, when inside was quiet again.
"Yeah, I reckon he will." They sat in silence for a few minutes, just watching everything go on around them. Then, Ginny finally tore her eyes off of the sky so that she could look at her oldest brother.
"What about you?" she asked.
"What about me?" Bill's earring swayed as he turned to look at her.
"Will you stay here, do you think?" Ginny asked.
"Nah," Bill said, eyes on the black outline of one of the pyramids they'd been to the day before. "Don't get me wrong, I love it, I love what I do, and I've still got a few years ahead of me here, before I'll be ready for a change, but I'll be home eventually." He paused and then glanced down at the window he'd climbed up through. "Just don't tell Mum I said that, or I'll never get her to shut up about me coming home; she's still convinced I'm going to die in a horrific, thousand year old booby-trap."
"You shouldn't have told her about the boulder then," Ginny said.
"No," Bill agreed, with a wry laugh. "Probably not." He nudged her with his knee. "How are you doing, anyway?"
Ginny stilled; other than the slightly longer, slightly tighter than usual hug she'd received from him when she arrived in Egypt, Bill hadn't spoken about her first year at Hogwarts at all. She'd been very appreciative of that, in fact.
"Fine," she said.
"You know," Bill said, looking up at the stars, "Mum asked me to talk to you-"
"I bet she did," Ginny grumbled. Mum meant well and Ginny appreciated that she was trying to help, but she just didn't understand, and Ginny didn't think explaining everything to her would help her understand any better… help anyone understand, for that matter. Sure, other people had done bad things accidentally, or been friends with someone they shouldn't have, but she'd had him in her head, and she hadn't realised what he was until it was too late. Then, she'd fought him and lost, lost again and again, and people had been hurt because she wasn't strong enough, because she hadn't been able to kick him out. People could feel sorry for her, certainly, but they couldn't understand.
"-on the first night you were here," Bill continued, as if she hadn't said anything.
"You haven't said anything yet, though," Ginny said.
"Because I knew you'd get cranky." Bill nudged her again, and his arched eyebrow drew a reluctant smile out of Ginny. "And that you'd probably avoid me for the rest of the trip, so I waited. And now you're going home tomorrow, so if you start avoiding me now, I'll be a bit put out about not getting a hug goodbye, but that's probably the worst possible outcome-"
"Genius," she said dryly, but Bill looked so proud of himself she couldn't help her smile.
"So?" Bill asked.
"So what?" Ginny asked, arching an eyebrow. "Mum told you to talk to me, not me to talk to you."
"Aren't you clever," Bill muttered, rolling his eyes. "So, how've you been?"
"Fine," Ginny said.
"I told you; I like it here."
"So you're completely fine?" Bill asked. "You don't- I dunno, have nightmares, or feel sick sometimes, when you think back?" He was still looking at the stars, so Ginny didn't have to worry about what her face looked like.
"Nope," she said, confident that Bill would believe her; she was sharing a room with Ron here, and he was too used to Harry flailing and chattering during the night to be disturbed by Ginny's restless sleep. And, her sound-proofing charms were good these days, so no noise escaped the room to wake the rest of her family.
"Lucky," he said. "There was this stone tablet I found in a tomb a few months back, and the ancient witch that made it had obviously done a fair bit of necromancy... This witch's- spirit, or ghost or- whatever it was, kept showing up in the houses of the people that had touched the tablet, and trying to get us to resurrect her. She'd talk to us, and give us these bloody awful visions-" Bill pulled a face. "Xing-Bei resigned, and Gahiji actually tried to dig up her bones before Nkosi and I stopped her. In the end, we destroyed the tablet and had a priest deal with her, but some of the stuff she said… she was a right piece of work, I'm telling you."
"Sounds like it," Ginny agreed, keeping her expression open; Bill was watching her closely, and trying to be sneaky about it. "I'm not scared, if that's what you're worried about," she told him.
"Seen worse?" Bill asked in a joking tone, but she knew he was genuinely curious.
"Done worse," Ginny said. "Not that I remember any of it."
"Well, if you don't remember any of it, you won't need- never mind."
"Need what?" Ginny asked, curious.
"Nah, doesn't matter," Bill said.
"Bill," Ginny whined.
It was only when he grinned that she realised she'd been tricked. She considered sulking, but she was too curious; Bill had just pulled something small out of his pocket, and offered it to her. Ginny turned it over in her hands, interested. It was about the size of her palm, and looked a bit like the wheel of the muggle bicycle Dad kept in the shed at home; the outside was a ring of rough, sand-coloured stone, and the inside was a delicate spiderweb of thin wire. There were three stone beads – the same sandy colour as the outside – sitting on some of the wires, too, and they had little etchings in them.
"Suoja," Bill said pointing, at one of the tiny beads, "Eihwaz, Unelma… they're runes. I thought you could keep it under your pillow, or on your bedside table if you're having trouble getting to sleep, or if you're having bad dreams, but you said you're fine, so…"
He reached out, as if to take it back, and Ginny tucked it into the pocket of her pyjama shorts before he could. Bill cocked an eyebrow at her, hand still outstretched. Ginny swatted it away, and edged closer to his side, for a hug.
"Glad you like it," Bill said softly.
"-plenty of time," Padfoot said. Harry trailed behind him, doubtful.
"-will murder us if we're late, I know," Padfoot said, grinning down at Harry. Harry didn't think it was funny, though; while Tonks handled her impending wedding much the same as everything else; with a laugh and a swear word and her usual laid-back optimism, her mother was an entirely different matter. "But this needs to be done, and we need to stop putting it off… I reckon it's messing with us, kiddo."
Harry had to concede that he might be right; they had tried to destroy the locket in the first week of Harry's holidays, but, while the fang had pierced the locket, there had been no indication that it had destroyed the horcrux; both Harry and Padfoot had reached the conclusion that they might have to open the locket to do any real damage.
While Harry was fairly certain that getting it to open would be easy – thanks to his discovery of parseltongue during his most recent school year – what actually happened when they did open the locket was another matter. Last time, Lily and James had appeared, and- well, having Voldemort's soul pose as his parents, and talk and knowing that he or Padfoot would potentially have to fight them – or at least blast them out of the way – while the other stabbed the locket was not something that was easy to reconcile with.
Whether that was why he and Padfoot had been reluctant to give it another shot, or whether the locket was messing with them was hard to tell, though Padfoot suspected the latter.
Padfoot gingerly unwrapped the basilisk fang Harry had taken from the Chamber as they entered the drawing room. Harry made to close the door, but Padfoot shook his head.
"I wouldn't. We might need to get out in a hurry; remember last time?"
Harry pushed the door back open, and went to sit on the arm of the couch, wand ready, while Padfoot retrieved the locket and set it on the table.
There had been no question of whether Harry was allowed to help with this; he'd helped fetch it when he was much younger, and much less experienced with danger than he was now, and he was the only one of the two of them to have destroyed a horcrux. Oh, Padfoot might have liked to object in the hopes of keeping Harry safe, but he hadn't dared. Harry half-smiled at the thought.
"Ready?" Padfoot asked. Harry nodded, and opened his mouth at Padfoot's gesture.
He took a deep breath, and shut his eyes, just for a moment; the basilisk lingered there, in his head, long and deadly, much the same as it had back in February, and much the same as in the dreams he was still having about it now.
"Open," he whispered, and the odd 'huh' noise Padfoot made told Harry he'd used parseltongue. There was a soft click, and then the sound of gold on wood as the locket opened. For several seconds, the room was still, and silent but for a very quiet hissing sound that was coming from the locket. Padfoot hadn't moved to stab it just yet, nor did Harry want him to.
"Harry," a deep voice said, just as a softer one said, "Sirius." Then, as they had last time, Lily and James Potter appeared from within the locket. Padfoot still hadn't moved, and Harry realised, a little guiltily, that perhaps he'd wanted to see them just as much as Harry had. They looked different this time; last time, Lily had been beautiful, and James handsome, and they'd looked so young and friendly.
This time, there was a sense of weariness about them, and the first streaks of grey had started to show at James' temples, just as they had at Padfoot's (Moony, of course, had always had grey hairs, for as long as Harry had known him). Lily had frown lines. Harry wondered if they looked older because they'd actually aged in the locket, or if they just looked older because he'd expected them to.
"How's it going?" Padfoot asked casually, but the look in his eyes was the one that tended to be there when they visited the graveyard at Godric's Hollow; they'd been there a few weeks back, for Harry's birthday, in fact. He waved with the hand holding the fang, and locket-Lily eyed it with distaste.
"What's that?" she asked.
"Basilisk fang," Harry answered in a shaky voice.
"Go ahead," James said, though his voice was off; it sounded like Riddle's had, though maybe a bit older. "If you can; going to kill me again, Padfoot? Kill Lily? Can you really watch us die?"
"You're not you," Padfoot muttered, but James had struck a chord, and for Harry as well; Harry had memories of the night his parents had died, and, while he hadn't seen it in anything resembling perfect detail, the sounds and the flash of green light were more than enough. Those dreams featured with the Chamber dreams, more often than not.
"Doesn't matter," James said, shrugging. "I look like me, I'll die looking like me, and you'll know that you did it."
"Peter did it," Padfoot said.
"Yes, I suppose," Lily said. "And how's he doing? Atoning for his crimes, is he?" Padfoot growled at her, and she threw a mocking smile in his direction.
"Padfoot." Harry'd had enough of them for the time being, and he had a feeling this could very easily begin to spiral out of control. Padfoot looked at him, eyes clearer than Harry had expected, and nodded.
"Yes, that's right," James said. "Listen to Harry."
"While you can," Lily sighed.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Harry asked, frowning at her; Padfoot had lowered the fang again, and was wearing the expression Harry suspected he must use when he was arresting people.
"Yes, I'd like to know that too," he said curtly. Lily folded her arms.
"It's hardly a secret he's living on borrowed time," James said. "First that business with Quirrell, then the Chamber… and where were you, Sirius?"
"Not in a position to help him, that's where," Lily said scornfully. Padfoot flinched, just a bit, and Harry knew he was listening to them now. He'd be able to sort himself out eventually, but Harry didn't want to see what the locket could do with more time.
"And it's only a matter of time before he stops getting lucky, before he takes on an opponent that's just a bit faster than he is-"
"Or the other people he's relied on so far get there just a bit late…"
"Procellus," Harry said, flicking his wrist in a circling motion. Air funnelled out of the tip of his wand, and into a vortex that surrounded the pair of them. James' hand, unable to pass through, confirmed that they were trapped; Harry hadn't been entirely sure how solid they were, or if it would work. The wind swallowed their voices, too; he could see them shouting from within their gusty prison, but couldn't hear them. Lily thumped the whirlwind and Harry felt the spell falter. She shrieked soundlessly at him, face very ugly now, and starting to mix into Tom's. "Padfoot, now!" he said.
Padfoot made a pained noise and Harry heard him stumble back. Panicking, Harry turned, hoping that the locket hadn't hurt him somehow, and James – who, like Lily, was starting to resemble Tom - took advantage of his distraction to throw himself against Harry's spell. It shattered. Wind howled through the room, tugging on Harry's hair and upturning the couch. It knocked Harry back into Padfoot, who caught him with one arm; the other was cradling his midsection, and Harry's stomach churned with worry and fear.
James and Lily surged forward, and Harry lifted his wand, trying to think of a spell that would hold them at bay, but then Padfoot's arm was there, pulling him back toward the door.
"What-?" Harry started to ask, but then he saw Kreacher advancing on the locket; he had the fang in his knobbly little hand, and the other was held out before him, holding a glowing green shield in place.
Harry saw him mumble something, and thought he might have heard the word 'Regulus' over the wind and the inhuman howls of the things that had resembled Harry's parents, but now looked more like Inferi than anything. Then, Kreacher stabbed the locket.
A cloud of black exploded out of it, and Harry saw Kreacher swallowed. He didn't even have time to shout the elf's name before the cloud was upon them. He fumbled with his wand, but Padfoot was ready with a shield charm, and Harry felt vague heat, but not much else; what appeared to be ash billowed at them, but passed harmlessly over the shield and out onto the landing and stairs.
Then, everything went very still; the ash fell to the floor all at once, and Harry's whirlwind charm ended, and the drawing room was empty but for Kreacher, and the mangled locket.
Harry hurried forward, with Padfoot – still cradling his stomach - in his wake, and ash billowed up around them. Kreacher had been knocked off his feet by the blast, and was covered from head to toe in ash, and had a nasty looking burn on his shoulder, but otherwise seemed unhurt, if his muttered curses were anything to go by.
Padfoot caught Harry's arm and held him at a distance, where they could watch Kreacher, who was picking himself up off the floor, fang still in hand. Padfoot's wand stayed up, and pointed at the elf.
"Done," Kreacher said thickly. "Done, done, oh, yes, it is done."
"Kreacher," Padfoot said, "drop the fang." The fan dropped onto the carpet without a sound, but ask puffed up around it.
"Padfoot," Harry said, trying to push his godfather's wand down, but Padfoot fended off Harry's attempts with his elbow. Harry looked at Padfoot, who was rather pale, and at Kreacher, who appeared to be crying, and decided he must be missing something.
"Explain," Padfoot said curtly.
Kreacher snapped his fingers and Padfoot sucked in a breath, then straightened, fingers probing his midsection.
"You hurt him?" Harry asked Kreacher.
"Kreacher had orders, Kreacher promised to destroy the locket, but Kreacher hadn't, and Kreacher thought Master Sirius- that the Dark Lord had won him, so Kreacher-"
"Attacked me and did it yourself," Padfoot said, rubbing a hand over his face. "And I wasn't faltering."
"Much," Harry said, arching an eyebrow. He'd expected a scowl, but instead Padfoot's expression grew shadowy.
"Awful as it is, it was-"
"Nice to see them?" Harry asked, swallowing. Padfoot didn't say anything, but he did reach out and put a hand on Harry's shoulder.
"Right," he said, after several long moments, and turned back to Kreacher, who was dusting himself off. "You attack me again – even if it is to kill a horcrux – and I'll go back on what I said and stick your head up on the wall like my cow of a mother did to yours." Harry didn't think Kreacher saw that as a threat as much as he did an honour, but Kreacher had the sense to interpret it in the way it was intended, and bowed his head, nodding. "Good." He looked around at the drawing room – ruined, for the second time since they'd moved in. "We'll deal with this mess later, we've got to get ready or Andy'll have our heads."
Padfoot picked up the fang and strode out.
"He's not really angry," Harry said to Kreacher. "Just-"
"Kreacher is well accustomed to Master Sirius' moods," Kreacher said, patting Harry's arm. "Not happy with Kreacher for attacking, not happy with Master Sirius for his falter, no, he isn't. Not to worry, Master Harry, Kreacher knows, oh, yes." Kreacher shuffled over to the locket and picked it up. Harry had seen little smirks and smiles on the elf's face before, and seen him pleased, but he didn't think he'd ever seen him this content; he supposed it must be nice to finally fulfilled his promise to Regulus after all these years.
"He's happy about that, though," Harry said. "Padfoot, I mean."
"Kreacher knows," Kreacher assured him. There were stomping footsteps on the landing, and then Padfoot was back.
"Stand still,' he said, "I'll fix the burn on your shoulder." Kreacher stayed very still as Padfoot dabbed the ointment on, and then patted his hand when it was done. The pair of them shared a long look, then Padfoot swallowed and looked away, at the same time as Kreacher sniffed and looked down. "Right," Padfoot said gruffly. "We really need to get ready now."