As they emerged from the tomb, several wizards Apparated onto the sand. The head one, a wizard with brilliant white hair and a completely black mustache, said in Egyptian, "She is subdued?"
Bill's Egyptian had never been prime, and after the past half-hour, he would have an even worse time. But he mustered himself to explain.
Before he could open his mouth, however, Ginny said in flawless Egyptian, "This is her. Be careful. She's sneaky."
Two burly wizards stepped forward and took Marisa off Harry's hands.
Harry handed Marisa's wand over to the head wizard as Ginny started telling him what had happened in the tomb. Her accent would have made Bill's long-suffering language teacher weep for joy.
"Bill," Harry said. "I'm sorry, but you're going to have to take credit for all this with your teammates."
Bill's overtaxed brain groaned under this new puzzle. "What? Why?"
"We can't afford to have anybody know what we did. Our work depends on people thinking we're exactly what we seem. If someone here knows we took her down, they're going to start wondering."
Bill stared at him. "Your work?"
Harry looked past him. "Later. I think your spell-inversion woke everyone up."
Bill turned. The two sleeping tents spat forth puzzled people, who pointed at the Egyptian Ministry wizards and shouted questions across the sand that Bill couldn't quite make out.
Harry shouted back, "We're all right! It's all over!" He turned to Bill. "Just go along with whatever we say, all right? We--"
Green light exploded behind them, and they both spun to see the wizards who'd taken charge of Marisa out cold on the sand and Marisa raising the stolen wand again.
Ginny rammed Marisa in the middle, and both women went down, hair flying. Bill grabbed his wand and Harry clamped a hand on his elbow. "You could hit Ginny," he said. "It's not worth it."
Bill turned on him. "How can you be so calm?"
"She's taken care of it already."
It couldn't have been more than a few seconds since Ginny had leapt at her, but Marisa lay flat on the sand. Ginny knelt over her, one hand against her throat. She exerted no pressure, but there was something in the way she balanced her weight that hinted pressure was an option.
Harry said, "I did tell you she didn't need anyone to take care of her." His voice was very matter-of-fact, but his grip on Bill's arm eased with excruciating slowness.
Ginny pulled her wand and said, "Petrificus Totalus." Marisa froze in place. Ginny got to her feet, dusting off her hands. "We should have done that in the first place."
Harry finally let go of Bill's arm and said easily, "That'll teach us to be so arrogant."
He turned and looked at the excavation team still standing in front of the tents, shocked into immobility by the sudden burst of violence. As coolly as if he were locking a door, he raised his wand and said, "Obliviate."
Even from here, Bill could see their faces go lax for a moment.
"It's just a few seconds worth," Harry said, catching Bill's look. "Just to forget what Ginny did."
But they could do a major one, Bill realized. They could enchant him to forget everything that had happened in the tomb, and if he was told in the few seconds' disorientation that he'd taken El--Marisa down, he would have believed it.
And they would, if they had to.
The Ministry wizards Disapparated with their prisoner, and Ginny came to them. Harry gathered her close and brushed her hair back from her forehead, frowning at a raw patch. She gave him a little smile and looked at her brother.
He looked at her. "Some job I did on her, yeah?"
She smiled a little and leaned her head against Harry's shoulder. "Yeah. You impressed the socks off your baby sister, that's for sure."
Jacki reached them first. "Bill! What the hell is going on?"
Ginny cried, "Oh, Jacki! It was awful! Thank God Bill was there!"
Harry tightened his arms around Ginny, and his voice shook slightly. "Don't know what she would have done to us, if he hadn't--"
Jacki said, "Bill? What happened?"
Bill took a breath. "It was Ellie," he said.
Some time later, after all the exclamations of fury and disbelief and relief had been dispensed with and nearly everyone had gone back to bed, Bill sat in the dining tent. The desert air was bitter cold now, and he had his cloak wrapped around him, but he wasn't going in just yet.
Harry and Ginny sat on the other side of the table, the same seats they'd sat in for dinner, when they'd staged a fight so convincing that it had even fooled him.
He looked at them. "Answers," he said. "Now."
Ginny looked back, singularly unimpressed. "Forty-two."
She said, "It's an answer. Not my fault if you didn't ask a question first."
He exhaled through his nose, and the air streamed out in a plume of white. Between them, the flame of the fat candle he'd lit wavered and jumped. Shadows chased themselves around the sloped ceiling. "What," he said, "was all that?"
Harry said, "A favor."
Bill said, "Ginny. I deserve to know."
She sighed, and her shoulders slumped. "Yes," she said. "You do."
Bill listened mutely to the tale of escape from an American wizard prison, a seer's vision of the dig, and the American Ministry's calling on Harry and Ginny.
"We knew two things," Harry said. "That we had to suspect everyone, and that she'd probably put a Love Charm in effect while she was hunting up whatever she was after. So we had to be careful."
"The laundry," Bill said. "The sheets. All those questions about the food. Your--god, your bloody shoes."
"It can be anything, and Marisa is one of the best."
"Did you figure out what it was?"
Ginny said gently, "You said it yourself, Bill. Ellie always made sure everyone took their salt."
Bill had to look away, out at the half-moon, hanging low on the horizon. He remembered what Ginny had said so many hours before. Border time. Things can go either way. "You didn't take it," he said to his sister, still looking at the moon. "I saw you palm it, the way you used to with the vitamins."
Harry said, "Sorry about moving the pan on you."
Bill shook his head. "You couldn't afford me saying anything in front of her, could you?"
Their silence was enough of an answer for him.
"How did you know?"
"When Ginny stomped off after dinner, she took that tablet to your Potions tent to test it. We confirmed it with the one I saved."
"How long will it take to get over it?" Bill asked.
"You're over it already. You've completely lost the inclination that the Love Charm builds on. For the others, it's not quite the same, but without her or the charmed salt tablets around, it should wear off completely by about noon tomorrow."
He nodded. "Ginny," he said. "That Egyptian you spoke. What was that?"
She blinked at him. "I was telling them what happened."
"I mean," he said, "you spoke it perfectly. Perfectly. Where did you learn?"
Harry and Ginny looked at each other for a moment. "I've got . . . a gift for languages now," she said. Her hand drifted up to her neckline, where the shining edge of a horrendous scar just peeked out.
"It's quite handy," Harry said. "She can swear for three hours straight and not repeat herself once."
And Bill knew the subject was closed.
He took a breath and asked the most important question. "Did you know it was E-Ellie when you came?"
Ginny said, "No."
"Everyone was a suspect," Harry said. "The women more than the men, but everyone still."
Even me? Bill thought, but didn't ask, because there were some things he didn't want to know.
"The fight," he realized. "That was a trap."
Ginny smiled a little. "Most experts are pretty arrogant about it. They just can't help correcting anybody who has a wrong notion about their area of expertise. When Marisa exposed herself like that, it led us to the salt tablets. If she hadn't attempted her power spell tonight, we would have had time to collect more proof and then call in Raquel's operatives to take her out."
Bill said, "And when they did, you would have stood around gawking with everyone else, and talked about your lucky escape right up until the moment you left."
Harry rubbed his thumb over a shallow scrape left on the back of Ginny's hand by Marisa's nails. "And there would have been no need for all this . . . drama."
The questions and thanks that bombarded Bill from the others got to be intolerable around midmorning. Somehow, a story had got around that he'd realized there was something off about Ellie from the start, and had pretended to be in love with her in order to figure out what she was doing.
He hadn't put it about, and every time someone said something about his courage or his brains, he felt slightly sick. Seeking solitude, he went off to work by himself, hunting around the abandoned chambers for small annoying hexes and curses and jinxes he'd missed on the first pass.
He took a break at noon. He wasn't hungry, but from habit and necessity, he took a water bottle and a salt tablet from the chest in the dining tent. Then he stopped, staring at the little white pill in the palm of his hand. She wasn't here, he reminded himself. It couldn't affect him anymore.
He dropped it back in the tin with a clank and went to sit in a patch of shade.
"Hey," said a voice.
He looked up and saw a slender woman about eight years his junior. She wore an enormous green hat to protect her milky skin from the sun, and her brilliant hair flamed in the sun. She was as lovely and graceful as a willow, and as tough as an oak. Her eyes were sad as she looked down at him.
"Hi, Ginny," he said.
She nodded at a patch of sand just beside him. "Mind if I have a seat?"
She sat, folding her legs under her. "I saw you put the tablet back," she said. "You need your salt in all this sun. Here."
He looked at the white pill she held out to him. "That's not--"
"It's one of ours. Charm-free. Promise."
He washed it down with water.
"How're you doing?" she asked gently.
"Wavering between feeling like a total sap and an utter fool," he said bitterly. "How about you?"
She put her chin in her hands. "Wavering between feeling like pond scum and wanting to pop over to New York to Transfigure Marisa into a beetle and smash her flat with a dictionary."
"You did your job," he said, and heard the acid edge in his voice with shame. He couldn't expunge it, however. "Why should you feel bad?"
She frowned at him. "I just exposed the woman you loved as a dangerous, manipulative fraud. I'm supposed to be dancing about this?"
The hot bitterness drained away. "Sorry," he muttered. "It's just--it--"
"I know," she said. "You feel like you should have known about her. But, Bill--"
"It's not just her," he burst out. "It's you."
"You! You're my baby sister, and I never once suspected that--and I knew you weren't made to just drift around and I never thought--Ginny, you lied to me!"
"I didn't have a choice. You know that. It would have been too risky--"
"You lied to me before that. In all your letters, you never once said--"
"Bill, did you even listen to Harry? What we do depends on our not being noticed. On people not knowing."
"Yes," she said. "On lies." She glared at him from under her silly hat, her eyes blazing, her lips tight. "I am what I am, Bill. I won't apologize for it. After last night, you know more about us than anybody not in a classified government position."
"Come off it. I'm sure you've told somebody."
"Ron and Hermione--or Carmen and Jeremy--"
He held himself very still as the truth of it sank in. "Nobody," he said.
She said back, "Nobody."
They stared at each other, the youngest and the eldest of the Weasleys.
"All this secrecy wasn't my choice," she said, more calmly. "Neither was it Harry's. But it goes with the work. And we need to do the work."
He said, "You like--the work?"
She took a breath and let it out. "Yeah," she said. "I do. I like pitting my wits and getting out with my skin intact. I like knowing I made a difference. This time, though . . . I didn't particularly want this assignment. But--"
"Harry talked you into it?" he guessed.
She turned her head to stare at him. "No. I had to talk him into it. We both knew we were the best ones for it, but he didn't want me to have to . . . There wasn't anyone else with such a good excuse to come to this camp. Marisa would have suspected anyone but a baby sister."
"I thought you and Harry were--having problems. You got here and you were so--" he floundered, "--tense."
"Because of you," she said, as if that should be obvious. "I didn't want to lie to you. And then when we realized it was Ellie, and here you were in love with her . . ."
"Why?" he asked.
"Why did you fall in love with her?"
"Nobody else did."
She looked down at her feet. "I don't know," she said. "Maybe she knew about your history and gave you an extra-strong charm . . . or maybe without it, you would have fallen half in love with her anyway. I . . . don't know."
"Doesn't matter," he said bitterly. "Either way, I was still babbling on like an idiot about how perfect she was. Why didn't you say something?"
"What would I have said?" She met his eyes. "It just kept getting worse. But every time it did, I told myself that anything was worth it if I could save you from her."
He touched a strand of her hair. "Just like Nicolette," he said.
She frowned. "Bill, I was two."
"And you're not anymore." He let his hand fall. "I've just realized that. When I left home, you were a child, and I kept that picture in my head all these years. Whatever else changed, you never would . . . except you did. Watching you throw yourself on an armed Death Eater and take her down in seconds flat--it scared me. Not because you were in danger, but because you didn't need me to take care of it for you."
She looked at him for several seconds, then put her arm around his waist. "I promise," she said, "that if Fred ever puts Sparkle on the roof of the henhouse again, I'll let you turn him into a warthog for me."
He said, "You knew about that?"
She looked at him. "Bill, I was seven, not blind."
They sat together in silence for a long time. Finally, Ginny stirred. "Harry's gotten an owl," she said. "Our project in Japan's been put off for a few weeks. Can we hang about until then?"
"As long as you like. You know that."
"Just making sure."
"Japan, eh?" he said, making an effort. "Another favor?"
"And the business at Mamacita's resturant--"
"That was for the Canadian Ministry."
"And Lolita? Another favor?"
"And the Mai Tais? Were you working undercover? Were there Death Eaters running the karoke bar?"
Ginny didn't say anything, and he looked down to find her beet-red. "That actually was just Mai Tais and flaming stupidity," she admitted. "Even we get some time off. But I had to start our next project with the biggest hangover in the Western Hemisphere."
He started to laugh and couldn't stop, even when she punched him in the ribs. When he'd got his breath back, he let out a long sigh. "Guess I'd better get back to work," he said, getting to his feet. "We're all going to have to take up the slack now we're one down."
"Bill," she called out.
"If it makes you feel any better, I've been fooled by perfection twice myself," she said. "And neither of them really turned up roses."
"How?" he asked.
"Well, Tom of course," she said. "I nearly died because of that little bit of misjudgement."
"What was the other?"
"Harry," she said.
Bill stared. "Harry?"
She nodded. "If I hadn't gotten over my pretty picture of him as a knight in shining armor, with the white horse and all, I would have wound up hating him because he couldn't be perfect." She smiled, and it was the slow, shining smile of a woman who was happy to the core. "The real Harry's just bursting with flaws, and thank god for that. It's too hard to love perfection."