A/N: This was written for My Dear Professor McGonagall's Sibling Rivalry Competition II for the pairing of Bill/Ginny (but includes a little Ginny/Ron and a tiny bit of Bill/Ron, all platonic). It's set between Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban when the Weasleys visit Bill in Egypt. I found it too much of a coincidence that less than two months after being taken into the Chamber of Secrets, Ginny was spending a month with a curse breaker. I never bought the idea that her recovery was as simplistic as JKR wrote it and decided Bill's practical, everyday experience with cursed objects and dark magic would result in a more effective remedy than sleep and chocolate. Quotes are from the Bloomsbury hardback children's edition.
" 'Bed rest and perhaps a large, steaming mug of hot chocolate. I always find that cheers me up,' he added, twinkling kindly down at her." Dumbledore to Ginny immediately after her rescue from the Chamber, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 18 "Dobby's Reward," p. 243. "On the other hand, Ginny Weasley was perfectly happy again." Harry's observations of life at Hogwarts at the end of his second year, p. 250.
Credits: To J. K. Rowling, obviously; and my beta vancabreuniter, who was a tremendous help in working out the magic, plot, and spells that became the bulk of this story. She has Percy/Fred for this challenge, so be sure and look for her update towards the end of October!
More Than a Mug of Hot Chocolate
Valley of the Kings, Egypt
"Absolutely not." Molly Weasley placed both hands on her daughter's shoulders and glared at her oldest son. This was the third time in as many hours, and Bill was getting impatient.
"Oh, come on, Mum."
She pulled Ginny against her chest. "I am not sending Ginny into some cursed Muggle tomb. She's just a child!"
Bill glanced at his almost-twelve-year-old sister who stood quietly in their mother's grip. "These tombs were cleared by curse breakers and have been perfectly safe for wizards for centuries. Some of them have a Muggle-repelling charm that makes them sick, but it won't hurt any of us. She wants to go, don't you, Gin-Gin?"
Ginny shrugged. In the forty-three hours since his family had arrived in Egypt, Bill had yet to get more than a "hi" and a brief, if tight, hug out of his chatty, gregarious sister. He exchanged a glance with Charlie, who was waiting at the tomb's entrance. This reticence was completely unlike the playful imp who followed them everywhere and never shut up.
Bill was afraid he knew why.
He had been trying for weeks—almost two months now—to find out exactly what happened to Ginny at the end of the school year. All Dad would say was she had been writing in a cursed diary. Mum flat-out refused to talk about it, ignoring his questions and filling her letters with news about his brothers and plans for the trip. And everyone insisted that Ginny was fine.
"All right, then. You go with Charlie, and I'll stay with Ginny."
His mother eyed him with insulting skepticism—he had been babysitting Ginny since she was born—before releasing her hold on her baby girl. "I don't know why I would want to go inside a dusty old tomb in the first place."
"Maybe to make sure Percy actually comes out?" Charlie said. "Fred and George followed him, Dad, and Ron in there a good ten minutes ago."
Bill exchanged another glance with his brother, accompanied by a roll of the eyes this time, as their mother proceeded Charlie into the tomb. Bill turned back to his sister. In deference to the blazing Egyptian sun, her pale English skin was covered in linen pants, a long-sleeved white shirt, and a wide straw hat that hid her face.
"Tell me something only Ginny Weasley would know." No response. "You look like Ginny, but you don't act like Ginny. I'm afraid Percy tied her up and left her at home, and you're his Polyjuiced girlfriend." Not even a hint of a smile, so Bill fell back on a Weasley sibling standby. "I dare you. Tell me something only Ginny would know."
" 'You can run away to Egypt if you like, Bill Weasley, but you'll still be a stuck-up, know-it-all prat who cares more about his résumé than people.' "
He winced. That was Ginny, all right. Did he say chatty and gregarious? He meant big-mouthed and nosy. She and Lindsay Campbell were the only two people who knew Lindsay's reaction when he broke up with her just before the start of seventh year. Still, he'd got more than a shrug and a one-word answer.
"Why don't you want to go into the tombs?"
She shrugged. Honestly, if he didn't know better, Bill would think he was dealing with a female. He waited, having never known Ginny not to fill in a silence. But she was stubborn, too and stood motionless except for her left thumb, which was worrying a hangnail.
"Are you afraid of the dark?"
Her chin came up; or rather, the brim of her hat tilted from downward to level.
"I've never been afraid of the dark before."
Before. Before what?
Bill conjured two chairs and a fan, and Ginny immediately dropped into hers. She hadn't acclimated to the heat yet, and unlike everyone else who had spent time in the coolness of the tombs, she had been outside all morning. He glanced at her again, thoroughly unsettled by this quiet, compliant shadow.
"I thought you might be having nightmares." She sat as still as a crocodile in the Nile. "I get them sometimes, after working around dark magic."
"They told you." She spat the words; he saw her saliva hit the sand and evaporate.
"No one will tell me anything except you were writing in a cursed diary. I've been hoping to hear the story from you."
Ginny adjusted the fan to blow directly on her. Bill conjured a glass of water and she drained it.
"I can help you, Ginny, but you have to tell me what happened."
She twisted the glass in her hands. "You'll think I'm stupid."
"Have I ever done anything stupid?"
She had turned slightly to take full advantage of the artificial breeze, and he saw the corner of her mouth turn up; thinking of Lindsay, no doubt. She nodded.
"Do you really think I'm unintelligent?"
She shook her head. Merlin, this silent treatment was grating, and he was getting desperate to do anything to end it.
"Do you still love me?"
"Bloody hell, Ginny!" Add annoying brat to that list. She still wouldn't meet his gaze, but taking the piss was a definite improvement. "You can tell me. Whatever it is, I promise I won't think you're stupid, and I'll still love you. You're my favorite sister."
"I'm your only sister."
"See? You'll always be my favorite." Bill heard his mother's strident tones coming from the tomb entrance. Apparently Fred and George had tried to leave Percy behind. "Think about it, okay?"
Bill stepped over and around the sleeping bodies on his sitting room floor and closed the door quietly behind him. It was still early, but he couldn't sleep. Late last night—just a few hours ago-when it was just the six brothers, Ron had finally told what happened to Ginny.
You-Know-Who and the Chamber of Secrets.
Bill laced up his running shoes and started off at a jog, too agitated to warm up.
The Chamber of Secrets! It had been a prank, a lark. He told his youngest brothers the legend the night before he left for his seventh year in response to Ron begging for a story. Bill left Fred and George in their room, still excitedly discussing the monster, then carried Ron upstairs under one arm and tossed him into bed. He thought Percy had stopped off at the bathroom, but when Bill returned, Percy, who was starting Hogwarts the next day, was spreading a blanket in what little floor space remained between Bill's and Charlie's beds. It was a laugh, scaring them all with a tale of a hidden chamber and an unknown monster, but there wasn't anything funny about Ron's story.
Bill turned a corner and sped up. Two weeks; it had taken him two weeks to get Ron to open up. His family would be here for another fortnight, but today was his last day of holiday, and he needed a private talk with Ginny before she returned to England. Preferably more than a talk. After some brotherly goading, she had come out of her shell a bit to explore the tombs and other ancient sites, but it had taken a lot more goading than usual. It wasn't until Percy (Percy!) accused her of being a Hufflepuff that Ginny had shrugged off their mother's protective arm. And she was afraid of the dark. Despite the insult, she had stuck to Percy like flobberworm mucus; he had been carrying the torch.
Bill lengthened his stride, already feeling the calming effects of exercise and fresh air. Ginny was strong and smart; if he could smuggle her into the curse breaker's training course and go through a few lessons with her, help her confront her fear of the dark, it would boost her confidence and help her recover. Dark magic preyed on fear and ignorance, and you couldn't shake the effects by disregarding them. He knew that from experience.
Ginny leaned over the railing, and Bill had to resist the urge to pull her back. He'd left Gringotts for lunch and picked up Ginny to bring her here, to the training grounds of the Egyptian national Quidditch team. Her mouth hadn't closed once since she'd seen the billboard; if she wasn't chattering about the brooms or the players or the facilities, she was gaping in awe. Bill didn't think it had even sunk in yet that he'd chosen to bring her alone as her birthday present. Charlie was going to kill him.
"Are you going to eat that?"
Ginny passed him her nearly whole lamb falafel without looking at him. "Which one is your friend?"
Bill scanned the pitch as he chewed. "Masud is on the far side, underneath the flying carpet advert."
Ginny leaned still farther for a better look.
"You do know you need a broomstick to fly, right, sprite?"
"Oh, could I?" She turned so eagerly her plaits flew from behind her back to over her shoulder. "I had lessons with Madam Hooch last year, and I was good, I promise I was! Please, Bill?"
She grabbed his forearm with both hands, tilted her head, and smiled. It was the same expression she'd used to get the last slice of chocolate gateau from Percy last night. At the time, Bill had felt smugly superior, but really, how did you turn down a face as cute as that?
He smiled back. "Today is open fly." Few places in Cairo were private enough for broomsticks, but this stadium had been standing, complete with Disillusionment and Muggle-repelling charms, since before the city expanded across the Nile. As such, the team management opened the stadium to the wizarding public three times a week in the off-season.
Ginny bounced out of her seat. "Let's go, let's go!"
Even with his nearly two-foot height advantage, Bill was hard pressed to keep up as Ginny descended the stairs of the stands and circled around the pitch towards Masud. She waited to be introduced, then promptly asked for a broomstick.
Masud stared down at her, arms crossed. "You have been on a broomstick before?"
"Oh, yes, sir."
"You know how to stop and how to land safely?"
"You will not fly off into the wind with the gods?"
She actually hesitated, and Bill bit back a grin. As equipment manager, Masud was very serious about his broomsticks.
Masud turned and lifted two broomsticks from the racks behind him. "Very well then." He handed each of them a Nimbus Two Thousand.
Ginny stared at hers, floating in the air before her. "Harry has one of these," she whispered, then blushed scarlet. "Thank you," she added, then threw her leg over and gave Bill a shove. "Tag, you're it!"
"Where did you learn to fly like that?" They were walking across the grounds to the Apparition point; he had ten minutes to get Ginny back to the hotel and himself back to work.
"I told you, I had lessons with Madame Hooch."
"You don't fly like a first year."
Ginny turned, walking backwards to face him and waving her hands in the air. "It's magic."
She shrugged and turned back around. He was coming to really hate that gesture, but she could keep that secret; it wasn't the one he wanted to know, anyway.
"Well, happy birthday, Gin-Gin."
She scowled. "I'm twelve; don't you think it's time to drop the nickname? I already have a nickname."
"I know, Ginevra." Her scowl deepened, and Bill felt a sense of brotherly satisfaction. "Besides, you're not twelve yet."
"I am too! My birthday is August 11th, and today-"
"You were born in the late afternoon; in England it isn't even lunchtime yet."
"Bullocks," Ginny muttered.
Bill laughed. Much to their mother's horror (and no small amount of punishment), he and Charlie had encouraged Ginny's dirty mouth from the time she could talk. "Listen, there's something I want to ask you." They had reached the Apparition point, but he stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. "Ron told me about the Chamber and your nightmares." She went still and rigid again. "He also said he thought you would have aced your exams if you hadn't been so stressed last year. I thought you two might like to come down to the training course this weekend and practice a bit."
She shifted, scuffing a sandal in the dirt. "The curse breaker's training course? At Gringotts?"
"Uh-huh." Thank goodness she wasn't looking at him. He'd kept his voice casual, but he felt the tension in his shoulders and knew he couldn't hide how much he wanted her to say yes.
"With Ron? And you?"
"Uh-huh. Ron doesn't know; I wanted to ask you first in case you didn't want him to come."
"No, I want Ron there," she said immediately. Then she went still and quiet again.
He waited. If he were late, the goblins could damn well get over it.
"There will be dark magic."
She looked up at him, and Bill's gut twisted at the fear in her eyes. "You really think you can make the nightmares go away?"
"Probably not completely, but I can teach you how to deal with them. I can teach you how to recognize dark objects, how to avoid being contaminated by them, and how to have confidence in your own magic. I can help you not to be afraid of the dark, so you don't have to worry about navigating Hogwarts without lighting your wand." I can help you be Ginny again.
Her head jerked up, eyes wide.
"I was at Hogwarts for seven years, Ginny. Those corridors get dark in the wintertime, even during the day."
She dropped her gaze again, worrying her bottom lip. "Do we have to tell Mum and Dad?"
Bill felt another surge of anger at his parents' ostrich approach to all of this. "Not if you don't want to."
She shook her head. "They've been so worried, and this trip is the first time I've seen Mum happy all summer. I don't want them to know I'm still-"
"You're not still possessed," Bill said firmly, "and there's no shame in being disturbed by what happened. I'd be a lot more worried if you weren't, actually. You'll do it?"
She hesitated again, and the knot in his gut tightened to a physical pain. The contrast between the Ginny on the pitch and the Ginny out here was appalling. If he ever got the chance . . . if You-Know-Who ever came out in the open again . . . .
"I'll do it if Ron will," she said finally. "But you ask him, okay?"
Bill pulled her into a hug. "Okay."
Bill rapped Ron and Ginny smartly on the tops of their heads with the end of his wand and they reappeared.
They were standing in the Core, a circular torchlit room with a dozen doors. By promising the goblin half his cut of his next treasure hunt, Bill had made arrangements with Donerk for all the rooms to be in Fledgling Newbie mode. Instead of having dozens of rooms at varying levels of difficulty, the goblins had created these twelve and adjusted the magic to fit the skills of the wizards present for training. Even Fledgling Newbie mode was far beyond Ron's and Ginny's abilities, of course, but at least Bill could be sure all three of them would walk out in one piece. The last time he was in here, he had nearly been spiked by poisonous darts shooting from the many eyes of a golden statue.
"Pick a door."
Ginny moved so she was between her brothers. "What's going to happen?"
"Each room has some type of treasure—gold, jewels, ancient artifacts. You have to avoid the traps and penetrate the magical concealment to retrieve the treasure without destroying it. Each room will build on the magic you learned in the previous room, so choose the first one carefully."
"Fun!" Ron said. Bill smiled at him. It was a hell of a lot of fun, minus the poisonous darts.
Ron looked to Ginny. She shook her head.
"That one," Ron said, pointing to an ornately engraved door to their left.
Ron strode across the chamber and cast an Alohomora. "Ginny, come look!"
Ah, the In Plain Sight room. This room looked like one of the Gringotts vaults with piles of gold galleons, stacks of silver sickles, and heaps of glittering gemstones, none of which were the actual treasure. Ron cottoned on at once.
"This is too easy," he said, frowning. "The treasure must be something else." He lit his wand and shone it around the room. Ginny copied him. "Back there, there's space between all this and the wall." Ron made to climb over the coins, but Ginny pulled him back.
"Wait, Ron, Bill said there would be traps." She turned to Bill, who was watching from the doorway. "How do we find out what the traps are?"
Bill showed them Scarpin's Revelaspell, which revealed any enchantments placed on an object. Nothing happened.
"Did it work?" Ginny asked.
Bill tried not to be insulted by her wariness. "Yes, it worked. The coins and jewels haven't been charmed. Watch carefully; there's a faint glow that appears around the object when the spell is cast." He did it again.
"Cool," Ron said, climbing over.
"So if someone had cast that on my diary, we would have known it was cursed?"
Bill stared at her. Merlin, could it really have been that simple? "Yes, I think so."
Ginny got a stubborn look on her face, the same one she wore whenever he or his brothers told her she couldn't join them because she was too young, or because she was a girl. "Show me again."
Bill repeated the movement in slow motion and was teaching her how to pair it with the incantation when Ron called out.
"I've found something!" His red head popped up over a stack of sickles. "It's like an invisible box. I can't see it, but I keep running into it."
Bill left Ginny practicing the wand movement and joined his brother at the back of the vault. "So how are we going to remove it?"
Ron's forehead crinkled. "Does the spell you used to make me and Ginny reappear work on objects, too?"
"Well done, Ron." Bill reversed the Disillusionment charm. Ron tried another Alohomora, but the lid remained closed. Bill cast the correct spell, and Ron removed the sculpture. He frowned.
"What's so special about this?"
"It's a bust of Nefertiti." Ron gave him a blank stare. "She was the wife of a pharaoh. It's over three thousand years old."
Ron still did not look impressed. "It's not the real one, though, is it?"
"Nah, the Muggles have it, actually. In Germany."
Ron set the bust back in the box. "I don't get it. What was the trap?"
"Greed," Ginny said from behind them. "Remember the Gringotts doors? 'Enter stranger, but take heed, of what awaits the sin of greed . . . .' You had to look past the obvious to find the true wealth."
"Exactly. Ready to try another one?"
Ginny proceeded them out of the room and returned to the center of the Core, studying the doors before approaching a plain wooden one and casting a Revelaspell. Blue Arabic shimmered in the air, then disappeared.
"What did it say?"
Bill shook his head. "I don't know. I've never seen anyone cast that on one of the doors before, and I wasn't expecting it. Do it again." The blue script reappeared, but Bill didn't read it this time, either; he was too busy staring at his baby sister. "That's a N.E.W.T.-level spell, that is."
"It is?" Ginny looked from her wand back to him and shrugged. "It seemed straightforward enough."
Bill shook his head again, harder this time. "Do it again, and see if you can hold the spell so the writing stays visible." As he expected, she had more trouble with this. Since he could see the effort was tiring her, Bill cast the spell himself and translated the writing.
"The door is sealed, and there are concealment charms and transfigured objects inside."
Ginny went still and rigid. "This one has dark magic."
She reached for Ron's hand.
"You don't have to do this," Ron said quietly. "I can open the door and see what's inside first."
She considered the offer, then shook her head. "Bill, there's not anything—anything living in there, is there?"
He knew there wasn't, not at the Fledgling Newbie level, but as this was supposed to be a teaching exercise . . . . "That's a different spell, actually. Vita revelio. Nothing."
Was it just the torchlight, or had she really gone that pale?
She backed up and cast the spell from the center of the Core. The lock clicked, and the door swung open. It was pitch black inside. Ginny lit her wand, and its light bounced erratically. Slowly, she advanced to the doorway, pulling Ron with her.
"Will you conjure some lamps, please?"
Her voice was shaking almost as much as her wand. If he wasn't certain this would help her, Bill would have felt guilty for putting her through this. He conjured several hanging lamps like the ones at the Burrow. This room was plain and apparently empty.
"Do that disillusionment thing."
"No, I want to try. What's the incantation again?" Ron said.
Bill told him, and Ron repeated it. Nothing happened.
"Stupid, useless thing." Ron looked like he wanted to break his wand in half for good. "I can't wait until we go to Diagon Alley. Dad said I can get a new one."
"Here, try mine."
"No!" Ginny's voice was high and shrill, and Bill and Ron turned to look at her. "Bill's the only one who knows what he's doing. He should keep his wand."
"Well then, let me borrow yours."
Ginny just gave him a look. Good girl.
Bill placed her behind him and Ron and relinquished his wand. This time, when Ron repeated the incantation, the air and floor ahead of them wavered and shimmered before reforming.
"Did you see that?"
"I did." Bill smiled at his little brother's excitement and set his hand over Ron's. "One more time." With the added force of Bill's magic, the floor in front of them opened into a deep pit.
Ginny gasped. "You mean if we hadn't done that, we would have just fallen in?"
"Yeah. That's why the first thing you do in approaching a site is revealing charms, but I've never seen anyone do it from the Core. That was brilliant, Ginny."
She shifted her wand to shine at him, judging the sincerity of the compliment. "Thanks." She turned back to the room. "What's back there?"
Ron and Bill repeated the Disillusionment charms until the entire room was exposed. This one was set up like a shop, with a counter at the back and shelves along the walls holding various types of clothing and household objects. Ginny shone her wand light down into the pit again.
"Didn't you say there was transfiguration magic in here?"
"Uh-huh." Bill was shining his own wand over the shelves, trying to remember what the treasure was in this room.
"What if that pit isn't really a pit?"
That was interesting. "Give it a go."
Something flew up at her. Ginny screamed, and the room filled with flying bat bogeys. She'd always been good at that spell, but the improvement when performed with her own wand was dramatic. Bill knocked a particularly gooey one off the back of Ron's neck and ended the charm. Ginny was shaking, taking those little heaving breaths girls took when they were trying not to cry. Ron put his arms around her, and she buried her face in his chest.
"You said there wasn't anything living in here," Ron accused.
"There isn't!" Bill reached for Ginny, but Ron actually turned her away from him. The brothers glared at each other.
"There isn't anything living in here, Ginny. That wasn't dark magic, either." Bill moved under Ron's watchful gaze to pick up something from the floor. "This bounced at you when it changed back into its original state."
Ginny didn't move from Ron's embrace, just turned her face to rest against his shoulder, raised her wand arm behind his back, and cast a Revelaspell at the ball in Bill's hand. When nothing happened except the faint glow, she stepped away from Ron.
"If I'd done that first, would I have known that's what it was?"
"You would have known it was transfigured. That's the spell I thought you were going to do."
She took a deep breath. "Okay, there's too many things in here to check them one by one. Now what do we do?"
"Ginny, when did you know there was something wrong with that diary?" Bill asked.
She went still and rigid for so long that Ron answered for her.
"In January, shortly after term started. She tried to throw it away in Moaning Myrtle's toilet."
"Is that true?"
Ginny shrugged. Again.
"After Colin, in November. I knew the diary was magical, but I thought it was charmed to repeat whatever you wrote in it. I wrote my name, Tom told me his. I said I was eleven, he said he was sixteen. But when I started writing more complicated things, his responses still made sense."
"November? But why-"
"Quiet, Ron. How did you know, Ginny?"
She swallowed. "Well, Dad always says you should never trust anything that thinks for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain-"
"You remembered that? Then why-"
"Ron!" Bill sharpened his voice. "You're not helping."
Ron slouched against the counter, arms crossed.
"There was just something off about it, and after—after Colin, it was almost like Tom was glad, like my fear pleased him. I'd never heard of a book writing back, and I had these gaps in my memory, but every time, the last thing I remembered was writing in the diary. And after a few weeks, I had to write in it; it was like it sucked me in, like those magnets Dad has in his shed. I stopped carrying it in my pocket and starting revising in the library instead of the common room, but I couldn't avoid it. It just—it just called to me." She shuddered.
"There's always 'something off' about dark objects. Sometimes it's the way they look, or the way they make you feel, or where you find them—they just don't belong. Magic can give you information, but it can't think for you. You still have to know when to use which spell and how to interpret the results. This room is like a scavenger hunt, with lots of dark objects amongst the clutter. Study the room, choose carefully, and cast the Revelaspell again."
Bill stood in a corner and watched his two youngest siblings work the room. Neither one of them was half-bad, certainly no worse than some of the trainees he'd seen, and the two of them together were just as good. They weren't going to find the treasure (in no small part because he couldn't remember what or where it was to guide them in the right direction), but after all, the whole point of this exercise was to boost Ginny's confidence around dark magic, and it seemed to be working.
She had identified a dark object with her first spell, a pearl-encrusted hair comb with a nasty variation of a Confundus Charm. The two of them hadn't asked for his help since, simply piling all the dark objects on the counter and working their way around the room.
Ginny moved behind the counter. "What's this doing here?"
Bill waited for Ron to levitate a nasty-looking set of knives out of harm's way, then joined Ginny at the back of the shop. It was a pushchair complete with a baby blanket wadded in the seat, as if the mother had just picked up her child.
Ginny frowned. "There's not any baby stuff in here; I haven't even seen baby clothes. Or bottles, or nappies, or anything. Ron, have you seen any baby supplies?"
"Nuh-uh. Unless you count that ball that bounced out of the pit, I haven't seen any toys, either."
"So what do you think?" Bill asked her.
"I think it doesn't belong. And the way that blanket is just begs for you to pick it up and refold it, or see what's underneath." She chewed her lip for a moment, then used a Hover Charm to lift the blanket. Nothing. Her frown deepened. She cast the Revelaspell, and once again Arabic writing appeared.
"End the charm."
Ginny looked at him, obviously reluctant after her last encounter with finite.
Ron had abandoned the shop shelves and came over for a look. "I'll do it."
"No, I can do it." She took a couple steps back and extended her wand. "Finite incantatem."
The pushchair spun itself in circles a few times and then shuddered to a halt.
"What was it?" Ginny asked.
"The handle was spelled with a Sticking Charm and the pushchair itself with Locomotor. So if you'd grabbed the handle, it would have pulled you around instead of you pushing it where you wanted. Are you about done in here? I want to make sure we have time for one more room."
Ginny nodded, but Ron looked disappointed. "But we haven't found any treasure yet."
"You could stay in here all day and not find any treasure. The goblins call this the Room of Perpetual Exploration for a reason. Come on."
Both of them were comfortable in the Core now, looking at the remaining doors with interest rather than fear. Ron headed for the one opposite them but Bill stopped him.
"Actually, it's my turn." He waited for Ron to return to the center beside him and Ginny, then spoke to the Core at large. "Show me The Dark One."
The air crackled, and white flames floated in front of a door to their left. Bill crossed the chamber and Vanished them with a wave of his wand. He turned around. Ginny and Ron hadn't moved.
Bill cast both Revelio spells, showing rather than telling them that the room was free of dark magic and creatures. This room was about darkness, period.
"Open the door, Ginny." He wanted her to do this herself; to make the decision to confront her fear herself. All the practice and exposure in the world wouldn't help if she didn't take the initiative. She wasn't holding Ron's hand, but she was standing unnaturally close to him. When she finally spoke, Bill could tell it cost her to ask the question out loud.
"You're not going to prank me?"
Bill held out his free hand, fifth finger extended. "I'm not going to prank you."
Ginny hooked her own tiny pinkie around his, and the promise was sealed. "Alohomora."
The door opened to reveal a cave, completely empty and illuminated only by a shaft of light through the center of the ceiling. Ron and Ginny stepped inside.
"When I close the door, that shaft will close and the room will be completely black. The purpose of this room is to overcome fear—fear of the dark, fear of closed spaces, fear of being alone—all the things that can happen if you get trapped in a tomb. The magic of the room presents you with what you fear most, but no matter what it is, it can't hurt you in here." Bill looked at Ginny. "We won't stay in here long, but I wanted to give you a chance to overcome some of the immediate panic. Okay?"
Ron and Ginny were both whey-faced, but they both nodded. They were holding hands now. Bill took a deep breath himself and let go of the door. It closed with a resoundingclang, and immediately he felt the sense of infinite space, the impression that he could walk towards the back wall forever and yet never reach it. His heart rate kicked up.
"Lumos." Ginny's voice, even higher than usual. Nothing happened; this room couldn't be penetrated by magical light.
"Lumos." Now Ron was trying. Bill didn't blame him; the urge to do so was almost overwhelming, even though Bill knew it wouldn't work. "Lumos maxima! Bill?"
"I'm right here, Ron." Bill took two steps towards his brother's voice, and Ron's groping hand hit him in the stomach. Bill could hear scuttling noises now and a faint crunch as he shifted his weight. Spiders.
"Fire," she gasped. "Light a fire, Bill, please!"
That wouldn't work either, but to refuse would be cruel. "Incendio! Flagrate!" The scuttling was quieter now, replaced by an ominous slithering. Damn, he'd forgotten the monster was a basilisk. Surely these were just regular-size snakes, though. Right?
"Okay. Remember what I said, that nothing in here can hurt you. It's just an illusion. Damn convincing," Bill drew another deep breath—it felt like the walls were receding and drawing him deeper into the room at the same time—"but an illusion nonetheless." The three siblings had positioned themselves back-to-back, subconsciously protecting their weakest sides.
"What do we have to do to get out of here?" Ginny had found his arm, and her grip was bruising.
"Walk forward; walk towards the fear, confront it head-on, and the sounds and sensation will go away. Once all three of us have done that, the shaft will open up, and it will be light again." Bill felt his left arm pull away from his body as Ginny immediately obeyed his instructions. A surge of pride momentarily suppressed his nausea. Never let it be said his baby sister hadn't earned her place in Gryffindor.
"You have to do it alone, sprite." Her grip tightened painfully. "Come on, Gin-Gin, let go."
"I'll do it with you." Ron's voice wasn't much more than a whimper, either, but Bill could feel Ron's determination as he shifted his stance. "Come on, Ginny, let's tell that sorry Slytherin where to stick it."
The snakes hissed as if they took the insult personally. Bloody hell, was that a rattle? There were no rattlesnakes in Egypt!
"I am not a crybaby, and I am not a silly little girl. And I wasn't sorted into Gryffindor just because that's where all my brothers went. I can be brave, too." She dropped his arm and stepped away from him in one sudden motion. "Ron?"
"I did it too, Ginny. Now you, Bill."
Bill gritted his teeth. Putting his back to Ron and Ginny had meant he was facing the door, but now he had to turn and move towards that infinite wall. He spun round and stepped forward, and the three of them were bathed in light. Bill rested his hands on his knees and swore, ignoring the presence of his baby sister. Hell, Mum wouldn't be happy to hear him say that in front of Ron, either. "Merlin, I hate this room! Let's get out of here."
Ron and Ginny were grinning broadly when they returned to the Core, and Bill couldn't help but grin back. "You've been fantastic. I'm so proud of both of you." He bent to hug Ginny, picking her up to buss her cheek, then gripped Ron's hand, pulling him into a one-armed hug and ruffling his hair. Both of them were pink with pleasure. "Now remember, the note said we went flying, so be sure and tell Mum how great the Quidditch was, okay?"
September 15, 1993
How are you? I hope you've been finding lots of treasure. I'm sorry I didn't write sooner, but Mum kept us busy getting ready for school and now I'm finally settled in. We went to Diagon Alley almost as soon as we got back, and guess who was there? Harry Potter! He blew up his aunt and ran away and the Ministry put him up at the Leaky Cauldron until school started. I wanted to sink through the floor when I saw him; he cut his hair over the summer, and he's SO CUTE! I thought I was going to have to stay in Mum and Dad's room again, but Ron's friend Hermione was there, too, and Mum let me stay with her instead. We'd met last year, of course, but we didn't really know each other. She is a bit of a know-it-all, but she's all right. She was impressed when I cast Scarpin's Revelaspell on all my books (they're fine). I was really nervous about going back to Hogwarts and she offered to tutor me. She also knows lots of secret passageways (from hanging around with the boys) and she promised to show them to me, too, in case I ever need to get away from Filch. I think she fancies Ron, but I can't tell for sure yet. I'll keep you posted.
Have you heard about Sirius Black? There are Dementors stationed all around the school in case he comes here, and they searched the Hogwarts Express, too. When the train stopped and the lights went out, I went looking for Ron, and that's where I was when a Dementor came into our compartment. It was awful, Bill. I felt cold and sick, and I kept hearing Tom telling me all those awful things, like when he came out of the diary last year. But it turns out Ron and everyone was sharing a compartment with our DADA professor, Professor Lupin, and he shot some silvery stuff at it and drove it away and gave us all chocolate. I'm giving Percy some of my birthday money to buy me some during the first Hogsmeade weekend. Now I have proof that chocolate makes you feel better!
You'd like Professor Lupin. He's a much better teacher than Lockhart- Hmm, that's not quite the compliment I meant it to be. Anyone would be a better teacher than Lockhart. But Lupin's really good! I've learned so much already, and his classes are fun. I never have nightmares on the days I have DADA. Charms is my best subject, but I'm behind in Herbology, Transfiguration, and Astronomy (we won't talk about Potions. Snape is as slimy as ever). I don't remember anything about Astronomy except how to find the Big Dipper and the North Star, and I knew that before I went to Hogwarts. Hermione's loaned me all her notes and star charts from the last two years—all five zillion pages of them. She says I can catch up in Herbology by rereading the text, but I'm not at all sure about Transfiguration. Are you sure Professor McGonagall has a soft spot for Weasleys? I think you might have to be a boy to qualify. She always stumbles over my name, like she doesn't know how to pair "Miss" with "Weasley." Well, Colin and Libby have invited me to play Gobstones, so I'm going now. Miss you!
P.S. Percy doesn't know I'm borrowing Hermes, so send him a letter, too, will you?
Laughing, Bill folded the parchment and tucked it back in the envelope. Now this sounded like his chatty, gregarious sister.
a/n: There are some deliberate mistakes in Ginny's letter (mostly comma omissions) in keeping with the literary skills of a twelve year old. Her quote from the Gringotts doors is from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 5 "Diagon Alley." I'm planning to write a novel-length story about the Weasleys' time in Egypt and would love to hear any thoughts or ideas you have, or missing moments you would like to see included!
a/n ii: My story of the Weaselys' summer in Egypt is now complete: "Hidden Chambers and Unseen Monsters."