The next morning, Bill went to the newest chamber to clean up the leftover hexes. He'd gotten the nastiest of them when they'd opened it up, but sometimes the annoying little ones, like the Pebble-in-Your-Shoe Hex, were worse than the great whistling blade that swooped down out of the dark. You could at least duck the blade.
"This is great," Ellie told him. She was sketching the carvings. "I mean, this is really incredible."
He crouched down beside her to have a look. "Rania having much luck with the translations?"
"Mmm. Some. She's got a chunk that talks about the full moon, and some spell or other--all about the power of the underworld." She took a breath and let it out in a whoosh. "My god, I could dance. I've been looking for something like this all my life."
He looked at her, with that wonderful passion for knowledge blazing in her eyes, and fell even farther in love. "You're incredible," he said.
She smiled up at him. "Thanks! What was that for?"
"Just being you."
"It's what I'm best at." She angled her wand to see another set of carvings and turned a page. "How's your sister today?"
"Pretty good. Jacki cleared them to poke around in some of the chambers we've already gone all the way through. They're having fun."
"Good." She looked at him sidelong. "What is they do all over the place, anyway?"
Bill sighed. "You're asking the wrong person. As far as I can tell, they just wander." He frowned. "It's not like Ginny, you know? She's always had to have a purpose in life, even if it was learning how to tie her shoeloaces a whole year earlier than any of us. I never thought she'd enjoy just drifting. But it’s been three years."
"Maybe she doesn't enjoy it," Ellie said. "She was so tired out last night that she fell asleep in her shoes. We didn't even realize until she got up this morning and they were still on her feet."
"Really? Harry did the same thing. My sister did say they had an interesting time in Johannesburg." He frowned again. "She just didn't say what made it so interesting."
* * *
It was Bill's turn to cook that night, and his guests offered their help. He handed Ginny a knife and a handful of carrots. "Hey," she said. "Where did these come from?"
"The box of mysteries," he said in a sonorous voice.
She wrinkled her nose at him. He relented. "The British Ministry. It's a neat little spell--they have a box, we have a box. Some sort of variation on a transport spell. I'm sure someone like your friend Hermione thought it up. We put in a list every morning, and by the evening, the raw supplies are here. We're just not allowed to ask for things like filet mignon and caviar."
"Caviar," Ginny announced, "is disgusting."
He pointed at a cutting board. "Go. Chop."
"Don't cut your finger off again," Harry said, filling a huge cauldron full of water.
Bill turned right around from the meat he was browning. "Finger? What?"
Ginny stuck her tongue out at Harry. "Blabbermouth. And I did not cut it off."
He grinned at her. "You took a lovely slice out of it, though."
"What's this about a finger?" Bill persisted.
"Keep your hair on, Bill, I'm fine. We were working in a restaurant in New York City and my hand slipped. That's all."
"What were you doing working in a restaurant?" Bill asked.
Ginny shrugged, wielding her knife like Jack the Ripper. On her left index finger, a long pinkish scar shone against her skin. "For the fun of it." She grinned and scraped bits of carrot from her board into Bill's pan. He handed her a bunch of celery. "I sent Mum this entire sheaf of recipes. We learnt more Spanish swear words in that place--"
"More Spanish, period," Harry put in. "It was run by first-generation immigrants from Puerto Rico. The Serranos." He grinned too. "It was like being back at the Burrow. The grandmother practically adopted us."
"Muggles or wizards?" Bill asked. This was the first story he'd heard of their travels, and he wanted them to keep going.
"Mostly Muggles, but the younger daughter went to the Colonial School--you know, in Maine. That's how we found the place. Half the wizards and witches in Manhattan stop in on Friday night."
"The magic must have come down from Mamacita's side. Her food!" Ginny kissed her fingers like a bad imitation of a French chef. "Mum would have loved her."
People started drifting in, drawn by the smell of Bill's cooking. Jacki always scheduled Bill to cook after Yves, as a sort of apology.
Ellie came up. "Bill," she said, holding out a flat tin box. "
He took the tablet she handed him and popped it in his mouth. "Ellie's the Salt Police," he told Harry and Ginny. "Makes sure everybody gets one at the proper times every day."
"I just don't want anyone getting sick," she said. "How about you two?"
They each took one. But when Bill turned to stir his meat again, he could have sworn he saw Ginny palm it and slide it into her pocket, just as she always had when Mum tried to give her the vitamins she hated. He frowned and opened his mouth.
"Bill," Harry said, "watch out, you're sticking the spatula straight in the flame."
Bill swore and jerked the glowing spatula quickly out of the fire. He could have sworn his pan had been half an inch to the left. "Brain's melting," he said.
Ellie wandered over and peered into Harry's cauldron. "Don't fall in," he said.
She kept her distance. "Mmm. Potatoes. Mashed or boiled?"
"Mashed," Bill decided.
"In that case, d'you have any garlic?" Ginny asked, and Bill pointed her at a box under the table. She pulled out a bulb, popped out a clove, and smashed it with the flat of her blade before twisting the knife and starting to dice.
"Slick," Bill said.
"Yeah, I learned that in Rome."
"Mmm, Rome," Ellie said. "So warm."
"Another restaurant," Harry said, dropping a skinned potato into the water.
"And me in the kitchen again," Ginny put in. "More recipes." Her eyes lit with mischief. "Ask me about my killer lasagna sometime."
Harry coughed so violently that Bill pulled the cauldron away. "You all right?"
"Yeah," he said, mopping his streaming eyes.
Ginny said, "Harry was wine steward. Remember that, Harry? I thought it was hilarious."
"Why?" Bill asked.
"Well, he's the cheapest drunk on the planet, you see."
"I'm not that bad," Harry protested.
"Please, darling, you can't hold your liquor in a tin tub." She turned to Bill. "There was this one time . . ."
One story led to another as they finished up dinner and took it to the long dining table. Like most groups that had been together for a long time, the excavation team was starved for some new tales. They laughed, squealed, and gasped at all the right places.
Bill enjoyed them too, but he noted some things underneath the stories . . . all the different jobs they'd worked, all the places they'd wandered to, for no apparent reason than that they wanted to see them, all the little gaps in the stories where something wasn't being told.
There really is something funny going on here, he thought, looking at them. Why doesn't she leave him and go home?
Harry was telling a story about Ginny, Mai Tais, and a karoke bar. "And after the first song, the emcee came over to me and said--" He tried to imitate the drawl of the American South. "‘You were right, I don’t want her up there, no matter how cute she is. What’ll it take to get her off the stage?’ and I told him, ‘You got yourself into this, you get yourself out. I warned you.’" His eyes glinted behind his glasses. "I finally cast a Silencing Spell when she started singing Elvis. We might not have gotten out of there alive otherwise."
The table erupted in laughter, and Ginny squealed in mock rage. "Just for that, Potter, I'm telling the story about you and that girl in Rio de Janeiro."
"Hey!" Harry protested.
"What girl?" Bill asked.
"Nobody," Harry told him.
Ginny said at the same time, "Her name was . . . god, I don't even remember, Lolita or something."
"Mercedes," Harry said, and she cocked a brow at him. "Just making sure you get it right," he added.
"And from minute one, she was after Harry," Ginny continued.
"She couldn't believe I wasn't interested in her," Harry put in. "Which I wasn't."
"And then one day, Harry started acting all funny, trailing around after her like a sick cow, trying to learn Portuguese love songs . . ."
"I was not."
"You were. You don't remember properly." Ginny turned back. "Turns out Senhorita Mercedes had a dab hand with Love Charms, for when her looks didn't do the job. I practically had to knock him unconscious to get him somewhere that the enchantment could wear off."
"It was a Love Charm," Harry defended himself, laughing. "I couldn't do anything against it. You know what those are like. I never would have gone near her if not for that."
"It wouldn't have worked if you weren't at least a little interested," Ellie said.
Ginny and Harry both went still.
"Why do you say that?" Ginny said slowly.
Ellie's mouth opened and closed for a moment. Bill thought, She must not have meant to say it aloud.
"I--no reason. So what happened then?" she asked desperately.
"No, let's go back to Love Charms," Ginny said.
"She said it didn’t matter," Harry said quickly.
Ginny ignored him, her attention focused like the sun through a magnifying glass on Ellie.
"What did you mean, he had to be interested for it to work?"
Ellie sighed. "Most people," she explained reluctantly, "think that Love Charms are like the Imperius Curse. That they all force someone to do what they'd never do in the first place. But really--" She stopped. "It's not important."
"I think it is," Ginny said coldly.
"Th-they just play on what the person secretly wants. Love Charms aren't so much about brute force as they are about . . . persuading."
Ginny said to Harry, "You said you didn't like her at all."
Bill recognized the look in her eye. It was the same one Mum got when she was about to take a strip off someone's hide.
Harry must have recognized it too. "I--"
"That it was all the charm."
Bill said, "Ginny--come on now--"
"What was I supposed to tell you?" Harry asked with that peculiarly male note of desperation in his voice.
"Right, I'm supposed to say, 'This woman is really captivating but it doesn't mean anything?’ And anyway, believe me, it was true by the time you disenchanted me."
"Captivating?" Ginny’s voice rose.
"Hey," Bill said, his voice deliberately cheerful. "Ginny, d’you want any more--"
She didn’t even look at him. "Does that mean you're bored by me now?"
"N-no!" Harry floundered. "That's not what I said!"
Bill didn’t know where to put his face.
tried to pretend that nothing was going on, passing the mashed potatoes with an air of studied unconcern. It would have been comical if they hadn't been able to hear the couple's furious whispers.
"I thought we already had this fight," Harry muttered.
"We did, but apparently not all of it."
"It doesn't mean anything anymore. It was months ago."
"Two. And I thought we were going to be honest with each other."
Harry looked down at the long dining table. Several people developed abrupt fascinations with their forks. "Can we talk about this later?"
Ginny crossed her arms. "You can bet we're going to."
Ellie looked back and forth between them, a dismayed look on her face. "I'm so sorry," she said, and the distress in her voice was so clear Bill reached for her hand under the table. "I never would have said anything if I'd known it was going to be a problem . . ."
"It's all right. I'm glad you did say something, Ellie." Ginny’s voice was dangerously sweet. "It's always nice to know the truth."
Harry poked at the meat on his plate and didn't say anything.