The Sugar Quill
Author: Lady Narcissa (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Adventures in Curse-Breaking  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

The Nile River sparkles in the sunlight; Bill tucks his wand quickly out of sight beneath his shirt

Disclaimer: Bill Weasley belongs entirely to JK Rowling, under whose indulgence I’m taking Bill out to play.

This story ©2005 by Lady Narcissa. Many thanks to Paige and Corgi for scourgifying my mistakes so thoroughly. Doxycide, anyone?

***

 

adventures in curse-breaking

 

The Nile River sparkled in the sunlight; Bill tucked his wand quickly out of sight beneath his shirt. The last thing he wanted to do was attract any more attention than usual; his red hair and blue eyes and pale skin were already on the docket as cause for curiosity. He walked quickly along the Nile Corniched, all familiar territory to him. The day was fairly busy; pedestrians and cars shared the road and he kept to the side, breathing in as deeply and inconspicuously as possible for someone who knew he was about to face rather a challenge. Rarely a day went by for him where he could simply conclude that it had been business as usual. He turned onto the Sharia al-Mahatta and away from the sparkling blue water of the Nile and the lazy palm trees, treading down old familiar paths.

 

The bazaar was that way. He walked the Sharia al-Mahatta until it met up with the street to the temple at Karnak and there that street changed names. It used to confuse Bill; he'd spent enough time there now to not only know and understand the city, but also to love it greatly. The street sign read Sharia al-Markaz and he was glad to see that not much had changed since his last assignment to Luxor. As he wound his way south towards the temple and into the market area, he caught a glimpse of a newspaper: 10 April, 1994. The crowd jostled him along and alert as always for pickpockets, he realised with amusement that he'd come here with no money other than the few Galleons in his pocket.

 

He'd been in tighter fixes before.

 

No worries, Bill. No worries, mate. It was the voice of one of his coworkers at Gringott’s, almost a mentor to him when he first arrived in Egypt fresh from Hogwarts and first-round training. If you've got your wits about you, you've got what you need. Those words came in handy on more than one occasion and they sounded rather good to Bill at that particular moment. Rows of alabaster and clay pottery caught his eye; he was close. Very close. For behind the largest of the Muggle bazaars here lay the Bazaar Al-Amun: the wizarding bazaar. Its entry was decorated by crio-sphinx statues: with their ram's heads and lion's bodies, they symbolised the God Amun. Seven of them heralded the hidden entrance, and if one tapped them in the correct order...

 

In a flash Bill was through the entryway; it closed behind him with a quiet hiss and he remembered thinking a long time ago that it was Luxor's answer to Diagon Alley. In many ways that wasn't a bad comparison at all. He headed straight for the Luxor Gringott’s Auxiliary office, hidden behind a pottery stall. Pushing back the rug that hid the door, he peeked inside.

 

"Hullo?"

 

The interior was dark, the room low and long. At the far end at an elevated desk sat a goblin he recognised and Bill was very glad to realise that some things never changed. "Hullo, Crankgrap."

 

The goblin looked up at him; his long fingers twitched in anticipation, in a dream of treasure. "If it's not our wayward Mr Weasley. What have you got for me?"

 

"Nothing, I'm afraid." Bill studied the goblin; this was not an answer they liked to hear. "But I do need a new assignment." In all his years, this was only the second time he'd appeared in this office empty-handed. "I got sidetracked through no fault of my own, and drink and women had nothing to do with it this time." Although one could not simply charm goblins into laughing, Bill never stopped trying.

 

"Sign the ledger." Crankgrap slid a book toward him. "Line 42."

 

Bill took the quill and signed his name with a flourish. "Crankgrap, there haven't been strangers here asking after me, have there?"

 

"None stranger than you, Mr Weasley." The goblin examined the signature carefully, then pulled out a parchment envelope from a desk drawer. He handed it across the table to Bill. "Newly discovered tomb. No one knows what guards this one, Mr Weasley. Caution as always; don't come back empty-handed a second time."

 

The parchment had the Gringott’s wax seal on it; Bill broke it open and took a deep breath. Right here, Valley of the Kings. The trick to this was to do the work during daytime without attracting the attention of any tourists or archaeologists or...

 

"You've given me a challenge." He broke into a smile and turned to the wall; a series of cubbies sat barely visible in the dim light. He knew from long years of experience which held his supplies, though, and reached for an inconspicuous sand-coloured galabayya with a hidden pocket for his wand, which he slipped on over his body. It would help him blend in just that much more. He wrapped a scarf around his head, turban-style and pocketed his minimised treasure rucksack.

 

"Close enough, right?" A bit less obvious at any rate. "I'll either return with treasure or not return this time."

 

The goblin scanned the ledger without looking up. "Second tomb to the right and straight on till morning, Mr Weasley."

 

Goblin humour. Bill shook his head in amusement.

 

***

 

The entry to the Valley of the Kings curved to the right around hills glowing golden and peach; the cloudless blue sky was piercing in its intensity. The sounds of tourists and the smells of food and the wares being hawked all added up to a veritable feast for the senses, but Bill was focused. "No, no, no." It became his mantra: he needed to get to Tomb KV 27˝ without further distraction.

 

Hidden from Muggle eyes, of course: most of the known-to-Muggles tombs here were looted long ago, if not carefully dug up, each item categorised and sent off to a museum. No, for many known tombs there were other corresponding yet hidden wizarding tombs, their glamours still being uncovered in many instances.

 

Tomb KV 27˝ was one of these, and Bill's insides tensed with anticipation as always before attempting to unravel a new tomb's mysteries.

 

Who was buried here? What was their importance? Was there great wealth associated with them? Perhaps they were animals; other tombs here contained animal remains. Perhaps it was a wizarding king or queen, a Pharaoh of highest esteem. A priest, those were often the most interesting tombs. Or perhaps a person of small significance, forgot by all but the dimmest mention somewhere in history...

 

And what would guard this tomb? He'd faced them all: dragons charmed to sleep for centuries but wake at the first sign of intrusion; Sphinxes stretching and baring their fanged teeth and spouting riddles; curses and hexes so complex that to set off their guardian system meant instant death; mummies, whose hands caused incurable illness if they touched you; environments charmed to become deadly at the merest misstep.  Bill had seen them all and was glad for his years of experience, because now he knew exactly what to do.

 

Especially when working alone.

 

He reached into the galabayya's pocket and drew out a parchment pad and pre-inked quill, then—careful not to attract attention—touched the tip of his wand and cast a very unobtrusive, very silent Disillusionment spell on himself. He simply blended into the background, invisible for all intents and purposes.

 

Just like Tomb KV 27˝.

 

All glamour, all the time; it's the happy life of a Gringott's Curse-Breaker. With a determined grin, an invisible Bill sat and drew up some very quick Arithmancy calculations based on the location and entry to KV 27˝ and its distance and vector from the temple at Karnak, where the gridlines protecting all these ancient tombs began. This was 18th-Dynasty era; his years of experience and its location told him that without question. He thought back to his training: The fashion in protections for 18th-Dynasty wizarding tombs comes in three primary flavours: Sphinx. Death-trap floors. Enchanted mummies. He knew better than to place his foot anywhere in any tomb without the proper testing first; he’d already heard most Sphinx riddles and even bested a few with his own innate charm (although he never relied on that as much as riddle-solving and a carefully-aimed Sleeping Spell with them) and he knew he could move faster than any mummy.

 

He looked down and double-checked his calculations: the safe walkway should be just here; like most tombs in the Valley of the Kings he expected the familiar three corridor/antechamber/sunken sarcophagus chamber layout. Most of the treasure (in his experience) lay beside the sarcophagus and most of the protections waited in the antechamber, although the corridors often held their own treacherous charms. Wand drawn, still Disillusioned, Bill set a first tentative step past the glamour and into the first corridor; the rest of the Valley of the Kings disappeared behind him.

 

"Finite. Lumos Subtilis." There. He could see himself again, though just barely. Removing his head scarf and galabayya and setting them aside, he glanced down at his calculations and nodded: KV 27˝ felt familiar. There would be an invisible ward-line at his midsection here ("Revelare! I thought so, I'll go beneath you...") and another one at ankle-height just beyond it, a spider's web of intruder alerts and he weaved his way through them, almost a dance, all practised steps born of experience. First corridor, second corridor, third corridor. Deep breath, Bill: keep your wits about you and your wand at the ready. Sphinx, trap, or mummy?

 

He never once expected a Manticore.

 

***

 

Damn, damn, damn, damn. His heart raced and his thoughts scattered wildly as the Manticore's scorpion tail twitched lazily back and forth. Its lion body stretched aeons of sleep away and the humanoid head turned and grinned unpleasantly. "Ccccccenturies, it seems," the creature whispered with breath so foul it could make one reel, "I've been waiting for ssssomeone to play with."

 

Think, Bill, think. That tail carries an instantly fatal sting; the skin repels almost any hex or charm you can throw at it. You'll either have to go for its eyes or charm it back to sleep. He remembered his off-hand comment to Crankgrap about how he'd been given a challenge. Rather a bigger one than he was expecting but there was no turning back; he simply had to do or die.

 

"Hullo. I'm Bill. I'm here from Gringott's Wizarding Bank in London. I don't suppose you'd like to let me pass?"

 

Calm. Think calm. Focus; slow your heartbeat. Calm. Calm. Calm. Deep breaths.

 

The Manticore stretched again and sat up on its leonine haunches, letting out an other-worldly and very eerie laugh. "Ccccenturies I've waited for a plaything, Bill from Gringott's Wizarding Bank in London, whatever that might be. No, I don't suppose I'd like to let you pass."

 

Nothing like a dragon, although I suppose a Conjunctivitis Curse might confuse it enough so it doesn't kill me straight away... Despite his attempt at self-induced calm his heart pounded wildly in his chest and he knew the Manticore could sense it. He would just have to project an outer serenity he didn't possess. "Have you a name, or do I just call you Manticore?"

 

Not enough room to sneak past it. Enough room for that tail to reach him anywhere in the antechamber if he made one wrong move, though.

 

"Ccccccccall me what you like; any name I provide is sssssshort-lived for you." The Manticore grinned evilly, stretching out a paw and examining its claws before resheathing them. "Bill, did you bring me food? I'm ssssssssstarved."

 

"Emergency rations." Bill tapped his wand cautiously; a plate of grapes appeared. "Lovely if you fancy fruit. Tell me, what's a Manticore's preferred diet? I’ve never had the pleasure of feeding one before."

 

Stall for time. Stall for time. He could see the opening to the sarcophagus chamber behind the Manticore, and barely listened as the Manticore replied "anything flowing with blood, Bill. Like you. Are you going to try to get past me? That'ssssssss your job, isn't it, Bill, to sssssssteal my treasure?" It swiped at the plate of grapes; they skittered here and there and everywhere.

 

Bill nodded, all easy attitude. "Don't take it personally. Tell me, how would you like to play this game? Who moves first?"

 

"You're the guessssssst. You firssssssst."

 

There was something so very curious about the sound of Manticore laughter. The only other time Bill had come across one was in a bestiary, protected from it by not only cages and bars but by charms so complex he couldn't even begin to understand the way they worked. But this was different: now they were face to face, and it required either raw courage or a tremendous amount of unexpected foolishness. He watched the tail whip back and forth and sat just out of reach, protected only so very slightly by the doorway.

 

If only you were a Sphinx.

 

This was going to take some thought.

 

***

 

The one thing that Bill had working to his advantage, he knew, was that Manticores, like dragons, relied heavily on the impenetrability of their hides for protection. That and (in a Manticore's case) their whipping tails and fierce claws.

 

Their eyes, like those of dragons, were relatively weak.

 

From his tentative position of safety by the door, he thought back to Newt Scamander and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. What did he have to say on Manticores, the least-expected Greek visitor to Luxor that Bill could imagine? Something about how they were probably wizard-bred specifically to protect treasures...

 

But he'd not been a Curse-Breaker all those years to be bested by a treasure-keeper; no. This was all part of the fun and so Bill stood and began to pace, just outside the reach of the Manticore's scorpionic tail. "Tell me, friend. How many years have you been here? A thousand? Two? Have you lost track of the time? How have you survived? Did you know there's a whole different world out there?" And before the Manticore could answer, he continued: "And when was the last time you saw sunlight? Lumos Soleum!" A huge bright light filled the room and for the first time Bill had the advantage; he seized it. A complex series of spells and hexes issued from his wand: the aforementioned Conjunctivitis Curse followed by a Confundus Charm, a Cheering Charm, Protego on himself, and a small Self-Levitation Charm so the soles of his dragon-hide boots didn't make any noise. The Manticore let out a fierce and alien howl, paws covering its eyes, and Bill took his turn: he dashed across the room just above the surface of the floor, past the Manticore, and into the sarcophagus chamber.

 

"Dissendium! Colloportus!" The stone door to the chamber slid shut and sealed, and Bill knew that he had only minutes—if that—to retrieve the treasure hidden here before fresh air ran out. He fulfilled his obligation, though: made a notation of the hieroglyphics gracing the walls with a quick copying spell so that the Gringott’s historians could perform their due diligence and ensure that no living relatives of this tomb's residents had the right to any treasure he might find.

 

And then the fun began: Bill reached into his back pocket and restored the size on his treasure rucksack. "Accio. Accio. Accio."  From vases and cups, boxes and miniature sarcophagi, a veritable trove of treasure flew out: rubies and garnets, diamonds and gold, sapphires and bezel-cut tanzanites; alexandrite, tourmaline, rhodolite. All were of the finest quality and Bill laughed, knowing that Crankgrap would be rather more pleased to see him next time round. At the last flick of his wand an emerald of exquisite quality landed in his outstretched hand. He studied it for a moment; he'd seen many, many gemstones but this one was overwhelming in its beauty. He would negotiate for that one, he knew.

 

He did not disturb the sarcophagus itself; that went without saying. Only one question remained: would the Manticore's eyes have adjusted properly to the light, or did Bill need to play games with spellwork again to make his escape? He had no desire to be trapped in an ancient burial chamber, after all, and though the relatively comfortable pay made up in the long term for any job-induced injuries, there was always an element of danger. Rather an unexpected one in this case. He wrapped up his notes and all the treasure safely into the rucksack and set it on his back, feeling its weight and heft nagging at him, its contents urging him to get out of there as quickly as possible.

 

Taking a very deep breath, wand pointed at the archway, Bill directed the heavy slab back away from the entry to the antechamber, ready for the Manticore. The Conjunctivitis Curse would still be in effect but he needed to watch out for the thrashing of its tail, which could prove deadly.

 

There was a bit of timing to this. He listened to the Manticore moan and watched the flailing of its tail, studying the rhythm and it was hypnotic, almost entrancing: back and forth, back and forth, and he knew he could make it back to the other side of the antechamber without more spellwork if he was very, very careful. And he did so, one step at a time, over the Manticore's tail so very gracefully and he was glad; grace of movement had never been a given for him. No, he was far more prone to stepping on a rake and smacking himself in the face with the handle, or tripping over the Wellington boots queued up at the door. But under pressure he performed and did it so very well and before he knew it—before he had time to take another breath—he was on the far side of the antechamber.

 

The Manticore looked miserable. There were a number of things he could have done, but he opted for what was kindest: he pointed his wand to those still-closed eyes and cast a Sleeping Spell. With a whimper, the Manticore slumped to the ground. "I'm sorry, friend," he said quietly, ending the Sunlight Spell and the Conjunctivitis Curse. "Sweet dreams; you've made a formidable foe. I'll see to it that you're freed from duty now."

 

***

 

Although his load was far heavier and his galabayya and head scarf relegated to being tucked under his arm, he whistled as he wended his way back toward the Bazaar Al-Amun, blending in with all the other backpacked European tourists who were appropriately awed by the sights as they left the Valley of the Kings. The sun was setting and the hills lit up with golden light and the vendors were out in full force. "No, no, no," Bill heard himself say, and after the quick boat trip back to the east side of the river, he turned up one of Luxor's three main streets until he passed the crio-sphinxes and was back to the Gringott’s office.

 

"Hullo..."

 

***

 

Pockets heavy with gold, one especially beautiful emerald tucked safely away, and the promise of an easier task next time firmly agreed upon, Bill nodded to Crankgrap. He tucked his galabayya and scarf and treasure rucksack into the appropriate cubbyhole and turned to leave. Perhaps he would have a strong cup of Egyptian coffee, or a plate of some fig-and-berry delicacy, or maybe just sit by the edge of the Nile and watch what little was left of the sun reflect off its surface. Wander the Muggle bazaar until the dark of night when things closed down, midnight or later, then find a friendly place to lay down and sleep for a few hours until the bustle of the city began again. "Ta, Crankgrap."

 

His hand reached out to move aside the heavy carpet that served as a door; he turned to face the city of Luxor and grinned.

//
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