The Sugar Quill
Author: Jedi Boadicea (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Job Hazards  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.

Disclaimer: I don’t own JK Rowling’s wonderful world, I only live in it

A/N: Feeling nostalgic, I decided to add a new Author’s Note to my revision of this story for recent upload. After so many stories (both written and read), it’s funny to think back to August of 2000, mere weeks after GoF came out, and remember that it was all because of Bill Weasley that I became embroiled in the world of HP fanfiction. If not for Bill, I wouldn’t have felt compelled to write HP fanfic. If not for Bill, and for the sad and utter lack of any other Bill fanfic out there in August of 2000 (I’m strangely proud of being the first Bill-crazed freak out there with a ready quill to hand), I wouldn’t have found my way to the attention of the Weasley Lovers at some place called The Sugar Quill. Ah, the memories. So I suppose that in the Author’s Note for this, my long ago first HP fanfic, I should thank Bill Weasley. Bill - thanks to you (and a certain escaped convict we won’t name) I have lost countless hours of my life to the HP fanfiction world. I really ought to hate you for it…

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                        JOB HAZARDS

                                               

 

            Gringotts, as everyone knew, was the largest bank of the wizarding world. They had branches all over the globe, but no matter where they were located, the buildings always looked the same - gleaming white marble, huge, grand, impressive.

            Bill Weasley had become so familiar with the sight, however, that it no longer impressed him quite as much as it had used to. Hands in his pockets, he strolled up the massive stairs to the entrance, squinting a bit in the vicious glare of desert sun on white marble. Bill loved working in Egypt, but he had never quite got used to the heat or the days of never-ending sunshine. Moments like these, he often found himself thinking nostalgically of cloudy days at Hogwarts.

            The guard goblin at the entrance nodded to him as he passed.

            “Hey, Graffalk.” Bill smiled in return. “Hot day, isn’t it?”

            “Yes,” was the gruff reply.

            That was goblins for you, he thought. Never ones for idle chit chat. Or for a sense of humor.

            Magically cooled air enveloped him the moment he stepped through the doors. The huge hall was packed full of eccentrically dressed wizards and witches, waiting in queues in front of the long counter. Bill liked to joke that desert heat did funny things to a wizard’s sense of fashion, but the truth was that he had thought wizard fashion amusing even back home. He found it ironic that some wizards, his mother among them, no doubt thought his own clothes peculiar. But considering the kind of work he did for Gringotts, wearing wizard robes on the job would be a huge inconvenience, if not a downright risk to life and limb. And since, as he always said, the Gringotts goblins didn’t care what he wore, he’d be damned if he’d give up his dragonhide boots. Charlie might deal with dragons on a daily basis, but getting a hold of these had cost Bill a long trip, and almost, quite literally, an arm and a leg.

            As he made his way down the hall, passing by the long counter where goblins weighed and tallied wizard riches, Bill noticed that the bank really was uncommonly busy today. Or perhaps this was going to be the new norm, even in Gringotts branches this far from Britain. The Ministry of Magic was trying to keep a tight lid on any rumors about Lord Voldemort’s return, but rumors got out nonetheless. And there was nothing like unsubstantiated panic to make people want to secure their money. Bill remembered hearing something from one of his Muggle contacts once, something about Muggles going crazy over their banks during crises. He couldn’t really understand it. Why on earth would they want to take their money out of the bank? In the face of an emergency, wizards queued up to put their gold in. After all, no place in the world was safer than Gringotts, or so the saying went.

            But seeing the crowd sobered him considerably. He was probably one of the only people here who might know that the unsubstantiated panic caused by unsubstantiated rumors was not as unsubstantiated as he might wish. Bill had been exchanging a steady stream of owls with his father since returning to Egypt, and though nothing catastrophic had as yet occurred to indicate Voldemort was on the attack again, Mr Weasley seemed to think it was only a matter of time. Bill, unfortunately, had to agree with him.

            He took a deep breath and tried not to think about it. Thinking about it just made him want to rush back home. What with Mr Weasley trying to manipulate the Ministry in Dumbledore’s favor, and Ron, Fred, George and Ginny all mixed up with Harry Potter back at Hogwarts, the Weasleys had never been so prominently on the front lines of danger. Bill felt like he ought to be there with them. But his job was too important. The money he made working in Egypt helped to support his entire family.

            Hands still in his pockets, he walked up to a familiar door leading off the hall, which opened on its own as he approached. Beyond it was another large hall, full of desks, but no customers. Goblins sat behind each desk, busily sorting piles of gold and making notes in ledgers. Owls perched on stands the length of the walls, patiently waiting to be dispatched with receipts.

            None of the goblins looked up as Bill walked by, but he was as used to their behavior as they were used to his strolls through their hall. His office was at the end of that hall, and even though he really only used it a handful of days each month, the goblins knew him well enough by now.

            The door to his office was plain wood, decorated only with small gold lettering spelling out: Bill Weasley - Acquisitions. There was no door knob.

            Bill pulled his wand out of his back trousers pocket and tapped the door with it, mumbling the counterward for the spell with which he’d sealed it a week ago. Some might think magically sealing his office door an unnecessary precaution, considering Gringotts’ reputation. But he kept a lot of important information in his office, and he always thought it better to be cautious. Just in case.

            The office beyond was small, and frightfully disorderly. Bill couldn’t help grimacing as he entered. Where in the world had all the organizing skills which helped earn him the position of Head Boy at Hogwarts gone to? The desk in the center of the office was heaped high with parchment, and several plainly wrapped packages. One door of the wardrobe against the wall stood ajar, revealing a set of formal wizard robes and a couple leather sacks bulging with strangely shaped objects. The fireplace mantle was cluttered with exotic looking ornaments and instruments, and a couple half full jars of Floo Powder.

            Bill surveyed the chaos, and decided it was past time to do some cleaning. He waved his wand at a cabinet in the corner. A few small brooms and dust rags zoomed out of it and began to whizz around the room in a tidying frenzy.

            Twirling his wand idly, Bill headed for his desk, and caught a sudden glimpse of his reflection in the mirror beside the wardrobe. There he was, Weasley red hair pulled back in a long ponytail, brown trousers tucked into dragonhide boots, white shirt with rolled up sleeves, and a vest decorated with a few fangs that greatly resembled the one dangling from his ear. It had been a while since he’d actually bothered to look into a mirror, and he couldn’t help grinning at his roguish appearance. Even the grin added to the look. And here he’d been thinking about the odd ways wizards dressed these days. He knew exactly what his mother would be saying to him right about now. He’d told her dozens of times that the bank didn’t care how he looked as long as he brought in plenty of treasure. Thank goodness that was the plain truth.

            Bill settled himself behind his desk, ignoring the whirlwind fury of brooms and dustrags at work around him, and began to sort through the top layers of piled parchment. A great deal of them were maps; treasure maps, to be precise, complete with bold red Xs and ancient runes along the edges. He had already made copies of most of them, and quite a few he no longer needed, since he’d already gotten use out of them. With a flick of his wand, he sent maps and paperwork for completed assignments zooming toward the filing cabinet. After setting aside a short stack of parchment for further review at a later time, he turned his attention to the unopened packages.

            Most of them contained tablets decorated with elaborate hieroglyphs, or tarnished amulets which long experience told him were probably keys to old tombs somewhere. Another package revealed a shiny glass Sneakoscope.

            He pulled it out with a smile, just now remembering that he’d ordered it from a wizard tourist shop in Cairo. He’d told his family once that Sneakoscopes were nothing more than souvenir rubbish, but Ron had written to him last year saying how effective the one he’d bought as a gift for Harry had been, though he hadn’t mentioned much about the circumstances. Ron had also told him about the beetles Fred and George had slipped into his soup when they had come to visit on that prize money. Oh yes, now he remembered all right. He had a box of dung beetles somewhere to ship off to his brothers at Hogwarts. He just needed to find something innocuous in which to hide them. There was no time limit on revenge, after all. Bill grinned, and tucked the Sneakoscope into an inner pocket of his vest. 

            The last package contained an object which really caught his interest. It was a small statue, and fit snugly into the palm of his hand, carved of what appeared to be some kind of sandstone. At first he thought it was a statue of a mermaid, but looking closer he realized that though the top half of the figurine was indeed a woman, the bottom half was not a fish tail, but rather an entwined weaving of scaled serpent’s coils. It was an unusual carving, delicate and very beautiful.

            He looked again in the empty package, but found no note to accompany the statuette. Unusual. The bank administrators always sent him information with any artifacts he might need on his field assignments, and even his sometimes dubious contacts outside of Gringotts usually sent at least a scribbled note.

            Bill frowned, turning the small statue over in his hand. He set it down carefully on the desk, pushed back slightly in his chair, then pointed his wand at the statue and said, “Maledicia Revelate.”

            Nothing happened. The sandstone carving was completely unaffected, and nothing in the immediate vicinity seemed to have exploded.

            He would have to run a few more tests on it to be sure, but for the moment at least he couldn’t detect any curses or wards placed upon the sculpture. He inspected it curiously for a bit longer, then replaced it carefully in the packaging and set it on top of the pile of parchment and maps he intended to take with him when he left.

            Meanwhile, the small brooms and rags had apparently done all they could with the mess, and had retreated back to the cabinet from whence they came, collapsing in little puffs of dust.

            Bill glanced up at the clock on the fireplace mantle. Dragon shaped hands pointed at the brightly glowing numbers, telling him that it was past time for lunch, and past time to get going on his latest assignment.

            He walked over to the tall wardrobe and pulled wide both doors. Skipping over the formal robes he only ever wore at bank meetings, he pulled out instead a nondescript, light brown cloak. He couldn’t count the number of times that cloak had served him as useful camouflage among the desert sand dunes. He also took one of the bulging full leather satchels. A glance inside told him that all his gear was still packed and ready. Last, he took out an ivory white broom with tan bristles - his Gringotts company broom. Though he had a definite fondness for his personal broom at home, he had to admit the company broom was useful. It was faster, for one thing, and it was also enchanted so that it could be shrunk down to easily portable sizes. Right now, though, he would need it as it was.

            Bill swept the pile of parchment, maps and packages into the satchel with his gear, then swung his cloak over his shoulders, and, broom in hand, satchel over his back, he left his office.

            He paused outside in the hall to let the door close behind him, then took out his wand again and brushed the tip over the wood. Beneath Bill Weasley - Acquisitions, a smaller line of gold lettering appeared saying, In The Field.  

            Humming softly to himself, glad to be heading out to do the work he most enjoyed, Bill strolled down the aisle of working goblins and back into the main hall. He smiled at a witch at the front counter who was eyeing him with an admiring gleam, then headed on out the front doors and back into the dazzling light and brutal heat.

            “Hey, Graffalk.” He grinned at the guard goblin, who hadn’t moved an inch since the morning. “Hot day, isn’t it?”  He just couldn’t help himself sometimes.

            “Yes,” came the same, gruff reply. 

            No, goblins definitely didn’t have a sense of humor.

            Bill Weasley swept one long leg over his broomstick, and soared off into the bright sky, sun blazing on his red hair.

 

                                                                                                                                    *

           

            Datayrus was Egypt’s most prominent wizard town, with hidden magical entrances all over Cairo, and dozens of various connections to the Egyptian Floo Network. If you were very familiar with the area, you might be able to get through the magical barriers and fly directly to it, and Bill Weasley was about as familiar with the secret ins and outs of Egypt as a wizard could be.

            He brought his broomstick to a smooth landing on the side of Datayrus’s wide central street, right next to a tavern he liked to frequent. A witch minding the potted displays of an Herbalist’s shop next door waved at him in friendly recognition. Bill waved back, then turned and entered the tavern. A sign hung over the door which read The Thirsty Mummy, and had a picture of an unraveling Mummy with a mug of cider in each hand. Bill had always found the name of the tavern amusing, and assumed that the original owner must have known some true things about Mummies. Being doused with enchanted wine was one of the few things that would actually stop a Mummy, since it dissolved the ancient emulsifiers which held the bandages together. The Thirsty Mummy indeed.

            The interior of the tavern was dimly lit by torchlight, but as with Gringotts, the inside of the building had been magically cooled to a pleasing temperature which defied the blazing Egyptian sun outside. Bill made his way to the corner seat of the bar, and set down his broom and satchel beside him. The bartender ambled over, grinning at him.

            “You’re here early, Bill,” he spoke with a distinct American accent. “The usual?”  

            “The usual, Steve.”

            Steve the Bartender was at least a foot shorter than Bill, but stocky of build. He had broad, scarred hands, and a shiny bald head. He was also a Muggle, the only Muggle Bill had ever met living in any wizarding town. The citizens of Datayrus loved to swap rumors and stories about how Steve had ended up living with wizards. Bill was one of the few people who knew the truth, but he never mentioned it because he loved hearing all the outrageous stories almost as much as Steve did.

            The truth was surprisingly simple, really. Several years ago, Steve had been kind enough to pick up an oddly dressed hitch-hiker, who just happened to be a Ministry wizard with a broken broom and shaky Apparation skills. It had been the beginning of an unusual friendship, and Steve had eventually decided that he found the wizarding world much more interesting, so he’d followed his wizard friend to Egypt, where he had for the past five years entertained the crowds at The Thirsty Mummy with tales of Muggle eccentricities.

            Steve set a foaming mug of butterbeer on the counter in front of Bill. “So where have you been lately? Someone told me you were out of town.”

            “Back home, visiting the family.” 

            “Ah, well, you deserved a vacation. Back on the job again already?”

            “Yeah. There’s supposedly a wizard’s castle buried somewhere in the Ring of Tombs. The head goblins at Gringotts have laid claim to the treasure buried there, if I can find it.” Bill grinned. “Want to come along?” 

            Steve guffawed. “Sure thing, Dr Jones, just let me grab my fedora.”

            Bill blinked. “What?”

            “Never mind. Just a Muggle movie.”

            Bill genuinely liked Steve, but there were times when he had difficulty understanding all his Muggle allusions. He knew what movies were, of course. He’d actually seen one once, a long time ago. He and Charlie had managed to sneak into a Muggle cinema in town not too far from the Burrow. Getting through the town without mishap had been adventure enough, but the movie had also been interesting. It was like a huge portrait where the characters in the painting were acting out some sort of play. It had been an odd story about a squat, brown, ghoul-like creature, with a fondness for potted plants, who made friends with some children who flew around on bicycles instead of broomsticks. He had understood nothing of what was going on, but he found all the bizarre Muggle contraptions and conversations utterly fascinating. Only years later had he finally learned what “phone home” meant.

            “Have you got any chocolate bars?” Bill asked. He always liked to be prepared for any eventuality when leaving on assignment.

            “Sure thing. Sometimes I think old Ahmed keeps those things in stock just for you. Hold on.” Steve went into the small kitchen and emerged moments later with a huge chocolate bar wrapped in a gold foil that was charmed to keep it from melting in the desert heat. “There you go.”

            “Thanks.” Bill shoved the chocolate into his satchel, then downed the rest of the butterbeer and stood up. “Put it on my account, Steve.”

            “You got it.” Steve shook his head with a smile. “I’ll expect a story when you get back.”

            Bill grinned and gave him cheerful nod of agreement, then swept out of The Thirsty Mummy and took once more to the sky. This flight was much shorter. He landed again at the other end of Datayrus, on a yellow cobbled street lined with small stone houses, pale colored and flat roofed. He strolled up to his own doorway, tapped his wand on the small gargoyle which guarded his threshold, and the door opened inward.

            Just as he entered he heard the sound of beating wings, and two owls swooped down from a date tree in his garden and over his shoulder to perch on his living room chair. They each had scrolls attached to their legs.

            “Well hullo.” Bill smiled, setting down his things. “Two of you, I see. I must be a popular person these days.”

            He took the scrolls, then fed the owls some of his left over toast from breakfast. He invited them to stay and rest for a bit, but they both ruffled their feathers importantly and took off through an open window, apparently to other business. Bill sat down in the chair and opened up his post.

            The first scroll was from his father. Bill had asked to be kept updated on what was happening back home, and Mr Weasley did his best to send him weekly owls with all the news. Apparently not much had changed since the last letter. Harry Potter was staying at the Burrow for the end of this summer holiday. Arthur confessed that though he was delighted and honored to take the boy in, thinking that Voldemort might come looking for him at any time made him and Molly rather nervous, in spite of the precautionary spells Dumbledore had put in place for them. But so far everything at the Burrow was peaceful. As for work... rumors were getting out all over the place, it seemed, and wizards were becoming careless in the face of their worries. The Obliviators were working overtime with Memory Charms, which meant that Mr Weasley had to use up some of his precious time reviewing their activities to insure that they didn’t violate the Muggle Protection Act with their actions. As the author of the law, he had to help enforce it. And in addition to all his duties, he was now trying to promote Dumbledore’s activist views with his fellows in the Ministry.

            Bill fancied he could see how exhausted his father was in the odd slant to his writing.

            There was also a postscript at the bottom of the letter, in neat writing he recognized as his mother’s, which said: Bill darling, I know I’ve said it before, but you really should consider cutting that hair of yours. You’re such a handsome young man, and if you just looked a bit more presentable I’m sure you’d attract all sorts of nice young witches. I’m getting on in years, you know, and I want to have some grandchildren eventually! I love you, dear. Take care of yourself.

            He couldn’t help smiling, shaking his head fondly as he practically heard his mother’s voice in his head. He knew the length of his hair had nothing to do with the lack of ‘nice young witches’ in his life. He just didn’t have the time for dating. His work for Gringotts kept him out of town more often than not, and he had yet to meet a ‘nice young witch’ willing to spend days puzzling through stuffy underground mazes and crypts, fighting off Mummies, and hiding from Sand Wraiths in search of long-lost wizard riches. It wasn’t exactly the kind of date most witches looked for. He knew, not because no witch had ever shown an interest, but because they had, and he’d tried, and the last time he’d spent two days trying to break out of an Entombment Trap triggered by his inexperienced companion. It was not an experience he wished to repeat.

            The second letter was from his brother Charlie. His writing looked rather erratic, and one edge of the parchment was curling with scorch marks.

 

            Dear Bill,

 

            This will have to be quick, as I’m preparing to do a claw trim on a rather

            feisty Romanian Rake-Paw.

 

            In answer to your question about the Chinese Dragon family, legend says

            they have a great fear of centipedes. They seem to think centipedes will

            crawl up their noses and eat their brains. (Dragons can be very paranoid

            sometimes.) Next time you’re planning on facing down a Chinese Dragon,

            try conjuring up some centipedes, instead of antagonizing it with Ice Charms

            like you did the last time. (I still can’t figure out how the hell you survived

            that one, you wily bastard!) And if you’re looking for a more peaceful way

            about it, we’ve managed to capture our Chinese Fireballs by luring them

            with pearls. I’ve never had the chance to try the centipedes, but I know the

            pearls work. They love the pearls.

           

 

            Bill thought it would have been good to know all this before going off to China on his last big assignment. Normally Gringotts kept him in Egypt, where a surprisingly large number of eccentric wizards seemed to have made their homes over the centuries, compulsively hiding treasure all over the place beneath the sand dunes. But occasionally he did get sent further abroad on his quests, and his work in China last year had been particularly exciting. Bill had to admit he’d loved most of it - everything except the run in with the Dragon in the mountains. He wasn’t even sure himself how he’d managed to survive that one. Pure luck, really. Studying up on their behavior after the fact at least gave him information for future reference. From now on, though, he decided he’d ask Charlie about Dragon specimens native to his mission areas before leaving.

            The letter continued:

 

            And in answer to your question about getting time off work for Christmas...

            I’ll do my best. It’s getting pretty crazy around here. Dumbledore’s sent me

            a few messages, suggesting I start to give some serious thought to training

            some of our calmer species. He’s really planning for a confrontation with

            You-Know-Who, isn’t he? I must admit, it makes me nervous.

           

            I’ve got to go now. The Rake-Paw’s getting uppity. I’ve got two assistants

            down recovering from burns, so we’re short handed for routine trimmings

            like these.

 

            Watch yourself out there with those Sand Wraiths. I’m still convinced they’re

            Dragon cousins, nasty little buggers. (If you ever get a chance to catch one,

            I’ll be happy to take it off your hands!)

 

            Love, Charlie

 

            P.S. Is Mum pestering you about grandchildren, too?

 

 

            Bill penned quick replies to both letters, letting them know he’d be in the field for a while, and that he’d be in touch again as soon as possible. Trying to find anything in the Ring of Tombs was risky business. There was no telling how long he’d be out there.

            That done, he pulled out the paperwork and packages he’d brought home from the office and sorted through them one final time. One large roll of parchment was a map he himself had made of the Ring of Tombs, filling in areas as he explored them, and marking all the places with the traps he knew about - he was always finding new ones. He put the map back in the sack with his gear, along with the parchment he’d been given by Gringotts which displayed a moving layout of the castle he was supposed to find, complete with brilliantly colored symbols to mark all the secret passageways. He was about to shove all the other papers into his desk, when the package with the peculiar sculpture in it caught his eye.

            Bill took out the statue again, turning it over in his hand. The detail really was exquisite. The woman’s torso was bare-breasted, lovely down to the details of face and hair. The numerous serpent’s coils which wound together to form the tail half were intricately carved with scale patterns.

            He really wanted to know who had sent this to him, and why.

            Still holding the sculpture, he pointed his wand at a small wooden box on an endtable. Accio!”  

            The box zoomed through the air towards him, and he managed to twirl his wand into a loose grip with his little finger just in time to catch the box one-handed. He’d always had a habit of twirling his wand while thinking, and all that practice had done him good in the end.

            He placed the sandstone carving inside the wooden box, which had a glass lid on it so that he could still see the contents when it was closed. The box was something he’d designed himself with the use of the Gringotts’ laboratories. As one of their few official curse-breakers, he had free access to most of their resources, for which he was grateful. This particular box would glow red if there were any malevolent curses on the object placed within, blue if the enchantments were harmless in nature. In some cases, the box’s scan might trigger the cursed object, but he had also designed it to contain the effects of most curses. It had only failed a few times, and he’d had to do some fast thinking to save his skin. But he wasn’t a curse-breaker for nothing.

            This time, however, when he closed the glass lid on the statue, the light which immediately emanated from it was a soft blue glow. So the sculpture was enchanted, but not apparently dangerous in nature. That didn’t mean it was entirely safe, by any means, but he was relieved to know it wasn’t about to explode on him.

            This wasn’t the first time he’d received anonymous deliveries from people. A lot of the bizarre wizards he’d met in the course of his work sometimes sent him old artifacts they thought might be of help to him, and most of the time they actually were.

            On impulse, Bill decided to take the statue with him, and slipped it into an inner pocket of his satchel. Who knew what use he might get out of it?

            Finally all the preparations were done, and he swung his cloak on again and hurried out the door, tapping the gargoyle again to seal his house behind him. He hopped on his broom and made a quick stop down the road at the Datayrus Owlery to send off the letters to his family, then pointed his broom south, toward the vast desert, absently humming one of the cheerier versions of the Hogwarts school song as the wind whipped at his cloak and hair.

 

                                   

                                                                                                                                    *

           

            Two days later, Bill Weasley was crouched down in the sand with his back to a large, crumbling pyramid, trying to keep as silent as possible while scanning the moonlit sand dunes for any sign of the Sand Wraith hunting him.

            Either his holiday had made him lax, or he was too preoccupied with worries about what was happening back home, because he seemed to have forgotten everything he’d ever learned about the Egyptian desert by choosing to work at night in the Ring of Tombs around the full moon. Maybe Sand Wraiths shared some traits with werewolves, because they always got particularly frisky around this time of the month. He’d decided to avoid working in the blazing heat and sun by exploring at night, and had completely forgotten about the increased Sand Wraith activity.

            Absolutely brilliant, Bill, he though to himself wryly. Professor McGonagall’s well remembered voice piped up in his head, as it usually did when he’d done something particularly stupid, saying, “Do not get careless, Mr Weasley!” Too late for that.

            He’d been so engrossed investigating the runes on the pyramid behind him - one of the few in the Ring of Tombs he hadn’t yet explored - that he’d failed to notice the whistling of an approaching Sand Wraith until it was almost upon him. He’d managed to dive out of the way, concealing himself with a Chameleon Charm. Unfortunately, the moment he moved the Sand Wraith would hear him. They had exceptional hearing, and could hide like Chameleons without the need for Charms. It wasn’t safe to Apparate within the Ring of Tombs, either. The area was criss-crossed and layered with so many horrible enchantments and curses that it was easy to unintentionally trigger one by Apparating through them. You never knew what you were going to land on. And it wasn’t safe to fly out, because Sand Wraiths could jump over a hundred feet straight into the air, and Bill knew that Wraith was out there somewhere, just waiting for him to try it. Besides, to reach his broom - which was currently shrunk to the size of a quill in his pocket - he’d have to move.

            Just bloody brilliant.

            Suddenly, a high-pitched, keening whistle pierced the night stillness, and about fifty feet to his right Bill saw a dune erupt into a whirling pillar of moonlit sand. Faster and faster the sand whirled, like a miniature tornado, and the whistling grew more shrill. The faint outline of a reptilian shape could be seen in the center of the maelstrom. Local wizarding legend claimed that Sand Wraiths moved in a constant spin, which kicked up the sand around them. But Bill had seen quite a few Wraith skeletons in his day - once when traveling with Charlie - and they had both agreed that something built like that could not spin fast enough to cause such a sand storm. From the sounds it made, and the way the sand swirled, Bill wouldn’t have been surprised if the creature was breathing it all in and blowing it all out again.

            The whirling pillar of sand began to move, shrieking across the dunes around the pyramid. Apparently it had grown tired of waiting for him to come out of hiding, and was going to circle the area until it found its prey.

            Bill’s grip tightened on his wand, and he got a reckless idea.

            What if the Wraith was breathing the sand? It had always seemed a ridiculous concept, but he’d seen stranger things. And he’d never seen a Sand Wraith not enveloped by that contained sand storm. No one knew very much about them. It might be possible that they actually did suck up that sand and spit it back out again, causing the constant spiral of air and grit. It might be possible. Might.

            What the hell? He didn’t have anything to lose by trying. Nothing more than he’d lose by just waiting around to be eaten.

            Bill leapt to his feet and pointed his wand at the creature, which instantly shifted course to streak straight towards him with a deafening roar.

            Ventis Defende!” he yelled.

            A howling gust of wind exploded from his wand, increasing in strength as it whooshed toward the Wraith. It hit the Wraith so hard that the creature was forced back several feet, and then began to shred away the curtain of sand obscuring it. Wind blew the sand away, carrying it off as it howled past, and leaving the Sand Wraith completely exposed.

            Charlie had been right; it did look like a dragon. 

            The Sand Wraith had a serpentine body covered in shimmering green scales, and it stood almost upright on two thin legs, with two wiry arms spread out to either side, each trailing a semi-transparent membrane which looked like they might serve as wings. Both arms and legs ended in several long claws, and a thin tail lashed about with claw-like horns on it as well.

            For a moment, the Sand Wraith stood frozen in evident surprise, glowing red eyes flashing. And then its long snout opened, revealing rows of shiny teeth, and it roared in absolute fury.

            Or at least, it tried to roar. What actually emerged sounded more like a choked wheeze. A small puff of sand rose up from the ground beneath its feet, but was instantly swept away by the winds still swirling out of Bill’s wand.

            Bill knew he didn’t have the time to celebrate his own ingenuity. He broke the Wind Charm long enough to point his wand near the Wraith’s clawed feet, and said, “Liquidatus!” The sand beneath the Wraith instantly turned into a muddy pit of wet gloop. He snapped the wand back up and called up another Wind Charm to make sure he kept the creature of its balance.

            The Sand Wraith began to sink, sucked down into the soppy pool as though it were standing in quicksand. It sunk quickly, all the while trying to roar and producing only wheezes. As soon as the creature was sunk nearly to its pointed and scaly knees, Bill pointed his wand at the quicksand again and shouted, “Gelatis!” The wet sand froze with a loud crack, leaving the Sand Wraith with both clawed feet stuck in a block of mud suddenly hard as brick.

            But Bill knew that wouldn’t hold it long. He whipped his shrunken broom out of his pocket, spoke the words to restore it to its original size, then jumped on and shot up into the air, streaking away at top speed.

            He glanced back only once, and could just make out the tiny shape of the Sand Wraith in the moonlit shadows. A cloud of sand was forming around it again, in the absence of his Wind Charm. But the Wraith hadn’t moved yet, which meant that it was either still frozen in the mud block, or it had decided to give up on him as prey.

            Either way, Bill decided it wouldn’t be wise to keep exploring tonight. No need to push his luck.

            He pointed his broom in the direction of a nearby Tomb, one he had already thoroughly explored and could easily break into. He’d shut himself up in the pyramid, and wait out the night. He wasn’t particularly fond of spending the night with Mummies, but at least they moved slowly, and he had no worries about dealing with them. He had a good stock of enchanted wine with him. He could use some for himself, too, while he was at it.

            At that moment, Bill was glad he’d decided long ago not to tell his mother all the details about his job. She’d probably have a heart attack if she realized the kinds of scrapes he got himself into.

            Perhaps he was crazy to stick with a job like this. But heck, Charlie worked with dragons. No one was crazier than that.

            He grinned, and pushed his broom to faster speeds.

 

 

                                                                                                                                                *

 

 

            The next day, Bill emerged from the dusty pyramid into the bright morning sunshine. He’d only had to ward off two Mummies last night, so he’d actually managed to get some rest. Apparently he’d cleared out most of them the last time he’d been here.

            He took out his map, made a few calculations based on what he’d discovered over the past few days, and then zoomed off again astride his broom.

            It didn’t take him long to find the buried castle he was looking for. All that could be seen of it were a few spires poking up out of a mountain of sand. He paced around it a few times, searching for wards and curses. After an hour of tests and examinations, he determined there didn’t seem to be any spells preventing his approach. So he chose the most exposed spire, and conjured up a few shovels to start digging away at it.

            At least an hour passed before enough sand had been cleared away to reveal a narrow white tower, topped with a tarnished bronze dome with a fluted turret on the crown. The style looked distinctly Eastern, but on closer inspection Bill saw carvings along one of the stone windowsills done in Egyptian hieroglyphs. The wizard who built this might have had eccentric tastes in design, but they had known their Egyptian curses.

            Bill worked at breaking the blocking enchantment on the window, then slipped carefully through. He was standing at the top landing of a flight of stairs, which spiraled down the tower into darkness. The bulk of the castle must be completely entombed below the sand.

            He slipped the strap of his satchel securely over his chest, then raised his wand, muttered “Lumos,” and descended into the shadowy tower.

            The descent seemed to go on forever, and his wandlight only illuminated one loop of the spiral staircase ahead of him as he went. Eventually, though, he reached the bottom, and he could make out a wide stone hall stretching out ahead of him into thick, musty shadow.

            He took one cautious step forward, and was nearly blinded by a sudden explosion of golden light.

            “Well, well, a visitor!” a husky voice chuckled.

            Bill blinked rapidly to try to clear his sight, and soon saw that the entire stone hall had been lit up by rows of iron braziers, filled with flickering gold and red flames. Even through the blanket of dust on the floor, he could still see that the hall was paved with slabs of cream-colored marble, and the walls were beautifully decorated with murals.

            And at the far end of the hall, perched on a stone dais, was a Sphynx.

            Contrary to what Muggles believed about Sphynxes, they were not very pretty, and not even remotely regal. In fact, they bore a strong resemblance to harpies and hags, and were usually downright rude, not to mention shamelessly bawdy. Captive Sphynxes were known to be a bit more placid, as generations of close relations with wizards had leeched them of most of their wildness, but free ones were anything but tame. Bill had only run into a wild Sphynx once before this, and he’d left the encounter blushing as red as his hair with embarrassment.

            Unfortunately, the presence of a Sphynx here meant she was probably guarding something, and no matter their lewd nature, Sphynxes could be very dangerous.

            “A visitor!” the Sphynx exclaimed again, yellow eyes widening with glee. All four of her lion paws flexed eagerly, claws tapping on stone. “And a handsome one, too! Is your hair that red all over?”

            Bill flushed, rooted to the spot, wondering if he should make a retreat and plan another entrance.

            “Oh, don’t go thinking of leaving now! We’ve only just met!” The Sphynx grinned, showing rows of pointed teeth in her woman’s face. “Unless I’m much mistaken, you’ve dragged that cute rear down here to find some treasure. Well, come on, then. You’ve got to get through me first.”

            Bill smiled back as confidently as he could manage. “Doesn’t seem to be much point in dissembling, does there?”

            “Absolutely not, gorgeous! Come closer, why don’t you, and we can get on with business.” A long, blue tongue snaked out and licked at her lips.

            It was impossible, he knew, to get decent conversation out of a Sphynx. He stood his ground and said, “And what exactly would that business entail, please.”

            “Oh, a diplomatic one, are you? What the hell do you think it entails?” Lion claws scratched the stone dais impatiently as her yellow eyes narrowed, shining brightly even across the distance of the hall. “Riddles, of course. You answer three riddles correctly, and I will let you go into the vault beyond and you can cart off all the treasure your little heart desires.”

            “And if I don’t answer the riddles correctly?”

            “I eat you.”

            “Ah. No thanks. I’ll pass.”

            “You don’t have a choice, wizard boy!” she snapped, and a very lion-like growl emerged from her deceptively frail looking human chest. “You went to all the trouble to dig me up, and now I want to be entertained. Now get over here!”

            Bill glanced behind him to see that the entrance to the tower was now completely sealed over with stone. If he tried to break through it to get back out, no doubt the Sphynx would attack him. It seemed he really had no choice but to attempt the riddles. If he failed to answer them, then he wouldn’t be any worse off than if he tried to escape right now. And who knew, maybe he’d get them right.

            He turned back to the Sphynx, who was grinning at him wickedly, and a bit lustily too. God, what a horrible thought.

            But he wasn’t about to be careless. He advanced slowly, stopping every few steps to trace patterns in the air with his wand, searching for traps along the way, trying to ignore the Sphynx’s mocking commentary as he did so.

            “All you wizards with your misguided magic! Lunatics, all of you. Crazy. Thinking you can take on immortals like me! Why don’t you try that stone over there, hot stuff? Maybe there’s a ghoul under it, never know until you bend over and check, eh? I’m really surprised you haven’t all been eaten long before now. I mean, what have all the Dragons been up to since I got stuck down here pulling watch duty three hundred years ago? Hey, that brazier looks menacing. Wave your wand at it some more, give me a good show. A few of you nutters learn a few good tricks, get lucky a couple times, and pretty soon you’ve all got big heads. You better watch out, you might trip on that oh so nasty and threatening dust speck there and crack your pretty little head open. And that would be a shame.”

            Finally, Bill made it to the base of the stone dais, without finding a single spell or ward to hinder him. Apparently the Sphynx was the only danger here, but that was danger - and irritation - enough.

            “Feeling all safe and secure now, are we?”  

            “Very, thanks for asking.”

            “You’ve got cheek.” Her grin widened to ghastly proportions. “I like it.”

            Bill started twirling his wand again, partly out of nervousness, partly to put on a show of nonchalance. It probably wasn’t a good idea to antagonize her, but he couldn’t help himself. Weasleys never backed down from a fight. “So what about these riddles, then?”

            “Slow down, lover boy! You’ll get them soon enough. First.” She crouched forward on her front legs, sticking her face very close to his, so that her foul breath nearly overwhelmed him. “Who are you? It’s been a long time since anyone found this place, and I must admit, I’m impressed by your resourcefulness.”

            Bill forced himself not to take a step back, though her heavy breathing was lifting up strands of hair in his ponytail. “The name’s Bill Weasley. I’d say something like, ‘and I’m the wizard who’s going to spell you back into the mythology days’ - but I think we can skip over the loud-mouthed intimidation bit and get down to the real stuff, don’t you?” He grinned his most charming grin, and tried not to shudder at his own daring. He really was being unusually cheeky. He only hoped it didn’t get him killed.

            The Sphynx froze for a moment, blinked in surprise, then let out an ear-splitting roar of laughter. The sound that echoed through the hall was hardly human, and it made him wince in spite of his best attempts to keep a straight face.

            The Sphynx reared up then, sitting back on her haunches, and unfurling a pair of crimson colored wings. A wide necklace of obsidian and gold hung over most her chest, glinting now in the firelight as she drew a deep breath. When she spoke next, her husky voice was deeper, grander, and her bearing became suddenly much more like the Muggle legends made Sphynxes out to be.

            “Very well, Bill Weasley. Here is your first riddle.”

            Bill held his breath.

            “I begin life with my absence, grow, and end how I began. I am only seen by my reflection, but always I am felt. What am I?”

            He let his breath out slowly, brow furrowed in thought. It didn’t help that the Sphynx was now staring at him with a wicked gleam in her eye. And maybe it was only his imagination, but she definitely looked hungry.

            “Take your time, gorgeous,” she said. “I’ve got eternal patience.”

            Bill doubted that, but he did feel certain that she wouldn’t attack him without making some obnoxious comment first. So he felt safe enough to close his eyes, blocking out the sight of her leering grin, and concentrated on the riddle.

            He had always been better at spell work than theory, and it had been a long time since he’d had to deal with anything like riddles. But he hadn’t been Head Boy at Hogwarts for nothing. So... begining life with absence. Absence of what? Of self? And was this thing really alive, or was that only metaphor? So... life with absence. Absence was... darkness? Maybe. Growing and ending. Growth, and then dying how it began... death in absence.

            “Is that a broom in your pocket, or something more interesting?”

            Bill flushed furiously, his concentration shattered. “It’s a broom. Shrunken.”

 “I wouldn’t call it shrunken.”

            “I’m trying to think, here,” he snapped.

            “Well get on with it.”

            He almost made a wise crack about eternal patience, but kept it in.

            So what about being seen only by reflection? Creatures like vampires didn’t cast reflections at all, but he couldn’t think of anything that worked in an opposite way. Seen only by reflection... but always felt. Reflection... mirrors? Maybe. Something standing in front of a mirror... something invisible, but reflected. Was it always invisible? Growth, and then return to absence. Was it absent while growing? How was it always felt? Something that was always present, even when you couldn’t see it, even in darkness, but seen by reflection...

            Then, finally, the answer hit him. He opened his eyes, and almost jumped to see the Sphynx’s face held inches away from his own. Her eyes widened into huge, yellow orbs.

            “Well?” she said expectantly.

            Bill tightened his grip on his wand, ready to spring into action, just in case he was wrong. “You’re the moon.”

            The Sphynx reared back again, showing all her teeth, and roared out another laugh. “Well, Bill! I say! You shock me. That is correct. The moon begins its cycle as a new moon, in darkness. It waxes, then wanes, and ends its cycle in darkness. Your human eyes can only see the moon because the sun’s light reflects off it, but always the moon pulls on the ocean tides. I am impressed. The last bloke who came here guessed that the answer was a radish.”

            Bill blinked, stunned in spite of himself. “A radish?”

            “I know, I know! Isn’t it preposterous? I said you’re all complete nutballs. I’m surprised you all haven’t incinerated yourselves with backfired spells. I mean, really. I worked hard on that riddle. A radish?”

            Bill nodded with what he hoped would be perceived as sympathy for her indignation, just relieved he’d made it through the first riddle alive.

            “So, then. On with the show, yes?” She drew herself up again, voice once more resonant and impressive, “Bill Weasley, here is your second riddle: I am all the colors in the... aw, forget this nonsense.” She slapped her front paws against her chest, did something with the necklace she wore, then quickly placed both paws flat against the stone dais. “Just tell me which paw the key to the vault is under and we’ll call it a day, shall we?”

            Bill hesitated, shocked at his luck, wondering if she really meant it, and if so, whether or not he should risk trying to use a spell to find the key’s location.

            “Aw, come on,” she cajoled. “You’re funny, you’re good-looking, you made my day more interesting, and the truth is that I hate riddles, anyway. That’s just my luck, huh? So you make a choice, if you get it right, you get the treasure, and I get to quit this job. You get it wrong, and tell you what, I won’t even eat you. I’m feeling generous. Don’t test my patience.”

            Knowing how short her ‘eternal patience’ was, Bill took the chance. He’d known all along it might come down to a fight, if she was lying about not eating him. Keeping his wand ready, he pointed with his empty hand at her left paw. “There.”

            “Well, it sure is your lucky day, isn’t it?” She lifted her left paw to reveal a gold and black amulet dangling from one of her long claws. “Come and get it, then.”

            Bill raised one eyebrow, then lifted his wand. Accio.” The amulet flew through the space between them and into his hand.

            The Sphynx chuckled. “Didn’t trust me? Smart man. The door to the treasure vault is right behind this dais. Just fit the amulet into the matching carving, and you’re in. And I,” she rose to all four feet and padded off the dais, claws clicking on the floor, “am finally getting out of this dusty hole in the ground. Though,” she paused and swiveled her torso around to ogle Bill as she passed, “I wouldn’t have minded eating you. That red hair. Really quite scrumptious.”

            He laughed. He couldn’t help it. “Thanks. I think.”

            The Sphynx swished her tail once, folded her crimson wings back, then started to pad off toward the tower, which was unsealed and open once again. Just as she made it all the way past him, however, she stopped, and spun around with a snap of opening wings, her teeth bared.

            Bill leapt back, wand raised, on the verge of shouting out the first spell that came to mind.

            But the Sphynx didn’t attack. She stood there, lowered into a threatening crouch, and when she spoke this time all traces of the lewd, impatient monster were gone. She was a magical creature now, wrapped in power, immortal, and very angry.

            What have you brought with you? What are you carrying that bears the stench of tainted magic?

            Bill frowned, and took another step back. “Nothing.”

            You lie. It is there, with you. You carry it.

            A strange glow shimmered in the corner of his vision, and he realized it was coming from behind him. He risked tearing his gaze from the angry Sphynx to glance back.

            The glow was coming from his satchel, still hanging from his shoulder. But that was impossible. He knew all the gear he’d brought with him, used it all the time. All of it was practical, innocent, nothing to provoke this kind of response. Unless... the statuette...

            He looked quickly back at the Sphynx, whose huge yellow eyes were fixed on him. “It’s a statue, I was given it. I don’t know what it does.”

            Slowly, the Sphynx began to relax, muscles rippling under lion pelt and human skin. “Well, then,” she said, her voice much calmer now. “Be rid of it.”

            “Can you sense what it does?” Bill asked impulsively.

            “No. But it has been touched by dark forces.”

            “But I tested it for curses, and couldn’t find anything.”

            “Things don’t need to be inherently evil to be used for an evil purpose. The touch of previous owners lingers. Be rid of it, Bill Weasley. You’re a decent enough wizard, no need to mess with dark things.”

            With that, the Sphynx swished her tail and padded off, reached the tower, and leapt up the stairs in a massive bound, leaving Bill alone with lots of questions, and a vault full of treasure.

 

 

                                                                                                                                                *

 

 

            The Gringotts goblins were delighted with the treasure load Bill delivered. The Goblin in Chief even broke into a rare smile at the sight of all the gold and jewels. They were so pleased, in fact, that they granted Bill a month’s worth of holiday time on the spot, to be used whenever he liked. That made Bill happier than any payraise. It meant time with his family, at a time when he felt he ought to be with them.

            The night after the last of the treasure had been delivered to Gringotts, Bill stopped by The Thirsty Mummy and shared a few drinks with Steve the Muggle. A good flow of butterbeer soon made some of his worries seem more distant. The Sphynx’s warning about the statuette disturbed him, but he had run every curse-detection test on it he could think of as soon as he got back, and had found absolutely nothing.

            After telling Steve all about his encounter with the Sand Wraith and Sphynx, and after his fill of butterbeer, Bill made his goodnights and headed back home, smiling politely in farewell to a witch who had been eyeing him at the bar. A nice young witch. She’d been quite interested in his story, but he wondered, as always, how fascinating she would have found him out in the sand with the Wraith trying to eat them both. Then again, he remembered Ron’s young friend, Hermione. According to everything Ron had told him, she seemed to get by on book smarts okay, respectable and all. The two of them and Harry Potter, getting in to all sorts of trouble. Almost made him wish he was back at Hogwarts with them. Visiting the school during the Triwizard Tournament had made him rather nostalgic. He even found he missed the Fat Lady and her friend Violet. They’d always flirted with him terribly.

            He made it home, tapped the guardian gargoyle with his wand, then settled down to relax. He lit a magical fire in the hearth, one which produced no heat, opened a window to let in the warm evening breezes, and took a seat in front of the fire with a book, Mystical Memories - a Study in Reincarnation.

            Barely two pages into it, however, he was interrupted by the sound of fluttering wings, and another owl swooped in through the window with a delivery. At first he assumed it must be from his family, which made him think that he ought to write to Charlie with what he’d learned about the Sand Wraiths. Then he noticed that the scroll was sealed with the Hogwarts crest, and he unrolled it curiously. It was from Dumbledore.

 

            Dear Mr Weasley,

 

            I hope this letter finds you well, and that the Egyptian summer agrees with you.

            I’ve personally always found it rather invigorating, but I digress.

 

            I’m sure I need not mention that you were one of Hogwarts’ most exemplary

            students, and you do honor to the reputation of your fine family. Bearing in

            mind your abilities, and what you witnessed and heard at the end of the

            Triwizard Tournament while standing as family for Harry Potter, I have

            decided to ask of you a favor. Please forgive my presumption, but we have no

            more time to be hesitant.

           

            It is imperative that I meet with a witch by the name of Elizabeth Night. I have

            made contact with her, and she has agreed to come to Hogwarts. Unfortunately,

            due to certain limitations imposed upon her, she is unable to make the journey

            here by normal wizarding means. She must be escorted here, and if you will,

            I would entrust this important task to you. It will be, I am afraid, a lengthy journey.

Miss Night is currently in hiding for various reasons, and you will need to convince

            the people who guard her that you are working for me.

 

            If you choose to accept this task, I will speak with Gringotts on your behalf to

            secure you the free time needed. Please send me your reply with this owl. On

            your acceptance, I will send you all the detailed information you will require

            to find and escort Miss Night.

 

            Rest assured that I fully understand if you are unable to do me this favor. I ask

            you because I trust you, as a member of your honorable family, and as a respect-

            able wizard in your own right. I chose you because you’re the best man for the

            job.

 

            Be careful in these darkening times.

 

            With regards,

                        Albus Dumbledore

 

 

            Bill read the letter a second time, then held it in his hand and stared into the fire, lost in troubled thought. What could be so important about this witch that Dumbledore felt he had to go to such extreme measures to meet with her? It worried him.

            But he also felt a little bit of pride, because Dumbledore had specifically chosen him for this important task. How could he not feel good about earning the respect of one of the greatest wizards who’d ever lived?

            There was really no question about whether or not he would accept. Who could say no to Albus Dumbledore?

            It seemed his entire family was destined to get tangled up in the workings of the battle against Voldemort. So be it. He would, as Dumbledore had said, do honor to his family.

            Bill grabbed a fresh piece of parchment and scribbled a quick letter back to Dumbledore, then entrusted it to the waiting owl, who took off immediately to return to its master.

            He stood at the window for a while, watching the owl disappear into the night. Warm breezes tugged at his earing, tapping the fang against his jaw. His mother’s words came back to him, “...with a horrible great fang on it...”  He smiled. Maybe he ought not to mention anything about Sand Wraiths or Sphynxes in his next letter home. If Dumbledore had already discussed this mysterious mission with his father, then they were no doubt already worried enough.

            He tucked Dumbledore’s letter into his desk, then took the time to make sure that the lid of his curse-box was tightly closed. He’d placed the sandstone carving in it, and decided to leave it there until he could figure out what to do about it. Surely, given enough time, he’d be able to decipher whatever mystery it contained.

            Tomorrow he’d go in to the bank, maybe tidy up the office some more. Maybe he could even squeeze in the time to explore that newly found pyramid in the Ring of Tombs before having to leave on Dumbledore’s mission. Maybe.

            But Bill was beginning to doubt that things were ever going to return completely to normal. He’d been feeling that way ever since the Tournament, when a boy had died, and Harry Potter had lived again to tell them that Voldemort had returned.

            He shook himself, and said aloud, “There’s nothing to be done about it tonight.”

            Trying not to worry too much, he changed into his sleeping robes and rolled into bed, pleased, at least, that he’d managed to make it home from another assignment in one piece. He could just imagine Fred and George saying something ridiculous about ‘Bill Weasley triumphant again, striking fear into the hearts of Mummies everywhere.’ He missed his brothers. Funny, all his youth looking forward to getting away from an over-crowding family, and now adventures in Egypt seemed empty without them. He wondered if Charlie sometimes felt the same off in Romania.

            Eventually he fell asleep, and dreamed of Hogwarts. He saw Ron there, and Harry, and Professor McGonagall with her stern bun, and Dumbledore in the background, smiling behind those half-moon spectacles. And Bill walked through the familiar halls, with his Head Boy badge pinned to his desert-stained clothes, saying hello to all the old portraits.

            It was a good dream, and that night Bill Weasley, curse-breaker and professional treasure-hunter, slept the whole night through with a smile on his face, in defiance of the troubles which would no doubt be waiting for him in the morning.

//
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