Ginny thought she knew all the tricks and traps that the Mesopotamian wizard Uzu had put in his tomb. The first few traps were easy to clear, and the other magi-archaeologists on the team were more than pleased with the rooms available to them. The wall art was superbly preserved, the original designs still able to move. The sconces still shone brightly, giving the rooms a bright illumination as if the noonday sun was overhead.
The light made Ginny's red hair shine with golden highlights. She was pale from so much library study and heavy-duty charms to prevent sunburn. There were more than enough freckles from her Weasley heritage and all of the burns she had from Quidditch practice and games. She'd loved the game, and had even done a brief stint with the Holyhead Harpies after graduating from Hogwarts. Newspapers called her a brilliant chaser, and she'd loved it. A catastrophic fall that shattered nearly every bone in her body convinced her to leave the game. By the time the spells, poultices, and charms repaired the damage, the season was over and she was old news.
Worse yet, the muscle regeneration had been horrible. Bill had visited with Fleur, regaling her with curse breaker stories to distract her as she went through physical therapy. At first, she resented the attention, thinking he was treating her like a baby. But as she listened closely, she started to see why he loved his job so much. There was the thrill of the chase, the complexity of the curses he had to break for the treasures to be safely found. He had to pay close attention to the diagnostic charms he cast, as well as the identification spells and the arrangement of the tombs themselves. It was a puzzle for him to solve, seeing what defense mechanisms were present and what should be present, then inferring what curses he had to break based on his knowledge of the cultures and the magic known at that time. Sometimes the tools and materials he brought weren't sufficient for the task, and he had to cobble together rituals that would fit the curses.
Bill was going to train an apprentice, a smarmy, entitled git, but found that far more interesting than digging in tombs.
"You don't even want to see what's there?" she'd asked him, shocked.
He shrugged negligently, not impressed. "It's all old spells on what used to be someone's belongings. Not my thing. I like figuring out the magic better."
"It could be important."
"Or not. I'm sure all the really important things have been found already."
"In Britain, maybe."
"Thinking of going on a dig overseas?" he'd smirked, shaking his head. "It's not glamorous. It's sifting through dirt for minutiae and then trying to come up with a story about it. And most of them are wrong."
"Because most of the people doing the digs are idiots," Ginny scoffed. "I've read the books you sent me. Ignoring perfectly clear warnings and getting caught by traps. How ridiculous."
"You think you could do better?" Bill laughed.
If there was one thing sure to Ginny's back up, it was to laugh at her.
"Damn right," Ginny said, chin up in defiance.
That was a rather familiar look for her, and Bill laughed harder. "Watch out, academia. Ginny's coming for you all!"
Studying quickly, Ginny got herself onto the research team of Professor Wade Chillcothe. His area of expertise was ancient alchemy, and he was a rather gifted speaker. The way his green eyes twinkled with delight reminded Ginny a bit of Dumbledore, but Chillcothe's skin was as dark as midnight and his frame was wiry and thin. It was more their manner that was the same, not their looks. She felt right at home on his research team, and threw herself into her work.
"Hey, Ginny," Cherry Starling called from her area in the second antechamber. "You studied the pictograms, right?"
"Right," she called, stepping away from the wall she had been studying. It seemed almost like another room might be present on the other side of it. She would have to take a closer look at the writing to see if there was a hidden seam in it.
"There's a second layer of writing here," Cherry called. Ginny could hear the click of photographs being taken, of precise wand work getting the measurements of the room. "I've never seen this before."
"You only studied cuneiform," Ginny told her diplomatically as she approached. She grinned at Cherry, seeing the steaks of dirt and grime in her brown hair and on her face and hands. "Maybe I'll try it next term if there's more cuneiform than pictographs here."
"Or you stick with pictographs and make it your specialty," Cherry offered with a hopeful grin.
Ginny laughed as she knelt down beside Cherry to inspect the pictographs. She touched them with her fingertips, and slowly began to read them aloud, translating to English for Cherry's benefit. It was a halting process as she tried to pick the correct equivalent words, but Cherry didn't mind it. She knew how difficult translation could be.
"Woe to the thief of souls and treasures, that would desecrate the afterlife. May he be struck blind for his treachery, darkness in the midst of day."
Cherry made an impressed noise, and Ginny thought it actually would sound better in the original language. It probably rhymed that way. She read it aloud that way for good measure, taking care not to trip over the unfamiliar syllables.
As she finished the last word, the entire room exploded in front of her, a supernova of bright white light.
Then everything went dark.
She couldn't call other archaeologists idiots anymore. She had fallen into the same trap that they had, and in such spectacular fashion, too.
Moving was difficult, as if she was underwater and breathing with gillyweed. She made some kind of choking sound, some kind of wail, and it was followed by the pounding of what had to be feet racing to her.
It was dark, and she felt the rough stone of the floor beneath her hands as she tried to push herself up. The magical backlash must have destroyed the overhead lighting. Her voice sounded awful, an inhuman groaning, and she tried to ask where Cherry was. The odd noises around her sounded like voices, but none sounded like the flattened American accent that Cherry had. She was originally from Delaware, and used to laugh at how her voice sounded, saying she never sounded like she was from anywhere. Funny how Ginny remembered that now, that something called a Water Gap was important there, and it made her remember the odd, tinny sound of "Mind the gap!" when she tried to take the Tube with Hermione in Muggle London.
"Easy, easy," someone said, the voice swimming into her consciousness. The voice sounded familiar, but she couldn't quite place it. Not Cherry, not Professor Chillcothe.
Ginny thought someone said concussion, which made perfect sense; she'd had plenty of those from Quidditch, and had thought that being an archaeologist would be safer.
Though the voice urged her to stay awake, she let her eyes fall shut and slipped back into the deeper darkness.
Her sleep schedule was all topsy-turvy, since it was pitch dark and there wasn't a single light on in the room to show her where she was. Why, she couldn't even see her own hand in front of her face! However did the nursing staff think she could get to the bathroom in the complete darkness like this? The last several times she had been there overnight, there had been nightlights and some spillage from the lit hallway. Other concussions she had made her light sensitive, but not to the point where she needed it so dark.
"Oh, good, you're awake," Bill said, somewhere to her left. Ginny heard a rustling, as if he had been reading the Prophet, and she turned toward the sound. "How are you feeling?"
"This is the worst concussion I've ever had," she replied honestly, breath huffing out slightly. "I don't understand what happened. We undid all the wards and traps in those rooms."
"It didn't register as a trap," Bill told her. It sounded as if he was choosing his words carefully, and something in her bristled at that. Did he really think she was so delicate that she couldn't handle the truth of it?
"It's a curse."
"Oh." She blinked, still looking in his general direction. "So that's why you're here? To undo it? I suppose that makes sense. So what's the curse? Is that why it's so dark in here?"
Bill's silence was painful. "Ginny." His voice broke, and he had to clear his throat. "Ginny, you've been blinded."
She was very still, and blinked again. "You're not funny, Bill."
"I'm not trying to be."
"First an explosion that knocked me out—Is Cherry okay?" she asked, interrupting herself. "I don't hear her, and she would've been the first here to check in on me—"
"Family and staff only. My apprentice is here with me," Bill said heavily, "and we've got staff badges to try to figure out the curse and how to undo it."
Ginny wanted to curl her hands into fists and scream at her brother. "What are you not telling me, Bill?" she said, an unhappy edge to her voice. "This is an awful prank."
"It's not a prank." There was pain in Bill's voice. "Fleur is with Cherry right now. The shockwave of the curse knocked her back, and she'll need glasses now. But she can still see, at least. The full blast hit you dead on."
"You're not funny."
"I'm not trying to be," Bill repeated heavily. "Ginny, that curse blinded you."
She could feel tears well to the surface, and she blinked them back furiously. "I was in the other room. There looked like a seam to another chamber behind the pictographs. I saw it, and I was just reading the other pictographs for Cherry in her room. I just wanted to see what was in that room—"
"I know," Bill said, voice cracking again. There was the sound of someone patting his back, likely the apprentice he had been talking about. "And if there was anyone else better than curse breaking than me, they would've asked for them. But you're stuck with me."
"Why is that a bad thing?"
"Because if he fails," the apprentice said when Bill's breath hitched, "he'll never forgive himself."
The voice was familiar, and she frowned, tilting her head to the side trying to place the voice. "I know you from somewhere," she said quietly. "I can't remember."
"It doesn't matter now." His voice was heavy, pained, laced with all kinds of regret that Ginny couldn't name. That was changing the tenor of the voice, making it difficult to place. "I'm studying Babylonian curses to help. That's the important thing."
"How common is that?"
Bill pushed a cup of tea into her hands, and she barely felt the hot liquid slosh over the sides as her hands shook. "So this could be permanent."
"It might not be," Bill said fiercely. "We'll find a way to reverse it."
But he wasn't hopeful, she could tell. He was already grieving the curse damage, already beating himself up over what he couldn't fix.
Ginny pasted a smile on her face and sipped the tea. "Of course you will," she lied. "I have every confidence in your skills. You'll fix it quick."
The tea burned down her throat as hot as the lies on her tongue.
It clicked when Bill's assistant returned. The crisp voice had its British accent unaltered by strain or grief, and she recognized the voice right away.
"You're Bill's assistant?" she blurted, interrupting him as he described the pictographs that were involved in the curse. "But... Whyever would you want to work with a Weasley?"
She almost wished she could see his face. Or that she kept her fool mouth shut.
"He's smart," Draco said finally. She could hear the tension there, and found that she couldn't even remember what he looked like. Oh, everyone called him names to counter the awful things he said about others in school. She had slung more than her fair share of them, to be perfectly honest. But all she could recall was white-blond hair and a pinched looking face, a haughty tone and dressing in black even when he didn't have to. Draco stood out in her mind more as a symbol of Slytherin and the evil that surrounded them all. With time, she could recognize that the pinched expression wasn't really hauteur but fear.
"Okay, that came out wrong. I meant, curse breaking? It's not that common a field."
His snort at least sounded amused. "Good save, Weasley."
"Ginny," she told him firmly. "If you're working with Bill, you're going to be surrounded by far too many people that will respond to Weasley."
He paused, maybe thoughtfully, and Ginny wished she could see the expression on his face. Her own probably looked quite stupid.
"Ginny," he murmured. Her name sounded... safe in his mouth, of all the strange feelings to come over her in that moment. Sometimes others would sound sharp and angry, or frustrated with a dig that took too long, or fond in the case of Professor Chillcothe. It was the same kind of feeling she had listening to family members at hols.
"Tell me honestly," she said firmly. "Bill won't, I know he won't. How bad is it?"
Draco let out a long breath. "It's bad," he said finally. "Bill couldn't face being here. So I'm here by myself, to test out some of the theories we've come up with. There's not a lot in English about Babylonian magic."
"So this is permanent?"
He chuckled faintly. "So I'm learning ancient Babylonian. By the end of this, Ginny, I'm going to be the foremost expert in Babylonian curses and magic. I might be able to write a few books and articles on the subject and get famous in the curse breaking community."
"Glad to be of service," Ginny replied dryly.
Now he laughed outright. "It's fascinating stuff. Better than I thought it would be, actually. I can see why you're so fascinated with it, even if Bill can't."
She blinked in surprise. "You can?"
"There are all kinds of facets to their magic. Herbs, spells, minerals, charms, amulets, even the invocation of ghosts. It's different from what we learned at school, and that all seemed too easy. At least until you needed something stronger." His voice hardened somewhat, and she couldn't help but think of her final years at Hogwarts.
"And now?" she prompted when he fell silent.
He swallowed, and she wished she knew if he was nervous, angry or just flustered with this entire conversation. "The real world is very different from what we thought it was."
"Yes, it was," she said, wondering what exactly they were talking about. She'd never given him another thought once he left school, but perhaps the Malfoy name was worse off than she had thought it was. Maybe the boyish jealousy had turned inward.
Or maybe he had finally just grown up.
The silence was awkward, so she sat up a little straighter in bed. "I tried flying for a while after I got out of school. Too many injuries, though. That's how I turned to archaeology. How did you get into curse breaking?"
There was the sound of rustling, like pages being flipped in a book. "My mother lied to save Potter in the final battle because she thought it would help her find me," Draco said abruptly. "It wasn't because of any grand belief system, and I'd already learned the hard way at that point that it wasn't the beautiful pack of lies I was told growing up. She said it was like a curse later, all of it, but she had to save me." He fell silent for a moment, likely tense and probably hating that he was even admitting any of it.
"After the war," he said finally, strained, "she said it was like the curse on our family was broken. She didn't call him by name, didn't ever say what it was like for her while I was at school and trying not to get myself killed by the Death Eaters. That's all she would say. That it was a curse that finally broke. She started smiling again."
"So you wanted to be a curse breaker."
"Yeah. Stupid shite, isn't it?" he said, sounding perturbed in some way she couldn't name.
Ginny blindly reached out in the direction of his voice, grasping until she could reach his arm. It was nicely muscled under her hands, indicating a physical strength that he worked at. "Not stupid," she disagreed firmly. "That's the best reason to go into it."
"Yeah. Because that's what it should be about, fixing the problem so that others can smile again."
He patted her hand a little awkwardly, then let out a sigh. "All right, then. Let's figure out how this mess was put together so I can make you smile again."
She grinned at him. "Like this," she said, making sure she faced the sound of his voice. He sucked in a breath, sounding almost shocked, and she couldn't help but laugh. "I know, I must look a fright. Just ignore the rat's nest of hair, all right?"
"No," he said, voice quiet and hushed. "That's not it. Your smile." He stopped suddenly, then let out a forced breath. "Right. That's the goal. That's what we're looking for. Ready to work?"
"I've never run from a good fight."
"Good. This is going to be the best one you've ever fought."
As they walked the halls, Draco told her about the herbs and spells he was researching. "All sorcery falls under the auspices of the god Ea. Most of the time, wizards had to start their rituals with a prayer to Ea, in the hopes that he would bless the spells."
"Somehow, I don't think this wizard did that."
"Why do you think that?" he asked, curiosity in his tone.
"I don't know. Something just felt wrong about the whole thing. And it doesn't make sense. With all of the traps in the room, all of the other wording and wardings, why that one?"
"He might have also done it to trap the person robbing his tomb," Draco pointed out.
"I'm no thief!" Ginny squeaked indignantly.
"Somehow, I don't think he'll care about the distinctions."
She snorted, shaking her head. "I'm not keeping anything for myself. It's all getting written up in reports and put into a museum!"
"But it's not his tomb. And let's face it, museums don't always get their display items in legitimate ways."
Ginny sighed. "Don't be so reasonable, Malfoy."
"Draco," he said abruptly. "I just..." His voice softened. "If you're Ginny, I should be Draco."
"Fair enough." She wondered why it had taken him so long to ask her that. "You said there were other rituals, though?"
"Right. They're countermeasures to take when omens predict tragedies. Or some were to protect against all kind of evil. Most carried some kind of sacrifice with it, usually food or drinks."
"Which is why you had me trying those awful liquids?" she asked him, wrinkling her nose.
"I was hoping that it would help undo the curse," Draco murmured. "Most of those, as much as they taste and smell awful, have properties that weaken dark magic. It didn't do anything, though, so I might have to try a namburbu."
"It's a warding ritual. I've never done one, and only read about it in one of the old Babylonian and Sumerian texts. Weasley knows more about it than I do. Most of the namburbu are little things, hand gestures or amulets or things like that. They're to prevent darkness from taking hold, and don't require special magic."
"A curse like this would."
He didn't sound very enthusiastic, and Ginny stopped short. "What is it?"
"What do you mean?"
"I'm blind, not deaf. You sound worried. Something's off on this warding thing."
Draco was silent for such a long time that Ginny wanted to reach out toward where his voice had been to shake him. He finally let out a small huff of breath. "Not every omen can be averted," he said finally. "Or outcomes can't be influenced or changed. Doing the namburbu doesn't mean you'll get your sight back. I hope it does, but I don't know for sure."
Ginny thought about what little she remembered about him at this point. He had been very competitive, she remembered that much from school. Obviously he used his money and name as influence to try to be better than Harry Potter. He had been smart, too; she remembered Hermione bragging that she had top marks in every class and left Draco in second place. To not know something for sure likely stung.
Impulsively, she reached out toward his voice. She caught his arm, and let her fingers slide down until she could catch his hand in hers. "Hey. The worst that can happen is that it doesn't work."
"You're awfully calm about this."
"I've had time to think," she replied, then shrugged. She didn't drop his hand and Draco didn't let go of hers either. "If I can't go into tombs myself to do the research, there are other ways that I can stay in the field. Adaptive spells and the like. I spoke with Professor Chillcothe about that, in the event I can't do digs anymore. I can still write papers, still learn about the cultures and warn others what to look out for."
"That's... brave, I suppose."
"No, it's not. It's planning for the possibility no one wants to talk about." Ginny paused, frowning slightly. "There were markings in the walls in that tomb that I didn't finish translating, rituals involving reading of oil shapes on water or smoke curls. That's the kind of magic that Uzu was known for. A blindness curse doesn't quite fit."
"Which means someone else might have cast it," Draco murmured, following her reasoning.
"Exactly. Professor Chillcothe said he would follow up on that theory, but for now no one is going to that tomb in case there are other traps."
"If I could put together protection wards or amulets maybe," Draco said suddenly, tugging on her hand to get her walking again. "Some kind of magically imbued object. They liked bird heads or gemstones, more complicated stuff than a namburbu. Those only loosen spells, after all. We would want something powerful to break a curse entirely."
"So wait, you were going to loosen a curse?" Ginny asked, confused.
"Yes," he said, a fierce undertone in his voice. "Because there's no guarantee that any of the stronger warding rituals would work. They might even harm you further, because outcomes of rituals can't always be influenced. Treatment is possible, but not always completely undoing a curse that was laid."
She wondered why it mattered to him that the curse couldn't completely be lifted. It wasn't as though they had been close in school or afterward. But over the past few weeks, in between testing out potions she spit back into the goblets, Ginny had gotten to know this new version of Draco. He was more somber, more willing to work for results. She saw glimpses of humor, though he tended to break that off, as if he wasn't allowed to smile or show any kind of happiness while Ginny was blinded.
Well, sod that.
"Then let's get out of the hospital. We should go somewhere different. Even if I can't see it, I'll still feel the sun on my face and how warm it is outside. That'll be better than any warded curse damage wing."
Draco actually chuckled slightly before he stifled it. "Going stir crazy, are you?"
"Definitely. I think I would rather deal with any of Luna's strange critters crawling all over me."
He paused, probably not knowing what Ginny was referring to. "I'll take your word for it."
"How about, as you lead me out of here, you tell me something else about yourself. Something other than the study stuff we've been talking about."
The pause was longer this time, and she could almost feel the uncertainty rolling off of him in waves. "Why? What do you want to know?"
"C'mon, Draco. Bill visits every night and tries not to cry. You visit every day and talk about Babylonian magic or get me to try drinking whatever awful concoction you dreamed up to try to get my vision back. But with spell damage..." She shrugged. "I know it's not certain. I know some things can't ever be fixed. But we can deal with the long term effects."
"That's very... You seem to know how to deal with bad news," Draco finally said.
"Let's just say I have more than my fair share of dark magic exposure," Ginny replied dryly. "I can take it."
"I think you can," he agreed, deflecting a bit. "Here's a doorway, watch your step."
It didn't feel like a part of St. Mungo's that she had known before, all those disastrous years ago following her first year. Or all of the other times she'd been hurt since then. Draco angled her away from the building, and Ginny could feel the warmth of the sun and smell flowers all around, fragrant and heady. When they stopped moving, she tipped her face up toward the sun, back bending slightly, lips curling into a serene smile. "Oh, this is heavenly."
"Yes, it is," Draco agreed, voice sounding strangled and strange. "It absolutely is."
"This isn't St. Mungo's. It's too warm for that."
"No, it's not. It's the Temple of Sekhmet in Egypt. The closest that they could apparate you to safely," he explained, sounding almost anxious. "Would you rather be in England?"
"Of course not," Ginny said, still smiling and looking blindly up toward the sun. "I rather like the heat of this place."
"Worth it," she declared, tipping her face toward his, grin will stretched across her features. "I'm not afraid of a little burn."
"Maybe I am," he muttered under his breath.
"Still pale, then?" she ventured, still grinning at him. "Not exploring this beautiful country?"
"There's a lot of dangers here, both in the Muggle and Magical worlds," Draco sighed. "It isn't safe to go far, and especially not in your condition."
Ginny snorted. "Am I supposed to find that comforting?" At his startled noise, she shook her head. "Don't tell me that Bill's got you convinced I'm fragile."
"Well, no, but I can't imagine what you're going though. It's... dark. Empty."
"I can't see," Ginny told him. "I won't say I'm not upset about that because my careers have all been about sight. But I can hear you." She reached out and grabbed his arm. "Touch you." She grinned at the strangled noise he made. "I have my other senses, I'm still alive, and you're working on what you can do. I can hang onto that."
"Optimistic bint," he grumbled.
She laughed. "Someone has to be, right? Better than sitting in my room and crying all day."
"What if I can't reverse this?" Draco asked, voice strained. "What if you're blind forever?"
It would be a lie if Ginny said she never thought about it. Instead, she pasted a smile on her face and pulled him closer, until they were practically nose to nose. "I'm not going to think of that kind of what if. I'm going to think what if I can see you again? What if I find out you're not the pale little kid I remember? What if I see Egypt again for myself? What if it works?"
Later, Ginny would think of the way his breath sucked in sharply, the scent of his cologne, the dry heat of the desert, the quiet noises of insects and distant birds. It was so calm, something she had slowly gotten used to over the past several weeks.
She wasn't sure why she tipped up her face to his as if expecting a kiss. Or why he actually lowered his mouth to hers, soft and gentle. Dry, chapped lips and the faint trace of chocolate on his breath, and then he yanked himself away abruptly. "I can't—"
Ginny was left in the hospital garden as he sprinted away, panic in his voice.
Draco's sigh sounded contrite. "Yeah. I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking."
"I don't think I'm that bad a kisser," Ginny remarked, quirking her lips into a smile, facing in his direction. He sputtered a bit, and it made her think carefully about their interactions. He was scarily proficient with discussing rituals, potions, charms and other magical interventions he wanted to try. He was calm discussing her family. When he mentioned his own, there was a slight hitch in his voice, a tremor that told her it was a strongly emotional topic. If she smiled at him, leaned in close, or otherwise took the conversation in a personal way...
"No, you're not."
The words sounded dragged out of him reluctantly, and she tilted her head to the side to contemplate him. "It's personal for you now, too. You like me."
"You can't see a damn thing—"
"No, I can't. Which means I have to listen to you very carefully." He fell painfully silent, and she pushed herself up from the desk she had been sitting at. The reading charms Bill had taught her were just awful, especially for languages other than English. She was going to have to find better translation charms to read to her, then.
Ginny walked forward toward him. Maybe it wasn't a straight line, maybe she wasn't directly in his way. But she still had her unerring sense of direction that had served her so well as Chaser and Seeker in Quidditch, and before long she was in front of him. She reached out and touched his chest, feeling the solid shape of him.
"It means," she began slowly, "that I have to find other ways to see. Other ways to move and try to get what I want."
"What is it that you want, then? Surely your sight back."
"That would be nice. But I can handle it if I don't recover."
"I couldn't," Draco said between grit teeth. "This needs to work."
"Why does it matter?"
"You wouldn't understand."
"Try me," she challenged.
"No," he growled at her. "You wouldn't understand because I don't understand! You shouldn't matter this much to me! It shouldn't make me sick to think of the spells failing, or having to see you stumble around this hospital, or seeing your family simper like the end of the world came along. But all I can think about is you, and how you're holding up, and what you're doing during the day..." He let out a frustrated groan, and she could hear him rake his fingers through his hair and walk about in a circle.
Ginny smiled at him gently. "It's okay, Draco."
"No, it's bloody not!"
"It's all right, Draco," she murmured, looking intently in his direction. "You don't have to know every little detail about everything. Emotions don't always make sense."
"You have to see again, is all!" he blurted. "You have to see me, and you have to know it's different from all those years ago."
"I know you're not the same, Draco," Ginny said mildly, lips still curled in a gentle smile. "I know you've changed. We've all changed since school. Some more than others."
"This isn't—" Draco cut himself off and paced her room again.
"What is it? You're not supposed to like me? You can't be seen with a Weasley?"
"No," he said, hands falling to his sides. "Mum would actually like you if she got to know you. Fierce as anything, caring about family, doing what has to be done, no matter what. You're a lot like her in those ways. No, it's that I can't be impartial. Bill left me in charge because he thought I could be, but I can't."
Reaching out for him, Ginny pulled him close. He let her, and collided bodily with her. "But because it's personal, you'll find something. Maybe it doesn't fix it, maybe it does. But that will motivate you to do better. Emotions aren't always a bad thing, Draco."
She reached up slowly and connected her fingertips to his chin. Pointed still, but fuller than it had been at the Battle of Hogwarts. He filled out some, grew into his height and gangling features. He was probably handsome, if she had her sight, but she rather liked not having a physical image of him in her mind. This thing between them was nebulous and strange, and it seemed to fit that she couldn't picture him at all.
"They've always been for me," Draco said heavily. "They're never good. Jealousy, hate, shame, I have them in spades. I make mistakes. Everything so far I've tried to do was a mistake. Nothing brought your sight back."
"There are probably things you haven't tried yet." She grinned up at him, bright and shining, and he drew in a breath as if burned. "I think you're capable of a lot more than you think."
"It could be dangerous," he whispered, hands falling gently to her waist. She rather liked the feel of them there.
"I'm a Gryffindor," she reminded him. "We laugh at danger, remember?"
"Because most of them are bloody idiots. Snakes are loyal and will do anything to help their friends, if you remember."
"So I'm a friend. Maybe more."
Draco made a choked sound, then swallowed uneasily. "Yeah. I suppose we are."
She grinned at him. "Well, then, friend. What else is there for us to try?"
He pulled her tightly against him with a sigh. "Bloody stubborn, you are."
"Of course I am. Well?"
Kissing her forehead tenderly, he sighed again. "There might be something. The maqlu."
Ginny stood on her tip toes and tilted up her face, clearly expecting to be kissed. "It sounds appropriately morbid and weird. I'll bet that old Uzu would love it."
His kiss wasn't as hesitant or gentle as their first had been. "Yeah. And that's what I'm afraid of."
Pulling him in for a more passionate kiss, Ginny laughed. "Then I'll have bravery enough for the both of us."
Ginny quickly realized why Draco was so nervous about it. The ritual involved "burning" away witchcraft and purification of the body and soul.
What if she was left without magic at the end of it?
She smiled in his direction, betraying none of the nervousness she felt inside as she knelt within the circle of herbs he set. "I have faith in you," she said, voice confident sounding. "You can break the curse on me, I know it."
"If it was powered up by your smile," he muttered.
It just sounded silly, so she laughed and rocked a little on her heels. "Oh, come on now. Didn't you say you were in this so people could smile again? So I could?"
"I guess," he said, voice quiet. "But if I get this wrong..."
"You won't," she said firmly. "It means too much to you to get something wrong."
Maybe it was the wrong thing to say, but he let out a shaky breath and was likely nodding. "Okay. Once I begin, I can't stop for anything. There can't be any interruptions, or the entire ritual will fail."
"I went to the bathroom already and didn't drink anything. I'm good."
Draco groaned at her flippant tone, but still moved into place. "Sun's going down. Last chance to back out of this now."
Ginny snorted. "Get on with it, Draco. Show me how good your casting is."
The challenge seemed to work better than the assurance did. She could almost hear him straighten out his spine and get to work, magnetite tablets in hand. His voice rang out strong and clear in the hospital courtyard, and she could feel the power in each syllable. It was some sort of dialect that she didn't know well, maybe Akkadian, but there were enough words that she could recognize in the chanting. She couldn't help but shudder when he boomed "Incinerate my witch! May my witch's life swiftly come to an end!"
It was definitely a frightening incantation for a witch or wizard to perform and listen to, she had to give him that. But his voice carried no indication of his prior worry. He sounded confident, his pronunciation impeccable. The herbs burned at the precise points in the ritual that they were supposed to, enclosing Ginny in its heady fragrance. The stones in the circle were also being lit up, possibly with wandless magic, and the air around her rose in temperature at least twenty degrees. It made her feel dizzy, but she kept herself very still. She couldn't move, couldn't disrupt the ritual before its conclusion at sunrise.
It's getting hard to breathe, she couldn't help but think, and it took all of her effort not to sway and fall. She focused on the rise and fall of Draco's voice, the feel of the smoke all around her, the scent of the burning herbs and gemstones, the numb pins and needles feeling in her feet as she sat on them in the kneeling position. Neither could move or stop once the ritual was begun, not until the final words were said at sunrise.
She shut her eyes and listened to cadence of Draco's voice, thinking about the way his lips had felt on hers, the touch of his fingers on her body. It mattered to him that she improve, that the curse was lifted. She mattered to him.
Much like he had started to matter to her.
When he sounded close to hoarse and nearly faltered, Ginny beamed at him. Her heart wasn't quite in it, as exhausted as she was, but it seemed to bolster his confidence a bit. His flagging voice picked up, and he continued through the incantations.
Eyes still closed, she listened to the rhythm of the syllables, rather than trying to tease out the meaning in the words. It was a steady chant, one that her heartbeat easily matched. Head tilted up toward the starry sky she couldn't see, Ginny let the words wash over her. She listened to Draco's voice, feeling it wrap around her consciousness. His voice was soothing now, and she could probably listen to this cadence for the rest of her life.
The thought didn't disturb her as much as it probably should have.
Draco chanted throughout the night, even when his mouth was as dry as the desert beyond the hospital walls. Each word was meticulously pronounced, and there was the shuffle of the magnetite tablets as he went through them. The figurine that was meant to be Uzu was slipped into the black liquid to be ritualistically drowned, marking the halfway point of the ritual.
Ginny's thoughts wandered to her studies, to the pictographs she had last seen in that tomb, to the images of her family as she had seen them before her last trip. Even if this didn't work and she could never see those things again, it didn't matter as much to her as she would have thought. She was alive, she could hear them, interact with them, feel them. She still had a life, and it was terrible of them to think that somehow her life was over. It recalled the resentment she had felt after her first year at Hogwarts, when everyone had wanted to forget about her possession, when it was more convenient to pretend that nothing had happened.
There was more than just magic that had to be purified, apparently.
She opened her sightless eyes and stared at Draco, smiling at him. Whatever that had happened in the past, it had brought her to this point. She was kneeling in an Egyptian hospital, in the middle of an ancient ritual that likely hadn't been done since Uzu's time. The thought made her grin wider. How many other archaeologists could say that? How many others could feel the wash of magic and the force of the ancient world all around them?
For a dizzying moment of clarity, Ginny saw the stretch of her life that had brought her to that moment in the circle. Every move seemed predetermined now, an inevitability that brought her to this place with Draco. He had his own demons that he still battled, the spectre of his prior choices hanging over him. He worked so hard to come out from under their shadow, he didn't even see the sort of man that he had become as a result of it. Just as she hadn't seen herself before now, he didn't see himself either.
He collapsed to his knees, still reciting from the tablet, and Ginny could feel pressure building up in her chest. She could hear the splash of water as the bowl was dumped and the figurine exposed to the air again. Draco had to grind it down to powder as he spoke now, breaking the hold of Uzu's magic over Ginny.
It would bind the two of them together, and she found she didn't mind it. She wanted to know more about him than the snippets she had seen so far. She wanted to know about his other areas of study, what he liked about curse breaking, why he didn't seem all that bothered to be so far away from England. Perhaps he didn't like the memories of the war, or simply didn't want to be constrained by the expectations others had for a Malfoy. That was certainly one of the draws that Bill had to remain in curse breaking.
At the conclusion of the ritual, as the sun rose above the horizon, Ginny was to look into a scrying bowl and look at her reflection while saying "You are mine, and I am yours. May nobody know you, may no evil approach you."
All she saw were shifting shadows, so she looked up at Draco instead, a wide grin on her face as she reached out and grasped his wrist. Though he was shocked by her change in the ritual, he didn't stop his prayers to the Babylonian gods of the dawn and truth.
"You are mine, and I am yours. May nobody know you, may no evil approach you."
He didn't react the first time she chanted it, or the second. The third time, he grasped her face in both of his hands and recited it with her.
The pressure in her chest was gone and she heard the fires around her immediately snuff out. She closed her eyes and leaned forward, until Draco let go of her face so that he could put his arms around her. It was comforting to be held that way, and she grasped his shirt with both hands.
"I'm keeping you, just so you know," she murmured against his neck. "You're stuck with me. I have no intention of letting this be the end of things."
"It can't be," he said, voice hoarse from chanting all night. "I wouldn't do this for just anyone."
Ginny pulled back, then opened her eyes. She saw shadows, a fuzzy outline where Draco was, backlit by the rising sun. Grinning at him, she pulled him in for a kiss. It was full of promise and desire, and she wanted more from him.
"I see you," she said softly. "I see you. And I want to know everything."
Draco smiled back at her, relief evident. "I want to tell you everything." He rose to his feet, then held his hands out to her. "We'll start over breakfast."
"Coffee," she agreed, letting him help her up. "Lots and lots of coffee."
There was so much to catch up on, and so much to build up.