Chapter 1 : Long and blue and forever is the Nile
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When he really sat down and mulled things over, as he was doing right this moment, Argus Filch found it exceedingly strange that he wasn’t leaning against the lumpy handle of an old broomstick sweeping up the dust of hundreds of students stampeding through the hallways of a draughty castle somewhere in Scotland. Indeed, it was downright peculiar that right this moment, he found himself reclining – reclining! – in a red and white striped deckchair of all things, and not hunched over his desk, in that broom closet of an office, sorting out the detention files.
Instead, what there was, was air. Lots of it. And water. The scrubbed planks of a deck, the wood going white in the sun. The swelling and bobbing of a small tourist barge making its way down the river. Longest river in the world, too, the Nile. Argus was not sure whether he liked this new experience or not; all that air was giving him a headache and the sunlight was making him sneeze. At least Mrs Norris was enjoying herself; she lay in a patch of sun, her watchful yellow eyes shut, the edges of her fur turning gold in the light.
None of this had been his idea, not at all. If things were up to him, as they well should be, given his long-suffering position as caretaker of Hogwarts, he would have stayed back in the draughty castle, sweeping after those wretched students. But then there had been the war. Argus had not expected his precious castle to be used as a battleground, with all that wild magic storming and punching holes in the walls, shredding staircases and balconies into mountains of rubble. He remembered hollering and snarling at Death Eaters that night, waving about his two rather inappropriate weapons – a cracking horsewhip and a broomstick, - and Mrs Norris hissing and spitting at his ankles. There had been casualties as well. He remembered picking up his broomstick, half of the twigs broken off, and morosely sweeping at the debris until he saw it – a small pale hand and wrist sleeved in black, sticking out of a mass of broken castle pieces. He’d pushed away the rocks and uncovered the body’s face; it belonged to a girl whose name he never found out – some brash underage Gryffindor, he’d wager. But as much as Argus hated students and the dirt that clung to the hems of their robes and the soles of their shoes and the riot they made on the corridor after every class, he hated them even more when they were lying on the ground, limp and glazed, arms and heads and slack parts poking through the cracks. They got in the way of his sweeping. His broom wouldn’t touch their loose forms and their big staring eyes stared on in his head late in the nights when he couldn’t sleep, and in those nights, he took to patrolling the ruined corridors even though all of the students had left.
In the end, Minerva McGonagall, had come up to him and grasped his arm firmly as he was viciously attacking a mound of rubble with his broom, saying, “Argus, I think you need a break. A holiday.”
“A holiday?” Argus had echoed blankly.
Minerva suggested Egypt, but Argus had sneered at the thought. “Dust!” he’d exclaimed. “Desert! Ruins! What’s there in Egypt?”
Minerva fixed her gaze directly on him. She dipped her chin and looked steadily at Argus over the steel rims of her glasses. The corners of her mouth flicked upward; there was something very sly about those tiny twitching movements of her face.
“Did you know, Argus,” she said, “that in ancient Egypt the cat is a most revered animal in society, and many cults were dedicated to the worship of cats and Bast, the cat goddess? Even these days, felines are most highly regarded creatures. Mrs Norris, I’m sure, will be delighted to be exposed to a culture in which she will receive such royal treatment.”
Mrs Norris leapt off from the banister she’d been perched on and came up to him, kneading her thin, ribbed flank against his leg. He felt the fragile rods of her bones rub on his calves.
"Goodness gracious, is that her now, Argus?" Minerva pressed. "She does look rather - emaciated, doesn't she?"
Argus scratched at the plump jowls of his chin. "Cat goddess, eh?"
That was how he found himself here. On the deck of a tourist boat travelling from Aswan to Luxor, down the blue snaking Nile, passing by places with names like Kom Ombo and Edfu and Esna. Feluccas sailed through the wind, grazing the surface of the water. Slowly, Argus heaved himself out of the sunken deckchair to peer over the railing. He could hear his old bones rasp and click as he moved. On one side of the river were small towns full of peeling buildings and carts and cars and mule-drawn caleches. Behind the barge, tiny and nearly swallowed up by the blue of the water, were the pillared bulwarks of the High Dam. On the far banks were flat-topped houses like terracotta cakes surrounded by the feathery fans of date palms, and beyond those, the desert swelled and dipped in yellow gritty dunes. Tomorrow, they would arrive in Luxor.
“Well, Mrs Norris,” Argus wheezed, “it’s all very different, eh? Tell you the truth, my sweet, but I much prefer staying home, away from all this hassle.”
Someone was coming down the deck toward him. He turned and saw a wizard in a grubby grey caftan approach him, his face slick with a smile which Argus didn’t like, and his teeth were small and brown and crooked, like grimy tiles. On his head was a thick blonde crop of hair, which must be a wig of some sort. There was a strong foul smell of tobacco wafting from his clothes and, Argus imagined, from the cracks between his teeth.
“’Ello there,” said the strange wizard, grinning and showing his spoiled teeth again. His pudgy hands wrapped around the railing. “Luv’ly day, innit?”
The tobacco stench lanced through Argus’ throbbing sinuses and he sneezed. The stranger was leaning much too close to him. “Who are you?” he snarled.
The other wizard held out a grubby hand, fingernails clotted with dirt, before saying smoothly, “Pardon me manners. The name’s Fenwick. Marlon Fenwick.”
“Well, keep your hands to yourself.”
“Oh, I say,” Fenwick protested, “I was just trying to start a conversation. I mean, tis a luv’ly day to be sitting on a deck an’ ‘aving a chat with a friend, innit?”
Filch peered suspiciously at the other wizard. Now that he looked closely, he thought he might have seen him somewhere before. “Do I know you from anywhere?”
“Me? ‘Course not. Not me, I’m jus’ old Marlon Fenwick from er – Fen. I don’ go round visiting places much. But I’m ‘aving a bleedin’ good time ‘ere in Egypt. Land of ruins an’ lost treasure an’ all that.”
Mrs Norris, who had got up from her sunny spot and was coiling herself around Argus’ ankles gave a sudden hiss, yellow baleful eyes staring up at Fenwick.
Argus bent down. “What is it, my sweet?”
She pawed at his robes, still hissing, and Argus’ hands instinctively flew to his pockets.
Fenwick detached himself from the railing and began to slink away but Argus was faster. He seized the other wizard by his shoulder and glared at him.
“My wallet!” snarled Argus, shaking Fenwick hard. “You’ve been picking my pocket, haven’t you, you thieving swine? Give me back my wallet!”
“‘Ere, lemme go! ‘Ave you gone mad? I ‘aven’t been filching…er…stealing anyfing!”
“What’s going on here?”
Argus turned, his fingers still burrowing into the meat of Fenwick’s shoulders. There was a boy about fifteen or sixteen staring at them with his mouth slightly ajar, carrying a tray with a teapot and several glasses. He was wearing red and white striped robes, the uniform of all the staff on the boat, but by the look and sound of him, he was clearly British.
“You!” Argus stabbed a finger toward the boy. “Creevey! You was one of those troublemakers from Hogwarts. Always sneaking around with that camera, trying to take pictures of the Whomping Willow!”
The boy said nothing at first but Argus thought he saw a muscle skip along his jawbone.
“No,” he replied, setting down the tray on a table near the row of deckchairs. His voice was bland and unsurprised, but his eyes had gone hard, “that was my brother, Colin. He’s dead. I’m Dennis.”
For a moment, Argus was lost for words. He blinked, and he saw again, clearly, the small pale hand poking out of the wreckage, the ends of the limp fingers curling slightly. Did Creevey die like that as well? He’d been a smallish kid – an annoying runt of a boy, all cheeriness and camera flashes and with a tendency to rule-break – Argus had caught him once when he was in his second year trying to sneak off to Hogsmeade with the older students.
“What you doing here, then?” Argus demanded. This boy, this other Creevey, looked remarkably like his brother. The more he thought about them, the clearer he remembered how close the two had been. If people had an echo of themselves, then surely this boy here was the echo of Colin Creevey, smaller, skinnier, rather sullen-looking.
“I work here now,” Creevey answered distantly.
“Well, now,” Fenwick cut in. He shrugged Argus’ hand off his shoulder. “Think I’ll leave you gentlemen to your little reunion now – ”
Creevey looked at Fenwick. A phantom of a grin scudded across his face. “I know who you are,” he said. “You’re Mundungus Fletcher. You were in the Prophet for – impersonating an Inferius or something. And it seems you’re wanted again for looting. I’ve been keeping up with the news.”
A look of alarm twisted Fenwick’s features but he quickly ironed his face over in a blink. “’Ere, you must be mistaken. I don’t know no Mundungus F – ”
Argus let out a roar of triumph, grabbed at Fenwick’s caftan and tore off his ridiculous blonde mane. It came right off, just as he suspected, revealing a bald head and a scruffy grey furze of hair. “Of course!” he bellowed, his pale eyes bulging wetly. “Mundungus bloody Fletcher, the sneak thief. Well, what have we here. Just think what the Ministry’s going to say when I – I, Argus Filch, bring back a criminal on the run to them. Maybe there’s a reward on your head eh, Fletcher?”
Mrs Norris hissed, her eyes thinned into yellow slots, mirroring her master’s spite.
Mundungus Fletcher smirked. His hand dove into his robes, pulling out his wand which he now dug into Argus’ chest. “Now, now. We’d best be careful ‘ere, eh? Jus’ like you know ‘oo I am, I know ‘oo you are, too. You’re that ‘Ogwarts Squib, you are. ‘Aven’t got a bleedin’ drop of magic in you, ain’t that right?”
“Put that away,” Argus spat.
“Not so ‘igh an’ mighty now, eh?”
“Expelliarmus!” Fletcher’s wand shot out of his grip, spun through the air and landed tidily in Creevey’s outstretched hand.
Argus started toward Fletcher again, who backed away.
“Not so fast,” Creevey turned a wand at Argus.
“You dare…how dare...are you threatening me, boy?” ‘
“Look,” Creevey said impatiently. “I don’t know what both of you are doing here and I’m not sure I give a crap. I just don’t want any trouble, right? I’ll be – ”
“Now let’s all take things nice an’ easy,” Fletcher interrupted, “I was jus’ talking to Filch ‘ere ‘cause I ‘ad a proposal to make, a very nice one, too.”
“What are you on about?” Argus demanded.
“I’ve been lookin’ for some ‘elp awhile now.”
“If you mean you need some help with your criminal activities – ”
“Oh, it ain’t criminal at all. Not really.” Fletcher leaned forward, whispering creakily, “An’ um, it involves treasure. Lots of treasure.”
“Well,” Creevey said, without much enthusiasm, though he did lower both wands, “go on then.”
“Gold! Lots of it, ancient gold! Worth two fortunes an’ more! Belongs to this old dead Pharaoh or somefing, and it’s all ‘idden in ‘is tomb, too.”
“All the tombs of Egypt are empty. They’ve been plundered by Muggles and wizards alike. I’ve been here long enough to know. What’re you playing at, Mundungus?”
“Not all the tombs, m’boy. There’s one that lies west of Luxor, in the middle of no-effing-where, away from them Necropolis or whatever they call it – folks still believe there’s treasure in that tomb.”
“You wouldn’t be talking about the tomb of the Pharaoh Nowanosisnem, would you?” Creevey looked disbelieving.
“Ah, ‘eard of ‘im, ‘ave you now, m’boy. That’s the very one.”
“It’s empty. It’s been empty for a long time. You’re more likely to find gold on the top of the High Dam than in there.”
“Why are we even listening to this criminal,” Argus growled.
“It’s true! What you lot ‘aven’t ‘eard is that there’s a secret chamber in the tomb. Not many know about it, but that’s where the dead man ‘id ‘is gold, the crafty bugger.”
Creevey shrugged. “How do you know about this? And what’re you trying to say?”
“I ‘ave me sources,” Fletcher answered slickly. “An’ I’m sayin’ that I need ‘elp gettin’ the gold. I can’t do this on me own. You lot ‘elp me and we get the soddin’ gold and then we split it up, ain’t that fair?”
There was a pause. Argus thought about gold and wealth and riches. Things that were so distant to him because he’d spent most of his miserable years stuck in a castle full of students who had so much more than him. All that magic they could flick and throw about, all the lives they had before them.
“So,” said Argus slowly, “you’re going to lead us to the tomb of this – this watzisname – ”
Creevey was looking disinterested. He walked over to where he’d set down his tray and began pouring tea. A brown thin tea it was, mixed with cane sugar, served in glasses with sprigs of mint. Argus hated that stuff, but Mrs Norris seemed to enjoy it. Creevey gestured toward the glasses.
“Why don’t we sit down and discuss in further detail?” he said.
* * *
Mundungus Fletcher was a lucky, lucky man. Slippery as a Flobberworm, glib as an eel. There he was, running away from the sodding British Ministry of Magic all because he’d been looting the manors of Lestrange and Goyle – not like anyone should have cared; the owners were Death Eaters who were either dead or rotting in Azkaban. But there had been a warrant for his arrest and Mundungus was forced to run, latching on to illegal Portkey after illegal Portkey until he’d found himself in Aswan, Egypt where he’d paid his way on board the first tourist barge that came along. He’d heard of Nowanosisnem’s tomb; the wizarding black market underworld was vast and well-connected like the network of an underground spider. There was no gold in it, of course; the tomb had been plundered aeons ago, most Egyptian tombs stood hollow and desolate, hundreds of open black mouths in the sand. There was, however, something else in that tomb that Mundungus could not get on his own.
And as if all the dusty gods of ancient Egypt were looking upon his dirty forlorn self with favour, who should he come across but two fellow Brits – the Squib and more importantly, that boy. Oh yes, things were looking nice and shiny for Mundungus.
“Well, ‘urry along now, you two!” Mundungus called to Creevey and Filch behind him. “I ‘ave an appointment to keep.”
They were in Luxor. The cruise had terminated there, along with Creevey’s contract as a crew member and the three of them had got out together. It had been some work persuading Creevey to come along; Mundungus had never met anyone less interested in wealth or in gold or in the world in general. “Wha’ve you got to lose?” Mundungus had told him. “Jus’ one trip out to Luxor an’ then you can go back to boatin’ up an’ down the bleedin’ Nile.”
It was Creevey that Mundungus was interested in. Filch on the other hand, could go and jump into the Nile and be snapped up by Sobek’s crocodiles for all he cared. Not that he had anything against Squibs, but in some situations, they were just downright useless.
Filch and Creevey trundled after Mundungus, Filch cursing and grumbling at the battered old suitcase he was lugging, Mrs Norris following close. Creevey had nothing but a backpack. It was a bustling little city, Luxor, full of old shops with flaking paint and domed windows and bazaars selling everything from bales of cloth, robes of the finest Egyptian cotton, trinkets, busts of famous Pharaohs and queens, ivory and greenstone sculptures of cats and sphinxes, miniature pyramids, oil lamps reputed to hold genies in them. The smell of fried fish and kebabs. Vanloads of tourists, both Muggle and magical, wound through the streets, cameras blinking and whirring. And interspersed throughout the bustle were the huge stone temple complexes of Karnak and Luxor with their towering columns and hypostyle halls and raised reliefs and obelisks and avenues of broken sphinxes.
Mundungus led Filch and Creevey off the main roads and through the alleyways where children kicked footballs around and cotton sheets and embroidered prayer mats were strung up on washing lines criss-crossing the lanes and men sat on rickety tables and stools drinking more mint tea. Filch and Creevey were having a rather irritable conversation.
“What’s a boy like you doing all by your lonesome here in Egypt anyway?” Filch was demanding.
“Knock it off, Filch,” Creevey snapped back. “We’re not in bloody Hogwarts anymore. And I’m not going back there again so you can keep your detention and whipping threats to yourself.”
“Truancy, eh? That’s a punishable offence, did you know, Creevey? Have you seen the inside of the trophy room? Carry on with this behaviour, boy, and you'll be cleaning out the place for me. Without magic.”
“Oi, you lot,” Mundungus called back. “Quit the chitchat an’ keep up, willya?”
They reached a house on the outskirts of the town and Mundungus knocked three times. The door opened, revealing a tall wizard in flowing orange robes and a crocheted skullcap. “Mundungus Fletcher,” he said nodding. “It has been a while.” He turned toward Filch and Creevey. “I am Karim.”
“Dennis Creevey,” said Creevey.
“Argus Filch,” said Filch eying Karim suspiciously. “What are we doing here, then?”
“I provide Portkeys to all the Unplottable places of Egypt,” said Karim.
Mundungus clapped a hand on Karim’s shoulder. “Karim!” he exclaimed. “Told you I’d be back, didn’t I? I’ve come to try me luck at you-know-where.”
Karim frowned. “The tomb of Nowanosisnem? You’re going to try and harvest the – ”
“ – treasure!” Mundungus cut in. “Tha’s right. All them treasures of the tomb.”
Karim raised an eyebrow. “Come in.”
Filch and Creevey and Mrs Norris entered.
“Go right in to the back. I’ll be with you in a minute.”
As Mundungus stepped through, Karim blocked his way. He was an imposing figure with a frowning mouth and a deep resonant voice. “Well?”
“Do you think,” Karim said, lowering his voice, “that it is fair to bring these two along when they have no idea what they face?”
“What you mean they ‘ave no idea? ‘Course they know!” Mundungus lied.
Karim shook his head. “Well, the good news is I’ve heard reports that the creature has gone into hibernation.”
“Tha’ll be a useful fing for us.”
“The price is the same,” Karim said.
“The same?” Mundungus protested. “But wha’ with the risin’ inflation an’ all that twaddle – ”
“Fine, fine. You drive a bleedin’ ‘ard bargain, mate.”
“Someday, Mundungus,” Karim said, “I fear that you will slip. You will slip and slide all the way down to a very treacherous end.”
Mundungus grinned, his crooked teeth and brown-splotched gums showing. “Well, I s’ppose tha’ll be fair when that day comes. As that old sayin’ goes, all’s fair in love and war. An’ tha’s life now – all love and war, innit?”
* * *
The tomb of Nowanosisnem was a truly obscure place. It was nothing more but a square hole cut into an outcrop of rock surrounded by nothing but sand. The sun glanced off the dunes and seared through Dennis’ eyeballs. The back of his shirt was stained with so much sweat that he couldn’t tell where the fabric ended and his skin began. Dennis was sure Mundungus was lying about the treasure. Filch, however, had been taken in completely by Fletcher’s wheedling and persuading. There had been a flicker in his eyes, which made them bulge alarmingly out of their sockets, a trace of greed, or perhaps an unbearably strong ache that Dennis did not understand. He no longer understood strong feelings; he had been travelling alone for too long, surviving in the oddest of places, making journeys up and down the Nile on that tourist boat. The Nile filled his ears, the water swished and lapped in his skull, in the far corners of his brain like a ceaseless numbing swell.
They had taken a Portkey from Karim’s house. The Portkey was a strange object; it was an onyx sculpture of a creature Dennis had never seen before – it had the body of a lion and the head and beak of a falcon.
“A hieracosphinx,” Karim said, giving him a hard look. “A relic of ancient Egypt, a beast of great viciousness and intelligence. The feathers of its head are extremely valuable.”
A blue glow haloed the sculpture.
“Good luck,” Karim had said just before the world vanished in a sweep of movement and minutes later, they’d found themselves in the desert.
“Well?” said Argus impatiently. “Let’s get going, shall we?”
Mrs Norris mewed. They entered the tomb, Dennis holding up his wandlight, walking down a dark stone corridor sloping downward. There was an odd whisper of cool air underground, swishing around Dennis’ ears, and he felt an unnatural chill. The corridor opened up into a small chamber with nothing in it and nothing beyond. A dead end. The walls were covered floor to ceiling with hundreds of scenes of ancient Egypt and of the many gods and goddesses, carved in raised reliefs, but that was all. There wasn’t even a sarcophagus to be seen. The tomb was empty.
Dennis felt mildly disappointed . But he had expected it, of course. Treasure. Gold. The thought of it was almost laughable.
Mundungus went to one of the reliefs on the wall and began prodding his wand at it. As Dennis looked closer, he saw that the carving was similar to the Portkey they’d taken; it was a creature with a lion’s body and a falcon’s head. And unless his eyes were deceiving him, the falcon seemed to incline its head, so its eye glowered at him.
But Filch had had enough. He strode right up to Mundungus and laid a hand on his shoulders. “Where’s the gold?” he snarled. “You’ve brought me out here for nothing, have you, now? You think that’s funny, eh?”
“Stop! Stop!” Mundungus shouted. “There’s a ‘idden chamber somewhere. Lemme go. Somefink’s gonna ‘appen.”
And at that moment, the ground began bucking and shuddering beneath their feet before it sank and seemed to vanish completely. Dennis fell through darkness and landed on his side on what felt like a solid stone surface. It was completely dark, and the air was cold and it smelled damp and mossy. He heard the other two yelling in the dark.
Mrs Norris hissed.
“Mrs Norris, my love, where are you?”
“Lumos,” said Dennis. Light bloomed from the tip of his wand, illuminating Mundungus and Filch’s faces with a ghostly glow. They were in a damp underground chamber and in front, a dark passage wound on.
“You’ve tricked us.” Argus raised a long shaking finger at Mundungus. “There’s no treasure here at all.”
“Course there ain’t any real treasure. All the tombs of Egypt ‘ave long been emptied.”
“I’ll kill you. I swear I’ll kill you, Fletcher.”
“Quiet!” Mundungus hissed. “Or you’ll wake it up.”
“Wake what up?”
“Now,” said Mundungus, and for the first time, Dennis noticed that he looked terribly afraid. “I’m gunna tell you somefink but I don’ want you lot panickin’ an’ kickin’ up a racket or you’ll be wakin’ it up and we’ll be ripped to pieces.”
“What are you on about?”
“At the end of this passage, there’s a creature. A fierce bugger. It’s called a –”
“A hieracosphinx,” Dennis finished dully.
“Tha’s the one.”
Argus drew his breath in sharply. Fear ghosted across his face.
“Let me guess,” Dennis continued. “You’re after the feathers of its head.”
“You won’t believe ‘ow much they sell for in the black market. Supposed to ‘ave great medicinal use or all that bunkum – anyway, the point is, we get ‘em and we’re rich.”
“Well,” said Dennis at last. “I suppose we should go down this passage.”
“Are you mad?” Filch growled.
“We can’t stay here forever.”
Filch grabbed Mundungus and shoved him. “You. You lead the way.”
“Awright, there’s no need for all them pushin’.”
It was like a dream, walking through the dark by the feeble light of his wand. Dennis was mildly surprised at how indifferent he felt. As they went further along the passageway, a gust of air began brushing against his face. There was a way out somewhere. The passage ended in another chamber, a larger one this time. And he saw it, the creature, the hieracosphinx.
It was big. Lion’s body, falcon’s head. The fierce bird head was laying on the paws; the eyes appeared to be shut. Mundungus pulled something out of his pockets and pressed it into Dennis’ hands. It looked like a giant pair of tweezers.
“You go,” he croaked. “Pull out some feathers from its ‘ead and we’ll keep it busy if it wakes.”
“Why can’t you do it yourself?” Filch interrupted.
“I’m much too clumsy, I am. It’ll wake up the moment I take two steps toward it. An’ we’ll all be stuck in ‘ere forever,” Mundungus replied easily.
Dennis stopped listening to them. Things were beyond ridiculous. He looked at the tweezers in his hand, suspecting that Mundungus had somehow nailed together some odd pieces of wood and metal to create this ludicrous instrument. He could have said no. But he hadn't. Dennis sighed to himself and made his way toward the creature. It remained still, too still, as though it were a giant sculpture, hewn out of the bedrock. But he could feel warmth coming from it. It was a live thing, asleep, or perhaps it was pretending, waiting for him to come closer. No matter. He would approach it all the same. He kept on inching closer until finally, he stood by the great falcon’s head and it still hadn’t moved. The tweezers trembled in his hand as he reached them out and they grazed the surface of the creature’s head. Still nothing. He plucked a feather. It came off easily. He plucked another and another. Filch was muttering in the background and Mundungus was shushing him.
And with the sixth feather tucked into his robes, the creature awoke at last. Its eyelid sprang back, revealing an enormous eye, a black pool ringed with brilliant amber. It reared, and Dennis was thrown back. The sharp beak parted and a deafening screech flew from its throat.
“Do something!” Filch was yelling.
“Get away from there, boy!”
Dennis scrambled to his feet. “Expelliarmus! Stupefy! Reducto!” he cast spell after spell at the creature, but it was immune to his magic. The spells glanced off its body. It lunged at him suddenly, a vicious swipe of its paw, and its beak flashed and tore through his shoulder. Pain slashed through his arm and something warm blossomed through his robes. Dennis grimaced and tried to roll away, but the hieracosphinx was faster. He was pinned between its paws, and directly above, its ferocious tawny eyes glared down at him.
He was really done for now, wasn’t he? What a strange way to die. Killed by a mythical beast. Colin nearly got killed by one, too. The thought of his brother sent a surge of shock through his thoughts. Ignoring the pain in his shoulder, hands clenched tightly, Dennis opened his eyes and glared right back at the hieracosphinx. The creature didn’t move and neither did Dennis. So it wanted a staring contest, did it? Well, he would beat it at this. He would glare right back at the creature’s amber eyes, keep glaring as it broke its gaze to lower its head and rip his guts out. It was almost funny but at least he would win something.
There was a sudden fierce hiss and a loud meow. Filch screamed in the background. Mrs Norris had leapt at the creature, her tiny claws beating at the hieracosphinx’s enormous lion’s paw. The effect was instantaneous. The great beast leapt back and lay down docilely, its head resting on its paws once again. Dennis felt himself being hauled to his feet; his mind registered Filch’s hard bony fingers digging into his uninjured shoulder and dragging him along.
“This way, quick before it gets up again,” Mundungus was saying.
Up and out they went, the breeze becoming stronger on Dennis’ face, until at the end of the tunnel, a hot gold light filled his vision and he was blinded.
“Impressive,” said a familiar voice.
Dennis cracked open his eyes and saw a pair of sandals and the orange hems of robes. Looking up, he found himself gazing into the face of Karim.
“You again,” Filch barked. “You let us go in there even though you knew what Fletcher was up to.”
“The last three people who attempted to harvest the feathers of the hieracosphinx were, shall we say, disembowelled,” Karim ignored him.
“It spared me,” Dennis mumbled. He reached into his robes. “The feathers are valuable, eh?”
He heard the harsh intake of Karim’s breath. “Six. You managed to get six feathers.”
“’Ow much does that fetch us, then?” Mundungus began, eagerly.
“Nine hundred of your Galleons.”
There was a silence. Filch opened his mouth and shut it again.
“We’ll take it,” Mundungus crowed.
It was night. His shoulder was more or less healed; Karim had administered a local desert thimbleberry and acacia ointment to the wound. They were staying in Karim’s house for the night. Dennis couldn’t sleep. He was standing outside the house, at the doorway, pondering the yellow streetlamps and imagining the twinkling from the lighted canopies and stalls of the bazaar. There was a strange heaviness to his thoughts. All those weeks of living numbly, of having his ears filled up with the sound of water, drowning out everything else.
From inside the house, he heard Filch humming a corny old Celestina Warbeck hit. Dennis had no idea that Filch liked music, but there he was, his tuneless voice flatly pushing into a tune. When he looked in the window, he saw the old caretaker sitting on an old cane chair, Mrs Norris standing on his lap and reaching her front paws up to Filch’s face. She ran her paws over his lips, her whiskered nose nearly touching her master’s creased face. Mundungus yelled from the next room to knock it off with the humming, and Filch snarled back in reply. Dennis turned away from the window.
The water in his ears and head was beginning to subside. Here he was in Egypt of all places! There were so many things to see. Pyramids. Tombs. Hieracosphinxes. Colin would have loved it. Colin was the adventurous one, the one who wanted to see the world and hold it all in one picture. Dennis thought of Colin. He thought of his own parents, broken and uncaring with grief back home. Someday he would have to go back.
* * *
Argus Filch, Dennis Creevey and Mundungus Fletcher stood facing each other.
“Mrs Norris and I have a Portkey to catch. We’re going back to Hogwarts.”
“Good luck, eh?” Mundungus said.
“May we never meet again.” Filch scowled at him. He heaved his suitcase along with him, which was considerably heavier with the weight of three hundred extra Galleons. He felt his pockets and stopped short. Dropping his suitcase, he spun round and snarled at Mundungus. “My wallet! You thief. You’ve stolen it again!”
“No, no,” a smooth voice cut in from behind Filch. It was Karim, wearing an extremely sober expression, which betrayed no hint of amusement. He was holding a ratty leather pouch with a fraying drawstring. “That was me.”
Filch glared and snatched it back, jangling it a little before stuffing it back into his robes. “I’m getting tired of all this picket-pocking, er, pockpicketing, oh curse it…”
“Pocket picking?” Dennis suggested.
Filch rounded on him. “You. Creevey. You’d better come back to Hogwarts, boy. There’s no excuse for missing school.”
Dennis waited for the flood of detention threats to follow, but there were none. He shook his head. “I’ll go any way but back.”
“Well,” Mundungus said, “I’m gonna stay ‘ere in Egypt for awhile. I’ve ‘eard somefink about them cursed scarabs of Abu Simbel.”
“Where’s Abu Simbel?”
“Oh,” Mundugus gestured vaguely, “over there, I s’ppose.”
Dennis looked to where he was pointing. Beyond the truncated sprawl of buildings, there was nothing except the repetitive mountains of sand that was the desert. On and on and on they went, fringing the sky, unchecked.
“Well,” said Dennis, “what are we waiting for?”
A/N: I know, I know. This is utterly ridiculous. :P Still, I had fun writing this, and I wrote all 5000+ words of it within four or five days, and that is a huge feat for an incredibly slow writer like me.
Dennis Creevey is meant to be the same Dennis from my other oneshot, you can write the book. Though, of course, this fic is completely separate from that one.
This has now been edited. I added in a few extra bits (not too many), which I had to cut initially due to the word limit for the House Cup challenge.
Speaking of the House Cup, Hufflepuff won! Hurrah for Hufflepuff!
Thank you for reading!
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