"What on earth is a 'dual-bladed, carbon steel Omega grafter' and where the deuce am I supposed to find one?" Hermione grumbled as she lifted her wand and sent off a Patronus toward the greenhouse. She put the Herbology requisitions list aside for now – Neville would have to explain.
Wearily, she picked up the next form. So Snape wanted some Pogrebins for his Defense class? Really? Where did he think they were – Russia? Theory would have to suffice here.
She picked up her quill and scribbled "Denied" on the request. Again. How many did that make this week now – two? Three? Did the man have any idea of departmental budgets? With being Deputy Head, you'd think he would. With a huff, she put the requisition on the reject pile.
Ten minutes later, having approved Sinistra's reimbursements and the Muggle Studies field trip request, she put down Slughorn's discipline report, leaned back in her chair, and rubbed her eyes. Over a year, and she still wasn't used to the sheer amount of paperwork. How had anyone ever managed all this and running the school? If it hadn't been for the promise of getting Flitwick's position when he finally retired next year, she would never have accepted Minerva's offer. Except…. She glanced over to where Snape's requisition lay buried in the pile of paper and smiled. No, she would have come anyway. No other place felt more like home. Hogwarts had always been where she thought she belonged, ever since she'd come back to prepare for her N.E.W.T.s after the war.
"It must be nice to be able to work – and I use that term loosely – at your own pace," the reedy, slightly nasal voice of Phineas Nigellus Black interrupted her thoughts. "In my day…"
"Och, shut yer trap," Alfred Fabet (headmaster, 1559 – 1567) said with a sniff. "It's no laik the poor lass isna earning her keep."
"I still don't know why the Mu—, er, Miss Granger even needs to be here." Phineas sniffed disapprovingly. "Whatever does Minerva need her for, I would like to know? I managed just admirably by myself."
"You mean you forced the house elves to keep all records for you," Dilys Derwent (headmistress, 1741 - 1768) piped up, interrupting the game of Nine Men's Morris she had going with Barbara Elizabeth Cue (1768 – 1771) and turning to Hermione with a smile. "Don't mind him, dearie. You're doing a fine job. At least," she winked at Phineas, "when you are doing it."
Pushing her chair back abruptly, Hermione stood up. Some days, those portraits were just too much to handle. When she had asked if having another person sharing the headmistress' office wouldn't prove too much of a distraction, Minerva had given a hollow laugh. It hadn't taken Hermione twenty minutes on her new job to figure out why.
Hermione stepped onto the dark square of inlaid wooden floor near the fireplace and then tapped her wand against the wall three times. Immediately, the square started to lower, descending through the levels of the Headmaster's Tower at a leisurely pace. She passed the doors to Minerva's private quarters and library, and finally arrived at the levels reserved for files and records. Where there were, mercifully, no paintings whatsoever.
Still huffing, she strode to the far corner of the room and yanked open the drawer of a filing cabinet. And apparently yanked a bit too hard. The handle came off, flying out of her hand and across the room before disappearing with a loud ping beneath a tall case holding bins of assorted scrolls. With a suppressed curse, Hermione walked over and dropped to her knees, peering into the dark hollow.
The handle must have rolled all the way into the back. She couldn't see a thing.
She pulled out her wand. "Accio!" But the handle didn't come flying out as expected. Instead there was a shuffling, scraping noise. As the handle worked its way toward her, it seemed to be pushing against something else, having to fight its way forward. A slim, rectangular object came into view just as the handle finally worked itself free and, with a hard thump, landed in Hermione's outstretched left hand.
"Hm." Intrigued, Hermione picked up the object and brought it up to her eyes for a good look. The something was covered in dust and looked like it had become more than a little damp at some point.
A book. Or what remained of it. "You poor thing. What did they do to you?" She brushed off the worst of the grime. The book was in pitiful condition. The cover and the first few pages were missing, the edges yellowed and curling, the back cover hanging on by a thread. Yet the paper was smooth, of a fine quality, and the pages were covered in an elegant script. Hermione ran her hand over what remained of the binding. How long had it been hidden there?
After reattaching the handle – the work of seconds – she fetched the file she had come for and stepped back on the square, eyeing the book. As the floor rose, she started reading.
As you cross the bridge, the water laps gently against the century-old, moss-covered walls of the brick warehouses that tower seven stories high on each side of the canal. From the harbour, you hear the mournful horn of a steam freighter being towed up river. A cool breeze blows and the cries of gulls ring out.
Hermione put her hand to her cheek. It seemed to have grown colder in here all of a sudden.
Once on the other side, a narrow, cobble-stoned street leads you past the offices of the merchants. Rare scents fill the air – from one door, the mothballed, slightly camphoric smell of the Oriental rug merchant, from the next, the sharp aroma of cardamom, nutmeg, and pepper.
With eyebrows raised, she rubbed her tickling nose as the moving floor came to a stop. She could have sworn she had just smelled pepper.
She stepped off the square, only to jump back with a start. "Neville!"
"Sorry." Her former classmate grinned down at her. "Didn't mean to startle you. I just guessed you had that Muffliato on again when you didn't answer after I knocked."
Above them, Phineas made a disapproving sound. "Yes, she doesn't care for the advice of her elders, does she?" He gave her a nasty glare. "It's not as if we could teach her something."
Hermione turned her back to him and gave Neville a pointed look. "About that grafter?"
"Oh yes. You should see it – it's a marvel, it is. Fern Frondheim had one at the International Plant and Fungi Exhibition. Makes grafting a doddle. No more messing around with knives and tape and Sticking Spells. It's Muggle made - I tell you, those Muggles really have the edge sometimes. In this case, the dual edge. Of course," he continued, scratching his head, "I'm not right sure where she got it. I think she said something about Australia?"
"Neville, that doesn't quite narrow it down enough." Hermione tried to be patient. "You'll need to be a bit more specific than that."
"Oh." He rubbed his nose. "I'll owl Fern and ask her."
"You do that." The nose-rubbing had reminded her of something. She walked over next to Neville and held the book up so that they both could see, her forefinger pointing to a specific passage. "Read this and tell me if you notice anything strange."
Obediently, he read aloud, following along as she ran her finger along the sentence. "…From one door, the mothballed, slightly camphoric smell of the Oriental rug merchant, from the next, the sharp aroma of cardamom, nutmeg, and pepper."
"You smelled it, too! You did, didn't you?"
Neville sneezed again. "Yeah. What is it?"
"I don't know. But there's some sort of magic about this book. For a minute there I thought I was imagining things. But I'm not!"
Phineas was stretching high up in his frame, trying to see over their heads. "I say, what is it you have there? Let me see that."
Hermione flipped to a random page closer to the end. "Let's read this one." Their heads almost touched as she and Neville bent over to read.
As you walk past the caravan, the scent of mint tea, smoke from the fires, and camel dung mingle in the hot desert air like…
Hermione drew in a sharp breath. "There. Did you feel that?"
Neville wrinkled his nose. "And smelled it. Ugh."
"I said, let me see that," Phineas Nigellus broke in. "I think I might –"
At that moment, there was an authoritative knock on the door, followed moments later by the impressive shape of the Defense master, waving a scroll. "Granger, I really don't think you have the authority…"
"Snape, have a look," Hermione interrupted him. "I found this down in the records rooms, under some shelves. Heaven knows how long it's been there. There's some strange sort of magic about it. Here, try it." If anything was able to distract Snape mid-rant, an old book combined with strange magic would do it. "Read this." She pointed to a passage as she handed the book to him.
Snape, successfully distracted, walked over to the window for better light, and then there was a long pause as he scanned the page. A pause that ended with a sneeze commensurate with the size of his nose. "So someone scented the page with pepper," he sniffed into his handkerchief. "I don't understand the excitement."
"I don't think that's it," Hermione said, walking over next to him. "Keep reading. It's not just the scent. I can feel it."
Hermione watched his eyebrows pucker as he turned page after page. "Curious," he murmured.
"If anyone would just listen to me," Phineas Nigellus said in a shrill voice, "you might be interested to know –"
"Phineas, not now." Hermione held up her hand to stop him before reaching over and turning to the caravan page. "Try this one."
Snape huffed, but his long, thin finger obligingly traced the passage as Hermione stood on tip-toes, reading along over his shoulder. "As you walk past the caravan, the scent of mint tea…"
And, then, just like that, the headmaster's study blinked out of existence, and they were there. Night. Moonlight. Men in caftans and fezzes sitting around flickering fires, drinking tea – peppermint tea? – from metal cups. Several camels, tethered just a few feet away.
Hermione suppressed a small shriek as Snape grabbed her protectively by the arm, stepping between her and the caravan. Not that it mattered. They had materialized at the farthest outskirts of the scene. So far, no one other than the camels, who were eyeing them with what seemed rather limited amounts of curiosity, seemed to pay the smallest bit of attention to their arrival.
"What is this?" he hissed.
"How would I know?" she hissed back. She took a cautious look around – and inhaled sharply. "Egypt! We're in Egypt!" Behind the caravan, the pyramids were sharply outlined in moonlight against the black night sky.
"I had surmised that," he snarled. "But how did we get here?"
Hermione goggled. "I've always dreamed of seeing the pyramids. Especially by night."
"Good for you, but I'd feel better if I knew what exactly happened and how I can make it unhappen." He pulled out his wand. "Finite Incantatem!"
"Snape." She pointed over to a tent set up at the far side of the caravan. Her voice shook a little. "We know where we are, but I don't think we know when we are." On stools in front of the tent sat a couple looking distinctly European. The man's attire wasn't all that different from something Severus would wear on the few occasions he didn't don teaching robes – but the woman was wearing a strange long dress with what looked like a bustle. And some sort of ridiculous bonnet. Looking around, Hermione noticed that there were no other obvious signs of the modern age. No radios blaring, or flashlights, or people talking on mobile phones. Behind them, the outskirts of Cairo lay in a dark only interrupted by the occasional flicker of what she assumed were kerosene lamps or candles.
Snape suppressed a curse. "Not only did we somehow end up in Africa, we're in Victorian Africa?"
"So it appears." Hermione felt rising alarm. And at the same time, a most delicious sense of adventure. Africa. A different age. And… Snape. With an effort, she brought her mind back to the task at hand. "We're obviously in the scene from the book. Did it strike you as strange that there was nothing but description in there? No characters, no plot?"
Snape nodded. "It did. Not that that knowledge gets us any closer to getting home. – Look out!"
One of the befezzed men had glanced up, given a double take, and then had got up from the campfire. "Salaam. Have Mister and Mistress got lost?" he called out as he walked toward them. They could see his teeth, white against the darkness, as he smiled. "Can I help you?"
Snape had stepped in front of her yet again. "No. thank you. We don't need assistance," he called back.
"He might have some information," Hermione hissed in his ear.
"And he might have a very large knife hidden under that caftan," Snape hissed back. "And I at this point have no idea if our wands are even functional here."
"We could try and Apparate," Hermione whispered. "Closer to the pyramids?" It might be safer to assess their situation away from unknown fez wearers.
Snape nodded. "Please allow me." He grabbed hold of her arm. Hermione understood – he was going to Side-Along her. It made sense; the last thing they needed was to get separated. She held on to him tightly.
A few stomach-churning tenths of a second later, they reappeared – exactly in the same spot they had been. "So much for that idea," Snape spat out, wand at the ready.
The man was now only a few meters away. Hermione grasped for her own wand, even while plastering a smile on her face. It wouldn't do to antagonize a man who so far didn't seem particularly threatening. She raised a hand in greeting.
And then, just like that, the scene blinked out again, and they were back in the tower, standing next to the south window, with Neville's worried face in front of them. "What happened? You were reading, and then you stopped, and then you just stood there, not moving at all. Like you were frozen! I didn't know what to do, but I finally worked out it might have something to do with the book, so I thought I'd better take it away. So I did." He pointed to McGonagall's desk, where he had deposited the much abused volume. "That seemed to do the trick. Are you all right?"
"I don't know. Am I? I think I am." Feeling a little disoriented, she looked up at Snape. "Are you?"
Snape, still surreptitiously confirming that all parts that had been to Egypt had returned with him, nodded. "Quite."
"So?" Neville asked again. "What happened?"
"It's the book." Hermione took a deep breath. "We – we somehow got transported inside. For just a moment we were in Egypt."
"Egypt?" Lowden Clear (1771 – 1793) exclaimed. "I love Egypt. Fantastic place, Egypt."
"I must agree. Those wizards who built the pyramids are to be commended," Montague Knightley (1568 – 1578) chimed in. "Quite amazing."
"The book did that? How interesting." Elfrida Clagg (1641 – 1687) interrupted her knitting. "May I see it?"
Hermione gingerly picked up the book and held it up close to the portrait. "It's not much to look at. But there's got to be some powerful magic involved. When we were there, it seemed so real." And unlike a Pensieve memory, the people in the scene seemed to be able to see them, interact with them. Whatever spell was on the book, it put anything Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes could offer to shame.
Neville's forehead crinkled in concentration. "But you and I were reading it earlier. We didn't go anywhere. Nothing really happened."
"True." Nothing had happened when she had read it by herself, either. Other than some hints of sensation. So it must have something to do with Snape? Maybe it only worked for Slytherins? On (former) headmasters? People above a certain age? There was a silence as she thought this through. And more silence. A silence that stretched on entirely too long, considering the amount of possible speakers in the room. Suddenly suspicious, Hermione looked up. All the portraits were staring at Phineas Nigellus, who was leaning against his gilded frame, a knowing smirk on his face, quite obviously enjoying himself. Hermione lifted an eyebrow. "You wouldn't know anything about this, would you?"
"Who, me? Are you suddenly interested in my opinion? How peculiar." He made a great show of checking the state of his fingernails.
"Really, Phin, must you be so unpleasant about it? If you have something to say, say it." Montague Knightley was crisply disapproving.
"I have requested any number of times for you to not call me by that irritating diminutive, Monty. And if you will recall, I offered to share my expertise not a few minutes ago." He yawned. "I have since wearied of waiting." His vindictive smirk deepened. "So – 'Not now,' Miss Granger."
This story is complete in two chapter. The second half will be posted over the next few days. This was originally written as a gift for Verseblack in the SS/HG gift exchange. Many thanks to Bellegeste for beta-reading and Britpicking this story!
Reviews make me happy. :0)