Beta(s): The lovely, LJ-less RNR
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): None.
(Highlight to View) Prompt: Snape has been appointed a lecturer at Unseen University; he and Hermione attend their first faculty soiree.
Note: This is a Harry Potter/Discworld crossover fic.
Summary: Hogwarts' newest Professor is in a bit of a pickle. Hot on the heels of one of the country's most dangerous magical creatures, she's only gone and found herself transported to another world mid-chase. A world that is flat and disc-shaped, where magic doesn't work quite as it's supposed to, and where the local Librarian has a distinct taste for bananas. It's unfortunate, too, that this new world is also home to the last person she wants to see. Oh, and there's still the matter of that creature to deal with. Bugger.
There is a well-known saying: a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. A less well-known, but altogether more accurate saying, is that a lot of knowledge is a very dangerous thing indeed. Or, more specifically, the places where a lot of knowledge tends to congregate*. In knowledge there is power.
*A good example being the Unseen University, where a lot of knowledge has been both the cause and the solution to several potential apocalypses, doomsdays and Uncommon Room Committee meetings.
Consistent with this maxim, it is therefore reasonable to assume that the phrase, 'the corridors of power,' does not, in fact, refer to places of a more political bent, but to the common (or indeed uncommon) library. Books being the vehicle of choice for knowledge across the centuries.
Along perhaps one of the most powerful corridors in the multiverse, there is the sound of hurried footsteps and panting. Someone is running. Someone in heels.
It occurred to Second Assistant Librarian Archibald Entwhistle as he rounded the corner by Wizarding Wars, subsections F through I, that he really should do something about the running. It was his job, after all, and he prided himself on being very good at it. He was a natural born stickler, a very handy trait for a librarian, and knew the school rulebook back to front. He was certain, therefore, that running broke the rules.
For one thing, given the nature of the flooring, a rather ill advised tile that broadcast the clacks and the squeaks of the shoes that traipsed across it, it did make rather an ungodly amount of noise. If there is one thing universally acknowledged about Librarians, it is their distaste for anything louder than the sound of dropping pins.
'No running!' he hissed through the stacks at the familiar shape that darted between Hexes (Hellenistic) and Hogwarts, History Of.
And then the shelves exploded. Green sparks showered down upon him as he fell backwards, the Knockback Jinx hitting him square in the shoulder.
'I say!' he yelled, struggling to right himself, his singed robes tangled about his legs. 'I'll have your head for this, Granger!'
The sheer impertinence of the woman! The Arithmancy Professor was a bit of an odd duck, but so were the rest of That Lot, he thought. Practically a job requirement. That said, Hogwarts' newest hire usually had a great deal of respect for the rules, especially when it came to the Library. She had even been known to enforce them on more than one occasion.
What on earth had got into the woman? Perhaps it was the loss of the Professor Snape. He'd heard a rumour or three that they'd been dating. Not that he believed them, of course. Fraternization between colleagues was against the rules, and if you couldn't trust the staff not to break the rules, then really, who could you trust?
His musing was cut short as another darker, bigger shape shot past his prone form. One he didn't like the look of one bit. One with sharp claws and… Good Lord, were those tentacles?
Another loud bang echoed through the library, followed by a shriek and something that sounded suspiciously like the opening of a champagne bottle. Thick smoke began to crawl across the ceiling. It was at this point that Mr. Entwhistle decided that, on the whole, he was perhaps best staying put, and promptly passed out.
In another library on another world, one flat and pleasingly disc-shaped, there was a quiet 'pop'. The Librarian looked up from his book.
'Oook,' he said.
'Oh no,' replied the Egregious Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography. 'I'm staying put. Nothing good ever begins with a pop.'
'Popcorn doesn't count.'
The graphorn blinked. Beside it, something big and hairy let out a deep groan.
It set off at a run.
It was a Friday afternoon. Old Tom, the great octiron bell of the Unseen University, announced the arrival of a new hour with three heavy silences. Below the Clock Tower, beyond the Bridge of Size and the Wizard's Pleasaunce, the last of the University's recent graduates filtered back in through the Hubwards gate.
Today was the day of the Convivium. Naturally this meant that tonight would be Gaudy Night, and preparations within the University kitchens and corridors were already underway. The Porters ported, Bakers baked, Maids made, and the Bledlows did, well, whatever it is that Bledlows usually did when there was work to be done*. Indeed, every building was abuzz with activity.
Almost every building.
Deep beneath the Tower of Art, the University's oldest and strangest of structures, there was not much abuzz at all. Plenty of bubbling and hissing, and perhaps the odd slosh here and there, but no buzzing. This was the domain of the Professor of Inadvisable Concoctions and Potations, and he did not care for buzzing. Nor, as it stood, for very much else.
As the last of the hour's silences faded into a low hubbub, the Professor, whose name was Severus Snape, cast a wary eye over the cauldron that bubbled away merrily upon the bench. This would make his sixth attempt at a Calming Draught in as many months, and he was not confident the outcome this time would be any better than that of the previous five.
One of the problems regarding travel within the multiverse, Snape had found, was that magic was an inconsistent creature. What had worked on what he now thought fondly of as the Roundworld did not upon the Disc. Or, at least, not quite in the same way. Whereas magic had been an integral component of the art of wizardry back on the Roundworld, here it was considered more of a suggestion*. It was a fact that had led to many a month of fruitless endeavour, his only accomplishments in potion craft the odd bang and the creation of something that looked suspiciously like beer.
*At least amongst the more senior members of the faculty, where the importance of a Wizard's staff was determined by its kinetic properties as well as magical ones. For a Wizard, much like the rest of the world, judicious use of a bloody great big stick works as well as any words when it comes to bone breaking, and crucially, takes half the effort.
That was not to say he disliked his newfound place in his newfound world. Quite the reverse. Like Hogwarts, tenure at Unseen University meant low rents, several square meals a day*, and a glass or three of sherry before bed. However, unlike Hogwarts, here the teaching of students was heavily discouraged; this was mostly on the grounds that anyone clever enough to understand the lectures would not have needed to attend University in the first place. It was a philosophy Snape very much admired. The fact that it made for less marking was a welcome bonus.
*And indeed even a few round ones.
No, life as a wizard upon the Disc was really quite agreeable. It was a bed of metaphorical roses compared to his previous existence. No Dark Lords, no Potters, no dunderheaded children, and certainly no frizzy-haired, bossy witches with terrible tempers, and beautiful eyes, and an astonishingly ample boso… No, none of that. Even the fact that the new definition of 'wizard' to which he was now subject contained a rather punitive clause regarding celibacy was of very little concern. Getting none felt much the same whether by bad luck or contract.
Severus Snape liked it here. It was the perfect place to hide from his problems. Not that he was hiding. Absolutely not.
Beside him, the cauldron let loose a little belch of lurid green smoke. Snape groaned. This was not going well. Not well at all. Frowning, he tossed a handful of sage into the bubbling mixture, his beady black eyes watching as the liquid slowly changed from purple to a light sky blue. Three rotations turnwise (it helped to gain a firm grasp of the lingo), followed by four widdershins, and all that was left was to let it simmer for ten minutes.
Not before time, Snape thought, as he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. Tucking the greasy black curtain of his hair behind his ear, he turned to face the door.
'Archchancellor,' he said silkily, folding his arms across his chest. 'How may I be of service this afternoon?'
'Settin' traps again, Snape?' said Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully, lifting the hem of his robe as he carefully stepped over the tripwire strung between the posts of Snape's laboratory door.
'Can't have the students becoming too complacent, Archchancellor.'
'Quite right, quite right,' Ridcully replied with a wave of his hand. 'You'll be joining us for the evening's celebrations?'
Despite all appearances (and grammatical convention) to the contrary, it was not a question.
'Yes, Archchancellor,' Snape said with a tilt of his head. 'I have even prepared a little something for the occasion.'
From beneath the nearest bench, Snape removed a large box of bottles full of a mysterious brown fluid. Carefully, he fished out the closest one from the box and passed it to the Archchancellor. Inside the glass, the amber liquid swirled dangerously.
'Firewhisky,' said Ridcully, reading the handwritten label. 'Anything like other, eh, whisky?'
'In a manner of speaking,' At the Archchancellor's puzzled look, he elaborated. 'It is distilled from mash of the Mulciber crapulatus, otherwise known as the common Fire Seed Bush. Packs a bit more of a punch than its more traditional relatives.'
Ridcully's face brightened. 'Ah! Capital, Mr. Snape. Can never have too much booze at a Gaudy Night. I'm sure your contribution to the evening's festivities will go down well with the rest of the faculty*.'
*And later back up again, if pervious Gaudy Nights were to be any judge.
'Glad to have been of service, Archchancellor,' said Snape, though his face implied no such thing. 'Now you must excuse me, but I have rather a pressing matter to attend to.'
He gestured towards the cauldron, a thin yellow smoke now curling lazily from its surface.
'Potions, eh? Never held much with all that hubble-bubble nonsense, myself. Always struck me are more of a witch's game, if I'm honest.' Ridcully eyed the simmering liquid with suspicion. 'Is it, eh, supposed to be that colour?'
Snape nodded. 'Lavender is very soothing, or so I have been informed.' At Ridcully's puzzled look, he continued, 'This is a calming draught.'
'Expecting a particularly exciting evening, are we?'
'It never hurts to be prepared, Archchancellor.'
It is perhaps time to talk a little more of libraries.
Bibliothecography, the study of how to categorise, catalogue, and locate resources, is an essential part of any good librarian's training. Advances within the subject have lead to such wonders as the Dewey Decimal System and the Colon Classification, saving overworked and underpaid librarians thousands of valuable hours over the centuries. But perhaps its crowning achievement is that of the discovery of L-space.
Think back to the statement 'knowledge is power', and precisely where knowledge can be obtained. From a mathematical standpoint, the idea can be summarised thusly:
Now think back further. Back to the time spent in school, to physics lessons in particular. Think of Newton and Watt.
And so, logically:
Or, for those less mathematically minded amongst us:
This fluctuation within the space-time continuum is known as L-space*. Through it, the informed traveller is able to access any library in any dimension. The uninformed traveller, however, often finds themselves in places they never knew existed with no explanation as to exactly how they managed to get there. Such was the position the newest member of the Hogwarts faculty, Professor Hermione Granger, found herself in.
*Or more poetically (and also less accurately), getting lost in a very good book.
The air in the library of the Unseen University was cold and rather stale. It carried with it the musty odour of a thousand unread books mixed with a slight overtone of bananas. As Hermione Granger began approaching consciousness once more, she found she also detected a hint of something that smelled a little like wet dog.
She could hear the sound of sharp claws clattering along the floor. Mustn't let it get away. Hermione's eyes snapped open, only to find themselves staring directly into a pair of large, distinctly simian ones. A small yelp of surprise escaped her before she could stop it.
'Oook?' came the reply.
Clearly she'd taken a harder knock than she'd first thought. The face above hers looked suspiciously like that of an orang-utan. And there were certainly none of those in Hogwarts' library.
'He wants to know if you're alright,' came another, distinctly more human voice from just outside her field of vision.
'Pardon?' said Hermione.
'The Librarian,' came the voice again. Then a pause. 'The ape.'
Turning her head, Hermione took in her surroundings. Shelves full of leather-bound books stretched floor to marble ceiling, the tiny brass nameplates denoting each section glinting in the candlelight. Small arrows made with chalk pointed this way and that between the stacks, almost luminous against the dark mahogany of the bookcases. She could feel stone beneath her instead of tile. And, from the corner of her eye, she could see a pair of muddy hobnailed boots peeking out from beneath the tatty hem of a robe; a robe that was absolutely not regulation school wear.
Realisation slowly began to dawn. She was no longer in the library. Well, her library at any rate. Instead, she was somewhere else entirely. As, she thought, noting the distinct absence of tentacles in her immediate surroundings, was the graphorn.
Hermione blinked, then gathering what little was left of her wits, said to the orang-utan, 'Thank you, er, Sir. I'm fine.'
A series of grunts emanated from the Librarian, seemingly satisfied with her response. Hermione felt a pair of large hands encircle her arms and pull her none too gently upright. Still a little woozy, she patted down her robes, sending swirls of dust into the air around her.
'Thank you,' she said, tentatively probing her head for any tender spots.
'Oook,' the Librarian said, giving the baffled witch an approving nod. Or at least something approximating it.
'So who the hell are you then?'
Hermione turned. Beside the nearest bookshelf, half hidden amongst the shadows, stood the owner of the muddy boots. He was a rather dishevelled looking young man with long brown hair and a patchy beard. He wore a bright red robe, somewhat creased and shabby, festooned with a great number of sequins, and a large crumpled hat with the word 'Wizzard' stitched haphazardly an inch or so above the brim. In his hands there was a rather hefty book; one she suspected he had selected for its defensive properties rather than its literary merit.
'I'm Professor Hermione Granger,' she said, holding out a hand in greeting. 'Nice to meet you.'
'If you say so,' he replied, eying her outstretched hand with deep suspicion.
'Who wants to know?'
'Me. I want to know.'
Hermione levelled her best glare at the man who had yet to let go of his book. It was one that would have put even Severus Snape, former potential paramour and current bastard gone AWOL*, to shame.
*Not that she was bitter. At least not anymore. She'd passed through practically every flavour of emotion regarding that man — first sweet, then bitter, followed by sour. Now she was merely salty. Which, needless to say, was better than being savoury.
This was like pulling teeth. In fact it was worse; it was almost as bad as talking to a teenager. And a particularly moody one, at that.
'Do you have to be so difficult?' she snapped.
'I'm not being difficult,' he protested. 'Merely cautious. You can never be too careful, you know. Some woman just pops into existence in the middle of the floor one afternoon, and you think the best course of action would be to introduce yourself? You could be a demon, or a shape shifter, or a god for all I know.'
Hermione rolled her eyes. She folded her arms in that distinctly female of poses; one employed in the face of troublesome men by wives, mothers, sisters and daughters everywhere. One that said, 'I don't know what your game is, sonny Jim, but I'm having none of it, thank you very much'.
'Well, I'm none of those things. I am, in fact, a witch,' she said, squinting up at his bearded face and the hat that shadowed it. 'One of your lot, if the atrocious spelling on your headgear is anything to go by.'
'Oh great! A witch. On the whole, I think that might actually be worse,' he said, pulling a face. 'At least you know where you stand with gods*.'
*Preferably somewhere very far away, and inside a faraday cage.
'Look, I've haven't got time for this,' said Hermione, fishing in the pockets of her robes for her wand. 'And I'm damned if I'm going to stand here and be insulted.'
Slowly, she turned on her heel, head held high as she searched for some sort of sign regarding the exit. Unable to find any sort of indication to which way was 'out', she muttered, 'Emigro' and gave the tip of her wand a gentle flick. Nothing happened. Odd.
Behind her there was the sound of a distinctly simian grunt, followed by a deep, weary sigh.
'Pardon?' she said offhandedly, peering closely at the tip of her wand. It didn't appear damaged. She gave it a bit of a shake and tried once more. Again, nothing happened.
'My name is Rincewind.'
'Well, Mr. Rincewind, it's very nice to meet you,' she said over her shoulder, her attention focussed upon her wand, which was now emitting a series of sad looking sparks. 'However, as much as I've enjoyed out little chat, I really have to get going.'
'And where would that be?'
Well, there was the snag. Where did she want to go? In fact, a better question, where was it that she was going from? And, on that note, what was she doing again?
Oh yes. The graphorn.
'Excuse me, gentlemen,' she said, turning to face the oddly matched pair once more, malfunctioning wand momentarily forgotten, 'but have either of you seen a graphorn recently?'
'Graphorn?' replied Rincewind.
'Yes,' she said slowly, as though talking to a particularly dim child. 'Big thing. Can't miss it. Looks a bit like a sabre-toothed tiger, only with extra tentacles. Smells of wet dog.'
Rincewind shrugged. The Librarian, in a distinctly more impressive fashion, followed suit.
'Neither of you saw anything?' she said. 'Nothing at all?'
'Big, smelly and utterly terrifying? No, can't imagine that sort of thing would stick in the memory at all.'
It had been running for hours. Up stairs, down stairs, along corridors and through rooms bigger than it had ever seen before. Everything here was big and terrifying. And there were giants too. The place was practically crawling with them, all red and sparkly and loud.
They were very loud.
But over there, under that long bit of wood with the shiny thing way up high, that looked quiet. And dark.
The graphorn liked quiet and dark.
Simple Calming Draught, Attempt No. 5, he wrote in his lab book, Not A Success.
The sound of scratching and scuffling filled the air. The day was just getting better and better. Snape frowned. Damned rats. He'd found two in his stores just last week, merrily helping themselves to the pickled onions he kept for Acne Salves and Boil Cream*.
*And, on occasion, his dinner.
Pulling his wand from the depths of his robes, he followed the sound. It was coming from beneath the far bench. Or maybe the cupboard under the sink. No, wait, definitely from the far bookshelf. Or was that by the door?
Growling with frustration, he flung back the door to his laboratory and stormed out, forgetting the presence of the tripwire he'd so gleefully set the week before. With a yelp, he went arse over teakettle, landing in an inelegant sprawl in the empty corridor beyond, no rat to be found.
What he did find, however, was a small, carefully folded note wedged between the floor slabs. Puzzled, he fished it out from between the cracks in the stones.
Not quiet and not dark, but loud and bright and smelly and with decidedly more giant than expected. The last move had been a mistake. But, ah ha! This looked promising.
Darkness. Nice, soft, quiet darkness. That was what it needed, it thought, as it crawled beneath the mountain of black fabric.
It was two hours until dinner. Which, naturally, meant there were only ten minutes left to waste until the arrival of high tea. And so, in fine wizarding tradition, the members of the UU senior faculty decided to put those minutes to good use, the Uncommon Room filled with pipe smoke and the gentle nodding of a dozen pointy hats.
'You may be interested to know, gentlemen,' said the Head of Inadvisably Applied Magic, 'that we picked up some rather unusual readings on the Thaumic Resonance Detector earlier this afternoon.'
He realised his statement had fallen on, if not deaf ears, then ones eagerly awaiting the rattle of the tea trolley to the exclusion of all else. Clearing his throat, he tried again. 'Gentlemen?' he said.
'Hmmm?' said the Archchancellor, who didn't bother to look up from his crumpled copy of the Ankh-Morpork Times. Today's issue contained an in-depth piece on the hunting of Hublandish Vermine*, and for Ridcully, a man who's preferred way to experience nature was through the sights of a crossbow, it was proving to be unusually stimulating reading.
*A mammal with an exceptionally well-developed sense of self preservation, unlike its closest cousin the common lemming, the Hublandish Vermine is prized amongst wizards and robe makers alike for its soft, black pelt. Hunters across the disc risk life, limb and dignity for the fur. A trait, coincidentally, also shared by the Vermine.
'I was just remarking on the odd readings we've had over at the HEM today. I haven't seen anything like it before. The research students don't know what to make of it.'
'What? Oh. Well, what do you expect, Mr. Stibbons?' boomed Ridcully. 'If students knew anythin' at all, they'd be professors rather than students, wouldn't they?'
A murmur of agreement rippled through the room. Rumbled snatches of 'hear, hear' and 'well said, that man' mingled with the slow claps and genteel tapping of tables.
Ponder sighed, but continued on, undeterred. 'The thaumometer has also been picking up higher than average readings for the season, Archchancellor.'
The Chair of Indefinite Studies licked his fingers and held them up, squinting at the faint octarine glow that surrounded them. 'Doesn't seem so unusual to me.'
'But the thaumometer—' said Ponder, pulling the device from his pocket.
'Never held with that sort of thing,' he interrupted with a shake of his head. 'Takes all the mystery out of it.'
'Device like that, and you could have every Tom, Dick or Harry thinking they know what's what,' murmured the Lecturer in Recent Runes in agreement.
'What's the point in magic if everyone can do it, eh?' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies, who was really starting to get into the swing of things. 'Next thing you know, we'd all be up to our necks in fireballs and rabbits in hats. The word 'wizard' would become synonymous with a bunch of over enthusiastic occult-botherers who think they know more than they know, and don't know when to not do the things they do know.' He sat back in his chair, folding his arms smugly across his chest. 'The world would be over by teatime.'
'Now, now, gentlemen,' said Ridcully, waving a hand irritably. He looked up from the newspaper, pinning the Senior Wrangler with a hard stare. 'Well? Any truth to this business?'
'Oh yes. I'm afraid young Mr. Stibbons is quite correct on that account, Archchancellor,' said the Senior Wrangler, fishing a similar cube of dark blue glass from the recesses of his robe. He watched as the needle on the dial wobbled dangerously towards the far end of the scale. 'We appear to be experiencing far higher levels than those we can account for through mere natural background.'
Something clicked in Ponder's brain, but before he could elaborate, the door to the Uncommon Room burst open with a bang, tearing it from its hinges.
'Ah!' boomed the Archchancellor, seemingly nonplussed at the explosive intrusion. 'Speak of the devil!'
Ponder eyed the Professor of Inadvisable Concoctions and Potations suspiciously. The newest member of the faculty was an unusual sort of wizard*, and that made him nervous. Severus Snape was a wizard of a darker nature than his colleagues, Ponder suspected, and decidedly more powerful than he let on. He had an eye for that sort of thing; one didn't rise to the position of… well, any of the positions he currently held, without one. Or didn't occupy it for very long, at least. He made a mental note to keep him away from temptation, otherwise known as Dr Hix, the Professor of Post-Mortem Communications**. The University only needed one Bad Wizard on their books, and it helped that their chosen candidate considered acceptable evil to be more along the lines of a bucket of water placed above a door than the more traditional peeled skulls and chalk octograms.
*Ponder Stibbons considered Snape an unusual wizard for two very distinct reasons. The first being that, unlike his gaudily bedecked colleagues, his robes were black and unadorned, and the second being that there was distinctly less wizard contained within them.
**Which is absolutely not the same as N*E*C*R*O*M*A*N*C*Y, no matter what the peeling paint upon his office door may suggest.
'Archchancellor,' said Snape, his eyes wild. 'We appear to have a problem.'
In his hand, there was a small piece of paper with yellowing edges. Upon the paper was a note written in spidery black ink. It read: OOOeeeOOOeeeOOO*
*This is the calling card of Mr Ixolite, the world's last surviving banshee, who due to a rather unfortunate speech impediment, prefers the written word over that of the more traditional screech. It is, however, unfortunate that spelling is not one of his talents, either.
'Good grief!' said Ridcully, peering at the quivering note. 'Quick, someone pour that man a brandy.'
Ponder felt his stomach lurch. This was bad. This was very bad indeed.
There was going to be a death at the University. And if there was one thing senior wizards did not like, it was Death. This is mostly to do with the fact that senior wizards are very old and very suspicious creatures. It does not do to draw Death's attention.
Ponder glanced down at the thaumometer he held. A faint octarine glow began to surround the wizard's outstretched hand, and as if on queue, the silvery needle began to rise.
The clock struck seven.
Hermione made her way down the dark hallway, a frown upon her face. Behind her trailed Rincewind, feet dragging noisily across the stone, and behind him the Librarian. They'd been tracking the graphorn for hours, two to be exact, but it appeared they had reached a dead end. The trail had gone cold. Not a scratch or a scrape or an ooze* to be found. Even the nauseating odour of wet dog had faded.
*An unfortunate side effect of being a beast with a tentacled nasal protuberance is the inability to effectively blow one's nose.
'Er. Is it p — ible that you'v — de the teensiest l — le mistak — re? If thi — horn creature is as bi — ou say, surely th — ould be more, er, damage.'
'Sorry,' said Hermione, once Old Tom had stopped its tolling. 'Could you repeat that?'
'I said,' sighed Rincewind, squinting at the intact masonry that surrounded them, 'is it possible that you've made the teensiest little mistake here? If this graphorn creature is as big as you say, surely there would be more, er, damage.'
'Oook,' agreed the Librarian.
'Search me,' Hermione replied, sliding her wand out from the sleeve of her robes with an ease born of years of practice. She gave it a vicious little flick, as if daring it not to cooperate. 'Investigo.'
There was a burst of bright white light from the tip of her wand, followed by a low whine as the light died into nothing more than a dull, red glow. Hermione peered down at her feet expectantly. Hovering a few inches above the floor, she could just make out a light wisp of smoke that threaded its way down the corridor and between the cracks in the heavy door about three meters down.
It wasn't perfect, but at least it was enough to follow.
'Are you sure this is wise?' asked Rincewind, aiming a furtive kick at the smoke that danced in the gap between them. It curled around his ankles, grabbing at the hem of his robes and giving them a sharp tug. He yelped in surprise.
'I wouldn't do that, if I were you,' said Hermione, stepping aside so that she stood in the empty air by the side of the trail. 'My magic doesn't seem to be particularly predictable at the moment.'
Rincewind hastily followed suit, eyeing the smoke warily. 'Does it bite?'
'Lets hope not.'
Rolling up her sleeves, Hermione set off down the corridor, following the smoky trail. Behind her, she heard the wizard let out a long sigh. There was the sound of footsteps and dragging knuckles as the pair trailed reluctantly after her.
'So, let me get this straight,' said Rincewind, falling into step beside her. 'You're going after a very big, very dangerous creature armed with nothing more than a particularly uncooperative stick.'
Well, when you put it that way…
'It's a wand,' she said icily, choosing instead to focus her ire on the detail rather than the bigger picture. 'And you don't have to join me. I am perfectly capable of tracking and dealing with the graphorn on my own, thank you very much.'
Hermione stopped at the door, watching as the blue smoke rolled lazily through the gap at the bottom. She gave it an experimental shove. It didn't move.
'Looks like a stick to me,' said Rincewind. 'I thought your lot carried brooms.'
'That is merely a vicious stereotype,' she hissed, giving the doorknob a wiggle.
'Well, pardon me for making conversation.'
Hermione sighed heavily. She bent down, pressing her eye to the keyhole. Beyond, she could see soft, golden lamplight.
Her wand made a rather rude sound, one often only heard in the seclusion of a wizard (or witch's) private quarters, the spell dying before it had even left the tip. She tried again but to no avail, growling with frustration.
A pair of large hands pushed her gently aside. A loud crunch filled the air as the Librarian rammed a hairy shoulder into the space below the handle, the wood splintering around the lock.
Slowly, what remained of the door creaked open. The room beyond was empty. It appeared to be some sort of common room; somewhere old men sat when they had to negotiate their way through the trickier parts of wizarding, such as deciding which cheese to go for first, or whether to shout at a student or merely glare. Pictures of portly, bearded men lined the walls, nicotine stains from years of pipe smoke discoloured the ceiling, overstuffed chairs littered the threadbare carpet, and in the corner, there was a decidedly well stocked drinks cabinet.
The room did not, however, contain a graphorn.
Hermione sighed. She watched as the blue smoke of her tracking spell wound its way between the legs of the coffee table and out through the open door in the far corner. In the distance, she could hear what appeared to be shouting.
That seemed promising.
'What's through there?' she asked, picking her way through the furniture.
'Oook,' said the Librarian with a nod.
'Er, another hallway, I think. Then eventually the Great Hall,' supplied Rincewind, watching with wide eyes as she muttered something under her breath, a large silvery shape emerging from the tip of her wand. It looked a little like an otter. Well, if you squinted a bit and had a very good imagination. 'A good wizard favours a staff, you know.'
Hermione turned to face him, noting his empty hands. 'What about yours?'
'I never claimed to be a good wizard,' said Rincewind*.
*Which was broadly true. He never had claimed to be a good wizard. Or even a mediocre one. Nor, crucially, had anyone else.
Hermione shrugged, watching as the not-otter gambled playfully around the Librarian. Not the best patronus she'd ever produced, but begging and choosing wasn't the done thing.
'Well, you know what they say about wizards' staffs,' she said, directing her patronus out into the hallway beyond with a pointed finger.
'That they've got a knob on the end?'
But she wasn't listening. Her attention was firmly focussed upon the door behind him.
'Pardon?' she said absently, pushing past him.
Rincewind sighed. 'What do they say about wizards' staffs?'
'Oh, I don't know,' she said, peering down at where the door had been sheared clean off its hinges. 'Something about overcompensation, probably.'
Its hiding place was moving again, swinging back and forth, jostling the graphorn back and forth against the cotton walls.
It braced itself against what looked to be a great big wooden pole.
'Shut up,' said Ridcully, draining his glass.
The firewhisky really was quite pleasant. Packed quite the punch. He smacked his lips together, savouring the low burn deep in his throat.
'I was only remarking that perhaps we ought to do something about this whole Death business,' said the Dean sullenly, viciously spearing a Yorkshire pudding with his fork.
'And what, pray tell, is it that you would like to do?'
'Er.' The Dean blinked, a look of horror stealing over his features at the implication that he was to be the one doing the doing.
'Exactly,' said Ridcully, reaching up to his hat and fishing his pipe from one of its compartments. He gave it a quick knock against the table, scattering ash and the un-burnt remnants from this morning's tea break from the bowl. 'Nothing to be doin' save waiting.'
Death may have been on the guest list, but they were hardly going to let that ruin a good evening. After all, they only got one Gaudy Night a year. No use wasting it on trying to prevent the inevitable. Best to go out with a bang, that's what he always said. Though, given their occupation, the phrase often had a tendency to be alarmingly literal.
He cast a furtive glance over towards Professor Snape. The man was still as white as a sheet. Not, he conceded, that it was an unusual state of affairs. In Ridcully's considered opinion, Snape was a man in desperate need of sunshine and a morning constitutional. It was unhealthy, standing around all day in the candlelight, head over a steaming cauldron. Not to mention unhygienic. Oh well, too late for that sort of thing now.
'I've met Death,' said the Bursar. 'Nice chap. Little on the thin side, though.'
Ridcully groaned. Contrary to popular belief, the Bursar was not insane. In fact, he had passed through what counted for insanity long ago, and had emerged the other side with a firm grasp of reality. It was, however, unfortunate that the Bursar's idea of reality differed drastically from that of everyone else.
'Over in Klatch,' said the Dean loudly, interrupting the Bursar before he could speak again, 'I hear they leave a glass of wine for him at the end of the table on Hello-iain night.'
'And also a mop, presumably,' said Dr Hix. He held up a hand before anyone could object. 'Skull ring, remember. I am allowed, nay, required by university statute to make tasteless and off-colour remarks as part of my position.'
Silence descended briefly over the high table. Below, in what Ridcully thought of as the cheap seats, rowdy students were busily eating and drinking their way to oblivion. He watched as a stray fireball, cast by an overenthusiastic fourth-level wizard, arced across the ceiling and smashed into the heavy oak doors in a shower of sparks before stuttering into nothingness. A cheer rose up from the student body.
'Perhaps it's just about a little death. You know, one of those orgasm thingies they're always going on about in books,' said the Senior Wrangler, who liked to consider himself well-read in all areas, including categories of a more romantic bent. 'It was a very small bit of paper.'
Ridcully blinked, turning his attention back to the conversation at hand.
'Orgasm?' said Dr Hix, with a grin and a lascivious wiggle of his eyebrows.
'Some sort of creature, isn't it?' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies.
'No, no,' replied the Dean. 'What it is, is paper folding! You're thinking of organisms. Isn't that right, Snape?'
Snape said nothing, choosing instead to look glumly into his plate of mashed potato. He knew full well what an orgasm was. He'd even experienced a few. Once, very memorably, in company*.
*Unfortunately, for said company, the experience was not a mutual one.
'Gentlemen, please,' said Ridcully. 'We're rather getting away from the point.'
'And what point would that be, Archchancellor?' said the Dean.
Ridcully faltered. He looked over at Snape, who had sunk further into the recesses of his chair, and seemed to be busily contemplating his own imminent mortality.
The trail was getting stronger. As was the screaming and shouting.
Hermione glanced down at the smoke, which now resembled more of a solid ribbon of colour that floated down the darkened corridor, hovering an inch or so above the carpet. It gave off an eerie green glow, mingling with the silvery light of her patronus, casting the stony walls into sickly relief.
'Oook?' asked the Librarian, pointing at the pair of heavy oak doors that blocked the end of the corridor.
The smoke-ribbon had bunched up in front of the wood like a coil of old rope, pushing gently at the closed doors. Hermione watched as her not-otter pressed a misshapen paw to the wood before slumping down beside the coil, its silvery eyes focussed on a point beyond the door.
'I think so,' said Hermione, who was beginning to find understanding the Librarian less of a daunting task than before. 'If I were a betting woman, I'd put money on the graphorn being behind them.'
Rincewind rolled his eyes. 'And I take it you want to go in after it?'
The doors were old, with heavy iron hinges and a large latch. As she drew closer, Hermione could see a small sliver of light coming from the bottom edge. The scent of wet dog was back. Faint, but unaccountably there, mingling with the scent of beer, and was that… bacon?
'It is a dangerous beast,' said Hermione, running a hand over the old oak. 'I can't, in all good conscience, let it run rampage through the university. Who knows what sort of damage it will inflict? And what if someone kills it?'
'Gosh. I'd have thought they'd be doing us a favour,' said Rincewind, straightening his hat on his head.
'I don't want to kill it!' she said, running a fingernail around the right-hand edge of the frame, searching for any hidden catches or traps. You could never be too careful. 'It's probably scared out of its wits, poor thing. Strange new place, with strange new people. It's a wonder it hasn't died of sheer fright. No, I want to catch it, preferably before anyone gets hurt.'
'Doesn't look like it's done much rampaging to me.'
'Oook,' agreed the Librarian with a nod.
Hermione paused. They were right, the graphorn didn't appear to have done that much damage. In fact, it didn't appear to have done any damage at all. Odd. But it was definitely here; she could smell it, and the spell, well, it was tracking something.
Something strange was going on.
A loud scream followed by a heavy thump emanated from the room beyond. The graphorn was definitely in there, and it sounded terrified. But they couldn't just charge in, wands blazing. Not unless they wanted spend the last few moments of their lives resembling rather sad kebabs. No, what they needed was a distraction. And what Hermione needed was information.
'Where, exactly, does this go?' she said, tapping the door.
'I think it stays where it is,' replied Rincewind. At her glare, he said, 'The Great Hall.'
The not-otter frolicked merrily around her ankles. A distraction, eh? Her patronus would surely do the trick.
'I think have an idea,' she said slowly. She gestured at the door. 'Mr. Librarian, would you do the honours?'
He was seeing things. Only natural, he thought. He was a man on the verge of death, and in the midst of a drunken stupor*. Hallucinations rather came with the territory.
*The Archchancellor was of the opinion that the cure for a good fright was a small glass of brandy. And that the cure for a bad one was a decanter.
Snape blinked. He could swear he could see smoke. Blue smoke, to be exact. It was winding its way through the tables, making a beeline for what appeared to be his pocket. He absently wafted at it, grimacing as it stung the tips of his fingers.
And Good Lord, was that… was that an otter skulking over by the fireplace?
He looked at the wizards sat either side, but none of them appeared to have noticed.
Shaking his head as if to clear the visions, he turned back to face the student body, dismayed to find that the otter was still there. No. Wait. Not an otter. A patronus.
Snape swallowed hard, his eyes scanning the rest of the room for the
He was seeing things. He was absolutely seeing thi—
'I really don't think this is a good idea!'
'Too late now, Mr. Rincewind!'
It was her! It bloody was! And was that Rincewind with her? And the Librarian?
He watched as she began to cast, a sudden sinking feeling in his stomach. Didn't the silly woman know that their kind of magic was unpredictable here?
He stood and leapt from his place at the high table, sending his chair crashing against the floor and, unbeknownst to Snape, sent a small, furry object with entirely too many tentacles tumbling from the depths of his left-hand pocket.
For the members of the Unseen University, 8 pm arrived with a bang.
Or, more accurately, it arrived with a blindingly bright flash of light, a wave of hot air and what would have been a bang had Old Tom struck the hour a fraction of a second later.
So, inevitably, everybody did. Including the tiny graphorn, which shot across the floor and hid beneath an upturned soup bowl.
Not that anybody noticed.
Later, even when the smoke and other assorted magical phenomena had cleared, Snape would still have been hard pressed to explain exactly what had happened*. It all went rather quickly. There was shouting and screaming, punctuated by the occasional simian grunt. There was clattering and banging and a rather spectacular crunching sound, the latter courtesy of the Bursar, who had lost whatever tenuous grip on sanity previously gifted to him and had proceeded, in his terror, to turn the nearest table into a particularly stylish gravel driveway.
*A fact he was more than willing to blame on the booze, and by association, the Archchancellor.
At some point during the brief fracas, Snape had found himself thrown in an undignified heap across one of the tables, greeting a solid-looking (and feeling) Bledlow with a Glasgow kiss. Beyond that point, his almost certainly broken nose streaming, he remembered very little. But what he did remember all too clearly as he got to his feet, handkerchief clutched to his nose, was the bright red face of the Professor of Arithmancy staring up at him with wide eyes from her place on the floor.
'Er, hello, Miss Granger,' said Snape, stuffing the soiled handkerchief back into his pocket, praying to whatever god happened to be listening that his nose was no longer bleeding*. He squinted down at her, his heart beating a frantic tattoo against the bones of his chest. Maybe she'd forgiven him. Though, from the look on her face, it didn't look too promising.
*Unfortunately for Snape, his prayer went unheard by the gods of the Disc. Well, all save one, Saponaria, Goddess of Soap, who pretended not to hear on account of him not having showered that morning. Or the morning before. Well, they do say that cleanliness is next to godliness.
'Professor,' she growled.
It was a testament to his ability to survive both near paralytic drunkenness and probable concussion that he was able to determine that this was a correction, rather than a greeting.
'My apologies,' he said, offering her a hand.
She took it with ill grace, and he watched as she levered herself up from the floor with an inelegant grunt. God, she was a mess. Her mop of curls was in complete disarray, her robes torn at the knee, and there was the faint odour of singed hair emanating from her. Snape thought she looked beautiful.
And maybe it was just his imagination, but now she was back on her feet, she appeared to be leaning closer towards him. She still hadn't let go of his hand. His stomach did flip-flops as he felt her fingers tighten around his own.
Snape blinked, the calculator in his head putting two and two together and coming up with... well, if not five, then a close enough approximation.
Good Lord, she was going to kiss him. Snape closed his eyes and leant forward, fighting the instinct to run.
Snape's eyes snapped open, his hand cradling his stinging cheek, mouth falling open in shock.
Hermione had slapped him. Hard.
'Ow! What the blazing hell did you do that for?!'
'How could you!' shouted Hermione, poking him in the chest. 'How could you just up and go without so much as a 'by your leave'? I waited for three hours for you. Three hours by myself in The Three Broomsticks! It was humiliating. And then I come back, in the pouring rain by the way, no umbrella, only to find you'd gone! Completely disappeared!'
'Hermione,' said Snape, uncomfortably aware they had an audience. The room had come to a deathly silence around them.
'I had to teach your second year classes. Did you know that?' she said, practically spitting the words at him. 'Albus bloody Potter nearly blew the school sky high!'
'Hermione.' Louder this time.
'And do your marking. And do the Hogsmede weekend with Rolanda. Fucking Rolanda! And… and… and here you are, having the time of your life! You selfish, fucking, twat of a —'
Snape grabbed the tops of her arms, willing himself to resist the temptation to shake some sense into her.
She blinked. Then she kissed him. Hard.
Her lips were soft and warm. He leant forward, his grip on her arms tightening as he deepened the kiss. A sharp pang of desire flashed in his stomach and he felt as though it had been filled with butterflies. The feeling intensified as he felt the tip of her tongue flicker against the seam of his lips, duelling with his own as he opened his mouth with a quiet gasp. She tasted like tea and dust and something uniquely her. And he didn't want it to end.
'I hope you're happy,' she grumbled as she pulled back, cheeks flushed.
He was. Deliriously so. But before he could reply, he heard a loud cough and the sound of scuffling.
'Excuse me,' said Ridcully, elbowing his way through the crowd of students that had gathered around the pair, 'but what the bloody hell is going on?'
'Shit! The graphorn!' said Hermione, eyes wide. 'Nobody move!'
Two things happened more or less simultaneously.
One: the graphorn emerged from its hiding place beneath an upturned soup bowl and scurried across the old oak floorboards.
Two: Rincewind took a step back.
There was the sound of a wet, flat crunch.
'I think I've found it,' said Rincewind, grimacing.
Hermione turned, taking in the scene of miniature destruction with a weary eye.
'Well, that's gone and done it,' she said, bending down to take a closer look at the remains of the graphorn. 'Poor thing.'
'I thought you said it was a big thing?' said Rincewind, assessing the state of his boot.
'It is,' said Hermione. 'Well, was. It was rather a bit bigger when I was chasing it through the Hogwarts Library. I wonder what happened to it.'
'It's a magical creature. Our type of magic doesn't seem to be overly compatible with the magic in this world,' said Snape with a frown, thinking of his own struggles with potion making and Hermione's explosive attempt at a shield charm. 'I suspect that probably had something to do with it.'
'If I may interject,' said Ponder, who peered out from behind the great bulk of the Archchancellor. 'I believe it may have something to do with what we call quantum weirdness. Which may also go some way to explaining the note left by Mr. Ixolite.'
'Hooray,' muttered Ridcully, sourly. 'Another bloody quantum.'
Ponder ignored the Archchancellor's remarks and carried on. 'Unlike the Discworld, magic in your world, the Roundworld, does not appear to be governed by thaumic law. Indeed, we don't believe that the thaum even exists upon your world. Instead, you appear to have what we have called quantum law. All seemingly inexplicable phenomena, such as what we have observed here, fall into the collective grouping of quantum. When the quantum and the thaum interact, we get what is known as 'weirdness'. I believe that it is this interaction between the two that caused the reduction in size of your beast.'
'So what you're saying,' said Hermione after a brief pause, quirking a dark eyebrow, 'is that you have no idea?'
'Effectively, yes,' replied Ponder with a grin. 'But isn't it exciting?'
Hermione found herself grinning back, Ponder's excitement infectious.
'And the note?' asked Ridcully with a frown.
'Ah, well, I suspect that the note was never intended for Professor Snape, but for the graphorn,' said Ponder. 'Given that both Professor Snape and the graphorn are part of the Roundworld, and their magic is quantum-driven rather than reliant upon the thaum, I suspect Mr. Ixolite...'
Snape interrupted with a wave of his hand. 'The graphorn was in my pocket, Archchancellor.'
'Ah,' replied Ridcully. 'Makes sense.' He turned to face the gathered crowd, pulling his pipe from his pocket. 'Now, Gentlemen and, er, Lady, I believe that's enough excitement for one evening. Time to get back to the task in hand.' He cast an amused eye towards Hermione. 'You are more than welcome to join us.'
'What's the plan?' she asked, shoving her hands into the pockets of her dark blue robes.
'Oook!' said the Librarian, as he crawled out from beneath one of the tables holding up a half empty bottle of firewhisky.
'A damn fine idea,' said the Archchancellor. 'Well done that ape.'
The graphorn, or rather the ghost of the graphorn, looked forlornly at the sad little heap of fur and tentacle that had once been its body. It felt a small, bony paw pat it gently upon the haunch.
It watched as a piece of paper with yellowing edges came fluttering down from above, tumbling from the grasp of the giant above. Upon it were several circles drawn in black ink, some large, some small, and on the reverse, barely bigger than a pinhead, a tiny drawing of a graphorn.
'Grunt?' it said, sadly.
The Death of Rats shook its head.