I have been a bit sloppy - apologies! Having posted this on other archives with cross-over options, I didn't think about the different options on Ashwinder. This is in fact a crossover with Terry Pratchett's Discworld - the concept of L-Space comes from there and not my considerably less fertile imagination.
If you haven't read anything by the late Sir Terry before, I suggest you run, not walk, to the nearest library (just stay away from the Japanese section). 'Lords and Ladies' is a great starting point. Or 'Guards! Guards!'. Or pretty much anything - brilliance doesn't have to be read in order.
Hermione didn't make it to breakfast the following day. Thankful she did not have any classes to teach, she lay on her back looking up on the starry sky decorating the inside of her canopy and plotted her next move.
It required an excursion to the Muggle world – she may as well pop in to her parents' at the same time. They would like to hear about Hogwarts; they had been rather taken with it when she had managed to get them permission to visit during her seventh year, after the war.
The war – after the first few days, when she kept seeing flashes of the battle out of the corner of her eye, it felt very distant now. Hogwarts was full of new students who had never seen the castle without its battle scars, and their cheerful unconcern rubbed off on its older inhabitants.
What mattered was how many points Hufflepuff was ahead of Slytherin, not the past.
It wasn't possible to forget Minerva's wrath when her school had been threatened, nor Severus Snape as a traitor and Dumbledore's murderer before the truth burst out of Harry's mouth at the last moment of the war, not once one had seen it with one's own eyes.
It certainly made meals at the High Table more interesting – Hermione even had a grudging respect for Trelawney (albeit not for her subject, which she still considered as useful as a chocolate wand).
“You seem to be talking about Professor Snape an awful lot. Isn't he the one with the troubled past?”
Hermione almost choked on her biscuit. “That's one way of putting it. He's the ex-double agent who was also our Potions teacher. Surely, you remember him – he was half the reason we won the war.”
Her mum placidly poured herself some more tea. “I was referring to his more distant past. It is terribly romantic, isn't it?”
Considering it for the first time, Hermione conceded it possibly was – to someone who had never met the man. “You've no idea what he's like – he can make someone wither with sarcasm without even opening his mouth. I'm sure part of it is acting, but he genuinely functions on a different level to most people.”
She sat back, trying to unpuzzle the poster boy for enigmas. “Unlike most people, he doesn't pretend he cares about things he doesn't think are important. Like being nice. He would sacrifice his own life to do the right thing, but he would bite your head off if you try to thank him. He's back teaching kids about the Dark Arts after deceiving the most evil wizard in the history of Britain, and they don't realise the only reason they're not being taught how to torture each other instead is because he did what he did. For twenty years.”
“I see. Have another biscuit, dear.”
Hermione bit into it so hard the crumbs went flying. “He's probably the smartest person I have ever met – perhaps not as brilliant as Dumbledore, but I for one would prefer a bit more pragmatism and less faith in the mysterious power of love. Snape probably tells himself he doesn't need anyone else, but I can see how he talks to Minerva and the other teachers who were there before the war.”
“He has friends, then?” Her mother seemed disproportionately relieved to hear that.
“Yes, of course – they have their in-jokes and all. I don't understand half of them.” Being among her ex-teachers as an adult had been rather a revelation. Filius had a completely filthy sense of humour, and Professor Sprout certainly didn't mince her words when the students were out of earshot.
“It's probably for the best,” her mother mumbled, and Hermione remembered the cocktail evenings with the 'girls' before she had gone to Hogwarts. She had not understood much of the conversations then, either.
One had to hand it to him: no one could make an entrance like Professor Snape. He burst through the doors to the library, robes flying and wand firmly in his hand. “What is going on here?”
“Nothing much.” Hermione stood up from the bookshelf she had been examining. The Legal section showed no sign of having been touched since Ron had researched Hippogriff cases in their third year. “I thought you had detentions tonight.”
“Against my better judgement,” Snape said through gritted teeth, “I let Perkins off after an hour when it occurred to me you had been strangely absent from both lunch and dinner.”
“You were concerned I was missing meals?” Hermione found it slightly touching and downright peculiar for Snape.
“I was concerned you had followed in Madam Pince's footsteps, literally as well as metaphorically. That you have not done so is entirely due to chance, not your own wit – or absence thereof.” He looked down his long nose at her, a feat even more remarkable since Hermione had realised he only had a few inches on her when she was wearing heels.
“I've come prepared.” Hermione wiggled her hand around her magically enhanced pocket, until she found what she was looking for. Triumphantly, she waved her Muggle credit card in the air.
Snape looked like she had produced a Flobberworm for immediate consumption, rather than an inoffensive bit of plastic. “You realise a credit card will offer no protection against any threat larger than a fly?”
“It's pretty handy if you want to get to the nearest embassy by Muggle means of transport, though.”
He swirled around in a cloud of black wool. “What about those creatures you mentioned – from the Dungeon Dimensions, was it?” It had taken some persuasion to convince him they bore no relation to the Basilisk from the Chamber of Secrets – those were monsters entirely in their own right.
“No tentacles to report so far,” Hermione said cheerfully.
“One would think Madam Pince's disappearance would inspire you with some hitherto undetected caution – it's merely conjecture that she is safe and sound in the Muggle world. Minerva has not got any word back from the Ministry.”
Hermione was struck by a horrifying possibility. She wouldn't have been able to explain why it was so appalling – what consenting adults got up to in their own time was none of her business – but she was so shaken she didn't even think first before speaking.
“I'm sorry, perhaps I didn't realise – “
The shock of receiving an apology so easily brought Snape up short. “Didn't realise what?”
“You and Madam Pince – I mean, I was assuming you were spending a lot of time in the library because you were doing research, but I suppose – Not that there's anything wrong with that, I just never thought...” Hermione's cheeks were so hot she was surprised she couldn't see them glow, and she only seemed to dig deeper.
Snape's eyebrows were almost at his hairline. “Madam Pince. And I.”
“It only just occurred to me – “ Hermione had been very stupid – she had listened to Filius' scabrous stories without considering for a moment that Snape might be having his own affai– own adventures, without even leaving the castle.
Why her epiphany should render her thoroughly depressed, Hermione did not have time to consider at the moment. Severus was looking increasingly irate – she braced herself for the blistering rebuke for sticking her nose into his personal life that was about to ensue.
“Irma is forty years older than I am!” he burst out instead, affront written all over his face.
Hermione was so surprised she said the first thing that occurred to her: “Well, you're twenty years older than I am, and I wouldn’t let that hold me back!”
They stared at each other. The looming cloud of awkwardness was averted by clocks chiming the hour – only a few bells rang out first, followed by a profusion of noise meted out in intervals. Finally, the chiming was interrupted by several loud silences.
“Oh, fuck, we're at –” Hermione started saying, when the deafening silence swallowed her words.
“Where? What is this pl– “ Snape looked around him wildly, wand ready to curse whatever beast or man that dared show themselves.
“I'm pretty sure we're in – “ Hermione squeezed in before the next silence, trying to enunciate the words as clearly as possible in the absence of sound.
Severus frowned. “Honolulu?”
“No, ANKH-MORPORK!” Hermione didn't realise the clocks – all the clocks – had stopped until she had nearly burst what was left of their eardrums. “Sorry. Ankh-Morpork. It's not in our universe, but they've got magic too, and they're pretty used to people dropping in.”
“How convenient. Do they also accept Muggle credit cards?” Pity he hadn't forgotten about that – this was the difference between arguing with Severus Snape rather than Ronald Weasley.
“Not as far as I know, no.” Hermione got her own wand out – the Unseen University was pretty harmless as libraries went, unless some sort of Incident was occurring.
That was when tentacles appeared.
“The best way to get out of here is to get the librarian – “ she started to say, before everything went black.
Severus had been discomfited to be transported to another universe – damn Hermione and her airy talk of ‘dropping in’. He preferred their own world, thank you very much; at least five decades of putting up with its deficiencies meant they did not come as a surprise.
Unlike the giant trunk that appeared out of nowhere, knocking Hermione to the ground. It vanished so fast Severus barely had time to spot the legs sticking out underneath it – they pedalled as if their life depended on it, some of them not touching the ground.
A curse bounced off it and knocked over a bookcase. Severus did not waste more time taking stock of the damage, but judging from the ominous rumbling his failed attack had rather impressive side effects.
He did not care. For the moment, all his attention was consumed by the pale woman on the floor, disconcertingly still.
One of the few advantages of the life Severus had led was that the sequence of spells for events like this came unconsciously. He had warded the space around them and began the diagnostic charms before even registering the deep gash at Hermione’s temple.
Curious: it wasn’t bleeding. Must be a magical injury, he decided as he checked her pulse (too high) and breathing rate (adequate).
She was unconscious but not dead, nor close to.
Severus glared at his wand hand to stop it from shaking unbecomingly. This was no time for histrionics: he needed to get Hermione to the Hogwarts Infirmary or St Mungo’s, whichever was quicker.
He did not entertain the idea of seeking medical advice in whatever locality they had been transported to for a moment – if luggage on legs passed for normal around here, he shuddered to think what approach they would take to Healing. All he had to do was to find a way to return to the real world, preferably directly to Hogwarts.
Clearly the multiverse hated Severus Snape, or it would not keep throwing impossible situations at him. As usual, refusing to engage was not an option: every time he looked down at Hermione’s face, relaxed as if she were asleep with her mouth slightly open and the creases around her eyes smoothed out, it felt like the air had been punched out of him.
He must get her out of there –
Whatever melodramatic meanderings he was about to indulge in were cut short by a medium-sized ape landing on the floor next to Severus and Hermione, straddling the border of the warded area. It looked quite peeved as far as Severus could tell, his education not having been very forthcoming on the subject of great apes.
“Oook,“ it said, gesticulating towards the toppled shelves and distant shouts surrounding them. It wasn’t a compliment.
“A bloody big trunk appeared out of nowhere and knocked her over!” Severus defended himself, as the horrible suspicion struck him. “Are you the librarian?”
“You're an orangutan,” Severus said, as if stating his observation would make it reasonable.
The orangutan shrugged, in a complicated movement that with a little imagination could be interpreted as 'Give the man a small banana'.
“Why are you standing there, then? Get us out of here! Please,” Severus added belatedly.
The orangutan sighed, as if humans were too stupid for words (Severus knew that feeling only too well), and reached down to Hermione’s skirt.
Severus’ wand was at the orangutan’s throat quicker than it could blink, but it paid no attention. It rooted around Hermione’s pocket as Severus bit off the curse at the top of his tongue, pulling out a big brass button and handing it to Severus.
As a conversationalist, the librarian-cum-orangutan left a lot to be desired. Severus felt compelled to fill in the gaps, a trick not even Albus had mastered. “Yes, that looks like an emergency Portkey. Thank you. I don’t suppose you know the password, as well?”
The orangutan rolled its mournful brown eyes.
“I guess not.” Severus picked Hermione up from the floor, very gently, and held her tight against his chest. Her unruly hair tickled his nose and the warmth of her body made him light-headed. It was too much, somehow – something he was never meant to have, even under those circumstances.
It was a permissible weakness, however, because it gave him the password to activate the Portkey.
“Home. Hogwarts,” Severus said, not caring which one was right.
“Pity there’s no potion that cures concussions,” Hermione said, looking hopefully in Severus’ direction.
“Nice try. You got your just desserts, if you ask me – it was an even more dunderheaded display than I would have expected from someone with your record.”
“Says the man who distracted me by squabbling at the critical juncture,” Hermione said, but she was smiling. She was quite adept at reading Severus Snape by now, even without the help of Madam Pomfrey’s – Poppy’s – description of his state of mind when he had come running to the hospital wing with Hermione in his arms. Once he had deposited her on an empty bed, he had apparently sat on the floor with his head in his arms, until Poppy had pronounced her out of danger.
Hermione was careful not to let wishful thinking lead her into ascribing something that wasn’t there as an explanation for this extremely interesting display of emotion, but clearly there was something. No smoke without fire and all that.
Despite her head being very sore, Hermione realised that Severus must know Poppy would have told her what had happened when she was unconscious. He would not make it easy for her to extract what exactly he had meant by it, which only made it more appealing.
Whatever else he was, Severus Snape was not boring. It was worth frequent detours from London to explore this attractive quality further, even when her assignment was over.
As if he had been reading her thoughts – Hermione resolved to study Occlumency as soon as she got out of the hospital wing – Severus said, “Madam Pince is in transit from Ulan-Bator. She spent the last two months cataloguing yurt wall hangings and their role in recording spells for posterity, which apparently explains the lack of communications. That, and the language barrier.”
“Was she all right?”
“She was quite annoyed with the library and its shenanigans, it seems. I don’t think there will be more trouble.”
Hermione decided to make her intentions known early. “I must have a thorough debriefing session with her. Perhaps several.”
“Of course,” Severus said blandly, which was suspicious in itself. “How could you otherwise find out how you were so utterly mistaken in the source of the disturbances?”
“Mistaken?’ Hermione rose up halfway, supported by her elbows. Attack being the best form of defence was one thing, but this was tantamount to a declaration of war. “Whose Portkey was it that transported us back, if I may ask?”
The Hogwarts library sighed metaphorically – the literal variety would have blown a number of rare volumes off its shelves, and contrary to the opinion of the Librarians of Time and Space, it was not unhinged.
It merely wished to broaden its horizons a bit.
Getting rid of its two most persistent visitors would have left the library free to continue its most interesting excursions in L-Space, but now it would soon be back to the dull workings of normality again. Humans only got in the way.
At least Professor Snape seemed likely to spend some of his evenings away from the library in the future. Miss Granger was an old acquaintance, and not likely to be put off by a discouraging exterior – she was tenacious, too.
Madam Pince was a different matter.
The library would give its left arm (if it had had any) for a half-way competent orangutan, but they were in short supply.