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Chapter 3 : The Tale of Acanthus
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The air had a light breeze which caused the dust and sand particles to dance above the ground and made trudging down the street slightly more enjoyable. Scorpius knew the climate of Cairo all too well to believe this was a reprieve from the heat. March was slowly turning into April, and the heat would only continue to worsen. The calm dance of the dust would soon turn into a ferocious fight when the dust storms came about.
Rose had told him to meet him outside a perfume shop at five. Her friend had invited them both along to dinner, and Rose was sure he was going to love it there. She had always been like that, so confident. She had been here for two weeks and had already made friends. He had been here for two years and only had a few colleagues at work and his landlord to count as his friends.
That was the difference between them though. Scorpius was content with his books and solitude, the typical Ravenclaw. She was the brash Gryffindor who charged into people’s lives unexpectedly. She even did it to his own, so he knew how surprising it could be. The only time he ever saw her close up was when her family was mentioned. He couldn’t think why. The Weasleys always appeared to be the epitome of family life, so why on earth did Rose have a problem with them?
He continued to amble down the street watching his once cream shoes slowly fade to a burnt caramel colour. The dust had mixed with the general grime found on the streets of Cairo, and that meant any pale piece of clothing was at risk of having a similar fate. His mother would have a fit if she saw them like that. His mother had a fit about almost anything though.
Several cats strolled up and down the streets, pausing every few minutes or so to sniff at a thing which had obscured the path or to roll around in the dust before continuing on in their way. Rose had told him about her cat friends in her letter to him, and he wondered whether any of these had made her acquaintance or not. They probably had; she had a fondness for every single cat she had ever met.
A withered old acacia had attracted a lot of them, and they prowled around it protectively, scratching at the base of the tree adding to its deteriorated state. Scorpius remembered her mentioning a tree like that in her letter, and he edged closer and closer to it to see if it was the tree in question. The windows of the shop opposite it were flung open, and as he walked towards it he could hear Rose chat happily away to a girl with an Egyptian accent.
Scorpius hurried over to the shop and cautiously pushed the door open; dearly hoping that he was wasn’t too early. The rusty latch let out a slight creak when he opened it, but not even that could distract Rose and her friend who were still chatting away. He walked gingerly over to them, inhaling the different scents in the air as he did so. Perhaps if he trod heavily that would arouse their attention.
Rose was the first to look up and let out a cry when she saw him. “Scorpius! You found it then.” She walked out from behind the counter and headed over to him. “This is Dalila. I interviewed her for the Prophet, and she’s the one who invited us over for dinner tonight. When you came up in conversation I was told to invite you too, as they all want to hear about your curse breaking tales!”
Scorpius shifted uneasily. His job wasn’t that exciting. Rose got to travel round the world finding the latest story. All he did was translate hieroglyphs and occasionally visit a pyramid or two. “I’m not sure if my curse breaking tales are that exciting to serve as evening entertainment. It was very nice of you to invite me, Dalila.” He smiled at her as a sign of thanks.
“It was no problem. You are very welcome,” Dalila mumbled quietly. She had drawn into herself ever since Scorpius’ presence had been brought to her attention. Little stabs of guilt attacked him for causing her to act that way. “We should probably get going; my family really wants to meet you. They love having people to entertain.”
Dalila moved her hands clumsily around the counter, picking up a notebook from one corner of it and a small, slightly chipped, bottle of perfume from the other. These were then placed into faded brown woven bag that swung as it was placed onto her shoulder.
She motioned with her hands for them to walk out, and Rose quickly turned to grin at him. “I hope I haven’t ruined any evening plans for you or anything. I just thought as her family know so much about Egypt’s history you would love to meet them.” She had certainly lost her nervousness she had last time he had seen her, he chuckled.
They walked out of the door and waited patiently while Dalila muttered incantations at the door to ensure its safety for the night. “Haha, I had nothing planned for tonight so this sounds like a great alternative to lounging around my flat. You probably shouldn't have done that seeing how red you are,” Scorpius joked and poked at her patch of skin burnt to a shade slightly brighter than burgundy.
“Yes, well some of us haven’t had the chance to find a product which would prevent it from happening. There must be one here. After all, you’ve got paler skin than me, but you’re fine.”
“Ah, we Malfoys have access to anything and everything.”
“But I have an Uncle who used to live here, and he managed to survive. One quick owl, and I’ll be in on it too.”
Dalila gave a polite cough to let them know she had finished, and they immediately turned to her, albeit with slightly redder faces for getting so carried away. They were so used to being at ease in England that they had forgotten that some Egyptians, like Dalila, were considerably more reserved than them.
She gave a little movement with her hands to indicate that they should get going, and then began strolling towards the border between the land of magic and the land of Muggles. Scorpius smiled meekly at Rose before heading after her.
They were gathered in Dalila’s cramped living room with what appeared to be every living relation who lived close enough to come to dinner. Scorpius had been introduced to various aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings, parents and grandparents, but all the names flew over his head. He was used to just living with his over-bearing mother and quiet father. Occasionally there was a visit from a relative, but that was kept to polite conversation and tea and biscuits before they left a few hours later. It wasn’t anything like the mayhem here.
Cries of Arabic and English could be heard, each one with their unique sound but they managed to merge together to create something rather spectacular. Despite there being at least twenty different dishes available at dinner earlier, each one being reduced so there was not a morsel left, food still appeared to be everywhere, and he kept on being proffered different dishes by any relative who caught him not eating anything at that exact moment.
Scorpius was beginning to get worried about how many more excuses he would have to invent to avoid eating anymore when there was a sudden lull in the conversation. Everyone turned to face the wizened man whose eyes lit up with excitement, and his posture became more upright now that he had purpose to fill. That was Dalila’s grandfather, Rashidi, one of the few names he remembered. He gave a brief cough before beginning to speak.
“There once was an ancient city, Acanthus, which was famed for its temple of Osiris,” Rashidi said in near perfect English. “Thousands of Egyptian Muggles flocked to see it. The city was a wondrous place with pyramids and riches one could never even dream up. It had one of the most successful perfume industries in ancient times with wondrous scents being concocted each day. That wasn’t the only reason to visit it though. A few members of the small magical community who lived there managed to brew a potion with very special qualities. They believed it was blessed by Osiris, who is the God of Death, thus allowing them to live forever.”
Scorpius vaguely remembered hearing something about that through work. Considering that he frequently had to delve into ancient Egyptian history for research, it wasn’t surprising that he knew of this tale. He cast his eyes around the room and saw a mixture of awed, bored and surprised expressions on people’s faces. Rose appeared to be enraptured by the tale and had begun to lean forward, her eyes barely blinking.
“Acanthus would have continued to prosper if the Romans had not invaded our country.” Rashidi’s face looked pained at that point. “The Romans destroyed Acanthus and everything in it. The temple of Osiris was ruined; everything else was reduced to rubble. The people either fled to other towns in hope of avoiding them or faced the consequences of living under the Roman Empire. The group of witches and wizards who developed the potion disappeared without a trace. The ancient papyrus which is believed to have their life documented on it and how to make the potion was left discarded in remnants of the temple.”
There was a pause which allowed the tale of Acanthus’ terrible fate to sink in but it was ruined all too quickly by a cry from Dalila’s younger cousin. “Why doesn’t anyone look for it then? I would, living forever sounds good to me!”
Rashidi chuckled lightly before replying. “If only it was that simple. No one knows where Acanthus is. There are rumours that it is near the ancient city of Memphis, but that is not certain. Besides, if you attempt to reach you will face almost certain death. I have been told hundreds of stories of people venturing out to find the treasure believed to be there but not one person has returned alive.”
The cousin’s face fell at once, and he quickly crossed his arms and looked down at the ground. The next person to pipe up Scorpius managed to recognise him as Dalila’s brother, Hasani. “But it isn’t true though. It’s impossible to believe that a potion blessed by the Gods' could prevent death. The people who believe in that are stupid.” His comments drew several nods of agreement from the other relatives and a few frowns from others.
“Believe what you like, Hasani. There is a lot of evidence supporting this, but I know a lot of the younger ones no longer believe in Egypt’s past. You seem to think it all to be a legend, when a lot of it is fact.” He grabbed onto a cane which lay next to him and eased himself up gently. “I am sorry, but I must go and rest now. That tale has tired me. I am sure that the younger ones will want to entertain themselves without me looking down on them.”
He gave everyone one last smile before shuffling over to the door, pausing occasionally and letting out a slight groan when he did so. It seemed as if even simple actions like walking appeared to be a trial for him. As soon as he had left the room everyone broke into little clusters and began compensating for the fact that they had to remain silent while Rashidi spoke.
Rose immediately ran over to Scorpius and began speaking at lightning speed. “Isn’t this amazing? The whole story of a city being lost since Roman times, and then a potion which could let you live forever. Imagine if we found it! It would be the best story ever.”
“What do you mean if we found it, Rose? You aren’t seriously considering going to look for it, are you?” Scorpius asked. “Didn’t you hear what he said about no one coming back alive? It sounds like a pretty dangerous thing to do if you ask me.”
“Scorpius, you don’t understand. If I find Acanthus and write about it, I’ve made it. They’ll be no more questioning whether I got the job thanks to my aunt or not, this would be amazing for me.” She paused for second, as if to steady herself before saying the next part. “I’m a Weasley, and it’s in our blood to be brave. Look at what my parents did!”
“I know, I know, but charging off to some unknown ancient city in the middle of the Sahara desert doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.”
“Yes, but this is all very hypothetical, isn’t it? First of all, I need to owl Pierston and ask him if it would even be allowed to do this and then we’ll see. There’s no need to get worried about something which might not even happen.” She quickly glanced at her watch before replying. “Look we’d better go its ten o’clock, and Dalila’s told me enough horror stories about Cairo at night time for me to want to stay any longer.”
“Yes, let’s.” Hopefully leaving Dalila’s home would make her forget this crazy idea, Scorpius thought. Rose had begun walking over to Dalila, and Scorpius followed wearily behind her. He did not like the sound of Rose’s plan.
Rose had taken to spending the majority of her day at Dalila’s perfume shop. She had decided to dedicate most of her feature to Dalila’s shop. Her grandfather knew so much about the history and everything that happened in the shop he was happy to answer any questions she had about it, and she had grown close to the pair of them over her time spent here.
Another added benefit was that ever since she sent her letter to Pierston explaining the benefits of letting her attempt to find Acanthus, she had been building up her knowledge of the ancient city in case of him saying yes.
“The perfume industry in Acanthus was one of the busiest ones in the whole of ancient Egypt. It is believed it was close enough to the Nile for the flowers to grow, and the freshness of them added to their scent.” Rashidi walked over to Rose who had been looking out of the window, waiting for the owl to return with her reply. His body leaned over the cane, and his shuffling had grown slower ever since the night she had dinner with them. “That was why they were so popular.”
“Grandfather, why don’t you sit down? It’s cool enough for you to even sit outside,” Dalila asked hesitantly. Rose had quickly learnt over the past few days that if you tried to help him too much he quickly angered. There was one particular incident of him nearly falling over, but yelling at Dalila when she tried to steady him.
“I’m fine for now,” he said, despite having his face screwed up with pain. “How is the latest stock selling? I thought white musk would be popular in spring, so it would be interesting to see if my prediction was right.”
“Hasani is calculating it now, but he thinks you were right again,” Dalila chuckled. “I’ll go and check on him now.” She swiftly headed over to the office and opened the oak door, and Rose caught a quick glimpse of Hasani bent over the desk in the dark room. Dalila had somehow managed to manipulate their duties so she ended up in the shop front for most of the time. Rose couldn’t help but laugh at how somehow who was so gentle could be so cunning.
Rose heard the light bang of Rashidi’s cane against the floor as he stumbled over to the counter. As soon as he leant against it his face relaxed, and he could almost muster a smile. “You and Dalila should enjoy your youth. When you become old it takes away the fun of things-” Rashidi was cut off by the arrival of a large, tawny owl carrying a letter embossed with a plum seal. Only the Daily Prophet tended to use plum coloured seals.
“I think that’s the reply to my letter,” Rose said gingerly. She dearly hoped that the answer to her question would be a positive one. She hurried over to the door and didn’t even get annoyed by the squeak it tended to emit. The owl flew towards her and landed on her outstretched hand. She untied the letter from its leg before it gave her a nip on the finger and headed towards the small water stand, a little way down the street which was kept for any visiting owls.
The envelope was quickly discarded, and her eyes scanned the letter, eagerly searching for an answer. “What did he say?” Rashidi asked and began tapping his cane against the floor to show his impatience.
Rose glanced down at the letter one final time before replying. “Pierston said yes, he said I could go and look for it, and to write about my journey there. He even said he was sending Lorcan over so there would be a photographer for it. This is going to be one of the biggest breakthroughs ever.” Rose’s hands had begun shaking with excitement so much that the letter fell to the floor and began grinning from ear to ear.
“That’s excellent!” Rashidi exclaimed and hobbled over to Rose and gave her a pat on the shoulder. “Did he say anything else in the letter?”
“He did actually. He asked me to prepare a team to take with me including a local person to guide me and someone who had knowledge of the area. I suppose Scorpius knows quite a bit about the area and the history being a curse breaker and all. But, I don’t know whether he would even want to come and then there’s the matter of finding a guide.” Rose picked up the letter and began re-reading it hoping that would help her find a solution.
Dalila, who had been hovering silently in the doorway, piped up, “If you needed a local person to guide you, Rose, I would be more than happy to help. That’s if Grandfather doesn’t mind giving me the time off from work to do it.”
“You would? Thank you so much, Dalila! That would be amazing!” Rose exclaimed. She ran over to her and wrapped her up in a hug.
“It would be interesting going on an adventure, and imagine if we found out! Would you mind if I went with Rose, Grandfather?” Dalila asked eagerly.
“Why wouldn’t I let you go? It had always been my dream to find Acanthus. It still is my dream…” Rashidi turned to face the pair of them before saying the next part. “I know I am old and I am not as fit as you two are, but if you allowed me to come on this trip my dream may be fulfilled.”
“Of course you can come! I only didn’t ask you because I didn’t want to make you come.” Rose had been tempted to say she hadn’t know whether he would be able to make it, but she didn’t want to provoke his anger now that he was in a happier mood.
“This is going to be a real adventure,” Dalila said wistfully, and Rose couldn’t help but agree with her. This trip to find Acanthus certainly sounded like it was going to be eventful.
A/N: Acanthus was an actual ancient Egyptian city and it did have a temple of Osiris, I just embellished its history. I hoped you liked learning more about it, I have a little obsession with its history :P Thank you for reading and if you want to brilliant you could leave a review :)
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