About This Story:
This is the companion piece for The Lost Gold of Ravenclaw Tower, set loosely in the Harry Potter AU. In that story, Emily was the protagonist; here, Katie takes the lead.
I was really inspired to write this after learning about Siwa, the centre for the Oracle of Amon in the Western Desert of Egypt. The springboard for the story was the idea of a castle built with stones from the original temple; to that I added a school like Hogwarts for Arab boys and girls and the story stated to form quickly. Parts of it work very well: the story of Mary Malouf’s many husbands is one such feature and the visit to the souk in Cairo is another. The four characters from history stepping down from the cartouche is less successful – it would probably have worked better with only two of them here to manage.
The girls loved the story and the girls to whom I read it at St Aidan’s also enjoyed it. It’s a transition story: long at 33 000 words but still using cheesy pictures cut from the Internet and appearing in Comic Sans font.
Chapter 1: The Siwa School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Katie and Emily were really quite anxious to know what happened next. Emily had just loved being the hero of her own adventure but she couldn’t think that there would be more exciting things the very moment that the last adventure finished.
“What was in the envelope addressed to me, Grandad?” Katie asked. After all of Emily’s adventures, the envelopes seemed to promise something to both the girls.
“I’ll tell you first what was in the letter to Emily,” said Old Grandad. “That’s the easy part. After that, I’ll tell you what happened to be in your envelope.” With a sigh, the old man settled down to tell the two big girls what happened next in the story.
Emily’s letter was postmarked The Siwa School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and although the girls couldn’t know it then, was from that school’s distinguished Headmistress, the Begum Mariam Aga Khan. It was a very kind note congratulating Emily on her great success in retrieving the Lost Gold of Ravenclaw Tower and wishing her all the best in what was sure to be a distinguished career as great witch. As Emily didn’t know anything about the Begum Mariam Aga Khan and hadn’t even heard of the Siwa School, she thought that this was just a kind letter from some eccentric lady in the world wide witching community. She put it aside. So many exciting things had happened in the last few days and more than anything, Emily needed a long sleep in and the chance to talk about what had happened with Katie and her riends. She couldn’t be bothered with fan mail.
But Katie’s letter was quite different. Emily had read her letter as she walked back to the Ravenclaw common room from the Headmaster’s study; she would be seeing Katie next at dinner. The letter could wait until then. Then Emily almost forgot it in the excitement of telling all her friends about the trip to Gringotts Bank and doing a demonstration of Dino slurping up all the ginger nut biscuits in the Bank Manager’s office. It was only when she bumped into Katie and Ginny as they left the dining room that Emily remembered the envelope. It had been safe in her pocket and almost without a word, Emily handed it over to Kate.
Katie took the envelope and was immediately struck by the lovely creamy texture of it in her hand. If Katie had been little, I think, she would have immediately put something so luscious into her mouth. The front of the letter carried her name in elegant and bold writing:
Miss Katie Bland, Gryffindor Tower, Hogwarts School.
And the back of the envelope was clearly marked in red ink:
Do not open and read this until you have lots of time to think about what it says.
Emily, I think, might have been intrigued by this warning and opened the letter at that very moment but Katie had had two years already at Hogwarts and was much more respectful [and cautious] of magical things of all kinds. She had learned that where magical things were involved, one couldn’t be too careful. Just at that moment, her mind had to be on other things. There was a meeting after dinner of the Gryffindor Quidditch team – Katie was their newly appointed beater – and she couldn’t be late for that. Making the Quidditch team with her friends Harry, Ginny and Ron was the happiest day of her life at Hogwarts. The letter would have to wait.
The beautiful envelope that brought Katie’s letter
The team meeting left Katie’s poor head spinning! Katie was a beater on the team: she had to pass the quaffle as best she could through the goal posts- all the time looking out for dangerous whizzing bludgers. By the time the meeting was over, she felt as if she had already collected a pile of nasty bludgers right to the head. Katie had loved watching Quidditch games and was, you must know, a very good flyer on her broom. That’s how she made the team, after all. She wasn’t prepared for all the science and tactics, however. Harry was a master at planning this and he was full of good instructions on what to do in the air. There was a long list of snazzy moves on her broom for every occasion. Some of them sounded great fun; some of them sounded very tricky; some of them sounded simply impossible. [Harry was very excited about learning to fly upside down!] Katie was sure that she would forget most of it by the time she woke up in the morning. Harry told her not to worry: the only way to learn, he said, was by playing and lots of practice. There would be a full team practice the next day when all the theory would be put into practice.
Quidditch at Hogwarts: Katie played on the Gryffindor Team with Harry and Ron
Katie only remembered the letter when she found it in her pocket as she slipped out of her uniform that night. She was on her way to the showers with Ginny and her hand found the creamy envelope with the beautiful writing in her pocket. She suddenly remembered the mystery. Katie put the letter on her pillow and after saying her prayers that night when the girls dormitory was quiet, she carefully loosened the seal and began to read.
This is what the letter said:
Siwa School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
My Dear Miss Katie,
My old friend, Professor Minerva McGonagall, has given me your name and encouraged me to write to you. This will be a long letter, I’m afraid, but I ask you to think very carefully about what I am going to ask you.
I write to you because you live in Dubai in the Emirates. You will know lots of Arab people, I’m sure. But have you ever been out in the desert – deep in the great silent emptiness of the desert – and felt the mystery and holiness of the place? That is where I live and where I have my school, at the ancient oasis of Siwa in the Western Desert of Egypt.
This was a holy and magical place from the earliest times. Before the pyramids were built, there was a temple here to the great god Amon. The oasis is far from any town or city, but it is green and fresh and lovely in the desert light. An icy cold spring of the sweetest water bubbles up from deep underground. There are trees and grass and gardens here set in the middle of the rolling sand dunes. In ancient times there was an oracle here and people came across the desert to seek advice and guidance from the oracle. People came to pray for their homes and their families; kings came here for advice from the God Amon and to worship in the great temple sanctuary. The temple has long ago gone – although some of the great rocks that formed the temple sanctuary remain tumbled in the desert sands. And in the wind that comes in the desert night, I’m sure I can still hear the murmur of the priests and the divine words of the oracle herself.
My late husband, the Nawab Abdullah Aga Khan, was the prince of the Western Desert and had a splendid palace here at Siwa. He was not a wizard but he loved all kinds of magic – it is part of our Egyptian heritage, you see - and when he died and left me the great palace on the hills above the oasis, I promised to turn the place into a school like Hogwarts for young Arab witches and wizards. We begin our first year after the Christmas holidays. I have fifty young people enrolled to come to Siwa and I have some splendid teachers for them.
What I need now are some additional junior teachers to help with the program. I need some older students to set the tone and build the life of the school. Hogwarts is ancient and has had many wonderful teachers and students; I know, because I was a student there once – and a good Quiddich player in my time.
Professor McGonagall writes to tell me that you are one of the best students in your year at Gryffindor House: that you are kind, and gentle and fun and good at all sports. Katie, will you come to Siwa and be a junior teacher for me? Will you teach my boys and girls to play Quiddich? Will you show them how a good young witch should live and behave? Will you help in the dormitory at night and comfort boys and girls who are homesick? Will you stick band aids on the knees of boys who have accidents on the Quiddich pitch and will you encourage the girls to be every bit as dashing and as brave as the boys as they play the game? Can you spare a whole year to help me build the school at Siwa?
If you can come, I promise that you will love the school as much as I do already. I will pay you well and provide a lovely little flat in one of the towers where you can live in some comfort. It won’t be as dark and as romantic as Hogwarts, of course. There is no deep lake or heather covered moors, no Forbidden Forest full of dangers to keep away strangers – but there are the desert dunes all around and starry skies above. It is a heavenly place despite the wild Bedouin in the hills who make life difficult for all sorts of travellers.
If you can, please talk about this with Professor McGonagall and send me an owl. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
With deep hope,
Lady Begum Mariam Aga Khan.
Poor Katie felt as if she had just connected with another flying bludger. She read the letter right through again. An assistant teacher! Katie couldn’t believe it. She had always wanted to be a teacher: her mother was a teacher, and her Nanny, and her old Grandad. Ever since she arrived at Hogwarts she knew that she would love to stay on in the school and be a teacher there too. She was only in her third year- it seemed very young to be a teacher – even an assistant one. And what about her place on the Quidditch team? If she left after Christmas to go to Siwa, who would play on the Gryffindor team?
Katie put the letter back in its creamy envelope and then put it under her pillow. It took a long time to fall asleep that night. She dreamt of flying upside down on her broom and dodging speeding bludgers, then of sinking the quaffle to win the Quidditch match against Slytherin House flying in their magnificent green and silver robes. Then her dreams were all of the desert oasis and the great temple fallen into the sands. She woke with a start to the sound of beating drums and the strange chanting cries in the desert air but the castle was still. It was all a dream. There was only one thing to do: she would have to do as the Begum had asked to do and talk with Professor McGonagall. Perhaps she could help her decide what to do.
Chapter 2: The Lady Begum Mariam Aga Khan
“Goodness, Grandad,” said Katie, “An assistant teacher at a desert school – but just when I was going to play Quidditch on the Gryffindor team!”
“Yes, I’m afraid it is a difficult choice, my dear. And not one that you could easily and quickly make.”
“Am I in this story at all?” demanded Emily. She was quickly forgetting that Katie had almost no part in Emily’s birthday story.
“Yes, my darling, you have a part to play. But first Katie has to learn about the Begum Mariam Aga Khan.”
Katie went to see Professor McGonagall after dinner the next night. The Professor, being the Head of Gryffindor House, had rooms in the Gryffindor Tower and Katie had only been there once before – at a little afternoon tea that Professor McGonagall had given for the Gryffindor Quidditch team after Katie and Mohan Singh had joined the team . They had a very Scottish afternoon tea – brown bread and butter, scones with jam and cream and shortbread- and Katie had been most impressed when Professor McGonagall had used her best cups and saucers for the occasion. Katie loved her teacher. Many of the students thought that Professor McGonagall was strict and severe but Katie never missed the lovely twinkle in her eye and when Katie had been homesick after coming to Hogwarts for the first time, Professor McGonagall had been as kind and as loving as her Oma and Nanny. In fact, she was like a Nanny to all the Gryffindor students - even to the Weasley boys who were often in trouble.
Katie knew that Professor McGonagall was always busy; she had been trying to think how she could explain about the invitation and all that it meant but she needn’t have worried at all. When she knocked on the door of Professor McGonagall’s flat that night, her teacher seemed to be expecting her. “Ah, come in, Katie. Siwa – aye? I’ve been wondering when you would come to see me. Let me just go and put the kettle on.”
There was a cheerful fire in the grate and Professor McGonagall put the kettle over the coals to boil. She put out two cups and saucers and from a tartan tin, Professor McGonagall produced two large slices of Dundee Cake. Fussing about with the kettle and the butter for the cake put Katie at her ease and her teacher introduced the subject by saying, “I suppose you want me to tell you about the Lady Begum Mariam Aga Khan. If you’re thinking of going to Siwa School than you need to know about her before you can decide what to do.” And with a cup of strong tea in one hand and a plate of Dundee Cake in the other, Professor McGonagall began her story.
“Katie, the Lady Begum Mariam Aga Khan is an old girl of Hogwarts – and was in Gryffindor House too. Of course, she wasn’t the Begum in those days; she was simply Mary Malouf who had come to Hogwarts from the Lebanon. Her father was a clever wizard who kept a nightclub in Beirut. It was very popular with visiting witches and wizards from all over the Mediterranean and there was a special Mufti Night as I remember when Muggles were allowed in. Beirut is that kind of place, you know. Her mother was a famous witch and a great beauty in her time. Mary was a wonderful student. I was only young –it was my first year as a teacher here at Hogwarts- and I loved having Mary in my classes. She spoke Arabic and French very well- and English of course. She was bright and alert and energetic, clever in class and good at games. She was a first rate Quidditch player until she had a most unpleasant accident in the grand final against Hufflepuff House. Gryffindor was winning, too, when she lost concentration and flew her broom into a crowd of cheering Gryffindor spectators. It took Madame Pomfret a long time to fix all the broken bones – and the broom was never the same again. That was the end of Mary’s Quidditch career. Her mother took her out of the team and she watched the next season from the bench.
She was such a good student! At the school Speech Day, Mary won all the prizes. Everyone thought that she would go on to a splendid career in government or the Arts – she was so special - but within six weeks of finishing here at Hogwarts she was married to a gentleman. She was only eighteen years old but she married Mr Robert E. Lee Turpentine – the wealthiest oil millionaire from Texas in the United States. While he was on holidays, he had come into her father’s nightclub on Mufti Night. Mary was serving behind the bar; Mr Turpentine had fallen hopelessly in love with her. He was forty years old and a widower without children. Mary asked me to be her bridesmaid and I went to Houston Texas for the wedding. None of the Maloufs or the Hogwarts guests made a fuss about our wizarding background, of course – I don’t think that any of the Turpentines even believed in witches – but it was a very lovely wedding and the bride and groom went off on a honeymoon very happily.”
Mr Robert E Lee Turpentine, Texas Oil Millionaire, and Mary Malouf’s first husband
Professor McGonagall gave a little sigh here. Katie was bursting with questions she wanted her teacher to answer but Katie was too polite to ask. Instead, she said, “Did Mary live in America, then?”
“Aye, she did,” said Professor McGonagall wistfully, “in a grand mansion in Houston with a swimming pool and a coloured maid to pour her tea. But it only lasted a year or so. Her dear husband died when one of his oil wells caught fire and he was burned to death. Poor Mary Turpentine was left a widow at only twenty years old. She was, by this time, the richest woman in the United States.”
“Is that when she married the Nawab?” asked Katie. She was loving this story – it was as good as something you saw on the television or read about in the ladies’ magazines at the doctor’s surgery.
“Not immediately,” said Professor McGonagall. “After Mr Turpentine died, Mary came back to Hogwarts to see us all. She had left on a broomstick and returned in her own private jet. While she was staying in Scotland, she met another gentleman while she was changing her books at the local library. He introduced himself to her as Angus and offered to buy her a cream tea. Mary was lonely and accepted his kind invitation. It turned out that he was, in fact, Angus Moncrieff, His Grace the Duke of Dundee. He married Mary in the parish church of the village near his palace six weeks later. Once again, I was Mary’s bridesmaid. Mary Malouf now became a Duchess with a gold coronet of strawberry leaves and her own splendid tartan. Her Majesty the Queen invited her to have lunch at Balmoral Castle and Mrs Camilla Parker Bowles asked her to tea. The very good thing about this wedding was that she now lived in Scotland for some of the year and we saw her often then. She loved coming across to Hogwarts to see us all. ” Professor McGonagall poured Katie some more tea and cut some more cake.
“What happened to the Duke?” Katie asked.
“Oh that’s a very sad story,” said the Professor. “The Duke was a wealthy man, you know, with property all over the world – including a coffee plantation on the banks of the Amazon River in Brazil. While he was there in Brazil riding in a canoe with some native workers, the canoe was tipped up into the river and the Duke was eaten by piranha fish. All that they could find to give back to Mary was a finger with his wedding ring on it. Mary, of course, was broken hearted. She had loved two fine [and very rich] men – and seen both of them die before she was twenty five years old.
The Duke of Dundee who was eaten by piranhas.
“Mary left Scotland and lived for a time in London then,” said Professor McGonagall, “and I saw her there a couple of times during the summer holidays but she was quite broken down with grief. She would only go out of her mansion in Park Lane to go to church on Sundays. At a Bible Study during Lent, she happened to be put in a group that included a kindly gentleman named Mr Julius Myerstein. He was an older gentleman – Mary seemed to like older men for some reason – and they fell in love over that Lent. Mr Myerstein was a diamond miner and broker with the richest mine in South Africa and the most exclusive diamond market in Antwerp. He gave Mary an enormous stone that had belonged to an Indian Emperor as an engagement present. Mary wore it on the day she was married to Julius. That was such a pretty wedding in London.”
“What happened to Mr Myerstein?” asked Katie. It didn’t sound good.
“South Africa is still a dangerous place,” said Professor McGonagall sadly. “He took Mary on a safari deep into the veldt on their honeymoon. Their last night under the stars was clear and starry. Julius left the tent to have a smoke – Mary hated smoking and Julius was always careful to step away when he wanted to smoke- but the light and the smoke attracted a very hungry and ferocious lioness. Mary was awaked by his cries. Poor Julius; they found portions of him a week later up a tree where the lioness had taken him for a snack.”
The lioness who killed and ate Mr Myerstein
“Dear me, Professor,” said Katie, “this is the saddest story.”
“Before she met and married the Nawab,” said Professor McGonagall, “she married a rather nerdy young man from California, a Mr Job Gates, whom she had met on the Internet. It turned out that this man had actually invented the Internet and was worth more than Mr Turpentine, the Duke and Julius put together. That marriage seemed to promise so much – I really enjoyed being the bridesmaid at that wedding – but alas, he was killed in an earthquake in San Francisco. Then there was the Nawab – or to give him his full title, His Royal Highness Nawab Abdullah Aga Khan. He was the great love of her life. They met back at her father’s night club. Even though she was immensely rich by now, Mary still loved going home to Beirut to see her parents and she always lent a hand at the club when she was there. The Nawab was visiting Beirut from his home in Egypt – he was a Prince of the Western Desert – and it was love at first sight. They married on a sand dune outside Alexandria and lived together in the Nawab’s palace at Siwa. I visited them there often.
The Nawab who won the love of Mary Malouf.
“Is the Nawab still alive?” asked Katie a little hesitantly. “All her other husbands seem to have died such early and horrible deaths.”
“Mary and the good Nawab lived happily together for thirty years,” said Professor McGonagall. “Then one fateful day when Mary was visiting the dentist in Alexandria, the Nawab went out hunting for lions in the desert. He was on horseback with three of his most trusted friends. Alas, they never returned. For weeks the Begum hoped against hope that he would be found safe. Then a search in the desert found one of the horses wounded by a lion. Sometime later they found as well the Nawab’s silk turban stained with blood. But of the rest of him and of his friends there was no trace. That was five years ago. The Begum has been a widow in grief since that time. Planning for a school in the palace at Siwa has been her only consolation.”
As she drew to her end of her story, Professor McGonagall grew wistful. Her strong, Scottish voice was broken by little sobs of sadness. “Once she was married to the Nawab,” the teacher said, “Mary took the title The Lady Begum.” She still owns the palace in Dundee, the diamond mines in Africa, the oil wells in Texas and from her marriage with Mr Gates, she owns almost a whole American state – a big one, too- Pennsylvania, I believe. But she lives in retirement now at Siwa. She has used her fortune to build the school and yes, Katie, the Begum does need some older students like you to help in the school. I can assure you that she is indeed a beautiful lady and you will love working at her school – if you can spare a whole year from your studies. Of course you would learn so much in your year there – different things from what I can teach you here.
“I’ll have to ask my Mum and Dad,” said Katie, “but I think they will let me go. Fancy- a real teacher in a new school. It’s what I’ve always thought about – all my life.”
“And the Quidditch?” asked Professor McGonagall with her lovely gentle laugh. “Do you think Harry and Ginny can spare you from the team for a year?”
“It may be longer than that, I suppose,” said Katie sadly. “If the new beater is any good, they won’t want to put her out to put me back in when I come home from Siwa.”
“You are a darling gel,” said Professor McGonagall kindly. “You’re just the kind of gel they need at Siwa. When Mary asked me to recommend a Hogwarts girl to come to help at Siwa, you’re the very first I thought of. Please send me an owl occasionally to let me know what you are doing.”
Katie just floated back to her dormitory after her conversation with Professor McGonagall. She was the first student that Professor McGonagall thought of! This was clearly going to be the start of a very big adventure.
The Lady Begum Mariam Aga Khan, as a schoolgirl at Hogwarts and then as first Headmistress of Siwa School.
Chapter 3: In the Souk.
“Gosh, Grandad!” said Emily. “I had to fight the horrible vampire bats and the giant spiders. It sounds as if Katie is going to have a very lady-like adventure. What a romantic story, too. If the Lady Begum marries again, will Katie be a bridesmaid, do you think?”
“I like this story, Grandad,” said Katie, “but it is so sad. I hope Siwa is a safe place. Do lions ever come near the palace?”
“Well it’s funny that you ask that,” said Grandad. He gave a deep sigh and said, “But first I have to tell you about the journey through the desert...”
Katie wrote to her Mummy and Daddy the next day and Professor Dumbledore himself offered to write a letter telling them this was a great opportunity for Katie – and a great honour, too. And indeed, when Mummy and Daddy received the letter from the Headmaster, they went to the Internet and checked up all there was to know about the Begum Mariam Aga Khan. Of course she had her own facebook page and there were lots of entries when you googled her. Mummy was sure that she had read about her in one of her magazines; she was certainly a famous and glamorous figure. Daddy sent an email to Professor Dumbledore and by the end of the week it was all sorted out. Katie was going to be an assistant teacher at Siwa School.
Lots had to happen before Katie could go to Egypt after Christmas, however. The most important thing, of course, was that Katie had to practice her Arabic so that she could teach in that language. The happy thing was that there was someone on the staff at Hogwarts who could teach her very well. This was Nathifa, a House Elf who worked in the kitchens but who had come to Hogwarts from the Yemen to get away from a particularly cruel and nasty Arab wizard who was mean to all his servants. Nathifa had worked hard all her life for the gentleman and the ladies of his harem but she had finally had enough; the Arab gentleman was mean but his four wives and many girlfriends were really cruel and spiteful. They made life miserable for the gentle Nathifa who was always cooking their dinner, washing their smalls or painting the toe nails of the ladies. If she was slow or tired, they would beat her with a broomstick. One night after a particularly cruel wife hit her with a rolled up newspaper, Nathifa ran away from the wizard’s walled house and hid on a scruffy ship in Aden harbour. She had heard from other house elves about the kindness and goodness of Harry Potter in Scotland and she was determined to find her way there. Hours later when the ship was safely out at sea, she had peeped out of her hiding place to see her ship gliding through the Red Sea. Nathifa had hidden in a lifeboat for three weeks; when the cargo boat stopped in Glasgow on a winter’s day, she had swum ashore and then hitched a ride to Hogwarts. Dobby found her cold and shivering at the kitchen door; house elves all over the world had heard of the good Dobby and Nathifa broke down and cried when he took her in out of the snow and gave her a cup of tea. He listened to her sad story, was full of rage at the wickedness of the Arab wizard, his wives and his girlfriends and quickly found her a warm place to sleep – and a job in the kitchens. Like Dobby himself, she would be a free house elf!
Nathifa was plump and very short with a snout-like nose and big ears. She wore a grubby abaya and a dark shayla – at least she did when she first arrived. Then these dark and dismal clothes were quickly replaced by a bright floral print dress that had once belonged to Katie but which she quickly outgrew after a few of the famous Hogwarts feasts. Katie had given the dress to Dobby for any of the lady house elves to wear; Nathifa loved her new dress. She made good friends among the other house elves; after her lonely and unhappy days in the Yemen, she thought the kitchens at Hogwarts were just like heaven. When Professor McGonagall asked her to help Katie improve her Arabic, Nathifa was just delighted to be of assistance to the little girl whose dress she wore as a free house elf.
Katie and Nathifa met at a table in the kitchen three times a day for lessons. Katie loved the kitchens – normally out of bounds to Hogwarts students - and Nathifa always brought some little treat to the table for them to share during the lesson. When Nathifa learned that Katie was an Australian girl, she made sure she brought her some Australian things: mugs of billy tea, delicious vegemite toast and scrumptious, fluffy lamingtons. Katie made sure that every lesson she would have some little treat for Nathifa. She gave her hankies, a box of tissues, an old pencil case, a pencil and sharpener and a ribbon that had tied up a parcel that Old Nanny had sent her from Australia. In return, Nathifa was wonderfully patient and encouraging – and Katie was a good pupil. They spoke Arabic only in these lessons and after eight weeks, Katie had made very good progress. Nathifa turned out to be very good teacher, Katie thought. She hoped that she could be as good a teacher once she reached Siwa.
Finally the day came for her to leave Hogwarts and go to Egypt. Professor McGonagall gave a little party for Katie’s Gryffindor friends; Professor Dumbledore made a speech at her last dinner and Professor Hagrid cried loudly and blew his nose into an enormous handkerchief. The saddest parting was from Nathifa and Dobby who hugged her as if they would never see her again. Katie wanted to smile and be cool about the whole thing but Dobby kept reminding her that the Nawab – the good Begum’s husband - had been eaten by a lion near Siwa and Katie should be very careful if she went outdoors! Katie made a little present of one of her old denim pinafores to Nathifa. It was embroidered with koalas and Nathifa thought it was just perfect. She put it on over her floral dress; it certainly looked striking.
The First Class cabin on the Air Egypt jet: Katie had a seat here!
The journey to Egypt was the first exciting part of the great adventure. Professor Hagrid took her all the way to London on the train and out to Heathrow Airport where they said good bye at the Air Egypt check in counter. Katie suddenly felt very alone as she watched Hagrid walking back through the crowd of people –few of whom even bothered to look at the giant passing by. [One gets used to strange sights at Heathrow Airport, I suppose.]
There were two happy mix ups, Katie thought, at the check-in desk for Air Egypt. For a start, Katie was allowed to fly as an adult – without having to join all the other unaccompanied children down the back of the plane. This was a wonderful treat and Katie felt very grown up. Even better, she found that her ticket had been magically upgraded to First Class. She waited in the special lounge for first class passengers and helped herself to drinks and then to a splash of perfume in the posh Ladies Toilets. It was excellent! When the time came to board the plane, she had an enormous seat, luscious food and wonderful service from a very good looking young Arab flight attendant who kept bringing her pillows, blankets, magazines, a face mask, cold drinks and hot snacks. He seemed to know her name and was very attentive; there were other passengers in First Class but no one was as well cared for as Katie.
Katie wasn’t to know that there was nothing magical about this at all – that the Lady Begum Aga Khan was a very valued customer on Air Egypt and because she made the booking for Katie, the airline wanted to take the best care of her that they could.
The young Air Egypt Flight Attendant who brought Katie Hot Snacks
In Cairo, the flight attendant whisked Katie through Customs to the First Class Arrivals desk where the Lady Begum was waiting to meet her – and Katie loved her from the moment they met. She was just as gentle, as kind and as good as Professor McGonagall had said she would be– but beautiful in a grown up, mysterious way as well. Katie knew straight away that despite her lively and cheerful manner that there was a deep sadness there in her as well. The best thing was that the Lady did not treat her like a school girl – but as a friend and colleague. From the moment she met her, Katie was just another member of the staff of the school. They shared a room at the famous Shepheard’s Hotel with a view across the Nile River and as they ate a lovely meal of olives, babaganoush and warm Arab bread on the terrace, Katie heard all about the school where she would be working for a year.
Katie had a hundred questions to ask and the first was the simplest. How does one address a Lady Begun?
The Begum laughed a lovely, warm gentle laugh. “If it were a very formal occasion, Katie, such as a visit from the President of Egypt or Her Majesty the Queen of Jordan I would have to be Your Royal Highness. I will be asking the students to call me Professor Mariam. I would like the other teachers to call me Lady Mary. Is that too formal for you, Katie?”
“That’s fine, Lady Mary,” said Katie. “Now, two big questions: how will the students get to Siwa? Do you have a train like the Hogwarts Express? And have you bought the brooms for quidditch? If you haven’t, I might know some good brooms to try.”
The Lady Begum laughed again. “Well, Katie, Siwa is deep in the Western Desert. There are no roads and no trains, certainly. The boys and girls – and my teachers- will have to travel in a camel caravan. We leave at dawn the day after tomorrow and the journey will take three days. Have you ridden a camel before?”
Katie had to admit that even though she came from Dubai that her experience with camels was pretty limited. Two or three times she had been led around the paddock at Bab al Shams by the kindly camel driver but Katie didn’t think that really counted as riding a camel. “Never mind,” said the Lady. “You will learn quickly. Many of the boys and girls at Siwa will know a great deal about camels, I think. I will speak to Faisal, the wise soul who is the master of my caravan. He will make sure that you have a gentle lady camel to ride.” Katie was very grateful – a gentle camel would suit her well, she was sure.
“Now, for the Quidditch,” said the Lady Begum. Katie caught the anxiety in the Lady’s voice. “I’ve been thinking about this too. What do you think, Katie, about teaching the boys and girls to ride a broomstick? Do you think that Arab boys and girls will like this game?” There was the faintest trace of doubt in the Lady’s voice.
“Do the witches and wizards in Egypt ride broomsticks?” asked Katie.
“Well, not really,” said the Lady. “And Quidditch seems to be the kind of game that’s best played on a cold Scottish day – when all of that wonderful fast action up in the air warms up a body and makes your heart sing. The desert is hot and dry for an action packed game. I think, actually, that I’m the only Arab lady who rides a broomstick.”
In the souk where Katie bought her amazing quidditch stuff.
Katie was sorry to hear this. It sounded to her as if the Lady Begum was having second thoughts about teaching the boys and girls Quidditch – and if that were the case, the best fun in Katie’s job might be lost.
Katie settled down to sleep that night with a great tumble of things in her head and heart. She was excited by the journey ahead of her to Siwa and the hope of all the things that would come to her as a teacher in the school. But she also remembered the sadness of the Lady Begum – almost, Katie thought, the fear in her heart. Katie’s sleep was troubled; she woke at one stage to the strange sound of chanting and the wailing of the wind – it was a sound she associated with the desert and, she thought, the oracle at Siwa. It was calling to her, she was sure. And just before dawn she awoke with the most wonderful idea buzzing through her head and whistling about like the golden snitch that the seeker goes flying after in a Quidditch match. It was the cleverest idea and one that she was eager to share with the Lady Begum over breakfast. Once the idea had been shared, the Lady shook her head gently and whistled. “Why, Katie, I’m beginning to see just why Professor McGonagall thought that you would do well at my school! That idea is just brilliant!”
And it was. The more they talked about it, the more excited both of them became. The Lady and Katie had a leisurely morning shopping for clothes for Katie to wear on the camel train – a lovely white abaya with matching white shayla to keep out the desert sun. Kate tried on several before the Lady declared that that was just the one for her. Then it was time for some mint tea and tiny pastries under palm trees at the most elegant cafe beside the River Nile. Only when Katie was rested and ready did the Lady Begum taxi them off to the souk to put Katie’s brilliant idea into action.
The souk is Cairo is an amazing market set in little alleys and covered streets; it stretches across acres of the old heart of the city. Katie was soon bewildered as she went down one street after another but the Lady Begum confidently led them further and further into the maze of shops. Professor Mariam was absolutely at home in the souk and told Katie cheerfully, “You can buy anything – anything at all – if you know where to go here.” The Lady clearly loved the souk and Katie – even though she were anxious about the acres of shops and alleys – decided to enjoy it too. Many people seemed to know the Lady Begum and bowed respectfully when she passed. Katie saw several little shops selling the most scrumptious looking ice cream – mint, pistachio and almond flavours. How she hoped that the Lady would come back there after the serious shopping were completed.
The first stop was the section of the souk dealing with camel products. There were brushes and combs, shampoo and conditioner for camel fur, tonics for peaky camels and the most wonderful tinkling bells that would make a trip across the desert a musical journey. Katie admired the beautifully embroidered leather harness but looked doubtfully at the cruel looking camel canes hanging on a rack. She had seen canes like those at the camel racing farm near Bab al Shams.
Katie and Mariam looked at all these things but they were really there to buy a saddle; after looking at many different models – and getting Katie to try out several for comfort and size - the Lady Begum selected a fine leather camel saddle in red Moroccan leather. It had a beautiful tooled leather back and a bar at the front where the passenger could hold on securely. There were adjustable stirrups and a fine wad of padding so that the saddle didn’t chafe the camel’s broad back. Lady Mary then began a long negotiation with the merchant to secure a discount for a bulk purchase of sixteen saddles. Finally the deal was settled and delivery to Siwa promised for a month later.
A camel saddle like the one Lady Mary bought in the souk.
This was one half of Katie’s brilliant idea; the other part, Katie thought, might be a little more difficult to find – but Lady Mary knew just where to go. The Lady Begum led Katie back through courts and markets, down alleys and – at one stage- through a beaded curtain at the back of a tea shop into a deep, heavily shaded alley beyond. Katie knew at once that this was a very magic place. The people in the main souk looked excited, animated, cheerful and friendly. They were proud of the things they had for sale and they tried very hard to make anyone passing by interested in their products. The ones beyond the bead curtain looked, well, magical.
A tall, coal black gentleman in a pure white jellebah and turban in a gold and scarlet shop was selling magic wands. A wise looking witch with kohl rimmed eyes and pink cheeks offered splendid looking robes in pale green, yellow and silver silk. There was a tattoo artist offering wonderful designs and body piercings; another young witch offered henna paintings. Katie wanted to stay and have a henna drawing on her hands and feet; she would really have loved a piercing, too, but she thought Mummy might not approve. [She was right there, too.] A little girl was holding a tray of ancient turquoise scarab beetles that came to wriggling life as soon as Lady Mary went to touch one. The shops here were full of amazing smells and Katie would have loved to have gone from shop to shop looking at the wonderful magic products being offered for sale. There was one young man – he looked very like the cabin attendant on the Air Egypt flight now that Katie looked carefully at him- who was juggling balls of fire and laughing happily at the crowd who gathered to watch.
The mysterious young magician juggling the fire in the souk.
There was no time for any of this, however, as the Lady Begum led them confidently to the end of the closed court where a spectacular carpet shop with a grand sign proclaimed:
Hajji Said Shaheen
Tabriz, Beirut, Cairo, Dubai.
Underneath this sign was another notice:
Ask about our new range of special models.
Katie had seen beautiful carpets for sale in Dubai and the ones in this shop were certainly beautiful – but not very different from the ones she had seen at home. No sooner had Lady Mary and Katie approached the shop, however, than a spectacularly dressed Persian gentleman came sweeping out to greet them. He took the Lady’s hands in his, kissing them gallantly and giving Katie the same dramatic treatment. The Lady made the gentleman a little bow but Katie giggled; she was not used to being kissed by Persian gentlemen.
“Hajji Said, my dear and trusted friend,” said the Lady Begum grandly, “I need to buy sixteen of your most reliable and high powered magic carpets if you please.”
“Why certainly, Your Royal Highness,” said the carpet seller. “But the day is hot and the morning is long and the dust is rising high enough to choke a camel! Do be coming into my humble shop to enjoy a glass of mint tea!” All the time that he was saying these grand words, the carpet seller was bowing and leading them into the cool shade of the shop which smelt simply wonderfully of frankincense; Katie noticed that there was a heavy copper pot burning in a corner. Presently they emerged into a shaded courtyard where a tiny fountain trickled out over ancient marble. There were flowers here and the courtyard seemed many miles from the bustle of the market. “And will you kindly present me to this young woman who must be, if I’m not mistaken, the daughter of the Sultan or a beautiful princess.”
Katie blushed bright red. What could the carpet seller be thinking, she wondered. If Katie had been older and had met a few more carpet sellers in her life she wouldn’t have been quite so surprised or flattered.
The Lady Begum was pleased to sit on a large leather cushion in the shade. Katie sat beside her. She explained to the carpet seller that before she made her purchase she would have to send for a camel saddle she had purchased at the shop of Ali ben Dromedary in the camel souk. There was a flurry of bellowed orders and one little Persian nephew set off at a run to retrieve the camel saddle; another was sent to make the mint tea which presently arrived on a silver tray – and the camel saddle [almost larger than the boy who brought it] arrived soon after.
As she drank the mint tea, the Lady Begum answered all the Hajji’s questions which must be dealt with before business could be discussed. The Lady spoke of the weather in Siwa, of the health of her favourite camels, of the well being of her favourite falcon [Mumtaz] and [finally] of her own good health. With all of these things out of the way, the real business of buying the carpets could begin. “Did the Hajji”, she asked, “have a flying carpet that could go under the camel saddle, thus making a highly charged and speedy flying saddle?”
This stumped the camel seller for only a minute. He quickly recollected that he had just the thing the lady was needing: a beautiful modern carpet about a metre long. The carpet was produced and the camel saddle strapped to the carpet while it was quietly at rest. Katie was invited to try the saddle for size and it was a very comfortable fit indeed. Without a word of warning, however, the Hajji summoned the flying carpet to life and it rose first a metre – and then five and then fifty metres clear into the sky – as if Katie were in a fast lift. One moment she was in the cool courtyard of the carpet seller; in the next, she had risen high above the souk and could see all the way to the River Nile and the Pyramids.
Then as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do, Katie leaned forward and kicked her heels back as if she were flying her broomstick in a quidditch match. Saddle and carpet moved effortlessly with her and in moments, Katie was streaking across the city towards the desert. The wind whistled through her hair and she felt her heart leap with joy. This was absolutely the best moment of her time in Egypt. She hung on to the hoop fixed into the front of the saddle and used it like a steering wheel. The response was perfect. Katie arced up into the sky, banked to the right and went swooping back towards the Nile. Some crocodiles looked up anxiously as she came down low and a baby hippopotamus went squealing to find its mother. Then with another mighty weal, Katie brought the carpet back to the souk and gently eased it in at rooftop height into the shady courtyard garden.
“I will need to buy sixteen carpets just like this one,” said the Lady. “Do you have eight in colours of gold and eight in colours of red?”
“Your Royal Highness,” said the Hajji with a pleading voice, “carpets like this are rare and I will need to order them from my workshop in Isfahan. For you, my very best customer, I will make my best artisans work extra hard to make these beautiful carpets as soon as they can – but it will take a whole month for the order to be completed and shipped to you at Siwa. ”
Gentlemen carpet makers at the Hajji’s factory in Isfahan
The mint tea arrived just as the Lady Begum and the Hajji began to discuss the cost of the carpets. The Lady Begum just shook her head when the carpet seller named his price. ”Your Royal Highness,” cried the carpet seller, “I am only a poor honest carpet maker and seller. I have an old mother to support and two lazy brothers-in-law. These are the best carpets you can buy in the souk. I cannot sell them for any less. You will ruin me.” Katie was alarmed and thought the poor man might burst into tears – although the price he named did seem to be very high. .
“Hajji Said,” wailed the Lady, “I am only a poor Royal Highness. I am a poor widow woman. I cannot afford to support your lazy brothers-in -law or your aged mother, God bless her! Pray, take half of what you ask and be assured of my undying love and gratitude. Remember, these magic carpets are for little children.”
Katie listened as Hajji and Lady took it in turns to weep and wail – and finally they agreed on a price that was a good deal less than the hajji asked at first and a good deal more than the Lady offered in return. And as soon as they had agreed, they laughed, shook hands and turned to the mint tea with great relish. It was, Katie knew, the way many deals were done in the souk!
That night, the Lady and Katie had dinner in a little restaurant near the hotel: lovely fried fish coated in almonds, rice and salad vegetables. They sat on a terrace that looked over the rushes and sandbars of the river to the elegant modern lights of the city. The waiter brought their meals and a big pot of mint tea for them to drink. The Lady boasted as they shared the pot that she was so keen to get the beautiful magic carpets that she would gladly have paid Hajji Said Shaheen all that he had asked. “Imagine,” she said, “the excitement of quidditch played on magic carpets. And I think, Katie, that we shall play our games just at dawn before the day heats up. Our boys and girls will love that opportunity.”
Katie’s great idea had worked beautifully. The night was warm and still and Katie’s heart was full. Tomorrow would bring the start of the camel caravan to the desert. So far the adventure was working out wonderfully well. But her dreams that night were of ferocious lions, noisy drumming and chanting. And above it all, a terrible cry – like a wounded animal. And Katie couldn’t put out of her mind the feeling that the Lady was deeply troubled by something that she wasn’t sharing. Katie woke with a start. Her bedside clock said 3 am. It was time to be heading for the camel caravan that would leave right on dawn.
Chapter 4: Through the Desert
“Grandad,” said Emily. “I’m still not in the story!”
“But Emily, Katie was left at school when you went off through the Forbidden Forest with Egg and Lettuce, remember,” said Grandad. “This is Katie’s story.”
“I wonder about that long camel ride,” said Katie. “The Lady Begum said that she would make sure I had a gentle camel – do you think she is right?!”
“We’ll just have to see,” said Old Grandad.
The new students [and all of them were new, of course – this was the first class in the history of the school] had been told to meet at a caravanserai on the western edge of the great city. The Lady Begum and Katie arrived well before dawn: it was cold and raw and Katie drew her new white abaya around her to keep warm. There were already boys and girls there with their parents waiting to load the camels and then set off for Siwa. The sky was thick with the dust of the city and the enormous walled yard was lit by floodlights on tall stone towers at the corners of the caravanserai.
Just imagine the scene! But for the electric lights, Katie might have thought that she was living in the most ancient of times. Against one wall of the yard the camels were waiting, already being harnessed and loaded and all of them complaining noisily. There were great piles of luggage and lean, dark young men swinging great trunks onto their shoulders and then on to the backs of the larger camels. The Lady Begum greeted parents and children and then passed the boys and girls on to Katie who had a clip board and a list of fifty names. One by one, they were ticked off and sent back to the mums and dads to make their farewells.
Katie soon met Mr Faisal, the leader of the camel caravan. He was an important and distinguished gentleman with a bushy moustache and dark, intelligent eyes. He was dressed in a magnificent while and gold jellebah with a huge cotton turban and had the authority and all the dignity of the captain of a ship, Katie thought. Even the Lady Begum [who was, after all, a Royal Highness] treated him with the greatest respect. He took a moment from his job of superintending the loading of the camels to take Katie aside and introduce her to Cyclone Yasi, a charming lady camel who was, Mr Faisal insisted, the gentlest and best camel in the whole caravan. Katie had been anticipating this meeting and had come prepared. From her pocket, she took six sugar cubes that she had taken from the sugar bowl at the restaurant the night before. How Yasi grinned when she scoffed those sugar cubes! Katie was certain that they would get on well for the whole of their journey.
Katie was too busy to linger, however. She had to greet each of the children and give them the number and name of their camel. The number was actually their camel’s place in the caravan and over the next three days it would be important to stay in line together. Katie wondered what the boys and girls would be like; she knew English and Australian witches and wizards but perhaps Arab boys and girls would be different. She needn’t have worried. Among the children gathering for the caravan were boys and girls just like the ones arriving as first years at Hogwarts. There were very clever looking boys and girls carrying books, wearing spectacles and looking alert and excited. There were three giggling girls who arrived with nail polish, lipstick and eye shadow: Katie would have to talk to them quietly when the moment came and tell them that at Siwa, such things were not allowed. Two boys fidgeted all the time that their parents were trying to talk with the Lady Begum – and as soon as they could, they were off with a soccer ball kicking it noisily around the yard and alarming the camels.
Moments later, a very grand looking Saudi Prince was having a quarrel with the Lady Begum; he had brought a rather large and imposing looking young black man in a brief silk costume to attend his daughter who was enrolled at Siwa. The Prince explained that his daughter, the young Princess, never went anywhere without her slave to attend her. The Lady Begum explained gently that there were no slaves at Siwa anymore and the little girl would have to do her own homework and shine her own shoes. The Saudi prince was very disappointed but took the slave away and left his daughter all the same; Katie noticed that the little princess actually looked very relieved to be on her own for a change. Katie smiled at her and gently winked; the girl gave her then the biggest grin Katie had ever seen. She was sure that they would be good friends.
Despite the smiles, there were some parents who cried bitterly as they said goodbye to their children and even some boys and girls who cried too. There were boys and girls from Egypt, from Algeria, from Saudi, from the Yemen, the Lebanon, from Syria and Libya and the UAE. Katie was everywhere for the next hour: calming excited girls, comforting crying parents and tranquilizing noisy boys.
The biggest surprise of the morning came when Katie was introduced by the Lady Begum to the other Assistant Teacher at the school. “Would you like me to fetch you a cold drink or a hot snack, Miss Katie – or perhaps you would like to see me do my fire juggling act?” The Arab boy was much older than the school children – and older than Katie – but he had the most wonderful, cheerful, cheeky smile that Katie had first seen in the First Class cabin of the Air Egypt jet and then in the souk. He held out his hand and shook hers cheerfully. “I’m Abdul, and over dinner this evening when the caravan has stopped for the night, we’ll get together and I’ll tell you why I have been looking out for you from the moment you left Professor Hagrid at Heathrow Airport. And by the way, your Mummy and Daddy send their best wishes and know that you will be a great teacher – and a brave one!”
Abdul, the other Assistant Teacher. He looked after Katie.
Katie’s head was spinning. Who was this young man? How did he come to be on the flight from London – and in the souk when she was shopping? And how did he know Mummy and Daddy? And why would they say that’s she should be a brave teacher? How could she wait until dinner for answers to all these questions? But just at that moment, there was a fine burst of wonderful music from a trumpet. Mr Faisal was calling on the boys and girls to make their farewells to their parents and go to their designated camels. It was time for the caravan to get going.
Slowly, the boys and girls mounted their camels and took their positions. Some of the camels made a terrific noise when the children climbed up and Katie hoped that Cyclone Yasi – her camel for the next three days – really would be gentle and patient with her. It took almost half an hour – a long time when you are so anxious to be off- before they were assembled to Mr Faisal’s satisfaction. The sun was just peeping above the sand dunes in the east when the caravan set out towards the Western desert. Mr Faisal blew a long and melodious blast on his trumpet that seemed to stir the camels into life. There were many tears now and lots of last minute advice but the Lady Begum on her splendid gentleman camel, Flasher, was in the lead and the boys and girls [two to a camel] followed behind. Then came the pack camels - there were as many of them as there were boys and girls because there was so much luggage to carry. Twenty Nubian servants walked beside these camels – coal black men who were tall and slim and wearing the distinctive dress of the Siwa School. This consisted of a simple white djellaba with a white and gold turban. Katie thought that they looked magnificent! Her heart was singing as they set off and when she checked her clip board for Abdul, she found that he was listed as travelling on a camel named Hurricane. They waited for all the other camels to leave and as they nudged out of the great stone gates of the caravanserai, they were the very last in that long line. An advance party of servants and staff had already set off early to travel West ahead of them.
Abdul grinned as he encouraged Hurricane up beside Cyclone Yasi. Alone among the camels, theirs had not been allocated a place in the long caravan that ran back for hundreds of metres. It was a beautiful sight: the camel bells tinkled, the boys and girls called to their mates and high above them the last of the stars slowly disappeared from the sky as the dawn brought the most beautiful pearl and pink colours. Soon the city was left behind and Mr Faisal led the caravan out past the pyramids into the vast expanses of the Western desert.
If Katie thought that she was going to have a leisurely ride through the desert dunes that morning, she was soon to learn otherwise. Her camel, Cyclone Yasi, and Abdul’s camel, Hurricane, were not allocated a fixed place in the long line for a good reason: their job that morning was to take cold drinks to all the travellers! It was four hours to the first oasis where they would stop for a break but boys and girls, teachers and servants would be very thirsty by then. Katie wondered how she could possibly find enough cold drinks for all the children – but Abdul had come equipped with just the right equipment for such a journey.
The start of the caravan to Siwa Oasis.
The Lady Begum, you see, knowing how hard the journey was going to be, had managed to acquire the magic chilly bin of that famous Kiwi wizard, Jonah McChoice. Jonah had been a very popular Gryffindor student in his time at Hogwarts and much loved and admired by naughty boys like the Weasley twins. He had a reputation for breaking rules, misbehaving and having the best fun. He was almost expelled from Hogwarts in his fifth year after he managed to give bottles of Scotch whiskey to all the House Elves one afternoon – and the poor elves were too drunk to make any dinner. Professor Dumbledore was furious –even though a shame faced Jonah told the Headmaster that it was meant as a joke and that he was very sorry. Jonah was sent to bed without anything to eat and the poor teachers had to cut the boys and girls of Hogwarts some cheese for their dinner. No one had any pudding and most of the boys and girls went to bed hungry – although Jonah was the hero of the Gryffindor boys’ dormitory that night. Katie knew his name because in her second year she had been astonished to find Jonah’s name carved with a pen knife into the back of a toilet door. The surprising thing was that this was in the Gryffindor girls’ toilet! After his graduation, Jonah had played in the All Blacks Rugby team and run a very successful hairdressing salon and then a chiropractic clinic in Dunedin. His magic chilly bin was one of his most famous creations.
Mr Jonah McChoice, the famous New Zealand Wizard with his magical chilly bin.
Abdul had the bin attached to Hurricane’s broad back by leather straps. At first Katie thought that the chilly bin was just an esky like her father had back in Dubai – hardly magical at all! When Abdul opened it for the first time at the top of the caravan, it was to offer the Lady Begum a delicious iced tea. The next person in the caravan was a little boy from Iraq who wanted iced coffee; then a little girl from Morocco wanted a can of mineral water. Katie was astonished that no matter what kind of cold drink was called for, it was always there and icy cold. The Nubian servants striding beside the camels all called for stubbies of beer; there were lots of demand for sports drinks, cold Milo and juice poppers. Katie and Abdul had finally worked their way to the end of the caravan and they could have a drink of their own. Katie had never tasted apple juice as delicious as the carton Abdul offered her while he had a mango and orange popper. But here was no time to spare because their wonderful cold drinks were needed again at the front of the caravan. By the time the caravan stopped at the oasis for morning tea, they had been up and down the caravan four times.
The magic didn’t end with the chilly box, of course. At the oasis there was a scrumptious morning tea waiting for them: a big silk marquee had been erected with carpets laid down on the sand beside a busy spring of cold water that fell into a little fountain. [There were big troughs of water out for the camels to enjoy too]. In the shade of the date palms there were tables with snowy white cloths bearing pots of hot tea, delicious pastries and lovely bread still warm from the oven. The boys and girls of Siwa School were happy to climb down from their camels and stretch their legs; the soccer ball immediately reappeared and Katie was not very pleased when Abdul was suddenly surrounded by grinning girls – the same ones, Katie noticed, with the lip stick and nail polish. Katie was too busy finding some aspirin for a Lebanese boy with a headache to enjoy any of the morning tea; finally, Abdul sent the girls on their giggling way and they could grab a quick cup of tea for themselves. They were only stopping for half an hour – just long enough to give the camels a decent drink – and then it was back out into the desert heat. Soon Mr Faisal was blowing his trumpet and the camels were stirring to life with their young riders on their backs. Again, the Lady Begum led the way and Abdul and Katie came up at the very end.
“Katie, perhaps you can tell me what this is in the chilly bin,” said Abdul as they waited for the very last camel to lope past. “Everything else is gone but this.”
Katie gasped. There in the bottom of the bin was a large packet of Tim Tam biscuits- exactly what an Australian girl who has missed her morning tea might need at that very moment! Not for the last time on that long journey did Katie bless Jonah McChoice and his magical chilly bin!
Despite the heat and the tiring travel on the back of Cyclone Yasi, nothing in that journey, however, was as memorable as the conversation Katie had with the Begum and Abdul on the first night of their journey. It had taken a long time to get the camp quiet; indeed, the camels were as restless as the children were. Katie had to be in lots of places at once when the lights were turned out: tucking in a frightened boy from Muscat, cheering up a little girl from Syria who missed her Mama and settling the naughty boys from Morocco who seemed to be letting everyone fall almost asleep and then making nasty rude noises that made all the boys giggle but which upset the girls. Finally, the Lady Begum and Abdul and Katie sat down beside the fire with a cup of hot tea and the Begum could begin.
Mr Faisal leading the camel caravan towards Siwa Oasis.
Katie asked the first question. “Are we in danger, Lady Mary? Why would Abdul need to guard me on my journey and while I was in Cairo?”
“I’m sorry for the secrecy, Katie – and I’m very sorry if I have brought you into a dangerous situation. The fact is, I can’t be certain of anything. It’s a long story: perhaps I need to start at the very beginning. “
The beautiful firelight, the wonderful starry night and the hard day’s journey all made this moment very special for Katie. She listened intently.
“You know already, Katie, that my poor husband, the Nawab, was killed by a lion three years ago when he was hunting with his friends in the desert,” said Lady Mary.
“Professor McGonagall told me,” said Katie.
“Well, that is the story – and it may be true. All that could be found of the Nawab and his friends was a bloodstained turban that I know belonged to the Nawab. It was thought then that the lions had killed and eaten him and so I believed until a month ago when my sleep was troubled by terrible dreams.”
Katie bristled. She had told no one of her dreams and she feared what might come next. “Lady Mary: I have had terrible dreams too: of chanting, and drumming and cries – awful cries- tearing the night.”
The lady took Katie’s hands in hers and held them tightly. “They have been my dreams too,” she said.
“And mine too,” said Abdul. “You see, Katie, the Nawab was my uncle. I would have been hunting with him that day but I had gone back to the university in Alexandria a little early.”
“Then,” said the Lady, “just three months ago – when Professor McGonagall was asking you to come to work for me at Siwa, I had a particularly vivid dream. I saw the Nawab beside me. He looked pale and sad but he assured me that if I were brave and took the help of a girl and a boy who would come to me that he would be returned to me. I woke that night with a start – and found this on the table beside my bed.”
The Ancient Scarab that Lady Mary found.
The Lady held out to Katie a scarab – a beautifully smooth piece of cold onyx carved into the shape of a desert beetle. Katie knew that scarabs dated from ancient times – and this one looked very old indeed.
“I did not recognise the scarab but I knew that it had somehow come from the Nawab. In ancient times, the scarab was a sign of new life coming out of death – and that is what the Nawab seemed to be promising. Then, a week later, my dreams were troubled by terrible nightmares of dark and powerful forces screaming through the night, threatening to overwhelm and hurt us all. Then the Nawab was beside me again with the promise that a boy and girl would come to me: that there would be real danger but that through them he would be saved. When I awoke, this was beside me.”
The Lady took from her finger a beautiful ring and held it out to Katie. It was heavy: the silver of the mount supported a large and beautifully carved brown stone. It looked as old and as magnificent as the scarab. Katie took it in her hand and immediately felt her whole body and spirit tingle. The honey coloured stone held lights like an opal and Katie was sure that she could discern something moving through the dark clouds of the stone.
“It’s magic,” said Katie, “and very ancient. I can feel an ancient – and good- magic moving in it.”
The magic ring that the Lady Begum found.
“It certainly is magic,” said the Lady. “I can feel it too. And the very morning I found this beside my bed, two amazing things happened. I had a letter from Professor McGonagall telling me that you were willing to come to Siwa and I received an email from Abdullah to tell me that he had been troubled by a dream and was coming to Siwa to protect me. Well, can you see? The Nawab promised that a boy and girl together would bring him back to me – and a boy and girl arrive at my door. But the Nawab also said that there would be danger. That’s why I sent Abdullah straight away to see your parents in Dubai. I needed to tell them that you were coming into what might be a dangerous place.”
“And they still let me come?” said Katie proudly.
“They did indeed, Katie – although of course they wanted to be assured that we would take every care of you that we could.”
“They told me,” said Abdul, ”that you were a brave and good girl and that you would be very unhappy if they took you away from Siwa because of some danger.”
“Katie, it’s not too late to go back to Hogwarts now and leave us here. I will understand if you want to do that,” said the Lady. “You might even get your position back on the Quidditch team if you go now.”
“Lady Mary,” said Katie after a moment, “if you took me back to Cairo now, I would walk back out into the desert, all the way to Siwa on my own, if I had to. I want to be a teacher at your school – and I want to rescue the Nawab. And I want to make sure that Abdul doesn’t have all the danger to himself!”
Abdul laughed and the Lady took his hand and hugged Katie to her. Katie felt proud and grown up at this moment – and just a little frightened. She remembered the terrible dreams she had had – the whirling darkness and the screaming in the desert. Then she saw the lovely, kind face of Lady Mary and the warm, handsome face of Abdul. It would be all right, she was sure. The scarab went back into a little leather bag that lady Mary wore around her neck. The ring returned to her finger. It was time for bed. This was certainly going to be a great adventure.
Chapter 5: Darkness at Noon
“Grandad, this is scary,” said Emily. What’s going to happen to Katie?”
“Do you think that Mummy and Daddy would really let me do something dangerous?” asked Katie. She was liking the story very much. She liked the Lady Begum and she liked Abdul too. She particularly liked how grown up she had to be in the story.
“Well,” said Emily, “they let you go on the scariest rides at White Water World, didn’t they? And they’re a little bit dangerous, I suppose.”
“Let’s just see how dangerous all of this becomes,” said Old Grandad sleepily. Emily noticed that no matter how exciting the story became, Old Grandad got sleepier and sleepier as it went on. He really was getting old, Emily thought.
Katie would never forget her first glimpse of Siwa Oasis. The group of students and teachers had travelled for three long days – starting before dawn on the second and third days and travelling as much as they could early in the morning, then stopping for a long siesta in the afternoon. The Nubian servants worked hard to make sure that everyone had a good dinner and was comfortable at night. There was lovely food to enjoy every time they stopped and the excitement of the adventure ahead of them made up for the heat and the difficulties of travel. Still, everyone was pleased on the morning of the third day when Captain Faisal told them all after he had blown his trumpet that they would be in Siwa by mid morning.
Abdul and Katie were busy all morning with the chilly bin but they were right at the top of the caravan as it climbed a high sand dune, the camels struggling – even with their broad feet- to manage the slippery sand. They crested the ridge – and there was the oasis in front of them – quite close and looking cool and inviting in the hot morning sun. And on a ridge above the oasis itself was the Nawab’s palace and the newly founded Siwa School.
The Nawab’s Palace on a hill above the oasis at Siwa.
Katie gasped. The palace looked like a dream shimmering in the heat haze. There were beautiful towers, gracious minarets, a strong defensive wall and a high castle gate. There was another part of the palace on a rocky crag just behind the main building; Katie was to learn that this was the private quarters of the Nawab and his Lady. The school itself would be in the main building. The camels, smelling the sweet water of Siwa, picked up their pace and headed for home. Despite their exhaustion and tiredness, the last few kilometres went past quickly as every step brought them closer to comfort.
Once through the great gates, the process of unloading the camels could begin. This was terribly noisy and chaotic but Katie did want to say goodbye properly to Cyclone Yasi who had been as good and sweet as any camel can be. Katie had saved some sugar lumps from dinner – and Yasi was just delighted to have them. Katie hugged her and promised that she would always look for her if they were on a caravan again. Then there were a million things for Katie and Abdul to do, including assembling the boys and girls in the shade of a lovely colonnade while the Lady Begum welcomed them all to Siwa. The first formal lessons, she explained, would be the next day. Tonight, she explained, there would be an assembly so that the boys and girls could meet their teachers and get their timetables for lessons. And of course the most important business of the evening would be sorting the students into their houses.
That afternoon, however, there was time for the boys and girls to explore the palace. The Lady Begum had moved her apartments into the Dower House – the little palace that adjoined the main building over an elegant little bridge. This part of the palace was out of bounds to the students. All the same, the children had the rest of the beautiful palace to explore. The boys, of course, took off first for the highest towers looking out over the little town, the green fields of the oasis and out to the desert dunes. The views were certainly spectacular. Then they went down to the dungeons – dark, cold and dismal. Katie shivered when she saw the lonely cells and wondered who had been confined there many years ago. The girls admired the beautiful drawing rooms and the grand dining room of the palace where they would have their meals. Seven of the bedrooms had been converted to classrooms and two towers had been converted into dormitories for the students. Abdul told Katie that there were to be two houses: Malouf House named for the Lady Begum and Kahn House named for the Nawab. At the moment, the Nubian servants had simple stacked the children’s trunks in a pile in the big hall at the foot of the staircases leading to the towers.
What the children [and Katie] wanted most was a nice shower – and here they were in great luck. The palace boasted two very beautiful hammams: one with the most beautiful silver and blue tiles for boys and one with gold and green tiles for the girls. If you have ever been out in the desert, you’ll know how much your body aches for cool, clean water. That’s just what the hammam offered. After exploring the palace for a spell and enjoying a lovely salad lunch served on the terrace overlooking the oasis, Katie accepted the Begum’s invitation to join her and as many of the girls as wanted to go into the Ladies’ Hammam.
The girls left their clothes on marble benches and stepped into the dreamy, steamy beauty of the hammam. There were showers of chilled water, fountains with pools where you could splash and a big heated circle of marble where the girls could lie like sausages on a hot plate while dark skinned lady Nubian servants scrubbed their bodies with a bucket of suds and a brillo pad. Some of the girls squealed when the servant’s rough hands went to work but this only made everyone giggle. After a full hour of scrubbing, steaming, soaking, pummelling and kneading, Katie and the rest of the girls felt as if they had been completely refitted. In the boys’ hammam next door, Abdul was leading the boys through the same wonderful experience. Even the little boys with the soccer ball put it down and looked much the better for the scrub they received. A scrumptious afternoon tea was served on the terrace and then it was into the dining room for their talk.
Two of the boys at Siwa School enjoying the hammam
Apart from Katie, Abdul and the Lady Begum there were four other teachers in the school. They had arrived in a separate caravan a week before; in that time, they had the school all ready to begin classes. Instead of the title Professor the teachers took the Arabic name Ustadh and Ustadha: these were names of great dignity. Ustadh Abdul and Ustadha Katie joined the Lady Begum at the top table; with them were Ustadh Mustapha [the teacher of Basic Charms and Potions], Ustadh Farid [the teacher of Ancient Egyptian Magic Studies], Ustadha Nabiha [the teacher of Magical Plants and Animals of the Delta and Desert] and Ustadha Taliba [the teacher of Protective Behaviours for Wizards and Witches]. What an interesting collection of wizards and witches they were. But Katie soon found that outward appearances were deceiving. Ustadha Taliba, for example, had also been at Hogwarts – in Gryffindor House, too. She wore a very snazzy shocking pink abaya and shayla and Katie noticed that night in the teachers’ bathroom that she had very elegant silk undies and a Gryffindor lion tattooed on her shoulder. Ustadh Farid [an Old Boy of Hufflepuff House] had left his job at the Cairo Museum where he was a great authority on deciphering hieroglyphics to come to Siwa. Nabiha had been a teacher in a high school in Alexandria; she was elegant and very sophisticated. Only Mustapha was how one might imagine an Egyptian magician and Katie soon learned that this distinguished looking gentleman had been a pilot in the Egyptian Air Force and won medals for his bravery in battle. Katie was proud to be there with them as the first teachers at Siwa School.
The Lady Begum welcomed the students, introduced the staff and then called for quiet. It was time for the most important business of the day: for sorting the new students into their Houses. The boys and girls grew very quiet: Katie remembered what an awful moment this had been when she was a first year at Hogwarts. Ustadh Farid stepped forward with a covered cane wicker basket and placed it on the table in front of everyone. He held up a kind of Egyptian flute for everyone to see.
Ustadh Farid - the expert on Egyptian Magical Arts.
The Lady Begum called Abdul to stand on the right of Ustadh Farid and Katie to stand on the other side. “Boys and girls,” the Lady said. “There are two houses here at Siwa until we grow a little larger. The two houses are Malouf House and Khan House. Ustadha Katie will represent Malouf House in this sorting exercise and Ustadh Abdul will represent Khan House – but of course boys and girls will go into both houses. When I call your name, step forward, right up to the basket- and we will see what house you join. The first student is Wahid Amir.”
A little boy from Jordan came forward very reluctantly; when Wahid was settled, Farid began to play the mournful flute and to sway his shoulders. As soon as he did, the wicker lid of the basket slipped back and a giant black and grey snake rose dramatically in front of them. Poor Wahid gasped and Katie – who was really as close to the snake as Wahid, struggled to stay silent and cool. Katie had to admit afterwards that Farid’s cobra snake [whose name was Mubarak] was a very wise and handsome fellow. The snake looked at Wahid as if he could see right through him. He put out his forked tongue and flicked it back and forth. Finally, the snake leaned in and stroked Katie’s arm with the broad fan of its neck. It felt strange but not, Katie thought, as unpleasant as it sounded many months afterwards when Katie was explaining what had happened to Emily.
“Malouf House!” announced the Lady Begum and everyone clapped. The snake reacted to the clapping – Katie was sure that it was as happy as any of the children and sank back into the basket. Wahid was sent to sit at a table with Ustadh Mustapha– the Head of House.
Ustadh Farid’s amazing cobra, Mubarak
“Benazir Bengazi,” the Lady Begum announced. Farid played his flute and the cobra rose again, his tongue twitching towards the timid girl with long black plaits from Libya. Without hesitation Mubarak leaned into Abdul – and Benazir was consigned to Khan House. They were gathered around Ustadha Taliba– their Head of House. It took quite a while to allocate everyone. Farid’s cobra was very busy and while some allocations were quicker than others, Mubarak took great care with all of them. The Lady Begum told her afterwards that it seemed that Mubarak allocated the kindest and wisest students to Malouf House and the sharpest and most energetic students to Khan House – but that both Houses seemed to have a real mix of characters. Katie was going to love being the Assistant Master of Malouf House. She thought that Ustadh Mustapha was like a kindly grandfather who would love all the children in his house. Katie was determined to be like their big sister.
After the sorting, it was time for the feast and but for the fact that the dinner was very different and the plates were brought to the table by twenty smiling Nubian servants, it might have been Hogwarts. Katie couldn’t enjoy the lovely lamb and couscous because she was busy sorting out the timetables for the fifty boys and girls in her house. She already knew the names of lots of them from the long journey from Cairo. She was so pleased to be able to greet so many of the boys and girls of Malouf house by name.
After the feast it was time for bed. Most of the children were exhausted after the travel and the excitement of the sorting snake [as Katie thought of the splendid Mubarak] but there were still a great many things to do. Princess Jasmine – the little Saudi girl who had arrived at the caravanserai with her slave – seemed to take forever to unpack her clothes; it was clearly something she had never done before. Both the Moroccan boys who had brought the soccer ball and who made the rude noises while the girls were trying to settle to sleep- Katie learned that their names were Naji and Nasser – had been selected for Malouf House. This is going to be trouble, thought Katie, but they were so tired that the only problem they presented was an unwillingness to brush their teeth properly. Katie wisely left them to Ustadh Mustapha whose years in the Egyptian Air Force had left him with more patience with naughty boys than Katie cold muster. Finally, the lights were off and the dormitories silent. Katie and Mustapha waited for a full half hour before heading down to the Teachers Common Room for a well deserved cup of tea.
And that is how the days went for the next week. Katie helped in the mornings to get the boys and girls up and ready for school, then she was in classrooms all day assisting one or other of the teachers. She was a great help to Mustapha on basic charms and potions but she was learning as much as the boys and girls when she went into Farid’s classes on hieroglyphics. She loved Taliba’s classes too and was learning there too how to defend herself against dark magic. At night she helped the boys and girls of Malouf House with their homework and more than anything, she helped them come to love their school as much as Katie loved Hogwarts. On the first free moment she had, Katie wrote long letters to Emily, her parents and to Professor McGonagall assuring them that there was nothing too dangerous happening at that moment. The Lady Begum wrote too – to her parents and to Professor McGonagall to tell them what a great job Katie was doing.
Katie was still troubled, however, by terrible dreams: she tried to remember them afterwards and now could say confidently that the chanting and drumming were not the frightening parts: it was what came afterwards – the darkness and the screaming in the desert that always woke her in fear. She often discussed her dreams with Abdul who was, she found, having much the same dreams. During the strong sunny day, the dreams faded away and were not frightening – but in the darkness of night in the Malouf tower they were certainly real enough.
Then on the first Friday of term - a holiday at the school and a happy time for all the boys and girls – something happened that made the nightmares terribly real. The day was unusually hot for February and the air felt sticky and ominous. The Lady Begum had promised the children that they could walk from the school into Siwa to see the oasis town; Katie and Abdul were going to escort them so the regular staff could have a lie in and a real day off. By eleven o’clock, Princess Jasmine had visited the
perfume seller, the giggling girls who always seemed to shadow Abdul had bought new pots of nail polish to replace the ones confiscated by Ustadha Taliba and Naji and Nasser had bought big ice blocks and had sticky melted stuff all over their clean school uniforms. Abdul and Katie were thinking about setting them all off for home when Katie noticed a heavy dark, brown cloud on the high dunes to the north.
Both Abdul and Katie knew what this must mean – and so did all of the children who had ever lived in the desert. It was a sand storm- and it was closing in fast. Without alarming Katie, Abdul pointed out the danger and quickly had the boys and girls together, moving as fast as they could for the kilometre back to the palace. The boys didn’t dawdle and the giggling girls were as quick as they could be: they had only just reached the gates of the palace when the storm fell in a whirl of dust and sand that beat against their faces with a fury. The children followed Abdul and Katie, hanging on to one another as they made the last steps across the courtyard to the safety of the doors to the main hall.
Once inside, everyone could relax a little. The storm was tearing through the desert air and it was impossible to see anything beyond the windows. The Lady Begum, as soon as she realised the danger, had come running down to meet them. Now the House Masters took over and the children were led up into their tower common rooms. It was time, the Lady Begum declared, for an indoor picnic morning tea.
The terrible sand storm that struck the palace.
But Abdul and Katie were not fooled for a moment by the Lady Begum’s cheerful manner for all three recognised this moment from their dreams. In the wind and rattle of the storm, they recognised the terror of the screaming in the darkness. Katie said afterwards that it felt as if they were being attacked by something horrible – and they would later learn that this was exactly what was happening. For an hour the storm beat on the palace walls and windows, cooling the air, certainly, but leaving everyone unsettled. Katie could only guess at how frightening it would be to be caught outdoors in such a storm.
And just when the sandstorm abated, the beating on the windows and walls took on another drumming sound. The children who had long ago finished their morning tea and were playing card games and even doing some homework lifted their ears eagerly. For the new sound was not fearsome but welcome. Can you guess what it was? It was raining! The sand storm had given way to a real rain storm- unusual and precious in the desert and always welcome. The rain came down in torrents and because the gutters had filled with sand, it was spilling out and running down the walls. This was exciting for everyone, even though the rain threatened to drench their dormitories and fill the palace courtyard with big muddy pools. When the storm was finished, the air felt rinsed clean and the terror of the sandstorm was almost forgotten. Naji and Nasser were soon out in the courtyard garden with their soccer ball: the puddles made for great fun and they were soon sopping wet and very dirty.
That afternoon when Abdul and Katie sat with the Lady Begum, however, they turned the strange day over in their hearts. The sand storm was so malevolent – as if a horrible, terrifying beast had been loosed in the desert air. And the rain storm was the exact opposite – warm, heavy rain falling on the parched earth with the promise of new life.
And the rain brought something else. The Lady Begum summoned both of them late that night when all the children were settled to her private apartments in the Dower House on its own on the rocky crag adjoining the main palace. The sheets of water had come running down the walls of her palace too and in the main bedroom, there was considerable damage to the plaster of the wall. A beautiful Persian silk hanging had been splattered with the plaster as it had been washed away, exposing the original stone work of the wall. The plaster now pooled on the floor, spoiling the lovely Persian rugs that covered the stones. But there on the wall, glowing gently in the candlelight, were lines and lines of ancient Egyptian writing.
Chapter 6: The Writing on the Wall
“What did the writing say, Grandad?” asked Emily.
“This is a bit scary,” said Katie. “That storm was horrible. And the picture that went with the story; what was that in the picture?”
“How clever you girls are!” said Grandad, “to notice that image in the picture. Now you will all hear soon enough if you are patient,” he said.
“I have looked at this for a long time this afternoon,” said the Lady Begum. “I wanted to show you first – and then I will ask Ustadh Farid to help me understand what it means.”
Katie looked at the carving carefully; it was obviously very old – but it still seemed fresh and clean on the wall, In some places, the plaster remained, covering up more of the inscription. In some areas, the carving had been painted to make it look more vivid.
The inscription on the wall of the Begum’s Palace.
The hieroglyphics were beautiful but baffling. There were abstract shapes in the columns of figures as well as animals and birds that were fashioned into letters that formed the words. Some of the carvings were grouped within a box or cartouche; Katie could clearly see two of these. In the first of these at the top of the inscription, were the figures of two wise, kindly looking men standing solemnly together and turned side on in profile. They were wearing the white kilt of ancient Egypt. Katie thought [rightly as it turned out] that the men may have been priests of the temple – perhaps the very men who had carved the inscription. They looked gentle and very intelligent; one of the kilted priests looked strangely familiar although the original plaster still obscured some parts of the inscription and the carving on the cartouche was one of them. If only these men could talk, Katie thought. With the kilted figures in the cartouche were two men in distinctive brown robes. They looked as wise and as noble as the white kilted priests but humbler and kinder, perhaps.
The other cartouche was at the very end of the inscription; in fact, the two boxes acted like brackets or bookends for the rest of the long message. Like the first cartouche, it was still smeared with plaster. Katie wanted to kneel down and inspect it carefully but she distracted by Abdul’s next words. Although he was as intrigued by the carvings as Katie was, his thoughts were elsewhere. “Are you sure that you want to involve Ustadh Farid?” he asked. He looked at his aunt imploringly.
“Why ever not?” asked the Lady. “Farid is a wise teacher. He will be able to translate the hieroglyphs for us, I’m sure.” But Katie noticed that her voice was hesitant and that she fidgeted with the ring on her hand anxiously. It seemed to Katie that something was missing – that the Lady was holding something back. Then she did something quite unusual: she went silently to the window and looked out across the desert and then to the door. She swung it quickly – as if she were checking that no one was there listening. Then she returned to the children and smiled.
“If you show this to Ustadh Farid,” said Abdul, “it means that one more person – whom you hardly know, has to be part of the secret. My Lady, do you really trust Ustadh Farid?”
The Lady smiled sadly. “It’s hard to keep secrets from you, Abdul,” she said. “You are so like the Khan. He was always so wise and knowing. But yes, I do trust him – although his manner has been strange since he came to Siwa. It is almost as if he knows the palace better than I do. His eyes show such wisdom – but great pain, as well. He is a famous scholar. I was surprised that he was so willing to leave his position with the Cairo Museum to come to Siwa. But yes, I trust him.”
The Lady took Abdul’s hand as if to reassure him. Katie looked on, feeling a little excluded from this special moment for aunt and nephew until the Lady was busy again. “Help me here, Katie,” she said kindly. She lifted the corner of the Persian carpet and began to roll it back, away from the sopping plaster. Katie rolled it with her – and as she did so, more inscriptions were revealed on the flagstones of the floor.
“Where do these come from?” asked Katie. For no reason at all other than the mystery of the moment, Katie lowered her voice to a whisper.
The Lady Begum looked suddenly sad. “Katie, the palace as you see it was built about a thousand years ago; that’s when the Nawab’s great ancestor came to Siwa at the invitation of the Caliph to become the first Prince of the Western Desert. Siwa was a ruin then. The ancient temple to the great God Amon had long ago been abandoned; its stones had fallen into the desert. The first Prince built the palace from stones quarried in the hills to the west – and from stones gathered from the ruins in the desert. Some of those stones came from the temple of Amon. The Prince covered the inscriptions – either with plaster or carpets - but they are the clear sign that even though the palace is very old, some of its stones go back thousands of years.”
“And those same stones connect us with the ancient temple,” said Abdul. “Tell me, Lady, was this a happy place in the days of the temple?”
“It was indeed,” said Lady Mary. “There are ancient legends about the desert before the priests came. Then, I believe, it was a cruel and terrible place. But the priests of the temple were wise and good men. For thousands of years, they made Siwa a place of hope and charity. People came across the terrible desert to listen to the God’s advice; the priests were gentle men.”
“And the ring?” said Abdul. Like Katie, he had noticed that the Lady Begum’s hand was restless and her hands returned again and again to the beautiful silver ring with the heavy brown stone that the Kahn had sent her.
Lady Mary held out her left hand for both of them to see. The brown stone flashed green fire – as if it contained a moving light. “It has been very busy: ever since the storm, it has been blazing on my finger. I know that it is magic but I can’t find any way to unlock the magic. All the usual things – like rubbing the stone or calling on the magic to be revealed- simply don’t work. I can feel the Khan’s presence – as if he is reaching out to me and I simply can’t take his hand.”
“The Kahn gave you something else though,” said Katie. “Have you checked the scarab, Lady Mary?”
“Of course!” cried the Lady. “Katie, you are wonderful.” Lady Mary loosed the velvet bag from its leather string around her neck and the scarab slipped into her hand. It was glowing, pulsing with life, just as the ring was. And when Lady Mary put the scarab beside the ring on her finger, light flashed from the ring and there was a sound, low and musical, of chanting followed by the deep throbbing of drums. Katie recognised the sound immediately.
“My dreams!” cried Katie. “I have heard the chanting and the drumming in my dreams!”
“And in mine too!” cried Abdul.
Lady Mary struggled to hold the pulsing scarab and ring together. The chanting and drumming became louder –something truly wonderful was happening- but nothing prepared the little group of friends for what happened next. The inscription on the floor and wall began to glow; it seemed that the drumming and the chanting came from the stones themselves. And as they watched in wonder, the first cartouche in the inscription showing the two kindly looking men glowed with a white light -and then one of the men stepped down from the wall and stood before them.
He was, as Katie had guessed, a priest – and he carried the great dignity and authority of a wise and learned man. He seemed to have a body like any other person; Katie could see immediately that he certainly wasn’t like the ghosts of Hogwarts School, for example. His head was shaved and his chest was bare. Around his neck there was a heavy green stone necklace which ended with an intricate piece of gold carving forming a large open circle. He wore the white wrap or kilt that Katie had seen in the inscription: his feet were bare. If he were surprised to be called from his long sleep on the walls of the palace, he didn’t show it for one moment. He bowed immediately to Lady Mary and then made a simple bow to Katie and Abdul. In the solemnity of the moment, Katie and Abdul returned the bow.
The priest, Imohteph, who spoke to Katie.
Katie had never spoken to a long dead priest before and wondered exactly how to address such an important person. Abdul was also clearly awed and anxious at what had happened; Lady Mary, however, remained cool and controlled. “Now I can see what a true Gryffindor girl she is,” thought Katie.
The Lady Begum drew herself up to her full height and began: “Sir, I beg your pardon for disturbing your peace and silence of thousands of years. You have come across the great depths of time to attend me in my palace, summoned by the ring and the scarab. If you can give me news of my beloved husband, His Royal Highness Nawab Abdullah Aga Khan, please speak now and I will reward you as well as I can.” Katie noticed that while the Lady’s words sounded confident and proud, there was also a fearful pleading that was unmistakable.
The priest bowed again and when he lifted his face to look at them, Katie was certain that this was a good and kindly man. His face showed not anger or fear or pride but the most open and transparent gentleness and compassion. His bright brown eyes moved from the Lady to Abdul and then to Katie: it was, Katie thought, as if the priest were not so much looking at them as reading their spirits and searching their hearts. Then he smiled. And his first words were so completely unexpected that they drew a gasp from all three of the friends.
“My Lady, and my brave young man, and you, my kind and good young Ustadha, I have been waiting for you to come for many years now. Bless you all: and may the great God Amon strengthen you – for you face terrible dangers before you can drive the evil darkness from the desert that threatens your palace and your people.”
“Will you tell us, sir, your name?” the Lady asked.
“I am Imohteph,” he replied, “and in this mortal life, I was the High Priest in the temple of the great God, Amon Ra. The story of the Temple is carved on these stones: it is a story you must know if you are to rescue your husband, Lady, and protect your school.” Abdul gasped at this and Katie, without thinking, put her hand on his shoulder to comfort him.
Imohteph went to the inscriptions on the floor first and moved his open hand over the carvings, as if he were summoning up something from the floor. In a moment, the inscriptions on the floor and the wall began to move, imperceptibly at first but then in a lively way. When Katie tried to explain all this to Emily many months afterwards, she told her that it was almost like watching a cartoon on the television. As Imohteph spoke, the figures and the signs in the hieroglyphics seemed to come to life. They showed the story – just as Imohteph narrated it.
“Before the great Pharaohs ruled in Egypt, before the Pyramids were built or the mighty sphinx was carved from the rocks of the valley floor, the ancient desert was a wild and dangerous place. Even though there has always been sweet water at Siwa and fertile soil in the desert sands to welcome the traveller, the land all about was a wilderness. Savage lions roamed the desert and yet they were, perhaps, the least dangerous of the terrors of Siwa. For the oasis was home to a tribe of savage jinns, the wicked spirits of the air and the dunes that have lived here since the creation of the desert. You met one of these jinns this afternoon – in the storm that brought the sand and dust pelting down.
One of the desert djinns of the sandstorm.
“The Pharaoh in the great city of Memphis learned of the savagery of the jinns. He sent his bravest men to face the djinns but all of them disappeared – swallowed up by the desert sands. Travellers going to Libya and Carthage along the desert road were never safe. Then the wisest of the Pharaohs, King Ramses, decided to try a different way of defeating the wicked djinns. He sent not soldiers but priests of the great god, Amon Ra, to use their powers against the darkness. I was one of those priests.”
“Did you, sir, defeat the djinns?” asked the Lady Begum. Katie thought that this may have been a silly question; of course the priests defeated the djinns – they already knew that. But the Lady Begum was wiser in the ways of magical creatures than Katie and knew that in conversation with such beings, it was wise not to show that you were too clever. [This is something that works on ordinary mortals as well as supernatural beings, by the way.]
“The battle in the desert was terrible. The djinns were driven by the powers of darkness itself but the priests brought to the battle not just their own magical powers but the power of the great God himself. It was Amon who fought for us and drove the despairing djinns to seek shelter in the darkest, deepest caves of the Valley of the Winds. The djinns were cruelly confined in solitary caves there. A mighty rock was put over the mouth of the cave to seal the djinns forever and there they remained – at least until the temple collapsed into the desert. They were confined in the Valley of the Winds.”
The Valley of the Winds – where the djinns were imprisoned.
“The Valley of the Winds,” cried the Lady Begum, “that was where my dear husband, the Nawab Khan, was torn to pieces by lions some thirty years ago.”
“The lions of the desert, Madam, are wiser than men and shun the Valley of the Winds. It was not a lion who killed your good husband, Lady. The Nawab lives, but as the slave of the djinns. At great risk and in despair, he has sent you the ring and the scarab – and now he has sent me to you – in the rainstorm - with the commission to come to his rescue.”
“Tell me, sir, the secrets of the ring and the scarab,” said Lady Mary.
“Both are very ancient,” said the priest. “The ring dates from the very foundation of the temple here. The priests of Amon knew not just the mysteries of the desert but the secrets of the future. They knew that the wicked djinns would not rest for ever in their tomb beneath the Valley of the Winds. They knew that once the djinns found their way back to the world, that they would wreak a terrible vengeance on the desert peoples. They have broken out once at the end of the temple worship, when the Pharaohs of the west fell to the invaders from the East and people no longer cared for the mercy of the god Amon. At that time, the djinns, sensing that their time had come, broke from their prison and tore the great temple to pieces, casting the stones into the desert. Then, in the moment of their triumph, there was a great quarrel among the djinns themselves – because you must know that they are solitary creatures and quite unused to being confined together. The fighting in the desert between the rival djinns was worse than any fighting between men. The sand storms that showed the djinns at work were felt all over Egypt. A Christian monk, the great Saint Antony himself, came to Siwa and used the powers of the Christ to conquer the djinns again. Most of them he commanded to go into the southern desert, where they live to this day – not in a any oasis, but in the most isolated and solitary sand dunes, Saint Antony never trusted that the djinns would not return to wreak their mischief. The most terrible of the djinns – a horrible spectre named Shaitan – he locked in a tomb in the Valley of the Winds. That is where the Nawab is now, the slave of the Shaitan. One of the gentler djinns who listened with fear and joy to the words of Saint Antony he confined in the ring that had belonged to the high priest of Amon. You can summon him to come to your aid. He will help you rescue the Nawab Sahib.”
Katie and Abdul had been standing silently beside the Lady through all of this – frightened and hopeful both. This all seemed to be so much the Lady’s business but Katie could not help saying at this moment, “Sir, perhaps there is some mistake. We have done all we can to call on the power of the ring and although we sense the deep magic, nothing we can do seems to work.”
“My dear young Ustadha,” said the priest with a chuckle, “that is because I have the last piece of the puzzle to give you now. Watch – and learn. May I have the ring and scarab, Lady?”
The Lady Begum quickly slipped the ring from her finger and handed it with the scarab to the priest. He took from his neck the heavy green stone necklace and placed it, to his amazement, around the neck of Abdul. “This young man,” the priest said kindly, “is the true heir of the priests who served in this area at the temple of Amon. It is only right that he should wear the sign of the high priest.” Abdul seemed to grow by centimetres as the priest placed the green stone necklace around his neck. Then, in a deft movement, he inserted the ring into the open gold pendant. It fitted perfectly and immediately the room was filled with the sound of drumming and the chanting they all knew. And when Imohteph inserted the scarab to the bracket he completed the pendant: then the sound of the temple rose in a crescendo and they all felt stronger and braver than they had at any time before. And just when you might have thought that nothing more exciting could happen, there was a blaze of green light and the room was filled by a magnificent green giant.
The kind djinn of the ring
Katie and Abdul, the Lady and the good priest stood in awe as the djinn seemed to fill the whole room with dazzling green smoke and light. Then Imohteph stepped forward confidently and commanded,”Slave of the ring, bow before your master – and await his command!”
The Holy Men of the Desert
“Grandad, this is scary!” said Emily. “In my story, the scariest things were the vampire bats and the spiders, but they weren’t half as scary as horrible djinns in the desert winds.”
“I like Imohteph,” said Katie. “He may be a kind of ghost, but he is still kind and wise. And what about Abdul? Imohteph said that he was the heir of the High Priests of Amon and Imohteph made him the master of the ring; I wonder why he didn’t make me the master of the savage djinn.”
“I think that we’ll soon find out,” said Grandad sleepily.
This was really a most amazing moment when things that were both wonderful and frightening began to happen all at once. The Lady Begum, seeing both the good priest Imohteph and the glorious green djinn standing in her bedroom, began to hope that with these two powerful forces on her side that she would soon be reunited with the Nawab. And indeed, they made a wonderful pair. Imohteph was wise and gentle and looked so kindly at the three friends that you might think that there was nothing you couldn’t do under his inspiration. And the djinn, who prickled with green fire and smoke, seemed as powerful as anything supernatural could be- although his glowering green face was more frightening than reassuring. Still, Katie thought, you never could be certain with magical creatures and the priest had described him as gentle and good.
Katie tried to describe the djinn afterwards to Katie and Professor McGonagall and although she saw a great deal of him in the next few days he wasn’t the sort of person you got to know quickly. You have to remember that djinns are a very shy and solitary kind of being. Because they are awkward in company, they live isolated lives and are slow to make friends and quick to take offence. Imohteph, being much wiser in the ways of djinns than Katie, Abdul or the Lady Begum, quietly took over the conversation.
Imohteph stood as tall as he could and in as loud and as commanding a voice as he could muster, spoke with great authority. At least Katie was impressed by him: “Your master, mighty djinn, is the noble young man you see before you, the heir to the Prince of the Western Desert, the noble Nawab. You know, mighty djinn, that the Nawab is being held in thrall by the wicked Shaitan. Go on the winds to his prison cell and bring him here immediately – and your master will release you forever from the ring that has been your prison cell!”
Katie did not know what to expect after a beginning like this. She felt the Lady Begum’s gasp at the thought that her husband might be returned to her in a moment but neither of the girls was prepared for the sad chuckle that came from the mighty djinn. His powerful green face dropped its grumpy scowl and for a moment, Katie really did see a sad face – and a kind face too, I think.
Speaking in a deep, velvety voice – a voice much kinder than one might expect from something as fearful looking- the djinn replied, “My noble master commands – and I would obey at once if I could. But my master must know that the great Shaitan is more terrible and fierce than I am and that if I sought to rescue the good Nawab, that I would be poured out like water in the desert and all of you mortals and the Nawab himself would be torn to pieces. I can bring you the treasures of the earth and riches beyond your imagination. I can whisk you to the highest mountain and to the depths of the deepest sea. I can even take you to the doors of the Nawab’s prison; I can bring you all back on the wind if anyone can enter the Shaitan’s palace and come out alive. All this I will willingly do. But it will take a magic greater than mine – and greater than the Shaitan’s- to rescue the Nawab Shaib. Your Royal Highness must know that not all djinnns are equally powerful; I was always the lowest and humblest of the tribe of djinns. I will serve you gladly – but I cannot rescue the Nawab Sahib.”
And now Katie heard the Lady Begum’s stifled cry. She felt that she had come so close to rescuing the Nawab and now all that hope was being snatched away from her.
“Sir,” the Lady said to Imohteph, “there was a time when the priests of Amon defeated the desert djinns and locked them safely away. Have you the power to do that again?”
“Madam,” said Imohteph wearily, “in this mortal life, I might have aided you. I was the high priest here in the temple, but remember: it was not simply the priests who defeated the djinns in that terrible battle. The great god Amon himself fought with us in that battle – and he is now gone forever. If you are to vanquish the most fierce and wicked of the djinns, you need to call upon a power greater than the Egyptian darkness. The good djinn here can carry us hither and yon; I can supply a kind of protection to strengthen your hearts for the terrible tasks ahead. But only men and women with a power greater than the djinns can enter the palace of the Shaitan and rescue the Nawab.”
“Then I suppose there is no hope for us,” said the Lady Begum sadly. “For the power of the djinnns is the power of the desert itself. It would take an extraordinary power to confront the djinnns in their desert stronghold.” Katie could hear in her voice all the hope for the future- not just for recovering the Nawab Sahib, but for the future of Siwa School itself -draining away and quietly, without any fuss, Katie took the good Lady’s hand and squeezed it gently.
“Do not be so easily discouraged, My Lady,” said Imohteph. “You have here with you a brave young man, your nephew, and a lion hearted young lady both of whom carry something so precious that even the djinnns cannot break it in pieces – I mean the hopes and courage of the young. And with us too is something not as ancient as I, but nonetheless, something powerful from of old. Young man,” said Imohteph, “look to the sign of your great office.”
Impohteph raised his hand to the green stone necklace that Abdul was wearing and the ring and scarab glowed again- this time, however, with purple fire. There was a renewal of the chanting – but this time, it was very different from the vigorous call that accompanied the heavy drums. The voices were deep and clear and the music sweet and melodious. It continued for some moments and everyone felt that beautiful music moving them deeply and filling them with happy thoughts. Even the djinn looked happy and at peace. Imohteph raised his hand and gestured towards the cartouche on the wall from which he had stepped down to join the friends. There were three figures left in the cartouche and as Katie watched in awe, the two figures clad in dark robes quivered, moved and then stepped confidently down to stand beside them. It seemed, Katie thought, even more wonderful than the appearance of Imohteph himself.
The two figures were dressed alike – in very simple dark robes, tied at the waist with a length of rope. They wore sandals made from the reeds of the River Nile and you could see in their thin and deeply lined faces the marks of age and suffering. But none of this mattered when you looked at their eyes which were alert, and sparkled with intelligence and wisdom. They were the kindest people that Katie had ever seen and reminded her immediately of Professor Dumbledore so far away at Hogwarts. Their faces were dark – like the men of the desert – but Katie knew them immediately as men who might have been the brothers of the wise and powerful Professor.
“Sir,” said the Lady Begum to Imohteph, “there is no doubting your wisdom, I’m sure, nor the great goodness of these two men who have stood with you on the wall of the temple for thousands of years, but tell me, I beg you: how can these men prevail against the wicked Shaitan to rescue my dear husband if this mighty djinn cannot?”
Katie looked intently at the Begum and saw at once that hope had once again entered her heart with the beautiful chanting they had heard. Once Katie had spent more time with magical beings she would know a little more about how these things were done. Her question to Imohteph gave him the perfect opportunity to introduce the two dark strangers to everyone.
“My Lady, remember that the life of the great temple of Amon came to an end when the holy men came from the East with the news of the Christ.” Imohteph bowed to the first of the figures – a bow filled not with fear but with love and respect. “This man, My Lady, is Anthony- the holy hermit who lived in the desert for sixty long years. And this good man,” said the priest, indicating the second dark figure, “is Paul, another famous holy man. Even in their lives, their followers called them saints – and I am sure that they are indeed holy men. They came to Siwa when the great God Amon had gone, shrunk into the very sands of the desert. They it was who scattered the insolent djinns who had come out of their prisons, thinking that they could take back their home now that the temple was broken and down. And they, My Lady, will lead us to rescue the Nawab Sahib.”
Saint Anthony – the great holy man of the desert.
Katie felt her heart jump in her chest. This would be, she thought, as exciting an adventure as any Hogwarts girl could hope for. But even at this moment of hope, a feeling that had been niggling at the back of her spirit from the moment when the Lady Begum had shown her the inscriptions came back to trouble her. She looked from the wise and kindly faces of Imohteph, Paul and Anthony back to the cartouche and the one white kilted figure still standing there. The face of the fourth figure was still obscured by plaster but it looked familiar to Katie.
“Sir,” she said, addressing all three men at once. “There is a fourth figure on the wall. Is he part of the group who will help us?”
The eyes of Paul and Anthony twinkled and a smile crossed their kindly faces. “The little Ustadha is wiser than many men,” they said with a chuckle. Anthony raised his hand and solemnly made the sign of the cross. At that moment, the fourth figure stepped down to join them. And at once, Katie’s heart leapt and Abdul and the Lady Begum gasped. The figure bowed and smiled broadly to them. It was, of course, Ustadh Farid.
“My Lady,” he said with a gentle smile,”I think we might allow these holy men to return to their place on the wall and this good djinn to return to his place of sanctuary in the ring. What we need most now is a cup of tea while we plan how best together we can bring the Nawab Sahib home and make Siwa safe for everyone.”
The Message in the Cartouche
“Grandad,” said Katie, “I love the way you have made me so clever in this story. I’d really love to be as clever and as brave as I am in your stories. And nothing really exciting happens to me here in Mirdif.”
“Now Katie, you must remember that exciting things can happen just where ever you happen to be,” said Grandad, sleepily. “I know you think that Old Grandad lives a quiet and dull life with Old Nanny, but let me tell you ..” At this, Old Grandad seemed to nod off completely and fall asleep.
Emily was really quite impatient with him by now. “He is a good grandad, I suppose, but he always wants to have a snooze in the most exciting bits of the story! In my story about the Lost Gold of Ravenclaw Tower, he was always dropping off – just when I needed to know what was happening.”
At that very moment, Old Grandad gave a kind of start and seemed to come alive again. “Now, as I was saying..”
It was a solemn little group who assembled over the tea table that afternoon. Katie was bursting with excitement and wonder: the teacher she had loved and respected was not a professor at the Cairo Museum. He was, in fact, an ancient priest of the temple who had promised to support them in their quest. Imohteph, Saint Anthony and Saint Paul had quietly withdrawn to the comfort of their cartouche on the wall where they looked benevolently out at the world as they must have done at the moment the inscription was carved. The great green djinn had bowed, scowled and in a flash of electric green fire, had withdrawn into the ring. Now the green stone necklace looked beautiful but very ordinary around Abdul’s neck. And Abdul himself looked more like his old self and a little less like a mighty warrior prince. The Lady Begum rang a silver bell on her desk and when one of the Nubian servants appeared, she ordered a big pot of tea and some Anzac biscuits for them to share. Ustadh Farid had gone to the window and was looking intently towards the north; he appeared to Katie to be lost in his own thoughts.
“Abdul,” said Katie, “the priest Imohteph said that you were the heir of the Nawab Sahib – and would be the Prince of the Western Desert.”
“Well, Katie, if I’m to be a prince, I hope you will treat me with more respect the next time we are out on a camel!” He laughed kindly and his eyes lit up mischievously. “Don’t forget that the same priest said that you were a lion hearted girl whom even the djinnns could not defeat,” said Abdul. “I wonder what it all means?”
At that moment, the tea things arrived and all four friends gathered at the table. Farid was quiet, waiting for the Begum to begin the conversation. She did not do this until all of them had a big cup of tea and a plate of delicious Anzac biscuits to go on with.
“Sir,” said the Lady Begum, “can you tell me now what we must do?”
“You are indeed blessed, My Lady,” Farid replied. “For three years since the disappearance of the noble Nawab Sahib the ancient holy powers of the desert have looked for a way to free him and defeat the great djinn. This is not a battle for the spirits alone, of course: it involves mortal men and women and both must play their part in the battle. There is great danger for all of us – and for the school and all its people. Be assured that the Shaitan is planning a terrible revenge on Siwa. Even now he is summoning the other djinns whom the God, Amon, defeated so long ago and which St Antony and St Paul drove into the desert when the temple fell and the god departed. You saw something of the Shaitan’s powers in the sandstorm. You must be ready for many more such terrible events as the djinns recover their strength. The most important thing we can do now is strike the Shaitan before too many more of his fellows can come to him.”
“Could it be, perhaps, that you and Imohteph, Saint Anthony and Saint Paul together confront the Shaitan in his desert lair?” said Abdul hopefully.
“The Shaitan is clever as well as cruel,” said Farid sadly. “He knows that every day he becomes more powerful as the djinns come to him. If he can delay any kind of battle, he will be more likely to succeed. Today he has flung himself at us in the storm, trying to catch the boys and girls and their teachers away from the shelter of the school. You did wonderfully, Katie and Abdul, to bring all the boys and girls back to safety. Did you like the rainstorm? That was Saint Anthony’s work, you know. He was always a master of the winds and rain – that’s one reason that the people of Egypt loved him so much.”
“Must we then simply wait for the Shaitan to strike again before we respond?” said the Lady. “Perhaps I should send all my children back to their parents. It sounds dangerous for them to be here.” Her voice sounded sad and almost hopeless.
“The worst that you could do, My Lady, would be to put the children out into the desert in the camel caravan to go home. Imagine if a sandstorm like the one we had today had struck you in the desert on your way here,” said Farid.
Katie shuddered; it was too terrible to imagine being out in the storm with the camels and the children to protect.
“Be of good cheer, My Lady,” said Farid, “and my young lady, too,” said Farid smiling at Katie. “We need to be alert certainly. I think it would be wise to add a watch to the castle gate at night – from just our number, I think. The rest of the staff and the students will know soon enough, I think, what we are facing. In three weeks, there is a full moon when the powers of the djinns are at their weakest. That will be the time to strike back – and if all goes well, we will rescue the good Nawab Sahib alive.”
“So the Nawab is really alive,” said the Lady Begum excitedly. “Do you know, I have married many times and lost many good husbands. But from the moment the sad police officers brought me the blood stained turban of the Nawab Sahib I have never thought that the Nawab Sahib was dead. I have felt his hand on my heart and his tears on my spirit every day since that moment.”
“I saw your husband, Madam, only three months ago. At great risk to myself, I had entered the Shaitan’s palace in the dungeons of the Valley of the Winds. The Shaitan has your husband a captive slave in the deepest part of his palace. All day long he must scrub the floors and clean the toilets of the palace but his heart, My Lady, is always with you and when I revealed myself to him, he cried of his grief and smiled of his hopes at the same time. He gave me the ring and the scarab to bring to you; he had stolen them from the treasures the Shaitan has hoarded beneath the desert floor. As he labours, he has learned the secrets of the underground palace. There, the Shaitan has accumulated the treasures of the desert tombs of the ancient kings. And we will rescue him, My Lady, just as soon as we can,” said Farid.
“Sir,” said the Lady Begum, “I still cannot imagine that we can rescue the Nawab Sahib when you, the great green djinn and the Holy Saints Anthony and Paul cannot prevail against the Shaitan. There is something missing here that I cannot sense.” She poured more tea for everyone; even Imohteph took a second cup. She seemed to want the priest to share something he was reluctant to give at that moment.
“That is because, My Lady Begum, the priests and holy saints represent the past – a noble and mighty past, to be sure, but days that have now gone into the desert sands.” Ustadh Farid’s words were carefully chosen and he could barely hide a chuckle in his voice. “But yes, Madam, there is something you have neglected to notice. But the young Ustadha, perhaps, is more alert.”
“Ustadh,” said Katie cautiously, “I wish I knew more magic – and more about the ancient world of the desert. I am a stranger; I know so little.” Her words were halting and cautious, as if she were struggling to put into words a puzzle or mystery she felt deeply. When she tried to explain it afterwards to Emily and Professor McGonagall it made Katie seem somehow older and wiser than she really was. But what she said next really did change the way everyone at the table was feeling. She paused and went on: “It was wonderful to encounter you and Imhoteph, Saint Anthony and Saint Paul in the inscription on the wall. When you stepped down from the cartouche, I knew that in the end, everything would be well. But there was a second cartouche in the inscription, wasn’t there. Your cartouche began the inscription and was high up for all of us to see. But wasn’t there another cartouche- one down on the floor, and still partly covered by the plaster. Is that what we’re missing, Ustadh Farid?”
Ustadh Farid’s smile broadened and he simply beamed. “I think,” he said, “that Malouf House is blessed to have such a clever teacher. So let us see what we have missed this afternoon as we have fussed about with rings and ancient priests and holy men.”
Abdul was on his knees quickly at the wall with Katie beside him. Abdul had taken his napkin and the water jug; he was busily splashing the water on the remaining plaster and rubbing away to reveal the whole of the cartouche. Katie and Abdul saw what was in the cartouche at the very same moment and gasped in astonishment: there in the cartouche was a young girl with soft blond hair riding on a broomstick. And beside her in the unmistakable uniform of an Air Egypt flight attendant was a young man with a handsome, smiling face.
Ustadh Farid and Imohteph on the wall painting
Egyptian Darkness in the Valley of the Winds
“Gosh, Grandad,” said Katie, “that means that my picture had been on the wall for thousands of years!”
“Well, it looks that way, Katie,” said Old Grandad. He was very sleepy by now and Katie was frightened that he might suggest going to bed and leaving the rest of the story for another day.
“How could that be – when I’m only ten years old?” asked Katie.
“Perhaps you are wondering,“ said Farid to Katie and Abdul, “how your picture appears so clearly on an inscription dating back thousands of years?”
Abdul shook his head in wonder. “I can’t guess,” said Katie, “but then, I know so little about magic. Can you explain it, Ustadh Farid?”
“You must remember,” he said carefully, “that the temple was dedicated to the great god, Amon. Amon was the god of time itself; that is why his oracle could give such great advice and foretell the future so wisely. When the temple was built and the inscription added to its walls, the oracle could see even then that the future would bring great danger – and great hope. It means that at the very time the temple was being built and these stones put in place, the priests of the temple knew that there would come a day when they would be tumbled down – and then gathered into a noble building like this. The temple priests knew that a wise and good young lady and a brave young man would come to rescue the desert oasis from the darkness of the djinns. And young Ustadha Katie, that moment has come. And it has come to you as well, young man.”
Abdul and Katie were silent – both of them lost in their thoughts. Finally Katie looked not at Farid but at the kindly, gentle face of the Lady Begum. “I will do my best – that’s all I can do. I don’t think that I can be strong against the power that came with the storm this afternoon. Maybe Abdul can do that part – he’s going to be the Prince of the Western Desert, after all.”
The Lady Begum laughed and Abdul blushed. He was liking Katie more and more – and even though he were older and a university student, he had come to value everything that Katie said and thought.
That night before bed, The Lady Begum, Farid and the two young teachers slipped through the doors of the school and walked purposefully around the whole palace. They called down on the school the most powerful protections: ancient spells that Farid had used when he was a priest at the temple and spells of great power that Mary had learned at Hogwarts as a protection against dark magic. It was none too soon, either, for when they gathered on the terrace before parting that night, they could see a terrible storm to the south with lightning splitting the sky. It was too far away for the thunder to reach them but Farid was sure that they were witnessing the great Shaitan calling up his fellows. Already the undecided desert djinns would have heard of the way in which the rainstorm that Saint Anthony had brought had conquered the sandstorm the Shaitan had called up. The Shaitan was not happy and the lightning showed his anger.
Katie had first watch that night and she spent it on the terrace, looking in every direction across the desert. The Lady Begum had given her a big torch to carry; when Katie tried it out, the beam reached right across the palace school and into the oasis village but it was much nicer to have the torch turned off. There was little moon but the stars above her were dazzling bright as they always are in the desert after rain and if it hadn’t been such a solemn moment Katie would have loved this time of quiet and great beauty. She thought again of how much she loved the desert – and how much she missed her mother and father at home in Dubai – on the other side of the great desert far, far to the east. She wondered what they must be doing at that moment and what they would think of her if they knew that she were in great danger but being wonderfully brave.
It was almost the end of Katie’s shift on watch; in a little while, Ustadh Farid would be coming to relieve her. He would have the watch through the darkest time of the night. Katie heard the danger before she saw it. It sounded distant at first, like the crinkling of an old fashioned parcel wrapped in cellophane. It was a rustling sound but it came louder and louder. Trying to remain calm, Katie swung the torch across the school and then down the walls and into the valley below. She couldn’t see where the noise was coming from - and then she did see it and her blood ran cold. At this very moment, Farid arrived and his quiet presence beside her made it all a little less terrifying.
“Well, Katie,” said Farid quietly, “this shows how frightened the djinns are of failing after the rainstorm. The Shaitan has called up the nastiest creatures of the desert who must do his will. But watch, and we will see whether the spells we put in place last night are stronger than the hate of the Shaitan.”
For the rustling was caused by the restless movement of thousands and thousands of scorpions. Their ancient name was the cockatrice: ever since there were people in the desert they feared these horrible arthropods. They came out of the desert dunes like a rolling tide – like a boiling tsunami of struggling, angry creatures. Katie could see them as they surged over the gates of the oasis and up the paved road leading to the school, rolling like an ocean wave. There must have been millions of them – and every one of them could give a fatal bite. Once in the school itself, they would be a terrible danger to the boys and girls and their teachers. Of course you could kill any one or two of them if they attacked but there were so many of them – and the children asleep would be such easy targets for the masses of scorpions.
Most little girls – most big girls, I think- would have screamed at that moment but Katie had such complete confidence in Farid that it never occurred to her to be frightened. She did feel a touch of sympathy for the poor scorpions, however, who had been compelled to leave their homes and obey the wicked Shaitan’s spell.
“Any moment now,” said Ustadh Farid quietly. Then suddenly, the horrible rustling was accompanied by something just as terrible – a kind of sizzling sound as the scorpions met the barriers of magic put in place by the spells Farid and the Lady Begum had cast as they walked about the palace. As the first scorpions met the magic barriers and were annihilated, the scorpions close to them tried to turn back in fear: soon, there were scorpions being trampled and overturned by their fellows – some surging forward and many others pushing back against them. The scorpions did what scorpions do when enraged or fearful: they struck again and again with the poisonous barbs in their tails. Within a half an hour, the danger was passed and the whole desert floor was littered with the dried bodies of the poisonous cockatrices.
Over the next few nights, there was always some horrible danger to confront. There were electrical storms close or far away on the horizon. Another night when Mary was on watch the sky was clouded by bats who came scudding over the horizon from the north; they flung themselves at the castle school and bounced off the invisible shields the magic had set off with the most horrible shrieks. Abdul always said that the snakes which came on his watch two weeks after the first storm were the worst. [Katie was very pleased that she didn’t have to confront this particular menace.] Katie, Abdul and Mary became tired and anxious as they faced so many broken nights without proper sleep but if truth be told, the people most affected by the Shaitan’s attacks were the poor Nubian servants who not only had to make the breakfast every morning but had to report with brooms and dustpans to sweep up whatever had died at the invisible barriers the night before. The Lady Begum was anxious that the children not be alarmed and the sight of hundreds of dead snakes and thousands of dead scorpions would certainly worry any of the children who saw it.
Finally the day of the full moon came. This was the moment, Farid had told them, when the djinns were at their most vulnerable. They loved nothing more than darkness and the silvery moonlight seemed to weaken their power and resolve. It was Friday – always a holiday at Siwa- and two important things happened that day. For a start, the Lady Begum decided that she must tell the other teachers of the school exactly what had been happening. She gathered them together in her bedroom on Friday morning and one could tell from the solemn way in which Lady Mary began the meeting – with Farid, Abdul and Katie standing beside her – that what she was about to say was very important.
She showed all the teachers the inscriptions on the wall and explained what was going to happen that evening. When she had finished, Ustadh Mustapha was excited and beamed at Katie: he had known from the start that something extraordinary was happening because Katie was, after all, assisting him in Malouf House. She was sometimes so slow to get up in the morning that he had guessed that Katie was doing something most secret and important at night. “This is so good for Malouf House!” he said proudly. “When the history of the school is written many years from now, it will be said that our little Ustadha was the bravest and the best when the crisis struck!”
Ustadha Taliba knew immediately about the powers of the djinns – and of the potential danger. The most wonderful moment, of course, was when Farid showed himself in the cartouche – and Imohteph, Anthony and Paul stepped down to join them. The Lady Begum explained that despite the terrible dangers, she was hopeful that all would turn out well – and that when they gathered the very next night, they would be joined by the liberated Nawab Sahib.
“All the same,” she said with a choking voice, “if the little band does not return from the Valley of the Winds, Ustadh Mustapha, you will have to act as the Headmaster. You must send the children home if it is safe. And you must write to Abdul’s father and mother and Katie’s mother and father and tell them what good children they had.“ The Lady Begum’s voice faltered and before either of them could cry, Katie had taken her hand. Then the whole group of teachers took hands and Anthony, Paul and Imohteph put their arms around them in a kind of blessing. Katie could feel Saint Anthony’s arm on her shoulder; for a spirit, he certainly felt solid enough. And the encouraging arms of these good people were comfort indeed. Katie suddenly felt alive and brave and determined. At that moment, she looked up into the lovely face of Ustadha Taliba, her hair hidden now under a canary yellow shayla. Taliba winked at her and gave her the kindest smile.
“No one will have to close the school, My Lady,” Taliba said. “Tomorrow night we will be joined by the Nawab Sahib – and the wicked djinns will be back in their desert dungeon.”
The second important thing that happened that day was that the camel saddles and carpets which the Lady Begum had commissioned from Hajji Said Shaheen in the Cairo souk arrived in a special camel caravan. The caravan appeared at the oasis at morning tea time- just as Katie was wondering how she could possibly put in the day until the dangerous journey to the Valley of the Winds that night. Her heart leapt up when she remembered how excited she had been in the souk. How easy things had been then – when the most important thing she had to worry about was teaching Quidditch to the boys and girls of Siwa School! All of that was before the Shaitan, the scorpions, the snakes, the djinns, the sandstorms and the return of the missing Nawab.
Of course there was tremendous excitement among the students as the magic carpets and camel saddles were unpacked and assembled. Who would have the honour of the first flight? Of course everyone in Malouf House wanted to be first but Katie gave the first ride to Princess Jasmine who took off with great elegance - just moments before Naji and Nasser went tearing off at a great pace on the second of the saddles. Abdul insisted that the boys and girls from Kahn House have equal time and everyone was late for lunch because no one wanted to come in and miss their place in the queue for a ride.
Late in the afternoon, Katie collected some things into a backpack that might be useful in the night ahead. It was hard to guess what might be needed but she took some matches, a strong torch with new batteries, a short, sharp knife, a length of rope and some chocolate. At the very last minute, she put in the whistle she used in HPE lessons. It made a piercing sound and could be heard right across the school. She checked her pack against Abdul’s and found that he had brought much the same things – although he had also brought a water bottle and some dates.
At last night fell. The teachers at the school who were not part of the expedition had volunteered to look after the students of the school that evening so while Mustapha, Taliba and Nabiha supervised dinner in the great hall of the palace, Lady Mary, Abdul, Farid and Katie slipped out through the main gates which closed behind them with a heavy thud. The arrival of the flying saddles was a very welcome addition to the plans for the expedition to the Valley of the Winds; the four friends rode the saddles into the darkness of evening. It was a wonderful ride across the dunes for the five miles to the Valley of the Winds; the saddles and carpets with their precious cargoes finally came to rest before the high stone portal to the valley just as the moon was rising. The desert air was cool and clear but to the north, another of the great lightning storms was at work the horizon.
Saint Anthony, Saint Paul and Imohteph were waiting for them at the great stone gates that marked the entry to the Valley precinct. They were looking very solemn – but not discouraged or fearful. Katie had already grown to love and trust Saint Anthony’s twinkling eyes. Saint Paul was a shyer person, perhaps. Katie had always wondered how the next stage of the journey would be managed: who would open the stone gate to the dungeons below the valley floor and how would they all go into the chambers there to find the Nawab? There were some answers to these questions now that they were ready to begin the most dangerous part of the whole enterprise.
The first of the many amazing things that happened that night was, in many ways, the most interesting. Lady Mary had come wearing the green stone necklace that had belonged to Imohteph; as the friends stood at the stone gates, she carefully took it from her neck and put in place in the gold pendant the ring she had worn on her finger and the scarab given to her by the Nawab. She then put the necklace on Abdul. As he had done in the Lady Begum’s bedroom, he seemed to grow wiser and stronger as he put it on. He stood tall and lifted his arm towards the heavy slabs of stone that formed the doorway.
They quivered as if they were made of silk, then parted like curtains to reveal a deep cavern and steps leading downwards. Even though the tunnel and steps had been cut from the living rock, there was nothing rough hewn about it: it was elegant and beautifully made. Katie turned on her torch and found that the walls were covered in hieroglyphics painted on to the smooth plaster.
“What is this place?” asked Katie.
“You are looking,” said Imohteph, “at the treasury of the temple. Pilgrims who came for comfort from the god were grateful and gave generously to the temple. In recent years, the djinnns have ransacked the tombs of the ancient pharaohs, bringing their treasures here. You will see as you pass though the passages the signs of that wealth but do not be distracted. You must continue down to the dungeons: that is where the Nawab Sahib is being held prisoner.”
“But aren’t you coming with us?” said Katie anxiously.
“My little Ustadha,” said Imohteph kindly, “Farid and the good Lady Begum, you remember, cast spells all around the school to protect it from every kind of evil. There are similar spells here to protect the cavern from ghostly intruders. The Shaitan, proud and vain as he is, neglected this simple precaution until recently but he was enraged when Farid penetrated his lair and received the ring and the scarab from the Nawab Sahib. He has now planted his own enchantments all around it. This is as far as Anthony and Paul, Farid and I can go. Now it is up to the three mortals – the Lady Begum, the young prince and the young Ustadha. You have an unknown power in the ring and scarab and we have some unexpected powers here which will be very useful when the Shaitan wakes and pursues you through these doors.”
“We can only do our best,” said Katie. “It’s going to take all my courage to go down those steps but I’ll do it to bring the Nawab Sahib out to safety.”
At this, Abdul shifted uneasily and avoided Katie’s smile. “Katie,” said the Lady Begum, “I’m asking you to wait here at the doorway for us. As soon as Abdul and I have found the Nawab Sahib and rescued him, we will return to you.”
“But Lady Mary!” cried Katie, “You can’t leave me here. I want to help; I have to help! If Anthony and Paul and Imohteph and Farid can’t come with you, then I must come. And beside: this has been my adventure right from the beginning!”
“Katie,” said Lady Mary, “You’re the best and bravest of girls. But this isn’t an adventure; it’s real and it’s dangerous. The Nawab Sahib is my husband; he is Abdul’s uncle. If one of us were to die fighting the Shaitan – and you must know that’s very likely – then we die for our family. I can’t ask that of you. I could never face your mother and father and sister and tell them that you died for a stranger.”
Katie felt a deep, blind, frustrating anger welling up in her. Abdul and the Lady had not said that she was being left out of the danger because she was a little girl, but Katie wondered in her anger whether they would have left a boy at the door as they were leaving her. She bit down on her tongue, too angry and too frightened of losing her temper to say anything. Abdul, to his great credit, knew just how she was feeling.
He took Katie awkwardly in his arms and said simply, “I’m sorry, Katie. You have to understand how hard this is for all of us.”
And then there was a great deal of busyness and the Lady Begum and Abdul were gone. Katie watched their torch as it descended a long way; then they waved the light at them and the light in the corridor turned right and out of sight.
Chapter 10: Katie and Treasure of the Temple of Amon.
“That’s terrible, Grandad, to leave Katie out of the final adventure,” said Emily. “I wouldn’t have done as I was told – I’d have fought and come along too!”
“It’s really unfair, Grandad,” said Katie. “I know I’m only ten years old but what about the inscription on the wall – of Abdul and me? That seems to suggest that I had to be there!”
“It does indeed! It does indeed,” said Grandad, “but I think that the Lady Begum was forgetting that because she was just a little frightened of what might happen to you. It’s a dangerous business confronting desert djinns in their hideouts.”
“I hope this story has a happy ending,” said Emily. “In my story there were some really scary parts – but it still had a happy ending.”
“Well, let’s just see what happens next,” said Old Grandad wearily.
When Katie was telling the story to Professor McGonagall later, she said that she had never seen anything darker than that flight of steps after Abdul and the Lady Begum had turned away. Katie almost cried in frustration; strangely, Paul and Anthony, Farid and Imohteph made no attempt to defend what the Lady Begum had decided. If anything, they seemed to share Katie’s concern that she had been left out. Imohteph spoke for all of them: their greatest concern was that the inscription clearly showed Abdul and Katie doing the rescuing. If the inscription showed it that way, that’s the way it should be.
Katie busied herself in the next half hour preparing the camel saddles for a rapid get away once Abdul and Lady Mary returned with the Nawab Sahib. There were only three passengers on the trip from the school; Lady Mary had suggested that Katie and Abdul could fly one saddle each and she and the Nawab could share one. Katie now regretted this; having two people on the one saddle might slow them down badly. Then she had a moment on inspiration: she found the rope in her backpack and tied the three saddles together to form a kind of saddle train. Once the three saddles were tied together, she tried them out. It was fantastic: seated on the front saddle, she could guide the other saddles like a convoy behind her. As she waited, she was tempted to eat the chocolate but feared that she might need it much more urgently later in the night.
As she waited, she chatted with Paul and Anthony. They were such wise men and knew the desert so well. Paul was in the middle of an interesting story about his monastery on the cliffs facing the Red Sea when the silence of the desert night was broken by a terrible cry. The sound was like that of a wounded, enraged animal and came deep from the earth below them. It sounded again, then, in a kind of follow up to the cry, there was a surge of foul smelling yellow smoke that came in a blast up the stairs and into the sweet desert air.
In the moonlight, Katie saw Paul’s face cloud over and Farid gasped.
“I fear something terrible has happened,” Imohteph said simply. “We may not have the chance to confront the Shaitan above ground here.”
Katie took only a moment to decide what to do. As quick as a knife she was up in the saddle of the leading magic carpet and ready to go. She would not bother with the stairs; instead, she was on the first of the saddles and even without a wave to her friends, she was sweeping down the steps and heading for the passages below. It was like a smooth, elegant, high speed roller coaster hurtling downwards into the darkness. At the bottom of the stone steps, she leaned to the right and the camel saddle caravan swept forward with her.
It was the bravest, most noble – and perhaps the most dangerous- thing that Katie had ever done in her short life. It was all the more remarkable because Katie didn’t really operate on her thoughts at all: instead, she acted on her feelings. She had no plan of what she would do when she entered the underground passage nor any real idea what she would do when she confronted the Shaitan. She didn’t turn on her torch; instead, she relied on her senses and the lingering sound of the enraged cry to carry her forward. The passage was dark and cold. She used her instincts to lean forward and guide the little caravan of camel saddles forward. All that Katie could think of was that her friends were in trouble and that they needed her.
Soon, the darkness dissolved a little. There was some light in the stone tunnel: every now and then, a burning torch was fixed to the wall and cast a cheerless glow. In the lamplight, she could see that the walls were covered with hieroglyphics. Every now and then there were doors leading off the passageway; some of these were open and Katie had only a momentary glimpse of things stored within the rooms beyond. Then she heard another terrible cry – not far ahead – and then pitch black darkness and horrid smoke all around her.
This was the only time that night when Katie felt really frightened. She had set out without really thinking what she might do when she reached the source of the terrible cry: now it was just ahead and in the darkness she was not quite sure what she could do to protect herself. She slowed the saddle caravan and slipped off her back pack. She found the torch but did not put the light on; instead, she held it like a weapon, slid off on to the stone floor and holding the pommel of the front saddle, she edged her way forward.
Suddenly, she became aware that there was something ahead of her – not far ahead but close and crouching. Again, she could sense the thing rather than see it: she could feel its breathing and feel its fear. She stopped and screwing up all her courage, she reached out her hand and edged forward – until she felt the warmth of skin! There was a gasp and at that moment Katie switched on her torch. It was Abdul, He shook with fear and relief and for a moment, simply hugged Katie to him. He buried his frightened face in Katie’s hair.
“The Shaitan,” he gasped, “is straight ahead. He has Lady Mary. When we encountered him here, sitting in the great underground chamber ahead, we saw the Nawab Sahib chained to a pillar. The Shaitan was on a throne and when he saw the Lady, she flung herself at him. She used all her magic – she’s simply wonderful when you see her at work. The Shaitan was so busy fighting Lady Mary that I don’t think that he even saw me. There was a mighty struggle – you must have heard it. The green stone necklace was torn off. Lady Mary threw me her wand and told me to run back and save myself. And I did. I feel so weak and foolish, Katie. I left them there. They are in the chamber just ahead. What kind of a Prince will I ever make?” And at this moment, Abdul began to cry –tears not of sadness but of shame and bitterness.
“It is just as Farid and the good saints told me,” said Katie, holding him up and helping him to stand tall again. “The prophecy on the wall made it clear that you and I together were going to defeat the Shaitan. Lady Mary thought that she was protecting me; instead, she has played into the hands of the Shaitan himself who must think that he can now defeat us one at a time. Well, I’m here now – and we’re together – just as the cartouche on the wall said we would be! And Lady Mary, even in her moment of greatest danger, pushed the wand into your hands. Perhaps the wand will help us to escape.”
Katie wanted to say that no one was going to escape without the Lady Begum and the Nawab Sahib but the next moments drove all those awkward feelings from them both. Before Katie turned off the light from the electric torch, it caught the sparkle of something green and golden on the floor ahead – at the very edge of where the pool of yellow light travelled. It was, of course, the green stone necklace that had been torn from Abdul’s neck in the struggle. He put it on and immediately the fear and shame left him. He hugged Katie again – this time the hug was not of a frightened boy but the bear hug of a brave and determined warrior prince. What is more, the light in the ring was blazing up and demanding attention.
Abdul only had to touch it and the djinn blazed out in a shaft of green light and smoke. Once again, the djinn looked terrifying but he was himself obviously anxious – perhaps even a little frightened.
“Master Sir!” cried the djinn, “quickly! We must get out of here immediately. The Shaitan is very close and will destroy us all!”
It was Katie who stepped in now – just a little angry that the djinn had ignored her and turned straight to Abdul. As he had erupted from the ring, a kind of plan was quickly forming in her mind.
“The Shaitan hasn’t killed either the Nawab Sahib or the Lady Begum,” said Katie. “If he has chained Lady Mary with the Nawab, we may be able to free them both if the Shaitan is distracted.” She quickly rummaged in her backpack and found the whistle that she had brought from her HPE lesson. It could make a terrible noise in the playground; underground, the effect would be even more dramatic!
“Sit up here,” she ordered the djinn. “I know you’re frightened of the Shaitan – we all are – but in a moment, I’m going to send you speeding down the passage towards him. When you see him, speed up and blow this whistle as hard as you can and keep on blowing it. Give me time to find the Nawab and the Lady and then double back if you can. We will all have to fit on the camel saddle caravan to reach the surface. Now go!”
Katie had never sounded so bossy in her life and for a moment, the great green djinn hesitated. He looked imploringly at Abdul who added severely. “You have heard the young Ustadha. Tremblingly obey!”
If only this wasn’t such a frightening moment, thought Katie, it would be so much fun. Imagine a giant, green, glowing djinn on the front of a little caravan of floating camel saddles; then imagine him kicking off, whooping wildly and then blowing his whistle fiercely as the caravan sped through the darkness. As soon as the caravan turned the corner, the sound of the whistle was joined by the deafening roar of the enraged Shaitan. Katie listened for a moment as the sound became a little fainter –though no less frightening – as the djinn fled through the chamber that was the Shaitan’s throne room and deeper into the earth. Then the torch was on and the two friends, Katie and Abdul – looking at this moment just as they did in the inscription on the wall in the Begum’s bedroom – dashed forward into the darkness.
Katie’s torch lit up the great chamber at the end of the passageway. There was a beautifully vaulted ceiling, extraordinary paintings on the walls and a great ivory throne on a dais at one end. And chained to the floor in front of the dais were Lady Mary – now dressed in the scanty silk clothes of a harem slave – and a much older man wearing rags. Dressed this way, he might have been a garbage man or the poorest peasant but Katie realised immediately that he had the wisest face and all the noble bearing of a prince. It was, of course, His Royal Highness Nawab Abdullah Aga Khan.
As soon as they entered, Lady Mary gave the most excited squeal. “Katie, I knew you would come! I am so sorry that I foolishly asked you to stay at the entrance to the tunnels. The inscription on the wall clearly showed you and Abdul together making the rescue – and here you are.”
“My Lady,” said Abdul quickly, “I have your wand.”
“Then use it yourself!” cried the Lady, holding up her hands enclosed in awful iron chains.
And Abdul did. Just as Katie had acted on her feelings to guide the camel saddle caravan through the darkness, Abdul raised the wand without thinking and magic came erupting out of it in the form of dazzling, purple light that melted the chains away. In a moment, the Lady was freed and Abdul turned his wand on the chains that bound the Nawab Sahib. The older man stood, rubbing his wrists and embracing Abdul and Katie all at the same time.
There was no time to spare, however. All over the underground palace the djinns whom the Shaitan had called to himself were now alert and streaming out, shouting their rage and anger at the intruders. Katie was pleased to hear her whistle, however, coming closer and when the noise became deafening, the green djinn burst out of the passage way in front of them, his face heaving with joy. He had been terrified of what might happen but he found to his delight that the camel saddles, supported by their wonderful magic carpets, could speed up, take terrifying corners at speed, could accelerate, stop on a sixpence and even loop the loop in the confined spaces of the underground passage. He was having, that wonderful evening, the best fun of his life! On the saddle caravan, he could outrun the Shaitan and all the other djinns who had flocked to their master. One could hear them all storming forward somewhere still deep underground; Katie knew that they had only moments to mount and head for the surface.
What a ride that was! Katie and Abdul clambered on to the second saddle in the line, holding on tight. The Nawab and Lady Mary struggled on to the final saddle. They were off just as the Shaitan and six of the most horrible djinns erupted into the throne room in a blaze of dirty smoke and baleful light. Katie turned on her powerful torch and the green djinn, of course, cast a light of his own. Once they started, Katie wished that she had taken the whistle from the djinn because he was having the best time blowing it at top volume. What with the dirty smoke, the deafening noise and the rush of stale underground air the camel saddle flight to the surface was simply intense.
None of this would have mattered, of course, if it hadn’t been for the furious driving of the great green djinn. After years of being the weakest and the least powerful of all the tribe of djinns he just loved his moment of glory, being in charge of the camel saddles and driving so hard and fast. He seemed to love slowing down a little so that the Shaitan who was close behind them could catch up and come tantalisingly close. Then he would lean forward and accelerate around a corner, terrifying Katie but causing her to whoop with joy as well. When the passage way widened at one stage, the djinn steered the caravan to bank tightly while he looped the loop. At that moment, the cries of the angry djinns behind them were joined by the terrified squeals of all the mortals in the caravan – and the excited guffaws of the green djinn driver.
Katie could smell the fresh evening air ahead: they must by now, she knew, be nearing the surface.
“Hold on tight!” the excited djinn called. With a mighty burst of speed and with a long last blast on the whistle the camel saddle caravan came hurtling up the last deep flight of steps, erupting into the cool, fresh evening air. And within seconds, the djinns burst out behind them.
Looking down from their vantage point high above the stone gates that marked the entry to the underground chambers of the Valley of the Wind, Katie and Abdul had a wonderful view of the next exhilarating moments. The djinn’s piercing whistle had alerted everyone on the surface that things were [literally] coming to a head. The djinns were powerful and enraged – always a fearful combination in any creature. The Shaitan was beside himself with anger; having already captured the Nawab, he had planned to capture the Lady Begum and then to take over the Siwa School by stealth. The Shaitan planned to add the lady teachers to his harem and to set the poor children in the school to work in the diamond mines deep beneath the chambers of the Valley of the Winds. Having defeated the Nawab, the Shaitan would be the undisputed ruler of the Western Desert and all the desert djinns would treat him as their king.
Paul and Anthony, Farid and Imohteph were ready and waiting to strike down all of these terrible hopes and plans. Each one of the four great souls brought a terrible power to this moment in the desert night. Farid and Imohteph were wise in the ways of the great god, Amon. His temple may have collapsed into the desert sand and the name of the god was no longer called upon by worshippers in his sanctuary at Siwa. But at the dawn of history, the priests of Amon had conquered the desert djinns and the powers of the priests remained strong and undiminished in the hands of Farid and Imohteph. They stood to one side of the entrance to the stone steps. Opposite them were Paul and Anthony – less ancient, perhaps, but holy men who had long ago defeated everything that the devils of the desert could bring against them. When the Shaitan led his tribe of terrible djinns out the portal that evening, he little guessed the revenge that was waiting to strike him down.
The Shaitan and his fellows rose in the sky like a great, dirty brown cloud. Now that they were free of the caverns, they simply expanded to fill the night air with an evil smelling, suffocating smoke. There was lightning and more smoke all around the brave souls on the camel saddles as they tried to fly up and away from the djinns; I think that this was probably the only time that the brave, loyal green djinn in the first saddle felt really afraid. The voice of the Shaitan filled the whole sky in anger and Katie felt Abdul’s hands behind her instinctively hold on tighter as the saddle bucked.
Katie knew – because she had been told – that the four holy men had great powers. Nothing in her imagination, however, had prepared her for what happened next. All four of them glowed with the most beautiful light that seemed to stream out of them. Imohteph and Farid raised their hands to the sky and immediately the lightning bursting around the Shaitan was sucked towards them. It was as if all the power in the Shaitan’s anger was being drained away into the outstretched hands of the two priests. Once it was all gone, Farid and Imohteph spread their arms wide and a gigantic sheet of pure gold light came soaring into the heavens. It wrapped itself like a solid web around the saddle caravan and as a gently as breath, the saddles eased themselves to the ground beside Farid. Then the solid gold light was stretching itself to the north and south like a gigantic net. Katie heard the furious roar of the Shaitan as it closed around him like an iron trap.
Then it was the turn of Anthony and Paul. Lifting up their arms, they made the sign of the cross – the ancient sign of their Lord, the Christ of Light whom they loved and served – and into the air erupted cascades of mighty silver stars that cut through the air, scattering the now desperate djinns in every direction. They had been promised so much by the Shaitan; now, at the moment of his triumph, he had been humbled and broken by the priests of Amon. The silver stars separated the djinns, driving some of them far into the western desert but most of them into the limitless dunes of the south where they had centuries ago taken refuge from the holy priests of the Church. They were happy now to leave their master and just flee for their lives.
The final moments of the Shaitan were wholly unexpected. Katie expected that he would be driven below – back under the desert floor through the caverns where the Nawab Sahib had been kept as a prisoner. Instead, Saint Paul raised his hand at the great stone gates. The blocks of stone had been carefully fitted together by the ancient masons who were so clever as they worked in stone. On the great stone slab on one side of the gates the weather had worn away a narrow crack – just the width of Katie’s finger. It was into this fissure that Paul forced the Shaitan. He collapsed into the stone in fear and pain, happy to be for a moment out of the reach of the four holy men. Once the Shaitan had found his stony crevice, Anthony raised his hand and guided another of the enormous stones right over the hiding place. The wicked Shaitan had been sealed forever, perhaps, into a tiny stone tomb.
Can you imagine with what feelings the gallant little group now gathered at the gates to the underground passage? The full moon bathed the whole desert in a beautiful silver light. Every desert creature, sensing that the terrible Shaitan had been defeated, now came out to celebrate. Poor scorpions and snakes raised their song; they were joined by the desert lions who roared their praise of Amon, Imohteph and Farid, Paul and Anthony and God himself. Katie stood beside Abdul who proudly wore the green stone necklace. He bowed to his uncle and solemnly presented Katie as the bravest, noblest young lady from Dubai who had lead the battle in the darkest hours of that night. The Lady Begum – still dressed in the awful clothes of the harem slave given her by the Shaitan – embraced her much loved husband who despite his rags, looked every inch the Prince of the Western Desert.
“I knew you would come for me!” said the Nawab simply. “I never lost hope – no matter how cruel and vicious the Shaitan was.” It was, quite simply, the happiest moment of that wonderful evening.
Katie expected that now that the djinns were scattered and the Nawab recued that they would all head for home. Instead, the Nawab insisted that they return to the underground chambers. There was no need for torches now; with the Shaitan defeated the spells that he had laid making it impossible for the holy men to enter the caverns had been broken. The light they radiated lit up the passages as if they were day. And – wonderful thing – the hieroglyphics pained on the walls which told the story of the temple and the desert oasis all came to life as they passed and cheered them on their way.
It was a long way down to the throne room of the Shaitan but walking the corridors without fear gave Katie the chance to look in the chambers along the way. Here, as Imohteph had told them, was the temple treasury. There were boxes and boxes of gold coins stacked from floor to ceiling. Some of these had broken over time and their precious contents were scattered across the floor. There were baskets of precious stones as well – great green emeralds as big as your fist, rubies the size of apples and glorious blue sapphires. Big urns held pearls and coral and there were chests brimming with wonderful items of jewellery made of stones and gold filigree. Katie could only gasp at the richness of it all.
When they reached the central chamber with its massive ivory throne, the Nawab and the Lady Begum asked them to wait while they slipped aside to dress. While they did this, Katie looked at the wall paintings in fascination. There was the ancient temple in the familiar landscape of the desert oasis she knew and loved. There were the ancient hills and wells and the desert dunes. And everywhere, the priests and kings and people in the picture were cheering their welcome and offering their congratulations.
The Nawab and the Lady Begum soon emerged from their dressing room. They had put on some of the ancient, precious clothes from the days of the temple. Now the poor slave who for years had scrubbed the floors and cleaned the toilets of the Shaitan’s palace was truly transformed by gorgeous silk and cotton garments into His Royal Highness Nawab Abdullah Aga Khan, Prince of the Western Desert. And Lady Mary looked just a little like the kind of grand lady that Katie imagined Queen Cleopatra must have looked when she ruled over all of Egypt so many years ago. She was wearing a spectacular emerald and diamond necklace and had a matching bracelet in the same stones.
“Before we leave these caverns,” said the Nawab, “I must show you, Katie and Abdul, why I never lost hope that you would come for me.” The Nawab lead the way into a little room off the throne room; like all the rooms in that great complex, the walls were covered with paintings.
“Long years ago, the Shaitan made me his slave and I had to labour here, scrubbing and cleaning, for many hours. While I worked, I prayed constantly for you, Lady Begum – and to be rescued. The solitary labour gave me time to look at the painted hieroglyphics in every room and chamber. In the corner of this humble room where he allowed me to sleep on the stone floor, I found this painting.”
There, painted in bright colours on the fresh white plaster wall, was the scene at the stone doors to the Valley of the Winds. There was Katie and Abdul, the Lady Begum, Farid and Imohteph, Paul and Anthony – all of them grouped with solemn, hopeful faces around the little saddle caravan as it floated above the desert floor.
“When I found this, I moved my simple bed in front of it so that the Shaitan would never see it. I could not know who all the people were in the picture, but I never lost hope that you would come to rescue me, my darling.”
Back at the entry to the stone doorway, it was time for farewells. Saint Paul and Saint Anthony hugged them all as they said goodbye. Katie and Abdul cried as their holy friends hugged and blessed them. They had become such good friends in the dark and dangerous moments in facing the wicked djinns. Paul and Anthony raised their hands in blessing over the friends, made the sign of the cross and were gone in a blaze of golden light.
It was even harder to say goodbye to Imohteph. Here in his desert home, he looked even wiser and nobler than he had ever looked in the school. He had one last job to do before he could go. He smiled broadly, bowed to the Nawab and the Lady Begum and kissed Abdul and Katie. Katie threw her arms around him and hugged him closely, her heart too full to say a word. Then he raised both his arms at the stone gates. They trembled as they had done earlier in the night and then collapsed away into a ruin. There was nothing to mark the entrance to the great treasury except a pile of stones. The Shaitan’s prison, Katie noticed with satisfaction, was now buried under tons of rock. There was a sudden blaze of light; when they looked again, their friend was gone.
Chapter 11: Back to Hogwarts.
“ If it’s a happy ending, Grandad, why do I feel so sad?” asked Katie.
“Because it is sad,” said Emily. “The nicest kind of sad – but sad all the same.”
Old Grandad was almost asleep; no matter how exciting or scary the story became, the old man seemed to grow quieter and slower!
There are some untidy little ends of the story that you might like to hear about before we send Katie back to Hogwarts.
As you can imagine, her year at Siwa School turned out to be one of the very best in Katie’s life. Lady Mary loved having the Nawab back at his palace, and he was wise enough not to try to interfere with the running of the school in any way. Because Lady Mary had a very large fortune from her earlier marriages with Mr Robert E Lee Turpentine, His Grace the Duke of Dundee, Mr Julius Myerstein and Mr Job Gates, she never had to use any of the Nawab’s fortune to run the school. He was so busy renewing his control of the vast estates of the Prince of the Western Desert that there were some busy days for them on his return. The fellaheen who worked the estates were so pleased to have their Nawab back and were never so happy as when the Nawab and his Lady came to their village for the harvest festival.
With his uncle returned, Abdul was able to go back to university in Alexandria. There was a very tearful parting between Katie and Abdul and I think that Katie came very near to having her heart broken by the good looking young prince whom she had rescued in the darkness of the cavern that wonderful night in which they had beaten the Shaitan in his dismal palace. Abdul kissed Katie as he left and promised that he would send her an email and add her to his facebook friends. Years later –when Abdul was a famous futures trader on Wall Street and Katie was a fighter pilot in the Royal Dubai Air Force they met again – but that’s another story.
Abdul – he put Katie on his facebook page!
At the last school assembly of the year, the Lady Begum called Katie up to receive the thanks of the whole school. Katie had been very shy, of course, in telling everything that happened on the night the Nawab was rescued but the Lady Begum told everyone how brave and kind Katie had been that night. She announced that with the increase in size of the school next year [after all, there would be a whole new intake of first year students] that the school would need another House. In honour of Katie’s contribution to Siwa School, the House would be called Bland House. Everyone noticed that Ustadh Farid’s splendid cobra, Mubarak, seemed to put all the kindest boys and girls into Bland House. For years afterwards, an oil painting of Katie in her formal abaya and shayla was hung in the dining room of Siwa School.
Perhaps you are wondering what happened to the great green djinn who had driven the camel saddle caravan that wonderful night? He had served the Lady Begum so faithfully that night that the least she could do was set him free from his service in the ring. He didn’t really want to leave his friends, however, because he simply couldn’t go out into the desert with the rest of the djinns whom he had, after all, helped to defeat. The solution was a happy one for everyone. The djinn stayed on at Siwa – a little like the famous ghosts of Hogwarts – but as the Quidditch teacher. He loved nothing more than flying about as he had on the camel saddle and when Katie was long returned to Hogwarts, the game of Quidditch was being taught by the enthusiastic djinn to all the boys and girls of Siwa. He took the name Idris and Ustadh Idris came to be regarded as one of the cleverest teachers in the school.
Katie loved her year at Siwa. The boys and girls of Malouf House loved her too and at the end of the year, she escorted them back to Cairo on the camel caravan to catch their flights home. Then there were some very sad boys and girls [and a very sad young teacher] as they made their good-byes in the dusty caravanserai on the edge of Cairo near the pyramids. The Lady Begum had accompanied the caravan to Cairo and she and Katie had a delightful week at Shepheard’s Hotel savouring all the fun to be had in the souk, lolling about in very posh hammams and boating on the River Nile. Now it was time to go back to Hogwarts and even a place, perhaps, on the Gryffindor Quidditch team. She kissed Lady Mary at the airport and didn’t stop crying until the Air Egypt jet had long ago left the runway and the bright young steward in the first class cabin was bringing her snacks and cold drinks. She giggled a little at the memory of Abdul serving her in this way on her first flight to Egypt.
Scotland was cold and dismal after Siwa but at least there were old friends to meet again. Emily couldn’t hear enough of the adventures she had had and even Ron, Harry and Hermione were impressed by the story of the dreadful djinn and the rescue of the Nawab. It was just the kind of adventure they loved.
The happiest afternoon of her return came when Professor McGonagall asked her and Emily to come to have afternoon tea with her. On the table was a big parcel – the size of a school port – and a long letter. Professor McGonagall’s eyes were shining.
“I’m so proud of you, Katie!” was all that she could say. “You’re a true Gryffindor girl – even if you were in Malouf House for a whole year.”
Now that she was home at Hogwarts it really didn’t feel very much like home. She missed the desert sun and the warm kindness of all her Malouf boys and girls so much. She had taken to spending the wet, grey Scottish afternoons down in the kitchens, eating dates and chatting in Arabic with Nathifa, the free house elf from the Yemen. Katie smiled sadly, a little overwhelmed by it all.
“My dear friend, Mary, has sent you a little souvenir of Egypt. And there’s something here for Emily as well.”
The parcel contained two things. One was a beautiful carving – it was the cartouche from the wall of the Begum’s bedroom showing Imohteph, Farid, Anthony and Paul. They were staring kindly at her and Katie was sure that they were proud of what she had done with them. Katie picked up the second parcel which was marked, Something from the Treasury of Amon in the Valley of the Winds.
When she opened the parcel, Katie gasped. It contained the beautiful emerald and diamond necklace that the Lady Begum had worn as she left the temple treasury. The matching bracelet was marked out for Emily. These were the only things from that spectacular treasure that had not been sealed away under the desert sands.
When she graduated from Hogwarts, Katie went back to Siwa on a visit – and again three years later when the students who came as first years graduated from the school. Katie was the guest of honour and handed out the prizes on Speech Night. It was a source of tremendous joy to her that Princess Jasmine was the Dux of the school – and that Naji and Nasser were the joint captains of the Malouf Quidditch team who were the school champions for the fourth year in a row.