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That Isn't How You Pronounce It!

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     Turning her travel suit inside out to reveal her proper robes, Hermione scanned the fog-covered mountain where the portkey sent by the headmaster of Mahoutokoro had delivered them. The place didn't seem like a volcano, despite what the ancient records had indicated, nor did she smell the salt on the wind that she'd expect on a small island in the sea. Then again, she knew all too well how unreliable reports from troublemaking students to their professors could be, and if the only Western wizards who'd seen this place in hundreds of years had been cocksure broom-brains, then... well, far be it for her to trust their reports as far as she could throw them. Those boys didn't even seem to have bothered learning the language while they were in the area, and had communicated exclusively in mime. Hardly the makings of a trustworthy travelogue.

     At least she and Ron had certainly seen more dangerous places. It was an honor, of course, to be among the first official foreigners to visit Japan's magical academy in recorded history. However, she couldn't help thinking that there were more suitable people for an ambassadorial visit. She would simply have to thank her lucky stars that the Minister had decided not to send Harry this time. Sending all three of them might have seemed more downright threatening than was entirely proper for a mission meant to foster understanding and peace.

     Meanwhile, Ron scowled at the trees all around. "Are you sure this is the right place, Hermione? I thought this place was supposed to be on an island? With, like, a jade palace and all that."

     "Well, as you can see, the portkey took us to a mountain," she said, gesturing to the pine trees all around.

     "I can see we're on a bloody mountain! I have eyes! But those Ma-hoot-okoro blokes haven't tricked us and sent us to the middle of nowhere or something? I don't know if I trust that story about an ancient magical academy none of us ever knew about..."

     She shook her head and sighed, again. "If you'd taken two seconds to study the pronunciation key in the travel guide, you'd know the consonant is always the start of the syllable in Japanese, except for an N sometimes. It's pronounced Ma-hoh Toh-koh-roh, and you roll the R!"

     "Right, right. Levio-SA!"

     "I'm serious, Ron! You're going to offend these people!" It was only when he didn't snark back that she noticed that he wasn't shivering from the cold. "You can't honestly be telling me you're scared?"

     His arms flew out wide, with his face turning more red than his hair. "Why shouldn't I be, out in the wilderness in a place you can only get by portkey, with no idea what's edible and what's not? Did you pack a tent? Because I don't see any of those jade buildings. Or... people, for that matter."

     With a roll of her eyes, Hermione pulled out the map that had come with their invitation. "The paper and the ink were certified as Japanese, and all the agreed-upon signals were exchanged. There's no reason to consider this a prank. Your own brother said he couldn't find any trickery in it. Now, we're to take these stairs up the mountainside, and I can't imagine anyone building a staircase like that here if they were just fooling."

     "Like George wouldn't do it for a lark," he grumbled.

     "At any rate, the Japanese academy isn't something we never knew about. We may only know the name "Mahoutokoro" from those idiots who crashed their brooms here a few centuries ago, but there are ancient records of wizards here founding some kind of school. We simply must not have heard from them because, you know..."

     She would've kicked at the ground in frustration if the stonework hadn't been so nice-looking. She would have sworn it was all natural from the way it laid together effortlessly if it weren't for the fact that it was in fact a staircase. But artistic construction aside, Ron was being infuriatingly thick, even for Ron.

     Her fellow "ambassador" was rolling his eyes and making that bloody flapping hand gesture he used to say she was talking too much. "Oh, I should know, should I? What should I know about this place no one we know's ever been to?"

     Hermione's groans seemed to echo for miles. "Japan, as an entire nation, closed their borders for hundreds of years and it can't be a coincidence that we have no reliable modern records of a school. Maybe even after the Black Ships landed--"

     "What black ships?" Ron asked, narrowing his eyes and otherwise twisting up his expression in utter confusion.

     "Honestly, Ron! Do you know nothing about Japanese history?"

     "No! Why would I?!"

     "You've known we were coming here for an entire week. You had time to read a book."

     "I read books!"

     "What you read are cartoons."

     "Comic books!"

     Setting that aside, she continued up the path through the fog. "The point is, Western muggles forced Japanese muggles to open their borders, but muggles couldn't very well find a hidden mountain that they didn't even know to look for, now could they? So maybe the Japanese wizards were able to keep their gates closed as long as they wanted. Which I suppose they don't anymore, which is why we're here."

     "And do tell, Hermione, why they've invited us here all of a sudden if it's not some kind of trick or trap?"

     "Well, I don't know! Maybe they want to join the World Quidditch League or something! No one can have written a book on that since we haven't even met these people yet. Now, please, Ron -- do behave?"

     Finally, they reached the end of the spiraling staircase through the woods and found a single wooden stake in the middle of the path. It was lodged in the stones in a way that could only be on purpose, and a line of Japanese characters were burned into the wood.

     "I may not have read a lot of history," Ron laughed, "but at least I remembered to bring a dictionary!" He unrolled a short scroll with a hole in the center and held it so two of the characters showed through the gap. "Verba versarum!" he chanted, tapping the paper with his wand. Before their eyes, ink appeared that displayed the original characters, the pronunciation, 'Mahou', and the translation, 'Magic'.

     "That's promising," Hermione admitted. "Now to see what the rest of these words say."

     Ron adjusted the view on his scroll, bringing up translations for the next two characters while she leaned in to study the woodwork more closely. "Well, there's where it says, 'Tokoro'. That means 'Place'. You know, Magic Place isn't a very good name, if you ask me."

     "No one did."

     "And that fourth squiggle thing, you say as 'Watashi', and it means... 'I'."

     "Eye? Like what you see with?"

     "No," Ron said, shaking his head. "Like I, me, my. This doesn't make any sense." He kept scrolling down. "Now it's talking about rabbits, and attachments... and I give up. I don't know what this says. No wonder those wizards who got stranded here ages ago only wrote down the first part."

     "Oh, put that dictionary away!" Hermione grumbled. "I learned a new spell before I came, and I haven't tried it, but I believe I shall do so now. Enuntiatis!" With a flick of her wand, sparks flew into the air to trace the characters and reform above them as they'd be pronounced in English. She read it aloud for Ron's benefit while he stood there blinking. "Mahousho Shiritsu Tsukitoyama Mahoujutsu Daigaku Fuzoku Gakuin. Well, how about that? It's not Mahoutokoro at all!"

     The fog around them rolled back, revealing a sprawling campus of buildings on raised wooden stilts. It wasn't a jade palace by any means, but it looked no less grand. Red posts outlining walls dotted courtyards full of flowers and stonework statues. The carving and painting on the massive wooden gate in front of the campus alone looked like it would've taken years to do by hand. There certainly wasn't 'nothing' here anymore!

     "So..." Ron whispered in her ear as she caught her breath, searching for a person they could speak to, "Which part of all that was the name?"

     And much to Hermione's relief, an elderly witch with her robes belted around her waist walked out of the gates to greet them -- in perfect English no less. "You must be our guests from the United Kingdom. A pleasure to meet you. I am the Headmistress, Abe no Midoriko. Welcome to Tsukitoyama Academy."

     Well, that settled that.