Chapter Ten: Roundworld Geography

"..." - The Luggage.

Several hours later, the atmosphere in the cave changed subtly. Draco stopped looking quite so angelic, sleep-eased features beginning to show signs of consciousness. Rincewind stopped scrabbling at the rock floor. Whatever things from the Dungeon Dimensions that were currently chasing him through dreams began to retreat, back to the spaces between. Gytha murmured in her sleep, something about ‘imp-mail’ and ‘pass the butter’, and shielded her eyes from the light slowly creeping across the floor across the cave.  

Despite all this, Hermione was the first to wake properly. She opened her eyes, stretched, and then methodically decided that she was not, metaphorically speaking, in Kansas any more, nor was she likely to get the bathroom to herself this morning. Therefore, she was about to venture outside and find the designated bush/snowdrift, but a movement by the entrance gave her pause.  Ponder had just flung his arms out above his head. Hermione stood for a second, taking the opportunity to look, really look, at the likeness. It was even more pronounced when the parties concerned were deeply asleep.

Hermione smiled. Then she took a few delicate steps outwards and disappeared from view.

Harry was next to wake. Beside him, Draco twitched and shifted, and at his feet, Gytha sat up and yawned hugely. By the time Hermione returned, they were all scrambling to their feet, rubbing their eyes. All, except Draco. He was sitting with his injured ankle straight out in front of him, waiting for someone to say it.

Harry said it. “Will you be able to walk?”

“No,” said Draco decisively. “Absolutely not.”

“Then you’ll have to Apparate,” said Hermione, just as decisively. “Harry, you go with him.”

“Where to?” asked Harry.

Hermione sighed. “Anywhere! Further down the path. Then one of you come back, tell us what it’s like, and we’ll catch up.”

Draco moaned, but the general consensus was in favour. Harry hauled him to his feet, handed him his wand, and with a faint pop, they were gone.

Within a minute or two, Harry was back. “Draco’s waiting for us further up,” he explained. “I’ve seen the terrain, it’s not too bad. I’ll walk with you.”

“Thanks,” said Hermione, and they set off. It was a beautiful, clear morning, and the sky was pale blue, stained with pink and red. The air was fresh, the snow was powdery underfoot, and the night mist was lifting off the mountains. As Harry settled into the comfortable, well-paced gait of the experienced hiker, he began to almost, for lack of a better word, enjoy himself. Things could be worse. At least they had all been dressed for Lancre weather, which wasn’t as bad as the Himalayan variety, but almost. And from the outward evidence, he wasn’t the only one whose spirits were looking up. Ponder’s eyes were bright with gentle enthusiasm, and Gytha was humming a tune under her breath. Even Rincewind looked capable of holding a walking pace for more than a few minutes at a time.

“So,” said Harry after a while, “we never got round to telling any stories last night.”

“We fell asleep,” said Ponder ruefully. “I wanted to hear about Neville.”

“I knew him too,” said Hermione gently. “He was a remarkable person, Ponder. Not as magically gifted as Harry, perhaps, but he was an expert in his own way. Knew everything there was to be known about the magical properties of plants. He always seemed to want to fade away into the background, though… perhaps he felt overshadowed by Harry.”

Harry looked uncomfortable and Ponder asked, “Was he?”

Hermione shook her head emphatically. “No. He may have felt that way, but it wasn’t the case at all. No.”

But Harry was still looking twitchy, so she attempted to change the subject. “But you’ve heard so much about us, and we don’t know anything about you,” she said seriously. “Tell us a story.”

Ponder looked flustered for a moment, then smiled. “I’ll tell you one thing,” he said. “I was the only person in the University’s history ever to get full marks in their final exams.”

Instantly, Rincewind and Gytha started sniggering. Harry glanced in their direction, looking confused, and Ponder laughed. “It was just after Ridcully had become Archchancellor.”

“How that happened, I’ll never know,” muttered Rincewind.

“He was the best candidate for the job,” Ponder said. “Ridcully the Brown, they called him in those days. He became a seventh level mage at the age of twenty-seven, then disappeared for years. Well, he came back just before I turned eighteen. He set that year’s final exam papers. Now, for some reason, mine was different from all the others. I did it and got a hundred percent.”

Gytha was sniggering even harder. “What’s so funny?” Hermione asked.

“The exam paper,” Ponder told her. “It had only one question, and that was: ‘What is your name?’”

Harry burst out laughing. “You what?”

“Wait, I haven’t got to the interesting bit yet,” Ponder continued. “After that, I tried to go out for a drink.”

“A laudable aim,” said Hermione, and laughed. A spray of snow fell from a branch at the sound, and they all smiled.

“Quite so. I went round the scholars’ entrance – you’ve seen it,” he added to Harry. “However, on the way there, a fifty-foot-tall creature from the Dungeon Dimensions landed on my head.”

Hermione choked. “Oh, I know I shouldn’t be laughing…”

“Sadly, that is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me,” admitted Ponder, grinning.

Hermione’s eyes narrowed. “Does that mean wizards are celibate in this world?”

Gytha, Rincewind and Ponder looked uncomfortable. “Technically,” said Ponder at last.

At that point, the path curved around to the left, revealing a wizard sitting on a tree stump.

“What are you lot laughing at?” Draco asked, somewhat aggrievedly.

“Nothing, nothing,” Harry assured him. “Same again, Hermione?”

Hermione nodded, and Draco and Harry disappeared. She and the others were left staring out across the mountainside down the path, hoping to see them reappear in the distance, but to no avail. When Harry returned, he said, “We landed round another bend in the path. Come on, let’s be off again.”

A few crunchy footsteps later, Gytha had a question. “Hermione? Are wizards celibate in your world?”

“No…” said Hermione slowly.

“Then tell us a story.” Gytha grinned, and despite her advanced years, Hermione felt compelled to grab a handful of snow and throw it accurately in the girl’s direction. That done, she grinned herself and thought about it. “Well,” she said finally, her expression clearly designed to communicate to Gytha the words you asked for it, “when I was in my sixth year at Hogwarts, I had a sort-of boyfriend.”

“She bullied him into it,” put in Harry, and ducked the flying snow.

“As I was saying,” Hermione continued, “I had a boyfriend. His name was Ron. He was in our year, he was Harry’s best friend, and we went out for years. Years ‘n’ years. Anyway, one night, when we were about eighteen, we sneaked off to the library. It was dark, and it was quiet, and there was no one about, so we found a secluded spot near the back, and we…” She paused.

“And you what?” asked Gytha.

“We studied for our History of Magic test,” said Hermione primly. “Why, what did you think we did?”

Amidst the general amusement, Ponder put in, “The Librarian would get very angry if anyone tried that in our Library.”

“He’s the only one who’s allowed in the sub-basements,” said Rincewind unexpectedly. “They have to keep The Joy Of Tantric Sex under ice water.”

“You’re all still laughing!” complained Draco some time later.

“Some things are the same everywhere,” was Harry’s only reply.

Some time later, on about their fifth Apparition-hop, a sudden noise made Harry pause. The general background noise of the mountain – the noises of small animals, the calls of the birds of prey as they wheeled along the air currents, the occasional crack of a branch as the weight of the snow became too much for it – had settled comfortably at the back of his awareness. But this noise, this scrabbling, pattering, somehow malevolent noise, wasn’t quite right. It made him edgy.

“Hermione,” he began, but he was too late. Something came flying through the air in front of them, something big and cuboid, something with an unmistakable bulk to it, something with…

…hundred of little legs?

Harry launched himself backwards, attempting to take Hermione with him. In the midst of the instinct, he was startled to see Rincewind and Ponder moving towards the thing. By the time the panic and adrenaline had receded, Rincewind was standing with his hands on his hips. “Where have you been?”

Despite the fact it had no face, the Luggage managed to look contrite.

Rincewind wagged a finger. “And with all my clean underwear, too!”

“What…” Hermione began, shakily, but Ponder was ahead of her.

“It’s Rincewind’s Luggage,” he said, somewhat unnecessarily. “It’s made of sapient pearwood. Designed to follow its owner anywhere.”

“But we’re in a different world!”

“That doesn’t matter. It just takes a little longer.”

At their next stop, Draco was persuaded to sit on the Luggage and be carried along. He complained for a while, but was at length moved to admit the fact he was quite comfortable. “It’s a bit bumpy, though.”

Rincewind raised his eyebrows. So did Harry. The Luggage plodded resolutely on, occasionally slipping in the snow, but never letting Draco unbalance[1].  Rincewind gave it a careful kick, and it carried Draco to the head of the little procession. Draco showed no objection to this.

Behind them, Gytha watched carefully for any changes in the terrain. Although the sun was still shining brightly, it was growing colder, and they might do well to stop soon. She wondered vaguely if they could find caves again, or more likely, would have to spend a night in the open. It seemed somewhat incongruous to her – two nights before, she’d slept in her little bed in the University, never thinking that forty-eight hours hence, she would be adrift in another world. Admittedly, she never spent very much time in her bed anyway – that last night, she had woken at some unearthly hour and gone off in search of Hex – but it was the principle of the thing.

Lost in thought she might have been, but it was still Gytha who saw the village first.

It was nestled some way further down the mountainside, where the snow was less thick on the ground. Harry peered through the beginnings of the evening mist. “Those aren’t houses,” he said after a moment. “They’re tents.”

“Yurts,” said Draco knowledgably.

Hermione took a look. “Possibly,” she said. “If we were in Outer Mongolia.”

“Are we?” asked Rincewind, who hadn’t quite got the hang of Roundworld geography.

“No,” Hermione told him. “Villages made out of tents don’t hang around for long, in any case.”

“Should we take a look?” That was Harry, still peering over the edge.

“I don’t see why not,” put in Gytha. “It’s a matter of going down rather than across.”

“You!” Rincewind told the Luggage. “Can you climb downwards?”

The Luggage did its best to oblige, carefully stepping down the incline rather than across the path. It was somewhat more difficult, and small showers of scree went cascading down through the snow, but after a moment, it got back into its many-stepped rhythm. Once it had gone a short way, it turned and waited patiently. Draco was less patient. “Come on,” he said. “It’s not difficult.”

They followed.

[1] Rincewind had hoped it would mellow with the passage of the years, and while it hadn’t become less outwardly malevolent, nor outgrown its tendency towards homicidal rage, it had nevertheless become slightly more tractable.

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