"..." - 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
“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.”
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 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.
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
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
Harry burst out laughing.
“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
“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.
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.
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
“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
“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
“We studied for our
History of Magic test,” said Hermione primly. “Why, what did you think we
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
“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
…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!”
began, shakily, but Ponder was ahead of her.
Luggage,” he said, somewhat unnecessarily. “It’s made of sapient pearwood.
Designed to follow its owner anywhere.”
“But we’re in a
“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.
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
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.”
 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.
Stories Index Chapter Index Chapter Eleven