Chapter Seventeen: And the Hat Said.

Luggage slid around the door. And came clasp to beak with Fawkes.

For an awkward moment, the suitcase and the phoenix regarded each other intently, curiously. Then the case extended a curious toe, and poked the bird.

Fawkes had never been poked before. Certainly never by a sentient, enchanted, damn strange looking suitcase. But the suitcase refused to back down. Its lid began to shudder. Slowly, the latch twitched, the lid began to open.

That was enough for Fawkes. Trailing iridescent feathers, he swept over the intruder and up into a corner, onto a rafter.

Luggage snapped half-heartedly at a tail-feather.

Hmmmm. Tastes like cat.

Memo to self: Scrawny looking things with feathers are not, repeat, not worth chasing.

But, then, it hadn't come here for dinner, had it?

Throughout the many years that students at Hogwarts had been sorted by a frayed, tattered piece of Headgear, there would be the occasional not-as- much-of-a-blockhead that wondered what the Hat Did when not sorting through scattered pre-teen wits.

Always Slytherins, of course. The Hat couldn't give a brass farthing for the members of any other House. Odious bunch. Useless, blubbering, stone- headed oafish imbeciles.

A lot of Snakes fitted that description too. Yet there were sneaky, slimy, ambitious, cold-hearted, heartless schemers among them as well.

A tremor of warmth went through the Hat. That kind of description was really quite flattering! It wouldn't have minded, had it been applied to it, though it hadn't been for many years, not since it - he - had been drawn towards the half-baked spell of that imbecile Godric Gryffindor. He'd sought some sort of power to imbue his over-decorated sword with, and he'd found it, to a degree.

Never thought he'd find his equal - more than his equal - his master, and the would-be swordsman had nearly lost what wits he had with fright. He'd stammered out his intention in a quavering whisper.and because entry, even like this, into another world had seemed worth the cost, he'd agreed.

Just out of spite he'd chosen the hat, not the sword.

And over the years he/it (after a thousand years in the shape of a mouse- coloured hat, some lines of identity began to blur, if not to waver) had watched, and learned, and waited.

But it had never, in all its time (nor had he, before the Hat) seen a suitcase that seemed, by all the Gods, to be alive.

And it was walking towards the Hat.

A shiver ran through the mouse-coloured tatters. There was power here, strange magic the Hat had never before seen.

It Sparkled.

And it was barefoot.

Luggage noticed the Hat eyeing it with interest. It was a little hard to miss. In the middle of Dumbledore's cotton-candy desk, among the stacks of crisp white paperwork and the sherbet bombs and cockroach clusters (not to mention the lemon fizzlers drying on the seat of the room's only chair, a five legged creation with, curiously, a short, knobbly tail. The Headmaster used this to dry his socks on) the Hat was the only ordinary looking thing.

It even seemed, to the Luggage's mind, to be trying desperately hard to look ordinary. It was so ordinary it might have had a plaque attached to its front brim that read "Just an ordinary Hat.Magical, you say? No, not me. Not a magic thread in my entire, uh, millinery. I mean, do I LOOK magical to you?" (that is, if Dumbledore or Rincewind were the signwriter.)

Rincewind.

That was it!

With its heightened sensitivity to the ways of magic, Luggage clicked two toes together in understanding. This was not a Hogwartian Hat.

It didn't even belong to this realm of existence. Perhaps the hat did, but not the mind behind it. (Thankfully, not Rincewind's. It just had some of the same otherworldly feel.)

There was power here. Real power. Real magic. Waiting. Poised, ready to pounce.

If it could have, Luggage would have smiled, grim yet excited. This felt like coming home, in a danger-filled, crazy quest kind of way.

And so, exchanging one last eyeless, penetrating gaze with the Hat, the suitcase trundled forth to be Sorted. One toe flicked the Hat from the table onto its lid, while the others scrambled for balance on the seat of the Headmaster's chair. The chair solved the problem by adjusting itself to suit. With a relaxed sigh, the suitcase settled deeper and turned its awareness inward.

The first (or was it the second - for a fleeting, bilious moment all it could taste was cat) thing it was aware of was that its impression of the Hat had been right. At any time it could have been anything else, from a star-spangled beret to a fireball touting evil wizard, had it not Liked the quiet life of observation and study that being a Headmaster's Hat ensured. Only once a year did it have to do any real work (except for that time with the Potter brat - irked, it had taken careful inventory of its hoard of magic treasures and given him Godric's useless sword - only to find it not so useless after all!) and there was plenty of the one commodity it truly craved, quiet.

Then the Hat forcibly pushed the Luggage away from its thoughts and turned its attention to the suitcase's own.

Quite the interesting puzzle, aren't you? You could have so much power just from being yourself, yet you want to be like these people. Curious.

Luggage felt just the slightest bit indignant. They can use magic. And they belong.

Of course, that's it, isn't it? The Hat seemed amused. At heart you're just a lonely little soul, longing to be loved. Where shall I put you? Hufflepuff?

Not Hufflepuff! The Luggage had seen enough of Hufflepuffs to last a lifetime! It would never live down the shame of being one.

So you have pride then.

Of course.

And ambition, or you wouldn't have come looking for me.

Yes.

Courage? Yes. Intelligence? More than most of the students I've Sorted, but that's not saying much. Why do you want to be Sorted?

Everyone has a House except me.

You're jealous, the Hat mused. I can understand your feelings.

And yes, was there just a twinge of sympathy from the Hat's direction?

I know what it's liked to be feared. To be unpopular, distrusted. Barely tolerated. Unloved.

I'm not unloved! Somehow, the words stung, and the Luggage found itself snapping back with irritation. I have my Mistress and I have my friends!

Of course, of course you do. But what happens when they don't need a walking suitcase? When you've worn out your novelty value? Then, my dear friend, you'll be relegated to the back corner of a closet, filled with old sheets and worn towels, and forgotten.

I think, said the luggage, I'm beginning to wonder what you're doing Sorting snotty-nosed little schoolchildren.

It is, replied the Hat, in a smug, pleased tone, the price I pay for the chance to refine my mind and skills. Here I can study, unplagued by the ills and distractions of the body! Here I can become what I had previously only dreamed of.

In the depths of Luggage's consciousness, well beyond the Hat's reach (underneath the false bottom with the concealed latch) flickered the thought that the Hat merely liked an easy life, and it was, for all its power, quite mad.

But you're still only a hat.

Only my choice, dear Luggage, only by choice.

Well, and there was no mistaking the irony in the Luggage's thought, now that's been sorted out, perhaps you might get around to Sorting me.

The Hat laughed. After all this, you still have to ask? I have half a mind to put you in Hufflepuff after all, for your dunderheaded idiocy. But that would be a disservice to us both. There's only one House for you, if you have to have me say it-

Yes.

Then you'll have to pay the price.

Of course.

Take me with you.

Thoughts of 'hatnapping' the Sorting Hat, even if the Hat had masterminded the whole thing, left a delicious spark in the Luggage's interior.

See, you do have potential, after all. The Hat's mind-voice was a soft, sweet, caressing whisper, that could have, if the Luggage had been concentrating, raised the hackles on its hinges.

And my House?

Is SLYTHERIN, of course. Now get down off that chair, you ridiculous lump, and put me down. Carefully.

This was orchestrated, in true Luggage style, in a manner that left the mouse-coloured hat even more crumpled than it already was, and quite, quite dizzy.

This won't do. Put me back on the desk.

I just took you off it!

The Hat sighed. And now you are going to put me back. Carefully, of course. Do I have to do all your thinking for you?

Luggage felt insulted. This was the suitcase which had an entire castle watching their backs, and it didn't feel like tolerating such abuse! It wasn't careful, nor gentle, but eventually the Hat ended up back in its old spot on the Headmaster's desk.

I see I'm just going to have to instruct you from afar, the Hat decided, in long-suffering tones.

Instruct me?

Well of course, 'instruct you'! The Hat mused for a long moment. I have.missed.companionship. For what it's worth. I think having an apprentice may turn out to be quite an interesting experience. It seems there may be some draw backs to being a hat after all.

Well, of course there is! You can't go exploring, and it must be pretty lonely, sitting up on that plain old desk, with only that strange looking bird and one wizard for company.

The Hat was silent. Then it laughed.

Think of yourself as my agent throughout Hogwarts. You may be my eyes - um, my whatever - to the outside world. Go, apprentice. Explore your castle. Play your games. Eat your cats.

The Luggage backed out of the office, letting the Sorting Hat's words sink in. The only one that registered, for a long moment, was apprentice. It was going to Learn Magic!

Then, something else drifted in, that made the Luggage stop, think, and shudder from the tips of its hairy, gnarly feet to the shiny ends of its metal bands.

Don't, it said, mention cats.