Chapter 3: Portkey
Kate still wasn’t sure when exactly she had agreed to go to London, but apparently her lack of outright refusal had been agreement enough for Henry. And now, less than forty-eight hours later, he was waiting outside her tent to see her off. Kate had tried to assure him she could handle things just fine on her own but Henry had insisted on escorting her at least part of the way. She wondered if the gesture was motivated more out of guilt for asking her to go or fear that she might change her mind.
Kate stuck her head through the canvas flap. It was barely six. The sun was just starting to break over the horizon, the heat of the day not yet engulfing the landscape. The morning sky was a vast sea of rosy gold, bathing the landscape in an unnatural glow.
“Good morning,” Henry offered, far too chipper for the hour.
Kate yawned in way of reply.
“Late night?” he asked.
Kate shrugged noncommittally, suppressing another yawn.
“Shall we get to it then?” Henry asked. He was bouncing nervously on the balls of his feet, his wand already in his hand.
Kate nodded reluctantly. “I guess we should.”
The nearest public portkey to London was in Giza, less than thirty kilometers southwest of the capitol. Kate had only been there once, back when she had first arrived in Egypt. But the fleeting glances of the city had left a lasting impression. She remembered being surprised by how contemporary the metropolis was. Instead of the barren dessert Kate had expected, she saw multi-story office buildings, wide paved roads and an assortment of restaurants and nightclubs. In many respects it was much like Cairo, the two cities blending and merging as they expanded toward each other, shaped by their proximity to the Nile.
But beyond all the neon and wires that marked modern life, the continued presence of history weighed heavily upon Cairo. Sitting in the distance, watching over this encroachment of urbanity was the Giza Necropolis, home of the Great Pyramids. And just to the east, guarding the rising of the same sun that shone over the ancients, sat The Great Sphinx. Battered for millennia by the elements, her face worn and scarred, she remained ever on guard, an ancient temple still buried deep within her belly.
Catching a glimpse of the great structures lit up by the morning sun, Kate was suddenly overcome by the urge to run straight toward the grand plateau. She could spend her summer hidden inside the cool stone tombs, exploring their secrets and discovering their long-forgotten tales. Best of all, she’d be hundreds of miles and a world away from the sterile halls of the Ministry. But Henry must have read her mind, for at that moment he placed a hand on her shoulder, directing her away from the center of town, her back now turned on that beckoning horizon.
Within minutes, the pair were pushing their way through a crowded market street. It was still early in the day but business was already in full swing. The two were quickly caught up in the swarm of warm bodies hustling past each other - many with large baskets and crates balanced high above them – as the sought out the morning necessities. Beyond the crowd, lined up along either side of the road, stretched out as far as they could see through the sea of people, were tented stands and wheeled carts, full to bursting with vegetables, fruits and meats. The produce was lush, a rainbow of colors and textures, piled several hands deep in woven baskets of every shape and size. Near the ground, large wooden buckets full of dried deans and course grains were set out in long rows. The whole street smelled like some unknown potage, the scent of freshly baked bread and exotic spices mixing with the fragrant tang of fish caught only hours before.
Henry took the lead, maneuvering his way forward, Kate working hard to stay close behind him. After several blocks, the crowds slowly began to thin. There were fewer tents on the outskirts of the market, many of them still being erected in anticipation of the day’s business. The vendors out here were not selling food, so there was no need to rush before it spoiled. The items for sale on this block were of a more delicate nature. Soft fabrics with muted patterns were being set up along one table. Another stand was full of small sparkling trinkets, jewelry perhaps, comprised of some unknown metal. Brightly colored rugs were being unrolled and hung up along thick rope lines. As Kate passed, one young woman looked up from her carefully arranged woven purses and beaded bags. Kate smiled at her, but the woman mearly nodded and returned to her work.
“Just up here,” Henry said, heading toward the nearest corner.
Kate turned and found they were now heading down a much narrower street. It was almost claustrophobic with the single-story attached storefronts encroaching in from both sides. Many of the shops looked like they would open directly onto the street, but for now were still locked up tight behind chipped metal gates. Cheap plastic chairs were set up outside many of the stores, but they did little to entice buyers in, covered in dirt and sand. Unlike the adjacent street, this stretch of road contained no vibrancy, no energy. It felt tired and neglected and gave Kate an uneasy feeling.
“Well, here we are,” Henry said, stopping abruptly in front of a particularly depressive looking shop. Its exterior was beige stone, the same color as sand, as if the owners were hoping to camouflage the place in the surrounding desert.
“This isn’t where I came in from,” Kate said, looking around. Her portkey into Egypt had delivered her directly to a small bus depot, designed to accommodate muggles traveling between Giza and Cairo proper. Well, technically the portkey had delivered her directly into a broom closet
in a small bus depot, but that had apparently been the fault of ill-maintained equipment and not intentional design.
Henry nodded at Kate. “You arrived clear across town, as I remember it. Opened that location just before you got here. Something about wanting a separate spot for arriving visitors. Better screening and security, or some nonsense like that. Ridiculous, if you ask me, spreading portkeys out around the city. But they got their brains working again last year and put things back the way they were. Every portkey in and out of Egypt goes through here.” He made a grand gesture at the shop. “A lovely fellow…can’t recall his name now…was stationed here fifty years as he told it. He retired a month back. I haven’t met the new chap yet.”
Henry turned and reached for the door. Kate half expected it to be locked. There didn’t appear to be any sign of life inside the darkened shop. But the knob turned easily and the door creaked open.
The interior reminded Kate of some of the more seedy shops in Diagon Alley, like those that lined the boarders of Nocturne Alley. They stepped directly into a small, poorly lit room, with heavy wooden shelves leaning up against the walls and nearly touching the low-hanging ceiling. There was only one window, the one that looked out onto the road, and the tan fabric acting as a privacy screen blocked out any incoming sunlight. Despite the shade, the room was hot, the air heavy and humid; not at all what one would expect to find in the desert.
At first glance, they appeared to have entered some sort of tourist shop, and not a very good one at that. Everywhere Kate looked she saw the kinds of rubbish locals pawn off on unsuspecting tourists. There were plastic replicas of pyramids, sphinx-shaped paperweights, do-it-yourself excavation kits, hieroglyphic flashcards and “authentic” Egyptian charms guaranteed to ward off any mummy curse.
Kate gave Henry a quizzical glance but he just smiled at her.
“I am sorry but we are not open,” a heavily accented voice called out from somewhere behind one of the closed doors cut into the back wall. “You must return during the hours of business.”
This declaration didn’t seem to bother Henry, who gave Kate a reassuring nod. “We are just looking for a map, sir. A map of London. We were told you carry quite a supply.”
This was followed by a long moment of pronounced silence, in which Kate and Henry just stood there listening. Finally, the door nearest Henry swung open.
The man who emerged was very large, in all senses of the word. He was exceptionally tall, his head barely clearing the doorframe, and he had a protruding gut that sagged heavily over the top of his belt. His skin was tan and spotted and he had thick black hair on his head, face and arms. When he spoke, his mustache twitched comically above his thin lips.
“A map, you say?” he asked, eyeing them suspiciously.
“Yes, of London, if you please.”
The man stared down at them from beneath thick brows, his gaze cold as stone. He seemed to be memorizing every last detail of their appearance, should he wish to recall it later to some asyet unknown authority. Kate could practically feel her knees buckle under the weight of his scrutiny, small beads of sweat starting to form at her temples. At long last he broke his fix on them and his face relaxed slightly, apparently appeased by whatever he had gauged in their faces.
“Come,” he said, heading back through the open door, waving at them to follow.
Kate had expected to be led into a small supply room lined with more shelves full of worthless knick-knacks, but she instead found herself walking into a clean, brightly lit office, a stately desk positioned in the center.
“Sit,” the man said, indicating the two chairs facing the desk.
The pair sat and waited while the man did the same.
“London, you say?” the man asked them.
“Yes,” Kate and Henry said together.
"Hmmm…” the man replied, bending down and shuffling loudly through the papers in his bottom drawer. When he sat back up again, several sheets of long parchment in hand, Kate noticed something she was sure hadn’t been there the moment before. Just above the man’s left breast pocket was a small, rectangular badge. It was white with green block lettering and had an official-looking gold seal in the corner. It read:
Travel and Transport Operator
Egyptian Magical Relocation Department
“Name?” Amun asked, looking at Kate.
“Kate — ” she began out of habit, but then changed her mind. “Katherine. Katherine Wiggins.”
He scribbled this down and then looked expectantly at Henry.
“Oh, no,” Henry said. “Just her today, I’m afraid.”
Amun turned back to Kate. He continued on, asking her a long series of questions while scribbling down her answers, his voice never changing inflection.
“How long have you been in Egypt?”
“Two years,” she told him.
“Reason for the extended stay?”
Kate glanced over at Henry. “Business,” she said, unsure that would suffice, but apparently that was specific enough for Amun.
“Do you plan to return, and if so, when?”
“Sometime in August. Around the 18th, I hope.”
“What?” she asked confused.
“Wand,” Amun repeated. “I must see your wand.”
“Oh,” Kate said, removing her wand from its hiding spot – the inside of her sock – and handing it over to him.
He looked at it briefly, jotted something down on his parchment and handed it back.
“I must now read you this information from the Ministry’s pamphlet on international travel,” Amun said, setting down his quill and picking up a worn red pamphlet. “You will listen carefully to me.”
Kate nodded, suddenly feeling like she was back in school, about to be on the receiving end of a boring lecture that was sure to be followed by a pop quiz.
“Traveling by portkey is a privilege,” Amun began, his voice the same monotone it had been during the questioning. “Anyone caught tampering with or otherwise hindering the safe operation of the magical object will be subject to review by the legal bodies in either the country of origin and/or the country of destination. While traveling by portkey is both safe and reliable, the following items are not prohibited during transport: fire breathing plants, un-caged animals – magical or otherwise – doxy eggs, uncapped potion bottles, timeturnes, and any additional portkeys, working or inoperable. When in transit, please do not let go of the portkey until all body parts have arrived at the final destination. Please see your attendant for additional guidelines if traveling with children under the age of seven.”
Amun set down the pamphlet and looked at Kate.
“You understand these things I tell you?” he asked.
He slid a piece of parchment and quill across the desk. Kate signed it and passed it back.
“The next portkey for London leaves in twenty minutes.” When Kate and Henry remained seated, he added, “You will wait in the shop.”
“Right,” Henry said, standing up and holding the door open for Kate. “Well,” he said, once out of range of Amun, “shall I wait with you then?”
“Thanks but I’ll be fine,” Kate assured him. “Besides, gives me more time to chat up Amun.”
Henry gave her a sympathetic smile.
“You’re going to do great, Kate,” he said, placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “I’ve got no doubts about that. I may not have faith in the Ministry, but I have plenty of faith in you.”
“Thank you,” Kate said quietly, appreciative of the support but uncomfortable with the gesture of affection.
“Well, I guess that’s that,” he said at last, giving her arm a light squeeze before letting his hand fall back to his side. “I’m only an owl away if you need me.”
“I’ll be fine,” Kate said again. “Don’t worry about me.”
Henry chuckled. “I shall try, my dear. I shall try.”
A/N – This wasn’t the original ending spot for the chapter but I was once told by someone smart that you should always take the first exit. Hopefully that applies as much to writing as it does to radio.