Chapter 1 : An unexpected journey
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- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, page 64, UK ed paperback.
Elspeth Mactavish looked around nervously. These new traffic lights took some getting used to, and she was only walking. She dreaded to think how she would have reacted if she’d been driving. But then, after she turned eighty, four years ago, she had given up driving. Her sight, hearing and reaction times weren’t what they used to be and she hated to think what might happen if she was behind the wheel of a car.
It all looked good, though. Quiet. Lochinver was like that, and it was just how she wanted it. She had lived in the big cities, had fought her way through crowds in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and she craved the quiet life. Lochinver had given her that.
Carefully she repositioned the shopping bags on her walking frame. They were too heavy to carry and she couldn’t walk very far without help these days anyway. The one with the apples and tomatoes, though, that looked like it might be about to tip off, so she brought it back to the centre. Smiling to herself, she plodded up the high street towards her small bedsit. Yes, the quiet life. Just what she had always wanted.
Five miles to the north, a group of seventeen year olds stood in rows, evenly spaced with about two metres between them. They looked nervously at the man in front of them, a feat in itself given that he was virtually transparent anyway. Almost colourless, he had pale wispy hair that looked like it was made of cobwebs, and a voice that sounded like it would be carried off in the wind.
“Thank you for coming all this way,” he said, commanding their attention in an instant. “I understand that attending a test like this in the holidays can be difficult, and I commend those of you who were able to make it – and your parents for enabling it.” He gave a cursory nod to the group of middle aged witches and wizards huddled off to the left of the group, their breath causing the cold air to mist in front of them.
The transparent man turned his attention back to his charges. “Apparition is the most common form of magical transport,” he said. “While many prefer Floos, due to the sometimes unpleasant experience of Apparition, more witches and wizards choose to Apparate to their chosen location than anything else. The chances are that, once you have obtained your licence, you will choose to travel via Apparition rather than Floo, Portkey or even – if you are on the Continent where they are legal – flying carpets.”
In the second row, a young man with red hair found his mind wandering. They’d been told all this before. When could they get to the point of all this – the test? Looking vaguely around him, he suddenly caught the stern eye of his mother, a short, plump, friendly woman who could nonetheless freeze the breath of a dragon when she wanted to, and hurriedly looked back to the front.
“Remember – Determination, Destination and Deliberation,” the short man was saying. The young man groaned. The famous three Ds, which he had heard enough about to last a lifetime. If the bloke didn’t shut up he’d be facing another D, this one being Disruption – which was one of the nicer thoughts he was having. Finally, though, the droning ended, and it was time to take the test.
“Good luck, Charlie!” his mother called from the sidelines. The young man smarted: he had about to begin his attempt, and her albeit well intentioned encouragement had put him off. Shaking his head and catching the eye of his best friend next to him, he again focused on the cluster of trees about two hundred metres ahead of them. That was the target - the Destination, as the little wispy man would say – and that was where he intended to go. Sure, the journey wasn’t far, but it felt like this would be the most important trip of his life. In the background he could hear the little man doing his countdown …. “Three … two … one …” And, concentrating with all his might, he turned on the spot.
Charlie looked around in surprise. This wasn’t the forest he was supposed to be Apparating to. In fact, it wasn’t anywhere he recognised at all. Even the rural setting that the Ministry had chosen so carefully to shield the Muggle world from the Apparition test was nowhere to be seen; he was in a town, with a high street and a church and even a pub or two. Charlie turned the same colour as his hair. Sure, he appeared to have Apparated successfully – but where to?
Almost immediately he also realised that he’d landed on someone, just about literally. He stood up quickly and helped an elderly woman to her feet, all the while thinking furiously about how he could explain his mishap. “I’m so sorry,” he began, looking as contrite as he could. “Are you all right?”
The old woman slowly got to her feet, leaning heavily first on his hands and then on her walking frame. A walking frame? Now he felt even worse, if that were possible. She peered at him through half-moon glasses.
“Why don’t you watch where you’re going, young man? You could have hurt someone.”
Charlie relaxed. She wasn’t hurt. Angry, sure, but angry he could deal with. Hurt, though – that was something else, and Madam Pomfrey wasn’t here to help out. “Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked again. “Look, here, let me help you.” And he bent over and started picking up some shopping bags which seemed to have fallen. “Oh look, I’ve crushed your tomatoes. Can I get you some more?”
The old woman seemed to soften a little. “That’s fine, love, I can manage,” she said. Thank goodness, Charlie thought. She appeared to be a Muggle and he didn’t have any Muggle money. Actually, he didn’t have any wizarding money either, but that was beside the point. “And I must say what a polite young man you are. It’s so rare nowadays to find someone who was raised properly.”
Recognising a compliment, Charlie gave her his most winning smile. “I’ll be sure to tell my mother, ma’am,” he said. “She’ll be so proud.” Whenever I can find her, he thought.
“Thank you, young man,” the woman said, having repositioned her bags on her walking frame and settled herself up against it. “I don’t like being knocked over, but at least you had the sense to do something about it. Have a nice day.”
Charlie smiled again. “You too, ma’am.” And turning, he spied his father walking down the high street, probably looking for him. “Dad! I’m here!”
The older, also red headed man smiled in relief. “Thank goodness, Charlie.” He looked around. “But how on earth did you end up here?”
“Good question,” Charlie said. “How far from the test site am I?”
“About five miles,” his father said. “But no harm done. Let’s get you back and see if they’ll let you try again.”