by afterglow @ tda
An hour or so later, the Knight Bus lurched to a halt on a deserted country lane. I glanced out of the window, saw nothing but fields and hills around, and then went back to the book I’d been reading.
‘Well, this is us,’ Scorpius said, going to pick up the suitcase.
‘Huh?’ I gave the fields outside another glance. ‘No it isn’t.’
‘Well, the conductor said we were the stop after Gretna Green, and we were there about ten minutes ago…’
‘Oh, right,’ I snapped my book shut and got ready to leave, just as the conductor in question yelled up the stairs-
‘New New Elgin!’
‘…new new Elgin?’ I repeated.
‘Beats me,’ Scorpius shrugged.
We disembarked, the conductor having assured us that this was indeed Elgin – not just Elgin, but New New Elgin. So good, they named it twice…or something like that. The moment we’d stepped down from the bus, there was an almighty bang, a crash, a sound like a walrus being forced through a tea-strainer – and then the bus had vanished.
The two of us were, pretty much, abandoned in the middle of nowhere. With everything we owned in a single suitcase. No cause for alarm.
‘Any idea where we’re going?’ Scorpius asked.
We resolved simply to walk on for a bit and, if we got absolutely, totally, and hopelessly lost, we’d simply call the Knight Bus again and pretend we’d just been visiting relatives and were heading back to London. With, you know, a suitcase. We never had to resort to this though – within five minutes, Scorpius noticed a small wooden sign hammered in at the side of the road.
‘Hey! Look – it says New New Elgin-’
He crouched down to read the sign up close, touching a finger to the wood. Then, abruptly, he looked up and went a little slack-jawed.
‘Cool,’ he said, after a few moments.
‘No, come here –you’ve got to touch the sign-’
I knelt down beside him, putting a tentative finger to it. Then I saw it – a much bigger, more impressive sign shimmered out of the air; a purple plaque on a wooden post, covered in shining golden letters. Involuntarily, my mouth fell open.
‘Cool,’ I said, echoing Scorpius. ‘So…is this the magical dwelling bit that was on the map?’
‘New New Elgin,’ he read. ‘The largest magical dwelling near the Moray Firth. I guess it’s unplottable…’
‘Hmm, maybe…’ I peered around the magical sign, off into the distance. Surprisingly, the air seemed to be shimmering, like a heat mirage. But this was Scotland, where heat was, apparently, a myth.
‘Hey,’ I elbowed him. ‘Over there. Something weird.’
Together, we peeked around the sign, towards the strange patch of air.
‘That’s odd,’ he squinted.
Leaning around the sign and gawking into the distance like two spare parts, we were subsequently almost decapitated by a passing bus. Reeling backwards, we toppled over onto the suitcase and ended up crouching in the mud, Scorpius clutching onto his fringe.
‘Smooth,’ I said, after the bus had hurtled off into the distance.
We reached New New Elgin little more than ten minutes later. It turned out that the sort-of-mirage had been the place after all – a spell had been cast to make it, not only unplottable, but also unvisible. Invisible, I mean. Well, not invisible per se, perhaps just…slightly less visible. I couldn’t help but wonder what all the secrecy was for. It was a little strange.
Stranger still, New New Elgin was completely deserted.
Scorpius and I meandered down the High Street, suitcase in tow, and met not one single person along the way. Shops were open, but empty; discarded copies of the Daily Prophet blew across the cobblestones like tumbleweed. When I looked up at the flats above the shops, curtains twitched menacingly. I half expected someone to burst out of a doorway, point a wand at us and snarl this town ain’t big enough for the both of us, lass.
I vocalised this thought to Scorpius halfway down the road.
‘For starters,’ he said. ‘This isn’t the wild west. Secondly, maybe they’re all having a siesta…’
‘That’s Spain, Scorpius.’
We fell silent and meandered along a bit more. New New Elgin was quiet.
‘I have a bad feeling about this,’ I muttered, as we approached a phone box. ‘Should we stop here? I mean, we can always call Albus, provided he’s in his flat and-’
The telephone rang. Scorpius jumped about a foot into the air.
‘Who – who calls a phone box?’
I was about to tell him I didn’t know, but then, suddenly, a door to our left slammed open and a woman burst out, running at full pelt.
‘Hold on!’ she shouted. ‘Hold on!’
‘Hold on to what?’ Scorpius cried, but then the woman shoved past us – apparently, she’d been speaking to the phone box all along. But then she turned, looked the two of us up and down, and then jabbed a finger at me.
‘You,’ she said, in a vaguely threatening manner. ‘Will you watch the shop?’
She darted into the phone box before either of us had a chance to answer. I turned back to the door she’d come out of; it was a corner shop. CUMBERNAULD NEWSAGENTS, a sign above the door proclaimed in fairly shouty capital letters. The window display seemed entirely comprised of tartan things, which, frankly, was disorientating at best.
Scorpius looked between the phone box and the shop, more than a little perplexed.
‘Uh…I suppose we should watch it?’
Gingerly, we went into the corner shop. If the tartan window display was disorientating at best, then the interior was simply migraine-inducing; every square inch of the place had been decorated with a different tartan, and a whole shelf behind the counter had been devoted to cuddly Loch Ness monsters.
‘This…’ I said, my mouth a little dry. ‘This is too far.’
Before Scorpius had a chance to launch into a full artistic critique of the juxtaposition of tartan and cuddly monster, however, the door banged open again, a bell jingled, and the woman reentered, clutching a scrap of paper.
‘Right,’ she said. ‘Thanks. Just a message for Kevin.’
She took up her seat behind the counter and immediately started rifling through a stack of newspapers called The New New Elgin Herald. She ignored the two of us, who were standing there not just gormless, but completely devoid of anything even resembling gorm.
After a minute’s awkward silence, she looked up again.
‘Well…’ she said, but then her eyes seemed to settle on the suitcase. ‘Oh…’
I had several questions for her, most involving the display of cuddly Loch Ness monsters and my sudden desire to purchase and cuddle one. But it seemed those questions could wait. She leant forward on the desk, balancing her chin on her hands, and said:
‘Well. You must be new.’
a/n: cheeky wee chapter shuffle here! this chapter was originally tacked on to the end of the previous one - I chopped it up and rewrote it.
as we all know, Han Solo from Star Wars was the first person to have a bad feeling about this, and the line belongs to him.
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