Bringing down his arm, he gazed at his substandard wand in sheer amazement. Three cheers for magical spitballs, Harry thought in a daze.
"Huzzah," he whispered in salute to his damaged wooden tangle.
A thankfully familiar figure emerged from the bus as it opened and stood silhouetted in the doorway. The man was recognisable, even though Harry was without his specs and in the dark.
"'Oo 'sair?" questioned Stan Shunpike, narrowing his eyes in Harry's general direction.
"Stan!" Harry shouted in blessed relief, "Stan, it's me—Harry Potter!"
"'Arry Potter, 'ay?" Stan repeated skeptically. "'Ow come I can't see you?" Shunpike's eyes were still not focussing on him.
"What do you mean you 'can't see me'?" he said to Stan frantically.
"Well, we can see you," replied Ernie who had come down the steps behind Stan, "but we can't see you," he finished most unhelpfully, squinting into the darkness as Stan was.
They can't see me? Harry's mind reeled as more panic rose within him by the minute. Curious passengers were beginning to gawk out the windows of the bus. Why didn't—of course! he remembered. The trickle down his back outside King's Cross Station! The Disillusionment Charm he'd suspected all along…. Just explain a bit to Stan and Ernie…I'll be fine.
"Someone used a Disillusionment Charm on me, and I can't reverse it! Plus my wand is broken!" Harry shouted, feeling a bit dizzy now. "It happened to four of us, we're hurt, we need—"
"An' 'ow d'we know this isn't a prank?" Stan said suspiciously, cutting him off.
"Good finkin'," tossed Ernie to Stan over his shoulder. Then to Harry, "'Ow d'we know you're not prankin' us?"
"It's not a prank!" Harry yelled as hard as he could, head pounding in protest, "this is serious, we all need a ride on your blasted bus—"
"'Cause we've been pranked before," Stan began again as if Harry hadn't even spoken, "by 'nvis'ble drunk wizards, we're not 'bout to let it 'appen again, y'know," he finished firmly, nodding his head and turning with Ernie to leave.
Harry screamed in aggravation. Why would these idiots not listen! The Knight Bus was his last hope. If it left without he and the Dursleys….
As his thoughts and feelings worked into a lather, he began breathing more shallowly and painfully than ever. What would happen to him, what would happen to Hedwig…a random errant image of Sirius flashed over his mental circuit. Sirius wouldn't give up, Harry seized on the thought, he would fight to the last…he would make these fools see! I'll fight like Sirius! If he could only make himself stop hyperventilating.
"What is happening here?" called out a clear female voice in utmost authority. Harry hadn't even seen the woman enter the bus doorway, blocking Stan's and Ernie's retreat back inside. He couldn't have answered even if he had noticed her.
"Oi, nuffink, ma'am," Stan immediately replied, he and Ernie snapping to almost-attention. "Jes' some joker."
"Yeah," joined in Ernie, "someone 'oo 'sinvis'ble, telling us 'ees got 'urt wif 'urt people an' fings—"
"What did you say?" she questioned them both sharply, alighting off the steps in a rush.
Harry tried in a vain attempt to attract her attention as even more anger coursed through him at his inability. Think about Sirius, he reminded himself, deal with by fighting it. His vision was getting fuzzier and he was beginning to pass out.
The witch strode purposefully toward him, as if listening for Harry's strangled breathing.
"Some bloke," started Stan again, "sayin 'is wan' is broke an' if that's so, 'ow could 'ee call us 'ere? Says someone 'it 'im wif a Disillu—fingy. It 'as to be a joke, 'sappened before," he defended. "Gits."
Suddenly Harry felt a very odd sensation, which seemed to originate with his frustration; it felt as if something heavy and stringy was issuing forth from his scalp. It itched relentlessly too. He watched, astonished, as his hair magically grew down passed the front of his face to his waist. What the bloody hell? He commenced choking as his hair flowed in a black curtain about him. Going from too much air to not enough…
"'Ee also says 'is name is "Arry Potter," Ernie added helpfully as an afterthought.
"Moronic simpletons!" shouted the tall woman after this revelation. She pushed passed them in Harry's direction, pulling out her wand in a flash. Then she pointed it at Harry as if she had known where he was all along.
"Finite Disillusio!" her voice rang out.
Three gasps punctuated the darkness as a hot water-like blast washed over Harry and he was finally revealed for all to see.
Evidently, his weakened body had had enough. Just as the witch rushed for him, he felt his knees finally buckle under stress. Strong arms caught and held him upright.
"See!" yelled Stan and Ernie together, and pointed accusingly in Harry's direction. "That's no' 'Arry Potter! "Ee 'as much shorter 'air an' glasses—"
"I don't care if he's the Great Nicodemus Incarnate!" Her eyes sparked an inferno of warning. "This young man needs help!" shouted the witch lividly.
She peered down critically at him in her arms. Drawing her wand out again, she rested it straight on his constricted airway and incanted soothingly, "Evictiphobius Accioncordia."
Immediately, Harry was able to breathe more easily, save the ever-present stitch in his right side. As he sucked in great gulps of air, the witch swept the hair back from his face with one arm while still holding him in the other. As she surveyed his forehead, her brows knitted together and smoothed again. For once, it wasn't his scar someone was worried about.
"Don't fight this fear with rage," she told him in the same comforting tone as her last spell, "assuage it with an inner calm. Listen to your heartbeat, breathe with it."
Just as he started to feel a bit more relaxed, Harry felt another wave of sickness crash over him and began retching at their feet. The witch held his newly long hair back from his mouth and addressed Ernie and Stan again. They flinched at her words.
"You two should be ashamed of yourselves. If you had better powers of observation, you would've known that the entire Wizard World is out looking for a young dark-haired teenage wizard and his three Muggle companions, with special attention to be paid in the London area. It was said they were possibly injured or disoriented, and to be offered assistance. The Alert—sent out by the Minister of Magic himself—went out over the Wireless more than four hours ago."
She helped Harry straighten up as he finished with his sickness, still acting the epitome of righteous indignation.
"Now I'm not sure if the Alert meant Harry Potter, and I haven't seen any wizards yet with this boy right here—" her eyes flicked to Harry, "but he emerged under your noses by means of some very suspicious circumstances—with injuries whilst in the London area," she emphasized crossly.
Harry looked up at her and spoke up again finally. "Thank you," he said breathlessly and with gratitude.
"It's all part of the job," she replied rather curtly. Then abruptly, "Are you Harry Potter?" She glared daggers at Stan and Ernie after asking, as if daring them to challenge Harry's answer.
"Yes, I am," he replied carefully, inching away from her and wilting against the car.
Now he could see that magic folk started to stream out of the bus and onto the grass around him and the vehicle. He severely doubted any Death Eaters would be foolish enough to show up here in their midst.
Apparently, his reappearance had caused quite an uproar. When he looked behind him, he saw precisely why. The Dursleys were all as visible as he was; they sat sprawled as if floating in midair since the car surrounding them was still not visible.
"And who are these people?" she questioned and gestured, her voice all business.
"My aunt, uncle, and cousin—Muggles," he concluded quietly as his head, arm, and side started aching more again. Little lightheadedness spots twinkled at the edge of his vision.
"And how much of this is yours?" she said, pointing to the various red blotches on his body and clothing under his mane of thick hair.
"Wuh, the blood?" he looked at her weirdly. What an odd question. "All of it, I suspect." Her eyes grew huge.
"You, you, and you—" she spun about and shouted unexpectedly, pointing to three wizards, "I want you to each open one of those doors—" she pointed to the Dursleys—"when you turn the car visible, and DON'T move anybody until I come back!"
Not bothering to wait for replies, the witch turned back to Harry and got him to lean off the car once more.
She then slid a protective arm under his hair around his waist. He sagged against her as she helped him navigate and walk slowly up the steps of the Knight Bus. It was getting harder for him to remember how to put one foot in front of the other. He should tell her about the Death Eaters…
"I trust you won't bungle up the task of helping young Mr. Potter find a seat," she said coldly to Stan, who slunk back inside the bus. Now he looked properly abashed.
"No, ma'am." Stan turned around, head hanging, and gestured Harry to an empty bed.
"You will also see to it that he remains seated indefinitely," she clipped off in a voice which left no room for argument.
"Yes, ma'am." Stan blinked.
"That means 'at all costs',” the woman amended, after seeing the expression on Stan's face.
"Yes, ma'am. 'Ndef'nitely, ma'am."
"Make sure that he does not fall asleep either. Do you understand?"
"'Arry Potter's not to fall asleep, yes ma'am."
Wrinkling her brow imperiously at Shunpike a last time, she turned to Harry and snapped, "I'll be right back, don't go anywhere."
After turning around and walking up the aisle a bit, she vanished three of the beds with a rather complex-sounding spell on her way out.
Stan seemed to have read the unspoken question on Harry's lips.
"Tha' tair's Madam Adonna. Polite an' friendly to a fault—in a non-'mergency situation—but if sick or 'urt folks're about, she turns into a right hippogriff on a rampage until the danger's o'er." He nodded knowingly at Harry. "An' she's also an 'ealer at St. Mungo's," added Stan in an almost reverent voice.
Interesting. Harry had never seen a fully-trained wizard healer at her element before. Wondering through his thickening mental fog he said, "Are all healers snippy like that? She certainly seems to know her stuff, though," added Harry hastily, just in case.
"Dunno," answered Stan. "She 's th' only one I know of 'oo reg'larly chooses t' ride th' Knight Bus. Says Disapparatin' all th' time makes wizards lazy," he finished, shrugging.
Harry lapsed into silence about then. As he sat there, oddly disjointed thoughts strayed cross his mind. What would he do if his aunt and uncle died? What was up with this hair thing? People were searching for him, he now knew. For hours. So far, his scar had only hurt that once. Where would he be taken now? The Order would be near spare with worry, he was certain. I should tell someone about the Death Eaters, he reminded himself again. Why did that critical piece of information keep slipping his mind?
Not knowing how long he'd sat there, Harry vaguely noticed he was getting colder. Much colder. But his face felt flushed at the same time. Weird. Before long he started feeling jittery and shivery and closed his eyes to try and ward it all off. Harry was so very exhausted… If I close my eyes, I can make it stop…
"Don' you be driftin' off on me," Stan said irritatedly, slapping Harry roughly about the face and bringing him rudely back to full consciousness. Madam 'ould 'ave my 'ead iffen she came back an' you were passed out."
Throwing a warm blanket about Harry's shoulders he continued, "You can 'ave one o' these," and bringing up a steaming mug from nowhere, "an' 'ere's an 'ot choc'late, compliments of th' establishment," he finished with a quirky sideways smile.
Harry gratefully took the warm mug from Stan and practically curled himself around it. Apparently I was colder than I thought, he mused, taking steady sips of the liquid. What is it with wizard chocolate that helps one feel calmer? he wondered, as its influence spread through him the more he drank. The fuzzy blanket was working like a charm, too. He began feeling nominally better though his injuries pulsed with every heartbeat.
Harry contemplated Stan for a moment; apparently the young conductor was trying to attain for his earlier serious error in judgment.
"Why Stan, I never knew you cared," he said looking up at Shunpike, reflecting the same bemused expression.
The young man brightened instantly. "'S'all part of the job, Mr. Potter," he swaggered with supercilious dignity, a twinkle in his eye.
"Hey," Harry began, remembering something important, "I was wondering if you could tell Madam Adonna about my owl, Hedwig—"
He stopped in midsentence. What they saw next made all thought fly from his mind.
and Harry froze as the bus door squeaked open and a piercing wail
filled the air. Harry knew that sound well. It came from the sirens
of the Muggle law enforcement—Scotland Yard! He must've been very
knackered indeed not to have noticed the flashing lights and ruckus
that were just outside. Please
don't let them have started an investigation, he