The Fright Bus?
Harry was striding down the main corridor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The entire place seemed deserted.
While he was walking, he noticed something else quite odd. As his heels struck the floor, they failed to make any sound. Looking down, he saw nothing impeding the soles of his shoes; they simply weren't making any noise as he walked. Not even shuffling issued forth from them.
As Harry looked down, he took careful notice of what he was wearing. Pleated velvet robes of the blackest black flowed about him from neckline to floor. Every so often, a glittering silver jewel had been placed in the fabric. The crystalline gems took turns winking up in his eyes as he walked. The effect was so real; it felt to Harry as if he were wearing a piece of the night sky. He even thought he could recognise constellation patterns along the folds—from upside down, of course.
If he had a mirror, he could see them straight on…. Harry reached into the pocket of his robes as he walked. A small square mirror—which remarkably resembled the one Sirius had given him—came out in his hand.
Inadequate, but it would have to do. Holding the mirror out in front of his robes, Harry paused over a pattern he had particular cause to notice…the constellation Orion. It contained the star named "dog star" or "Sirius".
Harry contemplated the star for a bit; suddenly, he heard a shuffling sound in front of him and glanced up. He was seeing the back of a large black dog…very familiar…
"Padfoot!" Harry happily called to the animal, "hey, wait up!"
The dog showed no signs of having heard him and continued walking.
"Oi, Sirius!" he tried again, "please wait for me!"
Breaking into a run, the dog turned and dashed around a corner, and Harry accidentally dropped the small mirror which shattered into a million shards...
The chase was on.
Harry picked up his feet and ran after the animal as fast as he could; it was quite easy for him. Despite his heavy robes he wasn't even breathing hard. His feet made nary a sound as they struck stone beneath them.
Still, he called out intermittently to the black dog; it failed to show any indications of stopping let alone having heard him. Why would Sirius not slow down?
Harry followed Padfoot-Sirius all the way to the Room of Requirement. For some odd reason, the entrance had been left open. The black dog disappeared inside the opening.
Following Padfoot through the doorway, Harry immediately noticed a large framed looking glass in front of him.
It was the Mirror of Erised. All he'd had to do was think about needing a larger mirror, and Sirius had brought him to one. The black dog was whimpering and pawing as if trying to get through the glass somehow. Slowly, Harry stepped up behind him.
To the dog, he said, "I know, boy; I want to get through the other side of the glass and see Lily and James too." Then he leaned in a little closer and bent over to stroke the dog behind the ears.
At this proximity, the animal looked back at him, jauntily danced around, and headed back for the mirror at a full run.
"NO, Sirius, you can't—" Harry called out loudly.
He watched, shocked, as the black dog dashed through the frame and vanished before his very eyes.
Sprinting up to the glass, Harry began feeling around the edges of the frame. He could even hear barking from behind it!
"Harry..." a vaguely familiar voice called his name. "It's all right Harry, you can walk through now…"
"M-Mum?" he stammered incredulously. "Can you hear me?"
"Oh yes, Harry. We can hear everything now. Please come to us."
"How do I get through?" he asked.
"Just step through the mirror—that is all that's required of you."
Harry tried putting just the toe of his shoe in through the glass, but his long robes inhibited the action.
Closing his eyes, he reached out his hands in front of him and took a step through. It felt to him as if he had fallen down one stair; he stumbled and turned around to stabilise himself. Harry was now looking at the back of the Mirror of Erised. It was odd, as if one could never see the back of the object until they had stepped through to its magical side. Two of the four corners appeared to have squares removed from the otherwise perfectly rectangular sheet. It rippled before him like the surface of a bath.
Now Harry felt an arm around his shoulders and he looked up into the face of his father, James.
"Welcome back, son," he said.
"Er, thanks," Harry replied, still a bit daunted by his rush through the mirror. Padfoot seemed to have disintegrated into thin air.
Turning Harry around, Lily said, "Your father and I have been expecting you for quite some time now. We have a little celebration planned for your arrival." The room they were in now was the Great Hall at school.
"Oh?" Harry replied to his mother. This was not the way he'd expected his parents to react to him. After all, the three of them hadn't seen each other in around fifteen years. The behaviour was a bit...distant, considering. He still went along and followed after them regardless.
In front of them was a small table with a multi-tiered cake on it. It was covered in steel-grey icing and the candles on it burned a cold silvery colour.
The Potters began to sing, "Happy Death-day to you, Happy Death-day to you. Happy Death-day dear Harry, Happy Death-day to you."
"Death-day?" Harry questioned them, aghast. "We're celebrating the day I died?"
"Why yes," James answered heartily, "it's not everyday one can say they've died. This is your very first Death-day! You've even got some presents!"
"Presents," whispered Harry, "for dying?"
"Yes!" said Lily, in the same excited tone as her husband. "And this one is from Sirius." She held out a small square parcel, wrapped in ice-blue metallic paper. "He says to tell you he's sorry for not making your party."
"Oh." In spite of himself, Harry reached for the gift and opened it.
Parting the tissue inside, he saw the box contained a very long black braid. Both ends of it were knotted off; it resembled a warrior's queue. Why has Sirius given me corded human hair for a Death-day gift?
Feeling somewhat grossed-out, Harry reached inside and began to take the braid from its bed of tissue. As he did, Harry felt his own hair grow heavy and something long started snaking down the centre of his back. It startled him and he let go of Sirius's odd gift from his hand.
Realising he was going to drop the braid, Harry lunged for it. But instead of catching it as he expected, a long thick cord whipped around from the back of Harry's head. He froze and then felt along the back of his neck. Somehow, the braid had attached itself to the ends of his own hair rather than having been dropped in a coil on the floor. This whole thing was getting rather odd. He faced his parents again and looked at them weirdly; perhaps they had an explanation.
"Do you like it?" James asked expectantly. "Sirius thought you'd look rather daring…." he trailed off, seeing the perplexed look on Harry's face. "Very well, next gift!"
His mother held out a flat, wide present to him, wrapped in mint green with a silvery bow. "This one is from me."
Harry slid off the bow and opened the lid of the box. It contained a silver quill and a matching silver diary.
"A diary?" asked Harry warily. "You want me to use a diary after I'm dead?"
"We don't stop dreaming just because we've died, Harry. I should know. It would do you some good to write out your dreams and feelings today, not just of the dream world, but of the real world too."
Putting the diary back in the box, he set it back on the table and fingered his new braid again. A Death Day Diary, read the cover of the little book. This morbid party was turning out even weirder than the one he'd attended for Nearly Headless Nick's Death-day bash.
"Next gift!" cried James jovially. He produced a package from behind his back and presented it to Harry.
This one was very different from the depressing, muted tone gifts he'd received so far. The box was covered in every bright happy colour of the rainbow and had a plethora of ribbons atop it to match.
"That one's from the Living World," said Lily reverently. "Dead souls almost never see one of those," she added as Harry carefully prised the ribbons and tape off the outside of the box.
Piqued with curiosity, he gently lifted the top off of the gift and peered inside.
What he saw heading the papers made him gasp, it was so unexpected.
"Official Certificate of Adoption," he read aloud wonderingly, and glanced his full name in the first blank, "for Harry James Potter." He gulped and swiftly looked back up at his parents.
"What does this mean?" Harry demanded desperately. "Who is this from?" Taking a step closer he finished forcefully, "Was someone going to adopt me?"
His parents' response was to laugh at him twitteringly. The Great Hall echoed with their voices.
"We've no idea what it means—" started James.
"—or who it's from," Lily went on, "and it doesn't matter anyway."
James and Lily started into an odd little waltz with each other, despite the absence of music. They looked utterly mad.
"Why doesn't it matter?" said Harry through clenched teeth. "I mean, I know I belong to you, but…"
Their reactions were really getting infuriating. Everything he found important seemed so trivial to them.
"Because you're dead now!" they cried together happily in singsong voices.
Being with Lily and James was a waste of time; he needed to get out of here and find some answers. Dead or alive. Making a sound of profound disgust, he cautiously put the cover back over the adoption papers and headed for the Mirror of Erised.
"You can't go back that way," said Lily in a hollow voice, sounding almost Trelawney-like.
She and James continued to dance their wild twirl to music only they could hear.
"But you can use one of these," James concluded, in the same eerily echoing tone. Neither one of them paid him any more attention than that.
A small oblong box appeared in a sparkle near his feet on the stone floor. As Harry peered down at it, he could make out "Ollivanders—Makers of Fine Wands Since 362 B.C." and then the words, "Happy Death-Day Harry. Love, Dad." So this must be my father's gift.
Bending down, he picked up the box and removed the cover. Inside was a polished black wand; it looked almost sinister compared to his old one. Harry looked at the side for the specs. It read "Phoenix Tail Feather, Yew, 13 ½ inches." He nearly dropped the box. His own father had just given him Lord Voldemort's wand!
The object in the box…the wand that had caused so much pain, suffering, and death…it practically bristled with evil power.
As if spellbound, Harry removed the black wand from its cushioning. Maybe this wasn't Riddle's; it probably just looked like it.
Dropping the box but still holding onto the gift with the adoption papers, he held the wand out in front of himself experimentally.
Before he could chant an incantation, a large popping sound filled the air around him and the Knight Bus came to a smooth halt in front of him.
Upon further inspect, he noticed it wasn't the Knight Bus after all. It was still triple-decker, but instead of being violently purple it was ominous black and the burnt-out sign on the front read, "Fright Bus."
The door slid open without a sound and a familiar figure stepped out. Only it wasn't the person he'd expected. It was Aunt Petunia, and she was wearing black conductor's clothing. She began speaking crisply in monotone.
"Welcome to the Fright Bus, emergency transport for all stranded ghouls, ghosts, and souls of the Undead World. Headquarters asks you remember that Poltergeists are banned. We have only a single destination; all trips are one-way. There is also no fare; please step lightly and don't disturb any of the other passengers." She gestured him impatiently up the stairs.
At this point, he appeared to have no choice where he went. With a last glance at his loony parents, Harry gathered himself and swept up the steps of the bus, forgotten braid swinging. Still his feet made no sound.
He was only half surprised to see Uncle Vernon in the driver's seat wearing the proper accoutrements. His uncle stared vacantly out the windscreen.
Harry realised he was rather glad his relatives had failed to acknowledge they knew him at this point, however. Conversation would be awkward at best.
Turning to his left, what he saw made him freeze in his tracks.
Instead of seats or beds, the aisle was now flanked with rows of coffins! Some had covers, other didn't. Had his hands not been full of wand and adoption papers, one would've flown to his mouth. Harry simply stared in terror.
This whole thing was getting still freakier as it went on. He came to the dawning realisation the creepy bus reeked of death and formaldehyde.
"Is there a problem?" demanded Conductor Petunia in irritation. "Perhaps you would care for different accommodations; we have sliding drawers on the second level—crypt on the right side, morgue on the left—we even stock toe-tags and keep the inside refrigerated to the temperature level of your choice—"
"No, this is fine," Harry interrupted with a strangled whisper, his jaw going more and more slack as Conductor Petunia spoke. He definitely did not want to hear more recitation on what else they had to make dead people more comfortable.
He began moving haltingly passed the coffins. The otherwise warmly lit oil lamps instead burned titanium silver. Harry noticed one of the black wood boxes near the back was occupied. Taking extra precaution to avoid that one, he skirted it and arranged himself, his belongings, and his robes about him on the floor. The thought of being in one of those coffins was driving him near spare. He just couldn't bring himself to do it.
Looking up, he noticed that the bus had already started moving. It was quite unlike the real Knight Bus; it didn't creak, roar, or produce any of the usual vomit-inducing motion. It merely….glided.
This place is silent as the grave, thought Harry before he could stop himself.
Casting about for something to distract his present line of thinking, his eyes rested on the gift in his lap. He opened the cover of the adoption papers again. The signature lines were all blank. Damn.
Harry was aching to know what this meant; if indeed someone was planning to adopt him before he died. Evidently someone had cared for Harry so deeply they had desire to share not only their house with him, but also their finances, their security, themselves, their family—a real home. This was doubly meaningful to him, as it had come so close on the heels of Sirius's death. Now Harry felt adrift; as if he belonged nowhere and to no one.
Who better to ask than his own relatives? Harry knew he was a tad on the old side now, but it would be just like the Dursleys to put off such a big life-altering decision regarding him. Perhaps Harry had misjudged them somehow. He had to know.
Steeling himself, Harry called up to the front of the bus.
"Uncle Vernon. Aunt Petunia."
"I need to ask you something, please."
"Were you, erm…" This was harder than he'd thought. Harry tried again. "I was wondering…if you had been planning to…er, to officially adopt me?"
In spite of the situation, Harry carried a half-hopeful tone in his voice. After so many years he still couldn't help it. Simply put, adoption was something nearly every orphan wanted despite their age; this was especially so if the child in question was resented or unwanted in their subsequent residence. Inside burns a void yearning to be filled with the assurance of belonging and inclusiveness. Even if it were to be in name only.
And for once, in this regard, an oft-deprived Harry was not the exception. "I have these papers here with my name on them."
He held the gift box up behind their backs. Still the Dursleys refused to turn around. Sighing somewhere between dejection and disgust, Harry put the papers back into the box and slid the lid back over it. He found himself hoping it wasn't the Dursleys names that belonged on the bottom of those precious documents. If their present behaviour was any indication…
Not caring how long he sat there, Harry thought himself into a boredom-induced stupor. He never assumed the netherworld would be all picnics and parades, but at the moment being dead was a right drag.
Coming to a hasty decision, Harry stood up and tucked the black wand into his robes and clutched the gift box under one arm. If the Dursleys weren't going to talk, he'd have to try the other passenger. Gulp.
Feeling rather bold, he sidled over to the occupied coffin. It contained just an ordinary witch, normal as you please, wearing black robes and looking as if she were sleeping. No, not sleeping. Her brow was wrinkled as if in concentration whilst her lips moved soundlessly.
"Hello," Harry said timidly as his voice cracked.
"Er, so—been dead long?" he tried again, picking up the volume a bit.
Dramatic irony abruptly hit Harry full force. This was stupid.
Newly dead, riding this weird bus with relatives who won't speak to me, and here I sound as if I'm trying to chat up women.
Suddenly, the witch's eyes snapped open and she bolted upright in her coffin.
Harry yelled a shocked "Aaaah!" as he jlept back reactively and nearly tripped over his robes.
Apparently one could get scared half to death, even in the afterlife.
Heart hammering in his chest (he still had a heart?), Harry attempted to stammer an apology.
"I, I'm really sorry—" he began breathlessly, "—I didn't intend to scream in your face, you just startled me—"
Her eyes flashed menacingly as she waved an arm. It contained a wand. She commenced shouting at him.
"No, I will not let you take him away!"
"Take who?" Harry tried to placate her before things got worse.
"TAKE HIM!" she raged, her hair flying, "I KNOW WHAT YOU'LL DO! He's injured, he needs my help…"
Conductor Petunia came out of nowhere and shoved him out of the way. "Didn't I tell you not to bother the other passengers?!" she hissed.
Then to the raving witch, "There, there. He didn't mean anything by it, Adonna. That boy never could learn anything well. He's just barbaric, idiotic, and doesn't know the rules—didn't mean a thing by it."
The crazy woman shook convulsively. "He tried to kill me, kill US by breaking the Gemini Stasis Charm! He wants to destroy Harry Potter and me! I'll hurt him, I'll kill him!"
Why in blue blazes was this woman he had never met in his life shrieking his name?
Instantly she pointed her wand arm at Harry and shouted, "CRUCIO!"
He yelled as the spell hit his left forearm; he'd raised it automatically to defend himself. Looking down, he glimpsed his black velvet robes starting to stain. Now I'm bleeding? The Cruciatus Curse doesn't work like this!
Harry looked back up just in time for the mad Adonna woman to shout "CRUCIO!" at him again. This time, the spell hit the side of his forehead. It blinded him for a bit; he raised a hand to his head where the spell had broken his glasses and caused a gout of hot liquid to rush out.
Reaching into his robes, Harry blindly tried to find the black wand as he began sprinting to the back of the bus. Time to get out of this horrible place…
"CRUCIO!" shouted madwoman Adonna again as he stumbled.
Now, this one felt like the Cruciatus Curse.
His entire right side erupted in agony and he could hardly breathe. Still clutching the unused black wand, he took shuddering steps closer to the bus exit. Almost there!
Driver Vernon glared in his direction, but made no move to stop him.
Next Harry found himself tripping down the stairs. But he needed something to open the door!
As he turned around and pointed his wand at the door opener behind him, the Cruciatus Curse hit him a fourth and final time in his left shoulder.
"ALOHOMORA!" Harry shouted loudly as the painful green light lanced through him.
The doors flew open in a rush and Harry flung himself off the steps without a second thought.