DISCLAIMER: The Harryverse belongs to J K Rowlings. Everything else is nothing more than the product of a deranged imagination.
CENSOR: PG for a little light angst.
A/N: It's my personal belief that each one of us has an Inner Petunia, or possibly an Inner Snape, or most likely, an unholy fusion of the two. Whatever. In any case this fic is dedicated to those days when everything annoys me.
Beware! We'll be getting every bad Snape romance cliche in the book over the next few episodes.
Chapter 2: A Thoroughly Unpleasant Journey
The boy stared, open-mouthed, at the scattered coins on the dashboard, and did his goldfish impression for some seconds before he could again form coherent words. "Right you are," he said to the man's retreating back. "Whatever you say, sir. This way, miss."
Petunia followed him into the back of the bus, eyeing her surroundings with deep suspicion. True, the back of the bus was unusually spacious, and rather cleaner than the driver's seat had been (though it still fell far short of Petunia's exacting specifications), but the furnishings demonstrated anew all the abnormalities of the magical world.
There were no seats at all on the bus - none at all! Instead, each side of the bus was lined with brass bedsteads, of all things - and the passengers were lying on them, presumably trying to sleep. Petunia noticed that most of the sleepers had placed their heads under the pillows, rather than on top of them. Yet another peculiarity of the freaks' society, she had no doubt. Couldn't they do anything like respectable people? she asked herself angrily, and then berated herself for the stupid question. No. No, of course they could not. Lily never had, and nor had that bratty son of hers. Why should the rest be any different?
She sat down rather primly on the bed she'd been assigned as the spotty youth made his way back to the front of the bus. Her seat (she was not going to call it a bed, whatever it was) was in the extreme back corner of the bus, directly opposite the wizard who had paid her fare. He wasn't lying down either, but leaning against the side of the bus as though he was bracing himself.
She began to wonder why, but at that point the bus started revving up wildly, more like a racing car than a sedate double-decker bus. She grimaced inwardly, and just had time to get a firm hold on the head of the brass bedstead as the bus lurched forward violently.
The motion flung her forcibly backwards at the first jolt of forward motion, and then sideways into the railings, as it swerved suddenly with a sound like a whip-crack. Petunia clung on to the bedstead rail desperately, letting loose an expletive as she felt one of her fingernails break.
When the motion subsided enough for her to sit upright again, she peered out of the window at the moonlit moorland outside. Wherever the bus was now, it wasn't within a hundred miles of Surrey.
* * *
Invisible even under the streetlights, the watcher in Magnolia Crescent waited until the bus had disappeared from view.
Interesting. Most interesting - inexplicable, in fact. And not a little worrying.
He glanced around him, at what had ten minutes ago been an unexceptional suburban street. It was a worrying sight. Every step she had taken down that pavement had left a deep, perfectly formed imprint of her shoe - a foot-deforming stiletto heel, as the print attested. In the gardens she had passed, flowers and shrubs had withered away; some of the cars parked in the drives had had their headlights melted into puddles of glass on the tarmac. The holly hedge where the bus had stopped seemed to be the sole survivor: it was now nine feet tall and counting.
He drew his wand quickly and shrunk it back to its former height, wary of the way its formerly inanimate prickles seemed to make angry stabs towards his wand hand. At the back of his mind, an awed voice muttered, She did that with no wand?!? The bush shrank obligingly, after a moment's struggle, and he glanced around, seeking for other signs of magical effluence. He walked slowly back in the direction she had come, erasing the deep imprints of her footsteps, reviving the withered flowers and shrubs, repairing the cars' melted headlamps, effacing every sign of her passing.
It was a truism that emerging magicians tended to generate a lot of fallout - it was expected, and for the most part caused no problem - but of all the wizarding children he'd known, not even the most hair-trigger temper produced a reaction like this.
Which sparked off another very worrying thought. With that kind of power, and that little control over it, she could cause no end of trouble in the wizarding community - particularly if the wrong kind of people got their hands on her.
The watcher picked up the broom he'd left behind the hedge in Privet Drive - it seemed fortunately to have been unaffected by the fallout, and hovered gently in mid-air for him. He mounted it, carefully arranging the invisibility cloak to cover it.
He'd have plenty of time to get to Chelsea Bridge.
* * *
Petunia, meanwhile, was in the middle of the second most uncomfortable journey she had ever experienced. (The ambulance journey to Egham Infirmary when she'd been in labour with Dudley still came an easy first.) Even without the bus's annoying habit of suddenly jumping to the opposite end of the country, with a sound like a small explosion, it was still noisy, uncomfortable and even at times downright dangerous. She'd given up looking out of the window the second time the bus had mounted the pavement. It was marginally preferable not to know what was happening out there.
She had managed to wedge herself upright now, into the corner of the bus, holding onto the brass railings as if her life depended on it. She had jammed her handbag beside her, into the gap between the mattress and the head of the bed. It was just as well: its contents would be scattered about the bus by now if she hadn't. And she certainly didn't want these creatures to find out that she had a wand too. Not that it was hers. Not that she'd ever use it.
She'd never meant to keep the dreadful thing. She hadn't wanted it or needed it, and she certainly hadn't asked for it.
They'd brought her sister's things round to Privet Drive only a week after dumping her bratty nephew on the doorstep. It had been an unmarked white van, thank heavens, almost free of any sign of abnormality (though Vernon had not appreciated the fat purple toad one of the men had sitting on his shoulder). She'd told them firmly to take it back, they didn't need any of Lily's things, thank you very much, and after only about a quarter of an hour of argument they had complied.
That, had they been dealing with considerate, normal people, would have been the end of the matter. But no! Three days later, a parcel had arrived for her in the post, and there had been nothing in the way it was wrapped or addressed to suggest that it contained anything out of the ordinary. And so she had opened it, only to find that it contained her sister's wand, in a long narrow box padded with some kind of dried leaves.
She'd shrieked and flung it away from her as if it had burnt her (Vernon, fortunately, had been out at work), and then rushed forward to retrieve it when her unspeakable nephew had started crawling eagerly towards it, an inane grin plastered all over his chubby face. He'd busrt into tears when she'd picked it up, but she hadn't stopped to silence him.
Her first reaction had been to put it straight in the dustbin, but she had been pulled up short. What if the dustmen had found it? What would they have thought of her?
So she'd gone along to the local park that afternoon with the wand at the bottom of her handbag, one of Vernon's handkerchiefs wound round it to stop her touching it accidentally, fully intending to leave it in a waste bin there, where it could just quietly be forgotten. But every time she had even neared a rubbish bin, she would glance round, and see people watching her. It seemed impossible to throw it away without someone seeing her do it - and if they saw her, they'd wonder what she was doing and investigate, and then they'd find ....
For some reason, her logic now seemed a little suspect.
Anyway, she had finally given up and bought herself a new handbag, leaving the handbag - contents and all - at the back of her wardrobe along with the shoes she no longer wore, claiming that it didn't go with any of her clothes and she'd always hated that beige colour anyway.
Eventually she'd forgotten about it, until the start of this season when beige had allegedly become the new black, and she'd got it out again. She'd been using it a week before she discovered it, nestling down at the bottom with the handkerchief still round it, underneath the layer of old tissues and receipts she'd been intending to throw away. She'd changed her mind quickly about the clear-out, and pushed the wand and its concealing layer of debris quickly to the bottom of the bag, as if some terrible thing would come to pass if the wand saw the light of day again. So she had just left it there, an ever-present reminder of her pretty, popular, sweet sister, the family freak, whose son seemed to be just as popular among the freaks as his mother had been.
Again, her logic didn't seem to stand up to close examination; but what was the point in going over the past again? Now, now, she was in one of the freaks' vehicles, and the sooner she got out the better.
The bus lurched again, and she risked another look out of the window - and nearly screamed aloud. The bus appeared to be racing, at a breakneck speed, along the very edge of Beachy Head. The edge of the cliffs appeared to be only a matter of feet from the wheels of the bus, and beyond the edge was only the blackness of the waters. The sound of the waves was just audible over the noisy engine of the bus. She shut the curtain, quickly, and braced herself again, just as the bus screeched to a halt, and yet another passenger boarded, being led upstairs by the boy in the purple uniform.
Things could, she reflected without satisfaction, have been worse. She could have been given a bed - a seat - on the top deck of the bus. If they had any sense, they'd keep those seats for people under thirty with no history of heart problems or travel sickness.
The conductor reappeared, and she heard him say to the conductor, "Seepurse Lane next, innit?" A few seconds later, the bus lurched away again, and she braced herself, holdings the bedstead's railings with both hands. The passenger in the bed next to her whimpered softly as the bus began its uneven ride, and others shifted uneasily in their sleep.
Her eyes fell on the man opposite her, the one who had paid her fare. He was still braced against the side of the bus, in what must have been a highly uncomfortable posture, and he barely shifted as the bus jolted along its way.
His face was turned slightly away from her, but that only gave her a better view of the repellantly ugly profile with its over-sized nose, and the expanses of greasy skin stretched over the gaunt cheekbones. The black hair, held harshly back from the face by some kind of oil, made him look sallow and unhealthy, as if he'd just crept out from under a stone. But what marked it most strongly was the twisted set of the mouth, a habitual expression that spoke far more loudly than words could have done, revealing one who despised both the world and all its inhabitants - and himself, most of all.
I know that feeling, Petunia thought bitterly, reminding herself once again why she was among these deviants. And I couldn't agree more.
* * *
The bus lurched drastically again, and, once more, Severus Snape braced himself hard against the glass of the window.
Remind me again - why, exactly, was this a good idea? a little voice in his mind asked him, and he snarled at it wordlessly. How else was he supposed to get to ... wherever it was he was going?
His Apparition Licence had been confiscated, of course, when they had arrested him, and should have been returned to him on his release - if they hadn't lost it in the meantime. A young Ministry worker with an enraging air of cheerful incompetence had searched for it in a rather lackadaisical manner, and then shrugged and asked him to return for it on the morrow. "Doesn't seem to be about, sir," he had remarked with nauseating cheerfulness, "and I'm afraid the Trannies" (as the Department of Magical Transportation employees were universally known) "have all left for the day. The match, you see," he had confided, grinning. "We'll see what we can do tomorrow. I'm about to leave myself, actually."
It's the match, you see. The damned match. So maybe the Ministry had always attracted incompetents, but sometime, it seemed, they excelled themselves. Everybody knew that the Ministry was merely a convenient haven for those who were unemployable elsewhere, but all the same...
They should never have made Weasley Minister, Snape snarled inwardly. Fudge would never have let so many take leave at the same time. Promised it, maybe; but he would certainly have reneged on the promise and left his underlings to inform the workers of the change in policy. But what Weasley promised, he carried out - usually without any thought to the consequences for the Ministry's efficiency or reputation..
At least - and this was a very small mercy indeed - at least he had got away from Dumbledore before the man had made any more solicitous enquiries after his health and general wellbeing. If there was anything - anything at all - that made him want to bite the hand that fed him, it was that infernal pity that he neither needed nor desired.
Quite apart from the fact, he noted, that it should have been pretty obvious to Dumbledore how he would feel about owing Potter his life and his liberty without having managed to settle any damned debts in the process. Not to mention the fact that his teaching career was over, or ought to be, if Dumbledore had even the sense he was born with.
Oh, so there was the criminal record - Dumbledore could have ignored that had he wanted to; but not the other thing. It was the fact that someone - and if he ever worked out who he would drip-feed them runespoor venom until they died a painful and protracted death - had during the Imperius Incident placed such an extreme memory charm on him that he could hardly remember his set third-year syllabus, let alone the intricate workings of his most complex potions-
He glanced up, suddenly, to see the Muggle woman watching him, her hard face closed and secretive. What was she looking at? he asked himself contemptuously. She was probably the only person on the entire bus who had no reason to stare at him. Certainly she had no idea who he was or what he had done.
He looked across at her, letting himself glare until she noticed his gaze.
"What do you want?" he said as menacingly as he could. It sounded sulky, even to his ears.
She stiffened, and glared back; and he could almost see her bristling. "To thank you - what else?"
It was hardly the tone of voice in which thanks were usually offered; truth to tell, it sounded more like a declaration of hostilities. It took Snape a moment of ridiculous confusion to realise that the thanks were probably for paying her bus fare.
"I wasn't doing anything for you," he said coldly, and turned away.
"I know that," the Muggle snapped at him, the words you stupid man almost audibly suppressed. "Why do you think I'm thanking you?"
He pretended not to hear her, and lapsed back into his own thoughts. Only later did it occur to him to wonder what she had meant.
* * *
"Chelsea Bridge, Miss."
The bus had just juddered to a particularly bone-jarring halt, mounting the kerb with a grinding sound that boded ill for the wheel-trims. Petunia remembered suddenly about the railings that separated the pavement of Chelsea Bridge from the road, and wondered how she would manage to get out of the bus. She stood up, and peered out of the window, noticing that the railings seemed to have been knocked flat as the Knight Bus came to a halt.
"Give you a hand wiv yer luggage?"
The spotty young man was standing by her bed, looking expectant, and Petunia suspected he was angling for a tip. Well, he wouldn't get one from her.
"No, thank you," she said icily, looking down her nose at him. She pulled her handbag from behind the mattress and picked it up, striding purposefully past him to the front of the bus. Oh to be out of there! A few steps further and she'd be back on dry ground - proper dry ground, without any of those deviants to make her life a misery - deviants like her sister, like Harry, like-
I am not a deviant!
She clattered angrily out of the bus, almost twisting her ankle as her foot connected with the squashed railings. She tottered past them, climbing gingerly over them onto genuine flat pavement.
The bridge was not well-lit at night, and the city shone around it. The ugly bulk of Battersea Power Station was floodlit to the south of the bridge, and she grimaced inwardly. Fancy turning that monstrosity into a monument! she thought, as she always did when she saw it. She had already begun to start walking north to Yvonne's, when she heard a clatter behind her, and another passenger descending out of the monstrous bus.
It was the man in the black dress.
For anyone who caught the first ep of this when it first came out, what can I say? It's been a while.
However, I am back; & I'm working on both this and LRD again - just in time for JKR to start turning out book five and disprove all my favourite theories. Alas! but c'est la vie.
Notes: Snape's view on the Ministry of Magic was largely inspired by my experiences of working in local government (which the Ministry of Magic seems to resemble); Chelsea Bridge does look as described here, at least according to the pictures on the http://www.explore-london.co.uk website, which has 2 nice 180-degree photos of what Petunia would have seen on stepping off the Knight Bus.