A/N: Sorry about the wait. I believe readers will spot a cameo from an unexpected character in this chapter.
Chapter Thirteen: A Long-Awaited Journey
Soon enough, term wraps up. We wait until the morning our Easter holidays start to pack; the dormitory becomes a whirl of socks, jumpers, and Remus's rainboots. Incidentally, being hit in the head by a yellow rubber boot is not particularly fun.
I spend a good ten minutes luring Lacerta into her cage with a piece of ham. Once safely locked up, she makes offended clucking noises all the way down to the carriages, until I tell her she sounds like a chicken, at which point she stops and looks haughty. My owl is definitely a member of the Black family.
I'm practically bouncing with excitement at the prospect of spending my holidays with the Potters. The journey to King's Cross, however, is still enjoyable. During the ride, we learn that James can fit four Pumpkin Pasties in his mouth at once. If anyone could find a use for that talent, James could.
Apparently, gripping the luggage rack and using it to pull yourself up, flip over, and kick your feet against the wall is frowned upon.
Upside down, the angry face of an older Ravenclaw girl, seen through the glass compartment door, is quite funny. She pushes the door open, and I flip upright.
"Do you mind? We're trying to have a civilized conversation in the next compartment, thank you very much."
"Can't take a joke, can you?"
The girl rolls her eyes. "Please, just stop."
"Fine, then." I drop down onto the seat next to Peter. "I stopped. You can leave now."
The compartment door slams shut.
"You're really quite something, you know," James says affectionately. "You're already raising hell among the older girl faction. You'll infamous by second year."
"I imagine Cissy's already told the entire female population of Slytherin House how much I annoy her," I say with some satisfaction. "And besides, the 'older girl faction' is so easy to tick off."
"True, true," James shakes his head in an attempt at mature wisdom, succeeding mainly in looking like a rather bemused owl.
"Have a bean?" He thrusts the bright purple Bertie Bott's bag at me invitingly.
"Alright." I plunge my hand into the bag and withdraw a small handful of beans. I hold a bean up to eye level, examining its creamy off-white color.
"What do you think? Vanilla? Popcorn?"
"Try it and see."
I pop the bean into my mouth.
"I can't believe it, it's butter. Just butter. Nothing else."
"Ooh, try the red one. Looks like chili pepper," Remus interjects.
"Do you want me to blow my head off? The chili ones are awfully spicy."
"Give it over here, then, if you're chicken."
"Shut up, James. I can eat a spicy jellybean, you know."
There's an expectant pause while I do so.
"Argh, that's like fire."
"What's that blue one?" Peter plucks it deftly out of my hand, tossing it into his mouth.
The expression of complete and utter confusion that crosses his face causes all three of us to break out laughing.
"It tastes like flowers. I'm not kidding. Irises or something."
Adventures with the local Ravenclaw female population, floral-flavored beans, and singed eyebrows from a particularly violent Exploding Snap conflagration aside, the journey passes smoothly and quite swiftly. We're stripping off uniform robes and struggling into ordinary clothes in no time, it seems.
Since we boarded the Hogwarts Express just after breakfast instead of at eleven o'clock like on September 1st, we reach King's Cross by four. The window is halfway down, and as the train pulls into the station, we jostle for position, taking turns sticking our heads out. As I'm being picked up by James's parents, who I've just met the one time, I don't bother searching for them, instead merely scanning the milling crowd of parents and siblings clustered on the platform.
"There's my mum!" Peter exclaims excitedly, waving at the short, plump woman I remember from Christmas break. "And my dad! And look, that's Nicole!"
Peter's father is also rather short and mostly bald except for thick drifts of gray hair over his ears. Nicole's hair is the same dishwater blond as Peter's, though in a mass of ringlets. She jumps up and down, waving back to her brother.
When the train slows to a stop, we hurry out into the corridor, dragging trunks and owl cages. Fighting out way through the bottleneck of students, we head for the doors. I forge ahead, butting various people in the back with Lacerta's cage. She hoots indignantly, much as some of the recipients of the shoving do.
When we finally get off the train, the Pettigrews have made their way around to our carriage's entrance.
Mrs. Pettigrew greets all of us. Like at Christmas, she looks rather harried and flustered, but she hails Peter with obvious affection, kissing his cheek and tucking him under her arm for a hug. Mr. Pettigrew flashes his son a bright grin, taking his trunk and scraping it up onto a waiting luggage trolley. Nicole, still bouncing with excitement, grabs her brother's arm, chattering happily.
Peter turns to wave at us as he's swept off by his enthusiastic family, now tightly packed in a little huddle.
I've never met the Lupins, so I'm interested to know what Remus's parents look like. His mother, the one calling, is small and slight, no more than my height. There's something birdlike about her, with her delicate bone structure, her quick movements, and the colorfully patterned scarf wrapped around her neck.
She doesn't look particularly sickly, although she is very slender. There are fine lines etched around the corners of her eyes as well, particularly noticeable when she holds her son out at arm's length, examining him anxiously before pulling him into a close embrace. They're both beaming now.
Remus's father stands slightly aside, looking slightly awkward as his wife and child hug. In contrast to Mrs. Lupin, he's very tall, probably about six foot four. His shoulders are slightly stooped, as if he's uncomfortable with his height. Like Remus, he has large, wide-set blue eyes, and his curly dark hair is cropped short.
When Remus's mother releases him, his father hesitates for a moment, then steps forward. Remus jumps up and hugs him, standing on his toes, the tip of his head brushing the lapels of his father's loose-fitting tweed jacket.
"How was term?" Mr. Lupin's voice is gruff but affectionate.
"Great, thank you. Dad—Mum—these are my friends. Peter already left, but this is James, and Sirius." He points to each of us in turn.
Mrs. Lupin, who's standing closer to me than James, turns to me, smiling.
"I'm Anna. It's lovely to meet you."
"It's nice to meet you too," I say, dipping my head in some embarrassment. Friendly introductions, without regard to rank or class, are not something I learned from my parents as a child.
"John Lupin." Remus's father sticks his hand out. I shake it, then release the grip.
His eyebrows go up at my name, and he looks at me in appraisal and some apprehension.
Remus shoots the two of us a nervous glance. Apparently he neglected to tell his father he'd befriended a member of a rather infamously pureblood family. Can't blame him, since I haven't been entirely honest with my parents about my friends either.
Lifting my chin, I look him directly in the eyes, trying to look as confident as possible.
"How do you do?"
Formal responses work well for establishing a reputation. That I did learn from my parents.
"I'm doing well…thank you."
I give him my most charming social-situation smile. He looks confused, then returns the expression rather awkwardly.
Remus looks at me imploringly, then turns and nudges James, who's busily chatting up Mrs. Lupin. James glances over at us, appraising the situation, than nods at our fretful friend.
Jumping in front of me, he thrusts his hand out in front of him, grinning alarmingly.
"Hello, Mr. Lupin! It's good to see you. I'm James Potter!"
Mr. Lupin flinches at the intensity of James's greeting, and I begin to feel a little sorry for the poor man, who's obviously a little overwhelmed.
By the time the Lupins are collecting Remus's things in preparation to beat a hasty retreat, the Potter have arrived.
Mrs. Potter sweeps both of us into an exuberant hug, on in each arm. She's wearing pretty dark green robes and smells of a light, flowery perfume.
Releasing me, she gives her son an extra squeeze.
"How are you, dear?"
"Happy to be on break, that's for sure," James says, laughing. "Hey, Dad!"
Mr. Potter hugs both his wife and son, his broad, toothy smile mirrored on James's face. Mrs. Potter looks at me through the tangle of her family's arms.
"It's lovely to see you too, Sirius. We've been looking forward to doubling our household serving of chaos this Easter!"
I grin happily. "I'm sure I'll oblige you."
"Speaking of chaos, I've got a surprise for you two." Mr. Potter's voice is cheerful.
"What is it, Dad?"
"By order of popular demand," Mr. Potter says in a pompous-newscaster voice, "we are taking the Knight Bus home."
James positively yelps with excitement.
"The Knight Bus?" I ask, bewildered.
"It's a wizard bus! It's supposed to drive really fast and crazy. I've wanted to go on it for ages, but Mum wouldn't let me."
Mrs. Potter shrugs. "I'll regret it, certainly. But I caved. Even though it'd be much faster to simply Floo."
"But not nearly as fun, Mum!"
The four of us drag our baggage out of the station, then set off up a side street. Mr. Potter hoists my trunk, while James and I carry his together. Mrs. Potter holds the owl cages, one in each hand. When we reach an empty street, we deposit everything on the ground.
"Can't have the Muggles seeing this, can we?" asks Mr. Potter, sticking his right hand out over the asphalt.
The effect is immediate. A triple-decker bus, painted glossily in brightest purple, zooms up next to the curb out of nowhere, practically taking his hand off.
As the doors slide open, a rather blindingly handsome young man of about eighteen steps out. Flipping long blond locks over one shoulder, he smiles charmingly, then begins his spiel, in the voice of one practiced at monologue.
"Welcome to the Knight Bus! I'm Gilderoy Lockhart, and I will be your conductor today."
Gilderoy Lockhart continues, telling us a list of "daytime prices." Mr. Potter refuses an offer to purchase hot cocoa, and begins to help Lockhart haul our baggage onto the bus. The young conductor checks his reflection in the rear-view mirror as he ascends, releasing his grip on the trunk handle in order to fix his hair.
The driver, a middle-aged man with thick glasses, is taking advantage of the bus's lack of movement to rapidly demolish what looks like a tuna sandwich.
Although I've never been on a Muggle bus—I make a mental note to do just that—I'm pretty sure this is not what they look like. There are rows of overstuffed armchairs, interspersed with wooden chairs and even a stool or two, lined up with their backs to the rather greasy windows. Chandeliers dangle ponderously from the arched ceiling, and the stairwell in the center of the bus is magnificently tall. A fat woman in a purple cloak is dozing in one of the chairs, and two men wearing skullcaps made out of what looks like dragon skin are conversing in a far corner.
James glances at his father. "Shall we head up the stairs?"
"You might not want to do that. It can get pretty wild up there."
"Sounds like my kind of place, then." James smirks. "Coming, Sirius?"
I tear myself away from peering into the driver's compartment at all the gadgets necessary for driving a Muggle-style vehicle and dart after him. As we reach the stairs, I see another group of people boarding the bus behind us.
The Knight Bus's stairs are covered in an ornate but threadbare carpet. Glancing closer at it, I could swear I see strange figures, lizards and birds and odd fishlike things, moving, cavorting around the edges of the embroidery, always just at the corner of my eye.
The second floor is much like the first one, and the third, though also speckled with the occasional multi-person sofa, is similar as well. Various patrons look up at us as we pass.
Once we reach the top, James and I poke our heads out over the banister. Mrs. Potter waves from below.
"They've gotten to the third floor!" She calls. "You can start!"
I hear the engine firing up, a low throbbing purr, growing in volume. James and I grin at each other excitedly. Then, the bus leaps forward.
We're airborne for a moment. James manages to grab hold of the banister, his knees buckling beneath him. I'm hurled sideways onto one of the couches, scattering cushions everywhere.
The bus is weaving and jerking, turning corners with haphazard abandon, and I realize that the top level is actually swaying from side to side as we progress. James has released his hold and is sliding on the floor.
The ride is simultaneously nauseating, terrifying, and strangely exhilarating. I think I might vomit. I think I might die.
When the bus screeches to a halt, I am once more launched into the air, bouncing along the couch and colliding painfully with one of its corners. I've barely collected myself, twisting out of an almost pretzel-like shape, when we're off again.
By the time the bus finally stops and stays stopped, and James's parents are calling us from below, I know how a popcorn kernel feels. James and I pick ourselves off the floor, wincing, and hobble down the stairs.
"Enjoy yourselves?" Mr. Potter asks, with a truly evil grin.
"Quite," James gasps. "Shall we try again, say, when hell freezes over?"
Mr. Potter shakes his head, laughing.
"Knowing you, you'll be ready for another trip on the way back to school."
I look at him with some alarm.
"Not I. Never again, believe me!" James vows.
We tumble out of the door, the conductor dragging our bags with an air of affected laziness.
The Knight Bus is idling outside of a rather magnificent wrought-iron gate, with stone columns supporting either side, their surface covered in a thick tangle of ivy. The rock walls extend on a slightly lower level, creating a fence that rings the Potters' property. Through the gate's bars, a pebble-strewn driveway is visible, winding its way through a landscape that appears halfway between meadow and moor.
Mrs. Potter waves her wand, and the gates swing open with a grating, scraping sound. We stride up the driveway, baggage levitating behind us in midair. As we progress further, the house comes into full view.