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Leaving Hogwarts

The staircase was empty when the four of them reached it. They could hear the laughter and talking that filled the Great Hall and they were careful to slip past the large open doors without being seen. Hermione gently eased her trunk full of books and clothes down the last few steps but turned around when she heard a loud thunking sound from behind her.

It was Ron who was struggling to bring his trunk down the stairs. He was pulling on the handle so hard, it seemed as if he would yank it straight from the wood.

“You’re being daft,” Hermione hissed at him. “Use your wand, Ron!”

He smiled sheepishly at her and took out his wand. “Right,” he said. “Locomoter Trunk.”

She rolled her eyes and resumed walking down the steps. Hermione stopped abruptly when she saw that it was only Meier and Ferro standing by the doors, waiting for them. She walked up to them, scowling.

“I thought a member or a professor would see us off,” she murmured irately.

“A professor missing from a meal would be noticed,” Meier said to her. “Besides, you’ll be fine without one. You have us.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “That’s supposed to make me feel better?”

He scowled at her.

“We don’t have much time,” Ferro interrupted, motioning towards the Great Hall. The voices were growing closer and they knew that the other students had been dismissed. “We need to leave now.”

With a wave of his hand, one of the mammoth doors that was the entrance to Hogwarts opened slightly, just enough space for them to get through with their trunks. Quietly, the six of them slipped through and into the unusually warm night.

As they walked to where the Knight Bus would meet them, a little past where the train stop was, Hermione looked around. The Great Lake glistened like a black jewel and ripples disturbed the placid surface as the squid raised one of it’s tentacles to wave goodbye. With a small smile, Hermione waved back.

After a few moments of quiet walking, they reached the road that led to Hogsmeade. Meier held out a silvery colored wand which glowed in the dark air. The loud bang ,which sounded like a gun being shoot echoed into the still night, signaled the appearance of the Knight Bus, which came rolling to an alarmingly close halt right in front of them. The purple of the outside of the bus seemed to lighten the mood for Harry and Ron, because they both smiled. Hermione found it contagious and grinned too.

The metal steps sprang from the bus and Stan jumped off, dressed in his purple uniform. He held his card which he was too read from to greet the guests.

“Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard. Just stick out your wand hand, step on board and we can take you anywhere you want to go. My name is Stan Shunpike and I will be your conductor this evening.”

“Thank you,” Meier said, a little gruffly although he shot the conductor a smile. “We need six beds, preferably next to each other.”

“Sixty-six Sickles,” Stan determined after a moment, turning the handle on his receipt machine “Where choo going?” he asked, looking at the six of them with anticipation.

They stood there, wondering what to say when Stan broke the silence, once again,

“Well come on,” he ushered, moving out the way to give them a clear way onto the bus. “We needs to be goin’ some places tonight, eh Ern?”

The elderly bus driver, who had on thick spectacles, smiled, revealing missing teeth, and nodded.

Meier walked up to Stan, digging in his pockets and producing a bag that jingled. “Keep the change,” he said.

Stan grinned and looked at the rest. “Where choo goin’, tonight?”

“Diagon Alley,” Harry spoke up. “School project.”

The conductor’s face grew grave. “Yes, a little bumblebee ‘as told me an’ Ern about choo’s. Get up on.”

The five of them made to bring their trunks but Stan stopped them. “Leave ’em. I’ll be gettin’ those.”

Ferro made his way on first, followed by Hermione. Stan stared at her for a moment before smiling.

“If you need any thin’, any thin’ at all, just tell me,” he said, leaning towards Hermione with a slight leer on his face. She shrank away with mild disgust that the pimply conductor was hitting on her.

“She’s taken,” someone said from behind her, and when he turned around, she was surprised to see that it was Malfoy. He possessively pushed at the small of her back with his hand and she obediently climbed onto the bus.

Hermione had never ridden the Knight Bus and she was stunned to see that was looked like a regular double Decker bus on the outside, resembled nothing that was on the inside. From what Harry last told her, it was just a bus with beds. It seemed as though they had gotten upgrades.

In the middle of the bus was a small fountain and the width of the floor was definitely larger than what was represented on the outside. Numerous beds lined the walls, clad with blue and white striped flannel sheets. A spiraling staircase at the far end of the bus led to the upper floor.

Hermione inwardly groaned as she made her way to the staircase when she saw that nearly every bed was full…and there were at least fifty beds on the bottom floor alone.
She followed Meier to the upper floor.

The silver haired faerie led her to a pole surrounded by seven beds. There were around ten passengers up here. When they were settling down, one of them awoke and made his way over to Stan, who was handing them their receipt.

“I got another stone Stan,” the wizened man told the conductor, opening his wrinkled hand. “I’m thinkin’ that Martha may like this one.”

Hermione glanced at the stone in the man’s palm. It was small, about the width of her thumb nail, but beautiful. It looked smooth and had many colors, like the underside of a seashell, although the predominant color in this one was a deep blue. It shone in the dim light. One side looked raged, as if the stone had broken away from something else.

“Nice, Gill,” Stan said, as if it was anything but. “But choo need to be sleepin’. Choo need rest for tomorrow.”

The older man nodded and padded back to his bed, slipping under the covers.

“He’s on his way to a wizardin’ nursin’ home in dat Spain area,” Stan whispered to her, nodding towards Gill. “His wife is there too. He been on here for a day and a half now.”

Ferro met Hermione’s gaze and looked over at Gill inquiringly.

“Well, shall I be’s wakin’ choo or do you want a shock?” Stan asked, pausing before he made his way back down the steps.

“Shock,” Hermione said quickly, turned off at the thought of Stan leering over her in her sleep and having to shake her awake. “Thank you.”

The conductor nodded and his purple hat disappeared from their sight.

Hermione dropped onto the bed, enjoying the softness of the mattress against her aching body. They had at least five hours of sleep. She knew Dumbledore well enough to know that he would let the Knight Bus take them other places first, to shake off any possible trail that may’ve been connected with them.

She felt Ron and Harry settle on either side of her and soon, after someone had laid cool fingers against her cheek, Hermione fell asleep to the now gentle rocking off the bus.

A sharp and rather painful shock shot up her fingers and into her arm . Hermione yelped and sat straight up. She calmed when she realized that it was just the signal for her to wake up. The others were already awake and either sitting at their beds or resting their eyes once more.

“Glad to see that you’re up,” Ron said to her. “You slept later than the rest of us, right through the first couple of shocks.”

She grinned back at him, and ran a hand through her hair, wincing when her fingers met the tangles in her wavy locks. Conjuring a brush with a flick of her wand, Hermione began to untangle her hair rather roughly.

“Did one of you touch my face last night ?” she asked, brushing more easily now that she had gotten through the worst of the knots.

“No,” Ron answered, a perplexed look on his face. He turned to Harry, who was digging through his trunk for some gold. “Did you?”

Harry shook his head.

“Strange,” Hermione murmured, pushing her hair behind her ears. “I could’ve sworn that someone touched my cheek last night…” She shivered when she remembered Stan. “I hope it wasn’t the conductor,” she added, getting up from the bed.

Ron scowled as Harry gave her a toothy grin. “I don’t think Stan is that demented,” he told her. “He’s just pervy.”

Hermione nodded and turned to look out the window, staring at the landscape that was blurred by the bus’s high speed. Realizing that it was still relatively dark out side, Hermione turned her wrist to glance at her watch. It read 1:30 in neon letters. They had only gotten five and a half hours of sleep. Hopefully, wherever they were going next, they’d get more of it.

She was slinging her backpack over her shoulders when the bus came to an abrupt and hard stop, sending her flying into Ferro, who was bending over to tie his shoe. He caught her and she looked up at him sheepishly, giving him an awkward smile. He grinned back handsomely at her.

“The Leaky Cauldron, London,” Stan’s cracked voice announced over the magic speakers.

They hurried down the steps, and giving their last regards and thanks to Stan and Ernie, the six got off of the Knight Bus.

The cool night air hit Hermione’s face with a sickening jolt and she realized how hot it had really been on the bus. Ron, who was behind her, tripped over his own foot and fell into her, knocking her into the back of Meier. The faerie turned around and scowled at her.

“Thanks for causing me a concussion, Ron,” Hermione said sarcastically, rubbing her elbow from where she had fallen into the metal frame of the bus.

“Sorry,” Ron mumbled, helping her to stand straight again.

She sighed and nodded, following Meier and Ferro into the Leaky Cauldron.

It was dank and damp in the inn, as it always was at night. It was fairly full, considering that it was the middle of the night, and the innkeeper, Tom, was still at the counter, wiping out mugs with a worn and stained rag.

“Do you need rooms?” he asked, showing his missing teeth when he smiled at them.

Hermione looked up at Meier and realized that he had somehow changed his appearance. He had gray hair, but not the color that matched him beautifully. He was balding, with glasses and shabby robes. Ferro seemed the same age as he normally was but looked a lot less inhuman. He had long, lank brown hair, with brown eyes. He had a rather large nose, reminiscent of Snape’s.

“No thank you,” Meier answered in an unusually deep voice, flowing with an accent that he hadn‘t possessed before. “We’re from Brazil. We just need to get through to get supplies.”

“Oh,” Tom said, his smile falling a little. “These your students?” He nodded towards the other five in the group.

“Yes,” Meier answered. His voice was friendly although his eyes were narrowed. “They’re parents are researchers in Brazil, so they attend school there. I’m afraid that they don’t speak much English; mainly Portuguese.”

“That’s nice,” the bartender said, his toothy smile returning. “We get many magic folk from all around the world so maybe you’ll see some from Brazil. Well go on through to Diagon Alley. I hope that you find London welcoming.”

The faerie nodded and motioned them forward towards the door at the back of the pub. Hermione walked past, willing herself to keep her eyes in front of her. Strange things came to the Leaky Cauldron at night. She could smell the rancid meat and alcohol in the air, so pungent that she could almost taste it on her tongue. She breathed a sigh of relief when Meier held the door open for her.

The back was filled with trashcans, now overflowing with garbage that gave off a terrible odor. Hermione groaned with disgust, as did Harry, Ron and Malfoy when they entered after her. She held her hand over her nose and waited for one of them to open up the doorway to Diagon Alley.

Ferro pushed past them and tapped out the sequence of bricks with the tip of his silver wand. Eventually, the wall shifted and turned to create the archway that led into the alley. Once again, it was unusually crowded. Witches and wizards were flocking all over the place, talking loudly and drinking. Hermione turned to Ferro, who grinned at her.

“Why do you think we chose this night?” he asked. “There’s some sort of Quidditch thing going on. Almost every adolescent in the wizarding world is here tonight.”

She smiled faintly at Dumbledore’s carefully laid out plans and shuffled forward through surging crowds, trying to levitate her trunk behind her. She couldn’t see a thing but the brightly clothed people all around her and Ferro’s back in front of her. Hermione stopped in her tracks when Meier stopped in front of a store, the sign illuminated by the dim streetlamp on the sidewalk.

Weasley’s Wizard’s Wheezes, it read.

And outside stood two, identical redheads, both wearing the same grin of mischief.

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