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Chapter 1: Come, join in
Please note that this story centers around the theme of death, survivors guilt and the possibility of life after death.
The night was as black and terrifying as the Dementors that once haunted his nightmare. Its breath, rattling and cold, pressed in against his sore bones and raked through his lungs like tiny daggers. No stars dotted the sky, and the moon had slipped behind a dark shroud. The darkness was everywhere; it was everything.
Not even his dreams – could he even call them dreams? – were safe from such a darkness.
Pulling his wand from his cloak pocket, he extended it skyward. Goosebumps erupted along his wrists where his pale skin, white and corpse-like against such blackness, had met the night. Shivering, though whether from the cold or his thoughts he couldn’t be sure, he pulled his cloak around him and waited, wand raised.
What he wouldn’t give if it were only Dementors that haunted his nightmares now. Idly he wondered what it’d be like to once again dream of flying or of sweet kisses, birds or sunshine. Had he ever dreamed such things?
Surely they had belonged to another.
Just then, the sky was rent open by two, luminescent beams of light, and he was knocked back from his feet. His glasses flew from his face blurring the sky and earth into an ambiguous mass of purple. Patting along the moist pavement, his bent and crooked fingers closed around the wire frames. Lenses situated once more in front of his yes, the world came back into focus.
There, on the corner of Magnolia Crescent sat the Knight Bus once again.
He hardly recognized the conductor at the top of the boarding stairs as Stan Shunpike, and he may not have it weren’t for the rash of acne scars hidden beneath the lines of old age, or for his ears which looked even larger attached to a bald head.
“Neville, Neville Longbottom.”
Stan eyed him up and down for what felt like an eternity before turning aside and showing him to his bed. “So where we ‘eading on this fine evening, Mr Longbottom?”
He could feel the words hovering just there, at the tip of his tongue but he couldn’t quite remember how to say them. “London, the Ministry of Magic, actually – I’m meeting an old friend there,” he finally said.
“Seems all our friend’sar old these days, eh Mr Longbottom?” Stan chortled and, clutching at his back, eased down onto the bed across from him. “I’d hang on’ter something, if I was you – this new driver’s even worse than ol’Ernie ever was – even after he went blind, mind.”
Stan’s heavy cockney accent filled the otherwise quiet air as the bus sprang into action and everything on it lurched forward on its journey. Outside the tiny bus windows, the sights of Southern England sped past. Homes, trees and other vehicles were nothing but dark blurs against an even darker backdrop. Still, the stars did not shine nor did the moon lower its shroud.
His thoughts, as he listened to Stan’s inane chatter, matched the very night that they sped through. It was as if his nightmares, if he could even call them that for they had also begun to accompany his waking thoughts, could sense the blackness all around him. It was if the night were encouraging them onward, cheering just from beyond the pane thin pane of glass.
Their faces – faces of the dead, those who never had an opportunity to live life or die at home in their beds – swarmed his vision in a grotesque parade of mockery. The neighbourhood stray, a mean, yellow-eyed tabby, he’d seen run over by a car one summer afternoon led the procession. Barty Crouch Sr. –transfigured to a single long bone, discoloured and caked with dirt – dangled from the creature’s mouth. Behind them marching in a sick sort of unison were Cedric Diggory who hoisted an ornate goblet skyward in time with his steps and Broderick Bode who wore thick vine around his neck like a feathered boa. Though he couldn’t quite hear them, he thought he heard them chanting. One by one they passed – Amelia Bones, Mrs Abbot, the swirling forms of smashed prophecies never to be delivered – and the chanting swelled and grew until he could almost make out their words.
Come, join in our parade.
“Stop, please, just be quiet,” he shouted into the night.
“ – ‘m sorry Mr Longbottom,” Stan replied, rising to his feet, “ – ‘spose I should let you get some rest. We’ll be in London shortly.”
Next, Igor Karkaroff and Emmeline Vance marched by with linked elbows, beckoning him to come and follow with painted smiles and crooked fingers.
He wanted to apologize to Stan for shouting at him – wished he could beg the conductor to stay and help ward off the dead, but he knew better. Nothing could stop them, not now.
There were too many.
Albus Dumbledore followed them seated behind a great wooden desk that hovered above the earth. A pile of smouldering ashes blew out from his cupped hands and turned into a flock of distorted phoenixes with no eyes in their sockets.
They joined the song in tongues strange and foreign to his ears, but he knew their message.
Come, join in your parade.
The dead continued to filter through, and he clamped his eyes shut. He didn’t need to see their perverted forms to know the order in which they came: Charity Burbage, Hedwig, and Rufus Scrimgeour – the song growing and swelling with each new marcher – Gregorovitch, Alastor Moody, Grindewald, Bathilda Bagshot, Dobby, Ted Tonks, Fred Weasley, Fang, Remus Lupin, Nyphadora Tonks, Colin Creevey, and Severus Snape. He knew that each one marched by faster than the last as their chanting swelled to an almost painful volume.
Clamping his hands over his ears, he screamed into the night – willing it to end.
“Mr Longbottom, sir, ‘severything all right?” Stan’s hand on his shoulder was hesitant, but it pushed the faces and voices of the dead off into the periphery. “We’re here sir. Ministry of Magic.”
His feet carried him down the black marble hallway without instruction from his brain for which he was glad. He wasn’t sure he could have made the journey of his own will. The parade – whether satisfied or defeated by his progress it mattered not – had left him in the atrium; the sound of their chanting decreasing as he travelled further beneath the ministry until only the sound of his footsteps filled the air. With his nightmares held at bay if only for a moment, a sense of peace washed over him.
At his side, Lily Luna hovered on the broomstick she had received for her tenth birthday.
“Daddy, you look tired.”
A weak smile washed over his face at the sound of her voice – it had been so long since he’d heard it. “Bad dreams, my baby girl – it’s just a bad dream.”
“You know dreams aren’t real, right Daddy?” He could almost feel her hand as it reached out to touch him, passing through his arm. “Are you here to meet him? He told me he’s been waiting for you.”
Nodding, he turned the handle of a doorway that had been humming to him every night since he’d first laid eyes on it nearly five decades ago. The room on the other side was empty save for a large, ancient stone archway from which a thin, lank veil fluttered in the non-existent breeze and the proud silhouette of a man.
“Harry, my boy, you finally came.”
Sirius Black turned towards him with a stooped back and greyed hair and held his hand out through the night. Whispers rose from beyond the veil, coaxing him to take his Godfather’s twisted and knobby hand.
“But you’ve grown so old,” he said, grasping Sirius’ warm hand in his own.
A laugh like a bark echoed through the empty stone room. “Well, you didn’t think time stopped while I waited for you, did you?”
The whispering intensified as they stepped towards the archway.
“Good night, Daddy,” Lily Luna called from where she hovered in the doorway. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Taking a breath he looked up at his Godfather and nodded. Together, they stepped through the veil.
Opening his eyes, Harry blinked and rolled over in his bed.
A warm beam of sunshine shone in through the window. Looking around the room, he smiled. There was no blackness, darkness or nightmares here. The dead parade was nowhere to be seen and the only sound in his ear was the chirping of birds and the rustling of the wind through the hedges.
All was well once more.
Author's Note: This was originally meant to be a christmas gift for Tenth Weasley as a means of saying thank you for her friendship and dedication as a beta, but as per usually, I'm way behind schedule. So, Merry Late Christmas, Rachel!!
I'd like to thank ToujoursPadfoot for reading over this for me. Everything you recognize is property of J.K. Rowling. The line 'All was well' was taken from the last page of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Magnolia Crescent and the Knight bus was inspired by Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and the description of the archway and veil was inspired by Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Come, join in our parade is a derivation of the lyrics written and performed by Marc Cohn.