Harry blearily signed his name to the last form and dropped it into the OUT box. It disappeared with a quiet pop and he tossed his quill in the inkwell with a yawn. Bloody hell, but he was exhausted. Thank Merlin he was off for the next two days or he might actually die.
As he yawned again, he realised he should probably not Apparate home. Exhaustion was the number two culprit in Splinching accidents, just after drunkenness. He had seen enough severed parts during his tenure to never want to Apparate under questionable circumstances.
Instead, he gathered up his personal items, pocketed his wand, and headed for the Atrium. Floo travel was still not his favourite, but it would do in a pinch.
He nearly fell asleep leaning against the wall of the lift. Only the jolt of it stopping brought him to awareness. He yawned again and dragged himself into the Atrium, and then stopped short at the sight of a bustle of activity. It was close to midnight and usually the place was deserted.
He reached for his wand when he noticed that the group was busy shooting various spells at the fireplaces. Were they trying to disable the Floo Network?
"Oi, Mr Potter!" one called, lifting a hand. Harry did not relax his hold on his wand as the man walked nearer. "You're working awfully late, you are."
"Hello, Tuck," Harry replied, finally recognizing him as one of the many repairmen employed by the Ministry. "What goes on here?"
"Routine Floo Maintenance. Didn't you get the memo?"
As soon as Tuck mentioned it, Harry vaguely recalled seeing an inter-office memo. He lowered his wand. "Oh. Right."
Tuck guffawed. "Did you think we was criminals?"
Harry grimaced and put his wand away, then yawned hugely. "Sorry, I'm... really tired. Surprised I didn't see you as purple thestrals, really." As Tuck laughed, Harry jerked a thumb at the nearest fireplace. "Okay if I use one?"
Tuck stopped laughing and shook his head. "No, Mr Potter. Whole network is down for at least an hour. Powder residue builds up something fierce. Easiest to take down the whole lot than one by one. You going home?"
Harry nodded. "I was hoping not to Apparate, but if needs must..." He tugged out his wand again and vowed to concentrate .
"That seems dangerous, Mr Potter, if you don't mind me sayin'. Knight Bus should be here in two minutes. They run extra during Floo Maintenance nights."
"The Knight Bus?" Harry had somewhat terrifying memories of the contraption, but he had to admit that anything with a bed in it sounded wonderful. Once his head found a pillow, he doubted he would feel any of the wild movements of the bus. "Thanks. I think I will go that route. Night, Tuck."
"Night, Mr Potter."
A short while later, Harry stood on the street and wondered exactly where the bus picked up. There was no designated bus stop, so he supposed it would just show up wherever he stood. It was raining, of course, but he was too tired to bother with an Umbrella Charm. He tugged up the hood of his Muggle jacket, lifted his wand with a vague thought meant to call the Knight Bus, and waited. At least the cold was waking him up a bit.
The Knight Bus appeared so suddenly it almost seemed to have Apparated. The doors opened and a tall figure hopped out. "Welcome to the Knight Bus, the preferred method of transportation for stranded wizards and witches since..." The man's spiel trailed off and he stared at Harry, who stared right back.
"Malfoy?" Harry asked and then rubbed his eyes, thinking he must be hallucinating, because Draco Malfoy could not possibly be standing before him wearing a purple conductor's uniform and talking to him about the Knight Bus.
"Potter." The reply did little to reassure Harry. It sounded like Malfoy and the next words confirmed it. "Did you lose your wand? Or are you conducting some not-so-secretive investigation into the Knight Bus organization?"
"Shut up, Malfoy," said Harry. "I just want to go home." He walked past Malfoy and up the steps into the bus. Another shock stopped him in his tracks - Blaise Zabini sat in the driver's seat, lounging in a near-prone position in a green leather office chair.
"Evening, Potter," Zabini said and smirked.
"I'm having a nightmare," Harry decided. He shook his head and continued into the bus.
Three of the beds were occupied, one by an indecipherable lump and the other two by a mother and her young son. The mother was sprawled on one bed and the boy bounced on one across the aisle from her like an overexcited puppy.
Harry walked past them all to the bed farthest from the door. He was about to sit down when the bus lurched forward and nearly catapulted him into the rear window.
He caught himself with his hands, swore roundly, and threw himself onto the bed.
"Bad word! Bad word!" the boy said and bounced.
"Shush, Marvin. We'll be at Aunt Sarah's soon." His mother's voice sounded as tired as Harry felt. He lay down and held tightly to the bedclothes as the bus shifted again. He closed his eyes and vaguely wondered why Zabini and Malfoy were driving the Knight Bus.
A throat-clearing sound caused Harry to open his eyes. Malfoy stood next to the bed, looking strangely attractive in his uniform.
"You haven't paid," Malfoy said and stuck out a hand. "That will be eleven sickles unless you want the premium package."
"What are you doing here, Malfoy?" Harry asked as he dug in his front jeans pocket for some coins. Malfoy watched with apparent interest and it occurred to Harry that Malfoy might be watching him fish in his pocket or he might be examining something else in close proximity to Harry's hand.
"I'm collecting your fare, Potter."
"That's not what I meant," Harry said and flushed. Malfoy was probably not checking him out. It was simply Harry's exhaustion projecting impossible ideas. He dropped some coins into Malfoy's hand.
"Do I question your career choices, Potter?" Malfoy carefully counted the coins and added, "I'll just keep the overage as a tip, hmmm? I'll be back with your hot chocolate momentarily."
"No rush," Harry muttered as Malfoy walked away. He shut his eyes and tried not to let the unpredictable movements of the bus throw him out of bed. After a particularly hard jolt nearly tossed him to the floor, he realised sleep would not be an option. He held on as best he could and watched for Malfoy.
He returned momentarily, dodging sliding beds and keeping his footing with the grace of a ballet dancer. He carried a cup of hot chocolate and Harry sat up as he neared. A hot beverage did sound rather good; Harry had eaten a packet of crisps for supper and washed it down with cold tea.
Malfoy held out the mug. Harry tried to take it, but the bed shifted and his fingers only grazed the cup. Malfoy smirked.
"How the hell am I supposed to drink it when we're moving like this?" Harry asked. He snatched the cup when the bed puttered back in the other direction.
"Most people manage a couple of gulps before it splashes all over them," Malfoy replied.
Harry waited until the bus moved onto what seemed to be a flat country lane. He lifted the mug to his lips and drank quickly. It burned the roof of his mouth, but still tasted delicious. Belatedly, he realised Malfoy could have put anything into the drink. He blanched.
"Where do you live, Potter?"
Harry sneered and then winced when a bump caused the hot liquid to leap from the cup and splash his right thigh. "As if I would tell you."
"Then where do you want to get dropped off, you tit?" Malfoy snapped.
"Bad word! Bad word!" the little boy yelled.
"Sorry," Malfoy said without sounding it. "I meant, where would you like to be taken, kind sir? Do you want me to clean that up for you?" Malfoy pulled out his wand and pointed it at Harry's lap. Harry jumped away so quickly the rest of the cocoa spilled onto the bed.
Malfoy flicked his wand and the brownish stain on the bed disappeared. "Suit yourself."
Harry relaxed as he thrust the empty cup back at Malfoy. "Just take me to the Bronze Pony," he said. He could walk from there. Or Apparate, since it was a very short distance. "It's on -"
"The Bronze Pony?" Malfoy chuckled. "Well, well, Potter. You hear that, Blaise? Potter wants off at the Bronze Pony!"
"You owe me five Galleons!" Blaise yelled back. "And I told you so!"
Harry flushed as he realised the meaning of Malfoy's smirk. "I don't frequent the place," he said lamely. "It just happens to be close to my house."
"You keep telling yourself that, Potter," Malfoy said. He turned around, looked back at Harry over his shoulder, and winked. His arse, encased in dark blue trousers, looked delectable. Harry frowned. He hadn't lied, exactly. Just because he had been to the Bronze Pony a time or two did not mean he frequented it. He had simply been curious. Bi-curious. He belatedly wondered how well Malfoy knew the place. While not a gay club, it was definitely gay-friendly and all sorts of shenanigans were permitted on the dance floor.
Harry yawned and looked out the window. The ocean was visible as they rocketed along the edge of a cliff. Harry glanced to the front of the bus, but Malfoy was gone, likely chatting up customers on the upper levels.
"Devon!" Blaise bellowed as the bus slid to a bed-scraping halt.
Harry's tired brain coughed up a crazy idea and he went with it, casting a Sticking Charm on his hip and effectively nailing himself to the bed. He curled up and dozed off, despite the niggling worry that Malfoy might do something to him whilst he was sleeping. He was tired enough not to care.
He awoke to someone shaking him. "Come on, Pottykins. Wakey wakey."
Harry groaned and tried to roll over, but he was caught by his immobilized hip. "Shit," he said thickly. His nap seemed to have left him more tired than ever. His head felt stuffed with down and his throat ached. He desperately wanted a drink of water.
"Finite Incantatum," Malfoy said and Harry could move again. He noticed then that Malfoy was sat on the bed right next to him. "Just give us your address, Potter. It's late and you're in no shape to walk home, or to Apparate or whatnot. Blaise and I won't be held responsible for the Great Hero of the World not making it home."
"You won't be held responsible," Harry muttered and then yawned hugely. He knew Malfoy was right. He wanted nothing more than to reach his own lovely bed, crawl into it, and stay there for a minimum of ten hours. "Fine. I live at number twelve Grimmauld Place."
"Number twelve Grimmauld Place, Blaise!"
The bed jerked backwards and hit the wall as the bus took off. They were in the city again, but traffic was light; Harry figured it was very late, indeed.
"Am I the last one?" he asked, turning to look at Malfoy, who was still perched on the bed. Harry swayed towards him as they took a sharp corner. Malfoy did not move away and Harry caught a whiff of Malfoy's cologne.
"No. Mrs Benchley is sleeping off her weekly bridge game Chardonnay overdose upstairs. She lives next door to the bus depot, so she's always the final stop on third Tuesdays."
Harry felt a bit more relaxed, knowing he was not alone on the bus with two former Slytherins. Their presence was still a mystery. Harry opened his mouth to ask about it once more when the bed shifted and then slammed to a halt.
"Grimmauld Place!" Blaise bellowed.
"Here's your stop, Potter. Need some help getting to your bed?" Malfoy's tone was amused, but beneath that Harry thought he caught a hint of seduction, although it was probably his exhaustion playing tricks on him. For all Harry knew, he might have dreamed up this whole thing and was actually asleep across his desk at work.
"I'm fine," Harry replied and crawled from the bed. He had to go around Malfoy, who hadn't bothered to rise from his seated position. It was awkward and Harry's hand slipped when he tried to manoeuvre his feet onto the floor. His jaw smacked into Malfoy's shoulder and his flailing hand caught on Malfoy's slender thigh. An arm wrapped around him and helped him to his feet.
"Easy there, Potter. While I have no objection to your mauling, I don't think you're in any condition to follow through."
Harry felt a blush darken his face and he pushed away from Malfoy, certain the prat was only teasing him because of the Bronze Pony mention earlier. That was all Harry needed, for Malfoy to go to the press with the tale that Harry was a ponce. "Very funny," he muttered and walked to the door. His feet felt like lead weights and he wanted nothing more than to fall into a prone position and sleep for a week.
As he left the bus, he heard Malfoy say, "Thanks for travelling by Knight Bus, Potter. We hope to have adequately fulfilled your needs this evening. Be sure to pop in any time."
Zabini's guffaw filled the air before the door closed and then the Knight Bus disappeared with a bang. Harry staggered into the house and made it to the nearest sofa before he crashed, taking time only to take off his shoes.
His dreams were haunted by Draco Malfoy in an Auror uniform whispering, "Allow me to fulfil your needs, Potter."
Harry thought about the Knight Bus off and on for the next week. His workload stabilised and he found little reason to work late. The one evening that he did, he was not tired enough to justify waiting for the bus when the Floo worked perfectly fine. He Flooed home feeling a hint of regret.
He brought it up once with Hermione during their bi-weekly luncheon with Andromeda Tonks. Teddy hunted for gnomes in the garden whilst Ron and Andromeda played a game of chess; she had turned out to be quite a strategist, much to Ron's delight.
"Teddy, mind you don't get bitten!" Hermione warned when Teddy squealed and chased after a startled gnome.
"Did you know Draco Malfoy and Blaise Zabini are driving the Knight Bus?" Harry blurted.
Hermione lifted a brow. "No, I did not. Do I want to ask how you know that they are?"
"What do you mean by that?"
"Nothing. Except I had hoped you were finished with your Draco Malfoy obsession. Operating the Knight Bus seems innocuous enough. Surely you don't think he's up to something?"
Harry scowled. His "obsession" with Malfoy had ended with the war. He had barely thought about the prat during the past five years, for fuck's sake. "I just think it's odd," he snapped.
"I suppose," she said and wrinkled her nose, as if thinking about Malfoy in any context was unpleasant. Harry supposed it was, or it should have been. For some reason, Harry kept thinking about his hand on Malfoy's thigh, and the way Malfoy had smelled, and the way he had looked in his conductor's uniform... and the way Harry's dream had put Malfoy in an Auror uniform... He shook his head to remove the images. "Teddy, don't you dare touch that vile creature! Come back here!"
Hermione hurried off to rescue Teddy from the gnome (or vice versa) and Harry shelved the topic. He needed to forget about Draco Malfoy.
It was easier said than done, and by Thursday next his plan to do just that was abandoned.
Harry watched as McCloud manoeuvred the Stunned, floating prisoner down the long hallway to the incarceration chambers. He signed off on the appropriate paperwork and nodded when Nickelby grinned at him and asked, "Long night, yeah?"
"A very long night," Harry agreed. "I'm saving the bloody report until morning. I need a hot bath and a soft bed."
"Aye, and a softer bedmate, if you're lucky." Nickelby guffawed. "Oh, and mind you don't take the Floo. There was an incident earlier. Some bowtruckle-brain unleashed a mad spell in the Atrium. Turned the whole place into a swamp full o' poison gas and dangerous plants. Smith and them from Magical Reversal is still working on setting it to rights."
Harry wrinkled his nose. "I'm tired of Apparating." He jerked a thumb towards where McCloud and the prisoner had gone. "Bastard led me a merry chase tonight."
"There's always the Knight Bus."
Harry inhaled sharply. Despite his curiosity and his recurring dreams featuring Malfoy, he had nearly forgotten it in the routine of his day-to-day job.
Thus, he found himself some minutes later standing on the street once more awaiting pickup. It was a clear, unseasonably balmy night and Harry unbuttoned his robes whilst he waited. After a twelve minute wait, the bus popped into existence and shuddered to a halt.
To Harry's surprise, loud music spilled through the door the moment it opened. Malfoy staggered out and nearly bowled Harry over before clinging to him. Harry was instantly alert, thinking something had happened. He curled an arm around Malfoy and pulled out his wand.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
Malfoy straightened and beamed at Harry, as though he were an amazing and welcome sight. "Harry Potter!" Malfoy yelled. He turned in Harry's grip and called into the bus. "Harry Potter, everyone! The glorious and most puiy... pubescent...puuu... What's that fucking word, Blaise?"
"Puissant?" Blaise offered and Malfoy snapped his fingers, or at least he made an attempt at it. Harry realised Malfoy was drunk off his arse.
"Thassit!" Malfoy crowed. He frowned. "Wha' was I saying?"
"Harry Potter!" someone yelled helpfully.
"Right! Harry Potter, his most puissant and amazing saviorship, himself, is gracing us with his glorious and august presence. Truly it is a remarkable night! Do you prefer that we all salute or bow?"
"Shut up, Malfoy," Harry said, flushing. He started to move away, realizing that Apparition was preferable to being made a mockery of by a drunken bus full of people led by Malfoy. A pale hand shot out and gripped his elbow.
"Come along, Harry, and I will introduce you to everyone." Malfoy pulled him towards the bus. When Harry tried to give him the fare, he added, "Keep it. I'm sure the company will earn more than enough by mentioning your patronage in radio ads for the next decade or so."
Too surprised by Malfoy's use of his first name to resist, Harry allowed himself to be tugged onto the bus. A bottle of Ogden's was thrust into Harry's left hand and his right was shaken vigorously as Malfoy guided him along the aisle, and kept him upright as the bus took off again.
"And this is Mallory Thompkins. Keep a sharp eye on her because she has a penchant for pinching arse cheeks, shame on you, Mallory, you are older than my mum, honestly." Malfoy was grinning, despite his severe tone. A smiling witch with a Hermione-esque mop of silver-shot dark hair grinned at Harry and pumped his hand.
"Oh, be off with you, Draco," she said, "I'm not too old to appreciate a fine bit of manflesh when I sees it. It's very pleased I am to meet you, Mr Potter, you 'andsome devil."
The bus was nearly devoid of beds, with only a few scattered at the back, and empty of bodies, Harry noted. Everyone was upright and holding assorted bottles and glasses, clinging to one another when the bus made abrupt turns or stops.
To Harry's relief, no one fawned on him excessively. Most of the passengers were inebriated, but the atmosphere was relaxed and festive. Harry accepted a second bottle and nodded at a young couple who held tightly to one another as the bus half-tipped, forcing Harry to brace his feet and grab at a dangling leather handle to keep from falling.
"How do they manage not to spill?" Harry asked, eyeing a pair of witches who held large wineglasses.
"Practice," Malfoy replied.
"Do you do this often?" Harry asked, thinking surely there must be regulations against that sort of thing.
"Occasionally," Malfoy said, evasively, in Harry's opinion.
"How long have you and Zabini been operating a Knight Bus?"
"Come along, Potter." Without waiting for a response, Malfoy made his way to the second level. Harry admired his arse as they climbed. Once on the mid-level, the introductions continued until Harry was roped into a conversation with an ex-Quidditch player named Simon.
Malfoy patted Harry on the shoulder, gave him a somewhat loopy smile, and staggered off to disappear into the happy crowd. Harry thought about following, but Simon launched into a tale about a World Cup game several years prior and Harry found himself fascinated, despite feeling slightly abandoned.
Time spun away and Harry did not see Malfoy again until several ales and Quidditch stories later. Malfoy tapped Harry on the shoulder. "Your stop is next, Hero Boy."
"Thanks for letting me chin wag, Harry," Simon said. "If you ride tomorrow, I'll bring you that broom I mentioned. Got to take the Knight Bus until my Floo is repaired."
Harry nodded; Simon had spoken of an original Cleansweep, quite valuable now, that he wanted Harry to see. "I'll try."
Malfoy guided Harry to the door with a grip on his elbow and then gave Harry a wink as he stepped away from the bus. "Can you make it home, Potter, or do you need some help?"
Harry nodded, stifling his disappointment at the gesture. Would Malfoy seriously have escorted him home? He doubted it.
"Goodnight, Chosen One!" Malfoy yelled and waved at Harry through the open door before the bus banged out of sight. A chorus of, "Goodnight, Mister Potter!" followed Malfoy words and Harry smiled in bemusement as he drained the ale bottle he still held.
It had been a very unusual night.
Harry rode the Knight Bus the next night, although he was not completely sure of his motives. On the one hand, he had practically promised Simon he would be on, but on the other, he was looking forward to seeing Malfoy.
"You again, Potter?" Blaise bellowed through the door when it skid to a stop.
"Where is Malfoy?" Harry asked and then winced.
Blaise grinned hugely, as though reading far too much into Harry's simple question. He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "In the back. Sleeping off last night."
Harry stepped aboard and reflexively braced himself against the jolt of movement. It seemed he was getting used to the bus and finding it easier to navigate without constantly being thrown to one side or another. The lights on the bus were dimmer than usual, more conducive to a sleeping environment that the bright, loud party atmosphere of the previous night. Several of the beds were occupied.
Malfoy's blond hair was easily visible on the pillow of the rearmost bed. Harry made his way there and was shocked to see Malfoy wearing pyjamas instead of his usual purple uniform. They were such a dark silk that only the glimmer of passing lights showed the fabric to be blue instead of black.
Harry stood awkwardly for a moment, watching Malfoy's chest rise and fall in even breaths. He looked peaceful and almost innocent with his eyes - and mouth - shut.
As if called by Harry's sardonic thought, Malfoy opened his eyes. They fixed on Harry with a sleepy lack of intensity and then a smile curved Malfoy's lips. Harry's throat felt suddenly dry, as if he had been given the gift of seeing Malfoy's just-waking-up look. Then awareness seemed to register and Malfoy sat up abruptly. He put a hand to his hair.
"Potter! What are you doing here?"
"Um." Malfoy's alarm was disconcerting. "Simon asked me to look at his broom."
A long pause followed Harry's words and Malfoy's stare melted into amusement before a guffaw rumbled from his throat, followed by a wicked chuckle. "I'll bet he did."
Harry blushed to his roots. "What is that supposed to mean?"
Malfoy swung his feet out from beneath the thin blanket. They were bare, Harry noticed absently, so pale as to be almost white, with delicate-looking toes and perfectly trimmed nails. "Never mind, Potter. No need to get your knickers in a bunch."
Harry glared at him. Simon wasn't gay, or at least he hadn't seemed gay to Harry during their nothing-but-Quidditch talk the previous night. If Simon was gay, was that why Malfoy had left Harry in his company? To confirm his suspicions? Harry shook his head. Likely he was reading far too much into Malfoy's cryptic commentary.
"Is Simon aboard?" Harry asked.
"I don't know. Why didn't you ask Blaise?"
Harry shot a glance towards the front of the bus. Why hadn't he? "And miss an opportunity to wake you from your beauty sleep?" he countered.
"Why are you sleeping, anyway? Isn't it bad form to sleep on the job?"
It was Malfoy's turn to glare. "Are you going to report me? I wasn't sleeping, I was resting. I might have imbibed a bit too much last night." He raised his voice. "Blaise! Is Simon on?" Several passengers opened their eyes and gave Malfoy irritated looks.
"Upstairs!" Blaise yelled back.
Malfoy cocked a brow at Harry, who grinned. He gave Malfoy a salute and turned to look for the ex-Quidditch player, leaving Malfoy and his silk pyjamas behind.
Simon did, indeed, have the antique broom, and made no advances, overt or otherwise, that would cause Harry to question his sexuality. Simon reminded Harry of Oliver Wood, with no room for anything in his life other than Quidditch.
"You should keep it," Simon said, shaking Harry out of his Malfoy-centred thoughts.
"What? No, I can't do that. It's far too valuable."
"You're still a young man, Harry. I have no children and never will. My brother is a bloody ne'er-do-well and he'd sell the damn thing for a pint of ale. At least you'll take care of it and maybe one day have a son or daughter to pass it on to."
Harry smiled and noted smugly that whatever his orientation, Simon hadn't picked up on Harry's, despite Malfoy's innuendos hinting otherwise. "It's... thank you. I promise to take excellent care of it."
Simon beamed and clapped him on the shoulder as Harry re-wrapped the broom in protective cloth and bound it with several spells.
"Are we giving gifts to the Chosen One?" a familiar voice asked behind Harry. He turned to see Malfoy lounging at the top of the stairs. "I seem to have left mine at home, although I might be able to... improvise."
Harry flushed and tore his eyes away, instantly thinking of several inappropriate ways for Malfoy to improvise.
"Put some clothes on, Malfoy, you're making this bus look like a brothel," Simon called jovially.
Malfoy sniffed haughtily. "You couldn't afford me if it was."
Simon guffawed. "That I don't doubt."
"Your stop is next, Potter."
Harry nodded. "Thanks for the broom, Simon. I'll take care of it."
"I'll bet you say that to all the boys," Malfoy called, voice muffled as he tripped back down the steps. Harry sighed heavily as Simon chuckled.
"He's something else, isn't he, that Malfoy?"
"Yeah," Harry agreed. Something else, indeed. Just what, exactly, Harry hadn't decided.