Harry loved his job driving the Knight Bus. It gave him the opportunity to see the countryside, not to mention it was dead fun, and he was ready for some fun in his life. Hermione thought he'd lost his mind when he'd decided to take the offer to drive the Bus; there were so many more important things he could be doing. Ron, on the other hand, thought it was brilliant and asked Harry to take him on a rip-roaring tour of England when they got back from retrieving Hermione's Mum and Dad from Australia.
One of the things Harry loved most was that it was never boring. Sure he had his regulars, like Mrs Birtwhistle who went to the market every Tuesday morning and Mr Tricklebank who had a standing appointment at Gringotts every other Thursday, but Harry could count on a new adventure nearly every day.
In the seven weeks Harry had been Driver of the Knight Bus, he'd helped implement a few changes. No longer did the Bus simply bugger off to the next stop with no warning. Harry had quickly grown quite tired of being jerked about to hither and yon, so he worked with the Department of Magical Transportation and devised a system where the next destination appeared on a screen near the window. This gave Harry about fifteen seconds before the Bus made it's jump.
He'd just dropped off a wizard at the Leaky Cauldron, when One wizard waiting at the main train depot in Wiltshire appeared on the screen. Wiltshire. Memories of being brought to a dark, dreary manor in the middle of the war, of Draco Malfoy watching him with mute dread before saying he wasn't sure that was Harry Potter, flashed into Harry's mind. He shook his head to clear it, certain Draco Malfoy would never deem the Knight Bus acceptable transportation.
The Bus made its jump and Harry peered out, expecting to be surrounded by the rolling fields of Wiltshire. Instead the area around him was flat, dusty and decidedly not Wiltshire. He was about to run a diagnostic on the Bus when it shuddered and made another jump.
Harry growled in frustration when, once again, the Bus arrived somewhere other than Wiltshire. He wondered what the hell was going on? The Bus had never done anything like this before. Harry began to fiddle with the buttons and levers on the control panel.
Part of his early training had included maintenance and repair for the Bus, but he'd not needed to use any of it before now. He stood, planning to go outside and look under the bonnet, only to fall back into his seat when the Bus jumped again, this time landing at the train depot in Wiltshire. Harry took a deep breath, trying to regain composure, and opened the Bus door, preparing to start his speech. It died in his throat when none other than Draco Malfoy poked his head inside. Glaring at Harry.
"Oh, this is just perfect. Not only are the trains not running, but the Knight Bus finally shows up with the greatest arse of all time at the wheel."
Harry gaped and refrained from rolling his eyes, barely. "Malfoy? What the hell?"
Of course, the prat still looked perfect. His hair was perfect, his silvery grey robes lined with black cording were perfect, his snotty handsome face was still perfect. Harry felt very tatty by comparison.
"Eloquent as ever, I see, Potter." Malfoy's tone was incredibly snotty. "With your stellar people skills I'm shocked your admirers aren't lining up to ride on this monstrosity." Draco waited a moment. He looked at his watch. "Honestly, Potter, are you coming out to get my bag or am I expected to do your job for you?"
Harry lurched up and pushed past Malfoy, who remained half in the doorway. "Frankly I was trying to decide if you really needed transport somewhere or if you were having me on."
Draco started up the stairs and into the bus. He paused and turned toward Harry. "Potter, I wouldn't have you on toast."
Harry blinked at him before he picked up Malfoy's bag and stowed it in the luggage compartment under the bus. He slammed the door before following Draco back inside.
Malfoy stood just before the driver's seat, looking quite put out. "What in the name of Merlin's saggy drawers is going on? Why can't I move and get a seat?"
Suppressing a snicker, Harry gave Draco an innocent look. "You've not paid your fare. No one gets in without paying their fare."
Draco began to splutter, but Harry simply shrugged. "My bus, my rules. Now you either let me do my job properly or you can find another way to get to wherever it is you need to be." Harry sat in the driver's seat and crossed his arms over his chest. "Your choice."
Draco closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Fine," he said through gritted teeth, his hand making a circle in a move it along gesture.
"Right," Harry practically spat out. "Where you off to, Malfoy?"
"I need to get to London."
"That's pretty broad, can you narrow it down a bit so I've a better idea where I can drop…you." Harry bit back the urge to say drop your arse.
"I need to get to the Dominion Theatre. It's on Tottenham Court Road. I don't suppose you're familiar with that area of London, what with it being the theatre district and all."
Harry was immediately drawn back to the night of Bill and Fleur's wedding when Hermione Apparated with himself and Ron into the middle of the street. The night they left everyone for nearly a year. He mentally shook his head to clear it. "Yeah, I'm familiar with it." Harry's voice wasn't quite steady.
He straightened and began his well-rehearsed spiel. "It's fifteen sickles to get to London. For twenty sickles you get a hot chocolate and for twenty-five you can use a bed, plus you get a hot water bottle and a toothbrush."
Draco dug in his pockets. He counted out fifteen sickles and dropped them in the coin box, muttering. "Why the hell would anyone pay for extras on this contraption?" He turned to Harry. "Do people actually pay for a toothbrush?" Before Harry had a chance to answer, the invisible barrier lifted, pushing Draco along and into the main compartment.
Harry turned back to the controls, moved a lever and prepared for the jump to London. The sooner he was free from Malfoy the better.
The bus shuddered, lurched and gave a great belching puff of smoke before they began driving down the road, swerving to miss an Astra whose driver was totally oblivious to his near-miss with the bus.
"Merlin's beard, Potter!" Draco yelped. "Are you certain you're qualified to drive this thing? A blind gnome could do a better job!"
"Met many blind gnomes, have you Malfoy?" Harry shot back, his eyes never leaving the road. He deftly manoeuvred around a Toyota Yaris whose driver had decided that stopping in the middle of the road was a brilliant idea.
"Stuff it, Potter. Just get me to London before I'm late."
At that moment, the indicator board lit with "One witch requesting pick-up in Salisbury."
"You'll get there," Harry ground out between his teeth. "But we've a stop to make first." Feeling suddenly extremely contrary, he downshifted and the bus lurched. "At least one."
"What?? NO!" Draco sat bolt upright on his seat. He looked as if he wanted to jump up, but the bus chose that moment to jerk forward. Draco clutched his arm rest so he wasn't dumped on his arse in the aisle. "I paid for you to take me to London, you great git. Not take a tour of the bloody countryside. I cannot be late; this event is vitally important. I allowed myself plenty of time to arrive before seven this evening. But that's not going to happen if you keep jumping this contraption to Merlin knows where."
Harry felt a real desire to be contrary; he had no idea what Malfoy had been doing since the trials after the war. He knew there were restrictions put on Malfoy's magic and that reparations had been ordered and taken from the Malfoy vaults, but pretty clearly they hadn't caused him any real harm. The robes he was wearing, clearly made just for him, had to have cost a pretty galleon. Harry hated he'd even noticed that the bastard looked unfairly hot in them. He was certainly getting under Harry's skin, not that the feeling was any different than it had been in sixth year and beyond.
"Oh, just deal with it, Malfoy. You knew when you climbed aboard you weren't the only wizard in England the bus served." Harry looked up at Draco in his large rear-view mirror, quirked an eyebrow. "Or did you honestly think it was just for you?"
Malfoy bit his lower lip, his nostrils flaring. "Just make sure I'm not late."
Harry smirked at him, enjoying the rusty red that stained his pale cheeks as he glared out the window. Letting out a breath, Harry was flooded with relief as the familiar scenery of Salisbury appeared through the windshield. They could have ended up in Chepstow in Wales from the way the bus had been performing all day, up to the top windows in the River Nye. He wondered how Malfoy would feel about having to doggy paddle until the water drained off.
Harry saw Mrs Erminmeister standing on the curb, swathed head to toe in shawls with beads swinging from the hems, a scrunched red velvet hat perched atop her curling white hair. It was the consistency of candy floss, and blew in the gentle breeze. Harry hid a grin as she tottled her way over to the doors as they folded open, knowing it would take her at least ten minutes to climb the stairs. He hopped out of his seat to assist her just as Malfoy released a gusty sigh. Harry let his smile loose as he went down the stairs.
He glared at Harry. "Not a one." The muttered 'arsehole' under his breath made Harry chuckle.
"Morning, Mrs Erminmeister," he said brightly, dropping the extra step he'd had made just for her into place. "And how are you this beautiful morning?"
"Good morning, love." She reached out with a gnarled, arthritic hand and patted his cheek. He caught the hand in his and pressed a soft kiss to her knuckles, and she beamed at him.
"You're a lovely boy." She wobbled on the step and he slipped his arm around her waist, easing her up to the second step.
Mrs Erminmeister had been his very first customer when he'd taken over the bus, and she been unfailingly kind. If the Weasleys were the parents he'd never had, she was the Granny. Each step was a challenge and she moved slowly, stopping on each riser to catch her breath. Harry could almost feel Malfoy grinding his teeth, and the smile he bestowed on her grew wider.
When she'd finally made it level with the driver's seat, and Harry heard Malfoy mutter 'thank Christ', she reached into her enormous carpet bag, digging in it for what felt like five minutes. When she withdrew a battered cookie tin and held it out to him, Harry flattened his hand over his heart in exaggerated delight.
She gave him a coquettish smile, and an image of the pretty girl she must've been showed through the tracing of lines on her face. "Your crème de menthe brownies."
Harry's delight was only slightly exaggerated. The brownies were honestly a chocolate wet dream, vying easily with Molly Weasley's pumpkin pasties for a place in his heart.
"Merlin's fucking hairy taint," Malfoy finally erupted, his face red. Harry was surprised he'd lasted as long as he had and bit back a laugh. Mrs Erminmeister turned to him and gave him a glare down her nose that could have outdone Snape.
"You have a very vulgar potty mouth, young man."
Malfoy looked utterly gobsmacked and Harry had to bite his lip hard to keep the laugh filling his chest from erupting from his mouth. "I do beg your pardon," he finally muttered.
"I should hope so." Mrs Erminmeister turned back to Harry. "I so hope we can stop by Gardner's Petrol for some coffee to go with those brownies."
"Absolutely." He took his seat as she dropped her fare into the nearby box. He glanced in the rear-view in time to see Malfoy lean forward and bang his forehead repeatedly on the roll bar in front of his seat. Harry waited for his elderly passenger to make her way down the aisle to her usual seat, then put the bus into gear.
It bounced to an exuberant halt in the alley behind Gardner's Petrol, and Harry was once again relived it had landed where he wanted it to. He put some muscle into pulling the levers to open the doors, then he looked up at Malfoy.
"Coffee?" he offered, almost politely.
Malfoy's mouth curled at the corner. "From a petrol station," his tone fairly dripping with disdain.
Harry scowled at him. "Snob."
"Just because I'd rather not drink something that might be confused with motor oil does not make me a snob." He crossed his arms and stared pointedly out of the window at the large blue bins behind the building. "Truly lovely view."
"I parked here just for you." Harry forced a cheeky grin. "Can I get your mocha, Mrs Erminmeister?"
"No, dearie. I want to have a quick chat with Heidi. Don't you?" she batted sparse grey lashes at Harry, and he shook his head wryly.
"You know I'd be more likely to want a quick chat with Alfie."
Heidi was old man Gardner's very adorable daughter, and Alfie was his twenty-something, extremely good-looking son. The old woman pushed laboriously to her feet.
"Oh, just humour an old lady, Harry. I can dream, can't I? You and Heidi would make adorable babies, and all of my brood is getting too old to cuddle."
"Kids are never too old for a cuddle with their gran." Harry hurried down the aisle to help her when she wavered a bit on her feet, and his hip brushed against Malfoy's shoulder as he passed. It was the first time he'd been close enough to touch him, and his hip tingled, which was patently ridiculous. A soft scent rose from Malfoy's hair, something like eucalyptus mingled with pine, and Harry caught his breath. Malfoy smelled clean and slightly spicy and wonderful, and Harry swallowed heavily, reaching for his elderly passenger's hand while trying to ignore a startling rush of arousal. No, he thought. No fucking way.
Mrs Erminmeister caught Harry's outstretched hand. Her skin was soft and cool, and the scent of roses overpowered Malfoy's fragrance; it was a relief to pass him, putting as much distance between Malfoy's shoulder and Harry's hip as Harry could. He didn't look down at him, either. He was afraid of what Malfoy might see on his face.
He escorted Mrs Erminmeister down the bus stairs and into the petrol station, ordering his coffee while flirting with the friendly Heidi, taking his time about it. It would piss Malfoy off royally, he knew, and Harry was rewarded on his return with lips so tight there was a white ring around them when he and Mrs Erminmeister boarded the bus.
"Young man, you're going to be old before your time," the sweet old woman said to Malfoy as she came even with him in the aisle. "Here. Live a little." She handed him a cardboard coffee cup Harry hadn't even noticed her carrying, he'd been so busy reminding himself that being attracted to Malfoy was a 'very, very bad idea'. Malfoy looked up at her in what almost appeared to be alarm, then reached out gingerly and took the cup from her hand.
"Thank you," he murmured.
She gave a fleeting pat to his padded shoulder. "It's the best coffee in Wiltshire. You'll see."
She went on to her regular seat near the back, placing her coffee in the holder Harry'd installed in all the seats, pulling her knitting from her huge bag. He had no idea how she managed to get anything done that remotely resembled… well, anything, what with the bus bouncing around. But her finished products were beautiful. She'd knitted him a scarf and hat combination in a plush hunter green the Christmas before, and he loved them.
"What an… exceedingly odd little woman," Malfoy said softly, and Harry looked at him in his mirror.
"Why? Because she's nice?"
Malfoy hesitated; his mouth slightly open. "Why…yes, I suppose so." He stared down at the coffee cup, his eyes lost.
Harry thought he looked sad, and he didn't want to feel sorry for Malfoy. He shoved the bus into gear just as One passenger at the corner of Penrod and Snood, Polperro flashed onto his screen. The bus gave a groan and a lurch, and the scenery outside of the windows changed in a dizzying rush.
The first thing Harry noticed was that the view outside his large window was decidedly not Polperro. The second was the absence of the smell of the sea. Harry always loved when his jaunts took him to the coast, and Polperro was one of his favourites. He thought he was more likely somewhere in the fallow fields of Surrey.
"A bit of warning when a bloke has a cup of hot liquid in his hand, Potter!" Malfoy was standing in a puddle that had once been his coffee. The front of his robes were wet and he was holding the paper cup, minus the lid, in his hand.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Merlin's beard, Malfoy. What do you think the little holder at your seat is for?"
Draco looked down into the wire circle and shrugged. "How was I supposed to know?"
Mrs Erminmeister looked up. "Anyone with common sense would know that if you're holding a cup when the bus moves, you're probably going to inadvertently squeeze it and cause the liquid inside to spill out."
Harry could see Draco's jaw tighten and the cup in his hand slowly crush, but to his credit, he didn't retort.
"I need to run a diagnostic on the bus," Harry said when the bus idled and didn't immediately jump again. At Draco's nearly inaudible groan, Harry shook his head. "It won't take but a minute, Malfoy. Keep your shirt on."
Which was totally the wrong thing to say because Harry was immediately immersed in a vision of Draco, shirtless, standing in front of him. Suppressing a completely unhelpful groan, Harry began the diagnostic on the bus's running systems. He pressed three buttons on the dash, and things that had once been incomprehensible to Harry glowed, sensors floated up and flashed while spinning slowly in circles. All the while Harry tried to keep his focus on the dash panel and not on Malfoy. It suddenly occurred to Harry that Malfoy hadn't used his wand to clean the coffee from his robe or the floor, and he turned to study him, his head angled slightly to one side. Draco caught him looking and scowled.
"Why are you standing there in a puddle of coffee when you could clean up with your wand?"
A rusty stain spread over Draco's cheeks and blotched the smooth skin of his neck. He muttered something, staring down at the wet seat.
Draco rolled his eyes. "Did you listen at any of the trials you testified at, Potter? I realise listening has never been your strong suit, but honestly."
"I wasn't there at the end of yours, arsehole," Harry shot back. "I was testifying at someone else's. And what of it?"
"If you'd stayed, you'd have heard that the Wizengamot, in all of their great wisdom, decided that I am not allowed to cast outside of my home."
Harry's mouth fell open. "You're joking."
"I assure you, I'm not. Otherwise I wouldn't be standing here in a puddle of cooling coffee."
"That has to be one of the dumbest things they decided, in an endless list of stupid things. What happens if someone attacks you? Are you expected to stand there, defenseless?"
Draco shrugged. "I expect they rather hoped someone would. However, there is a provision that allows me to cast a shield charm should the need arise. Still I rarely leave the Manor, save for the situations that involve my probation." He paused. "Oh get that look off your face, Potter. I'm fine." He looked down at his robes. "Wet, but fine."
Harry stood and turned toward him, taking his wand from his sleeve harness. "Trust me not to hex you?"
Draco sighed. "Not while you have a witness, at any rate. And as much as I hate to be indebted to you for anything, I hate being wet even more."
Harry grinned, then siphoned the coffee away from the expensive silvery grey robes, followed by the seat and then the floor.
One of Malfoy's brows, much darker than his white blond hair, arched. "Well, well. Given the way you dressed all through school I rather thought personal grooming spells weren't in your skill set."
"I never saw much of a point at Hogwarts, what with the house elves doing all the laundry. Once I was out on my own, I realised that if I ever wanted to pull, I couldn't smell like the bottom of a hippogriff cage."
"I see the repertoire of spells you learned didn't include anything for the rat's nest on your head."
"No point," Harry admitted. "I'd comb it but by the time I got to the loo door it was a mess again. It's always been that way. Drove my aunt spare, which wasn't much of a trip most days."
"A decent cut would work wonders."
It was Harry's turn to roll his eyes. "By all means, give me the name of your ridiculously expensive stylist."
One corner of Draco's lips twitched. "My stylist wouldn't touch your head on a dare," he said, taking his seat again. "You do remember Parkinson?"
Harry shuddered. "She's your stylist?" Draco nodded. "More like I wouldn't let her anywhere near my head with a wand."
"I have my moments."
The diagnostics on the bus running systems began to scroll across the screen, and Harry studied it.
"Thank you," Malfoy said primly, throwing his crumpled cup in a waste bin across the aisle.
"Bet that hurt," Harry teased, watching the flow of words.
"You've no idea."
"Oh, I've some idea."
"Well, thank goodness for small blessings. I'd hate for you to overtax yourself."
Harry frowned as he read the engine's reports, unable to find anything that should cause the glitches he'd been experiencing for the last several days. Finally, the words Magical GPS Malfunctioning needs to be recalibrated flowed across the screen, and Harry growled softly. "Well, no shit," he muttered. He pulled his keyboard from under the dash, typing quickly. After another wait, during which time Harry could hear Malfoy's toes rhythmically striking the floor. He gave a beleaguered sigh, and Harry shot him an irritated look. "What actually is your rush, Malfoy?" he asked, typing a question into the system and then waiting for an answer. "You've never said."
"Not that it's any of your business," Malfoy sniffed, "but I need to be at an awards banquet by seven p.m."
"Awards banquet?" Harry scoffed. "Who in their right mind would give you an award?"
For a moment darkness filled Malfoy's expressive eyes and Harry had the uncomfortable feeling he might have offended the man, perhaps even hurt his feelings. He didn't like the sensation of regret at all. After several long seconds, and with what looked to be herculean force of will, Malfoy's expression cleared. "I doubt you could pronounce the name even if you tried."
"Cute." Harry typed in a few more questions, then made a sound of discovery when a diagnosis he thought he could fix splashed across the screen. "Finally. Thank Christ. Sit tight, Malfoy, Mrs Erminmeister. This won't take a minute."
She gave him a tranquil smile. Draco, not so much.
"Shall I time you?" He crossed his arms, lips pursed, but Harry could see he didn't look nearly as pissy as he had when he'd boarded.
"I've never had any complaints about my timing before." Harry shot him a lewd grin as he went down the stairs, and the startled look that crossed Draco's fine features was worth the burst of cold air that made its way up under the sleeves of Harry's shirt. He pulled his wand from his sleeve and flipped up the bonnet with a negligent gesture.
Harry could agree with Hermione enough to acknowledge that driving the Knight Bus was a way for him to hide away from most of the wizarding world. Now that wizards were driving their own cars, most of his clientele consisted of the older witches and wizards who weren't interested in the expense of owning their own vehicles, and were afraid to learn to drive one. He drove for a stag or hen do on occasion, but always under a Ministry-approved glamour. There was still the occasional drunk or stranded witch or wizard, but most of them didn't much notice 'Harry Potter' was driving their bus.
By default, the inside of the massive purple monster had become his second home. It was a place where he could add a few galleons to his vault, be more productive than sitting around watching the telly in his pants, and allowed him to see parts of the UK he never would have otherwise. Was he hiding? He'd never admit it to Hermione, but yeah, probably.
Then fucking Draco Malfoy was the stranded wizard waiting for him. In the months since the final battle, he'd only seen Malfoy a handful of times, and even though he'd wondered about him idly from time to time, his curiosity hadn't been pressing enough for Harry to try to find out what had become of his old adversary.
Harry wasn't embarrassed by what he did for a living. It was honest work, and for all he knew, Malfoy did nothing but sit around in his bloody manor house, acting like a poncy git. Unfortunately, he was a poncy git who had only improved with time. It pained Harry to admit it, but he was good looking, with his perfect robes and hair and face and…everything. He hated to admit it even to himself, but Malfoy was definitely his type. Harry'd managed to keep his own relationships, if you wanted to call a blow job in a bar loo a relationship, to Muggles who had no idea who the hell he was. But from the moment Draco appeared next to the bus, he'd irritated the shit out of Harry, and made him want to push him down across the tattered bus seat and muss him up good 'n' proper in equal measure. Which was simply not on.
Hermione would never let him forget it if he lost his mind enough to act on the impulse. She'd been telling Harry he had a thing for Malfoy since sixth year and he'd been denying it all that time. Clearly, the answer was to keep baiting the blond prat. Or to stand out longer in the freezing wind; no erection could survive it. He was beginning to wonder if his fingers would.
By the time he'd managed to find the glitch in the motor, Harry was cold to his core, his hands gone numb. He did what he could for the navigational problem, knowing the bus was going to have to go in to a magical mechanic to have the charms and spells that kept it running recast. Harry grimaced, blowing out a shaky breath as he slammed the bonnet shut. He'd get Mrs Erminmeister to her sister's, which was where she went every Friday, get Malfoy to his award… thing… and get the bus into the garage, hopefully without a side trip to Scotland. Or a case of frostbite.
He climbed back up the stairs, falling into his seat and pulling the door closed behind him. Pausing for a long moment just to breathe in air that didn't burn his lungs, he was startled by a thermos that sat next to the controls on the dash.
"What the bloody hell…"
The cup of coffee he'd purchased at the petrol station was long gone but the empty cardboard cup still sat in the holder. Harry picked up the thermos, unscrewed the lid and nearly wept as the fragrance of the strong, black coffee floated up.
"Oh, thank Merlin," he breathed, pouring some into this cup with a trembling hand. "Mrs Erminmeister, you're a life saver."
When she didn't respond, Harry turned and looked over his shoulder, only to find that the elderly lady sound asleep with her knitting hovering in the air just to her side. His eyes went to Malfoy in surprise. "Was this from you?"
Draco looked toward the window, shrugging one shoulder awkwardly. Harry had no idea what he could possibly be looking at; all of the windows in the bus had steamed up while he'd been outside. He cast a quick defrosting spell without ever taking his eyes from Draco.
"You gave me coffee."
Draco shifted uncomfortably. "I had it with me for the train ride and while I'm quite sure it can't begin to compete with the fine brew purchased at the petrol station…" his lips curled in distaste and Harry bit back a laugh, "you looked frozen through. And I'd rather like to get to London sometime this century, which you can't accomplish while shaking like you have Berlinger's palsy."
"Berlinger's palsy." Harry shook his head, picking up his cup and nearly whimpering as the heat of the coffee began to thaw his fingers. "Never heard of it."
"You would have if you'd paid attention in the spells and spell damage chapters of Magical history. I'd wager your friend Granger knows what it is."
Harry turned back to the front of the bus with a huff. "No doubt you'd win that bet." He threw the bus into gear and studied the screen, now flashing in bright red letters One passenger at the corner of Penrod and Snood, Polperro. Harry sighed and eased off the clutch. The bus drove forward about ten feet and then made a shuddering groan as it vanished. When they landed, Harry was relieved to smell sea air. He looked around to see a small, bald man tapping his foot. Harry pushed the lever so the door swung open. He was about to go help his passenger onto the bus when the little man bolted up the steps, and dropped eleven sickles into the coin box.
"I've been waiting a full thirty minutes for this bus," he said grumpily. "What's the point of emergency transport if you have to wait thirty minutes?"
"Sorry sir," Harry apologised. "Was having a spot of trouble with the navigation system. Had to do a quick diagnostic…" He was cut off mid-sentence.
"That's not my problem. Now get me to Cardiff. The National Museum." He strode down the aisle and took an empty seat just before Draco.
"Right," Harry ground out. While he loved his job, it was passengers like this old coot that made him wish he could refuse a pick-up. He shifted into gear, drove down along the road for a bit as he set the navigation for Cardiff. They popped out of existence and landed a few moments later near the steps of the museum in Cardiff.
"Thank you for riding the Knight Bus," Harry called out after his passenger. Under his breath he muttered, Hope to never see you again.
He looked over in time to see Malfoy slowly, methodically pounding his head on the bar on the seat in front of him again.
"Oh untwist your knickers, Malfoy. One quick stop to drop off Mrs Erminmeister and you're next."
Draco raised his head and glared at Harry, lips pursed, but said nothing.
Harry tapped some buttons, waiting for the screen to announce his departure to drop off Mrs Erminmeister. Nothing happened. He tried again. Nothing. Giving it one last attempt, he cleared the board and entered the destination one last time. When the screen flashed Dropping one in Afriston at St Andrew's, Harry practically groaned in relief. Easing off the clutch, he put his foot on the gas.
The bus lurched and groaned and Harry's ear popped. He glanced in his rear view and smiled when Malfoy reached out and grabbed the back of the seat in front of him, his knuckles white. Moments later the thatched roofs and brick walls of Afriston came into view outside the windshield. He shoved the bus into park, then turned and looked down the aisle. As always, Mrs Erminmeister was wide awake, shoving her knitting into her carpet bag and rising to her feet. He had no idea what inner sense told her that her stop was up, but she never slept through it. She toddled down the aisle, patting Malfoy on his square shoulder as she passed.
"Nice to meet you, young man." It was the second time Draco had looked gobsmacked in one day, and Harry knew he'd never tire of the expression on his face.
"You, too," he muttered as she and Harry left the bus.
"Have a nice chat with Edna." Harry took her hand and helped her down the steps.
"I always do." She stepped down to the street, then turned and handed Harry the tin of mint brownies. "Just bring me back the container next week," she said, patting his arm. "Edna's starting to spread across the beam; she doesn't need any more sweets."
Harry laughed. "Oh, so I can spread across the beam instead?"
She gave him a flirtatious smile. "There's absolutely nothing wrong with your beam, my dear. In fact, it's quite fetching. And I do believe I'm not the only one on the bus today who's noticed. Those jeans cling in all the right places."
"Mrs. Erminmeister," he said, blushing helplessly. "Now I have to worry about you checking my…beam." She grinned.
"I'm old, young man. Not dead." Harry felt his ears heat in the cold air. She winked at him and then turned to walk the short distance to Edna's bright pink door. Harry waited until it opened and another old lady swathed in shawls, these loud paisley prints, greeted her with a hug. He turned back to the bus and jogged up the steps.
"Okay, Malfoy." He pulled the doors closed with a loud clack. "Next stop Dominion Theatre on Tottenham Court Road."
Draco sniffed. "I'll believe it when I see it."
Harry tried to glare at him in the mirror, but was fairly certain he failed. "Don't push your luck."
Malfoy rolled his eyes, and he looked exactly like the sixteen-year-old who'd caught Harry's attention in the first place. He crossed his arms. "Wouldn't dream of it."
The traffic on Tottenham Court Road was light that evening, and Harry was reminded that it was Sunday and most of the theatres were dark that night. The bus ran seven days, seven a.m. to midnight, and most of those days Harry slept in one of the bunks upstairs on the third level. He had a flat in town, but wasn't sure how much longer he'd keep it. He looked up the road as the bus idled, reminded of the night he and Ron and Hermione popped up in the middle of that road, right in front of one of the red double-deckers. He glanced in that direction, wondering if the little coffee shop they'd been attacked in was still in business.
"Well, will fucking wonders never cease," Malfoy said as he stood in the middle of the aisle, patting down his pockets as if he were making sure he didn't forget anything. "The old wreck made it on the first jump."
"Hey," Harry protested without much heat. "I told you I fixed it."
"I just couldn't imagine you were much of a mechanic." Draco studied him with grey eyes, and Harry fought the urge to fidget. He looked out at the street instead.
"Not much going on down here tonight," Harry said. "You sure you've got the right day?"
Draco rolled his eyes. "How else do you imagine the theatre could be used, Potter? There's a show playing here every other night of the week. Fortunately, the owner is a wizard and offered the use of the place tonight to the organisation."
Harry felt as if he was being dismissed, and he couldn't explain why that bothered him if he had to.
There were several weighted, silent seconds, and Harry finally looked up into Draco's searching eyes when he didn't immediately move to disembark. "What?"
"You surprised me," Draco finally answered. "You actually like this job, don't you?"
"Is that a bad thing?" Harry shifted uncomfortably.
Draco shook his head. "Not at all. Just…surprising."
"Yeah, so you said."
Their eyes held for another long moment, then Draco stepped back. "See you around, Potter."
"Is this where I'm supposed to say ‘not if I see you first?'"
Draco gave him a slow smirk. "Only if you mean it."
He turned and moved off down the steps, and Harry watched Draco's square shoulders and slender hips until he disappeared around the back of the bus. Harry stared after him thoughtfully, then entered his location into the bus's system and put it into gear. It disappeared as usual, and then reappeared in the alley behind the Dominion, right by the stage door. Right near the spot where Hermione had dug jeans and jumpers out of her magically extended bag. Harry had a vivid recollection of them passing a large grey steel door marked ‘Dominion stage door; authorised personnel only' in black stencil. He parked and left his seat, trotting down the treads and locking the door. Waving his wand, he murmured the invisibility spell and the bright purple vehicle slowly faded from sight.
He really had no idea what made him want to follow Draco, other than it was a matter of habit. Hermione would try to psychoanalyse it no doubt, him along with it. When Harry told her that he thought he might be bent, she'd done her typical ‘know it all' thing and replied she'd known since sixth year. Breaking up with Ginny had only verified it in her mind, she said; he might say it was to protect her, but Hermione knew better.
Hermione always knew better. It was infuriating.
He was still going to follow Malfoy into the Dominion, just to see what he was up to.
Harry waited a few moments before following Draco to the back entrance. He stayed close to the wall, glancing up and down the alley, and was surprised to discover the stage door was slightly ajar. Rationalising, Harry took it as a sign he was supposed to follow Draco. He slid the door open a bit more and slid through the opening, pulling the door closed behind him. It took a minute for his eyes to adjust to the dim lighting inside, then he crept forward, listening for voices, preparing to slip between the black velvet curtains that hung along the side of the stage if he needed to.
He paused in one of the wings, looking out onto the brightly lit stage. He could see several tables set up in a row behind a podium. He was about to take a step when he heard a young voice cry out.
"You're here! You said you'd be here but it was getting late and I was so worried."
Harry shifted to the left and saw a boy about ten years old running up the aisle toward the lobby doors Draco had apparently just come through. Harry watched in amazement as Draco met the boy in the aisle, pulling him into a hug and ruffling his hair.
Harry strained to hear Draco's answer. Fortunately, even though he wasn't yelling like the boy, his deep voice carried. There was a warmth in it Harry didn't think he'd ever heard before, and it made the skin on his nape tingle.
"I promised, didn't I? What's the one important thing I told you when we started working together, Toby?"
Toby shuffled his feet, before his face brightened. "If you promise, you mean it. That short of a cata...clata…" Toby exhaled in frustration, "a big thing happening, you keep your promises."
Draco laughed and Harry felt it like a punch in the gut. It was a warm, gentle sound, and Harry wanted to hear it again, hear it aimed at him. "Yes, a cataclysmic event is the only thing that would stop me from keeping my promise to you."
"Is that why you're late," Toby asked. "Cuz a clatalsizmic thing happened?"
Harry paused, realising he was the event that nearly kept Malfoy from keeping his promise to this young boy. He really didn't even know why Malfoy was here or what he'd helped this Toby with, but he was feeling a bit of an arse for delaying Malfoy's arrival.
Malfoy smirked. "You could certainly put it that way. But look around, Toby. I'm not that late."
A slender woman wearing Muggle jeans and a dark blue jumper was walking up the aisle, and she shook her head and laughed lightly. "I tried to tell him, Mr. Malfoy, but he's been wound tight as a clock all day."
Malfoy turned another warm smile in her direction, and Harry had to literally catch his breath. Gods, he was so handsome. Much more so than he'd been in school, and watching him smile at the woman, Harry felt a completely unwarranted surge of jealousy.
"I was just going to ask Toby where his mum was," Draco said.
"Guarding his project. He's convinced someone is going to steal it."
"Mum! Did you leave it alone?" Toby sounded horrified. Draco gripped his little shoulder in a large, reassuring hand.
"I'm sure it's fine," he said. "But we'll go back to gather it up now, and see if we can't find someone who knows where you're supposed to set up."
The three of them started down the aisle towards the stage, and it suddenly dawned on Harry that if he didn't move, he was about to be discovered and he wasn't sure how he'd explain it. He looked around a bit frantically before spotting an upended pallet leaning against the wall. He slipped behind it, feeling suddenly foolish. What was he doing? Clearly Malfoy wasn't ‘up to' anything nefarious. He was just helping a little boy.
But, helping a little boy do what, exactly? And what was the awards benefit for? Curiosity unsatisfied, Harry stayed very still as Malfoy, Toby and his mother passed and disappeared through a door in the back wall of the stage.
More people were beginning to enter the theatre, which made it easier for Harry to move out from the stage area and into the main section of the auditorium. The lights in the audience section made it difficult to see the stage that well, but Malfoy's blond hair gave his position away. Harry assumed the small shadow next to him was Toby. He could see them pulling things from a box and placing them on one of the tables. Harry heard Malfoy's low chuckle and saw Toby's wildly waving arms as things were apparently rearranged to suit Toby's plan. Shortly, he saw Malfoy step back with Toby at his side. Malfoy put his arm around the small shadow and drew him close, bending to speak into the boy's ear. Then Malfoy turned and gracefully left the stage.
A stout man with a bad moustache strode to the podium. Harry watched as Draco took an obviously saved seat next to Toby's mother; the dynamic between them fascinated him. Here was a clearly indulgent, doting mum who trusted Malfoy. Harry wondered if she knew the man's history; if she did it didn't seem to matter to her. Harry found it very telling. Harry turned his attention back to Draco, who was looking intently at the stage and the small group of children sitting in chairs off to the man's right side.
"Welcome Ladies and Gentlemen to the awards ceremony for the Primum annuum certamen de innovationibus magicis et fortibus infinitis. For those of you who might not recall your Latin lessons, this is the awards ceremony for the First Annual Magical Innovations and Infinite Possibilities competition. I am your emcee for tonight, Jarvis Windbarm."
Harry barely suppressed a snort. He'd only just laid eyes on the old man, but was fairly certain the barmy part of his name was appropriate.
"You see beside me," Jarvis continued in his pompous tone, "the five finalists in this inaugural competition. Each of these young witches and wizards, with the assistance of an adult mentor, have created, invented or improved upon some aspect of a potion, spell or charm."
Windbarm went on to explain a bit about each of the entries. Harry's mind wandered as he went through the first four entrants, until he heard Toby's name. Then he straightened.
"Toby Burgess has taken a twig from a Pritcher's Porritch and grafted it to the branch of a Wiggentree, thereby creating a new cross-breed."
Harry had no clue what the man was talking about, but from the ooohs and ahhs sounding around him, he assumed this was a good thing.
After Windbarm's speech, each child stood and gave his presentation about his project. The first three were interesting; the little girl with the dark hair and serious expression told the audience how she had increased the effectiveness of the Tergeo charm so that several messes could be cleaned at once. The boy Harry decided really needed back off on the sticky toffee pudding spoke in a monotone about his work on the Waddiwasi spell to make it less prone to cause damage when the unstuck item rebounded into the caster.
Once again, Harry found himself nearly drifting off until he finally heard Toby's name again.
Toby took the stage, but Harry found he only had eyes for Malfoy. Draco sat up in chair, leaning slightly forward as Toby spoke. Harry listened as Toby explained how he and Mr Malfoy had found a Pritcher's Porritch plant on the Malfoy grounds. It was small and withered, nearly dead. They'd taken a cutting from it and grafted it to a Wiggentree branch on a small tree they'd planted in the Malfoy greenhouse. Over the past year, they'd nurtured the graft until it appeared to be able to live on its own. Harry truly had no idea what any of that meant, but watching as Draco mouthed each word of Toby's speech, simply warmed his heart.
To think Malfoy, the same Draco Malfoy he'd known in school, had spent the last year helping this boy learn about plants and making things grow, affected Harry more than he understood. Who was this Malfoy? What Harry did know was that he was captivated by him, and he wanted to get to know him better.
When Toby finished his presentation, the audience applauded, and Harry could hear Malfoy clapping louder than the rest.
Toby had been the last of the five contestants to speak. When he finished Jarvis took the stage again. "Thank you to our young witches and wizards for their interesting and compelling presentations on the work they've done. We're going to take a short intermission while the judges review their notes and take one final look at each exhibit. You're welcome to purchase refreshments in our lobby, the proceeds of which will help support our programme."
Harry stayed in his seat, sinking down to be unobtrusive, but watching as Toby hurried down from the stage and met his mother and Draco by their seats. Toby took hold of Draco's hand, pulling him to the lobby, fortunately up the aisle furthest from the seat Harry had chosen. Harry had never seen Draco smile as much as he had at Toby, and Harry knew without a doubt he wanted Draco to smile at him like that, too. The thought came from nowhere, but Harry couldn't deny it was true. He was so lost in his musings of Draco's smile that he was surprised when the lights in the main auditorium flickered, indicating the end of the intermission.
The children filed back up on stage and took their seats, while Windbarm stepped back up to the podium. The tension in the room was as thick as treacle tart, and the kids looked nervous, little hands clenched, knees bouncing. Harry watched Draco as he rocked in his seat until Mrs Burgess gently laid a hand on his upper arm to still him. Even in the dark theatre, Harry could tell Draco was embarrassed.
"Children," Windbarm began, "there are no losers in this event. Every one of you has made an important contribution to our world and nothing can diminish that contribution. However, there were three of you that truly excelled in your work. I want to add that choosing the top three out of you five extremely talented witches and wizards was not easy. There were less than ten points separating the top three places. So without further ado and beginning with third place, Maisie Collins, with her improvements to the Tergeo Charm."
Maisie moved to the front and accepted her trophy, but Harry could see just the tiniest wibble in her chin, as if she were trying very hard not to be disappointed. He was surprised by how disappointed he was for her, even while he wanted very much for Toby to win.
Second place went to one of the boys whose presentation was about some potion that would clean barnacles off of a boat without causing harm to the environment. Harry had fallen into a daze the moment the word potion was mentioned.
First place was on the line and there were three participants remaining in their seats. Harry glanced at Draco, unsurprised to see him so close to the edge of his seat, he risked falling off of it.
Windbarm cleared his throat. "But one of our entries truly shined above the others. Please join me in congratulating… Toby Burgess with his inspired way to save a potion ingredient that might have otherwise been lost to us!"
Toby hurried up to the podium to get his trophy, a wide grin on his charming face. Harry watched Draco leap from his seat, arms in the air in triumph, then applauding wildly along with Toby's mum. The other members of the audience rose to their feet as well, and Toby stared out into the enthusiastic crowd giving him a standing ovation, his eyes very wide. Harry stood and applauded as well, so pleased for them both that he was not even sure he cared any longer if Malfoy saw him or not.
The evening came to an end after a photographer from the Daily Prophet took pictures of the five children, then several of Toby by himself, holding his large trophy next to his plant. The man said something to the little boy, who suddenly looked very concerned and shook his head. He made an obvious effort to get Draco's attention and gestured broadly, clearly wanting him to come up on the stage. Draco shook his head, but Toby wouldn't take that as an answer; he put his hands on his hips and gave Draco a look so reminiscent of one Malfoy had used himself as a child that Harry laughed aloud. Draco apparently recognised the look as well, because he smiled ironically and mounted the steps to the boy's side. After that came several more pictures, the tall, elegant man posing with his arm around the ecstatic little boy's shoulders. Harry felt that moment clear into the chambers of his heart.
Finally, the crowd began to thin so much Harry was afraid he'd be spotted by Malfoy. He left through the auditorium's back doors and out through the lobby, his hands shoved into his pockets and his head down. He was standing on the sidewalk in front of the Dominion before he remembered the bus was parked in the alley out back. Shaking his head, he looked right and left before Apparating to the side of his huge, charmed, invisible purple bus. On a whim he removed the spell, unlocked the doors and jogged up the steps. Moments later he was pulling the bus up in front of the Dominion. He put it into park and waited, because if the trains still weren't running, he would be Malfoy's only option. He desperately hoped the trains weren't running. He nearly whooped aloud when Pick up one wizard at the Dominium Theatre in London for transport to Wiltshire appeared on his screen.
Jumping up from his seat, Harry all but skipped down the steps, running around the front and them stopping, leaning against the bonnet with his arms crossed over his chest and his legs at the ankles, desperately trying to appear nonchalant. Moments later Malfoy walked out onto the now deserted sidewalk beneath the theatre's brightly lit marquee, a smile still lingering around his full lips. He paused when he saw Harry waiting for him.
"Need a lift, Mister?" Harry called. He was delighted when Malfoy rolled his eyes.
"Only because the trains are no longer running." Malfoy had returned to the cut glass, posh tone that used to drive Harry spare; he found it didn't any longer. "I do hope you can keep the chit chat to a minimum," Malfoy went on, walking past Harry and around the front of the bus. Harry followed him, grinning at his back. "I'd like to just go home."
"You'll have to give me the coordinates of the Manor," Harry said.
Malfoy paused on the top step, turning to glare down at him. "Liar."
Harry held his blank expression for as long as he could, then winked at Malfoy. The look of confusion that crossed Malfoy's handsome features delighted Harry completely. Malfoy paused by the fare box and waited for Harry to drop into his seat.
"No charge." Harry pulled on the handle, closing the doors.
Draco's eyes narrowed. "Why?"
Harry shrugged. "Because I may have over-charged you on the front end."
Draco propped his hands on his hips. "You obnoxious little bastard."
"My bus, my rules and I said may have, not that I actually did."
They stared at each other, then Malfoy huffed and trudged to his seat. Harry pushed a button on the screen, changing the coordinates to the Manor just slightly, then put the huge vehicle into gear. With a loud pop, the scene outside the windows changed from Tottenham Court Road to a dark lane in Wiltshire, and he looked up into the rear view mirror and watched Draco straighten in alarm, staring out his window.
"The bloody bus is misbehaving again, then? I should have known you wouldn't actually be able to repair it."
Harry put the bus into park and turned slowly in his seat, his eyes meeting Draco's in the dim light.
"Oh, it's repaired. I came here purposely."
Draco gave him a disbelieving look. "Liar."
"That's the second time you've called me that in the last five minutes."
"It's the second time it's been true in the last five minutes."
"This time, it isn't true at all. I did come here purposely. I knew if I took you straight to the Manor gates, you'd be able to do magic again and you'd probably hex my balls off."
Malfoy smirked slightly. "Oh, the temptation will still be there, I assure you."
Harry gave him a lopsided grin. "I'm sure it will. But the point is, if I took you straight home, I'd never get a chance to talk to you."
Malfoy frowned at him, his lips tight. "About what?"
Harry leaned on the back of his seat, his chin resting on his crossed forearms. "I didn't know you liked kids."
Malfoy looked nonplussed for a moment, then he huffed, staring out the window. "Which means you crashed the awards ceremony because you couldn't stand not knowing what I was doing." The ring finger of his left hand moved in tight circles against his right elbow, and Harry watched it for a moment in fascination.
"You didn't think I wouldn't," Harry said finally, "not honestly."
Draco closed his eyes, then turned and glared at him. "Not that it's any of your business, but I happen to be very fond of some children, Toby Burgess among them. He is a very bright, very dedicated young man."
"So I gather. It's an extremely complicated sounding project."
"It is a very complicated project. He earned that award."
"And you spent a year mentoring him."
Harry could see Malfoy cheeks turning rusty red, even in the dim lighting. "So?"
"So, nothing. Like I said, I just didn't know you liked kids."
Malfoy snorted, turning back to the window. "I venture to say you don't know very much about me at all, Potter."
Harry stared at the elegant profile as Malfoy continued to stare out into the night. "What if," he began, feeling heat and desire collide uncomfortably in his chest, "I'd like to fix that."
The silver grey eyes came back to Harry's. "Fix what?"
"Not knowing you," Harry clarified. "What if I'd like to learn more about you?"
Draco didn't look away, and the length of his stare made Harry fight the urge to fidget. He won, just barely.
Draco finally spoke. "Why?"
Harry huffed in exasperation. "You always have to make everything so damned hard. You always have."
Ever so slowly, Malfoy's lips curled in a wicked grin. "You might want to reconsider the wording of that sentence."
Harry felt such an unfurling of relief that Malfoy was smiling at him that he almost missed the double entendre of the sentence. When the words registered, he straightened, then stood slowly. "No, actually, I think that wording works just fine."
Harry sauntered down the aisle toward Malfoy's seat, then smoothly lifted his left leg and straddled Draco's slender thighs.
Draco looked stunned. "What exactly do you think you're doing?"
Harry placed his hands on the backrest on either side of Draco's shoulders, bracing his arms. "You can't seriously be asking that question." Harry shifted slightly, his balls settling into the space between Malfoy's legs, his abrupt hard-on pressing against the fly of his jeans. He shifted forward, pressing his cock against Draco's groin, reassured when he felt the corresponding hardness under Draco's robes. Harry'd known Draco was gay since sixth year, about the same time he figured out the same thing about himself, but that didn't automatically mean Draco would want him. He sagged a bit in relief.
"These robes are silk, you know," Draco said tautly, but he didn't quite pull off the disdain he was clearly going for. His voice shook a bit, and he sank his teeth into his lower lip to hide its trembling. Suddenly, Harry wanted to replace Draco's teeth with his.
"I'll have them cleaned for you." Harry lifted his hand away from the seat and slid his palm along Draco's jaw, leaning forward.
Draco held his gaze, trying to look unruffled but Harry could feel the shaking in his core, and that little peek into his nervousness delighted Harry. He ran his thumb beneath Draco's plump lower lip, then leaned in and pressed his lips over Draco's.
Harry felt him freeze for the briefest moment, but then Draco's right hand slid tentatively around his waist, spreading on his ribs, fingers clutching his shirt. Harry made a soft, pleased sound, slipping his tongue along the seam of Draco's lips, then into his mouth.
Several long moments later Harry broke the kiss, pressing his forehead to Draco's, trying to calm his breathing and his galloping pulse. When he knew he wouldn't botch the motion, he lifted his hand and made a gesture toward the sign above the windshield. He heard the click when it went from ‘Wiltshire' to ‘Off Duty'.
"Wandless magic," Draco breathed, changing the angle of his head and nipping at Harry's chin. "Very hot."
Harry grinned. "Does it for you, hmm?"
Harry returned his hand to Draco's jaw, then curled it around his nape and slid his fingers back into Draco's baby soft, white blond hair. "How about if I take you home the long way?"
"I'll think about it, but you have to give me some assurances if you plan to grope me in a bus." He leaned back enough to pin Harry with a look. "I'll at least want coffee at some point, and none of that shite from a petrol station."
Harry chuckled. "Before?" he rolled his hips forward, and heard Draco catch his breath. "Or after?"
Draco swallowed audibly. "Definitely after."
"Excellent. Is that the only promise I have to make?"
Draco lifted one arched brow, amazingly composed for a man whose cock was being massaged through his trousers by another hard prick. "Probably not, but it's a start. I'm quite sure I can come up with others."
Harry shook his head. "Of that I have no doubt," he said wryly, then they were kissing again, mouths open and hands clutching, bodies pressed together.
There wasn't any more conversation for a very long time.