Remus Lupin ran for the Knight Bus that was stopped half a block away as though the harpies of hell were after him. He leapt aboard right before the doors shut, almost into the scrawny pigeon-chest of Stan Shunpike, and heaved an internal sigh of relief.
"Welcome to the Knight Bus," Stan said, reading from a little card he thought he'd cleverly hidden in his hand. The boy was hopeless. He'd tried the same thing on his NEWTs, which was how he'd ended up as ticket-puncher on the Knight Bus. "My name is -- "
"Stan, shut up, it's me," Remus gasped. "Hi, Ernie," he added, to the elderly bus driver.
"Remus Lupin!" Stan said, smiles wreathing his face. Remus hushed him hurriedly.
"Not so loud! Listen, I'm in a bit of a jam."
Stan shook his finger. "Professor, have you been card sharking again?"
"Sharping, and no I haven't," Remus replied. "I need you to do me a huge favour, Stan. Where's your security bloke?"
"Haven't got one. Last chap up and quit, he did, when we had an ogre aboard two weeks ago -- "
"Bless him," Remus said. "All right, if anyone asks I've been your ride-along for the last two weeks, haven't hardly left the bus, and half an hour ago we were in -- "
" -- Cornwall -- "
" -- Cornwall. So anyone they were chasing up Diagon Alley this evening definitely was not me."
"Right," Stan said, nodding uncertainly. Remus gave him his most charming smile, the one that made little old ladies trust him and grown men want to hide their wives from him. One had to have charm, living on wits and keeping big secrets.
Stan nearly fawned. "D'you want the job, by the way?" he inquired.
"The ride-along. You're a wicked man with a wand, Professor."
Remus, who was still catching his breath, almost fell off his feet as they made a sudden turn around Watford and shot off westward. "You mean that? Don't you have to get permission or something?"
Stan waved a hand. "Been promoted to full-time permanent employee, I have. S'my bus now. Innat right, Ern?"
Ernie glanced up at him and nearly overshot another turn in the road. Remus clung to the rail for dear life.
"So I can hire anyone I please," Stan finished.
"Which is what led to the last one," Ernie put in derisively. He looked up again. Remus gulped and jerked his head back at the road, and Ernie looked chastised.
"Unless you've got a better job offer," Stan said. "It does beat selling Kneazle oil to Muggles and telling them it's a cure for baldness."
"It is a cure, of a sort," Remus said. "I mean, having a Kneazle irresistibly attracted to your head definitely means there's hair there. Remember -- you hired me two weeks ago."
"Right you are, Professor," Stan said. "Here's your duty card, you sleep over the driver's cab, you get breakfast and tea and dinner's your own lookout."
"The pay is crap but the work is awful, eh?" Remus asked, climbing the spiral staircase that grew out of the floor. Up on the second level of the bus, he lifted a hatch that opened onto a bed, with a desk leaning over it at one end. "Home sweet home," he sighed, and sat on the edge.
He looked down at the grubby card in his hand, which said Knight Bus Corporation on one side. On the other was a small place for him to sign, and the following text:
I swear to dutifully protect the riders and operators of this Knight Bus from harm, risking my life if necessary or at least a couple of broken bones.
A nice sentiment. Low expectations. Remus liked low expectations; it gave him less chance of disappointing. He signed his name, dated it to two weeks ago, and tossed it onto the little desk.
Two days later, Nymphadora Tonks came aboard in Newcastle.
"Good morning," Remus said, leaning over the rail when Stan yelled up that an Auror wanted a word with him. "How're you, Tonks?"
"Fine thanks, Professor," she replied.
"Professor who?" he asked, giving her an innocent look.
"None of that with me," she warned, shaking a finger. "Where were you two days ago at nine in the evening?"
"Two days -- well, I was here, wasn't I, Stan?" Remus asked. Stan nodded, looking only vaguely guilty.
"Are you sure?" she demanded.
"Been working here, oh, little over two weeks, haven't I, Stan?"
"You stop talking to him, Remus Lupin, he's like a five year old covering for his older brother," Tonks said. "Oh, sorry Stan."
"S'alright," Stan said, a little bewildered.
"Don't let her talk to you that way, Stan," Remus said, grinning down at Tonks.
"No, Professor," Stan said, then smacked his own forehead.
"It's all right, Stan. Can I do anything else for you, Tonks?" Remus called down.
"Yes you can, you reprobate, you can stop bilking Muggles and playing three-card colby with innocent wizards," she said.
"Monty, Tonks. Three-card monty."
"And quit your job and come have a crack at being a real Professor," she added.
"What's that now?" Remus inquired.
"Come down from there, this isn't the bloody balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet."
Remus obediently descended, confident he probably wouldn't be clapped in irons, and leaned against the pole of the spiral staircase.
"Dumbledore said when I found you if you weren't going to be imprisoned I was to offer you the Dark Arts job at Hogwarts," she said, while Stan tried to eavesdrop.
"You must be joking."
"Well, not to put this to you bluntly, Lupin, but they've scraped the bottom of the barrel and you popped up."
"Do you kiss your mum with that mouth?" he asked, but he gave her the Charm as she said it, and she smiled back before she knew what she was doing. Oh, they were training Aurors soft these days. Alastor Moody wouldn't have been put over by deep brown eyes and a boyish grin. Then again, Tonks was young. She'd learn.
"Come on, Lupin, it's steady indoors work and there's very little chance of getting arrested," she said.
"No, but nearly every chance of being killed. There's a reason they have to ask people like me to take it!"
"Now you're just being silly, only one of them has died. Recently," she added.
"Come on, do it for Dumbledore, he says you owe him five Galleons."
Remus rolled his eyes. "I didn't know it was Leprechaun gold -- "
"You'll do it then? Professor?" Tonks asked, a little mocking lilt in her voice.
"But it's honest work," he complained.
"It'll build character."
He sighed. "Just this once. I can't be going around with an honest reputation, you know. It'll kill my street cred."
"Listen to you, talking about street cred," she said affectionately. "Come on then, Professor, you'll finally earn that title."
"I didn't want to earn it," he complained, as he collected his things and vanished off the bus with her. Stan's voice drifted out after him.
"You were a very good ride along for all those two weeks, Professor!"