The end of the war felt like stepping out of a shower that had run hot for too long, only to give way to a winter chill before one could grasp a bathrobe. The atmosphere of the Wizarding world went from stifling fear to icy judgment within days, and for a moment, Draco Malfoy was glad to be a footnote on the eighth page of the Daily Prophet.
Unable to claim the Imperius Curse as his defense a second time, Lucius Malfoy had fled Malfoy Manor alongside Narcissa two days before his portrait appeared on page three. A photo of badly damaged Hogwarts appeared on page two while Bellatrix Lestrange and the other deceased Death Eaters were given prime real estate on page one. The Prophet never printed the likeness of the Dark Lord, as if they were afraid doing so would cause him to return for a third round.
Draco chose to stay at the manor for as long as he could. He didn't doubt that as soon as the Ministry was reorganized, his home would be seized and his assets frozen. He knew he needed to make a plan for when that day came, but for the first week of his sudden freedom he sat in the drawing room of Malfoy Manor with his hands flat on the table and his eyes closed. For seven days, he relived the moments that seemed to define his ascent into adulthood: receiving the Mark under the sickened gazes of his mother and father; watching Professor Burbage hang helplessly like a grotesque chandelier while her fellow teacher watched with disinterest; turning his head as his aunt carved the word Mudblood into his classmate's arm between administering the Cruciatus Curse.
All of those things came back to this room, this table. When he closed his eyes, he could feel the residual magic of the Dark Lord. He could taste the stale air tainted with burned flesh. He could smell the urine and feces of those whose bowels were no match for the Unforgivable Curses. He could hear the unspoken remorse of disillusioned Death Eaters held back for fear of death.
He didn't need to see the room to remember it. As his fingers traced the grain of the carved mahogany, he knew he needed only feel its polished texture or smell its subtle musk to be transported back to those days.
Outside the manor, Lucius's pompous albino peacocks were starving, if not already dead and scattered through the garden. The master of the house had taken the house-elves when he and his wife disappeared, which had led to somewhat of a mild shock for Draco when he awoke to no breakfast and an untidy bedroom for the first time in his eighteen years. He had no appetite for the first few days, so the lack of sustenance didn't bother him as much as the display of his pants on the floor.
He pulled the spare sheets for his bed from a drawer and covered the mirrors in his bathroom, bedroom, and sitting room. There were no mirrors in the library, for which he was grateful. He didn't need to see the final gifts left to him by the Dark Lord; his traitorous fingers ran over them often enough that he knew their shape intimately.
On day four of his newfound loneliness, Draco scavenged through the kitchen cabinets for anything that didn't need to be cooked, baked, or otherwise prepared. He settled for what remained of a loaf of white bread and a jar of what he assumed was marmalade. He hunted next for the flatware, which proved to be in the drawer to the right of the marble sink. As he retrieved a butter knife, he marvelled at the sheer volume of utensils in the drawer. It was such a minor thing, but he'd only ever seen them displayed on the dining table.
By day eight, Draco was running out of clothes and hadn't the faintest idea how to launder his used ones. In a fit of temper after Scourgify failed to satisfactorily cleanse a faded periwinkle button-down, he shouted the name of every house-elf who had followed his father on the run. When all of them failed to answer his call, he shouted once more.
No familiar crack echoed in the air. The free elf refused, like all the others, to return to Malfoy Manor. Draco was still alone. As he turned his stolen wand on the rest of his garments, he tried to block out the feeling of hollowness that seemed to follow him through the house. It was as if every movement he made left an imprint in a space desperate for life. Malfoy Manor had once been the centre of the pure-blood community, a frequent location for society events, and a resting place for dignitaries passing through Britain.
Now it was silent and empty, and Draco felt both of those things all the way to his bones. There was nothing left for him. No words to share with another human being, no passion or drive to keep him pressing forward. The only thing he needed now was to survive.
He risked his first contact with the outside world on the ninth day after the end of the war. An anxious-looking eagle owl rested near the closed window of the drawing room. The owl rustled his wings several times as Draco re-read the letter. With a resigned sigh, the wizard sealed it and attached it to the bird's ankle. "Lancelot, I need you to make sure this gets to Zabini as soon as possible."
Draco opened the window and watched his only chance at freedom disappear over the horizon. Blaise Zabini had never indicated the slightest interest in joining the Dark Lord, choosing instead to remain neutral through the war. He and Draco had never been particularly close, but he was one of few Slytherins Draco trusted and knew would be free of the Ministry's suspicions. If anyone could secure whatever remained of the Malfoy fortune before the Ministry cut off access, it was Zabini.
The Aurors finally arrived on a Friday in early June. Draco was hunting through the guest rooms for anything he might be able to sell when the Intruder Charm alerted him to the unwelcome, though not unexpected, visitors.
After several frustrating minutes, he transfigured a rather packed trunk into a snuffbox, stuffed it in the pocket of his robes, and headed for the drawing room. This would have to do.
As the alarm rang in his ears, Draco considered the table in the centre of the room. He reached for the unfriendly wand in his sleeve—it still refused to acknowledge him as its rightful owner—and weighed it in his hand for a moment. He stepped closer to the beautiful table and ran his fingers over it one last time before closing his eyes and asking the wand for permission for what he was about to do.
His eyes opened in shock as he felt the wand nearly relax in his hand, as if granting the permission he sought. With a steadying breath, Draco raised the wand to the table. "Incendio!" he shouted.
The force of his hatred for every memory, for every moment of the last two years in this house, burst into life in the form of flames as fire devoured the table. The blaze spread rapidly to the carpet, then licked up the bottom of the walls, catching on the ancient wallpaper. Portraits of long-dead Malfoys exclaimed in horror as the fire tore the room apart, but Draco paid them no mind.
With one sleeve over his mouth to prevent breathing in the smoke, he crossed to the other side of the drawing room and pushed through a hidden door. From his correspondence with Zabini, he knew all of the fireplaces in the manor had been disconnected from the Floo Network, and he was sure Rule 1 of the Auror handbook was to secure any hostile area with Anti-Disapparating Jinxes. The Malfoys were, of course, prepared for such a situation. Grabbing his travelling cloak from just inside the door, Draco followed the hidden passage downward until he was travelling underground. After nearly twenty minutes, the passage angled up again and delivered him to the world outside, just beyond the perimeter of the Malfoys' estate.
He took one final glance backward at the place he had always called home and allowed himself a moment of nostalgia for what he was leaving behind. A bitter chuckle rose from his throat. "Happy eighteenth birthday, Draco," he murmured before he patted the snuffbox in his pocket, raised the hood of his cloak over his head, and set off on his own.