Hidden four miles from the nearest Muggle town, an ivy-covered cottage sat at the bottom of a low hill in the French countryside. Thick hedges and two ceramic gnomes guarded a plethora of rosemary bushes in the front garden. A tall dark-skinned man waited on the path leading to the front door, his arms folded and eyebrows furrowed at the sight of another man marching toward the house with a black cloak billowing in his wake.
Blaise Zabini held out his hand to Draco as the other man came up the pavement. Draco grasped the proffered hand and shook it once before throwing back the hood of his cloak. He pretended not to notice as Zabini's eyes lingered on the left side of his face before turning away.
"Thank you," Draco said as Zabini led him into the house. It was considerably larger on the inside than it looked from the outside, with a wide entry flanked by long hallways that led to numerous bedrooms. Draco walked into the living room and sat gingerly on a Victorian-era loveseat. As hospitable as his friend was being, he didn't feel it was right to completely relax under the circumstances.
Zabini poured a dark liquid into two tumblers and handed one to Draco. The blond man sniffed and the biting scent of Firewhisky greeted his nose. With a grimace, he took a drink, paused, then downed the entire glass. He rested the empty tumbler on the fingertips of his left hand and stared at how the light refracted through the cut crystal. He didn't want to make eye contact with his former classmate. After weeks of wishing for company, he suddenly didn't want to speak or listen. It was enough to be in the same room as another human being, but in a way, it was almost too much.
He felt the glass being tugged from his hands but he didn't look up until Zabini returned a significantly fuller tumbler. "Thank you," he murmured again.
"Still nothing from your parents?" Zabini asked. His voice was calm, rhythmic. Draco felt his nerves settle with the sound in spite of the subject matter.
"Nothing. I don't expect I'll hear from them again."
"Your parents care for you, otherwise they would have taken all of their gold from Gringotts rather than half."
Draco shook his head. "I chose to stay behind. My father was furious that he couldn't compel me to go on the run with them." He took a sip of the alcohol. "I'm surprised he left me anything at all. I suspect my mother had something to do with that."
Zabini was silent for awhile as they drank. Pouring himself a second glass of Firewhisky, the man spoke again. "How long are you planning to stay here?"
"How long will you let me?"
The tall man shrugged and returned to his high-backed armchair. "Doesn't really matter to me. The house is glamoured against Muggles and I've started spreading the rumour that it was destroyed during the war. My mother is living with her latest husband, so you and Theo should have the run of the place once I'm back at Hogwarts."
At the mention of Theodore Nott and Hogwarts, Draco snapped to attention. "Theo? Hogwarts? What are you talking about?"
"You do realize we never had an opportunity to take our N.E.W.T.s, right? I for one have no intention of letting seven years of schooling go to waste because of your war."
Draco flinched at the word "your", as if he had been personally responsible for the events of the last year. In a way, he felt he was. If only there'd been some way to prevent Dumbledore's death, maybe the war could have been stopped. At the very least, maybe the Malfoys could have found their way out before they were directly subjected to the Dark Lord's cruelties.
He scoffed at himself and cleared the thoughts from his mind. His father would never have abandoned the Dark Lord had Dumbledore lived. He would have remained in loyal service to the powerful wizard, vainly hoping to regain favour. Such was the mentality of Lucius Malfoy, the deluded, eternal optimist.
"Why couldn't you just arrange your exams with the Ministry?" Draco asked, turning his thoughts back to Zabini. "I'm sure they'll set up something for the students who attended last year."
Zabini examined him for a moment before bursting into uncharacteristic laughter. "You think so? Because I don't think anything the Carrows taught will be in the exams. Potions? I can pass that in my sleep; in fact, Slughorn owled me about a week ago and suggested I assist him with the younger students rather than take an eighth year. However, if I have any chance of passing Defence Against the Dark Arts, I need a year—just one godforsaken year—of competent teaching."
Draco mulled over his friend's words before grunting a grudging acknowledgement of their logic. Few seventh-year Slytherins would be welcomed back to the halls of Hogwarts with anything short of a closed fist, but Zabini had remained impartial during the war. He even went so far as to distance himself from the Carrows and the rest of the Slytherins during their Dark Arts classes. Though the students would probably treat Zabini as an outcast, the professors would treat him with a hint of respect.
"And Nott?" Draco asked.
Zabini gestured to the northern hall. "He's been here for a couple of weeks already."
"I never took you for the kind to run a halfway house for hunted wizards."
"I'm counting on the fact that this will all blow over eventually and you'll be a position to grant me a favour should I need it."
The bluntness of the statement didn't surprise Draco. Zabini was a pure-blood and a Slytherin; favours were the ultimate currency in the game of self-preservation.
The wanted man nodded. "I intend to be in such a position soon enough."
Zabini ignored the empty words. Both of them knew it could be years before Draco regained status in the Wizarding world, and that was if the Malfoy name wasn't damaged beyond repair. "You'll be taking the room next to Theo. There's a bathroom at the end of the hall." The lanky man stood and motioned to the room behind Draco. "The kitchen is just past that wall. We don't have house-elves here, so you'll be responsible for making your own meals and cleaning your own messes."
Draco stifled a groan. "Okay," was all he said to his host. Internally, he dreaded the idea of living another day without house-elves. Hopefully Nott had some idea how to cook and launder.
"There are two keys to your new Gringotts vault," Zabini continued. "Yours is in the false bottom of this box." He held up a mirrored box spanning about two hand-widths. "I have the other, and I will be keeping it as collateral.
"Ten percent of your remaining fortune ensured that the goblins left no paper trail regarding the transfer of your gold." Draco nearly choked; that was millions of Galleons and Merlin knew what other treasures the goblins deemed fit to confiscate as 'payment'. "The Ministry nor your parents will be able to trace it. As you requested, you will access it under the pseudonym of Fred Weasley," Zabini made a disgusted face, "although why you would choose to associate yourself with blood-traitors is beyond me."
"Would you suspect a former Death Eater of opening an account under the name of Weasley?" Draco retorted.
"Touché, although you should have picked one that was still alive." The derision was clear in Zabini's voice.
Draco bristled at his former classmate's tone. "And risk them getting accidental access to it? I think not." He drank the rest of his Firewhisky. "What about the other bank account?"
Zabini's eyes narrowed. "It's done. You have an account with Credit Suisse Private Banking. The key to that one is also in the box," Zabini said, ignoring him. "The bank services wizards and Muggles. Wizard vaults get gold keys. Muggle vaults get silver. Your bank account is tied to a serial number, not your name. As long as you have your key, there will be no questions asked. I shouldn't have to tell you how important is it not to lose your key. You can deposit wizard gold and withdraw Muggle money." Zabini eyed Draco with uninhibited distaste. "Have you ever even seen Muggle money?"
"It can't be that different from ours."
The other wizard handed Draco the box with a shake of his head. "This is why you were such an easy target for You-Know-Who."
Draco snarled. "Because I've never seen Muggle money? That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard, and I've suffered arguments with that camera-toting Mud—Muggle-born that was in love with Potter."
He couldn't bring himself to say the slur as the image of the word flashed through his memory, carved in blood. Pure red blood without a hint of mud.
"No. Because you're naïve, you pompous git." Zabini nodded to the mirror-box. "Open it."
The young Malfoy removed the lid of the box to reveal a handful of Galleons sitting on coloured pieces of paper. He shuffled the gold aside and removed two bundles of crisp papers. "What is this?"
Zabini snatched the banknotes out of Draco's hand. "These," he held up the first bundle, "are British pounds. These," he held up the second bundle, "are French francs. I suggest you familiarize yourself with them before you do anything stupid."
"Why do you assume I'm going to do something stupid?"
"You have yet to prove to me that you're a genius. The fact you're even considering putting yourself into a situation in which you would need Muggle money tells me that you're two Sickles short of a Knut."
Draco ignored the insult. "It's a contingency plan."
"Integrating yourself into the Muggle world? You're bordering on insane. I should Apparate you to St. Mungo's before you become a danger to yourself. Unfortunately, I think we're about two years too late." Zabini tossed the money back into the box and wiped his hands on his robes.
Closing the lid of the box, Draco felt a wave of exhaustion hit and he yawned. "Like I said, it's a contingency plan. Ideally, I won't need it."
"We don't live in an ideal world, Malfoy. If this is your contingency plan, you need to make sure you can follow through."
"I'll take that under advisement." Draco stood and crossed to put his tumbler on the bar. "Where exactly is my room?"
"North hall, third door on the right. Theo's behind the second door, but I think he's currently in the library." Zabini pointed in the other direction. "South hall, second door on the left."
Draco nodded and moved in the direction of his room. "Thank you."
Once alone, Draco set the mirror-box aside and removed the snuffbox from his pocket. Setting it on the ground, he pulled the unruly wand from his sleeve and attempted to untransfigure the snuffbox back to its original form. After four tries, Draco threw the wand on the bed, causing red sparks to fly onto the white bedclothes. He held his breath and prayed the sparks didn't set anything on fire. Carefully, he moved the wand aside to see faint scorch marks but nothing more.
"What am I doing?" he muttered as he sat on the bed. He picked up the wand and turned it round and round in his hands, letting the simple action numb his mind. It was too hard. Fighting was too hard. If he'd remained in Britain and allowed the Aurors to arrest him, he'd be locked up in Azkaban and awaiting trial. It wasn't a necessarily pleasant idea, but at least he'd be safe. He wouldn't be struggling, fighting with a wand that detested him, and handling currency he didn't understand.
But, he reasoned, a trial meant facing the Wizengamot and potentially thousands of counts of Conspiracy to Commit Murder, at least three significant counts of Use of Unforgiveable Curses, and one count of Trafficking Cursed Objects Without a Licence. He was a war criminal; the brand on his left arm proved as much. If he stayed in Britain, he would spend the rest of his life in Azkaban. His best chance at freedom would be becoming a ghost in the halls of Hogwarts and he wasn't ready to die.
He set the wand aside with a modicum of respect before he fell flat against the bed. The whorls in the plaster of the ceiling turned into abstract pictures as he let his mind wander. A steaming cauldron sat next to a tightly wound dragon. A wand shot sparks at the shadow of a robed wizard. A butterfly rested on the nose of a bowing hippogriff.
Draco rolled onto his side and closed his eyes. Maybe when he woke up, he would find this was all a dream.