133. No Taking Up Where You Left Off
He put the letter down onto his desk.
Why didn't he feel happy?
He was no longer forbidden from using a wand. He could cast Lumos instead of switching the light on. He could Banish books to their shelves instead of pushing trolleys around.
If he could.
After five years, he probably needed to re-learn the most basic spells, especially if the wand was a new one as the letter suggested. The last time he had seen his wand it had been in the hand of another. He couldn't think of any reason for Potter to give it back.
So, a new wand it would be.
Where would he buy it?
He would never ever dare to set foot into Ollivander's. Even if he did, how would he pay? Did he have access to the Malfoy family vault? Was there still a family vault?
He knew the goblins traded Galleons for other currencies. He wasn't familiar with the specifics, but one thing was certain – showing up at Gringotts with a rucksack full of paper rectangles featuring the composer Sir Edward Elgar would prompt some rather awkward questions.
Maybe the goblins weren't even his biggest problem. Before he could do any business with them, he would have to walk down Diagon Alley. The mere thought made him shudder. A mental picture of angry people pointing fingers at him arose instantaneously. He'd be entirely at the mercy of the crowd in the shopping precinct, unable to prevent anyone from spitting into his face, or tripping him up, or hexing him.
Supposing, just hypothetically, he pulled it off and got enough Galleons at Gringotts, survived the trip down the alley and managed somehow to obtain a wand – a used one from a second hand shop perhaps – what then?
He was shocked by how completely unprepared he was.
Shouldn't he have been counting down the days until the end of his punishment?
He had done the complete opposite. Again and again, he had consoled himself with the thought that immediate action wasn't necessary, that there was plenty of time left for planning and decision-making.
Now, time was up and he didn't have the faintest idea of what to do.
He couldn't go back to the stately home in Wiltshire to sleep in his cosy four-poster again, and rather than slinking back to Runcorn's, he would gladly live out his days in a small rented chamber with a slanted wall.
He ticked off his acquaintances one by one. None of them would grant him shelter unless they were in dire need of Galleons, a currency he didn't have. Of his mother's other sister, his only living relative besides his mother and Runcorn, he knew next to nothing. He doubted that she felt particularly charitable towards him. Chances were that she'd slam the door into his face if he, by sheer miracle, found her house.
Maybe Mrs Crabbe would let him stay if he asked nicely. Her house wasn't big, though, and she didn't have guest rooms. He would end up lying in Crabbe's bed and there, he wouldn't get a wink of sleep. He'd have nightmares even while awake.
A sleeping place for the first few nights wouldn't be enough, anyway. He would need a permanent means to support himself. He vividly remembered his mother's assessment of his situation from five years ago: Tell me you are not with some forty-five-year-old, married witch who pays the rent for your lodgings in exchange for certain favours...
She had been spot on. Careers available to him in the wizarding world were less than scarce.
Knowing a thing or two about library work wouldn't help him find a job because there were no public libraries in wizarding Britain. The only library he knew of was semi-public at best, and if he ever dared to ask for a position there, he was likely to be chased off the premises by the most fearsome of the gamekeeper's pets.
Going into potions wasn't a real option, either. He didn't have a N.E.W.T. in the subject and was also out of practice. It was hard to imagine somebody willing to hire a man who was both disgraced and insufficiently qualified. Only people involved in unlawful activities might be interested, but he had absolutely no desire to get dragged down that path again.
The prospect of having to start from scratch was daunting. With no-one to turn to and nothing to rely on except a raw new wand, he wouldn't last a week. There was worse to fear than a bunch of rowdy Gryffindors endeavouring to spit into his face outside a random shop in Diagon Alley. He wouldn't be able to withstand a serious attack. Rusty as he was, any Hogwarts student above second year was likely to best him in a duel.
In all truth, he had never been a very capable dueller to begin with. The little bit of protective magic he knew was mostly self-taught. Nobody had deemed it necessary or even appropriate to teach him defensive spells. We attack, ickle Drakikins. We don't cower behind Shield Charms. Sometimes he couldn't help but think his aunt would have enjoyed watching him die.
She had not been the only one back then. He did not know how many potential murderers, individuals deranged enough to take pleasure in manslaughter, were still at large today and possibly out for his blood, but he was certain that there were more than a few witches and wizards around who would enjoy watching him suffer. They didn't have to resort to Unforgivables. Chaining him to a wall and using him as a dummy for spell-casting practice would be bad enough.
During his last year at Hogwarts, he had been at the receiving end of innumerable nasty little hexes. There had never been anything spectacular, but cleverly chosen spells that had caused a sudden inability to move a limb, or a transient twinge in a really sensitive body part, or a momentary loss of sight that had him walk into solid objects. Although the casters had been in constant danger of being caught and punished, they had also known that he couldn't run to Snape or, even more unwise, the Carrows and beg for help. Martha Flint had made that mistake once, and she had been brutally punished by She-Carrow for allowing herself the weakness of being hexed by an obnoxious, fourth-year Hufflepuff half-blood. One or two of the other teachers, Vector or Sinistra perhaps, might have been moved by the tears of a hapless girl like Flint and decided to help, if covertly. In his case, however, they would have turned a blind eye at best and joined in on the fun at worst. By necessity, he had become adept at Disillusionment Charms.
Returning to wizarding Britain would inevitably bring him into contact with people he'd much rather avoid. He couldn't picture himself talking to Zabini, Greengrass, or even Pansy, let alone to anyone who had been involved in the fights. He was definitely not ready to face the likes of Potter, and stumbling across former "allies" like Snape or Goyle might be even more unsettling. If he never saw any of them again for the rest of his life, it would be too soon.
He wondered briefly whether the younger Greengrass sister had managed to dodge the marriage with Goyle. Did she profit from his advice and flee abroad? Did she live somewhere on the continent now, far away and in peace?
The last thought jolted him out of the gloomy mood. All of a sudden, he saw possibilities never considered before.
134. Viva la France?
He ran to Hind Green.
Jogging lap after lap, his thoughts gradually ceased darting around in the peculiar fashion that always reminded him of panicking chickens.
Tentatively, he mulled over the benefits and detriments of going abroad. Venturing into foreign wizarding communities didn't seem the most inspired idea for anyone who had no wand. Having one, it might be safe enough to try.
Maybe somewhere on the continent he could find a potioneer willing to take him on as an apprentice.
His pace quickened as he contemplated the scenario. If he found a way to live as a wizard again, the constant need for lying and pretending would come to an end! The thought was alluring – living among people unaware of his criminal past but wholly aware of magic.
France seemed a sensible choice. He knew the language well, and he also remembered a Beauxbatons boy mentioning the town of Riquewhir as a principal venue where French witches and wizards regularly gathered. There, he could make contact.
Maybe this was it. Maybe for the first time since fleeing from Runcorn's cottage, he had something resembling a plan.
Get a wand.
Leave for France.
Take up an apprenticeship.
While the traffic noise slowly subsided as dusk turned into night, he pondered how to carry out his plan. He had better pay close attention to all the vital little details lest he meet with failure like so very often in the past.
The most crucial thing was a really swift getaway. He needed to be out of the country before word spread that Draco Malfoy had been spotted in Diagon Alley.
The train with which Miss Thompson had travelled to Paris two years ago would probably be the best choice. He was pretty sure that ninety-nine percent of British witches and wizards were ignorant of its existence. He only had to make sure he knew a quick and safe route from Diagon Alley to Waterloo International*, the station from where the Eurostar departed.
He had heard about cabs – cars complete with a driver – but wasn't certain about how to hire one. The tube might be an alternative, especially if one of the underground trains called at Waterloo. It would be wise to familiarise himself with the streets connecting The Leaky Cauldron with the nearest tube station; he couldn't risk having to ask for directions.
He'd need timetables. He'd have to find out whether Lille or Paris was nearer to Riquewhir and buy a ticket in advance. Single fares started from around one hundred pounds according to Miss Thompson, so he should well be able to afford one. Getting the euros he was going to need in France shouldn't be difficult, either. Ten pounds equalled approximately fourteen euros at present, and any bank office would take care of the exchange.
For the new wand he needed Galleons, though. Without a wand, all planning was pointless.
Maybe he could find a way to convert a number of euros into Fleur-De-Lis, the French equivalent to Galleons. Travelling back and forth between France and Britain would make the whole undertaking more complicated, but in France he could use the alias of Paul Williams again. Nobody knew him there; he could even pose as a Muggleborn. He might not yet have learned enough to pass for a native in the non-wizarding world, but in the other one he would get away with such a tale easily.
So much for never having to lie again...
Slowing in his pace, he silently bemoaned the fact that he would always have to hide a facet of himself – his Death Eater past from wizarding people on the continent, his extended experience in the non-wizarding world from the British wizarding community in general and from members of the old families in particular, and the tiny little detail of being capable of performing magic he had to hide where he was now.
For several laps, he struggled to shake off the self-pity and to force his attention back to the problem of money.
Getting enough Galleons was important, and going to Gringotts with a pouch full of golden Fleur-De-Lis instead of British pounds was perhaps a clever move. It should meet with fewer questions because his mother had been leading people to believe-
At this point, his thoughts stopped short.
His feet came to a halt as well.
Out of all the countries in the world, France was the one that he mustn't choose!
His mother had started a rumour about him living there or, at least, had allowed such rumours to circulate. Anyone intent on tracking him down would have been looking for him in France, were looking there now, and would be continuing to look there... They'd search France more diligently than any other place on the planet.
Alas, his so-called plan had more flaws than a moth-eaten coat had holes. He needed a completely new one.
Learn another language.
Find a potioneer.
Well, and at some point he had to purchase a wand.
He was also going to need lodgings, a place to live whilst he searched for a potions master. Didn't this look like the same vicious circle that it would be in Britain?
Well, it would unless he set up his base in the non-magical part of a country. Finding work there might be easier. There were hundreds of universities all over Europe, and each one had a library. Of course, he needed to be fluent in whatever language was spoken in the place he chose – and he needed to be a fully trained library assistant.
So maybe the best plan was to follow through with the one he already had.
Take up Mrs Shaw on her offer.
Learn an additional language.
Think about further steps.
He went home; there were things to be done tomorrow.
Sit an exam.
Be transported by car.
Start working in a village library.
The parchment had rolled itself up. Draco flattened it and read the letter a second time.
Hopkirk merely stated that he had a right to apply for permission to buy a wand.
They simply could say no!
Well, he wasn't going to risk his comparative safety on the off chance that the new Ministry granted Draco Malfoy a wish. The prudent thing to do was to buy his new wand in foreign parts. Shopkeepers in Bulgaria or Germany wouldn't ask for a permit signed by some British bureaucrat, would they?
He hesitantly conceded that, all in all, the letter had brought good news. His time of probation was over. He was free.
He was free...
He could go where he pleased, couldn't he? So what if going to a village on the Jurassic Coast pleased him? Nobody could force him to rush head over heels to London to prostrate himself before some vindictive Ministry clerk and beg for a new wand.
In fact, nobody had a right to force him to do anything. If he wanted to become a library assistant he could do just that. Mrs Highbury had repeated time and again that he was to make the decisions because it was his life.
Sticking to library work, he would have something solid to rely on. Jory had said so once, and Draco saw it a piece of sound advice.
He inserted the letter, together with a sheet of plain paper on either side of the parchment to prevent it from accidentally being seen, into a punched pocket and put it into the folder holding all his important documents. He'd need it someday, but that day wasn't tomorrow.
Call at your convenience.
Exactly, he thought as he went to the bathroom to brush his teeth. He gave his reflection a small smirk and said out loud, "I'm exceedingly sorry, Madam Hopkirk. I'm afraid calling tomorrow would inconvenience me."
* Author's note: The Eurostar departed from Waterloo International until 2007. Today, it leaves from St Pancras.
135. Flying a Broomstick
Mrs Highbury, chatting amiably with Mrs Bates, was already waiting for him when he returned to Hind Green Close after sitting the last paper for Latin.
It took him hardly five minutes to carry his luggage downstairs. Both women helped him load the few items into the car. Draco gave Mrs Bates his keys, they shook hands, and then he climbed into the seat next to Mrs Highbury.
Rushing along a dual carriageway, Mrs Highbury talked about Twin Mills. Draco learned that Molescombe Health Clinic with up to forty in-patients remained as the only significant employer in the area after an economic decline in recent years. Aside from a quarry six miles west of the village and Woolbrook's House Painting and Decorating Service there were a few shops, including a Sainsbury's convenience store, two pubs, and several smaller B&Bs. The primary school had only been able to survive because children from neighbouring villages were brought to Twin Mills by bus. Mrs Highbury didn't know whether any of the teachers lived in the village.
After a while, she digressed and reminisced the many summer months she had spent with her aunt, who had lived in Twin Mills before moving to London in the early nineties. Among the friends Mrs Highbury had made in the village were Pete Aylesbeare, now an estate agent and member of the village council, and the girl who had become his wife. Maggie, today a nurse at the health clinic, used to be good at playing draughts and Chinese chequers, whatever those were.
Unfortunately, Mrs Highbury's childhood anecdotes were awash with references to things Draco didn't know. What was a tardis? What was a folk festival?
Mrs Highbury fell silent soon after leaving the carriageway. She concentrated on driving as the road seemed to become narrower with every village they passed.
Draco scrutinised the countryside that glided past the windows. Spotting characteristic features of non-magical territory – telephone boxes, power transmission lines, white bowls sitting on roofs, 11,000 Volts substations – reassured him to a degree. He hoped with all his heart that he wasn't making another mistake.
Evaluating the past five years he saw that he had only ever taken a tiny step at a time, and usually he had taken it because what he had wanted to get away from had been scarier than whatever had lain ahead.
Right now, he was taking a somewhat bigger step, but it still served to avoid something he feared. Would he, in thirty year's time, be able to look back at the present day and say, "Yes, choosing Twin Mills over all other options was the right thing to do, and I don't regret it?"
He wasn't used to decision-making. In the past, others had decided for him, and during the last five years, his only two objectives had been to steer clear of trouble and to keep himself too busy to lapse into brooding. Like at that very first day in the city when he had drifted along with the largest crowd, he had simply assumed that it was safe to go where others went as well – both literally and figuratively.
Last night, trying to make plans, he had merely contemplated what kind of future seemed attainable. Yes, it might be possible to find a potioneer who taught him the trade, but was scrubbing cauldrons and breathing in smelly hot fumes all day the life he really wanted? He doubted it.
The woman sitting next to him in the driver's seat had asked him countless times what he wished to do with his life, but he still was only sure about what he didn't want.
He did not want to dedicate his life to hallowed, but essentially hollow, values. He did not want to be the icon of a supremacy that only existed in the deluded minds of ultraconservative traditionalists.
He wanted to be able to sleep at night. He wanted to be able to look into a mirror without flinching.
"Mr Malfoy, there is something I've never asked, and maybe it's a bit silly to bring it up now," Mrs Highbury said suddenly. The car was slowing down. There were red traffic lights and road works ahead. "Your time of probation is over, yes?"
"It is," Draco said, relishing the rare experience of not having to lie. "It was confirmed in writing."
"Good. Then you are under no obligation to mention the matter to Mr Aylesbeare," Mrs Highbury said. "Or to anyone at all."
The lights changed to green, and her attention was back on the bumpy road. While she manoeuvred the car cautiously between moving caterpillars and stacks of construction material, Draco allowed the thought of his punishment being over to sink in.
He had survived.
As a matter of fact, he hadn't just survived. He had fared considerably better than he had thought possible at the outset.
Reviewing once more the life he'd led since leaving Runcorn's cottage, he realised that the word punishment didn't really fit. Not only had he avoided Azkaban, but he also had escaped the unfortunate circumstances – a phrase Mrs Shaw had recently used – of his childhood and youth.
Punishment would have been being forced to stay with the people who were chiefly responsible for these circumstances and to suffer their continued control over him. Punishment would have been being scorned by these people on a daily basis for what they perceived as his inadequacy, weakness and foolishness. Punishment would have been being bullied by these people into a marriage to a woman he found physically appalling. He would have copied his father on and on – for lack of better insight, for lack of any other option. He would have remained the typical example of a wizard from the old families, in equal parts ignorant and conceited, till the end of his days.
Indeed, he had been lucky. He still was.
Of course, everything had its price.
He had avoided thinking of the enjoyable aspects of magic throughout the past five years. If he was honest, truly honest with himself, then he had to admit that he missed flying. Swimming and jogging were fine, just not the same. They would have to do for the time being, but he couldn't bring himself, not yet and perhaps not ever, to consider the possibility of never flying a broomstick again.
Flying a broomstick...
There had been this fever-induced vision in his first winter in the city. Maybe he had never seen his life as clearly as in this dream in which he had fallen off an unmanageable broom. It was unfortunate that Mrs Bates had woken him before he had seen the conclusion.
Months later, trying to translate his life outside the magical world into the imagery of the dream, he had come up with a picture: Entangled in the torn remnants of his wizard's robes and with his right arm – his wand hand – injured, his dream-self resolved to have a closer look at the place were he had fallen instead of going after the broom immediately.
Now, sitting in Mrs Highbury's car, Draco thought that he had probably ripped off enough of the useless robes to walk rather than to stumble.
And suddenly, he understood that walking on foot was what lay ahead of him, regardless of the direction or goal he chose. The broomstick didn't lie somewhere nearby to be found, and mended, and mounted again. The broomstick had raced on. It had become a tiny dot in the distance.
- ... - ... - ... - ... - ... - ... - ... - ... - ... - ... - ... - ... - ... - ... - ... - ... - ... - ... - ... - ... - ... - ... - ... -
To err is human, to forgive divine.
Draco's time of probation ends here. It seems the perfect point to end "Exile" as well.
I was planning to include Draco's adventures in Twin Mills, but now it feels like they should be told in a separate story. Things will be different for Draco from now on. He'll still live without a wand for the time being, but he'll be doing so by choice.
Occasionally, I promised that Draco would meet his future wife at the end of "Exile", and I'm afraid I'll have to eat my words. She was to walk into the library of Twin Mills one fine day. Maybe that will still happen – at the end of the next story.
It took me six years to write "Exile", and there were times when I thought I had bitten off more than I could chew. I thank everyone who encouraged me, who kept reading even though it meant waiting for months for the next update, who reviewed or favourited the story. I thank especially my beta readers for their help and patience and also Waterysilver for creating two wonderful illustrations for this story.