Draco grows up in a large estate, a spacious manor full of never-ending hallways and rooms with ceilings that reached for the skies. He grows up playing hide and seek in an otherwise dusty basement with the house elves, and he spends long afternoons running away from poor old Mrs Higgins, who only wants him to take his nap like any five-year-old Malfoy should.
His room is decorated in Malfoy black and Slytherin green. He zooms freely through the corridors in his new Nimbus because he is the Manor's little lord. He saunters into the dining hall and feasts on a table filled with croissants and muffins in the morning and curries and pot pies in the evening. Some sunsets find him up in branches of the aged oak in his mother's garden, some evenings he has tea with his parents by the crackling fire of the parlour.
One summer The Dark Lord arrives, and all that goes to shit.
The dungeons, long disused and forgotten, become home to unwilling guests. Even from two floors above he can hear them scream when his aunt comes to visit. He lies awake at night, and even when the Manor is still and their guests sleep undisturbed, he can hear the echoes of their terror.
He moves through the manor halls with more caution, rounding each corner with trepidation lest he run into his aunt, or Greyback, or Him . He cannot enter the dining hall without remembering the watery blue eyes of Charity Burbage, or the sound her dead body makes when it finally hits the ground, or Nagini's hissing as sharp fangs sluiced through tender flesh.
They have cut down the oak tree, they have taken over the parlour. Draco grows paler by the day, hollower by the hour. When the first of September arrives, he cannot be happier to leave.
He never returns.
Theodore Nott is an orphan.
Theodore Nott is an orphan with a trust fund that becomes his the day he turns eighteen and an estate that magically transfers to his name the day his father is found lifeless in an Azkaban cell, stomach full of belladonna.
He doesn't tell Draco this, but there's nothing The Daily Prophet doesn't know. In the aftermath of the battle, his mother tight-lipped and his father cowed and the pair of them huddled against each other, Draco slips back into the dungeons. Theodore is standing guard over an exposed tunnel that leads back to Hogsmeade, making sure the last of his Housemates make it out without fuss, and before he closes the statue behind him Draco comes in as well.
Draco follows him to the Nott estate.
It is just as large as Malfoy Manor and twice as imposing, thrice as austere, but the ghosts that haunt its walls are not his to fear. Theodore doesn't seem to mind the company; sometimes they even talk.
One day Draco finds the broom shed, and after he spends an afternoon flying an outdated Nimbus around the overgrown forest that is the Nott family garden, Theodore comes out to join him. They race, high above the expansive land around them, at times taking turns to zoom through the trees that cluster in a small forest a few miles away.
It is late when they return, hours past dinner and sunset a distant memory. The moon hangs low in the inky, starless night, their heavy breathing the only sign of life for miles, if not for the light and the movement and the sound that come from inside the Nott manor.
Theodore puts his hand to his lips, motions for Draco to be still. They toe the line between moving closer and remaining far enough away to be clear of danger--of whatever it is that moves inside Theodore's home. Draco shrinks back against a tree, cloaking himself behind its leafy branches. Theodore is still beside him, but his eyes are keen and sharp. He spots three more flyers from the northeast, and when they land a few hundred feet away it is impossible to mistake their black-and-gold robes for anything but.
Draco does not have to see the look Theodore gives him. They inch back, and as soon as the Aurors enter the manor, they flee.
They reach Italy by a method Draco is sure the Aurors never expected out of them. Truth be told, even he is surprised, but as Theodore reasons, they will be watching Floo centers, not Muggle airports. Draco enters the plane with some trepidation, and perhaps he does in fact grab Theodore's arm any time they go through what the Muggles call turbulence, but eventually they land, mostly intact.
Blaise is waiting for them in his mother's villa in Tuscany. She is off with a new husband in the Caribbean, he explains, who knows how long for. Draco picks the western-facing room when Blaise offers it; he wanders the village square in the mornings and the sun-dappled orchards in late afternoons. He finds Theodore picking moonflower roots in the shallow grove of trees behind the villa--the local apothecarist has asked for his help, Theodore says. Draco wonders how many galleons a sorry clump of roots will fetch, so he kneels beside him and shows him the proper way to cut it so it does not dry up the sap within.
At the market the next day, Theodore shows him the proper way to drive up the value of their goods by negotiation. Draco asks him why he's chosen to peddle moonflowers when there is a rich supply of monkshood on the other side of town, and at the look Theodore gives him Draco wonders if perhaps he should have thought to converse with Theodore more often.
They do not recover the galleons they've left behind in the vaults of Gringotts, but they manage enough to buy them passage out of the country when Blaise warns them that the Aurors have begun working with the Italian Ministry.
So they run once more, boarding a train northeast and leaving the sepia lands of Tuscany behind.
Draco has always heard that Prague was beautiful. Theodore has been told that the Czech Ministry is undermanned and overworked, burdened by a rash of rogue wizards fashioning themselves the new Dark Lord.
Their train rolls to a stop in the middle of a crowded platform. It is too easy to blend in here, and also too easy to be led astray. Draco hurries after the stark figure that Theodore cuts amid the crowd, grabbing him by the cloak when he feared a rush of schoolchildren would separate them. Theodore glances back at him for a moment before his hand slips into Draco's, firm and steady.
They have just enough money for a few nights at a comfortable inn, but the galleons will afford them more time if they settle for sparser accommodations, so they do. The inn is a set of rickety rooms cobbled together above a brothel; the floor croaks under the weight of a footstep and the springs on the bed squeak with the softest of touches. Draco picks the side closer to the window and falls asleep to the hazy glow of the moon and the laughter of drunken men and moaning whores below.
There are fewer places in Prague as rich in magical plants as Draco found in Italy, but he meets an aging potioneer with a crooked chin and breath full of garlic who needs help cutting up sopophorous beans and asphodel roots for two sickles an hour. Draco holds his breath, swallows his pride, and the next day he shows up ready for work.
He does not know what Theodore is up to until the morning after, when he wakes up to get ready and finds Theodore just about to go to sleep. He reeks of cigarettes and cheap perfume; the circles beneath his eyes belie his exhaustion. It is not his place to judge, he knows, nor is he in any position to protest, but his dismay must have been evident on his face because when Theodore catches his gaze, he only rolls his eyes and shakes his head before telling him he's taken a job keeping at the front desk of the establishment below.
Draco is relieved; he tries not to ask himself exactly why that is.
They do not last long, however; winter comes, unforgiving and chilling, as do the rowdy Czech guards that indulge in too much wine and take too many liberties on the girls below. Theodore loses his temper--Draco does not know what happens, only that there is blood on Theodore's hands, a harried muttering about memory charms, and they must leave at once.
Draco begins to wonder how long they are to travel before they stop, and he doesn't think it will be too soon when that happens, but Moldova promises to be different somehow.
There is a house, this time: an aging collection of rotting wooden planks and crumbling bricks for walls, with a front lawn so wildly overgrown with prickly-dead branches that they spend their first week just hacking it all away. Draco's shoulders ache by day's end; there is no spell in his arsenal effective enough for the work they do. But the estate, owned by a distant Nott relative thrice removed or other, is spacious, and it is enough.
They sleep on the floor the first few nights. Theodore conjures as warm a blanket as he is able, though in Draco's opinion it is still too threadbare for comfort. They share it in front of the fireplace, so long disused that no flame flickers long enough to last the night.
Draco ventures to search for gainful employment the very next day, hoping that soon they will have enough to purchase their own beds, but when he returns (there is no shortage of apothecarists looking for cheap help in the area, he is happy to find) it is to find that Theodore may have gotten an idea or two from their time in Prague.
He has brought home a stray, Draco finds. The two of them are sat in the middle of the sparse living room, and Theodore has even offered her his blanket to sit on. When Draco greets her with a tentative hello Theodore introduces them both and even goes so far as to provide him an explanation, although Draco realizes that this is Theodore's ancestral home and he has every right to take home whoever he pleases.
She is scrawny, scrawnier than even Theodore. Her eyes are dark--lined with kohl, it seems, and her features gaunt. He can imagine she may once have been beautiful, but she looks far too haunted, far too hunted, to be anything but a shadow. Her name is Ilsa, Theodore says, and he found her in the streets when he went out to look for potions ingredients that morning. She asked him if he had a few sickles for half an hour of pleasure; he told her she should be charging galleons and asked if she'd like to work with the comfort of a roof over her head.
Draco doesn't know what expression he wears, but Ilsa smirks crookedly and tells him, in broken English, that she would have said no had she known what condition the roof in question is in. Theodore apologizes then and admits perhaps the house needs a bit of upkeep, but it is something he can work on.
Later, when Ilsa is entertaining her first client, Theodore asks Draco for help in finding a few potions ingredients. The Moldovan forests, he hears, are ripe with a few naturally-growing magical ingredients, and he wants to know how possible it is to obtain some of the ones that he has written down on a piece of parchment. Draco raises his eyebrows, cottons on to what Theodore has planned, and agrees to look.
The fluxweeds he finds not two miles from their backyard, plucked at full moon as intended. He picks the knotgrass blades from the side of a rocky hill, hunts for leeches in a shallow swamp in the forest, chases after lacewing flies early in the mornings. The bicorn horn he chances upon when he ventures deeper into the forest the night he searches for fluxweeds, the boomslang skin he purchases from a peddler for his day's coppers. The rest he filches from his apothecarist's store; he is careful to take a small amount each day to mask the theft.
Draco is impressed with Theodore's foresight when he furnishes strands of Mrs Zabini's hair. They give Ilsa the first of the potions and when she finds more men to entertain, more galleons to give them, they are finally able to purchase the ingredients off the apothecary. Not long after, they hire more girls. Draco stops slaving at the apothecary to make sure they never run out of potions; bit by bit Theodore continues working on the house, but by the time they are able to purchase beds of their own they have run out of extra rooms for Draco to call his own.
He finds he doesn't mind as much.
Nobody chases them out of Moldova. No Ministry officals call, no Aurors come to hunt them. An owl does find its way to them, bearing an unfamiliar seal but marked with the script of an old friend.
Draco doesn't know how Pansy is able to find them but he is happy to hear from her all the same. She is married now, she writes, to a wonderful Russian man nearly twice her age but so attentive, so adoring. Draco finds himself frowning over the way she chooses to phrase some of her words and Theodore asks if he'd perhaps feel better if he visited her and saw for himself that she was truly fine.
Draco agrees that this is probably a good idea, so Theodore arranges for Ilsa to run the house while they are both gone. (Draco doesn't realize Theodore had meant to come as well, but he reasons it isn't so surprising given that they were both Pansy's friends.)
She is not expecting their visit, and neither does her husband. She lives in a lavish estate, the palace of a former monarch official--her husband's great-great-grandfather--and though her husband welcomes them both into their home as her guests, offering them the best suites in the east wing where, he claims, the best view of the sunrise can be had, Draco senses a grudging sort of cordiality with his kind words and generous accommodations.
Theodore thinks something is up as well, so when night falls they both slip out of their rooms and tread carefully to the west wing, where Pansy's quarters are.
The run into her at the top of the grand foyer; she is fully dressed, her arms wrapped tight around a bag packed full of her belongings. She doesn't care where they take her, she says, and she doesn't care if they drop her off elsewhere. All she wants is to leave, and where are their bags, he's going to hunt them down as soon as he discovers that his wife, essentially bought from her parents after they fled England penniless and desperate, has left him.
Draco shares a glance with Theodore; in the next second they are hurrying back to their rooms to gather their own things. Draco shrugs on his cloak--there is no time to change out of his pajamas--and Theodore does the same. He opens a window in his room, ready to jump up and run until they are far enough that they can Apparate away, but Theodore grabs him by the arm. He holds open his palm--he has an ornate key wrapped up in a small plastic bag.
On the count of three, they Portkey away.
It turns out to be Blaise's, a last-resort present he gave Theodore just before they left Tuscany. For emergencies, Blaise had said, and when they show up in his room he couldn't look more surprised. (Later, Draco will realize it's the sight of Pansy that takes his breath away.)
They don't stay in Tuscany for very long. Theodore is wary of returning to Moldova, however; he's aware Pansy's husband has men searching for his wife and her abductors there. What about the house, Draco asks, but Theodore doesn't seem very concerned. Ilsa knows how to run it well enough, Theodore tells him. She's paid her dues. They have money in their vaults that she can send over, but the house is hers.
Draco wonders if perhaps Theodore decides that because he wants to stay with Pansy, but when he and Theodore walk in on Pansy sleeping soundly in Blaise's arms, with Blaise's hand tangled in the dark curls of her hair and looking as tender as Draco's ever seen him, he knows Pansy has nothing at all to do with Theodore's decision. They leave them after a few weeks; Blaise offers them his home, but Theodore tells them they've intruded enough.
Where to now, Draco wants to know, and Theodore hums non-committally, says he's always wanted to go to France.
France sounds doable enough, so that's where they head to next. With enough galleons in their possession they are able to purchase a small two-bedroom in Quiberon, a quiet seaside town that Draco picks because, as he tells Theodore, he hasn't seen a proper Quidditch game in ages and they need season tickets. He'll even wear the pink kits. Theodore laughs but he agrees, securing them both box seats by the goal posts where the Quafflepunchers score.
Draco does not realize how accustomed he has gotten to sleeping with Theodore's lanky body breathing beside him until it is no longer there. He revels in it at first, the freedom of movement, the quiet of the night, but not three nights later he crawls into Theodore's bed and burrows his face against the warm crook of Theodore's neck, wraps his arms around Theodore's thin waist.
Theodore pushes back the hair from his face, and when Draco looks up, it seems only natural to lean closer, to cut the distance between their lips entirely.
It has taken him this long to discover, but Draco now knows this for certain: home is where Theodore is.