As Draco made his way through the empty Leaky Cauldron, he couldn’t help but look around with a sadness that pervaded his soul. He never got used to the absolute silence. Or the destruction. The old pub, which had once been the busy gateway to wizarding London, was a shell. A massive hole gaped in the middle of the roof, scattering beams and roof tiles around what had once been the main bar. The gallery still managed to run around the room, the handrail missing and bits of wooden floorboard leaning drunkenly here and there, with dark corridors leading off to rooms that had once been rented to visitors. The stairs still stood, albeit with half the steps missing. Scorch marks decorated the walls, where spells had been flung around carelessly.
Shaking his head and hitching his bag higher onto his shoulder, Draco lowered his gaze and stopped as he saw a stray paper fluttering in the wind. That in itself wasn’t unusual; Diagon Alley and the city in general was strewn with debris. It was the moving pictures that caught his eye. He leaned down and picked the loose fly-sheaf up and smiled as he saw it was from the sports page of the Daily Prophet. He stared down at the zooming Quidditch players and felt nostalgia flood over him. He carefully folded the paper and put it in the front zip-up compartment of his rucksack before continuing on his way home.
Home! he thought with a scornful laugh. A decade ago, he would’ve sneered at his current room and made a mocking joke about how it was only fit for Weasleys. But it had been his quarters for the past seven years now.
He walked his way up the deserted Diagon Alley, his footsteps echoing off the buildings. The sound still had the power to make him jump and scrabble for his wand. It was a hang-up from the war and what had happened afterwards.
Stop it! he scolded himself.
He refused to think about it. The memories could bring back the sheer terror. They also had the capacity to remind him of just how alone he was.
He couldn’t remember the last person he’d spoken to. Well, he could but he wasn’t going to. It was too connected, too raw and it was almost as long as he’d been stuck trying to clean up the destruction that had once been London.
He had no idea what was happening in other parts of the country. His only contact with the world was the fortnightly drop-offs that were deposited into the building that had once housed Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. They contained food and drink and were just enough to last him fourteen days. Sometimes they didn’t even do that. He wondered if it was down to whoever was in charge of making the life-saving supplies for him. He’d come to the conclusion that there was usually one person who was in charge of keeping him alive mainly due to the monotonous nature of the packs. There would be a small packet of rice and pasta, a couple of tins of tomatoes, a tin of sardines or tuna, tins of some watery vegetable of some sort or another, luncheon meat, packets of soup, teabags (never enough), powdered milk and vitamin supplements.
Then, on occasions, the packs would change. Usually for the worse. He took it that on those days whoever was in charge of his supplies was on holiday or sick. Only once had the drop-off been luxurious. That had been 3 years ago now, but he’d never forgotten. There had been double the food he usually received, an actual fresh roast chicken that he’d feasted on along with fresh bread, fresh and tinned fruit, condensed milk and a small bag of chocolates that he’d eked out until they’d lasted him a month. When he thought about that pack, his mouth watered and every time he went to collect his supplies, he’d hope that whoever had sent that through was on duty once more. Sadly, it had never been repeated.
He sighed as he climbed the stairs to his room. They weren’t his original digs – those had been smaller, darker and damper, and at the other end of Diagon Alley, but when he’d realised it was just him left, he’d switched for this much bigger, studio room with large windows that caught the evening sun. There were also shelves along one side of the room where he stored things that caught his eye when he was cleaning up the mess from the war.
Further to the back page of the Daily Prophet, he’d found a couple of new books to add to his collection. They were Muggle novels that he’d never heard of and he was excited to have something new to read. His existence was lonesome and the treasure that he was able to salvage saved him. If he didn’t have that, he reckoned he would’ve thrown himself off a bridge and into the Thames a long time ago.
But he was Draco Malfoy and if he was anything then he was bloody-minded. And a survivor. After all, Malfoys survived at all costs.
And he would survive this all-encompassing loneliness and at some point things would look up. He wasn’t quite sure when, but they would. It was this Hufflepuff-like hope that was keeping him alive.
He moved over to his meagre supply cupboard, opened it and grimaced at the contents. He didn’t have much left and it was a few days until his new delivery came. He decided to settle for one of the nasty cuppa soups that filled you up for all of two minutes. He’d save his last bit of rice and tinned tomatoes for the night before his next supply drop.
Draco pulled his chair closer to the window, catching the last rays of the sun and placed his mug of watery, unsatisfying soup on the small table next to it. He’d probably miss the one-second window from where it went from burning hot to lukewarm and was actually edible, but he couldn’t be bothered to hold it in his hands to gage when that might be.
Instead, he picked up the battered photo album he’d scavenged early on and opened it. The moving images were everywhere – some carefully cut out and others torn with sentences of the accompanying article cut off and framing the photo. There was no particular order to the album. No preference of type of picture. They were whatever Draco could get his hands on. A reminder that people did exist outside and that he wasn’t alone.
Flicking through the pages, he stopped at one he’d found almost four years ago. It was one of the stylised Malfoy portraits, taken just before the start of his fifth year. His mother was seated on a regal chair – her back poker straight and only the hint of a smile on her lips. His father stood slightly to the right of her; his left hand resting on her shoulder, his right firmly grasping his cane. His face was stern whilst his chest was puffed out in a gesture of pride. Draco himself stood to the left with a cocky smirk and a supremely confident pose. The world was his oyster – or so he’d thought. It was a portrait of Malfoy power and it always brought strange, conflicting emotions into his breast.
Unlike the other images, Draco had left the accompanying article. It had been written after their trial and had outlined their sentence to clean up and repair London with other notorious Death Eaters.
He felt his eyes tear up and he angrily scrubbed the moisture away, almost ripping the page in his hurry to turn it over. The more cheerful sight of the Falmouth Falcons lifting the Qudditch league title met his gaze.
He sat back, soup forgotten and lost himself between the pages.
He smiled. It was supply day and he couldn’t wait for a decent cup of tea. He’d run out of teabags the night before last and his mornings never felt quite right unless he’d had his tea before setting out to work. He’d had to wean himself off the one sugar he’d previously taken in it. Sugar was a luxury that the powers-that-be didn’t think he deserved.
He picked up his rucksack and wand and made his way down into Diagon Alley. His steps could almost be described as jaunty. Supply day never failed to raise his spirits. It was a reminder that other people did still exist and that he hadn’t been forgotten, existing alone in an empty world.
It was the muffled noise inside the former joke shop that had him cautiously inching his face around the broken door. The shadow on the floor made him freeze: There was someone in there.
His heart hammered as he slid silently away and around the side of the shop. He carefully climbed a couple of the upturned crates, making sure he made no noise, and peered through the grimy window. He looked for the customary black robes. Had someone else survived the anarchy that had followed the withdrawal? Had they managed to come in from somewhere else in the country? He wasn’t sure that was possible. The wards that surrounded London were designed so no one with the Dark Mark could leave or enter.
The Unspeakables had been developing the spell for years, originally planned so they could tattoo prisoners in Azkaban and use the wards to make sure no one got out. It had been started after Sirius Black had escaped and the Ministry realised that the prison wasn’t as secure as they thought.
He squinted as he tried to make sense of the sight in front of him. Instead of a remnant Death Eater there stood what looked like a Muggle – complete with jeans and a cherry red jumper.
It was the hair as much as the wand that gave away who it actually was and Draco was sure that he was still asleep and dreaming. Granger? What would Granger be doing here? Unless he’d lived past his usefulness and the Order were planning on assassinating him. He snorted at the idea of sending Hermione Granger to do such a task.
But still, he hadn’t seen her since the Great Battle and seven years could change anyone. She might not be the bleeding heart she’d once been. Therefore it would be prudent to stay out of sight until he could work out exactly what she was doing here. It was time to utilise those skills that had kept him alive in the cutthroat post-war world.
His gaze took in the supply drop off that was waiting by the fireplace. He could murder a cup of tea right now but he wasn’t going to be lured out by the prospect of that.
Whilst he might have a wand to help him repair destroyed buildings, it had been tampered with so he could not use it to help him escape or cast any hexes. Granger’s wand would be as potent as it’d ever been and she’d annihilate him in an instance if she threw attacking spells at him. She was jumpy, too.
In between her scanning of various buildings, she was continuously alert. Stopping at every out-of-place noise she heard (which was pretty much any noise). She’d come to a standstill now after Draco’s stomach had decided to be so vocal.
He crouched behind some oil drums as he watched her swing her wand around, pointing it at the shadows that were beginning to fall. After waiting for 30 seconds or so, she seemed to decide that there was nothing around and went back to scanning and surveying the rusty hulks of the ships that littered the side of the Thames River.
Cramp shot down his right leg, causing the limb to spasm. As he straightened his leg and pressed down to get rid of the pain, his shoe scuffed along the floor and dislodged a stone that hurtled its way down towards the river front, before it clanged noisily onto one of the ships. Granger turned as quick as a flash and shot a spell off, causing the ship to sway and lurch before it toppled into the one next to it.
Draco gaped in astonishment at her behaviour. For someone with such remarkable intelligence, she hadn’t done the smartest thing. Those ships were unsteady and at least one still had oil drums loaded. She appeared unaware of the danger she was in and he swore under his breath. She wasn’t moving when she needed to get out of the way before any of the collapsing vessels exploded.
He briefly contemplated making a run for it and leaving her but the thought of what might happen to him if the Ministry found out that he’d been in the vicinity and let their star pupil die scared him into action.
Sprinting out from his hiding point, he grabbed her arm and dragged her past the oil drums he’d been behind to the nearest stone edifice, which luckily was a sturdy, strong wall. It wasn’t a moment too soon as one of the ships blew up in a ball of fire that engulfed the other ships and the area where they’d both been.
The explosion deafened him. He wasn’t used to loud noises, having been on his own for so long. He could see Granger saying something but he couldn’t hear her over the ringing in his ears. He shook his head, trying to get rid of the noise but he had to wait it out.
“What were you thinking?!” he asked angrily once the ringing dissipated.
“Malfoy?” she asked.
The next furious question was halted by her obvious confusion about his appearance.
“Did you know I was here?” she asked.
He looked away, not wanting to answer her questions. He felt far too vulnerable, as he still didn’t know what her assignment was. He turned as if to walk away but was frustrated when she came and stood in front of him.
“Did you know I was here?” she asked once more.
From the insistent expression on her face, he knew he wasn’t going to get away with ignoring her.
“I saw you in Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes this morning,” he mumbled.
Granger frowned. “You’ve been following me? Why didn’t you make yourself known?”
“I didn’t… don’t know why you’re here.”
The way she studied him after his response unnerved him. It had been seven long years since he’d interacted with anyone and was finding this whole experience uncomfortable. The brown eyes finally left his face and she turned to survey the havoc she’d wrecked upon the rusting ships, clearly thinking about something.
He wasn’t prepared for the hostile look or for how quickly she raised her wand and trained it on him when she swung back round to face him.
“Or were you hoping to catch me unawares?”
He couldn’t help cringing backwards, his hands going up in a traditional pose of surrender.
“No! I just didn’t know why anyone was here after all this time. Besides, if I wanted you dead then I would’ve let that explosion take you out.”
She narrowed her eyes and he knew she didn’t believe him. Now the surprise at his presence had gone, her face had closed off and she looked cold and remote.
“I’m here on official Ministry business – not that it is any concern of yours. I suggest you go back to your duties and don’t even think about hindering mine.”
With that clear dismissal, she walked away from the burning ships. At first, he thought she was returning to Diagon Alley, but she turned east, her wand still outstretched and scanning – for what, he wasn’t sure.
He followed her at a safe distance before calling out, “It’s best to be indoors after dark.”
Granger didn’t even acknowledge him so he shrugged, turned west and went back to his rooms. He wasn’t going to be crazy enough to be wandering around after dark.
She was methodically working her way through London, surveying and scanning areas he’d worked on and others that were yet to be repaired.
Despite employing all his stealth tactics, she knew he was there. He could see it in the annoyed and exasperated looks she would throw towards his hiding point several times a day. She also refused to drop her guard. Without a doubt she’d hex him on the spot if he attempted to speak to her once more.
So he maintained his silence and continued to do nothing but watch, leaving her before dusk. He wasn’t sure what time she stopped and retired back to the old Weasley flat but he wasn’t taking his chances in the dark.
“Okay, Malfoy, you may as well come out. I know you’re there and your incessant dogging of my footsteps is starting to get on my nerves.”
He stood up from behind the pile of rubble he’d been crouching behind and made his way over to her.
“Why are you still following me?” she asked, as he neared.
“What are you doing here?” he countered.
Granger sighed and looked resigned to explaining her mission.
“I’ve come to assess how habitable London is.”
“The Ministry plans on moving people back?”
She shrugged. “It’s worked in other parts of the country. We started repopulating the cities about a year ago.”
Draco stared in shock. It was weird to think that such momentous things had been happening as he’d gone about his monotonous daily routine with no clue. For all he’d known, he had been the last person alive on the entire island.
“Look, is it possible we could return to Diagon Alley and talk?” she asked.
“The plans to return to London.”
“Why do you need to involve me in that?”
“Try because you’ve insisted on following me for days and, to be honest, you’ve been living here for the best part of a decade which means you know the state of the city better than anyone else.”