< >The young man sat at the bar of the Leaky Cauldron, hunched over an untouched drink, doing absolutely nothing except feeling extremely sorry for himself. A single, solitary, unannounced tear rolled down his cheek and dropped into the drink with a soft splash that no one but the man himself heard.
< >Tom, the bartender, said nothing to silent man, as he hummed merrily to himself while cleaning the vodka glasses a few feet down at the old, Muggle-looking cash register. Tom knew enough as the owner of the old tavern to leave people alone until they left at closing time, even if they had been there all day.
< >A heavy sort of summer mist held the room as a heavy, bronze-yellow light from outside summer London shone in through the concealed windows. There were only a few people in the Leaky Cauldron that late afternoon-early evening time, including the forlorn-looking young man.
< >The young man stared down at his drink, seeing a faint reflection of himself in the liquid and ice. He looked terrible. His blue eyes that used to sparkle with diversity and the cunning innocence of a child, now looked dull and faded. His blonde hair that had once shone in the sun, as if it had been part of the daystar itself, had lost its vibrant color in the past few years of the man's sad existence. And his face looked bony and rigid; though it had always looked like that, his face color had lessened, making him look as pale and bleak white as a vampire, if that was somehow possible.
< >"Hello, Tom!" a cheery voice called loudly as a man came through the Muggle way of the Leaky Cauldron. The loud voice jarred the young man so severely, used to the near perfect silence of the tavern, that he jumped and snapped his head toward the door.
< >A man with bright red hair and wearing a brown, pinstriped suit strolled in, tapping a cedar cane along the floor jovially. The polished cane was, obviously - to the younger man, at least - that by the way the other man carried it, was used just for show. He tipped his brown hat at the young man as he promenaded jauntly by. The younger man did nothing and turned back to stare down at his drink, annoyed he had been disturbed.
< >"Hello, Percy, m' boy!" Tom said in friendly greeting as the red-haired man stopped in front of him. "You want a drink - or are you just here for business, as usual?" He chuckled.
< >"Well, Tom, I'd love a martini," the red-haired man admitted rather sheepishly, smiling devilishly, "but as I am here for business, it wouldn't be proper to show up to the Ministry drunk, now would it?" He laughed at his joke.
< >Tom laughed as he set down his rag and glass. "No, I doubt the Ministry would like that," he agreed. "Especially your father."
< >The red-haired man sighed. "Yes, Arthur is not too fond of me making a spectacle of myself - or him." He sighed again, tapping his cane on the ground a few times. "Though it is quite funny to see him infuriated - especially when you're drunk!"
< >Tom laughed again. "I wouldn't know, Mr. Weasley," he replied, seemingly amused, as if he had seen it all before.
< >The young man looked up again, interested, recognizing the name with some surprise.
< >"No, I suppose I am the only one to know what that is like," the red-haired man said, feeling his chin. He shrugged. Suddenly, he seemed to feel the young man's eyes on him and he turned his head in the man's direction.
< >The young man quickly looked away and took a feverish sip of his drink.
< >"Who is that?" Percy Weasley asked Tom in a low voice, leaning to whisper. He did, however, voice his question loud enough so the young man would be able to hear the conversation quite well.
< >Tom made a sound like he was shrugging. "I don't know," he replied softly, picking up another cup and his rag to continue cleaning. "He came in earlier and has been sitting there since then, not talking at all."
< >"Hmm," Percy murmured. He then strolled over to the young man, Tom watching curiously, and tapped the man's barstool to catch his attention. He did. The young man looked up at Percy with a faint look of resent and annoyance, saying nothing.
< >"My friend and I were just wondering who you were, my good sir," Percy challenged the man, trying to sound jaunty while prying. "Neither of us has ever seen you before! It is surprising, because Tom has probably seen every witch and wizard in Great Britain, and me, almost as many, but neither of us has ever seen you!"
< >"I tend to stay aloof," came a soft reply, giving no information about anything.
< >Percy raised an eyebrow. "Aye?" he queried, pressing for more information.
< >The young man stood up and took his jacket that he had put next to him on the bar. He shrugged it on, keeping cold eyes on Percy Weasley the entire duration. "I see I have out-stayed my welcome here." He looked over Percy's shoulder to Tom. "I have paid for this." Meaning his drink that still sat, mostly full unlike the young man's life, on the counter.
< >Tom nodded and pretended he was going back to cleaning.
< >The young man tried to step around Percy, but Percy jabbed his cane at him gently but firmly. He was forced to stop. He glared up at the red-haired man, who stood at least a foot taller than he, which was quite tall.
< >"I only asked a simple question," Percy pressed.
< >"And I only gave a simple answer. Now, if you will excuse me - "
< >"See here! I think I do deserve a bit more respect than that!"
< >"Why?" the young man demanded. "Who are you to tell me what to do?"
< >Percy was speechless for a second, but only a second. "Do you not know who I am?" he asked rather dejectedly, frowning. He obviously thought everyone knew him, the young man noted with distaste.
< >"No," the young man admitted defiantly, "and I doubt I would want to know. Excuse me, I will be leaving now." He tried to sidestep Percy, but Percy stomped his cane on the floor angrily.
< >"Sir, if you will excuse me, I just asked your name."
< >"And let you forget it in five minutes?" the young man snapped angrily. He chuckled shortly. "I wouldn't even waste the breath."
< >"With all due respect, you are wasting more breath by resisting than telling me just a simple name," Percy sneered, impatiently tapping the young man's right shoe with the cane. "Why don't you just tell me your name and we can both be on our way."
< >The young man gritted his teeth and said nothing.
< >Percy smiled slyly. "Cat got your tongue?" he asked.
< >The young man forced a smile. "Interesting idea," he said, his smile growing larger and more snide, like he was planning something. He pushed past Percy and walked out of the tavern to its backyard where he tapped the brick wall.
< >Diagon Alley was just as hazy as the Leaky Cauldron had been and just as warm under the late summer sun. The young man wiped a bead of sweat off his forehead and forced himself to walk along the cobblestone street, hands stuffed into his long, overcoat pockets, head down.
< >Some passerby gave his critical looks, as if he should not be there, others ignored him. That was how he liked it. No one caring who he was or what he did, as long as he did it quietly. No one would remember him in ten minutes; he would pass out of their lives like the bird that flew by in the air that they just happened to see out of the corner of their eyes. It was an acquired taste, be assured.
< >The young man was a stranger to Diagon Alley. He had not set foot in the damn Muggle-like strip mall of a place for six years. There were other ways to get into the shops and Ministy. For all intents and purposes, the alley had not changed much - but still, he almost had a bit trouble finding Knockturn Alley, although he didn't know why. He would often go there as a child and had then known it nearly by heart.
< >When he did find Knockturn Alley, he stopped in front of the vortex that, if he stepped over, would lead him God knew where, and why the hell would he want to go down there? That was always a question he demanded of himself when he felt the need to further self-destruct his life.
< >There was an answer, of course, but he did not want to admit. For as long as he had not been to Diagon Alley and longer, he had not seen his parents. They had shunned him long ago for his leaving home when they had wanted him to become what he had not wanted to become . . . but just to see an old, familiar face . . . Oh, for Pete sakes! What was he thinking? I might as well see Harry Potter's face if I want to see someone familiar! he cursed himself.
< >He spun around to stalk away from Knockturn Alley's entrance and collided right into someone walking by. The young man jumped back and watched the person, a young woman, fall down onto her hands and knees.
< >The man stared down at her, disbelieving that he had run into someone. "I - I am very sorry!" he said breathlessly, trying fruitlessly to help the woman up. "I - I didn't mean to - "
< >"That is quite all right," the woman said as she collected her papers. She smiled, but didn't look at him yet. "I need a little excitement in my life."
< >The young man put a hand to his head, shoving back his disheveled hair, and turned around to see if anyone had seen or if anyone was actually around. He didn't want to draw any more attention to himself. He cursed himself over and over again.
< >" - but I do accept your apology . . . sir?"
< >The man realized she was talking and turned back around. He stared.
< >"Oh - my - God," the woman whispered hoarsely, dropping her papers and books again. She stared at the young man in pure amazement and shock. "Draco Malfoy . . . is that . . . is that . . . you?"
< >The young man took one last look around him, then dashed away, running into her again and causing her to stumble backward into a bench. She was left to stare after him, petrefied and shocked. He hurried through Leaky Cauldron, making Tom and the few others in the tavern stare after him and he pushed out the front door into London.
< >Draco put his hands on his shaking knees and put his head between them, breathing harshly. He stopped after a few seconds and hurried down the sidewalk, disappearing around a corner, just moments before Hermione Granger ran out of the Leaky Cauldron, calling his name.
< >"My word! Hermione Granger! Come to see me?" Percy Weasley cried with fake enthusiasm, embracing her, but being careful not to touch her with his hands. "Why are you here?
< >"To drop off paperwork only, Mr. Weasley - from my office," Hermione replied coldly, "so you can look it over, as you so diligently requested. Be assured, I was only in the area, or I wouldn't have come at all." She growled out her last words.
< >Percy smiled with amusement and with an air conceit and abundant arrogance, as if he was somehow better and smarter than she was. "Be assured, Ms. Granger, I would not have been bothered if you hadn't come at all," he replied cheerily. "How is that wonderful office of yours? I doubt it is as exciting as the Ministry job I offered you last year."
< >"Probably not, Mr. Weasley, but it's damn better than working for you."
< >"Where did we go wrong in our friendship department, Hermione?" Percy asked sweetly. He smiled arrogantly and his eyes sparkled with uncanny malice as he tried to stare her down.
< >Hermione's eyes flashed darkly. "You will find the paperwork in order. At least, most of it. I had a run in with a character outside Knockturn Alley and he made me drop the papers twice. The second time, I didn't care whatever order it was in. You can put it in order yourself, Mr. Weasley. Good-bye - and good riddance," she added quietly.
< >"Wait!" Percy said urgently, standing up from his the chair he had been slowly turning in since she had arrived. He also set down the pen he'd been twirling around in his hands, showing off his distaste for her.
< >Hermione turned around, annoyed. "What is it? The sooner I get out of here, the better - for both of us and your damned family," she snapped.
< >Percy waved her comments off and Hermione's anger skyrocketed. "Was - this character - was he blonde, blue-eyed, and about yay high?" he asked, putting a hand to his shoulder.
< >Hermione blinked in surprise, but she immediately became suspicious. "Yes. Why?" she demanded, seating herself in one of Percy's leather chairs in front of his polished, oak desk. She could not believe what she was hearing.
< >Surprised himself, Percy sat down as well. "I believe I had a run in with the same man just half an hour or forty-five minutes ago. Very rude, indeed." He leaned forward. "Did you possibly catch a name, Hermione?" he asked.
< >"I know his name, Percy," she said, glaring at him sourly.
< >This was Percy's turn to blink with surprise. He stared at her. "You - you do?" he sputtered, leaning even more forward, as if he couldn't believe his ears. "Who was he? The man? Please - tell me!"
< >"Why should I?" Hermione growled suspiciously. "What did you do to him?"
< >Percy leaned backward into his chair. "I confronted him in the Leaky Cauldron. Tom didn't recognize him and neither did I. I wanted to know who he was, because he looked rather odd, hunched over as he was, and I . . . I admit I was a little firm with him," he finished lamely.
< >Hermione folded her arms across her chest and laughed snidely. "A little?" she laughed. "Did - did - " she snorted uproariously, "did - did you - ? No! You didn't! You demanded his name, didn't you?" She had to cover her face to muffle her sniggers of rancor and antipathy.
< >Percy turned red and looked away. "Maybe . . ."
< >"Maybe!" Hermione laughed so hard she had tears in her eyes.
< >"Enough!" Percy shouted, pounding his fist onto his desk sharply.
< >Hermione stopped laughing, looked at him, and burst into giggles again. "Oh, you have done it this time, Percy! You really have! Your father will have your head!" She forced herself to stop laughing and brushed the joyful tears from her eyes and looked at him. "I always wondered when that day would come - and it is coming so ever delightfully soon!"
< >"What do you mean?" Percy demanded sharply, angrily glaring at her because he had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. "What did I do, Hermione, that my father would - ?"
< >Hermione leaned forward. "Guess, you idiot."
< >"Tell me now!" Percy yelled.
< >"You are telling me you didn't recognize the man?" Hermione demanded, obviously enjoying her taunting Percy in its fullest. "You did not recognize the most wanted man in all of Europe and many other countries in the world?" She threw back her head and laughed. She clapped her hands together gleefully.
< >Percy stared at her and clamped a hand over his mouth to keep himself from screaming with fury. "You are not serious," he managed to choke out. He looked ready to break out and sob, feeling already the wrath of his father swooping down on him.
< >"I am very serious," Hermione told Percy coldly, her laughter instantly forgotten. "That was the one and only, Draco Malfoy."
< >Draco trudged through the streets of London. How stupid could he have been? That was Diagon Alley! Anyone could have recognized him! He was greatly surprised, though, that Percy Weasley - for God sakes, his father, the bloody Minister of Magic, had been after Draco for years - had not even seemed to recognize him! Unfortunately, though, someone had.
< >Hermione Granger.
< >Draco wanted to kick himself. How could he have been so stupid?
< >He turned down an alley and leaned against the brick wall of one building. There would be no doubt that by the next morning, the entire wizarding community of Europe would know, and who knew which other continents would know by the next afternoon, that the notorious Draco Malfoy had been spotted - in the heart of London, for several hours, in view of many.
< >The newspapers and magazines would chide anyone who would claim to have seen him, "Why didn't you recognize him? Why?" Well, for one, and Draco couldn't blame them, he looked blatantly different than the last time anyone had reportedly seen him. It wasn't startling, however, that Hermione had recognized him. Why wouldn't she? She had seen him in different stages of his life . . . not many others had.
< >Draco burst into silent tears and slid down the wall into a sitting position. He put his hands over his face. His shoulders shook with misery. He was miserable, alone, and wanted. A lonely, sad, miserable, wanted man.
< >He was wanted by, well, many, many people. The Ministry of Magic, con wizards, several citizens from both sides, even quite a few Muggle governments. The prime minister had called him ". . . a menace to society. Unstoppable and unforgiving." And he was - a constant threat to each side with quick cunning, intelligence, threats, and a little magic, he could do almost anything he wanted.
< >Draco stole government papers and information, sometimes selling them, sometimes holding them ransom. Some of the paperwork would have gotten out sooner or later; Draco just got it out sooner. He sold some to the wizard tabloids, through some lowly reporter wanting more than he or she was getting.
< >He also stole money, jewelry, weapons, and even clothes - all petty next to the slanderous rumored that he had killed more than twenty men, woman, and children. But those were lies, all lies. Cons made those up, declaring they had seen him do it, when really, they themselves had done the horrible deeds.
< >It had been fruitless and morever, futile, and still was, to plead innocent, though. Especially when he was guilty of so many other things that could imprison him for years. Nothing mattered.
< >Notorious Draco Malfoy was his name. Even Muggles knew his name. He worked for their government, and sometimes against. Both terrified the wizarding world, for they all knew too well that if Draco wanted, he could leak their secrets . . . all of them.
< >Why had he done it all? Well, survival, for one thing. It kept him fat and warm. He always had a bed - somewhere. It was impossible to have a real home, of course, so he traveled to Muggle motels and inns incognito. Sometimes he stayed in the one home he owned in Venice, Italy - under the French name of Bruno Delval. No one would expect him to go to Venice, so no one sought for him there, and he could always relax outside of some riverside shop.
< >Finally, Draco stood up from his place on the dirty ground, brushed himself off, and left the alley, just walking to do something. He had nothing to do and felt incredibly bored. Maybe he could sneak into the Ministry . . . no, that would be insane. They would be completely on alert for him now.
< >He sighed and decided to walk to King's Cross. Maybe he could catch a ride out to the country for some relaxation . . . he was a wealthy man through his work. He was sure he'd be able to rent a cottage or maybe even a small castle for a month.
< >King's Cross was not as busy as usual, since it was just before the rush hour, but busy enough that if any Ministry workers came after him, he could lose himself in the crowd stealthily.
< >Draco bought his ticket easily - the train was not going to be at all full, said the ticket master - and strode down the station, whistling to himself, smiling broadly at anyone who gave him a second glance. He was confident now; certainly no one would look for him in the country. And if they even suspected, he would know, and he would go to Venice. The river city was lovely during these summer months.
< >As Draco passed Platform Nine and Three-Quarters he felt his eyes slowly turn toward it. It was lonely looking, the barrier was. Not one person went through it. He forced his eyes away from the platform and continued down a ways until he reached his own platform and boarded the train, finding his compartment thankfully empty.
< >He sat back in his seat with a content sigh and closed his eyes.
< >The train started off about twenty minutes after that and still, no one had entered the cabin. Draco was happy about that; he wouldn't have wanted to speak with anyone. He was alone with his thoughts and he was slightly at peace with himself.
< >"Ticket, sir?" came a loud voice, jostling Draco out of his thoughts.
< >He opened his eyes and fished the ticket out of his pocket. He handed it over.
< >"Thank you very much, sir," the man said cheerily, handing it back to Draco a few seconds later. He tipped his hat. "Have a nice trip!" The man left the cabin and strolled away, whistling, to the next compartment.
< >At around seven that evening, Draco left the cabin and went to the dinner car, ordering a brandy on the rocks. He couldn't stand the smell of the food cooking, so he sat a very small booth, slowly sipping his bitter drink. He also hated alcohol, but it normally calmed his nerves a bit, so he allowed himself to drink it.
< >About ten minutes later, he left with settled nerves, and retreated back to his cabin to sleep.