Title: Tiger Iron
Summary: Draco has found it! A potions ingredient that can help extend life indefinitely! Too bad he didn't think of what less-savoury wizards would want to do with the information.
Rating: PG-13 (fleeting expletives)
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warning(s): Angst, mind-control, a violent world.
Epilogue compliant? Nope!
Word Count: 8570
Author's Notes: citrus_lime, I hope you enjoy this! I couldn't get any smut in (the story was way too fluffy for me to get my porn on, sorry!), but I hope this adequately fulfills your desire for action and H/C—both of which are stretches for me! Many thanks to my brainstorming team for their support, my beta for her brilliance, and to the mods for hosting this fest for so many wonderful years. I'm so glad I got to participate!
The morning that Draco's research was due to be published in Potioneers' Quarterly, he woke up early and sat in the sunny kitchen of his townhouse, absently drinking and re-filling his cup of tea, until the post arrived.
By the time it did, he was in urgent need of the loo and rushed to pay the delivery owl. It just figured that Draco would ruin his own moment of triumph by reminding himself of his utter…corporeality.
He scoffed a bit at himself. He was making a name for himself in Healing Potions; bodies were his bread-and-butter, so to speak.
He was just grateful he didn't have to spend much more time playing Healer now that the initial trial was finished; the subsequent rounds would be handled by Research Fellows at St Mungo's.
Draco carefully removed the Pristination Charm from the journal so he could feel the glossy cover under his fingertips, stroke the parchment pages as he slowly flipped from the Table of Contents to his treatise's Abstract Page.
There it was, the title in bold print: Exploitation of Crystallised Minerals in Potions to Extend and Preserve Life in Magical Persons by Draco L. Malfoy, PM, HC.
Draco grinned. Not only had his research helped keep his mum alive these past months, but he was finally in print!
The writing was dense, and he wasn't the most well-known or respected Potions Master with a Healing Concentration in England, so Draco was a bit surprised—not to mention flattered and gratified—when a flock of owls greeted him over his morning tea and toast the next day. He quickly used his wand to sort them into two stacks.
Several were notes of congratulations from friends and colleagues. Those were rather nice to see; Draco had built up some collegiality and mutual respect with various Healers and Potions Masters he'd worked with both during his studies and during this particular project.
This pile also included a request for an interview with the Daily Prophet. Draco caressed that note, much as he had the journal the day before.
Finally, Draco had a small stack of scrolls from persons unknown. Still a bit wary since the war (his reputation had always preceded him, after all), he cast charms on each to determine whether they were safe to touch. Each was.
Whether they were healthy for him to read, however, was another question. Some of these were missives from witches and wizards with sick family members, begging for his assistance. Draco composed a brief form letter advising them that the treatments were still highly experimental and that they ought to contact St Mungo's Clinical Trials Department for information about partaking in upcoming studies. He felt a pang for each of the ill persons, as well as for the parents, children, and siblings who were so desperate as to directly contact a former Death Eater, exonerated though he may be.
The rest of the letters to Draco, however, ranged from troubling through disturbing and into downright chilling.
Dark Arts Masters. Former Death Eaters. Pureblood apologists and Muggleborn supremacists alike had written to him, offering services, money, and sacrifices to a Potioneer who was researching life-extension.
Draco shivered and cast Incendio at the lot of them.
Rita Skeeter had put on a stone or two since Draco had met her as a teenager; she had traded her acid-green suit and Quick-Quotes Quill for versions of an equally-violent purple – "ultraviolet," he might call it, having seen similar effects on magical lichen. He'd seen it as well in the few Muggle dance clubs he'd attended whilst sorting out his sexuality.
Skeeter's wit seemed sharp as ever, though: "As I'm still primarily writing human interest, Mr Malfoy, we won't need over-many details about brewing."
"I wouldn't expect a lay readership to have much interest in me, or my work, however," Draco replied, hiding his relief. The letters of the day before made him feel like greater circumspection was necessary. "I assumed the feature would be going into the Prophet's Profit section."
Skeeter waved her quill at the parchment, and the transcription was on.
"When your intrepid reporter first met with Potions Master Draco Malfoy," she dictated, "he flushed boyishly at the idea that readers might be interested in the sorcerer behind the study. He greeted me at the office adjoining his private lab in his residence in one of the tonier sections of Wizarding London. He wore lovely pinstriped business-robes over matching trousers and a starched white shirt with French cuffs."
Draco rolled his eyes at the description, but Skeeter waved him off. "Oh, I'll edit that to something pithier," she said, "but for the moment I need to accurately capture the…ambience of our meeting, yes?"
"Of course," Draco murmured.
"Mr Malfoy even joked that only businesswizards or fellow scientists would be interested in his work—so the question I must ask you, then, is: how close are you really to developing a so-called Elixir of Life?"
Draco blanched. "No," he said, a bit quickly. This was not what he had expected, but what he'd feared. "That's not what I'm doing. I have neither located nor created a Philosopher's Stone, which is the key ingredient in that Elixir."
Skeeter pursed her lips. "But your paper, ‘Exploitation of Crystallised Minerals in Potions to Extend and Preserve Life in Magical Persons,' focusses on an ingredient you've identified which can keep persons alive, does it not?"
Draco sighed. "Yes," he conceded. "However, at the present it merely supports homeostasis—the living balance—of life functions in comatose patients. It makes it possible to reduce the time patients spend under a Stasis Charm. In most patients, prolonged Stasis—that lasting more than a few weeks—results in a breakdown of certain bodily systems. The ingredient I've identified, in combination with other potions ingredients both standard and less-so, can help a patient's recovery once they are brought out of a comatose state.
"Early trials, furthermore, also indicated that it can assist in prolonging the duration of the coma past the point where the patient would typically have perished."
Skeeter gasped, raising her hand to her bosom. "So this ingredient has already saved lives?"
"Er, life. One human life, actually, though it's been remarkably successful in laboratory animals," Draco admitted.
Skeeter arched her brow. "Only one life?"
"It is rather difficult to obtain consent for very early trials—especially when failure of the trial will certainly result in the death of the patient," Draco ground out.
"And who was both so desperate and so benevolent as to grant you the right to play with their loved one's life?" Skeeter asked from the edge of her seat, her eyes hawkish.
Draco swallowed. "I was. My mother was surely going to die of a curse's effects on her lungs if we took her out of Stasis, but would not be able to recover had we kept her under for a longer period."
That the morning of Draco's Prophet feature would bring his best friend to his home was not surprising.
"Draco," Pansy said softly as she first pulled Draco into a firm embrace and then grabbed his shoulders to shake him, "what were you thinking? Not just publishing your preliminary findings, but offering an interview to the Daily Prophet? Do you think your mother would thank you for this? Furthermore, are you trying to get every loony in the Magical UK to hunt you down?"
Draco hadn't mentioned to her the pile of letters from such loonies he had taken the trouble to burn each morning. "Nothing will happen," he said, trying to feign confidence by looking her in the eye. He cringed at the look she gave him in return. So much for confidence, then. "Well, probably nothing will happen. I don't have anything that will grant someone immortal life. I don't even have anything that can extend the life of someone who's merely ill."
Pansy frowned. "So nobody's tried to bribe you into working on an immortality potion for them?"
Draco looked away.
That was all the answer Pansy needed. "How many, Draco? And have there been threats? Do you recognise any of the names?"
"Of course I don't recognise the names, Pans! It's not as though people are writing to me about clearly unethical, borderline illegal, and historically dangerous pursuits, and giving me the sort of information that would help Aurors catch them if the letters were intercepted!"
"Of course not," Pansy said drily. "So where are you keeping these letters?"
Draco bit the inside of his lower lip. "I've been incinerating them."
"Oh, Draco, my darling idiot," Pansy said. "No more destroying these letters." Draco nodded. "And you'll need security."
"Really, Pans, I don't think that's necessary," Draco protested. "I've got wards here, and I'm pretty good at duelling in a pinch if it comes to an attack on the street."
Another owl arrived; Draco was sure he recognised this one as having delivered a particularly insistent missive earlier in the week. He took the letter, sent the owl on its way, and pointed his wand at the envelope.
Pansy's eyes narrowed. "Again, you're being an idiot, Draco," she said, snatching the letter from his fingers and opening it. She frowned at what it said. "This wizard—whoever it really is—has just threatened to hurt your mum if you don't provide him with this mystery ingredient and instructions for brewing,"
Draco swore. "I'll have to move my mother out of Mungo's, then," he muttered. "We probably ought to send that one off to the Aurors, even though that'll likely nark the writer off worse."
Pansy gave Draco a kind smile. It was an odd look for her. "Look, Draco. You've found something that a lot of people think could help them gain power—or at least immortality, which for some reason people equate with power—remember the Dark Lord?"
Draco shivered. "There was more to him than immortality, Pansy, like the fact that he wasn't afraid to Crucio people into oblivion, and the fact that he could Legilimise with impunity—"
"Which he felt empowered to do because there were no consequences that could ultimately harm him." Pansy shook her head. "And that's what these wankers aspire to. They already operate with less moral direction than we do—and that's saying something, isn't it?"
Draco nodded. He and Pansy were more 'morally straight' now than they had been as teens—nothing like having your worldview irrevocably debunked for triggering psychological reform—but they were still motivated mostly by loyalty and self-interest.
"You need security. I'll see who we can find. Some security agencies hire off-duty Aurors, and then there are guys who are really effective—and then there are independent contractors, mercenaries really…"
Draco could see Pansy's mental Spellodex flipping. "Fine. Just make sure whoever it is, is above board. The whole point is to keep me safe and out of trouble."
"Of course, darling." Pansy beamed.
Of course it was Potter—that's just how Draco's life was going these days. At least Pansy hadn't surprised him with the former Auror on his doorstep. Indeed, she'd let him know a good hour ahead of the appointment so that he could get all the ranting and whinging out of his system.
Draco was, therefore, able to greet Harry Potter civilly. "Good day, Potter," he said, offering his hand.
Potter's hand gripped his, dry, warm, and bureaucratic. "Good day, Malfoy," he returned. "I'm glad you agreed to have our first consultation at your home."
Draco hadn't, actually—Pansy had made all the arrangements—but he could recognise when equanimity was the better part of valour. "Of course," he drawled, "how else could you thoroughly evaluate my security needs?"
Potter nodded. "Shall we sit, then?"
Draco realised they were still in the entryway to his townhouse, and that though he had greeted Potter, he hadn't invited the other man in. So he turned, sweeping his arm towards his office in a manner he hoped would remind Potter of his gentility. "After you," he said, then called for a house-elf to bring tea to share with his guest.
Draco's office was rather sparsely furnished: a writing desk, two wing-backed chairs, and a single bookcase holding tomes that were particularly rare, noisy, or prone to catching fire when exposed to heat or chemical steam. The house-elf who brought their tea conjured a small table to rest the service on.
Potter had immediately unholstered his wand in order to check the wards on the windows, the Floo, and the doors leading to the foyer and laboratory. Draco took the opportunity to examine and admire Potter's form. He was certainly better-dressed these days, wearing duelling robes that were not only practical but highlighted his strength. "These are pretty good," he said, interrupting Draco's contemplation of his figure, "at least in terms of keeping unknown persons out. We'll want to do something a bit stronger—maybe some that would entrap those who might do you harm. There's also the option of the Fidelius Charm."
Draco blinked. "You think I might need to disappear, so to speak?"
Potter shrugged. "From what Pansy told me, your situation is pretty dire. Threats against you and your family if you don't share proprietary information?"
Draco sighed. "If only it were that simple. Yes, there are threats and bribes and such, but the information is hardly proprietary; the records of what I was testing and the effects on the lab animals and the single human subject are summarised in the journal article and on file for anyone who cares to look at both St Mungo's and the Ministry."
"So why are they after you?"
"Did Pansy tell you what the ingredient I'm working with does?"
Potter nodded, then paused before shaking his head. "She said something about helping people in a coma stay alive."
"Yes," Draco said, rolling his eyes. "That's what the potion I made did for my mother. But the ingredient I found…it's used in traditional Muggle spiritual medicine, what they think of as crystal magic or some such."
Already Potter was looking a bit lost, which Draco thought odd, considering he'd grown up among Muggles. He decided to press on; the details of his inspiration were less important than what his enemies thought they could warp it into. "You have to understand, I was becoming desperate—my mother had been cursed by an artefact left in the Manor from the Dark Times, and we needed to get her out of Magical Stasis so that her organs would not shut down permanently."
"I understand—I reckon if I were in a position to keep my own mother from dying, I'd do anything."
"Yes, Potter, and especially so since I am a Potions Master with a Concentration in Healing. But I was getting nowhere—nobody was getting anywhere with removing the curse, and in the meantime, the pain when she was conscious was having a dangerously emetic effect."
"Emetic?" Potter's eyes closed briefly, as though he were searching a dictionary in his eyelids. "I don't know that word."
"It means she was vomiting, Potter."
Potter winced. So did Draco, thinking of the colour and stink of his mother's bile.
"Plus, the curse is on her lungs, so her blood and her brain were chronically oxygen-poor."
"And somehow you managed to magically find a Muggle ingredient?"
"Magically? No, not quite…serendipitously, perhaps; Luna Lovegood dragged me out to dinner one night after she finished her shift on Mum's floor at St Mungo's and mentioned what she called Muggle Crystal Medicine."
Potter chuckled. "Ah, Luna."
"Yes, well. I figured it couldn't hurt, and had her accompany me to a small shop specialising in 'Occult Materials' and 'Complementary Healing'." He frowned a bit at the memory. "Honestly, I could see why Lovegood would have found it—the proprietor of that shop seemed rather kindred to her."
Potter laughed outright at that. "I can imagine that. But they had stones that could help?"
Draco acknowledged Potter's interjection with a nod. "Somewhat—though they weren't about to use the stones in any sort of Magical way that we understand. I didn't comprehend it all, but the proprietor went on at length about balancing the energies in the chakras of someone feeling physically or spiritually ill." He took a deep breath. "And I was desperate, so I took a sampling of stones that were supposed to help with balancing, strengthening, and healing, and gave one of each to Luna to try this chakra thing, since she seemed to understand it better."
"Did that work?" Potter asked, leaning forward and gazing intently at Draco. "I thought you had been working on a potion."
Potter's intensity stirred something within Draco, but he chose to ignore it. "Using the crystals topically didn't do much—Luna thought Mum would need to be awake to let her magic facilitate it—but it looked like there were some…resonances with both Mum's and Luna's magical cores. And so I started blending potions that would help with healing and nutrition and blood-replenishing, but adding shavings of some of these crystals.
"The one that worked best was called Tiger Iron—it was striped, a composite of several so-called Healing Minerals. I actually included the chemical compositions in the journal article, but trust dark wizards not to know their chemical compounds."
Potter snorted at that. "But it worked? It kept your mum alive?"
"Yes. We were able to take her out of Stasis and put her into a regular induced coma, fed with potions infused with Tiger Iron."
"Still, that doesn't seem so…dangerous. Why are all these dark wizards threatening you?"
Draco sighed loudly to communicate his exasperation. "Please. It keeps people alive. Who would be dead."
"Right, Potter. Oh." Draco rolled his eyes, but undermined the effect by muttering, "I might have also alluded to its use as an indefinite life-extender in the 'Implications for Further Research' section of my paper. Which was published in Potioneers' Quarterly."
"Christ, Malfoy," Potter snapped. "You might have just said that—that you were being hunted because dark wizards think you can make them immortal."
"But I can't," Draco protested. "And we don't even know what side-effects—"
"No," Potter retorted. "When it comes to dark wizards, that sort of thing doesn't matter. The ones who would pursue immortality, they will stop at nothing. Shit," he continued, tapping his wand against his knee. "Did you or did you not live for a year with Voldemort?"
Draco frowned. "You sound like Pansy."
"Pansy's a woman with sense in her head."
"I didn't know you were so close," Draco said sullenly.
It was Potter's turn to exhale emphatically. He shut his eyes for a moment before making a reply. Finally he looked back at Draco. "We all were in school together, Malfoy. Pansy and I travel in the same circles sometimes, and have got to know each other a bit over drinks at the Leaky. Not often—just when we're waiting for Theo and Katie or something." His mouth twisted, something between a smirk and a smile. "And she never shuts up about you, as stupid as she thinks you can be sometimes."
Draco snorted. "She's going to keep driving all the eligible wizards away if she keeps going like that."
"Well, I was never on the menu of offerings for her anyway, so I reckon she feels it's safe."
Draco looked up, meeting Potter's eyes. They held a small sparkle.
Over the next several days, Draco allowed Potter to follow him around, re-setting the house wards and the enchantments on his house-elves. They had Narcissa moved to St Asaph's, a long-term care facility out in Wales that mingled their rehabilitation patients with permanent residents, and put a taboo on the door to her room so that those who entered could only discuss the inhabitant with others who had entered. It wasn't a perfect guarantee of discretion, but Draco was hopeful that it and promise of ample remuneration would reinforce the professionalism of the staff there.
Potter had also moved in, so far as Draco could tell; he had set up shop in Draco's sitting room and was checking all post as it came in, putting traces on owls and forwarding threats and bribe offers to the Ministry for further investigation. He claimed not to be sleeping in that sitting room, but Draco rarely saw him leave it other than to accompany him when he left the house himself.
Draco's life had narrowed to the scope of his house, the hospitals, the apothecary, and the occult store, and the Floos or Apparition paths between them. He sent letters to experts in curse-breaking and occasionally consulted with the portraits in his mother's house.
And he brewed. He wasn't sure whether the potion would degrade over time, so he concocted each dose fresh right before it was due with his mother's 'breakfast potions'.
He would personally combine the nutritive potion with the Tiger Iron blend and slide the viscous fluid into her mouth, massaging her throat until she swallowed. Then he would hold her hand while the Healer on duty performed the checks on her vital signs.
"Her physical systems are still functioning well, Draco," Luna said on a morning she'd come for a follow-up visit, "but there seems to be some trouble with her magic."
Draco's heart seized. "What sort of trouble?" he asked, voice tight. "Is it part of the curse on her?"
Luna was still waving her wand in a complicated pattern. She frowned. "I'm not sure," she said, trading the quill behind her ear for her wand as she reached for Narcissa's chart with her other hand. "It's odd that this would be showing up now if it's related to the original curse." She put down the chart and pulled a chair over, taking Draco's free hand. "There seem to be tremors in your mother's magic. Not ones that surge—but ones that cause her magical field to flicker weakly."
"Shit," said Draco, his insides chilling.
"Shit indeed," Luna said, sounding much steadier than Draco felt. "I have to be honest—I've never seen something present quite this way before. The colours aren't flickering, just the intensity." She paused. "Of course, nothing about her curse or her treatment is standard, so it's hard to know what the problem here is."
Draco shut his eyes against the encroaching guilt. "But it could be the potion," he whispered.
Luna was quiet for a moment. "Yes," she said finally. "It could be the potion."
It could be the potion, but if the potion was the only thing keeping his mother alive, Draco was going to continue to brew it. So after leaving St Asaph's, Draco Apparated back to London to go to the occult store once more—distracted enough by the downturn of his mother's health to disregard the Potter-approved protocols for safe travel.
The occult store was called Magickal Makings, and his visits had become so frequent that he'd struck up an acquaintance with the shopkeeper Mariah.
"Back again so soon, Draco?" Mariah asked cheerfully. "Is it yet more Tiger Iron you need?"
"Yes," Draco replied, "though I could use a variety of herbs and perhaps some quartz as well." He'd learned early on that buying a single sort of crystal at volume was considered odd by this Muggle occult practitioner; she'd also explained that quartz was good for amplification, and he'd discovered that the quality of her 'dried organic sageleaf' was perhaps even superior to that which he could get at Slug & Jiggers.
"How's your mum?" Mariah asked as she helped Draco choose his crystals. "And is the Tiger Iron helping with any of the other patients in her ward?"
"Hm?" Draco said, distracted by a the label by some green rocks labelled Fuchsite, which claimed to 'assist in cellular and tissue regeneration, improve recuperative abilities, enhance immune system, align the spine, ease carpal tunnel syndrome, and improve muscle flexibility'. "Actually, I was wondering whether this might be a better crystal to use than the Tiger Iron; my mother seems to have hit a plateau—she's not improving, and her energies seem to be faltering."
Mariah frowned. "I hadn't realised you were counting on the crystals to keep her energy flowing so much," she said. "I thought that perhaps since it was working, you'd started distributing them to everyone in hospital with her." She paused. "You do realise that we can't guarantee the effectiveness of crystal healing—that the effects vary greatly from practitioner to practitioner?"
Draco sighed. "I know...but my mum was doing so much better—and we're really trying to do what we can to keep her, ah, energies balanced while she's still in a coma."
Mariah's creased face softened even more than usual. "She's still under, then?" she asked. "I'd thought that since you'd moved her to the rehab centre—"
"No," interrupted Draco, wincing. He continued softly. "No, we moved her because there is only so much that they could do in hospital. So we're waiting for her to wake up, or—"
"Or pass to the other side," Mariah finished. She laid a hand on Draco's arm. "I'm so sorry," she said. "Listen, I think I have an old book on crystal magicks in the back. It was my own mother's, but I don't think these things go terribly out of date, right?"
Draco sighed, the weight of his afternoon pressing in. He pressed his fists to his eyes. "Please. The Tiger Iron was helping, but maybe if I could compare what we know about it to what we know about other minerals..."
"Exactly," Mariah said with a bittersweet smile.
The decision to walk the few blocks to the Wizarding section of London had been poor, Draco had to concede. He was just outside the Leaky Cauldron when he sensed somebody watching him, and barely had time to duck when he heard a whispered incantation and the sizzle of spellfire.
Unfortunately, ducking out of reach of one spell put him in the line of fire for the next one. As he felt the energy rush out of his chest with the Stunning Spell, Draco could almost hear Pansy and Potter lecturing him on 'appropriate precautions'.
Draco awoke face-down to a musty carpet. He groaned before he realised he might be better off concealing his consciousness.
Not that anyone noticed; he seemed to be alone for the moment.
He took the opportunity to look around. There were heavy draperies touching the floor, which he took to indicate the presence of large windows. The door, at least the bottom of it, appeared to be solid wood. There was a small table with two rickety, ladder-backed chairs.
He patted his robe's pockets. His wand was gone, which didn't surprise him. So were the crystals and the book. Bugger.
The light was pretty low, but there seemed to be some peeking out from under the window dressings. Draco thought to go move the curtains so he could guess at his location, but was foiled quickly; something like Immobilus held his arms and legs still.
This definitely did not bode well.
Worse, Draco would be left to his own thoughts and boredom until someone came to release him. He only hoped that his kidnappers (for there must have been at least two of them) would return soon.
In the meantime, he could think.
The Tiger Iron was not working, not in a way that was actually helping his mother get well. She was alive, but not strengthening, and her magic was starting to fail while it hadn't before. Perhaps the fuchsite he'd purchased (which he might need to re-purchase, if his kidnappers were doing something with it) would do better, but he couldn't count on it.
It occurred to Draco that he had fallen into a sort of hazy routine in the month since he had come upon the potion that allowed his mother to be released from Stasis. He brewed, he bought, he checked on the trials St Mungo's was conducting and responded to his correspondence, but his routine was so packed that he hadn't actually done much to pursue new curative treatments for his mother. He'd long since given up on learning how to break the curse from his ancestors' portraits, but perhaps he needed to seek an independent curse-breaker to care for his mother like he'd hired Potter to care for his security.
Not that hiring Potter had kept him safe after all, but Draco supposed it was his own damn fault for failing to follow Potter's directions.
Strange, how being Immobilised on the floor of some old study could allow him the freedom to consider new treatment options for his mum.
His thoughts returned to his present condition. Merlin, Potter would Avada him for being so careless. If, of course, Draco managed to survive this mess.
He rather thought he would; Potter had, after all, put traces on both his person and his wand, much to his chagrin at the time. "I'm not a child," he'd said, but Potter had just snorted.
"Better to have this in as a precautionary measure, just in case someone does manage to take you or your wand."
Of course, Potter would have to notice that Draco was missing before he could come looking. Draco wondered how long he'd been out; the amount of time he spent at St Asaph's varied greatly by day, but he was usually home in time for lunch.
Draco tried to pay attention to his stomach, but he didn't notice anything like hunger. He'd been caught only an hour or two, then. He sighed, crinkling his nose at the smell of the carpet beneath him, and hoped that his captors would come for him soon.
It wasn't much longer before Draco heard the door open. Even craning his neck upward, though, he couldn't quite see the face of the man who entered; his round belly blocked Draco's view. The man wore wool trousers and robes, though, and shiny leather shoes.
One of those shoes wedged itself under Draco's shoulder and tugged him onto his back. The heavy man leant over; Draco could see his red face now, but didn't recognise it. A stranger or, just as likely, a former associate under Polyjuice.
Draco decided to be proactive. The better he could please this man, the longer he was likely to stay alive. "You've got my supply of Tiger Iron," he said. "What else do you want?"
The man chuckled, his sour breath wheezing at Draco, who blinked and tried not to show his disgust at the smell. "Well, that makes it easier, as it tells us which of those stones are the ones we want," he said. "What are the others?"
"Quartz, which clarifies and amplifies the energies of other crystals," Draco answered, "and fuchsite, which is something I haven't worked with before." He looked at his captor. "I probably ought to tell you that what I know of these minerals is what a Muggle occult practitioner told me."
The man shook his head, taking up his wand. For a moment, Draco had been convinced that this was a Muggleborn man who wouldn't think to use magic to punish him. It seemed that had been a foolish wish. "You made a potion which keeps people alive," he said. "You wouldn't have published if the potion didn't work."
"Right," Draco conceded, nodding. "Are you trying to keep a loved one alive, then? We could enrol them in one of the St Mungo's studies—"
The man laughed. "No," he said. "Though it's rather...sweet of you to think that." He eyed Draco. "Care to make a second guess?"
"You want to live forever," Draco said flatly.
"Smart boy," crooned the man. "And I think you can help me."
"I can brew it," Draco said, "but you should know that our first patient, the only one who's been taking the potion, has just started to suffer some serious side effects—"
The man cut him off. "You're trying to keep me away from the potion," he snarled. "I don't believe you when you say it's dangerous."His eyes glinted like a knife. "Besides, anything that useful would require some risks, wouldn't it?" He poked Draco's ribs with his wand.
Draco could only nod.
The man hauled Draco up by his hair. "I've got a cauldron in my kitchen here. You're going to make me some potion." He carefully traced his wand in a motion Draco recognised with horror. "Imperio."
The man's voice was in Draco's head now, gruff yet soothing. Of course he wanted to listen, to obey. His whole world would be sweeter, his body lighter, his heart bigger if he could just please this voice that spoke to his very soul. "Stand still while I release you," the voice told him.
Draco stood still.
The bonds that made his arms and legs feel like rocks lifted, and Draco thought that air had never felt so insubstantial—that he could walk effortlessly, his feet barely touching the floor, doors and walls no concern. Nothing was real except the voice in his head and his need to find the kitchen. "Follow me," the voice commanded, both in his head and in the room. Draco looked, startled, at the man who shared the room with him.
This man...he was the embodiment of that sweet, promise-making voice.
Draco followed him down a hallway and into a kitchen. "Make me the potion that keeps people alive forever," the voice said. Draco could see his dried sage, the Tiger Iron, the quartz. He saw the fuchsite too, but he didn't need that. There were jars of standard ingredients along a shelf in one of the kitchen cabinets. In a fog of sweetness, he found the essence of rue, the armadillo bile, the flobberworm and aloe vera gels. He gathered the materials he needed, and looked around for the other equipment.
There were the mortar and pestle and a pewter cauldron. There was the glass stirring rod. "I need a crystal cauldron," Draco said, looking at the pewter and lead ones available. His mouth moved without feeling anything but lightness, as if it were full of a bubble. "These metals won't work with the Tiger Iron."
The man muttered an oath under his breath. Suddenly, Draco was lying on the stone floor of the kitchen, his limbs like lead once more and the sweet certainty that everything would be alright gone from his consciousness.
It hurt. Draco tried not to whimper from the horror of having been so completely manipulated and so happy about it.
The man cast Mobilicorpus and levitated him ungently through the corridor and back to the room Draco had woken in. Draco was sure he'd acquired a few bruises during the trip.
"I'll be off to get you that crystal cauldron then," said the man, his voice almost a bark in the silence. "Anything else you need for that potion?"
"A crystal shaver," Draco said. "And lemon oil. There are a lot of Muggle ingredients in this one."
The man grunted once before Disapparating from the spot.
Merlin, Draco hoped Potter would come soon.
Somehow, the man who had kidnapped Draco managed to return before Potter did, though Draco was certain that by now he must be missed. After all, what else was he paying Potter for?
There was a moment just as the Imperius Curse hit that Draco fought it, fought the desire to just do what the voice was telling him to do. But that hurt—it felt like his brain was being stabbed with many silver knives—and obedience was almost as satisfying as orgasm, so Draco gave in.
The potion was nearly ready for the shavings of Tiger Iron to be sprinkled in when Draco felt an interruption in the soothing cadence of the voice. Still, he kept brewing, fearing the pain he would incur if he tried to fight the curse again.
Except the voice had stopped entirely, and a hand was on his arm, stopping him from stirring. "Malfoy," a new voice said, speaking into his ear, "you can stop. It's over now."
Draco turned his head toward this new voice, but his eyes still couldn't focus on anything but the person who'd cast the Imperius on him or the task at hand. He returned his eyes to the cauldron.
"Fuck," the voice in his ear muttered. "Okay. Finite Incantatem."
Draco dropped his stirring rod into the brew, splattering it. He felt his mind sharpen and panic, and his knees weaken. Warm, strong arms caught him.
"I've got you, Draco," the voice said again. Draco realised this new voice was Potter's, and turned towards it like a plant to the sun. "And I brought Aurors. Can you give them a statement?"
Draco was surprised when Potter didn't leave after seeing him home. "You found me," he said. "And I'm sure it was pretty rough. Don't you need to go home and get some sleep?"
He blushed as Potter stared at him. "You were just kidnapped," he said. "By two wizards, you think, and we only caught MacAllister. You have had threats from several other wizards, witches, and dark organisations. And you're physically, magically, and emotionally exhausted. No, I'm not going home."
"Oh, Pansy's on her way over. But I'll be staying anyway, at least until some of the ruckus dies down." Draco watched as Potter scrubbed his hands through his hair, seeming to tug on it in frustration. "Look, I'm really sorry this happened. I should have realised something was wrong when you weren't home by noon, but I thought perhaps you and Luna had gone for lunch or something."
Draco shook his head. "No, it's my fault, really. I didn't check in with you before going to Magickal Makings, and then I went straight from there to the apothecary instead of getting a secure Floo." He flushed with embarrassment at his stupidity.
"Ugh!" Harry grunted, the sound tearing through the space of Draco's office. "This is one of the things I hate about this job, and I'm kind of pants at it, too..."
"What?" Draco shook his head in confusion.
"The soft-skills, being empathetic. I'm not as bad as Ron, but still." He exhaled sharply, his cheeks ballooning as he blew. Then he nodded to himself. "Look. Your kidnapping—yeah, you could've been more careful, but it's not your fault."
"But I should have—"
"No!" Potter's voice was slightly sharp, which caught Draco by surprise. He watched as Potter composed himself to keep talking. "The only ones at fault here are the criminals who decided to kidnap you in order to further their weird, hopeless plot for world domination."
Draco blinked. "Oh." He took a deep breath of his own, closing his eyes to get used to the idea that his stupidity might not have earned him the 'punishment' of being kidnapped. When he opened them, he looked Potter in the eyes. "I suppose you're right," he said.
"'Course I am," Potter said. "I learnt all about it in Auror training, you know? Also when they made me see that Mind Healer after the war."
Draco chuckled. "You had to see one, too?"
That elicited a full-on snort from Potter. "You think that if they were making the youth of the war seek professional help, the living sacrifice would be exempt? Oh no, Malfoy, I was in therapy for a good long while." He paused, chewing on his lip. Draco tried not to stare. "And if your Mind Healer is still around, you might want to take a follow-up session. The Imperius Curse—it fucks with you."
Draco nodded. "That it does." He shut his eyes again, remembering how good it felt to give in, how the world seemed so alive and so peaceful.
"Malfoy," Potter said softly, "you should probably lie down."
Draco shook his head. "I don't really want to sleep on it," he admitted.
"Would you rather tell me about it?"
Draco nodded. "Can we go into the sitting room?" he asked. "I just...I'd prefer the sofa, I think. And a fire."
He was grateful when Potter sat beside him, and wrapped an arm around his shoulder when Draco broke into tears, remembering his helplessness.
Over the next few days, Potter accompanied Draco whenever he left the house. The second time they went to Magickal Makings together, Mariah drew Draco aside to ask about 'your handsome young man.'
"He's not my handsome young man!" Draco whispered back, afraid Potter might hear. "But I was attacked a few days ago, so he's sort of keeping me company."
Mariah nodded concernedly. "Are you quite alright, then?" she asked. "I hadn't realised you were attacked—let's find you some stones for extra protection from evil elements, too, this time."
At the till, Draco introduced his supplier to his bodyguard. "Mariah, this is my...friend, Harry Potter. He's the one I told you was helping me out for a bit."
"Pleased to meet you," Potter said, shaking Mariah's hand.
"And you," Mariah said. "And you do look like you could take care of a bloke in trouble. Off-duty bobby, then?"
Potter laughed. "Not so much off-duty as, well, I guess permanently off-duty. I left the force a few years ago."
Mariah smirked. "You seem awfully young to be retired, lad!"
"Naw, I was too much of a hooligan myself to be one of the boys chasing after them," Potter returned easily. "I like working for people who will let me be myself and follow my own intuition better than for a bunch of self-righteous politicians and bureaucrats, right?"
"Of course," Mariah said agreeably. "And Draco, in all the excitement, have you had a chance to look at that book I lent you?"
Draco smacked his forehead. "Bugger. No, Mariah, thanks so much for reminding me. I ended up just taking the last few days off from my research for my mum."
"Understandable," Mariah said. "But since that book belonged to my mum, I'd like to see it again some day, yeah?"
"Of course, Mariah, and thank you again for lending it to me. I'll try to be less forgetful about it this time," Draco said, smiling.
"Ah, you've had a lot on your mind," Mariah said and looked back to Potter from Draco. "And you, young man, you'll take care of my Draco for me? He's become my best customer!"
"I'll do my best, Miss—"
"Ah, just Mariah."
Potter grinned, and Draco felt his gut twist a little. "Mariah. It's been an utter pleasure to meet you."
As they left, Draco commented, "I didn't know you head such pleasant manners in you, Potter."
He smiled to himself at Potter's chuckle. "I just never used them 'round you, I guess. So what's this book she was on about?"
"Oh," said Draco, running a hand through his own hair in an unconscious echo of Potter's mannerism. "The day I was kidnapped, she lent me a book on crystal healing. Luna had mentioned when we met at St Asaph's that either the potion or the curse was interfering with my mother's magic." His voice cracked. "And so I was looking into why that might be, except that I couldn't very well mention what the problem was to Mariah, since she's a Muggle and all. But she had an old book of her mother's, and suggested I look at it to see if I could find anything that might work better."
Potter stopped walking and turned towards Draco. "The potion's interfering with your mum's magic?" he repeated, and reached over to squeeze Draco's hand. Draco's breath caught, though whether the rush he felt was anxiety or desire seemed a bit unclear.
So he nodded, and squeezed back. "Yeah. So...we should look at the book."
Draco thought he might be sick.
The book Mariah had provided was much more helpful than he could ever have imagined; it seemed to be written by a member of the MacDougal family, well-known in Pureblood circles, and included alternate names for the minerals as well as runes giving suggestions for use and cautions when working with them.
And Tiger Iron? Was also known as Mugglestone.
"Maybe it's because it's something Muggles tend to like, or it works well for them," Potter said, his optimism obviously strained.
"Or maybe it means that it turns wizards into Muggles! How did I miss this bit of information?" Draco cried. He lowered his forehead into the book in despair, and thumped his head against its vellum pages for good measure.
"Hey," Potter said softly. "Let's not rub any of the ink off the book, yeah? Or knock any of the sense out of you." He pulled Draco's shoulders until his back once again rested against the chair he was seated in, and left his hands there, squeezing. Draco let his head fall back, closing his eyes as it was caught by Potter's chest.
"I'm such a fucking idiot. An amateur. I assumed that since neither Mungo's library nor mine had any information on 'Tiger Iron', that it was an unknown quantity. When if I'd looked up Mugglestone..."
Potter's thumbs rubbed circles into Draco's shoulders. "Shh," he murmured. "So now we know."
"Now, when I might have ruined my mum's magic...and the other subjects'!"
Potter hummed. "I'm sure that if your mum's magic has been poorly impacted, Luna would have notified the team. You're not doing any more damage now."
Draco let out a shuddering breath. "I thought you were pants at the soft skills," he muttered, feeling more relaxed by the minute.
Potter squeezed in response, but kept his circular kneading motion going. "Maybe I'm better at you than I am at soft skills," he said.
Draco leant his head to the side, brushing his cheek against Potter's sleeve. "Maybe you are," he agreed. He took another long breath, willing the sob that threatened to wrack his body away. "I should look at the rest of the entry, though."
The rest of the entry basically said the same thing Mariah's notes next to her stock of the stones: that Tiger Iron was a powerful healing stone that helped cells remember their perfect selves and recreate that perfect state. It also listed specific ailments the stone seemed to aid with, including pain and circulation, which Draco remembered being particularly concerned with.
In the entry's title, however, 'Mugglestone' was the primary name, with 'Tiger Iron' in parentheses. Draco wondered why Mariah had picked the alternate name, but if she were catering to Muggles—and if she were a Muggle herself, which Draco wasn't certain about anymore—something involving tigers might sound more effective. Beneath the title were scrawled several runes: impermanence, Muggles, magic-diminishment, blockage, and a set that Draco had always thought of as the 'worst case scenario sequence'.
"Well," he said, leaning into Potter's torso once more, "it definitely causes magical fluctuations, particularly diminishment. But the runes seem to imply that the stone acts to temporarily block magic, and the effects wouldn't be permanent." He sighed. "I'll need to look at some other sources—I'm certain I've got some information both in my personal library and at the Manor, now that we know the alternate name. No wizard would ever call this something other than Mugglestone." He pushed the tome further onto the desk so he could lean down again to rest his head.
"Thank Merlin it's not permanent," was all Potter said. He stood with his hands resting lightly on Draco's shoulders, motionless.
"Yeah," Draco said from within the pillow of his arms. "I still don't want to give it to her anymore, though."
"Of course not," Potter said, then tapped Draco's shoulder to get his attention before pulling Draco's chair back. "But first, we need to get you some food. And we need to talk about how to get your mum well so that she doesn't need a potion to keep her systems going."
Draco chuckled wanly. "Since when are you so sensible?"
"Since I decided I preferred seeing you stronger than you are now."
As Draco turned to look at him, Potter bit his lip. Draco licked his own in sympathy. Potter's eyes widened more than a fraction. Draco rose slowly, taking Potter's hands in his own.
"Thank you," he murmured. "You've been perfect."
Draco squeezed those strong hands, then leaned in and kissed him.
Of course, Harry Potter would have friends in the curse-breaking departments of Gringotts and the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. And of course he would be able to get them to drop everything and donate their services, even if it was for a Malfoy.
Well, if it was for a Malfoy that was also Potter's lover.
Draco was so filled with giddiness and new-relationship energy that he thought he could heal his mother himself if he could just siphon a bit of it off. He felt like his twelve-year-old self, finally allowed to play Quidditch among and against decent players after putting up with the pee-wee leagues and child-brooms for seven years.
He'd gone to St Asaph's the morning after he and Harry had discovered the Mugglestone connection, and the Healers had agreed that stopping the treatment was the best option. Since Narcissa had been out of Magical Stasis for over a month, they decided they could try her on it for a week while Draco worked on a new potion and Harry's friends met with them daily to work out a counter to the curse that was causing Narcissa's lungs to spasm against her ribcage.
Meanwhile, Harry had become an even greater fixture in Draco's life. In his bed, as well. Draco was amazed at how cherished he felt when Harry made love to him, but even more stunned by how much he was affected by being held through the night (or in the middle of the day, after a difficult meeting with Bill Weasley and Padma Patil that left Draco ready to burn all the books on curses that had ever been written).
Being held felt good. It felt better than good. In fact, if he weren't still so sarcastic and creative with his potions work, Draco might have compared his euphoria to what he felt when he was under Imperius.
And today, they were taking the Stasis Charm off Narcissa, and Bill would cast the counter-curse to the Pulmonary-Paroxysm that had been attacking her since she'd touched Alphard Black's old diary four months earlier.
Draco knew there was more he needed to take care of: he needed to publish a follow-up article in Potioneers' Journal warning readers away from Mugglestone and announcing the early trials of a short-term use potion that would keep blood pumping, oxygenated, and clean.
And then he would no longer need to employ Harry Potter for security of self, and could just keep him on for the many other things he brought to the relationship.
"Hey," Harry said, interrupting Draco's reverie. "You ready to go? I was thinking that after we spent some time with your mum, we could get some dinner with Bill and Luna to celebrate."
Draco turned, looked at Harry, and beamed. "That sounds lovely." He reached over and drew Harry into a lingering kiss.
"Let's go cure my mum."