A/N: Lots of made-up potions lore in this chapter because I am a potions geek.
Nineteen Years Later
He went into potions, in the end. Not exactly the profession Lucius would have chosen for him—probably imagining his son lounging behind a marble-topped desk in the Ministry of Magic, or overseeing the canny investment of the vast Malfoy-Black fortunes from the mahogany-paneled study of the Manor—but then, there were many decisions his father would have made differently. At eighteen, the war over for more than a year and the grueling cycle of trials and sentencing done at last (with a sizable portion of the Malfoy assets seized by the Ministry), he had already had a lifetime of choosing for his father.
So he spends his days surrounded by vials of all forms and sizes, containing all manner of stinging herbs and glittering reptile scales and glistening slimes that ooze and throb without being touched, alone with his cauldrons. He'd always had the brains for potions, and now he finds that when he actually applies his mind to the subject, he has an instinctual sense of how the ingredients will react together: learning to balance the crows' feet against the juice of ground acorn, to temper armadillo bile with the hairs of an albino lynx. Trial and error teaches him when to when to crush and when to mince, when to churn and when to stir, when to simmer and when to boil.
He finds that the extensive Malfoy family archives, full of family lore and old wives' tales that no one had thought to take seriously, are an invaluable source of information and inspiration.
Draco suspects Lucius has a grudging approval of the sizable fortunes and considerable success his laboratory has achieved. He has invented dozens of potions and improved upon dozens more: an anti-nausea potion for frequent Flooing, salves designed specifically to soothe and heal dragon-flame burns, and a whole host of potions to alleviate a dozen strains of the common Wizarding cold. After eleven years of potion-making, Draco produces an improvement upon the Wolfsbane potion that gains the attention and respect of the Wizarding world. For the potion, a highly complex derivation of the original that suppresses full werewolf manifestation for 40 complete months, he is given a First Class Order of Merlin in Magical Development, and when his picture appears on the cover of Wizard Weekly, it is the first time in many years a Malfoy has been on the cover for reasons other than society gossip or accused crimes. (It is the same year that Hermione Weasley is awarded a First Class Order of Merlin award in Law for her efforts on behalf of magical minorities—her second, not that anyone's counting.)
Yes, Draco has done well, though his father still might not like to imagine his heir toiling away in a smoky room like a mad alchemist.
Then there is his wife: Astoria, pureblooded, but Ravenclaw, kind, inquisitive, and open-minded—not precisely the groomed image of social perfection his father would have preferred. She strokes his sweaty forehead when the nightmares wake up him up in the blackest hours of the night and never mentions it in the morning. When she was pregnant with Scorpius in the first year of their marriage, she had terrible morning sickness, and Draco worked night and day until he came up with a potion for that, too—the first safe morning sickness potion for pregnant witches.
"Tell us, Mr. Malfoy," the newspaper interviewers gush as dozens of safer, stronger, better potions keep flying out of his laboratory, "what is your secret to motivation? What keeps you motivated to keep inventing?"
Draco only smiles. "Merely the desire to see a happier, healthier Wizarding world," he says, and as they all sigh and scratch down his response, failing to see his right hand clutch at his left forearm.
Because this is Draco's real motivation, the hope of a final redemption from all the wrong choices he made: a potion that will dissolve a scar made by magic. The Mark has faded, but it still haunts him, still taunts him, burning through the layers of clothing that always hide it from his view.
Two years after the Wolfsbane potion, it is a cool September morning and Scorpius is going to Hogwarts. Astoria is telling him solemnly not to worry a bit about the sorting; the Sorting Hat will work everything out just right and put him just where he belongs, and it doesn't matter in the slightest which House that is. Scorpius is hoping for Slytherin, like his dad; all Draco tells him is that it had better not be Hufflepuff, which makes Astoria swat him on the arm and Scorpius grin.
Secretly, Draco is hoping for Ravenclaw.
Then again, perhaps Slytherin House has changed in these thirteen years.
Something catches his eye down the platform, and he turns his head to see the enormous Potter/Weasley clan hugging and kissing. (Merlin, did everyone marry a Weasley after the war?) Weasley's got fat, he notes with some satisfaction, but to him, Grang—Hermione looks nearly the same as she always did. It's almost disconcerting to see her reach for her daughter for one last tearful hug. He remembers, now, seeing a brief birth announcement only months after Scorpius was born: Rose. Hermione's fingers curl into her daughter's red curls and with a sickening jolt Draco is back in the Malfoy drawing room and her fingers are curling and twitching as blood, black in the shadowy dark, seeps crudely down her arm—
Astoria's fingers slip between his own, and he looks over to see her waving to Scorpius, whose head and arm stuck out the window of the Hogwarts Express as he waves violently. Draco smiles and waves back—he knows that by next year, Scorpius would rather die than wave goodbye to his parents. In the corner of his eye, he sees Rose Weasley waving, too, and thinks that, though it should feel like déjà vu, instead, it feels like a new beginning.
They say that clocks are an insomniac's worst enemy, and so Draco and Astoria don't keep one in their bedroom. But when Draco gives up on sleep and opens his eyes, he can tell it's been hours since they climbed under the covers. He keeps seeing Hermione Weasley behind his eyelids: left arm curling around her daughter's shoulders, fingers twining into the red curls, dress robes buttoned tightly all the way to the wrist.
He has slid out of the bed and crept out of the door enough times in the dark to make no noise tonight, either, and Astoria hardly stirs as he grabs a robe and closes the door behind him. For a moment, he pauses in the blackness of the hallway. Ordinarily, he goes to his personal potions laboratory and dices and strains and stirs until dawn, but tonight, his feet carry him to the Malfoy archives, concealed behind a large and ugly landscape in the library.
The huge tomes on dark magic are still sprawled over the scarred walnut table within the archives, and as Draco waves his hand and torchlight roars from the high sconces, their covers gleam at him. He doesn't dare to leave them open and unattended, dangerous and vicious as they are, but he has still spent many nights combing each hand-scrawled page and garish illustration for lore on magical scarring. No book in existence—at least, no book that his considerable fortunes have been able to secure—has yielded any information about Voldemort's Mark, and what information he has found has been enlightening, but of little practical use: to inflict permanent scarring, dark magic must spelled into the instrument of scarring itself.
But even assuming someone had a bloody idea what happened to the Dark Lord's personal wand, it's unlikely Draco Malfoy would be given access to it.
Tonight, though, he isn't thinking about the wand. He brushes past the table of books and, muttering a spell, draws his wand over his palm; blood beads up in its wake. With his bloodied hand, he grasps the handle of an ancient cabinet, the wood dark it's almost black, and recites the words his father taught him long ago, their meaning lost eons ago.
Languages die. Blood endures. The cabinet shudders open, and Draco steps inside.
The shelves are dusty in the blue Lumos-light, and emptier than they used to be; the Ministry has seized much of what wasn't surrendered for the War effort. But, pleading historical and sentimental value, the Malfoys managed to keep several artifacts within their possession: a glossy black marble orb, a heavy silver pendant with a dark garnet-colored stone set in it, and a pointed knife with an engraved handle. Draco steps forward, snatches it, and slams the cabinet shut behind him.
It takes him awhile to find the right sources from the Malfoy archives; the Ministry agents who periodically turn up to rifle through the family possessions were none too considerate, last time, and the books and journals, a mixture ranging from loose, crumbling parchment texts to elegant volumes with dragonhide bindings, have been hopelessly jumbled, since. Eventually, rifling through the pages as gently as he can, he spots a rough sketch of the knife; on the facing page, a young woman screams soundlessly, back painfully arched and eyes so wide they seem ready to pop out of her skull. Setting the dagger out on the table in front of him, next to his wand, a quill, and a blank sheet of parchment, Draco begins to read.
The text is Norman, written primarily in French but with a heavy influence of Old English, and the combination makes it especially difficult to translate. But when he sits back and looks out the lead-paned window, grey dawn lightening the sky, the front and back of the parchment are filled with cramped notes and a couple of rough diagrams.
Soft footfalls sound on the carpet behind him, and he turns to see Astoria in her dressing gown, holding a silver teapot in one hand and a china teacup in the other.
He holds out a hand to her, and after she sets the tea things on the table, she takes it, squeezing lightly. "Any luck?" she asks, voice still husky from sleep.
And for the first time in a long time, Draco says, "I think I'm getting somewhere."
Draco never begins a new batch of potions before executing thorough textual research. First, he combs through the Malfoy and Black family archives, and then Floos over to the Bodleian's Wizarding Department, a vast room hidden in the Duke Humfrey's Library and, naturally, concealed from the muggles. Nearly all the pertinent works in the Bodleian's collection are also in the Malfoy archives, but one or two of the family copies aren't quite complete. The witch at the front desk looks a bit pinched and suspicious for her young age and only thaws when Draco offers his name and gracefully hints at his accomplishments. She lets him in with a pair of gloves made from the thinnest, finest dragon-wing membranes; spells and charms can only do so much to preserve the ancient, crumbling texts from human hands, even gentle ones.
Turning over a loose leaf from Gottschalk's Treatise on the Occult, Draco freezes, and his trembling finger underlines the sentence he's been searching for: "For no matter the forms they take, the varying streams of dark magic descend from the same source; the infliction of magical markings on human flesh, in perpetuity, is likewise drawn from and flow along the same instinct, though their shapes and forms may vary."
He sits back in his chair and lets out a heavy breath.
When Draco was young and stupid and still at Hogwarts, most Potions classes felt the same—turn to page 394, gather your ingredients from the supply closet, begin. There was little room for individual modification or enterprising complexity. And it's true that dreaming up potions on his own has familiar rhythms, too; he usually works between six cauldrons at once, beginning with a familiar base potion as a control potion one and varying his ingredients and chopping, heating, and mixing methods amongst the other five. But each potion experience is radically different, shaped by the (sometimes violent, and almost always smelly) reactions of each new trial, and there's no wiser, older wizard standing over him and barking orders, no pristine instruction sheet in a textbook.
Tonight, he has the knife to work from, which is an interesting and unprecedented factor. From the Norman text, he knows the spells that forged the stinging hexes and scarring properties into the gleaming blade as well as the vile reagents that assured their effectiveness. If he can somehow imbue a potion with a counterspell, the magic should break the curses in the knife and, when applied, heal the marks it left behind.
A theory that, he hopes, will extend to any magical scar. It's a long shot, and tenuous logic, but it's all he can muster.
He often works from Polyjuice Potion as a base, since its properties enable human skin to morph back to the original state unchanged. Stewed lacewing flies, boomslang skin, and antimony are already out, scattered across the countertops where he left them; he finds the rest easily, except for fluxweed—all he finds is the empty jar. Damn. He'll have to use essence of dittany balanced with aconite, instead. His hands fall into the familiar work of Polyjuice without much thought. This particular potion ceased to be challenging long ago. A quick time elapsing spell neatly circumvents the typical month of brewing.
Now the real fun begins.
A great deal of potion-making is instinct, which can be honed but not taught, but the vast majority of it is educated guesswork and everlasting patience. Draco is one cauldron down after about forty minutes; the potion bubbling away inside explodes into green sparks that smell rather like violets but sear like acid on his skin. He curses as he applies healing salve, cleans up the mess, takes careful notes, and begins again. The second cauldron goes off soon after and rather tamely, evaporating instantaneously into a massive cloud of pink bubbles that—he realizes quickly—suck the oxygen from the room. Another spell to contain the mess, more notes, and then starting over. He writes everything down. It's impossible to keep mental tabs on the endless minute variations in ingredients, volume, temperature, or stirring method, especially with six cauldrons going at once. Even with his painstaking notes, six is all Draco can manage at once, alone.
The hours pass and the cycle repeats. Potions burn up, blow up, or simply bubble away; Draco adds more of this or less of that, or minces instead of dices, or stirs clockwise instead of counterclockwise. He's burned and singed more often than he'd care to be, but anyone will tell you that's just an occupational hazard.
After eleven hours, one potion stabilizes. It doesn't look like much, sort of mauve-y sludge, but he's learned not to put much stock in appearances by now (for Merlin's sake, the Wolfsbane potion sparkled, actually sparkled, like he put sodding pixie-dust in it). Draco grabs a glass stirring rod, dips it into the cauldron, and dabs some mauve goo onto the gleaming knife blade. He tries not to expect much, but he's only human, so when nothing happens, he lets out a disappointed breath. And then he begins again.
Four and a half hours later, a second potion stabilizes. This one is a thin rusty color and looks for all the world like the muck you'd find in the potholes of a red clay road after rain. He added more dittany to this one and coaxed it to a rapid boil before anything could clump together. He's already reaching for the knife when a thought strikes him, and the next moment he's cast a time-suspension charm over the cauldrons, crossed to the fireplace, and Flooed up to the library.
"Astoria?" he calls before the powder has settled.
"Over here," she answers from the window seat, and he steps out to see her looking up from a massive text on Wizarding marriage rites in early modern England. When he holes up in his laboratory, she spends most of the day in here. She takes in his appearance (filthy, and noticeably singed) with widening eyes. "Do you need my help with the potion?"
"Yes, in a sense. I've just realized—if the dagger was forged with potions and spellwork, it ought to take both potions and spells to undo it all, right? So I need to formulate a counterspell." She's smirking a bit now. He's a bit proud, considering he taught her that, and a bit miffed that she's using it against him. "And yes, you're the clever one when it comes to Latin and linguistics and spellwork, my dear. So. Please?"
"Thank you." She smiles, just a bit smugly, and they Floo down together.
Working from the incantation in the Norman text, Astoria (with a few suggestions from Draco) constructs a counter-spell that mirrors the cadence of the original. She finishes scratching it out with a quill before looking over it dubiously.
"Well, this isn't my best work, but I daresay it's still rather impressive. I do wish it were a little neater here—but in these types of situations, I think it's better to be precise than concise."
These types of situations, of course, meaning the un-magicking of ancient and dark objects of frightening power.
She sighs, and her eyebrows furrow. "And I can only give you a rough idea of wandwork. Though you usually seem to have an innate sense for that sort of thing on your own." She looks up at him. "I don't need to tell you that this is very dark magic, or to please be careful, but I would like to."
For a moment he is simply disarmed by the reminder that someone genuinely cares about what happens to him.
"Thank you," he says, unfolding his arms to squeeze her shoulder gently. Before he can remove his hand, she traps it gently with her own, bringing it down and, before he can move, resting her other hand on the inside of his left forearm. He goes rigid, but she doesn't move.
"You work so hard to forget this," she says softly.
"You would rather I dwell on what I chose?" His voice is harsh and acrid through the tightness in his throat. "All I can see is who I was—what I believed, the awful, vile things I could have done, things I would have done—that's what I see."
For a long moment, there is silence. "When I see your Dark Mark," she says slowly, ignoring the way he flinches, "I see who you choose to be now. How far you've come from who you were—how much good you've done."
"But I still chose it." His throat feels like gravel. "I still chose it, and no matter what I do, I can't undo that."
"Yes, you chose it. But everyone has scars, Draco. And not all of us were fortunate enough to choose them."
(screams in the drawing room and letters weeping blood)
Her fingertips trace his cheek. "You've fought so hard to become who you are today. Don't forget that."
She drops her hands and steps away.
"Now," she says briskly, "Shall I apply the potion while you handle the spell?"
"I think the same person ought to do both, if it's going to work. Just," he takes a breath, "be ready if something…goes awry." He glances over the parchment, reading the Latin silently and trying to anticipate the flow of magic through his wand, how the gestures will mirror and express the incantation. In the corner of his eye, Astoria raises her wand. Then he picks up the knife and dips the first half-inch of the blade into the muddy red potion. Nothing happens, as he expected. But then he begins to read.
Magic crawls through his wand arm, and he imagines he can feel the knife shuddering, the magic running through it writhing as it is challenged. Two more lines…one more line…done, and nothing happens for a moment. Then the knife dulls. Half an instant later it shivers in his hand, the potion steams off the end, and the knife is gleaming up at him again. Draco stares down at it, aghast.
"Wait," Astoria murmurs. "Draco. The original ritual—I think it needs your blood."
It always comes back to blood.
Draco reopens the cut across his palm with a slicing spell and, holding his hand above the cauldron, watches as one, two, three drops of perfectly pure Malfoy blood fall. Five quick swishes with his wand and the potion thickens slightly, coagulates. He brings the blade down again, coating the tip, and lifts his wand. The knife seems to seethe in his hand as he reads, again, fighting him as he forces out the Latin, letting the magic guide his wand. He doesn't move his eyes from the parchment, but when he finally looks back at the knife, it is dull and lifeless.
Over twelve years of work, and they have finally done it.
Astoria lets out a breath and is already starting towards him, but he stops her with an outstretched hand.
"I will kiss you properly later, when I'm not covered in bits of dead bugs and nasty-smelling plants," he says, though his heart feels ready to explode with elation.
She snorts and seizes the front of his robes. "Well I am kissing you now." And she does.
The potion is still too thin to apply to skin without running right off, so Draco allows it to simmer down for several hours, stirring in a handful of powdered ash-bark that will help it thicken without affecting any of its magical properties. But now he has to test it.
Draco has another magical scar, on the knuckles of his right hand. When he was three and ignorant of danger and magical wards, he had reached up to touch his father's serpent-head cane where it leaned unguarded against the settee. The cane, warded against anyone but Lucius, snapped its fangs at Draco's curious chubby grasping fist. His parents had administered the antidote to the Paralyzing Poison in the snake's bite, but they could not heal the fang-marks on his knuckles.
He has imagined testing his potion on his Dark Mark a thousand times: the final confirmation of success, the final act of forgetting, wiping his forearm clean like a bloodied slate. He has already rolled his robes up to the elbow, and he looks down at it, his mark, really looks at it: the skull and snake no longer crisp, clear black, but a faded grey, creased and worn, like a story long since told and ended.
Draco dabs the potion over the back of his hand, and he is hardly surprised when the twin scars fade to blank, unmarked skin.
Several weeks later, on a dreary January day, Draco fills a crystal vial with the Spelled Scarring potion, caps it with a cork, and then sets out a fresh piece of parchment. At the top, after some hesitation he writes,
Dear Mrs. Weasley,
He instantly crosses it out without thinking, and his quill snaps. Cursing, he mutters a nonverbal spell to erase the whole mess and then takes longer than he needs to whittle a new one. He begins again.
The enclosed potion is the newest from Malfoy Elixirs, though it will not be released to the Wizarding public for several months. Applied liberally and directly to skin thrice daily until used up, the potion will vanish scarring caused by any spell or cursed object.
He can almost picture her pursing her lips dubiously, so he adds,
I trust that my reputation and accolades as a potionmaker will alleviate any misgivings you may have about the safety or quality of the potion. I have tested it thoroughly.
In many ways, I consider this potion my life's work. I hope you can find use for it.
His hand wavers above the parchment for a long moment.
You should not have to live with your scars.
He dips the quill one last time.
My best wishes for your health and happiness.
Draco Lucius Malfoy
Months pass, and there is no answer.
The June day when Draco and Astoria return to meet Scorpius from his first year of school is unusually warm. It's also raining, a sticky drizzle that keeps Astoria pressed to Draco's side under the umbrella rather than next to the tracks, straining her neck to see the first puff of smoke from the Hogwarts Express. Arm curled in his, she is still quivering with excitement and hasn't stopped smiling since breakfast yesterday.
A shrill whistle pierces the station and Astoria lurches forward, yanking his arm so that the umbrella rocks, then darting out into the rain to wave as the train chugs in. Draco finds himself grinning, searching for the pale blond head somewhere at a window. Already parents and siblings are rushing towards the train, a crush of umbrellas and gesticulating arms. He's already preparing to join them, to move forward to stand next to Astoria and hug their son as he steps off the train, but a hand on his arm stops him.
He looks down at Hermione Weasley, standing partway under his umbrella.
Automatically, he moves the umbrella to shelter her from the rain, and she lets her hand slip from his arm. In the rain, her hair is huge and curly, like when they were children, and the smell of her shampoo—sage?—fills the small space. He can't help it when his gaze flickers down to her forearm—it's covered by her shirtsleeve—and then back up to her eyes. If she's offended, she doesn't react.
"Malfoy," she says, nodding her head slightly.
"Gr—ah, Her—um, Mrs. Weasley."
She appears to be biting back a smile, and then her expression sobers. "I wanted to thank you," she says hurriedly. "For the potion. I'm sorry I never responded to your owl." She looks down and, with one finger, draws up her sleeve, tilting her arm so he can see the pale, unmarked flesh.
For one long moment, they both look down, and Hermione traces her fingertips over her arm, perhaps incredulously, perhaps reverently. Then she catches herself and looks back up at him, dropping her arm. "It's just that I wanted to thank you in person," she says.
"I'm not looking for thanks," he answers roughly, looking away, towards the train.
"Well, there it is," she retorts. He expects her to huff and leave. Instead, after a pause, she rests her hand on the arm that holds the umbrella, right over his Mark, as if she knows exactly where it's hidden under layers of clothing.
"Then accept forgiveness, if that's what you need," Hermione says softly. "But know that I don't blame you. Not for any of it."
The next moment she has stepped away, disappearing out into the rain and the crowds. Next to the train, Scorpius is calling "Dad!" and waving a "Slytherin Quidditch" pennant, and Astoria is calling for him to "come and bring the umbrella, quickly!" Part of him wants to follow Hermione, to ask her about the night in the drawing room, about the children they were and the teenagers they became, about scars and blood. Perhaps he will, one day. But now, his family is here, waiting for him.
Draco steps forward and grins. Time enough. He has his whole life ahead of him.
A/N: Reviews are greatly appreciated!