Of course, we will be unable to definitively prove that the described scenario indeed took place on early Earth, but the reported chemistry shows that, under plausible prebiotic conditions, mutually synergistic reaction pathways can be established in which the intermediates along one pathway help the chemistry of the other.
Unified prebiotically plausible synthesis of pyrimidine and purine RNA ribonucleotides by Sidney Becker, Jonas Feldmann, Stefan Wiedemann, Hidenori Okamura, Christina Schneider, Katharina Iwan, Antony Crisp, Martin Rossa, Tynchtyk Amatov, Thomas Carell
Wizarding London is a winding, twisting maze of hidden alleys that cut through the Muggle city surrounding it. It nestles into the brick-and-mortar of Chelsea and Covent Garden, twines around the foundation of Knightsbridge and Whitehall, fills in the gaps left between the cobbles of Soho and Mayfair. It's an ant's nest of brick-lined streets busy with the purposeful movement of wizards and witches going through their daily routines. They step into stores with money and leave with goods. Consumerism, as regular and steady as a heartbeat. And just like a heartbeat feeds the body, pumping blood through arteries and veins, commerce feeds wizarding London, its alleyways the vascular system keeping it all alive.
Though the alleys spread throughout all of London, some are frequented more often than others. Diagon Alley is considered the most reputable, but even it contains a relative scale of decency. Gringotts has pride of place among the shops, with Fortescue's close behind. It's hard to be more respectable than frozen cream and sugar or the quiet clink of coins. But once you start getting closer to Knockturn or Horizont, the feel of the place becomes more drab, less magical. The shine of things is dimmed, either by dust or disinterest. The people moving through these stores carry that gloom with them like a second set of robes, wizards and witches with the shine worn off of them by time or detachment or self-preservation.
As Draco walks towards his potions shop—a tiny thing tucked into an expanded space between Obscurus Books and a tobacconist that leaves his storerooms reeking of cured leaves and smoke—he wonders when, exactly, his shine will finally wear thin. It's been years since he's gleamed, and he's convinced the gilt will wear away at any moment.
But for now, he still has a semblance of his old grace and panache. His clothes, though less ostentatious than they'd been immediately after the war, are still well-fit and bespoke. And Malfoy's Magnificent Mixtures, even as small and forgotten as it is, has crystal clear windows and display cases that sparkle in the light, the potion ingredients inside spread out in perfectly ordered rows. Though most of the showroom is made of sleek lines and shining glass, the sides of the room are made of floor-to-ceiling built-in wooden cabinets. Time and hands have softened the corners of the shelves, and the wood is a swirling mix of chestnut and chocolate brown. Boxes and metal tins line the shelves with small silver scoops laid out nearby. There's a massive golden scale taking up half of the counter space along the edge of the room, and a variety of containers and bags. Most of his customers don't buy potions ingredients from him, preferring the apothecaries in Diagon and Knockturn instead, but a few of them do, and, frankly, he just likes the way it looks. After all, he takes pride in what he's built, inch by inch, Galleon by Galleon, with his own two hands and the sweat of his brow. Draco Malfoy may not be the man he once was—and thank Merlin for that—but he still has his reputation to think of, and there's no way that he'd sink so low as to operate a store that had anything but the appearance of perfection.
The bell rings as he steps through the door, and though it's dim inside, the morning sun not yet flooding the room, everything gleams. He idly runs his hand over the glass and copper display cases, absentmindedly noting inventory he will need to reorder from his suppliers in a week or two, the items that are selling better than expected, the sales that aren't moving product from the shelves. He'll have a bit of reorganising in the showroom to do later, and he's likely to run low on his most common potions by the end of the week, which means hours spent over steaming industrial sized cauldrons to make up the stock. The mirrored set of shelves behind the till looks a little dusty, which also means he'll need to get out a cloth and Muggle window spray—for some reason, the mirror always streaks when he uses magic to clean it—and that's another hour of careful rearranging of potions bottles and climbing on step ladders and dusting. Still, it puts a soft smile on his face, knowing that he's the lord of this tiny kingdom and that it is, in its small way, thriving.
It's not the life he expected for himself after being acquitted by the Wizengamot. He expected to carry on his family's bloodline, to marry Astoria Greengrass because his parents picked her out for him like a new set of dress robes, perfectly tailored and immediately forgotten. But Astoria was more of a surprise than any of them expected. The younger Greengrass sister was demure and quiet in public, but once you got her alone, she became as much of a firecracker as any Gryffindor, her tongue as sharp as a blade.
After their engagement was announced in the Daily Prophet, their parents left them alone in the front parlour of Malfoy Manor, ostensibly to give them a brief moment together to share longing glances or secretive hand touches or whatever it was that well-bred aristocratic couples got up to in private. Instead, Astoria turned to him, her brown eyes blazing with barely repressed fury. "You don't love me."
He shrugged. "Does it matter?"
"I'd like to think it does." She glared at him. "Not to mention that you're gay."
That surprising announcement was the start of their friendship, as unexpected as Astoria's ability to read Draco like an open book. It wasn't exactly an auspicious beginning for their engagement, though, which very quickly became a platonic relationship the likes of which Draco never had before. Astoria was the first person to suggest Draco pursue a potions mastery, and after the idea seeded itself in his mind and refused to come loose, she helped him find a master willing to apprentice a former Death Eater. She stayed up late into the night while he studied, keeping him quiet company and making sure he didn't fall asleep too close to the lit burner under his cauldron. And when he finally received his certification and could only think of severing his father's hold over him, of opening a storefront and becoming a self-made man, she broke off the engagement after seven years—much longer than it ever should have gone—because he couldn't.
His father's reaction to Draco's announcement that he was going into trade was as volatile as an Exploding Potion left bottled too long. Lucius railed and ranted, his thin hands waving through the air so that the rings adorning his fingers caught the light and threw it back at Draco like the words spitting from his mouth. But Draco was raised to stay calm in the face of belligerent authority, and he honed that skill while Voldemort lived in his home. After the war, scorned by a public that wanted nothing more than for Draco to disappear into the middle of the North Sea for both the foreseeable and unforeseeable future, he became a master of keeping his face perfectly still while furious. So while his father's white face turned red and splotchy and his mother stood at the edge of the room looking disappointed and distant, Draco kept his face fixed and placid, and that evening he quietly packed up his school trunk with all of the things he cared about enough to keep, and left.
Astoria stayed by his side, even without the diamond ring or the promise of even more wealth. It was more than Draco deserved. He loved her, though not in the way his parents hoped he would, or the kind of love she merited. She was his closest friend, one of his only confidants. When he needed her, she stepped up without any hesitation and with her full support. And he used her. For years, she was a shield between him and his parents, and though the two of them grew so close as to be inseparable during that time, he can't help the frisson of shame that races through him when he thinks of the cavalier way he treated her at the beginning, the almost disposable way he thought of her when they first met. Now, she's his family, his only family, and he would do anything for her.
Those first years after his disownment had been the hardest. Though Astoria fronted him the money, no one wanted to rent him space, and no one wanted to hire him on as an employee. It had been a bit of luck—and no, he hadn't brewed Felix Felicis, though he had the materials and the aptitude for it—that he finally found the store front.
A rundown, ramshackle mess of a place left to moulder by its former owner, Draco was only able to secure it because it was going to be demolished otherwise. But it had massive windows and a wide-open showroom, wasn't too far away from Diagon Alley, and Draco was unlikely to find another place with this much potential in England again.
There was no effort made to clean the place up before he took ownership of it, though. When he opened the door for the very first time, he found a tidy pile of human excrement waiting for him in the middle of the floor. He Vanished it, as any sensible person with a wand and magic would, and cursed his way through the rest of the day's housekeeping. When he got everything to gleam, his cleaning spells as thorough and exacting as his brewing, he Transfigured an ornate, golden M exactly where the shit had been left, a reminder that he was better than what they thought of him, whomever they were, and that, no matter how much he worked or how much he changed, they would never think more of him than that, a pile of faeces better forgotten or left to someone else to deal with.
Malfoy's Magnificent Mixtures opened to a mixed response. The witches and wizards who actually purchased potions from him gave glowing, if begrudging, praise. Most of the negativity came from his father's enemies—and a few of his friends. All of them shouted a variety of vitriol that could be condensed to the idea that Malfoys were unfit to run a shop, no matter how well-appointed it was or how perfectly brewed its potions were. It was unseemly that a member of the Sacred Twenty-Eight work in service, and it was unbecoming to buy anything from a former Death Eater. None of it mattered to Draco. He was happier behind his till—his feet and legs aching from standing all day, his fingers and hands rough with calluses, his clothes lacking any ornamentation—than he'd ever been at the Manor, or that he managed to turn a comfortable, if not exorbitant, profit by the end of his first year.
In those early years Magnificent Mixtures was open, Draco kept the golden M inlaid in the floor polished to a high shine. But as it gained a patina from time and the shoes that walked across it, he let it grow darker. Now, it's a symbol of how far he's come, the gold nearly black, still recognisable but looking entirely different from what it once was. He steps over it to reach the back counter and the till there, and as he places the tip of his wand to the locked drawer, the fixtures along the sides of the showroom burst into light and the sign on the door flips from Closed to Open.
Another day begins.
Of course, that doesn't mean that anything actually happens. Draco's shop is rarely busy on Thursdays, and with the recent string of burglaries in Horizont and Knockturn, shoppers have been less likely to turn from the well-trod cobblestones of Diagon to venture into other sections of wizarding London's main shopping district. It's put a bit of a dent into his savings, but the lack of foot traffic hasn't hurt as much as he expected. His inventory is well-stocked, his supplies in storage at manageable levels, and his vault at Gringotts has just enough Galleons to get by for the next month or so. He's still in the black, still liquid. Once the damned DMLE can get off of its arse and catches whomever is causing all of this trouble, Draco will land on his feet.
He always does.
Still, the morning is nearly over when the bell over the door lets out a cheerful chime and Draco's first customer of the day walks in.
"Welcome to Malfoy's Magnificent Mixtures," he says brightly from the counter. "How may we assist you today?"
The old woman is wearing glasses thick enough to be used to start fires. She blinks up at Draco from her hunched position, her white hair a towering approximation of candy floss that looks like it will either collapse under its own weight or lift off of her head like a cloud. Either way, Draco's stunned into silence as she grins up at him from the level of his countertop.
"Young man, I'm looking for a hearing potion!" She shouts the words with a scratchy, high voice. Draco nearly winces at the volume of it but manages to keep his expression friendly.
"Yes, of course."
"Yes!" he shouts back. "Of course!"
She frowns, the wrinkles in her face somehow growing deeper. "No need to shout, young man."
Reminding himself that he needs the money and that his customers are his infinite joy, Draco forces another smile to his face. "Just one moment, please."
He sighs and turns to the display of potions behind the till. There's an Auditus Elixer near the top, its bright blue bottle gleaming in the afternoon sunlight, and he quickly levitates it from its resting place to the center of the counter.
"That will be one Galleon, two Sickles, and fourteen Knuts."
"What?" She reaches for the potion, turning it over in her hand as Draco does his best not to grimace. "Is this the thing, then? It doesn't look the same as what I usually get."
"I promise you, ma'am, it will do wonders," Draco says as he rings up the purchase. After the witch puts her coins on the countertop, Draco picks them up and goes to place them in the drawer. Before he knows what's happening, though, she picks up the potion, quickly removes the stopper, and takes an enthusiastic drink. His stomach turns at the size of her gulping swallow while her face turns green, then white as her hair.
"Oh, goodness," she says, quietly stunned at the likely horrific taste.
Draco takes the bottle from her limp fingers, then points at his head. "It goes into your ears."
Draco isn't sure if she hears him when she says, "Of course, of course," or if she's just talking herself through the nausea.
Draco takes the stopper from where it's sitting on the counter, then fills the small pipette built into it with elixir. Gesturing for the woman to tilt her head to the side, he puts three drops into her left ear as her hair does its best to stay atop her head. "Can you hear me any better?"
She sags with relief, though her face is still unnaturally pale. "Yes, thank you. That's much better." She tilts her head to the other side and lets Draco put another three drops into her right ear. "Oh, that's just wonderful. Tastes awful, though."
"I can imagine. I've got a breath-freshening potion that might take the edge off. Free of charge, of course."
"Thank you, young man." She grimaces again. "Best add a label to that one."
Draco silently agrees as he hands over the Auditus and the Breath Refreshener. "You'll need that once a week, though if you notice your hearing getting worse, it's safe to put one more drop in each ear. Bring the bottle back when you're in need of a refill, and you'll get a ten percent discount."
"And I will be back, of course." She taps the side of her head, her white hair teetering unsteadily. "I'm sure my poor husband is tired of screaming at me, day and night."
"Oh, I can't imagine he'd raise his voice to the love of his life."
She flushes, and Draco's smile brightens just a bit as she bats her eyelashes at him, though they're magnified by her glasses and look like the legs of some flirtatious insect.
As she turns and creakily heads towards the exit, Draco is surprised when the bell above his door chimes again. He can feel his eyebrow wanting to raise, surprised at the sudden influx of customers, but he stops the motion and replaces it with his standard welcoming shopkeeper expression instead.
"Welcome to Malfoy's Magnificent Mix—" he starts before cursing. The old woman spins around, eyes ludicrously wide behind her spectacles, then hurries towards the exit, almost running into the Auror standing in the doorway.
An Auror named Harry Potter.
Draco curses again.
"Pleasure to see you, too, Malfoy," Potter says as he holds the door open for the old witch. "Have a nice day, ma'am."
"Oh yes, of course," she says, blinking rapidly at Potter as if doing so will make his presence in this potions shop explainable. She stumbles a bit on her way out, and Draco clenches his teeth together hard enough to hear them creak. Even a decade after the war, Potter's celebrity—and the requisite hero worship that comes with it—is no less diminished.
It's not that he hasn't been aware of the Boy Who Lived and his meteoric rise through the ranks of the DMLE. After the war, the papers had fixated on him and his heroic exploits, which were spread all across wizarding Britain, the Continent, and even a short jaunt to America. It does not help that all of his time spent vanquishing foes and putting fear into the hearts of unscrupulous men and saving kittens from trees has only made Potter's attractiveness into something that cuts through Draco like a warm knife through butter.
The only difference is that Draco doesn't melt.
Even through Potter's heavy Auror robes, Draco can make out the shape of his body. Well-muscled and broad with a trim waist, Potter is a glorious specimen of a man in his prime. His dark skin gleams in the light, throwing off a copper sheen that makes Draco ache to touch, to see if it doesn't only look like sun-warmed metal but feels like it, too. Eyes still as arresting as ever, the green holds Draco trapped as if he were in a deep forest, lost among the trees. A part of him wants to be lost, to wind his way through that evergreen place until he finds whatever mystery is waiting for him on the other end.
But enough with flights of fancy. Draco has moved on from wanting Potter, at least seriously. Their time at Hogwarts taught Draco that it was a fruitless endeavor to desire the Boy Who Never Looked Your Way Twice. It's an old lesson now.
Harry Potter means trouble.
So, whatever Draco's inconvenient physical response to the man now, Harry Potter—somehow more of a golden boy than he had been before joining the Aurors—is now darkening Draco's doorstep and his mood. As much as he wishes it weren't so, this can only end poorly. But if Draco's learned anything from five years in retail and a lifetime in a restrictive, upper class family, it's how to hide his true feelings.
"Auror Potter," he says in his most cheerful voice as he comes around the counter, "to what do I owe the pleasure?"
Potter's expression and frantic blinking, his green eyes bright behind his thick, black-framed glasses, is reminiscent of Draco's previous customer. He turns up the charm, widening his grin. It doesn't matter that it's genuine, Draco surprised to find his initial ire dimming as Potter continues to stare at him with wide eyes. When Potter's cheeks flush a delightful shade of mortified pink, Draco does his best to tamp down the rush of glee and longing that comes with it.
"Merlin, Malfoy," Potter says before looking away and straightening his robes. "You can turn it down a bit."
"I've no idea what you're talking about, Officer."
"Shove off." Potter takes a Quick Quotes Quill from his pocket, along with a small Muggle-style notepad. Flipping the cover back, he sets it and the quill on the countertop, then rests his elbow next to them, his expression one of annoyance, suspicion, and a clear desire to be anywhere else but here. "As you likely know, there's been a string of robberies in the neighborhood. I'm interviewing all of the local shopkeepers, especially those closest to those establishments that have been burgled. This should only take about ten to fifteen minutes of your time, and then I will, happily, get out of your hair."
"Fan-fucking-tastic," Draco drawls. Arms crossed, he rests his weight on his heels. "It's time someone finally did something about this awful nonsense."
"We've been doing… Merlin, Malfoy, just tell me what you know."
Draco holds a hand out and starts counting off on his fingers. "Well, first, the pub was hit. Stole everything poor Beauregard managed to earn that Friday night. The man wouldn't stop talking about it. Everything, Draco"—his voice goes high and sad—"everything in the till." Draco shakes his head. "As if I care how much they took, like the amount stolen makes it any better or worse when the Fountain of Fair Fortune is as close to an institution as possible in Horizont. Then Cobb and Webb last week, then Moribund's, and then—and I cannot believe the cheek of this person—they knocked over the locksmiths."
"I'm aware of which establishments were robbed, Malfoy."
"The locksmiths, Potter. Honestly, I was very nearly charmed by that one."
Potter pushes his glasses out of the way to rub at the bridge of his nose, but Draco makes out a twitch at the corner of his mouth that might be a reluctant smile. "What about you? What've you seen?"
"Other than a distinct lack of customers? Not much."
"The Fountain is directly across from your storefront, and you didn't see anything?"
"This may shock you, Potter, but I was working."
Potter looks around the open showroom and lets his eyes settle for a long, pointed moment on the wide front windows, the Fountain of Fair Fortune clearly visible on the other side of the street. His eyebrow rises.
"In my brewing room," Draco adds firmly, "which is located in the back of the store."
"And the other shops are right around the corner. You don't remember seeing any kind of disturbance or any suspicious characters?"
Gravity no longer winning out against Draco's annoyance, his eyebrow raises. "We're around the corner from Knockturn, Potter. I believe 'suspicious character' is a prerequisite for visiting this area."
"Funny." Potter's quill scratches across the paper for a moment, then falls limply to the counter, twitching its vanes as if annoyed that it hasn't needed to write more than it has. "You've been very helpful. Thank you so much for your contribution to this investigation."
"I'm not trying to be unhelpful, Potter." Draco frowns. "It's hurting business, having this nonsense going on, not to mention the sense of… violation the whole thing brings about. I want it to stop as much as anyone, and if I knew anything, I'd tell you. But, unfortunately, I haven't seen a damned thing."
Potter opens his mouth to respond just as the bell over the door rings. Turning to greet his new customer, Draco immediately freezes. The figure in the doorway is tall and thin, their body wrapped in close-fitting black robes. Their hands are covered in black gloves, and wrapped around their face is a clearly charmed cowl, the fabric unnaturally flat with obscuring and darkness spells. The material doesn't reflect any of the early evening afternoon light glinting through the shop windows, instead absorbing it as thoroughly and completely as the space between stars. All Draco can make out is the glint of two, dark eyes from a thin slit in the material, and as he takes a step forward to try and make out more of this person's face, the figure raises their wand, and Draco stills.
"I don't think you want to do that," Potter says quietly from next to Draco, his hand sliding towards the open front of his robe and, Draco assumes, his wand holstered against his side.
The figure doesn't say anything but does turn their attention from Draco to Harry. Piercing eyes narrowed, they take a step closer to Potter, the fingers wrapped around their wand tightening with so much strength that Draco can hear the leather of their gloves creak at the strain.
"This is your last warning," Potter says again. "Put down your wand."
The figure steps around a display case, moving closer to Potter and shifting away from the center aisle of the store. Their wand doesn't move an inch, trained on Draco and Potter, and Draco wishes he'd thought to grab his wand from the backroom earlier, rather than leaving it next to his kettle.
Something shifts in the blank blackness of the figure's face, and before Draco knows what's happening or why he's moving, he takes a single step forward. At the same moment, the man—and Draco can tell it's a man now, with the way that his voice rumbles through the room and settles into the center of Draco's chest—shouts out a spell that Draco doesn't recognise. Bright blue and red light bursts from the end of his wand, flying towards Draco and Potter with painful intent, and because Draco moved before, because his foot shifted two inches to the left instead of the right, it hits him straight in the chest, rather than slamming into Potter behind him.
That should be the end of everything, Draco trapped in the awful vice-like grip of this twisted curse and dying because of it. He can feel the spell digging its awful, painful claws into his body, the light pouring into his veins like boiling water. There's no urge to scream. It's too much for that. The sensation isn't even like pain, though it's there and keen, but an overwhelming feeling of wrongness, like his body knows that whatever is happening to it is something that should never happen to flesh and bone. Knees locked, muscles clenched in a full-body spasm, he can't do anything other than stand in the corruption of the spell's grasp and ache.
Potter rushes forward, and he must knock into one of the display cases because there's the sound of crashing glass, and something splashes against Draco's trouser's leg. It's icy against his burning skin, too cold but still a relief, still a distraction from the scorching agony tearing through his body. He almost doesn't notice when Potter wraps his hand around Draco's wrist, not at first. But then the pain flares where Potter's fingers touch Draco, and now he's actually screaming, his throat raw from the sound as he scrabbles for Potter's skin where it feels like it's searing fingerprints into Draco's flesh. It's too much, and his nails bite into Potter's arm. Blood wells and Potter's curses join Draco's disjointed moans of pain until they're both grabbing at each other, desperate to pull away but somehow unable to.
Eventually, Potter pushes Draco in the chest, or Draco shoves Potter away; whoever finally forces them apart, it's hard enough to send them stumbling away from each other. Draco's feet slide in the mess of potions covering the smooth tiled floor, and then he's falling, blue-red light trailing from his bloodied hand to Potter's bleeding arm, and there's a loud crack as his skull hits the ground, and then blessed black relief.
Draco is pulling himself through a field. Long grass tickles his face and comes away in clumps as he drags himself towards a distant sunrise. Maybe it's a sunset, he isn't sure. There's a red, glowing light on the horizon, though, and all he knows is that he has to go towards it. Its warmth and brightness call to him, and even though there's dirt pressing into his nail beds and he can taste green in the back of his throat, he keeps moving forward, arm over arm, inch by inch, towards the light.
As he comes to, that sense of slow forward movement fades, though the red light is just as strong. It takes him a fuzzy moment to realise it's light bleeding through the thin skin of his eyelids, and when he blinks them open slowly, even that tiny bit of movement makes his head pound.
"I will give you all the Galleons in Gringotts," he says, his voice low and gravelly, "if you can tell me what the hell just happened."
Rolling to his side with a heavy groan, Draco presses his face into the cold tile beneath him. It's wet, sticky, and slightly warm to the touch. As he blinks down at the surface, he curses. Everything is fuzzy, but he can make out a display case's worth of broken potions bottles scattered around him. Glass in shifting hues litters the ground, and when he pulls his hand from the floor, there are shards embedded in his palm, the violet glass stained red with blood.
"Dammit, Potter," he says again as he tries to rise to his feet. "You'd best not be unconscious on my floor."
As soon as he stands, the room spins. Eyes slammed shut against the whirling display cases and the too-bright light filling the room, Draco swallows against nausea and the taste of grass in the back of his mouth. Whatever that damned masked idiot had hit him with, its aftereffects are vile. His whole body feels off, as if it's been stretched to its limits by the spell and put back together wrong. It also aches, bone-deep and pernicious, though the pain is significantly less than it was when the spell wound its way through his arteries and veins and stripped everything bare. His vision, when he finally opens his eyes and blinks away the white dots fogging it, is soft and fuzzy, not a solid line to be found in the whole room.
He turns, and his feet slip a bit in the murky brown mix of potions covering the floor. It's going to take him who knows how long to clean it all up, and there's no way he can leave the mess where it is. There's no predicting how all of these brews will interact with each other. Even with how awful he feels right now, Draco has to act immediately. The disaster on the floor is steaming, the potions combining in some kind of exothermic reaction that does not bode well. There's magically inert sawdust in his brewing room at the back of the shop, and he needs to get it immediately.
"Potter!" he calls again, but this time he pauses at the sound of his voice. "Potter?"
Something is very wrong.
Because now that he's gained a little of his equilibrium back and the room is no longer spinning, Draco has a sinking realisation that his voice doesn't sound rough or gravelly, but rather different. Different like his vision and the feel of his body around his bones and the bloody goddammned fucking clothes on his—shagging Salazar, God fuck, this isn't his body.
This isn't his body.