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Harry Potter and the Resurrection Veil

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ch1_sectumsempra

Harry Potter pushed open the door to the girls’ lavatory.

Seemingly unaware anyone had entered, Malfoy stood in front of one of the lavatory mirrors, gripping the sink to steady himself.

“Don’t. Don’t . . . Tell me what’s wrong . . . I can help you . . .”

Moaning Myrtle? Though she was out of Harry’s view, he heard her voice gently drifting through one of the stalls.

Malfoy shook his head. “No one can help me. I can’t do it. I can’t. It won’t work . . . and unless I do it soon . . . he says he’ll kill me . . .”

Shock cut through Harry. Malfoy was crying—actually crying—tears streaming down his face into the sink. It wasn’t for show, it was different from what he’d seen before. So the boy Myrtle mentioned she had been talking to must have meant . . . As though the realization struck him too, Malfoy took a shuddering breath, then looked up into the splintered mirror to see Harry staring at him.

Malfoy spun around, drawing his wand. Instinctively, Harry pulled out his own. Malfoy’s hex missed Harry by a hair, shattering the lamp on the wall beside him. Harry lurched sideways, thought Levicorpus! and flicked his wand, but Malfoy blocked the jinx and raised his wand to cast another—

“No! No! Stop it!” Moaning Myrtle’s pleas echoed loudly around the tiled room. “Stop! Stop!”

There was a loud bang and the bin behind Harry exploded. Harry preferred not to injure Malfoy if he could help it; he attempted a Leg-Locker Curse that backfired off the wall behind Malfoy’s ear, shattering the cistern beneath Moaning Myrtle, who screamed loudly. Water poured everywhere, causing Harry to slip and fall to the floor as Malfoy, face contorted, cried, “Cruci—”

“SECTUMSEMPRA!” bellowed Harry from the floor.

Blood spurted from Malfoy’s face and chest as though Harry had slashed him with a sword. He staggered backward, collapsing onto the waterlogged floor with a splash that nearly concealed a sickening thud, his wand falling from his limp right hand.

“No—” gasped Harry. Struggling to keep his balance on the slick tile, he got to his feet and rushed to Malfoy, whose hands reached clumsily toward the gashes through his shirt, face shining as red as the blood that streamed from his chest. “No—I didn’t—” Harry’s mouth went numb, a high-pitched sound filled his ears, and he fell to his knees beside Malfoy, who shook uncontrollably as the blood spread through the water around them like flames. Remorse was instantaneous, and all Harry could think was: I didn’t mean to. I never wanted this to happen. How could the Prince . . . Why would he . . . Why would I . . . ?

Moaning Myrtle let out a deafening scream. “MURDER! MURDER IN THE BATHROOM! MURDER!”

The door burst open behind Harry and he looked up, terrified. Snape, his face livid, had run into the room. Pushing Harry roughly aside, he knelt over Malfoy, then drew his wand and traced it over the deep cuts in Malfoy’s flesh, muttering an incantation that sounded almost like song. The flow of blood eased; Snape wiped the residue from Malfoy’s face and repeated his spell, closing the wounds.

Harry couldn’t tear his eyes away, horrified by what he had done, barely aware of Moaning Myrtle’s wails above them, nor the blood and water that had soaked through his clothes.

Once Snape had performed his countercurse for the third time, he helped Malfoy into a standing position, though the boy was barely conscious. “You need the hospital wing. There may be a certain amount of scarring, but if you take dittany immediately we might avoid even that. Come . . .” He supported Malfoy across the bathroom, turning at the door to say, icy rage barely contained, “And you, Potter—you wait here for me.”

Harry obeyed; it took all of this mental capacity to process his surroundings, much less consider leaving. He stood up slowly, trembling, and looked down at the wet floor. Although the blood had diluted in the water, the room seemed to glow with the intensity of the original deep red of the wounds in Malfoy’s skin. Everything faded together: the white of the tile and the red flood, the white of Malfoy’s skin and the garish cuts. Myrtle’s moaning was reduced to a hum, insignificant in comparison to what Harry failed to process.

Snape returned ten minutes later. “Go,” he said to Myrtle, and she closed her mouth, finally, and swooped back into her toilet, leaving a gaping silence behind her.

Harry gripped his arm to keep it from shaking. “I didn’t mean it to happen. I didn’t know what that spell did.”

Snape ignored this. “Apparently I underestimated you, Potter. Who would have thought you knew such Dark Magic? Who taught you that spell?”

“I—read about it somewhere.”

“Where?”

“It was—a library book. I can’t remember what it was called—”

“Liar,” said Snape through his teeth.

Harry’s mouth went dry. He knew what Snape was about to do and he was no more successful than usual at preventing it. The bathroom seemed to shimmer before his eyes, and as hard as he tried to stop it, the Half-Blood Prince’s copy of Advanced Potion-Making floated hazily to the forefront of his mind.

And then he was staring at Snape again, in the midst of the wrecked, soaked bathroom. He stared into Snape’s black eyes, praying that Snape had not seen what he feared, but—

“Bring me your schoolbag and all of your schoolbooks. All of them. Bring them to me here. Now!”

There was no use arguing. Harry turned at once and splashed out of the bathroom. Once in the corridor, he broke into a run toward Gryffindor Tower. Most people were walking the other way; they gawked at the sight of him, drenched in water and blood, and he ignored the questions they fired at him as he ran past.

Harry felt stunned; it was as though a beloved pet had become rabid. Why in Merlin’s name had the Prince copied such a spell into his book? And what would happen when Snape saw it? Would he tell Slughorn how Harry had been achieving such good marks in Potions all year? Would he confiscate or destroy the book that had taught Harry so much—the book that had become a sort of guide and friend? Harry could not let that happen . . .

“Where’ve you—? Why are you soaking—? Is that blood?” Ron stood at the top of the stairs, looking bewildered at the sight of Harry.

“I need your book,” panted Harry. “Your Potions book. Quick, give it to me—”

“But what about the Half-Blood—”

“I’ll explain later!”

Ron pulled his copy of Advanced Potion Making out of his bag and handed it over; Harry sprinted off past him and back to the common room. He grabbed his schoolbag, ignoring the stunned looks of several people who had already finished their dinner, threw himself back out of the portrait hole, and hurtled down the seventh floor corridor.

He skidded to a halt beside the tapestry of dancing trolls, closed his eyes, and began to walk. I need a place to hide my book . . . I need a place to hide my book . . . I need a place to hide my book . . .

After walking three times up and down in front of the stretch of blank wall, the door to the Room of Requirement finally appeared. Harry flung it open, hurried inside, and slammed it shut.

He gasped. Despite his haste, his panic, and his fear of what awaited him back in the bathroom, he could not help but stand frozen in awe.

The Room of Requirement had grown to the size of a large cathedral, high windows sending shafts of light down on what looked like a small city. The stacked “buildings” were composed of what Harry knew must be objects hidden by generations of Hogwarts students. There were skinny alleys and wide roads bordered by teetering piles of broken and damaged furniture, perhaps stowed away to hide the evidence of mishandled magic. There were thousands upon thousands of books, undoubtedly banned, graffitied, or stolen, flanked by winged catapults and Fanged Frisbees, some with enough life still in them to hover halfheartedly over the mountains of other forbidden items; there were chipped bottles of congealed potions, hats, jewels, cloaks; there were what looked like dragon eggshells, corked bottles whose contents still shimmered, several rusting swords, and a bloody axe.

Harry ducked into one of the many alleyways, turned right past an enormous stuffed troll, ran a short way, took a left past the broken Vanishing Cabinet, pausing at last beside a large cupboard that seemed to have had acid thrown at its blistered surface. He pried open one of the cupboard’s creaking doors—it had already been used as a hiding place for a long-dead caged creature, a skeleton with five legs.

Harry stuffed the Half-Blood Prince’s book behind the cage and shut the door. He hesitated, heart racing, scanning the clutter. Would he be able to find this spot again among all this junk? Did it even matter, if Snape read his mind again? Grabbing the chipped bust of an ugly warlock from on top of a nearby crate, Harry stood it on top of the cupboard where the book was now hidden. He perched a dusty wig and a tarnished tiara on the statue’s head to ensure it would be recognizable, then sprinted back through the alleyways of discarded objects as fast as he could manage, back to the door, back out into the corridor, slamming the door behind him.

Trading in his copy of Potion-Making didn’t fool Snape. He could barely voice a proper defense before Snape was telling him, “I think that you are a liar and a cheat and that you deserve detention with me every Saturday until the end of term. What do you think, Potter?”

“I-I don’t agree, sir,” said Harry, refusing to look into Snape’s eyes.

“Well, we shall see how you feel after your detentions. Ten o’clock Saturday morning, Potter. My office.”

On top of single-handedly dooming the Gryffindor Quidditch team, he was chewed out by McGonagall, had lost the one thing keeping him afloat in Potions, and was haunted by the image of Malfoy, blood-stained and nearly dead.

That night, Harry turned over in his bed, stomach growling. He had skipped dinner and the lack of food had caught up with him, making his thoughts even more miserable and foggy. Eventually, he fell asleep, wishing with every inch of himself that he had not used the Prince’s curse . . .


 

For a brief moment upon waking the next morning, Harry forgot the events of the previous day. Just as quickly, the lead-weight guilt hit him. He forced himself out of bed only because the brightness of the room indicated he didn’t have much time left before breakfast. Normally, he was able to wake up when the others did, but his vivid dreams had forced him to sleep longer.

Dean, Seamus, and Neville had already left, but Ron’s school bag still sat next to his bed.

Just as Harry latched on to the faint hope that Ron would be able to make him feel better, seeing as he had waited for him, the door opened. Sure enough, Ron was able to act as though nothing had changed.

“Morning. I grabbed you some toast and a banana, since you missed breakfast. Hermione’s waiting downstairs,” he said, and Harry smiled despite himself; at least he could rely on Ron to act as though he hadn’t spoiled everything.

Despite Ron and Hermione’s pleasant attitude, Harry lost himself in swirling dread about his situation. Because of this, it took him several minutes to notice they were walking in the wrong direction. “Hang on, where are we going? The greenhouses are the other way.”

He had stopped, so Ron and Hermione slowed their pace. “We have Charms.”

“No, we had Charms yesterday.”

“Harry, it’s Thursday.”

“No, yesterday was Thursday.”

Hermione blinked at him, concerned. “Are you ill? Has someone Confunded you?”

“I’m fine, I suppose things could get worse.”

“What do you mean?”

Harry scowled. “I’m no closer to finding out what Malfoy’s up to, I’m banned from Quidditch—”

“You’re what?” Ron seemed more shocked than upset.

“How could you forget?” Harry knew he had been waiting for an outlet to his frustration, and Ron’s gaping expression nearly set him off. “Ron, quit acting like you don’t know. Hermione, you were furious about it just last night!”

Hermione shook her head, eyes narrowing slightly. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Harry. Look, maybe if you finish eating, that will set your head straight. Breakfast is the worst meal to skip, you know. If someone Confunded you, it would be best to wait it out . . .”

Now thoroughly annoyed, Harry let them lead the way to Charms, imagining how good it would feel to be right about something and not wallow in his mistake.

But when they walked into Charms, sure enough, the class was there as it had been the day before.

Harry froze in his tracks. Had he imagined the previous day? Was he dreaming now? Were they playing a practical joke? Perhaps he was wrong about the date, and yesterday was Wednesday, and the trauma had him mixed up about class . . . But then, why would Ron and Hermione forget the day before? Stiffly, he walked to their usual table and sat down. He waited until Flitwick finished speaking before casting a Muffling Charm around them.

He swallowed, trying to stay calm. “Today already happened.”

Ron, who had abandoned his work to listen, met Flitwick’s eye and picked up his wand. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, yesterday was Thursday, too. But only I seem to know.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “How is that possible? Are you sure it wasn’t a dream, or a vision, or something?” Clearly, it was something she had not heard of before.

“I don’t know. It didn’t feel like a dream. This doesn’t feel like a dream, either.” Harry looked around the room for something he could use to prove his point. “Oh! In a few minutes, Seamus will blow something up.”

They waited—Harry could feel Ron and Hermione’s disbelief radiating on either side of him—but nothing happened. Impatient, Harry thought of something else to prove he was right. “Flitwick sneezes. And it’s very loud.”

As though on cue, Professor Flitwick let out a bellowing sneeze, causing several students to leap in their seats and Seamus to implode the ball he’d been attempting to wandlessly levitate.

Harry’s skin went clammy. It had not seemed like a complete reality before, but now, meeting the shocked expressions of Ron and Hermione, he felt the beginning signs of panic. He explained everything that had happened the previous day, but hid the Prince’s involvement by saying he repeated one of Malfoy’s own curses.

“. . . What should I do? What if I’m stuck like this forever?”

Hermione glanced at Ron, then said, “You won’t be, Harry. There isn’t magic powerful enough for that. Besides, I assume this is a chance for you to not hurt Malfoy. Maybe once the day ends things will go back to normal.”

Harry shrugged. If he was stuck, was it even worth it that he no longer casted Sectumsempra? He’d rather face the consequences of that than be forced to live out the same day over and over again.

As they packed up their things, Hermione said, “We should head to the library to see what we can find.”

Ron groaned. “Maybe we should just talk to Dumbledore. He’d know what’s going on. For all we know he could’ve done something.”

Hermione was about to agree when Harry cut in, “If I tell him, then I’ll have to explain what I did to Malfoy. And if he can fix time right away, then he’ll remember. Although . . . if we can’t find anything, I won’t have a choice.” He knew he would not be able to avoid telling Dumbledore about the curse, and would have to include the book. The longer he could postpone that conversation, the better.

Since using a Time-Turner in third year, Hermione was familiar with where to find mentions of time travel in the library. She pulled books off the shelves and delegated several large texts to each of them, saving the largest stack for herself.

The trio was mostly silent as they flipped through pages upon pages of text, only occasionally finding connections to time travel. Every now and then, one of them would open their mouth to say something, then sigh as they realized the information wasn’t useful. After an hour, as they were nearly about to give up, Ron said, “How about this? It says every Time-Turner uses an Hour-Reversal Charm, which is ‘highly unstable.’”

“Can I see?” Hermione took the book from him and scanned the passage. “Ah, of course!” She turned the page, quickly looked through a few more, then handed it back to Ron. “When I used the Time-Turner, I learned that there is an Hour-Reversal Charm contained in the device. That book says that before a device was invented to control time travel, it was rare that anyone succeeded in going back in time, and when they did, it was . . . messy. My thought is, if it wasn’t contained properly, maybe something like this could happen. Unfortunately—and I know this from third year—the vast majority of information about Time-Turners is protected by the Ministry. It’s highly classified, and the charm is likely beyond difficult to replicate, even if we found the instructions.”

“So . . . what does that have to do with me?” Harry knew it wasn’t a good sign that he was already confused.

“Maybe the spell that’s affecting you is similar to the Hour-Reversal Charm. As far as we know, you’re the only one who’s aware that we’ve traveled back in time. Also, although you went back more hours than I was allowed to travel, it’s still only a day.”

“How can I change things, then? With the Time-Turner, it didn’t matter what we changed, it was how it always happened.”

Hermione chewed her lip. “It must be much more powerful. From what I’ve read, if you go back a short time, you are in a . . . a sort of fixed loop. You can’t change anything, like you said. But longer than a few hours, and you affect the future. Depending on when the day started over for you, it might be twenty-four hours. I suppose it could be worse, because you don’t know what would have happened the next day if you had hurt Malfoy using Dark Magic. And that could be what’s responsible for time resetting: Dark Magic, or something about the castle.” She glanced at the pile of books, and Harry could tell she doubted the likelihood of figuring it out solely with research.

Ron sighed. “Maybe someone messed up, and things will be back to normal soon.”

A thought struck Harry. “What if it was Voldemort?”

“He would have to be in Hogwarts, I assume.”

“But he’s got Malfoy, hasn’t he?” The more the idea settled in Harry’s mind, the more certain he was.

“What reason would he have to cast such a spell?”

“There’s a lot about his plans we don’t know. It could have to do with his Horcruxes, or killing me.”

Hermione looked doubtful, but there was little else to guess. She wanted to turn back to the books—surely one of them had an answer—but Ron was growing impatient and Harry had all but given up. She sighed. “If you’re not going to do research, are you going to talk to Dumbledore tomorrow?”

“Fine. Yes, I will.”

That night, Harry lay back in his bed, nerves washing over him in waves. If nothing else, he had managed to avoid confrontation with Malfoy. The best he could do was hope everything would go back to normal.

 

When Harry awoke the next morning, Ron was shuffling loudly out of bed. “Hey, Ron, what day is it?”

“Hm? Wha—? S’Thursday.”

Harry’s heart skipped a beat. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah? Wait, or is it Friday already?”

Seamus thew his covers aside and pushed past them. “It’s Thursday.” His tone was steely, likely a combination of being woken up and lingering bitterness over Harry’s decision about the Quidditch team.

Harry glared at his retreating figure, then looked back at Ron. “I’ve got something to tell you.”

After Charms and once more explaining everything to a bewildered Ron and Hermione, Harry consulted the Marauder’s Map, saw that Dumbledore was in his office, then set off for the Headmaster’s Tower.

In other years, other months, even, Harry may have been more reluctant to come to Dumbledore for help or advice. But he was propelled by three things: he had spoken with Dumbledore only a few days before, this seemed beyond something he could figure out by himself, and he was already growing impatient with the repetition of daily events.

“Sir?”

The Headmaster, who had been at the Pensieve, sat down at his desk. “Harry, how are you?”

“I’m fine, thank you.” Harry could not conceal his worry, and upon Dumbledore’s piqued attention, began to explain. “Sir, something’s happened. And I don’t know how. I woke up this morning, and the morning before that, and—it’s been the same day. Yesterday was Thursday, and the day before that as well. What I mean is, I’m stuck in time. And only I seem to have noticed.”

Wordlessly, Dumbledore waved his good hand, and a cabinet to his right opened. Harry watched as a small wooden box levitated to rest gently on the Headmaster’s desk.

“What is that?” As he asked, Dumbledore opened the box and pulled out a familiar gold-plated device.

This Time-Turner had six rings—more than Hermione’s Time-Turner—and its center rings spun very quickly, making a soft whirring sound.

“This is an ability I did not know the Time-Turner had; it seems to be detecting that time is no longer functioning as it normally should.”

“Is it causing time to repeat itself?” Harry sat down and peered at the device.

“I do not believe so. In fact, I imagine it and any other surviving Time-Turner is entirely unusable during the loop. The Time-Turner I invented is a complex instrument, but a situation of this nature . . . It would take me weeks to test if it is responsible.”

“So what, then?”

“The Time-Turner is likely only an indicator that time has been disturbed. I believe the true cause could be a jinx, or a curse.” Dumbledore paused. “Similar to the jinx on the Defense Against the Dark Arts position.”

“Hang on . . .” Harry thought back to the memory he saw of Voldemort’s visit to Hogwarts. “So Voldemort jinxed the—?”

“I believe he did. Perhaps he was not in control and it was caused by an emotional reaction, perhaps it was fully intentional. Until he dies, the jinx will persist.”

“So . . . did Voldemort do this, too?”
“I cannot be certain. I have never known time to repeat itself in the castle in all the years since he was last at Hogwarts, though it is possible it evaded my detection. There have also been numerous students powerful enough to cast such a jinx since Tom Riddle left school, or students who were capable of bringing such magic into Hogwarts.” Dumbledore paused, gaze magnetized toward the consistent spinning of the Time-Turner’s rings. “I think you should investigate who created this time loop, assuming it continues. That will be the key to uncovering how it was created, and ending it, if necessary.”

“How long will that take?”

“A few weeks, perhaps, at the most.”

“What if it takes longer? What if I’m stuck like this?”

Dumbledore looked to the Pensieve, then back to Harry. “Focus on ending the loop, for now. Feel free to return to my office in the future. If you must prove to me the time loop exists, simply tell me to look at my Time-Turner.”

Harry left Dumbledore’s office feeling deeply discouraged. With his initial efforts to figure out the time loop through research proving unsuccessful, he couldn’t see how he would fix things on his own.

Hermione and Ron tried their best to reassure him.

“It could sort itself on its own,” said Ron, a placating suggestion that already seemed familiar.

“Ronald, really. We have to try something.” Hermione did her best to look confident. “If nothing we do is permanent, then it won’t affect us to spend time researching rather than doing homework.” This was apparently more to convince herself than the boys.

“Yeah. And at least I can remember whatever we find out. If I forgot everything each morning, I’d be stuck like this for sure.”

Ron’s eyes grew wide. “What if time is always repeating and no one knows?”

Hermione almost began a retort, but instead stopped to consider it. “Well . . . with the Time-Turners affected, I hope there’d be some kind of sign. Instead, what about this: what if time repeats constantly and always only one person ever knows? That’s the motivation to use magic, people constantly fixing their mistakes, trying to change things . . .”

They were silent, thinking.

Harry ventured an idea. “Dumbledore said ‘numerous’ students could’ve created the loop at some point in Hogwarts.”

Ron frowned. “And how many thousands of students has this school had?”

“Under five hundred thousand. That’s only an estimation, no one really knows because records were destroyed in the sixteenth century.” Sensing their lack of interest, Hermione continued, “Anyhow, we could start with that. Is there anyone at school right now who could’ve done it?” She fished in her bag for a piece of parchment and dipped her quill in ink, apparently unconcerned what she wrote would disappear the next day.

“Draco Malfoy.” Harry waited to see if Hermione’s reaction would be better than the day before and was pleased when she wrote it down. When he added, “Or anyone in Slytherin,” she set her quill on the table and looked at him, stern.

“What?”

“We don’t know if this loop is malicious, or even if it was created on purpose.”

“But Dumbledore brought up Voldemort.” Harry looked to Ron for support.

“Harry’s got a point.” Ron glanced at Hermione, apologetic.

“More than just Slytherins cast jinxes, if that’s what this is. And there are more powerful students than Draco Malfoy. A few, at least.” Hermione listed off a number of students at Hogwarts she knew were smart, or had once made a show of their magical abilities. Her impression of them seemed to revolve around how their talent compared to hers.

Harry read and re-read the list while she wrote, mentally crossing out the names he thought were unlikely. When Hermione wrote her own name, he scoffed.

“What? I could’ve done it by accident! And as far as we know, I’m the only one who’s time-traveled inside Hogwarts in recent history.”

“Then why would it affect me?”

“I don’t know. Someone else could be reliving their day, too. If they are, you have to find them.”

Once complete, Harry couldn’t help but see the list in order of likelihood, with Malfoy’s name at the top spot. “I’ll use the Marauder’s Map, see if there’s any unusual behavior.” He bit back what he nearly added—See what Malfoy’s been doing in the Room of Requirement.

Exhausted by the amount of information he had to process, and anxious to fall asleep sooner to see if time had resumed normally, Harry retired to bed early. Restless, he fought for a comfortable position, finally ending up on his side, facing his nightstand. His wire-framed glasses, blurred into a reflective smudge by his eyesight, were placed next to his Charms textbook, and the familiarity of this arrangement sparked an idea. He placed his glasses on top of the book; that way, when he woke up, he would immediately know if time had reset.

The door to the room opened, and Ron (Harry could make out a smudge of orange) entered, abandoning his effort to be quiet once he saw Harry was awake.

“We’ll figure it out,” said Ron, crossing to his dresser. “You figured out how to get Slughorn’s memory, and at one point that seemed impossible, right?”

Harry nodded vaguely, closing his eyes again. The situation seemed more nebulous than impossible, where possibility and impossibility were distant considerations in the wake of what had yet to be determined.

 

The next morning, Harry’s glasses were in their usual place.

When Ron prodded him to wake up and get ready or they’d be late, Harry mumbled something about not feeling well, and Ron could go on without him. Dean, Seamus, and Neville had already left, so no one saw when he retrieved the Marauder’s Map and spread it out on his bed.

He felt a bit godlike with this ability to see everyone at once. Like turning over a large rock, Hogwarts opened up to him, revealing the writhing, unknowable life underneath. Tiny dots scurried across the parchment, attached to names he could have heard once or a thousand times, some clumped in pairs or groups, others alone.

As his eyes began to drift with boredom, he was struck with an expected albeit all-consuming loneliness. His father’s fingers had surely traced the same sprawling lines as his had, mind racing with possibilities. The map symbolized a simpler time for both of them, when James’ biggest worry was getting away with a prank rather than getting away with defying Voldemort, and Harry’s biggest worry was whether his life was threatened by an escaped convict rather than a resurrected, genocidal wizard.

What would his father do with the map and the freedom to explore without consequences? Harry’s attention wandered to the Slytherin dungeon. Surely some Slytherin in the castle was up to no good, or he could find evidence of Snape’s true loyalty . . .

By ten, Harry finally put the map aside. Over an hour of studying the pages, and his eyes’d had enough. He glanced around the room for an idea of what to do, but felt restless just from the idea of reading. Instead, he got ready for the day so he could join Ron and Hermione for lunch before Transfiguration. It was unusual for him to miss class for being sick, especially for a morning class where sleeping in was an impossible luxury.

“Should you see Madame Pomfrey?” asked Hermione for the fifth time.

“I’m fine. I had a headache—not my scar hurting, mind—and it’s gone now.”

They took his word for it. Going to class seemed pointless, as did explaining his situation to Ron and Hermione over and over again, unless he had new information to run by them. He could tail Malfoy, or ask Myrtle if she’d seen anything, possibly follow the students Hermione had listed as possible culprits.

For the time being, he pretended to work on homework in the common room while actually thinking about how best to approach fixing time.

“Ah, finally.” Ginny collapsed on the couch next to them, sighing.

Harry’s nerves jumped in surprise. “Long day?” She had tied her hair back, and over the course of the day, little wisps had escaped, remainders of whatever whirlwind she’d been caught up in. Of everyone he had no longer disappointed since time repeated, he was happiest about Ginny.

“It’s been a long week, and I have to study for the O.W.L.s next month on top of essays . . . Fortunately, I saw Dean on my way here, and he looked way better, so that cheered me up. I was tired of seeing him moping around.”

“That was rather sudden,” said Ron, scoffing. “Yesterday I heard him tell Seamus it’d take months to get over you.”

“Maybe he rebounded. That’s what it takes, in the end.”

Harry stared down at his hands, wondering if dating Ginny after Dean would only be temporary so she could get over him. By her cheeriness after the breakup, though, it was unlikely she needed a someone to revive her spirits.

“What about Lavender?” Ginny considered Ron, who was sharing a textbook with Hermione—their knees nearly touched as they propped the book open between them.

“She’s not over it, if that’s what you’re asking,” he said, with a level of indifference that was almost cruel.

“If I know you at all, Ron, she’ll get over you before you know it. Not that Hogwarts is overflowing with eligible bachelors.”

Harry hoped she couldn’t see the heat rising to his face—thankfully, Ron’s indignation served as a distraction.

“Aren’t there other people you can annoy?” grumbled Ron, blocking the pillow she attempted to kindly return to him. Harry imagined their summers must be like this, Ginny chucking Quaffles at Ron as he did his best to guard the goalposts.

“Why, and miss out on annoying my favorite brother?” She stood and ruffled his hair before looking back at Harry. “Talk to you lot later, then? I’m off to bed, I’m going to finish my essay in the morning.”

“Yeah, talk—see you soon,” replied Harry, stumbling over the words, too aware of Hermione’s barely contained smirk in the corner of his eye.

“Drop it,” he said once Ginny was out of earshot.

Hermione blinked at him, feigning innocence. “I didn’t say anything!”

Harry raised an eyebrow, then busied himself in his textbook, which he realized had been open to the same page for the past hour. He looked over at Ginny, who stood at the foot of the staircase, laughing with some of the girls from her year. Maybe living the same day over again for a couple weeks wouldn’t be so terrible after all.

Chapter Text

 

Pretending to be sick once more, Harry wondered whether he could easily get his hands on some Wizard Wheezes next time in order to be more convincing. He slept in a bit longer, then got ready for the day and threw on his invisibility cloak.

As unpleasant as it would be to talk to Moaning Myrtle again, there was a good chance she had witnessed someone cast a curse in the bathroom. It was only a matter of convincing her to talk, especially since he hadn’t visited her in a while.

Harry remembered he hadn’t checked the map to see if the bathroom was occupied, so he peeked under each of the stalls before taking off his cloak. “Myrtle? You there? It’s Harry.”

There was a pause, and he thought he heard the faint sound of rushing water. “Myrtle?”

Bursting out of one of the stalls with a splash, Myrtle flew over his head and slowly floated down, frowning at him with her arms crossed.

“Hello, Harry. It’s been ages since you visited me.”

“I know, and I’m really sorry. I’ve been busy.”

“Oh, of course . . .” She sighed, gliding past him. “Why would you bother finding time for me?”

“I’m here now, aren’t I? Look, I’m on an important mission, and I thought you could help.”

Myrtle’s expression soured. “You didn’t come to just talk, Harry Potter.”

“Maybe not, but this is important. You want to help, don’t you?”

“Favors. That’s all people want. Myrtle, this boy likes me, what should I do? Myrtle, my parents don’t understand me. Myrtle this and Myrtle that—and then I fix their problems and they abandon me . . . and end up happy . . . and I’m stuck here, forgotten . . .”

Harry fidgeted, unsure what to say to make her feel better. He was guilty of what she accused him, but she was rather annoying, and a bloody ghost, so what could he do about it? “C’mon, don’t look at it like that. I mean, you’re changing people’s lives. Making people feel better.” An image of Malfoy at the basin flashed before his eyes. “It’s important.”

“Well . . . I do try to make a difference when I can . . .”

“Then it would make a big difference if you could help me. Do you remember anyone coming in here to try and reverse time? They may have had a device, or said something strange, maybe.”

“Oh, I don’t know, Harry. I’ve only been here a few decades, but still . . . many people come to this bathroom, crying to me about their issues. I only remember the cute ones,” added Myrtle, before she broke out into giggles.

“Has Draco Malfoy tried to reverse time?”

Myrtle cocked her head. “What, because he’s cute?”

“Because he’s—?” The last word Harry associated with Malfoy was cute. “No, because he visits you. Surely you’d have seen him—maybe only recently.” If this had been a lengthy and arduous project, Kreacher or Dobby would have had some hint about it. But they hadn’t mentioned Malfoy's visits to the girls’ bathroom, so it was likely a blind spot. After all, what useful information could be gained from following someone into the bathroom?

“I may have seen him in here before. He didn’t cast any spells, though.”

“Are you sure? Myrtle, it’s really important that you remember.”

“He hasn’t! You and your friends are the only ones who have used this bathroom for anything magic in a long time . . . Remember that  terrible potion you made? Before then, the red-headed twins came here for their projects, and before them, a girl with pink hair, and before her, too many to keep track of.” She watched him as his eyebrows stitched together with frustration. “I’m sorry I can’t help you more, Harry.”

“It’s alright. Thank you anyway.” His inquiry was too broad; once he knew more, she may be more useful.

The next day, Harry decided to eavesdrop on Malfoy’s conversation with Myrtle. He only had an approximate guess of when Malfoy would come to the bathroom based on when he had walked in on him originally.

He slipped silently into the bathroom to avoid Myrtle’s detection, and waited nearly half an hour loitering by the sinks before Malfoy swept in. Harry saw his composure crack with every step; he must’ve been barely holding it together until he could be alone. “Myrtle?”

Myrtle floated through one of the stall doors. “Draco! Are you okay?”

As soon as she asked him this, he broke, covering his face with his hands, shoulders heaving.

Myrtle drifted closer, her desire to touch him plain as she lifted her hands slightly from her sides. “I’m sorry, Draco . . . I’m sorry.”

He heaved a shaking breath and looked at her. From where he stood, Harry could see Malfoy’s face in detail, the red-rimmed eyes, the glisten of snot below his nostrils, the crinkles in his chin. “Th-there’s nothing to be s-sorry for. It’s all on me . . .”

“There has to be some way I can help. If I could only . . .”

Malfoy didn’t seem to hear her, and instead gripped the sink to steady himself. “Sometimes I think about ending it . . . It would be easier if I were gone.”

Harry’s stomach knotted. Did Malfoy mean what he thought he meant?

Moaning Myrtle’s voice drifted gently through one of the stalls. “Don’t say that. I’m here for you, I’ll make it better. Don’t cry . . . Don’t . . . Tell me what’s wrong . . . I can help you . . .”

Malfoy’s entire body shook. “No one can help me. I can’t do it. I can’t. A-and unless I do it soon . . . he says he’ll kill me . . .”

“He can’t scare me, Draco. There’s nothing he can do to hurt me.”

“If you could help, I would tell you. But you can’t.”

“Isn’t there anyone . . . ?”

“I have someone, he’s hardly even trying . . . He’s useless.”

Was Malfoy talking about Snape? Harry wondered why Malfoy thought he was useless, considering Snape was a Death Eater, too; surely he could use any help he could get.

“What about your friends?”

Malfoy shook his head, fresh tears flooding his eyes. “No. No, they can’t know. I-I am supposed to bear it alone. That’s what h-he wants. I would only be putting everything at risk. Y-you are the only one I can talk to . . . And even then . . .”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Draco . . .” She placed a hand on his shoulder and as the palm of her hand disappeared into him, he shivered. “If I can’t help you with your mission, surely there’s something I can do . . . someone I can haunt, perhaps?”

Malfoy seemed to stir from his despair. “Y-you can haunt someone?”

“I could spy on someone, if I was careful. But if the person realized and told Dumbledore, he would find a way to cast me out—”

“Harry Potter.”

Myrtle gasped, scandalized, though it was merely for dramatic effect because Malfoy continued as though she already knew of his deep loathing for Harry.

“I need to find out if he knows about my plans. Or at the very least how close he is to finding out. He has this magic cloak—he can become invisible . . .”

“Then will you tell me what it is that upsets you? The responsibility that causes you so much pain?”

“No.” Malfoy’s tears started again as he was reminded of the secret he had to keep. Harry supposed he would also resent that he had to go to Myrtle, of all people. Or rather, of all spirits. “It’s highly unlikely that Potter knows anything of importance . . . but he could be following me around, or trying to eavesdrop again . . . I don’t know if I’ve let something slip, given him too many clues.”

Myrtle let out a low whine. “It’s wrong to watch him when he’s unaware. What if I witness something inappropriate?” She giggled, and Malfoy's eyes flashed—not with anger, but with triumph.

“Will you help me, then?” he asked, dropping back into a more pitiful tone.

Myrtle glided to the left, sighing. “Yes. Though I would hate for him to catch me. If he came here, that would be much easier.”

Malfoy rubbed his temple. “Not for me.” He was breaking again. “It’s—it’s like my mind is empty. I can’t concentrate, I c-can’t think, and when I do anything it’s as though it’s not even me. Everything keeps piling on, and I’m not sure how much m-more I can take . . .”

Malfoy had worked himself up so much that he hardly seemed to hear when Myrtle said, “I’ll take care of it. I don’t want you to worry.”

Anger stirred inside Harry. While Malfoy’s crying seemed genuine, it was obvious he was manipulating Myrtle by exaggerating his desperation.

“What I said earlier—it was a lapse in judgement. I don’t want to die,” he said so softly Harry almost missed it. “At least I have you. Without you, I think I wouldn’t have the strength—the strength to continue.”

Myrtle beamed, though the look was a bit crazed. “If I’d had you when I was alive, I wouldn’t have wanted to die, either. Oh, Draco. You have to believe in yourself. You’re stronger than you think.”

This was blatant flattery, Harry thought, as nothing Malfoy had ever done could be considered strong. He was the antithesis of strength.

“If I were strong, I would have completed my task by now.”

“Or are you strong to not want to complete it?”

Malfoy covered his face with his hands. “I can’t afford to question him—to question myself . . . it only makes it harder.”

“Oh, Draco . . .” said Myrtle, watching helplessly as Malfoy cried, more quietly and hoarsely than before. He was unable to muster tears, but not because it was merely for show, rather because he looked exhausted. For the first time, watching him, Harry found his throat constricted. Merlin’s sake, do I actually feel sorry for him?

“I should go,” Malfoy said finally. He splashed his face with water and dried his face with the front of his cloak. For a moment, he studied his face in the mirror, tugging on the bags under his eyes, then adjusted his tie. His gaze flickered to where Harry stood—he had accidentally exhaled through his mouth. Nevertheless, Malfoy decided it was nothing, whispered “Goodbye, thank you,” to Myrtle, and walked out of the bathroom.

Without thinking, Harry hurried to follow him.

Malfoy walked quickly until he was well out of the bathroom’s range, then slowed his pace, sighing. By straightening his back, pulling his face into a slight scowl, and cracking his knuckles, Malfoy transformed back into his usual self. Still, anyone who knew him well enough would be able to see through this posturing.

Without warning, Malfoy stopped in his tracks.

Step.

Harry froze, but his footfall had been pronounced. Soundlessly, he took a step to the side, and another, as Malfoy stared at the place he’d heard the sound.

“Potter, if you’re there,” whispered Malfoy, “you’re dead.” He raised his wand. “Petrificus Totalus!” The spell shot through the air and down the corridor, fizzing out before it hit the wall. Gritting his teeth to keep from swearing, Harry continued slowly in the opposite direction. If he could make it to where there were others, sneak past with them . . .

“Accio cloak! Revelio!” shouted Malfoy, looking wildly about. Nothing happened. Harry pointed his wand at Malfoy, then said in a low voice, “Expelliarmus!” The spell sent Malfoy’s wand flying, and Harry bolted, ignoring Malfoy’s enraged threats. He ran up to the seventh floor, through the portrait hole, and up to the boys’ dormitory. His heart raced; Malfoy’s suspicions since he had discovered him on the train were stronger than he had assumed. Did anyone else know he had an invisibility cloak? Crabbe and Goyle must know, and possibly more Slytherins. Then again, Malfoy had known for months and the rumor hadn’t reached him, so maybe he had kept it to himself.

The Marauders’ Map showed Malfoy wandering the halls, path erratic and repetitive. After a half an hour of this, Pansy Parkinson met up with him and led him to the Great Hall in time for the last ten minutes of dinner. Harry skipped the meal under the pretense of illness, thinking it best to avoid Malfoy for the remainder of the day.

An hour later, Harry’s stomach growled. Ron and Hermione were in the common room, but he wasn’t in the mood to join them and repeat the same conversations he’d been having over and over.

“Dobby?”

With a loud crack, the house-elf appeared as summoned, smiling up at him from beside his bed. “Harry Potter, how are you? Dobby—Dobby has nothing new to report—” Having said this aloud, Dobby’s smile fell and he looked about to find something with which to hurt himself.

“It’s okay! Dobby, it’s fine, I didn’t call you here about that. Have you been sleeping like I told you to?”

“Yes, sir, four hours a night!”

“Only four? Is that enough?”

“Oh, it’s plenty, Harry Potter. Dobby has never slept so much in all his life.”

“Er, great. You can sleep more, if you want. I don’t know how much house-elves are supposed to sleep, but however much you need.” He continued through Dobby’s thanks, “Listen, were there leftovers after dinner? Would it be any trouble to get me some food from the kitchens?”

“Not trouble at all! Dobby will be back soon.” He Disapparated, leaving Harry to think. If he only had a day to track Malfoy and figure out what he was up to, how could Dobby help? And was there anything he should have asked before that might help him?

No more than a minute later and Dobby reappeared, balancing a plate full of meat and potatoes in one hand, a cup of juice in the other.

“Thank you so much, you’re a lifesaver.”

“Anything for Harry Potter. Just say the word.”

“Have you eaten? Would you like some of this?”

Dobby shook his head so that his ears flapped back and forth. “Dobby is allowed to eat as much as he wants in the kitchens.”

“Okay, suit yourself.” After going many nights with only scraps for dinner or having food withheld as punishment in his childhood, he could manage skipping a meal every now and then. Since he was making up for his stunted growth, however, his body protested whenever he became too hungry before bed.

“Did you know that Malfoy talks to one of the ghosts here?” Harry asked between bites.

“No, does he? Dobby hasn’t seen him talk to any.”

“Right. He does it in the girls’ bathroom, so I thought maybe you didn’t want to follow him.”

Horror spread across Dobby’s huge eyes at the chance he had missed something, so Harry quickly talked him down. “It’s not a big deal. He just goes there to cry about his problems. Like today, he visited Moaning Myrtle and started sobbing and talking about some task he had to do.”

At the house-elf’s intensified confusion, Harry set his plate down in case he would have to suddenly restrain him. “You seem surprised.”

“The—the Malfoy boy only cries when he’s alone. He hasn’t said anything to anyone worth mentioning to you, Harry Potter. I failed you . . .”

Harry leapt from his bed to grab Dobby’s arm, keeping him from grabbing a book from the desk. “You haven’t failed me! He only talked vaguely about his situation, having to complete a task. It wasn’t anything useful.” That was a white lie, since as a result of discovering Malfoy in the bathroom, Harry now knew two things: that Malfoy didn’t want to complete the mission Voldemort had tasked him with, and that Myrtle was a potential source of information.

“Harry Potter needn’t lie,” said Dobby, voice choked with anguish.

“I’m not! You have my word. Look, let me ask you something. Has Malfoy ever come close to telling someone? Or if you had to guess, who might know about his plans?”

Dobby was returning to his senses, so Harry picked up his plate and continued to eat.

“Young Draco Malfoy’s friends are not like Harry Potter’s friends. He is separate. He doesn’t want them to get close.”

Harry nodded slowly as he chewed. “I think I understand what you mean. Out of his friends, though, who do you think he would tell about his plans? Assuming he hasn’t already.”

“The girl he’s sometimes with—Pansy Parkinson. She knows what to say to him, his large friends don’t.”

“Crabbe and Goyle? I don’t imagine they would.” Maybe he ought to follow Pansy’s movements for a day. Crabbe and Goyle were mainly silent, keeping to grunts as a means of communication, whereas Pansy was a notorious gossip. If anyone would let something slip about Malfoy, it was her. “Thank you, Dobby.”

“No trouble at all. Should I follow Pansy now?”

“You can in a few days. Take a break, you’ve earned it.”

“Oh, thank you, Harry Potter. I will see you soon!” With a crack, Dobby Disapparated, and Harry was left alone with his mashed potatoes.


After two days that were uneventful apart from a few cheery conversations with Ginny, Harry decided to try speaking to Myrtle again.

“Hello? Myrtle, are you in here?”

Moaning Myrtle rose out of the stall, clearly expecting Malfoy. Upon seeing Harry, her expression soured slightly. “It’s about time you visited me, Harry. I thought we were friends.”

Harry stifled a scoff. This again. “We are! Er, just—school has been very stressful for me. But I wanted to see how you’re doing.”

“Oh, I’m sure it has been hard for you, Harry.” Myrtle’s eyes sparkled behind her glasses, and she was the picture of sympathy. “I hear things, you know, so I can imagine what you’re going through . . .”

“Really? What kinds of things?”

“You-Know-Who coming back, Cedric Diggory dying, and just last year, at the Ministry . . ."

Harry swallowed, resolving himself to keep his composure. “Yeah, all of that. And this year, someone has been attacking students.”

Myrtle nodded. “I heard about the attacks. Makes me think about my own death, how life is fragile . . .”

“Er, right, I’m sorry.”

She let out a long sigh and sunk beneath the tiled floor, rising out of one of the stalls a moment later. “You figured out who it was last time, didn’t you? You were very heroic, Harry.”

“Thanks. I had help, though. My friends—” He stopped himself. Best to stay on track. “Anyhow, I think Draco Malfoy has something to do with it.”

Myrtle blinked at him through her thick glasses. “Oh? You think so because you dislike him.”

“I have plenty of evidence. And if he keeps at it, everyone’s lives could be in danger.”

“That’s not so bad. It’s rather dull here without any danger.” Myrtle giggled and floated closer to him.

“Fine, then my life’s in danger.”

Myrtle pouted. “You’re not the only one.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, I can’t tell you, Harry.”

“I’m only trying to help. Don’t you believe I can do it? I killed the monster that killed you all those years ago.”

“So you want to stab the next thing in your way?”

“No! I don’t want to kill anyone, if I can avoid it.”

She seemed to believe him, and came closer, eyes narrowed. “Do you know who’s been visiting me?”

“Draco Malfoy.”

“Draco has kept me company, but you haven’t been to the girls’ bathroom in a long time . . .”

“I’ve been busy! And I’ll have plenty of free time if you help me. We won’t have any time together if I’m dead.”

“How would you spend that free time, Harry?”

“There’d be time to visit you, of course, and—and maybe the baths again, if I knew the password.”

Myrtle bit her lip. “Don’t pretend you would, you’re trying to trick me!” With a mournful sigh, she flew back into the toilet.

Cursing himself, Harry decided to try it again the next day.

“You won’t believe me.”

“I will! I will!” Myrtle floated closer.

“After so long without visiting you, I was ashamed. I thought you hated me now and wouldn’t want to be bothered.”

“Oh no, Harry, of course I want you to see me. I am upset, but two years for me is more like two months. And I’m used to people leaving me.”

Harry reached deep within himself to further his deceit. “To make it up to you, I want to come visit you every month. Er, at least once.”

“You will? You promise?”

He cringed at her unabashed eagerness. “Cross my heart. If I don’t show up for a while, then it’s because something bad’s happened, or I am too busy trying to figure out who’s attacking people to see you.”

“It’s hard to say no to you, Harry.” She fluttered her eyelashes. “If I help you, then it has to be our secret.”

“Of course.”

“That boy, Draco Malfoy, talks about many things with the Slytherin girl Pansy Parkinson. I remember back in your second year, you made a special potion to change your appearance . . .”

“Myrtle, that’s brilliant! Er, though I already knew he talked to Pansy about being a—well, that he talked about things that he doesn’t with just anyone. I think they’re going out, it makes sense.”

“No, they’re not! He doesn’t fancy her. He doesn’t.”

“How do you know?”

“Just . . . guessing.”

Of course Myrtle would want to think there wasn’t anything romantic between Pansy and Malfoy. At least, he would tell Myrtle there wasn’t in order to gain her loyalty.

“He has a lot of responsibility. You’re not the only one in danger, Harry.”

“So you’re saying he’s not the one cursing people, then.”

Myrtle flew further away, sighing. “I know you don’t want to help him, so I won’t tell you anything more.”

Unsatisfied with the information he received from Myrtle, Harry tried every day for a week to find out more about what she knew. The most he learned was that Malfoy had not yet told her his exact plans or anything about his involvement in the two attacks on students that year. Harry was certain she hadn’t lied about it because she seemed to desperately want to win his favor by helping.

Over the next week, Harry shadowed Pansy while using the cloak, choosing different hours each day so he could pass undetected and slowly create a composite of her May 8th.

Pansy would leave the Dungeons in the morning with Blaise Zabini fifteen minutes before the start of breakfast and say quietly to him something like, “This is the second week in a row he’s missed meeting up. You’re up later than I am, has he been getting enough sleep?”

“He goes to bed early more often than not,” said Zabini. “I believe he’s been using a sleeping draught. Perhaps the dosage is too high . . ."

“Right, could be.” She spent the rest of the morning whispering rumors and critique to Zabini and other Slytherins about whomever they passed from the other Houses. This is when the day began to diverge; Harry’s timing and interactions with others seemed to have a ripple effect on the school.

While he had first assumed Pansy was unaware of Malfoy’s bouts of indifference toward her, Harry realized from the private moments of gloom and hurt after being slighted that she was above all else determined to act as though things were normal. Most days, she rested her head on Malfoy’s shoulder when they were chatting after lunch. He wormed out of it by saying she was hurting his shoulder, and she would sit up straight and glance around to check if anyone had seen.

There were snippets of conversation that made it seem she didn’t know many details about Malfoy’s task: “Draco, if there’s anything you want to tell me . . .” and “Have you asked Snape for better potions?” and once a whispered, “Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do whatever you need.” By passively observing, the most Harry discovered was how much she didn’t know.

So, for another week or so, Harry returned to his normal routine and went through the motions of class, conversations, and occasional investigations. As he reached the three week mark, he was hit by a fresh wave of panic. It may have been nineteen days, or twenty days, or twenty-two days, as he had lost an exact count. Before he decided whether it would be a tell-Ron-and-Hermione-he-was-trapped day or a pretend-to-be-sick day, Ron made the choice for him.

“What’s wrong? Did you have a nightmare?” Ron crouched at the side of Harry’s bed so the others wouldn’t hear.

“Not quite,” Harry replied, about to feign a cough, when Ron said, “Something else is wrong, isn’t it?”

Harry nodded. “Can you wait for the others to leave?”

Ron took a deliberately slow time getting ready for the day, until the others had gone.

“For three weeks now, I’ve been trapped in the same day. I don’t know why, but when I wake up, it’s the same day all over again.”

Twenty minutes later, he was reciting the same spiel to Hermione, who fired a series of questions at him about what she had or hadn’t suggested before.

“Have I told you to spend a day interfering as little as possible? Not talking to anyone?”

“I’ve tried that.”

“What about the reverse? You should ask for advice from as many people as you can, surely someone will have a clue or you’d find out if there’s anyone like you.”

“You haven’t suggested that yet, usually you just tell me to go to Dumbledore.”

“And this is the first time you’ve listed off so many things I’ve already said, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. I ought to try that again in the future. So who should I talk to?”

“I’d talk to the professors. All of them. Someone has to know something that would help.”

Later that day, Hermione agreed, adding, “In general, you should talk to different people each time the loop resets.”

Over the next few days, Harry spoke with professors, explaining his situation and asking for their advice. Trelawney and Snape he decided to put off until he really felt he had no other choice. McGonagall was his biggest hope after Dumbledore, so he wanted to hold off talking to her for a few more weeks, if he was trapped that long. In order of who ended up being the least to most helpful, he talked to Professors Binns, Sprout, Burbage, Sinistra, Flitwick, Babbling, and Slughorn. Before the time loop, he could have remembered the order in which he spoke to them, but now his mind organized them as they mattered.

He hadn’t expected much from Professor Binns, but talked to him anyway. “You’ve been teaching at Hogwarts a long time.”

The professor stroked his translucent chin. “Yes, I have. However, the attempts to alter time at Hogwarts, few of which I have heard proved successful, have tended to last no more than a few minutes.”

“So someone’s tried to reverse time before?”

Binns shook his head as though a fly were circling him. “I cannot remember.”

Professor Sprout was similarly unhelpful. “Have you told the Headmaster about this?”

“Yes, I have. I’ve spoken with other professors, too, and they’ve given useful advice, though nothing that has ended the loop so far.”

She studied him, then looked around the greenhouse. “If I had some kind of plant that could reverse the effects of a time-altering spell, I would use it. Unfortunately, such a plant has yet to be found. Given the rarity of the situation you’re in, nobody has had an incentive to research a cure.”

Professor Burbage, the Muggle Studies professor, startled Harry with her concern, eyes shining as she offered to make him tea. By the time their drinks had cooled enough to drink, she offered her perspective. “Muggles are surprisingly interested in time travel and perhaps more ignorant to the consequences as wizarding folk. In a recent popular Muggle film series, a boy trusts an old man who sends him back in time, causing the boy’s mother to fall in love with him—”

“With the old man?”

“No, the boy.” She wrinkled her nose. “And given how far back he goes in time, it has a significant effect on their life. Return to the Future, I believe?”

“Mhm. I think I’ve heard of it . . .” A poster appeared in the haze of his memory, though because he had seen very few films in his life, he hadn’t paid much attention to it at the time. “So what, you’re saying students raised in a wizarding home would be less likely to try it than Muggleborns?”

“At the very least, Muggleborns may romanticize it. The practice is highly restricted and largely forbidden in wizarding society. Luckily, you haven’t gone more than a day back in time, and it was unintentional, so chances are you won’t face any punishment from the Ministry if they learned of it. . .”

Professor Sinistra, the Astronomy professor, stood and paced after he explained everything to her. “It is curious that you are the only one who is experiencing the time loop . . .”

“As far as I know.”

“In Astronomy, we have studied the alignment of the stars and the clarity of the sky. How do you feel when you study space?”

“I dunno. Small.”

“Explain what you mean by small.”

“Well, like it doesn’t matter what I do. And that doesn’t feel true when I’m not looking at something bigger than myself, bigger than all of us.”

“I understand what you mean. The constellations are more reliable than we are as individuals and groups, constantly colliding with one another. Even when you test the properties of people up close, study their behavior, it can also significantly affect the outcomes of reality.

“Similarly, the conditions of any spell are worth studying in order to determine its effects, and vice versa. Two days ago, there was a new moon, and two days from now, Mercury will be at aphelion. These conditions are out of our control, and by studying them, we can learn about the properties of the universe.”

“In a way, I suppose I have been using what I learned in Astronomy.” If his actions were permanent, he would not have continued to say, “I have a map that charts the movements of students in Hogwarts. It shows their names, where they are on the grounds.”

“Then you should be wise to study it properly.” She gave him a long look that made him shrink a bit with guilt. “After this loop ends, I hope you will no longer use the map.”

Professor Flitwick asked for Harry’s story a second time so he could take notes about certain details. “The closest charm to what is affecting you is the Hour-Reversal Charm.”

“Aren’t Time-Turners charmed with it?”
“Precisely. Tell me, what is your understanding of the difference between a charm and a curse?”

“Er, a charm changes something, and a curse is Dark magic?”

“Close. A charm changes the properties of its target, while a curse causes harm to or controls its target. A charm can have negative effects, while Dark magic necessitates pain or sacrifice to cause negative effects on the target, positive results for the user. An Hour-Reversal Charm takes the caster back in time, while the world remains the same. A curse is not as clear. I feel perfectly conscious, but normally there is a chance this could all be happening in your head. Although would a curse make other people dismiss the chance we are created and controlled by it . . . ?” He drifted off into a thoughtful silence.

“Professor, what would the negative effects be?”

“That is the trouble. If you do not know what the positive effects are, then it will be difficult to ascertain.”

When Harry entered Professor Slughorn’s office, the man looked up from his desk and set his quill down. “Harry, my dear boy, how are you?”

“Fine, Professor. There’s something I have to ask you about . . .” He launched into an explanation about what had happened so far.

“I see. Do you have any evidence that Malfoy may be behind it?”

“Not exactly. What do you think?”

“The curse must be fueled by something. A sacrifice would be required for a spell this powerful.”

Harry thought of the Horcruxes. If it cost a life to split one’s soul, was this costing him time?

“A sacrifice could take many forms. You may not know until it is over. As to whether You-Know-Who is behind this, we must hope he is not, because if you are the target, this would be designed to weaken you, if not drive you to madness.”

Professor Babbling, professor of Ancient Runes and Ancient Studies, was deemed the most helpful by Hermione when they debriefed what Harry had learned. “I can write you a note to check out a book on ancient time travel practices. I forget the full title, but for short it is called Turning Time. Hopefully you will find what you are looking for it.”

After he asked Babbling to rewrite the note three days in a row, Hermione had spent a sufficient amount of time reading Turning Time: A Newly Compiled History of Time Travel and Time Travelers, they finally had answers to some of their questions. First, that the distinction between Dark and Light magic is not so clear cut in every culture, if it existed at all; second, time travel is possible through different kinds of magic; third, unintentional time travel is not new; fourth, no one in recorded history has existed in the past for longer than five days; fifth, lack of control in the amount of time one is sent back indicates a lack of emotional stability or ignorance to the art of time travel; and finally, there is no single proven set of laws that time-magic follows.

“We can probably rule out You-Know-Who casting the spell himself. It’s still possible that someone with lesser abilities did it for him.”

Harry leaned back in his chair. “This is all pointing toward Malfoy, you realize that?”

“It does look bad . . . Though you did say he hasn’t said anything to Myrtle or his friends about time travel.”

“Not yet.”

She glanced at him, then flipped through the book’s pages. “If we’re assuming this magic would have been triggered by pain or sacrifice, injuring Malfoy could have done it.”

“What, he wanted me to hurt him?”

“Could be—Oh!” Her finger landed on a section titled Time and space. “Have you tried leaving Hogwarts?”

“Not yet.”

“The curse took effect in the school. Perhaps if you got far enough away, it would stop. If I remember correctly, Ursula Spencer did that when she was doing illegal experiments with time travel that backfired.”

“As in, I should leave the country?”

“Try going to Ireland, maybe, or France. Wherever is easiest.”

“Good idea. I’ll ask Hagrid.”

Harry was right to brace himself for a rib-crushing hug and rock cakes at Hagrid’s, as he received both after running through the events of the past month. Then he told him that Hermione had suggested leaving the country.

“That’s a good idea, an’ I’m glad yeh came ter me. If this continues, jus’ know yeh can visit me, right?”

“Thanks, Hagrid.”

“Easiest way out is yer gonna wan’ ter take the Beinn Bus ter the coast, it’ll cost yer a fair amount, mind, then take a Portkey tha’ will get yer to Dublin.”

After memorizing Hagrid’s more detailed instructions, Harry set off on the Beinn Bus from Hogsmeade, which took two hours to reach the southwest coast of Scotland. At the small outpost off of the bus he bought a Portkey service across the Irish Sea to Dublin, checked into an inn for the night, and flopped onto the bed. He wanted to sleep right away, but was too anxious to slow his brain down. Getting up, he sat at the tiny desk in the room, tried to force himself to write with the quill and ink. Hours passed, until midnight passed, then it was almost one, and still he couldn’t sleep—

The walls began to melt. His desk folded away into nothing as everything around him zipped away, tucked into some alternate reality, leaving him lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling as the early dawn filtered into the dorm room. Shock only lasted a moment before frustration swept over him. It doesn’t matter what I do. Judging by the dark stillness of the room, it was a full day before, sometime after midnight.

He thought back to Malfoy, leaning over the sink, ready to give up. How long would he have to be stranded in time before he broke like that? At least Malfoy knew what his task was—Harry was ignorant to what he was supposed to do and how to escape. If I died in the loop, would I die permanently, or wake up in bed? He wasn’t yet willing to try something so drastic.

Chapter Text

ch3_crucio

For the first time since the time loop began, Harry decided to confront Malfoy in the bathroom in the hopes that repeating the fateful day’s events, but without casting Sectumsempra, would restore time. He waited until he heard the line “He says he’ll kill me . . .” before letting Malfoy see him.

Malfoy spun around, drawing his wand. Ready for an attack, Harry had already pulled out his own. Malfoy’s hex missed Harry by a hair, shattering the lamp on the wall beside him. Harry lurched sideways, thought Levicorpus! and flicked his wand, but Malfoy blocked the jinx and raised his wand to cast another—

“No! No! Stop it!” Moaning Myrtle’s pleas echoed loudly around the tiled room. “Stop! Stop!”

There was a loud bang and the bin behind Harry exploded. Still unwilling to resort to a spell as violent as Sectumsempra, he instead attempted a Leg-Locker Curse that backfired off the wall behind Malfoy’s ear, shattering the cistern beneath Moaning Myrtle, who screamed loudly. Water poured everywhere, causing Harry to slip and fall to the floor as Malfoy, face contorted, cried,“Crucio!”

Fiery pain consumed him. He knew it was not real, that the burning did not mean he was actually consumed in flame, but every inch of him leapt in pain and fear, until he wasn’t sure if he was actually screaming or if it was his body that emitted some inhuman noise . . .

After what must have been two minutes, though he was unable to know for certain, it stopped, leaving Harry to tremble on the ground.

As Myrtle continued to cry for help, Malfoy was sobbing again, breathing in choked gasps as he paced.

You have to mean them, Potter! You need to really want to cause pain—to enjoy it . . . echoed dimly in his mind.

The door flung open with a bang! that seemed to echo like a clap of thunder from miles away. As Harry faded in and out of consciousness, someone’s hands gripped his arms, turned him onto his back, touched his face.

“What have you done?” Snape’s voice was aimed away, up at Malfoy.

“P-Potter attacked me!”

Snape let go of Harry and inhaled sharply. “The Cruciatus Curse. Draco, see me in my office. You have made it exceedingly difficult for me to protect you . . .”

The world faded to black.

Sometime later, Harry opened his eyes to find himself in the Hospital Wing. He lay in bed for a few minutes before Madam Pomfrey came to check on him and saw he was awake.

“How are you feeling, Mr. Potter?”

Harry still felt on edge, but the pain was gone. “Fine.”

“I will let Professor Snape know you’re awake.”

If he weren’t in a time loop, Harry might have protested, but he had grown accustomed to letting things play out, since he knew he had nothing to lose.

Snape swept into the room, expression cold and severe.

“Professor, I didn’t start anything. I walked in on Malfoy in the bathroom, he was crying and—”

“You must have done something to provoke him, Potter.”

Harry glared at him. “Is that what you think? Well, I just told you what I did. He was embarrassed, or whatever, and we fought, and—”

“You allowed him to perform an Unforgivable Curse?”

“I didn’t allow him, obviously! Look, I know you wouldn’t let him get in any trouble, so I’ll tell Dumbledore myself.”

Snape’s lip curled. “The Headmaster has more important concerns than settling a petty dispute.”

“You’re only saying that so I won’t tell him anything.”

Snape glared at Harry. “Go ahead. I can assure you, he will not compound the punishment beyond the detention I gave Draco.”

“Why are you protecting him? I know he’s planning something, and you’re helping him!” Harry would normally withhold all of his suspicion, but he hoped it would get Snape to crack and confess to something, and it felt good to vent. “I found out Malfoy’s a Death Eater.”

Either Snape was truly unfazed, or he was expertly controlling his surprise. “Oh? You think so? That is a serious accusation, Potter, you wouldn’t want to start rumors . . .”

“I saw his Dark Mark once. He was showing his friends, and I was spying on him,” Harry lied. “So I wouldn’t say it’s a rumor.”

Snape colored. “When was this?”

“It was . . . last week. In the seventh floor corridor.”

“Bluffing or not, you should not meddle in what you do not understand.”

Harry scoffed. “Of course you wouldn’t care. Dumbledore let you work here and you’re a Death Eater.”

“You truly are as simple-minded as your father. If you continue to assume your powers of perception are infallible, then you will only place yourself in more needless danger.”

“You’re wrong. I can see things for how they are. I was right about Malfoy and Umbridge—”

“Convincing you of your misguidedness is not my concern. We are done here. Tell Dumbledore what you will.”

After Snape left, Harry began thinking about how he could get information from him. After all, of everyone at Hogwarts, Snape knew the most about the Dark Arts. Unfortunately, if Harry had learned anything from his years at Hogwarts, it was that Snape’s hatred of him made it impossible to ask him for help.

A few days after Malfoy used the Cruciatus Curse, Harry’s desperation began to set in, more pronounced than he had felt in a while. He was lonely, frustrated, and bored. How long would it take—hearing the same words, going to the same classes, and existing in a stagnant world—for him to go mad?

Professor Sinistra’s insight about the conditions of time magic gave Harry the idea to relive May 8th as he had experienced it before the time loop. As much as he didn’t want to use the Prince’s curse again, especially considering in all likelihood the plan would not work, he would have to rule the idea out eventually. The day passed by smoothly at first, with Ron and Hermione oblivious that anything was off about him. That evening, he waited in the corridor until the right moment, then entered the girls’ bathroom carefully, waiting for Malfoy to catch a glimpse of him in the mirror—

Malfoy spun around, drawing his wand. Ready for an attack, Harry had already pulled out his own. Malfoy’s hex missed Harry by a hair, ricocheting off the wall. Harry lurched sideways, thought, Sectumempra! and waved his wand.

Blood spurted from Malfoy’s face and chest as though Harry had slashed him with a sword. He staggered backward and collapsed, head hitting the tiled floor with a terrible thud. Blood flowed from his torso, mixing with the trickle of blood from his skull.

“Draco!” wailed Myrtle, and she swooped to his side, letting out a low whine, hands uselessly slipping through his torso.

Harry’s heart dropped. There hadn’t been enough of a struggle, meaning Snape probably hadn’t heard them. And for some reason, Myrtle was only sobbing, not screaming. Harry rushed to the bathroom door, opened it and peered around—but Snape was nowhere to be seen.

Trying to remain calm, he returned to Malfoy’s side and traced the wounds with his wand, repeating the sing-song incantation Snape had used. The blood slowed to a stop before flowing out again at an even faster rate.

Harry swore. Had the cuts opened up further? He reached for the bottom of Malfoy’s shirt, now a deep red color, hesitating briefly at the fear of what he’d done and of wasting any more time, then pushed it up enough to reveal the gashes splayed across his white skin.

Shaking, Harry attempted the incantation again. He tried a different emphasis of the words, hoping it would take.

Blood still flowed.

His vision blurring, Harry tried a different inflection. The blood seemed to continue for a few seconds, but it was only that which had already spilled blooming on the tile. Encouraged, Harry repeated the words, and the skin sealed slightly. After tracing the wounds until harsh scabbed lines remained in their place, Harry rolled Malfoy’s shirt back over his stomach and searched for signs of breathing. Beneath the soaked shirt, Malfoy’s chest rose and fell almost imperceptibly. His face was slack, his eyes closed and mouth ajar.

Harry thought he looked no more than an inch from death.

Malfoy whimpered, kicking in the rational part of Harry’s brain. The Hospital Wing. If he levitated Malfoy, they had a chance of getting there in time. As a precautionary measure, he ran back out of the bathroom, tracking blood on his shoes. A group of students, likely first-years, were walking down the corridor.

“Oi! You lot! Get Madam Pomfrey. Quickly!”

The young Hufflepuff girl nearest him gaped at his bloodstained robes.

“NOW!” He stepped forward.

With a frantic “Okay!” the group sprinted in the direction of the Hospital Wing.

Hands shaking, Harry levitated Draco and slowly moved him in the direction of the Hospital Wing. When he was halfway there, it was Snape that appeared, not Madame Pomfrey.

“Sir, it was a blood-loss curse. It ricocheted off a mirror in the bathroom and hit him. I didn’t mean . . .”

Snape stared at him, and Harry could feel the tug of truth worming into the forefront of his mind. “Liar.” He began urgently resealing Malfoy’s wounds, so that the blood dripping onto the floor was only from his robes. “Wait here as I attempt to save the boy’s life.” He whisked down the corridor, Malfoy in tow. As soon as he was out of sight, Harry rushed to Gryffindor Tower to retrieve his Potions textbook.

If Malfoy died, would the time loop continue? Maybe that was the point. It was a fluke Snape had shown up to save him that first day, before the time loop—Malfoy was meant to bleed out on the worn tile floor of the girls’ bathroom. Now as then, there would have been no reasonable justification for his actions, certainly not with Snape advocating for Malfoy, so Harry’s expulsion from Hogwarts was guaranteed. He had only ever been responsible for deaths indirectly: his parents, Cedric, Sirius . . . It made sense that sooner or later he would kill someone directly, using his own wand. After a complete month in the time loop, it would take a murder to free him, only to imprison him again. Would he go to Azkaban? Was there juvenile detention for minors, and if so, what horrible creatures inhabited it?

When Snape returned twenty minutes later, he snarled, “He is alive, despite your attempt on his life, Potter—” He reached as though to grab him by the collar, but was stopped by the book Harry had thrust between them.

“Here it is, sir. My copy of Advanced Potions.”

Snape took it slowly, bewildered. “You knew I would ask for this book. Is this a confession?”

Despite Harry’s will to hide his memories, it had little effect. “I’m on a mission from Dumbledore. You can’t know the full details.”

“Oh?” Snape’s features darkened. “You are not in a position to lie, Potter.” How much had Snape seen? He flipped to the inside cover, the inside back cover, and finally the back cover, where This book is the property of the Half-Blood Prince had been written. “So this is the key to your inexplicable success in Potions. You have plagiarized the efforts of another student for your own benefit, concealing your mediocrity by deceiving others.”

“That’s not what I’ve been doing! Who says I can’t use the book for tips?”

Snape flipped through the pages until he spotted the scribbled note that had led them here, now. “‘Sectumsempra—For enemies.’ Was this the curse you used?”

“Yes, sir.” There was no use lying, Snape would see through him.

Malfoy is your enemy? You use a mere Disarming Charm against the Dark Lord and yet you used a powerful curse to murder a fellow student?”

“I didn’t want to kill him!”

“And you clearly did not want to open a basic Latin dictionary.”

“I—that’s beside the point! It doesn’t matter what Malfoy does, you’ll keep pretending he’s innocent. I know he’s up to something.”

Snape stared at him, burrowing deeper into his mind. “You will be very lucky if you are not expelled. You have wormed your way out of lesser crimes before, but this—”

“You’ve read my mind, though, haven’t you? It doesn’t matter what you do to me, because time will reset.”

Snape hesitated, and an image of Harry’s first use of Sectumsempra burst forward, followed by Malfoy’s use of the Cruciatus Curse. “You are fooling around with time? If the Ministry knew . . .”

“I didn’t do it on purpose! Even Dumbledore can’t figure out how to fix things. That’s the reason I did any of this, to make time work again. But it backfired. Tomorrow will probably be the 8th again—”

“If you grow accustomed to everything working your favor, Potter, you will make a mistake you cannot erase. Your father was just as arrogant, and where is he now?”

Harry seethed with fury. “Don’t tell me you’re happy he’s dead, or you have no right to be angry about what I did to Malfoy.”

He must have struck a nerve, for Snape finally looked away. “There is not a professor on these grounds who could justify your actions. I will speak with Dumbledore—”

“Tell him to look at his Time-Turner. It’s proof that time is repeating.”

“Your luck will run out, Potter,” replied Snape, then swept down the hall.

That evening, Dumbledore summoned Harry to his office, his whirring Time-Turner set out on desk in front of him.

“Would you have injured Malfoy, had you not known time was repeating?”

“No, sir, not like this. Defended myself, sure, but I only cast Sectumsempra again because I was trying to recreate the events of the day that started the time loop in the first place. And I couldn’t.”

“I cannot blame you for trying this once, Harry, but I advise against trying it again. You do not know the nature of the curse. If it did indeed take the sacrifice of a life to break, you would have a young man’s life on your conscience.”

“Yeah, he wouldn’t have been the first.”

“Cedric Diggory’s death was not your fault, Harry.”

Instead of arguing, Harry said, “I understand, sir. If I only knew what Malfoy was up to, why he was in the bathroom in the first place . . .”

“You need not hurt him in the process, Harry. Become accustomed to a behavior or mindset in a controlled environment, and you will find it is difficult to readjust to the real world, similar as the two may be.”

Although Harry was frustrated that he could be lectured for something that ultimately affected only him, he knew there was truth to what Dumbledore and Snape had said. Using Sectumsempra again was out of the question, so he would have to think of new ways to end the loop. For the time being, he decided to visit Malfoy in the Hospital Wing and see if there was anything to be gained by talking to him.

“Muffliato,” whispered Harry, the room too quiet to avoid Malfoy hearing the incantation. He slipped his wand out of his invisibility cloak and said, “Lumos.”

Light illuminated Malfoy’s face. Severe red lines crossed his face and neck, winding into the bandages on his chest. Harry knew then that there would be permanent scars etched into his skin if the time loop ended. His fatigue, the eerie light in the room, and his bloodshot right eye compounded Malfoy’s frightening appearance.

Malfoy’s surprise at the light subsided and he sneered. “Come to fight me while my defenses are down, have you, Potter?” Malice dripped from his words, his eyes narrowed in an attempt to be menacing. “Quite noble of you.”

Harry took off his cloak. “You attacked me! Anyhow . . . I came to apologize, not fight.”

“Oh, sure, that’s excellent. Ickle baby Potter has to say sorry. Dumbledore sent you, has he? You can choke on that apology. Is this all the Chosen One has to do to fix nearly killing me? You should be expelled.”

“I never wanted to kill you. I had no idea what the spell would do—I had never tried it before.”

“And that excuse fooled the bloody geezer? It’s a pity how utterly weak he is.”

Clenching his fists, Harry stepped closer to the bed. “Get over yourself. No one told me to apologize, apart from this little thing called a conscience. But I suppose you wouldn’t know about that.”

“Watch your mouth, Potter. You forget that could have been you, bleeding out on the bathroom floor.” Malfoy’s chest rose and fell with the effort it took to speak. The curse had taken a toll on him, and he had already been in pain.

“I know. Except you’re not supposed to kill me, that’s Voldemort’s job.” Harry pocketed his wand and sat on the chair next to Malfoy’s bed. To control his anger, he found some relief in picturing Malfoy’s face when he had cried in the bathroom.

“That doesn’t mean I can’t hurt you.”

“Believe me, I know.” Picture the snot dripping out of his nose, the depressing flop of his hair. “I suppose you can’t tell me why you were crying?”

“Madam Pomfrey!” Malfoy shouted suddenly.

“Don’t bother. I cast a charm so no one will overhear.”

“I will never tell you. I should Obliviate you—” Malfoy began to raise his wand, but Harry disarmed him just in time.

“There’s no point. I wrote down what happened before coming here in case you would.” Lying was quite easy when Harry wouldn’t be held accountable.

Malfoy swore, chuckling to himself as he ran his hands over his face. “Of course you did.” He swore again, but this time he sounded exhausted more than amused. “Just say your bloody apology and get out.”

“I’m sorry. Even though you’re a Death Eater and you’re a godawful person . . . I don’t want you to die. I shouldn’t have hurt you . . . that badly.”

“It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last, Potter,” he said shortly.

“Look, you shouldn’t put me in a position where I’m forced to defend myself.”

“I’m not afraid of you.”

“I never said you were!”

“No, but you think I am. I don’t need you thinking I’m weak because—my stress—it’s just—you’re the one who cried over the ghosts of his parents. You’re the one who lost it over the dementors, over Diggory, the one who’s always whining to your precious Headmaster about your problems.Coughing suddenly from the strain of speaking, Malfoy tried to catch his breath.

Harry could recount a hundred instances of Malfoy’s most spineless moments. But he’d save them for another day, another circumstance that would lead him to this chair, sitting in the Hospital Wing. “I couldn’t give less of a damn that you were crying, for Merlin’s sake. You didn’t expect anyone to see, I understand. Now that I have seen, I thought you’d want to convince me you weren’t crying over nothing.”

Taking the bait, Malfoy glared at Harry. “It is nothing you would understand.”

“Oh, I’m sure I’ll understand. Not sure I’ll sympathize, seeing as we’re on opposing sides of this, aren’t we?”

“That is precisely why you ought to save your breath.”

They stared at each other. Without the energy to convey his usual loathing, Malfoy merely managed to look bored. The potion on the nightstand beside Malfoy, probably for restoring blood, was nearly empty, yet Malfoy’s face was bloodless, white as the pillow propping him up.

“In our first year at Hogwarts, you asked to be my friend. Are you that same person? I can’t imagine him crying in the bathroom.”

“Of course not. I have changed far more than you have, and endured more. You’re still the same as that day in Madam Malkin’s. Just as unassuming, emotional, morally righteous—and everything falls into place for you.”

“Fine. Let’s pretend my parents didn’t die, that Sirius Black was still alive, that Voldemort hasn’t tried to kill me nearly every year since I’ve come to Hogwarts. Explain to me why you get a pass for terrorizing the school, for attempting to make my life hell, and crying to the ghost of a teenage girl.”

Hands gripping the covers like they were closing around Harry’s neck, Malfoy shouted, “Because I have no choice!”

“Neither have I!”

“Yes, you do. You haven’t got parents to dictate you and you haven’t inherited the choices they made. You haven’t got lives resting on your shoulders.”

“No? I have an aunt and uncle to dictate me, I inherited the choice of my parents to fight Voldemort, a choice they gave their lives for. If I can’t defeat Voldemort, many more people will die.” The obvious difference was on which side of the war their circumstances placed them.

A shadow passed over Malfoy’s face. “This is exactly why you could never understand. I cracked under pressure that you would weather with hardly a complaint. You have it easier than me because you are fighting for what you believe in, not purely for the sake of surviving. I cannot say the same.”

“Then why can’t you do something to change that?”

“Would you condemn Weasley and Granger to death because of a choice you made?”

“No, of course not, but what does that have to do with anything?”

“Right, you have not been faced with a choice like that before.” The weariness in his features made him look suddenly far older than he was.

Unsure what the parallel was, Harry started to ask who Malfoy meant when Madam Pomfrey’s office lit up. Throwing the invisibility cloak on and quickly casting another Muffling Charm, Harry said, “We’ll continue this later.”

Only, they couldn’t continue it, because time reset the next day. What was the point? Harry no longer regretted casting Sectumsempra on the first day, nor did he regret being kicked off the Quidditch team. If there was some greater purpose, some lesson he had learned to make it worth the consequences, maybe it was accepting what he could not change.

“I don’t regret it,” said Harry, standing in the girl’s bathroom after telling Myrtle to leave him be. “If this curse cares, I don’t regret anything I did. Malfoy lived, didn’t he? It could have been worse—it was an accident.”

That didn’t work either. When he woke up the next day, he smashed his palm down on his glasses, causing them to clatter to the floor, bent and broken. Purely to vent his spite, he was in a pissy mood the entire day, and refused to explain what was wrong to Ron and Hermione. Instead of going to dinner, he went out to the edge of the woods and aimlessly set fire to dead branches, then levitated rocks so they splashed into the Black Lake.

He enjoyed this taste of freedom enough to dedicate the next several days to it, bringing spell books into the woods and practicing until he grew tired and once again became bored with the monotony.

At six weeks in the loop, it was time for him to try something radically different. Productivity, yes, that will help, he told himself, and resolved to get back on track with what he had tried to accomplish at the beginning of the loop. To get the information he wanted out of Malfoy, there was a simple method he could use, a potion to get him to confess to his task, and ultimately help both of them. Of course, Harry had misgivings about using a tactic Dolores Umbridge had herself introduced him to. If nothing else, at least all of this was temporary. It would be like a Potions experiment. Surely the Half-Blood Prince would approve if he tried using Veritaserum.


Note: this potion is a highly restricted substance and not for use on others, especially without the drinker’s knowledge. It is NOT guaranteed to reveal the truth, and accuracy will depend on the user’s mental state . . . The warning on the vial of Veritaserum went on, descending further into moral ambiguity until the end, when it read outright: Tolerated only in emergencies, accepted only when the bastard deserves it. When he failed his first attempt to buy the potion in Knockturn Alley (the shop had a Trace detector to determine his age), he decided to commission Fred Weasley try on his behalf. A 5 ml vial of Veritaserum, the most one could buy at once, cost 15 galleons. The restrictions on the potion only allowed for one purchase of a small amount of potion per six months, though this was easy enough to circumvent in Knockturn Alley and one dose would suffice.

Harry intercepted Malfoy on his way to the girl’s bathroom, body-bound him, and awkwardly smuggled him under his cloak into an unused classroom. He forced the boy’s stiff body into a seated position, then poured the Veritaserum into a goblet filled with water and set it on the table between them. Even though the look in Malfoy’s eyes made him want to reverse the day’s events already, he had to follow through.

“Muffliato. Religo.” Invisible ropes pulled Malfoy tighter to the chair. Harry cast a Drought Hex and pulled off the invisibility cloak before finally unfreezing him.

Immediately, Malfoy tried to ask for water, but his words came out as a pathetic croak. Harry picked up the goblet and tipped it into Malfoy’s parched mouth. Once he had swallowed, Harry lifted the hex.

“What the hell have you done, Potter?” he demanded, face twisted with anger. “You’re going to pay for this.”

Seeing Malfoy struggle only reminded Harry of the time he nearly killed him. To silence the trickle of guilt within himself, he instead thought back to the time Malfoy petrified him and crushed his nose. “I’m sorry, I just need to know what you’ve been planning. Er, so: what have you been planning?”

“I’ve been repairing a Vanishing Cabinet in order to lead a group of Death Eaters into Hogwarts. We are going to kill Albus Dumbledore.”

Chapter Text

ch4_the kiss

They both stared at each other in shock.

Malfoy squirmed desperately in his seat. “Help! Help! Someone help me!”

Harry had been right all along—Malfoy was plotting something dangerous. This was worse than he could have imagined, worse than everything Malfoy had done before, combined. He was filled with a loathing so intense it nearly choked him, his muscles taut with the urge not to strangle the boy on the spot. If he killed him now, he would have the satisfaction with none of the consequences. “Why . . . why are you so bloody evil?”

“I’m not evil; I don’t have a choice. If I don’t kill Dumbledore, the Dark Lord will kill me and possibly my parents. My father is in Azkaban, I have a chance to free him—”

“That shouldn’t matter. You die anyhow. If you’re not evil, then you’re a coward, aren’t you?”

Malfoy gritted his teeth and fought against the strains of his bonds. He must have been resisting the potion with Occlumency, for it took him a minute before he said, “Perhaps.”

Harry steeled himself for anything else he might uncover. “Look. I know you’re trying to use Occlumency. You should know that even if you hide something from me today, I’m going to find out the truth anyhow. And don’t try any wandless magic or I’ll retaliate and tell Dumbledore about your plans. So, have you used magic to manipulate time before?”

“No.”

“No?”

“I have not.”

“Are you sure? Would you know how to do it?”

“I’m sure. I know about Time-Turners, but I haven’t used one.” Malfoy had stopped resisting as he tried to figure out Harry’s intentions.

“Has Voldemort asked you to trap me in time?”

“The Dark Lord has not asked me to do anything to you.”

Harry swore under his breath and rubbed his face. “This all would’ve been so much easier if you were behind the time loop.” He swore again, then looked at Malfoy. “I’ve been stuck in time, living out the same day over and over for a month. Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing any of this, it’s too risky, and frankly, I feel like I’m stooping to your level.”

“Please. You’re always sneaking around, spying, ganging up on me. Don’t act like this isn’t something you would normally do. You’re desperate.”

“Even if you’re right, at least I’m doing it for the right reasons. You’re planning a murder. I’ve tried to figure out your plans all year, and nothing has worked. So what if I’ve been spying? It turns out I was right to!” He remembered what else Malfoy had said. “You’re desperate, too. I know you’ve been talking to Myrtle.”

Malfoy was deep in concentration, and Harry saw memories of the time loop flash before his eyes; now he knew Malfoy could use Legilimency.

“That’s enough.” Harry blinked and opened his eyes to stare at Malfoy again. “How is Snape involved with your plans?”
“He’s protecting me. He took an Unbreakable Vow to protect me as I completed my mission.”

Harry sucked in a breath. “I knew it.” His entire body was ice cold. “I knew he was working for Voldemort. All of these years, we’ve been told to trust him . . . I have to tell Dumbledore, before it’s too late. Hang on, if Snape wants Dumbledore dead, why hasn’t he killed him already?”

“He has to maintain his role as a double agent. I suppose he doesn’t want to risk being seen as the enemy, for the Order to turn on him. Besides, if I don’t do it personally, my father may not be freed.”

Harry’s heart pounded. “Has anyone else been helping you?”

“Crabbe and Goyle.”

“How have they been helping you?”

“They’ve been taking . . .” Malfoy’s face was going red, not from embarrassment, but from his attempts not to speak. “P-polyjuice Potion. Girls.”

The whole picture was coming into focus. “Those two girls who’ve been following you—so they’re Crabbe and Goyle.” Harry laughed. “I bet they hate that. So, you said you plan to use a Vanishing Cabinet. How do you intend on that? There’s one in the Room of Requirement, but it’s broken.”

“I’ve been fixing—testing . . . Nearly finished.” Malfoy’s brief, staggered answer was a sign he was regaining a grip over himself, using his Occlumency to block part of his responses.

“That’s why you’ve been disappearing off the map!” Harry shook his head. “I should’ve realized . . . it’s so obvious, now . . .” Crabbe and Goyle were guarding the door in disguise.

He crossed his arms and thought quickly about what to ask next. He likely had another ten minutes left with the potion, so he resolved to make the most of it and ask whatever he wanted, in the hopes that he would gain some insight to help him understand the situation.

“Did you hurt Katie Bell on purpose, or was that an accident?”

“An accident.”

“And the mead that almost killed Ron . . . did you do that, too?”

“The mead . . . gift for Dumbledore . . . accident.”

“Your accident nearly killed my best friend, you prat. I’m sure you didn’t care, though. You weren’t torn up about nearly murdering a student, you cared about not completing your mission.”

“I don’t want to kill anyone else, Potter. That’s not the point. Don’t tell me how I feel.”

“But clearly you’re not against hurting people. And you hate Mudbloods, don’t you?”

“I believe Mudbloods are inferior in—I do not—they are—they are inferior.”

Harry squinted at Malfoy. Was it his attempts at closing his mind, or was he actually conflicted? He pursed his lips. “Why do you hate me?”

“I hate you because you because your life is easy, you are meddlesome, and you hate me.”

“Easy isn’t the first word that comes to mind when I think about my life, but you can assume whatever you like.”

Malfoy said nothing, and Harry remembered he would have to ask a question for the potion to work properly. “I always wondered: if you hate me, why did you want to be friends with me when we met?”

“I thought . . . you killed the Dark Lord . . . because you were a powerful Dark wizard.” He didn’t pause when Harry laughed. “My family thought it would be advantageous to ally with you. Of course, the Dark Lord was not alive then, nor did we think he would return.”

“Yeah, I haven’t lived up to the whole Dark wizard idea, have I?” Harry tried to read Malfoy’s expression, then with a jolt realized the absurdity of the setup. “Would you ever do something like this?”

“If I had thought I could get away with it.”

“What would you ask me?”

“What do you know of the Dark Lord? What are your plans to defeat him? What is the password to Dumbledore’s office? What is the password to the Gryffindor Tower—”

“That’s enough. Er, speaking of, what’s the password to the Slytherin Dungeon?”

“Sss . . .”

“Snake?”

“Person.” Malfoy squeezed his eyes shut with the effort of stopping himself.

“Look, just give in, I’ll find out eventually whether you tell me or not. I’ve got the invisibility cloak, remember?”

“Salazar.” Appropriately, Malfoy’s response came out in a hiss.

Following this idea, Harry quickly imagined what he could do with access to the Slytherin Dungeon. He could sneak in using his cloak, or . . . the last time he had tried to get information out of Malfoy, he and Ron had pretended to be Crabbe and Goyle.

“Are there any Slytherins you would talk to about your problems?”

“Pansy Parkinson.”

“How much have you already told her?”

“Very little.”

“Have you shown her your Dark Mark?”

“Yes.”

“Anything else?”

“The occasional Dark object I’ve snuck into Hogwarts.” He bit down hard on his lip to keep from speaking, but blurted out, “Myself.”

“Yourself . . . ?” It took Harry a moment to realize what Malfoy meant. “Er, that’s not—that’s not quite what I . . . bloody hell. Of all the times for your Occlumency to fail.”

Malfoy’s face was bright red, this time from embarrassment, and he cursed.

“I have to leave you here. It’s . . .” Harry checked his watch. “Quarter to nine.” The Veritaserum was nearly up, and then what? He resolved to do the same to Malfoy that the git had done to him. “Petrificus Totalus!” Malfoy froze in the chair so that only his eyes could move. “I’ve got to leave you here, but time will reset and you’ll be fine, so don’t waste your energy fuming about it.”

On his way back to Gryffindor Tower, he swallowed any shame he might have felt. Dumbledore’s life was in danger, and he’d been right about Malfoy after all. Did he feel angry? More vindicated than angry, as he had low expectations of Malfoy to begin with.

“Hey, I have to tell you two something, can we find somewhere to talk alone?” They ended up kicking Dean and Seamus out of the dorm, which earned Harry two dirty looks (or one, as Dean seemed in too good of spirits to pull it off). Explaining everything from the loop to Malfoy’s confession, Harry relayed what he had found out about Malfoy’s plans.

“Is he even trying to kill Dumbledore?” asked Ron. At Harry’s shocked expression, he added quickly, “What, no, I mean, he’s careless, you know? Me and Katie Bell—the cursed necklace, the poison—he should have gotten closer, but he hasn’t.”

Harry scoffed. “Why bother fudging it on purpose if he’s nearly killed two other people?”

“He’s not doing this out of logic, Harry,” said Hermione. “That much is obvious. He’s afraid, and when people are afraid, they’re stupid, quite frankly.”

“Everyone’s afraid! Can’t he see—”

“It’s not an excuse,” interrupted Hermione. “But he’s not a cold-blooded murderer intent on killing someone he despises no matter the cost. From what you’ve said, he wants to free his father and survive the war. Even then I’m sure he has a line he won’t cross.”

“What does it matter why he’s doing it, though?” said Ron.

“It’ll matter to Dumbledore,” replied Hermione, and that was the end of it. Her defense of Malfoy rubbed Harry the wrong way, making him more incensed than he already was. On the following day, he confronted Malfoy right after he left the girl’s bathroom.

“Whatever you’re planning, Malfoy, you won’t succeed.”

Malfoy started and furiously wiped his face.

“Your father’s a Death Eater, he deserves to be in prison.”

Without turning around, Malfoy shot back, “And your father deserves to be dead.”

Harry grabbed Malfoy’s left arm. “What did you—?” But before he could finish, Malfoy spun around, right fist connecting with Harry’s jaw. Harry stumbled back, still in shock but able to raise his arms in time to block Malfoy’s next attempt at hitting him. Harry latched onto his arm again, but Malfoy merely use this to pull Harry down and knee him in the stomach so hard he fell to the floor, groaning. Malfoy kicked him in the stomach again, and the chest, but when he paused to catch his balance, Harry kicked him hard in the shin, bringing him down to his level. He grabbed Malfoy by his shirt and tried to get close enough to hit him in the face, but Malfoy resisted, and they struggled to get a hit in while rolling on the floor. Stress and lack of sleep had weakened Malfoy, so he was eventually overpowered, and Harry hit him, again and again. He didn’t know how to punch correctly, and his knuckles hurt like hell. His blinding anger was already leaving him as hands pulled him off of Malfoy, whose face was streaked with blood and puffy.

When his surroundings registered, he heard Dean Thomas saying, “Back off, man! He’s had enough, you’ll only get in trouble.”

Seamus had pulled him off, and glared at Harry after he wormed out of his grasp. “You trying to get booted off the team? And right before a match?” Other students had gathered around to watch, whispering as a Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff helped Malfoy to his feet.

Dean rested a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Who started it?”

“He threw the first punch, he told me my father deserves to be dead. I hurt him more, though, so I expect when McGonagall finds out I’ll be off the team. Dean, you’ll rejoin as a Chaser, and Ginny will be Seeker, okay?”

He gaped at Harry. “But you don’t know if you’ll be in trouble.”

“It doesn’t matter anyway.” Harry stared after the students helping Malfoy to the Hospital Wing and gripped his right hand, which stung from the fight. “Time will reset tomorrow.”

“What do you mean?”

Numb, Harry ignored his question and looked at Seamus. “I’m sorry I didn’t choose you. You’ve got a lot of talent and I don’t want it to make things weird.”

“Your apology’s not gonna get me a spot on the team.”

Harry sighed and watched as the spectators dispersed. He’d have to go to the Hospital Wing, too, have his hands cleaned up and answer for what he had done. “What’s the point?” he said quietly. Part of him wanted to get away, travel to London and wait out the rest of the day.

Instead, he duly went to Professor McGonagall’s office before she summoned him.

“Sit down, Mr. Potter. I am dismayed by your behavior. If you can tell me what you possibly had to gain by harming a fellow student, I would love to hear it.” Her face was entirely devoid of humor, and he found he would much rather her be furious than disappointed.

“Professor, Malfoy told me my dad deserved to be dead.”

She sighed. “As horrible as such a remark is, it is hardly justification to injure Mr. Malfoy.”

Harry scoffed. “He started it.”

“Have you ever heard the expression, ‘An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind?’ Did it not for one moment cross your mind to be the better person?”

“What, so we should let people get away with stabbing other people’s eyes out? That’s not a world I’d want to live in.”

“We cannot have students running around like vigilantes, seeking justice for insults and slights against them, let alone physical violence. You ought to come to me if someone has broken a school rule before choosing to do something reckless.”

Only in the time loop would Harry dare push McGonagall this far. “I guess it’s not against school rules to be a Death Eater, then.”

McGonagall’s mouth pressed into a thin line. “I’m giving you detention for the rest of the year. From next week forward, every Monday evening you will serve detention in my office.”

“What about Quidditch? You’re not kicking me off the team?”

“Considering the circumstances, I don’t think that would be appropriate.” Her eyebrow twitched slightly. “Professor Snape will be not be granting such a punishment to Mr. Malfoy, so I will withhold a more severe consequence as well. Do not thank me, Potter.”

Harry closed his mouth at once, then opened it again, before asking, “Professor, if you were living the same day over and over again, what would you do?”

She studied him with her piercing green eyes. “I thought you were behaving more carelessly than usual, Potter. How long have you been like this?”

“Over a month.”

McGonagall’s eyebrows shot up. “That long? I thought all of the Time-Turners had been destroyed, how . . . ?”

“It’s not a Time-Turner. I haven’t been able to figure it out. I’ve spoken with Dumbledore, he couldn’t help.”

“And you understand the consequences if you should hurt someone and time resumes as normal? Petty fighting is one thing, but injury beyond that is another. You may have to live with the guilt for the rest of your life.”

“I’ve had Snape tell me off already. The thing is, if it’s a curse, maybe the only way to break it is by doing something unpleasant that I’ll have to live with.”

“What makes you think that?”

“I don’t know, because . . . on the day I got trapped, I was kicked off of the Quidditch team, and everyone was upset with me, all because I—because I nearly killed Malfoy. And I suppose I would have had to live with the consequences. But now that’s been erased. And after talking with professors, there could be a price for this curse. As in, a sacrifice.”

McGonagall shook off her disbelief. “They should have been more careful when advising you. You do not want to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“That’s a bit on the nose, isn’t it? You know, given Voldemort’s choice . . .”

“What I mean is, if this is indeed a curse, it may poison your thoughts, confuse you enough that you believe you must do something drastic to end it. You must exercise extreme caution and maintain a healthy dose of skepticism.” She stood. “I am going to inspect the bathroom. Have you already looked at the tile?”

“Oh. Er . . . no, I hadn’t gotten around to it . . .”

“You have had a month, have you not? Come, I will do my best to uncover what insight may be gained from the site.”

Luckily, it was nearing curfew at that point, so there wasn’t anyone around to stop them and ask why they going into the Myrtle’s bathroom.

“Where exactly was Draco Malfoy lying after you injured him?”

Harry pointed to a spot near the center of the bathroom. “Here. Er, no, a little to the left, I think.”

“Scourgify!” The tiled floor nearest her became a brilliant white; Harry was a bit unnerved, as he had always assumed the tile was gray. McGonagall waved her wand again and a tile broke off from the floor, floating over to hang between them. “Hm. Look at this.” She rotated the tile toward him—the back of the tile was covered in a ruby red sheen, glinting in the candlelight. With another cleaning charm and wave of her wand, she lifted a tile from the other end of the bathroom and compared the backs. The first was red, the other was a flat gray.

“What does it mean?” Harry grabbed one so she could take the other with her free hand.

McGonagall studied the ruby-coated tile. “Residual magic. You told me you recently read a book about the history of time travel?”

“Yeah, I can look for something in there.”

She paused. “You said Mr. Malfoy bled.”

Harry inhaled sharply. “So it’s . . . ?”

“Somehow, that was part of the equation, yes. Blood is an ancient ingredient in magic with powerful properties when used correctly. If it is related to your traveling in time, I fear this is more likely to be Dark magic. In any case, you ought to see what you can find in that book.”

Hermione found the right section in Turning Time when he enlisted her help again. According to the “Research Methods” chapter, intricate patterns, bright colors, and burn marks were symptoms of attempts to travel back in time, specifically when the wizard did not use a device to focus the magic.

“Residue can indicate region, intent . . . but they don’t have enough comprehensive observations to say anything definitive. There’s nothing about blood, but there is a mention of sacrifice.”

“Can you read it to me?” asked Harry.

“Let’s see . . . ‘Rituals to manipulate reality occasionally deal with bodily sacrifice. Physical evidence of this is rarely found, as folk tales and legends are the primary modes in which these details survive.’”

Ron sat back in his chair. “The sacrifice is Malfoy? Why?”

“I wish I knew. Is there anything you haven’t told me?”

“No, just that I thought I was the sacrifice. Or that I would have to do something terrible to get out of this mess.”

“And you’ve already injured him again, haven’t you? If it was simple, I would have thought that sacrifice would reverse the time loop.”

Harry shrugged. “I just feel like I’m going in circles . . . Nothing’s adding up, and it’s all on top of what I already have to deal with regarding Voldemort and the Horcruxes. Before this, I thought we were getting somewhere. Finally moving forward.”

Ron and Hermione exchanged a glance. “Look, mate—” began Ron, but Harry stood up, cutting him off.

“I need some time to think.” A way forward was what he had to find, and it looked as though it was pointing back to Malfoy. If Ron and Hermione were involved in his plans, they would only hold him back, tell him to stop obsessing.

But he couldn’t.

Veritaserum had proven useful in gaining information, however, it was not worth trying again until he came up with new questions. A different spell, potion, or strategy could help gain more insight into Malfoy’s plan or an explanation for the time loop, especially if Malfoy couldn’t use Occlumency. He needed something that would get Malfoy to open up, think he could confide in him. And then Harry had an idea, even if it was unconventional: a love potion. The Weasley twins dealt in love potions, after all, so it would be less of a hassle to secure. After drinking the potion, Malfoy would think him to be a trustworthy friend, and therefore freely tell him about his plans.

First thing the next morning, Harry tried a few of the face-modifying Transfiguration spells he had learned that year, snuck out of Hogwarts under the cloak and traveled to Diagon Alley via Portkey from Hogsmeade.

Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes stood out among the other shops, and he felt pulled in by the tingling of excitement in his gut. Inside, there were a few customers in a small group, all speaking in a language he didn’t know. Apart from them, the brightly-colored shop was empty.

A woman sat at the counter further inside the store, playing solitaire with tiny cards with a look of extreme boredom. He thought he recognized her from the last time he had visited the store. “Excuse me, are Fred and George in today?”

The shop assistant’s eyes landed on his scar, then appraisingly over the rest of him. She must have been assigned to assess whether or not customers were undercover Death Eaters. After all, the real Harry Potter should be at school. “I’ll tell them you’re here,” she said, then pressed a bright purple button out of the colorful assortment of them at the corner of the desk.

A minute later, a door opened upstairs and the twins went to the banister to see who was below. Upon finding Harry staring up at them, their faces went pale. He grinned sheepishly, trying to communicate that everything was okay, and they smiled tentatively back, still unsure whether or not they should be worried.

Fred reached him first and asked, “Has someone—”

“Everyone’s fine,” said Harry. “I’ve left school for a favor.”

The pair wore crimson robes with gold embroidery that swirled and danced across the fabric. Harry watched them in a new light, their confident charm a beacon through his frustration and displeasure at the monotony of the loop.

“I need a love potion.”

Fred grinned. “What, are you not charming enough on your own?”

“I don’t need it for anything like that.”

“Ooh, for revenge?” ventured George, eyes twinkling at the idea.

“Of a sort. It could help defeat Voldemort.”

Fred and George glanced at each other. “If it’s that important,” said George, “You can have what’s left of the Amortentia we used for our research.”

By the time Harry returned to Hogwarts, it was just past lunch. He had plenty of time to use the potion, so he decided to set his trap at dinner. Its effects could last up to several hours. Slughorn hadn’t discussed the effects of Amortentia on two people of the same sex, but Harry figured it would produce a slightly different effect, creating false friendship rather than false love, and with it, heightened trust and respect. He had to try it, anyway, and in case something went wrong, he kept a sleeping potion handy.

“Dobby?” he said, once he was alone in the dorm, and the house-elf Apparated next to him. “Dobby, I need you to put this potion in Malfoy’s goblet at dinner. After he’s drunk the potion, slip him this note without him seeing. Can you do that? He can’t know about you or the potion.”

“Yes, Harry Potter, sir, Dobby can! What is the potion?”

Harry nearly told him it was Veritaserum, but feared Dobby wouldn’t be able to follow through with it, not without hurting himself. “It’s to help him sleep tonight. I’m, er, going to try to talk to Malfoy, convince him to switch sides, so I need him to be well-rested. You probably know by now that he’s always tired.” It was a lame lie, but Dobby dutifully took his note (Come to the Astronomy Tower tonight at 7:30pm. Don’t tell anyone we’re meeting. —H.P.) and reported back after dinner to tell him Malfoy had drunk the potion.

At fifteen past seven, Harry climbed up to the tower under his cloak. He idly spent time looking out over the grounds as he considered what to talk about with Malfoy, until his thoughts petered out and the entirety of his mind was occupied by the rolling hills of the Highlands, how the spots of rain had finally given way to the sun. The weather was the same as it had been every day in the loop, without fail, though considering early spring in the country, he had not found it unusual until now.

At a single toll of the bell, Harry remembered himself and tucked away his cloak.

“Potter?” Malfoy came up the stairs, expression sharp, though not snide or condescending.

Harry stepped into view. “Er, hello, Malfoy.” Funny—he assumed Malfoy would call him by his first name rather than his surname.

The boy’s mouth split into a grin. “Hello! It’s so lovely to see you.”

This is too strange, but at least it worked, thought Harry, taking an unconscious step back.

“What did you want to meet me for?” Malfoy approached quickly, reaching for him.

“Er, I wanted to—” Harry stopped. Malfoy’s hands were light, cool on his forearms. “I wanted . . .”

As he looked down at Harry, Malfoy’s pale face flushed with color, his hair seeming even blonder than usual in comparison.

Harry cleared his throat. “Are you okay? You’re quite red.”

Malfoy’s gaze didn’t waver. “I’m more than okay.”

Chills ran up Harry’s back. The huskiness in Malfoy’s voice threw his already quickened heartbeat into a jumbled skip.

“So—we’re friends now?” Harry’s arms burned under Malfoy’s cold fingers.

Malfoy’s grin widened. “I’m sorry I’ve hated you for so long. But I got your note and I realized—we’re meant for each other.”

“Meant for each other?” echoed Harry, trying to decipher Malfoy’s look when the boy closed the distance between them, kissing him on the lips.

Almost immediately, Harry jerked back, hands too weak with shock to push him away. “W-what was that for?”

Malfoy wrapped his arms around Harry’s neck. “I love you.” His eyes flickered between Harry’s eyes and his mouth.

Harry twisted out of Malfoy’s embrace and drew his wand, heart racing. “Don’t touch me again, or I’ll hex you.”

The threat processed slowly, but after a moment, Malfoy stuck out his lower lip. “But Potter, I want to touch you. I’ve dreamed of touching you.”

Harry fought the urge to end the experiment by hexing Malfoy. Why the hell was the Amortentia working this way? Why didn’t it matter that they were both blokes? Thank Merlin time will reset tomorrow. He wondered what he could ask that would make the whole mess worthwhile. “But, er, Malfoy, if we were meant for each other . . . well, how do you suppose we can be together with your current situation—the task Voldemort has given you?”

Malfoy’s face briefly scrunched up in thought, then he replied, “If you killed the Dark Lord.”

That was something Harry could work with. “And how would I do that?”

Malfoy rubbed his neck and drew in an impatient breath. “I don’t know. I just know we ought to be together.” Apparently untroubled by Harry’s raised wand, he took a step forward.

“Oi! Don’t—Malfoy, I gave you Amortentia. What you’re feeling, it’s not real. Look, don’t make me—”

“It is real.” Malfoy fidgeted, caught between doing what Harry wanted and what the Amortentia told him he wanted. “I was always too afraid to admit it, but now I can finally tell you.”

“Right, well, here’s the flaw in your reasoning: you say you’ve always fancied me, and I know for a fact you haven’t fancied me before today. You hate me.”

“No, I have fancied you. It’s—I . . . I act like I hate you, but . . .” he paused for a moment. “You’re like the sun, Potter. I had to glare at you to protect myself.”

“What the bloody hell is that supposed to mean?” Before this, Harry had felt he was regaining control. But now . . . Ron hadn’t said anything remotely poetic after eating Romilda Vane’s Chocolate Cauldrons, had he?

“I wish I were more like you, I wish I had what you have. You’re perfect, and I envy you. And if we were together, I wouldn’t have to worry about Death Eaters, or the Dark Lord.”

Harry greatly preferred Malfoy ramble instead of attempting to kiss him, but even at a safe distance, his heart pounded erratically with apprehension. “We can’t be together, though. I don’t know how to kill Vol—You-Know-Who.” Harry felt ridiculous playing along, but he recognized it may be his only shot at getting any use out of the potion.

“I’m not strong enough to be a double agent. They would find me out. And Snape swore to help me succeed with my mission—if I don’t kill Dumbledore, my family and I will be killed.”

“I know.” Harry sighed. “Look, if I found out how to kill Voldemort, how long would I have until I’d be putting you at risk? A month? A week?”

“I want to be with you as soon as possible, Potter.”

Harry’s stomach turned over. “Fine. Once Voldemort learns I know how to kill him, how long do I have?”

“A couple of days, maybe one day. Until he tries to kill me.” Malfoy chewed his lip. “His legendary skill at Legilimency makes it difficult to conceal anything from him. But my parents—the Dark Lord sometimes stays at Malfoy Manor, our home . . . he would be able to kill my mother quickly, and my father is defenseless in prison.”

“Is Voldemort at the manor now?”

“I’m not sure. Why does it matter?” He reached for Harry’s hand, missing it by an inch when Harry recoiled. “You and I matter.”

Swallowing hard, Harry tried to focus on what he could ask next. The absurdity of the interaction was too disorienting to concentrate. “You’re out of your mind.”

“No, I’m still in my mind, Potter.”

Goosebumps spread up Harry’s arms. “Look, how can you expect anything to come out of this? I’m not—I only fancy girls. And you of all people, why should I return your feelings, let alone tolerate you?”

Finally, Malfoy was stumped.

“See? There’s nothing you could do—”

“I wish I could show you who I really am. I’ve been learning Legilimency.”

There it was: a way to make the whole charade worthwhile. “You know why I dislike you, right, Malfoy? So what do I need to know—”

“For you to love me?”

“Er, to understand you. Help you.” There would be a clue among the information, an insight to shift the tide. “If you think of the memories, anything useful, then use your wand to pull them out of your head, I’ll use a device to view them . . .”

Malfoy touched the tip of his wand to his temple, screwed his eyes shut, then extracted a short thread of glittering memories. He put it in his palm and waited for Harry to retrieve the empty Amortentia bottle. After he threaded it into the container and Harry corked it, there was that look again, gaze softened with a fondness that unnerved him to his core. It was the final straw.

“Malfoy, can you lean on that wall over there? Perfect. Petrificus Totalus!” Harry pulled his Invisibility Cloak out of his robes and draped it over Malfoy’s frozen body. “I would be sorry about this, but tomorrow everything will be reset.”

According to his observations on the Marauder’s Map, Dumbledore tended to retire to his quarters at nine. In the event that Dumbledore monitored his office at night, Harry braced himself to explain the loop and that he needed to use the Pensieve—hopefully he wouldn’t have to explain further.

The glittering strand of memories spooled into the thin basin. Harry drew in a breath and dipped his face below the water’s surface, falling in a long arc to the first memory.

Malfoy, no older than five, sat in the middle of an oriental rug. Harry was struck by how different he looked: floppy-haired, round-cheeked, too young to have developed proper posture and a perpetual sneer. Judging by the posh tile fireplace, the high ceilings, and—oh, obviously—the huge portrait of some blond-haired ancestor on the wall, he was in Malfoy Manor.

What was Malfoy doing to his arm? Ink dripped onto the rug from the quill he was using to scrawl on his left arm.

He was drawing a Dark Mark.

“Draco!” came a woman’s voice from downstairs. “It’s time for dinner.”

Malfoy put the inkwell and quill on the table and hurried downstairs, eyes on his art. Narcissa Malfoy stood in the foyer, arms crossed, expecting him to come from another room. When she turned around, her gaze fell immediately onto her son’s arm. “What is—Draco!” Face pale, she pulled out her wand.

“Where’s Papa?” asked Draco, not registering his mother’s shock.

“Fetch a bottle of Merlot, nothing later than ’76,” said Lucius Malfoy from the other room.

Draco ran up to his father as he entered. “Papa, look what I drew.”

Lucius reflexively reached toward his own left arm. “Ah, that is—you know, you are too young to be drawing that. I would rather people not see—”

As soon as Draco realized his father wasn’t proud of his creation,  tears poured out of his eyes. Draco’s mother waved her wand to lift the ink from his skin, but the memory was fading . . .

“They’re dull.” It must have been five years later, given how close Malfoy looked to when Harry first met him. He was lying on a leather couch in another extravagant room.

“They’re your friends, Draco, you shouldn’t say such things about them,” replied Narcissa, waving her hand to wandlessly summon a bookmark.

“Crabbe’s constantly talking about Quidditch. As much as I like Quidditch, it’s not the only thing there is to talk about. And Goyle just laughs at everything, even if it’s not funny.”

“What are you going to do, then, when you get to Hogwarts?”

“Pansy will be in Slytherin, and Blaise for certain, Harry Potter—”

“Why do you think Harry Potter will be in Slytherin?”

Malfoy looked at her as though she had just suggested their family donate all of their belongings and move into a two-bedroom flat in the suburbs. “He’s bound to be the most powerful wizard of all time, even father says so. I want to be on the right team, don’t I?”

“Very smart, Draco.” She was a bit patronizing, but he failed to notice. “What if you don’t like him?”

As though considering this possibility for the first time, Malfoy said slowly, “I’ll come around. You changed your mind about the Dark Lord, right?”

The scene dissolved. Harry expected it to be the day of their first encounter in Madam Malkin’s, but instead, it was night on the Quidditch Pitch. Malfoy and a group of some Durmstrang students had apparently raided the broom cupboard and took off into the night sky.

All of a sudden, something in Harry’s middle lurched up and flung him up and up until he was floating next to Malfoy, whose face was alight with adrenaline. Even though he was only two years younger here, he looked like a different person. There was no hatred in his face. No anger. No anxiety.

A Durmstrang boy glided over to him, hanging like a monkey upside down on his broom. He was handsome, with a huge smile and stringy limbs.

Malfoy laughed, genuinely laughed. Then the boy’s hand slipped, and in a flash, the smile was gone and replaced with panic, only for the boy to effortlessly swing back on his broom. “Kidding,” he said. As Malfoy flew away in a huff, Harry and the Durmstrang boy were left to watch his retreating figure.

After this, there must have been nearly thirty snapshots of Malfoy’s memories, each no longer than ten seconds, all out of chronological order:

Narcissa cradled him as he cried, her own face streaked with the pains of grief.

He looked over at Harry—had they just argued about something?—then blinked a few times, hard.

In the Slytherin locker room, he pulled off his uniform and shook some of the sweat from his hair.

He crouched by an older student who lay injured in a corridor: “I’ll find whoever did this to you.”

As a child, probably seven, Malfoy ran around his father’s study as he bent over a mysterious object.

Lucius read him a bedtime story about the stars, then waved his wand to recreate the night sky.

Him, sitting at the bottom of a pool, reaching to touch an animated toy Grindylow.

Sitting before the Vanishing Cabinet, he reached to grab one of the myriad of tools suspended in midair.

“You should’ve been top of the class, you’re the most intelligent person in our year,” said Pansy, and Draco’s lips curled into a smile.

As a child, probably five, Malfoy wailed while surrounded by all of his Christmas gifts.

Lucius threatened Dobby with a poker from the fire when the elf forgot to bring sugar on a tea tray.

He sat hunched over in a chair—what was wrong with him?—eyes unfocused, breathing hard, shaking.

In a dark corridor, Harry heard the distinct sound of kissing, and sure enough, Pansy held Malfoy’s face as they stuck together like glue.

“How many more times can you disappoint me?” said Lucius, and Draco winced, eyes averted.

Him, wearing a black silk robe and slippers as he read a book in bed.

Taking Pansy’s hand in his own, he swept onto the dance floor that filled with couples.

Narcissa covered her nose when they passed a group of Muggles, apparently trying to make her distaste obvious to her son.

He clamored for a voice among a group of Slytherins: “Umbridge is a nightmare and painfully ignorant. I know that, everyone knows that. It was never about her, it’s about them . . .”

He ran his hand through his long blond hair—had he transfigured it?—while looking in the mirror.

Him, looking up to the sky in Hogsmeade with snowflakes catching in his eyelashes.

Patting Cedric’s shoulder, he wished him good luck in the Triwizard Tournament.

Narcissa gasped when she saw him digging through her makeup, his lips clumsily painted red.

“What are you, queer?” said Crabbe, and Draco’s face reddened.

As a child, probably ten, Malfoy took off on a small broom on the manor grounds as his parents looked on.

In the manor, alone, Malfoy created a long gash in the marble floor, then began repairing it.

Lucius told him to stay out of the way before putting on a Death Eater mask.

After this sequence of memories, there was one final hazy scene, similar to the distortions in Slughorn’s first memory of his conversation with Riddle. It was in Madam Malkin’s, though all Malfoy had constructed in his head were a rack of clothes, Malkin, Harry, and himself.

Unlike what actually happened, Malfoy introduced himself properly. “I’m Draco Malfoy. And you are?”

“I’m Harry. Er, Potter.”

Eyes widening, Malfoy stepped closer, forcing Malkin to stop pinning his robes.

“Harry Potter.”

“Right.”

Malfoy offered his hand. “Good to meet you.”

“You, too.” Intentionally or not, Malfoy recreated in Harry’s expression the same the skepticism Harry had felt upon first meeting him.

“Who are you here with? Where have you been all these years?”

And then the memory dimmed. Harry explained about Hagrid, only for Malfoy to call the groundskeeper a savage; the false memory restarted and Malfoy invited Harry to meet his parents, only for him to say something nasty about Muggleborns in the same breath. The memory repeated over and over again, and each time something didn’t work.

Until Harry mentioned Hagrid and Malfoy bit his tongue.

“Oh? And I imagine . . . Dumbledore sent him?”

“Yeah. So who are you with?”

“My mother and father.”

“I’ve never met a wizarding family before.”

“Really? You’ve been living with Muggles?”

“Yeah.”

Malfoy let this sink in. “Have you learned any magic at all? How can you afford your school supplies?”

“I haven’t learned any magic. Are we supposed to know magic before school? Do we have summer homework?”

“Oh, Harry, there is so much to teach you . . .”

Harry watched as the scene slid away, leaving him in a black void. He strained to hear and picked up the ebb and flow of unrecognizable sounds, as though a cassette tape were being fast forwarded. When a new memory emerged from the dark, it was Malfoy Manor once more, only this time, a near-present version of Harry stood in the center of the room—a bedroom. In his hands was a steaming mug of something, presumably tea, of which he took a careful sip. Whatever clothes this version of himself wore, they appeared more suited to Malfoy than to him.

This memory-Harry smiled, gaze soft, eyes meeting with something beyond the real Harry.

Before Harry could see what or who he was looking at, the memories ended and he pulled his head out of the basin.

“It didn’t work,” he said aloud, as though it was only true if he gave life to the words. He wasn’t even sure if he was referring to his plan to get information or Malfoy’s claim that the memories would make him fall in love. The memories just asked more questions than they answered. First and foremost: why did Malfoy choose those particular moments of his life, real or invented? And second, could what he’d seen help in any way?

Harry left the office without interference and headed straight for the dorm. To distract himself, he asked Ron and Hermione to stay up with him and revise. The longer he spent talking, the easier it was to pretend his love potion idea hadn’t completely backfired. At least, until they got to their Potions work.

“Ron, what was it like when you had those Cauldron Cakes a couple months ago? The ones spiked with love potion.”

“Where’s this coming from? It was weird.”

“I realized I never asked, is all.”

Ron glanced at Hermione, who seemed curious as well, though her jaw tightened as she likely remembered Ron’s brush with death. “Can’t say I really knew what was going on. I couldn’t think of anything besides Romilda. It was like a fever dream, and I loved her more than it’s possible to love someone. Obsession.”

“What would you have done, if you’d found Romilda?”

Ron shrugged, not looking at Hermione. “Dunno. Probably . . . grabbed her and gone in to kiss her.”

Hermione cut in, “Slughorn said the cakes were stronger because they were old. Amortentia isn’t normally so aggressive, it’s meant to be realistic enough in its effects that the person administering the potion could suspend their disbelief, pretend the love is real.”

“Realistic, what does that mean exactly?”

“I haven’t witnessed it, but from what I’ve read, the person would be focused on you rather than the idea of you. Still obsessed, perhaps, but in a way that is not alienating. So someone who’s taken the potion would compliment your achievements and personality instead of simply your appearance, as well as refer to their memories of you.”

Harry noticed them staring at his bouncing leg, so he stopped.

“Is this about something the Prince wrote?” asked Ron, glancing at Harry’s copy of Advanced Potions.

“Yeah, just a tip he had about one of the ingredients for the potion.” He wanted to tell them about Malfoy, to move past the dread that forced his words to stay in his throat. Something held him back. As he lay in bed, he began to worry that time wouldn’t reset, and he’d have to resort to a memory charm, or that somehow Malfoy escaped. In that case, he would convince everyone—at least the Slytherins—that Harry was a poof. On top of that, he found it hard to imagine what the consequences would be if Malfoy was aware how much he knew about his plans.

When he woke up the next morning, his duvet and pillows had been pushed off the bed from his fitful sleep. To his relief, his glasses were next to his book, not on top of it. He hoped he could pretend the previous day had been nothing more than a dream.

Chapter Text

ch5_tower of diaries

At breakfast, Harry tried to reconcile the scowling Malfoy he knew too well with the one who had been intoxicated with love potion. Before, it had been difficult to associate the same magic that Romilda Vane had intended for Harry with the magic that had created Voldemort. Merope Gaunt had likely used Amortentia to force Tom Riddle, Sr. into loving her. If Malfoy could experience such a dramatic change from hatred to love, of course Voldemort’s father could have appeared to love Merope.

The potion had been too convincing, had created a crystalline reality so delicately balanced that it eventually shattered.

As convincing as the alternate reality Malfoy showed Harry was—surely there was a version of events that would have left them as friends, not rivals—it was invented. Harry knew that.

Malfoy caught his eye as he had this thought, causing Harry to dribble some of his drink onto his robes. He tried to pass it off as an unfortunate coincidence, though in the corner of his vision he could see Malfoy and Pansy snickering about it.

How did other people feel after using Amortentia on someone?  Why had the Amortentia worked on Malfoy even though they were of the same sex? Usually Harry would go to Hermione to ask for research help, but the subject was too embarrassing. She would only reprimand him for using the love potion, and he already regretted it.

Regardless of the fact that the target had been someone Harry loathed, he felt intense shame in having forced another person to fancy him—and a boy, at that. Fighting was a different sort of violence to forcing intimacy, maybe because in battles there was a mutual, unspoken agreement that they were each willing to risk harm for the possibility of hurting the other. A twisted kind of contract.

Since many students had just gotten out of class, the library was teeming with people when Harry arrived. After some time browsing the bookshelves, he found the section on potions and grabbed a stack of four books that he thought might have what he was looking for.

The most secluded desk in the corner of the library provided Harry the privacy he wanted. Already feeling his motivation wane, he flipped through the pages of Producing Potions: Studies of the Effects of Problem-Solving and Culture-Changing Concoctions, 1854-1954. He justified his lack of direction by telling himself he could find something useful for a different plan. On the page he opened to, there was an illustration of a tall bottle with a ship painted on the front in the midst of a flat ocean, a slight spray at the ship’s bottom the only evidence that it was moving. The page next to the illustration was labeled Solutions for Bodily Ailments. Harry read on:

This digestive potion emerged on the American market in the early 1800s as a response to the increasing age of the wizarding population and the need for easier intercontinental travel. Appropriately, the potion was originally produced under the name “Smooth Sailing” (see fig. 14).

“Hello, Harry.”

Harry quickly shut the book and looked up at Luna Lovegood, who regarded him curiously.

“Er, hi, Luna.”

“What are you reading?” She reached for the book, fingers missing it by an inch as Harry pulled it away.

“I’m just—I’m doing some research. On potions.”

“Oh. Would you like my help? If you say no, I won’t be offended.” Luna tilted her head and blinked, emulating the expression of an owl.

“Well . . .” She was in Ravenclaw, after all, so he figured she must have good research skills. And she was likely to be unfazed by his situation. “Okay. Thank you.”

Luna smiled and sat down next to him, pushing her long blonde hair over her shoulder. “Can I see the book?”

Harry slid it toward her. “I’m looking for information on a potion. Amortentia.”

Luna searched him briefly, then looked back at Producing Potions. She waved her wand then tapped the book’s cover. “Astendo Amortentia!” With a heave, the book flipped over to a page somewhere in the middle with the subheading, “Subject-substance Relationship: Amortentia Case Study.”

Harry gaped at her. “You have to show me how to do that.”

“A Ravenclaw student invented the charm a few decades ago. It’s a secret among our House; some say we have ten times the secrets of the others . . .” Luna’s voice drifted off as she leaned over to read the page.

Harry tried to remember the movement she had made, the enunciation of the spell, but knew he would have to see it again in order to recall it properly later.

“Here.” Luna turned the book toward him.

He skimmed until he found a relevant excerpt and pointed to it for Luna to follow along:

In an objective trial of the potion, when compared with a control group, potioneers found Amortentia’s effects were not solely contingent on the quality of the brew. 13 married couples, 22 couples in new relationships (under 6 months), 10 pairs of friends, 14 pairs of strangers, and 15 pairs with negative opinions of each other were tested. Each pairing was between a wizard and a witch. In general, the potion’s effects varied depending on the preexisting relationship between the potion recipient and subject.

Harry leaned closer to the page. This was what he had been hoping to find.

Effectiveness here is measured by the potion’s outcome (believability, intensity, and complexity) rather than by how drastic the increase in affection is felt before and after the potion (see fig. 28 for a more comprehensive analysis of the data). Based on the findings, if the recipient has strong negative feelings for the person they are meant to fall in love with (referred to henceforth as the subject), the potion will be less effective, creating a mindless obsession in the recipient. If the subject is a stranger, the obsession is similar, and the focus of the recipient is on the person’s physical characteristics. Between friends and married couples, the potion is more effective, enhancing a pre-existent friendly, intimate infatuation. Between new couples, the potion was most effective, creating a combination of passionate physical and emotional desire. These results held up in comparison to a control group, who ingested placebos.

There was a more specific, technical explanation following the summary, though Harry had trouble following it and gave up, sighing heavily, willing his breathing to return to normal.

“Is there something else about Amortentia you want to know?”

“Its effects on—I mean, how the potion works on people of the same sex.”

Luna paused, probably caught off guard. “That’s not in here. I doubt it will say specifically, so you would have to test it.”

“I have.” Harry shut his mouth abruptly; in his head, it seemed a simple statement of fact, but out loud, it brought on an intense wave of shame.

“You have tested it? On whom?”

Harry regarded Luna. There was something about her steady expression that made him want to explain everything from the beginning. “Can we talk somewhere more private?”

They left the library and Luna suggested the greenhouses. “. . . It’s warm—you know, for the plants—and I go there sometimes with Neville.”

Once they were alone, Harry told Luna about the time loop, the routines he’d developed, what he hoped to find out, and finally—the love potion. “I want to understand because it was so . . . out of the blue. And if I’m trying to find out more information from Malfoy, I need to know which, er, methods work on him.”

Luna tickled one of the plants, making it dance. “What was it like?”

Harry flushed. “What do you mean?”

“Which description from the book applies to him?”

“Oh. Er, I dunno, sort of the negative relationship one, he seemed out of it at the time. Except . . . also . . .” Don’t say it, don’t say it— “The couples.”

Luna raised her eyebrows. “You’ve got your answer, then.”

For the first time that day, Harry felt genuinely annoyed at her. “No, I haven’t, because it doesn’t make sense. Besides, something could have been different about the potion. Amortentia strengthens the longer it’s kept.”

“I suppose you won’t know, unless you use it again. Or have someone else try it.”

Harry scoffed. “I can’t use it again, and I couldn’t ask someone else to be involved, let alone do it without their knowledge.” Luna didn’t have to change her expression much for Harry to continue, “I did it without Malfoy’s knowledge, sure, but there was a point. He wasn’t supposed to . . .” He sighed. “It doesn’t matter, there’s nothing to figure out. I know he hates me. We hate each other.”

“But you don’t actually still hate him, do you?”

Harry put his head in his hands and groaned. “I can’t hate him, not like I used to, but I can hardly like him, either.” He rested his hands in his lap. “A strong dislike, then. He’s a coward, a prick, and a Pureblood-loving git. He’s a Death Eater, for Merlin’s sake. And yet . . . I can’t help thinking this is the point. If I’m reliving the day I nearly killed him, it’s got to have something to do with that. As I’ve told you, the only thing changing from day to day is what I know about the magic behind the loop and Malfoy’s plan. I suppose, also, my opinion toward everyone is changing, and that includes Malfoy.”

“I’d like to help you, Harry.”

“You would?”

“Yes.” Luna smiled. “If you need help, just find me, explain everything like you did, and I will do my best. I can tell you what I did today so you know where I’ll be.”

“Thank you, Luna.” Harry wanted to hug her, but she made no motion in that direction. “I don’t know how you can be so calm about everything.”

“You know, I’ve heard of stranger things than this, Harry.”


After that day, Harry went to Luna for guidance whenever he thought of something new to discuss. She always initially reacted the same way after he explained the loop, but then was motivated to find something novel to say, to approach his predicament from a new angle.

When he told her about the Amortentia again, she suggested, “You should find out what his Amortentia smells like.”

Harry nodded slowly. “Then I could find out who he really fancies, in case it’s not Pansy, and use her to get more information.”

“That’s not what I meant. Maybe you should try something else.”

It was Luna, after all, so he didn’t expect her to understand all of his choices. “What should I do if I want to know more about what he’s up to?”

“I find that my best ideas come when I least expect them. Focus on something else, and maybe it’ll come to you.”

With her advice in mind, Harry decided to continue going to class. Some days, he told Ron and Hermione that he was stuck in time and asked them what he should do, others he spent as though nothing was off and focused on learning something useful from his textbooks.

A week later, after managing to get through an entire day without thinking about the Amortentia incident, Harry had unusually vivid dreams. He couldn’t remember how he got to this part, dreaming about kissing Ginny. They were in the Great Hall and rows of students had their heads bent over the tables, focused on revision. Then Ginny had to leave—and that was okay, he was aware of the time loop, it would happen again.

When Ron shook Harry awake, it sent an irrational surge of anger through him. A moment later, he remembered why; in his dream, Malfoy had given Harry a love potion at breakfast and they met up in secret at the Quidditch pitch to snog. And it was actually nice. Before Harry’d had time to get his bearings, he had been forced awake. As he dressed, the warm feeling from the dream ebbed and he felt an awful twisting in his gut.

“You alright, mate? You look like you’re gonna be sick.”

Harry steadied his breathing, hoping this would calm his stomach. Unfortunately for him, the feeling of fullness in his throat grew worse, and he mumbled something about needing a minute before rushing up to the bathroom. He splashed his face with cold water, then gripped the sink to steady himself. When he looked at his face in the mirror, his expression reminded him of Malfoy on the fateful day they had fought in the girls’ bathroom.

It doesn’t have to mean anything if you don’t want it to mean something, Harry reassured himself. There were plenty of reasons why he would have such a dream: the time loop getting to his head, the shock of Malfoy’s actions under the love potion, the fact that Malfoy happened to be on his mind because of his investigations. And actually, in the dream, wasn’t he pushing Malfoy away? Or he at least remembered the stiffness of the kiss, the awkwardness. He had overreacted.

Under normal circumstances, he would have kept the dream to himself. However, these were unusual circumstances, and his embarrassment would be temporary if he wanted to talk to Ron about it.

“I was wondering, have you had any dreams where you kissed someone?” he asked that evening, trying to play off the question as off-handed and casual as possible.

“Just kissed?”

“Er, yeah. If it was more I don’t need to know.”

“Of course, loads of times. It doesn’t really mean anything, sometimes I don’t even know the girl. In fourth year, though—” He stopped mid-thought and cleared his throat. “Have you not?”

“Sure, once in a while.” That was a lie; something told him only having one or two such dreams put him in the minority. “Last night, I had a dream where I kissed someone I don’t like.” He paused, thinking quickly. “Pansy.”

“Oh, no.” Ron clicked his tongue. “Happens to the best of us.”

“What do you mean?”

“After I had those Cauldrons, I had a dream about Romilda, even though in a way she nearly killed me.” He shuddered. “She’s fit enough, just . . . also a bit mad . . .”

“Right.” Realizing he was rubbing his arm where Malfoy had touched him, Harry dropped his hand.

Ron peered at him. “You okay, mate? It’s not a big deal.”

“No, I know. The loop’s just getting to me, is all.”

“Have you asked my brother for help yet?”

“Which brother?”

“Bill. He was a Curse-Breaker, remember? If he can’t help, he might know someone who can.”

“I’ll try him, then.”

On the morning of the following day, Harry left a note on his bed for Ron, writing that he was going to London and if he and Hermione could cover for him he would explain everything later.

Some of the goblins in Gringotts stared at him warily as he entered, and he realized his disguise charms must look rather obvious to them. He took out his wand, causing a few more to look up, and restored his appearance.

Seeing Bill sent a thrill of joy through Harry that he couldn’t quite explain. It was his smile, wasn’t it? A look that made him feel like everything would be okay, and a firm handshake that gave him hope that Bill would have the answers.

“Harry, it’s good to see you. Shouldn’t you, er, be in school? And what’s happened to your eyebrow?”

Harry’s hand jumped to his left eyebrow, then to his right—or at least, where his right should have been. He wouldn’t try altering his appearance without a mirror again anytime soon. “Is there somewhere private we can talk?” All of the goblins had returned to their work, but some had their ears perked up. “It’s about a situation at Hogwarts. Nothing urgent. I thought if I came around lunchtime . . .”

“Ah, right, I can take my break now.” Bill led Harry through a corridor to a small but plush break room, seemingly designated for human employees as an afterthought. The decorative plaster ceiling had a carving of a serpentine dragon at its center and glass lamps filled the room with light.

Posh decor aside, Bill seemed out of place in his formal clothes, especially because he still wore an earring. His hair was in a short plait that he could somehow make look cool. “Is this about Ron or Ginny?”

“No, no, they’re fine.” Harry launched into an explanation of the curse, starting with the first day he cast Sectumsempra as Bill listened, nodding every now and then, his puzzled frown deepening by the minute.

Once Harry was done, Bill stood and began to pace. “Unfortunately, this is outside of my expertise. When I was a Curse-Breaker in Egypt, my team and I  had some context as to who cast the curse and the kind of magic they used.” His rugged features trained on Harry. “It is likely you are the sole person with the power to break the curse, if it is indeed a curse. If you solve five components of the curse—intent, strength, originality, effects, and catalyst—you should be able to figure out how to break it.”

“Intent, I have no idea. Strength, I’d say it’s stronger than average—”

“Which suggests more than one person created this. Or it built up power over time.”

“And Malfoy’s the catalyst . . .”

“Probably, if your finding about the blood holds true. You said you tried to find information about similar spells without much luck?As far as intent, I can say that based on my experience, there would almost certainly be motivation behind this curse, even if it has been lost over time. On the day before it began, you regretted what you did to Draco Malfoy, right?”

“Yeah, I dunno, I think I vaguely wished the day hadn’t happened.”

“My thought is that—well, this may be obvious—but whoever cast the curse wanted to go back in time because of something they regretted.”

Instinctively, Harry had guessed regret played a part in the reason time reset. Although, he had assumed it was his own regret, not someone else’s.

“Any number of factors can set off a curse. Maybe the key is narrowing those factors down, figuring out who cast it.” He studied Harry, whose expression had darkened with doubt. “Once you have more clues, such as the curse’s parameters and descriptions of its effects, write them down to bring to me, and based on that I’ll find you the right person to talk to.”

Even though he still had more to figure out, Harry knew he had been right to talk to Bill about the loop. His best chance at ending it was to study those who could have played a role in the hiccup in time.


With the help of the Marauders’ Map as well as the passage of what he guessed had been two months in total, the world of May 8th had nearly opened up to Harry. He knew approximately who would be where when, as well as what they were doing. Before the time loop, he used the map only when he needed to see what Malfoy was up to. Over the past sixty-odd days, everyone’s actions became of interest as he searched for a clue of something unusual that could help him figure out how to end the time loop.

Nearly every day, Harry watched the tiny pairs of dots and names move and interact. Ron and Hermione were in the common room with many other Gryffindors, who were also dispersed throughout the dorm. There was a predictable flow of people when certain people would go the bathroom or leave for dinner. Harry followed a different set of dots each time, just to be aware of potential changes and if there was anything worth investigating under his invisibility cloak.

While under his cloak, he caught Astoria Greengrass—younger sister of Daphne Greengrass—talking with her friends about Malfoy with a sort of curiosity that made him suspect she fancied him. From other conversations he had overheard, the underground cult of admirers had grown this year as rumors among Slytherins grew. He tried to understand Malfoy’s appeal from the perspective of Astoria and her friends and ended up with fragments of comments:

“My glasses tell me he’s looking glum today—”

“He’s still gorgeous. So mysterious

“. . . mysterious, or a dick?”

“When I first talked to him, he was really nice. Charming, even.”

When Astoria talked to her few Pureblood Ravenclaw friends, though, her tone was much different.

“If you’re in danger from the Dark Lord once he has control of the country, I’ll vouch for you.”

The conversations filling the day often made Harry cringe—the failed jokes, the whispered judgments, the petty gossip. It made him want to find every bad interaction he’d ever had, crumple them all up, throw them out, and start anew.

“She’s a slut,” a Gryffindor whispered about a Ravenclaw seventh-year named Rashida Sauer, loud enough that she heard as she passed  by with her friends. Anthony Goldstein and Terry Boot were walking with Rashida and while Boot merely winced, Goldstein replied immediately, “Watch your virginal mouth, Laurel. No one gives a damn about your opinion.”

Laurel flushed, but managed to pull off a slightly disgusted expression before continuing on with her friend. Harry had renewed respect for Goldstein, who had already proven himself in Dumbledore’s Army.

It was in the mundane that people showed their true nature. When this thinking made him too judgmental, he revised his sentiment: disposition was revealed by the mundane, while potential was revealed by the exceptional, the actions he’d seen once or twice in these seventy days. Although Romilda Vane often said things that made Harry want to grab her by the shoulders and give her a good shake, a few weeks earlier she had invited a second year eating alone to sit with her and her friends. Moving beyond the times she had said unpleasant things, he could make peace with Romilda for her occasional acts of kindness—they revealed more about who she could be later in life than who she was at her core.

If he paid close enough attention, people became more complex, dimensional, even those he had known well since first year.

After class one day, Harry chose to watch the dots of Dean and Seamus, since they had been together the time he beat up Malfoy. The two moved through the corridor, down sets of staircases to the third floor, and entered one of the classrooms.

“Odd . . .” muttered Harry. He waited for a professor to enter as well, or for them to move around, but instead, they stopped in one place, dots and names overlapping, and were still.

Harry reached into his pocket for his invisibility cloak and pulled it over himself, stomach sinking. Was something wrong? Was one of them injured? Had they been hexed?

He hurried up the stairs and crossed to the classroom. The door was closed, and probably locked. “Alohomora,” whispered Harry, casting the spell and opening the door in one fluid movement.

Dean and Seamus whipped around to look at the doorway, which to them looked empty.

Harry had planned to creep inside, but instead remained frozen. They had been snogging.

“That’s odd,” said Dean, voice unsteady. “You locked it, didn’t you?”

“I—I must’ve forgot.” Seamus unraveled himself from Dean’s hold and the two went to investigate.

Harry stepped back into the corridor and decided to reveal himself. Surely the Slytherins had hexed them as a joke, and they would need his help, whether they knew it or not. He walked a few paces down the corridor and removed his cloak. A second later, Seamus peered around the corner.

“Harry! Er, what’s going on? Did you open the door just now?”

“Someone’s slipped you a love potion. Can you help me—have you seen any Slytherins around?”

“A love potion?” Seamus scratched his head. “Er, what do you mean?”

“Look, it’s alright, you don’t have to explain, I know why you were—er, why you’re together right now.”

Seamus flushed. “That’s . . . actually . . .” He turned to look at Dean, who cleared his throat.

“Harry, why don’t you come in the room?” Dean glanced at Harry’s wand. Normally, his height didn’t seem threatening, but something about the seriousness of his gaze made him seem seven feet tall.

Harry held his ground. “How can I tell if you’ve under the influence or not?”

“We haven’t had any potions, Harry. Look, you’ve got to promise you won’t tell anyone, or we’ll have to . . . I dunno, try erasing your memory.”

Harry felt weak with shock. “You haven’t—?” He looked between their sheepish expressions. “But—but you—Dean, what about Ginny?” A small thrill rose up in the pit of his stomach, a hope that it had all been a lie, and Dean wouldn’t stand in his way if he pursued her . . .

“Merlin’s sake, keep your voice down! Fine, come in. I suppose you ought to know, seeing as we’re roommates and all.”

The awkwardness in the room was almost unbearable. Although Harry had generally found standing to be easy every other day of his life, all of a sudden he had forgotten how to do it normally. Should he lean against a desk? Cross his arms?

Seamus broke the silence. “Dean and I, we’re not dating, but sometimes we . . .”

“Er, I understand.” Harry didn’t meet Seamus’ eyes.

For some reason, he felt more comfortable looking at Dean, who said, “You have to promise not to tell anyone. No one knows, except Ginny, and she swore to keep it to herself. I don’t want to force you to make an Unbreakable Vow—so can we trust you?”

“Yeah. Yes.” More than anything, Harry wanted to get out of the conversation, but he knew he would kick himself later if he didn’t ask at least one question. “How long has this been going on?”

The pair glanced at each other. “The beginning of the school year,” said Seamus.

“Seriously, Dean? All year?” Apparently, his jealousy had been wasted on Dean.

“I was confused!” He did look genuinely sorry, at least. “Don’t worry, Ginny’s already gone off on me and I know it wasn’t fair to her. Can we just move on?”

“Right, it’s none of my business. I’m just going to head back to the dorm . . .”

Dean stepped forward. “Harry, you really can’t tell anyone. Please. We could be expelled.”

“What? You could?”

Seamus crossed his arms. “Well, we assume so.”

“Has anyone been expelled for something like this before?”

“We haven’t looked into it, but it’s possible. I mean, we’re not the first blokes here to be this way, I’m sure of it.”

They looked at each other, and Dean started laughing. “There’s a rather crude carving on my bedpost. It’s quite funny, actually.” He cleared his throat. “At least, we found it funny.”

Desperate for an excuse to leave, Harry said, “Er, I’ll go look for it, then,” and started for the door.

“Hang on, Harry,” said Dean, “One more thing—this won’t affect our chances of making the team next year, will it?”

Harry turned. “Why would this affect your Quidditch abilities?”

“Not my abilities, of course, I meant—I dunno, if you’d be uncomfortable, or whatever. But I swear, there wouldn’t be any problems. And don’t tell Ron, I know he’d—just keep it to yourself.”

Harry nodded. “You can trust me.” He felt as though he should say something else before leaving. “It doesn’t make a difference.”

Back in the boys’ dorm, Harry studied Dean’s bedposts, which were marked by decades of etchings from past students. The carving in question was crude; there were two stick figures inappropriately placed next to each other, labeled with a term Harry didn’t understand but recognized, referencing something about dogs. His gaze traveled down the post, over unintelligible words and scribbles. Close to where the mattress met the wood, there was a single word, topped with jagged antlers: PRONGS.

Harry sucked in a breath. This had been his father’s bed. He looked between the handwriting of this and the other inscription—the letters shared between the words (O, G, and S) matched. It was clear from the anatomy that the two stick figures were men, but why on earth would his father draw something like that? Had he known someone who was interested in other boys that way?

Or he was reading too much into it. There were times when boys his age made inappropriate jokes with each other, or were prone to being more affectionate after drinking. No one ever took it seriously, though now he had more difficulty understanding why they joked like that.

A thought occurred to him. What if the regret that had caused the loop had something to do with someone revealing they fancied the same sex? Or being found out, like he found out about Dean and Seamus? Maybe afterwards they had told Myrtle about it in the girl’s bathroom . . . If they couldn’t use a memory charm because word got out, then the only solution would be to reverse the event. Regardless, if the time loop had worked before, it would be like the event never happened, and there would be no regret to discover. How would Harry even go about investigating something like that, then?

The next morning, he grabbed the glasses from the side of his book, put them on, and looked up—and his eyes happened to fall upon Dean sitting on his bed, shirtless, yawning with his arms stretched high. Embarrassment flooded in him, and he looked at Seamus to gauge his reaction. Sure enough, Seamus was openly ogling Dean, and looked away just before Dean noticed. Something stirred in Harry that he couldn’t quite name.

At breakfast, Harry decided the best person to talk with that day was Luna, who had already helped with the first snogging incident. He nearly bailed when he saw her name drifting to the library on the Marauder’s Map, knowing she would say something he didn’t want to hear. Once he got over this, however, he went to the library, pulled her aside, and explained his situation up until the day before.

“. . . And now, there’s something I discovered—I can’t believe I never noticed, and looking back, I suppose I should have. I don’t know what to believe anymore. If I missed something like this, what else could I have overlooked, you know?”

Luna shrugged and smiled. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about, but you have a lot on your mind, so it doesn’t surprise me that you might have missed something.”

“If I could tell you what it was, I would, but I promised to keep it a secret.”

“That’s alright, Harry, you should keep your promise. I had an idea, though, of how you could find out more, and stop me if I’ve already suggested this. Bill said that someone could have made the time loop curse due to regret, right? Well, the castle has many secrets, and perhaps if you looked for clues, you would find something.”

“I don’t know where else I can look.”

“The library, student records, diaries—wherever people recorded their memories.”

As soon as Luna said “memories,” Harry thought of the Pensieve. But to his knowledge, only Dumbledore and Snape used it, so that wouldn’t help. “Where could I find student records or diaries?”

“I’m sure the Headmaster has student records somewhere, and as for diaries . . . maybe they’re hiding in a place people thought they wouldn’t be found.”

The Room of Requirement. Surely it must contain at least a few diaries among the stacks of books. Thanking Luna, Harry hurried out of the library, put on his cloak, and headed to the seventh floor corridor. After his third time passing the usual spot, a door appeared. Harry slipped inside, at once in awe of the the sheer size of the room and the number of objects it contained. He weaved through the pathways of chairs and broken furniture to the thousands of books teetering upwards, kept from falling with magic.

Harry took several steps back, unsure of what to expect. “Accio diaries!” The great pile of books came toppling down as dozens of thin volumes shot out toward Harry. He ducked out of the way just in time for them to whizz by, landing several meters behind him.

Ears ringing from the sound of the crash, Harry slowly approached the books. If he could find a diary about someone who regretted a choice they made . . .

The diary closest to Harry had been written from 1879 to 1881. At first, he read it diligently, scanning every page, then he resorted to skimming, before closing the book altogether.

Recalling the spell Luna used to search for specific words within a text, he waved his wand and said, “Astendo regret!”

Several of the books flopped weakly. He tried again. “ASTENDO REGRET!” This time, at least twenty of the diaries sprung open. He tore off some parchment from one of the unresponsive diaries to use as bookmarks, then read the first few pages of each one, half-expecting to find another book by the Half-Blood Prince.

Some of the diaries were anonymous, making it nearly impossible to discern an author. Additionally, the illegible handwriting of some gave him a headache after concentrating too hard, so he put them aside for later. One of the books caught his eye for the rough circular  carving on its cover that reminded him of the carvings on Dean’s bedpost. The inside cover contained the initials “ML.” Had any of his father’s friends had the initials ML? L for Lupin, but the M was—Moony. Was this . . . ? Harry slipped a bookmark in with the page that mentioned regret as he flipped through the beginning. Initially he couldn’t tell if the Marauders were featured since Lupin used pseudonyms, but figured out after reading further that James was Pots, Sirius was Red, and Peter was Wanda for whatever reason. Closer to the end, after they had become Animagi, Lupin switched to their nicknames of Prongs, Padfoot, and Wormtail. Turning back to where he had bookmarked, Harry read the page that mentioned regret.

 

1 November, 1974

Last night, on Halloween, Pots had us stage an Auror training exercise using appearance-altering transfiguration and potions.

 

Harry’s attention was piqued. So they knew they wanted to be Aurors that long?

 

I was a convincing girl, apparently. A bloke asked me to dance. We had fun for a bit, but then he kissed me. My first kiss, and it was with a bloke! The thing is, I actually liked it. I don’t regret it at all. The Polyjuice Potion must have done something, made me attracted to him. At least, I assume that’s the case. Red spotted us and after he and I talked, I could tell he doesn’t believe me. Anyhow, since he and I had shared a bed last June, I’ve been considering things. I don’t think I’m gay, I would know. I shouldn’t have to wonder, because it’s not like that with girls.

That’s all, I think.

 

Shared a bed? What was that supposed to mean? Harry mentally reviewed possible signs that could’ve tipped him off to any such inclinations in Sirius and Lupin, except he didn’t know what he should be looking for. No, this didn’t change anything. Plenty of people have some strange memory of the sort from childhood—sudden inexplicable attraction, or curiosity due to hormones—but it didn’t have to affect their adult lives. Heart pounding, Harry read the last entry in the diary, which took place over a year later.

 

28 March, 1976

This will be my final entry. The diary has become too much about the others, and I find myself constantly anxious they’ll find it and I’ll regret writing anything in the first place.

But I have to get this off my chest. The boys are truly kind, I don’t deserve them. As Animagi, they were able to keep me from self-injury. Before all of this, I think part of me doubted how sincerely they liked me. This was supposed to make me certain, if it hadn’t been for what Padfoot did. I can tell Prongs is using him, so how can I tell he’s not using me? He’s a bloody idiot, so I suppose if he hasn’t figured out how I feel, I shouldn’t be surprised.

 

How had Lupin felt? If this was how vague all of the diary entries would be, he may be out of luck. Putting the question aside, he began to sift through the other diaries, wishing he’d brought Hermione along for this, especially since the tedium wouldn’t bother her.

The regret written in the other diaries ranged in gravity from accidentally jinxing close friends to skipping important papers. On the more serious end, one girl wrote that she wished she had visited her best friend while she was sick instead of putting it off to take her O.W.L.s, since the friend had nearly died. Another regretted telling her friend she fancied him. Love and regret seemed to go hand in hand. None of the stories mentioned anything about the girls’ bathroom or a specific time-turning spell, though there were vague sentiments about wishing to turn back time. And none of the diaries belonged to current students, so the only way to follow up on the leads was to track them down and talk in person, assuming they were still alive.

Of the writers, Tristan Zimmer and Mercury Yu would likely be the easiest to find, since they had gone to school within the last fifty years and mentioned wishing there was some spell to change what they had done. Zimmer cursed the Quaffle before a Quidditch match, causing his team to be disqualified from the House Cup; Yu had let her naïve friend fall prey to a vampire. While Yu said nothing that suggested she actually tried to go back in time, Zimmer said he wished he had a Time-Turner. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

The Marauder’s Map, laid out beside the diaries, caught his attention. He stared at Seamus and Dean’s dots as they headed to the third floor classroom. He realized he was tapping the page rather aggressively and stopped. The pairs of same-sex students jumped out at him, making him wonder how many were just friends, and how many were more.

Harry felt silly considering it, but there was no one around to judge what he was doing, so he went ahead and tapped the map. “Were any of you q—homosexual?”

The grounds on the parchment melted away and words spread across the page.

 

Homosexual. Adjective. As in “gay.” Example: Sirius could have any girl he wants but prefers blokes; he wears leather and is often caught staring at Remus’ arse. See fig. 1.

 

A small, smirking illustration of Sirius appeared.

Chapter Text

ch6_three choices

Harry held his breath. Were they joking, or was Sirius actually . . . ? He stood up and began to pace, unsettled and unsure of what to do. If Sirius had been gay, how could Harry have not known? Now that he thought about it, apart from the time Sirius showed off for some girls in Snape’s memory, he didn’t exactly have evidence that his godfather had been interested in women. He’d not married, not had a girlfriend. Although, Harry had no recollection of anyone whispering of scandal relating to the sexuality of the notorious Sirius Black. He could fathom his ignorance about Seamus and Dean being gay, or whatever they wanted to call it, but not knowing about Sirius?

He would have to find a way to ask Lupin. It might be uncomfortable, and it would undoubtedly embarrass him, but those feelings would fade with time in the loop. Pain, on the other hand, would not fade unless he did something about it. Ultimately, he preferred to face his ignorance and learn about Sirius’ past over clinging to a false version of him.

On the following morning, early enough to avoid being interrupted by someone in the common room, Harry used Floo Powder to talk to Lupin.

“Harry, what’s wrong?” asked Lupin, crouching down to get a better look at him.

“Nothing.” Harry couldn’t bring himself to elaborate.

“Has something happened? Are you okay?”

“Yes. Well, I’m not in danger or anything, but I have to ask you something. And I wanted to do so in person . . .”

Lupin exhaled, and embers flared up. “I can no longer safely enter Hogwarts. If this is truly an emergency, I could meet you in the Hog’s Head. You would have to sneak out. Can you at least tell me what this is about?”

“It’s about you and Sirius.”

“Harry, I am sure when we see each other again, I can regale you with tales of our youth, or you can write me. But—”

“I have the Marauder’s Map, and it told me that Sirius was,” he hesitated and lowered his voice, “homosexual.”

“How did it . . . ?” Lupin sighed again, and Harry imagined he was remembering some mischievous decision made by Sirius or James as they made the map. “You wanted to meet about that?”

Harry glared at Lupin’s face as best he could. “Just—I’ll explain when we’re there. And it has to be tonight. Please.”

“All right.” Perhaps it was asking too much of Lupin to talk about it. But Harry didn’t have the luxury of time for Lupin to brace himself, prepare what he wanted to say. “In that case, you can meet me in the Hog’s Head at seven, but we will Apparate back to Grimmauld Place.”

“I’ll see you then.”

That evening, Harry told Ron and Hermione he had to take care of something, not bothering to waste time explaining, and used the cloak to get to Hogsmeade undetected. Lupin arrived at seven sharp and after an awkward greeting they Disapparated.

Being back in Sirius’ home, Harry became too distracted by the hollow ringing in his chest to feel self-conscious about the reason for his visit. He gratefully accepted the tea Lupin offered him as an excuse to collect himself.

“How is school?”

“School’s fine.” In the time leading up to their meeting, Harry considered telling Lupin about the time loop, but decided it wouldn’t do him much good, and would possibly delay getting the information he wanted.

Lupin looked at him and seemed to read that Harry would stay closed off until they were able to talk about what he came for. “So what is all this about Sirius, then?”

“I was looking for something and I found a room with a lot of random objects including this book and—it was your diary. You probably tried to get rid of it.”

Lupin sucked the air in through his teeth. “That’s an unlikely coincidence.”

Harry shrugged and crossed his arms. “Well, I’m being honest.”

“I will take you on your word.”

Over the course of the time loop, Harry had noticed over two dozen signs people were shutting down when he pushed them too hard for answers. Exhibiting four of these signs, Remus frowned so hard his mouth curled down as he blinked more than usual, his shoulders tense and hands pressed tightly together.

“I flipped to the last entry of your journal—sorry, I know I shouldn’t have pried—and in it you wrote that you might have feelings for Sirius. Or blokes in general. And then on a whim I asked the Marauder’s Map if any of you—the Marauders—were homosexual, and I didn’t think it would work, but it did, and it showed me a picture of Sirius.” Harry already felt more relieved telling Lupin this, despite his increasing anticipation to find out what it all meant.

“Okay. Lesson learned: burn your diaries if you would rather them remain private. And as for the Map—I was reminded of how much of us it contained when I first confiscated it from you in your third year.  It was only a matter of time before something personal was revealed to you . . . To answer your question, yes, Sirius was gay.” Lupin looked at Harry to gauge his reaction, then added, “We were together when he died. Er, we had been together since school.”

“Together?”

Lupin cleared his throat. “Yes. Tonks is the only one who knows, though she figured it out accidentally; he and I kept quiet about it.”

“Why didn’t he tell me?” Harry’s throat felt constricted.

Lupin hesitated. “I suppose he was afraid of losing you.”

“He’s dead now, so a fat lot of good that did.”

Lupin looked away. “You’re right.” His face scrunched up slightly, as though debating what to say next.

“Why didn’t you tell me? We spent all of this time together third year and for the first time I felt close to my parents. Then I had to find out by eavesdropping—not from you—that Sirius had been friends with my parents and had supposedly betrayed them. After meeting him, I thought that maybe things would be different, maybe I’d get to know about my family. It turns out people are still hiding things from me. But I’m not a kid anymore.”

“I know you’re not. Sirius hid it well; it helped that girls gravitated toward him. He even put up posters of scantily-clad Muggle women in his bedroom. Granted, this was mainly to annoy his parents . . . best not to get into that.”

“Was he ashamed of it, then? He assumed I’d react poorly before giving me a chance.”

“This part of our life—it’s complicated, Harry. There’s a risk in disclosing that kind of information, even to those we care about. People like us—it’s not exactly easy for most people to accept. It may seem important, but really—”

“You’re saying you’re gay, too?”

“I am . . . bisexual. It’s not the same as being gay, it means you can be interested in people regardless of gender.”

Harry already had trouble wrapping his mind around Sirius liking the same sex; this was a bit over his head. “My dad knew, right?”

Lupin nodded. “He and Peter knew. Peter didn’t know Sirius and I were together, though, because he didn’t quite understand. Turns out that was for the best.”

“So he—my dad—was okay with it?”

“Yes. He was supportive.” Lupin chuckled, remembering. “He really cared about us, and for him to come to terms with our sexuality at such a young age, and in the seventies no less . . . Of course, the eighties were harder in some ways, but Sirius missed most of that . . .”

As Lupin’s eyes drifted with the memories, Harry was left alone. He wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps by accepting Lupin, but his questions had to be answered first. “If you and Sirius were together, then why did he agree to switch Secret Keepers?”

Lupin winced. “At that stage in the War, when he and James made that choice, Sirius no longer trusted me. Trusting Peter instead cost them their lives. It nearly cost us our relationship, too, if we hadn’t forgiven each other. Him for believing the stereotypes I had fought to live against and me for not having faith that he was innocent.”

Harry nodded. There were too many questions swimming in his head, so he found the one causing the most waves and asked it: “This may sound a bit thick, but how do you know you were . . . ? When did you know what you were . . . ?”

“It is different for everyone. For your mum and I—er, I mean—”

“What’s my mum got to do with it?”

Lupin pressed his lips together, ready to console him. “She was bisexual, too.”

“Were you not going to tell me that?” Harry gaped at him.

“I’m telling you now, am I not? We never discussed—I have no idea if it is my place to tell you, though I suppose if she were alive, Lily would have wanted you to know, eventually.” Lupin ran a hand through his gray hair. “Anyhow, she and I came to terms with it later than Sirius. I felt confused throughout most of my time as a student, as you undoubtedly gathered from my diary, primarily because I didn’t see how I could be interested in both sexes.”

“But, er, how come you’re bisexual in the first place?”

“I don’t know. It could be socialization, it could be the way you’re born—”

“Meaning, one of your parents was bisexual, too? Like how magic is passed down?”

Lupin laughed. “I don’t think so. Maybe one day we will know. For now, it doesn’t really matter, I think. It could be the person, too. I suppose, if I hadn’t been with Sirius, would I have come to terms with my interest in men? Certainly not as young as I was at the time . . .” He noticed Harry had become solemn. “What is it?”

“Just—if my mum and dad had raised me, they’d have explained all of this.”

Lupin patted Harry’s hand. “I am truly sorry. I wish they could be here, too.”

“So if Sirius hadn’t been imprisoned, would he and you have raised me?”

A small smile flickered across Lupin’s lips. “Even if Dumbledore had other plans, we would have. The Wizengamot would have granted Sirius custody as your rightful guardian over a Muggle family.”

What would his life have been like, had he been raised by Sirius and Lupin? He pictured them recounting tales of their school days, taking him to Diagon Alley on the weekends, laughing at the little mishaps caused by Harry’s early experiments with magic, inviting friends over from the wizarding community . . . perhaps gaining a bit of James’ arrogance from knowing he was the Boy Who Lived from the start. He would’ve had two dads and not a mother, but he didn’t have either with the Dursleys.

“And I would’ve known you were together, if you had raised me?”

“Yes, you would have.” Lupin’s smile faded. “But Harry, spending too long considering the life you could have lived will only make your reality harder to accept. Will you promise me that no matter what happens in this war, you will try your best to live as though there is another version of yourself somewhere, wishing desperately to trade places with you? I cannot make the pain you feel over Sirius’ death go away. I can only hope you will take that pain and use it to more completely love the people who are alive. After Sirius died, I convinced myself I was incapable of loving again, and yet . . . it may be possible after all, and that frightens me.”

Harry didn’t want to speak, for fear of betraying his emotion.

“I’m sorry, I’ve gone on a tangent, haven’t I? It is something I seldom speak candidly about . . . I got carried away.”

“No, no, it’s okay. Thank you.”

“And I’m sorry you’re having these questions at such a tumultuous time. Considering everything you are dealing with, I’m surprised at how concerned you are with this. Life goes on, doesn’t it? When your father and I were at Hogwarts, it was remarkably similar. Even with the war, we still cared about the little dramas of social life, which seemed vastly important at the time.”

Despite the threat of Voldemort looming over him, Harry couldn’t stop caring about the lives of the people that were important to him. That was how he would stay sane in the time loop, and how wanted to live beyond it.

With two hours left before he should return to Hogwarts, there was ample time to explain the time loop, so Harry rattled off his usual synopsis, answering any questions Lupin had along the way. At the end, he asked, “Er, so, did you ever cast a curse in Myrtle’s bathroom when you were at Hogwarts? Or know someone who may have done something like that?”

“Someone who regretted something they did, correct?” After Harry nodded, he continued, “No, none of us did. I doubt we ever went into Myrtle’s bathroom; we had plenty of other hideaways. And most of our disputes with other students were drawn out—nothing drastic happened that was worth reversing time by a day—or they worked out in our favor. I certainly never attempted any such thing, and I doubt that anyone I knew did, either. In many respects, we kept to our own bubble, so dramas among other students flew under our radar.”

“Do you think something like this could have been unintentional, though?”

“Could have. Even then, the person most likely knew enough about the effects of the spell in order to break out of the loop—until now, time continued as usual. Accidental magic typically occurs in children and in less experienced wizards. Rarely is accidental magic powerful enough to . . .” He looked at Harry. “You’ve heard this all before, haven’t you?”
Shrugging, Harry said, “More or less.”

Lupin appeared to study the glass in his hand, but his mind was elsewhere. “Instead of focusing on restoring time, try to make peace with it. Find something else to do. If your brain is not constantly fixed on one issue, perhaps a solution will arise organically.”

Something to do . . . Luna had given him similar advice. He had been improving his skills in Charms and Transfiguration, which alone was hardly enough to occupy him. For the time being, he found that socializing more with people other than Ron and Hermione helped him escape the monotony of the loop.

At breakfast the next day, he looked around the Great Hall as he had many times before, trying to find someone new to interact with. Down the Gryffindor table, Colin Creevey sat with a couple friends, chatting away with his mouth full of food. Over the past year, they had only spoken a few times, which was odd given the boy’s past obsession with him.

Harry got up and approached Colin, who smiled at him when he noticed. “Alright, Colin? Er, you can finish chewing. How would you like to go for a walk up to the Black Lake?”

Everyone within earshot stared at Colin, who had become better at keeping his cool in Harry’s presence. “Yeah, sure. Now?”

“Er, before dinner? Half four?”

“Okay! I’ll meet you in the common room, then.”

That afternoon, they headed onto the grounds together. To Harry’s surprise, it felt natural; they talked about Quidditch and the magic Harry had learned that year (despite his efforts to veer away from his accomplishments). A sneaking suspicion crept into his mind, a possible explanation for Colin’s past obsession with him and how suddenly he’d become distant.

“Colin, there’s something I should ask . . . Do you fancy me?”

Stopping dead in his tracks, Colin stared at Harry. “W-What? Fancy you? No no no no no, I never—I don’t think of you that way! Oh God, is there a rumor about it? Has someone harassed you? I’ll set the record straight, don’t worry!”

Straight. Harry suppressed a chuckle. “No one’s said anything, as far as I know. I just had to be sure. You’ve kept more of a distance this year, so I was curious why . . .”

“It’s nothing like that! It’s because . . . I know how much I annoyed you. Before last year, I never wanted to admit it to myself, until you went to the Ministry without Dumbledore’s Army and nearly died and I knew that whatever you were going through had nothing to do with me.”

Colin’s hurt expression took Harry aback. “I didn’t want to put your life in danger.”

“I’m not saying I was upset that you—no, you didn’t do anything wrong. You’re separate, is all. At some point, I no longer wanted to idolize you like I had before.”

“What do you mean by ‘separate’?” Harry changed direction so they could head back to the castle.

“Please don’t take offense, what I mean is you have two really close friends, and . . . everyone else is kept at an arm’s length.”

“I can’t be friends with everyone, Colin. I don’t think I’m much different from anyone else.”

Colin shrugged, looking like he might cry for a moment, the epitome of remorse. “I understand that. You might know I myself only have three really good friends. A lot of people are jealous of you, Ron, and Hermione.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Some people call you the Golden Trio. Er, well, the Slytherins may have started doing it to mock you. Then the fourth-year Gryffindors picked it up, I think.”

“I like the sound of that: the Golden Trio. You don’t suppose the Slytherin who started it was Draco Malfoy, do you?”

“Actually, now that you mention it, I’m almost certain it was him.”

“I’m not at all surprised . . .”

As though to prove he could spend time with people other than Ron and Hermione, the next day Harry found Luna and asked her whether she wanted to practice old DA spells. She agreed, and they went to the Room of Requirement, where they practiced making disguises. Eventually, Harry explained what had happened to him (time loop, love potion, boredom) and brought up Dean, Seamus, and—

“Most recently, I found out my mum liked men and women.”

“Really? How?”

“I talked with Lupin.”

“They were in school together?”

“Yeah, they were both in Gryffindor, in the same year. Actually, they were both bisexual.”

“It means a lot that Lupin felt comfortable telling you.”

By instinct and despite his better judgement, Harry asked, “Have you ever fancied someone of the same sex?”

Luna tapped her chin. “Yes.”

Harry nearly laughed. He was beyond surprise at this point, it was more that he was right to wonder and that he was only finding it out now.

“But I never just fancy one person at once, you know?”

Harry had moved singularly from Cho to Ginny, two people in his entire time at Hogwarts, so he didn’t know, not really. “Who have you fancied?”

Luna swept her pale blonde hair over her shoulder. “I haven’t told you yet?”

“No. I—I haven’t talked to you much about any of this.”

“I tend to fancy people who’ve become my friends. After we’re friends for a while, though, and I find they’re not interested, I move on.”

Shame and pity rushed over Harry. “How can you be sure no one’s felt anything back?” He wished he’d felt something for Luna in the past so he could reassure her.

“If someone makes the effort to be my friend, I don’t want to jeopardize that. Especially when it’s someone of the same sex.”

“So . . . have you fancied Ginny, then?” Out of the conversations he’d had over the last several weeks, he finally felt a burst of understanding when Luna nodded. He fancied Ginny; why shouldn’t someone else feel the same, no matter their sex?

“Ginny’s wonderful, very kind, headstrong. I don’t fancy her anymore, though.”

Although he felt awful for knowing it didn’t matter because Ginny was probably unable to return her feelings, it at least prevented him from feeling jealous. “Have you told anyone before?”

Luna was about to shake her head, then paused. “My dad. There’s really no one to tell here.”

Given Luna’s uncanny ability to share her opinions and keenly observe the world, it seemed dubious that she had never told anyone at school about her attraction to girls. But she had so few friends, and of them no one she was as close to as Harry was to Hermione and Ron. Moreover, this was different than pointing out unspoken truths about others or made-up magical creatures: there might be consequences if anyone found out about her sexuality.

“Have you told Neville?”

Luna shook her head. “I don’t think he’d understand. He only likes girls, I’m almost certain.”

A thought occurred to Harry. “Why don’t you try telling him tonight? Once the loop’s ended, I can tell you how he reacted and you can decide then if you want him to know.”

“The Ministry has a history of tracking people with ‘unnatural’ inclinations. There’s a secret department in the Ministry that uses glasses to detect whether people are queer or not and forces people to change their gender to suit their sexuality. Telling Neville would be risky, but I’m less nervous knowing he won’t remember whatever I tell him.”

Harry stared at her, caught between mortification and disbelief. Ignoring the churning of his stomach, he said, “Truthfully, I doubt he’ll have a problem with it. And he would never tell the Ministry, assuming there is such a secret department. You’re his friend, so it shouldn’t affect your friendship.”

Luna didn’t respond. Maybe she disagreed. “Can I ask you something, Harry?”

“Er, sure.”

“How do you know you only like girls?”

Ice shot through Harry’s veins. “I just know. I’ve never wanted to . . . I would know, wouldn’t I? I fancy someone, anyhow. A girl.”

Luna studied at the space around his head. “Hm. Have I checked you for Wrackspurts recently?”

“Not that I . . . Why, what are they, again?”

“Wrackspurts are invisible, they make your brain go fuzzy.”

“I think I’m okay.”

“They could be preventing you from keeping an open mind.”

Harry sighed and gritted his teeth. “I’m fine. I’ve already had to be open-minded, and I’ve had too much time to think.”

Luna blinked as if his tone hadn’t changed. “I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s only that I can’t imagine being attracted to only one sex.”

“That’s how you feel, then. But even you’ve figured it out by now, right? Remus certainly knew by sixth year, Dean and Seamus know, so what’s the point in thinking about it? If I were bisexual, I would know.” He looked at her, imploring her to nod or show she agreed. “I would know, right?”

“Someone could have experienced everything I have and still question themselves. Misinterpreting yourself is part of growing up. As long as you aren’t miserable with who you are and are honest about how you feel, you don’t need to have it all figured out.”

Harry wished he could agree with her. “Why don’t you get Neville in an hour, if you’re ready? I’ll fetch my cloak in the meantime.”

That evening, Luna and Neville met in the greenhouses. Golden light filtered through the glass, at once lightening the atmosphere and adding weight to what Luna planned to say.

“Can I tell you something if you promise to keep it a secret?”

Neville looked at her, smiling, sincere. “Sure, what is it? Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine. We’ve been friends for a while, now, and I trust you enough to tell you that I can be attracted to girls as well as boys. People, really, regardless of gender.”

“Oh.” Neville slowly ran a hand over his jaw. “Er, so what’s that mean, exactly?”

“I don’t fancy anyone right now, but if I did, it could be someone of any gender.”

“Oh. Alright, then.” The awkwardness Neville usually exuded had increased. “Why are you telling me?”

“Because you’re one of my best friends. I want to be honest with you.”

“Have you told anyone else?”

“Not really, other than my dad. You’re the first of my friends to know.”

He relaxed at this, and the flush in his face began to fade. “Can I hug you?”

“Of course.” They embraced, Luna standing on her toes.

“You can tell me anything, yeah? It’s not fair—you’re so kind, you deserve kindness in return. I care about you.”

Luna nodded, smiling when they parted so he would understand the tears in her eyes. “The same to you.”

They were walking now. Neville cast his gaze about the greenhouse, struggling to find what to say. “I think I only like girls.”

“Oh? What makes you think so?”

He was nearly tripped by a mischievous plant. “It’s—I never had to question it. Other boys don’t make me the way I’ve felt with,” he  stopped to move a few pots into alignment, “er, with other girls. If I could explain it any better, I would. Maybe it’s like—since I was young, I’ve known I prefer tarts to pies. No, that’s a rubbish analogy, isn’t it? You like girls, too, so . . . have you always known?”

Luna seemed to be aware that looking directly at Neville made him more nervous, so she allowed her gaze to wander. “When I was still quite young, my mother brought home these fashion magazines from Paris. My dad wanted to get design ideas for the paper. He gave me the magazines to keep when he was done and I spent hours flipping through them, looking at the beautiful people. Being homeschooled and relatively isolated, I hadn’t quite realized that feeling a certain way toward girls was taboo. But that was when I knew I fancied girls as well as boys. A woman in one of the magazines had long brown hair and dark eyes, and she wore a beautiful peach-colored dress . . . That I even remember her after so long says something, doesn’t it?”

They sat down on a bench in the shaded end of the greenhouse to avoid squinting in the intense light of the setting sun. After sharing a comfortable silence, Luna rested her head on Neville’s shoulder. “Thank you,” she said.

“For what?”

“For being my friend.”

Harry left them alone and waited by their agreed-upon meeting place, a huge orange potted plant. He wondered if Luna noticed how Neville acted around her; that his affection approached something more than friendship.

After a few minutes, she poked her head around the corner. “He’s left.”

“How do you think it went?”

“Good. I’m happy.” Luna beamed at Harry as he took off his cloak. “I doubt Neville understands quite yet, but he can at least relate to feeling different. He’s kind, too. Not everyone would react as well as he reacted.”

“I wouldn’t expect any less.”

Before they parted, Luna left him with one last thing to consider: “You don’t have to force knowing, Harry. There will be a right time to know about yourself, just as there’s a right time to know about others.”

Waiting to know was easy when he was too preoccupied with dodging Death Eaters and surviving the everyday to be overwhelmed by existential thoughts. As time passed in the loop, however, what else was there but to become in the know?

Now that it was on his mind, Harry discovered more people who were attracted to the same sex. Before, he couldn’t see the pieces of the puzzle; once their edges came into focus, he was able to fit the previously overlooked clues and suggestions together.

Either way, who people fancied had nothing to do with him, or at least he didn’t care from a judgmental perspective.

Professor Sinistra was the first person to be puzzled out after Luna. She received a letter at breakfast and throughout the day would slip it out of her pocket to reread it. Hoping it was a lead, Harry waited for her to leave it on her office desk before skimming its contents. His fingers went numb on the parchment—it was a love letter from an American witch she was apparently dating.

The more heightened his radar became, the harder it was to discern what qualified as active interest versus passive observation. As students’ attractions were confined to a single day, at present most of them had eyes for only one person.

Ron, for example, had tunnel vision, even if he wouldn’t admit it to himself.

“Ronald . . .”

“If you call me Ronald again, I’ll start calling you Hermy-own-ninny.”

“If you say Hermy-own-ninny three times, you’ll summon Viktor Krum.”

Ron paused to think of something clever and was distracted by Hermione’s smile. “Well—wouldn’t want that, would we?”

She shrugged. “Wouldn’t we?”

When she turned away, someone else may have interpreted the longing in Ron’s face as frustration.

Of the Weasley siblings, Ron seemed to show the least affection toward those of the same sex (aside from Percy). Only when Harry paid more attention to Ron’s brothers did something shift. Spurred by jealousy, Ron would walk closer to Harry, even wrap an arm around him if it felt natural.

While the tension between Ron and Hermione had been obvious to Harry prior to the loop, if he hadn’t known about Dean and Seamus, their attraction may have gone unnoticed. When the boys looked at each other, their smiles could pass as platonic. Once, though, he spotted Dean’s hand on Seamus’ thigh while the two studied at a table in the common room, and even this gesture only lasted a minute.

And then there were the occasional suggestive comments: roommates who had caught each other in compromising positions, compliments that went too far, and teasing when two friends got too cozy with one another.

Two girls—one in Hufflepuff, one in Ravenclaw—whom he had previously assumed to be really good friends turned out to be more: he once caught Yolanda, the Hufflepuff, kiss Carrie on the cheek while sitting in her lap, and when he skimmed the Marauder’s Map one evening, he found their names overlapping in a vacant courtyard.

“What am I doing . . .” muttered Harry, folding up the map. This was not the first time that shame made him put the map away.

The time loop made his intrusions more frequent, often unintentionally, as he noticed things that only appeared to him after observing the same behavior over and over again. Sometimes, he would be so caught up in something he observed that he lost track of time following a person or idea until something jolted him out of his trancelike state. It only took a change in expression, an unusual comment, or a subtle glance to pique his attention.

At lunch one day, Malfoy’s eyes were on Blaise Zabini as his friend stretched languidly, head back. Malfoy averted his gaze when their eyes met. This didn’t have to mean anything—he could have been interested in something Zabini said or simply felt jealous at his good looks, especially considering Malfoy’s less-than-healthy appearance.

Before he realized what he was doing or how much time had passed, Harry was under the cloak, following Crabbe and Goyle to the Slytherin common room in search of answers. The pair were returning from the kitchens and moved slowly enough for him to slip in after them.

A few people perked up when they saw the food—apparently this was a regular practice. Crabbe and Goyle laid out the combination of cakes, bread rolls, and biscuits onto the table adjacent to the couches where Malfoy, Zabini, and Pansy sat, their books sprawled over the floor around them, stray pieces of parchment lost in and under furniture. Malfoy, sitting in between Zabini and Pansy, only acknowledged his friends’ return with a nod of his head, briefly meeting their eyes before returning to work.

“Have a lot to study?” asked Goyle, sinking into a chair across from the trio.

“What’s any of it matter?” said Malfoy, his face souring.

The fog in Harry’s brain lifted. He’d seen this precise expression over and over again in the loop: the awkward pause when a friend said something they had said many times before, particularly if it was out of frustration or loathing. They had already said all they could to reassure him, Harry guessed, and none of it had done much good. Malfoy’s experience was separate from them.

“The more familiar you are with this magic,” said Pansy, tapping the cover of a book, “the more prepared you’ll be later on.”

“Are you saying you agree with the curriculum here?”

“No, of course not.”

“Most of the year we have our heads buried in books, what good does that do? And with traitors like Slughorn in charge . . . Of course he plays favorites, he did in my parents’ time. But picking Mudbloods over me? It’s ridiculous. So if I am less than enthusiastic about coursework, it is hardly my fault.”

“The half-giant and that centaur, too,” said Crabbe, mouth half-full. “D’you want something to eat? There’s loads here.”

Malfoy shook his head at Crabbe, then looked at the rest of them as he said, “You’ve heard it all before. I haven’t the energy tonight . . .”

Zabini rested a hand on Malfoy’s shoulder, and annoyance stung Harry. Obviously Malfoy wanted to be fawned over. “You saw Madam Pomfrey, right? To help with sleep?”

Malfoy hesitated. “And draw attention to myself? I wanted to be cautious.”

“Then I’ll get the potion for you,” said Pansy.

They all stared at Malfoy, whose flush only made his unhealthy pallor more noticeable.

“Merlin’s sake, fine, if it’ll get you to stop nagging me.” Malfoy raised a hand—an apple from the pile of food arced through the air and into his open palm. The corner of his mouth lifted slightly when Pansy “oohed” at this, though his expression was quickly hidden as he took a bite.

Absently, Harry wondered if Malfoy had been practicing wandless magic in the Room of Hidden Things and envisioned the collection of objects spinning around him as he tinkered with the cabinet.

After a half an hour of revising, Goyle said, “Can we have a break?”

“Oh, we should play kiss, marry, kill,” said Pansy, clapping her hands together.

“What is that?” asked Malfoy.

“Right, you weren’t there, were you?” said Pansy, not noticing Malfoy’s jaw tense at this. “Someone says three people, and everyone decided who they want to kiss, marry, or kill.”

“Sounds inane.”

Pansy’s excitement dropped at once. “It’s not so bad.”

“So,” said Zabini, before Malfoy could continue putting her down, “who are you thinking of?”

“Hm.” She glanced around, then said, voice lowered, “Millicent, Daphne, and Tracey.”

“Marry Daphne. Kiss Tracey. Kill Millicent,” was the refrain, and it seemed the only reason Malfoy repeated this was because everyone else had said it. A sense of unease filled Harry, partially undercut by amusement at their conversation.

Zabini ran a hand over his close-shaven head. “How about three from Durmstrang?”

“Plaksin, Krum, Bakhtin.”

At the name Bakhtin, Malfoy drew his legs up closer to himself.

“All boys? C’mon, Pansy,” groaned Zabini.

“What, it’s not serious. I’ll come up with a few girl ones.”

“Kill Plaksin,” said Zabini and Malfoy at the same time that Crabbe and Goyle said, “Kill Bakhtin.”

“Why him over Mischa?” said Pansy to the pair, who looked comically frustrated.

“Mikhail didn’t like us,” said Crabbe.

Pansy snickered. “You two were jealous.”

Goyle glared at her. “Were not!”

“No use denying it. You can’t have Draco all to yourselves, you know.” She cozied up to Malfoy, fluttering her lashes at them as she did so.

“You’re so annoying,” said Goyle, though he couldn’t hide a smirk.

“Now, Blaise, if you’re killing Plaksin, who will you marry and who will you snog?”

“Doesn’t marrying them mean you have to snog them?” said Malfoy, duly accepting Pansy’s affection.

“Well, I think it’s more about who you’ve got to live with for the rest of your life,” said Zabini, then added, “I would marry Krum. To start, he’s got the most money.”

“He also went to the Yule Ball with Granger,” said Malfoy, unresponsive to Pansy’s touch.

“So you’d go for Mikhail, then?”

Pansy looked at each of them, eyebrow raised. “Is anyone surprised?”

“Shut up.” It could have been Harry’s imagination, but the circles under Malfoy’s eyes seemed darker than before.

“What? You two were close.”

“What are you implying?”

“What do you think I’m implying?”

“Nothing. It doesn’t matter.”

The edges of Harry prickled as he studied Malfoy, unwilling to assume he understood the fear he saw and yet unable to turn off the intuition that told him Malfoy was worried about seeming too interested in this Mikhail Bakhtin person. Who was he, anyhow? Harry hadn’t paid much attention to the Durmstrang students.

“Moving on, I have another group: Sprout, Sinistra, and McGonagall.”

Crabbe and Goyle guffawed, drawing the attention of some seventh-year Slytherins, who looked at them pointedly so they would be quiet.

“Really?” Zabini shook his head.

“You wanted girls.”

“Not what I meant.”

“So what would you do?”

“Bloody hell, Pansy. What would you do?”

“Kill McGonagall. Kiss Sprout. Marry Sinistra.”

“Obviously,” said Zabini. “McGonagall’s like a hundred years old.”

Malfoy shrugged in agreement. Somehow, he seemed even more tired than he had before. Harry watched the space between him and Zabini, waiting to see if Malfoy would rest his head oh his shoulder, or resist. If it were Ron, would Harry rest his head or not? Their friendship wasn’t like that, there had always been a normal distance between them.

A wicked smile spread across Pansy’s face. “Potter, Weasley, and Granger.”

“No, piss off,” said Malfoy, suddenly alert. Zabini nudged him, laughing, as he crossed his arms. “You answer first, then, Blaise, if you find it so funny.”

“It’s quite straightforward. Kill Potter, marry Granger, kiss Weasley.”

Pansy reached across Malfoy to hit Zabini, who then clutched his arm in mock-pain. “You better have a good explanation,” she said to him, “because it’s obviously kill Potter, kiss Granger, marry Weasley.”

“You’re a girl, of course they’d be switched.”

“I can’t kill Potter, that’s a task for the Dark Lord,” interrupted Malfoy, causing Pansy to look at him in surprise, “though he is a nuisance. May as well kill Weasley, then, there would be a dozen other red-headed blood traitors to take his place.”

Pansy clucked her tongue. “Don’t say you would marry the Mudblood.”

“I would kiss Granger, as revolting as that would be.”

After counting to two on his fingers, Goyle said, “Hang on, that means you’ve got to marry Potter.”

“Granger’s the only girl, why wouldn’t you marry her?” asked Zabini, incredulous.

“Harry’s a Half-blood, despite everything,” said Pansy quickly.

Malfoy had gone very still. “It’s only a game.”

“Yeah, it’s just a game,” said Pansy. “We should get back to work, anyhow.”

One moment, Harry was boring a hole in Malfoy’s head, and the next, he saw a flash of himself coming out of the lake after the Second Task, breathless with his wet clothes clinging to him, and Fleur kissing him, followed by a surge of anger . . . And then he was back in his present body. Malfoy looked around, some color back in his face, before mumbling to the others about needing to use the bathroom.

From Harry’s limited understanding of Legilimency, he knew it was easiest to read people at their most vulnerable, particularly if they wanted to be understood. Why was he on Malfoy’s mind, and that memory, no less? Why had he detected a hint of jealousy? Half of him thought it was because of the glory he had in that moment and in the tournament; the other half thought it explained Malfoy’s choice in the kill-marry-kiss game, why Fleur’s affection meant something. And the Amortentia from earlier in the loop—

No. He wasn’t going to let his imagination spin out of control, beyond the scope of reality. Besides, upon returning to the couch, Malfoy appeared to be better. At least, apart from his relentless nail-biting, a habit Malfoy acted on only in his most difficult days in the loop.

“Draco, honestly, is there anything we can do to help?” Pansy lightly ran her fingers down his arm, watching his face for any hint of instability.

“You would be the first to know. The fewer people are involved, the better.” He must have said it a number of times before.

“You’re smart, Draco. You’ll figure it out.”

He stopped chewing his nails and shrugged.

“We’re proud of you. You know that, right?”

“What good does pride do? What, you’re amazed I haven’t fallen apart? Do you feel sorry for me?”

“No, that’s not it.”

None of them spoke up to elaborate, though, and they went back to studying in awkward silence.

“It’s hard to believe Potter is suddenly the best at Potions in our class,” said Zabini, tone akin to a Petunia giving Dudley ice cream to stop a tantrum.

“He’s been cheating to win Slughorn’s favor, I’m certain of it.” The others watched Malfoy until he looked up, having stopped speaking before they expected. “If I weren’t so preoccupied with this task, I would have earned a spot in Slughorn’s little harem.”

“Slughorn doesn’t deserve you,” cooed Pansy. “Besides, he has no idea that you have experience fixing dark artifacts. You’re the only one at Hogwarts with such advanced skill.”

Malfoy stayed silent.

“And what’s more, you’re a quick learner. I hate seeing you doubt yourself, because when you keep at something, you succeed. You get what you want, in the end.”

With her compliments rewarded by a smirk, Pansy turned expectantly to the others and missed how immediately the tired expression returned to Malfoy’s face.

“We will prevail,” said Zabini, happy to set aside his book. “You’ll become one of the Dark Lord’s most esteemed servants.”

For the first time, Harry felt offended on behalf of Malfoy. How could his so-called friends miss what was—in his opinion—so obvious? How could they all be so deluded? Did it make them feel better, pretending Malfoy’s situation was in his head, that he would object if he didn’t want the task given to him?

“I know we’ll win. That’s not—it doesn’t matter.” They were all staring at him as he stared at the wall. “I’m going to bed, I’ll see you all tomorrow.” Was his slouch supposed to garner sympathy from the others, or did he simply not care enough to stand properly?

As soon as he was gone, Zabini opened his mouth to speak, but Pansy shushed him.

“What?”

“Unless you’re going to contribute something useful, I don’t want to hear it.”

“I was going to say I’ll get him sleeping potion tomorrow, for Merlin’s sake. One comment about his hair and you’re on my case—”

“One comment, like it was one comment—”

“Oh, and you’ve never said anything about him.”

“I’m talking about when you told him, point blank—”

“So you want to pretend everything’s fine? Ooh, let’s play a game, oh, Draco, you’re so talented—”

“You’re a prick.”

“Why are you acting like it’s my fault he’s struggling? None of us have been able to do anything.”

“I’m going to talk to him.” Pansy gathered her things and walked to the boys’ dormitory stairs.

“Pansy, you’re going to push him further away. Leave him alone,” said Zabini, and she stopped.

Without a word, Pansy turned and ran downstairs to the girls’ dormitory.

Chapter Text

 

The Lost Diadem

As Harry struggled to keep his spirits up, Ron consistently made him forget his worries. While he appreciated Hermione’s concern for his well-being, he appreciated Ron’s efforts to improve his mood without talking at length about feelings.

At lunch one afternoon, after Harry had explained the time loop, he asked Ron, “Do you want to go somewhere?”
“You’ve got somewhere in mind?”

“London. We can take the Floo Network.”

“Why not, if time is resetting tomorrow?”

Harry had no idea what they were to do, he just knew getting away and bringing them into a new situation would feel like an escape from the monotony of everything.

They went into every shop Harry had never visited before and he marveled at the magical goods with fresh amazement. He ordered them an extravagant dinner at a Muggle restaurant comprised of tiny courses that were immaculately presented in the center of gleaming china. With money to burn, he whipped up some disguises and booked them a suite at the Damarion Hotel. Apparently, it was the wizarding elite’s preferred place to stay in England. Ron seemed to read nothing romantic into the day’s activities, to Harry’s immense relief.

Harry spread out on his magically soft bed and looked at Ron upside down. “If time was repeating, as in you kept waking up and it was the same day over and over again . . . what would you do?”

Ron’s responses typically ran along the lines of eating a lot, playing Quidditch, and getting revenge on Malfoy. After he predictably listed these, Harry pressed, “Really, though. You get bored of all of that, you weren’t expecting it to last more than a couple weeks, so what do you do?”

Ron flipped onto his back so he was oriented the same way as Harry. “This was quite fun, I’d do things like we did today. How much can you really do in twenty-four hours? Visit Charlie in Romania maybe, learn about dragons . . . What have you done?”

“Nothing much. Figured out what Malfoy was up to, practiced magic.”

“What about the Horcruxes? Have you found out anything about them?”

“Er, not really.” Why was he still bothering with Malfoy when he could have been searching for Horcruxes?

“It can’t all be about that, though—going at one task for months on end, so I get why you haven’t.”

“Maybe I should find out the results of a few Muggle sporting events, put money on a team or a horse or something.”

“Hey, if you do that, you better include me.”

Harry laughed, then rolled onto his stomach. “Okay, I’ll look into it. Thanks for coming with me today.”

“No, thank you, mate, honestly.” Ron rolled over, too, and propped his head up with his hand. “Best meal of my life. Just wish I could remember it tomorrow.”

“Ron . . . your friendship means a lot to me.”

“I know.” Despite his embarrassment, he didn’t look away.

“You can guess, but I never tell you, do I? I’m really, really lucky to have you as a friend. You’re loyal, funny; you make it easier to deal with this, to deal with everything. Even though you won’t remember this conversation, in the future I want to be there for you more.”

“Thanks.” Ron fidgeted. “You know, you’re the first friend I had who my brothers weren’t friends with first.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.” He paused. “When I was nine—no, ten, because it was the year before Hogwarts—I ran away from home.”

Harry might have assumed this would be merely a funny childhood story if not for the hitch in Ron’s voice and the lost look in his eyes, as though he were returning to the body of his younger self.

“It’d been a tough year. It was just me, Ginny, and my mum, and . . .” He made a sudden look of disgust. “It’s so stupid. This is why I never said anything, compared to what you had to put up with at home—”

“I want you to tell me. It’s not stupid. What’s the point in pretending your childhood was perfect? That would make me feel worse!”

Ron nodded, grimacing again. “Alright then. So I was annoyed with my parents a lot as a kid. I think I was convinced my mum loved Ginny more. I’m throwing fits and generally being a pain in the arse. And when my brothers come back from Hogwarts, we immediately clash, they tell me off for acting like a baby, crack jokes, start pranking me even more than usual. Of course Ginny’s the golden child, she’s protected, she’s dealing with none of it. It’s hard to explain now, I’m already forgetting what exactly they did, how I felt.”

“I understand what you’re saying, though,” said Harry.

“What I remember most is the day before I left. Oh—and I should say, that year made me realize just how worried my parents had been about money. So between everything, I felt guilty for burdening them.”

Harry nodded. Maybe it was worse to feel like a burden to those you love rather than be told you’re a burden by those who don’t love you. No, deep down he saw the Dursleys as more than not loving him; he was told he was a burden by those who were supposed to love him.

“Fred and George told me I’d have to fight a troll to be sorted into a House.”

“Oh, I remember you saying that when we were waiting to be sorted. I had no idea what to do if we had to use magic . . .”

“Exactly. So they made up this mad story about a kid sorted before them, and how she tried this spell but it didn’t work, and the troll ate her. I believed them, even though it sounds obvious now that they were lying. For a week I had nightmares, until I said at dinner that I didn’t want to go to Hogwarts because I didn’t want to be killed. When my parents worked out why I thought I’d be in danger at Hogwarts—”

“To be fair, our first year you still almost got killed by a troll, not to mention Voldemort. And a giant three-headed dog.”

Ron laughed. “Right, if I’d known that I definitely wouldn’t have turned up.”

“What was it Trelawney predicted?”

“Trelawney?” Ron blinked at him, unsure of where this was going.

“You’re going to suffer but be very happy.”

“Oh.” His mouth twisted into a smile. “Looking back on what we’ve been through, I wouldn’t want to do it again. The best moments, though . . . they’ve made it worthwhile. But where’d I leave off . . . oh, so Mum got upset at Fred and George, I was sobbing, and later the twins made fun of me for being so gullible.”

Harry pictured Ron’s face streaked with tears, and was at once filled with compassion for him.

“That night, I packed up some clothes, some food, the savings I had, and took off on Charlie’s old broom.” He paused, looking a bit sheepish. “I got tired pretty quickly. The sun was rising when I stopped to eat the food I’d brought, a ways outside the town. I was walking down the road when my family found me. My brothers had to apologize and everything. I wasn’t upset anymore, just glad they cared enough to find me. I dunno. It was a while ago, now.”

Although not a revelation, Harry now better understood Ron whenever he felt out of place, undeserving, ashamed.

“How did you do it?” asked Ron.

“Do what?”

“You turned out alright.”

“I don’t know. You don’t think I’m distant?”

“No?”

“I feel like you and Hermione know who you are better than I do.”

Ron shook his head. “Nah, that’s probably because you know us so well. There’s plenty I’m unsure about.”

But the time loop made Harry’s lack of self-awareness and disconnect from others obvious. People either expected the same patterns from him or missed cues that something was off with him, and his friends often skirted around difficult conversations when they spent time together. Harry had grown too comfortable with his limited knowledge of himself, of others, of the world.

“How much of yourself do you think I don’t know? If you had to put a percentage on it.”

Ron yawned, too tired to clarify what Harry meant. “Er, five percent. It’s not much.” 

They ordered room service and dove into a collection of candied fruit, hot fudge and ice cream, the Damarion’s signature biscuits, and champagne.

“. . . Okay, okay, how about this,” began Harry after Ron retold one of his most infamous Lavender stories, “Top three girls in our year. Who’d you most want to date, not just based on looks?”

“Hang on, I have to think about this. If I had to choose . . . Lin Miller, Hermione—not that I would, it’s only because we usually get on—and Mandy Brocklehurst, I suppose. It hardly matters, anyhow.”

“Why not?”

“What have I got to offer? I’m not good-looking, and I’m not really smart or talented. Compared to you . . . I have no idea what Lavender saw in me.”

“Lumos!” Harry looked at Ron in disbelief. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. If fame helped that much, I’d have had a girlfriend by now, right?” Specifying “girlfriend” left his mouth bitter. “Ron, you’re funny, you’re loyal, you’re a great Keeper, you’re caring—”

“That’s what you see. Other people don’t see that.”

“Other people? The minute ‘other people’ read something negative about me in the paper they thought I was dangerous, a liar. What do other people know?”

“That’s different.”

“Bullocks, Ron. Forget about them, forget about how you think you measure up to your brothers.” Taking them both by surprise, Harry’s voice caught. “I don’t mean to embarrass you, it’s just that out of everyone I could have met on the Hogwarts Express, I’m happy it was you.”

Ron blinked a few times, raising a hand to partly block out the light as though it were the cause of his tears. “Yeah?”

“Yes. Lumos Minima!”

Able to see again, Ron picked up a biscuit and began to eat it, slowly, solemnly. “Fank you. I—”

“Mate,” said Harry, laughing, “finish your biscuit.”

“Mhm.” He stuffed another his mouth for good measure, swallowed before speaking for once to ask, “Am I decent-looking, at least?”

Panic crept into Harry, slowed by the champagne. Why would he care what I say, does he think I can tell if blokes are attractive? “Oh. You really want my opinion?” When Ron nodded, he said, “Well then. If I . . . if I were a girl, I’d want to date you. Your height helps, don’t you think? And the ginger thing is in your favor, too.”

“That’s reassuring. Once, the twins tried dying their hair brown. It backfired and made their hair glow neon for two weeks.”

“Wow. It’s a shame that didn’t stick. So what would you say if the girl you’re dating thinks she’s not good-looking?”

“Obviously if I’m dating her, I’m attracted to her.”

Harry wondered how that reasoning would go over with Hermione. “Er, right. Maybe think on that a bit more.” There was more he could say to press Ron on the topic of Hermione, however, going further could spoil the day if he reacted badly.

So he decided against it and, yawning, suggested they go to sleep. 

“You’ll be okay, won’t you?” whispered Ron in the dark.

“I’ll be okay.”


A few days later, Harry met up with Hermione to research the time loop. They quickly got distracted, though, and left the library to talk. Eventually, Harry told Hermione the story about Ron running away as a child, which spurred on the subject of belonging.

“One of the first signs I was a witch,” said Hermione, pulling a lock of hair straight and letting it spring back, “was also the first time I remember someone being overtly racist. I was walking to the bus stop ahead of my parents, and this man standing outside of a shop called me a black . . . c-word.” She winced. “I don’t even like repeating it.”

“What a dick.”

“Yeah, my mum told him off, and the man tried to move toward her—he was getting angrier and angrier—but he couldn’t move. His feet were glued to the ground.

“Word travels fast in my neighborhood, I’m sure the Ministry had no choice but to spin the incident rather than erase it. In the papers that week, it was written off as very strong cement that had hardened around the man’s feet. What didn’t make sense about that explanation was that he couldn’t get his shoes off.

“Apparently, a number of women had reported him for harassment in the past. My parents also filed a complaint to the police; I don’t know if they ever found out what happened to him afterward. They kept the newspaper clipping about it, and once they understood I was a witch it was a point of pride.”

“Are there many people in London like that, compared to Surrey, do you reckon?”

“Are there many racist people in London? For starters, most people are good at hiding their racism. Spending the school years there, I was shielded from a lot of it. I attended a very diverse school and was too young to notice the subtle versions of prejudice.” She thought for a moment. “Still, if given the proper chance, I’m sure people in Surrey would be the same, likely worse. I noticed it more with other students, the ones who were overlooked, left behind. Whereas I was studious, well-behaved, and the odd one out for other reasons.

“You know, when I was bullied first year, still adjusting to Hogwarts, I initially assumed other students didn’t like me—at least in part—because I was black.”

Harry ached with empathy for her. His first instinct was to tell her that wasn’t the case, but what did he know? No one would ever have admitted it like they would have with blood status.

“It’s funny, I think the reason I wasn’t as affected by the blood purity prejudice as I could have been was because people focused on something I’d never learned to be ashamed of. My magic made me interesting, different, and to suddenly have to resent that . . . It was frustrating because it seemed so arbitrary. Racism is so rooted in culture, in the world, in the UK, and yet with this—people decided Muggleborns weren’t equal.”

Everything she said, Harry agreed with. What made him uncomfortable, however, was realizing how much thought she had put into it without ever confiding in him. Over the years, he hadn’t considered how others may have suffered from forms of racism that differed from his own experiences. Why couldn’t they have talked about this before?

“I get what you mean. For me, magic helped me escape my cousin and his gang. It helped me . . . I dunno, you know how Purebloods like Malfoy have this built-in confidence? Until recently Malfoy never doubted himself, questioned his own superiority—”

“Right, Malfoy’s identity is the only thing making him feel like he has value. It isn’t a gift to him, to any Pureblood, really—more like a right they never doubt. So as soon as it’s threatened, they lash out.” She was becoming more sure of her train of thought. “They have nothing to offer apart from what they take for granted. Faced with Muggleborns, they see magic as a resource they need to hoard for themselves instead of as a shared and diverse experience.”

“Exactly! Exactly, Hermione, that’s such a good way to put it. Dudley and his gang had that same confidence. Or maybe a better way to say it is they acted like they were better than others because really, they knew they were completely ordinary.” He paused, trying to remember his train of thought. “And . . . the thing is, I knew the way I looked impacted how they treated me. The inexplicable things that happened around me kept me from thinking I was worth somehow less than they were. I’m not saying it wasn’t hard, because at times it was bloody difficult, but feeling different in a way beyond my race saved me.”

“And considering how famous the Potters are, I can’t imagine people would judge you for your race at Hogwarts.”

“As the Boy Who Lived, it could be hard to tell why people loathed me. Was Umbridge racist or just cruel? And what about Draco—er, Malfoy, do you think he’s racist? Do think people at this school are racist?”

“Maybe to all three.”

They spent another couple hours deconstructing race in both of the worlds in which they existed. Hermione recommended a book to him called New Worlds: The History of Muggle Colonialism and Wizarding Society, 1300-1970. Maybe one day he would get around to reading it, but truthfully, he thought the weight of history would crush him.


Having spent time with both Ron and Hermione, Harry was ready to pursue the idea that had been gnawing at him since Ron brought it up: he ought to search for the Horcruxes. Leaving school to go to Diagon Alley was one thing, traveling the country to hunt down pieces of Voldemort’s soul when he had hardly any leads was another. From what Dumbledore hypothesized, the Horcruxes included Slytherin’s locket, Hufflepuff’s cup, something owned by Ravenclaw or Gryffindor, and possibly Nagini.

He decided to start by figuring out the uncertain Horcrux. If there was anyone who may know about an artifact of Ravenclaw’s, it was Luna.

“Luna, I was wondering if you’ve heard of an object that the founder of Ravenclaw owned or created. It would have been special, valuable, and not something that you could see in a museum or in Dumbledore’s office.”

“Oh, interesting question. Yes, there’s the lost diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw.”

“It’s lost? When did it go missing? And, er, what’s a diadem, exactly?”

“It’s a sort of tiara, and it went missing centuries ago.”

“Right, ‘lost.’ Are there any stories about where it could be? Or anyone who could know?”

“There is the Grey Lady, the Ghost of Ravenclaw House. If you asked her, she might be able to help. She’s quite shy, though she’ll talk to Ravenclaws. If she knew you are my friend, she may help you.”

“Right, and where could I find her?” After asking this, Harry supposed it would be easier to just use the Marauder’s Map.

“Oh, anywhere, really. She likes reading and studying, so perhaps a library. If you ask a ghost, they may be able to point her out to you.”

Harry thanked Luna and half-walked, half-jogged toward Gryffindor Tower. A tiara. A tiara . . . had he seen a tiara anywhere? On his way to the common room, he noticed some movement on the wall; the door to the Room of Requirement had materialized.

Was the Grey Lady there, or the diadem? He opened the door, picturing a chair with a crown perched on top of a velvet pillow.

Instead, he found the Room of Hidden Things.

A memory from the day before the loop struck him. “Oh—wait—I remember!” He took off down the main drag, eyes peeled for a familiar alleyway. “Accio diadem!” Nothing happened, so he ran into the alley marked by a stuffed troll and slowed down. Was it right or left at the Vanishing Cabinet that Malfoy had been working to fix? After going right first, he then went left, breath catching as he saw the acid-damaged cupboard.

Between the cupboard and a wig stand was a tiara discolored from time gone unpolished. Engraved along its side were the words “Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure.”

Harry picked it up and closed his eyes, waiting to feel a heartbeat, or another sign that it was what he was looking for. He thought he heard a subtle whispering, but his scar didn’t hurt.

Wasn’t it too easy? Surely if Voldemort had wanted to protect the diadem it would be cursed or better hidden.

The surest way to find out if it was a Horcrux was to bring it to Dumbledore. Tucking the diadem into his robes, Harry hurried out of the Room of Hidden Things and down the shortest path he knew to get to the Headmaster’s Tower.

The gargoyle gave way to the password “Shock-o-Choc.” Even before he got to Dumbledore’s office, a smile split across Harry’s face. When was the last time he had felt a rush of satisfaction like this? Perhaps focusing on securing his freedom beyond the loop would free him in a different way.

“Good evening, Harry, I was—”

“Writing a letter?”

“Yes, in fact.”

“Sorry, sir, I should explain everything to you first.”

As he rushed through a summary of the past few months, Dumbledore’s eyebrows arched higher and higher.

“. . . which made me think I should look for Horcruxes.”

“Is that . . . in your hand . . . ?”

Harry handed him the diadem, feeling the weight of it leave him at once.

Dumbledore winced when he touched it with his burnt hand. “It is. Where did you find this?”

“In the Room of Hidden Things.”

“Ah.” Dumbledore studied the diadem for a long moment. “You recall the memory I showed you in which Voldemort applies to be professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts . . . I believe he could have hidden the diadem in Hogwarts that night.”

“So he knew about the room?”

“He must have discovered it as a student. I myself have never required such a room. It is usually used by a certain type of individual, the people whose circumstances require secrecy that they are unable to create independently.”

“Right, it was where Dumbledore’s Army met. The only other people I know of who’ve used it are Malfoy and Trelawney.”

“Hm.” Dumbledore’s eyes fell upon the diadem again.

“Sir, we can’t destroy it.”

“Why not?”

“Because what if it makes the time loop end?” Harry could hardly believe he was advocating to continue the loop. “I should find the others first.”

Dumbledore studied Harry before speaking. “How long have you been suspended in time?”

“A few months. I only recently started looking for Horcruxes.”

“And you are unaware of the locket’s location?”

“Yeah, I’ve yet to find it. The cup as well, I still have a ways to go.”

Dumbledore nodded and stroked his beard. “Come to me again once you have any new information.” Then he smiled. “We are now closer to our goal. Well done, Harry.”

With the diadem in Dumbledore’s possession for the time being, Harry used the Marauder’s Map to track down the Grey Lady.

She was young, with waist-length hair, and if he knew anything from observing Malfoy, her haughty pride suggested a noble background. Looking at her more closely, he knew he had passed her but had never given her much thought.

“Grey Lady?”

She glanced at him, then away, continuing to float down the corridor.

“Hang on, you’re the ghost of Ravenclaw House, aren’t you?”

“That is correct.” She slowed her pace so he could walk next to her.

“I found the lost diadem.”

She froze and looked at him, eyes wide. “How?”

Harry was taken aback by the urgency in her stare. “It’s in Hogwarts. Someone hid it in the castle.”

“Someone . . . and do you know who hid it?”

“It has to be Voldemort—Tom Riddle—I just have no idea how he got it, or how he put it there.”

“So you have failed enough exams to think the diadem will only help you.”

“What have exams got to do with it? No, I’m trying to stop Voldemort, he put a piece of his soul in it so he’d be impossible to kill.”

Helena’s serene face twisted. “The diadem belonged to my mother.” They were alone, and Harry could tell she would not confess this unless he was the only one to hear.

“Your mother was Rowena Ravenclaw?”

“Yes. Knowing that such a terrible wizard warped a family heirloom . . .”

“A family heirloom that makes you smarter?”

Helena Ravenclaw shook her head, as though preparing to explain a simple concept to a child. “It bestows wisdom. That is why I stole the diadem.” Her voice had dropped to a whisper. “My mother concealed my betrayal from the other founders of Hogwarts, pretending she still possessed it. When my mother neared death, she sent someone to bring me to her, for closure. The man had loved me for years, although I did not return his affections.

“The Baron tracked me to the forest in where I was hiding with the diadem. When I refused to return with him, he became violent. He had always been quick to anger. Furious at my refusal, jealous of my freedom, he stabbed me.”

“You said the Baron, do you mean—?”

“The Bloody Baron, yes.” She lifted the cloak she wore over her dress to reveal a dark wound in her chest, right over her heart. “Once he came to his senses, he was overcome with remorse. With the weapon he used to take my life, he took his own. To this day, he wears chains as an act of penitence, as he should.”

“Where was this? Did it happen near the castle, since you’re here now?”

“I was hiding in Albania. I returned to Britain after my mother died, apparently from a broken heart. She knew she had caused my death, and that it was impossible for me to see her. She never knew I returned as a ghost. Only after two centuries or so—after everyone who knew me and their children had died—did I return to Britain, and to Hogwarts. The Baron followed me, and ever since, we have kept our identities a secret. Now, he lives with remorse for his transgressions against me.”

“I’m sorry. That’s awful.”

“Yes, it is. Now, I have told you far too much . . . needlessly dwelling on my past distracts me.” She drifted away, leaving him alone in the corridor.

Had the Bloody Baron cast the curse? Could a ghost do such a thing? Or maybe after killing the woman he loved, he regretted it so much that he tried to reverse time, and when he failed, he ended his life. By using Sectumsempra, Harry could have imitated the stabbing and triggered the loop.

With a shout of triumph, Harry ran to track down the Bloody Baron. As the ghost rounded the corner by the Slytherin dormitory, Harry said, “Excuse me, I need to ask you something.”

“Why are you sneaking around the dungeons, Gryffindor?”

“I found out that the Grey Lady is Helena Ravenclaw, and that you killed her.”

The Bloody Baron stared at him, stony expression fracturing.

“So I wanted to know, did you ever try to cast a curse to reverse time? So you could take it back?”

“No. Even if such a spell existed, I would have chosen to pay for my sin.”

“Then . . . how is time screwed up? I’ve been living the same day over and over again.”

“You thought of me because you also hurt the person you love?”

“No! That’s not—I don’t love him, I don’t even like—” Harry had let the pronoun slip out accidentally, but figured it may pass unnoticed. “But why would someone make time reverse if they weren’t trying to undo a mistake?”

“Not every ghost is present because of regret. Most have unfinished business, the kind that will always remain unfinished, trapping them among mortals.”

“So . . . you’re saying . . . ?”

“You are mortal. There may be unfinished business that has trapped you in time. I cannot move on, but perhaps you can . . .”

“Wait—don’t go—I still don’t understand.”

“Do not tell anyone about this,” the Bloody Baron said, then sunk into the floor.

As though watching himself from above, Harry crouched down onto the ground, pressing his hands on the stone surface through which the Baron had disappeared. After at least a dozen weeks and too many dead ends to remember, he was done getting his hopes up.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Luna's Library

By now harry had spent over three months in the time loop. At least, that was his best guess; knowing he had spent even half as long in the loop made everything hard to bear. He spent what he guessed was the hundredth day sulking, rarely talking, snapping whenever he did have to speak.

For the next fifteen days in the loop, Harry stayed in bed, pretending to be sick. He only moved to go to the bathroom, accepting food twice a day from Ron, Hermione, and Dobby, who usually assumed he was being honest. There was something addictive about letting his responsibilities go to the wayside, knowing that even if he chose to be stagnant, because of the time loop he wouldn’t have to face the consequences. On the sixteenth day of this sluggishness, he emerged for dinner, carefully avoiding everyone’s usual path—until Luna ran into him.

“Oh, hello, Luna.”

“Hi, Harry. You look awful.”

“Thanks.”

“Are you alright? Do you need to talk about anything?”

Recently, he couldn’t be bothered, but he duly told her they could talk after eating. They met up outside of the Great Hall and went to the library, where he explained everything to her in a whisper: the time loop, the diadem that would help stop Voldemort, and how he was discovering things about people for the first time.

“What sort of things?”

“Er, like, gossip. Who people fancy.”

“Oh. Do you know who I fancy?”

“Yeah.”

They looked at each other, both waiting for the other to speak.

“Er, you used to fancy Ginny.”

Luna’s eyebrows shot up.

“There’s other people, too . . . people of the same sex who fancy each other, and anyhow—I’m tired, you know? Tired of living out the same day over and over, of spending my energy on figuring out how to end this damn thing, of not knowing how to help people once time returns to normal.”

“Did something happen between you and someone else?” Luna had begun walking down the aisle, eying the shelves.

Goosebumps ran down Harry’s arms. “What do you mean?”

“If you don’t know what I mean, it’s okay.” She stopped and ran a finger over the books on a shelf at her eye level, smiled when she found the book she was looking for, and pulled it out. “In my second year at Hogwarts, I discovered these books hidden away throughout the library. They all have characters or romances between people of the same sex. There’s a few about queer history as well.”

Dimly, Harry wondered why she’d used the word queer. He then wondered how he had been so oblivious of all of this.

She seemed to know what he was thinking. “Part of life is learning how much you don’t know about the world. It can seem frustrating or shameful, which is why many people reject new information. As you continue discovering, I hope you can make peace with the unknown.”

“Luna, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the loop, it’s that your ages beyond anyone at this school.”

Luna’s face went pink and she continued, “The books erase your name after you return them. That way, students who read the books are protected.” Catching the shift in Harry’s expression, she added, “Anyone can read them. But not everyone wants to—by disguising a book as something uninteresting, most people wouldn’t give it a second thought, right?”

“Right.”

“Unless you’re a very particular kind of Ravenclaw.” Luna flipped the book over and showed Harry the description. “‘Madam Opticia details the many spells one can use to properly dress a bed . . . ’ and it goes on. Seems too dull.”

“So how d’you figure it’s about something else?”

“Look here, on the spine below the title. There’s a symbol—a tiny unicorn. See?”

“Oh, you’re right.” When Luna titled it toward the light, the unicorn glinted a dark metallic color.

“Why a unicorn?”

“It’s a symbol for the gay community. I found that out when there was an article about queer wizard rights in The Quibbler.” Tapping the unicorn symbol, Luna said, “Verbum Aparecium!” The letters shifted, warped, shrunk, and grew until Madam Opticia on Household Charms and Everyday Cleaning Spells had become Merit and Memory by Octavia Whorl.

“A romance novel?”

“It’s a story from the late 1700s, probably the most famous novel by a British witch. Most people don’t know the author originally wrote it as a romance between two men, but the publisher refused to publish it unless she changed one of their genders. This is the only edition that was printed as she intended.”

Luna led him to a different aisle, where they loitered until a nearby student left. Pulling out a slim blue volume, she said, “I haven’t read this one yet; I think you would enjoy it. It’s called On His Wings.”

She took Harry through the entirety of the accessible part of the library, piling books in his arms as she went. Although Madam Pince gave them a suspicious look when they presented their unlikely finds, she let them check out the lot—six books to each.

Back in his dorm, Harry picked what seemed to be the least daunting book to read first: Year at the Swansea Inn. It was a hundred pages and had a simple green and gold cover. The synopsis on the back of the book read:

“Henry was just like any other man. Apart from his being a woman, that is. After leaving her abusive husband, Henriette transfigures her features and journeys from France to start a trip around the world as ‘HENRY.’ But on Henry’s first night at a Welsh inn outside of Swansea, an alluring woman piques her interest, leading both to question everything they thought about themselves and what they want.”

It took Harry a couple of distraction-fraught hours to get to the middle of the book. At this point, the two main characters went up to Henry’s room at the Inn.

⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎

“I must ask you not to step any closer.” He sat upon the bed, his back facing Catherine. The flicker of the candlelight played tricks on Catherine’s eyes, sputtering and flickering brightly so that shadows danced across Henry’s skin. Catherine knew a few men of high standing whose particular grace and soft countenance gave them the appearance of a lady, blessed with beauty so fair that even men in their presence could not help but speak flatteringly and in a manner suitable to women. Never had those handsome men approached the fineness of this man’s hair, loosed from its plait, over the silk-white smoothness of his shoulders.

“Why have you suddenly become shy, now that you have invited me to your room?” asked Catherine. “You are modest, but I endeavor to flatter you by admiring the delicacy of your features, which even now, not complemented by the countenance that attracted me to you, make me praise God for fashioning you.”

“Were I to turn around, I would reveal what I have concealed in fear of your rejection.”

“Surely you, so languid in your movements and high born, have not been disfigured by the throes of battle? I do not wish for you to reply, for it matters not; the scarring of the body does not condemn the soul. You should not be ashamed of this before me when I could only judge your face and stature upon our meeting. If you have scars, it is only a reflection of your bravery, of God’s realization that he molded you too beautifully and believed your perfection would lead you to vanity.”

Henry drew a blanket around himself and turned to regard her. “You must promise me that when I reveal myself, you will not cry for help or run away.”

“If it shall ease your anxiety, I promise I will not. Is there nothing I can do to earn your trust? It is a slight against my honor that you assure I am so weak-minded that the unexpected moves me to faint.”

“I intended no such offense. There is no need to prove your honor, for even the most noble of women would blush at the sight of me. I am not scarred, nor disfigured. In fact, admiration for my features is what compelled me to conceal myself. I told you I am fleeing marriage to a woman, but actually, I am fleeing marriage to a man.” At last, Henriette turned to face Catherine.

Catherine’s cheeks reddened. She attempted averting her eyes, but found herself unable to do so.

Henriette finally appeared as she was, her white breasts and round hips immediate evidence of what her clothing had obscured. “My name is Henriette.”

Perhaps Catherine had known all along that Henry was a woman, swayed otherwise merely by a hope that her disinterest in men would at long last be resolved. As a girl, she had wished for a man so beautiful she could love him.

She knew she ought to be angry, or at the very least frightened, but she could only stare at the magnificent wight before her. “Man or woman, a creature as beautiful as you must never be neglected if there is to be any hope for us mere mortals.” Catherine sat beside Henriette on the edge of the bed. “God has brought me to you as a test of my devotion, sending you to remind me of his most divine creations.”

“Misleading you brought me no joy, Catherine, and I have to apologize for my deception. Hearing your words has revived and enlivened me! Come closer, so that we may please Love and your god.”

The two lovers became one, each touch and embrace more passionate than the last— ⁎ ⁑ ⁂

 

Harry’s blood ran hot. A memory struck him, and he knew it hadn’t crossed his mind since the first time since he experienced it: when he was about nine, Aunt Petunia had apparently watched news coverage about some popular soap opera showing a kiss between two men, because she told Vernon about it in a whisper and fixated on the incident for weeks after, tutting about the state of the country and the effect it would have on the children.

In his attempts to understand what the fuss was about, Harry quickly looked through the newspaper Petunia had been reading, only to become more confused. Why was it wrong? Why did it matter at all?

The next day, Harry told Luna about the loop again and asked her to choose another book. She chose Merit and Memory, the edition of the popular romance novel with its originally intended genders.

⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎

Mr. Finley had captured the attention of the entire party, being tall and handsome with striking features, and with two hundred Galleons a year to his name. ⁎ ⁑ ⁂

 

Reading the book as though it were about a man and a woman was fairly easy, though until the end Harry couldn’t tell who would’ve remained a man and who would’ve been changed to a woman.

⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎

“There’s a letter for you, Roger.”

“From whom?”

Before Ailsa could respond, Roger had read the name; the letter was addressed from Mr. Finley.

“Your face is quite red, surely you don’t still have feelings for this man after how rudely he treated you? Has he heard of your engagement?”

“While I wish I could assure you there is nothing he could say to sway my affections once more, that would require lying to you as well as myself.” With that, he left the room to read the letter in peace.

“To my dear Roger,

I had to write you as soon as I learned of your engagement to Ms. Livon, as I do not wish to cause you distress by visiting you in person, nor do I want to risk losing you forever. First, I must apologize for my opacity and misguided approach to what I hoped would result in more amiable relations between us.

It is with deep shame that I tell you the rumors you have heard about my past are true, though society has a tendency to make demons out of sinners. In my youth, I became enamored with a friend, Ms. Sophie Minnoway, whom I knew since birth, for once she was of marrying age, I began to see her in a new light, and it is in that light that we began an affair. She was a most desirable companion, so it was only natural that I intended to marry her, but given my opaque nature I failed to express such intentions to her. Before I could properly explain myself, she was called abruptly to London to see her father, who had fallen gravely ill. While living in the city, she began to notice signs that she was with child, and in her panic, perhaps exacerbated by the impurities of the city, sought treatment to terminate her pregnancy by non-magical means, so as not to raise suspicion.

Had I known of her condition, I would have pledged to marry her, but rather than receive a letter from her of the happy news, I received a letter from her mother, who suffered two deaths in one week, and in knowing we were close friends, suspected that I was somehow responsible. Although it was not by my own hand that she passed, I was distraught and pledged her mother a yearly sum on which she could live comfortably.

This unfortunate story brings me great pain, and though I was not yet nineteen years of age at the time, the foolish actions of my past have made me hesitant to follow my heart in uncertain matters. Now you can perhaps understand why I behaved so appallingly toward you, as inexcusable as it was when I insulted you last fall.

The greatest pain I could feel is to learn you feel disgust for my inclinations toward the baser sex. In the weeks since our last encounter, I realized I was too presumptuous and my carelessness risked both of our reputations.

You and your fiancée will be able to build a happy life together, free of such pain that I have inflicted on you, and in accordance with the norms dictated by respectable society. Soon I will undertake the same responsibility and ask for you not to worry needlessly about my wellbeing. May you be blessed with a happy marriage and many healthy children.

With the warmest affection,

Jonathan Finley.” ⁎ ⁑ ⁂

 

The last few chapters of the book followed Roger breaking his engagement, a dramatic reunion at Mr. Finley’s estate, and (to Harry’s surprise) marriage. An editor’s note clarified that final event: an epilogue describing “Rhona” and Jonathan’s marriage had been added to the published text, so he took the liberty of altering the final part of the book to give Roger the same ending.

To Harry’s surprise, the books had effectively distracted him from the time loop. Living through someone else and experiencing their life’s dramas pushed his own hardship further and further away.

The next book Harry chose, Carmilla, was an Irish Muggle novella from the nineteenth century, included in the library because the author had experienced wizarding society via his Muggleborn cousin.

⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎

The woman wore pale silk robes that matched the color of her breasts. Her long hair was black as night, her eyes deep as the charred remains in the fireplace. No woman could rival her beauty, nor could any painter capture her likeness.

She approached Thérèse’s bed, white skin glowing in the moonlit chamber. Her lips parted and she bent down to reap the warm lifeblood from Thérèse’s sleeping form.

Her teeth pierced the soft skin of the poor woman, who felt only the vampire’s lips. ⁎ ⁑ ⁂

 

Something about the vampire-human romance both intrigued and unnerved Harry. The vampire Carmilla only reminded him of the vampire at Slughorn’s party earlier that year and how some girls had fawned over him.

Between this book and the other two he’d read, he was surprised that literature with same-sex romance went so far back in history.

When he asked Hermione whether she had ever read a book with a gay character, she looked surprised and said, “Why?”

“I—it’s something I was wondering.”

She stared at him, then began awkwardly, “Hm, Invisible Man, arguably The Picture of Dorian Gray . . . Let me think. I’ve been meaning to read The Color Purple—

“Are those all Muggle books?”

“Yes, they are.” Her face crinkled with confusion. “Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve read a wizarding book with, you know . . .”

“Right.”

Harry brushed off her follow-up questions, his own concentration giving him a headache. He’d never felt this way about reading before, but he just wanted to be back in bed with another book to distract him.

Although Luna hadn’t yet read it, he decided to try reading On His Wings.

 ⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎

“Eugh, it’s dead!” The little black boy jumped back from the white-bellied frog.

“You never seen a dead frog before?” asked Akiva. He found the other child very curious, particularly his gangly limbs and long eyelashes. “Are you a girl?”

The stranger puffed out his chest. “I’m a boy!” He rubbed his close-shaved head and kicked a pebble at Akiva.

“Hey! Go away, you’re annoying me.”

“And you’re mean.” The boy came closer and crouched down on the other side of the frog. “Are you a No-Maj?” he asked in a whisper.

Akiva shook his head. “No. Are you a wizard?”

“Kinda. I ain’t got much magic.”

“Oh. Did you move here recently?”

“Yeah. I’m from Alabama. I’m starting school here soon.”

“How old are you?”

“Ten.”

“Then we’ll be going to Ilvermorny at the same time!”

“I ain’t going.” The boy sank his head down close to his knees.

“Because you don’t have magic?”

The boy nodded. Suddenly, his arm shot out and he poked the frog in its stomach.

“What’re you doing? You’re the one who—” Akiva stopped mid-sentence. The frog wiggled into life, flipping back on its feet. Then it hopped away as though nothing had happened. Akiva gawked at the other boy. “How’d you do that?”

“I thought I was annoying.” The boy lifted his head, a self-satisfied smirk on his face.

“Well . . . Say, what’s your name?”

“Gannett.”

“I’m Akiva. So how’d you do that?”

“My parents say the only reason I got magic is cause I absorbed my wizard twin in the womb.”

“You killed your twin?”

“I guess. But now I can bring plants and small animals back from the dead.”

“If my cat dies, could you heal her?”

Gannett stood up, chin level with the top of Akiva’s head. “I could try.”

“Then I want you to be my friend.” Akiva held out his hand, and they shook on it. ⁎ ⁑ ⁂

 

The next several chapters of the book detailed the growing friendship between Gannett and Akiva and the summers they spent together once Akiva came back from Ilvermorny.

Each chapter alternated between the two boys’ perspectives, so that Harry started to tell the differences in how the two were attracted to the same sex. Akiva had mostly female friends, and they stayed up late in diners discussing the girls’ “silly crushes.” Akiva never genuinely liked any of the girls but went along with it if they wanted to date him.

Gannett, on the other hand, while attending a small boarding school for No-Maj students, experimented with boys. Whenever he returned home, his parents set him up to meet girls in the area. They were convinced he had to meet a girl early so she didn’t have the sense to date a fully-fledged wizard instead.

Harry only realized the book (though written in the 80s) took place in the early 60s when it mentioned racial segregation in Muggle society, as well as the passing of stricter anti-Muggle laws, which Gannett’s family supported. It also mentioned Akiva’s Jewish mother had fled Germany between the World Wars before settling in Atlanta, Georgia.

Over the summer before their final year at school, Gannett and Akiva visited New Orleans together.

⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎

“Is there anything else you want to do before we go home?” asked Akiva, studying his friend.

“I always wanted to have my fortune read.”

“Okay, let’s find a fortune teller who has actual magic.”

It only took Gannett and Akiva a couple of minutes to find an elderly witch posted at a booth with a sign outside that said “30 minute wait—take a number.” As they waited, the boys bought beignets and sat on a bench to relax in the cool breeze.

Akiva considered Gannett. “Why do you want your fortune read?”

“I guess I need some direction. My parents want me to marry the wealthy daughter of a family friend, and I know I will feel nothing for her.”

Akiva had a brief fluttering of hope in his chest, but he didn’t know what it meant. “How can you be so sure?”

Gannett was silent. His braided hair fell past his shoulders, making him as beautiful as the day Akiva met him.

“Your tastes are different, aren’t they?” asked Akiva slowly, giving extra weight to his words. He wiped some powdered sugar off of Gannett’s mouth, thumb lingering a second too long on his lower lip.

Gannett looked at him. “Mine are, as well.”

They both glanced around to see if anyone was paying them any mind.

“I can Disapparate if anyone gives us trouble,” said Akiva quietly.

“Good idea.” Gannett leaned in and kissed him, hand gripping Akiva’s shirt collar. By the ease of Gannett’s mouth, he had clearly done this before.

This kiss affected Akiva differently than the times he had kissed girls. Initially shocked and embarrassed, he soon recognized his reaction as butterflies in his stomach. ⁎ ⁑ ⁂

 

Harry couldn’t help but reflect on his reaction to Draco. Had the swooping in his stomach meant something else? Except Gannett and Akiva were much different—their kiss had been years in the making, so right—it was not at all what Harry had experienced. It wasn’t.

As Harry read the next few pages, the room faded away to his flushed face, the pages of the book, and his pounding heart. Some part of him knew he shouldn’t be reading it, but there was no one around, and it was in a Hogwarts library book, after all.

⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎ 

When they parted, Gannett said, “I can’t do this anymore. My wife—she’ll use magic to figure it out.”

The look on Akiva’s face told Gannett all he needed to know: silent tears ran down his cheeks.

“I promise you, Akiva, I’ll never forget you.” ⁎ ⁑ ⁂

 

The ending of the book took place a decade later. Gannett and Akiva saw each other again for the first time in all those years at a party and pretended to be mere acquaintances. The tragedy of it left Harry with an itching frustration that only a better conclusion could scratch. Once again meeting up with Luna, he said to her, “Please tell me the other books you recommended have happier endings.”

“What would you consider a happy ending?”

“To start, neither character dies. It wouldn’t hurt if they ended up together.”
Luna considered him, her blue eyes boring into his. “You’re using the stories to escape. I understand. It’s why I like reading. I wish it were easier to find books where everything works out in the end, but that isn’t how life works, is it?” Still, she found a couple books that fit his requirements. “Start with this book, but skip this story, this, and this one, too.”

The first book was collection of short stories that look place around or during World War I. In one story, an Irishwoman named Alexandria stayed behind to take care of her newborn while her husband went off to work abroad for the government. Her best friend Catriona, a spinster in her late 30s, was the manager at a major potions manufacturer. Concerned about leaving Alexandria alone to care for the baby, Catriona offered to use Polyjuice Potion to transfigure into the husband so the baby would grow up with his two parents. Using a cache of the husband’s hair, the two spent the next year living together. Around Christmas, Alexandria begins missing her husband more and kisses Catriona in her transfigured state.

They become lovers. From then on, Catriona is only ever her in her real body at work. Harry couldn’t tell whether Alexandria loved Catriona in return until the end of the story.

⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎

“Catriona, I received a letter from Franklin.”

“Oh? What did he say? Is he returning soon?” Catriona tried her best to mask her true feelings.

“He’s coming back in two days.”

“Do you want me to pack my things?”

“No.” Alexandria bit her lip. “I don’t want you to leave. Catriona, I love you both.”

Catriona magicked herself back into her body. “You only love me when when I’m him.”

“I could never see you as him. The things you’ve said to me, the ways you’ve touched me, it’s all different.” ⁎ ⁑ ⁂

 

Shivers ran down Harry’s arms, as they always did just as a book reached a major turning point. Alexandria told her husband everything about the past two years and how she loved them both, and with time, he agreed to let Catriona live with them. The three of them lived together until they died of old age.

Another book with a (relatively) happy ending was a graphic novel illustrated by a British Punjabi artist. Called “Queue Query,” the semi-autobiographical book was nearly like an animated film, using text like subtitles under some of the illustrations to explain the story. Its protagonist Omar was the son of Indian immigrants, one witch and one Muggle. He grew up loving tandoori chicken and watching Muggle TV on Saturdays, routines he had to abandon at Hogwarts in favor of hardly-seasoned food and spotty radio. Over the course of his studies, he missed his family and friends terribly, and was relieved to return home to London after graduation.

In the fall after he turned eighteen, he went to Tesco for groceries, loaded up a basket, and waited in the checkout queue. The young man behind him glanced at his basket, then said, “Oh, damn, I forgot butter. Will you save my spot?” A little American flag sprung from his mouth to illustrate his accent. Before Omar could reply, the man had rushed off. After a minute, he returned and half-apologized, half-thanked Omar.

“No worries.”

“Hey, do you know any good places to eat around here? I’m studying abroad and the city’s huge.”

They both checked out at Tesco, and Omar got his mailing address. While at first the illustration of the American named Tyrell had appeared plain, he appeared increasingly attractive through Omar’s eyes. By the end of their inevitable date around the city, Harry was swept up enough by how charming their relationship was that he forgot to be worried about complications. Thankfully, it was left for him to wonder how long they stayed together after their shared week in London.

Finding he rather liked short stories, Harry chose a volume of West African folk tales and legends to read. Of the stories in the volume, his favorite was a legend called “Luwam and the Water Spirits.” In a small mixed-magic desert community in the place Muggles call Ethiopia, there is a tradition among children when they reach puberty: each child spends a year creating a work of art to present to the water deities and their mother, Mami Wata. The deities then determine whether the area will receive rain or drought that year. After five years of very little rain, the village decides to provide the only child coming of age that year with extra time so they can make their project worthy of opening up the skies.

The person chosen, and the story’s main character, was an 18-year-old named Luwam who had some body parts of a man and some of a woman. While initially confused, Harry realized “they” referred to the teenager, who was neither male nor female.

⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎

“What have you brought us, beautiful one?”

“A sculpture that moves with the sun and moon.”

They sat and watched it for hours. It was composed of two spheres connected by an invisible thread, and as they said, the closed-eye face followed the sun’s course below the horizon, while the open-eyed face watched the moonrise.

“This pleases us,” said one deity. “But to restore rain, we ask that you to join our oasis. If you do as we ask, we will bestow fifty years of rain on your village.”

Luwam agreed, and the moon rose, entering the beings’ realm. They were loved as one of the Mami Wata’s own, and some of their offspring returned to the village. Those with the name “Luwam” are said to descend from the beautiful one who forged harmony between poles. ⁎ ⁑ ⁂

 

After reading this, Harry asked Luna if there was such a thing as being neither or both sexes, or if that part of the story was made up.

“Yes, there are some people born that way, you can’t necessarily tell. Someone close to me was born intersex. He didn’t find out until he was a teenager. And he doesn’t tell other people, so I don’t think I can tell you at the moment.”

“Oh! No, no, of course not. Huh, and every time I think I’ve learned it all . . .”

“Have I recommended you read Hear Your Brothers and Sisters, the Ones Who Cast Fire?”

“No, you haven’t. What’s it about?”

“It’s nonfiction, it might help answer some of your questions.”

The book was organized into thirty-five chapters, each focused on a particular topic. He found many of the other topics to be beyond his current level of understanding. Perhaps one day, though, the complexity of the theories and history would seem less daunting. For learning on his own, Harry thought little more could be expected of him.

The five chapters he chose to read were “RIOTS—The History of QTW Rebellions,” “Transfiguration—Changing Shape, Changing Norms,” “RACIAL INTERSECTIONS—Queer and Trans Wix of Color,” “THE 90s—What’s in Store for the QTW Rights Movement,” and “LABELS—Muggle Influence from Homosexual to Queer.”

⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎

TRANSFIGURATION: Changing Shape, Changing Norms

Since recorded history, magic has allowed wixes to change their appearance. Whereas Muggles largely use clothing and grooming techniques to manifest their self-expression and selfhood, wixes have used potions and spells . . . the importance of reproduction has been emphasized in many wix cultures since non-magic populations have dwarfed magic populations, making transfiguration a common if not temporary solution . . .

LABELS: Muggle Influence from Homosexual to Queer

For centuries, British wixes who deviated from cisgender male-female sexual relationships were either lumped with societal deviants more generally, or considered to have some “inclination” that did not constitute an identity. After the Muggle community began to change their opinions about and legislation regarding Muggles with same- and multiple-gender attraction, some opinions began to change in the wix community . . .

The queer and transgender wizarding community, or QTW community, was a label popularized in the 1960s, after activist Wren Liu introduced it in the well-known critical essay “Queer Magic.” In the 1980s, the gender-neutral “wix” surpassed “wizard” in common usage amongst the community, as feminists advocated for a more inclusive term . . .

Muggle communities have historically been escapes for marginalized wix, particularly because they are much larger, and the use of magic can be hidden from them. Additionally, the dating pool is too small in an already claustrophobic society, leading many queer wix to find partners among Muggles, importing non-magic terminology and ideas to the wix community . . . ⁎ ⁑ ⁂

 

Harry scanned through the text, searching for bolded words, subheadings, something to break up the wall of text.

⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎ 

Gay: adjective, describes a person who is exclusively attracted romantically and/or sexually to the same gender. Can be used to describe women, and the term has superseded lesbian (see above) in common usage . . .

Bisexual: adjective, describes a person who is romantically and/or sexually attracted to people regardless of gender (see pansexual). Often shortened to “bi.” ⁎ ⁑ ⁂

 

So that was his mother. Remus. Luna.

He ignored the part of him that whispered, And you?

Chapter Text

 

ch9

Looking back on how many books Harry had read from Luna’s library, it must have more than doubled the number of books he’d read in his entire life. After his first week of binge-reading, he reached book fifteen, Kohaku of the Haunted Island. The book’s cover featured a young Japanese man who periodically disappeared and reappeared.

⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎

“Who are you? You’re . . . a ghost.” The panic Reo had felt upon seeing the man receded. “Can you speak?” If he kept talking, he could ignore his fear.

The ghost shook his head, then gestured toward the base of his neck.

“You can’t speak. But you can understand Japanese. I suppose you look Japanese . . .” Reo studied his angular features, his traditional clothing. The robes were unfamiliar, but then again, he knew little about older wizarding communities in Japan, and just as little about whatever time period this man had died in. “Can you nod for yes, shake your head for no?”

The man nodded.

“When did you die?”

The man didn’t react.

“Okay . . . did you live in Tokyo?”

The man shook his head.

“Are you looking for someone?” No. “Are you going to hurt me?” No. “If you wanted to, could you hurt me?” A shrug. “Did people shrug when you were alive?” Another shrug. “Do you know what shrugging means?” A nod. “Can I put on music? It’s a bit creepy with you just standing there.” A nod.

“Oh, maybe I should write out kana so we can communicate.” He fetched a pad of paper and began to copy down hiragana, in addition to writing out common responses, such as “No,” “Yes,” “I don’t know,” and “I would prefer not to say.”

The ghost stepped closer and reached past Reo to touch “ko,” “ha,” and “ku.”

“Kohaku. It’s a nice name. Are you afraid to tell me your last name because I would look you up online?”

Kohaku rolled his eyes.

This reaction surprised Reo. “You must have died recently. Anyhow, it’s a bit familiar to just call you ‘Kohaku-san,’ isn’t it? What’s your surname?”

Kohaku shook his head.

“Hm. Please tell me when you’re able. How old are you? 20? Oh, older. 21? 22–no, I already guessed that. 23? 24? So you’re 24. I’m 19. Is that in ghost years? You look the same age as me.”

Kohaku just stared. His gaze wasn’t threatening, but it was intense. When had he gotten so close?

“If you could move objects, you could use a pen to write, or something . . . No.” Reo glanced at the clock. “I have to make myself dinner. Are you staying, or do you have someone else to haunt?” Kohaku didn’t reply, just continued looking at Reo. “Alright then, make yourself at home.”

The ghost sat down at the table and idly looked around the room as Reo fetched the ingredients and pulled out a book of cooking spells.

“I’m not normally this talkative. But since I’ve started university, I haven’t made many friends. You’re the first person I’ve had a long conversation with. Except you’re not even talking.”

“Next time.”

The voice, soft and deep, sent Reo’s heart into a panic. He turned around, shocked, but Kohaku had disappeared. ⁎ ⁑ ⁂

 

By now, Harry could easily see where the story was headed. Reo and the ghost would become closer, one of them would fall in love, and by the end, they would confess but realize it was impossible to be together. Knowing the inevitable ending of the story both compelled Harry to keep reading and repelled him from continuing; the conflict drew him in but the predictability made him somewhat bitter.

And at first, the story went as he’d guessed it would. The two became closer as Kohaku’s abilities strengthened, his voice fading in and out, strong one day and distant the next. They fell into a routine, spending more and more time together as Reo’s pursued his studies, even (to Harry’s secondhand embarrassment) bathing together.

⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎

Kohaku shook his head, pointed at Reo, then gestured at his own face, and patted his heart. He repeated the motion until Reo said slowly, “You like my face?” When Kohaku nodded, Reo laughed. “Even when it’s red, I guess.”

Apparently Kohaku wasn’t finished. He pointed again at Reo, then ran his fingers down his own arm before putting a hand over his heart.

“I think I’ve lost you.”

Kohaku gestured for a pen and paper.

“Alright.” Used to the spell, Reo waved his hand and the materials floated over. After Kohaku finished writing, he passed the note to Reo, who read silently once, then again, and again.

You’re beautiful.

This took a moment to sink in. Reo avoided Kohaku’s eyes, fresh embarrassment rushing into his face. His fingers trembled over the words. “Why would you say that?” He slid the paper back to Kohaku.

When the paper returned, it said, Because it’s true.

“But . . . it’s strange to say this sort of thing when we’re like this.”

This time, it took a bit longer for him to receive a reply. After a minute, the paper said: No stranger than you and I, talking to each other every day.

As they stared at each other, Reo grew increasingly self-conscious. “You only give me half-truths. I can tell.”

Kohaku put his foot through Reo’s calf, then raised an eyebrow, as if to say, “See?”

Reo stared. “But you’re . . . I felt you.”

Kohaku raised an eyebrow, grinning, then held out his hand. Hesitating only a moment, Reo took it. It was solid—but no sooner had he realized this than Kohaku was gone.

Reo’s heart raced. Something was about to change. ⁎ ⁑ ⁂

 

Harry knew little about the magic of other regions in the world, so he had no idea whether the plot twist at the end of the book was at all based in reality:

⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎

Reo opened his eyes and sat up. He wasn’t in his bedroom. Had he visited a friend? Gotten drunk and blacked out? No, he remembered getting in his own bed. And this room was unlike any he had seen outside of a museum, lacking the artificial whites and plastics of a student apartment in Tokyo, instead in a traditional style better suited to the Edo period.

Just before he was ready to get out of there, the door slid open and Kohaku walked in, dressed in kimono, lithe frame fitting perfectly with the size of the furniture, so that Reo knew this had to be his home. Was this a memory or a vision?

When Kohaku made eye contact with Reo, the scene evaporated, and he was back in his bed. ⁎ ⁑ ⁂

 

Shortly after, it was revealed that Kohaku belonged to a thousand-year-old wizarding community hidden off of the coast of Japan. The people possessed unique Apparating powers that allowed them to project themselves elsewhere within a reasonable distance. The Apparitions created by their ability made them ghostlike if they weren’t anchored by strong familiarity of a place.

The possibility occurred to Harry that perhaps his father’s family was descended from a time-traveling community, and that had caused the time loop. He recruited Hermione to help him pursue this idea, trying to keep his hope in check.

“It’s an interesting idea, Harry, but I’ve never heard of such a community. That sort of thing is usually learned, not genetic.”

“What about Tonks? She’s a Metamorphmagus.”

“And she’s known it all her life. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but considering you’ve never manipulated time on your own before . . .”

“Right. You’re probably right.”

“How did you get this idea, anyhow?”

“A book.”

“Can I read it?”

“No!” said Harry quickly—too quickly, so that Hermione raised an eyebrow. “Er, if you read it now, you’d forget it when the day resets anyway.”

Back in the library the next day, Luna gave him another book he had yet to read. “This one is quite unusual but it has a happy ending,” she said, tapping the spine of Hungry: the sequel in three parts by Kurt Henriksen. The real book turned out to be Lust by Isak Nystrøm, a novel written at the turn of the century about a man who, after dozens of heart-rending flings at university, takes a ten-year vow of chastity. Oslo, his choice of a new place to live, proves to provide a healthy new beginning, largely thanks to the group of academics he grows close to over the first couple of years. When they find out about his celibacy, they secretly wager that they’d be able to find someone alluring enough to make him break his vow. Jeger, one of the friends, lets the protagonist in on the secret bet with the promise of splitting half of his winnings if he makes it a full ten years. Each attempt to break his vow ends with some comedic fiasco.

A year before the bet expires, one of these friends introduces the protagonist to Rav, a man from Denmark who happens to be a Metamorphmagus.

Of course, they fall in love.

⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎

“I lost twenty crowns!” I waved my hands wildly about, almost sobbing.

“You what? Are you out of your mind now?”

“All I had to do was wait a month . . . I just am infatuated with you, Rav . . . you are the most handsome man I’ve ever known, I could no longer hold back . . .”

“What are you saying?” asked Rav, pulling on his nightshirt and walking to my side.

“I took a vow of chastity to help myself focus. My writing, you know . . . But I refrained from intimacy with you because if I went ten years without touching another person I would get twenty crowns. Now Jeger’s out of his money, too!” I came to my senses and went to Rav. “No amount of money could have kept me away from you, not for long.”

He was too good for this world, looking at me with the biggest brown eyes I had ever seen. How could I resist this man, chiseled by the gods in every new form he took?

“You say you love me, but you lied.”

“I wanted to use the money to take you on a trip through Europe.” His brown eyes became blue as he stared at me. “What do you want me to say?”

“That we should travel Europe anyhow. I want you to come to Denmark.” ⁎ ⁑ ⁂

 

Harry found the book quite odd on the whole, but he supposed it was intended to be that way. It made him wonder to what extent Tonks Metamorphmagused herself and left him frustrated with the narrator for depriving himself of something he so clearly wanted.

Despite his annoyance, there was something addictive about stories in which the protagonist had not experienced or did not understand love, then found it. Love was so obvious to Harry, especially since he knew those who had no true concept of love, whose ignorance connected to their larger evils. It was one thing to know he could love, but quite another to have faith that he would experience romantic love as strong as the characters in the books he read. The books filled a space in his heart while also worsening his loneliness.

Luna told him there were only half a dozen books left that she felt were worth reading, so he memorized their titles and took his time getting through them.

The first of the remaining books had a cover illustrated with an intricate scene. The illustration took thirty seconds to complete its animation—the white cover slowly cleared away to reveal an island in the mist, and boats filled with people slowly slid into view, before disappearing into the mist again.

The main characters were a group of Korean high school students who decide to find a fabled island in the Sea of Japan, but separate when a typhoon suddenly hits them. Most of the story follows two boys who unlock the secrets of the island, which enhances their magic as it also consumes them.

 ⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎

“Iseul-hyung!” Ye-Jun ran to his friend, or what his friend had become—his body had been absorbed by the large tree beside the pond. When he reached out to touch the tree, his eyes were flooded with memories, some real, some invented.

As he tried to grasp each memory, he found he was unable to recall what he had just seen. Pushing his mind in one huge heave, Ye-Jun broke free from the trap. He couldn’t remember his name, or where he was, only that he had to free the person in front of him. Ye-Jun ran to the tree, placed his hands on the shoulders of the boy in the bark, and pulled. They stumbled backwards and before either of them could think, Ye-Jun kissed Iseul. His memories returned in a flash. ⁎ ⁑ ⁂

 

If Harry hadn’t read so many other stories where friends of the same sex realized their feelings for one another, he may have been surprised by the kiss. Now he knew what signs to look for: the mutual obsession, stolen glances, unexplained embarrassment, and the final ingredient—fate. Sometimes there were signs that their relationship would blow up in the characters’ faces, other times Harry knew that out of the drama they would end up together.

Still, whenever he thought he had the formula figured out, and grew tired of the same conflicts, characters, and tropes, something would surprise him.

A novella from Mexico was one such story, as its protagonist Marcia had no interest in physical intimacy, which Harry didn’t realize was possible. Marcia left school to become an apprentice for an architect in the wizarding community parallel to Mexico City. One of the men there took a liking to her. She initially turned him down, certain it would never work, until she found out he was only interested in her romantically.

In a South American short story collection, he read a Brazilian tale called “A Passagem Velada” in which the protagonist and her female friend fall in love. The protagonist is promised to be married to a wealthy male suitor, but becomes lovers with her friend in secret. When the suitor discovers this, he kills the protagonist, only to be later sacrificed by the lover in order to bring the protagonist from the dead.

In just a few weeks, Harry had familiarized himself with the rich history of queer desire and complex aspirations of the community. So what was holding back everyone else? Why would the wizarding community, already persecuted by the majority of the world, further divide itself? Hermione, he knew, would take up this cause if she learned about it. She would undoubtedly read three times as many books as he did in half the time.

The book he had saved for last was called To London, with Love. It took place in the 1950s, ten years before it had been written by a Scottish author. It followed a forty-year-old man who worked in the Ministry of Magic for the Muggle-wizard relations department. He went undercover to investigate a dealer of magical construction materials. Apparently—and Harry wondered if this really happened—Muggles wanted the supplies to rebuild more quickly after the destruction resulting from World War II.

⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎

Graham burst into the room, about to order Anton to put his hands up, when he spotted the man lying in the middle of the floor. He ran to the body, dread hitting him in the gut—Is he dead?—but the warm breath on the back of his hand told him otherwise. There were no signs of a struggle, which led him to the most likely conclusion: wizards had taken him out.

“Let’s get you some help,” he said, and Disapparated with the body. At St. Mungo’s, there was a ward designed to imitate a Muggle hospital, with fake electrical equipment and crude metal tools, so as not to induce panic in non-magic patients.

Once the doctors assessed the Muggle, the two were left alone in the room.

Graham had been practicing his German in his head. “I studied German in my twenties, before the war,” he said, even though  he knew the man could not understand. “Er, wann ich—als ich dreiundzwanzig war, habe ich Deutsch gelernt. Aber . . .” What was the verb for forget? “I vergesse viel. Ich habe viel vergessen? Vergisst? That’s not right . . .”

The man waited for him to decide, then said slowly, “Ich heisse Anton. Ich bin vierunddreissig Jahre alt.”

So he was 34. “Ich heisse Graham! My name is Graham. Und ich bin vierzig Jahre alt. Ich will Sie Englisch lehren, also dann Sie mehr remembieren können. Ah, I’m butchering this, aren’t I? You can’t stick “ieren” onto any English word and hope it’s a German word . . . And is also a subordinating conjunction? Maybe you can teach me German, since I clearly have room for improvement. Können Sie mir Deutsch lehren?”

“Du kannst ‘du’ sagen.” Anton tapped his head. “Und es ist ‘erinnern.’”

“Oh! Du instead of Sie—we’ve only just met, though? Er, right, then.” Between his own ineptitude at using the German language and Anton’s distracting lips, Graham wished he could start their entire interaction over,.

The door opened and a group of Healers entered. A woman led the group, greeted them with a smile, and sat down next to Anton’s bed. They exchanged conversation in rapid German for several minutes as Graham did his best to follow. He hoped he caught the gist of it, that Anton was feeling okay, he couldn’t remember, no, and no again, and another explanation of how he was feeling and what he had done over the past few years.

Lacking the words to fully understand, Graham followed Anton’s expression closely. The man was staring at the woman intently, and it was obvious that he should, what with her perfect hair and curvaceous figure. ⁎ ⁑ ⁂

 

Harry’s heart sank. Graham was going to get discouraged from pursuing Anton, only to later find that Anton fancied him all along. Or Anton would swing from men to women and ultimately leave Graham. At least, it seemed to be headed in that direction, until there was an abrupt chapter from Anton’s perspective that clarified his feelings. With the pair on the same page, they finally coupled up.

 ⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎ ⁑ ⁂ ⁑ ⁎

“Wie sagt man, ‘Can I kiss you?’”

“Kann ich dich küssen? But I should say, ‘Küss mich.’” Anton pulled Graham closer by his collar and kissed him. ⁎ ⁑ ⁂

 

When Harry finished the book, he felt hollow, even though the pair had gotten together and presumably lived happily ever after. Or maybe it was because they got together against his expectations; there was something particular about the story, something uncomfortably free and unabashed that rent his insides.

He had grown tired of living life through others. For every character who got their happy ending, he remembered how others relied on him for theirs. For every time two characters of the same sex kissed, he remembered how it felt when Draco’s hands gripped his arms and how could he know if he liked the kiss when he had been too shocked to consider it? For every character who overcame a societal obstacle, there was a character who could not. Why waste time forcing himself to question things if he could always choose to be with a woman?

“Thank you, Luna,” he said that afternoon when she joined him in the library.

“What for, Harry?”

“You recommended some books to me. Er, the unicorn ones.”

“I did? I’m sorry, I don’t remember.”

“I’m not one for reading when I don’t have to. But now I get why people do. For at least three months now, I’ve been trapped in the same day and it’s been more difficult than you’d imagine. I needed an escape.”

“Trapped in the same day?”

“Time’s repeating, over and over again, and although it may sound cool, a lot of it is really tedious, even though I’ve discovered things about people—about myself . . .”

“I’m sorry that this is happening to you, Harry.” She hugged him, her slightly puzzled face lingering after they parted. “If I’ve told you to read the books, it must have been more than for you to escape.”

Harry nodded, trying to ignore the queasiness in his gut. She was seeing something in himself that he didn’t want her to see, and so quickly. “So, er, d’you mind if I . . . ? I’ve got to go back to the common room, I’ll see you around.” He kept to a brisk walk and was relieved to find the dorm room empty once he reached it. Instead of having a cry like he’d expected, he flopped onto his bed and stared at the ceiling.

Don’t think about it, think about what to do. Reading, talking, going to class: life was getting too tedious to stand. So to make things more interesting, he was inventing things about himself. Trying to repeat the stories of those he cared about, those he read about. Weaving together misunderstandings to complicate things. He hated that feeling, of having life slow down enough that he was left solely with his thoughts. Most of his childhood had been spent that way—kept from books, television, other children.

If it had been so easy for him to deny the unexplained phenomena as a child, the things that happened to him that pointed toward difference. Why should he be special? He was already different enough— brown, skinny, weird, bullied—all that on top of inexplicable leaps onto the school kitchen roof and fast-growing hair. He wasn’t afforded any explanation, any support for what set him apart. What would it have been like, being raised by two wizarding parents, a father who looked like him and a mum who was . . . he had to stop entertaining the idea.

He started to wonder about everything, about stolen glances at the more alluring parts of the same gender and when awareness crossed into curiosity. No, none of it mattered. Why speculate when it was nothing? When he fancied Ginny, a girl; when he’d hardly ever fancied anyone?

A possible escape route drove him out of his fevered doubt: he had a vial of Felix Felicis. Hermione had told him months back that the potion wouldn’t be strong enough to end the time loop and that he’d risk wasting it if the time loop ended. But he had waited long enough.

When he had used Felix Felicis to get information from Slughorn, he’d had a purpose. It seemed at first to take him out of his way by bringing him to Aragog’s funeral before ultimately setting up the exact right moment to get what he needed. He hoped that if he used it now, some purpose or strategy would emerge.

As soon as he awoke the next day, he took a generous sip of the potion. Immediately, the Felix made him feel euphoric. He waited for the spark, the instinct of what to do, and it told him, Knockturn Alley.

There was one potion he had not yet tried, and now he remembered that Myrtle had suggested it months ago: Polyjuice Potion. So after spending the day being more inconspicuous than he had been the entire loop, he traveled to Diagon Alley via the Floo Network, withdrew money from Gringotts, applied a few disguise charms, and found an apothecary in Knockturn Alley.

Without bothering to scan the shelves himself, he went directly to the counter. “I’m looking for Polyjuice Potion.”

The shopkeep raised an eyebrow at him. “That’s a restricted substance. Seventeen and older only.”

Impatient, Harry slid her forty galleons, five times the asking price for four hours of potion. Attempting to hide a self-satisfied smile, the shopkeep summoned a large flask and pocketed most of the coins.

Back at Hogwarts, and with Ron and Hermione’s help, Harry body-bound Pansy, hiding her in the Room of Requirement. While he conferred with Dobby about an escape plan for the night, Hermione used the Invisibility Cloak to sneak into the Slytherin’s girls’ dormitory to steal some of Pansy’s clothes.

“Why would anyone want to live there?” Hermione’s face was screwed up in distaste as she handed Harry his now invisible glasses. “I’m glad I finally saw it, though.”

“No Gryffindor would trade it for what we have, that’s for certain.”

On his way to the dungeon under the cloak and in Pansy’s clothes, Harry drank half of the Polyjuice Potion, popped two mints in his mouth, then went to the entrance and recited the password: “Salazar.” He pocketed the cloak and entered the dungeon.

The common room was full of students studying, conversations kept to whispers under the greenish glow of the lamps and windows overhead. When he thought of the Gryffindor common room, the first words that came to mind were “familiar,” “cozy,” and “warm.” This was strange, unyielding, and cold, but remarkably posh. Feeling more relaxed under Felix’s influence despite his ignorance to the larger point of his being there, more details stood out to him about the room: silver adornments on the high chairs, a number of large black leather sofas, and faded medieval tapestries that hung on the stone walls. Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle sat at a desk in the corner, and as Harry approached them, he noticed that Malfoy wasn’t reading, just staring into space. Harry was accustomed to his listless expression, but still found it troubling. If the company of his friends in a safe place didn’t do much to help his mood, what would?

“Hi, Draco.”

Malfoy looked up at him, dull expression at once sharp. “Ah, Pansy, I was wondering where you were.” He had recently showered, so his usually slick hair flopped over his forehead. His boyhood self was merely a shadow in his gaunt features, an even starker contrast when next to his longtime friends, who showed no signs of the same level of stress. “Come with me, I’m going to bed. Crabbe, Goyle, you can wait up till midnight, can’t you? Tell Zabini and Pike, too, if you see them.”

Crabbe and Goyle snickered. “Sure, mate.”

Despite Malfoy’s implication, no alarm bells rang in Harry’s head. He’s bluffing.

As they walked up the stairs, Draco asked Harry, tone flat, “Are you planning to grow out your hair?”

“I’m not sure.” The Felix nudged him. “No, I’m going to cut it short.”

“Good, I like it much better short.”

They passed a mirror on the way to his room. Pansy’s straight black hair fell past her jawline, almond eyes a striking hazel hue, reminding him vaguely she was mixed race, white and Korean. For some reason, he was both relieved and annoyed that no one would think they looked alike.

Once in the dorm, Harry sat down on what appeared to be Malfoy’s bed, if the “DM” insignia on the duvet was any clue. He noted, unsurprised, that their beds were considerably larger than the ones in his dorm. Tall arched windows filtered in the same green light that illuminated the common room.

Malfoy sat down next to him and rested his head in Harry’s lap, just as he had with Pansy on the Hogwarts Express. His head felt heavy, surprisingly solid, and the position was childlike, with a suggestion of vulnerability and trust that caught Harry off guard. Beginning at Malfoy’s temple, he ran his fingers through his hair. It didn’t feel intimate, just calculated, like a cheery greeting before asking a favor. “Are you feeling well, Draco?”

“I’m fine.”

“You look tired, is all. Have you been sleeping enough?”

“Not really.”

Malfoy’s skin was stretched over his cheekbones, and there were dark circles under his eyes, more prominent up close. Though his pale skin tended to be clear, a few spots dotted his upper lip. “This school is getting on my nerves. Potter, the blood-traitor Weasley, the Mudblood girl, Dumbledore . . .”

“Well, they’re not here. It’s just you and me.” Harry’s fingers twitched with the effort not to yank Malfoy’s hair, the Felix’s mental leash straining.

Malfoy scoffed. Maybe he would argue under different circumstances, but he had spent at least half an hour crying in the bathroom and was undoubtedly exhausted.

“Can I massage your back?” asked Harry, moving a hand to his shoulder.

He looked at Harry strangely. “I suppose so. Yes, give me a massage. That would help.” He sat up and faced away from Harry, who placed his hands on Malfoy’s shoulders.

He kneaded Malfoy’s back for what seemed like ages. Without the soothing effect of the Felix Felicis, it would have been disconcerting to touch him in this way, albeit alone in his room, and for so long.

“That’s enough.” Malfoy returned to his position beside Harry, head back in his lap.

Harry stroked Malfoy’s hair, silent, until the potion urged him to try something new. He ran the back of his fingernails across his neck, raising goosebumps on his pale skin.

Malfoy closed his eyes and sighed. “That feels good.”

Harry stayed silent, heart racing, even though his mind was calm and sure.

Malfoy raised his arms, stretched, and turned on his back, looking up at Harry/Pansy. “You’re awfully quiet.”

“I was just thinking of what we’ll do once we win the war.”

Malfoy chuckled, the reaction nearly a purr. “My family will be rewarded for everything we’ve done for the Dark Lord. The manor was last expanded in the nineteenth century, so we will oversee renovations in the twenty-first, and you can visit whenever you like.”

“I’d like that.” Harry flushed under Malfoy’s gaze. Because he was in Pansy’s body, he must be reacting as she would react, seeing Malfoy like he was, his arms over his head, staring with heavy-lidded eyes.

Malfoy tilted his head up slightly—an invitation—and they kissed. It was nothing like the Amortentia-induced kiss; it was detached, brief, formal, what Harry might’ve imagined the peck of a faded marriage to feel like.

Malfoy’s lips were cold and chapped, but his breath was warm. When he pulled away, he sighed. “I’m going to bed.”

Harry fought desperately against what the Felix told him to do. Surely this had gone on long enough. But it was futile; his mouth had other plans. “Can I lie with you for a while?”

“If you want.” Malfoy crossed to his drawers and rummaged for pajamas. He took off his shirt, revealing the dark tattoo that coiled up his left forearm.

Harry had seen the mark before, but he hadn’t known if any of Malfoy’s friends were aware he was a Death Eater.

“I love how you look with the Dark Mark, Draco.” Internally, Harry cursed every fiber of his being for sounding so vapid.

“I do, too.” Malfoy smirked at Harry as he pulled on his shirt. “Want to borrow something of mine to wear?”

“Yes.”

Malfoy searched for something, then threw Harry a button-down.

Harry didn’t feel Malfoy’s eyes on him as he quickly changed, which was odd. He started to pull down the black tights Pansy wore under her skirt, then stopped. The tops of Pansy’s thighs were webbed with harsh blue lines that crackled across her skin like lightning. He stared at them, wondering what on earth could have caused such marks. When he turned around, Malfoy was staring abstractedly into space, just as he had in the common room.

Harry cleared his throat, breaking Malfoy’s concentration. After he sniffed and blinked a few times, Malfoy gestured for Harry to lay behind him, even though Pansy was shorter by several inches.

Harry crawled over to where Malfoy had indicated and stretched out beside him. He took a small comfort in knowing that to Malfoy, he was a girl, and it would serve some purpose to do whatever it was he was there for. Even if he didn’t know what he was doing, at least the Felix had a plan. Surely it wasn’t necessary for him to like the scent of the bedclothes—

And then the Felix clued him in to the point of infiltrating Malfoy’s dorm room. Harry would wait until he was asleep, then rummage through his things. There was something he’d missed in Malfoy’s plan. He glanced at his watch; it was ten thirty. He probably had a half an hour left until he had to drink more Polyjuice Potion.

Harry wrapped his arms around Malfoy. It felt peculiar to be pressed against Malfoy in a girl’s body, though oddly comforting.

Malfoy turned onto his other side and nudged Harry to do the same. As Malfoy held him, he tactfully avoided touching Pansy’s chest, but his own modesty from lying fully against Harry was not quite salvaged. Eventually, his awkwardness faded, and despite himself, his breathing slowed. Malfoy’s breath was warm, stirring the baby hairs on his neck. It was the longest he had ever been held like this, and it felt good, even if it was with Malfoy. There was nothing inappropriate about what they were doing, it just felt like a prolonged hug. Normally, he would only feel grateful he wasn’t pushed to do more, but under the influence of the potion—he wondered why Malfoy wasn’t trying anything else.

And then his mind caught up with him. The Felix dulled his panic, but doubts still struggled to the surface and he broke into a sweat. Was it the Polyjuice Potion? Had he taken on Pansy’s feelings for Malfoy? And if not, did that mean what he suspected? Whether it was the Felix who reassured him or his own reasoning, Harry only managed not to run away by deciding his enjoyment was purely out of his need for physical comfort.

Eventually, Harry could tell the hour mark was approaching. He told Malfoy he had to use the loo, drank the rest of the potion, then returned. Malfoy had taken off his shirt, watching as Harry quickly chewed a mint and crossed the room, stopping at the side of Malfoy’s bed. “What are we doing, Draco? Do you fancy me?”

Malfoy straightened, looking uncomfortable without his shirt, like he thought taking it off was merely what he was expected to do. “I’ve told you, I don’t want anything serious. Where is this coming from, anyhow?”

“I’m ready to go further, but you keep pushing me away.” Harry felt ridiculous, but the lines easily came to him. “Are you not attracted to me?”

“Pansy, you are being absurd. Of course I am, it’s just hard for me to want a relationship with everything that’s going on.”

Harry didn’t know how Pansy would act in this situation. The Felix didn’t seem to be guiding him to act like she normally would. “You can tell me anything, you know that, right?”

“You know I can’t, Pansy.”

“I don’t mean about the Dark Lord.”

“What, then?”

Harry sat down on the bed next to Malfoy. “Do you prefer blokes?”

A deep red color spread across Malfoy from his chest to his face, and his hand twitched. “What do you mean?”

“Is that why you won’t touch me?”

Malfoy scoffed. “You think I won’t touch you? What have we been doing just now?”

“My family knows a few people who are more inclined toward the same sex. I can’t tell you who they are, but—”

Malfoy raised his hand as if to slap him, but balled his fingers back into a fist at his side. “Don’t ever accuse me of something like that again. Get out.”

“But—”

“Get out!”

“You’re not going to even try to convince me otherwise?”

Draco looked as though he wanted nothing more than to strangle her. “Why would I bother convincing you of something so obvious?”

“Because the alternative is that there’s a problem with me. That I’m not good enough for you.”

Malfoy sneered. “You’ve gone mad.”

“Have I? We haven’t done anything in a long time. I don’t know what to think.”

“Yes, well . . . I have a lot on my mind. I wish I could think about you as I used to, but . . .” He exhaled dramatically, clenching and unclenching his fist, his anger dissipating.

“I’m sorry for accusing you of something so . . . perverse.”

“Just try to control your emotions, for Merlin’s sake. Girls are so bloody sensitive.” Malfoy ran his hands through his hair, then noticed Harry staring at him. “What?”

“I want to stay the night with you. We don’t have to do anything. But I don’t want to sleep alone.” What was he saying? It was likely the only way to get Malfoy to fall asleep so Harry could go through his things.

Malfoy scoffed. “No, not after what you said. You should leave.”

“Won’t the others think it’s strange, kicking me out so soon? Zabini already doubts we’ve done anything serious.”

“What?” said Malfoy sharply. “He said something to you about it?”

“I had difficulty convincing him otherwise.” Harry casually examined his fingernails, which were trimmed short and painted black. “If I stay tonight, though . . . I’ll tell the boys we slept together.”

Malfoy narrowed his eyes, nearly concealing their gleam, which reflected the dim green light. “You say that as though it’s a favor. Our family name—if my mother were to somehow catch word of the rumor—”

“It will stay a rumor. Act coy with your friends, earnest with your family.”

Malfoy stared at him, resting his chin on his curled fingers. Harry knew he would agree, so he remained silent, waiting.

“Fine.” Malfoy pulled back the duvet and rolled underneath onto one side of the bed.

Relieved, Harry climbed in next to him. All was not lost.

It took ten minutes of fidgeting for Malfoy’s breathing to slow. He stretched an arm over Harry, now facing him, the lack of composure in his face disconcerting. Lines of stress and fatigue had faded away, leaving only the points of his chin and cheekbones.

He pulled Harry closer, mumbling incoherently.

Merlin. Noticing other people’s casual intimacy on a day-to-day basis, embracing Hermione and Ginny, kissing Cho—these experiences could not have prepared Harry for this, for studying Malfoy’s expression, his slack and unworried features, breathing in the traces of hair gel and lived-in bedsheets . . . Was it the Felix that made him study the gradual slope of Malfoy’s hips, his bare torso? What purpose did it have to send a prickling sensation from where Malfoy gripped his shoulder? He couldn’t help wondering how Malfoy felt when he wasn’t so skinny, his elbows and ribs blunt under soft skin, when his lips weren’t chapped and his fingernails weren’t chewed to the bit.

His body reverting to normal jolted Harry awake—he must have slept for an hour, then. Carefully slipping out of bed, he cast the Muffling Charm, then downed more potion before starting to rifle through Malfoy’s belongings. There were rolls of parchment from past homework assignments, half-full bottles of ink, random unopened trinkets that must have been gifted to him. In the next drawer, he found concept sketches for the “Potter Stinks” buttons—So it was him, thought Harry, anger suppressed by Felix. He paused when he found a page that must have been torn out of a book. The bolded heading at the top read the imperius curse.

Harry heard the bed creak, so he stuffed the paper back and closed the drawer. Before turning around, he flicked his wand to release the Muffling Charm and popped a mint in his mouth.

“What are you doing?”

“I just thought—to be convincing, I’d strew our clothes about.”

“Hm. You done, then?”

Harry tossed Pansy’s shirt onto the floor, then climbed back into bed, mind working through what he had discovered. Why the Imperius Curse? Malfoy was capable of using the Cruciatus Curse, he knew that now. The Imperius Curse would be innocuous, though, if he had done it correctly. Was there someone he had forced to do his bidding?

Another hour passed, this time with Harry resting his head on Malfoy's chest as he slept. He began to feel his body change, but there was no more Polyjuice Potion. Shifting only slightly under Malfoy’s grip, Harry reached for his robes and pulled the potion out of the pocket.

The Felix told him to rub his thumb over Malfoy’s lips, rousing him halfway from his sleep.

“You’re dreaming,” said Harry, voice low.

“Potter . . . ?” Because it was so unlikely for Harry to be in his bed, Malfoy didn’t panic, just closed his eyes and made a small sound as he exhaled, as though he were dying and the future was entirely irrelevant.

There was a sudden rush of laughter from outside the room and the door opened, shooting panic through the two boys.

Crabbe, Goyle, and Zabini stood staring at them in the glow of their wands. As realization dawned in Malfoy’s eyes, Harry leapt out of bed and said, “Dobby!” The house-elf whisked him away to the Gryffindor dorm.

Now safe, Harry brusquely told Dobby to leave and evaded Ron’s questions. He rolled into bed, then took a sleeping draught and fell into a deep sleep.

Chapter Text

 

ch10

Heart racing, Harry woke up and quickly looked at his nightstand.

I cannot use Felix again. Not only had Felix betrayed his trust, but it made him manipulate Malfoy like the vampire Carmilla—sneaking into his bedroom, taking advantage of him under false pretenses. He wanted to get out of his skin, even more so for the part of him whispering that because time had reset it didn’t matter what he’d done to Malfoy.

Taking a quavering breath, he drew his comforter over his head. He had learned very little, apart from the possibility that Malfoy had used the Imperius Curse and that Pansy had a close relationship with him, though not as intimate as he had expected.

First the memories Malfoy had given him after the Amortentia, and now this. He had seen into Malfoy’s very being, the hard edges of him, the literal soft side of him, the good and the unfortunate and the loathsome.

Could he even call Malfoy by his surname anymore? Only after crossing it had he realized there was a line between Malfoy, the cruel, entitled prat, and Draco, the boy he had discovered crying in the bathroom, the boy who wanted to be held.

Maybe the unicorn books had gotten to him, making him see his former rival in metaphors: Malfoy was a Quidditch game in the middle of an autumn downpour. He was unpleasant from the stands, equal parts thrilling and terrible in the middle. Despite his better judgement pulling him to safety, Harry allowed the rain to wash over him, resisting its force as he pursued the Snitch.

Something approaching Draco was the far edge of the Great Lake, the bleeding dark and green of the trees, perpetually shifting between ferocity and beauty. When Harry visited the lake and looked across the glassy surface of the water to the horizon, he felt filled with wonder and simultaneously hollow-hearted from the scale of it all. The trees must look the same on the other side as they did on his, and yet he couldn’t imagine how.

Draco was still a mystery.

Another voice in the back of his mind told Harry that calling Draco by his first name meant accepting a new version of him. Still, it would be foolish to continue pretending “Malfoy” was all he knew.

“Harry, are you feeling all right?”

Moving his duvet so Ron would hear him, Harry replied curtly, “No, I’m feeling a bit ill; no, the Hospital Wing won’t be necessary; yes, I should feel better tomorrow.”

“Er, right then. If you feel better by lunch, meet us in the Great Hall.”

The past weeks lying in bed, reading, thinking—Harry may as well have been back in Number Four Privet Drive, holed up in his room or the cupboard under the stairs. There, he either didn’t have any alternatives or wished to avoid the nastiness of his family. Now, it was the time loop trapped him instead of the Dursleys. For months, Harry had tried to come to terms with his situation, but it was exhausting. The lines he had heard dozens of times ricocheted in his head:

“Are you well?”

“Transfiguring the self requires concentration, a precise touch.”

“This omelette is delicious.”

“You’ve already said that.”

“No one can help me.”

“How do you know?”

“I’ve been living the same day over and over again.”

“I’m so sorry, Harry.”

“Have you read this book?”

Harry pressed his face into his pillow. Those pillows had smelled different, like someone else. Like Draco.

Rolling onto his back, Harry considered everything that had happened the other night. That intimacy was dangerous enough to unscrew something inside him, make him feel feverish, like the characters overwhelmed in the unicorn books. He was so disoriented that he was only dimly aware of getting out of bed, dressing, and walking to Professor Trelawney’s classroom. Thinking back as he wavered at the foot of the ladder, he couldn’t remember if he had passed anyone on the way, and wondered if he looked mad.

It was only after he was inside the classroom and knocked on her office door that he remembered what must have brought him here: Trelawney was the only professor he had yet to speak to about the time loop.

When he opened the door, she was standing just a few feet from him, eyes wide, staring forward into nothing. Harry swore, shocked out of his trance by her own open-mouthed expression.

She spoke quietly, though the words didn’t align with the way her lips moved and her voice carried in layers, as though the same track was playing from multiple speakers. “Can’t see. Can’t see. Too much . . . how to see . . .”

Her state of mind and mannerisms seemed different than what he had witnessed in his third year. “Er, Professor?”

Without moving her head, her eyes shifted ever so slightly so that she looked directly at Harry. In a much lower tone, she said, “The estranged will survive and reunite at the passage . . . The one who restored time will expire as the loved ones return.” The echoing voices returned, repeating, “Can’t see, can’t see, can’t see clearly. Where? When?”

Harry cast about for a parchment and quill. On Trelawney’s classroom desk, there was a quill and parchment but no visible inkwell. He left her standing in her office and dug through the mess of supplies to find ink, and when he did, quickly wrote what she had said to the best of his memory. With a final glance at her glassy-eyed stare, he went back down the staircase and headed to the dorm.

The estranged . . . who did he know that was estranged? Percy Weasley was the most likely, but maybe it was someone who would become estranged in the future. And did “the one who restored time” reassure him that time would be restored, that someone else would do it? Expire had to mean die—would he figure out who was going to die and be able to prevent it? This was all assuming Trelawney’s words meant anything. Her eerie delivery didn’t guarantee accuracy. Even if the prophecy was accurate, it was irrelevant to ending the time loop—his more immediate concern. He would have to memorize her words and hope they’d help him later.

At dinner that evening, Ginny approached him and asked if he was feeling alright, as she usually did when he pretended to be ill.

“I’ve been better.” Harry looked past her to Draco, who was staring at him—as he usually did whenever he feigned illness. She was concerned, he was suspicious.

As exhausted and stressed as Draco was, the least he could do was make more of an effort to eat his dinner, of which he hardly ever ate much. Telling him to eat more didn’t typically go over well, though in Harry’s opinion his friends didn’t push hard enough.

“Well, let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

“Er, yeah. I will. Thanks, Ginny.” A ripple of humor passed through him, the same sensation that followed any streak of comedic inspiration in the loop. The best entertainment ensued when Harry didn’t know what would happen. “Actually, could you go over and tell Draco he hasn’t been eating enough? And that the roast beef is delicious. From me.”

Ginny blinked. “Harry, what the hell d’you want me to do that for? How do you suppose he’s going to react?”

“Poorly.”

She crossed her arms. “What will you give me in return if I do it?”

“I’ll do whatever you want for a day. Twenty-four hours.”

Ginny was taken aback. “Are you sure?”

“Positive.”

She sighed. “Merlin’s sake. Okay. Just—take responsibility if this backfires.”

Harry sat down at the Gryffindor table with Ron and Hermione, watching from the corner of his eye as she made her way over to Draco. The nearby Slytherins fell silent, watching. Zabini straightened, and even Pansy seemed to pull herself together.

He couldn’t hear what she was saying, but before Draco could react, Dean Thomas was at her side, and she awkwardly left with him, shrugging a little when she met Harry’s eyes.

Pansy was rubbing Draco’s shoulder as he tried to burn a hole in the side of Harry’s head. When they finally made eye contact, Harry ate a bite of his roast beef, chewed, swallowed, rubbed his stomach, and gave a thumbs up.

Moving faster than Harry expected, Draco got to his feet and strode over to where he was sitting. Ron and Hermione, oblivious to the whole drama, turned around.

“Mind your own bloody business, Potter,” said Draco.

“Your business is my business, Draco.” Oh, that’s weird. Calling him Draco in front of other people. “It’s not pleasant seeing your health decline this way. I miss the energy you used to have.” A line from a couple of the books in Luna’s library came to mind: “I miss us.”

There was some reluctant laughter, probably confusion about whether Harry had been charmed. Regardless, Draco had ventured into enemy territory, and any hostility would be met with force.

“Don’t send your blood-traitor girlfriend to bother me again, or you’ll regret it.”

Ron and a few other Gryffindors stood up. Ginny, who was sitting a few places down, said, “I’m right here, Malfoy. If you want to threaten me, do it to my face.”

Draco shot her a fake smile, then left the Great Hall, his friends in tow.

“What was that about?” asked Hermione.
“Did he say your girlfriend?” asked Ron at the same time.

“Ah, it doesn’t matter.” As an excuse for his behavior, Harry told them what he knew about Draco’s plans. All the while, he kept thinking about the word “your girlfriend” in Draco’s mouth, and how the assumption upset him.

Why was it upsetting? It had to be because he wished it was true, and Draco had reminded him it wasn’t. Over the course of the loop, he had talked to Ginny every now and then, always platonically. Maybe it was the tone in Draco’s voice, or the way Ginny had looked at him after defending herself that set him on a course to use the coming weeks to spend time with her.

So after the confrontation in the Great Hall, he dedicated a significant share of every day to Ginny. He tried to come up with plausible excuses for talking to her. Homework and Quidditch were the easiest topics, and his first instinct, so he started there.

“When did you get so good at Transfiguration all of a sudden?” asked Ginny, laughing after he turned her hair purple on their way to the Quidditch pitch.

“Oh, I’ve been holding back this whole time.”

“Have you, now? Have you been holding back on every subject?”

He gaped at her in mock-disbelief. “I can’t believe you.”

She laughed. “So should I make the change permanently? Will you turn my freckles purple?”

“But I rather like your hair the way it was.” While this was true, given such a dramatic change in her appearance, he couldn’t stop looking at her.

The confidence she had faltered a bit, but she hid her reaction by dipping her head to tie her hair up. “I understand; I wouldn’t be a Weasley if my hair were purple. You’ll have to change all of us.”

“Can you imagine Ron’s reaction?”

“Yes!” She dropped her voice an octave and dropped her posture a bit. “Harry, don’t you think Lavender will take this as a sign I want her back?”

“Oh God, I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Fred and George would love it, though. A hair color–changing potion would do well in their shop.”

As he and Ginny passed a Quaffle back and forth, they continued to chat about the Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. The next day, they raced each other to catch the Snitch. The days after that, they practiced diving and other moves he had read about but hadn’t had a chance to attempt.

Quidditch quickly became repetitive, so Harry moved their conversations to wherever he could think of around the castle. These days began with a forward approach; he went up to her and asked if she wanted to hang out later. When he felt her eyes on him after, he knew she suspected his intentions may be romantic.

Both of them sensed that they should talk about more than homework and gossip and Quidditch. Harry knew he came across as more serious since the time loop. More than that, he had deeper insight into her and her family, and exhibited a directness that caught her off guard, but which she appreciated.

“What was it like, growing up in the Burrow?”

“Madness. Being the only girl, Mum paid me special attention. Dad, too. But it’s only been really good the past couple years.”

“What do you mean?”

“Being the youngest of the family, I was left out of a lot of things. Just got in the way, you know?”

“I suspect it’s similar for Ron, so yeah.” Ron wanted approval and attention if he could get it, but his ego tended to be fragile. If his arguments with Ron could be generalized in any way, it was that Ron felt smaller compared to his siblings. Fighting for attention and approval for years had affected both of the youngest Weasley siblings.

Harry would have traded the troubles of his home life in an instant for the troubles of the Burrow, though he’d never say it. Still, maybe their childhoods had impacted them in a similar way. Looking back, the shy, emotive Ginny he met at King’s Cross reminded him of himself in his first year at school. “Your personality is so different from five years ago.”

Ginny shrugged. “Same goes for most people. For me, it was a combination of things. No longer being at the bottom of the food chain at this school, the friends I’ve made, earning my brothers’ respect.”

“And you’re not so nervous around me,” said Harry quietly.

Ginny flushed at his change of tone and glanced at him. “The way you’re looking at me now . . . it’s making me nervous all over again.”

Harry stopped walking. The sun, low in the sky, flared momentarily through the clouds, and every freckle on Ginny’s face lit up. She reached out and touched Harry’s cheek as he touched hers. They kissed, and when he threaded his fingers through her hair, it was warm with sunlight. She tasted faintly sweet; her chapstick had mostly worn off, her taste as light as the tip of her tongue.

They broke apart, both grinning. Harry was dazed. Suddenly anything was possible.

“Is there something you want to tell me?” asked Ginny, a bit breathless.

“Ah, nothing much. Only that I’ve fancied you for a year.”

“That long, and you never said anything?”

Their conversation became tense and awkward after this exchange, despite their perfect kiss, so Harry rehearsed what he wanted to say for the next day.

“What does that mean, then?” asked Ginny after they had kissed for what she thought was the first time.

“That I think you’re incredible, and beautiful, and I’m lucky to be your friend, but I’d be even luckier if you went out with me.”

She chuckled and pushed him lightly on his chest. “And I suppose you practiced that? I had no idea you could be so charming. I rather like it when you’re embarrassed and don’t know what to say. I . . . like all sides of you, really.” Ginny knew the effect she was having on him, stepping closer so their faces were inches apart. After she tilted her head up, a request, or permission, Harry kissed her.

If every day is like this, it wouldn’t be so bad, thought Harry, the dragon in him purring, spooling warm smoke into his stomach.

Another time, they hugged before going back to the common room, her arms tight on his back, sighing as he stroked her hair.

On the sixth night, she pulled away when he leaned in, and they parted awkwardly. By the end of the second week, Harry had perfected their first kiss. He knew she liked it when it was soft, surprising them both, leaving her to stare at him like she was seeing him for the first time. Then, she threw her arms around him and they would kiss in earnest.

Dimly, he wondered if he was her rebound or if she had fancied him all along. When they parted once, she told him, “I could say I’ve had feelings for you this entire time. To be honest, my feelings have constantly changed. Some months, I could care less about you. Others, I was obsessed. I needed to have other relationships before I could know for certain if what I felt was real.”

He couldn’t say the same, he had far less experience, and when he searched for reasons why he’d chosen her, it simply felt like fate. It wasn’t a choice. “Did you ever expect you would be snogging me back when you first fancied me?”

She chuckled. “Of course I expected it, I was convinced we were meant for each other.”

To Harry’s profound relief, his escapades with Ginny lessened any confusion Draco had caused. Finally, his brief attraction made sense, as did his interest in boys in general. He had been starved for affection, desperate enough to seek it in the same sex.

He shouldn’t have assumed his frustration with the loop would be at bay forever. Enough first kisses and he wished she remembered, that she fancied him for another day so he could be sure it wasn’t a fluke, so he could feel he wasn’t taking advantage of her. And sure enough, doubt came wriggling back into his head again.

If Ginny were a boy but otherwise the same person, would he not be interested in her? No, that didn’t make sense. She’d still feel like a girl in her mind. Did that mean he didn’t care what she looked like physically? He was getting nowhere investigating this in his head, so he dropped the question. It no longer mattered.

Hormones, don’t you remember? They can be managed. Tamp them down and your body will sort itself out eventually.

If the Dursleys had taught him anything, it was that ignoring a problem only allows its roots to grow deeper, until you’re too preoccupied with trimming it to ever move on. So his desire to understand intensified.

“This may seem out of the blue, but have you ever been attracted to someone who was the same sex as you?”

After a pause, Ginny replied, “Yeah, most likely.”

“Really? Are you sure? I mean, in that way?”

“Maybe not how you’re thinking. It’s different for girls, we can tell when other girls are pretty, and girls are much better-looking on average than boys.”

“Even if that’s true, men age better.”

Ginny scoffed. “You’re saying that as though it’s fact, but it’s clearly just your opinion. Your poorly-formed opinion. Men lose their hair, they get beer guts, they get creepy or senile or cruel.”

“So we’re having this debate? Women start to sag, they load up on makeup to hide their age, and they’ll go on for ages about people you don’t know and events that happened long before you were born.”

“And men don’t ever talk about the past? I think you’re sexist, Harry Potter.”

“What? But you—” Ginny smirked to tell him she was joking. Or partly joking. “Right. Let’s just agree that we ought to enjoy being young.”

“I can do that,” she said, pulling him closer by the waist.

Feeling a bit of attraction to the same sex was normal. Why shouldn’t Ginny like girls? Under their performances, under their politeness and their awareness of being seen, he saw an itching to be heard, to act, to change. To carve out the same rough edges boys were allowed to keep. By being trapped in the same day, he could perceive girls’ deeper connection to time, their perception of behavior and the interrelatedness of consequences. Girls were more affected by unusual ripples over the course of the day, while boys passively observed, or acted without the same depth of thought.

Even as he wanted to believe this, he noticed the students who broke out of their gendered mold: Neville carried his trauma silently, his eyes sharp for the mistreatment of other students; Marietta Edgecombe was petitioning Dumbledore to let girls wear pants with their uniform; Daphne Greengrass’ conversations about boys were just as crude as he had heard from some of the same boys she spoke about. And although Harry often thought he was becoming cold and detached, other days he held a knowledge of the strings holding everyone together and felt the weight of his decisions as he imagined girls did.

Girls were somewhat other, so generalizing about them was easier than generalizing about his own gender. What was it about boys that appealed to Ginny, then? He found it easier to be around boys and he appreciated the ease with which he could talk to them. To him, the Weasley twins encapsulated what was potentially appealing in boys: wit, confidence, a sense of humor, a desire to lift others up, rebelliousness . . . Even then, he could hardly apply those traits to every boy he knew. And they were perfectly normal things to appreciate in friends.

I’m still straight. Understanding doesn’t mean knowing. Feeling.

Ginny had more masculine traits than other girls, but did that mean he was attracted to boys? He was driving himself up the wall, trying to pick apart what he wanted.

Eventually, he felt as though he knew Ginny very well. To start, she was very similar to Ron. They had the same cadence of speaking, the same Weasley features, the same expressions to emote. Some of her mannerisms she’d retained since childhood, so she moved like a frame in time, every shot of her past layered behind her as though she stood between two mirrors. Every iteration of her fascinated him: her toned arms as they gripped a broom, the small crinkle between her eyebrows when she tried not to laugh; the way she glared at people whenever they started to talk rudely about someone, the way she sat as though she was ready to spring into action.

He relished his ability to pinpoint everything he liked about her. After a particularly good day with her, he found it difficult to think of Draco in the same way. Everything he could have liked was sharp with an edge of annoyance. Every iteration of Draco annoyed Harry: the exceedingly careful way he gripped his wand, the shape of his mouth when he tried not to smile; the way he glared at people who interrupted him, the way he fidgeted as though a part of him were somewhere else. He sighed constantly, picked at the skin around his nails, always chose the same dessert no matter what day it was in the time loop, constantly itched his left arm, stared too much.

Some days, Harry felt it didn’t matter if he was attracted to Draco as a person if he wasn’t physically attracted to him, because what was the difference between that and friendship? There were plenty of people he wanted to be closer to platonically. Regardless, he could imagine that even if he wanted to get closer to Draco—to be friends, even—they would simply clash as they had for the last six years.

Other days he felt it didn’t matter if he was attracted to Draco physically if he didn’t want a relationship, because what did that amount to other than teenage hormones? There were plenty of people he could tell were attractive. Regardless, he could see being excited by the novelty of it—being with the same sex—only for it to fizzle out after his curiosity were satisfied. Nearly everything that attracted him to Draco in the first place he could find in Ginny, in a girl, in someone else, in anyone other than him.

Chapped lips.

Thin fingers.

Gray eyes.

He caught himself.

Freckles.

Red hair.

Hazel eyes.

Ginny was looking at him. He had just suggested practicing Quidditch.

“It’s hard to practice with just two people.”

“I figured it’d be more fun if it’s just us.”

Ginny looked at him in surprise. “Yeah. Why not?” In this light, with the setting sun casting a range of beautiful hues, the flames of her hair and her carefree smile impeded his ability to improvise some Quidditch exercises.

“Let’s pass the Quaffle for a while,” said Ginny, once they had retrieved their equipment. She cast some baubles of light to illuminate part of the path as the sun continued to dip below the horizon.

“I’m so glad Ron finally broke up with Lavender.”

“Why?” Harry was too, but he didn’t want to agree until she explained.

“She’s annoying and all, but they were so wrong for each other.”

“You’re right, though to be fair, it’s hard to know if you’re with the right person when you’re with them. And then something happens, and you can’t see them the same way, and whatever was wrong becomes obvious.”

“Is that how it was with Cho?”

She had brought up Cho a couple times before, and he knew it wasn’t jealousy, more of a desire to understand why he had fancied her. Testing him to see if he understood himself. “Sort of. More like I realized that she ought to be with someone more compatible with her, more sensitive.”

“Hm. Very noble of you.”

“Alright, if you want me to relive the day it fell apart, she was crying—”

“What, so you’re not the crying type?”

“Not really. Despite what Rita Skeeter would want you to believe.” He laughed off a vision of Vernon and Petunia’s reaction when they caught him crying.

Eventually, they let the Quaffle drop, and Ginny flew closer to him. “Hey, have you tried this before?”

“Tried what?”

“Here, I have to hold on to your broom, and you hold on to mine.”

They did so, and arms crossed, they kissed a hundred feet off the ground as wind whipped their hair.

The sun had sunk completely by the time they walked back to the castle, and Harry grew quiet.

“Knut for your thoughts?” asked Ginny eventually, smirking.

“You can’t—it sounds wrong when you put it like that.”

“What’s the Muggle expression again?”

“Penny for your thoughts. Anyhow—I was thinking if I would still like you if you were a boy.”

“Oh? Of course you would, I’d be a very cute boy.”

“Yeah.” He blushed and let go of her hand.

“Wow.” Her eyebrows raised higher and higher. “You’re serious about this.”

“Not serious, no, I guess . . . curious? Forget I said anything.”

“No, no, wait, do you really want to know?”

“Okay, sure. How do I . . . ?”

“Hook up with Ron.”

Heat rose up to Harry’s face as she laughed. “Very funny.”

“I’m glad you agree.”

After a few weeks of spending time with Ginny, Harry decided to tell her about the time loop. “There’s something I want to tell you. Can we talk in private?”

“Er, sure, Harry. Is it serious?”

“Sort of, though I’m not sure how you’ll react.”

This only deepened Ginny’s puzzlement. Whatever possibilities ran through her mind, it wasn’t that Harry was trapped in a day.

“Do I seem different to you?”

She studied him carefully. “You’ve got a bit of stubble. Don’t think I noticed that before.”

He felt his face. “Yeah, I’ve had it for a while now.”

“Are you going through changes?” She nudged him.

“Of a sort.”

“Well?”

“I’ve been living out the same day over and over for nearly five months.”

“Very funny.”

“Honestly, I am!”

“On purpose?”

“No, Merlin, no.”

“Can you prove it?”

“I could list off a number of things I would only know if I had spent too long in one day. Or I could take you to Dumbledore and have him explain it. If you trusted me, though, it’s a lot simpler.” Proving the time loop was easier earlier in the day, before the day’s events had really diverged.

“So what’ve you been doing? Do you normally just run around naked, screaming at people?”

“Why would I—is that what you would do?”

“Maybe. I mean, you can do whatever you want.”

“You and I have snogged a few times.” He looked at her, unsurprised by the flush in her face. “This is the first I’m telling you about the loop, by the way, I never wanted you to think I was putting you on, like because we’d done it before, you’d want to again. I’ve never done anything you didn’t want.”

Ginny stopped walking. “Surely it’s gotten boring. Frustrating, even. Don’t you want things to change? Have you given up just so you can snog me?”

“I’ve run into dead ends, sure. You’ve made it all bearable.”

She touched his face, found the part of his jawline he hadn’t properly shaved. “I’m glad you’re not putting the burden on yourself.”

That night, she didn’t kiss him.

The next day, he decided to just tell her outright how he felt. “Ginny, can we talk?”

“Sure, Harry.”

As they walked to the courtyard, Ginny asked, “Is this about Quidditch?”

“Er, no, actually, I—the thing is, I like you.” He paused next to a column to meet her gaze. “I fancy you, I mean.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “Are you messing with me? I only broke up with Dean a few days ago—”

“No, I’m not.” Harry was unsure of how best to convey his sincerity. “I’ve fancied you for a while now. I couldn’t tell you at first, but since September—”

“That long? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I don’t know, there’s Ron, you were in a relationship, I couldn’t figure out how I felt . . .”

Ginny rested her hand on his shoulder. “Harry . . .” she began, tone similar to when Hermione said his name any time he completely missed the point. He couldn’t figure out what her tone meant until she leaned in and kissed him.

Once she pulled away, she studied him. “Are you okay?”

“Fine. More than fine.”

She ran a thumb over his face. “Since when have you had to shave?”

“The past year or so. You’ve never been this close.”

“You’re sure you don’t seem older?”

He supposed he had begun looking a lot more like his father over the past several months. Maybe they wouldn’t have passed as brothers, but certainly cousins.

What if the time loop trapped him for the rest of his life, and as soon as it ended, he died? How should he live, if death would take its time?

Lightning struck down from the swirling clouds as Harry dodged out of the way. Dudley and Draco controlled the sizzling bolts of fury from the ground below. When did Dudley get powers? And why were they all back in Little Whinging?

This is a dream, Harry realized, confidence rushing through him like he’d downed Felix Felicis. He had fallen asleep in the middle of his thoughts. Suddenly, he was riding a broom, swooping around the lightning that kept conveniently missing him.

Harry pointed his wand into the clouds and shouted, “Rain rain go away!” The clouds parted and he touched back down onto the ground without injury.

“Dudley, you’re a Muggle.”

“I’m a what?” he said.

Rather than respond, Harry flicked his wand and Dudley’s trousers fell down, causing his cousin to burst into tears and run away, hands gripping his waistline to hike them up in his haste.

Draco rounded on Harry. “He’s my friend, scarhead!” His form oscillated between a blond member of Dudley’s gang and Draco, so that Harry didn’t know which he was meant to be.

“What’s your name?”

“What’s my name.”

Frustrated, Harry concentrated hard to force him into Draco, until the fogginess cleared up.

“You’re Draco Malfoy.”

Blinking away his confusion, Draco held out his hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise.”

Harry heard the whistle of a train in the distance. “Will you come with me?” he asked Draco, who nodded. He ran to Number Four Privet Drive, opened the front door, ran to the cupboard under the stairs, and inside—King’s Cross. Harry searched for a familiar face among the people hurrying every which way, but their faces refused to focus. Suddenly, they were on the Hogwarts Express, which appeared more as a converted corridor of the castle than as a corridor of the train.

“Harry, sit with us!” said Luna, who may have just walked up to him but he couldn’t remember. She led him into a room where a number of students sat on the floor. Harry glanced behind him—where was Draco? His own mind had forgotten, so Draco appeared again, as though nothing had happened.

Most of the Weasleys were present in the room, with the exception of Percy and Charlie. Pansy was there, as were Lucius Malfoy and Hermione—but there were too many to account for all at once, they shifted into his vision a few at a time.

“Let’s talk to your father.” Harry gestured for Draco to follow. “I want to quiz you, yeah?” He had Draco sit next to Lucius, then he looked between them, apprehensive. “How do you feel about Muggleborns?”

“They are lesser than Purebloods,” they said in one voice. “We are superior.”

“Do you use people?”

“Yes, we do.”

Lucius grinned at him, his mouth too large to be real, and Draco’s voice said, “I’d use you, Harry.”

“No, thank you.”

Lucius’ mouth became normal again.

“Harry, you shouldn’t talk to them,” said the Weasley twins, bounding up to meet him. They spoke in unison, too. Merlin’s sake, why does this dream have to be so creepy?

“I can take care of myself,” replied Harry, looking back over to Lucius, who now sat alone. “Draco?”

He scanned the room, noticing vaguely that there were fewer people than before. He crossed the room to leave, but when he opened the door, rather than finding the corridor, he had entered a pub. It looked similar to Hog’s Head, though everyone inside wore old-fashioned clothing. It was the early 1800s, Harry decided, although he was aware his rendition of the scene relied heavily on the period dramas his aunt liked to watch.

A woman approached him, carrying a tray of drinks. “What would you like, love?” She was taller than him, beautiful, her long blonde hair framing her pointed features. Apart from her unnatural black eyes, she looked as though she had been carved out of ice.

“Do you have butterbeer?”

She frowned. “I didn’t take you for a child. Perhaps you are younger than you look . . .”

Harry hesitated, his perspective shifting outside of his body. More facial hair would help, maybe grow taller, you’re not wearing glasses, are you? And then he was back in himself. “A pint, then.” Time sped up, and they talked, she was laughing, he tried to imagine the effects of the alcohol—and they were in a room upstairs.

“There’s something I have to tell you,” she was saying, and suddenly Harry understood. This was Year at the Swansea Inn, which meant . . .

As he took off his dress, he stared at Harry with pale grey eyes.

Get out. This is not happening. He blinked and found himself somewhere else. A fortune-teller’s room, as he had imagined it in On His Wings; it contained plush purple furniture adorned with gold trim, in addition to random objects plucked from Trelawney’s classroom. And no sign of Draco.

“Are you my two o’clock?” a woman asked in a heavy Southern drawl, emerging through a beaded curtain. She had rings on every finger and her fingernails were painted like the insides of seashells.

“Yes. Er, Harry Potter.”

“That’s right. And you’re aware you’re dreaming?”

“Yes, I figured that out.”

“Well have a seat, then. You’re in charge, so whatever I tell you is directly from your unconscious. Consider me a medium of the mind. Shall I do a love reading for you, hun? Would that suit you?”

“Sure.” Harry sat down across from her at the small table.

“Let me see your dominant hand.”

Harry offered his right hand to her.

She held it in front of her, palm up. “Mhm . . . this is not so unusual for someone so important in the fates of thousands of people. We are all connected by invisible strings, but your life line is deep, crossed by many threads, so there can be no doubt you will be of great significance to the world . . .” She drew her wand and touched the tip to his palm. “But you care about love, don’t you? Mirror mirror, who is the fairest?

Two translucent figures burst up out of his hand and floated down to stand on the table. Ginny and Draco stared up at him, both no taller than his forearm.

“Your love line is forked like your life line, Harry.”

“I’m sure they aren’t in reality,” he said, unsure who to make eye contact with. When he looked down at his hand, it was completely smooth, devoid of lines. “Tell me who to choose.”

But she said nothing, and he knew he would have to make her say something if he wanted to move the dream along.

“Ginny,” the woman said, and the real Draco appeared from behind the curtain, sneering.

Harry sat up in bed. He would have thought he was no longer sleeping, except he briefly saw himself from outside his body. Next to Ginny.

The palm reader was right, he thought, and he got out of bed to pee. Ah, so I probably have to go in real life. Once he’d finished, he heard a baby’s cry in the other room. He knew where the room was somehow, and what to do with the crying baby. But suddenly it was the next day, and Ginny was holding their child in her arms. Harry paused to kiss her on the top of her head as he cleared away the dishes.

“She’s coming home in three days, Harry.”

“Who is?”

“Are you really insisting on keeping up this charade?”

“What do you mean, Ginny?”

“We’ve gone through so much together, and I’ve raised her child—you can at least call me Draco.”

Harry flashed back to the previous night within his dream, the intimacies he had glossed over, horror gripping him not because of the revelation that he had taken Draco as though he were his wife, but because he didn’t want Ginny to come home.

Harry woke up. He knew at once he was no longer dreaming, and tried to remember all that had occurred in his mind. He was in Little Whinging, then the Hogwarts Express, and the unicorn books . . .

I chose Ginny. The latter part of his dream came rushing back, and he groaned, pushing aside his covers so he could pace. No, you only wanted to choose Ginny. What does it matter? Wanting to choose Ginny is what counts.

Fancy Ginny. She fancies you back.

He doesn’t.

He began his third week by kissing Ginny before dinner on a bench outside the Great Hall. They left the common room for dinner too early, and killed time by talking . . . and snogging. When they broke apart, smiling as they usually did after, Harry spotted, with a jolt of horror, Draco staring at them from further down the corridor.

“What . . . ?” Ginny turned. Her hands tightened on Harry’s arms.

“So, Potter’s snogging a Weasley.” Draco shook his head, clucking his tongue. “Filth with filth—you deserve each other. I wish I could say I’m surprised, but Potter was always fond of charity cases.”

“Piss off, Malfoy,” said Ginny. “You’re just bitter you’re not getting any. It’s making you whine like a baby Crup.”

Malfoy’s face went pink. “Watch your mouth, blood traitor.” His hand floated vaguely toward his wand.

Harry thought of the memory he had seen in his fifth year. Ginny, face as red as her hair, looked suddenly like his mother, telling off James by the lake. Or was it more like she was telling off Snape?

Draco glanced around. There were students approaching for dinner. Not an opportune time for a fight.

“Why do you even care, Malfoy?” Harry pulled Draco’s attention back. “My love life is the least of your concern at the moment.”

He narrowed his eyes. “What are you suggesting, Potter?”

“Unless you’re jealous, that is.”

He laughed sharply. “Why the bloody hell would I be jealous of you? Are you that bigheaded that you think everyone has to be infatuated with Weasley, who is, by the way, too unappealing for words?”

Ginny made an indignant sound and was about to defend herself when Harry replied hotly, “You’re jealous of her, then.”

Draco no longer cared about the people around who had stopped to stare, and pulled out his wand, but Harry disarmed him before he could manage a curse.

“It’s two against one, Draco. You must know how talented Ginny is with hexes, and it only makes me think I’m right when you rush into a fight without thinking.”

“Harry, you can’t be serious!” hissed Ginny, wand out but not raised. She told Draco, “Leave us be, yeah? And don’t be a prick, or I’ll have no choice but to hex you.”

Harry tossed him his wand. They glared at each other until Draco swept around and left in a billow of black, green, and blond.

“You don’t actually think he’s jealous, do you?” asked Ginny, watching as Draco’s furious frame rounded the corner.

“I wanted to get a rise out of him, is all.” Harry’s heart still raced from adrenaline.

“You succeeded.”

At dinner, Draco sat close to Pansy as she fed him tiny forkfuls of food. He glanced every now and then at Harry and Ginny, looking pleased with himself.

Ginny nudged Harry under the table, so Ron and Hermione wouldn’t see. “He’s ridiculous! He’s entirely convinced you care about his love life, if you can even call it that.”

“I know. And it’s so obvious he doesn’t fancy Pansy.”

“He’s using her, don’t you think? She seems not to mind, but she must know.”

Harry waited for a crack in Draco’s facade. There was something addictive about uncovering the truth, and Draco was shrouded in lies.

He tore his gaze away to look at Ginny. She made sense. She reflected the kind of person he wanted to be, she was right. When the time loop ended, if it ended, they would be the couple that everyone envied, and he would feel normal, fulfilled. They would be like how he imagined his parents—the boy with wild hair, loyal to his friends, excellent at Quidditch, with the red-headed girl who stood up for and appreciated the people others overlooked, whose magical talents earned her a spot in the Slug Club and marked her in the Death Eaters’ eyes. The parallel wasn’t perfect, but it dug its way deeper into his thoughts, until he wished Ginny wouldn’t look at him so fondly, because she felt with a clarity he didn’t share. Maybe this was supposed to start something that lasted their entire lives. Why did he so desperately want to recreate the love of his parents?

He left dinner in a cloud and that night lay in bed, mind furiously spinning.

I haven’t been honest with myself. It’s getting harder to ignore how I’ve gotten here. Harry could reinvent himself every day, decide the day’s experiment, but he was ultimately alone, making it difficult to lie to himself. So had the past weeks with Ginny been about who he wanted, or about what he needed to cope?

Ginny was like his mother. This person, on the other hand, was someone he had never dreamt of ever caring for. You can hate someone, you can fancy someone, and you can hate that you fancy someone. Harry found himself feeling all three, he just didn’t want to admit it to himself, not before he knew what it meant, not when he could take the easy route for once in his life.

He still fancied Ginny, to some extent. Those feelings wouldn’t go away simply because he thought he understood why he had them.

Though, only one person had turned his world upside down, given him a reason to stay sane in the loop, jumpstarted his heart, driven him to the edge; there was one person who didn’t make him comfortable, instead sparking in him every emotion he could feel to the nth degree.

I fancy Draco Malfoy.

Well, shit.

Chapter Text

 

ch11

The next day, Ginny met Harry at the greenhouses following his routine of talking to her and showing more affection than usual.

He kissed her, wishing desperately for it to change his mind, for things to go back to the way they were. But the contact felt empty, wrong. His inability to connect with her desire brought him back to his second year at Hogwarts, to the little redhead who had obsessed over him. He struggled to separate her from the picture of his mother, to ignore his admiration of her boyishness and her similarity to Ron.

They broke apart, and Ginny was grinning, almost giggling. He composed his expression before she caught his eye, redirecting her attention by brushing a lock of hair behind her ear and matching her smile. She was so soft—lips, cheeks, hair, gaze—and letting the ease of their connection go was difficult.

He touched her face, imagining that the flames of desire that once filled his stomach were reduced to embers, a nostalgic fondness that would be satisfied if they remained friends.

Something in the corner of his eye caught his attention; when he looked over, Luna had discovered them.

“Luna! Er, hi.”

“Hello.” She gave a small smile, which left her face just before she left the room.

Harry wished he could tell her that she had nothing to worry about, he actually fancied someone else. Whatever her reaction meant, those feelings would reset the next day.

To clear his head, Harry spent the next few weeks focusing on his friendships and learning magic he had yet to try in class. He spent time with Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, and Molly Weasley, and visited the twins in their shop again.

He went through the same pleasantries with Fred and George’s assistant as he had when he asked them for love potion months before. So much had changed; it was odd seeing them in the same bright moods and crimson robes, a reminder that he was the only one with true free will in this world.

Upstairs, he spotted the collection of notebooks that appeared to be dedicated to all of their ideas, prototypes, and research. “Can I look through these?”

“Go ahead! Ignore Fred’s unsavory comments.”

“My comments are unsavory, are they? You’re the one who proposed the 17-and-over section—”

“You’re making it sound worse than it was, I said we could do mail-order only—”

“Anyhow, your, erm, mature product sketches are in a separate notebook, right?”

“Don’t worry, you won’t see anything inappropriate. Probably.” George gave the notebook a final suspicious glance before sitting down at a nearby desk.

Initially, Harry turned the pages with care, bracing himself for what he may find, picking up the pace once he saw it wasn’t nearly as explicit as the twins had suggested.

About a third of the way through the book, a sketch of a tiny flask labeled as heart-revealing potion promised to tell the user who they most desired by changing their eye color. A scribbled comment by the illustration read, “If possible, match/reciprocated results in matching eyes?”

“What does this mean?” asked Harry, pointing at the note. George set down his quill and went over to see what he was talking about.

“Ah, it makes more sense in my head I suppose—dunno how it’s magically possible, but if the person you fancy fancies you back, then their eyes would change as well. Unfortunately, Ginny says she’ll hex me if I make another love product designed for girls so we’re tabling it for now.”

Harry chuckled. “Ever tried marketing the love products to boys?”

“I think you’re either saying you want this potion or want to help us in our shop.” At Harry’s noncommittal shrug, he said, “If you really want it, we’ll make it, but only if you tell us who you fancy. Because if it’s someone we know quite well,” he said with a wink, “you won’t need the potion.”

“It’s not for Ginny, if that’s who you mean.”

“You’re the one who brought her up. So you don’t know if this girl is into you? Trust me, you should just ask her.”

“It’s a lot more complicated than that. But . . . I’ll do my best.”

On what he thought was the start of his sixth month in the loop, Harry spent the day writing out his own product ideas. Ron and Ginny got involved, offering feedback and catchy names. Harry imagined a future in which Fred and George periodically invited them to brainstorm new products, and they would talk late into the night.

What would Draco think about it all? Whenever Harry caught him staring at he and his friends enjoying themselves at dinner, the bitterness in his expression was obvious.

Why couldn’t he have fancied George? He had a sly edge to him, a way he waited to speak when Fred charged ahead that made Harry wonder if there was something more to the difference between them.

Although it hardly consoled him about his choice, there was at least a chance Draco fancied him in return. It occurred to Harry that he knew someone with inside information on Draco and his past. If he wanted to know what Draco felt, he had nothing to lose by asking.

“Dobby, when you served the Malfoys, was there anything to suggest that Draco . . . fancied me?”

“Fancied you, sir? In what way?”

Harry scratched his head and laughed. “It’s stupid.”

“But . . . Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy hate each other.”

“I know I’ve had you follow him. You don’t have to anymore, I know what he’s up to now. Er, you helped! Don’t hurt yourself.”

“Harry Potter . . . how would Dobby know if the Malfoy boy likes you?”

“Did he ever talk about me? Or write in a diary of some sort about me? Anything that might have meant . . .”

“Dobby knows something! When Dobby tried to stop you from coming to Hogwarts, it was because the boy talked about you so much that Dobby knew to stop your letters and to interfere in Quidditch.”

“But Draco didn’t know about that.”

“No, Harry Potter, young Malfoy didn’t.” Dobby’s huge eyes looked up at him. “When he was a child, he wanted to be your friend.”

Harry swallowed, thinking back to the artificial memory Draco had given him in which they had reconciled. “Is that right?”

“Harry Potter killed—almost killed You-Know-Who, and his family was free. You were a mystery, Harry Potter. Before Hogwarts, young Malfoy read about you. He hoped you would be sorted into Slytherin like he knew he would be.”

“And I chose Gryffindor. I chose not to be friends with him because he was an awful person. A prick.” Dobby’s eyes widened at Harry’s language. “I don’t regret it.”

“No, Harry Potter, of course.”

“But wanting to be friends . . . that hardly means anything more.”

Dobby began to squirm, wrestling with an invisible force.

“What is it? Look, it’s harmless, whatever you have to say.”

“The Malfoy boy hurt Dobby when he last said something about it.”

Harry felt sick imagining how Draco had abused Dobby, and that it only would have gotten worse if Dobby had remained their house-elf. “Something about what?”

Dobby covered his face with his hands and let out a whine. “When he was twelve, Malfoy told Dobby how good you were at Quidditch, among other things . . . And Dobby couldn’t tell—couldn’t tell if he hated you or liked you. Dobby didn’t mean to offend, he didn’t, but the Malfoy boy got angry . . .”

“How did he hurt you?”

“He told his father Dobby had offended him.”

“I’m sorry you went through that.”

“It could have been much worse, oh yes! And for years, the youngest Malfoy did not hurt him at all.”

“Still, it wasn’t right.”

With another piece of evidence that Draco had harbored these feelings for a while, Harry had to know, once and for all, if they were genuine. In the wake of his experience toying with ideas for Wizard Wheezes, his mind spun with possible schemes that would, in essence, reveal Draco’s heart.

The first of his plans involved Amortentia, but he stuck to his vow following his first use and would not have Draco drink it. To start, he paid close attention to Professor Slughorn for a week, internalizing his way of speaking and his mannerisms well enough so that he could make it through the day without Draco investigating his suspicious behavior. He mapped Slughorn’s movements and found that after classes ended, the professor retreated to his living quarters and remained there in the two hours leading up to dinner.

Early in the morning, Harry stole Snape’s vial of Polyjuice Potion, and at lunch, he summoned a strand of Slughorn’s hair. That afternoon, as Slughorn, he sent a first year to fetch Draco, then waited in the Potions classroom.

“You called, sir? What is this about?” Draco looked vaguely annoyed, but too tired to maintain a convincing expression of distaste.

“I wished to give you another chance to win the Felix Felicis. To help give Slytherin a fighting chance in the House Cup.”

Draco’s eyes glinted. “You have another vial?”

“Yes.”

“What have I got to do to win it?” The determination in Draco’s expression faded somewhat.

“I want you to brew Amortentia. The potion is extremely difficult, so I by no means expect perfection.”

Draco struggled to hold back a grin. “I accept the terms, sir.”

“Excellent. Help yourself to the necessary supplies, I will wait here.” As Draco began the process, Harry glanced at the map. Slughorn was still in his quarters, a safe distance away, should he start to come down to the dungeons. He avoided looking at Draco, feeling that in Slughorn’s body, staring at him was highly inappropriate, even if Draco failed to notice.

“Sir?”

Harry started, hastily folding up the map. “Er, yes, Draco?”

“How well must the potion be made in order for me to receive the Felix Felicis?”

“If I am able to identify my favorite scents in the potion, it passes the test.”

“Okay.” Draco rolled up his sleeves and smoothed back his hair. The movement, along with the focused gaze and slight tilted curve of his neck as he regarded the potions, sent shivers through Harry. He looked back down at the papers on Slughorn’s desk, pretending to read, glancing up every now and then under the pretense of watching Draco’s progress.

“I’ve finished.” He wiped his forehead with his the back of his hand, shielding his nervous features.

“Thank you, Draco. If I may ask—what does the Amortentia smell like to you?”

“Sir? I thought that—”

“I only mean to ask to see if it is truly accurate. A poorly made Amortentia will not smell appealing.”

“Yes, but . . .” Draco composed himself and inhaled. “Fine. It smells like broomstick polish, rain, or smoke, perhaps, and—hair, I assume. Someone’s hair, I don’t know whose.”

“In order to master the potion, you should be able to pick out specific scents. Why, when I was a boy, I wasn’t at first sure of the smell, but I smelled—er, strawberries, and a girl in my class had the same aroma. Now the scent is different, but anyhow—it was a matter of thinking about it more carefully.”

Draco’s desire to argue was betrayed by a twinge in his chin. Reluctantly, he closed his eyes. “There’s no fruit smell. Herbs, chemicals, I’m not sure, but I can tell that it’s hair.” He leaned unconsciously closer to the cauldron, caught himself, and opened his eyes.

“Yes, very well done. I too was able to detect my favorite scents. Here’s the Felix. My last bottle, mind you.” It was fake, but Draco was unlikely to find that out.

Draco’s scrunched forehead finally relaxed. “Thank you, sir.”

“Oh, and before you go, it may interest you to find the source of that scent!”

Making a sort of grimace, Draco hurried out of the room, tucking the Felix into his robes.

Harry looked down into the potion and breathed in. Its scent was the same as he had first experienced, with one important difference: a trace of hair gel, the kind Draco used. He’d smelled it on his pillows.

Later, back in his own body, Harry confronted Draco for the final phase of his scheme. “Malfoy.”

Draco glanced at Crabbe and Goyle and drew himself up. “Potter.” There was a fresh spark of confidence in his eyes.

“Smell my hair.”

“What?”

Before Draco could reach for his wand, Harry shoved his head into his face. When he withdrew, Draco had recoiled, face as pale as his white-blond hair. The look was all Harry needed to see to confirm his hopes.

“You were watching . . . ? In Slughorn’s office?” Draco quickly raised his wand. “How did you—the potion—I smelled—”

“I didn’t do anything. You made it yourself.” Harry stifled a laugh, knowing Draco would misinterpret it.

“When I find out what you did, I’ll tell Snape—I’ll prove you’ve been following me.”

“Go ahead. I don’t care.”

Ron and Hermione had come up behind Harry. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing, let’s go,” said Harry, with a small wave to Draco.

So he finally had definitive proof. Whether or not he was aware of his feelings, Draco had to fancy him. There’d be time for more questions—how could he have been so cruel? How long had he felt this way? Was he bi or gay? For now, Harry had hope.

Another idea he had also required Polyjuice Potion, but was even more convoluted. The odds that it would lead to anything useful were slim.

Under the influence of truth serum, Draco’s answers were somewhat unreliable. Harry wanted to do things better, find the sliver of a chance that they could resolve their past without resorting to aggression or mind-altering magic. If Harry knew better how to have a civil conversation with him, Draco could ultimately help himself.

Crabbe and Goyle, when disguised as young girls, were a possible way to get through to Draco. All Harry had to do was Body-Bind one of them, drink a serving of Polyjuice, and return in disguise to plant an idea in Draco’s head when he checked in.

“How much Polyjuice have you got left?” he asked that morning, prompting Draco to shush him.

“Lower your voice, for Merlin’s sake! Enough for another week, why?”

“I saw Potter and the Weasley girl snogging yesterday.”

“And? Why should I care?”

“I bet he’s been telling her what’s he’s up to.”

Draco stared at him. “Are you Crabbe or Goyle?”

“Goyle,” said Harry, relieved he had checked the Marauder’s Map before to figure out who was who.

“Goyle, I assumed you’d spent all this time staring at the wall, but you’ve actually been using your brain!” Draco waited for a few students to pass before leaning in and saying, “I’ll use the room, see if he’ll talk to her.”

“But what if he sees you?” asked Crabbe, stupidity obvious even in his younger disguise.

“No, you moron, I’m going to use Polyjuice Potion and—never mind, why bother explaining it? When the potion wears off, meet me in the Slytherin common room.”

“I heard she’s going to be practicing Quidditch all evening!” Harry added as Draco walked away, getting a slight nod in return.

Once he erased Goyle’s memory and set him loose, Harry found Ginny and Ron to give them a watered-down version of his plan. Ginny was skeptical at first but once he explained the loop to her, she agreed. They made sure she would cross paths with Draco just as she was talking loudly to Ron about planning to practice Quidditch for a couple hours.

Once he had presumably transformed, Malfoy loitered in a different empty classroom by Gryffindor Tower, true identity revealed only by the Marauder’s Map.

That’s my cue. Harry leapt out of bed, retrieved some of Ron’s breath mints from his Lavender days, freshened up in the bathroom, then finally ended up in the corridor leading to the tower. He caught a glimpse of a short girl with long red hair. What suggested something was amiss was that she walked more stiffly than normal.

“Hey, Ginny, wait up!”

She started, then managed a forced smile.

Harry ran up to her, easily able to feign enthusiasm because he was highly curious about how Draco could pull this off. “What’s wrong?” No use in pretending that she was acting normally, or that may raise Draco’s suspicions.

“I’m a bit tired, is all.”

“Do you want to go back to the dorm?”

“Actually, I thought we could go somewhere more private.”

Harry faltered despite himself. “Yeah. Th-that’d be—sure.” He caught Draco’s sneering judgement beneath his innocuous facade. “Where do you suggest we go?”

“The room on the seventh floor.” She started to lead the way with a rigidity that was comically opposed to Ginny’s typical relaxed gait.

What would the room become? They had different agendas, could it become a combination of them? A common room, perhaps, with a fireplace and a couch to sit on and chat. Draco may just need the room to appear as Harry expected it to. When they reached the seventh floor, the door materialized right away. Inside was a small room with muted red and black wallpaper and a lush gold couch positioned in front of a crackling fire.

Does Draco have any idea what he’ll have to do to keep up the act? Would he kiss me to prevent my being suspicious?

“This is nice,” said Draco/Ginny, once Harry had closed the door.

“Yeah, it is. We ought to come here more often.”

Ginny smiled, until Harry came closer, taking her hands in his. “Are you sure you’re all right? Let’s just relax, yeah?”

Draco nodded, remaining still as Harry touched his face and ran a hand over his hair. For it to be right, he wouldn’t go any further unless Draco initiated it. There was no way to tell how he felt in this moment. What lengths was he willing to go to get what he wanted?

“What about you, Po—Harry? How are you doing?”

“Ah, you know, it can be stressful trying to figure out how to defeat Voldemort and manage school.”

“Are you any closer to defeating him?” he asked as they sat down.

“We’re getting closer. Dumbledore’s not telling me everything, but . . . did you know his passwords are usually candy-related? It’s funny, especially because our visits are quite dark.”

“What’s his password now?”

“Shock-o-Choc.”

Draco chuckled out of repressed excitement. “Rather silly . . .”

“That’s Dumbledore, though.” Harry feigned falling deep in thought. “He doesn’t seem to care if he dies. Even though he knows Malfoy’s trying to kill him . . .” On cue, Ginny’s face went bright red. “He’s just accepted it.”

“Remind me . . . how he found out?” Her voice was strangled, deathly quiet.

“It was fairly obvious. Snape’s helping Malfoy, though, so he must have some reason for telling Dumbledore.”

Harry’s pity mingled with anger as he watched Draco try to manage his panic. “Hey.” He touched his cheek, more brusquely than before. “I promise you, Voldemort will die before Dumbledore does. We’ll get through this. And no one else will have to die, not even Malfoy.”

“Saying that won’t make it true.”

“It’s a start.”

“People are going to die regardless of what you do!” Her voice cracked. “Ah, sorry.” Ginny’s hands trembled, and when she noticed Harry staring at them, she leaned in and kissed him.

Harry pulled away, unwilling to have Draco force himself to do this just for information. It was a lame distraction from the signs of Draco’s panic. Or maybe it wasn’t to trick him—the hands that gripped his upper back no longer trembled, and Ginny’s expression simmered with frustration. Draco had seemed so indifferent with Pansy, but now, as he took off Harry’s glasses and kissed him again, there was an intense abandon that could have been the result of a love potion.

Could it be Amortentia? Did Draco drink a little to make it easier? wondered Harry as Draco’s hand slid up his neck to grip his hair. He was starting to lose track of his thoughts, focusing on the unfamiliar sound Draco made as Ginny when he pushed her closer by the small of her back. Then Harry tasted salt. Under Amortentia’s influence, Draco wouldn’t be in a state of mind to feel genuine sadness. “Why are you crying?” He held her face, wiping the tears away with his thumbs.

Ginny just shook her head and hugged him, burying her face in his chest, breath heaving. “Shh . . . it’s okay.” Harry held him tightly in return, stroking Ginny’s back. Was it seeing Ginny like this or knowing it was Draco that made his heart ache? He knew it was more painful knowing Draco was not trying to appeal to him, not seeking sympathy, just seeking long overdue comfort.

Did Draco intend on erasing his memories after this? Now there was no way he could get away without being suspected, since Harry would have to bring up this incident with the real Ginny. Maybe he could get out of it by telling Draco about the time loop.

They sat like this for twenty minutes, until Draco’s breath no longer shuddered. Sensing he may be able to act kindly enough that Draco would confess his identity and they could speak frankly, Harry did his best to be comforting but not too forward. He kept one hand on Ginny’s waist and lightly ran his fingers up and down her back with the other.

“What can I say to reassure you?”

“Tell me . . . tell me my parents will make it out alive.”

“Your parents make it out alive. They will. You don’t have to worry about that. You’ll be a family again.”

“Again?”

Oops. “Again . . . because it’s been hard, with Percy and all.”

“Right.”

“Ginny . . . you know I’m here for you. You’ve been there for me, especially when I told you I’m attracted to blokes as well as girls.”

Draco stopped breathing. Gasping a bit, he spluttered, “What?” They unwound themselves from each other, and Draco stared at Harry a bit too long. “Right. Er, th-that was nothing.”

“You don’t need to be modest. It means a lot to me.”

“Can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“Why did you tell me? I mean, you’re with me, so what does it matter?”

“It matters because I wouldn’t want to keep things from you. And I trust you. It’s a part of me that no one else knows about. Of course I’ll tell Ron and Hermione when I’m ready, too.”

“So you tell me things you don’t even tell Weas—Ron and Hermione?”

After pretending to be Pansy for information under the impression that Draco confided his secrets in her, Harry could guess where this was going. “Yes.” He reclined on the couch and gestured for Draco to lay back as well.

But the red-haired, freckle-faced Draco just looked at him, pink creeping up his neck.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Draco sank back to rest his head on Harry’s chest, freezing up when Harry wrapped his arms around him.

“You know you can talk to me about anything.”

“Mhm.” They held each other’s gaze for long enough that Harry forgot he was supposed to be looking at Ginny.

“When you told me you fancied the same sex, I was surprised. Because there was nothing to suggest . . . I mean, of everyone, you’d think—maybe you’d think Draco Malfoy had those feelings, or someone else, right?”

Harry chewed his lip. “To be honest, I don’t know how I could guess. I’d definitely be surprised. It’s okay if Draco was bi or gay, though, you know, except I’d be worried for him.”

“Why?” Draco’s voice, though quiet, had a hard edge to it.

“I wouldn’t imagine he’s told anyone. Can you picture him telling Crabbe and Goyle? ‘Hey, I know you’ve barely got a grasp on girls, let alone yourselves, but I thought you should know I’m into blokes.’ They’d lose their minds, if they had them to begin with.”

Ginny chuckled, sounding more cynical than he could have expected from her. “No, they would handle it rather poorly.” Harry finally felt him relax. “So, exactly how do you intend to defeat the Dark Lord? Er, You-Know-Who?”

“Dumbledore has only told me bits and pieces. Voldemort split his soul into fragments, and put these fragments into different objects. So we’re trying to find and destroy every object. Once we do, he’ll be defeated for good.”

“By your tone, it sounds like you’re close.”

“Yes, there only a few more left. Which is why everything will be alright.”

Draco buried his face in Harry’s chest. “Okay,” he said softly. Rather than speak, they lay in silence, with Harry running his fingers through Ginny’s hair, thinking. Since they were both conscious of who the other was, he felt closer to Draco than he had ever felt before. And yet, he was painfully aware of how fragile the closeness was.

A lock of blond hair shimmered under his hand. “Ginny, I’ve got to stretch, can you hand me my glasses?” If Draco needed an out to drink more Polyjuice Potion, this would be it. Harry stood and raised his arms over his head as he walked to the fireplace, where the fire had begun to die down. As he cracked his knuckles, he studied the wallpaper, which he had originally thought was in Victorian style or something similar. Up close, the curves of each motif were actually intertwined snakes, framing deep scarlet flowers. Harry made a show of rolling his shoulders for good measure as he considered what they could mean.

There was no sound behind him, meaning Draco might have yet to realize he was turning back. Harry pretended to take interest in the objects on the mantle to kill more time. From left to right, there was a small sculpture of a man, nude and well-proportioned. It was similar to the casts of ancient sculptures Harry vaguely recalled from the two times he attended a school trip to a nearby art museum. Was the statuette always here for this room, or had he mentally summoned it? Next to it there was a large egg, intricately painted with a scene from the Amazon, full of creatures he knew he should be able to name (he could only remember the Dugbog and Caipora). In the center of the mantle was a silver platter, and in its reflection he saw Draco standing, raising his wand to—

Harry spun around in time to yell “Protego!” as Draco yelled “Obliviate!”

“Petrificus Totalus!”

Draco, still half-Ginny, fell back against the couch, face locked in an open-mouthed, wide-eyed expression.

Harry swore once, then again as he heaved Draco into a lying position the couch. “Alright. Can we start over? I’m not going to crush your nose, if that crossed your mind. Give me a moment to think.” Draco had to believe Harry had no ill-intent. Or that he could somehow one-up Harry to get what he wanted. “Okay, I have an idea. If you agree to answer one of my questions—no, two questions—you can ask me fifteen things and I have to answer each honestly. Also—before I unfreeze you, I’ll hide your wand somewhere and will only tell you where it is if you promise not to attack me until after classes begin tomorrow. I’d prefer it if you didn’t at all, of course.

“There’s another thing . . . time is repeating for me. Tomorrow morning it’ll be as though none of this ever happened.” He left under the cloak to hide Draco’s wand in a crevice he created by the Slytherin dorms, hoping that would incentivize him to remain there rather than go to Gryffindor Tower for revenge.

At last, he released the Body-Bind Curse.

Draco sat up with a groan. “What is the point of this?” His pale face was tinged with green. “Congratulations, you tricked me. You won, Potter, are you happy? The least you can do is erase both of our memories so we can pretend this never happened.”

“You won’t remember tomorrow, anyhow.”

He scoffed, though he looked like he could cry. “Clearly, you have more to gain if your two questions are at least worth fifteen of mine. And if you’re right about this time thing—”

“Are you going to agree, or not?”

“You haven’t given me much choice.” His eyes searched for somewhere to look other than at Harry and he crossed his arms. “So how’s this going to work? You answer seven questions, then ask your first question, I ask eight more, and at the end, you ask your second question.”

“Seems fair enough.”

“One: why are you so sure that time is repeating?”

“I have been living the same day over and over again for six months. I don’t know why or how. It’s a powerful curse; nothing I’ve done has made any difference.”

“Two: and that is how you know about what I have been tasked to do?”

“Yes, that’s how I know you have to kill Dumbledore.”

“Three: and were you saying you know how to kill the Dark Lord to see how I reacted, or is that true?”

“It’s true. He’s not as invincible as he’d like people to believe.”

“Four: do you genuinely want to help me?”

“Yes. Assuming you’re willing to help a bit in return.”

“Five: are you really what you said you are, or was that another test?”

Harry’s heart thudded. “You’ll have to be more specific.”

“Are you bloody bisexual, for Merlin’s sake! Making me ask that outright . . .”

“I . . . that was the first time I’d said it, actually. I’ve never told Ginny, or anyone. And I was testing you, but it was . . . true.”

“I shouldn’t be wasting these questions on this . . .” he said, head in his hands.

“Why did you want to know?”

“You’re not supposed to ask a question yet.”

“Sorry.”

“Six: what’s the password to Gryffindor tower?”

“Eureka.”

Draco smirked and sat back on the couch.

“I really hope you’re not thinking of barging in and erasing my memory.”

Draco mock-pouted. “You should have thought about that before telling me there are no consequences for my actions.”

“That’s not what I said. If you erase today, or more, I won’t think there’s any way to rationally help you, and revert to my less pleasant strategy . . .” He chewed his lip. “This is the first time we have sat down and talked. You would think, in six months . . .”

“Seven: what is the worst thing you have done to me, Potter?”

“Used Veritaserum on you to find out about your plans. But I guess it depends on what you value most. Your privacy? Your autonomy?”

“I value being left alone when I never asked for help.”

“You asked Myrtle for help.”

“Is that what all of this is about? Did you see me talking to her?”

“I’ll count that as two questions. Before, though, I get to ask you a question.”

“Fine.”

“Who have you used the Imperius Curse on?”

There was a labored pause as Draco came to terms with what he had to share. “Madam Rosmerta. She helped me smuggle in the mead and the necklace. I never meant for Katie or Weasley to—it wasn’t about them.”

“Not that you asked, but that’s only one of the worst things you’ve done to me. Nearly killed my best friend while I watched.”

Draco put his face in his hands. “How could you want to help me?”

“I would be lying if I said all of this was solely to help you. In the end, having you change sides will help us defeat Voldemort—”

“And why do you call him that?”

“My fear will always lead to resistance. That’s the difference between us: you will fake respect, loyalty, call him whatever name you need to in order to survive.

“Of course what you choose to do is right, and everyone else is wrong. You didn’t grow up among us, you don’t know what it’s like to have him hanging over your head . . .”

“There’s a real difference in calling him your lord and calling him You-Know-Who.”

Draco’s eyebrow twitched. “Six months in the same day and I thought you would understand me by now.”

“Oh, I can understand, that doesn’t mean I have to agree.”

“Fair enough.” The heat of the argument had reenergized Draco, set his knee bouncing, his eyes fixed on Harry. “I believe you have two questions to answer, now. Eight and nine.”

“Right, about Myrtle, and how the time loop started? Six months ago, I walked in on you in the girls’ bathroom; you were crying, asking her what to do. When you saw me, you freaked and tried to curse me, and I tried this spell that I shouldn’t have. I nearly killed you. When I woke up the next day, it had never happened. On other days, you said you wished someone could help, and it was clear you didn’t want to have to kill Dumbledore. You may hate him, you may have taken the mark, but if you had a way out . . .”

“You’re so sure about this plan of yours, so ten: how would you fail? And eleven: how likely is it that you would fail?”

“We would fail if too many people join Voldemort’s ranks, or if he finds out about our plan. Even then, at some point, I’d hope the international community would step in, and enough people would know what to do that his days would be numbered. As far as how likely it is that we would fail, I dunno, I have a pretty good track record so far. Do you want me put a number on it?”

“You’ve merely been lucky.” Draco pressed his hands together.

“You’ve got four questions left, haven’t you?”

“Yeah. Twelve: why doesn’t Dumbledore care that I’ve been trying to kill him?”

“He cares, he just doesn’t think you’re up to the task. He sees that you’re desperate. You’re not a murderer.”

While this may not have satisfied Draco, he had nothing more to say, until: “Who do you fancy? Thirteen.”

Harry’s head spun. The question was inevitable, and still he would rather not say it out loud. “Clearly, it’s you.”

“Since when?” Draco’s voice dropped so low Harry could barely hear him.

“Not for very long, really. One more question, make it count.”

“Do you know if I fancy anyone?”

“I used to think you fancied Pansy. And then . . . well, maybe I should have known earlier, but I found out your Amortentia smelled like me. What I don’t know is whether you know you fancy me, or why, or when it all started, or how you could treat me like shit, quite frankly, even though you like me that way.”

Draco swallowed, hard. “Okay. You owe me an extra question.”

“Within reason.”

He rubbed his neck. “Would you only have snogged me if I was in Ginny’s body?”

“Do you want to find out?”

The color in his face flared up again. “Answer the question.”

“I would rather you were in your own body.”

Draco stood up abruptly, hitting his shin on the table between them. He cursed, eyes scrunched shut as Harry hurried over to him.

“Are you okay?”

“Just grand,” he replied through gritted teeth, collapsing back onto the sofa. He pulled up his pant leg to see the angry mark on his skin.

“Do you want me to kiss it better?” asked Harry, holding back a grin.

“I can’t believe you, Potter. The time loop has screwed with your head.”

“Maybe it has.”

Draco’s eyes were on Harry’s wand, which sat on the chair well out of arm’s reach.

Harry sighed. “I know you could summon it, if you wanted.”

“Just ask your question,” said Draco, rolling his pant leg down as Harry sat next to him.

“At the start, I planned to ask you if you fancied me. Or why you kissed me when you really didn’t have to. But now, I want to know: what can I do in future loops for you to trust me? For you to believe that I want to help you.”

Draco shifted to put more distance between the two of them. “Knowing you have feelings for me could help. Telling me is going to be . . . a risk. I would first think you’re manipulating me. You have to erase any doubt that your plan is the best way forward, and then I will do what is best. That’s all I can guarantee.”

“Right. There’s still the chance you would go straight to Voldemort with everything I tell you.”

“There is that chance, I suppose.”

Harry’s grimace met Draco’s solemn expression, and said, “There’s no point trying anything until tomorrow, if there is the same tomorrow; otherwise, you’ll be putting yourself in harm’s way for nothing.”

“It must be nice—making mistakes and not having to live with them.”

“I’m trying to make the most of it. Or else I would never have risked something like this. But what we did wasn’t a mistake. Without the deception, it’s not something to be ashamed about.”

Rather than say anything in response, Draco leaned over to rest his forehead on Harry’s shoulder.

“Will you be okay if I leave? I’ll tell you where your wand is.”

Draco nodded.

“Will you sit up, then?”

When Draco looked up, his face was once again streaked with tears. He reached out with both hands and held Harry’s face.

Their kiss this time held a different kind of desperation; they had tried too hard to get it perfect.

Harry gripped his shoulder, and after they parted he let out a long breath. “For once, I’d like to kiss you when you’re not crying.”

“And I’d like to feel like you don’t just want to fix me.”

“I don’t—I’m not—it’s more complicated than that.” Harry stood. “I’ve put your wand in the wall outside of the Slytherin common room.”

“Okay.”

“You’ll be alright. I promise.”

Draco had started to chew his nails, and it took visible effort for him respond. “Thanks, Potter.”

That night, Harry waited for Draco to break into the Gryffindor common room. He never did.