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Tea and No Sympathy

Chapter Text

Draco lurches awake with a jolt, a mouth that tastes as if a dog's pissed in it, and a banging headache right between the eyes.

For a brief, unpleasant moment, he wonders if he's going to be sick, but he swallows hard and it passes, leaving only the taste, the headache, and his utter conviction that he's made a massive, unspeakable cock of himself – though he can't for the life of him remember how.

Clearly, alcohol was involved. Although whether that was the screw up, or whether he'd drunk it in an unfortunate attempt at self-Obliviation, he has no idea.

He squints through half-closed lashes to guard against the blinding – albeit weak – early summer sun filtering through roughly-drawn curtains, surveying his bedroom. But – thank fuck – there isn't anything obvious amiss. No green-faced stranger in his bed, or dubious trophy of a drunken evening pinched from the Ministry, or even spilled drinks or piles of discarded clothing. All is neat and innocuous.

He relaxes slightly, but the dread remains, and suddenly it dawns on him. It's my birthday. And with that – with a rush that has his cheeks flaming and his toes curling up with the burning shame of it – he remembers.

He jumps up from the bed, running a hand through his hair. He looks like shite – he knows he does, still dressed in yesterday's robes, his chin unshaven and his blood ninety percent whiskey – but who fucking cares? He's trembling, he can't control it, and suddenly the thing he spent all evening yesterday trying to stop himself from doing – the worse fucking idea in the world – doesn't seem so stupid any more.

He can't bear it. That life should contain so many small humilations – humiliation heaped on humiliation – and that he should have to keep on permitting them.

This morning, it's his arsing birthday, his nineteenth, and Draco Malfoy has officially had enough.

Despite this, he pauses when he reaches his desk, on the far side of his bedroom.

A small voice in his head whispers, Don't do it, you dickhead.

But it sounds a bit too much like Potter for Draco's tastes, so, heart fluttering like a snitch's wings, he picks up the battered time-turner he's been working on, a tiny complicated mess of metal and – if he looks too close, so he tries not to – sparks and colours that set his teeth on edge.

And he spins it.

***

Yesterday morning

Draco lurks nervously in the Peers Lobby. He looks around to see if anyone's watching, but the majority of the guests – the crème of wizarding and Muggle society – have already passed through the brass gates and are ensconced in the Chamber of the House of Lords, so he takes the opportunity to wipe his sweaty palms on his dark-green formal robes and run his fingers over already-neat hair. Where the fuck is his father? If he leaves it much longer he'll be officially late, and although in wizarding society it's considered a faux pas to arrive on time, it seems in Muggle political circles if you don't arrive early enough to lick at least five arses then you're doing it wrong.

Not that Draco gives a flying fuck about Muggle society – political or otherwise – but since he and his father have spent months organising this event, it would be supremely typical of life if it all went to pot at the last moment.

He fumbles in his robe pocket for his notes, and his fingers curl protectively over the stiffened parchment rectangles. Magic is forbidden in the Muggle parliament building, and so Draco has fallen back on pen and ink for his aide-memoir for his speech. He's spent hours in front of the mirror practising the thing – and further hours in front of his father, who wrote it – but he still keeps waking up in a cold sweat at the thought of stalling midway through. The notes give him a confidence that practice hasn't managed to instil in him.

He tries not to flinch when his father sweeps into the Lobby, formal heeled shoes echoing on the marble floor. For once, though, his father doesn't look cross. He smiles proudly at Draco, and Draco feels a swell of emotion, as if someone's inflating a balloon inside his chest.

His father reaches over and squeezes his shoulder. "Ready, son?"

Draco's mouth suddenly feels thick with nerves, so he nods carefully, so as not to disarrange his hair.

His father's eyes narrow, but he nods sharply in return and starts off towards the Chamber, leaving Draco no choice but to follow in his wake, trying to look confident and unruffled, while all the while thinking shit shit shit.

Today is Friday, and the House of Lords doesn't sit on Fridays, which makes it the perfect venue for the Malfoys' official relaunch into the upper echelons of wizarding society – carefully concealed, of course, as an event promoting Muggle and wizard unity. Draco remains unsure that wizards and Muggles need to be united, while his father is privately vehemently against the notion, despite everything. Nevertheless, even his father has had to admit that there are levels of Muggles – and some of them even seem to value tradition and family in a way that feels a natural fit with pureblood ideals. They even have a queen: an unelected head, given her power and authority by blood and god. Draco can't help but think that if his mother were queen of wizarding Britain, then things would be run a lot better than they are now.

And there is no denying that the Palace of Westminster is a handsome building, and the Lords Chamber worthy of being graced by wizards of taste and refinement. Draco's been in the Chamber dozens of times over the past few months, sweet-talking officials, but even now the sheer scale and opulence of it strikes him all over again.

Right now the red leather benches are packed with wizards from across the globe in their finest colourful robes, like an explosion of tropical parrots, mixed with middle-aged Muggle men wearing sharp, dark suits and anxious expressions. Draco manages to hold it together until he reaches his own place and sits, only to look across the Chamber and spot Harry fucking Potter, the guest of bloody honour, wearing some sort of sloppy Muggle outfit and looking like he only deigned to get out of bed ten minutes ago.

He twitches, and his father mutters, through gritted teeth, "Pull yourself together, Draco."

Draco, his heart running a mile a minute, makes an attempt at doing just that and inclines his head graciously at Potter. But Potter – the fucking arsehole – isn't even looking in his direction. Instead, he's whispering something in Ronald Weasley's ear, and the ginger git is smirking, despite being dressed in something that looks suspiciously like his school robes spelled burgundy, and Draco feels a rage rise inside him that he hasn't felt for months.

It's been months since he's seen Potter and his little friends; it's unlikely it's coincidence.

Draco can feel his lips pulling into a scowl, but to his relief the Muggle prime minister rises – wearing, Draco is annoyed to see, a tie in Gryffindor colours – and gives an unctuous welcome speech, which everyone dutifully claps. This is followed by Minister for Magic Shacklebolt, whose speech is equally lengthy and tedious, but Draco can't concentrate, trying to run through the opening lines of his own speech in his head, but unable to stop himself from sneaking glances across the Chamber at Potter, who looks serious and rapt and nods enthusiastically at what Draco thinks are the more saccharine, Hufflepuffian points of Shacklebolt's speech. He knows what the Minister is going to say backwards – almost as well as his own speech – given that his father wrote it. A fact that the Minister is almost certainly unaware; his speechwriter proved remarkably easy to bribe.

Draco knows everything that's going to happen today backwards – from the welcoming speeches and informal lunch, to the afternoon discussions and semi-formal dinner. It takes a fuckload of work to make an event look this smooth and effortless, and the British Muggle government has proved to be, if anything, even more hidebound and inflexible than the Ministry, except with even less respect for the Malfoy name. Only hours of hard work and the utter determination of his father to pull this off have made today possible at all.

Draco jerks out of his thoughts as his father jabs him none too gently in the side, covering the movement with a flurry of enthusiastic applause, all elbows and swishing violent-green robes. His insides lurch as he realises Shacklebolt's speech is over and it's now his turn.

Once the applause dies down, he rises carefully and arranges his features into the sorrowful but optimistic expression that he's been practising. The words of the speech rise in his mind, and as he speaks the opening words, he relaxes into it, suddenly knowing it's all going to be fine.

"We all make mistakes," Draco says, in as genuine a manner as he can muster, and he bows his head briefly. A camera flashes, and another, and it's only long practice that stops him from reacting with a triumphant grin. "On behalf of all my family, I apologise, from the depths of my heart, for ours." They're weasel words, really; apologising for 'mistakes' but not saying which mistakes. He and his family are certainly heartily sorry they made the mistake of supporting the Dark Lord, because it made their lives extremely uncomfortable for what felt like an extremely long time – and they're still paying the price, even now.

Draco pauses – a practiced pause – and his eyes flicker across to Potter, across the Chamber, whose expression is inscrutable. "But, it is time to look to the future," he continues, "and the pain that the Malfoy family feels to have contributed to the hurts that both our communities still bear is outweighed by the pride we feel at being at the heart of the efforts to rebuild what was destroyed and to forge new links between the non-magical community and ours."

Draco smiles, and beside him his father leads the applause. It's the first genuine thing his father has done in months – applauding the fact that this bunch of idiots have allowed the Malfoys back into the heart of not only wizarding political life, but now Muggle political life too. Draco's impressed by his father's wiles. It might have taken half the family's Gringott's vault, but he doubts any other man could have gone from Death Eater under house arrest to respected, trusted political advisor in under twelve months.

"The Malfoy family helped win the war. We helped rebuild. And now—" A movement catches his eyes and he tries not to falter. "—we want the public to know that we are committed, at the highest level, to helping reshape the Ministry—"

He really does falter now. Because across the Chamber, right in front of him, Harry Potter, the saviour of the wizarding world, the boy who sodding lived, famous Harry Potter, has got to his feet and is sending Draco a look of . . .

It's hard to know what the look is. Disgust? Disappointment? "—and, and we are committed, at the highest level," Draco says, losing his train of thought and scrabbling to catch it. "And – where are you going, Potter?" he snaps at Potter's back, feeling himself go red in the face, hot and cold shivers running down his spine as Potter walks quickly and purposefully past the huge, ornate gold throne at the end of the Chamber and out through the curved wooden arch to the left of it, vanishing from sight into the maze of corridors beyond.

Draco, stricken by horror – the guest of honour has fucking walked out halfway through his speech – wets his lips and starts determinedly back on his speech, although he can't entirely remember the words, his certainty stolen from him. "We are committed, at the highest level," he repeats for the third time, fumbling in his pocket for his notes, but no one's listening. Already, the Weasel and his fiancée have stood up and are following in Potter's footsteps, and once they've gone, it seems to start a mass exodus – a flood of witches and wizards trampling each other in their haste to not be the last one left, and the gutless Muggle bureaucrats vanishing almost as smoothly as if they could do magic themselves.

In less than a minute, Draco is alone in the Chamber, apart from his seething father, the Minister for Magic, who's collecting his papers with an unhurried air . . . and half a dozen wizard press photographers, snapping away with glee. It's not even midday; the event is over before it's barely started.

Draco blinks, blinded by the light, and when he blinks again he can see bright spots floating in his vision, as if the camera flashes are burned into his view forever.

***

Now

Draco feels like he's been stretched sideways and pummelled for good measure. He's momentarily disorientated, but one thing demands his attention: there's something burning in his hands.

He drops the time-turner with a stifled curse word, sucking his fingers and looking around his room. If everything's gone right, he should have turned time itself back twenty-four hours. Now he can . . . well, he hasn't exactly decided how to play things, but one thing is certain: the day is not going to end with him getting hammered on vintage Firewhisky pinched from his father's study, to blot out the thought that fucking Harry Potter only went and ruined his life all over again by walking out halfway through his speech in front of the serried ranks of all the world's media.

He still feels like he's been hit between the eyes with a bludger, but the room looks different, and he's relatively confident in his own skills. Fucking about with time travel is illegal, but Draco has a flexible attitude to illegality – all Malfoys do – and he had six months of house arrest before his trial late last year. Draco has never enjoyed boredom, and it had taken less than a week for him to realise he had to focus his attentions on something – something, that is, that wasn't Potter – or else go mad. His father was much the same. So while his father had spent his enforced time at home profitably, spending the Malfoy fortune on high-profile charitable works and bribing reporters left, right and centre to write hideous, fawning articles about how brave and reformed poor naïve Draco was, Draco himself had spent his time fixing things.

The Department of Mysteries had been trashed during the battle; it hadn't been difficult to bribe a friend of his father's, involved in the clean-up, to smuggle out a load of broken artefacts and then smuggle them back into the Manor.

A time-turner, seemingly broken and worthless, was amongst them.

It had seemed a good use of Draco's time to work on it. He'd fixed the Vanishing Cabinet at Hogwarts, hadn't he? Maybe, if he worked hard, he could fix this too. It would be useful, he'd thought, for the future. And once he'd started, it had seemed stupid to stop at simply fixing it – why pussyfoot about sending yourself back in time, where you had to creep about and make sure you didn't bump into your yesterday self and explode all of existence, when you could turn back time itself?

Looking at the time-turner now, Draco tries not to feel smug that he's apparently managed to do what scores of research wizards have failed to do before. He still isn't sure if it's worked, after all. And really, it was bloody stupid of him to try it out without proper testing. He could have killed himself or made the world go boom. Happily, though, he doesn't seem to be dead, and the world remains otherwise unexploded.

He tries to pick the time-turner up from his desk, presuming it's cooled down by now, but it seems to have fused itself into the wood, and although he tugs hard, he can't budge it. It doesn't seem wise to use his wand, and besides – either it's worked, or it hasn't. If it has, he won't need it again, and he can always replicate his work if there's a future need. He's kept thorough notes.

He tidies himself up and, heart pounding, goes downstairs to the dining room, where his mother is sitting reading the Daily Prophet. He freezes – he can't help himself – but he's not front-page news. Or, rather, he is, but the headline reads: MALFOY HEIR TO PROMOTE UNITY WITH MUGGLES.

It's only gone and fucking worked. He's gone back in time! He can fix everything. The relief makes him sag, and he leans against the edge of the dining table for support.

"Good morning, dear," his mother says, setting the paper aside and looking at him with sympathy. "Are you nervous about your speech?"

Draco sits down and spreads a napkin on his knees, while his mother pours him a cup of tea and summons a house-elf. "No," he says – and means it. "Not at all."

He eats a hearty breakfast and spends the next hour or so ruthlessly cutting his speech to excise any suggestion that the Malfoys helped win the war. His father is a master at rewriting history, but it seems the whole thing was too much for Potter, and Draco can understand that. If it wasn't his family's reputation at stake, he would quite agree.

Later that morning, he gives his speech, and it is much, much shorter. He sits once he's done, too nervous to look over at his father and see the disappointment in his face, but his father simply squeezes his shoulder and rises, to give his own impromptu speech, which – surprise surprise – contains everything that Draco has intentionally left out. It seems his father believes Draco has simply been overcome by nerves and forgotten his words.

Draco can hardly bear to look over at Potter as his father speaks, but although Potter's face is red and angry, and he's twitching as if he can hardly keep himself in his seat, he suffers through it.

Draco manfully resists the urge to go over and punch him in the head. It's a strong urge. But his father sits down to polite, respectful applause, although Potter can't seem to bring himself to join in, and Draco grits his teeth and bangs his hands together so hard it hurts. The point of going back in time was to save face – not to maim Potter, no matter how much he deserves it.

Potter, Draco thinks sourly, quite obviously still hates him. And it will be revenge enough if Potter simply has to see the Malfoys rise inexorably to power again. He'll have to be content with that.

***

Draco snaps awake, feeling well rested and yet . . .

He frowns, disorientated. He's standing up, by his desk, rather than lying in bed – which would be the obvious place for him to wake up. Has he been sleepwalking? Has the stress of the last few days sent him round the bend? Or has something more sinister occurred? He tries not to panic, and the room blurs and spins until he gets himself back under control. Home hasn't been a place of safety since the Dark Lord moved in, and Draco suspects he'll never feel entirely safe here again.

Blinking hard, and forcing himself to breathe in and out slowly, his gaze falls on the desk in front of him. The time-turner is still there, and his heart unpleasantly skips a beat. Because – and there's no getting out of it – the thing is glowing, very, very faintly, but enough to make Draco reel. He reaches forward to try and pick it up, but his fingers don't even connect before there's a crack of magical charge that has him snatching his hand back. His fingers feel tender and burned, and he sucks them to try to cool them down, taking a step or two away from the desk.

He all but runs down the stairs towards the dining room, and . . . and . . . his mother is sitting there, reading the Daily Prophet. Except, that doesn't mean anything, does it? She often reads the papers in the morning. So he walks in, trying to shove down his mounting dread, and hopes very hard that the headline isn't what he thinks it's going to be.

It reads: MALFOY HEIR TO PROMOTE UNITY WITH MUGGLES.

The shock makes Draco sag, and he leans against the edge of the dining table for support.

"Good morning, dear," his mother says, setting the paper aside and looking at him with sympathy. "Are you nervous about your speech?"

Draco sits down and spreads a napkin on his knees, to conceal the way he's shaking, while his mother pours him a cup of tea and summons a house-elf. "No," he says – and means it. It's not the fucking speech he's nervous about. It's the fact he appears to have travelled back in time again, this time without wanting to. Is he stuck? What the fuck is he going to do? "Not at all."

By the time he has to give his speech, Draco's made his mind up. Altering the past evidently doesn't work, and however keen he is to not be splashed all over the papers looking like a fool, that's not at the expense of never having a future. He gives his original speech, trying his best to do and say exactly what he did and said the first time around. It's lucky, he thinks – hah! Lucky! – that he practised the speech so much; it comes like second nature. And just as the first time he gave it, Potter rises halfway through, pale with emotion, and walks out – abandoning Draco to the dubious attention of the press and the dubious comfort of the whisky bottle.

Before he goes to bed that night, he can't stop himself from looking at the time-turner, through a haze of drink. Even with the light off, he can see it, glowing faintly from his desk. He gets in bed and puts a pillow over his head to block out the light. Sodding thing. At least tomorrow morning it will all be over, he thinks.

But that night, Draco finds it hard to sleep, and even through the duck-feather pillow he thinks he can see the time-turner glowing.

Chapter Text

Draco snaps awake in front of his desk, with a now familiar sense of disorientation, and thinks: bollocks.

Fucking, shitty, cunty, arsey bollocks.

The time-turner glows a little more brightly, as if it agrees with him, and even peering down at it makes him feel peculiar, so he turns away, closing his eyes and rubbing a hand over his face. When he reopens his eyes, he takes another irritated look around the room. Apart from the time-turner, it seems identical to the last morning. And the morning before. Which was the same morning, Draco supposes, already confusing himself.

He looks down at himself. He's wearing the silk pyjamas he went to sleep in last night – which was the future, he supposes. Looking on the bright side, at least he hasn't woken up dressed in alcohol-soused formal robes – not least because if he has to give the bloody speech again today, he'll need to wear them, and his own cleaning charms never give that really fresh feel that the laundry's do.

It's not much of a bright side though. If he's trapped in a time-loop, he can think of many things that would be useful; daily clean pyjamas is not top of the list.

He jams his slippers on his feet and heads downstairs. He knows it's going to be the same, but a flame of hope flares in his chest when he enters the dining room and sees his mother. It's quickly extinguished though. She's reading the paper, and the headline is clear as day: MALFOY HEIR TO PROMOTE UNITY WITH MUGGLES.

The disappointment makes him sag, and he leans against the edge of the dining table for support.

"Good morning, dear," his mother says, setting the paper aside and looking at him with sympathy. "Are you nervous about your speech?"

Draco sits down and spreads a napkin on his knees – because he did that last time, and the time before, and who the hell is he to break the pattern? – and his mother pours him a cup of tea and summons a house-elf.

"No," he says. "Not at all." And it's true – he's not nervous. He's angry.

While he butters the toast the elf brings him, he tries to decide who he's most angry at. He's angry with himself that he managed to screw up fixing the time-turner, although he still feels no small amount of pride that the thing worked at all. OK, so it's not perfect, but he went back in time, didn't he? And clearly at some point he'll stop going back in time; he just needs to figure out what, exactly, is keeping him stuck here.

Or, rather, who.

By the time Draco's finished his toast, it's all so blindingly obvious, he wonders why he didn't see it before.

It's all Potter's fault, just like always.

The logic is inescapable. Who was it who walked out of Draco's speech? Potter. Who was, therefore, the reason Draco had to use the time-turner? Potter. Ergo, if Potter hadn't walked out of his speech in the first place, Draco would never have had to use the blasted thing. It follows logically, therefore, Draco thinks, that if Potter doesn't walk out, then Draco will never have to use the time-turner, and the time loop will collapse.

Draco sips his tea and even feels cheerful enough to skim read his mother's discarded paper, although he avoids the front cover. His father's campaign to fill the papers with positive press on his behalf has been a successful one – so successful that he occasionally feels a sympathetic pang for Potter and the way the Prophet used to hound him, and still does. It's not as gratifying as he thought it might be, and people do send him the strangest fanmail.

"I'd better go and get ready," he tells his mother as time wears on, and she smiles at him as he rises and goes over to kiss her on the cheek.

"Wear the dark-green," she says, as if his choice of robes – formal, old-fashioned, traditional – wasn't decided at least a month ago. "It suits you." Her smile grows fonder and more sentimental, and he can feel her eyes on his back as he leaves the room.

While he's dressing, he tries to formulate a plan of action. It's an interesting paradox. If he gives his original speech, Potter will almost certainly walk out. If he doesn't, Potter will stay, but the initial problem will remain. What he needs is a way of convincing Potter to stay for the original speech, even though he's a git. Draco dismisses his initial urge to simply Petrificus Totalus him on sight. Even if he manages it – and oh how he longs to manage it – Potter will simply go rigid and slide off his seat in a painfully obvious manner and Draco won't be able to give his speech at all. He likewise dismisses the use of a Sticking Charm. Potter has no sense of occasion, Draco thinks scathingly, while slicking Sleekeazy's Hair Potion through his hair. Doubtless, finding himself stuck to his chair, instead of calmly remaining there until an appropriate moment to seek help arrived, he would instead shout and wreak merry hell – again, ruining Draco's speech.

By the time Draco's ready, he's come to a conclusion. There is only one way of ensuring Potter's compliance: Draco will have to talk to him reasonably before the event starts and persuade him to stay, for the good of society in general, or some such bollocks. Potter will like that. If he's looking shaky, Draco can just throw in some shit about cooperation with Muggles for good measure. The Muggles he's met have been politicians, and while he doesn't feel especially kindly towards them, he's not sure he feels the same disdain he once did – only pity, that they should have the same ambitions and desire for power as men like his father, and yet be hamstrung by their lack of magic. Muggle life strikes him as tedious, and difficult, and long-winded.

Although, he supposes, it's probably marginally safer. If he – Merlin forbid – were a Muggle, he wouldn't have been moronic enough to have trapped himself in a time loop, now, would he?

He Apparates early to the Palace of Westminster and enters, nodding at the officials he encounters that he knows by sight. No one stops him, and that makes him feel vaguely smug. He takes the Royal Staircase at a quick pace, and strides on through the Norman Porch, lined with busts of titled former Prime Ministers, his shoes echoing on the marble floor. He pauses for breath in the Royal Gallery. It's oh-so Gryffindor in here, and that's presumably why his father decided that their guest of honour should be led here to wait in comfort before the event starts properly in the late morning. The marble floor is red and gold, and so are the walls, and everything – paintings, and statues, and massive red leather chairs – is lit by enormous chandeliers. It's charmingly naff – and pleasingly empty. Draco hopes that Potter won't be too late, and also that he can catch him without his entourage. It's going to be difficult enough to persuade Potter to just suffer his speech without the Weasel or – worse – Granger listening in. He doubts they'll be sympathetic to his plight.

He waits, getting increasingly tetchy as time passes and Potter doesn't show up. The Royal Gallery begins to fill with foreign dignitaries, even though the room was intended for receiving Potter alone, and Draco finds himself forced to work the room, nodding and smiling and exchanging empty pleasantries. Then, there is a call for everyone to take their seats, and Draco looks at his watch and tries not to grimace as the Gallery empties, people filing on through the corridors into the Lords Chamber, and still Potter doesn't arrive.

He's pacing up and down, wearing footprints in the marble, by the time Potter arrives, looking like he's been unkindly woken up and forcibly ejected from his bed, with Weasley and Granger flanking him and chivvying him on.

Weasley shoots Draco a look of unvarnished dislike, and Draco's temper flares, even as he notices that Potter himself doesn't look unfriendly, just dog tired.

"Draco," Granger says, acknowledging him in polite but stiff tones, and moves as if to walk straight past him, tugging on Potter's arm to drag him along with her.

"May I have a moment of your time?" Draco says to Potter, standing his ground and doing his best to ignore Potter's irritating minions.

"Anything you need to say to Harry, you can say with us here," Weasley replies – as if it's his place! – folding his arms and glaring, and taking a protective step in front of Harry.

Draco barely notices Potter trying to push Weasley back out of the way; he's too intent on squashing the Weasel. It's safe to say they've never got on. "I hardly think Potter needs a coward like you for protection," he says dismissively.

Weasley goes white, and Draco belatedly remembers that insulting Potter's best friend is probably not going to endear him to Potter – or be good for his own health. He remembers the pyjamas he'd woken up in this morning, that seemed to have travelled with him through the time loop, and wonders whether if Weasley manages to hex something off he'll wake up with the missing limb restored the next morning – or not. He thinks it best not to find out. "May I remind you that magic is forbidden here?" he sneers – quickly.

"Fine!" Weasley says, but there's something in his eye that Draco doesn't like, and he takes a step back, while Granger's saying something loud and urgent, but Weasley's already going for him, his fist swinging wildly in a heavy arc.

Draco darts to one side, a vision of himself and Weasley grappling in the Hogwarts Quidditch stand in first year coming irresistibly to mind. He smirks; he'd got the best of Weasley that day, he recalls, remembering the satisfying pop Weasley's nose had made when his fist had connected with it. It makes the same pop now when he punches him; he still has a Seeker's quick instincts – and Weasley still doesn't.

Granger shouts for help, and Potter's trying to pull Weasley back, but the ginger wanker won't be told. Bellowing, he rushes forward in another attempt at attack, and collides with Draco's hastily raised closed fist.

It's all, Draco thinks, a bit farcical, and if he wasn't so irritated that he's going to have to try this whole rigmarole again tomorrow, he'd be tempted to laugh.

Weasley hits the floor, blood streaming from his face, about the same time a pair of police officers – Draco knows they're police because of their ridiculous hats – rush in, batons raised. He would feel sorry for them, threatening him with bits of useless wood, but he doesn't, because one of them's snapped a pair of plastic restraints around his wrists and the other, female one is groping him, coming away with a triumphant, "Aha!" and Draco's wand clutched in her grubby paws.

"Don't struggle, son," the policeman says kindly, and Draco is half-tempted to spit in his eye and just Disapparate, only how would he get his wand back then? Disarmed by a female Muggle; it's almost more humiliating than being disarmed by Potter.

"Lock 'm up f'r'v'r," Ron says thickly from the floor, through wads of tissue pressed against his face.

"I don't think—" Potter starts, but Draco's not listening.

"He started it!" he says, and realises that not only has he been acting like he's eleven again, but he also sounds it.

"Is that true?" the policewoman says sternly, turning to Weasley.

"No!" Weasley says, at the same time Potter says uncomfortably, "Well, yeah," and Granger folds her arms and nods.

The female officer gestures to her colleague, and he claps a large hand on Weasley's shoulder. "You'll be coming along with us then too for questioning. Brawling in the Houses of Parliament! I ask you!"

The officers lead him and Weasley out, and Draco, ears burning with embarrassment, decides it would be better for his mental health not to look back and see what sort of face Potter is pulling. This day is turning out to be a complete write-off, and he almost feels glad for the time-turner, as he'll have the chance to repeat it tomorrow. He hadn't thought that anything worse than having Potter walk out through his speech could happen, but being arrested by Muggle law-enforcement officers before he'd even given his speech was not something he'd even considered. Is it better? Or worse?

Definitely worse, he thinks, when the policewoman presses him into a vehicle outside the building. There are crowds of Muggles gawping, and some of them raise cameras to snap photos of him. The only saving grace is that they shove Weasley – who seems to have been stunned into silence – into a separate car, and by the time Draco can see wizarding dignitaries emerging from the building to witness the carry on – his father's distinctive silver-blonde hair flashes from the back of the crowd – the car he's in is already pulling away into the traffic.

Everything has a surreal sheen of calm over it. Draco finds that he's more curious than upset when he arrives at Charing Cross Police Station, is handed from one Muggle to the next, his pockets searched and emptied, and, after a series of impertinent questions, is ushered to a cell, the thick door clanging behind him as it's shut firmly and locked. It's no Azkaban, that's for sure, and it would take more than a metal door to trap a wizard somewhere he didn't want to be. Nevertheless, Draco can't see any point to immediately Disapparating; the Muggles have his wand, so it's not like he could spend the rest of the day productively, and besides – he's interested to see what will happen next. Will his father send someone to rescue him? Will Potter? Or will he just spend a supremely tedious afternoon in a cell?

It occurs to him that he could Apparate into Weasley's cell and beat the living daylights out of him, but that sounds like too much hard work. Besides, he didn't especially want to punch him in the first place; circumstances had conspired against him.

So he simply sits on the bed and waits for something entertaining to happen.

Hours later, the only entertaiment provided so far has been a pack of dry, unappetising sandwiches and a glass of water that tasted of dust. Draco's bored, and as the light begins to fade, he decides he might as well go to sleep. The mattress is thin and lumpy, but it's adequate, and if he Apparates home then he might find his mother and father waiting up for him. He feels a twinge of guilt that they could be worrying about him, but suppresses it. By tomorrow morning, this day will have never been. He's just stretching out on the bed when the door to his cell clangs open, and there, arms folded and her lips pressed into a thin straight line, is Granger.

"Here to gloat?" Draco says, taken aback.

Granger rolls her eyes. "Don't be idiotic. I'm here to get you out."

Draco doesn't move. Of all the people who could have come to rescue him, he'd have put Granger at the bottom of the pile.

"Are you coming or not?" Granger says. "I negotiated your bail, by the way, so you could say thank you."

Draco has no idea what she's talking about; some Muggle legal nonsense, he presumes. But the idea that Granger would spontaneously do something to help him intrigues him, and he rises, straightening his robes and running his hands over his hair to smooth it down. "Thank you," he says, which makes her look surprised.

They walk out together, pausing at the front desk where the duty officer hands over a plastic bag containing the contents of Draco's pockets, along with his wand. "Sign here," the man says, and Draco does, marvelling at his cooperation with Muggles. A year ago, he'd have had no qualms about turning them all into toads.

They walk out, and the street outside is busy, and grows busier as they walk side by side in silence for a time. This is clearly some sort of Muggle hotspot, Draco realises, as he goggles at the hordes of people and their eccentric choices of outfits. Barely anyone gives him a second glance in his elegant robes, and this gives him pause for thought: what does he look like to them? A group of raucous women in what must be their sleepwear makes him blink. Does he look similarly peculiar? And, in looking peculiar, could he be mistaken for a Muggle too? The thought is an unsettling one.

"Why did you come to get me?" Draco asks, looking over at Granger – who's wearing a Muggle outfit of her own. If he didn't know better, he'd have presumed she was Muggle herself. "Not that I'm not grateful," he adds belatedly. He isn't really – just curious – but he thinks she'll open up more easily if he feigns thankfulness.

"Yes, overflowing with gratitude," Granger says sarcastically, and Draco's impressed – he didn't know she had it in her. "Harry and I only just got out of the unity event." And she adds, "Yes, it still went ahead, even without you," at what he presumes is a look of disbelief on his face. "Ron was waiting for us, said he'd been released hours ago, but he didn't know what had happened to you, and Harry thought we'd better check." She shoots him a sidelong glance that Draco can't decipher the meaning of.

"Why didn't my saviour come himself, then?" he asks sardonically, and it clearly doesn't come out as sharp as he means it to, because Granger just snorts.

"Probably thought you'd try to punch him too," she says, without heat, and halts just short of an opening with a concrete staircase leading down. The crowd is thick here, and people are pushing past each other, in both directions, and laughing. Draco suspects that most of them are drunk. "I'm going to get the tube now, so I'll say goodbye," Granger says, and Draco looks around to see a sign reading 'Leicester Square Tube Station'. He's never been on London's underground trains, and he can't understand why Granger might want to use them when she can Apparate perfectly well. It strikes him as odd behaviour. As if Granger wishes to cling to her Muggle heritage; as if she has failed to fully embrace her wizarding life, her emancipation from the herd.

"I didn't exactly want to punch Weasley," Draco finds himself protesting, as if he wants to continue the conversation with Granger. It's true, though; he can't imagine a more tedious occupation than punching Weasley. If anyone deserves a fist to the face, it's Potter, although Draco couldn't rationally explain why.

"Can he not be 'Ron'? After all this time?" Granger asks, and then sighs. "Of course he can't. What am I thinking?" She takes a further step towards the entrance to the tube, then turns back. "Harry cares, you know. Why do you think he spoke so eloquently on your behalf at your trial, even though he knows you hate him? Think about it, Draco." And she vanishes down the steps, swallowed by the crowd as effectively as if she'd Apparated away. Maybe she has. She's certainly sanctimonious enough to do it to make a point.

Fuck Potter, Draco thinks. Fuck him right in the eye. Sending a girl to do his dirty work. He's not worth wasting time on.

Draco turns, trying to suppress the vitriol that's rising, like acid, in his throat, and surveys the landscape. He's at a busy crossroads, surrounded – being jostled – by people. Groups of friends dash across the road between cabs and buses, narrowly avoiding death, and it seems that everyone who passes by him on the pavement is unable to do so without knocking into him, with muttered 'Sorry's. Everywhere he looks are bright lights – pubs, eateries, gambling hells, theatres – and since he's not sure what to do with himself, he follows the general crowd across the road and down a pedestrianised street, past the mysterious-sounding Vue and repellent-smelling Burger King and the glittering Empire casino, until he's in the middle of a packed, noisy square, which is unaccountably filled with trees and grass. Muggles not much older than him are thrusting leaflets at him, exhorting him to visit their comedy night, or mysteriously 'buy one get one free', and a group of young black men are standing together singing something with a religious theme, their voices unnaturally loud – although Draco doesn't know why, because they obviously aren't wizards.

Everywhere he looks, there are people. Friends giggling together, couples holding hands, singing, shouting, talking. He's not sure he entirely likes it; it's too loud, and crowded, and although he's never considered wizarding London small, he realises that perhaps it is, because this, here, feels big – too big – and he keeps on walking, and the crowds don't thin, just alter.

He walks on through an area that a street sign tells him is Chinatown, and one minute it smells delicious, and the next he's walking through a back alley and he can smell rotting rubbish and has to hop to stop himself from stepping in something unpleasant. Up ahead though, the lights and crowds continue, and so he moves on, and he's somewhere seedy – except it's packed with people, and he doesn't understand it.

Draco wouldn't consider himself a prude, and he's not entirely ignorant of the seamier side of life – his father gave him an excruciatingly blunt lecture when he turned seventeen, about sex and how and where a discreet pureblood gentleman might initiate a casual liaison, if he had need of it; the memory still makes him shudder – but there is nowhere in wizarding London where a street contains not only a sushi bar, a tea room and a pawnbrokers, but also a strip club, a sex shop and a purveyor of what appears to Draco to be solely men's leather underwear. He didn't even know underwear came in leather, let alone in so many styles.

He passes open doorways, some of which contain bored-looking women in tight dresses, some of which only contain photos of bored-looking women in tight dresses – and arrows pointing up rickety stairwells.

He finds himself in a street full of groups of done-up women and pairs of done-up men holding hands, and he stops, staring, outside a bar simply titled G-A-Y. Music pounds out from the bar, and a passing man – shirtless, but wearing some sort of cattle-wrangling hat and flared leather trousers – pinches his bum as he goes by, and calls out, "Nice dress, sweetheart!" making him jump.

He turns, and his eye is drawn to a couple snogging; a lanky man with messy black hair, pressing a tall blonde man up against a wall. They look lost in each other, and Draco looks away, embarrassed to be witnessing such a private moment. He can't imagine himself ever being lost enough in the moment to kiss in public like that - all your feelings, your desires, on show, where anyone could see and judge you for them.

Is this what Muggles get up to on a regular basis? Draco wonders. In public? It all seems very louche. And not just that - it seems risky. Do these Muggles not have parents, who might hear of what they've been doing? Whose dreams of marriage, and children to carry on the family name, could be destroyed? Draco's known for a long time that he's gay - and for just as long that it is something he can't tell his parents. Just imaging the look of disappointment on their faces makes his stomach twist. He's not unhappy with the situation, exactly. More . . . resigned. There is no one he particularly wants to date, anyway; the one person whose face he sees at night, in his dreams, is so unavailable, he might as well not exist.

But . . .

Draco stands there, torn between alarm and the burgeoning desire to enter one of the establishments and see what goes on in the noisy, glittering darkness. Here, in Muggle London, he is safe; no one knows him. His parents would never find out.

He loses his nerve. He walks on, past more bars, more clubs. More music, and lights, and glitter, and hooting, swaying revellers in very little clothing.

And he feels something coiling in his gut; something wistful, and plaintive, that he can't explain.

***

One minute Draco's in a Muggle coffee shop, staring bleary eyed out of the window at the rush of men and women in suits racing by, the next, the world blurs and squeezes, in a most disconcerting manner, and he's once again standing in his room, the time-turner glowing mockingly at him from his desk.

In some ways, it's a relief, because at least he hasn't actually been arrested by Muggles in front of Potter, nor has he actually spent the whole night wandering around the heart of London, gawping at Muggles in their natural environment and feeling strange pangs of something that definitely wasn't jealousy.

It was, he decides, swaying with tiredness, probably hunger. Apart from a few mouthfuls of prison food, he hasn't eaten for hours.

He casts a couple of quick Cleaning Charms on himself and his robes – he's been in them all day and night, and they're hardly fresh – and slopes downstairs, to be greeted by the same routine: Mother, paper, headline (MALFOY HEIR TO PROMOTE UNITY WITH MUGGLES) etc etc. He's already sick to the back teeth of it, and he can't decide how he should spend today. He mulls it over as he drinks his tea, giving vague answers to his mother's solicitous questions. Should he try Potter again? Should he Apparate to Paris and spend the day eating brioche and being measured up for new robes? Maybe if he dazzles Potter with his style, the git won't actually listen to Draco's speech; that would be an acceptable way of solving the issue. It occurs to him, though, that while the new robes won't stick around, he's not so sure about the extra pounds. Do the calories vanish in the time loop? Or do they remain, on his waist? It seems wise not to test the theory out.

One thing's for sure, he absolutely does not want to give the fucking speech again. But the longer he puts it off, the longer he's stuck in time.

Still dithering, after knocking back a quick Tiredness-Be-Gone! Potion, he Apparates to the Palace of Westminster, as he did on his last attempt to fix things, and makes his way to the red and gold Royal Gallery, to lie in wait for Potter. At least this time he's prepared; he knows Potter will be late, and scruffy, and surrounded by sycophants.

He wonders, as the Gallery empties of dignitaries, whether he should just flip a coin – heads, punch Potter, tails . . . punch Potter.

He shelves that tempting thought, and before he's actually made his mind up, Potter's already walking towards him, with – as before – Weasley and Granger flanking him and chivvying him on. Weasley's shooting him a look of unvarnished dislike, and Granger's gearing up to politely 'Draco' him, and if he wants things to go differently to last time he has to act now, and for some reason this means the words, "Rather than spend the afternoon doing this tedious shit, Potter, why don't you and I go and do something else?" fall out of his mouth.

Weasley's glare turns to a look of suspicion, and Granger gives him a very hard, penetrating stare, as if she can see right into him.

Draco wonders, if so, what she can see. What explanation there is, because he's damned if he knows. His obsession with Potter is less than healthy. If he was a sensible man, he'd stay right away from him. It's a pity, really, that he's not.

"I – what?" Potter says, which, to Draco's genuine surprise, isn't some variation on no, sod off, Malfoy, absolutely NOT.

"You and me," he brazens out. "Let's go and . . ." He shrugs. Nothing comes to mind apart from the punching, and he's already shelved that as a bad idea. "Talk," he finishes. Which is so beyond a bad idea that it possibly qualifies as the worst idea he's ever had.

Weasley's doing the unvarnished dislike thing again, and he squares up to Draco in a way that Draco presumes he thinks is menacing, and says, "What are you playing at, ferret face?"

Draco tries not to grind his teeth; he's already done the punching-Weasley thing, and it wasn't so exciting the first time, nor the second. But, again to his surprise, it's Potter who answers: "Shut up, Ron," he says. And then turns to stare at Draco. He looks honestly perplexed. "Don't you have a speech to give? I came here specially. Kingsley made me," he adds, and grins. He actually grins. At Draco.

Well, this is a first.

Draco feels his lips do something awkward, which might be a smile, or might just be shock, and he snorts, to cover up his unease. "Would you want to give a speech to that load of old bores?" he says, and he's amused to see that Weasley nods along at that, before remembering that this is Malfoy, his deadly enemy, and scowls. "Come on, Potter; run away with me," he says lightly, and cringes at how that sounds, but holds out his hand.

"I really don't think—" Granger says in tones of disapproval.

But it's all right; Potter's already reached forward and grabbed his hand. It feels warm, and overly intimate, and Draco meets Potter's eyes and realises that if he doesn't sodding go ahead and Side-Along him away, despite the ban on magic in the building, then he'll literally just be holding hands with Potter. So he does, before anyone can notice his confusion.

They're already landing outside Malfoy Manor before Draco realises that maybe he should have planned this just a teensy bit more thoroughly; of all the places to take Potter, home is probably not the wisest choice. The last time Potter was here, he was disfigured and locked in the cellar, after all.

Potter looks about, and frowns, but he doesn't object – at least, not out loud, though he does jam his hands in his pockets, presumably to get quicker access to his wand. Or maybe he's trying to stop himself from punching Draco; Draco presumes the temptation flows both ways.

"I didn't have time to think . . ." Draco says apologetically, and Potter just shrugs, as if to say, well, we're here now.

We don't have to be here, Draco's tempted to say, in the stroppiest manner possible, but for some reason he doesn't. This is all alarmingly unplanned, and although he wants to take advantage of the situation – Potter, here, in the heart of Malfoy territory – he can't think how.

"Well, aren't you going to show me around?" Potter says, in an obvious attempt at conciliation. "I don't think I've ever had the grand tour." Conciliation with a tinge of spite, perhaps. Fucking grand tour indeed.

"Really?" Draco says, looking over at Potter. His hair is still a mess, and there are grey circles under his eyes. Victory isn't suiting him; Draco would have made a much better fist of it.

Potter shrugs again. "Yeah, why not."

It's hardly a ringing endorsement, but for lack of anything better, Draco decides to go with it. He wonders if his father will arrive at some point, spitting with rage at Draco's desertion. Oh well. There's not much he can do about it now. At least his father will be brought up short to find Potter in the house; it's almost more of a triumph than the – as yet unannounced – new advisory post his father has been offered at the Ministry as Muggle Political Liaison.

"Come on, then," he says to Potter, and leads the way up the sweeping drive and up the elegant front steps. He pauses for a moment; normally, he'd knock and wait for a house-elf to obsequiously open the door for him, but he senses that would not endear him to Potter. So, instead, he fumbles in the pocket of his robes for his key, and opens the front door himself, ushering Potter in.

"Don't you, you know, have protections on your front door?" Potter asks as he steps through.

Draco considers this. "No?" he says finally. No one would dare break in. Before the war, people were too scared of his father's long reach; now, they're all too scared that something of the Dark Lord might remain, waiting to jump out at them. "Why, do you?" He shuts the door behind Potter.

"No, of course not," Potter says, and his hands in his pockets curl into fists, for some reason.

It can't be that he's nervous, Draco reasons. If Draco can stand to be in the Manor, where the walls ooze the Dark Lord and the stale air smells of him, then he doesn't see that the saviour has any cause for complaint. Potter may have killed the bastard, but it was Draco who had to live with him.

"Been doing some redecorating?" Potter says as he looks about the entrance hall. His expression is tense and guarded, all of a sudden, and Draco feels a wave of irritation wash over him, which he tries to tamp down. It's not Potter's fault; he doesn't know.

"Father decided that the Manor should have a more minimalist look," Draco says airily, through almost gritted teeth.

It doesn't quite describe the look in his father's eye as he'd levitated what seemed like everything in the house that wasn't nailed down – and in a pureblood family's ancestral manor house, nothing is fucking nailed down – out and on to the sweeping lawn, then set it all on fire. He and his mother had tried to quell the blaze, but not much could be rescued. The next day, his father had pulled himself together and claimed he'd done it so the greedy, meddling Aurors couldn't get their dirty hands on what was not theirs to take.

As if the Aurors had wanted the arsing furniture! They'd barely glanced at the contents of the Manor when they'd come to arrest him and his father.

Draco looks around his home with fresh eyes. It's clean, and tidy, but bleak – the entrance hall is too big without any furniture to make it cosy or thick carpet to break up the cold stone of the floor. The sole decoration is the portraits of his ancestors that line the walls; they're silent, these days, and barely move. He thinks about the rest of the house: what should he show Potter? The drawing room, where the Dark Lord held court? The cellar beneath, where Potter and his friends were incarcerated and tortured? The main guest bedroom, where the Dark Lord slept – or lurked, for who knows whether the bastard actually needed to sleep? Or perhaps Draco's own bedroom, with the glowing time-turner stuck to the desk?

All of a sudden, the tour doesn't seem like such a great idea. There's only one good thing in the house, one thing he thinks is suitable to show off: his mother. Will Potter mind spending some time with her? Draco thinks not. Potter seems to have a thing about mothers, maybe because he doesn't have one of his own. Draco's mother certainly seems to have taken to Potter; sometimes, Draco can barely get her to shut up about him.

He leads the way to the summer breakfast room, which his mother often uses as a study these days. It holds no memories of the Dark Lord, and it's a proper sun trap in the summer months. His mother has half-filled it with non-venomous pot plants, and it smells of perfume and sunshine. He knocks, and his mother says, "Come," in a surprised voice.

"Darling," she says, when he opens the door, her eyes flickering from her son to Potter; Potter shifts uncomfortably from foot to foot. "You didn't tell me you would be bringing Harry over."

"I didn't know I would be," Draco says honestly, and sees something like comprehension dawn on his mother's face. It makes him uncomfortable, because what she's comprehending, he has no idea. All he knows is that sometimes his mother, blast her, knows him better than he knows himself. It infuriates him, and soothes him, all at once - to be so transparent, so easily read. It's lucky he loves her; it's lucky she loves him.

"Thank you for coming," she says simply, and rises from her chair, stepping over to kiss first Draco on the cheek, and then Potter.

Potter suffers it, but he doesn't look overwhelmed with happiness, and Draco feels moved to say, "I'm not sure Potter's staying long, mother. He has an appointment soon."

"Oh, but surely he can stay and have some tea first?" she says, moving over the sideboard and setting the kettle to boil with a quick swish of her wand.

Draco tries not to let his jaw drop; he doesn't think he's ever seen his mother make the tea herself.

Potter shoots him a swift, grateful look; presumably, for giving him an escape route. "Thank you, Mrs Malfoy," he says. "That's kind."

Tea is awkward. Draco's mother makes polite conversation, and Potter is even politer, and Draco wishes that he'd just made the sodding speech today and gone back to bed. What was he thinking, bringing Potter back here like this? Potter clearly doesn't want to be here, and Draco can't understand why he ever thought it would be a good idea.

Mid-way through a second cup of tea, the shell of his mother's formality cracks. "Harry, dear, I don't think I ever truly thanked you for what you did," she says, setting aside her teacup with a shaking hand and reaching forward to clasp Potter's left hand in her own. Her eyes are wet.

Potter colours, but he sets aside his own cup and pats Draco's mother on the back of her hand. "You did, and it's fine," he says clearly, looking into her eyes. "I promise."

It dawns on Draco, as his mother continues to gush and Potter continues to stoically pat, that Potter is sincere. And not only that, he's changed. It's like, while Potter was elsewhere – first, during seventh year, and then, while Draco languished under house arrest and helped plot the Malfoys' return to glory – Potter grew up, without him watching. He wonders if Potter thinks he, Draco, grew up too, or if he just . . . stopped. His emotional growth stunted, stuck in Slytherin, a perpetual schoolboy, never moving past schoolboy concerns and schoolboy enmities. Draco sometimes feels stuck. In this house, in this life . . .

Potter's here now, though, isn't he? That's got to mean something.

Suddenly, though, the distant sound of the front door crashing open, on the other side of the house, makes them all jump, and Draco can hear his father calling out irritably.

Potter is on his feet like a shot. "It's been lovely, Mrs Malfoy," he says, "but I'm afraid I must be g—"

Draco's mother gives him a quelling glance – it's finest Black – and he sits back down, but his leg is twitching, and he winds the fingers of one hand into the fabric of his baggy jersey trousers and shoots an imploring look at Draco.

"Mother—" Draco starts, startled by the novel sensation of Potter asking him for help, but his mother is already up and halfway across the room.

"Do excuse me for a moment, Harry, Draco," she says, and leaves the room, shutting the door behind her with a decisive click.

For a moment, there is only the tap tap tap of his mother's heels on the floor, the rise and fall of voices in a distant corridor, and the tension that Potter brings to the silent room.

Then Draco's mother re-enters – alone. "My husband sends his apologies, Harry," she says blandly. "He would pop in to say hello, but he has to rush back to today's event. Now, another slice of cake?"

The tension in the room sags, and the polite conversation continues, mostly between Potter and his mother. He's proud of them, he realises – not just of his mother, but of Potter too, who is coping admirably with the unexpected social strain. He doesn't think he'd be nearly so gracious if confronted by, say, Mrs Weasley – but then he suspects Mrs Weasley would be offering him poison, rather than cake.

After some time, Draco decides it's time to rescue Potter from his mother's clutches; she looks as if she'd be content to stuff him with sweets for the rest of the day, if he'll let her. Draco thinks very much that Potter would let her, though he can't understand why. So he makes their excuses, and they walk out through the French windows of the summer breakfast room and into the garden.

They're silent until they're well out of earshot, and then Potter laughs. "Thank you for the grand tour," he says.

Is he taking the piss? Draco wonders, and tries not to get cross. This whole scenario is fucking weird, if he's quite honest, and wandering the garden in Potter's company is not helping things feel any more normal.

"Your mother really loves you," Potter says quietly.

"And?" Draco snaps.

Potter turns and frowns. "And what?"

Draco considers this. "And that means there must be some good in me, deep down?" he suggests, because it's got to be an insult of some sort.

Potter's lips quirk. "What do you think?"

Draco snorts, and they carry on walking through the grounds in silence. It's not an awkward silence, exactly, but . . . no, it is awkward.

"I think my mother's the only good thing in the whole fucking house," Draco bursts out, to fill the silence, and then winces. It's not quite true. He loves his father too, but it's not the hero worship it once was.

He can feel Potter looking at him, but he doesn't turn, and eventually Potter looks away. He doesn't want to encourage an exchange of trite sentimentality. It's bad enough he's already spilled his guts about his mother; he doesn't want to be drawn into further confessions.

They reach the folly in the grounds. He's always liked it; a collection of mock ruined walls, as if an ancient tiny castle had once stood in the grounds, next to a diminutive lake that's as flat as a mirror. He sits on a wrought-iron bench in the middle of the folly; ivy winds up the back of the bench, along with a climbing flower the name of which he forgets. When he sits, the white flowers sigh and open, releasing a burst of fragrance.

Potter sits beside him. "What's this all really about?" he asks. His presence beside Draco is a solid, disconcerting weight, and although their thighs aren't touching, the short distance between them is almost tangible.

It's very warm in the sunshine, and Draco shuts his eyes briefly and wonders how to answer that question. If he explains about the time-turner, then he risks Potter thinking him a full-on loony, fit only for the Janus Thickey ward. And besides, the time-turner doesn't explain why he's currently sitting next to Potter in the sunshine. He still can't work out what he was thinking, inviting Potter over to tea, as if they were friends. They've never been friends.

He feels a pang at that thought, of missed opportunities and thwarted desires, and finds himself saying, defensively, "I didn't ask you here to say sorry, if that's what you're thinking."

"No, of course you didn't," Potter says. His tone is wry. "Are you sorry?"

Something bitter flares within Draco's chest. "Are you?"

Potter frowns. "What do I have to be sorry for?" The rider you wanker remains unspoken, but it's there, nevertheless.

It's not that Draco thinks Potter should be sorry, exactly. It's more that he wants some acknowledgment that it's shit for him too. That being on the losing side doesn't mean he deserves everything he's got. "It's not just you that lost people," he says.

Potter fixes him with an outraged, burning look, and Draco can feel his own anger rising. "Shall we compare numbers?" he says. He's being a dick, but he doesn't stop himself. For some reason, Potter seems to bring it out of him. And it feels like he's been waiting a very long time to say these words to someone – to anyone, really. There aren't very many people hanging around waiting to be his confidante (although, of late, his Slytherin contemporaries have been getting in touch, buoyed, he suspects, by his gradual rehabilitation in the press as someone worth knowing). By the time he hit seventh year, he didn't have friends, he had cronies – and being on the losing side of a war, he'd found, wasn't so good for the social life. People, unfortunately, remembered what you were like – and once you no longer had power, they had no need of you.

It makes him determined to never, ever be on the losing side again.

Harry wets his lips. "What?" he says, as if Draco is a prize idiot. "Compare numbers? Of – of people we lost?"

"Why? Would you prefer a list, instead, of which family members – which family friends – of mine are now in the grave or rotting in Azkaban?" Draco continues coolly.

Harry opens his mouth, but Draco's already speaking over him; he's on an unpleasant roll. "I take it that the death of my aunt, or my best friend, for example, doesn't equate to the death of one of your friends, so how many does it take? Two? Five? Ten? Or does the fact that my family is a bunch of racist pathetic shits, and Vincent was a crashing idiot, mean I have no right to grieve at all?"

The silence rings.

Harry clears his throat. "You know what, Malfoy?" he says. "Sometimes I just can't bring myself to care about your lot." He leans forward, elbows on his knees, head dropping into his hands. He is the picture of defeat. Oh so fucking noble. "I want to mourn, for people who made the wrong choices, for their families, but . . ." He takes a ragged breath. "I just don't fucking care. That . . ." He swallows. "That can't be good, right?"

To Malfoy's amazement, Potter means it. He is genuinely appealing to Draco, asking if that makes him . . . what? A monster? A – the thought almost makes him laugh, inappropriately – Slytherin?

A memory of the aunt he barely knew comes into his mind: her mouth all but foaming as she tried to plunder his mind with Legilimency, supposedly in aid of the Dark Lord's cause. "Aunt Bella was a crazy bitch," he says, and Harry, startled, looks up at him. "If there's a next life, every time you look down, she's looking up, trying her best to spit in your eye. She'd be delighted you're tying yourself up in knots like this."

"But—" Harry says, and stops. The corners of his mouth are turned down, and Draco thinks, I did that.

"All I meant was," Draco says, and he trails off, uncertain how to phrase it in the face of Potter's puppy-dog-faced sadness. A tiny, nasty part of him thinks Potter's being pathetic. No Slytherin would spend time worrying whether they felt enough grief for their enemy's losses. He doesn't want Potter's heart's blood, just . . . He shrugs. "Everyone who supported the Dark Lord deserved what they got," he manages to say. "But it doesn't stop it being fucking shit, that's all."

Harry appears to consider this. And then he nods, very shortly, and Draco feels a rush of something that's not quite triumph, and not quite relief, flood through him.

"Sometimes, I—" Harry shakes his head. "I miss Hedwig most out of anybody," he says, as if he's sharing a secret. "How screwed up is that? Ron lost his brother, and I—" He breaks off, and his eyes radiate grief.

Draco manages not to snort. An owl? He tries not to speculate who Harry would place next on his grief list; odds are it's the nasty old house-elf that used to belong to his family. And then he feels cruel, and guilty, because if Harry's missing his pet owl most of all, it speaks of loneliness, and isolation, and lack.

There's not many things Draco feels grateful for these days, but the unconditional love of his mother and father is pretty much at the top of the list. And despite his nightmares, neither of them died. He gives thanks for that each and every day. He's not entirely heartless.

"Angsting over an owl is quite screwed up, Potter, I agree," he says, and Potter chokes out something that's halfway between a laugh and a sob.

"Fuck you," Potter huffs, his voice scratchy, but there's an edge of humour to it.

Draco says nothing, just leans towards Potter briefly and squeezes his shoulder, and for some reason Potter leans into the touch, and they sit there on the bench in the sunshine, quiet and oddly intimate, until Potter breaks away with a sniff, rummaging for a tissue in his trouser pocket and unable to meet Draco's eye.

Potter leaves shortly after, and Draco stays in the garden for some time, staring out at the lake, lost in thought.

***

The next time the day resets, with the now familiar blur, it strikes Draco – hard – that he can do anything he wants now, without consequence. Try anything. Be anyone. No crime will stick; no punishment will hold longer than a day and a night. He could . . . He could . . .

He visits the family's largest greenhouse. It hasn't been tended in months, and he can barely get the door open. He has to fight his way in, through tangled overgrowth. It is too hot inside, and it stinks of rotting vegetation and sweat. He thinks he could enjoy cutting it back, taking control of the rioting plantlife, but what would be the point? He'd only wake up the next day with it all undone, a jungle springing up each morning without end. He shakes himself; he's not trapped. He's just . . . paused. And it's not going to make a difference, in the grand scheme of things, if today he doesn't try to free himself from the loop.

He finds the plant he's looking for with a struggle, and he's forgotten to bring any tools with him, so he has to use his fingernails to pinch through the stalks, gathering a large, unwieldy bunch of green stems and tight, unopened buds. He fights his way back out, shutting the door with a click, and the plants close around themselves, blocking the doorway back up as if he'd never been there.

He spends the day quietly, sitting in front of Harry's parents' graves.

There are more visitors than he'd expected, a steady stream, and at first he sits very stiff and still, waiting to be abused and removed. But apart from quick, curious glances, no one bothers him, and after a tense hour or so he relaxes, mind drifting away. It is warm, and quiet, and he feels curiously welcome and at peace here, with his flowers resting lightly in his lap.

When darkness falls, he tries to rise, and it takes him a few goes – his muscles have seized up, and his neck protests. The grave site is lit by fireflies, and the night is alive with the song of crickets. Owls hoot softly in the blackness. Draco picks up his flowers and scatters them on the graves. Nocte rosis – night roses. The unassuming buds have bloomed open, exposing their vivid, golden hearts, and the scent is incredible.

Draco stands and breathes it in, and hopes that if anything of Potter's parents still remains, they see him and . . . what? Forgive him? He doesn't want forgiveness. But does he need it? Not from Potter's parents, no. But from Potter himself? The thought comes to him unbidden, but it takes root, twisting in his gut and putting out tendrils.

Chapter Text

When Draco snaps to again, on his feet in front of the vilely-glowing time-turner, he's so tired he feels ill. He feels like he's been surviving on strong coffee, strong potions and snatched naps for about a hundred years, and it seems as good an excuse as any to go straight back to bed – although it's not back to bed, exactly, as he didn't sleep at all last night. It seems that even now, even without being there, Potter still has the power to fuck him up.

And if forcing him to spend the whole night awake, tying himself up in moral knots – does he need forgiveness, didn't he save Potter from the Dark Lord, didn't his mother save Potter too, isn't it all sodding ENOUGH? – isn't fucking him up, Draco has no idea what is.

Potter, he thinks, trying not to split his face with an almighty yawn, can just bugger off today, with his black and white morals and his sanctimonious grasp on what is right and wrong. He, Draco, has had enough.

He crawls into bed and falls asleep almost immediately, and dreams of absolutely nothing. Which makes it all the more distressing when he wakes up with a start, his heart pounding, with his mother – white faced – leaning over him and shaking his arm.

"What's the matter?" he asks, on his feet in an instant, his wand in his hand. "Where's Father?"

His mother blinks at him, and Draco realises he's being very dim. "At the Houses of Parliament," she says, "where you should have been ten minutes ago!"

He can't think of a way of telling her that no, it's OK, if he's missed it, he'll just fucking do it again tomorrow – because there's no point in giving his speech if he hasn't worked out a way of keeping Potter in his seat throughout it, and it's too late now, surely? So he stands there, as if he's three again, while his mother's workmanlike magic whips around him, cleaning, grooming and dressing him in under thirty seconds. She finishes with a kiss to his forehead. "Good luck, darling," she says fondly, and gives him a little shove, and it seems churlish not to Disapparate immediately.

He stumbles into the Royal Gallery, nearly colliding with Potter, who's just ahead of him, and it seems it's not too late, after all. "Potter," he calls, out of breath. "Harry!"

And Potter turns, at the sound of his name, and Draco can't process the look on his face, he's too tired and fed up and he wants this all over with. "You are going to hate my speech," he says, simply, because it's the truth. "But please – please – don't walk out during it. I'll explain everything afterwards. Please." And he doesn't have time to wait and argue with Potter, if he's going to actually give the arsing speech, so he darts past Potter and his friends – by some miracle, Weasley doesn't try to trip him up – and half-runs to the Chamber, halting just outside to give himself a chance to calm down before he enters.

A few deep breaths later, he does just that, and his father – already seated – gives him a sharp look, but doesn't say anything, and squeezes his shoulder, as if to say It's OK, son, even if his actual thoughts, Draco suspects, are more along the lines of: WHERE THE EVERLOVING FUCK HAVE YOU BEEN?

By the time Draco rises to give his speech, he's already convinced that Potter's more likely to walk out this time, now he's been pre-warned. He'll be sitting there, twitching, ready to leap up and off at the slightest hint of anything unpleasant. The fact that Draco said 'please' – and more than once – has surely indicated to him that the contents of the speech will be vile indeed. Draco can't bear to look over at him, so he fixes his attention firmly on the prior speakers, and then, when it's his turn, he tries to relax into the safety of a well practised, well worn routine, making sure not to look in Potter's direction in case it puts him off.

It dawns on him, halfway through, when he's spoken the words that usually have Potter leaping up like a startled deer and zooming out of the Chamber, that he is still there. He must be, or the rest of the audience would have walked out too.

Draco continues speaking by rote, but can't stop himself from shooting a nervous glance at Potter. He's got his arms folded, and he doesn't look angry this time, just . . . disappointed. He grimaces when he catches Draco's eye, and it nearly puts Draco off, but he recovers and manages to finish the speech without stumbling.

He sits down to mixed applause and surreptitiously wipes his brow; it's beaded with a cold sweat, despite the warmth of the chamber. He doesn't feel entirely pleased with himself. It could have gone better, and he can still feel Potter staring at him, from across the Chamber. And now he's fixed the time loop – he must have; Potter's not walked out, so he doesn't need to use the time-turner, so he won't use the time-turner – he wonders if he could have used the loop more productively. It freed him from consequence; couldn't he have found out a few political secrets to aid his father? On the other hand, it's probably for the best he didn't risk a swift Avada Kedavra from a compromised pureblood businessman – he still doesn't know if death would end the loop in the worst of ways: permanently.

No, he decides, sitting up straighter and applauding loudly when his father finishes giving his own speech and another 'important' Muggle rises to follow after, he was right to do what he did, and thank goodness Potter was so wet as to sit through the speech simply because Draco asked him to. Now all Draco has to do is finish the rest of the day without incident – and, honestly, how hard is that going to be, because—

His heart sinks when he's tapped on the shoulder and an unassuming little man with spectacles pushed low down his nose hands him a small, folded scrap of parchment, before slipping away. Draco unfolds it, careful to keep it out of the line of sight of his father, who has noticed but is pretending he hasn't. The note reads:

OK, I'm ready for your explanation now. It had BETTER be good.

Harry

He looks over at Potter, who raises his eyebrows at him and then, without making a fuss, simply rises and pads out of the chamber. The current speaker – a middle-aged Muggle, with a sheaf of notes on a lectern, doesn't seem to even notice, just continues orating, loudly and enthusiastically to a surprising number of loud heckles from his fellow Muggles. No one else seems to notice, either – or, rather, to care. A few eyes flicker towards Potter's empty seat and retreating back, but – presumably – since Weasley remains seated, and so does Granger, no one reacts. The wizards are, he presumes, as enthralled by the rude, heckling Muggles as the rude, heckling Muggles are enthralled by the speaker. He wonders if the heckles will turn to punches, and what will his father do then?

No one seems to care when Draco slips out of the Chamber either, not even his father, whose attention is almost entirely on the speaker and who's trying not to twitch. Draco supposes his father must think that if his son and Potter want to go for a simultaneous piss break, then who cares?

Following Potter, he finds himself in a dark wood-panelled side corridor. Potter is sitting irritably on one of the benches set into the wall, but he rises as soon as he sees Draco and shoves his hands into his pockets. He's wearing the same thing as always – sloppy dark-grey thick cotton trousers, with Muggle shoes Draco knows are called trainers, and an oversized thin white sweatshirt with a hood. It's charitable to call it white; ex-white would be more apt. His hair is, as ever, a wild, black mess, and his ridiculous round glasses are once again stuck together with tape, as if he's sat on them. He's meant to be a wizard – the greatest wizard of their age – and he can't even manage to fix his own glasses. Draco doesn't even know why that makes him feel so angry.

"It wasn't so bad," Draco gets in defensively, before Potter starts to speak; he has time, since Potter is just standing there looking at him, as if he's back at a Hogwarts Halloween feast and one of the thousands of bats that they habitually use as decorations has just shit in Draco's hair.

"No," Potter says, wrinkling his nose. "I suppose you wouldn't think so."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Draco hisses – they have to keep quiet or else someone – e.g. the press – will come and see what the fuss is all about.

Potter's forehead creases and his mouth firms. "You sounded like your father."

Draco raises an eyebrow. "So?"

Potter sighs and sits back down on the padded bench, shoulders hunched. "It sort of makes it worse. Hearing his words coming out of your mouth, and you not even caring."

"He wrote the speech," Draco says, not sure why he would need to deny it.

"And you agreed with it? What you said?"

Draco shrugs, feeling a bit of a wally. "Some of it. Does it matter?" Potter blinks at that, and Draco shifts from foot to foot, unsettled by the conversation. He's not his father, but he is a Malfoy.

"It matters, if you care what other people think of you," Potter says.

Of course Draco sodding cares. Has Potter not paid attention at any point, during the last forever? "Why, what do you think of me?" he asks, and then wishes he hadn't, because it's unlikely to be in the least bit flattering – and he's suddenly conscious that he wants it to be. That he wants Potter to at least admire him a little bit: for his loyalty, his resilience, if nothing else.

Potter looks at him steadily, pinning him in place. "I think you're weak, and self-centred, and blindly loyal to your disgusting father, and I have no idea why I expected more of you."

It hits him like a fist to the gut. It's worse, even, because he knew, technically, that's what Potter might think of him. But there's a difference between knowing technically and knowing actually.

And that's it; Potter doesn't follow it up with a but. But I admire your family bonds. But I think you were brave or clever or fucking amazing to not lose your mind with the Dark Lord living in the same house as you, polluting your air, threatening your family, poisoning everything you thought you knew was right.

He has to get out of there before he does something he regrets. He turns – though not before he sees Potter's face crease into something stricken, and he wonders what sort of godawful face he must be pulling – and breaks into a run. Down the corridor, through the Peers Lobby, and on – on through a further maze of corridors, until he's reached the main door, and he dashes through, unimpeded by the security guards, who only care who's going in, not out, and on, and on, through crowds of tourists and manicured gardens, until he finds himself, breathless and panting, by the side of the River Thames. It's hot, but there's a stiff breeze, and he leans against the concrete barrier and watches the boats go by.

Very brave, Draco, he thinks viciously to himself. Running away. As if that ever solved anything.

The only thing that could possibly make things worse is if Potter has followed him – so, after he's caught his breath, he turns, and looks about, and discovers that, actually, the worst thing is if Potter hasn't. If he's out there alone, and angry, and ridiculously, stupidly, pathetically heartbroken, all of a sudden, and he turns back to face the water, trying very hard not to cry in public.

But, no, there is a worse thing, even than that: it's if famous Harry Potter catches up with him, hair even wilder, and breathing hard and fast, and sees him trying very hard not to cry in public.

Draco's had a lot of practice not letting people see him cry; he's not about to let Potter see it twice. Last time, Potter nearly killed him. The memory of the cold bathroom, and the cold floor, and the burning pain of being sliced open by Potter's Sectumsempra helps him pull himself together.

"See," Potter pants, nonsensically.

"See what?"

"You do care what people think of you!"

"I never fucking said I didn't!" Draco snaps back.

Potter's face takes on a horrendous, sympathetic expression. "Stop looking at me like that, Malfoy."

"Like what?" Draco says, trying to be firmer around the jaw.

"Like . . . like I've broken you," Potter says, and winces. "I don't think you're one hundred percent terrible," he adds.

Draco doesn't quite know what to say to that. "No?" he says eventually as Potter goes an interesting shade of red – vermilion, he thinks, or perhaps brick.

Potter stands up a bit straighter. "No," he says, this time a bit more firmly.

"Just, say, ninety-nine percent?" Draco asks. It's a bit like probing a painful tooth with a tongue, if a tooth could squirm uncomfortably whilst wearing a saggy Muggle outfit, its hair being ruffled into further disarray by the wind.

"No-o," Potter says.

"Well, thank you, Potter," Draco says. "I'm glad we cleared that little misunderstanding up. Not one hundred percent terrible, just ninety-nine and a half."

"Come – come back to mine and have a cup of tea," Potter says, in a complete non-sequitur.

Draco stares at him. He seems in earnest. "Why?"

This seems to flummox Potter. "Why not?"

He should probably go back to the event now, Draco thinks. But he doesn't want to. "Won't Granger and Weasley expect you back? Aren't you, you know, joined at the hip?"

Potter shrugs and gives him a very pointed look. "You say that like it's a bad thing. I like Ron and Hermione. And they know where I've gone. Anyway, Hermione's taking notes; if I miss anything important, she'll fill me in."

Draco dithers.

"Look, Malfoy, it's just tea," Potter says, and he steps closer, until he's right up in Draco's personal space, and he wraps his left hand lightly around Draco's right wrist. "Yes?"

If he doesn't say yes, he'll fuck Potter off, and this is the day that will stick, that can't – that won't – be repeated, and so Draco tells himself that's why he says, "Yes," without a second thought. It's nothing to do with Potter's mesmerising nearness; how intense he is, up close, even in that ridiculous outfit and with his hair in his face. The way his fingers, a gentle pressure around Draco's wrist, burn into his skin.

It's certainly nothing to do with how green his eyes are, behind his stupid battered specs, or how Draco suddenly feels flustered and half-embarrassed, as if Potter's just asked him out on a date.

Potter would never ask him out on a date. He thinks he's ninety-nine and a half percent dickhead.

Still, the ridiculous thought makes his heart bang, and it doesn't help that Potter Side-Alongs him away awkwardly, as if he's never done it before. They land heavily, and Potter stumbles against him, winding a hand into Draco's robes to steady himself. Draco looks down – Potter's not the runt he used to be, but he's still a few inches shorter – and finds that Potter's looking back at him.

The green-eyed, disconcerting bastard.

Draco extracts himself from Potter's grip – the man's been a Seeker; surely he can stand unaided? – and Potter makes an unsuccessful bid at tidying up his hair by running his fingers through it. It looks, if anything, even wilder.

"I'm just over here," he says, indicating a vague direction that covers at least two different compass points, and starts walking. The slice of skin Draco can see between Potter's hairline and the top of his sweater is rather pink.

Draco shakes himself and follows. They're in a wide, tree-lined street of tall, four-storey Victorian terraces on a steepish hill. Very pretty, but not where he would expect to find a wizard's house. Too busy with Muggles, and the houses too packed together; he's heard that electricity, the Muggles' attempt at creating their own magic, interferes with delicate spellwork. Some wizards do live cheek by jowl with Muggles, of course, but Draco thinks it must be tedious to have to keep Obliviating the neighbours.

He's not surprised, though, when Potter turns off the pavement in front of one of the tall houses and leads him up a small flight of stone steps to the blue-painted front door, which he opens with a small key. And that's it; no magic conceals any part of the house, or enhances it. It's just a house. It's nowhere near the size of the Manor, but Draco is immediately charmed. There's something friendly about the place, and the effect is heightened when he steps into the small hallway, which is suffused with light.

"Just push it shut, will you?" Potter says, and Draco closes the door behind him, before following Potter through the hall, down a flight of stairs and into a large airy kitchen, with French doors opening on to a beautiful, tangled garden. The air is close, but Potter flicks his wand and the doors fly open, letting a breeze in, along with the scent of wild flowers.

"Tea?" Potter asks, discarding his wand casually on a worktop. He shucks off his shoes, and then his thin jumper, and moves to the sink to fill the kettle before Draco answers. He's wearing a stretched white T-shirt with more than one hole in it, and he looks utterly, unspeakably at ease. "I have builder's tea or – ah – builder's tea," he says, with his nose now in a cupboard, and then turns, to fix Draco with a questioning look. "Or there's some herbal," he adds dubiously. "Hermione likes chamomile. I think it tastes a bit like dishwater."

"Just a glass of water," Draco says, and Potter frowns and pushes his glasses up his nose.

"Really?" he says, but runs the tap again and fills a tall glass, moving over to some sort of cool box to remove a tray of ice cubes and crack a few in, before handing the glass over. It feels cold in Draco's hand, and he's not sure he trusts Muggle purification techniques, but when he takes a dubious sip it doesn't taste too bad. "Sit, you're making me nervous," Potter says – yes, nervously, and then turns back to the kettle to make himself a cup of tea that looks almost like coffee, it's so strong.

Everything in the room looks new – the pale-wood rustic dining table and chairs, the stone coloured pots, the lanterns, the white bookshelves. The kitchen surfaces and implements are so clean they gleam. The warm, pale-grey walls freshly painted. The wooden floor smooth and shiny.

"Just moved in, have you?" Draco asks, because it seems unlikely that someone currently dressed like Potter could keep the place so tidy.

Potter pushes his glasses up his nose again; a nervous tic. "No?" he says and blows on his tea. "I bought this place months ago. It was in the Prophet, your favourite newspaper," he adds; there's an edge to his voice.

Draco tries not to wince. "I don't always read the Prophet," he says loftily. It's true. If the front page is about Potter, he often hurls it straight in the bin.

Some of the time, he even manages not to get it out again later and read it balefully, gnashing his teeth and trying not to care about Potter any more. He makes himself sick.

"Funny that, because you're always giving interviews to them," Potter replies blandly, taking a ginger sip of tea.

Draco wonders which half a percent of him it is that Potter claims to tolerate; is it the back of his head, perchance, as he's walking away? "My father arranges the interviews," he says, and then puts his glass down on the table a fraction too hard, a few drops of water slopping over the side. He shouldn't have said that; Potter already thinks he's under his father's thumb. Is he? He supposes so. But isn't that a good thing? Potter's cutting phrase 'blindly loyal' comes to mind, and he winces.

Potter says nothing, just blows on his tea.

"I don't read them, anyway," Draco adds, a touch aggressively, into the judgemental silence. "I just give them." And that's true. The whole thing is embarrassing beyond the telling.

"Ah," Potter says. "I read them."

Well, there's not much Draco wants to say to that, because it doesn't sound like Potter is inclined to send him fan mail, so they sit there in uncomfortable silence for a bit.

"I bought this house pretty much as soon as the war ended," Potter says, just when Draco's starting to twitch. "Hermione, and Ron, and Mr and Mrs Weasley, and Luna, and Neville, and everyone, really, helped me do it up." He shrugs. "It was something to do."

"Why somewhere so . . .?"

"So Muggle?" Potter says wryly, finishing Draco's sentence. He shrugs again. "Why not? I like having people about. I didn't want to hide away in a big house in the countryside somewhere on my own." He takes a sip of tea. The mug is large and yellow and chipped. "I had a wizard house, but . . ." More shrugging; his shoulders must be tired by now. "It wasn't a happy place, you know? I wanted somewhere I could be happy."

"And are you?" Draco finds himself asking.

Potter considers this. "Yes," he says. "I think so." And he looks at his hands, wrapped around the mug. "Well, mostly," he adds.

He doesn't sound it, Draco thinks. Someone genuinely happy wouldn't look miserably at their hands and say, 'Well, mostly,' now, would they? It surprises him, in an odd way. When he'd been under house arrest, he'd spent too much of his time thinking, obsessing, about Potter – what he might be doing, what he might be thinking. He'd presumed Potter would throw himself headfirst into Auror business, perhaps rising to Head Auror in as long as six or seven months, ready to personally fling him and his father into Azkaban when their trial came. He thought Potter would probably be sad for a bit, in a noble sort of way, and then perk right up. After all: his side won. There had to be joy in that.

He hadn't considered that Potter might, instead, be spending his time decorating and being 'mostly' happy. He certainly hadn't seemed 'mostly' happy when he'd spoken up for Draco and his mother at their trial – he'd been arse-clenchingly sincere, and shining with purpose, in a way that, even now, Draco finds extremely painful to remember.

"You sure you don't want some tea?" Potter asks.

"Will it look like yours?" Draco asks, which makes Potter laugh.

"Not necessarily. I like it strong; I don't sleep well."

"OK," Draco says, because for an odd reason he thinks this will make Potter happy, and thinking about him only 'mostly' being happy is having a depressing effect on his own mood – which wasn't great to start with. The cutting words that Potter levelled at him in the Palace of Westminster are still running around his head in an endless loop: weak and self-centred and blindly loyal. It makes him want to scream – and to prove that Potter is wrong. He's WRONG.

"Weak or strong? Milk? Sugar?" Potter asks as he makes what Draco presumes is regular black tea.

"Strong," Draco says firmly.

Potter's shoulders jolt, and Draco hopes he wasn't being pathetically obvious with his attempt at subliminal messaging.

"Milk, no sugar, please," he adds. Lots of milk, he doesn't say, to disguise the taste; he doesn't actually like strong, unsugared tea much. He's more of a hot chocolate sort of chap. He's always had a sweet tooth.

Potter hands Draco a mug that looks sort of drinkable, if he only squints at it. Plus, if he squints – or, better still, closes his eyes – he doesn't have to see the mug itself, which is emblazoned with Holyhead Harpies insignia and is presumably a gift from the Weasley girl. The Harpies signed her even before she'd left school, he discovered when the news was announced in the paper. Stricken by paralysing jealousy, he'd been unable to read on.

He hasn't played Quidditch for over a year. He hasn't flown for over a year. He misses it, but that seems childish, somehow, now.

Besides – he still wakes up, sometimes, in a cold sweat, remembering that final flight with Potter, with the Fiendfyre grasping at their ankles. It doesn't inspire him much to go out flying again.

"Well, this is nice," he drawls, his voice dripping with sarcasm, after they've sat in tense silence for a bit longer, avoiding eye contact.

Potter, to Draco's secret respect, just rolls his eyes, and this time actually looks him full in the face. "It was never exactly going to be easy, was it?"

"What was?"

Potter takes a sip of tea. "Being friends," he says eventually, looking away again.

Is that what they're doing? Potter has a new and novel way of making friends, if so. Insulting people then forcing them round to his house to drink poorly brewed tea. It's never going to catch on. Besides, if the Weasel finds out Potter wants to be friends with him, he'll probably think he's caught a contagious curse. And as for the female Weasley . . .

He doesn't say anything, just stares at his hands on the smooth wood of the table. He needs to stop biting his fingernails; it's a revolting habit.

Potter rises and rummages through a drawer until he finds what he's looking for – a piece of lined paper and a small self-inking quill. He scribbles something down and passes the paper over. "Here," he says, and adds, unnecessarily, "it's my full address."

Draco stares at it. This obviously makes Potter feel uncomfortable, because he's talking again, to fill the silence.

"You could come round again, maybe. If you like. Have some more tea. Ron says Mrs Weasley says that tea's got restorative powers, and—"

"Why?" Draco says, cutting through Potter's babbling.

Potter blinks. "Why what? Why the tea?" He really does look tired; the circles under his eyes are almost bruises. If this is testament to the 'restorative powers' of tea, Draco wants none of it.

"No," Draco says, trying not to grind his teeth. "Why do you want to be friends? You don't like me. Your friends don't like me. Your girlfriend doesn't like me. Your—" He stops. Potter is wearing an odd expression. "What?"

"I don't have a girlfriend," Potter says, colouring.

A wild elation zings through Draco's veins, and he has to stop himself from fist-punching the air. He despises Ginny Weasley, for a host of tangled reasons he prefers not to examine too closely. He hopes Potter dumped her, and not the other way round. It seems certain; who in their right minds would dump Potter?

"Ginny and I split up months ago," Potter continues. "It was . . . well, it's really none of your business, is it?" he adds, sitting up straighter. There's a short silence. "Most people would say something sympathetic here," he says pointedly.

Draco smirks. His mind is racing. "It's none of my business, is it? How on earth have you managed to keep it out of the papers though?" He may not always read the rags, but there's no way he would have missed news of that. He can see the headlines now: GET OUT THE BUNTING, LADIES. POTTER SINGLE! There would, undoubtedly, have been a commemorative issue of his mother's secret favourite, Witch Weekly.

Draco feels uncomfortably sure that he would have kept that commemorative issue in his bedside table, to get out and gloat over whenever he was feeling low.

"Well, only my friends know, so if they told the papers then I'd know who was to blame." Potter lets that hang for a moment, and Draco takes his unspoken point. He probably won't tell the Prophet. Unless he can see something in it for himself. Like – say, the commemorative issue. "And it's not like I'm dating anyone seriously yet," Potter adds. The flush spreads from his cheeks down his neck, though his fingers, wrapped around the mug in his hands, are white with pressure.

Draco isn't quite sure what to make of this conversation – or his own reactions to it. Potter's not dating anyone 'seriously yet'. So who the fuck is he dating unseriously? "No?" he replies, trying to sound bored. He's completely unsettled by how much he wants to know who it is that Potter's been dating, so he can sneak over to their house and poison them. How dare this anonymous cow put his commemorative issue at risk! "Poor you. How tragic."

"Yes, all right, Malfoy, I get the point," Potter says, surprisingly tetchily. "You don't care. I get it. I'll shut up now."

Draco calls on every lesson in diplomacy his mother has ever taught him. "I'm sorry, Harry," he says, more or less sincerely. He is, after all, sorry he's pissed Potter off and halted him in his confession – why he split up with the Weasley female, and who he's been dating since. Draco's burning with curiosity. He reaches forward and touches Potter on the back of his hand. "Go on. What were you going to say?"

"I – uh. Um. Oh," Potter says incoherently, eyeing Draco's hand with something almost like terror. "Nothing, really."

Draco suppresses an eye roll and pulls his hand back. Could he throttle it out of Potter? Best not. "No, tell me. We're friends, remember?" To underline this, he folds up Potter's address and puts it in the pocket of his robes.

He can't think what Potter's got to reveal that's making him so red-faced and flustered. He's a Gryffindor, and Gryffindors are renowned for being prudes. Surely there's nothing salacious behind his split with Ginny Weasley? He can't have cheated – this is Potter. And whoever he's been dating, it's probably someone unspeakably tedious and Gryffindor. Like—

"You're not dating Granger, are you?" he asks, struck by a sudden, unpleasant thought. That can't be it, though – she and her Weasley seem revoltingly in love. Unless they've struck up – ugh – some kind of timeshare arrangement?

"NO!" Potter says, far too loudly, eyes going wide.

Draco can't help but grin at this reaction, and Potter grins back, although there's still something embarrassed about his expression.

"You remember Justin, from school?" Potter says casually, looking mesmerised by something just over Draco's shoulder. He raises his mug up, in a way that hides his mouth. "It – it didn't work out," he adds quickly. "But . . ."

Justin Finch-Fletchley? Draco is unprepared for the seething jealousy that courses through him. It catches him entirely off balance. "I thought you were going to confess to a secret passion for Hagrid," he says lightly, but his mind is one big ball of what the fuck?

Potter chokes on his tea and then starts to laugh helplessly. There's relief behind it, and a hint of hysteria.

Draco's lips move into a smirk – well, he's had a lot of practice – but his mind is going a mile a minute. Potter's queer? And dating a fucking curly-haired Hufflepuff? It's no news to Draco that Potter has no taste, and at least he hasn't moved on from Ginny to her brother Ron – what a horrendous, repellent thought – but . . .

Of all the people he went to school with, he'd have put serious money on Potter being one hundred percent straight. He feels a bit like the earth has shifted under his feet. Potter swings both ways.

And . . . and . . .

He finds himself staring at Potter, caught between amusement-tinged disbelief and . . . and outrage. It's completely ridiculous, but there it is. If Potter's going to date men, there's only one suitable candidate his age that Draco can see: and that's him. Not fucking Finch-Fletchley.

Potter glances at him, as if he can feel Draco's stare, and something in Draco's expression obviously unsettles Potter, because he pushes his glasses up his nose again and runs a hand through his hair.

"I'm not dating anyone now though," Potter says casually, and proceeds to talk solidly about Quidditch for ten minutes straight. It's a clear and obvious attempt to change the subject.

It would be successful, if he wasn't in the company of Draco Malfoy – who is, even he'll confess, a bit of a git. If he sees a sore spot, he can't resist prodding it.

"So, you like to fuck men, do you?" Draco asks. Well, Potter deserves it. Potter might as well have said, So, Malfoy, I like to date men, as long as they're not YOU.

To Draco's amusement and gratification, Potter goes purple, and he reaches up to his throat, fiddling with the neck of his T-shirt as if it's strangling him.

"Malfoy!" Potter chokes out faintly.

"Yes, Potter?" Draco drawls, leaning back in his chair.

"Fuck off," Potter says, pulling himself together.

Draco laughs and rises. "It's about time I was going, anyway."

To his surprise, Potter looks surprised. "Oh! I didn't mean—"

"Come on, Potter, I think we've tortured each other enough for one day," Draco says. "It's been fun, but I think it's time I lay down for a while with a damp cloth on my forehead."

Potter rises too. "Right, right. OK, I'll see you to the door," he says – and he does. On the doorstep, he sticks his hands in his pockets awkwardly, leans against the doorframe, and adds, "I'll – uh – see you soon?"

See you soon. See you soon! Draco, thrown off balance again, nods before he's thought it through. He walks down the steps and manages, calling on all his willpower, not to turn back to see if Potter's still standing in the doorway watching him, before Apparating away. He's so distracted, he's lucky not to Splinch himself.

By the time he goes to bed – very late, and very tired – he's almost regained his equilibrium. After all, it's been a reasonable day, if a surprising one. The unity event has gone well, and he pulled off his speech without disaster. His father is delighted with how things have gone, even if he did wax sarcastic about Draco's disappearance partway through. Draco was back in time for the evening drinks though, and he mingled and schmoozed with a will. He did his duty, and he feels confident the papers will report positively on the whole shindig. He feels positive, too, that he's broken the time loop and tomorrow will come this time – not just today, over and over and over.

He doesn't need to think about Potter's earth-shaking revelation tonight, or his own reaction to it. He's determined not to think about it. Just because Potter is less straight than previously imagined, what difference does it make to Draco's own life? Nothing, that's what. It's hardly like Potter would . . .

No. He doesn't need - or want - to think about it.

He can't stop himself from dreaming though. And in his dreams, Potter gazes at him meaningfully over a tea cup and says, "I'm not dating anyone now though," over and over again, while Draco's body overheats from top to toe – but mostly in-between.

Chapter Text

When Draco snaps awake the next morning in front of his desk, still trembling from a half-remembered erotic dream, and sees the time-turner glowing even more brightly, at first he doesn't believe it.

He must still be in a dream – only this time, it's a nightmare. He fixed things. It's impossible that this is happening. Absolutely impossible.

Maybe, he reasons, the time-turner is glowing because . . . because of built-up time, or something. He didn't use it, did he? But, at the same time, he did. So the paradox has sent it funny. That doesn't mean that he's still stuck in the loop though. He is absolutely not still stuck in the time loop, with no way of escaping other than destroying the time-turner . . . which would probably destroy him too.

But when he enters the dining room, he sees his mother. She's reading the paper, and the headline reads: MALFOY HEIR TO PROMOTE UNITY WITH MUGGLES.

He is, Draco thinks. He absolutely sodding is still stuck in the time loop, damn and blast it all.

"Good morning, dear," his mother says, setting the paper aside and looking at him with sympathy. "Are you nervous about your speech?"

"No," Draco says gloomily, and tucks into his breakfast. He's not nervous because he's not going to give it again – what would be the bloody point? It would be just as much use to go back to his room and lock the door and create his own bloody commemorative issue of Witch Weekly – he has enough newspaper clips of Potter secreted away in odd corners of his room, after all. And at least that way, he'd get an entertaining wank out of it, before he burned the fucking thing to show Potter what he thinks of him.

He has a wild, self-destructive urge to go to the Palace of Westminster and just wank in front of the real Potter – right there in the Lords Chamber. It would have no consequence, after all; he could do it every day, for the rest of forever, apparently, and it would still have no consequence.

But no. Draco sips his sweetened tea to try to excuse the heat that's rushed to his face. It would be just his luck if today is the day the time loop ends; time is unpredictable, and it's possible the loop will just collapse in on itself eventually, without his assistance. It's not a risk worth taking.

Besides – his father would be in the room. A greater mood killer has never been invented.

After he's finished his breakfast, and he's in a fit state to stand up, he goes back to his bedroom and wonders what he should do. The time-turner pulses from the far side of the room, and he glares at it. But he has to do something, and he's never been the type to give up, whatever people like Potter might think of him.

Should he seek help from his mother and father? The thought makes him wince. He can just imagine how pleased his father would be to learn what his son has done, and how disappointed his mother would be. And what good would it do? His father isn't exactly an expert in time travel. No one is. It's widely known that the Ministry brought a halt to their time travel experiments back in 1899, when a time-travelling research witch caused untold damage to the life paths of all she met and died herself from premature aging when she returned to her own time.

Draco has read all about it. He wonders now – a bit fucking late – why it didn't put him off his own experiments. It seems big-headed now, risking the lives of everyone he's come in contact with, just to suppress a newspaper headline or two.

It would, he thinks, have been far more straightforward just to bribe everyone involved. Potter's exit could have been excused as a toilet break, and the mass walkout as a fire alert.

Damn it all!

He paces the room a bit, but the more he thinks about it, the less wise it seems to go to his parents for help. At least – for now. He'll shelve that idea until he's supremely desperate, and even then . . .

More pacing. Each time he passes the time-turner, it annoys him even more. This seems to him a ridiculous state of affairs. If he can't fix things immediately, getting more and more wound up is only going to make things worse. So, on his next circuit of the room, he picks up a blanket from a chest at the foot of his bed and chucks it over the time-turner.

Immediately, he feels better. He hopes he hasn't been missing the obvious – like, the time loop couldn't close because although Potter stayed for the speech – meaning Draco didn't have to use the time-turner, so he didn't use the time-turner – when he came back after the event he saw the time-turner glowing, meaning he had used it, after all.

He should have left this time-travel shit well alone, Draco thinks, clutching his temples. He can't even recap what's happened without the threat of his brain melting and leaking out his ears.

He uses the bathroom and then dresses quickly in his formal robes, because maybe now he will do his speech again. Or perhaps not. He dithers in front of the mirror. His reflection – pale and ghostlike – stares back at him.

Perhaps – perhaps a bit of sunshine, before he travels to the Houses of Parliament, would be wise. Give him a bit of colour and stop him looking like a corpse. The – the sunshine in Potter's street was nice and bright, if he recalls correctly.

He's Disapparated and landed in Potter's street before he's barely finished the thought, and he looks around quickly to check no one's noticed. He thinks he's safe; it's Friday morning, still relatively early, and the Muggles moving to their cars seem lost in thought and their daily routine.

He walks a little way up the hill and finds himself outside Potter's house. The pathway up to the front steps is gravel and planted with bushes on either side, and there's more than one pot of cheerful flowers outside the front door. He wonders if Potter's green fingered, or if he hires a gardener.

Or maybe one of Potter's friends does his gardening. Longbottom, Draco recalls, was into Herbology. An uneasy jealousy spikes through him. Does Longbottom have a girlfriend? Or is he hanging around Potter like Finch-Fletchley? It would be just like Potter to be impressed by Longbottom – with his cardigan and his . . . his sword fighting and snake slaying.

Draco shakes his head, trying to snap out of it. He's spent so long thinking of Potter as straight that the revelation that he's not seems to have sent him round the twist. He feels conspicuous, standing outside like that, gawping, and crosses the road, to stand and stare from a distance. But even as he steps on to the opposite pavement and turns, he sees Potter's front door open.

Draco ducks down behind a car like a twat, his heart hammering. He hopes Potter hasn't seen him, because there's no way he can talk his way out of this one with his dignity still intact. By the time he can bring himself to rise up and peep through the car's windows, Potter is already down the stairs and walking further up the hill at a brisk pace. He's wearing the same sloppy outfit as usual. And – thank Merlin – Potter doesn't seem to have spotted him.

Draco follows him up the hill, on the opposite side of the road, keeping close to cars and trees in case Potter turns at any point and he has to hide. He acknowledges this to be ridiculous – he's slim, but not as slim as a thin tree trunk – but what else is he to do? He hasn't studied concealment magic, and while Potter famously has an invisibility cloak, Draco does not.

Potter breaks into a run at the top of the hill, disappearing over the horizon, and Draco's heart pounds – what has Potter seen? Who is he running from? But, as Draco crests the hill himself, he realises that Potter has vanished into a park.

He's not fleeing. He's exercising.

Draco feels extremely dim. He stands, looking out at the park, and wonders whether he should follow Potter some more. But that would be weird, wouldn't it? Draco doesn't want, or need, to see Potter all sweaty and panting as he runs in the sunshine, the breeze ruffling his hair. No, nothing could be further from his mind.

It occurs to him, though, that perhaps Potter is up to something. Perhaps, instead of merely jogging, he is meeting someone. Perhaps that's why the time loop continues – because Potter is up to something and he, Draco, must discover what it is before time can be put right. It's not stalking so much as heroism. It makes perfect sense, if Draco doesn't think about it too hard.

He dashes into the park, but by this time he's already lost sight of Potter. Draco finds himself on a series of grassy terraces, connected by ruined arches and decaying stonework. Dotted about are headless statues. He follows the curving path to the left, past a huge stone statue of a sphinx, and down more steps, through more trees, until the path opens out again. There's a stage in the midst of a lake – empty, apart from a solitary heron, and the painted metal structure peeling and decaying – and he continues past it, going by the entrance to a maze, and down and down the hill, until he finds himself beside a bustling children's playground. Shrieks of joy fill the air, and he finds himself smiling, even though he's failed in his objective: find Potter. The park is massive, and he suspects Potter simply turned right at the entrance, where he turned left.

Still, he's achieved one objective at least; the sun is bright and warm, and he can already feel his skin starting to tan. He hopes he won't – horrors – get freckles.

It seems pointless to hang around any further. He doesn't want to bump into Potter now – he'd have to explain why he's in a park so close to Potter's house, for a start. Potter may have given Draco his address, but that was yesterday – and today, yesterday never happened. No; he wants to follow Potter surreptitiously and find out what his secret purpose is for running in a park filled with Muggles. Was he having an illicit meeting with fucking Finch-Fletchley in the maze? If so, it must be Finch-Fletchley who's up to something. It's positively Draco's duty to intercede and save Potter from himself.

But if he goes home, his mother will just send him right to the Houses of Parliament. Where – Draco realises – Potter will turn up soon. In his exercise clothing, as if something suspicious happened that prevented him from changing before he arrived.

Draco dodges behind a tree and Disapparates so quickly that he nearly strains his back. The rest of the day passes much as usual. Draco chops his speech so as to keep Potter in his seat; he's not feeling strong enough to have another inevitable one-on-one with Potter – being called weak and self-centred once was quite enough. And besides – every time he looks at Potter, he remembers his inappropriate urge to get personal in front of him, and it throws him off balance.

He keeps his eye on Potter as much as he can, despite this – his eye is drawn to him, almost as if he was spellbound. Potter – to his mixed irritation and relief – seems a past master at avoiding him in the day's breaks, though, and he and Weasley vanish entirely during the evening drinks and meal, leaving only Granger behind from his contingent. Draco's not feeling nearly masochistic enough to interrogate her as to Potter's whereabouts; she'd probably interrogate him right back.

Draco goes to bed that night feeling mildly more optimistic than he has in some time. He may not have cracked the reason he's still trapped in time yet – but he has a firm lead and something of a plan. A plan which will enable him to keep tabs on Potter.

It'll be entertaining, Draco reasons, even if it all comes to nothing.

***

The next time Draco snaps awake in front of his desk, the time-turning glowing like a beacon, he barely flinches. He just snatches up a blanket and flings it over the arsing thing, and immediately feels a whole lot better.

He's not in the mood for breakfast this morning – his stomach feels full of squirming things, and he doesn't fancy seeing the Prophet's headline about himself for the – the what? The seventh time? The eighth? It occurs to him that, for his own sanity, it might be wise to mark the days, in case he's stuck for more than a couple of weeks. He doesn't want to lose the thread of time and start gibbering. He works it out and says firmly, out loud, "It's day eight." He feels better for it, even though eight times is seven times too many, in his opinion.

There's no use in regrets, though, so he uses the bathroom quickly and pulls on his formal robes. He's about to pull on his stiff, dragonhide boots too when he pauses. If he has to dash surreptitiously after Potter, perhaps it would make more sense to wear something a bit more comfortable? He compromises by wearing exercise shoes under his robes; the robes are long and almost sweep the ground, so even if he has to wear the ugly shoes to the Houses of Parliament later, it's doubtful anyone will notice.

He Apparates immediately to Potter's street. It's much too early for Potter to emerge, though, and Draco feels conspicuous just standing there, gazing over at his house like some lovesick loser. And . . . maybe he should have worn Muggle clothes, after all. He's attracting attention from all the suited Muggles who are emerging from their houses, presumably on their way to work. He decides he might as well follow them to pass the time; his robes are dark, and he might draw less notice if he's on the move. So he joins the stream of people, ending up in a stately Victorian train station, packed with commuters. He waits there a while, people watching, before coming to with a start; if he doesn't get a move on, he'll miss Potter. So he moves somewhere more discreet and Disapparates.

He lands almost right outside Potter's house – he's judged it well. Except, he's judged it too well, because Potter is already coming down the steps.

At least – Potter was coming down the steps. Now he's just standing there, frozen in place, staring at him.

Draco supposes his sudden appearance must come as something of a surprise. His stomach flips. "Good morning," he says, in an attempt to appear non-threatening. He doesn't want Potter hexing him.

This seems to unfreeze Potter, who continues down the stairs. "Malfoy," he says, when he reaches the bottom, and then stares a bit more, dumbfounded. Then he frowns. "How do you know where I live?"

This one's easy. You invited me for tea and gave me your address for future reference. Except, Potter didn't, did he? So: "Oh, I read about your new house in the papers," he says breezily, remembering what Potter had also told him.

This is evidently not the right answer. "That was months ago," Potter says, folding his arms. "And it didn't give my actual address. What are you up to, Malfoy?"

Following you, to see what YOU'RE up to, Draco wants to say. Or, alternatively, and more irrationally, Following you to save you from your Muggleborn ex-lover, who's got something nasty up his sleeve. But neither of those seems a good option. "I . . . I wanted to see you before the event today," he improvises. "I wanted to be on good terms. I know your address because we sent your event invite to it, remember?"

Potter's face relaxes, and Draco breathes an inward sigh of relief. The address thing does sound logical. As far as he knows, maybe his father does have Potter's address, rather than simply sending the invite to him care of the Ministry.

"Oh, right," Potter says. "I was just about to go for a run." He looks back at his door, and then away, and then almost twitches, as if he can't bear to stand still any longer.

He seems anxious for someone merely going for a jog, and Draco wavers for a moment. Should he let Potter go? He could follow him, at a discreet distance, and find out why he's anxious, and who's making him so. Or, he could go with him, force Potter to either reveal who he's meeting or make him miss his appointment. Maybe missing the appointment would reset the time loop. Maybe that's why Draco felt moved to use the time-turner, all those days ago – it wasn't, as he thought, out of pure self-indulgence, but out of a sense that something wasn't right with Potter, something that only he could fix.

"I'll come with you," Draco declares. It only seems sensible.

Potter blinks. "For a run? In your robes?"

Draco raises his chin. "Of course."

Potter shrugs, but seems to come to a decision. "Sure. The Muggles will stare, though." He sets off, without waiting for Draco, walking at a brisk pace. Does he want to leave him behind, Draco wonders, or is this just a warm-up?

When Potter breaks into a run, Draco does too. They run in silence, across the grassy terraces and bearing to the right, through a tangle of small paths that lead them past a massive, ugly concrete stadium on their left. It reminds Draco of a Quidditch arena, only not so impressive. They run on, past a sign pointing to a farm, and on, until they are running alongside an artificial lake. Draco, overheating and tiring, almost trips over his own shoelaces when he spots a massive creature rearing out of the water – except it soon becomes clear it's concrete.

He glances over at Potter and sees, to his discomfort, that Potter has noticed his reaction and is trying not to laugh.

"It's a Victorian dinosaur park," Potter says – speaking evenly, despite their quick pace. Draco thinks that if he tries to speak, he might die. "The Victorian Muggles made concrete statues of what they thought the dinosaurs looked like."

The Victorian Muggles were idiots, Draco thinks as they pass more of the creatures. Utter idiots. The dinosaurs he's seen look nothing like these things; they have more feathers, for a start, and aren't made of stone.

"We can slow down, if you like," Potter says.

"No, I'm fine," Draco rasps, with practically his last breath. He's not letting Potter beat him.

They continue on, past the children's playground Draco saw the previous day, and up past the maze and the stage on the lake. He shoots a glance at Potter as they pass – the maze seems a perfect place for a rendezvous – and a rest – but Potter doesn't seem inclined to stop.

Draco feels inclined to stop, though. He had no idea he was so unfit. Is he going to die? It seems likely.

Potter pauses when they reach a bench on the terraces – they have, it seems, done a full circuit of the park. "I'm going to do a couple more times around. You could wait here for me, if you're done?"

Draco, red faced, sweaty and panting, nods and manages to stand until Potter has jogged away, before collapsing gratefully on to the bench. He knows he should stand again, once Potter is safely out of sight, and follow him – probably, now Potter has lost his shadow, he'll do his secret business – but that would mean running even faster, to catch up with him. Draco thinks that if he tries to run faster, his legs might drop off. Besides, there's no way Potter will fail to notice him; Draco has drawn a crowd. He supposes it's not every day of the week the Muggles see an elegantly dressed wizard, in flowing robes, running like a nutter and turning as red as a tomato. It's not, he thinks, the most dignified he's ever been.

There doesn't seem much point in waiting for Potter to complete his run; does he want to speak to Potter, who seemed entirely unaffected by the pace, whilst dripping sweat? Does he want to be invited back to Potter's for tea, and have to turn up to the Houses of Parliament without changing into something fresh?

The answer to all these questions is no. So he stands and limps out of the park – he can't Disapparate with all the Muggles staring at him. It's some time before he can find a quiet spot, and it means he arrives home in a rush. He has to change – there's only so many times you can use a cleaning spell on silk before it needs a proper wash – and get to the Houses of Parliament before things kick off.

When he arrives, and sits, and catches sight of Potter across the Chamber, who's studiously not looking in his direction, it occurs to him that Potter is still in his exercise gear – so he must have been delayed at the park. Delayed by what, though, that's the question. The answer to which Draco has not yet discovered. He almost can't wait until the next day so that he can try again. This time, he'll try the surreptitious way and attach himself to Potter's shadow like a Sticking Charm.

If, that is, he can still stand up.

***

The next day though – "Day nine," he says out loud to himself – when he hides in the park before Potter is due to run, Potter fails to do anything suspicious.

Draco – who's this time transfigured a set of his second-best robes into Muggle-style jogging bottoms and T-shirt, for reasons of camouflage – manages to jog after him unnoticed. He can barely keep up, but even though the distance between them increases, and sometimes Potter vanishes as he goes around a corner, there doesn't seem enough time for him to accomplish anything nefarious – or to have anything nefarious done to him – by the time Draco puts on an extra spurt of speed and gets him back in sight. He doesn't enter the maze, or hide behind a massive stone dinosaur, or turn into a sheep when he passes the farm, or anything – he just runs, quick and smooth, and Draco curses him with what little breath is left in his body.

He follows Potter at a distance, trying not to stagger, as Potter leaves the park and returns to his house, where Draco lurks further down the road. Maybe now something interesting will happen. There is still time, after all.

Except . . . Except, nothing does happen, unless it's happening within Potter's house. All is quiet and still, until eventually Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger turn up from the direction of the train station and stand on the doorstep, ringing the bell and banging on the door for at least ten minutes.

Eventually, Potter opens the door. He's still in his exercise gear, his hair standing on end, and the prosaic truth dawns on Draco: Potter's only fucking gone and had a post-run nap. And, as he's running late, he now has no time to change.

Granger and Weasley disappear behind the door, and Malfoy looks at his watch: he's late, too. If he Apparates to the Houses of Parliament himself, he'll barely make it. And what's more: he's still dressed in Muggle clothes. And he can smell himself.

He feels bad that he'll be letting his father down, but he comes to an almost immediate decision: he'll skip the speech today. After all, what's the point? He can always do it tomorrow. And the day after that.

When the next day arrives though – "Day ten," he says out loud – he is so not in the mood to rerun the speech again. He's so stiff from the run the day before that he can't walk normally, and the thought of limping about the Lords Chamber is not a pleasant one. He doesn't want to look like a cock in front of Potter. And besides, what would he say if Potter asked him what was up? Oh, I'm tired from chasing you the day before, which is technically today? No, it is not to be considered.

But he knows from experience that another run might loosen his muscles up, so he gets a house-elf to pack him some food, leaves his mother a note, and changes into loose robes and takes himself on a long, solo run through the grounds of Malfoy Manor and out into the surrounding countryside. It isn't long before he's utterly lost, and he marvels at himself – at being nineteen years old and never having stepped out much further than his own land for fear of accidentally being in too close proximity to a Muggle. It suddenly seems all too ludicrous for words.

The day is warm, and he's alone apart from the wheeling birds in the sky and the creatures rustling in the undergrowth, and he runs, slow and steady, until he's so tired he can no longer run any more, and he lies down in a farmer's field amongst the crops and breathes in the odour of the sun-baked earth and the green, green crops until he falls asleep, waking sometime in the early afternoon, sunburned and starving, and falls on the food he's packed as if he's never eaten before.

"Day eleven" he does the same. It seems somehow liberating to be so completely freed from responsibility, even though he technically knows he's just blowing it off and his father must be furious.

Besides, if he's going to go running with Potter again – even if Potter is just running, rather than covertly meeting people in mazes – he wants to be able to easily keep up.

"Day twelve" he can run further, and "Day thirteen" further still. He's tiring himself out, but he has a mission.

"Day fourteen" it occurs to him that even if time is rewinding, again and again, he is changing – getting stronger. And, perhaps, getting older. He's not sure if he feels liberated – or terrified.

Chapter Text

One day Draco wakes up and says, "Day twenty-three," and then . . . all of a sudden, he isn't sure. Could it be twenty-two? Or four? He tries to mentally catalogue the preceding days, recall what he's done on every one. He writes it down, reasoning it's best to keep a record. The thought of losing track suddenly seems overwhelming. After some frenzied calculation, and copious notes – because he's mostly been working on his fitness, this past week or so, so he can properly impress Potter the next time he sees him; or, at the very least, comfortably keep up with him – he concludes he was right first time. It's twenty-three. He's fairly sure.

The next day, when he snaps awake, the list is – of course – gone. It's winked out of existence, like it was never there. Because it wasn't. He hasn't done it yet. It's day twenty-four. Or three. The near certainty of yesterday slips away, and he can no longer tell.

Some days, the time loop has felt liberating – freeing. But today, unanchored, for the first time it feels like a trap.

Draco sits, and broods, and the walls close in on him.

***

The next time the day resets itself, Draco snaps to with a burning, overwhelming need to feel useful. To do something. And not just tread time, going running or pretending that if he follows Potter on his daily jog, he'll be somehow saving the world. He knows he's being ridiculous; his capacity for self deception only goes so far.

But . . . he wants to see Potter. It's been days. There's no point denying it; he wants to. And since he's fucking stuck in a time loop, he doesn't see why he can't indulge himself in that. So, he breakfasts as usual, leaves a note for his mother as usual, bunking off his duties, and Apparates to Diagon Alley. He has an idea.

He's inside the Magical Menagerie on North Side just after it opens. It's the first time he's ever been in – he's never been very interested in pets, himself. He had an eagle owl when he was at school, but it was just a family owl, and he didn't even give it a name – why would you name a post owl? But the place is surprisingly interesting, if putrid-smelling – cramped, and packed with cages, containing hundreds – thousands – of cawing, cooing, screeching, purring animals, in every size and shape and colour.

The shopkeeper gives him some time to browse – which isn't long; perhaps the wizened old man suspects that if Draco has to stay somewhere so noxious for more than ten minutes, he'll leave empty handed – then hobbles over. "May I help you, young sir?" he creaks.

"I'd like an owl," Draco says shortly.

"Certainly, certainly," the man says, nodding and bowing and scraping. "This way, sir." He leads the way deeper into the bowels of the shop, until Draco is standing in front of a wall of cages, filled with birds – most asleep, but some eyeing him balefully through the bars of their cages.

Draco tries not to shudder; there's something about their beaks that he's not keen on.

"What is sir looking for in an owl?" the shopkeeper croaks. "Size? Prestige? Speed? Practicality?"

It's a good question; what is sir looking for in an owl? Draco tries to remember what Potter's Hedwig looked like and draws a blank. There's something hissing behind him, which is putting him off. "Something . . . friendly, I suppose," he says dubiously, "but with good pedigree."

There's a rustle from one of the cages, near the top, and Draco spots the most ridiculous bird looking down at him. It's truly minute – it would fit in one of Draco's mother's tea cups – with eyes almost as big as its body.

The shopkeeper catches him looking up at it and shakes his head. "A poor stocking decision on my part," he says, tutting. "Too small to carry even a standard sized letter very far. I don't know what I was thinking. The creature's been unsold for months."

The little owl hoots – as if it's indignant – and spreads its wings. If it's trying to show that it is big enough, then it's a misplaced effort. It really is a ridiculous little thing, Draco thinks, and he takes care to pay attention as the shopkeeper talks through five or six of his best – and most expensive – owls. The owls fail to move him though, and he can't make a decision. Half of them are still asleep, and those that wake just look at him sullenly and close their eyes again. It is not encouraging.

As he dithers, the minute owl hoots again, and – there's no other way Draco can think to describe it – bounces up and down on its perch, continuing to hoot. Its voice is tiny and high pitched and . . . sort of cute. If it were human, Draco thinks, the creature would be yelling, Pick me! Pick meeeeee!

"What sort of owl is that one, then?" he asks casually, indicating the owlet.

The shopkeeper blinks. "That one?" A cunning look spreads itself across his ancient features. "Why, it's a rare breed indeed – the little owl."

"Yes, I know it's little. I can see that it's—"

"No, no, sir, my apologies. I was not clear. The breed name is 'little owl'." The man waves his wand, fingers bent and claw-like, and the bird's cage tugs free from the wall with a scraping noise, floating down to hover in front of Draco.

The bird looks at him with wide, beseeching eyes. Its beak quivers.

Draco finds himself saying, "Yes, OK, I'll take this one," and then not even able to object when he's fleeced out of fifteen galleons.

He Apparates to Potter's street with the owl's cage in hand and sits on Potter's doorstep, waiting for him to return from his run. It's a little embarrassing, but he sticks it out. The street is mostly empty, so he doesn't attract too much attention – apart from passing cars. He hopes he doesn't cause an accident; drivers keep double-taking and staring back, which Draco thinks isn't an ideal driving technique. How do Muggles heal themselves without magic? He shudders to think.

It isn't long before he can see Potter coasting down the hill; he's jogging slowly, evidently cooling down from his exertions, and when he catches sight of Draco, he slows further still. By the time he reaches the bottom of his own front steps, he's practically going backwards.

"Um, hello," Potter says, reaching up to wipe his forehead with the back of his wrist. His skin is flushed from effort and his hair plastered to his hairline. There are dark patches on his white T-shirt where the fabric has stuck to his skin.

For some reason, this is not as repellent as it might be.

Potter's frowning – but it's more of a puzzled frown than a fuck off, Malfoy frown. Draco supposes he can't look very intimidating, sitting on the steps in the sunshine with a pathetically small owl in a cage next to him. He's fairly obviously not there to cause trouble, at any rate.

"I don't want to be rude, Malfoy," Potter says, looking up at him from the bottom of the steps, "but what are you doing here? How do you know where I live?"

"The Ministry passed your address on – for the unity event today, you know? We sent you an invite."

"Oh, right," Potter says, and a smile hovers on his lips. He starts up the stairs, and Draco struggles to his feet. Potter indicates the owl with his head. "You know, if you wanted to send me a reminder owl, it's usual to let it out of its cage, not bring the owl with you. Sorry if I forgot to RSVP."

Potter's fiddling in his pocket for his front door key, when Draco says, "Oh, no, you've misunderstood."

Potter pauses with his key in the lock. The frown is back on his forehead. "Then what?"

This isn't going quite as smoothly as Draco had hoped. "I – uh – came to bring you an owl. As a present," he clarifies, when Potter's forehead fails to clear. "To replace Hedwig."

"To replace Hedwig," Potter repeats flatly.

"Um, yes," Draco says. If looks were Avada Kedavras then he'd be a heap on the floor.

Potter doesn't say anything; he just calmly opens his front door, walks in, and – and slams it in Draco's face, so hard that the displaced air ruffles his hair.

That . . . was not the reaction Draco had expected. He stands for a moment, staring at the shut door, unsure what to do next. When he turns, a curtain is twitching across the road; some nosy old cow wondering what's going on, he presumes.

Has he been insensitive, Draco wonders. He glances down at the little owl, which shuffles along its perch in the cage and seems to be attempting to snuggle up to his leg through the bars. "I was only trying to help," he says to it, aggrieved, and it bows its head, as if it quite understands.

It's all too stupid – he's been reduced to talking to an owl – but Draco can't bring himself to leave yet. It would seem too ignominious. So he sits back down again. He'll just . . . rest for ten minutes or so. And then he'll go; he doesn't want to be caught there by Weasley and Granger.

A few minutes later, though, Draco feels a draught on his back, and he twists, squinting up into the open doorway. Potter is standing there, a peculiar expression on his face. "Sorry," Potter says – although he doesn't sound all that sorry. "Come in and have some tea?"

"Mm, OK," Draco says. "I hear it has restorative powers."

That makes Potter half smile, and Draco follows him in and down the stairs again, until they're back in the immaculate kitchen, and once again Potter spells open the French windows to let in the flower-scented air.

Potter moves to the sink and fills a tall glass with water straight from the tap and gulps it down in one go, throwing his head back, his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallows. Draco can't take his eyes off the line of his neck, the curve of his collar bones, the way the damp T-shirt clings to him. "Always thirsty after a run," Potter says apologetically, eyes averted from Draco, and turns to refill the glass. "Feel free to sit down." He drinks again, and then reaches to open a cabinet, pulling out a cereal bowl, which he half-fills with water. He carries it carefully to the table. "For your owl," he says – with a slight emphasis on your – and then turns back to fill a kettle.

Draco sits, placing the owl's cage on the floor beside his feet, and undoes the cage door. The owl lets out a happy hoot, barrels around the room, and then all but dive-bombs the water, ending up sitting in it and squeaking, splashing the water about with each flap.

"I'm – I'm sorry if I offended you," Draco says, reluctantly turning from the joyous owl to look at Potter.

Potter's not looking at him though; his back is turned. "I can't replace Hedwig," Potter says, with a raw edge to his voice. "Hagrid tried buying me another owl, but I made him take it back." He busies himself with the tea things.

Draco doesn't say anything; he's not sure what to. Potter's grief for his owl strikes him as excessive, and he doesn't understand it.

"I'm sure your owl is a very nice one, and I appreciate the thought, but I don't want it." Potter spoons sugar into one of the mugs, and then picks them both up, finally turning to look at Draco.

The little owl gives another big flap, and then takes off, sprinkling water on Draco's head, and then coming to land on his shoulder – wetly. "Not the silk, you little bastard!" Draco says, batting at it, but it hoots at him and dodges his hand, giving him a firm peck on the ear and settling down, its claws digging in.

"Besides," Potter adds with a hesitant laugh, sliding a mug towards Draco, "it looks like it knows who its owner is."

"Not funny, Potter," Draco says sulkily as the owl snuggles down even harder on his shoulder. The bastard's tickling his cheek with its feathers. If it shits on his shoulder, he'll eat it for lunch.

"No?" Potter teases. He seems to have regained his equilibrium, though his eyes are still sad.

Draco takes a sip of his tea. It's just how he likes it – weak, and milky, and thick with sugar. He glances over at Potter's tea – which is dark brown and looks revolting.

"Is it OK?" Potter asks, inclining his head at Draco's mug. "I should have asked how you take it, sorry. I just presumed."

"It's fine," Draco says, taking another warm, sweet sip. The owl, intrigued, peers forward and almost overbalances into the mug.

Potter starts to laugh, and Draco cracks a reluctant smile. "It's still yours if you want it," Draco says.

Potter shakes his head. "No, really," he says, but he's still smiling. "Hedwig was more than an owl to me. It would feel like I'd forgotten her, if I replaced her. She was a present from Hagrid – the first real present I ever had – and she . . . she was the first real family I ever had too." He falters through the final words, not smiling now.

Family? "Did you have her long before you went to school, then?" Draco asks, bewildered. There must be something he's not getting here.

Potter blinks. "Er, no? I got her just before I came to Hogwarts."

"But . . . you said first real family."

Potter nods. "You know I lived with my uncle and aunt before I came to school, right? I only found out I was a wizard when I got my Hogwarts letter. The Dursleys weren't too keen on magic." He looks awkward and takes a sip of tea. "They weren't too keen on me either. Though me and my cousin Dudley are friendlier these days. I don't blame him for how things were."

Draco knew all this vaguely – Muggle family and so on – and he knew Potter didn't like his family, because he was always at Hogwarts for Christmas. But . . . it strikes him he never actually thought it through. "How were things?" he asks. And adds: "They didn't buy you presents?" The idea of being a child and not getting presents is a bizarre one. Maybe the presents they bought Harry weren't to his taste; Draco knows he's kicked up enough fuss in the past when he thought a haul of gifts wasn't big or expensive enough.

Potter looks even more awkward. "Well, no."

Draco raises an eyebrow.

"They gave me a coat hanger once," Potter explains quickly. "And a pair of my uncle's old socks." He snorts. "But it was OK, because I couldn't have fitted anything else into my cupboard. It was barely big enough for me."

"Cupboard?" Draco repeats, startled into speech.

Potter's face goes red, but he looks at Draco steadily. "Yes, Malfoy. Famous Harry Potter –" and he gives an execrable imitation of Draco's own drawl "– had a cupboard for a bedroom, wore his cousin's cast-off clothes, didn't get any presents, and didn't have any friends. It wasn't much of a childhood. Going to Hogwarts was the best thing that ever happened to me."

"Oh," Draco says. "Right." And he feels like he should add something to that, but he can't think what. All that time he was jealous of Potter and . . . a cupboard?

"I didn't tell you that so you could feel sorry for me," Potter says, and he frowns. "Actually, I don't know why I did tell you. You're not going to share it about, are you? Though it serves me right if you Apparate right to Rita Skeeter's office, I suppose. Why are you really here, Malfoy?"

Draco opens his mouth to say something cutting, but the little owl pecks him – hard – and his words turn into an: "Ow!" He adds, crossly, "I came to bring you this little bastard, don't you remember?"

Potter looks at him steadily. "Yes, but why?"

Draco flushes miserably. "I – uh – thought you might . . . be lonely," he mutters. That is so not going to go down well; he wishes he could take it back almost as soon as the words are out of his mouth. Hopefully, Potter has come down with a hearing problem in recent days.

"Lonely?" Potter repeats. "Lonely? Why the HELL would you think that?"

"I – uh—" Draco stammers.

"I don't know what the fuck business it is of yours, whether I'm lonely or not," Potter continues, slamming his mug down on the table.

The little owl is startled off Draco's shoulder and flies off to hide at the top of a cupboard. Potter's a bit cross, Draco thinks.

"But, for your information, I have DOZENS of friends, who I see DAILY, and if anyone's lonely, I would presume it would be YOU."

The only way Draco's going to rescue this situation is with the truth, and he's unsettled enough by Potter's sudden anger that he tells it: "Well, yes, I am a bit," he says defensively. "And it's utterly shit, thank you very much."

Potter almost visibly deflates. He takes his glasses off and rubs his eyes, before shoving them back on. "I . . ." he says, and lapses into silence again.

The little owl peeps over the edge of the cupboard and, seeing all is clear, flies down, to sit once more on Draco's shoulder and hoot happily.

Potter gestures at the owl. "Maybe you need him more than I do, then," he says gruffly. And then, clearing his throat, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be a dick." He takes a long drink of tea. "You . . . you hit a nerve. I don't much like living alone." He makes an effort to smile. "Hermione says I should get a half-Kneazle cat like hers – you know, Crookshanks? I'm not sure if you ever met him – but I don't know. What if it dies too? I don't think . . ."

Living alone clearly isn't doing Potter any good, Draco thinks, and he feels cross that Weasley and Granger haven't scooped him up and forced him to stay with them.

"Anyway," Potter says, taking a further swig of tea and draining the mug, "shouldn't we be getting off to the Palace of Westminster?"

Draco raises an eyebrow. "You planning to go dressed like that?" he asks, even though he knows that, yes, Potter is – that he thinks it appropriate to go to a formal political event dressed in well-worn exercise gear with a dingy hoody thrown over the top – because he has done very time so far.

"Oh, bollocks!" Potter says. "Won't be a mo." And he bounds up the stairs, leaving Draco alone in his kitchen.

Draco is overwhelmed by the urge to snoop, but . . . He stands up. He'd rather, he realises, simply have Potter show him around the house at some point. He doesn't – ugh – want to abuse Potter's trust. So, to remove himself from temptation, he walks out of the open French windows into the garden. It's formal in style, and partly paved with small stones, but there is such a profusion of greenery that it looks wild, as if Potter's invited the forest to come to stay. He picks his way down a path towards an ancient, lichen-covered stone urn, and walks round it to a cleared niche in the tangled growth containing a metal table and two matching chairs. Further on – up a series of narrow steps – he can see lawn that badly needs a mow and a distant summerhouse.

The little owl is still sitting on his shoulder, a tiny weight, and when he raises a hand, it hops on to his finger and regards him cheerfully. "Can you make your way home by yourself?" he asks it, idiotically. "Malfoy Manor, Wiltshire."

The bird sits up very straight, like a tiny avian soldier, and gives a hoot of understanding, before flying off, straight up into the air, and soon vanishing.

Draco, temporarily free of his tiny feathered burden – and momentarily sad that when the day resets tomorrow, he won't be the owl's owner any more – sits at the table and watches small garden birds flit on to the path and peck at the dirt, searching for worms.

Barely ten minutes later, Potter emerges from the house, calling, "Draco?"

Draco rises and blinks, walking back towards him, heart pounding.

"Oh, there you are," Potter says. "Come on; Ron and Hermione stopped by while you were out here, but I sent them on ahead. We're going to be late if we don't go right now." He pauses. "What?"

Draco tries to pull himself together. "Nothing. You – uh—" He waves a hand vaguely at Potter.

Potter looks down at himself. "Madam Malkin's finest," he says doubtfully. "Apparently, this look is all the rage. It's bloody boiling, though, in this heat. Do I look that bad?" He reaches up to fiddle with his hair. "My hair's still wet, but it won't look neat, whatever I do to it, so I don't bother these days."

He's wearing a dark Muggle-style three-piece suit with a dark-green shirt, open at the neck, and a matching short dark-green cape.

The sight of him takes Draco's breath away.

"We look like we match, you wanker," he says, to cover his confusion, and Potter – the bastard – grins.

"You think?" Potter says lightly, stepping forward and taking Draco's hand.

The world stops. And then starts – with a whirl. Potter's just Side-Alonging him, of course he is.

They land smoothly outside the Palace and hurry in, attracting glances – presumably, Draco thinks sourly, at the fact that noble, heroic Harry Potter is deigning to arrive in the company of ex Death Eater Draco Malfoy. Draco's father gives him a very piercing look when he sits, and Draco tries not to wince – he expects his father will want to know, later, what dirt Draco has got on Potter, and he feels very disinclined to share.

By the time Draco rises to give his speech, he still hasn't decided exactly what he's going to say. The long version will make Potter walk out – and he feels reluctant to make Potter hate him all over again. But he's sick to the back teeth of the shorter – weaker – version, and he feels an odd, irrepressible urge to impress Potter. So, instead, he speaks off the cuff. He talks of his and Potter's relationship at school – how they were rivals, for no real reason Draco can see, other than his own blind prejudice and jealousy, and he tells the assembled wizards and Muggles that if he had his time again, he'd do things differently. Offer his hand in friendship genuinely – without judgement. He feels hot and shaky, but he continues on – very much not looking over at Potter – and adds that he hopes that those here today can lay aside their own prejudices and look forward to a future full of friendship and mutual trust and cooperation.

When he sits down, the applause is polite but muted – until someone starts clapping extremely loudly and enthusiastically, and gradually people join in until it's almost deafening. Draco manages to look up from the floor – he has no idea why that was so embarrassing, but it really was – and sees Granger trying very hard to catch his eye. She smiles at him determinedly across the room, still applauding, her curled hair bouncing with every clap. His eyes slide to Potter.

"An interesting take on the speech we agreed," his father says sotto voce in his ear, "but it seems you have impressed our saviour –" the words slot into sarcastic place "– so I think no harm done this time."

Draco doesn't like his tone – or the implications contained in it – but there's no denying that Potter's looking right at Draco, his eyes burning, as if . . .

Draco swallows.

As if Draco's everything he's ever wanted.

Weasley – may he live in interesting times – elbows Potter, and this breaks the spell. Potter, a heavy colour rising in his face, turns to Weasley, and they conduct a whispered but spirited conversation – Granger occasionally attempting to shhhhh them with a hiss and a prod – as Draco's father rises and begins to speak. Weasley's obviously talking about him; he keeps shooting over poisonous glances. Draco tries to stop himself from standing up and dragging Weasley away; he almost wishes he'd been nicer to him at school. Not because he likes Weasley, or has any desire to be his friend – now or for forever – but because Potter likes him. So if Weasley's talking shit about him, Potter's bound to listen.

And Draco does want to be friends with Potter – is overwhelmed by how much he wants to be friends with Potter.

Potter frowns at Weasley, and the ginger bastard folds his arms and presses his lips firmly together, staring into the middle distance. Draco tries to catch Potter's eye – but fails. Potter is very studiously not looking over at him. Draco's heart sinks, and he sits in gloomy silence as the speeches continue, only rousing himself to clap when his father nudges him.

When there is a break in the proceedings for lunch, Potter vanishes – and when everyone sits down again, to continue, Potter's seat remains empty, although Weasley – very sulky – and Granger – very studious, with her note-taking quill – are still present. Draco sighs; Weasley 1 – Draco 0 is clearly the score today. He wonders what exactly Weasley said to Potter to have him fleeing from the building like his life depended on it.

But, during pre-dinner drinks later, Granger collars him in a corner. "Must be quick; Ron's just fetching my coat," she says, and hands him a folded piece of paper. "Good speech, Draco," she adds. "I think I actually believed you." And she walks off before Draco can reply to that little poison barb.

"Charming," he says, to her vanishing back, pulling a face, and then opens up the note.

Fancy going for a fly tomorrow?

Harry

And Draco knows that there will be no tomorrow; that when the day resets itself, Potter will have forgotten he's issued the invitation – no, he will never have even issued it, full stop. But it doesn't stop him from smiling at the note until his cheeks hurt, and when he gets home later that night, to find his little owl waiting anxiously for him on his bedroom windowsill, he sends Potter a – very small – note of his own. It reads, simply:

Yes.

Chapter Text

The next time that time resets, Draco feels actually sort-of cheerful. The previous day had, to his surprise, been almost entertaining. His good mood wavers when he remembers that Potter won't remember it, but, flinging the habitual blanket over the time-turner to cover up its annoying glow, he suppresses the thought. The more cracks he gets at this – at befriending Potter, at getting him to open up – the more successful he'll become at it. It should be useful, no matter the outcome.

He goes downstairs for breakfast as usual, still mulling things over.

"Good morning, dear," his mother says – also as usual – setting her paper aside and looking at him with sympathy. "Are you nervous about your speech?"

Draco sits down and spreads a napkin on his knees, while his mother pours him a cup of tea and summons a house-elf. "No," he says – and means it. "Not at all." But he adds, since he's never broached it with his mother before, "Do you think father would be especially angry if I decided not to give my speech today, after all, though?"

His mother's look of sympathy deepens into one of concern. "Are you not well?" she says, and she rises and paces over to him, putting a cool palm on his forehead. "You do feel a little warm. I'll fetch you a Pepper-Up Potion after breakfast."

"No, Mother," Draco says hastily, "I'm fine, it's just . . ."

His mother bends and presses a kiss to his forehead. "I think you're nervous, dear, and you'll only be letting yourself down if you don't go ahead and give your speech. You've been planning it for months." She frowns at him, as if she can see disagreement in his face. "Though if you truly don't want to give it, I'll speak to your father. Your happiness is our main concern, Draco. Nothing is more important to us than that."

Well, Draco hadn't been feeling guilty about the thought of bunking off from his speech before, but now the guilt hits him like the Hogwarts Express at full speed. "I'll be fine," he says quickly. "It'll be fine."

His mother gives him another kiss and then returns to her seat. "Be brave, Draco. It'll be over soon, and think how proud your father will be of you."

Draco tries not to squirm, and he escapes from the dining room as soon as he's able. He knows that by this time tomorrow the conversation with his mother will have been wiped from history, but . . . he still feels honour-bound to make a speech today, even if it's not the speech. In a sulk, he sits down on his bed; this was not the way he wished to start the day. And he'd been feeling so optimistic before! He casts around for something to cheer himself up again; the idea of letting off a large quantity of Filibuster fireworks in the Lords Chamber briefly amuses him, but he dismisses it as too childish.

He quickly showers and dresses, and as he smooths down the fine fabric of his robes, tugging at them to get the lines falling perfectly, he remembers the day before – and the way the little owl he'd intended to give to Potter had sat on his shoulder. He smiles; it was certainly no respecter of his dignity.

A thought strikes him: he could go back to the Magical Menagerie and buy it again.

He's barely processed the thought when he's Apparating with intent, and he lands directly outside the shop, which is just opening for the day. He dithers for a moment, curiously nervous – but it's these nerves that make him stride in, moving directly to the back of the shop where the owls are kept. He doesn't want to be nervous about whether an owl will like him or not; the idea strikes him as ridiculous.

He's just looking up at the owl's cage when the owner sidles up to him with an unctuous greeting, but he barely notices the man – because the little owl is looking down at him with wide, amazed eyes, and Draco would swear on his own life that the bird recognises him.

"I'll take that one," he says to the owner, and the bird flies in a tight, dizzying circle around its cage in unparalleled glee, hooting like mad. It might, Draco thinks, as well be saying, yay-yay-yay-yay-yay-yay-YAY!

"Thank you, sir," the elderly owner rasps, looking bewildered but pleased at such an easy sale, "that will be—"

Draco presses fifteen galleons into the man's hand, swishes his wand to unlock the bird's cage, and it flies out and lands – with hoots of joy – on the top of his head.

For a moment, Draco and the proprietor look at each other, and then Draco – with unshakeable dignity – walks out of the shop with the bird still on his head. A camera flashes, and Draco knows he's been papped, but he grins – it doesn't matter, because the resulting photo will never be published, and it dawns on him that for once he has the upper hand where the media are concerned.

Draco can't decide where to Apparate to next – home? Straight to the Houses of Parliament? – but he has to go somewhere because he's attracting attention. So he reaches up, and when the little owl hops obligingly on to his finger, he clasps it to his chest and thinks, determinedly, of the park near Potter's house, and steps with deliberation into the blackness between the two locations.

The owl seems unmoved by the whole experience when they arrive, and Draco, shaking his head to clear it from the journey, releases his grip on it. It flies off – but only a short distance, to sit on the arm of a wooden bench. Draco joins it, sitting down, and it hops on to his knee, regarding him in a knowing way – at least, as knowing as an owl can be. He can't think why the little creature might remember him, and perhaps it doesn't, but . . .

The little owl hoots impatiently and pecks at Draco's pocket. Draco pushes it off, but it gives him an indignant look and goes back to pecking.

"All right, all right!" Draco protests, rummaging around to see what it is that the owl is obviously interested in. There's not much in his pocket; just the notes for his speech, along with a few spare bits of paper and a self-inking quill. He draws them out, and the owl looks smug.

"Yes, I have to give a speech, so what?" Draco says, aware he's talking to an owl.

The owl rolls its enormous eyes and pecks at a blank piece of paper.

"Oh," Draco says, "you want to deliver a note for me?"

The little owl gives a joyful bounce and stands to attention, quivering with excitement.

Draco thinks it would be cruel to deny it, but . . . who the fuck should he write to? His mother? "Ow!" Draco says as the owl digs its claws into his leg, and he glares at it. The owl looks back innocently. It really is fucking minuscule, Draco thinks, and he wonders how on earth it managed to get from Potter's South London home to Wiltshire yesterday without its wings dropping off. And then he sent it back, on a return journey, without even thinking! He knows that post owls are imbued with magic to give them extra speed and stamina, but even so . . .

It strikes him that he's not in Wiltshire right now though, and Potter lives only a few minutes' walk away. The owl could be there and back in no time at all.

It takes him twenty minutes of dithering, though, to pen a simple note to Potter, with the little owl 'helping' by standing on the paper and jogging his arm every time he tries to write, leaving a trail of ink blots. He can't decide between formal – Dear Potter, would you like to do something with me post today's event? Yours, D. Malfoy – semi formal – Dear Potter, want to go out after the event? From, D. Malfoy – or just plain informal – Potter. Want to go out and get pissed after the tedium is over? Malfoy.

In the end, he decides he's over-thinking it, and screws up the notes into a ball. He doesn't need to owl Potter; the little owl can just lump it.

But, just as he's about to chuck the ball of paper into a rubbish bin close to the bench, the little owl hoots and dive-bombs the ball, grasping it in its claws, and flaps off.

Draco watches, in slow-motion horror, as the owl – just metres away now – drops the ball into an extremely perplexed looking Harry Potter's hands and then flies back to him, to rest, cheerfully, on his shoulder.

He is officially an idiot. How could he have forgotten that, every morning, Potter goes for a run in the very park in which he's now sitting?

Potter, who's stopped running now, looks at the ball of paper in his hands, and then looks over at Draco.

Draco isn't sure whether to Accio or Expelliarmus the incriminating ball – which would be a more appropriate spell? – but by the time he's decided on Accio, he might as well have Accio-ed Potter, because he's already approaching the bench. He hasn't, Draco notes, made any attempt to flatten out the paper and read what's written there.

When Potter reaches the bench he sits, a little awkwardly, and tosses the paper to Draco. "Er, this is yours, I think?"

Draco, without comment, Vanishes the ball, and then considers Vanishing Potter too.

"So . . ." Potter says.

"This isn't how it looks, Potter," Draco says hastily.

Potter gives him a meaningful look. "You mean, although it looks like you're sitting in my local park, waiting for me, writing me angry notes you then screw up, it's actually something entirely different?" He doesn't wait for Draco to answer, before adding, "How did you know I'd be here, anyway?"

Draco considers what will make him look the least stalkerish. "Granger told me," he says, taking a wild stab at something plausible. It's more plausible than Weasley telling him, at any rate.

"I wish she'd stop meddling," Potter says, inexplicably, with some heat.

Draco tries not to gape; Potter bought it! He only went and bloody bought it!

"I talked to her in confidence, and she—" Potter breaks off. He's red in the face, but it could just be from the run.

"Oh?" Draco says, attempting nonchalance.

Potter – alas – doesn't take the bait. "Anyway," he continues, as if Draco hadn't spoken, "I'm still waiting for your explanation. Of what you're actually doing here."

"Coincidence," Draco says firmly, forgetting about his Granger excuse.

Potter snorts.

"I mean—" Draco amends.

"Forget it, Malfoy," Potter says, rising.

Draco leaps up, dislodging the little owl, which makes a noise of protest and settles, once more, on the top of his head. "No, wait," Draco says.

Potter waits, and although his expression is still wary, his lips start to twitch. It must be hard, Draco thinks, to maintain an arse-face when you're confronted by a man with an owl on his head. He remembers promising to eat the little owl for lunch if it shat on his shoulder; if it shits in his hair, he'll skewer it with a toasting fork.

"I wanted to ask if you fancied going for a drink after we're done at the Palace of Westminster. But . . ." He gestures to his owl. "It's a bit far from Malfoy Manor to here."

Potter blinks at him, his eyes flickering between him and the owl. "You . . . came to ambush me in my local park to save your owl a flight?"

"It is a very small one," Draco says defensively, and he bats at the owl to dislodge it. There's only so long he can suffer the insult to his dignity, and besides – there are other people approaching, and he doesn't want to be mocked by Muggles.

Potter, for some reason, laughs. And then he blushes. "Um, a drink?" he asks dubiously. "Just . . . you and me?"

"I'm sure we can find somewhere that does tea," Draco replies sarcastically, which makes Potter raise his eyebrows – and, too late, Draco remembers that today's Potter doesn't know that he knows that Potter is all but obsessed by the warm drink. All their meetings so far certainly seem to have been drenched in the stuff. "Or gin," he adds quickly.

Potter snorts. "So, let me get this straight. You're lurking in my local park, in the company of an owl even smaller than Ron's Pig – which I didn't believe possible – so you can spring out at me and ask me to drink gin with you?"

"Or tea," Draco says, because this is all too absurd, and Potter's babbling about Weasleys and pigs is not helping the situation. "Well, will you?"

"I . . . um . . . yeah, OK," Potter says.

It's not exactly a hearty yes, and he's nibbling at his lip and going red, but Draco supposes it will do. "I'd better be off then. See you there?"

Potter nods, distractedly. He looks, overall, a bit like he's been hit by a Stunning spell, and Draco tries not to clench his jaw. He supposes that his invitation is, as far as Potter's concerned, a bit on the sudden side. And . . . and a bit on the date side, too, it suddenly strikes him. Does Potter think Draco's asked him on a date? Surely not.

Draco rises from the bench, checks that no Muggles are looking, and Apparates to the public gardens alongside the Palace of Westminster before Potter can notice the way his face is suddenly flaming; even his ears are burning. He needs to pull himself together before he enters the building, in case . . . in case of what, he doesn't know. His father won't arrive early; he never does. That's the thing with the time loop – nothing ever changes, unless he decides to set it on a different course.

He's set things on a different course today all right, he thinks with some alarm, but then logic and reason prevail. Not even Potter is dim enough to think that Draco has just asked him on a date; it would be the most unlikely thing in the history of existence. After all, Potter doesn't know that Draco knows about the Finch-Fletchley revelation; as far as Potter's concerned, Draco believes him to be straight as an arrow. And . . . and Draco is Draco. Bitter though it is for him to accept, he just can't think of a scenario where such an advance would be welcome.

If Potter had thought Draco was asking him on a date, he wouldn't have said yes.

Draco finds the whole thing curiously disheartening, and by the time he enters the Lords Chamber and sits down, he's decided to just do the long version of his speech to fuck Potter off, cancelling the whole sorry business. It's unlikely, after all, that Potter will fail to walk out – this time he'll probably walk out quicker. But then he looks across the Chamber, to where Potter is sitting, and . . . Potter smiles at him. It's a slightly awkward smile, and he soon looks away, but it's such an unusual thing – Potter smiling at him in public – that he changes his mind again, his resolve stiffening. Even if the whole thing is a disaster – and it's bound to be, really – what's the worst that can happen?

***

The first chance Draco has to speak to Potter is during pre-dinner drinks. There are several breaks during the day, including a quick one for a sandwich lunch, but he never manages to squeeze through the crowds to get to Potter – who's surrounded by people. Even the Muggles seem bewitched by him. It's fucking irritating, and Draco feels a familiar rumble of jealousy in his stomach. Although, to be fair, Draco himself isn't exactly unpopular today; he can't move two steps without being hailed by a Muggle or a wizard, wanting to congratulate him on his speech or compliment him on the day's events so far.

At the drinks, though, Potter himself seems determined to make his way across the room, muttering polite excuse-mes to his fellow guests and all but elbowing past people to come to talk to Draco. Weasley, Draco is pleased to see, is all but rooted to the spot with horror across the room, while Granger, next to Weasley, catches his eye and gives him a very knowing, annoying look – so knowing and annoying that he has to look away.

Draco feels his heart speed up as Potter approaches. What the hell does he want? He's not going to cancel on him, is he?

"Hello, Malfoy," Potter says blandly, taking a sip from his nearly-empty glass. A wine waiter swoops by and tops him up.

Potter is, Draco realises, already lightly oiled.

"Forget something, did you?" Potter continues, raising his eyebrows meaningfully.

Draco considers this, taking a discreet look down at himself to check his robe isn't rucked up in an embarrassing way. And he did give his speech, didn't he? Yes, he can remember it quite distinctly – it was bland and tedious in the extreme. "No, I don't think so," he says confidently. "We arranged to go for our drink after the event, Potter, not during. Don't worry; I haven't forgotten you."

Potter rolls his eyes. "Thanks for your concern, Malfoy. But I'm talking about something else. Very small? Cute but annoying? Feathered?"

Draco blinks at him, puzzled, and then it hits him: the fucking little owl! He left it with Potter when he fled the park! Surely the stupid thing could have flown back to the Manor to wait for him though? He opens his mouth to say so, but a thought strikes him: does this mean Potter kept the owl? And if so, why?

"This is the point where you say, 'Thank you for looking after my little owl, Harry, because you knew how concerned I was about it flying long distances,'" Potter says meaningfully.

Oh. Oh! Of course; he'd pretended the little bastard couldn't fly that far and that was the reason he was hanging about the park. Draco puts on a concerned expression. "Gosh, yes, thank you, Potter. You've saved my owl's life."

Potter's taken another drink of wine, and he splutters at this and has a small coughing attack. "Don't be a dick, Malfoy," he says.

"I'm not!" Draco protests, smirking.

"It's not funny!" Potter says with some heat. "Your owl's a menace. It wouldn't leave me alone, and it kept landing on my head and trying to groom my hair. Don't say it, Malfoy," he adds, in a warning tone.

"But your hair looks so good today," Draco drawls. It's both true and untrue – it looks the same ruffled mess as usual, but Potter's wearing the same sharp suit with green shirt as before, although he seems to have abandoned the cape somewhere, and the sight of him is doing odd things to Draco's insides.

"Yeah, fuck you too," Potter says, in a friendly tone, and that makes Draco laugh. "Don't worry; I'll keep the little pest safe until you collect him."

"Thanks," Draco says, and is surprised that this time he actually means it. Potter may be misguided – there's no reason why the little owl couldn't make the long journey, and if Potter had half a brain cell then he'd realise it too – but his concern is revoltingly touching. Maybe – Draco's heart sinks a little – Potter's concern is solely for the owl though, with no consideration that it's Draco's owl. Maybe his heart bleeds for owls and, unbeknownst to Draco, he's just about to set up a sanctuary for mistreated birds – and is possibly considering Draco's owl his first inmate.

"Why are you looking at me that way?" Potter says suspiciously, taking another sip of wine and accepting a top-up from a passing wine waiter.

"What way?"

"Like . . . like you can't decide whether to pat me on the head or push me off Westminster Bridge later. I'm a good swimmer," he adds firmly. "Just so you know." He takes another drink. "Where are we going later then?"

This is a good point, and one Draco had forgotten to consider. "I have no idea," he says honestly. "It was a spur of the moment invite."

"Yes, I definitely got that idea," Potter says with heavy irony. "It was the stalking and lurking near my house that clued me in."

Ha fucking ha. "Where would you like to go?" Draco asks, taking the moral high ground.

"Somewhere where we're not on show," Potter says, wrinkling his nose as he looks around the room. It's certainly true that many – if not all – eyes are on them. Draco wouldn't be surprised if half of the wizards were secretly taking notes; the room is seeded with press, and while he can't see Rita Skeeter, that doesn't mean she's not there. Besides, she's very much not the only journalist around.

Draco tries not to sigh as the inevitable strikes him. Any wizarding place they could go would be too well attended; probably half the wizarding world would follow them there. So unless he takes Potter to the Manor – and he dismisses that idea even as he has it – it's going to have to be a Muggle venue. It doesn't matter either way – the time loop will simply erase any salacious story – but the evening will be a washout if Potter feels harassed.

Draco leans forward, bending in towards Potter's ear, and Potter leans in to him, swaying slightly. He smells warm and fresh, and Draco breathes him in before he realises that that is fucking creepy. "Somewhere Muggle then," he says, keeping his voice low. "Your choice." And he pulls back, taking a gulp from his own glass of wine. He hasn't drunk much, but now he feels the need of a bracer.

"Really?" Potter says, raising his eyebrows. He's gone pink from the wine.

Draco nods reluctantly.

"You bring a change of clothes?"

"No?" Draco says. "Why?"

Potter grins. "Robes are a bit . . . eye catching, in the Muggle world. Aren't you wearing anything under yours?"

Draco tries not to colour. He has his boxers on, of course – he's traditional, but not that traditional – and a light vest, but anything more than that would spoil the way the delicate fabric falls. "That's none of your concern, Potter. Let the Muggles look! They will see what style truly is."

Potter grins even wider. "OK, Malfoy, fair enough," he says, in a way that leaves Draco feeling distinctly unsettled. Happily, though, the gong goes for dinner, before Potter can speculate any further on what may, or may not, be under Draco's robes.

"Are we sitting together?" Potter asks.

Draco shakes his head. "You're with Granger and Weasley though."

"Mm, OK. See you after, then," Potter says, turning to make his way back through the crowd and towards his friends.

Draco watches him go for a moment, then shakes himself and gets back to work – ushering people in the direction of the private members restaurant within the Palace that his father has booked for their exclusive use this evening. He still technically has a job to do – helping the event run smoothly – despite the futility of it all, so he might as well do it as not.

***

The Muggle pub is not what Draco expects. It's . . . almost exactly the same as a wizarding pub. In fact, it's nicer than many of the establishments Draco's visited; it's not old and dingy, like the Leaky Cauldron, or full of kids like the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade during term time. The decoration is fresh and vibrant, and the place is packed with adults in their twenties and thirties. The music playing in the background is soft and sophisticated. Draco tries to feel grown-up and refined, like he goes to places like this all the time.

Potter leads the way through the main bar and outside, on to a decked area next to the river. It's a warm evening – hot for June – and although the place is just as packed outside as in, Potter wends through the crowd like someone used to it and pounces on the last empty table.

"Sit and save me a seat while I get the drinks in," Potter says, and Draco does, climbing awkwardly into the pub bench; there's a downside to robes after all, it seems. He's attracted a few glances, but most people seem too absorbed in their own conversations to pay much attention to him. "What would you like?"

Draco senses that Firewhisky would not be a wise answer. "Don't mind. What you're having," he says, shrugging, and Potter vanishes back inside the building, leaving Draco alone in a sea of drunk Muggles.

He sits and watches the river, trying not to feel awkward, and Potter seems to be gone an age, but eventually he returns with two overflowing pint glasses filled with a dark liquid. "Old Peculiar," Potter says, setting them down and only managing to spill a tiny amount.

"What?"

"Old Peculiar," Potter repeats. "It's the name of the beer, Malfoy," he clarifies, rolling his eyes as he sits down opposite him.

Malfoy wonders about the wisdom of drinking beer after wine and takes a dubious sip. The beer is rich and deep – and strong. It's delicious, but he thinks that if he drinks too much of it, he'll fall over. Though, he supposes, he's sitting down, so what's the harm? He takes a long drink, and when he looks up, Potter's already got through half a pint. There's foam on his top lip.

"Merlin, I needed that," Potter says. "No offence, Malfoy, but I'd pretty much have rather been doing anything than today."

Draco indicates Potter's foam moustache, and Potter draws the back of his wrist over his mouth, wiping it off with a faintly embarrassed grin. "I thought you liked that sort of unity shit," Draco says.

"I like the unity, but that was politics. It winds me up. Self-important wizards making deals with self-important Muggles to make the world a slightly crappier place. I dunno . . ." Potter shrugs. "Nothing's been what I expected, this past year."

"Oh?"

Potter shoots him a look. "Don't push it, Malfoy. I'm not in the mood."

Draco dismisses 'anything regarding the war or the last year' as possible topics of conversation and draws a complete blank. They could spend the next couple of hours talking about the little bastard of an owl, he supposes. Or . . . "What shall we talk about then?" he asks sweetly, passing the conversation-Quaffle to Potter.

Potter looks briefly panicked. "I – uh – oh . . ." He drains his glass and then rises.

Draco wonders if he's fucking off already and feels extremely peeved.

"I'll get another round in, shall I? I don't suppose you have any Muggle money."

Draco does, but the different coins and notes confuse him, and he's happy to let Potter take the lead. Besides, maybe one of them will be able to think of a safe topic of conversation while Potter's at the bar.

Potter returns in about ten minutes, and this time he's not just carrying two pints on a tray, but also awkwardly clutching a selection of brightly coloured boxes under his arm, which he sets on the table. He slides Draco's pint over – he hasn't finished his first yet, but he takes a long draught to catch up – and sits.

Draco raises an eyebrow.

Potter takes one of the boxes – this one a small one – and withdraws a pack of cards from it. "Board games," he says. "The pub has them for customers to borrow. We could play something. What card games do you know?"

After Draco has boggled for a bit, it soon becomes clear that the only card game they both know the rules for is Snap.

"Playing with a Muggle deck of cards is just like playing Exploding Snap," Potter explains, "except—"

"Boring?" Draco interrupts.

Potter clearly pretends he hasn't heard this, shuffling the cards and dealing them out between them. Draco takes a drink of beer; maybe if he's drunk – and he already feels well on the way – this will be less painful.

Potter starts, and Draco plays a card. Back, forth, back, forth, back, forth, back—

"SNAP!" Potter yells wildly, slamming down his hand on the cards and taking the pile with a smug smile.

Yes, OK, maybe it's not painful as such, Draco thinks as the back and forth continues and he watches the cards more closely, when—

"SNAP!" Potter yells again, just before Draco reacts.

It's not painful so much as FUCKING ANNOYING, Draco concludes, filled with competitive rage at the idea that Potter might win the childish game.

The next time the cards match, Draco yells, "SNAP!" and nearly knocks over his beer in his haste to win the cards, which he does, but only just – Potter's already thwacking his hand down, and he slaps Draco's hand so hard it hurts.

"Sorry," Potter says, withdrawing his hand quickly but not sounding sorry.

"Yes, sorry you're so slow," Draco says, and enjoys the way Potter's eyes light up with his own competitive rage.

It's war now, and it wages on for a good ten minutes, as each time Draco thinks he's getting somewhere, Potter rallies and takes back a quantity of cards. Finally, though, Draco is victorious, and he lets out a yell of triumph, subsiding in embarrassment when some of the other patrons of the pub start laughing and clapping.

When he looks over at Potter though, Potter's laughing too. "My hand fucking hurts, you bastard," Potter says pleasantly. "Look!" And he holds it out, as if to show off his injuries.

"Poor, poor Potty," Draco says sardonically, taking it and examining it. It looks like a hand – slightly red, yes – but otherwise undamaged. "Let Draco kiss it better."

Potter flinches at that, but doesn't pull his hand away, and Draco – unsure what to do now – thinks he might as well, so he raises Potter's hand to his mouth and kisses his palm.

Potter clears his throat, and Draco releases his hand, taking refuge in his beer, unable to look up.

"Shall – shall we have a rematch? Or play something else?" Potter asks eventually, his voice thick. When Draco looks up, Potter is rummaging through the other boxes he's brought over. "There's Monopoly or Snakes and Ladders? Or chess, but it's Ron who's good at that; I think I've had too much booze to concentrate properly on it."

Not the snakes; Draco's had enough of snakes. "Monopoly?" he asks, but Potter takes this as a suggestion and packs away the other games in a neat pile, opening up the Monopoly box and explaining the rules.

Draco gets the hang of it quickly. It's a property speculation game, and he's good at negotiations and deals; he's going to destroy Potter.

An hour – and another beer – later, he's not so sure. "You've landed on Mayfair, and I have a hotel, so you owe me two thousand pounds," Potter says smugly.

Draco looks at his pile of imitation Muggle money and wonders whether, if he cheats, Potter will notice. "Look! Over there!" he says.

"I'm not falling for that," Potter says, grinning, and holds out his hand. "Cough up, Malfoy, unless you admit defeat?"

This makes Draco falter, and Potter rolls his eyes.

"You know I didn't mean it like that," Potter says. "It . . . back then. You know. It wasn't you versus me. It wasn't personal."

Malfoy glowers. "It felt personal," he says, because it's the truth, in a way. It felt personal . . . right up to the point when Potter all but forgot he existed, and that was worse, because back when Potter was stalking him at school then that meant he was important, and then, suddenly, he wasn't. He was less than important; he was nothing, and whether he was on Potter's side or against him didn't matter any more in the grand scheme of things.

"Come on, Malfoy," Potter says awkwardly. "You were a tosser at school, you have to admit." He holds up a hand to halt Draco's reply. "Not saying I wasn't one too. Do we really have to do this?"

"Yes," Draco says with some heat.

Potter sighs and sits back, folding his arms. "Go on then."

"What . . . what do you mean?"

"Well, I don't want to. Honestly, I'm sick of talking about the war. I can't go five minutes with Hermione, or Ron, or Professor McGonagall, or Mrs Weasley, or anyone, really, putting their head on one side and looking at me with concern and asking if I'm OK. Honestly! I mean, I only died for a few minutes, it's not like I stayed dead. I wish they'd all shut up. So if you want to rehash it all again, feel free, but don't count on me to join in."

". . . you died?" Draco asks, thinking what the actual fuck? It's like every time he speaks to Potter, Potter casually reveals something ground-shaking that Draco feels he really ought to have known. He slept in a cupboard . . . He never got any presents . . . He fucking died and came back to life.

Potter groans. "Yes. Well, no. Sort of?" He shrugs. "I chose to come back, anyway."

"You . . . chose to come back?" Draco repeats dumbly.

"I think it's time for you to get the drinks in," Potter says firmly.

Draco rises and goes into the bar, fumbling with his Muggle money and managing not to embarrass himself, although there are a few snide comments about his 'dress' and he struggles very hard not to hex the Muggles en masse. He carries the drinks back through the crowd and sets them on the table in front of Potter without spilling a drop.

"Potter, I—"

"Two thousand pounds, Malfoy," Potter says.

OK; never be let it said that he can't take a hint. Draco looks at his pile of Monopoly money – there's no way he can afford that. He has about thirteen pounds left. "You're a Gryffindor," he says loftily. "There's no way you'd bankrupt me; you're far too noble for that."

Potter relaxes, grinning. "Try me."

Draco mortgages himself to the hilt and limps on for a few more turns around the board, before he finally has to admit he's lost. "I still won the first game though," he says, with a sniff, when Potter does an undignified victory dance, and hides his face with his pint. He's feeling quite woozy now and wonders how he's going to safely Apparate home; he'd prefer to arrive with all his limbs.

"OK, I declare a draw," Potter says, and takes a long drink. "For now." He looks at his watch. "Shit, it's late. We'd better dash if we're going to make the last train."

Draco wrinkles his nose. "Train?"

Potter nods. "Friends don't let friends Apparate drunk," he slurs. And then adds: "'Sides, aren't you going to come and pick up your owl?"

Draco realises that Potter is asking him to come home with him, and the thought makes him colour – from, it feels like, head to toe. He hopes that darkness surrounding them is enough to conceal it; the decking area of the pub is only softly lit, and they've turned on some kind of outdoor heaters to combat the faint chill of the late-evening air. It's summer, but it's only June, after all.

Potter rises, draining the remnants of his pint, so Draco does the same and then follows Potter out of the pub. Outside, the unheated air hits him like an Aguamenti, and he realises he's pretty drunk. Potter is drunk too though, and the thought makes him laugh – that they're drunk together, him and Potter, and he's about to get a Muggle train to Potter's Muggle house and . . . and then what?

"You feelin' OK, Draco?" Potter says, peering at him. "C'mon. This way." Soon, they're entering Westminster underground station, and Potter buys him a ticket and shows him where to put it so he can go through the barrier. It would be humiliating, but Potter's grinning, and swaying, and Draco finds he doesn't mind all that much. Besides, there's no reason why Draco should be au fait with this stuff, is there? Even Muggle lovers tend not to actually hang out in Muggle spaces, choosing to demonstrate their love from a fucking enormous distance.

They descend a moving staircase – and how the hell that works without magic, Draco has no idea – and then another, into what feels like the bowels of the earth. Though they're very metallic, shiny bowels, and Draco feels half-impressed, despite himself. It's more high-tech than the Ministry building, and the underground platform is equally shiny and metallic – although it's packed with drunken Muggles, cluttering up the sleek, metal lines.

The actual train journey isn't scary for someone who's a regular to the Gringotts vaults, though Draco does feel uneasy at being so far underground and having to trust Muggle architecture and engineering to keep the tons of soil off his head. It's a relief when they change trains and this next train soon rises up out of the earth to travel at ground level.

"Be about twenty mins," Potter says and grins at him. "You don't need to hold on so tight. You're not gonna die."

Draco releases his grip on the pole next to his seat and tries to look relaxed and casual, like he does this all the time. It's not that he doesn't trust the Muggle train to keep him safe, but . . . He scrabbles for something to say and lands on Quidditch. That should be nice and trouble free.

Potter's face lights up, and they're still talking tactics and teams when they get off the train. They're at Potter's local station, the one that Draco visited before, what feels like days ago now. Maybe it was days ago; he's losing track of where he is in time.

Potter leads the way, and Draco lets him; he doesn't want to make it obvious that he knows exactly where Potter lives. The conversation trails off a little as they tackle the hill; trust Potter to live so near its summit. Draco, despite his recent exercise, needs all his breath for the climb. But soon, Potter's climbing the steps outside his front door and ushering Draco in.

Will he offer tea, Draco wonders . . . or will he offer tea?

"Would you like some tea?" Potter asks, leading the way down to his kitchen. "Or . . ." He opens up a cabinet and waves vaguely at it. "There's some other drinks 'nd stuff."

Potter appears to have bought out an off-licence. Muggle drinks sit side by side with wizarding booze.

"I'll have—"

But Potter's already got a couple of glasses and is pouring in overgenerous measures of Firewhisky. "Nightcap," he explains indistinctly, passing a glass over to Draco, before swaying over to the kettle. He's using electricity, Draco realises, and he wonders how much of Potter's house really is just Muggle.

Once Potter's brewed the tea, he passes a mug to Draco and, picking up his own mug in one hand and his whisky in the other, indicates back up the stairs with his. "C'mon," he says.

Draco follows with interest; where's Potter taking him? Will he finally get to see some more of Potter's house? The answer's yes: Potter leads him up a flight of stairs and through a door that opens up into a massive room, packed with sofas; there must be enough seating for thirty people.

Potter plonks down his drinks on a coffee table near a large window overlooking the garden, and then sits down on an adjacent sofa with a relaxed sigh. Draco follows him and sits down beside him. "Expecting company?" he asks, raising his eyebrows. The room is a bit ridiculous.

Potter looks faintly embarrassed and shrugs. "'s good to have space for friends to come by," he says, and takes a large gulp of tea. He must have a fireproof tongue, Draco thinks, sipping at his own and trying to sober up. He doesn't like not feeling in control. "You can fit a whole Quidditch team in here," he adds. And, before Draco can add that that's not so many people, and is hardly impressive, Potter continues, "I did, not too long ago." And he looks mournful.

Draco tries not to pull a face, but he might as well get it over with; he doesn't want Potter going maudlin on him. "And how is Miss Weasley?" he says bracingly. "I hear you split up."

Potter gives him a surprisingly sober, level look. "Yes," he says. "I dare say Hermione told you that as well."

Draco isn't sure what to say to that, so he just says nothing.

"And I dare say she also told you that I've been dating men recently as well," he continues, the look turning harder.

Draco twitches. Men? Plural?

Potter's eyes widen. "Fuck," he says. "She didn't, did she? Fuck. Then tonight wasn't . . . Fuck." He lurches up. "I'll just go and get your owl, and then you can be on your—"

"Potter," Draco says, head spinning, "sit the hell back down and drink your tea."

Potter does as asked, but he's as red as a tomato and he can't look Draco in the eye. The atmosphere is tense and scaly, and Draco finds himself saying, when he can't bear it any more, "Right, rematch time."

Potter looks startled. "What?"

"Another round of Snap. You have a set of cards?"

"Well, yes," Potter says, eyes sliding to Draco's face and away. He wets his lips and then Accios a pack; it's Muggle again, Draco notices.

Draco twitches the pack from Potter's fingers and slides down to sit on the floor, away from the table, dealing out the cards. Potter comes to sit in front of him on the carpet; he's brought his whisky with him and takes a large swig, which makes him cough.

"Ready?" Draco asks, when the cards are dealt, and Potter nods.

Draco plays, and Potter slides his card out with care, flipping it over at the last second and deflating when it's not a match. The game continues, and somehow, now they're completely plastered, even with the odd tension in the air the game is much more fun. It's over quickly, because Potter keeps pulling ridiculous faces to put Draco off, and Draco can barely move for laughing.

"Victory is mine," Potter says smugly, "but I'll give you a chance to beat me, if you're man enough?"

If he's man enough? YES, he's man enough. They play again, and this time Potter cheats shamelessly, distracting Draco at vital moments, and casting multiplication spells on the pile of cards beside him when he thinks Draco isn't looking. He wins again.

"One more time?" Potter says. "Even though there's no way you can win?"

Draco decides that if Potter's going to play dirty, then he will too, and he's just deciding whether to Full Body-Bind the fucker or cast Tarantallegra on him, when Potter yells, "SNAP, SNAP, FUCKING SNAP," and Draco launches himself at the cards at the same time Potter does, ending up with Potter's hand trapped beneath his own.

Potter's breathing very hard, and his hand is very warm, and they stay there for a frozen second or two, looking at each other.

Potter attempts a smile. "I think . . ."

"Yes?" Draco asks.

"I think you're really shit at Snap," Potter says, with an odd look on his face, as if he's lost his nerve, and Draco releases his hand to allow him to collect his cards. He can't help but notice that Potter's trembling though, round the edges.

"I thought it was only Slytherins who cheated," Draco says. "Not Gryffindors."

"Then you never knew a Gryffindor properly, did you?" Potter says, a touch crossly. "We're not paragons of virtue."

"No, I can't say I've ever been friends with anyone from that house . . . though I'd like to be," Draco replies, trying not to wince at how cheesy that sounds. It must be the whisky, which is forcing itself down his throat without his permission. Whisky on top of beer on top of wine is probably not the wisest of ideas, all in all, but it's been one of those kinds of days.

Potter's face flames. "Do you actually mean that?" he asks.

"Yes," Draco says, because it's true, and because he's drunk, and because Potter is gorgeous when he's squiffy, all pink and warm and soft, and Potter dates boys, and . . . and tonight is feeling pretty date-like, if he thinks about it, which he's trying not to because he doesn't think he'll be able to bear the crashing disappointment if he's got the wrong end of the broomstick. He's spent so long thinking of Potter as completely unavailable that he's still finding it a challenge to believe he's not. It seems surreal - and unlikely. As if it's a product of the time loop, rather than reality.

Potter grins, a bit awkwardly. "So you'll concede defeat to me? Over Snap," he quickly adds. "Fuck's sake, you know what I mean."

Draco raises an eyebrow – he seems to be doing that a lot this evening. But if he's not allowed to raise his eyebrow when he's drunk and in Harry Potter's house, he doesn't know when he is. "Absolutely not, Potter," he says with a sniff. "Play on."

"Oh yeah?" Potter challenges.

Draco grins, and tosses out a card, casually, which Potter counters, and . . . and Potter only goes and lets him win, which is more infuriating than losing, so they play again, and again, and again, and by this point Draco can barely remember who's winning, only that he's breathless from laughter, and so is Potter, and soon the cards are lying forgotten as they talk – about what they've been doing recently, about their hopes for the future, about . . . yes, about Justin fucking Finch-Fletchley.

It's nearly morning now, the dawn light spilling into the sitting room, and Potter yawns. "It wasn't that I thought we were, you know . . . soul mates, or anything," he says awkwardly. "It was just nice to . . . be myself. I mean, I still like girls, you know?" he adds. "But . . . I like boys too." And he colours up; he's been blushing so much that Draco worries for the blood circulation to his feet.

"Mm," Draco says. They're sitting on the floor, leaning up against the back of the sofa, coffee table pushed out of the way. Potter's right hand is brushing the back of Draco's left, but he doesn't move it.

"And you?" Potter asks casually. "Are you . . .? Do you . . .?" He trails off.

Draco doesn't quite know how to answer this non question. Is he dating? No, of course not. Malfoys don't date; they decide on their future spouse, with the input of their parents, and then negotiate a settlement before announcing an engagement. His parents love each other very much, but it is a love borne from long association – and a love that wouldn't have flourished if his mother had not been pureblooded, like his father.

Or is Potter asking if he swings both ways? For some reason, Draco finds this infuriating. Can't Potter tell? "What do you think?" he asks, rather nastily.

Potter looks taken aback, but he licks his lips and doesn't flinch. "I . . . I think so," he says faintly. "I hope so."

Draco feels slightly sick. Somehow, this is different from fooling around with fellow Slytherin dormitory-mates to scratch an ever-present itch. This feels serious. The life-changing sort of serious. Would his parents . . .? He tries to suppress the thought; he doesn't need to think about his parents right now, with Potter so delicious and unsure and . . . and willing, seemingly, right in front of him. But . . .

He shrugs, and then, when Potter's face falls, finds himself saying, in a slightly arsey tone, "It's not exactly unusual in wizarding society to have a – shall we say – flexible attitude to these things, Potter."

"Yes, OK," Potter says a touch sharply, "I didn't ask for a lecture," and he pulls his hand away from Draco's, tucking it in his lap with his left one.

Bollocks. Draco reaches out and places a hand, gingerly, on Potter's arm. "I didn't mean . . ."

Potter looks over at him, and his expression is raw, and something tightens in Draco's stomach. It's so late it's early, and maybe that's why he thinks fuck it and leans in towards Potter, very slightly.

Potter leans in too, drawing a ragged breath, and their mouths are inches away from each other, and Draco's hand tightens on Potter's arm, pulling another breath from him.

"I – I . . ." Potter says, swaying in slightly closer, and Draco can feel his breath, hot on his mouth, and if he just moves infinitesimally then he'll bridge the gap, and he'll be kissing Potter, and Potter will be kissing him; he feels his groin tighten at the thought, and he pauses, savouring the moment. Savouring the way Potter's breathing fast and heavy, and his eyelids have fluttered shut, and he's . . .

The world twists, and squeezes, and Draco blinks, disconcerted . . . and then sees, in front of him, his desk, with the time-turner glowing like a beacon. He's back in his room; time has, once again, reset itself.

Draco swears out loud. He's trembling, and he's not sure whether it's with heightened emotion or with anger. He tries to touch the time-turner, to fling it against the fucking wall, even though he knows it's fused to the wood, but even approaching it makes the world go odd and twisted and he tears himself away, feeling sick to his stomach and trying not to retch.

So, instead, he casts a sound-muffling spell and pushes the whole desk over; it lands on its side with a satisfying crash, and his chair is the next to go, followed by – with some effort – his bed.

It doesn't make him feel much better.

He locks the door and doesn't leave his room all day, not even to pick up his little owl from the shop. He can't see the point; it wouldn't remember him anyway.

He supposes his parents must come by at some point, to try to prise him from his room and make him do his speech, but if they do, he doesn't hear them. He's lost in his own head, and in the anger he feels at everything and everyone – but mostly himself.

Chapter Text

The next day, Draco snaps awake as time resets; he's slept, he thinks groggily, for at least fourteen hours, and he feels extremely embarrassed for being so melodramatic. It helps that no one will remember how melodramatic he was – but since he remembers, it doesn't help all that much.

He uses his en suite bathroom, and once he's showered, washed his face and shaved he feels much more awake and alive. And . . . determined. He's not sure what he's determined to do, but first things first: he needs to pick up his little owl and name it. He feels sure that if he'd had his owl around yesterday, he wouldn't have locked himself in his trashed bedroom like a humongous twat.

So he Apparates directly to the Magical Menagerie, arriving before it's even opened. He doesn't want to wait around though – if anything, the time loop has taught him that patience is not a virtue – so he hammers on the door until a very irate old man in a nightcap peers down from an upstairs window.

"We're not open!" the proprietor croaks down. "Come back later!"

"I just want the little owl," Draco calls, and he levitates fifteen galleons up to the man, who catches it, muttering something Draco can't hear, and disappears from the window. But before Draco can worry that he's been ripped off, the little owl, obviously Summoned from downstairs in the shop, zooms out of the window and lands on Draco's waiting raised finger.

It gives him an extremely sulky look and pecks his finger – hard.

"Ow!" Draco says. "What was that for?"

The owl's sulky look turns stern – as stern as a tiny owl with eyes almost larger than its head can manage – and shakes its head, before flying off his finger to land on his shoulder . . . and peck his ear.

"OK, OK, I'm sorry," Draco says. "What am I sorry for?"

Another peck. Draco's ear will be shredded at this rate.

"I'm sorry for not picking you up yesterday," he tries.

The little owl hoots, and then snuggles up to him.

Draco blinks; the little owl can remember that? It seems extremely unlikely. But, a snuggle is better than a peck, so he grips the little owl tight to his shoulder and Apparates back home to his bedroom.

He's not sure what to do once he's there, though. He doesn't think he can face Potter today after their abortive kiss; while Potter won't remember, he'll remember. Just thinking about it is making him turn vermillion. Merlin . . . he wanted to kiss Potter so badly. But, he thinks firmly, it was probably a good thing he didn't. Potter was drunk – extremely drunk – and Draco was . . . available. Thinking that takes the shine off everything immediately. Potter had probably wished he was Finch-Fletchley, Draco thinks sourly. He'd have kissed anything that moved and had a dick at that point.

No; he doesn't want to see Potter today. But, on the other hand, he doesn't want to sit about his room sulking either.

The little owl hoots, bouncing up and down on Draco's bed and then flapping its wings, taking off and zooming around the room, before landing on the bed again and bouncing.

Draco smiles at it; he still can't think what to call it. How do normal people name their pets? He has no idea; he's never had one. But, looking at the owl, he has an idea. He apologised to the bird and it made him feel about one hundred percent better. Maybe . . .

It seems dim, and unnecessary, but he's filled with an urge to apologise en masse to other people. Other people who have fewer feathers and are one hundred per cent more human.

Once he's started writing apology notes – simple ones, which consist of one line: I want to apologise for any harm or upset I've caused you. D. Malfoy – he finds he's collecting quite a pile. Many of the teachers at Hogwarts rate one, as do a number of fellow students – he finds himself underlining the word 'apologise' in his note to Katie Bell. He considers sending one to Weasley, or to Weasley's sister, but his regret only goes so far – if he sends a letter to Ginevra, he'll end up with Ronald on his doorstep, trying to cave his head in.

By the time he's finished, there are an embarrassing number of notes, and he considers whether he should actually send them. He's just decided that, actually, it was the writing of the notes that was the cathartic part, and he'd prefer to just ceremonially Vanish the things, when the little owl bounds over the pile, pulls one out, and darts out the window, leaving Draco gaping, open mouthed, at empty space where the owl once was.

Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks.

Draco rummages through the pile of letters, trying to work out which letter the owl has taken and who he's delivering it to, going alternately hot and cold. He suddenly regrets the whole thing very much; who cares if tomorrow the people involved won't remember? He's still got to get through today!

It takes him five panicky minutes, but he works it out eventually: the letter has gone to Hagrid, of all people.

The thought makes him shudder, and he sits on his bed, trying not to groan. Draco, although he'd never admit it out loud, has always been a bit scared of Hagrid – the half-giant is so massive that if he decided to sit on Draco, Draco is uncertain whether he'd survive the experience.

But . . . looking on the bright side, Hagrid is presumably still in Hogwarts, over in Scotland. This, Draco reasons, is very far away – if the little owl manages to get there before the day resets itself, then there won't be time for Hagrid to react to the note. Draco isn't sure how Hagrid would react, but the man is unpredictable . . . and fond of monsters. Draco wouldn't put it past him to send his reply via dragon, and then pretend to be surprised when the fiery bugger burned him to death.

Which is why Draco nearly jumps out of his skin when, just ten minutes later, the fireplace flares green, and the little owl barrels out of it, a note clutched in its talons, which it deposits with an air of smugness on his lap.

Has the sodding thing used Floo powder to hop from a grate in London to one in Hogsmeade? How on earth would an owl do that?

"Oi, you," he says, fixing it with a hard look. "What are you up to, you little bastard?"

The bird hoots, with an air of innocence, but Draco can see the remnants of a glittery, silver powder on its beak. Fucking thing; of all the owls he had to pick, he chose a tiny evil mastermind. He picks up the letter with finger and thumb and examines it. The paper is stained with soil and blotchy with ink, and he wrinkles his nose; it probably is from Hagrid. Ugh, vile.

He opens it with a sense of foreboding and reads the short letter contained within. It's spelled correctly, to his surprise, but it doesn't give much away.

Thank you for your letter. But it's not me you need to apologise to. R. Hagrid

Draco looks between the letter and the little owl, which sits up straight and hoots, as if indicating that it's willing and ready to go again, again!

So . . . fuck it. He writes a reply, asking simply:

If not you, then who? D.M.

The little owl swoops on him to snatch the note before he can change his mind, darts over to the mantelpiece over the fire, takes a pinch of Floo powder in its beak and vanishes into the fireplace with a burst of green flame. It seems entirely implausible to Draco – does the Floo system recognise hoots as well as plain English? And if so, since when? – but he's not an expert in these things, and he wouldn't put it past the whole bloody species to have worked it out ages ago, so they could simply pretend to spend five days delivering a letter, when really they were spending four and half of those days lying in owl-y luxury, eating finest mouse.

It's not long before the owl returns, bearing a return missive from Hagrid. It reads:

If you really want to say sorry, stop by for tea today if you're free. I'll be in my hut.

There is nothing, really, that Draco would like less, but he finds himself rummaging in his wardrobe for an outfit suitable for the occasion: formal robes are, of course, out of the question in Hagrid's stinking, dirty hut.

He decides, eventually, on a simple combination of white shirt, black trousers and black dragonhide boots, and slings a light travelling cloak around his shoulders, before utilising the Floo himself, saying clearly, "The Hog's Head," into the fireplace as he steps into the cold flames.

He keeps his elbows well in as he travels – he's not a massive fan of travelling by Floo – and half-falls out of the fireplace at his destination, only managing to stay upright with a stagger and a lurch. It's one of the reasons he's gone for the Hog's Head rather than the Three Broomsticks; fewer people to see him arrive. It was a dive back when he was at school, and it's a dive now – run down and gloomy. As he steps out into the main bar, the customers turn their backs on him; not, he thinks, because of who he is, but more because they'd prefer not to be seen while conducting their business.

It is, he thinks, the sort of place he suspects people like Potter thought would vanish after the war was won, but places like this will never vanish. The underbelly of society will always need a place to meet, and shit tips like the Hog's Head will always fill that niche.

Still, Draco nearly trips over his own feet when the barman nods at him and says, "Good morning, boy. In here early, aren't you?"

Draco supposes that most people who use the Floo are here to actually drink, and it is never good policy to annoy someone of influence, but he freezes. He knows who Aberforth Dumbledore is, but he's never spoken to him before.

"Yes, boy, I know who you are," Aberforth says. "You're the Malfoy lad, the one who tried to kill my brother but left it to someone else to do the dirty job."

Draco considers his options: walk out, head held high, or . . . He goes for option two. "I'm very sorry," he says, since that seems to be what he's doing today. "Really, I am."

Aberforth shoots him a sharp look. "Are you now? Sorry you couldn't bring yourself to do it, or sorry it happened at all?"

Draco does some more considering. "Both, I think," he says honestly, because he's often wondered – mostly in the middle of the night, when things are at their bleakest – what would have been different if he had killed Dumbledore himself, if he'd proved his loyalty to the Dark Lord and won back Voldemort's favour for himself and his family. Would things have been better . . . or worse?

Aberforth continues polishing a glass for a moment, and then nods. "It was a bad business, and I'm glad it's over," he says, and then turns away to serve a customer in a hood so big it conceals his whole head, right down to his neck.

Draco, sensing an opportunity to escape, walks quickly out of the pub, through the streets of Hogsmeade and towards Hogwarts. He feels a twinge of discomfort as he passes through the front gates – both at the memories it invokes and the knowledge of what might be to come – but tries to squash it, walking quickly and with purpose past up the path and then off it, bearing left towards Hagrid's wooden hut, on the edge of the forest.

When he gets there, his courage shrinks, but he knocks on the door and waits.

For a moment, he wonders if Hagrid's not at home, and he decides he'll leg it if there's no answer in the next two seconds, but then the door creaks open and Hagrid steps out, towering over him. He might as well be a first year, terrified of the enormous, dirty, uncouth groundsman all over again.

"H-h-h-hullo," he says, raising his chin. "You s-said I should come."

Hagrid eyes him with intense dislike; Draco can see it, even despite the all-encompassing matted facial hair. "Yeh're early, Malfoy," he says grumpily, "but come on in," and he retreats inside, leaving the door open.

Draco swallows hard but does as asked, reminding himself that Potter spoke up on his behalf at his trial, so Hagrid won't attack him. Probably.

Hagrid's massive dog, curled up by the unlit fire, raises its head and growls at him, exposing massive fangs and drooling alarmingly. Draco tries to look like he would taste extremely bad.

"Down, Fang," Hagrid says – but reluctantly, as if he would really like it if Fang did eat him. But, to Draco's relief, the dog lowers its head and closes his eyes, though it still growls from time to time in a blood-curdling way.

"I didn' 'spect yeh ter actually come," Hagrid says, waving his wand at a kettle. Draco prepares himself to drink yet another cup of extremely bad tea; what's with these people?

"Well, here I am," Draco says, because anyone with eyes can see that.

Hagrid shoots him a dark look. "Yeh're in me home, Malfoy. Keep a civil tongue in yer head or I'll boot yeh out, right in the seat o' yer pants."

Draco bristles, but manages to restrain himself from answering back; it will do no good, and he suspects the oaf will simply carry out his threat. He reminds himself that it was he who made the first move here, so he might as well see the thing through.

"Milk? Sugar?" Hagrid asks, after the tea's brewed.

Draco nods, and Hagrid passes him a mug of tea that looks almost passable, considering. He takes a ginger sniff.

"I'm not gonna poison yeh, yeh big daftie," Hagrid says with a snort, taking a revolting slurp of his own tea. "It's on'y tea."

Draco takes a sip to show willing; the tea is milky and sweet and just how he likes it, and he relaxes marginally. At least this torture will be accompanied by a good drink.

"Toffee?" Hagrid asks, waving a tin at him.

Draco feels honour bound to accept, but when he sucks on it dubiously, the stuff gums his teeth together, and he wonders if he's made a mistake. It seems to have the same effect on Hagrid though, and they sit in silence for a time, furiously sucking.

Hagrid's teeth slurp free first, and he says, thickly, "So, are yeh genuine 'bout wantin' ter say sorry for what yeh've done?"

Draco attempts to open his jaw, but he's still stuck tight, so he nods.

This seems to please Hagrid, because he leans forward and claps Draco on the shoulder, with a force hard enough to nearly knock him off his chair. He rummages in his pocket for a hanky and blows his nose with violent force. "I'm glad ter hear it," he says with barely suppressed emotion. "Harry tol' me that yeh weren't that bad, but I . . ." Another honk. "I'm afraid ter say I didn' believe him. And durin' yer trial, yer didn' seem all that sorry."

Draco tries very hard to speak, but he can't manage it. He's sorry all right; sorry he ever decided to write that ludicrous letter and make this ludicrous journey.

"But . . . it's not me yeh need ter say sorry to," Hagrid says, pulling himself together.

Draco, with a mighty effort, manages to speak. "Who?" he says indistinctly.

Hagrid frowns, drawing together massive eyebrows. "Why, Beaky, o' course!" he says, mystifyingly.

"Beaky?" Draco repeats.

"He's officially called Witherwings now," Hagrid explains happily, "but he'll always be Beaky ter me."

The truth dawns on Draco. Hagrid expects him to say sorry to that vicious, monstrous fugitive from justice – the hippogriff Buckbeak. He knew, of course, that the thing had escaped, but he didn't know that it had returned to Hagrid and was there, at Hogwarts, right under the nose of the lawmakers of the country.

For a moment, he feels an urge to protest, to storm down to the castle gates and out through them, Apparating straight to the Ministry to report Hagrid for harbouring a criminal. But sanity soon prevails. He supposes that, in truth, the animal – though a vicious, unpleasant sod – wasn't more violent than any other member of its species. It had gored him, yes, but . . . perhaps it wasn't entirely the creature's fault, and he had hammed up the injury somewhat, mostly to annoy Potter. Madam Pomfrey had healed the cut almost right away, and it had hurt for an hour or two, max.

Still, that doesn't mean Draco wishes to spend any time with the thing; he doesn't know if hippogriffs hold grudges, but it would be just his luck. "I'm very sorry, of course," he says hastily, sucking away the remains of the toffee. "Perhaps you could pass on my regrets to, er, Beaky, next time you see him?"

"Why, he's here righ' now," Hagrid replies, seemingly oblivious. "I tol' him yeh were comin', and he agreed ter be civil if yeh'll be civil ter him."

Draco takes a deep breath; can Hagrid really talk to a dumb animal like that? He hears the ghost of a hoot in his head; he's left his little owl back at the Manor, but it's fair to say that the creature has already taught him not to underestimate the craftiness of magical creatures. "OK," he says dubiously. "Are you sure the thing – I mean, are you sure that Beaky won't attack?"

Hagrid gives him a meaningful look. "P'raps yeh'd better call him Buckbeak," he says thoughtfully. "Since yeh aren' exac'ly friens." He leads the way out of the hut and towards a paddock in a clearing a little way from the hut. "I don' think Beaky'll attack," he adds, to Draco's alarm. "Depends how good yer apology is, Malfoy, and whether yer really mean it. Beaky'll be able ter tell."

Draco's legs seem to carry him onwards towards the fenced-in paddock, where five or six hippogriffs are grazing, entirely without his permission. He tries very hard to feel genuinely sorry for the wounding, violent little shit, and only succeeds in feeling sorry for himself – particularly when he catches a glimpse of 'Beaky' himself. The horrible thing turns, its wide orange eyes glowing with menace, and fluffs up its grey feathers. It's bigger than Draco remembers, and its front feet claw at the ground, as if it wishes that instead of grass under his talons, Draco's body was lying there.

Hagrid whistles, and the thing paces over with too much eagerness; Draco has a vision of it leaping on him and goring him, as soon as Hagrid frees it. Although . . . it's got wings, hasn't it? It doesn't need to be freed. It could just flap and be on him in a flash. He tries not to shudder or show fear; it's just a bird. Sort of. Just a bloody chicken.

A chicken that's going to eat him alive.

"Now, Malfoy, stay real still and bow yer head, and remember – yeh have ter be actually sorry, not jus' pretend. Oh, an' maintain eye contact!" Hagrid says unhelpfully, opening up the gate.

The hippogriff stalks through and fixes its orange stare on Draco, who finds himself bending his head, and then his body, until he's on his knees in front of the creature. Perfect position to be disembowelled, he thinks with an edge of hysteria, trying to maintain the uncomfortable pose while also staring the thing in the eye. "Dear Mr Buckbeak, I am very sorry for what I did," he gabbles. "Potter has forgiven me, and I hope you will forgive me too."

Hagrid snorts. "Is tha' the best yeh can do?"

"I am truly sorry that I didn't speak up for you to the Ministry," Draco continues desperately, seeing feathered death approaching. He supposes he is sorry; if he had spoken up for it, he wouldn't be in this position now. "I was rude to you, and you were only reacting to that. If I hadn't been rude in the first place, you would never have hurt me."

Hagrid sniffs from behind him. "He barely touched yeh – did yeh, Beaky? Big fuss over nothing."

"Yes, yes, that's right," Draco says doubtfully. His eyes are watering, and he wonders what will happen if he blinks. "Just a small gash, barely any blood at all."

"Not sarcasm!" Hagrid says, with a touch of alarm. "Beaky won' like it!"

"It was fixed in a jiffy," Draco amends hastily as the creature twitches. "I was making a fuss about nothing. I really am truly sorry."

"He is, an' all," Hagrid says, and Draco tries not to wince at the sound of him honking into a hankie again. "Look! Look, Malfoy!"

Draco tries not to be irritated; he can see very well what's happening. He's been staring at the fucking thing for what seems like a hundred years. It's bending its neck, rather reluctantly, in a small bow.

"Go on! Give 'im a stroke!"

Draco straightens up and does as he's told; he still thinks there's a good likelihood of the thing clawing him and then stamping on him with its hind hooves to finish the business. But, to his surprise, the creature submits to his touch, and then its hind legs sink to the ground.

"Aw, thatta boy!" Hagrid says, sounding choked. "He wants yeh to get on his back. That's forgiveness, tha' is."

Draco cringes at the thought of mounting the ungainly beast and going flying, but he suspects if he turns it down then it really will gore him. So, reluctantly, he mounts it, and he's scrabbling for a handhold – he doesn't want to pull its feathers, in case that pisses it off – when it launches what feels like straight up into the air, in an ungainly, bouncing flight that has Draco clenching his knees and wrapping his hands tightly into its feathers anyway. In a choice of deaths, he'll go with goring, rather than plunging to the ground and breaking every bone in his body.

After a few minutes, when he's slightly more sure he's not going to die, the experience turns from terrifying to . . . well, still terrifying, but also exhilarating. The hippogriff flies high, but below the clouds, so the landscape swoops by at a brisk clip. Scotland is exceptionally beautiful, and it's even more beautiful when seen from the air. The wind rushes through Draco's hair, and after a few more minutes he even lets out a whoop of enjoyment, which makes the hippogriff caw and coast along on an air current, wings held high and wide. It's fantastic.

When the hippogriff returns to the paddock near Hagrid's hut and lands, they've been up in the air for almost half an hour, and Draco's legs are so stiff he can barely stand up, but he's grinning ear to ear.

The grin falters somewhat when he sees who's standing next to Hagrid, looking extremely puzzled.

It is, of course, Harry sodding Potter.

Can he do nothing without Potter turning up? Does everything lead back to the speccy git? He remembers how much he wanted to kiss him, the day before. He doesn't want to kiss him now. He wants to push him face down in Hagrid's pumpkin patch and stamp on him.

"Have yeh said sorry ter Harry?" Hagrid says sternly, when Draco manages to stagger over – he takes it slow, because if he falls over in the dirt, then he'll have to Obliviate everyone in sight, sod the fact that they'll forget it by tomorrow. "Seems ter me, yeh owe 'im the biggest 'pology there is, fer being a great big—"

"It's fine, Hagrid, really," Potter interrupts, looking deeply uncomfortable. "Um, hello, Malfoy. Bit surprised to find you here, but Hagrid—"

"Ditto," Malfoy says shortly.

"—sent me a note, asking me to come," Potter continues, ignoring the interruption. "I was at the unity event. You know, the one you're involved with?" he continues. "Your father gave your apologies, said you were sick in bed." He gives Draco a look as if to suggest that he might be sick in the head, but there's no evidence of a bed.

Hagrid shakes his head, to Draco's surprise. "Now, Harry, Malfoy's done a good job o' apologisin' ter Bucky. Don' wind him up."

Potter seems just as surprised.

"Go on, then, Malfoy," Hagrid prompts, indicating Potter.

Merlin. This was not how Draco had planned this going. But . . . He takes a deep breath. "Potter, I am very sorry," he says, looking Potter in the eye.

To his delight, Potter looks deeply uncomfortable at this and doesn't ask why Draco's sorry. It's possibly the worse apology in the world, but Potter doesn't seem to care. "It's OK, Malfoy, I forgive you," he mumbles. "It wasn't all your fault."

Draco feels metaphorical steam come out of his ears, but he tries not to react to Potter's forgiveness. Ugh. How extremely repellent; as if he wants forgiveness. Embarrassment coils through him.

Hagrid stomps over and claps him on the shoulder. "Time fer an early lunch," he announces. "Come an' have some stoat sarnies, the both o' yer."

Draco has never been offered a stoat sarnie before, and he wishes that he'd remained ignorant of the idea. He wonders how he can get out of this one, without offence. Hagrid still has control of a herd of hippogriffs, after all, and that's not even mentioning his killer hound.

"Thanks, Hagrid," Potter says, "but since Malfoy and I are here, we should probably pop in and say hello to the headmistress."

"Yes, he's right," Draco says quickly – not because he especially wants to say hello to McGonagall, but between her and a stoat sandwich, he'll take her any time.

"Ver' well," Hagrid says cheerfully, obviously not offended. "Come on, Beaky. Back in the paddock with yer." And he walks off, leading the hippogriff away and talking to it as if it were human.

Draco and Potter look at each other – and, to Draco's surprise, Potter grins. It's a genuine grin, and his whole face lights up. "Didn't fancy Hagrid's stoat sarnies then, did you?"

"Hell, no," Draco says whole-heartedly, wrinkling his nose. "I've never heard of anything so vile. The toffee was quite enough for one day."

Potter laughs, and they walk towards the path, giving the Whomping Willow a wide berth. "So, you bunked off today, then?" Potter asks.

"Well, yes," Draco agrees cautiously.

"To . . . say sorry to Buckbeak?" Potter continues. He sounds curious.

Draco shrugs, even though Potter's not looking; he's gazing at his feet as they walk, as if he's never seen anything so fascinating. "Today felt like a day for sorrys," he says. It's not really an explanation, but then he doesn't really have an explanation. He could tell Potter about the time loop, he supposes, but he doesn't want to. It feels . . . different, to be an enigma to Potter for once. He likes the idea of Potter being truly baffled by him.

"Glad it was you flying Buckbeak and not me," Potter says; there's a smile in his voice. "Give me a broom any day."

Draco can't help but agree – but, despite that, flying Buckbeak was . . . magical, in all senses of the word.

"Won't you be in the shit for missing your speech?" Potter asks, as if he's only just thought about it. "I feel bad for letting Kingsley down; I promised him I'd stay for the whole day. I . . ." He grins, slightly shamefaced. "I didn't really want to go at all."

Draco considers this. "If I was really in trouble, my father would have sent an elf to find me," he says. He realises he hasn't actually thought about what his father would do when he found him missing; today, he forgot to leave a note for his mother. He feels a bit guilty, but . . . "I think making amends is more important than making empty gestures," he says, and is surprised to realise that he actually means it.

Potter shoots him a sidelong glance. "Really?" he says.

Draco nods. "Really." He still doesn't think much of being forgiven by Potter, but . . . perhaps it's not so bad. Besides, Potter never apologised sincerely for his Sectumsempra; it feels warming to have the moral high ground for once. He forgave Potter for it a long time ago – it was quite obvious, after he'd recovered, that Potter had no idea that the curse would be so vicious – but still.

"Then I have an idea," Potter says as they reach the entrance to the castle. "Come on."

As Potter leads the way in, and through the familiar halls, Draco realises that Potter really is leading them to the old headmaster's office. He feels a familiar sense of dread; Dumbledore could always see right through him. He reminds himself that Dumbledore is gone, but McGonagall isn't much better, all things being equal – she was never much of a fan of his either.

But it would be churlish to object, so he follows Potter up to the seventh floor, on the east side of the castle, and tries not to blink when Potter speaks a password to the stone gargoyle guarding the entrance; Potter knows it, which means he comes here often.

And he can't help but blink when Professor McGonagall embraces Harry when she sees him, as if he's her own son, and they talk as if they're old friends. He's impressed, too, that McGonagall barely flinches when she sees him in Potter's company, and when Potter's stopped talking, she turns to him and puts out her hand for him to shake.

"Good to see you again, Mr Malfoy," she says politely, and he nods and replies in kind.

"Are the kids busy this afternoon?" Harry asked. "Because if not, I had an idea."

"No, not that I know of," McGonagall replies. "I hope we'll see you and Mr Malfoy for lunch first?"

Potter nods, and smiles, and Draco follows him out of the office, completely mystified.

"What kids?" he asks, when they're safely out. It's the summer holidays, and he's frankly surprised that there are any teachers about, let alone children.

"Oh," Potter says. "I asked the headmistress if, as a special favour, she could keep Hogwarts open over the summer hols for any students who didn't want to go home or don't have a proper home to go to. There are six this year, I think." He looks a little grim for a moment, and Draco decides not to pry; the word cupboard comes into his mind, and he winces.

"I thought that since we're here, we could organise a game of Quidditch," Potter continues, a bit more cheerfully.

"Quidditch," Draco repeats, because . . . really? Some of their worst rivalry was played out on the Hogwarts Quidditch pitch. Is reprising it really such a great idea?

"Don't you miss it?" Potter asks, and doesn't wait for a reply. "I dream that I'm playing it sometimes. I don't get to fly enough any more."

"Well, yes, I miss it," Draco confesses, although the thought of being on a broom still alternately makes him wistful and gives him chills. "But if you miss it, why don't you just become a Quidditch player? Professionally, I mean."

"I thought about it," Potter says lightly, "but . . . I always wanted to be an Auror. I'm going to start my training properly in a couple of months. I just . . . needed a break beforehand, you know? And . . ." He trails off, and then clearly makes an effort to pull himself together. "Kingsley said they wouldn't accept me as an Auror until it had been at least a year."

"Why?" Draco asks, even though he realises it's an arse of a question and something delicate lies behind Potter's carefully casual words.

"Oh . . ." Potter shrugs and doesn't reply until they're walking back down the grand staircase and into the Entrance Hall. "I think Kingsley wanted to be sure I was joining up to help people, not to take revenge."

Draco wets his lips. "Did you?" he asks. "Do you?"

Potter halts and turns to look at him. "What do you think?" he asks – and he looks genuinely puzzled. It makes Draco wonder what Kingsley was on when he made that decision, although . . . perhaps Kingsley just needed an excuse to give to Potter, to make him take a break before he dove into Auror training and gave his life to it. Draco knows he'll give his life to it unless someone can stop him, give him a reason to stop.

"It would be quite understandable," he says – because it's true, "but . . . no. Anyway, where are we going?"

Potter takes a moment to digest this, and then says, as he leads the way through a door behind the staircase and down the flight of stairs that lead to the kitchens, "The Hufflepuff common room."

Draco, with great dint of will, manages not to wrinkle his nose, but he must pull a face of some sort because Potter grins.

"Come on, Malfoy, being Hufflepuff isn't catching," he says, and pauses by an alcove with a large stack of enormous barrels in front of it. He taps a specific barrel in a jaunty rhythm, and the lid of the barrel swings open, revealing a passage lined with earth.

"Good god, Potter, really?" Draco asks as Potter bends to enter the tunnel.

"I'm afraid so," Potter says, and crawls off.

Draco, trying not to stare at Potter's backside, follows him, after a brief internal shudder. To his relief, the tunnel isn't a long one, and it soon opens out into a cosy room packed with plants, with a view of the dandelion-dotted lawns outside the castle. It's sunnier than the dungeons by far, and cheery, and Draco can see why the students who've stayed in the castle over summer have chosen this particular common room as their base – at least, he presumes that they're from more than one house.

The students – a handful of second and third years, one fourth year and a couple of fifth years – greet Potter as an old friend, but stare at Draco as if they're not quite sure what to make of him. But Potter makes an effort to include him in the conversation, and soon they're all chatting away like old friends – with that sense of awkwardness that always comes with meeting up with old friends, who aren't the same as you remember, and you're fairly sure you've nothing in common any more and you can't, to be honest, remember exactly why you were ever friends in the first place.

But . . . it's not so bad, Draco would admit, if pressed, and in an hour or so they all troop into the Great Hall for lunch at the Slytherin tables – even though he thinks he's the only Slytherin amongst them – where they're joined by Hagrid and McGonagall. And, after lunch, and an appropriate break to let their food go down, they all make their way to the Quidditch pitch and get ready for a match.

Draco finds himself dressed in Hufflepuff colours, leading a team that consists of two Ravenclaws and a Gryffindor, against Potter, who's in Slytherin green and leading a team made up of Hufflepuffs. Professor McGonagall referees enthusiastically from the sidelines, with Hagrid cheering beside her. It's . . . a little unusual. There aren't enough of them to play a proper game, so they just leave out the Beaters and the Bludgers altogether, and soon Draco, straining to keep up with Potter as he zooms around the pitch, has all but forgotten his nerves about being on a broom again. How had he thought it would be different? It's not different; it's wonderful.

And as Draco looks over at Potter, who's laughing so hard he's nearly falling off his broom, his Slytherin-green Quidditch robes flapping in the light breeze, he thinks: this is real unity here, sod the so-called 'unity' event at the stiff, stuck-up Palace of Westminster, and he feels his stomach lurch . . . and knows it has nothing to do with being in flight.

Chapter Text

The next morning, when time resets, Draco squares his jaw, prepares himself to do something he never, ever thought he'd do, and goes downstairs for breakfast, still in his pyjamas.

"Good morning, dear," his mother says, setting the paper aside and looking at him with sympathy. "Are you nervous about your speech?"

Draco sits down and spreads a napkin on his knees, summoning all his courage, while his mother pours him a cup of tea. "No," he says – and means it. "Not at all. But . . . I am nervous about telling you something, Mother."

His mother focuses all her attention on him, in the disconcerting way she sometimes has, as if nothing in the world is more important than him. "What is it, Draco?" she asks.

The words stick in Draco's throat, and although he's talked himself into this, has made himself swear he'll do it, he considers leaving it for another day. It won't make any difference if he does it tomorrow, will it? But . . . he knows that if he doesn't do it now, he'll never do it. It's fucking difficult enough today; if he puts it off, it'll be forever. He knows he can be a coward, although he chafes against that realisation. If he doesn't do it, though, he'll never know - and, oh Merlin, he wants to know. It burns in him, like it's never done before. Harry fucking fucking Potter has robbed him of his peace, and he hates him for it.

"Oh, my darling," his mother says as he dithers, caught between bravery and terror. "You're my son, and whatever it is, you know that I love you."

Draco swallows hard. "I . . . I wanted to tell you that I'm . . . that I'm gay, Mother," he says, his voice wavering, despite his best efforts to hold it steady.

His mother's eyes go very sad, and he bows his head with the hurt of disappointing her. He knows it isn't what she wants for him. True, homosexuality is far from taboo in their society, but . . . he's a pureblood. It's expected that he'll marry – and marry a woman, not a man. How else is he to continue the Malfoy line?

He knows what she's going to say – she'll tell him that he can sleep with who he likes, so long as he marries well. The thought makes him sag. This is why he's never told her before. This. It's a mistake. It's all a mistake, and even though tomorrow she won't remember it, he sodding will, and he'll carry the memory of this soul-crushing awfulness around with him forever.

She rises from her chair – he can hear her – and comes over and . . . wraps her arms around him, pressing a kiss to the top of his head. "Oh, my darling boy, is that all?" she says. "I just want you to be happy."

Her words fill him with wild, exploding joy. She . . . she means it. He can hear it in her voice. She means it.

He raises his head and looks into her eyes – they're wet, but very very kind. "And is the lucky man who's won your heart who I think it is?" she asks. "I wish you both joy, you know I do. I've long thought that—"

"No," he interrupts. He loves his mother, and he . . . he forgives her for prying into his secrets desires, but he does not want to hear the end of that sentence, to find out who his mother would choose for him. Not for any money. He knows, he sodding knows, and it would kill him to hear it out loud. "I'm not . . . There's no one special," he says firmly.

His mother smiles at him. "Of course, dear. Whatever you say. But when there is," she adds delicately, "then I want to know as soon as possible. He'll be very welcome here."

The thought of taking a boyfriend home is . . . There are no words to explain it. And just like that, his joy falters, and there seems to be a rock pressing down on his lungs, making it hard to breathe. "But . . . what will father say?" he asks. His mother is one thing, his father quite another.

She takes his hand and squeezes it. "Shall we find out?" she asks.

Draco nods miserably, and his mother tells him that she'll go and fetch him from his study.

Draco sits there, feeling a bit like he's awaiting execution. But . . . his mother is on his side. The thought bolsters him. Even if his father is . . . difficult, his mother is on his side. He tries to breathe deeply – in, out. In, out. In, out.

He's still not sure exactly what it was about the day before that affected him so deeply, that led him to the conclusion that he had to tell his parents about his sexuality, when he'd decided, long ago, that he never would. He didn't even spend the whole day with Potter – they shared (of course) a cup of tea after the impromptu match was over, and Potter had asked, very casually, if he'd like to come round to dinner some time later in the week, and Draco had . . .

Draco had had a daydream, about what things might be like if he said yes, and yes again, and . . .

Well. Perhaps it isn't so difficult to work out what had affected him so deeply, after all. Draco had found it extremely easy to imagine building a life with Potter . . . while, at the same time, finding it entirely impossible to imagine it ever happening in real life. He's a pureblood. He has responsibilities to his family.

So Draco had said no, very politely, and tried not to sob like a baby when Potter's face fell and he went quiet, excusing himself soon after.

Hence . . . today. Because if Draco can't use the time loop to torture himself with his parents' reactions, what can he use it for?

He can hear his mother returning, presumably with his father, and as the door to the dining room opens, he swallows, feeling a bit like he's swallowed an iceberg and it's stabbing its way down his throat and into his stomach, chilling him from the inside out. Because, it doesn't matter that this is the time loop; he's fucking terrified all over again. It doesn't matter if his father remembers his confession later. What his father feels is the way he will feel the next time, and the next time, and the time after that.

His father steps into the room, his face tense but concerned. "What is it?" he asks. "You know now's not a good time, Draco. Can't it wait?"

Draco almost decides that, yes, it can wait – until hell freezes over – when his mother says, calm but insistent, "No, Lucius. Draco has something he needs to tell you."

And he can draw it out, which will do neither of them any good, or he can just say it. So Draco just says it, his heart in his mouth. "Father, I'm gay."

His father is visibly shocked, but he doesn't flinch – he just stands there for a moment, taking it in. Then he says, "Very well. You . . . know I'll always be proud of you, son." He takes a moment, his hand reaching up to fiddle with the line of his robes at his neck and his eyes flicking upwards in thought. To Draco's wonder, he seems overcome with emotion - but not anger. Something brighter, warmer. His father pulls himself together, and his voice takes on its usual silky smooth, cool tone. "It will take some adjustments, but I expect we can make this work to the family's advantage without too much difficulty. There must be a pureblood young man or two out there who shares your proclivities. Now, we have more pressing things to concern ourselves with today, so if you'll excuse me," and he leaves, presumably in the direction of his study.

Draco's mother tops up his tea, and smiles at him, the relief stark on her face, and Draco . . . well. He's filled with such love for his parents that, for a moment, it makes him feel weak and feeble. He can't quite bring himself to wish that he'd had more faith in his parents and spoken out sooner – he thinks, if he's honest with himself, that if it wasn't for Potter, he'd be quite happy to go on pretty much as he was, not quite happy but not unhappy either. But he's still glad he's done it, so glad.

That afternoon, he gives his speech in the Lords Chamber. He can't quite bring himself to give his original speech, even though he knows his father would wish it – Potter is there, across the room, although he doesn't know that he's actually quite good friends with Draco by now – but, instead, he gives a short, heartfelt, off the cuff speech about the importance of family and love.

And, part way through the speech, he looks over at Potter, who's looking back at him as if he's never seen him before, and it dawns on him that there's only ever been one person for him - how the fuck has he not seen it before?

And Potter's a fucking half-blood, isn't he? What Draco's father would think of that, he wouldn't like to speculate; he took the revelation that Draco is gay so well, but Draco knows his father. His tolerance only goes so far.

Draco falters, caught between shock and crashing, searing disappointment, but he manages to save the speech by tearing his eyes away from Potter and focusing on something else. But . . . he can still feel Potter's eyes burning into him as he speaks, and even when he finishes, he still feels under scrutiny.

It suddenly all feels too much; too important, too significant and – more importantly – too difficult. So, as soon as there's a break, Draco slips out of the room and runs for his life. He'll miss the drinks and dinner, but he knows that his mother, at least, will understand.

***

Once Draco's back at home though, he can't sit still. The Manor is quiet, without his parents there, and the house-elves don't ever show their faces unless they're called. If Draco's honest, he's nervous around them nowadays – his father treats them better, now it's clear how dangerous they can be, and the couple that remain in the Manor have been offered their freedom but turned it down. Still . . .

He roams the house, walking through room after disused room. The house is too large for one family, it's always been so, and he feels a pang for Potter's cosy home . . . although that's tempered by his memory of Potter in his enormous living room, surrounded by empty sofas. He supposes the difference is that Potter fills those sofas, presumably on a regular basis; Potter still ends up alone in the house though, when all his friends have gone home, without even an owl to keep him company.

Oh, arsebiscuits. He's forgotten to pick up his little owl again. He rolls his eyes at himself and Apparates to the Magical Menagerie, just in time to re-buy it before the shop closes. The owl is in a huff and refuses to leave its cage, even after he's paid for it, its beak high in the air. Even when they're safely back at the manor, it won't come out; when he puts the cage on his bed and opens the door, the little fucker just hoots – the hoot sounding suspiciously like a sniff – and swivels on its perch, turning its back on him.

"Look, I'm really sorry," he says to the owl's back. "I know I need to fix this sodding time loop so I can keep you properly." The owl seems unmoved by this – probably because it can't understand English, being an owl. But . . . Draco feels his forehead wrinkle. If owls don't understand English, how do they know where to deliver parcels? He's left with the distinct impression that magical owls do understand English – perfectly well – and that this one's just ignoring him because it's pissed off, rather than because it's a dumb animal.

"I promise I won't forget you again," Draco says, feeling like a dick – but he does mean it. He feels surprisingly attached to the tiny thing, even though he hasn't given it a name. "And . . . and I'll give you a name. Sorry, I should have done it before."

The owl swivels round and gives him a baleful look.

"Yes, yes, I know," Draco says. "How about . . ." He sniggers. "Little Bastard."

The owl looks at him, unblinking, and does a very large poo. Luckily, it falls in the cage, rather than on his sheets.

Draco takes that as a hint. "Sorry, sorry," he says, still sniggering. He thinks hard. "How about . . . Pip."

The owl considers this and then hoots its assent.

"Short for Pipsqueak," Draco adds, and this time the owl deigns to come out of its cage . . . to peck him. But it seems to have forgiven him, because it hops on to his shoulder and starts to groom his hair. It's probably hinting that Draco has lice, but he decides to let it go. He did forget about it, after all.

Collecting the owl has passed a good half hour, but the rest of the evening still stretches in front of Draco, and he still can't decide what to do with himself. He pops down to the kitchen, alarming the house-elves, and has a quick snack, but it seems such a momentous day - he came out, and his parents accepted it - that he decides he should . . . celebrate in some way.

How though?

If he's going to celebrate, he needs to go out – he can't celebrate alone, after all, unless he wants to get pissed in the company of an owl. Which he doesn't. But . . . he feels disinclined to Firecall any of his old school friends to see if they're free. It would lead to an evening of reminiscences, and today he doesn't want to reminisce – to pick over the bones of old grudges and reanimate them with libations of Firewhisky. No; today he wants to remind himself he's alive, and he has possibilities, and a future – even though, for a time, that future is very much on pause.

He almost drifts away into introspection as the worry that he's permanently stuck in the time loop niggles at him – it's always there; it's just that most of the time he manages to suppress it – but Pipsqueak gives him a quick peck on the ear and he snaps out of it with an idea. He still feels uncomfortable about the night he spent after he'd been released from Muggle jail, mooning over Muggle revellers and wishing he was . . . not part of them, exactly. Just . . . wishing. Why doesn't he return to that Muggle central London hotspot and, this time, have a drink? It would be unity in action – him, a pureblood, deigning to mix with Muggles without being forced to.

As soon as he's thought it, he wishes – almost – that he hadn't, as a sensation like iced water dribbles through him, right down to his toes. He doesn't care for being out of his element, and to be out of his element and alone . . .

It's the nerves, though, that make up his mind for him. A Malfoy, scared? Of mixing with Muggles? What a ludicrous idea. So, he rises from his bed and walks to his wardrobe, riffling through it to see what might be suitable for a night on the town with non-magical company. He knows he'll stick out again in robes, and this time he wants to . . . not pretend to be Muggle, ugh, the very idea, but at least not outwardly signal that he's different.

He pulls out a pair of pale grey trousers and teams them with a pale cream shirt and silver cuff-links. It seems extremely odd not to throw a robe, or at least a cloak, over the ensemble – like he's going out in his underwear. The Muggles seem curiously staid when it comes to their clothes, and while he can't understand why wizards struggle to grasp how they dress – it seems eminently straightforward to him – he can see why his people would choose not to dress that way.

He brushes his hair and uses some Sleekeazy's to bring it to a shine, then straps on his watch and slides his wand and his wallet into his pocket, after checking he still has a quantity of Muggle currency. He doesn't need anything else; it's a warm night, and he doesn't expect he'll be gone more than a couple of hours at the most.

It's a bit of a risk, Apparating directly to the Soho district of town, where the crowds are thick and it's entirely possible he'll land on someone, but he crosses his fingers and does it anyway; the time loop has made him more reckless, he realises as he lands safely, startling a nearby group of underdressed female revellers, who think he's pushed into them on purpose. He apologises politely, which seems to defuse things, and then quickly walks off when one of them starts batting her eyelashes at him, losing himself in the crowds.

He finds himself on Old Compton Street. The pavements are narrow, and the road busy, and he finds it hard to push past groups of people drinking on the street, spilling out of the bars. Some of the restaurants have put tables and chairs on the pavement, making the walk even more of an obstacle course. Draco wonders, briefly, why he ever thought this would be fun, but tries to put himself in a more positive frame of mind. It will be fun; he's decided.

When he reaches the G-A-Y bar, he has a little wobble and thinks about going home, but he takes a very deep breath and pushes inside, smiling faintly at the enormous Muggle doormen standing either side of the purple entrance. Are they expecting trouble, or something?

Inside, the place is heaving and smells of sweat and booze. Draco tries not to wrinkle his nose and forces his way to the bar; one drink, he tells himself, and then he can go, having declared the evening a success. He'll have been out, in a Muggle bar – a Muggle bar for Muggle homosexuals, at that – and survived the experience. Just one drink.

The place is dimly lit, but in odd colours – purples and greens – and a shining silver ball casts reflections over the faces of the patrons within. It's disconcerting, and Draco blames this for why he doesn't spot Justin fucking Finch-Fletchley coming up to him until it's too late.

Justin doesn't look friendly, but he's a Hufflepuff – a Hufflepoof Draco thinks, trying not to smirk – so he's presumably not going to chuck a hex in Draco's face without provocation.

"Malfoy," Justin says, and his face does a species of contortion that Draco thinks is intended to be a friendly smile. "I haven't seen you here before."

"It's my first time," Draco replies lightly. He catches the barman's attention and is just about to order when Justin stops him.

"Let me," Justin says. "What would you like?"

"A glass of white wine," Draco says, unnerved. But it does mean he won't have to struggle with Muggle money in the semi-dark; he'd probably end up tipping either far too much or far too little.

Justin buys, and then beckons Draco over to a corner of the bar where his friends are ensconsed. To Draco's surprise, he recognises half of them – though he can't immediately think of their names. He wracks his brain and comes up with . . . Macmillan. And . . . someone else. From a year or two below them? But he smiles, because it seems politic, and they shuffle along the banquette seating to let him sit too.

"Shove up, Malfoy, so Terence can fit in as well. He's just having a slash," Justin says – loudly, because the music is loud.

'Terence' returns, and Draco is surprised to find it's Terence Higgs, from the year above. He wonders if the man still bears a grudge that Draco usurped his position as Slytherin Seeker, all those years ago. He suspects he does; he would.

"Malfoy!" Terence says, in tones of surprise, but he holds out his hand, and Draco reluctantly takes it, and suffers his own hand being pumped up and down enthusiastically. Terence's is warm and clammy, and Draco hopes he washed it thoroughly after using the bathroom.

Draco's introduced – or reintroduced – to everyone, and soon realises, to his faint disbelief, that his presence in the bar is proving a more potent calling card to these people than his name or status ever would. As if his sexual proclivities – his private proclivities – make him a more tolerable person to sit beside, despite all their shared unpleasant history.

It strikes him as ironic, too, that he thought he'd be safe from discovery, here in Muggle London, and has wound up surrounded by wizards - and some of them Slytherin. He feels, ridiculously, almost as if he's walked into a trap. Except . . . today it doesn't matter, does it, who else knows he's gay?

The thought that when the time loop ends it will matter, that he might have to hide it again from the people that matter to him, strikes him like a physical blow.

He drinks his wine too quickly, and Terence buys him another, and then another – and then he feels duty bound to reciprocate, so he does, and buying a round for everyone almost wipes him out. He thinks it's fucking expensive in here, and he's possibly just been ripped off; he still hasn't quite got the conversion rate sorted in his head, but he does have a belly full of wine, so he lets it go.

Finch-Fletchley looks disapproving, and fetches him a glass of water, and says – the tosser – "Steady on there, Malfoy," when Draco takes a sip and misses his mouth a bit. There's a wet patch on his shirt, but the bar is so hot that he barely notices, and he follows up the water with a shot of something neat and bitter that makes his head spin.

He's not sure he's having fun, exactly, but it's certainly . . . an experience.

Conversation flows, and after a certain amount of time the wine has the usual effect, and Draco rises, unsteadily, and excuses himself. The toilets are slightly unpleasant, but they're usable, so he holds his nose and gets on with it. When he staggers out, though, Terence is waiting for him by the door, and it's suddenly awkward. He has a speculative look in his eye and a slimy smile, and Draco suddenly wishes he hadn't let Terence buy him a drink – he's a Slytherin, and nothing comes without cost. Terence says, "So," and smirks, then attempts to lean in, forcing Draco to execute a swift evasive manoeuvre. He's quick on his feet, but the wine makes him unsteady, and he nearly falls over.

"Perhaps we'd best go and sit back down," Draco says pleasantly, after a passing tall dark stranger has helped steady him, with a friendly grin, and slid a card with a number on it into his shirt pocket. Terence gives him a look reminiscent of a Horntail about to flame.

Draco wobbles back to the seats at speed, taking care this time to sit somewhere he can easily escape from, but this doesn't seem to put Terence off, because he follows and leans in close, breath like a brewery, and shouts, "I say, Malfoy, how about we get out of here? I've got my own place, just around the corner. The cotton count of my sheets is so high, it has to be seen to be believed."

Finch-Fletchley raises his eyebrows, the judgemental fuck, but Draco supposes he's a judgemental fuck too, because there's no way he's going anywhere near Terence's . . . place, no matter the quality of his sheets. Also, he resents the idea that he can be bribed into a casual fuck with linen, of all things. "Thank you, but no," he says firmly – remaining polite, because a wronged Slytherin can be a dangerous enemy, even if it's a little shit like Higgs – but that means he can't leave right away, or else he risks it being taken as him changing his mind. So he has another drink, and at some point Terence lurches up and off, and in a few minutes Draco can see him on the dance floor, propositioning an unfortunate blonde boy with a face like a foot.

"He'll try it on with anyone," Finch-Fletchley says sweetly, and then turns back to his conversation with Macmillan.

Drunk though Draco is, he can tell an insult when he hears one. "So, are you dating anyone at the moment?" he asks. The second after he's said it, he knows he's fallen into Finch-Fletchley's trap.

Finch-Fletchley turns, his expression now glowing with smugness. "Yes, actually. You remember Harry, from school?"

"Oh, really?" Draco says, matching his smug, sweet tone – because, unbeknownst to Finch-Fletchley, he has the upper hand here. "Potter told me, only the other day when I went round for tea, that you two had broken up." He takes a sip of wine and enjoys watching Finch-Fletchley twitch.

Finch-Fletchley attempts to rally, opening his mouth . . . but closing it again and turning his back once more on Draco.

Tea at Potter's sounds like a nicer idea than spending more time in this stinking hellhole, Draco thinks, so, acting on impulse, he rises, says a general goodbye, and leaves, avoiding Terence on his way out, who's now in a clinch with the foot-face.

The cooler air outside hits him, and he feels drunker, if anything. It's not going to be safe to Apparate, he realises, so maybe he should go to Potter's. He can use the underground trains; how hard can it be? Potter showed him how to buy a ticket only . . . some time ago. He can't remember exactly when. So he pushes through the crowds and manages to find a tube station, staggering down the stairs and queuing up to buy a . . . What sort of ticket does he need? He punches a button at random and inserts some money, and it seems to work because the machine produces a ticket, along with some coins. He scoops them up and negotiates the ticket barrier like a pro, following the stream of people down the moving staircase and . . .

He pauses at the bottom and realises he has no idea where he's going. So he does the previously unthinkable: he asks a Muggle for help.

Forty-five minutes later, he steps out of Potter's local station feeling excessively pleased with himself. The handful of male Muggles he asked for directions were helpful, and he seems to have collected another couple of scraps of paper with scrawled telephone numbers. Not that he knows how to use a telephone, or ever wants to date a Muggle, but they didn't need to know that, did they?

The streets are quieter here, and it's getting late, but he's still buzzing, and he barely notices the hill as he weaves his way in wavy lines up it, towards Potter's house.

When he reaches it, it takes him a couple of goes to negotiate the outside stairs, but finally he reaches the top and leans on the doorbell. "Potter!" he calls through the letterbox when there's no immediate response. "Oi! Potter!"

A few minutes later, Potter opens the door, and Draco nearly falls in, clutching at him to steady himself.

Potter doesn't look pleased to see him, Draco realises, and he releases Potter and looks him up and down – Potter's wearing a baggy T-shirt and loose boxers and his feet are bare. His hair's standing almost on end, and his glasses, still held together with Spellotape, aren't quite straight.

It dawns on Draco that he's woken Potter up. It's a sobering thought, without actually being sobering – he wishes he hadn't drunk quite so much.

"Um, hullo," Potter says.

"You're blushing!" Draco crows, because it's true – Potter's going red, starting with his cheeks, but the colour's travelling, down his neck and up to his ears.

"Yes, thank you, Malfoy," Potter says, wrapping his arms around himself. He can't be cold though; Draco's boiling. He's had to undo the top few buttons of his shirt and take off his cuff-links so he can roll his sleeves up.

Draco watches the colour spread and staggers slightly; he's finding it harder than usual to remain upright. Potter puts out a hand and grabs him by the arm to steady him, which puts Draco off balance even further, forcing Potter to hug him upright.

Draco breathes in the smell of Potter's hair. "You need to change shampoos," he announces. "This one pongs."

Potter stiffens and then sighs. "Come on, Malfoy, let's get you off the doorstep."

Draco allows himself to be manhandled inside – Potter's surprisingly strong for someone at least two inches shorter than him (hah! Potter's shorter!) – and up not one but two flights of stairs, Potter making encouraging noises all the way.

Draco decides he likes it when Potter makes encouraging noises.

"I'm so glad we're friends now," he slurs, and it's only when he's said it that he remembers that while they are friends, sort of, this is the first time he's spoken one-on-one to this particular day's Harry Potter. Oh well, he thinks hazily. They must still be friends anyway, because here he is, in Potter's house again, and they're going up to . . .

"Yes, Malfoy, me too," Potter says, a bit dubiously. "Nearly there, just keep going."

"Are you taking me to bed, Potter?" Draco drawls. "Bit sudden, isn't it? You haven't even bought me dinner!" He waves a hand expressively, nearly sending them both flying down the stairs.

"Come on, Malfoy, just a few more steps," Potter says, through what sounds like gritted teeth.

"Not that I'd say no, necessarily," Draco continues chattily, his head swimming. It seems like a marvellous idea, as far as he's concerned, but he doesn't want Potter to think he's like this with all the boys. "I said no to Higgs, and I'd've said no to that turd Finch-Fletchley if he'd asked, but—"

Potter stops dead, but momentum carries Draco forwards and he staggers on through the doorway ahead of him, toeing off his shoes and collapsing gratefully on to a large four-poster covered in an eye-watering fluorescent orange quilt with matching sheets. He blinks up at the canopy of the bed – it's like being back at Hogwarts, only nicer – and wonders where Potter's got to. He turns on his side, raising his head up on his elbow, but there's no sign of him.

Soon, though, Potter appears in the doorway – and halts there, colour blooming back to life in his cheeks. He's wrapped in some sort of calf-length fluffy white bathrobe, clutching it closed tight with one hand. There's a foaming potion in a glass in the other.

For a moment, they just look at each other. Potter really is very pretty, Draco thinks muzzily, even though he's a mess. "Come here," he drawls, patting the covers next to him. "Kit off." The thought makes his entire body fizz with lust.

Potter swallows, and Draco watches his throat as his Adam's apple bobs. "How much have you had to drink, Malfoy?" he asks, sounding slightly strangled. His eyes keep darting up and down Draco's body, as if he can't quite stop himself from staring.

"Just a few glasses of wine," Draco says. He wrinkles his nose, trying to remember. "And something that tasted worse than crup piss."

Potter snorts. "If you were out with Justin and his friends, it was probably Jägermeister," he says, and walks over, perching on the bed next to Draco and primly straightening his robe with one hand. "Sit up and drink this. It'll make you feel better."

"I feel fine," Draco says, but he manages to sit up – which puts him very close to Potter, and he gets momentarily lost in his green, green eyes. "May I?" he asks, overtaken by a sudden urge, and reaches up to push Potter's black shock of hair off his forehead so he can see the famous scar up close. Potter spent a lot of time at school with his hair pushed down low to hide it.

Potter doesn't object, though his lips tighten, so Draco rubs a thumb over it. It's slightly raised and red, not flat like he would have expected, and the lightning bolt is thick and blurred, as if the scar was recently irritated.

"It flared up a lot during that final year," Potter says quietly, and he reaches up to remove Draco's hand from his face, guiding it to the glass of liquid, which is still gently fizzing. "Drink. Please."

Draco drinks. The potion slips down his throat like air, and he can almost feel it spreading through his body, fizzing into his cells until his whole body feels light and sparkling and . . . extremely sober.

He blinks, the room swimming and then coming back into focus, and he finds he's – yes, of course he is – sprawling on Potter's bed (because of course it's Potter's bed; the sheets are in Cannons orange and are probably a house-warming gift from Weasley), dressed in Muggle clothes, with his shirt unbuttoned almost halfway down, and . . . he's just propositioned Potter, hasn't he, and felt up his scar?

"What time is it?" he asks, trying not to outwardly wince.

Potter fiddles with his voluminous bathrobe. "Um, about midnight?" he says, taking back the glass and clutching it tightly.

"Oh," Draco says, and they lapse into silence. Draco can't help but think that while he had the excuse of being drunk, Potter was entirely sober. And, in this entirely sober state, Potter let him in, took him to bed and let him feel his scar. It is, basically, all Potter's fault.

"Interesting sheets," Draco says, because being sober doesn't make him less of a dick and he has appearances to keep up.

Potter narrows his eyes. "I hope you're not criticising my interior decoration, Malfoy."

"I'd be happy to criticise your tea-making skills too," Draco replies, because he's gasping for a cuppa, seriously, and if you don't ask, you don't get. Besides, things might get marginally less awkward if they remove themselves from Potter's bedroom and Potter's bed. This feels a bit like waking up in bed after the night before with an ill-chosen lover, but worse, because time he doesn't even get a shag out of it. And god he wanted – wants – a shag out of this one. He hopes Potter doesn't feel the urge to look below the level of his waist or it will be entirely obvious.

"You're not going to be sick, are you?" Potter asks suspiciously. "You've gone a funny colour."

It seems impolitic to reveal to Potter that this is the colour he goes when he's just considered quite how much he'd like to fuck him – and he'd even let Potter have a go on him, he's that keen. Potter might take it the wrong way. Merlin. He really needs a drink – and some space, away from Potter, for a minute.

"Your kitchen's downstairs, isn't it?" Draco says, sliding awkwardly off the bed and making Potter leap up and back like a startled unicorn. "Why don't you put some clothes on and I'll meet you there."

"How do you know where my—" Potter asks uncertainly, but Draco's already off, making an epic attempt to angle his crotch away from Potter as leaves the room and dashing down the stairs, buttoning his shirt back up as he goes and running his fingers through his hair to tidy it.

The kitchen is dark, and Draco casts a quick Lumos, before reaching for Potter's kettle and attempting to take it over to the sink. It's attached at the wall by a lead, which he tugs out, and when he's filled it with water he plugs the lead back in and runs his hand over the kettle, searching for a switch. Something clicks, and there's a hissing noise as the kettle starts to heat up, and Draco congratulates himself on a job well done – this Muggle stuff is a piece of piss.

He searches in Potter's cupboards for mugs and teabags, and by the time Potter re-emerges, in dark-coloured trousers and a tight black T-shirt, his feet bare, Draco's not only got his body back under control but he's also brewed up two cups of tea – one dark and appalling, and one light and sweet. Potter steps towards him, and Draco hands over the grim brew.

Potter frowns, but he takes a tentative sip and then lets out an appreciative sigh, leaning back against the kitchen work-surface. "I probably shouldn't at this time," he says, yawning, but takes another sip. Again, he looks Draco up and down helplessly, before dragging his gaze away and focusing on the French windows on the other side of the room and the darkness beyond.

"Don't sleep well?" Draco says, already knowing the answer. The bags under Potter's eyes make it obvious, even if he hadn't already had this conversation with him before.

"No," Potter says shortly. Then he snorts. "Thanks for asking."

Draco can feel himself colour up this time, but he supposes it's only fair. He has unexpectedly descended on Potter, the insomniac, at gone midnight. Although— "What are you doing in on a Friday night, anyway?" he asks. "I thought you'd be out with some of your hundreds of friends. Finch-Fletchley asked after you," he adds spitefully.

"Did he?" Potter replies with some heat, goaded into looking at him again. "I hope you told him to go and boil his head in a cauldron."

Draco is surprised into a laugh. "He doesn't seem your type, Potter," he says, taking a sip of reviving tea. "Too up himself."

"Oh?" Potter says, raising his eyebrows. "What is my type then?"

Draco falters; he doesn't think he's exactly making friends here. Besides, he's pretty up himself.

"No, go on," Potter says firmly. "You've already insulted my bedclothes, so you might as well insult my taste in . . ." He chokes a little and then finishes up his sentence, head held high: "Men."

"Orange . . . and Finch-Fletchley," Draco says, shaking his head. "Surely you can do better than that, Potter." He clicks his tongue. "I suppose at least you didn't sink as low as Higgs though."

Potter unclenches, when it becomes obvious Draco's not going to answer his question, and rolls his eyes. "Let's go and sit down, shall we, before I punch you in the eye." He leads the way up the stairs and into the same enormous living room as before, collapsing with a sigh into a sofa and tucking one foot under him.

Draco sits next to him at a polite distance, remembering that he's left his shoes in Potter's bedroom. That's going to be awkward. At least he doesn't have any holes in his socks.

"The sheets were a gift from Ron, and Justin was . . ."

Draco raises his eyebrows.

"Hermione's idea," Potter says hastily. "She set us up. He works at the Ministry with her, and I suppose she thought . . ." He shrugs. "He was all right at school, most of the time. I thought . . . I dunno what I thought." He takes a moody sip of tea. "He was always trying to show off, to tell people. I don't like it when people make a fuss. Why can't that stuff just be private, you know? At least in the beginning." He's going red again. "We only went on two dates! And I have no idea why I'm telling you this, Malfoy. You show up on my doorstep, drunk, looking like that, and try to—" he continues heatedly, before breaking off in confusion.

"Looking like what?" Draco asks mildly, taking a sip of tea, his heart doing a Tarantallegra in his chest.

Potter blushes into his mug. "Forget it," he says. "I liked your speech, earlier," he continues, changing the subject with the consummate skill of someone not very skilled.

Draco decides to let this one go. For now. "Thank you."

Potter turns to him, his expression serious all of a sudden. "Did you mean it?"

He's given so many speeches that he finds it hard to remember which, exactly, he gave today – although he does remember babbling something about family, and love, and . . . and . . .

And he remembers the way he'd felt when he'd looked at Potter and thought: this is what I want. This could be my forever.

It feels stupid now, an impossible fantasy, except Potter's looking at him again, his eyes clear and honest behind his stupid round glasses, and his brow troubled.

"Yes, of course I meant it," Draco says eventually. And, because he can't resist it: "May I?"

Potter looks confused, so Draco leans over to put down his mug on the nearby coffee table, then leans in towards Potter and pulls his glasses off his nose. He taps his wand to them, casting an Oculus Reparo, before turning back, and faltering at the expression on Potter's face.

He looks very young without his glasses, and oddly out of focus, as if it's Draco who's blind without them. But Draco can see well enough to be sure that Potter's trembling, and when he leans in, awkwardly sliding Potter's specs back on his face – as good an excuse to touch his face as any – Potter's lips part and then press shut, and he swallows convulsively.

It seems like it might be a good idea to kiss him, possibly the best idea Draco's ever had, so he doesn't take his hands away – just sits there for a moment, fingers resting lightly against Potter's cheeks, and leans in just a touch further, and . . .

For a brief moment, it seems like Potter will let him do it – is willing him to do it – but then Draco drops one hand to rest it, lightly, on Potter's knee, and Potter jerks convulsively. He's still holding his mug of tea – at least, he was. Now, he's wearing half of it.

"Fuck!" Potter says expressively, shooting up and pulling the sodden fabric away from him. "Bollocks."

Draco runs through helpful suggestions in his mind. He thinks that: "Let me get you out of those wet clothes," will not do the job – but will, instead, end up with Potter pouring the rest of the tea over his head. He feels likewise disinclined to point his wand at Potter's crotch without permission. So he says, "Can I, er, do anything to help?" and hopes Potter takes it the right way.

Potter shoots him a tight look. "I think this is a sign I should just go to bed. It's been a long day, and you must be tired too. Feel free to use the guest en suite – it's on the top floor, second door on the right."

"Oh," Draco says, taken aback. "I, uh, was hoping . . ."

Potter's face does a good line in red, as a general rule, but now it does its best job yet – his head is so brick-coloured it looks like it's about to explode. "Yes, I gathered that," he says drily. "But I, um . . ." He stands up very straight – tall and dignified, despite the wet patch. "If you think I do one-nighters, Malfoy, you don't know me at all," he says, the words a bit mashed together but perfectly intelligible. "So I'll wish you good night." And he walks out of the room, still dignified – until he's out of sight and Draco can hear him thumping up the stairs at a run, taking two steps at a time in his haste to, presumably, shut himself in his bedroom and away from the Big Bad Malfoy.

Draco feels a bit like dashing up the stairs after him and giving him a good shake. Why on earth does Potter think that he's the sort to do one-nighters? Except . . .

Draco sighs, taking a sip of tea and pensively Vanishing the stain on the carpet from Potter's tea mishap. He supposes he did turn up, completely pissed, on Potter's doorstep and proposition him, completely out of the blue. He didn't remember using the phase 'long-term relationship' at any point, just – he tries not to die at the memory – the immortal words, "Kit off."

Smooth, really smooth, Draco, he tells himself. No wonder Potter wasn't swept off his feet.

He finishes his tea and takes his mug down to the kitchen, before taking the stairs up to the top floor. He pauses outside Potter's bedroom door. It's completely silent – so silent that Draco suspects he's used a silencing charm within. What's he doing in there?

The thought of Potter stretched out on the hideous orange quilt, entirely naked and with his cock in hand, frantically jerking off, his body taut and hips raised, has Draco's lips parting and his own cock hardening in his pants. Or . . . or maybe Potter's not used a silencing spell. Maybe Potter's simply heard his footsteps, on the other side of the door, and has paused in the act – is lying there, heart pounding, even now, his cock aching in his stilled hand, ears straining for the sound of Draco continuing on and shutting the door of the guest bedroom behind him, so he can wank without being overheard.

Or maybe he's just gone to sleep.

Draco sighs, palming his crotch and feeling the swell of his erection stiffen further under his touch. He limps to the guest bedroom – his trousers are much too tight for comfort – and, before he shuts the door, pauses, listening. All is quiet.

So he simply clicks the door shut and falls on the bed, shoving his trousers and pants down his thighs in one move and taking his cock in hand. He comes, hard, just a few minutes later, to the thought of Potter, just a few doors away. And fifteen minutes later, now stretched out fully naked, he comes again, stroking himself hard and slow, breath coming hard and fast, to the thought that Potter might be in the corridor outside right now, hovering by the door and wishing he had the courage to turn the handle.

Draco certainly doesn't have the courage to do it. What if Potter's not there?

So he cleans himself up and gets into bed, promising himself that tomorrow will be the day – the day he finally clarifies, once and for all, whether Potter does like him that way. He does, Draco knows it. But . . .

He falls asleep, and dreams of flying.

Chapter Text

Draco's still asleep in Potter's guest bedroom when time resets itself, and he has the disconcerting experience of the time-shift waking him up; he comes to, with a lurch, and finds himself standing stark bollock naked in front of his desk. The time-turner is casting a sickly glow that lights up the whole corner of the room now, and the unsettling glare makes Draco blink. Doesn't he have enough to deal with, with an extreme case of morning wood, without being blinded by a malfunctioning time-travel machine?

He flings a blanket over the time-turner, which conceals most of the light, although thick pulses of it ooze out from under the fabric. He turns his back on it and tries not to see it. Happily, the morning wood situation is more easily dealt with – a few slippery strokes of his cock in the shower has him coming in streams against the shower wall.

By the time he's recovered himself and steps, clean and damp, out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his waist, he's already decided on an itinerary for the day: collect his owl, woo Potter, snog Potter.

As plans go, it's a little light on detail, but it contains all the essentials. He needs his owl, for reasons. He needs to woo Potter, because Potter deserves to be wooed. Draco tries to push down the feeling that maybe Potter deserves a slow wooing, not a high-speed wooing with intentions . . . and that maybe he wants to give him a slow wooing. It's impossible to do a slow wooing when you only have twenty-four hours before time resets itself.

And, finally, he needs to snog Potter because this morning Draco feels sure – well, relatively sure – that doing so will set him free of the time loop.

It's a little tenuous, the idea that kissing Potter will fix everything, he knows that. But, although he has no firm evidence to base it on, it seems entirely logical. From the start, it's been obvious to Draco that Potter lies at the heart of the time loop – that the whole thing is, basically, Potter's fault. It was him who walked out of Draco's speech, and him who caused Draco to spin the time-turner. He is its centre. And . . . if Draco's honest with himself, Potter is his centre, and always has been. Throughout his childhood, Draco always wondered what the legendary Potter was like – and once he found out for real, everything was so much worse. Potter has wrapped his way round Draco's life and inserted himself into every nook and cranny, so that Draco lives and breathes and dreams him.

It makes perfect sense that the only way to explode the time loop and restart time itself is to make himself Potter's centre too. To join their bodies in the way that their lives have already entwined themselves.

Plus, it has to be said, Draco's getting really, really tired of not kissing Potter. Each day he doesn't kiss Potter seems a day wasted. And if it doesn't break the time loop? Well, he'll still have kissed Potter. As far as Draco can see, it's a win-win situation.

He's pretty sure now that Potter wants to kiss him too – it's just Potter's natural instinct to push him over and stamp on him, ingrained by years of rivalry, that's been getting in the way so far. Draco quite understands; he is driven by a similar urge.

He's half hard again when he pulls on a pair of soft, close-fitting black silk boxers – he loves the way they feel against his skin – but he ignores his growing erection; he has things to do today and no time to waste. He follows the boxers with socks, light-grey trousers and a dusty-blue fitted T-shirt. He examines himself in the mirror and, finally, adds the platinum necklace that was his mother's seventeenth birthday present to him, tucking it under the neck of the T-shirt. He feels underdressed, like he's playing Muggle, but he kind of likes the look – and, more importantly, he thinks Potter will too. He's finding it hard to forget the way Potter's eyes raked over his body the previous night, when he turned up drunk on Potter's doorstep. He may not have acted on it, but he was definitely looking.

After a quick fiddle with his hair, Draco puts on his shoes and bungs wand, wallet, pack of miniaturised Exploding Snap cards, quill and parchment into his pocket, before dashing downstairs. He needs breakfast, and fast. He doesn't even let his mother give her usual greeting; instead, he greets her first, with a cheery, "Good morning, Mother," and bolts down his tea and toast, giving her a quick peck on the cheek and telling her he has business with Potter today before the event starts, and if it overruns he might not make his speech.

She looks briefly taken aback, but her Black self-possession soon reasserts itself, and she smiles at him. It's a warm smile, but somehow . . . shrewd. He feels as if, without having to say anything at all, she knows exactly what he's planning on doing today, and is all for it. It's extremely disconcerting. "How lovely. I hope it goes well," she says, and he leaves the room feeling both encouraged and embarrassed. At least he knows that his mother - even if she can apparently see inside his soul without having to use any magic other than the bond that comes from blood and love - will fix it with his father if he doesn't show up at the Palace, which he won't, of course. He's staying far away from the event today, all being well.

He picks up his owl – startling the shopkeeper by thrusting twenty galleons into his hand; well, it's a bargain – and Apparates directly to Potter's house, making a perfect landing just before his front steps. He sits down – he still has about half an hour before Potter is due to emerge for his usual run – and takes out his quill and a square of parchment. He writes quickly, trying not to overthink it, and folds the note, passing it to Pipsqueak, who hoots happily and flies straight upwards and over the house, presumably to find Potter's bedroom window.

In less than five minutes, Potter – bleary eyed and dressed in smart trousers and a shirt buttoned up wrong – opens the door and gives him an extremely bewildered stare.

"Morning, Potter," Draco says, standing up and tugging up his trousers; they're sliding down a fraction, exposing a sliver of his stomach and the waistband of his underwear. It's an inadvertent side effect of all the running he's been doing; he should have worn a belt.

Potter's eyes slide down his body, and then flick back up, cheeks turning pink. He waves the parchment square at Draco. "Why the hell did you owl me to let me know you're on my doorstep? Couldn't you, just, you know, ring the doorbell?"

"I thought it more polite," Draco says politely. "Give you time to get dressed."

Potter twitches a bit at that and looks down at himself, evidently realising he hasn't exactly aced the job. "I haven't had my morning coffee," he says, by way of explanation, and then rolls his eyes. "Come in, then. You can explain yourself while I drown myself in caffeine."

Draco follows him in and down to the now-familiar kitchen, to find Pipsqueak sitting happily on the kitchen table, drinking water from a cereal bowl. "Thanks for looking after my owl, Potter," he says. "It's a good friend to me."

Potter looks startled, but then smiles. "It's a cute little thing. A pest – but cute."

"Did it wake you up by sitting on your head?" Draco asks sympathetically, trying not to laugh.

"And trying to shove the letter it was carrying up my nose," Potter says, but he doesn't sound too annoyed. "If Hedwig was still around, I don't think she'd have been impressed. She always valued dignity in her fellow owls." He turns to the sink, filling up the kettle. "Can I get you a drink? Water? Tea? Coffee?"

"What you're having will be fine," Draco says.

Potter nods and sets out two mugs, spooning coffee powder into each. "Well?" he asks.

"Well, what?"

"I don't mean to be rude, Malfoy," Potter says, "but . . . I didn't expect to see you this morning. I'm not even sure how you know where I live."

It's a bit tedious, covering this same old ground again, but it has to be done, or else Draco will make Potter suspicious, so he explains about the unity event and the invite and Potter's address and . . .

"Hm," Potter says.

"Granger suggested I drop by," Draco lies smoothly, because that's worked in the past.

It works now too. "I wish she'd stop meddling," Potter mutters, but then he gives a resigned sigh. "I suppose she wouldn't be Hermione if she did, though. Well – what did she suggest you drop by for?"

"I wanted to catch you before the unity event," Draco says, and then pauses as Potter pours hot water in the mugs, stirring hard and adding milk and sugar to one mug and a generous splash of cold water from the tap to the other.

Potter hands him the milky drink, then takes a long gulp of his own inky-black brew. "Fuck, I needed that," he says, and takes another drink. "You were saying?"

"I wondered if you wanted to – well, skip the unity event and go with me to Hogwarts. See the rebuilding that's been done, rather than hear about it."

It's a bit of a risky offer, as Draco knows by now that Potter regularly visits Hogwarts. He'll have seen all the rebuilding, probably even helped with it; and, in fact, the work has been done so well that a wizard who's been living under a rock wouldn't even notice that anything had been done at all. But he's counting on Potter's deep desire to skip the event mixing with his affection for the castle and the people currently in it.

"I promised Kingsley I'd go today though," Potter says slowly, clearly torn.

Draco takes a step closer and places a hand gently on Potter's forearm, just for a moment. "Please," he says. "I'd really appreciate it. The Minister will understand."

Potter swallows and looks away. "Yeah, OK," he says. "Against my better judgment. But I'd better let Ron and Hermione know first."

"You can use my owl," Draco says, and he fishes out his quill again and another square of paper, passing them to Potter.

Potter gives him an unnerving look, but takes them, putting his mug down on the table and sitting in one of the wooden kitchen chairs. "Why do I get the feeling you're up to something, Malfoy?" he asks, but writes a note to Granger, folding it and addressing it on the outside.

Pipsqueak takes it excitedly and flaps hard, zooming straight out of the French windows and away.

"Long habit," Draco says, and Potter's lips quirk into a smile.

"I suppose so," Potter says. He picks up his mug again and drains it. "I'll just go and . . . you know. I'll be right back." And he leaves the room at a quick pace; Draco can hear him taking the stairs at a brisk clip, two at a time.

It's only five or ten minutes before he's back. He's wearing beaten up black jeans and a white T-shirt and looks much more at ease. His hair looks different too – still a mess, but a different kind of mess; Draco realises, with wonder, that he's actually tried to tidy it.

"You know," Potter says, running a hand through his hair and destroying all his hard work, "I have the strangest feeling that we've done this before. Like . . . déjà vu. Odd." He shakes himself, as if he's snapping out of a dream, and gives Draco an ever so slightly suspicious look.

"Yeah, odd," Draco says, attempting to look innocent rather than freaked out. He's been trying not to think too deeply about the implications of the time loop for other people, but . . . Does this mean it's not just him that's stuck? Has he stopped time itself? It is not a comforting thought. But then, neither is the notion that time is continuing on for everyone else, regardless of what he does, while he's just stuck in a bubble, endlessly spinning round and round and round.

Potter's frowning at him now though, so he dismisses the problem. Besides, he's taking positive action to collapse the time loop today, isn't he?

He shoves down the thought that it's himself he's thinking of, not the time loop, and puts a smile on his face. Potter's expression relaxes until he's smiling back, and Draco feels a shot of warmth pulse through him, as if he's just knocked back a double shot of Firewhisky and it's sliding down his throat, all the way to his toes.

"Shall we?" Draco asks, and Potter nods but doesn't move. They could Apparate separately, Draco supposes, but . . . Start as you mean to go on, he tells himself, and so he steps forward towards Potter and holds out both hands.

Potter, clearly unnerved, moistens his lips, but then reaches out, and for a brief, warm moment, they're just standing there in Potter's kitchen, holding hands. Draco can feel a strong, racing pulse through his fingertips, and he's not entirely certain whether it's his own heart he can feel pounding or Potter's. He's almost overwhelmed by it. Potter's grip is firm, his hands warm and large, and—

Draco Apparates them both to the gates outside Hogwarts, before he can make a fool out of himself.

They arrive with a distinct crack; it's not the smoothest journey Draco's ever made. It's unwise to Apparate while distracted, but then it's impossible not to be distracted by Potter, he's found. At least he hasn't left part of himself, or Potter, back in London.

They're still holding hands, except Potter's now clutching him for dear life. His grip is so tight it actually hurts.

"Ow!" Draco says, and Potter immediately lets go, looking extremely sheepish.

"Sorry," he says. "I . . . I've never much liked being Side-Alonged."

It seems to Draco that Potter was going to say something else, but he can't help but react, anyway. "You should have said! We could just as easily have Flooed to Hogsmeade and walked," he snaps, and Potter's mouth tightens but he doesn't reply, just turns and starts walking to the gates. He's walking so quickly that Draco has to half-run to catch up with him.

"Don't be a tosser, Potter," Draco says when he does, giving him a friendly shoulder shove.

"Me?" Potter says, still in a huff, but when he sees that Draco's smiling, he reluctantly mirrors the expression. "I'm just . . . finding this all a bit sudden, Malfoy. You – turning up on my doorstep out of the blue, wanting to spend time with me. You've always hated me. At your trial . . ." He trails off uncertainly, then rallies. "No, I'm going to say it. At your trial, I stood up for you, and I did it gladly, but the looks you gave me! Like I was shit on your shoe. Like it was worse that I was testifying on your behalf than if I was speaking out against you!"

Draco suppresses the urge to veer off the path, run to the Forbidden Forest and kick a tree. How is he to explain himself? That it was worse, in a way, because he didn't want Potter testifying at his trial – he didn't want to be on trial, as if he was some loser, some pathetic, snivelling defeated villain. That he'd had to scowl at Potter, because Potter was everything he'd always wanted to be – everything he'd always wanted, full stop – and if he didn't scowl, he'd weep like a baby. He stares at his shoes as he walks, mouth working as he tries to hold the unexpected flood of emotion in.

"Malfoy?" Potter says, sounding unsure of himself, and stops, so that Draco is forced to stop too, and raise his eyes to look at him.

"I don't hate you," he manages.

"No," Potter agrees awkwardly, "I can see that. But . . ."

"There's no point in explaining. You wouldn't understand."

"Try me," Potter says, to Draco's horror. "Come on; we can talk as we go. Let's have a look at the Quidditch pitch. I know Hagrid and Professor Sprout've done wonders reseeding the grass. You wouldn't even know there'd been a fire."

Draco knows they have – he's seen it. And it seems Potter's not even pretending that he hasn't seen it. "Why did you agree to come with me when you've already seen all the repairs?" he asks, letting the frustration show. Perhaps that'll distract Potter from his quest for confessions.

Potter shrugs. "Because you asked me," he says, staring off into the forest. "I know you think I hate you right back, but it's been a long time since that's been true."

Draco sighs – internally. "OK, come on then, Potty," he says, attempting to sound cheerful. "Show me the rebuilt Quidditch pitch then. I'm sure you know more about it than me; just because my father helped pay for it, doesn't mean I paid attention when he was banging on about it."

They make their way there together, in strained silence, and Draco realises he's not going to get away with not spilling a few guts to Potter if he wants to win him over. It seems an unpleasant but necessary tactic. Besides, Potter's a disgustingly noble sort – Draco has faith that, even if they weren't stuck in the time loop, Potter is the sort of person who wouldn't ever require an Unbreakable Vow to force him to keep his word. He'd just give it, and that would be that.

"Potter . . . I'm not very good at losing," he forces himself to say as they step into the stands and start to climb upwards.

"Did you want your side to win though? By the end, I mean," Potter replies, after some thought. They reach the top of the stands and sit down, gazing out over the empty pitch.

"Fuck no. I'd have killed the Dark Lord myself if I'd known how," Draco says, pulling a face. "That's not what I meant. I just . . ." He pauses, wondering how to explain it without sounding pathetic. He feels pathetic. "We needed you – me and my mother. At the trial. And I didn't want to need you. I should have . . . I should have been able to talk my way out of it, like my father did. It's the Malfoy way. It felt . . . God! Having to rely on you of all people." He tries not to sound as bitter as he feels. "You have no idea."

"Then tell me," Potter says quietly.

Draco looks at his hands.

"You don't have to if you don't want to," Potter says when Draco doesn't speak, and shrugs, but his mouth turns down at the corners.

It feels a bit like being flayed, Draco thinks wearily. It's sixth year, and he's back in that bathroom with Potter. Only this time, instead of Potter ripping his chest open with some forbidden spell, Harry's expecting Draco to rip open his own chest, to show him his secret hurts, let him stare, while Harry pretends he never asked for it.

He doesn't fucking deserve this. But it's what he's got, so he attempts to man up and get it over with. What he deserves is a medal. "I feel like you had it so easy," he starts.

"Bollocks I did," Potter interrupts angrily.

"Shut up, Potter," Draco snaps, and Potter subsides like a pricked balloon. "If you want me to talk, have the courtesy to actually listen." He tries to compose himself. "People act like you're this great hero, like you chose to be, but . . . You were just fighting the man who murdered your parents. Following Dumbledore's orders, like a good little soldier. You followed the path that had been destined for you, from the day you were born. How was I any different?" He blinks; his eyes feel hot and under pressure. "I didn't care about the fucking Dark Lord triumphing; I cared about my father triumphing. And then, when the bastard turned on us, I cared about keeping my parents alive – that burden was placed on my shoulders."

He takes a ragged breath; Potter, by his side, remains silent. "I was just a child. A spoiled brat of a child, maybe," he says, with a hollow laugh, "but . . . I always wished I was you. You set yourself against me, and maybe for good reason, but I always wished I was you. That's why I wasn't jumping up and down with excitement when you testified at my trial," he adds, perhaps unnecessarily, and can't resist taking back a bit of his dignity with a final, cutting: "I would have much preferred to have been testifying at yours."

"Recommending ten years' hard labour at Azkaban?" Potter asks wryly, when it's clear Draco's not going to say any more.

Draco snorts. "I was thinking twenty."

Potter fidgets next to him as they sit in tense silence for a bit. "I was a child too," he says eventually. "It . . . it would have been a lot easier to just give up and let Voldemort win." He turns to Draco. "You do get that, don't you?" he asks doubtfully.

"Of course I get it," he says, more sharply than he means. "I'm not excusing myself. I'm just explaining. This doesn't have to be a competition of who had it shittest."

Potter blinks – and then, inexplicably, grins. "Go on then. Let's see who did. I'll start. Um . . . my parents were murdered by Voldemort and I had to live with my uncle and aunt, who hate magic and hate me. Your turn."

Draco shifts in his seat. "Um, I don't think . . ."

"No, go on," Potter challenges.

"I had to grow up hearing about the legendary Harry Potter, and when I introduced myself he rejected my offer of friendship," Draco tries. His voice, annoyingly, wobbles a bit. "And you were youngest Seeker ever, and I wasn't allowed to try out in first year myself." The hurts of that year – perhaps ridiculously – still burn bright in his mind, even now, even after everything. It was the first time in his life he'd discovered that he couldn't have whatever he wanted just for the asking. His childhood had, in hindsight, been pretty much perfect.

"Voldemort tried to kill me during my first year of school," Potter counters.

"Inexplicably, I was not the heir of Slytherin," Draco says, nose in the air.

"Er, Tom Riddle, the actual heir of Slytherin, tried to kill me that year too," Potter says. "Sorry."

Draco thinks a bit. "I was attacked by a vicious hippogriff, which, also inexplicably, managed to escape justice. You have anything to do with that, Potter?"

Potter raises an eyebrow. "Me?" he says.

"And you won the Quidditch cup. And Moody turned me into a fucking ferret, and—"

"Fourth year, Voldemort tried to murder me again."

"Let's just take the "Voldemort tried to murder me again" as read, shall we? Don't be boring, Potter. Fifth year, my father was arrested and sent to Azkaban." Draco's on a roll.

"And you threatened to kill me for it!"

"And to atone for my father's failure, lucky me was given the task of murdering the headmaster," Draco says sarcastically. "What fun. Lucky, too, that you were around to try to murder me in an arsing bathroom in an oh-so-heroic attempt to get me stuck for the rest of eternity with Moaning Myrtle."

Potter colours up. "I didn't mean to do that, you know I didn't," he protests. "I really am sorry."

"What, the Myrtle part?" Draco says, folding his arms and raising an eyebrow. "I should think so!"

Potter snorts. "No, you arsehole. The . . . the Sectumsempra. Did . . . did you scar badly?" he asks, suddenly shamefaced.

Draco chooses not to answer that. Instead, he counters with: "Seventh year you pinched my fucking wand!"

"Seventh year, I died," Potter says simply.

They're both breathless by now, and they look at each other, chests heaving.

"Yes, OK, Potter, you win," Draco grumbles, because he can't top that. Nothing can fucking top that. "Just like always."

Potter makes a reasonable attempt to grin. "It was a well-fought battle though, right? Though we, er, both left out quite a lot of shit stuff," he adds thoughtfully.

"It's fine, Potter," Draco says hastily, in case Potter tries to make him go back and seriously list every little slight – and every big fucking nightmare. Too right they both left quite a lot of shit stuff out. Stuff that still has him waking up at night in a cold sweat. "Though you did forget to mention the terrible facial scar that blighted your good looks and meant that no one with any taste would ever fancy you," he adds snidely, to get a rise out of him.

"Yes, that was why Ginny and I split up," Potter says seriously. "She got tired of having to buy new paper bags to put on my head when we went out."

Draco laughs.

"I still have a few left, if you'd like them," Potter continues serenely. "Though, mind you, your head's so large, I'm not sure it would fit."

"Ho, ho, very funny, Potter," Draco says, and Potter grins at him.

"It's not general knowledge about Ginny, so I'd be grateful if you didn't spread it about," Potter adds, then rises from his seat stretching. "Shall we go up to the castle?"

"Sure," Draco says. He's half tempted to press Potter into further confidences, but he's had quite enough of awkward confessions for the moment. Besides, it's still only morning; there's plenty of time for more conversation, and hopefully of a more congenial sort. So he follows along beside Potter, and smiles and nods as Potter points out repaired turrets, and mended walls, and new greenhouses, and he soon finds he's actually interested in what Potter has to say – the repair work has been extensive, and although he knew that, because his father has been intimately involved with it, albeit from a distance, he didn't know it. Not properly. He's glad that his family were involved with rebuilding – genuinely glad. And he's glad that today he's walking in the sunshine beside Potter, who's also glad – and who smiles as he talks, and almost seems to have forgotten who it is he's walking beside and the fact that it was Draco's friends – Draco's family – and Draco's fellow Slytherins, alongside a load of other monsters who were no friend at all, who created the damage in the first place.

Unless, of course, he remembers – and just no longer cares. The thought that Potter might just think of him as Draco today, not as the enemy, or a rival, makes him tingle from head to toe.

***

When they've done a full circuit of the outside of the castle, Potter looks at his watch. "About half an hour till lunch," he says. "What would you like to do? Take a look inside? We'd probably have to stop by the headmistress's office to say hello, and I'm sure she'll invite us to stay to lunch. But . . . Well . . ."

"But what?" Draco asks, nettled. Potter sounds as if he's implying Draco would be as welcome a luncheon guest as Peeves.

Potter shoots him a look that suggests he's trying really, really fucking hard, so will Draco just try to not be a dick? "I don't want you to feel uncomfortable," he says though.

The problem is: Draco is a dick. "Stop making me feel that way then," he says sweetly. But he relents, when Potter thrusts his hands into his pockets in a manner that suggests he'd much rather be wrapping them around Draco's neck. He's trying to win Potter over today, not wind him up so tight he snaps. "Thank you for your consideration – no, really," he says, when Potter shoots him a disbelieving look, "thank you. But I've had a lot of practice in feeling uncomfortable, and I'm quite good at it now, really, I promise. A slightly awkward lunch is not the worst thing I've had to go through. And besides," he says lightly, "you'll look after me, won't you?"

Potter's disbelief has morphed into uncertainty, and he nods, clearly not sure how serious Draco is being.

Draco thinks it's strangely adorable, but he wouldn't admit it, not even under duress. "Come on, then," he says, and they enter the castle together, stepping into the massive Entrance Hall and climbing up the main sweep of steps, and up, and up, until they're on the seventh floor.

Potter speaks the password to the stone gargoyle, and then turns to Draco. "I come here fairly regularly," he says, with a hint of apology in his voice. "I helped with some of the rebuilding, and . . ." He shrugs, and turns to enter the office. "It still feels like home here, you know?"

Draco does know.

McGonagall is extremely pleased to see Potter and initially wary of Draco. It's a little bit irritating, but he supposes it's fair enough, and she's perfectly polite – so he tries his best to be polite and friendly in return, and she soon defrosts at least half a degree. It's a reasonable start. He doesn't need to be her friend, especially, but it's clear she loves Potter, and . . .

. . . and that makes two of them.

"Are you OK?" Potter asks, frowning, and Draco realises that McGonagall's asked him a question and he has no idea what it was.

"I – I'm sorry, what was that?" Draco asks, trying to pull himself together.

"I was simply asking if you and Harry would like to join us for lunch today," the headmistress repeats. "It won't be a fancy affair, but you're both most welcome."

"Oh, yes, how kind," Draco says. He feels a bit like someone's whispered Lumos in his brain, illuminating what should have been obvious from the start. It's not earth-shaking, because he already knew – of course he knew; how could he not? – but . . . it's put a label on something that has so far remained undefined. It's not just that he and Potter are so strangely right for each other, in a truly fucked up kind of way. It's not just that it's strangely inevitable, that the one person he wants is the one person he really shouldn't. It's far more simple than that.

He loves Potter.

He's in love with Potter.

And with that comes a new determination: he has got to fix the time loop. Because he's a Malfoy, and a Slytherin, and most of all he's Draco, and he is not going to sit about pining, when he now knows exactly what he wants – he wants Harry. And repeating the same day, over and over and over, is not going to get him his happy ever after – and Draco feels that after all the shit he's put up with, he fucking deserves that happy ever after, and he'd like it now, please and thank you.

"You sure you're OK?" Potter murmurs as they leave the office in McGonagall's company, heading towards the Great Hall.

Draco smiles to himself, and then turns that smile on Potter, who grins back, without knowing why. "Absolutely," he says, and finds that he means it.

***

Draco's not sure he's one hundred percent OK, though, when they enter the great hall and he finds himself seated opposite Hagrid, who's glowering at him with impressive fervour, and with a Hufflepuff on either side. Potter, sending him an apologetic look, is whisked to the other end of the table to sit with the headmistress and a middle-aged witch Draco doesn't know – a new DADA teacher, perhaps? There are only about fifteen of them, so it's not like Potter's far away, but Hagrid's so . . . enormous. And the table isn't wide enough for comfort. Hagrid looks like he's one breath away from flinging an entire roast chicken at his head and following it up with the cutlery.

"I never did apologise for what my father did to Buckbeak, did I?" he says hastily, fingering his wand under the table just in case he has to Expelliarmus the chicken out of a vengeful Hagrid's grasp. "I completely overreacted, and I really regret that things went so far. I hope Buckbeak escaped somewhere where he can be happy."

Hagrid blinks at him uncertainly. "Yeh . . . yeh mean that, Malfoy?"

"Of course," Draco lies. Although, it's not entirely a lie. He feels a twinge of guilt over the whole thing; he'd started it by winding the creature up, hadn't he?

"An' . . . an' are yeh friends with Harry now?" Hagrid asks, also uncertainly. "Cause any friend of Harry's is a friend o' mine."

Draco nods. "Yes, I think so."

Hagrid beckons with one enormous finger, and Draco leans in towards him, trying not to be alarmed. "Then . . . if yeh'd like ter come wi' me after lunch, I'll show you somethin' that yeh'll like ter see," he says, mysteriously, and taps his nose and winks.

Botheration. Draco didn't especially want to spend the afternoon grovelling in the dirt in front of a hippogriff, even if it does mean the chance of another exhilarating flight on the creature's back. He especially doesn't fancy grovelling in front of Potter, of all people. But, there's always a chance that it's not just Pipsqueak who seems curiously unaffected by the time loop – perhaps all magical animals have an unusual sense of time. Draco tries to hold on to that thought as he tucks into his lunch and attempts to make light conversation with the young students on either side of him. And perhaps Potter won't want to spend the afternoon with a herd of vicious, crazed animals. Maybe he won't have to do it at all.

***

Potter wants to spend the afternoon with a herd of vicious, crazed animals. Of course he does. It's entirely typical of him.

At least, he wants to say yes to Hagrid – who's beaming at them both, and beckoning them aside after lunch is over – and that means yes to the hippogriffs.

As they walk to the paddock, Draco wishing he'd eaten slightly less in case the food threatens to make a reappearance, Potter looks like he wants to say something but doesn't know how.

"Go on, spit it out, Potter," Draco says eventually, after he's had enough of Potter twitching. Hagrid has gone on ahead, his long legs covering the ground at speed, to 'prepare'. Draco shudders to think what for.

"You really mean it, that you're sorry about Buckbeak?" Potter asks.

"Yes, of course," Draco says, because he wants to hear what Potter says.

"Well . . ." Potter says, and then he grins, his awkwardness falling away. "Would you like to hear how he escaped?"

"I knew it!" Draco says. "I knew you were behind it!"

Potter grins harder and tells the most extraordinary tale, which Draco wouldn't believe . . . if it wasn't for the fact that he is currently intimately acquainted with time-turners, fuck 'em all. He realises, to his annoyance, that Potter managed to use the time-turner entirely without issue. But then he hadn't been idiot enough to try to alter it, to make it 'better'. And he had Hermione. The things Draco could have done if he'd had Hermione on his side!

"So Buckbeak now lives here, but disguised as Witherwings?" Draco asks, as if that's news to him.

Potter nods. "Yes, he flew back eventually after he'd helped Sirius escape. To the authorities, one hippogriff looks very much like another."

To anyone one hippogriff looks very much like another, Draco thinks, although he would concede that Buckbeak has a particularly nasty look in his eye.

"Try to look surprised when Hagrid tells you that Buckbeak's here though, won't you?" Potter says conspiratorially. "I don't want to ruin his surprise."

Draco nods, and tries to smile. To his deep relief though, after he's gone through the rigmarole of pretending to be surprised by the great big brute, Buckbeak shoots him a very knowing look for an animal, and although Draco does have to bow and apologise all over again, it's only a brief 'I'm sorry' and the creature bows back almost instantaneously. It's clear it remembers him, and that even though they aren't friends, he's won some measure of its respect.

Potter just steps right up and pats it, and it shoves at him with its evil pointed beak as if they're the best of friends.

Fucking thing.

"Good for yeh!" Hagrid says, beaming proudly, and delivering a back-slap that has Draco stumbling, only to be grabbed by Potter, who nearly falls over with him. "Mebbe yeh're no' such a little turd, after all!"

Draco is about to say something rude in response, but Potter sniggers, and he still has his hands around Draco's arms, and Draco decides that for the sake of peace and harmony he'll just let it go. This time.

"Yeh should both go fer a ride!" Hagrid continues, and Buckbeak obligingly bends his hind legs and half-spreads his wings in welcome.

"It can't take both of us," Draco says dubiously. "You go, Potter," he offers.

"You git," Potter hisses, although he's still smiling. "Why don't you go! It's like trying to ride a . . . a . . . a thing that flies like a maniac while trying to buck you off!"

"No, no, don' worry. Beaky can take both of yeh, can' yeh, Beaky?" Hagrid declares, and the hippogriff makes an unnerving cawing noise that Draco presumes is agreement. At least, Hagrid is nodding and making waving movements at them both, and he presumes that if they're mistaken, they won't know it for long – one attempt to mount and they'll be a smear on the grass.

Unless, of course, the beast merely thinks it can take their weights, and then discovers mid flight it can't – and so jettisons its cargo.

"Go on, go on," Hagrid says, shooing at them.

"Oh god," Potter murmurs, his eyes alight with adventure, and this bolsters Draco's courage.

"Follow me, Potter," he says, and he climbs on, with Potter scrambling up behind him.

As before, the hippogriff takes off almost before they've got a proper grip on it, and the first minute or so is pure panic as they try their bests not to plunge to painful death. But when the beast settles into a smoother flight, soaring over the forest and floating on air current after air current, Draco relaxes his death grip on the creature. Potter, on the other hand—

"Ow," Draco says eventually, when Potter doesn't loosen up his tight clutch on Draco's waist.

"Oh, sorry," Potter murmurs against his hair; Draco can barely hear him against the wind. He loosens his grip infinitesimally but shifts in closer.

Draco can feel Potter up against the whole length of his back; his hair must be almost entirely in Potter's face. Potter's thighs are pressed up tight against Draco's own legs.

They fly on; it's just as exhilarating as before, except . . . except it's better. Draco's nerves are flying, as well as his body – every fibre of his being is humming, from Potter's nearness, his warmth, his smell. Every time he breathes, Draco can feel it tickling his neck.

Potter relaxes his grip as the flight goes on, holding Draco's sides lightly, his hands slipping down to rest just above the waistline of his trousers. The wind whips past them, ruffling his hair, billowing his T-shirt, and Potter raises his arms and shouts in glee.

When he replaces his hands, Draco's T-shirt has ridden up, and Potter grips bare skin instead of fabric. He doesn't move them though, and every time the hippogriff jolts, Potter's hands shift and Draco tries not to shiver with pleasure.

"OK, you win," Potter yells in his ear.

"What?" Draco yells back.

"This is more fun than I remembered. You win."

The words don't make Draco's heart soar as much as he'd have expected, but they're still extremely pleasant to hear. So: "What?" he says again, and this time Potter pokes him – hard – in the side.

"You heard me, you tosspot," he says, which makes Draco grin and incline his head.

It feels like no time at all before Buckbeak is turning back for Hogwarts, and even less time before they're landing and sliding off the creature's broad back, trying to bring some life back into stiff, half-frozen limbs.

Hagrid invites them to his hut for – and there's an inevitability about it that Draco can't help but be amused by – a cup of tea, and they accept, except this time Draco knows to turn down the toffee, and he notices that Potter does too. At least this time it's after lunch, so the possibility of stoat sandwiches is low.

"What shall we do with the rest of the afternoon?" Potter asks, after their second cup.

"How about we continue the flying theme and have a game of Quidditch?" Draco suggests. "We could ask the kids if they'd like to play. I'm sure the headmistress would referee, if we asked her."

"That's a great idea," Potter says enthusiastically, jumping up right away, and he beams at first Draco and then Hagrid. "Want to watch, Hagrid?"

Hagrid beams back, and Draco feels just a tiny smidgeon of guilt that he's basically pinched Potter's own idea to impress him with. But it's only a very tiny smidge. The smile on Potter's face is enough to erase any doubts.

Potter leads the way to the Hufflepuff common room, and while Draco feels the urge to show off that he knows the way in too, he doesn't; it would be too suspicious. So he just lets Potter open up the earthen tunnel, and follows him with good grace while internally grimacing at the potential ruination of his light-grey trousers.

His tolerance is rewarded – not only does the dirt brush off, but the students jump at the idea. Soon they're all racing about the pitch on borrowed brooms, and this time Draco almost feels more pleased by their joy than by his own.

***

At dinner at that evening – this time they all sit at the Hufflepuff table, and Draco begins to get the revolting impression that they switch tables each meal for reasons of 'fairness' – Draco is the model of a perfect guest. He tries very very hard to make the conversation flow, and be polite and charming, and to his delight he feels Professor McGonagall unthaw at least a further half degree towards him, and they have an interesting, if uncontroversial, conversation about the latest developments in magical theory; Draco feels glad for his subscriptions to various academic journals. His efforts to stave off boredom have come to some good, at least, even though it would have been wiser, perhaps, to have stuck to book learning rather than practical experiments. With regards to time travel especially . . .

As they talk, and the meal progresses, he can feel Potter looking at him, every now and then, each glance burning into his skin, and he tries not to twitch. When Hagrid interrupts, with a question for the headmistress about his latest monstrous acquisition which'll arrive any day now (an Erumpent, for fuck's sake! Thank Merlin it hadn't arrived already or the afternoon would have ended with Hagrid wringing his hands over his and Potter's mangled corpses and saying plaintively, "She didn' mean ter hurt yeh!"), and McGonagall is distracted by telling him off ("Rubeus, I hope you don't mean that you're bringing one of those here—"), Draco turns to Potter, who turns his own head away so quickly that he risks whiplash.

"What?" Draco says.

Potter, mouth full, chews hard and swallows. "Nothing," he says quickly. "Just . . . I didn't know you were interested in that sort of stuff. Academic theory. You thinking of being a teacher?"

The very idea! Still, Potter's obviously impressed, and Draco tries not to take it as an insult. It's not Potter's fault he has no grasp of pureblood wizarding etiquette and no notion that it would be lower than low for a pureblood heir to take a job rather than, say, a position as an adviser. "No, of course not," he says. "But I enjoy studying. And it passes the time."

Potter laughs and says, "You and Hermione should—" and then breaks off.

Yes, well. It's a bit hard to make friends with someone you once wished dead; it chafes, rather, on the conscience.

"She would, you know," Potter says after another mouthful of shepherd's pie has been vanquished.

"Would what?"

"Forgive you," Potter says. "If you asked. Because you are sorry, aren't you?" He shovels in another forkful.

His faith is touching, but . . . "Yes," Draco decides reluctantly. He hated Granger, and although it's painful to admit it, he hated her because despite all his advantages she was cleverer than him, and because despite the fact she was a no one, Potter was still friends with her in preference to him.

Potter swallows and grins at him, before taking a swig of pumpkin juice.

When dessert arrives, Draco starts to wonder if he's misjudged the situation and if he needs to change his plans. But then, to his relief, the headmistress turns to him and Potter and says: "You're both very welcome to stay the night at the castle, if you'd like. The Slytherin dormitory is empty right now, and I can ask a house-elf to make up a couple of beds?"

Potter looks at him, as if daring him to protest that no Gryffindor will ever be allowed entrance to the Slytherin dormitory, but Draco is suppressing the urge to fist-pump the air. Instead, he allows himself a smug smile. "I shall enjoy showing Potter what a well-decorated common room looks like," he says, and Potter – mouth full of treacle tart – splutters and digs him in the side with his elbow, and Professor McGonagall simply looks on in amazement.

Draco supposes it is a bit amazing.

After dinner, Hagrid mutters something that could be Erumpet, ho! and flees, with McGonagall in hot pursuit. The other students disperse, leaving Harry and Draco alone in the Great Hall.

Potter stretches and stands up. "Come on," he says, a glint in his eye.

Draco follows him, and is amused that Potter leads him to the kitchens, where he cadges a half-bottle of Firewhisky from the attentive Hogwarts house-elves and a couple of glasses. They take the stolen booze out of the castle and Potter leads the way round the castle and down to the lake, where he sits on the grass and, with a look of intense concentration, pours out two generous shots.

Draco, once again in fear for his pale trousers, sits, and casts a quick Warming Charm on the area – the evening is mild, but it's already growing late and the sun is setting. It's soon going to start feeling chilly.

The sound of the water lapping the shore is very soothing, and it's quiet out here, and peaceful, and Draco nearly tips his whisky into his lap when the giant squid emerges with a tremendous splash and an unearthly wail and waves its tentacles about.

Potter, the shit-head, falls about laughing.

"I bet that thing is Hagrid's fault," Draco grumbles, knocking back a restorative mouthful of booze. It slides, warm and tingling, down his throat.

Potter laughs. "Probably," he says. "Though, mind you, if it was one of Hagrid's creatures, it would probably have . . . I dunno. Poison tentacles and a taste for human flesh." He smiles into his glass, swirling the whisky round the bottom of it. "Hagrid has a warm heart. He'll give any creature a chance, no matter what its reputation is. It's one of the things I love most about him."

This seems suspiciously soppy, and since Potter's therefore obviously in a soppy mood, Draco risks asking something he's been wondering for days: "What happened to you and Ginny? You seemed so . . . solid."

Potter sighs, the shine going out of his eyes, but he doesn't dodge the question. "It just felt too . . . comfortable, you know what I mean? Like she was my sister, or my best friend. And . . ." He busies himself with the Firewhisky bottle, topping first Draco and then himself up. "I realised I wanted someone – something – else."

Draco feels a flush of fury burn through him – fucking Finch-Fletchley – but then he reconsiders. It was Granger who set the pair of them up, and Potter has never sounded overly enthused when he's spoken about the Hufflepuff tosser. It can't be him that Potter was pining after. Perhaps he was simply speaking generally. He wants to pry, but he can't – how would he explain how he knew about their dates? He can't blame everything on Hermione; it would be plausible she'd tried to get him and Potter to talk, to be civil to one another, but the idea that she'd spill Potter's gay secrets is somewhat unlikely. So he simply says, "Mm?" and leaves a silence, hoping Potter will fill it.

Potter fills it all right, blast him. "So, are you seeing anyone?" he asks, watching the giant squid gently bobbing up and down in the distance.

"No," Draco says. And adds, after a sip of liquid courage, "Dating's trickier when you prefer men." It's less subtle than perhaps he could have managed, but . . .

Potter chokes on his whisky.

"Shall I bang you on the back?" Draco asks lazily, feeling a spirit of mischief take over him.

"No, no, I'm fine," Potter splutters, and coughs a bit more. He fiddles with his shirt cuff, and then adds, speaking a bit too loudly, "Yes, I've been finding that too."

"Finding what?" Draco asks, because teasing Potter is possibly his most favourite game.

"Oh, um, er," Potter says, raking his fingers through his hair, "you know—" He breaks off when Draco starts laughing. "You are such a tosser!"

"Well, yes," Draco says, smirking, and Potter reaches over and whacks him on the arm – hard – before picking up the Firewhisky and sloshing some more into both of their glasses.

"Trying to get me drunk, are you?" Draco says, and Potter jolts, splashing a hearty slug of booze on to his hand, and then the grass, before he starts to laugh helplessly.

"Look what you made me do!" he protests, licking the liquid off his fingers.

Draco feels arousal coil in his stomach and he watches, helplessly, until Potter notices him noticing and stops, self-consciously, hiding his face with the whisky glass.

"So," Draco drawls, because the spirit of mischief is still riding him, and he thinks he can pass this off as 'banter' if it all goes wrong, "did you throw Ginny over for her brother, then?"

Potter makes a noise that sounds a bit like a surprised explosion. "You mean Ron? Ugh, no," he says vehemently.

"No?" Draco says, grinning.

"No!"

"Not even a tiny little bit?"

"Draco, no!"

"But think of his lovely cock, nestled in a heap of lovely ginger pubes . . ."

Potter's started to laugh, and he pulls a face like he's going to be sick. He waves a hand in helpless dismissal. "Urggggggggghh!" he manages.

Draco grins. "But seriously. You never did? What about with the other Gryffindor boys?"

Potter pulls himself together. "What do you mean?" he asks, rather self-consciously.

"Surely there was a bit of after-lights-out fumbling in your dormitory every now and then."

"No-o," Potter says. He's blushing furiously. "Just the usual, you know . . . Entirely solo! Behind closed curtains! Oh my god, I can't believe I just said that out loud."

Draco snorts. "Seriously, Potter? Never?"

"We had other things on our minds!" Potter protests.

Draco says nothing, counting down from five. Five . . .

Four . . .

Three . . .

Two . . .

"Why, did you . . .?" Potter splutters incoherently, tugging up blade of grass with his free hand and clutching his glass with the other.

Gotcha. "Of course," Draco says, trying to keep his voice calm and steady and bored. "Just the usual sort of boarding-school stuff. Strip Exploding-Snap, spin the bottle, circle jerks, the occasional blow job, that kind of thing." It's not precisely true – but it's true enough. He and Blaise, and occasionally Theodore, had passed the time quite pleasantly on a few occasions. Just friends helping each other out; he'd be amazed if the same wasn't true for at least a couple of Potter's Gryffindor room-mates, even if they'd been discreet enough that Potter hadn't noticed. Draco always had suspicions about Finnegan and Thomas, in particular. Besides, you didn't have to be gay to be horny, though obviously a little flexibility helped.

Potter, who's ripped up about half the grass in reach by now, lets out a shaky breath and takes a long drink from his glass. "Right," he says. "Right."

"I'm very sorry you missed out, Potter," Draco says solemnly. "I'm sure Longbottom had a great way with his—"

"Oh god!" Potter says, starting to laugh again. "Stop it, stop it."

"Fine," Draco says, grinning back, and he changes the subject. But the conversation stays at the back of his mind, and he can't help but think it's somewhere closer to the front of Potter's mind, from the way he randomly blushes every now and then, and keeps glancing at Draco whenever he thinks Draco's not looking. And in an hour or two they'll be going – together – to the Slytherin dormitory, to sleep in school beds, next to each other, and . . .

Well, Draco thinks, overheating from the inside out. We'll see.

***

By the time they wander back up to the castle, they're merry, but not pissed; Potter, it seems, can hold his drink reasonably well, and besides, after the awkward sex-talk, they seemed to have forgotten about their drinks in favour of conversation. It suits Draco; he doesn't like the idea of taking advantage, even though that's what he does, what Slytherins – what Malfoys – do. The fact that it's Potter somehow makes it different.

If Potter's going to go along with what Draco has – vaguely – planned, Draco wants him taking part enthusiastically. Fuck the time loop. Fuck the fact that it will, almost certainly, erase this day again, despite Draco's hopes. This is Potter. And he matters.

They walk through the Entrance Hall, shoes echoing on the flagged-stone floor. It's grown dark outside, and it's gloomier inside too, although torches flare from the stone walls, casting a soft, flickering glow over everything. Draco leads the way to the small door to the left of the staircase, and down the narrow staircase behind it, past Snape's old office and along a maze of corridors, until he stops outside the entrance. It's just a stretch of stone wall, like any other stretch of stone wall, and Draco shoots a sidelong glance at Potter, expecting him to look puzzled and ask why they've stopped.

He doesn't, though. And when he catches Draco's eye, instead, he looks . . . sheepish.

"You bloody nightmare, Potter, you've been in here before!" Draco splutters, and pronounces the password that McGonagall whispered to him at dinner – unity – which makes the stones of the wall shift apart, with a groan, to reveal a gloomy passageway.

"Erm," Potter says, "well . . ."

Draco rolls his eyes and leads the way in. The common room is much as he remembers it – dark and green tinged. It's partly under the lake, and when he looks out of the window he can see one of the giant squid's tentacles float by. He feels oddly nostalgic; he had many good times at Hogwarts. It wasn't all a shower of shit.

"When did you come?" Draco demands, collapsing on one of the green leather sofas. "Not when we were at school . . .?"

"Erm," Potter says again.

"Salazar's balls," Draco says. "Go on, you might as well confess."

Potter confesses – and as he explains about the Polyjuice potion, Draco feels his jaw drop. He closes it with a snap; it is most undignified to sit about with your jaw flopping around. It certainly explains a few things though – like how he'd managed to have a conversation with Vincent and Gregory, and then, a while after that conversation, Vince and Greg had burst back in, complaining that someone had knocked them out and locked them up in a cupboard, where they'd been for hours and hours! He'd thought they'd both gone nuts. He feels a bit guilty now that he'd told them so – and more than once. He'd given them quite a good lecture, as he recalls, on the dangers of an overactive imagination.

He still misses Vincent, sometimes; he was a shit, but he was Draco's shit. He was a good friend.

Potter finishes speaking and looks a bit awkward, as if he's not sure how Draco's going to react.

"You sneaky arsehole," Draco says admiringly.

Potter grins, obviously a bit taken aback. "Of course, Ron and I only saw the common room, nothing else, and—"

"No, no, don't spoil it, Potter," Draco interrupts. "Next you'll be telling me that you spent a month brewing a potion, only to use it and find out nothing worth knowing." He's relatively sure Potter didn't; Draco himself didn't know anything worth knowing about the heir of Slytherin, after all. Perhaps, knowing what he knows now, that was not such a bad thing.

"Oh, fuck off," Potter says. He takes a walk around the room, examining bookshelves, and tapestries of illustrious Slytherins, and the house noticeboard. He peers out of the window. "It feels odd, being under the lake," he says. "Don't you think?"

Draco shrugs; he's used to it. "Come on, Potter, let me show you around." He leads Potter through a door to the side, down a dimly lit corridor and along to the room that he used to share with Vincent, Gregory, Theodore and Blaise. He presumes that's the room McGonagall will have had prepared, and when he opens the door, he knows he's presumed right. The silver lanterns, hanging from the ceiling, are twinkling, casting a greenish light, and a fire burns softly in the grate; even in summer, it's necessary. The castle gets chill down here, and the cold water of the lake presses against the walls, sucking the heat out of the stone.

There aren't any curtains; what would be the point? The windows are under water. If Draco holds his breath and listens, he can hear the water lapping against the glass.

Dreams about drowning are not an uncommon thing for nervous first years to experience; if older Slytherins experience them, they're less likely to admit to it.

"It's a bit . . . green," Potter says.

"A bit green?" Draco repeats, mock-offended. "It's extremely green," he adds smugly. And it is – not just the lighting, but also the Slytherin crests on the walls and the silk hangings round the beds.

"I do beg your pardon," Potter says, grinning. "I still think the whole underwater thing is a bit creepy."

"Don't worry, Potter, I'll protect you," Draco says lightly, and Potter takes a deep breath and turns, as if to survey the room, but with the effect that Draco can't see his face.

"Are you tired?" Draco asks, mind working. There's always the risk that Potter will say Yes and dive into one of the two beds that have been made up for the night and draw the curtains as if the hounds of hell are after him.

There's silence for a moment. Then: "Um, no," Potter says doubtfully. He turns back again. "Why, are you?"

"No." Draco rummages in his pocket and pulls out the shrunken pack of cards he's been carrying all day, muttering the counter-charm that will inflate them back to normal size. "Fancy a game?" he asks.

Potter goes scarlet. "Of what?" he asks, his mind clearly harking back to Draco's earlier mention of strip Exploding Snap.

Draco thinks it's a bit soon for stripping; he doesn't want to frighten Potter off. "Exploding Snap," he says. "Duh."

Potter rallies, raising an eyebrow in a good imitation of Draco's Malfoy-stare.

"Scared, Potter?" Draco says, shuffling the cards.

"Of course not," Potter says. "But—"

"Come on then," Draco interrupts, toeing off his shoes and scrambling on the nearest bed, to sit cross-legged near the head of it.

Potter swallows hard and takes off his own shoes, but he's clearly not a coward – he clambers on and sits opposite Draco.

"Let's make it interesting," Malfoy says, pretending not to notice Potter stiffening up. "Let's see . . . How about, the loser has to answer a question posed by the winner."

"Um, yeah, OK," Potter says dubiously, still not exactly relaxing.

They both get their wands out and begin to play. The wizarding version is more fast-paced than the Muggle game, Draco thinks as the cards whizz by, but also more likely to set fire to the sheets. He manages to lose without looking like it was on purpose, by dint of great effort, and Potter grins widely.

"Go on then," Draco says. "What would you like to ask?"

"Oh! I, uh . . ." Potter scoops up the cards and shuffles them, frowning in thought. "What are you planning on doing next? Um, job-wise, I mean."

"That's a bit of a waste of a question," Draco drawls, rolling his eyes. "Is that the best you can do?"

"Don't be a dick, Malfoy," Potter says, dealing out the cards again and managing not to fall off the bed when one of them unexpectedly explodes mid-deal. "I actually want to know."

Fine. "I have no idea," Draco says truthfully. "I always thought I'd do something in the Ministry, follow in my father's footsteps – some sort of political adviser role, you know. But . . ."

"They wouldn't have you?"

"Don't be dense, Potter, of course they'd have me. I'm just not sure I want to do that. But I can't just sit about on my arse doing nothing either. I . . ."

"What?"

Draco shrugs. "I've always thought it might be fun to be an inventor, work with magical objects. Invent spells. Don't laugh," he adds fiercely. He suddenly feels like an idiot. He hasn't had much luck with the whole time travel thing. But . . . he fixed the Vanishing Cabinet, didn't he? The one that no one else could fix? And . . . although the time-turner business hasn't been a runaway success, he's still alive, isn't he? That's got to count for something.

"Why would I laugh?" Potter asks, sounding bewildered. "That sounds like an interesting job to me. You might want to look into being an Unspeakable – Hermione's always going on in broad terms about the stuff they do there in the Department of Mysteries, although I'm not sure she's technically allowed to tell me anything at all, so forget I said that. They do all sorts – investigating death, and love, and time and trying to come up with practical applications. That sort of thing."

Time! Ha fucking ha.

They play again, and although Draco had intended to win this round, Potter's question has thrown him off balance, and he loses for a second time.

"Me again?" Potter asks. "Oh." He fidgets. "Um. You know you said . . . Would you . . ." He clears his throat. "What do your parents think about you being gay? I mean, if they know, that is."

"They love me," Draco says, and feels extremely glad he knows how to answer this one. That he was brave enough to find out. "Yes, they know. They just want me to be happy." He breathes out slowly. "I'm not saying it's easy, exactly . . . I feel pressure to marry, to settle down and produce a son and heir. But . . ." He shrugs. "It's pressure from me, to please my parents. I want to make them happy too."

"I wish I could talk to my parents," Potter says, very low.

Draco sighs. "From what little I know of your parents, Potter, they'd be happy whatever you did. I don't think a little matter like you wanting to suck cock is going to stop them from looking down lovingly on you from the other side.

Potter makes a choking noise. "Not during, I hope!" he says, and grins a quicksilver smile.

When Draco loses the third game, Potter asks him, "I hope you're not losing on purpose, Malfoy."

"No," Draco says, widening his eyes. "Why would I do that?"

"I don't know," Potter replies honestly. "Go on, though, I'll give you a free question. What would you like to know?"

"Do you trust me?" Draco asks.

"Yes, but why?" Potter asks, with a clear what are you up to now, Malfoy? expression.

"No, that was the question."

"What was?"

Draco tries to think charitably that Potter's had a bit to drink, and while he's wondering how to explain what should be entirely obvious, Potter says, "Ohhhh," and fiddles with the cards. "I think I trust you," he says seriously. "I mean, I'd like to. I . . . Can I trust you? What do you think?"

It's a bugger of a question. "Yes," Draco says. "When I give my word, I mean it." He doesn't give it often though; he hopes that's not too slippery an answer. He deals in evasions and white lies and half-promises – it's what he's been taught. He appreciates Potter's straightforward way of attacking the world, but it's not for him. He prefers to take the smoother, less jagged path.

Potter can see straight through him, he thinks. But Potter nods and looks him straight in the eye. "OK," he says. "Then . . . I trust you, Draco."

Draco tries not to feel as if he's just been offered something very precious.

"What's this card-game business really about then?" Potter asks, shuffling but not dealing.

"Oh, I just wanted an excuse to find out if you're currently shagging anyone," Draco says airily, and Potter drops the cards.

Half of them explode, setting off the other half, and Draco dives off the bed to avoid the aftermath. He'd grab Potter too, but, really, in times like these it's every man for himself. Draco fears for the safety of his pale-grey trousers.

When he struggles to his feet, after it's all over, Potter is sitting – singed around the edges – on the bed with his arms folded and . . . Draco can't stop himself from sniggering.

"Yes, very funny," Potter says, struggling to the edge of the bed and swinging his legs over, getting to his feet. "Look at the sodding bed!"

Draco looks; there's a hole in the centre of the duvet, and when it peers down, it goes all the way through the bed itself. "Oh, arse," he says. "Looks like you'll be sleeping on the floor tonight."

"Me!" Potter says. "Why is this one my bed?"

"I might be persuaded to share, if you promise faithfully you don't snore."

Potter shoots him a meaningful look. "Look, Malfoy, I'm not daft."

"No?"

Potter splutters, and before he can speak Draco adds, "And you didn't answer my question, Potter. Well?"

"What question?"

"Are you shagging any—"

"Merlin! No, I'm not! Happy?"

Draco smirks. "Well, yes." Even Potter can't fail to pick up the implication in that, surely?

Potter, with great dignity, despite his flaming cheeks, looks Draco full in the face and says, "I don't know if I'm getting the wrong idea here, but I just want to say, I don't usually . . . you know."

No, Draco doesn't know. Potter takes embarrassed incoherence to a new level. "Don't what? Don't shag?"

Potter gives him a tortured look. "Not casually." He turns away to examine, in great detail, the carved fireplace across the room. "Not that . . ." He clears his throat. "Not that I'm not interested . . ."

"Potter," Draco says, his heart pounding and his nerves on fire, "have you ever actually . . .?"

Potter doesn't turn. "How is that any of your business?" he asks, his voice shaky round the edges.

That would be a no then. Probably. OK. It's not like Draco's got laid more than half a dozen times, and he didn't spend a year in a tent with Granger – a libido killer if he ever heard one.

Still. "Potter, come here," Draco asks.

Potter doesn't move.

"Please, Harry," Draco says. Potter's first name feels odd in his mouth, the syllables foreign.

Potter turns. He looks wild; his eyes are wide, and his lips pressed hard together as if to stop them trembling. "What?" he manages.

Draco moves towards him, closing the gap between them in just a couple of steps. "Can I ask you another question?" he asks.

"Depends," Potter says, a glimmer of his usual fight resurfacing. "Is it an arsey one? I've had just about enough of—"

"No," Draco says. "It's a fucking embarrassing one, and I've been building up to it all day."

"Oh god," Potter says faintly. But because he's a Gryffindor, thank Merlin: "Go on then."

"May I kiss you?"

It feels, oddly, like the moment before time resets itself – everything seems to hang there, frozen in place, paused. His breath, his heart. Potter himself, standing still and silent.

Potter breaks it. "Why?" he asks, the words strangled. He swallows hard.

Oh, for fuck's sake. "Because I want to," Draco says, losing his grip on his self-control. "I really really really fucking want to. Is that good enough? Please let me, please."

Potter swallows again, and moistens his lips, and swallows, and . . . Makes a decision. The right one, thank god. "Yeah," he says, quiet and breathy. "I mean . . . OK."

It's more than a bit awkward. Draco can't decide whether to follow the advice of his cock and just launch himself at Potter, or take it more slowly. Potter looks . . . Merlin. He looks soft, and willing, and anxious, and oh god it makes Draco's heart hurt, just looking at him, just wanting him.

He steps forward, and Potter closes in at the same time. Draco reaches for him, sliding his hands down Potter's sides until he finds the edge of his T-shirt, then drags it up until his thumbs hit bare skin. He cups Potter's waist – his skin hot, and firm – and pulls him towards him. Potter's own hands come up to tangle in his hair and tug Draco's head down.

Their faces lips mash together, and when Draco opens his mouth in a half-groan, Potter opens up too and lets Draco's tongue in willingly. Potter's mouth is warm, and wet, and their tongues slide together, each lick sending pulses of arousal that zing straight to Draco's cock. He strokes his hands up Potter's sides, underneath his T-shirt, and down again, then pushes his right leg between Potter's thighs, tugging him in tight, so that their bodies are locked together.

Potter's hard, Draco can feel it, and he groans helplessly into Draco's mouth, grinding his hips as their tongues fuck.

"Draco, I—" Potter gasps, between kisses, and Draco pulls away and nuzzles fiercely at Potter's neck, sucking at the tender skin just below his ear.

"Mm, yes?" he says against Potter's skin, and moves to lick a careful trail along the shell of Potter's ear, which has Potter's knees buckling.

"The door—" Potter gasps desperately.

"What about it?" Draco says, blowing a trail of cool air over the spit on Potter's skin, which makes him shudder; Draco's practically holding him up now.

"Aren't you going to fucking lock it?"

Draco pulls back a bit. "Did your dormitory door lock, hmm, Potter?"

"Er, no," Potter says.

Draco smirks. "And did you, or did you not, still jerk off behind the curtains of your bed, despite the fact that a teacher could emerge any minute, or Nearly Headless Nick might float in to see what you were up to?"

"Er, yes," Potter says, the tips of his ears pink.

"Well then."

"Malfoy, I—"

Draco raises an eyebrow. "Don't you think that since I'm going to shove my hand down your trousers in a bit, it might be nice to call me Draco?"

Potter goes scarlet and he exhales an oh of trembling arousal. But . . .

Draco casts an eye around the room, then lets Potter go, pacing over to a carved dark-wood chair by the fireplace and picking it up with a wince – the thing's fucking heavy, and is he a wizard or what? – and carrying it to the door, shoving it under the handle to jam it.

Then he struts back to Potter, who's – unfortunately – pulled himself together a bit and who rolls his eyes. "My hero," he says, sarcastically.

Well, Draco likes that.

Potter snorts. "Don't sulk, Draco," he says, and softens the insult by leaning in to kiss him – hard, with a hint of teeth – and then more than a hint as he pulls back slightly and gently bites Draco's lip, then kisses the sting better.

It's not what he expects from Potter, and that somehow makes it even hotter. This is happening. This is really happening. His hands find their way back under Potter's T-shirt, slipping up his back, and stroking lines up and down his spine. Potter shivers under his touch, and deepens the kiss, and Draco feels bold enough to fumble for the hem of Potter's top and drag it up, breaking off the kiss so he can yank it over Potter's head.

This is not as smooth a move as he could have wished; Potter's nose is, clearly, enormous, because it gets caught, as do his glasses, and they – the glasses, not his nose – fly off when Draco gives a final yank.

"Ow," Potter says pathetically, and sniggers.

"Just how blind are you, anyway?" Draco asks.

"Ish," Potter says helpfully, and rubs at his face. There are red marks on his nose where the glasses sat, and Draco, overcome by something unspeakably soppy, leans forward and tips Potter's head forward, kissing the bridge of his nose.

"Well, that was weird," Potter says, and grins easily to take the sting out of it. His gaze is unfocused, but he reaches forward and tugs at Draco's own T-shirt, drawing it easily over Draco's head, and then . . .

"Accio glasses," he says, and his glasses fly into his hand. He shoves them back on his nose. "You didn't scar at all!" he says accusingly.

Draco looks down at his chest. It's a fine specimen of a chest, even if he says so himself. Smooth and lean and, yes, flawless. He feels glad he indulged himself in all that running; it's been useful for this, if nothing else. "Nope," he says.

"I felt SO GUILTY!" Potter says, obviously ever so slightly heated up.

"It still fucking hurt," Draco says with a snort, and reaches down to take Potter's hand, placing it on his chest. It's an understatement; he genuinely thought, in the moment that Potter struck him with the curse, that he was going to die.

Potter runs his hand over Draco's chest, and Draco's nipples pebble under his touch, which seems to fascinate him – he rubs a thumb in lazy circles over one nipple. Each pass sends waves of sensation flooding through Draco's body, and his cock twitches in rhythm with Potter's thumb.

Potter – Salazar – bends and covers the nipple with his mouth, his tongue darting out to flick it. It's warm, and wet, and when he does it again, a groan slips out of Draco's mouth.

Potter's face is pink when he raises his head, and Draco can't resist kissing him again, slow and lazy, but with increasing fervour. He's fucking irresistible.

"Bed," Draco suggests, and Potter's eyes widen but he doesn't demure.

This is going further than Draco expected, but not fucking further than he wants. He is aching for it, his brain all but closed down to everything but his burning desire for the man in front of him. And Potter . . . Potter's eyes are hazy with desire. He wants this just as much as Draco does, Draco's certain of it.

Sod casual sex. There's nothing fucking casual about this. Draco feels like he wants to lock the door and chain Potter to the bed, and keep him there forever.

They fall on the second bed that's been made up with sheets, lying side by side, legs tangling together, hands sliding up and down each other's backs as they kiss and kiss and kiss. Potter tastes of Firewhisky and heat, and his lips are so soft, and every time Draco kisses him it drags a sob of breath from his throat.

Draco tears himself away and pushes at Potter, who rolls until he's flat on his back, then straddles him, rearing up to undo the buttons of Potter's jeans and tug them down. Potter lifts his hips obligingly, his feet working to kick the jeans off, and Draco fumbles with his own trousers, managing to pull them down and off without kneeing Potter in the balls or falling on top of him.

He leans down, supporting himself with his left hand, and runs his right slowly, slowly down Potter's chest. When he hits Potter's stomach, it hollows; Potter's holding his breath. Draco doesn't stop though, trailing his fingers over the waistband of Potter's boxers, and then continuing lightly over the bulge of Potter's hard-on.

He shoots a glance at Potter's face; his eyelids are fluttering, and he keeps opening and shutting his mouth, lips pressing together and then parting helplessly, and he jerks when Draco's fingers trail lower, over the fabric covering his balls.

Draco runs his fingers up and down Potter's length, the fabric dragging over the head of his cock, and Potter swallows hard, and says, his voice tight, "Please."

Never let it be said that Draco's not a gentleman. So he tugs at the waistband of Potter's boxers, dragging them down, and wiggling out of his own silk boxers, tossing them aside. "One sec," he says, leaning down to fumble in his discarded trousers for his wand, and casting a generous Lubricus into the palm of his hand, then lying down beside Potter, who's taken his glasses off and tossed them over on to the bedside table. "Come here," he says, and Potter obediently rolls towards him, his mouth seeking out Draco's.

Potter gasps into Draco's mouth when Draco reaches down between their legs and takes both their cocks in hand, slicking them up with the copious amount of slippery liquid. Draco is so turned on he can barely breathe. Their two cocks make a large handful, and it feels almost like they're joined together, pulsing together. Draco can feel Potter's cock throbbing, the skin sliding against his, and as he strokes, Potter shudders, and clutches at Draco's shoulder, kissing him desperately.

Draco kisses back just as desperately. The slick slide threatens to overcome him, and he slows, before letting go, rolling Potter over and climbing on top of him, supporting his weight with his forearms. Their cocks are trapped together, pressed against their stomachs, and Draco grinds his hips, watching Potter's mouth go slack and his breath come hard and shallow.

Everything in the world tightens to his dick, and Potter's, and the way they rub against each other; the friction is both enough, and yet not enough, and it's glorious torture. Potter's forehead is beaded with sweat, and his mouth is open, and Draco cranes his neck down to kiss him, Potter straining up, his kiss fierce and needy.

Potter rises up on his elbows, and gives Draco a suggestive push, so he rolls off and over on to his back. Potter crawls on top of him, reaching down to align their cocks, and Draco groans at the feel of it. And then Potter moves – slow and steady, his body a heavy weight against Draco's. His cock feels hot and surrounded, every move sliding the foreskin back and forth, until he's a tingling, hot, sweaty, needy mess.

"Draco," Potter groans, bending down to kiss him, and his movements grow fast and jerky. Their balls slap together, and Draco's fucking close, and he rears up, pushing Potter over and on to his back. Potter collapses with a grateful sigh, and his eyes roll back in his head as Draco works his hips hard and fast. He stutters Draco's name over and over, and then his body bucks as his orgasm slams into him, his fingers digging in hard into Draco's back, and bucks again, and again, and again.

Draco continues working his hips, until Potter's twitching and half-sobbing beneath him, and then finally slows. Potter blinks myopically up at him, panting, and reaches down between their bodies. Draco rises to all fours, to give him easier access, and Potter jerks him off hard and fast, until his thighs are trembling he's so turned on. He comes hard over Potter's stomach and chest, in three aching, blissful pulses, and rolls off him, breathing hard and trailing a finger through the mess on Potter's stomach.

Potter trembles, and his stomach clenches and then relaxes. Draco leans over to kiss him, soft and sloppy, and Potter hums with pleasure. His eyes are already flickering as sleep threatens to overwhelm him.

"That was . . ." Potter says sleepily. "Merlin." He throws a sleepy hand over Draco's waist. "Unexpected. But . . ."

"But what?" Draco asks, tugging the covers out from under them and pulling them over them both.

"Wanted," Potter says quietly. "For . . . for a while," he adds, even more quietly. "I never thought . . ."

Draco holds his breath.

"You will still be here when I wake up tomorrow, won't you?" Potter murmurs, almost asleep. "Promise?"

"Promise," Draco says, and tucks Potter in more closely. His heart makes the promise, even if he's not sure he can literally keep it. If he doesn't wake up in Potter's arms tomorrow, he'll have to . . . tell his parents about the time loop, ask for their help. He's sick to death of being stuck. All he wants now is time to move forward, with Potter – with Harry – moving forward right by his side.

Chapter Text

Draco snaps awake and his first thought is Harry – and Harry, of course, is not there.

What is there is his desk, and the time-turner, and his bedroom, and Draco feels a bit like putting his fist through the wall, but that won't solve anything, so he keeps his temper. He feels grubby, waking up alone and nude, having abandoned Potter and broken his promise – even though he hasn't technically broken it, because Harry won't remember anything about it. He'll have woken up this morning alone in his own bed and thought nothing of it.

Thinking that makes Draco feel sad and lonely, and it's not even the idea that there's no possibility now of a morning wank against Harry's warm, willing body that upsets him – it's so much more than that. Fuck's sake; he really does love Harry. He's such an idiot.

And . . . he feels bizarrely guilty for getting into Harry's pants without even buying him dinner first. Without making it crystal clear that their liaison was not casual - not in any way, shape or form.

But, angsting about Harry isn't productive, and today Draco is determined to be productive. So he showers quickly, dresses in a set of casual turquoise-blue robes, and goes down to talk to his mother.

At first, she doesn't believe him when he tells her about the time-turner and the time loop. He supposes it does sound a bit ridiculous. But her disbelief turns into alarm when he takes her to his bedroom and shows her the evidence. It's harder for her to explain it away when she can see it with her own eyes, casting a now glaring light out into the room.

She is not impressed, and neither is his father. But . . . Draco can't help but relax, now he's turned the problem over to them. It's not exactly true that his parents have never let him down, but he feels confident they can fix this for him. His father, in particular, has dozens of contacts, and there must be at least one of them who has knowledge of the dark arts in relation to time travel.

Draco feels sure that by this time tomorrow, things will be sorted.

By this time tomorrow, though, he's feeling a bit less optimistic. The first time he told his parents, they contacted dozens of people – and dozens of people came to the manor to examine the time-turner and pull sour faces.

Dozens of people left without helping.

The second time, he suggests that his father contact the Ministry and the Unspeakables, see what they have to say.

What they say is not entirely helpful: they claim they do no experiments with time, have no knowledge. But they manage, with great effort, to Levitate Draco's desk away and out of the magically-enlarged window, and the time-turner goes with it. But . . . Draco now doesn't think it will be so easy as all that.

He's proved right the next day, when he snaps awake and the desk is back – along with its unpleasant burden. He starts to panic, and this time he and his parents owl scores of foreign specialists in curse-breaking. This does no good either; everything they try either reflects off the time-turner or is simply absorbed by it.

The next day, the Malfoy family spend the day in the library, flipping through book after book to find something – anything – that might help. Nothing does though. Draco's parents might be willing enough to help, after their initial shock each day, but Draco soon realises that despite their efforts, they just can't. He is, once again, on his own again – and now more stuck than ever.

He begins to panic. And . . . he misses Harry. He misses him so much. So the next time that time resets, he tempts him away from the unity event – he can do it easily now, he's had that much practice – and they board a riverboat from Westminster Pier, taking the leisurely cruise down the river to Kew Gardens, where they spend the day pleasantly, strolling through the grounds and popping in and out of hothouses.

And as evening falls, they hide from the Muggle park-keepers and stay on after the park's closed, lying in the fading sunshine in the long grass near the Chinese pagoda, and Harry rolls over to face Draco and kisses him.

It's wonderful, and yet . . . this time, it doesn't feel right. Draco loves Harry. And they've already kissed, but Harry doesn't know that they've already kissed, and all of a sudden it's unbearable. Draco can't stand the thought that he should have to keep doing this, day after day, falling harder and deeper in love with Harry but never having that returned.

And since he has nothing to lose except his dignity, and he feels like he barely has that any more where Harry is concerned, he cracks – and, lying in the grass, with Harry's arms around him, he tells him about the time loop.

Harry frowns at him, sitting up, and Draco's not sure if he believes him or not – though whether that's because the entire premise is ludicrous, or because he thinks Draco's a complete idiot for what he's done, Draco can't tell. He thinks that if Harry did believe him, he wouldn't still be sitting there - he'd already be off, to tackle the problem head on, because that's the sort of brave, stupid fucker he is. Oh god, he loves him.

But Draco's so frustrated – and what the fuck does it matter, anyway, when Harry won't remember this the next day? – that he keeps on talking, despite Harry's evidence scepticism. He struggles up, to be on the same eye level as Harry, and his words coming out aching with honesty. "Every day I fall even harder in love with you. And you never remember! Will never fucking remember."

Harry's flushed, and he can't seem to settle, shifting on the ground, his hands wandering restlessly to fiddle with his shirt cuff, scratch his nose, the back of his neck, pick invisible fluff off his trouser leg, pluck a blade of grass. "Have you never considered though—" he says, and he stops, the words so thick in his mouth that it seems he can't go on.

"What?" Draco snaps, because it seems to him that he's considered everything, and may have an eternity of endless, pointless repetition in which to consider it some more.

"That – that," Harry fumbles. He swallows hard and seems to pull himself together. Calm settles across his features, and he sits up straight, hands flat on his knees.

Draco gazes at him helplessly, overwhelmed and taken aback by just how much he loves him.

"That while you're falling in love, I might have been in love with you all along?"

Draco's heart stops, and almost breaks. He has to get out of this sodding time loop, he has to, so he can hear Harry say that, and see him mean it, and know that the next day they'll both remember it, and the day after, and the day after that.

"Oh god," he says, and he kisses Harry, and it's desperate and fierce, and they lie together in the long grass and kiss and kiss and kiss, and rub their bodies together, and it doesn't even seem embarrassing when he comes without even taking his trousers off, because Harry's orgasm follows right behind him.

"What shall I do?" he asks as they lie in each other's arms.

Harry tells him what should have been obvious all along. Draco needs to get Hermione Granger on the case. What else?

***

Draco sits in Harry's kitchen and tries to look plausible. He's on one side of Harry's kitchen table, and on the other side, lined up like some sort of domestic jury, are Granger, Weasley and . . . and Harry.

The fact that Harry's on the side against him again, even if it's just a fucking kitchen table, makes Draco feel sick.

That morning, as soon as time reset, he got dressed as usual, picked up his owl as usual – as he does every day now, without fail, whether it's early in the morning or in the evening as the shop is closing – and Apparated to Harry's street as usual.

Rather much not as usual though, he rang the doorbell – and when a rather bewildered, dishevelled Harry opened the door, he asked him to summon Granger and Weasley immediately.

Now, he has them gathered, and he's told them his dilemma. And the trouble is . . . they don't believe him. And there's no way in hell he's going to get them over to his house, so he can show them the time-turner, if they don't trust him.

His courage quails at the thought that Harry doesn't trust him, but he tries not to mind too much. So far, he's given him no real reason to trust him. Harry has, at least, made him a cup of tea – a flicker of his usual friendliness – but there's no sugar and barely any milk. Draco suspects the presence of his friends has put him off.

"I was hoping for tea and sympathy," he says, in an attempt at a joke.

Granger looks at him as if he's just said something stupid, and Weasley folds his arms and stares. Draco finds it very disconcerting, the Weasley stare.

"You've got tea," Harry says awkwardly. "I'd offer you a biscuit, but I haven't been to the shops for a while and—"

"And you don't deserve a biscuit, you lying arsehole," Weasley cuts in crossly.

So. Tea and no sympathy it is then. At least for now. "I promise I'm not lying," Draco says wearily. "What can I do to prove it to you? I need your help. Harry suggested it yesterday – I mean, later today." It's confusing, trying to explain.

"Tell us something you would only know from being stuck in this so-called time loop then," Granger says suspiciously. "If you're so friendly with Harry, you should be able to come up with something."

Draco can come up with lots of things; lots of things that will make him sound like a stalker. But, he can't see an alternative, so he launches in to a list. "Harry's split up with Ginny, he died during the last battle, the Muggles he lived with were his uncle and aunt and he lived in a cupboard, the person he misses most is Hedwig, he's been on dates with Finch-Fletchley, he's never sucked co—"

"All right, all right," Harry interrupts, going red. "That's enough."

"You could have found out most of that from . . . well, from spying on Harry," Granger says delicately. "None of it's common knowledge, but it's all stuff we know."

"Apart from that last bit," Weasley says with a small shudder, and Harry leans over to whack him on the arm.

"Well, what do you suggest then?" Draco asks. "I'm running out of time. I'll do anything," he promises rashly. And he pretty much will, he's that desperate. He doesn't even know what Granger can do to help, when no one else has been able to so far, but Harry has a touching faith in her – and he has a rock-solid faith in Harry.

"I'll take Veritaserum," he says, trying not to wince.

"Easy enough to say when you know full well Harry doesn't keep any of that lying about in his kitchen cupboard," Weasley says with a snort.

"What about Legilimency?" Granger asks thoughtfully, turning to Harry. "You could do it, couldn't you?"

Harry frowns. "I dunno. I think so. But . . ."

"Well, perhaps you should give it a try. And if that doesn't work – and only then! – I suppose we'll have to take Draco's word for it and go to Malfoy Manor to see this supposed time-turner for ourselves. But I don't know," Granger adds. "I used a time-turner for a whole year, and I never had any problems with time loops."

Draco refrains from pointing out – again – that he'd fiddled with the time-turner so much that it barely resembled the original machine. He's too busy panicking about Harry using Legilimency on him. The only time he's experienced it before was when Aunt Bella attempted to teach him Occlumency; it was horrendous, to have her ferreting through his mind as he tried desperately – and mostly unsuccessfully – to keep her out. He tells himself that this is Harry, and he doesn't mind Harry rooting about in there, and he remains unconvinced. But . . . he can't see any other way. So he steels himself.

"I'll do it," he says, "but not in front of you lot." It's an uncomfortable enough process without an audience. There's no way he's having Weasley watching; no way in hell.

"No, I don't think so," Weasley says.

"No, really," Draco says, panicking harder. "Harry – please."

Harry, faced with this appeal, looks unnerved and disconcerted. He shifts in his chair and is about to open his mouth when Granger speaks. "I think Ron's right," she says sternly. "We'd better stay to make sure you don't try anything."

Oh god. "I'll – I'll give you my wand to look after," he says. "And you can search me, Harry. And – and put me in a body bind, if you really must. But I am not going to sit here in public while you—"

"Oh, shut up," Harry interrupts. "Don't be a dick, Draco. Private will be fine."

Weasley opens up his mouth to protest, but Harry glares at him and he subsides. It's clear who's in charge of this little group of friends, and it's not Weasley.

"Come on then," Harry says, and he leads the way up the stairs and into his bedroom, closing the door behind them. "You'd better not be fucking about," he warns, and gestures to the bed. "Sit down."

Draco perches on the edge, and Harry reaches for his wand, and then pauses. "One second," he says, and walks back to the door, opening it again. Behind it are an embarrassed Granger and Weasley. Harry raises his eyebrows at them, and they mutter apologies and slope off, back down the stairs.

Harry closes the door again and casts Muffliato. "Did – did Voldemort ever use Legilimency on you?" he asks, mouth tense.

Draco shudders. "No," he says.

This seems to relax Harry, because he starts to babble and explain the process.

Draco interrupts halfway through. "Aunt Bella had a fucking good go at it though, Harry, so I know what it's like. Please just get on with it."

"Oh," Harry says, and grimaces, and raises his wand and gets on with it.

It's like being invaded, and on fire, and overwhelmed and taken and claimed. Harry's in his head, in every nook and cranny, wrapping himself around everything that's Draco – everything he is, and was, and ever will be. Whenever Harry focuses on a memory, it's like Draco's sucked into it too, bright and vivid, and Harry seems particularly fixated on that time they lay together in the Slytherin dormitory, naked and grinding their cocks together. It's like reliving it over and over again, and Draco is so turned on he's shaking.

He's on top of Harry, and Harry's on top of him, and at the same time inside him, the Legilimency almost a physical force. He feels stripped bare, inside and out, and torn apart with memories of wet and heat and friction and touch and oh oh oh oh oh oh, he's going to come, he's actually going to come again, and—

Harry tears himself out of Draco's head, leaving him on the brink, trembling from head to toe, his cock hard and throbbing and his balls tight and ready to unload if Harry will just . . . Oh please . . .

Harry stares at him wildly, and Draco tries to smile, terror blooming through the physical urge to come.

Then Harry goes brick-red, and all of a sudden, Draco relaxes, because he just knows it's going to be all right. He takes a steadying breath, and then another, and the urge to come fades enough for him to be able to use his brain.

"Try again," he tells Harry, and takes his hand.

Harry bites his lips and nods. He casts Legilimens again – more gently this time, but it's still just as vivid. They're holding hands in Kew Gardens, and Draco's sneaking glances at Harry as he flies on the Quidditch pitch dressed in Slytherin green, and their bodies are tucked close together as they soar over Scotland on Buckbeak, and they're drinking tea in Harry's kitchen, and playing Monopoly in a Muggle pub, and there's a sickening lurch as Draco's smashing up his bedroom just before dawn, because he was just about to kiss Harry, and today Harry will have forgotten again, and there's the flicker of time resetting and the furniture is as it was, and there's Draco crying, because he can't bear it any more.

Harry pulls out of Draco's head, and for some reason – he can't even really remember crying, for Salazar's sake – he's crying now too. He can't stop himself though; it's like now he's started, his body physically won't let him. But this time Harry is there, holding him, patting his back and making awkward shushing noises. It doesn't help. Of course it doesn't help. Because this is Harry, and Draco's fallen so in love with him that he'd doing anything at all to keep him, and it's like being held by a stranger out of pity, like something out of a horror story, and he realises he's create the worst punishment for himself he ever could.

Harry moves in closer, and Draco realises with horror that he's going to try to kiss him. He recoils. "I don't want your fucking pity!" he snaps.

Harry just looks at him, his eyes impossibly wide, and trembles and tries to smile. "I . . . I don't think it's fair, though, that you went ahead and had our first kiss without me," he says, his voice wobbling a bit.

This is, Draco thinks, all entirely ludicrous, and unbelievable, and how can Harry want to kiss him when today is, technically, the first time he's seen him in months, and they've only spent an hour or so together. Except . . . isn't that true of all the other times too? Do a few extra hours really make all the difference?

He looks at Harry, and he looks so . . . sincere. And hurt. And Draco hates that. So he leans in and kisses him. He means it to be a soft, slow, gentle kiss, but Harry isn't having any of it – he kisses like he has something to prove.

He kisses like he means it.

Draco wants, so much, to indulge himself, to drown in the kiss. To rip off Harry's clothes and take him right there and then, and then lie back and let Harry deep inside him.

But there isn't fucking time. It's ironic, really; he's got all the time in the world, and yet he doesn't have time enough.

He pulls away reluctantly, and puts up a hand to Harry's cheek. "I . . ." he says, pulling a face. "I really really want to, but . . ." It's not fair. It's not fair. Oh Salazar. This is going to kill him, it really is.

Harry's forehead falls against his. "I know. The time loop."

"So I take it you believe me?" Draco asks wryly, straightening his robes and standing up. He takes deep, steady breaths, focusing hard to calm himself down.

"No, Draco, I am not at all convinced," Harry says with deathly sarcasm. "Come on, you tosser, we'd better go and take a look at this time-turner you've fucked up, then, hadn't we?"

He could have put it more politely, Draco thinks, but he supposed Harry has a point. And very irritating that is too.

They both walk down the stairs, and rejoin Granger and Weasley in the kitchen. "Draco's telling the truth," Harry says without preamble.

"Really? How can you be sure?" Weasley asks with deep suspicion.

Harry clears his throat and says, his voice going rather high pitched, "I just am!"

"That doesn't sound very convincing to me," Weasley replies, also with deep suspicion. "How do we know for sure that you, Malfoy, haven't tampered with—"

"If Harry's sure then he's sure," Granger interrupts. "Are you sure, Harry?"

Harry nods, clearly not trusting himself to speak, and Weasley mutters something low about Imperius which Granger ignores. Draco's not sure whether to be flattered or insulted by that – does she think he's not up to the job, or is it simply that she thinks he wouldn't?

He remembers, though, that Harry once mentioned a little chat he'd had with Hermione – and things said 'in confidence'. He wonders what those confidences were. Perhaps she has more faith in him than it appears.

They Apparate to Malfoy Manor one after the other, and land just outside the front door, saving them a walk up the sweeping drive. Draco leads them in, and Granger goes white when she enters – but she holds her head high and says, "I'm fine!" in a forbidding tone when Harry opens his mouth to ask the obvious.

They go straight to Draco's bedroom, and once there, they all stare at the time-turner. Draco with annoyance, and the others in various shades of horror and fascination.

"Gosh," Granger says eventually. "I've never seen anything like it. You really did it. I mean, I know you said you did, but . . ." She gazes some more. "That's quite a build-up of time it's collecting. I wonder what will happen when it disperses?"

Draco doesn't know, and he doesn't like the sound of it. But he does, on the other hand, like the sound that Granger's voice is making – she sounds like she knows what she's talking about.

"I have a bit of experience with time-turners," she says modestly, when he asks. "And I did some background reading when I used one."

"She means she read every book and paper ever written on the subject," Weasley explains, pride in his voice.

"Not every book," Granger demurs. She takes a step closer, then winces and steps back again. It makes Draco feel funny to be too near the thing, and it seems to be having the same effect on her.

"So, have you tried to pick it up recently, see if you can shift it?" Granger asks.

Draco attempts an eye roll – if he could pick it up and stamp on it, he'd have done that a long time ago. He opens his mouth, blinks, and—

he is in his bedroom, reaching out with a tentative finger towards the molten, crazed mass, which seems to flicker as he approaches. He touches it – or he thinks he touches it – and there's a harsh, sharp, tormented sound, as if a violinist has forgotten that the cat-gut of his bow should no longer be attached to a living creature, and he feels himself shimmering, fragmenting. He can't breathe, or think; there is only the endless stretch and pull of time, ripping him apart, unravelling every fragment of what makes him him, and it takes everything that's in him – everything – to pull away. He can hear himself screaming and

—he can hear himself screaming.

Fuck. He swallows. His throat feels ripped and he can taste stomach acid. He's sick again, into the handy waste paper basket that's been shoved in front of him, and he realises that he can feel someone – Harry, if the world is unkind, and because it is unkind, it's Harry – holding his slightly overlong hair away from his face with one hand and rubbing soothing circles against the small of his back.

"So that's a yes, then," Ron says, in what Draco considers the understatement of the year.

Hermione snorts and hands Draco a tissue. He shrugs off Harry's hands and wipes his mouth, trying to regain his self-composure.

"Well, if merely thinking about touching it throws you back into a memory that makes you physically sick, I don't think that's going to be much help," Granger says – unhelpfully.

"What will help then?" Draco asks sourly.

Granger sniffs. "I don't know yet. Give me some paper – and some time."

Draco does both. And then he and Weasley and Harry sit and look at each other for a while – except that Weasley's looking at him with dislike still, and Harry's only looking at his ear.

"Can you hurry it along, please?" Draco asks Granger.

"Yeah, get on with it," Weasley adds. "Being in here is giving me the creeps."

"Oh, get on with it, should I?" Granger says crossly. "Yes, I'll just rush it, and we can let the world explode and time itself fracture. No problem at all."

They all shut up and leave her to it, and sit twiddling their fingers for what feels like forever. Time slips on, and away, and Draco starts to panic again. What if Granger can't fix it? Why should Granger be able to fix it when no one else could?

An hour later, Granger stabs the paper with her quill. "It's the only way," she says firmly, which Draco doesn't much like the sound of.

Harry obviously doesn't much like the sound of it too. "Um, what is?" he asks, stretching widely. "Can it please not involve the world exploding and time itself fracturing?"

Granger snorts. "I wouldn't do that on purpose." Which makes Draco wonder if it will, indeed, happen . . . just not on purpose. It's a grim thought.

"We need to release the time build-up. The only way to do it is to destroy the time-turner, which should set things right."

"That's it?" Draco asks. It sounds too simple – just destroying the fucking thing. He supposes it is the one thing that hasn't been tried. Expert upon expert had attempted to remove curses from it, and 'cleanse' it, and reset it, and had no luck at all. But not one of them had been brave enough to simply explode it.

It sounds a bit risky, all in all, and Draco's not sure that he's brave enough to risk it either.

"OK then," Harry says, standing up. "What's the best spell to use? Incendio, you think?" He takes his wand out of his pocket.

"No, I reckon that would just set the desk on fire," Granger says, thinking hard. "How about Perderio?"

"Fine," Harry says, and raises his wand, pointing it at the time-turner.

"Wait!" Draco yells, and Harry turns, his brows drawing together.

"What?"

"What do you mean, what! What if destroying the time-turner does destroy all of time and space?"

Harry looks at him like he's an idiot. "For starters, I don't think Hermione would encourage me to blow up time and space. And anyway, do you really want to be stuck like this forever?"

It's a good point. No, Draco very much doesn't want to be stuck like this forever. But . . . he doesn't want to wake up, freed from the time loop, to discover that Harry's gone and blown himself up. He considers living the rest of his life without Harry and finds that the idea is beyond unbearable.

"Let's blow the fucking thing up together," he suggests.

Harry shrugs and turns to Granger.

Granger smiles at Draco. "I don't see what harm it could do," she says.

"Go on then," Harry says, and Draco gets his wand out too and they both turn to the time-turner on the desk.

Weasley gets to his feet and stands in front of Granger, who sighs, and says, "Oh, Ron," in an exasperated but extremely affectionate way.

"On the count of three," Draco says. "One. Two. THREE."

And they both wave their wands and shout, in unison, "PERDERIO!"

Chapter Text

Draco feels the lurching disorientation that presages the day starting, re-starting. The same feeling he's experienced each 'morning' for the past endless repeated, relived days. He blinks, breathing deep and slow, trying to ground himself, to stop the hot sensation that's prickling at the corners of his eyes before he's crying again. Not that it matters. Not that anything matters. The sunlight has the same weak, gluey consistency it always has. The same pattern of light and shadow falls across the carpet, flickering through the roughly drawn curtains as a light breeze tousles them. The window's open, and the air smells fresh and sweet, with the tang of rain as if a thunderstorm is coming.

As if a thunderstorm is coming. Draco stills, breath caught in his throat. That's new. That's new! He tries not to overreact; maybe it's a figment of his imagination. Maybe he wants so much for the day to have changed, for something – anything – to be different that he's hallucinating. He surveys the room slowly, heart in his mouth. It all looks exactly the same, though. Bed rumpled in the exact same pattern as always. A forgotten sock, living out its eternal rest on the exact same spot of the carpet. A half full – half empty – glass of water on the bedside table, containing exactly 253ml of liquid. (He knows. He's measured it.)

But . . . But . . .

His limbs feeling heavy with lead, he turns. He doesn't want to look at his desk, to see the same thing he's seen every day – may see every day for the rest of forever. But there's a lump in his chest that's rising, and with the smell of rain in his nostrils it feels a little bit like hope.

He turns, and sees – nothing.

There is nothing on the table.

No tools. No paperwork. All his months of research – gone. His expensive, irreplaceable equipment – gone.

And the fucking time-turner, the bane of his life, the hated, wretched, awful, sodding thing – which has simultaneously trapped him in a waking nightmare and freed him from pretty much every bond of responsibility and tradition and duty that pinned him down and made him weak—

The time-turner is gone too.

Time passes as he stares at the empty table, at the absence of the time-turner. He knows it passes, because it must do, and he can hear birds outside the window, chattering irritably to each other, and the room lightens almost imperceptibly until it must be full daylight outside.

He can't celebrate yet; not when he doesn't know what, exactly, he'd be celebrating. Is he finally freed of the fucking thing, or does its absence just mean he's doomed to repeat himself forever, with no chance of freedom? And – where is Harry? Has Draco – the thought drops through him like a pebble into a dark well – only managed to eliminate Harry all together? The only thing worse than spending eternity trapped in a loop would be if there was no longer any hope at all of seeing Harry. The only thing worse than being forgotten, over and over again, would be knowing he could never even try to be remembered.

Without Harry . . .

Draco bundles that thought up and squashes it. Without Harry there would be no world. Ergo, he is out there. Whether or not he can remember the day before.

Draco tries not to feel the hurt lance through him at the thought. He takes a stabilising breath, and then another, and finally manages to force himself into action. He has time – all the time in the world, perhaps – but then again, perhaps not, so if this is the last time he has to do this, the last time he has to make it stick, then he'd better bloody well make it count.

He showers, as usual, and dresses – his head spinning all the while. If this really is the last time he has to do this, and it is, he knows it this, this time for sure, then he has to make it count. He has to be himself. He has to show Harry that, prove to him from the start, that he's someone who Harry can trust. Can have faith in. Can love.

He wonders if he should replay a previous day – the time that he and Potter went to view the rebuilding work at Hogwarts was a particularly good one. But . . . it feels dishonest, in a way, to redo a day like that. He doesn't want to start their relationship feeling like he's cheating. Like he's manipulating Harry.

He dithers, and dithers, and looks at his watch and realises in a panic that he's already too late to catch Harry before the event – he runs too much of a risk of bumping into Weasley and Granger if he turns up at Harry's house now, and he doesn't think that would be an ideal way to start their forever after.

And so he paces the room, because he's realised he'll have to give his speech now – but which speech? A brand new one, or one he's already given? And if so, which?

It's only when he'd decided that he'd better think up something new – and panicked all over again about what, exactly – when he realises, with a jolt, that he hasn't picked up his owl yet. He doesn't know if he'll have time later, and there's no way he wants to risk not picking Pipsqueak up. It would feel like a bad omen if he didn't have Pipsqueak waiting at home for him. And, if Draco tells the truth, he just doesn't like the idea of Pipsqueak waiting in the shop, wondering if Draco is ever going to come.

He Apparates directly to the shop, and to his alarm the shopkeeper is busy with another customer. It's another ten minutes before he can buy Pipsqueak, and although he Apparates straight to the Palace of Westminster, after instructing the owl to fly straight home to the Manor, he's running so late now that he's missed his chance to catch Harry before the speeches start.

He dithers again, not sure now whether to catch Harry later – but then one of the Muggle officials sees him, and there's no way he can escape now. He has to make the usual pleasantries, and then the official escorts him inside, and he sits down, next to his father, and feels trapped – and alarmed, because now he has no idea what speech to make or what to do, and time is running away from him.

All he knows is that he wants to talk to Harry – he has to talk to Harry.

Harry, who is right across the room, wearing his scruffy exercise clothes and looking like he hasn't slept in months.

He's there. He's alive.

Draco nearly weeps with relief that at least this has gone right. That at least his biggest worry – that somehow destroying the time-turner would take Harry right along with it – hasn't come true.

The time for his speech arises, and he stands, still unsure what to say. But it comes to him as he opens his mouth. He doesn't care any more about the press and what they might write about him. He doesn't care if Weasley judges him, or if his father is annoyed that he doesn't portray their family in the best light. And . . . he doesn’t care if his father will only countenance him dating a pureblood; fuck that. He loves his father, so so much, but he doesn't always love being a Malfoy. He is determined that the family name won’t hold him back from his heart’s desire, not any more.

"I haven't prepared a speech," he says, and senses his father shifting in amazement next to him. He almost thinks that his father will rise to say, in bewilderment, Yes, you have! and perhaps read it out for him, if Draco fails to follow through. So he continues quickly. "I think it's worth pointing out though: would you really be here, listening to me, valuing my opinion if my father hadn't bought your respect with his financial donations? Aren't you lot in trouble of just letting the same fucking nightmare happen all over again?"

And he turns and leaves the Chamber, walking quickly through the building and out the front door.

It's a gamble – but, thank Merlin, it pays off. This time, instead of Harry walking out in disgust during Draco's speech . . . Harry walks out in support. He walks out to follow him.

"Draco! Draco, wait!" Harry calls.

Draco pauses, savouring the moment, and turns. They're in the street outside; it's teeming with people, but all Draco can see is Harry.

It's as if time stops dead.

Harry himself stops dead, a few steps away from Draco, his face creasing in something that Draco can't decipher. But he doesn't do anything, or say anything, and Draco can feel his heart beating wildly, thrumming out, as if everything in him – his blood, his body, his very soul – is reaching out to the man in front of him.

Harry's still as a statue, as if he's not sure of himself, as if there's a thought caught on his tongue but if he moves too quickly it will flutter away.

Draco looks at him, and he knows that Harry doesn't remember, he just knows it, but the moment thickens until Draco's half-sure Harry remembers something – even if it's just a half-memory, a whisper of love, as if in a dream.

"Harry! What the hell—" Weasley calls, from behind Harry. He's panting and has clearly run after them.

The moment fractures, and Draco's insides drop as fast as if he's coasting just below the troposphere on his broom and the magic suddenly fails.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!

He can feel the moment slipping away from him, and it's that red-haired fucker Weasley's fault. He can feel his face darkening with anger, and this is not how it's meant to go. Sweetness and light – that was the goal. Only, he's never been very sweet, and light versus dark is surely just a matter of perspective and—

"In a minute, Ron," Harry says, as tetchily as Draco's mother when Draco has forgotten a promise, and he turns back to face Draco. His expression is wary now. Wary – but not unwelcoming. There's an openness to his face that says Come in to Draco, and Draco wants to fold Harry in his arms, and be folded in turn, and just rest there, mutually entwined, for perhaps the rest of forever.

But then, this is the fucking saviour. Perhaps he wears that expression for all the boys, Draco thinks, and chokes down something black and bitter that rises in his throat.

"Malf—" Harry begins, and no, this is not how it goes. Absolutely not.

"Harry," Draco interrupts, knowing he sounds wild and emotional and not really caring, because if this works, then this is the start of forever.

Harry's eyes widen, and Draco can see he's taken aback. Draco tries to breathe, but it's as if someone's cast a body bind on his insides. The world is burning up, and vibrating, and tingling, and he's not sure he's brave enough for this shit, but . . .

But . . .

Draco, feeling like he's going to keel over, summons his courage, presses his lips together hard to stop them trembling, and holds out his hand.

He's shaking like a leaf, and there's no way Harry can't see it. It's like being eleven all over again, offering his friendship to the great Harry Potter, only then he didn't even dream there was a chance he'd be rejected. And then, Harry didn't know what Draco was like. Now, in front of all these people – because they've drawn a crowd of Muggles, and there's fucking Weasley there, and Granger's just arrived too – it feels like offering Harry a knife and kindly requesting to be stabbed for his trouble.

Harry Potter isn't better than Draco, or more powerful, or wiser, or more handsome, but he's all Draco's ever wanted, really, if he's honest with himself.

One of Harry's friends is calling him again, but this time Harry doesn't seem to even hear them, he's so intent on Draco. He's still not moving, but Draco can feel the tension emanating from him, as if he's a spring ready to uncoil with a snap.

Harry doesn't remember. He can't remember, or it would be different, but still, there's something in his eyes . . .

Draco's stomach roils. If Harry takes his hand, if he accepts what Draco's wordlessly offering, Draco will make him remember. One day at a time, until the end of time, and then beyond.

If he accepts . . .

If . . .

Harry seems to come to some mental decision. He half-shakes himself, the worry lines falling off his face until all that's left is peace. And he reaches out, and takes Draco's hand.

And he smiles.