Zero

In retrospect, it is perhaps her pride that cripples Harry.

.

It starts a week into the summer holidays. She's fresh from Hogwarts, afforded a week under her own name before Riddle's blasted World Tour comes calling. Compared to the summer of the previous year, she's sure it will be a terrible contrast. The summer following her Third Year had been brilliant, filled with the colours and excitement of the Lower Alleys, awash with the genuine affections of her friends.

This year, she'll be spending it in the company of Riddle, a man she can't stand, while trying to undermine his every intended outcome from the tournament. Hell, the only reason everything hasn't gone to pieces for Dumbledore's side of the political agenda was the reveal with Owens.

Regardless, worrying about the upcoming tour isn't how she wants to spend these last few days of freedom. There are only so many elements of her summer she can control this year and Harry will be damned if she allows Riddle to loom over her free days like some minatory mist. With only a little under a week to spend as Harry (a week to spend as herself), she's had to carefully plot and plan out every bit of time she can afford to allocate to her friends. Three days for the Lower Alley (already done), a day for the Malfoy Gala where she absolutely has to go and play as Rigel for a few hours (tomorrow), then the rest of that time prior to her Riddle ball-and-chain is to be spent with her family.

Today? Today is the one day she can dedicate solely to potions. And a potions focused day (one without the presence of Professor Snape) means the only other company who'll be as involved as she is Lestrange.

With the potions bag that belongs to Harriet Potter slung over her shoulder (just as meticulously organised as Rigel's; in truth, the only difference is that this one has all her shaped imbuing potions inside it), Harry ducks into the Potions Guild and fires a grin at Master Thompson, who's not quick enough to escape her immediate notice. No matter how much she'd like to go and discuss battle potions with her former mentor, she can't exactly weigh in on the subject as Harry. It's Rigel that did the studying on the topic, overseen by the sharp eyes of Professor Snape. Harriet Potter doesn't have an understanding of them… yet.

"Potter! You should know how discourteous it is to keep your betters waiting."

Leaning against the door to Potions Lab 17, Caelum Lestrange tips his chin in the air and sneers down at her. It's a half-hearted effort at best; Harry's known the other potioneer long enough to be able to recognise the barely concealed excitement in his eyes though, for the life of her, she cannot hazard a guess as to what has put it there. Oh, there could be a few things (showing off his progress with shaped imbuing, or whatever it is Master Whitaker has taught him under their now official master-apprentice relationship), but there'd been no hints in his letter.

And hadn't that been a surprise? An offer from the other potioneer to come and experiment with him in a lab at the Guild. It hadn't, of course, been written like that; more as an offer to watch as Caelum 'uncovered new, ingenious information', or something of that nature. It had been implied that her presence could be 'marginally helpful' given her 'preposterous magical output'. A rude, arrogant letter but that's par for the course with Lestrange. That he had something to experiment with and had given thought to her, well-

"But I haven't kept my betters waiting," Harry chirps, following Lestrange as he swans into the potions lab, depositing her bag on the large table in the centre. "Only my friend."

Lestrange scoffs at the term; it's not the expected splutter of offense, just offhanded disdain at her behaviour. Seems like he's growing as a person. Good. She'd so hate to have come back to the Guild to find he's regressed. Glancing over the instruments set out upon the table, Harry's eyebrows slowly start to rise in surprise. Firstly, there's no cauldron set up. Instead, there's scales, a mortar and pestle, even a small ceramic bowl set atop a tripod. Huh.

"What substance are we analysing?" Harry asks, stepping closer while she plucks a pair of safety goggles from her potions kit. Once they're safely covering both her eyes and glasses, she turns her attention back to Lestrange and catches a glint of metal. She can't quite hide the flinch, surprised as she is.

Hell. The last thing she'd been expecting to see in Lestrange's hands is a time-turner.

It's easy to reach for her occlumency, to pull her shields up and over herself and stuff away the emotions that want to ripple out, to settle into a mask of calm. She's had all the practice that she could want, having to deal with being under wards during the Triwizard Tournament. She's sorted the wards problem, she's nearly cracked the whole being confined to tight spaces issue. She hadn't exactly been expecting that she'd have to deal with the aversion to time-turners any time soon… or ever.

Why and how Lestrange has a time-turner is a different matter altogether.

"Time-turners are restricted by the Ministry."

"I know that, Halfblood," Lestrange sneers, releasing his hold on the hourglass casing and letting it drop. He catches it by the chain before it hits the table, letting the device swing back and forth with the momentum. "But the ones that are written off as useless and broken can be bought, for a price." That's the first Harry's heard of it. And, does it not set a dangerous precedent? Especially given it's the Unspeakables that deal with the time-turners- ah.

Harry's lips curl up in a distinct smile, feeling the assurance of her assumption pervade the air in a smug ooze. An ooze that sets Lestrange's hackles right up.

"Potter, what baseless assumptions are you making in the halfwit head of yours?"

"You got it off your Godfather, didn't you?"

Lestrange scowls, releasing the time-turner in full now and it hits the desk with a metallic clank that echoes uncomfortably loud in Harry's head.

"If you're going to spew nonsense, you might as well leave. This is a meeting for potioneers; if you're going to gossip, go attend the daily Witches Weekly meeting." His dismissal would be far more believable if it weren't for the fact the tips of his ears have reddened.

"You're right, we have time to rile each other later. What, exactly, are you planning to do with a time-turner?"

"With the sand," Lestrange corrects, drawing his wand and turning it upon the device. Harry doesn't recognise the spell he's using, but it produces a white-hot flame at the very tip that sears through the hourglass. Once he has created an oval cut within the device, Lestrange pulls on a set of protective gloves, quite possibly dragonhide. They look too supple to be the same brand as her own, and Harry makes a mental note to ask where he got them later, once she's bullied him into getting a bite to eat. She's doing him a service with that; Lestrange needs to get out and socialise more.

"What are you planning to do with the sand?" Harry dutifully rephrases her question, smiling when Lestrange peers at her with thinly veiled suspicion in his eyes.

"Even though the time-sand itself has lost its properties, it's been under the Hour-Reversal Charm since it was first constructed. As a potions ingredient-"

"It has untold potential," Harry finishes, reviewing her companion with new eyes and a steady smile. If they can divine the properties, can refine this substance into something applicable to potions, it could generate a massive breakthrough in some potions, just like-

"Especially with Wolfsbane," Lestrange snaps. Ah, poor boy, he's probably upset about getting cut off there. He carefully pours a third of the sand into the mortar, a third onto the scales, and then a third into the bowl over the fire. "If we can isolate the property of the charm that restricts things by the hour, then there's a chance of confining the transformation to a single sixty minutes."

The very implications are exhilarating.

Harry sits herself down on one of the stools, staring at the other potioneer. Unlike her, Lestrange has no personal drive to push for improvements on this particular potion. Is it just because he did his intern presentation on the Wolfsbane potion, so that he now feels obliged to contribute to this particular study? No, that can't be it. She cannot imagine Lestrange feeling indebted to anything other than his own lofty goals.

"I take it I'm not here so you can stare at my pretty face during waiting periods. What do you want me to do?"

"Take the Bunsen and start heating up that section of sand; how's your sensing?"

Harry sniffs, sliding her stool along the floor with a low screech until she's sitting before the Bunsen in question, the ceramic bowl atop the unlit fire beckoning her in. "I can project my magical awareness for a month without needing a break."

"Sure you can, Halfblood, sure you can."

"You don't need to cover up your own insecurities with sarcasm, Lestrange. You're still the prettiest girl at the ball."

.

They work in silence from then on. Not through any kind of vocal agreement, just a silent understanding of what they are trying to do. Lestrange has, of course, taken the more precise job, the one that involves slowly stirring the sand with a pestle, applying his magic to sense the way the substance interacts with the movement . She's doing near enough the same thing, but looking at how the time sand reacts to heat instead. This is like the baby-steps that come prior to free-brewing; you can't work with new ingredients until you understand them. Not unless you want to be blown up anyway.

In truth, it's all going sensationally well. Unusually so. That should have been a glaring warning sign, given how Harry's life has been going recently.

There's an almighty bang in the corridor and there's just enough time for Harry to look to Lestrange in blatant confusion before the door is thrown open with a force not normally seen outside a Quidditch pitch. Air blasts into the room, sand from Harry's mortar exploding into the sky in a plume that is distinctly mushroom shaped.

There's a moment of stunned silence as she turns to look at Lestrange, blinking past the nonfunctional time-sand particles that are slathered across her goggles. He too is covered in the particles and it takes Harry a moment to realise her own sand has worked its way onto his skin, just as surely as his sand is now sprinkled across her face. The difference between them is that Lestrange is steadily turning red and there's a look in his eyes that he undoubtedly inherited from his mother.

"Woah! I-I'm sorry!" It's some nameless teen at the door, older than Harry but younger than Lestrange. An intern, most likely. If this is the standard of interns the Potions Guild are taking on now… well, Harry's glad she caught the attention of the Aldermaster when she did. Having to deal with someone like this who so blatantly spits upon these sacred halls would drive her mental. She'd never have managed a friendship with this idiot; at least Lestrange knows his brewing.

As if he's sensed there's a halfblood thinking fondly of him, Lestrange explodes. His anger is like a downpour, lashings of words hammering against the intern and his wand arm rises. The idiot is saved from being cursed six ways to Sunday by the simple fact Lestrange is holding his pestle, not his wand as he threatens the other with an almost frothing rage.

"I'm going to go and decontaminate," Harry declares over the wash of threats, curses and profanities.

.

Once they have both cleansed themselves of the time-sand through use of the Guild's sterilisation chambers (because vanishing potions ingredients before their properties are known is a bad idea ), poked over the wreckage (no time-sand was salvageable, it was all contaminated, even the selection on the weighing scales), and gotten the intern in a lot of bother (Harry is of the personal opinion her own calm recount of the situation was far more effective than Lestrange's blustering rant, but she's not about to suggest that), the two of them part ways. After all, the whole point of their meet-up had been to try something new and, now that it has been thoroughly ruined, Harry doesn't see the need to try something else. Not when Lestrange is in a mood on par with torrential summer storms. Admittedly, she's not in the best of spirits herself; after all, when will they ever get a chance to experiment with time-sand?

Instead, Harry heads home, mentally running through her previously assembled to-do list. She's got a little more free-time than she'd expected; spending it with Archie is out, given he's off with Hermione. She tries not to think too much on that loose end, even if the girl only knows that AIM Harry is actually Archie and Hogwarts Rigel is played by someone else while Harry stays in the Lower Alleys. The girl will actually be able to support that story, what with her knowing Leo as the King and being aware of Harry's friendship with the Rogue. So, with Archie out, her dad at work and Mum off clothes shopping with Addy, that leaves Uncle Remus free to fill her time.

She'll never turn down extra duelling practice.

.

From there, she almost, almost , forgets about the experiment gone wrong. She goes to the Malfoy Gala and enjoys the time with her friends; she listens to Draco gripe about Rigel not being allowed to bring a plus-one along on her journey, promises Pansy that she will spread the word that the Parkinson Heir is not attached and that Rigel Black does in fact already have a fiancée, and agrees to write to Millie with as much detail as she can manage on how foreign nations see the British Community. She spends a day on a family picnic, basking in the calming presence of Remus, appreciating the exuberance of a playful Archie and the now running full-throttle Addy. She wistfully watches her parents fall in love all over again as they do every day, and watches Sirius watch them as he gains a wistful smile of his own. She hopes that, if he's ready for it, her godfather's attempts at dating go well. She knew he'd been considering it back during the World Cup fiasco, but maybe he's feeling a bit more settled now.

So Harry goes about her last few days of freedom aggressively ignoring the political thundercloud that is gathering on her horizon as best she can. Until, finally, the day comes when she must pack her things, don her governmental raincoat and look to face Riddle.

.

Only, the clock strikes ten-oh-four and, in the next blink, Harry finds herself staring at Lestrange's hoarfrost eyes and the glittering time-sand that brackets his face as the stars do the galaxy.

One

He's looking at Potter, whose face is covered in time-sand (ruined, contaminated time-sand that cannot be used and he'll never manage to get his hands on it again) and they're in the Potions Guild. Caelum blinks, flinching back from his close proximity to the halfblood in order to get a better look at his surroundings. Last he recalled, he'd been going up to his lab and Hestin had been ordered to alert him if either of his parents returned, especially if they had brought guests with them. Has he been attacked? How on earth is he back in the lab with Potter, of all people? Had the past three days been a vivid hallucination? Blinking, Caelum resists the urge to wipe at his mouth, knowing it'd been closed and couldn't possibly have had any time-sand enter his body orally. Inhaling is a different matter. In fact-

"You boorish fucker! Merlin, how you have managed to find a place in the Potions Guild, I do not know, but you certainly shouldn't expect to return tomorrow!"

He'd had a great deal more to say last time, in the hallucination, whatever. The most important thing right now is getting this time-sand off his skin. His godfather had not warned him against allowing it to come into contact with his skin but Caelum has been stirring the substance and steadily feeding it with his own magic in order to evaluate how the time-sand would react when stirred in a potion.

He'll have to speak with Master Whitaker to find out just what cretins they are accepting into these halls; not knowing that these are the experimental rooms and interrupting anyone inside could lead to disasters of the worst kind. By Salazar, he knows that not every intern can be as magnificent as he is (or even as acceptable as Potter), but are they truly this close to scraping the bottom of the barrel already? The younger generation truly do have no care for academia, do they?

Stepping inside one of the decontamination compartments, Caelum carefully strips himself of the brewing robes he'd been wearing, along with all the safety equipment (goggles, gloves, boots) that he'd thought to put on. The next time that he's experimenting in such a way, he'll ensure he has goggles that cover his nose too. He'll just have to bully Potter into putting in the heavy lifting with a fair few batches of Liberespirare. How in Merlin's name she hadn't ended up on the floor after imbuing a double batch in less than half the time it should have taken, he doesn't know. But it is one of the handful of reasons he's keeping her around. Not everyone has enough magical power to brute-force their way through all of life's problems, after all. That is not to say that he is lacking in any which way, but Potter's output is freakishly out of line.

Bloody halfblood.

Caelum grits his teeth through the seeping mist that acts as the cleansing agent. It's not like having a shower; it's not relaxing or calming in any way, shape or form. No, this almost burns through his system, working through his lungs and bloodstream to exterminate any lingering elements that don't belong there. It causes no permanent damage, but it sure is discomforting as fuck.

Only after this airborne potion has worked its way over and through his body does he turn on the shower function, allowing the liquid to thoroughly soak his hair, plastering it against his skin as he lets the tension drain from his muscles as surely as the water disappears with a gurgle from the basin. It is only when he can think about the time-sand disaster without clenching his teeth that he bothers to leave.

.

He stops by the receptionist on the way out, corralling the woman into formalising a record of what had happened and his complaint on the rat-faced intern (yes, he does make it explicitly clear that his statement regarding the intern's behaviour will be backed by Master Whitaker and that Potter would be able to corroborate his story). Then, he makes for home. If that was a hallucination of what is to come, some kind of vision, then that means his mother will be waiting on him to return so that he can join in on the ridiculous SOW Party dinner she is hosting. Augustus' son, the one engaged to that Selwyn bint, will be old enough to attend now that he's out of school and Caelum is sure he'll detest it just as much as he did in the vision.

In the vision, he'd been late and his mother was in such a monstrous temper that she hadn't spoken to him for the following two days, making it impossible to request further galleons to restock the lab. Normally, Caelum could play his parents off against each other (very, very carefully) by asking his mother, getting a thunderous no, and then waiting until she infuriated his father before asking him for the coin. They're boorishly predictable when they're in moods such as those but, after years of practice, he can now work it to his advantage. However, with his father out of the country on business, there's no one to aim Bellatrix's foul mood at. Instead, he'd kept well out of her way.

.

So, Caelum sits through the dinner, not even pretending to be interested in anyone other than Lord Riddle, who speaks of the glory that fucker Black has brought to the Pureblood Agenda and how it will impact magical Britain's international relations. Riddle even states that he will be halting legislation in regards to mudblood employment and healthcare, proclaiming that there is already plenty to hold back those of lesser blood from intruding upon their world. What he hears in the whispers is that the halfblood marriage law (and hadn't that been a nightmare to contemplate) has also been slain. Caelum's not sure what has led to Lord Riddle's sudden U-turn, but he's certainly thankful he's dodged the bullet on that last one.

He goes about the next few days with a budding confidence. The vision he'd had has shown him a great deal of helpful information: the Malfoy Gala was a bore that'd been far too centred on Black and he's glad he never went; his father sends a bitter box of apology chocolates to his mother (they're far too sweet for her tastes and Caelum knows exactly where they are and can intercept it this time to claim them for himself); his mother leaves the house in order to go and plan the usual Black sisters holiday to Italy (no blood-traitors invited).

It's a fantastic three days and, on the fourth day, Caelum ensures he's up earlier than normal in order to be within Dartmoor's perfect potions lab. If he had been attacked in the vision and that'd been why it stopped- well, he's got the wards up and he's alert; this time, he'll have the bastards.

Which is why he's particularly surprised to blink and find himself back in the Potions Guild, standing across from Halfblood Potter with useless time-sand once again on his goggles.

Two

"Fuck!"

Lestrange's aggressive curse just about sums up how Harry's feeling right now, to the point she contemplates echoing his profanity herself. She's back in the potions lab, again. Standing across from Lestrange, again. And, yet again, she's covered in time-sand. Getting so far through her life only to be thrown back to this exact moment; Harry has used a time-turner before and this is not how they work. They do not restart things from the same point, forcing the user to live through the same handful of days again before once again restarting. It doesn't make any sense- only, they're not using a time-turner, are they? They are covered in time-sand from a defunct time-turner, a substance they have both been working over with their magic. Two substances that have mixed and now, for the third time, Lestrange is the only thing that acts differently prior to any input from her.

Which means, whatever this is, he's stuck in it with her.

Something tickles at the back of her mind, a memory of some kind. Dom pushes it forward and Harry closes her eyes, letting the knowledge wash over her. Lily and James had gone out for a 'muggle day', visiting a cinema to watch a film. Harry can recall listening with detached interest, too busy running through the figures for the basilisk parts she'd managed to sort before returning from Hogwarts. But the short discussion is still there, her parents talking about the film they'd seen in which a man was stuck living the same day over and over.

Harry's living the same day over and over. In fact, she thinks it's about right that it's an exact seventy-two hours. Three full days that culminate just as she's beginning to pack her bag for the World Tour. Then suddenly she's here with Lestrange, the both of them covered in time-sand and only Lestrange reacts differently from before. That intruding intern certainly acts as he did the first time around.

"We're stuck in a time-loop," Harry concludes aloud, shuffling the intern out of the room and hastily closing the door. There's no point in chasing after the intern and pressing a charge against the boy; that'll only waste the time they have before it all resets. At present, nothing they do will make any difference to the events around them until they break this loop. The time-sand, she deduces, is the catalyst. It is the only thing that is currently shared between herself and Lestrange; the mixed substances coat both of them thoroughly. She's not too sure why it allocates them seventy-two hours for the loop; perhaps it is something to do with the amount of time-sand they are coated in- but no, that can't be it. Lestrange is taller than her and, despite being whip-skinny for a boy, is also broader than she is. It must be the amount of sand in general then.

"What the fuck are you saying, Halfblood?"

"You've lived the next three days twice, haven't you?" Harry doesn't need a verbal confirmation from Lestrange. She can already read it in his face, the way his dark brows sit heavy over his eyes and his lips tilt down in a frown that doesn't come naturally to him. A confused frown. He's so used to hiding behind a sneer it'd be laughable in any other situation.

"A time-loop. It's supposed to be a theoretical occurrence in which the one trapped – that's us, by the way – re-experience a span of time that gets repeated again and again until the cycle of repetition is broken." Harry checks over her potions bag, unsurprised to find it tightly sealed. At the very least, no time-sand will have gotten inside to interact with her potions. Who knows what type of disasters may have come about if that had happened? "For all that wizards have worked with time, I've never found any accounts of a time-loop actually occurring." Which is incredibly unfortunate because Harry doesn't have a single point of reference on how to break said loop. Not from any of the reading she'd done at Hogwarts post-time-turner acquisition anyway.

"Then how do we break it?" Lestrange snaps, his knuckles white, clenching the pestle in his hand and staring hard at her. As if he's willing to break her in order to get the answers he needs. He wouldn't manage it, not in the time he has.

"I don't know," Harry freely admits, "but I've only ever read a handful of books on the subject. Our best bet is to go and do our own research independently and then meet up to consolidate our findings."

"Then we need a plan to ensure we don't overlap. I won't have you doing half the work by following the same leads as I, Halfblood."

.

They get clean and Harry is disgruntled by the fact the decontaminating mist is not an utter shock to the system now. Clearly her brain is keeping the memories logged of their loops, which brings up a multitude of questions. Memories are created through synaptic connections in the brain; will the sudden influx of days and days of memories into their bodies in one moment become too much for their minds to handle? There isn't much Harry can do about such a thought though. The only thing she can work towards is breaking the time-loop.

"How, exactly, is this an appropriate place to discuss plans, Brat." Lestrange doesn't quite ask questions, only grunts and growls demands for answers. It's ridiculous and Harry's really not in the mood to play along, despite the academic interest she has in their current circumstances (she pushes down the thought that she's once again trapped in time. This is different, this isn't some madman holding her hostage for her magic at the behest of a jewel with delusions of grandeur).

"Our best discussions have been over food when it comes to deducing things. Plus, I'm hungry."

"I am not paying for your food."

"Whatever I pay will be back in my vault in the next seventy-one hours anyway when the time-loop resets."

Lestrange scowls at the reminder of their circumstances, pulling up a chair to the table they've been shown to and sitting himself down first. No waiting for his female company to take a seat, though she's hardly surprised by that.

The tower restaurant of Campanile (fashioned in the same iconic shape as the Leaning Tower of Pisa) is a particularly unique restaurant in the Lower Alleys as each floor rotates clockwise, all at different speeds. It makes for an interesting observation from the outside, as mind boggling in its construction as the Weasley Burrow. A castoff of some obscure pureblood lord centuries past, it'd been dumped in the Lower Alleys after being branded tacky and some entrepreneurs had been quick to make a business out of it.

She's been here once before with Leo; the pasta dishes are excellent.

"Alright then, Brat. Out with it."

"You're in a prime position to look at the darker texts and any connections they have to time-travel and the repercussions of it. You're an alumnus of Durmstrang, have access to whatever texts the Lestranges have collected throughout the centuries and can no doubt request aid from your godfather and any resources he has access to." Closing her menu, Harry puts in an order for bucatini alla carbonara, rolling her eyes when Lestrange once again orders the most expensive thing on the menu. Not that it matters, as she'd stated earlier. Any money they spend prior to breaking this time-loop is of no consequence. It'll all be back where it's supposed to be when she finds herself in the next loop.

"That doesn't explain what pitiful resources you'll be using to research, Halfblood."

"The Potter family descends from the Peverell family and there's plenty of texts to review from that time, though I doubt there'll be anything about time-turners in there. Time-sand, maybe. And, of course, there's a lot of light books. If I ask my Mum, she'll reach out to all her friends who usually attend Duumbledore's spring soiree. So, I'll cover looking through the Light-based books. How many loops do you think we should assign for research before we meet up to review?"

It would make the most sense to double-down and spend a good few loops tearing through all the relevant material that they can. No distractions and it's not like they can't assign the time to it. Rigel Black being 'too sick' to attend the Malfoy Gala will no doubt infuriate Riddle who spent the last two loops parading her around like some prize-winning, pedigree pooch, but he'll just have to learn to live with the disappointment in this loop. And the next. And the one after that.

It's a bit therapeutic being able to think how such an action will aggravate the SOW Party Leader again and again and again.

"Seven would be an acceptable number; it gives us twenty-one days to complete our own research which should be enough time for me to unearth the answer or, worst come to worst, for you to stumble across a lead I can make use of."

"I had no idea you have talents or interests outside of potions," Harry admitted, mockingly awed. Whatever response Lestrange is going to give is plucked from the air by the arrival of their lunch. The pasta dishes are placed before them and Harry eagerly digs in, carefully rearranging all of her plans. There's no point in planning ahead for the rest of her summer if she cannot escape these three days that the two of them are living on repeat.

Perhaps she shouldn't be surprised that their latest meeting has gone tits-up; the last time they'd tried brewing together, she'd had to flee Dartmoor by foot. Why would she have expected that experimenting with Caelum on a substance she has had past troubles with would be any different?

Three

He doesn't see Potter again on that time-loop (what a ridiculously simple name for such a horrendous thing). They agree to review their shared findings on the ninth loop, this one at present being the third. The previous loop, after leaving Potter to foot the bill to a restaurant he's not physically been in within this time for food that has now never been a part of his system, he'd headed straight to his godfather's place. Augustus had asked around as best he could, lending him all the books he had on the subject but there had been no references of any kind within their pages; a waste of time, especially given his godfather had no information to share with him even after enquiring at work. All he'd gotten from those books was the uncensored story of Eloise Mintumble's own fuck-up with time which is shit all help for his own problems. Still, it'd been a good way to spend that loop.

No, he hadn't been avoiding going home because his mother would be furious he missed out on that damn dinner. The very one she'd never bothered to warn him of during that first run-through, as if expecting he'd have nothing better to do with his day than to dress up and act like he cares what anyone at that table says. Still, he needs to review the Lestrange library during this loop, so he begrudgingly attends.

There's no new information; Lord Riddle says the same things, Augustus' son isn't there to proclaim his love for his fiancée, and Flint still looks damn mutinous over being forced to spend time within the presence of his own father. It's droll and boring and he has bigger issues to deal with.

Caelum slips out the second he's able; too early to be socially acceptable but about what would be expected given the reputation he's created for himself among these people. The only SOW Party member he would potentially hang around to speak to is Master Snape, but he never attends these functions unless he's under duress. Caelum's unsure just what Lord Riddle is holding over the other man's head, but he knows there must be something. Regardless, there's nothing to be gained from him sticking around any longer.

.

Caelum sits himself down in the Lestrange library, Hestin already pulling out all the books that hold relevant information on time magic, and he cracks the first one open. Some are young enough that he can employ the term searching spell and get a quill to copy up the sections in which time, reliving time, or time related problems are discussed. Most of the books, however, are far too old to have such invasive magic tearing through their pages, so he settles himself down for a long, boring few days.

It would, perhaps, be easier if he were to employ some of the riffraff to search the books for terms, but then, what is the point? Given the situation he and Potter are stuck in as a result of that fucking intern (and once this problem is fixed, Caelum will be exercising every connection he has made within the Guild to get that fucker barred for life), it is not as if he can take any notes along with him to his future meeting. Not unless he writes everything during the loop they meet in anyway. Besides, he'll be able to remember all of the important things so there's honestly no point.

Pressing a forefinger and thumb into his head, Caelum does his best not to scowl or sigh, no matter how much he wants to. It's not like he can change anything right now, that much is clear. Given Potter's a halfblood, he doubts she'll be able to access as many resources as he can and given acquisition of a time-turner is usually done with dubious morality at the best of times (yes, he's aware he acquired time-sand through nepotism; that only supports his point here), he's sceptic that she'll find anything of use in her little Light books. Unsurprisingly, pureblood resources will save the day here.

If only this had happened a week later, his mother would be off in Italy with her sister and he could collar Potter into coming to Dartmoor to help him.

Eight

It's the loop before they're due to meet up when his mother breaks the routine he has memorised. Hestin, useful asset that he is, had tracked his mother during the third loop and reported back how she spent her days. Today, she should have spent the entire afternoon chatting with Narcissa as they plan their weekly getaway to Italy. They'd changed their traditional spring visit to Venice so Lady Malfoy could go and watch that cad Black perform like a damn crup eager to please its master. It's not like Caelum should have expected the Black Heir to have an ounce of pride though.

Nonetheless, the point is that Bellatrix should be over at Malfoy Manor for another two hours, not barging through the door of the library with intent crackling around her like a storm cloud.

Caelum, having been warned of her arrival a half-minute prior by Hestin, is already sitting appropriately and only half absorbed in his book. It's the second to last one in the library and, while he feels he has more than enough information to write his own periodical on temporal displacement, he's yet to find anything that will truly be helpful with their current issue.

"Caelum!" Her voice cracks through the room, whip like in both sound and his desire to avoid it.

"Yes mother?"

"What is the blood traitor's bastard up to now?" Rigel Black . What the fuck has Potter done on her side of things in order to prompt his mother into coming and asking this question? And it must be Potter; Caelum has been within the Lestrange library for the past two and a bit days, ergo, he cannot possibly have created this sudden behavioural displacement. Therefore, this must be Potter's fault.

"I've heard no whispers of the blood traitor's actions-" ' because I've been in the library all this time, which you'd know if you cared to ask. ' "-do you have any context?" Caelum drawls, discreetly flipping to another page of his book. It's a dangerous game to only offer his mother half of his attention. If she's in a spitting enough rage, he could get away with brewing right under her nose and she'd never notice so long as he made appropriate, agreeable noises at the right intervals. However, he doesn't think this is quite that level of fixated anger. Hence the need for discrete page turning.

"The little bastard has been holed up in Cissa's library for the last two days," Bellatrix snarls, flicking her wand and one of the cushions explodes in a shower of fwooper feathers. They won't even be worth using in a potion, too seeped in ambivalent magic. What a waste. "Who knows what he's researching!"

Caelum knows what he's researching. He's got a horrendous sinking feeling in his guts that he knows exactly what the overly-lauded Rigel Black is researching. Is Potter such a useless bint that she's collared her halfwit cousin into looking into the problem too? No, that can't be right, he knows Potter's got too much pride for that. He's seen her reactions to his taunting, recalls how she'd cornered him with that list of information on the werewolf she calls family. The way she'd cocked her head, squared her jaw, met his gaze head on- no, Potter's not trying to worm out of this.

But she's clearly told Black what's going on and he's now conducting his own research. How the little blood-traitor got permission to go through the Malfoy library doesn't make a lick of sense though; just being friends with the Heir wouldn't grant him permission. That'd have to come from the Lord. Why Lucius Malfoy would agree to let a whelp stick his nose between whatever treasures they've got in their trove of a library is beyond Caelum.

If whatever the rude brat finds is of any use is a different matter.

Nine

Just as she'd been expecting, the Malfoy library had been a bust too. The Potter one, the Blacks, everyone Lily could reach out to- hell, Harry had gone to Dumbledore as Rigel and explained the situation but even he'd had nothing other than theories. She's dutifully copied them all up onto sheets of parchment, using the spell Flint had 'used' to create his essay for McGonagall that one time. It'd taken her nearly an entire loop to master it, but it's increased her productivity by a significant amount. Well worth the time.

Neither she nor Lestrange so much as speak to each other until they're decontaminated and this loop is no different; they both walk past the stammering intern without even acknowledging him, too intent on getting on with business.

.

Harry's hair is still wet as they walk into Stake House, the vampire themed steakhouse not too far from that very first Chinese restaurant they went to two years prior. It's a relatively new establishment, owned by Mr Gavril and open twenty-four hours a day. There're even vampires on staff during night-hours. She's obviously brought Lestrange during the day-time. Merlin knows how the other would act if he knew creatures were employed here, nevermind the fact Harry herself is friendly with them. It does give her an idea though.

Perhaps Kasten may be able to divine the essence of time-sand from the contaminated particles? Something to look into in the next loop if the combined might of their research amounts to nothing.

"How tacky," Lestrange grunts, inspecting the menu that's a great chunk of written words in black, strategic spaces between them in order to create a graphic of white fangs from a distance.

"I think it's very on brand," Harry says, already plucking up one of the breadsticks that're baked into the shape of crucifixes. There's a lot of lore here, both from the wizarding world and from the muggle side. The themed restaurants are always an interesting place to spend a few hours, but this is the first time she's come into Stake House, despite Leo having mentioned it recently opened.

Harry's happy enough to help out the vampires of Lamia Lodge; she'll have to remember to pop by once they've broken this damn time-loop.

"Onto the reason we're here," Harry begins, pulling out the small stack of notes she'd used the Psychic Transcription Charm to write up while they'd been in the decontamination chambers. It'd taken a bit of effort stretching her magic from her position all the way to the lab they'd left, but she'd managed.

Lestrange's eyes go wide at the sight, his mouth open and, given what she knows of his character, she'll proudly proclaim he is outright gawking.

"What- How the fuck have you brought things from the other loops?!"

"I haven't. I dictated them while we were sterilising. This isn't everything I've found, just the shorthand of what's useful. Which is to say, not very much. Most of it is just plans on what steps we can take next, things like theories on where and how time-sand was created – every book I've read seems to be under the impression that it's not naturally occurring, but the oldest lead I could find points to Egypt." She hadn't exactly read about that particular lead; Dom had mentioned that none of the Egyptian wizards he'd seen during his reign had ever managed to get into such a terrible mess as this.

"And Black?"

Harry flicks both her eyebrows up, staring at Lestrange but he doesn't quiver under her gaze, just grumpily continues to glare right back. Harry reels off their orders to Nora, the waitress who's moved to employment here from the Phoenix. Lestrange does scowl when the girl addresses Harry by her first name, but otherwise, he doesn't say anything.

"Rigel has managed to cultivate a good relationship with the Malfoys. They were happy to let him look in their library when he asked. What does it matter anyway? It's not like he remembers anything this time around." Which, in truth, is vexing. She's used to being able to rely on Archie, used to being able to run a plan by him. But it's taking too long to catch him up in full now. She's taken to simply giving him the quick facts when they meet up on the first day, asking him to play sick so Rigel doesn't have to go to the Malfoy Gala, and then tearing through books as he goes about his business as Archie for the rest of the loop.

"Families like the Malfoys don't just let any simple plebeian rummage through their collections," Lestrange hisses, accepting the fairy wine that Nova places before him and aggressively downing it. He's even swallowing this time. Huh, only took nine loops to drive him to drink.

"They will let good friends access their library," Harry chirps, not breathing a word of the fact Rigel had very much acquired a Life Debt from the family that could provide her with leverage if needed. It hadn't needed to be, thankfully, she's not sure if the acknowledgement of a debt fulfilled would carry to the next loop and, if it did, there'd be questions when she finally gets out of this thing. "You should try getting some of those."

Lestrange laughs, a sound tinged with sarcasm and bitterness. "Who needs good friends? Now, shut your mouth, Halfblood. It's time to listen to what your betters have uncovered. Then we can start making more plans."

.

It turns out Lestrange has uncovered fuck all. Well, that's not entirely true. He's just as well-read in time magics as she is now, but neither of them have discovered anything that will be of any use to them. Instead, they spend the time in the steakhouse coming up with a variety of avenues that they could test. The first thing on their list is to try applying the Hour Reversal Charm to themselves to see if the use of other time magic would stall the loop and free them. The only issue with that is actually finding the spell and practicing it.

"We need to know if our magic comes along with our memories into the next loop," Harry theorises, cutting through the vegetarian steak on her plate until she has a bitesize piece she can eat. "Maybe the amount of magic we have access to before the loop resets dictates how long we can remain within a loop." It's a bit of a stretch, but she would very much like to know all the different variables in this situation. Her memories come back with every loop and her magic has retained the knowledge of how to apply the Psychic Transcription Charm. Does the amount vary too, or is it like her physical form? Will any magic she uses up take time to replenish, or will it be there, waiting and ready for her when the loop resets?

"And just how many spells do you plan to burn through in order to accomplish that?"

"I was actually thinking we could use a measuring tool that absorbs the magic you pour into it. I know a guy. If we meet up in the last hour before the loop resets, we could try it then."

.

They'd agreed to test the Hour Reversal Charm on their own and debrief about what happens when they meet up again. Harry's not too surprised when she tries the charm and it splashes over her, as effective as water upon steel. She can feel the magic drip off of her, falling away useless. Still, it's disappointing. When she meets up with Lestrange again at the mouth of Knockturn Alley, she expects his report that the same thing happened to him.

"Where are you dragging me to now, Potter. You know my mother will-"

"Torture me if anything happens to you," Harry agrees laconically, rolling her eyes. "Though if you mother knows you're coming to meet with me, I'm surprised by the fact you made it out the house." Bellatrix Lestrange had, after all, thrown a vase at her son when the boy came over to Potter Place last summer.

Walking down Knockturn, Harry meets the eyes of one of Leo's little thieves, shaking her head when the kid looks questionably at Lestrange. While it would serve the self-entitled ass right to lose his wallet, the stink he'd make about it is a waste of time they cannot afford, not with the loop due to reset again. While the thought of Lestrange coming to know how… unusual her magic is (if only in quantity) unsettles her, it doesn't weigh as heavily upon her as the thought of potentially abandoning him to the time-loop does. If this is the way out and she'd tried it on her own without breathing a word of it to him, then Lestrange would be lost in time, repeating the same three days again and again. She can't just leave him to it, not when they're friends. Even if he'll never admit to that under pain of death.

Pushing open the door titled 'Custom Metalwork and Repairs', Harry steps inside and fires a smile towards Frein, calling a greeting. The short man looks up from his custom workbench, eyebrows rising as he stands up.

"Leo's friend Harry. You look well, Lass."

Lestrange slips into the room behind her, looking around with a sneer. The expression drops off quickly when he spots the armour Frein had been working on, goblin-made, if Harry were to guess. She's relatively certain that Lestrange mutters something about her ability to find the most ridiculous places in 'the backwater swill', but she doesn't pay him too much attention. She's more focused on the way Frein's eyes linger on her hands and the lack of rings there.

"Ditched the suppressor, have you?"

"Yeah," Harry acknowledges, gritting her teeth as Lestrange's burning gaze once again comes to rest on her shoulder (maybe the glare isn't a Malfoy thing after all, maybe it's a Black trait that just skipped Archie?). "My friend and I need to drain our magic off real quick; I don't suppose we could borrow that measuring tool?"

Frein huffs a laugh, making his way to the counter at the back and Harry follows after him, her footsteps soft despite the wooden floorboards under her feet. After a moment's pause, Lestrange follows after her, still with that wary posture, but he's looking about the place more intently now. She doesn't doubt he's logged the comment on a suppressor for a later date, but they don't have time to have a falling out over that. Because Lestrange will find something to fall out over following that comment, she's sure of it.

Frein places two of the instruments down on the counter top, the familiar crystal that she'd held two years prior, back when she'd been terrified of the primal force of her own magic, glimmering one the light.

"It's like imbuing," Harry explains, shifting the crystal between her palms and turning to look at Lestrange. "You just keep pouring magic in until you're near empty."

This time, when she unleashes her magic, it's not like a flash flood, it doesn't roar forwards with the force of a tsunami. Instead, it's like the start of a bonfire. A small wisp of flame catching, growing warmer and warmer, hotter and hotter. It's controlled, there's no great rush to explode outwards before she can put the lid back on. They're in concordance now, magic and witch, sun and the sky that houses it. Harry watches the metal of the device flash through red, orange and yellow, steadily changing to green as she continues to allow her magic to pour through the crystal at a steady pace. There's no rush, this isn't about hastily ploughing through a task. It's a drain, a scientific experiment and there's no need to push it.

"You've got control now," Frein says, watching her with curious eyes and Harry turns her gaze to him with a smile.

"Yeah. Not that your suppressor didn't work or anything, but my magic and I have come to an accord."

"Don't be daft, Potter. Magic isn't sentient," Lestrange grunts, wiping sweat from his brow with the back of one hand, the other still clenching his own crystal. His own device is a fetching shade of teal. Given the exhaustion Lestrange's attempting to hide, he's probably done. Still, if she recalls correctly, teal is pretty good. She'd expected him to be in the higher bracket ever since he'd performed that little wandless tornado; she'd been able to feel the power behind that so it's nice to have her suspicions confirmed.

Harry stokes the fires of her own magic, feeling it roar and lick at the crystal, catching hold of the fuel and growing. The metal of her device moves smoothly from teal to royal blue, to indigo, to violet and then it steadily begins to darken. The whole point of this is to unleash absolutely everything she has until there's nothing but the dregs left, not like last time when Frein had stopped her. Harry lets her magic burn and burn until there's nothing but a handful of embers left in her breast, the kind of level that leaves her feeling uncomfortably woozy. Even when brewing high-levelled potions, she's not quite gotten to this level of exhaustion.

Frein's long, low whistle forcibly draws her attention back to him.

"It's darker than last time."

"You stopped me before I was done last time," Harry points out, setting the instrument down on the counter. It's not the black that she imagines Professor Dumbledore's would be, but it's not too far off. A very dark shade of purple. She wonders if Dom's presence in her mind has had any impact on her magical output, or if the stress of the Triwizard Tournament has affected things.

"This is a logarithmic scale," Lestrange hisses, checking her measurement once more, as if he expects the dark purple to have mysteriously become blue or green since he last looked at it. "How the fuck did you get beyond indigo?"

"Don't feel bad, Lestrange. You can't decide what level your magic is." The boy sneers, dropping his own device fully onto the counter and twisting on his heels to stride to the door. The effect is sort of ruined by the fact he wobbles once he reaches the frame, more evidence that he poured everything he could into the instrument. He looks how Harry feels, so she'd hate to see herself in a mirror. Lestrange, after all, is uncommonly pretty and if he's looking like shit, well, she doubts she's going to be winning any beauty pageants anytime soon.

Ten

This time, when they wake up in a new loop, Caelum finds himself slumping against the counter. His head is spinning, every last limb feels like the bones have vanished and he's struggling to hold onto a coherent thought. It's probably quite safe to say that Potter's lunatic theory holds some merit. His magic is at an all time low, which means it is indeed travelling through the loops with their mind and memories. He hasn't felt like this since Master Whitaker tested his levels in order to see just how many high-level potions he'd be able to brew in one sitting. He'd been pleased with teal. A good colour, well above average.

But it's not fucking dark purple.

Grumpily peeling his eyes open, Caelum glares over at Potter, watching the girl also steady herself on the workbench, hunched over but not looking as if she's about to pass out. Which is exactly how he feels. If Potter can power through this, then he sure as fuck can.

Forcing himself to stand up straight, Caelum sends a scorching glare (copied from the Malfoy Lord, not that he'll ever breathe that fact aloud) at the intern who he's already sick to death of seeing. Potter had said about going to visit a specialist who could potentially refine the contaminated time-sand down to its essence in this loop, so they'll need a sample to give them. The more, the better.

Caelum grabs a vial and, after a moment to curse his near empty magic reserves, his knife. Scraping off some of the time-sand he's covered in isn't difficult, nor is getting it into the container and corking it. He stares at the sealed substance, frowning hard. He's already sick to death of this whole thing and they're still nowhere near free of the situation. Perhaps their lack of magic will affect how long that loop runs on for until they're back at full capacity (and Potter's magic better replenish fucking quick, he is not waiting around for her stupidly large reserves to refill if it's at a slow trickle). Maybe they'll get a few extra days this go around. Not that draining his magic, feeling like this, is worth a few more days. What's the point if it'll all just reset?

"Good idea," Potter says without a slur to her words, gathering up her own sample before they both amble off for the decontamination chambers. He's developing a deep hatred for this place, for the invasive mist that is both an expected burn and one he's still gratingly unfamiliar with. The sooner they get out of this time-loop, the sooner he can aggressively pretended the decontamination stations don't exist.

.

Once they're both clean and showered (Potter, plebeian that she is, hasn't even spelled her hair dry), Lestrange allows Potter to lead the way. He can't even drum up the necessary levels of absurdity he would like to employ when she turns down Knockturn yet again. How much time does Potter spend in these blasted alleys? Already she has taken him to two different restaurants, one in which she was known by name. First name basis as well. Then, to the metalwork midget who had the devices to measure their magic (dark purple. It doesn't make a lick of sense, that's lord level. How does a halfblood have so much magic?). Now, they are once again traversing the Lower Alleys with intent.

He doesn't miss the way a handful of people look upon Potter with familiarity, one a goblin, another some man that Caelum is relatively sure is a werewolf, given the scar on his arm. Does James Potter know what the fuck his daughter is up to when she's out the house? He's going to guess no, the Head Auror doesn't. Caelum highly doubts the girl would be swanning around these alleys with the confidence of someone who knows exactly where they're going if her father knew about her excursions.

He goes quiet when they approach a building in what is impossibly a shadier part of the alleys than Knockturn itself. Potter knocks on the door and then opens it, stepping inside to a room lit only by candles. All the curtains are shut and it is with a sinking feeling that Caelum realises exactly what kind of establishment Potter has brought him to.

"Potter-"

"It's the Rogue's little messenger." A voice cuts him off, soft like the wind and it makes every hair on the back of Caelum's neck stand up.

There's a vampire leaning against the counter with its sharp eyes locked solely on Potter, lanky hair lying like a corpse over its shoulders.

"Good day, Mr. Gavril. Is Mr. Kasten available?" Potter doesn't so much as flinch, knows the vampire by name and Caelum has questions. He has more questions than he can comprehend because he cannot think of which one he wants to ask first. How does Potter know a vampire? What the fuck is Potter up to in order to necessitate knowing a vampire? How is this the acquaintance that she wants to talk to? Who is the rogue and why is Potter his messenger? What the hell else is Caelum missing about Potter? This feels like he's opened pandora's box or some shit like that.

"Still with the titles," the vampire breathes, leaning further against the counter to better observe them. Caelum reaches for his wand and then snarls as Potter closes her hand around his wrist, preventing him from drawing it.

"Shut up." Shut up?! He hasn't even opened his mouth yet and this stupid halfblood is going to get him killed!

"I'll take that as a yes then," Potter chirps, all roses and sunshine for the fucking vampire, walking further into the room and dragging him along because she has not let go of his wrist, the cretin. "Give my best to Irina!"

.

Potter collects a single wax candle as she descends the stairs and that's when Caelum decides he's had quite enough of this. He shakes his hand free, grabbing Potter's shoulder with the other one and pushing her into the wall, back first. The damn vampire will be able to hear everything but he doesn't care one whit right now.

"Potter. Are you trying to get us killed?" he hisses, watching her roll her eyes and shrug his hand off.

"Please. The vampires here wouldn't kill me, it'd cause them too many problems and I'm sure you'll be afforded the same protection." Why the fuck would the death of Potter cause problems? It's not like her damn Auror father knows she's down here, is it? "Besides, Kasten is our best hope for getting the secrets out of this damn sand. Now, stop acting like a child. If you're missing hiding behind your mother's robes so much, just duck down behind me." She's off before he can even begin retorting to that and- well, he's in a fucking vampire coven. A coven that recognises Potter and Potter's sure they won't actually kill her.

Caelum follows after the girl.

.

They arrive at a door labelled 'distillery', one that Potter knocks gently on before being told to enter. The voice carries the same leaves in the wind tone as the vampire upstairs and Caelum follows after Potter hesitantly, no matter how much every part of him wants to get the hell out of this place. There's a vampire upstairs, he's low on magic and Potter's the one who's on good terms with these beasts. It grates to admit it, but he's safest with her at the moment.

When his eyes actually manage to take in the layout of the room, he stops. There are jars upon jars lining the wall, all neatly labelled but unlike any potions ingredients he'd ever seen before. What had Potter said about this contact of hers, other than leaving out it was a bloody vampire she was taking him to see?

"You have returned once again."

"And again, it's Harry," Potter retorts, making her way over to the vampire without a hint of fear to her frame, no matter the fact that she must be feeling as drained as he does. "I've got a problem, Mr. Kasten, and I was hoping you'd be able to shed a little light on it."

Potter actually tells the vampire everything. Caelum is just… done. He's done with this loop already and they're not even a full hour into it. He's in a fucking vampire coven as Potter explains how they're caught in a time-loop, and have been for the past Merlin-knows how many days, before she outlines her latest cockamamie scheme to get them free. And then, of course, the vampire asks what's in it for him.

It's infuriating how Caelum understands the vampire more than he does Potter.

"I can get you a basilisk scale for your essence collection," Potter offers, gesturing to the rows and rows of jars that line the wall. "Maybe a bone as well." And, like no fool, the vampire agrees. After extracting a promise that she'll give him the basilisk parts only after the time-loop is broken. And Potter, insane plague upon society that she is, will probably do it too.

They hand over the two samples of time-sand and leave. Caelum never wants to come back.

Of course, he doesn't exactly have a choice.

.

After a stay at the Leaky Cauldron (horrendous accommodations but the absolute last place his mother would think to look for him; she'll be furious he missed her useless SOW dinner party), he's with Potter once again, their usual loop reset fast approaching and he's at war with himself. Because he does not want to go back to the vampire coven. But he also does not trust Potter to explore every avenue with the information found by the vampire creating essences.

Yes, he spent his time after the first visit looking up just what essences are, how they are produced and why they're of use. It suddenly makes a great deal of sense why Potter is acquainted with the vampire; access to unusual ingredients such as that for potions isn't a thing he'd ever considered, but the possibilities there are staggering. He just needs to actually learn free-brewing with Master Whitaker before he could make anything substantial with them. Caelum is going to become one of the potioneering greats and he can't very well do that by blowing himself up trying to free-brew without instruction in the discipline.

An acquaintanceship to perhaps make once the time-loop is broken, though one to be kept on the sly… where does Potter keep finding these people?

The vampire coven (Lamia Lodge, Potter informs him) is exactly as it was a few days ago; a fresh coat of paint on a door that opens smoothly. Honestly, Caelum would expect it to creak given the creatures inside but then, perhaps that's the one aesthetic they haven't committed to yet. The vampire at the entrance hall, the one Potter calls Gavril, greets her only. He yet again refers to her as 'the Rogue's' messenger and, this time, Caelum can hear the capital letter in the title. What the hell is the Rogue and how is Potter linked to them?

It's a question he'll have to remember to ask later, once they're out of this stupid loop.

"I need uncontaminated time-sand in order to make a complete comparison." Which apparently won't be any time soon. For fucks sake.

Potter's frowning too, arms folded as she considers the three glasses of contaminated time-sand stripped down to its very essence. It glitters like gold at the bottom of the vials, but the thing that will be of the most use to them is the notes that the vampire hands Potter. She's the one with the charm for blatant-cheating when note-taking, she can be in charge of remembering and then writing them up.

"We're almost at the end of this loop," Potter admits, raking a hand through her hair and grimacing. Her eyes are scanning through the neat print on the parchment she has been given, a hard frown on her face. "Will my own notes on what you've uncovered be enough for you to work off of in the next loop?"

The vampire agrees, already turning his yellow eyes upon the cauldron and its blue fire. Caelum would much prefer to watch the vampire undertake the process of reducing something down to its essence, but need dictates want. And right now, he needs to know what the vampire has found out.

' …darker particles lift easier … conclusion being these have lost some mass during heating… no difference in darker particles when stirred… light particles turn golden when heated… both particles turn golden upon removal from unnecessary additional components... essence of contaminated time-sand steeped in magic, but unsure if it is the essence or leftover residue of human magic… ' Great.

"How are we supposed to get our hands on more time-sand?" His godfather had been explicitly clear that there was only one decommissioned time-turner. Given that they are Ministry controlled devices looked after by the Unspeakables-

"We're going to have to break into the Ministry."

"And how the fuck are you expecting the two of us to be able to manage that, Brat?"

"Well, we've got all the time in the world to get it right, haven't we?" Potter shrugs her shoulders, offering him a smile tinged with bitter irony and Caelum finds himself returning the expression. Because she's right about that.

Eleven

"Right, we should break it all down into a step by step plan," Harry declares, ruthlessly booting the intern out of the room and slamming the door shut. Lestrange grunts, already heading for the corridor to the decontamination chambers. She's only just kicked the intern out; he should at least give the wannabe potioneer a half-minute to scamper. But time is a'wasting.

Harry follows after Lestrange, already running plans through her mind. Dom is going to be of little help here; Pettigrew never spent any significant amount of time in the Ministry, which means he will have no insider information on how she could break in.

' Come back to me if you ever need to raid an Egyptian tomb .'

' I'll be sure to keep that in mind. '

From what she knows from her father's grumblings on security, there's the wand check-in desk, probity probes for anyone not an Unspeakable going into the Department of Mysteries, numerous wards to check intent and raise the alarm (though dependent on what the 'Spooks' are up to depends on how high these ward alert levels are; she distinctly remembers that particular gripe). Who knows what else there'll be to get around. At least the visitors' entrance has changed; Dad said it used to be in the muggle world and you came in through a toilet, of all things.

Gross. And really unhygienic. She'd hate to have to get her boots cleaned out for it.

They're on their eleventh loop now and Harry is tired of it already. The same events, the same things to dance around. At least they're going to be doing something different now. Though it grates that research has failed her, and that she's not been able to brute force her way through it via magic. At least she's now back to her usual levels; the magical drain hadn't affected the timing of the loop at all.

Stepping into the chamber right next to Lestrange's, Harry closes the door and starts it up, removing her safety equipment bit by bit. Both her mind and her magic travel through the loops with her, but her physical body does not. Her hair hasn't grown, and her monthly cycle hasn't come, despite it being over thirty days. That's one of the only good things to have come from this; she won't need to down another modified Polyjuice.

"Lestrange-" Her follow up sentence is swallowed in the greed of his thunderous 'fuck'.

"Potter! Why the fuck do you sound so close?!"

"I'm one chamber over. Hardly worth freaking out over, the walls aren't exactly see-through."

"Common decency says you should be on the other side of the room, halfblood."

"If you were going to get infected by being in my company, it'd have happened already." Harry doesn't point out it pretty much already has, what with the other now associating with her out in what could pass as a public setting. Time-loop or no time-loop. "Anyway, what do you know about getting into the Ministry?"

In his stall, Lestrange sniffs. She's not sure how that doesn't hurt his nostrils given the invasive cleansing mist, but she's not about to ask. Instead, Harry finishes up and then turns on the shower system, watching the spellwork that prevents the decontamination mist from escaping her chamber power down in order to allow the steam to leave. The hot water is wonderful, draining the tension that rests in her shoulders and Harry rolls them back, dipping her head beneath the spray.

"My godfather has taught me a few ways in." Lestrange admits, his voice carrying clear despite the running water. "But once the wards register we're there for unscrupulous means, it'll be a race against time." One that they will lose.

She's not sure if Lestrange registers that these next few loops are going to be a terrible case of trial and error. Harry's looking forward to the challenge though. At least if something goes wrong, she knows without a doubt that she can try again and learn from those mistakes. Though she won't go so far as to try things that carry a risk of death. If she dies in the time-loop, she's not sure if she'll just be bounced back to the start early, or if it will be a permanent death. She's in no hurry to find out either.

.

They make for the Ministry entrance and they're all but waved in, one of the receptionists recognising her on sight and asking if she's coming to visit her dad. Harry smiles, offering up the 'Rispah face of blatant innocence' as she easily agrees to the woman's assumption. Lestrange, blessedly, remains silent. They're in the Atrium, the floor made from dark wood polished to high shine so that the green flames that accompany those Flooing in may better reflect across its surface.

"Which floor are the Unspeakables on?" Harry asks, pitching her voice low so that only Lestrange will hear her. Already two people have caught sight of him, gone to open their mouths, and then stared as they registered her presence beside him. She doesn't recognise any of them but Lestrange must.

"Level Nine," he replies, approaching a lift and pressing the button. Already several folded paper planes are waiting by the doors, hovering over their heads, not high enough that Harry couldn't reach them, but not low enough that they will block Lestrange's vision. Though she does spot one, folded into the shape of a small bird, resting in his hair. Smiling, Harry turns her attention forwards when the lift arrives, stepping inside and waiting until Lestrange and all of the flying notes are within before she presses the correct button. The lift jolts, the wheels-on-track noise unusually loud as it carries them to the left and then down. Her stomach drops a little bit, similar to when she's flying too fast but only for a handful of seconds.

All too soon, the doors are opening and both she and Lestrange find themselves staring out into a black-tiled corridor with no pictures, posters or windows. The only light produced is from torches, glowing a gentle white-blue at odds with the rest of the decor.

"I don't think we'll set off the intent wards unless we're aiming solely to steal. So, let's approach with the thought of finding the Time Room first." At least, that's as much as she's come to understand from her father's grumblings on Ministry security.

"Let me take the lead, Potter," Lestrange states, eyeing the single black door at the end of the corridor warily. Harry is starting to understand why the Aurors refer to the people who work here as 'the Spooks'. If this is the kind of aesthetic they're going for, it seems it's a nickname well earned.

Harry follows half a step behind Lestrange, sucking in her lower lip as he pushes open the door.

They're met with a large circular chamber in which the theme continues; dark marble floor that has the aesthetical qualities of water, more torches (though smaller this time) with the same eerie light, and twelve doors. Not one of them has a handle. How helpful. As Lestrange steps into the centre, Harry closes the door behind her and that's clearly a mistake. The whole thing begins spinning, the walls and doors blurring together until they're one large blur. As the room continues to twist, Lestrange cocks his head over one shoulder and gives her a look that needs no accompanying words. ' Nice going, Potter .'

When it stops, Harry cannot tell which of the doors is the one they entered through, though she supposes they have a one in twelve chance of stepping through it.

"Has your godfather mentioned anything about navigating this place?"

"You're lucky I was even able to get which level of the Ministry it's on, Halfblood."

"We'll just have to start opening them up then."

.

It takes two more rotations of the room before Harry realises that it changes every time they close a door. Which makes things difficult in the sense that there are most certainly Unspeakables working behind each door, so leaving them open is tricky. Harry solves this problem by ripping off a small corner of parchment and wedging it between the door and the frame. It's an old trick Archie came up with to screw with Sirius' bedtime charms. Her uncle would always know when they were out of bed once they left their room. It took a few weeks of trial and error there too in order to figure out he'd charmed the door. But, when a piece of parchment prevented the door from completely closing, the ward didn't activate.

Of course, Sirius had eventually caught them sneaking down to the kitchen for cookies, but they'd both been four years old and she's relatively sure he'd been too proud of their developing mischief to call them out on it.

Harry slides another piece of parchment between the door and frame, trying very hard not to think why the Unspeakables have a room full of brains and nothing else. There had been some of the Spooks in there, scribbling things down on clipboards, their wands out and she's trying really hard to convince herself those are not the brains of witches and wizards. Or any sentient beings, really.

"Potter! Over here!" Lestrange's unfortunately loud hiss has Harry grimacing, scuttling across the stupid entrance room that she's already growing to hate. He's standing by another door, holding it open with a single finger and Harry peers through the crack, feeling excitement thrum through her limbs. It's definitely the Time Room; she can see a whole row of time-turners lined up along one wall and there's a jar with a bird hatching and then… becoming an egg again? No, they don't have the time for her to question that. Though she's starting to see the appeal of becoming an Unspeakable. Being able to just burrow down in here and experiment without anyone bothering her sounds divine.

"How are we going to get past them?" Lestrange whispers, his head above hers and Harry crouches down a little to accommodate him so that they may both better stare into the room through the crack in the door. She's come to the conclusion that there's some form of silencer on the entryway, preventing those inside from hearing anything that happens in the spinning room. Perhaps for the best; if their work is anywhere near as delicate as free-brewing, then unexpected interruptions would be disastrous.

"I have a potion," Harry whispers, reaching into her bag for the vial in question. Those handful of lessons from Professor Snape on battle potions haven't been wasted and Harry has been quick to apply them to her own shaped imbuing.

The vial she uncorks and rolls into the room may not look much, but it contains a very potent knock-out mist… Stupefy Duo in airborne form.

The two of them watch silently as everyone in the room panics for the half second it takes for the potion to kick in, laying all of the Unspeakables inside flat out.

"And you just happened to have that ready to go in your potions kit?!" Lestrange snaps incredulously, casting a Bubble-Head Charm and striding right in. He goes down just like all the others.

Still outside the room, Harry throws in the counter potion and then makes for Lestrange, waking him up with a simple Rennervate.

"What the actual fuck, Potter?"

"It stays in the air until it disperses too far to affect the body through skin contact, or until I throw in the counter potions. Regardless, those hit will stay down until they're revived by another, or until the stunner wears off." Which, given how much magic she's pumped into that particular spell, would be about twelve hours.

Clambering to his feet and righting his collar in an attempt to regain his dignity, Lestrange scowls and looks around. "Let's just get what we came here for and get back to your Bloodsucker."

"Wait!" Harry snaps out a hand, catching Lestrange's wrist. "Let's look around at any notes they have first." Lestrange doesn't say 'good idea' but, given that he begins doing exactly what she has suggested, he doesn't have to.

.

In truth, she probably should have expected that attacking a group of Unspeakables would come with repercussions. Everything had been a bit too easy and she'd been so worried about the intent wards registering their desire to steal a time-turner that she hadn't considered that her potion may qualify as an 'attack on Ministry personal'. It is, after all, a new potion which shouldn't have been logged with the wards. Clearly she's going to need to review her understanding of wards.

As things are, both she and Caelum, each holding a time-turner, open the door to the ridiculous spinning room and find a horde of Aurors all there, wands at the ready. Smack at the front is her father, who takes one look at the two of them and demands they surrender. Right before it actually registers just who it is he's holding at wand point. For the second time in both their lives. Only, yeah, this is significantly worse than stumbling home after curfew.

"Harry?!"

"Dad! I, er, didn't do it."

Twelve

The rest of that fucking time-loop gets written off. His mother, when she's called to the Ministry because she is his most easily accessible relative, puts a volcano to shame with her explosive rage. Even Potter Senior, who has spent an hour shouting at his now jailed daughter and then the following two seated with his head in his hands, had flinched back from Mt. Bellatrix. Hell, Caelum had been pleased to be in the cell; he's relatively certain the wards weren't designed to protect prisoners from supposedly friendly visitors, but he can confirm they perform such a task admirably.

His mother had to be escorted out by three Aurors. It would have been four, but she'd managed to kick the Auror with the colour changing hair (who Caelum believes to be both freshly minted on the job and his halfblood cousin) in the face. How Bellatrix hadn't ended up in the cell beside them is beyond Caelum. Probably because the Auror office had too much on their hands with the two of them and throwing Lady Lestrange in there would have brought the glorious might of the SOW Party down upon their heads with a vengeance.

Regardless, the whole loop had been wasted as the Aurors ran back and forth trying to decide what to do. The Unspeakables wanted to interrogate them but with Caelum a pureblood and Potter underaged, they'd spent the only time they'd had them in custody performing legal backflips trying to get the go-ahead to interrogate them.

Three days in a cell had been horrific, as it was terribly boring. It'd have been a total write off had he not been able to exercise his wandless magic.

Now, once again opening their eyes to the irritating intern he will one day ensure the ruin of, Caelum slouches across the bench and only manages to not rub at his forehead in irritation because he's still wearing his safety goggles.

"Right," Potter says, still looking relatively disgruntled from the hours and hours of disappointed parent she'd had to endure. In that respect, Caelum had lucked out with Bellatrix's temper. She hadn't been able to stay and rant at him for too long. Then again, he had been forced to endure Potter Senior's murderous looks. The fool probably assumes all of this was Caelum's fault. He wishes he could have thrown the idiot intern at the man's feet.

"Right," Potter repeats, heading for the door. "This time, we'll go when they're all off for the night."

A much better plan, given the Auror office are the only ones on call during the night. So, they just have a day to whittle away.

.

This time, Caelum picks the restaurant. While he's yet to contract food poisoning from the Lower Alley offerings that Potter has continuously presented him with, he's far from the right mood to trail after her like a newly fledged phoenix chick. No, it is his turn and it is with steady feet that he leads them to a proper restaurant.

Boscage is a delightful slice of the Amazon, a piece of the rainforest plucked up and replanted in Diagon. There are animals among the undergrowth (illusions, of course. A death on the property would be tacky), sweet scents from exotic flowers, and a high-rise terrace made from polished bamboo in which guests dine. Normally, reservations would be needed, unless you were willing to blow an incredible number of galleons. And, given he'll have it all back in three days, that's exactly what Caelum does.

"This is nice," Potter muses, taking her seat and plucking up the menu. Her eyes flicker over the contents, one hand reaching for the bucket of pre-peeled nuts. This is as far from traditional 'fine-dining' as one can get while still being appropriately classy. He supposes for ingrates that have never travelled before, the excitement of such an exotic environment is a draw big enough to even reel in families from the Book of Gold.

The waiter comes over and Caelum orders for the both of them, unbothered by the way Potter flicks him a hard stare from across the table.

"Cork the dragonfire, Potter. Trust me when I say the Pataraschca is the best dish this place does."

"Come here often, do you?" she says sweetly, battering her eyelashes at him and Caelum's sure there's a trap there. That stupid face of hers only ever pulls those expressions when she's determined to manipulate him into putting his foot in his mouth. He's getting wise to her blood traitor ways though, so he keeps his mouth firmly shut. This is Augustus' favourite restaurant; Caelum can recall being brought here the day before he was due to leave for Durmstrang so that he could have a 'proper send-off'. Even his parents had shown up for that one, no matter how much Bellatrix had sneered at their surroundings.

Besides, it is about time they get down to business. "Without the Unspeakables on duty, we should be able to acquire a time-turner with little difficulty given there will be no wards to trigger."

"Other than the wards that alert the Aurors that there's a thief in the Ministry." Potter points out, popping another handful of nuts between her lips. She chews thoughtfully, clearly only halfway through her point and Caelum waits. He, after all, does not have the Auror relative and all the insider information. "The Aurors on duty at night within the Ministry are just the skeleton crew; the ones that are on call for any incidents are all at home. The first thing they'll do is call for back-up. Aurors always move in pairs, so one set will wait for back-up to arrive while the others will come like a first defence of sorts. If I can have a nose about in Dad's study tonight before we meet up again, I might be able to figure out who's on duty."

Their conversation is put on pause again as the waiter places their fish down, followed by a vase with flowers to go in the centre of the table. Caelum sneers but pushes down the urge to snap at the presumption. Potter won't know the flowers are meant to imply they're on a date and should be left to converse; she's a plebeian like that. There's no need for him to bring it up.

Caelum cuts into his fish, spearing that alongside a chunk of banana.

"This is good," Potter muses in genuine surprise, returning to her plate with more vigour than before. He rolls his eyes.

"Of course, it is, I have good taste."

"You must do, given you've picked a friendship with me."

"Don't be ridiculous! We're not friends!"

Potter pauses, turning those large green eyes from her plate to his face and Caelum is just a bit horrified to see them begin to fill with water. Tears don't yet drip down her cheeks but the way her lower lip wobbles implies it's not far off.

"We're not?" she whimpers and just when Caelum actually thinks she's going to make a scene and bring him untold embarrassment… it's all gone. She's right back to normal, as if he'd never said anything at all and- the bitch. She's played him. The little slip of a smile on her lips says it all.

"Damnit Potter. Take things seriously. We've already been discovered once, if we're not careful-"

"Lestrange?"

As if this day could not get any worse.

Slowly, Caelum turns his head to find Augustus' son and his Selwyn floozie a table over, blatantly staring at them both. They've only just sat down; there's no way Caelum would have missed them on his first assessing glance of the restaurant, though this explains where Augustus' son actually was instead of at Bellatrix's dinner party. For fucks sake-

"Heir Rookwood," Potter chirps, offering the other teen a nod because it would be inexcusably rude to instead leave the table and greet him. "Congratulations on your engagement. I know Rigel hopes to be back from his travels in time to make it to your ceremony." As far as small talk goes, it's a pretty good attempt, near perfect pureblood etiquette in all but the fact she's spoken to him first and, as a halfblood, she most certainly should not have done. Unfortunately, it's completely wasted on Rookwood, who is staring at them both in a haze of patent disbelief.

"Are you on a date?"

Caelum cannot even respond to that. A date? With the Brat? Him, the Heir to House Lestrange, purer than all others barring, perhaps, the Malfoys and the Blacks? On a date? With the halfblood who has done nothing other than cause him headache after headache? What the fuck would given him that idea? He hasn't said…

"Damnit Potter. Take things seriously. We've already been discovered once, if we're not careful-"

Fuck. To someone on the outside who doesn't know their current circumstances, that's exactly what it sounds like. No, he can't deal with this.

A quick spell wraps up the remains of their food to eat later and, having pre-paid, Caelum gets to his feet, snatches up Potter's hand, and strides out of the restaurant, ignoring her complaints.

He doesn't miss Rookwood's parting shot of, "holy shit, that wasn't a no."

Ha, as if he'd ever date a halfblood, nevermind one as disagreeable as Potter is.

.

Once night has fallen and Potter catches up to him (Caelum is an adult now and he can ignore her seemingly endless ribbing because it is not important and he would never be interested romantically in a halfblood, Potter least of all because she is not secretly a pureblood, no matter what she jests), they stand by the entrance to the Ministry and share a look. Potter has her potions bag again and, this time, Caelum has brought along a few of his own supplies. Unlike Potter who seems to have an entire cupboard's worth of potions stashed away within the bag at her hip, he doesn't carry brews that may someday come in handy. He has, however, gathered up a few ingredients that may be of some use and put those into his expanded pockets. Because he does not need a bag hitting his hip again and again should they need to take off in a hurry.

"So, it's Dawlish, Williamson, Proudfoot and Savage on duty tonight. Dawlish taught at Hogwarts last year, and I know Proudfoot and Savage have been on the force for at least as long as my dad. It could be worse though," Potter declares, stopping by the visitor's entrance and waiting for him to join her. Caelum does, stepping up beside the girl and waiting for her to input the correct code required for them to enter the building.

"How could it be worse than knowing there are at least three competent Aurors on duty tonight, Potter?"

She smiles. It's a cheeky thing and he knows the next thing to come out of her mouth is either going to be ridiculous or spot on the galleon.

"Well, it could be Moody." On the money it is. The last person Caelum would want to run into (even more so than Potter Senior post concluding Caelum is a 'breaking in the Ministry at night' bad influence on his daughter) is Alastor Moody. He's not sure what his mother did to piss the other man off so badly, but he's been well warned by his father to steer clear of the man. Given he's the most well known 'dark wizard' catcher of their time, Caelum doesn't doubt the man would take great pleasure in launching him into a cell. He's had quite enough of the Auror cells, to put it plainly.

.

The first problem they encounter is that the door to the Department of Mysteries is locked. Of course, Potter has one of her shaped imbuing base potions on her. One corroding spell later and there's no door left. Caelum steps over the small pile of detritus left on the floor, eyeing the thin horizon of Potter's shoulders as she makes for the centre of the room. He's relatively sure that spell is only taught during NEWT studies; how Potter is well practiced enough to apply that to be able to shape her magic correctly and put that in a potion… he's not sure he wants to know.

And he's not almost impressed by it. He's not.

When this loop is over and done with, he's going to get a potions kit like hers, one that is stocked with anything and everything because he's growing tired of Potter having the answer for everything inside that little case.

"We don't need to read anything, do we?" Potter asks, looking over her shoulder at him. The floor shimmers, that same watery texture as last time and it is as discomforting as fuck to see what resemble ripples surrounding their feet whilst knowing there's nothing there.

"No. Just a time-turner, Brat."

.

The Time Room is exactly the same as it was during their last visit, right down to the same white-blue lights. There are no Unspeakables wandering around though, no one else present but himself and Potter. Caelum leads the way into the room, trying to put the image of the brains in jars behind him. They'd had to open seven doors this time in order to find the correct chamber and, while the brain room had been as creepy as fuck (thus, killing off the slight interest he'd had in this place during their last loop)… the room with the big arch has been the worst. He's not even sure why, doesn't know what the room is used for or why it made him want to close the door right away, fuck their agreement to keep them all open in order to prevent the spinning. Potter'd been just as freaked as him, a look of genuine worry on her face. Not one of those stupid masks she puts on, but a subtle 'fuck that' that Caelum recognised right away.

"Which one do you think would be best?" Potter asks, gesturing to the contents of the case they stand before. Within, a selection of different time-turners reside, each one labelled by the amount of days it can turn back. "We're stuck in a three-day cycle, but the seven-day one looks like it has more sand." She doesn't move to open the glass doors, though her eyes are fixed on the devices within. Her hand is trembling.

What the actual fuck? Is Potter scared of time-turners or something? This girl who hasn't seemed to shed a tear over the fact they've been trapped in time for at least a month now is scared of time-turners?

"Move," Caelum grunts, bumping his upper arm into her shoulder (she's short, but he's not about to lower himself to her level in order to move her and physically placing his hands on her shoulders to move her is- no). Once she's out of the way, he wretches the doors open, plucking two of each type from the shelves. No doubt the wards will have started going off now; he'd feel a lot calmer thinking about that if they had a feasible exit strategy. The Atrium is probably their best bet.

"Let's go, Brat." Caelum grunts, dropping half the time-turners into Potter's hands and watching her pale fingers slowly close over the golden devices. They don't have time for her to get over this idiotic fear. Much like she'd grabbed his wrist a loop or two ago, he snatches hers up- why the fuck is she wearing gauntlets under her sleeves? No, not a question to be asking now.

.

They manage to make it to the corridor before the Aurors catch up this time. He doesn't recognise the pair, but Harry does. A red shield springs into existence between them (must be Potter's), consuming part of the wall as it takes both spells fired at them.

"It's two kids!" one exclaims, even though he is most certainly not a kid. But he will be wearing some kind of mask next time.

They run, footsteps damningly loud over the receiving hall with the spinning doors but fuck if Caelum will let them catch him again. Potter throws up another shield and Caelum draws his own wand, hammering off three stunners in quick succession. Unlike Hogwarts or that backwater American school, Durmstrang's duelling course doesn't appear and disperse like mist. It's an elective they can take from the first year and Caelum damn well did (with a mother like his, he didn't have much of a choice). The Aurors aren't awarded their title on blood alone though, shielding each of the spells, one after the other. Caelum flicks off another three spells, this time kissing up against the line of what is acceptable in duelling and what isn't. Potter's spell gets there first though, snapping into the shields and tearing them down. A ward breaker?

"Split up," Potter whispers, skidding to a halt near one of the doors they'd not had to open before finding the Time Room. Caelum goes for the one next to it, pulling it open and slamming it closed behind him. Let them try and figure out which rooms they're in.

.

He gets caught. Of course he does; the wards are raised which means he can't get out of the Department of Mysteries without an Auror badge, so it'd only be a matter of time before he was back in the cell. What he doesn't understand is how Potter hasn't been caught. Oh, he knows she's still trapped inside, the Aurors combing the place over and over again, but they haven't been able to find her. The only reason they assume she hasn't escaped is because the wards haven't felt anyone cross over. Or, that's the gist he gets from his cell. They hadn't told him much after they asked who he was working with and Caelum aggressively avoided answering them.

He gets a visit from Bellatrix, again. She gets dragged out, again, only this time it's by a different set of Aurors. Potter Senior glares at him, again, this time with a look that says ' I knew you were a bad influence, don't come near my daughter again '. They actually have a crime on him now, but theft isn't a big deal for purebloods and he knows his mother has already paid the bail money for that (no doubt in the hopes of being able to get her hands on him for discipline as soon as she can) and they're only holding him until they catch his accomplice.

It's another useless loop.

Thirteen

"This time, I'll borrow my dad's spare Auror badges," Harry declares as she opens her eyes once again to Potions Lab 17. Once this is all over with, she is never going to step foot in here again. She's had quite enough of it all and they still haven't managed to get a time-turner to Kasten. Harry isn't used to failing at something so spectacularly, but she can also recognise the efficiency that comes with having a 'reset' button for when they make a mistake.

Going into the Ministry to steal something and not expecting the Aurors to put up wards? A mistake.

"How the fuck did you not get caught?" Lestrange has both hands on her shoulder, staring hard into her face, like the answer is written across her cheekbones. Even through her brewing robes, his palms are dry and warm, efficaciously cupping the curve of each shoulder.

Had she felt bad about leaving Lestrange to his fate? Yes. But, logically, it had made the most sense. Only one of them needed to get the time-turner to Kasten and Harry doesn't doubt that the other would have dropped her like a hot potato too, had he the chance. That Harry just so happened to have an invisibility cloak on her at the time they were breaking in, along with enough food and water to last three days in different Department of Ministry rooms was neither here nor there.

She's been trapped once before without provisions; she'll never be in that state again.

"Preparation. Let's go grab a bite and plan a bit better."

.

She picks the restaurant this time. Lestrange's choice had led them into a run in with Rookwood and Selwyn and, had they not been in a time-loop, then there most certainly would be a rumour running around that she and Lestrange are dating. It sounds like a terrible amount of work and she doesn't think anyone would believe it for a second, not with how pretty Lestrange is and how… Harry-ish she is.

Then again, she's openly spoken to Lestrange at a Gala before and he'd recognised her on sight. For a boy who has poor relations with everyone else in his age group, perhaps that would be proof enough.

She still takes vindictive pleasure in pointing this out when Lestrange argues against it being her choice. His jaw shuts with an audible snap and Harry considers the argument won. At this point, she's run out of restaurants that she's actually eaten at, barring the Dancing Phoenix, which is more like a pub than the fine dining establishment her companion will be expecting. She heads to the Eating Place anyway, sure there'll be a place that catches her eye down there. It's colourful enough and, after nearly three days trapped between the various rooms of the Department of Mysteries, all of which were decorated with black stone walls and black stone floors, she's dying for a little vibrancy.

"So, I'll skip home and get my Dad's spare badges. That'll let us pass through the wards the Aurors put up," Harry shares, taking a sharp left as she spots a building that looks remarkably like a grounded cloud half-hidden between a Mexican restaurant and a French one. Lestrange follows her at a sedated pace, eyes sharp with suspicion despite the fact she's brought him down into the Lower Alleys at least four times now during these blasted loops. "Then, we'll get the sand back to Kasten."

"Are you sure the bloodsucker will be able to accomplish anything with it, Brat?"

"What other leads do we have?" Harry asks, staring up at him as they finally pass through the corridor of cloud matter. The room inside is like something of a collage of the weather but without experiencing any of the adverse effects. There's a section dedicated to sunny days, one where rain is dripping down onto the tables but the customers don't appear to be getting wet, one with a lightning storm, the other with crisp white snow. They're shown to a table in the tempest section, where the lighting seems to be low from the dark cloud cover above their heads, but the steady, continuous forks of lightning dancing across the sky keeps their table illuminated. All of the food is weather themed, Harry is delighted to note.

"Enough about that," Lestrange grumbles, eyes rolling skywards, only to pause and glower at the lightning that blows by, from one wall to the edge of their section, disappearing as it hits the sunshine segment, "even with your father's badges for the wards, how are we going to get past the actual Aurors?" Ah. Well… most families have invisibility cloaks, don't they? Only, theirs fade. The Potter cloak has been in the family for centuries, passed down from first-born to first-born. Lestrange doesn't need to know that though.

"I have an invisibility cloak in my bag," Harry admits, watching triumph lighten Lestrange's already too blue eyes.

"I knew you couldn't have outmanoeuvred the Aurors on your own," Lestrange grunts and Harry very determinedly swallows down her retort on besting them once before. Admittedly, the Aurors in Black Lake had been trainees, but it'd also been eight against one. Quite frankly, Harry's pretty sure she could have taken them all with guerilla warfare and a bit of planning, but she'd never have been able to get out of the wards. The badges were, after all, charmed so that only the one who puts them on could take them off.

"Is it big enough for two to fit under?"

"If we huddle," Harry says, turning to waitress and ordering the 'cloudburst surprise'. She's not entirely sure what it'll be like to eat, but the list of ingredients underneath the name makes it sound relatively appealing. Lestrange, of course, goes for the impressive sounding 'scorching wildfire', though his nose crinkles as he says it. Like he can't believe a dish would have such a ridiculous name. Once this time-loop business is dealt with, Harry's going to bring Archie here. Given he'd once tried to catch lightning, she rather thinks he'll appreciate the place.

"Then we will collect a time-turner, get under the cloak before leaving the Time Room but leave that as the sole door open, so that the Aurors believe we are in there. We'll seal the door once they are inside, which should give us enough time to get the corridor. We'll wait for the second set of Aurors to go by, then escape."

"Not worried about having to crush up close and personal with a halfblood?" Harry asks, half out of morbid interest of what his answer will be, half to get the classic Lestrange denial. Whatever he's going to say is lost, however, when Harry hears her name called.

It's Hermione. It's Hermione and she's coming over to them and of course the other girl doesn't eat exclusively at the Phoenix while down in the Alleys, why would Harry expect her life to be easy? The smug look on Lestrange's face isn't helping her mood in the slightest, but Harry pushes the feeling down, instead turning to smile at her approaching friend.

"Hello Hermione, are you well?"

"I am, thank you, Harry." The other girl looks her over, silently assessing and Harry fires her a bright smile. In truth, she's not surprised that Hermione confronted Archie at the end of the school year, right before they were due to return to England. From what Harry had seen of the girl during her stay at Hogwarts, she'd found the other girl to be whip smart; Hermione consumed knowledge and wrestled with questions and puzzles for fun. But it's the same type of fun in which a professional athlete approaches an obstacle assault course followed by a ten-mile run. She trains for it, plans meticulously and then she conquers. It's a miracle she'd only discovered that the 'Harry' she knows during term time isn't actually Harriet Potter, a fact she'd vowed to keep secret.

Oh, she's pleased for Archie because it means now he has a very solid chance with Hermione. She's just glad they both agreed to keep a relationship as under wraps as possible; it'd be very difficult to play a lovestruck Rigel back at Hogwarts, never mind what everyone would have to say about her 'dating a muggleborn'.

It's then that Harry realises Hermione is staring at Lestrange, clearly waiting for an introduction. Lestrange stares back; the look in his eyes is far from friendly (of course he'll know who Hermione is, he'd have seen her on Riddle's ridiculous monitors to watch the Tournament) and Hermione clearly realises this given the way her jaw is squaring and she's folded her arms.

Harry stomps her foot down on Lestrange's when he opens his mouth, effectively silencing whatever bullshit was about to come out.

"I'm sorry, Hermione, Caelum isn't well socialised." Her companion splutters, hand clenching around the stem of his flute, the storm-grey champagne inside coming dangerously close to spilling over the rim. A mocking tongue of lightning zings out from the brim and Harry wonders if that tastes as tingly as it looks, like those sweets her Dad created that keep on fizzing inside your stomach (and beyond).

"I can greet someone, Potter!" Lestrange hisses before turning to Hermione and, with the most forced face of indifference Harry has ever seen, he says, "hello."

"As I said," Harry cuts in, still smiling at the other girl, "he's not used to varied company. It's only recently he's acknowledged me as a halfblood and not the pretend pureblood I introduced myself as."

"Stop spewing your ridiculous nonsense, Potter. It was blackmail that you used to force your company upon me, pure and simple."

"That was one time."

"And we are now simply professionals who meet to discuss the academia of our shared field. As the most promising potioneer of our generation, it is only right that I help you scramble up the mountain of success after me."

It's too much; Harry breaks out into a bark of laughter, head thrown back with the motion. She won't lie and say Lestrange isn't talented, but the most talented of their generation?

"I think you've got our roles reversed there, Caelum," Harry chirps, stemming the giggles at the way Lestrange scowls, though the tips of his ears are starting to turn red. He's getting better at bantering though; this time two years ago, he'd have long since stormed off. Well, no, that's a lie. This time last year he wouldn't have dared be seen out in public with her.

"I think I'll leave you two alone," Hermione interrupts, looking amused. The bushy-haired witch accepts her take-out box, stylised just like a cloud with a rainbow protruding from the top to act as a handle, before she offers them a cute little wave. "Enjoy your date!"

Harry watches Hermione leave, a frown decorating her face as the AIM student disappears out of the door. Why is it that the two (technically three, for all that Selwyn hadn't actually spoken to them) people that they've run into who are their age have all assumed they're on a date?

' Don't ask me. I have no desire to learn human mating rituals. This is nothing like how the Egyptians did it. ' Dom's ever helpful input bounces around in her head and Harry elects to ignore it, instead offering her gratitude to the waiter as he places her 'cloudburst surprise' down upon the table. They're strange circular orbs, each a varying shade of grey but with a gentle glow coming from inside them. Huh.

"Don't get any strange ideas, halfblood," Lestrange suddenly snaps, eyeing his own meal distrustfully. The fire sitting atop the steak is clearly only aesthetic, perhaps a result of a spell. He pokes it with his fork and, when the flames don't lick up the metal, begins cutting into the meat. "This isn't a date."

"Of course it isn't," Harry agrees, popping one of the little spheres from her meal between her lips and chewing down. Flavour explodes across her tongue, carrot and potato. They're like soup forcibly contained in little crouton bites. It's good. "I'd never do that to Archie."

"Who?"

"Archie. My cousin. We're engaged."

Lestrange, who had until that point only been paying her not even a tenth of his attention, snaps his head up to stare. There's a look of, well, she's not quite sure. Disbelief? Horror? Rage? Whatever it is, he's stopped cutting up his steak, utensils still upon the plate and only illuminated by the localised fire that rests atop his meat, still burning a brilliant ruby red. The lightning continues to dance across the storm-clouds above their head, accompanied this time by a low grumble of thunder that acts more like ambivalent noise than the deafening crack it would be, had it been the real thing.

"What."

"We got wind of Riddle's marriage law and, rather than leave it to chance, Archie agreed to an engagement-"

"You can't marry Black," Lestrange says, still wearing a look of potent disbelief, fork stabbing deep into the wildfire meat. "He's…" he trails off, gesturing with one hand spinning in a circle at the wrist, as if he's trying to reel in the appropriate adjective. Harry waits. After all, she can remember what Lestrange had said about Rigel Black the last time they'd spoken on the subject, back during the intern days.

Another cloudburst surprise passes between her lips and Harry bites down, savouring the leek and potato flavouring that spreads across her tongue. This is a nice restaurant; she'll definitely have to bring Archie along when they break the time-loop.

"He's not good enough for you," Lestrange finally decides, firmly chomping down on his next mouthful, looking mulish and Harry honestly cannot believe the words that have just come from his mouth. After all, she's the halfblood in this marriage arrangement, Archie is the pureblood. Perhaps she's underestimated just how much Lestranges dislikes Rigel Black? She wonders how he'd ever react, should he find out they're the same person?

.

This time, they manage to get in and out of the Department of Mysteries. They collect the time-turners, hide under the invisibility cloak (Lestrange had muttered something about the feel of the fabric but Harry hadn't listened to him, too focused on the approaching Proudfoot and Savage to care), trap the first response team in the Time Room, wait in the corridor for the second responders to go charging past, and then get off Level Nine via the elevator. It'd all been going so well when they arrived at the Atrium.

Right up until Nymphadora Tonks came catapulting out from the Floo and tumbled right into them. All three of them had gone arse over tits, limbs entangled in the cloak and Harry's pretty sure she cracked her skull against the wooden flooring but isn't too sure, it could've just been a banging headache instead of a split skull.

So, they'd both ended up in a cell. Lestrange's mother had descended on them like a scriptural plague. Her dad was even more upset than the last time she was caught, going on about how he'd given her the cloak for mischief, not to attempt theft from the Ministry.

They spend the rest of the loop jailed. Again. At least the food she gets to eat is hot this time, instead of the rations contained within her potions bag.

Fourteen

"We won't move until Tonks passes us by this time."

It's the first thing Potter says when Caelum once again opens his eyes to the idiotic intern. This time, he curses the fucker, picturing Black's face.

Why the fuck he even cares that Potter is engaged to Black, he doesn't know. It's not like it's his problem if they're choosing to sully the Black family blood. In fact, that would be better for himself; it would mean the only family that could compete with his on the subject of blood purity would be the Malfoys. But Black is an ingrate, an oblivious idiot who won't understand Potter at all. Potter's rude and abrupt whenever she speaks, but she's sharp as a knife when it comes to dissecting details from the smallest hints. He knows that, recalls it from the time they went to eat at that bloody Chinese restaurant where she lied. And she lies, she lies a hell of a lot and she does it so easily.

Black'll never be able to pick up on that. He won't understand what drives her, won't get the passion she pushes into potions because the bastard is just playing. He's playing at politics with a neutral father as he attends the SOW galas and the Malfoys' parties, and he smiles and laughs and acts like he has a right to be there. As if he isn't engaged to a halfblood and spitting on all their traditions and values.

"We'll meet at the usual place," Caelum grunts, storming out of Potions Lab 17 and heading for the decontamination chambers, firmly shoving all those stupid thoughts to the back of his head. What does he care if Potter is happy to ruin her life by tying herself to Black? It's not like such a thing will give her a leg up in the potions community. It won't give her a firmer standing among them. It won't make her stand out anymore. She's already managed that with her shaped imbuing, after all.

.

He goes to his mother's stupid party for the first time in Merlin knows how many loops and it's even more intolerable than the last time. He already knows everything that is going to be discussed, knows what Riddle will announce and how they will all react. Once again, his reputation saves him here; he can showcase the boredom plainly upon his face, as if nothing those within his age group (whom he sits among) say has any sort of relevance to him. It doesn't. Plain and simple. He doesn't need to recall whatever it is they're saying because it doesn't matter. Soon enough, he'll either be breaking into the Ministry and getting thrown into a cell for the fourth time in a row, or he'll be escaping under an invisibility cloak, with Potter pressing against his side in a way he shouldn't be remembering so fondly.

If she were here, he'd at least be able to talk to someone with something interesting to say. Out of everyone he knows, she's the only one with half a brain; with a genuine interest in potions and the sheer amount she knows ensures it'd be a fruitful discussion. He does have questions for her, ones that are steadily accumulating the longer they spend in this fucking time-loop. At least he got stuck with someone useful; had it been any of the idiots he sits among, then Caelum doesn't doubt he'd spend far, far longer trying to escape. Potter, at least, is proving herself damn resourceful. And the magic- he knew she had a lot, given she'd imbued the Liberespirare potion they'd brewed and made it look effortless. But there's seeing that, and then seeing the colour of her magic. Blue is nothing to sniff at. Lilac would be impressive. But dark purple is near incomprehensible. It's lord level and there's only supposed to be one every century. That it's Potter, of all people… well, they should probably be happy she's got her heart set on becoming a potioneer and not doing something that'd cause a bigger problem for the SOW Party.

Not that Caelum really cares anyway.

.

They meet up, again. They get into the Department of Mysteries, again. They acquire a collection of time-turners, again. Now, Caelum is huddled under an invisibility cloak, his arm pressing up against Potter's, both of them crouching in the room with the strange, water-like floor. The door to the Time Room is right beside Caelum, close enough that he'll be able to flick it closed behind the Aurors who go inside. He's wearing the three time-turners he'd lifted off the cabinet, a contrast to Potter, who has stuck hers into her potions bag.

Beside him, Potter's breaths are low and slow, controlled in a way that suggests she's far from panicking about this, even though Caelum's own heart is starting to buck like a hippogriff in anticipation. This is their fourth attempt and, as far as he is concerned, it will be their last. He's sick of seeing the Department of Mysteries, sick of staring at the inside of a cell, even if those visits will never actually be logged within the government's system.

"We wait for Tonks to get out of the way before we go beyond the Atrium." As if he could forget. The cool air of the dark room they are in is soon forgotten as they huddle a bit closer, their body heat trapped beneath the silvery cloak that is in no way anything like any invisibility cloak that Caelum has ever seen before. It feels like a fluid, not like it's made from hair, and there's not a faded patch on it.

The first duo go by; once they're in the Time Room, Caelum shuts the door and seals it with an aggressive curse. It's one Bellatrix had created and if this just so happens to implicate his mother, then he couldn't care less right now. Three visits from her in a row has been quite enough.

Then, they wait in the corridor, once again crouched under the cloak, only Caelum's on the wrong side this time; Potter's potions bag is pressing up against his thigh and it's irritating because he can't not focus on it. Can it even really be called a potions bag when she's storing things other than potions in there?

Once the two Aurors have delved deeper into the Department of Ministries, they both scuttle into the elevator and make for the Atrium. Only after the fireplaces have flared several times and with ten Aurors with increasingly panicked expressions go by (including the clutz that is the offspring of his blood-traitor aunt), do they both dare to move away from the little corner they've taken refuge in.

"The first place they'll look is the Lower Alleys," Potter muses, adjusting the strap of her bag so it rests securely over her shoulder, her share of the time-turners concealed inside. "I don't know how long we'll have, but… Lestrange? What are you thinking?" What is he thinking? Caelum's thinking that, with the use of Bellatrix's curse earlier (which had to be registered because she'd created it back when she was actually interested in working as a spell-crafter), and the very conveniently open fireplaces before them, he could lead an excellent false trail. His mother would never go quietly if the Aurors came after her and his father won't be back in the country to give the okay for the Aurors to interrogate his lady wife until their time-loop resets.

Had this been anything other than the situation they're currently in, Caelum would never have dared consider it. But… there'll be no reverberations from this because they'll end up looping again long before Bellatrix can get herself free, nevermind hunt him down.

Peeling the time-turners from his neck, Caelum drops them over Potter's head, ignoring the way her stupidly short hair tickles at the edges of his knuckles.

"I have an idea for buying us time. I'll meet you at entrance to the… to the vampire coven."

.

Flooing home has to be done quietly, given his mother will either be sampling the wine his father sent, still entertaining the upper echelons of the SOW Party, or trying to sleep off her drunken stupor. It depends how far along she got in her little party; he hadn't exactly stuck around to find out, leaving as soon as he was able. From there, it's a quarter of an hour walk to the edge of the property to apparate out. Apparating within the building would have left magical evidence that he'd fled and the last thing they need is the Aurors tracking him.

Now, with the time-sand handed to Potter's vampire, along with the notes on the contaminated sand that she must have scribbled up at some point, they're left with nothing to do but wait.

It's four in the morning, the moon still sitting full and heavy in the sky as they both meander down whatever street in the Lower Alley it is that branches off from the vampire coven one. He doesn't care to learn it, too busy and relatively impressed with their success. After all, it's not every day a non-Ministry employee manages to steal from the Ministry itself, nevermind from the Department of Mysteries. In fact, it's probably quite impressive that they managed to do so after only three failed attempts.

"Ah, it's nice to not be in jail," Potter muses, stretching her arms over her head and yawning, showcasing zero decorum. Why he still expects it from her despite the mounting evidence he has that she doesn't care for it, Caelum doesn't have the slightest idea. She is right though.

"What are you complaining about, Brat? You were only in twice. Because you never shared the damn cloak."

"Don't get upset over how prepared I am, Caelum." He hates how she uses his first name like that, as if she has the right to, as if they're on the same level when he is so obviously superior. If anything, it should be him using her first name for taunting her. Besides, invisibility cloaks are hardly easy to come by.

"Please, if you were truly prepared for anything, then we wouldn't be in this mess in the first place, Harriet ." Her name sounds wrong, passing between his lips like a clunky retort but it lands exactly as he'd wish it to; Potter's eyes go wide and her mouth drops open ever so slightly.

The next thing he knows, her arm is looped through his, as if they haven't had enough physical contact already today.

"Well that settles it. We're definitely friends now," Potter says, grinning wide enough that it creases the skin at the corner of her eyes. She's warm against his side in the night's air, her dark robes almost blending into the shadows on the street they walk.

Perhaps he's still high on their victory. Perhaps he's lost his wits after living the same three days again and again. Perhaps it's the fact Potter is the only half decent company he's got right now. But he doesn't shake her arm free. Leans into the touch instead, if only ever so slightly.

"Come on then, halfblood. Tell me what potions madness you're infecting Master Snape with now." As they walk to the Leaky Cauldron and its communal fireplaces, Caelum listens attentively to the girl as she speaks of her plans, throwing in contributions of his own.

They end up so absorbed in conversation that he almost forgets what he's done. Right up until he floos home and finds a whole collection of Aurors in Dartmoor Castle, waiting to inform him of Bellatrix's arrest.

.

The rest of the loop passes quickly from there; Caelum is left to brew in peace, having dialled the wards up to bounce anyone that isn't family, ignoring all the SOW Party members who send him letters asking a plethora of questions. It's the best time-loop so far.

So, of course, when it comes time to get the information from the vampire it's bad news.

Why would he expect anything different?

Fifteen

"Why the glum face, Lass?"

Slouched over the bar at the Phoenix, Harry looks up slowly to meet Leo's gaze, her palm pressed to the cool glass containing her milk. The condensation makes her hand slippery and it probably wouldn't be a good idea to lift her drink up. Harry does so anyway, using her magic to ensure the glass sticks in place so she can down the last few mouthfuls. To her left, Caelum Lestrange is near despondent, three cups into his own beverages. It's certainly not milk he's drinking, but neither can it possibly be fairy wine; the Phoenix doesn't serve that.

Leo slinks into the chair on her right, abandoning his usual table by the fireplace in order to sit her with and her company. He eyes Lestrange for a moment before returning his hazel eyes to her, waiting. And, as always, Harry finds herself taking a certain comfort in knowing Leo's looking out for her. He's not pushed her to reciprocate his feelings, he's not gone digging into the tiny holes in her ruse when she asked, he's just… helped. Always helped. Leo has eyes and ears all over the place, doesn't he? If anyone of her friends knows something, it'll be him. If not…

If not, she's going to have to suck it up and go to Riddle. He's her only other option after she's wrung the Lower Alleys dry for information. Or, rather, Leo has wrung them dry for information.

Cocking one more look over to Lestrange (now getting a top up of his glass and looking progressively more downtrodden in a way she's never seen of the prim and proper pureblood), Harry turns back to Leo and just lets it all come flooding out. Each time-loop, each attempt to find out information, going to Kasten, having to get more time-sand, going to Kasten again, getting the news there was no difference between the contaminated time sand and the particles from the time-turners. Harry numbly making her way here and Lestrange tailing her, and now, here they are. Harry sipping from a glass of milk and Lestrange crawling into his cups with no intention of coming out or, it seems, acknowledging the world at all.

With each sentence, Leo's eyebrows climb higher and higher until they're resting just beneath the flop of his warm brown hair. He leans back on his stool, folding his arms across his chest as he listens, lips pressing into a hard frown and Harry hates adding to his workload. Not that it'll matter in the long-run though because time will just reset in three days anyway.

Once she's finished, Harry offers a thanks to the girl that'd just refilled her milk, pressing the brim to her lips and taking a long, drawn-out swig. She puts the glass down on the coaster because she's annoyed and upset and her mother raised her better than to put a wet glass on a tabletop.

"And both of you are stuck?" Leo asks, peering around Harry in order to get a better look at Lestrange. Her companion really sells this point, a glum slump to his posture and icy blue eyes that burn fiercer than any fire the only sign of emotion on his face. He's an ocean, still on the surface, but she would not want to be the one to dive into those depths right now.

"Yeah. Both of us. Three days and then we're back in Potion Lab 17, covered in the time-sand."

Leo hums, drumming his fingers against the countertop and firing a quick thanks to the girl who plants a glass of ale by his wrist. "I'll speak to Curse-Breaker Will. I don't wanna get your hopes up, Lass, but I might have something." Despite his words, Harry can't help but perk up a little bit, turning fully to give Leo every ounce of her attention.

"What would Master Will know?" she asks, careful to apply the name that William Weasley uses in the Lower Alleys. After all, he's been affording her the same courtesy by not acknowledging where she comes from, it'd hardly be fair if she gave the game away now, would it?

Instead of answering her question, Leo taps at the side of his nose, smiling all the while.

"Fine, keep it a surprise… I appreciate the help, Leo."

.

They go their separate ways after Lestrange starts hiccupping. Harry's not too confident that throwing him through the Floo after calling out Dartmoor Castle was a good plan, but it was the only one she had so Lestrange will just have to deal with it. It is… difficult, to deal with the setback of knowing they'd gone to all that effort at the Ministry for little reward. If she didn't have so many secrets she needed to protect, maybe Harry might have even joined Lestrange in the mass consumption of alcohol. Though, if ale tastes as bad as it smells, she doubts she'd have been able to keep it up for long. Drinking down potions that smell vile is one thing, they at least have an intended outcome. Alcohol that is just for getting wasted is another thing entirely.

Now, if they'd been serving the same fruity, sparkly cocktails that her mum prefers, Harry might have responded differently.

As things stand though, it appears that she won't have to go crawling to Riddle (even if the man wouldn't have remembered it on the next loop, she doesn't care; Harry would have to carry the knowledge she'd asked him and that was enough). Leo's come through, pressing a small article into her hands a day after meeting with him. She's touched that he'd asked if she were okay, asked if she needed to sit this loop out and just take care of her mental health. But no, Harry's doing just fine. It's Lestrange she's worried about.

Luckily enough, it seems that while Rigel Black should be off at the Malfoy Gala (but is instead home sick), he's trailing after his mother in Diagon Alley, looking decidedly hungover. Given the way Madam Lestrange strides towards an upper-class shop for holiday wear, Harry assumes she's going somewhere sunny soon. How lucky for Lestrange that he won't have the woman breathing down his neck anytime soon. And, on the topic of time-

"Lestrange!"

The boy instinctively winces, no doubt from a sore head, while Bellatrix snaps around and scans the crowd, remarkably hawk-like in her gaze. Harry, obviously, is the prey in this instance. She's not worried, why would she be? It's not like Bellatrix could do anything more than offer up some thinly veiled insults in public.

Unafraid and with the assurance that she could take the woman on magical power alone, Harry makes her way over, smiling up at Caelum. It takes him a moment to get past his sheer surprise at her sudden address, but then the familiar snooty expression is back in place. The way he warily swings his eyes between both her and his mother is new though. Like he's worried about her. Though, it isn't the first time, is it? He's had that same look in his eyes when his parents had returned early last year, when they'd both been brewing in the Lestrange potions lab.

Bellatrix stares at her through slitted eyes, as if trying to place her. Harry waits patiently, one hand wrapped around the handle of her bag, the other free by her side. If her wand just so happens to be up the sleeve of said arm, then the Lady Lestrange will not come to know of that unless she acts less than honourably.

"Caelum," Bellatrix coos, a smile like arsenic on her lips. "Why would the halfblood heiress want to talk to you?" It sounds like a threat and only contributes to Harry's growing mental profile for Caelum. Growing up with Bellatrix as a mother has certainly done a number on him and it's no wonder.

"We're working on a joint project at the Potions Guild," Harry says, widening her eyes and letting them water ever so slightly to add a sheen to them, just as Rispah had taught her. "It was Rigel that gave me the idea. He even mentioned it to the leader of the SOW Party and my cousin said he was interested to see how it'd turn out." A blatant lie and Harry's almost certain that the woman will call her out on not addressing Riddle by name. But Harry would only call him Mr. Riddle and that'd surely not go down well with his biggest supporter. Older now and with a bit more worldly wisdom about her, Harry's relatively certain the woman before her is, if not utterly in love with, then certainly lusting after Riddle ( ew ).

And… it works. At the reference to Riddle, Bellatrix straightens right up, a sly smile crossing her lips as she turns to Caelum who has managed to force his surprise back off his face.

"You never told me you were working on a potions project for Lord Riddle." Isn't it funny how she managed to make a statement sound more like an accusation? "I expect you not to disappoint him. Perhaps your little indulgences weren't a waste of time after all." The last is said as a parting shot as she disappears into the shop with nary a backwards glance, leaving both Harry and Caelum standing on the street alone, barring the witnesses to the whole ordeal who are now rapidly trying to disperse.

"I've got a lead," Harry says because she's not going to be the one to comment on what just happened. From the closed off expression, she doesn't think Caelum is about to say anything either.

"Let's go, Potter."

Sixteen

"We'll have to pool money together to bribe an official for an internationally Portkey because ordering one will take forever, trespass on sacred sites, and probably end up plundering Ancient Egyptian tombs…. Which is all obviously illegal."

"But what choice do we have, Brat?"

"Exactly."

Potter's apparent lead sounds like something he'd expect to find in 'The Tales of Beedle the Bard ' rather than reality itself. Unfortunately, they don't appear to have much of a choice.

According to a Curse Breaker friend of that 'Leo' character from yesterday (the face is hazy given that he'd been well on his way to drunk by then, but Caelum thinks he knows the other from somewhere, he just can't put his finger on it), their next shot at solving this Merlin-forsaken problem is in Egypt. Egypt. Given that they are currently in England and it usually takes a week to get a Portkey made legally for the trip, that's a problem. Thankfully, it's a problem that can be solved with a lot of galleons to grease a few greedy palms. This won't be the first time he's had to bribe someone, but the price tag it's going to come with will probably have another two to three zeroes on it than his last foray into this business. And speaking of-

"I'll get the Portkey," Caelum decides, stepping into the sterilisation chamber and peeling his goggles off. After so many loops now, he doesn't even flinch when he hears Potter close the door on the one beside his. It lets them keep talking while the decontamination mist works to cleanse them of the time-sand, seeing as sound is enchanted to not carry beyond the neighbouring stalls.

"I suppose having the Head Auror's daughter will make it seem a bit like a trap," Potter agrees, not pointing out that his last name will certainly make things easier on the bribing front. With some families, there is a weight behind the name that allows you to get away with a bit more than others. Especially when the comparison is that of the light and bright, oh so honourable Potter family.

Though, Potter's not really living up to the name, given the vampire associates, ability to steal from the Ministry and the whole 'I know the Lower Alleys like the back of my hand and many of the occupants know me by name'. Once they're out of this loop, he's looking into that. Potter, after all, had known Mulpepper's was the best place for ingredients, perhaps she's got something similar going on down there. The bloodsucker who is refining ingredients is a big enough give away on that front.

"We'll need a tent of some kind if we're going tomb raiding," Caelum says and hates that every word that leaves his mouth is not an elaborate joke. The mist is sucked away and the water of the shower head starts up; Caelum dunks his head beneath the spray and lets the liquid seep into his hair, flattening the effortless curls to his head. "Supplies too."

"I'll get everything I think we'll need," Potter agrees above the noise of her own shower and, in that moment, Caelum is struck with the knowledge that both he and Potter are butt naked within six feet of each other, only a thin wall separating them.

He's out the shower a few seconds later, furiously suppressing that information because he does not want to acknowledge it. It's bad enough that there have been assumptions they're dating during these loops. To an outsider, it probably looks exactly like that; they're unusually close, speaking about secretive things that they don't want overheard and, given Potter is the daughter of a prominent law enforcement officer, no one is going to instantly assume that they're plotting to steal from the Ministry, bribe officials, or raid Ancient Egyptian tombs. Outrageously, even with his reputation and family standing taken into account, the two of them secretly dating is far more likely than the actual truth of the situation.

"Meet me at the camping store!" Potter calls as she flounces past him, her potions bag the last thing he sees of her as she disappears out of the door.

.

Bribing the official is easy, once he gets into the swing of it. While he'd learnt the basics of dealing with bureaucracy from standing behind his father as the man made his own bumbling attempts at it, it'd been Lucius Malfoy (loathe as he is to admit it) who'd brushed up his knowledge and refined it. Just enough that he could successfully buy an official and not shame the Malfoy family by association, but not in such a good enough manner that he'd be able to bribe one of Lucius' little toadies right out from under him.

Not that Caelum actually knows the no doubt vast array of men Lucius Malfoy has scampering to his every order. It's what makes the other man so dangerous and has ensured that he remains the SOW Party's right-hand man, despite his relative youth compared to other prominent members.

It takes a few less galleons than he'd been expecting in truth, though he can't quite stop the panicked hammer of his heart when he walks out of the Department of Magical Transportation and finds James Potter waiting in the lift.

He hasn't stolen from the Department of Mysteries yet; he hasn't been caught gallivanting through the Ministry at night with the man's daughter and several stolen time-turners. Potter senior must be able to smell the illegal activity on him; he looks him up and down with narrowed blue eyes but, given there's no incriminating evidence of his illicit activities, plans to flee the country with his eldest daughter, nor a neon sign over his head stating just how many laws he's broken, Potter can only offer him a tense nod as the lift stops at the Atrium. No words are spoken between them, which is probably for the best. There's every chance the man will be hunting him down in twenty-four hours when Harriet Potter doesn't come home.

While he's already been in a cell three times for stealing from the Ministry, Caelum's relatively sure the punishment for absconding to a different continent with his eldest daughter will be the Head Auror launching a severing charm at his neck. Should he catch up to them, that is.

Something to worry about later; he has to go meet Potter now.

.

"Iah was the Egyptian god of time and the moon," Potter recites, walking out of the camping supplies store with a rucksack thrown over both her shoulders and wearing a sleeveless tunic with her legs clad in tight trousers tucked deep into her brewing boots. Would it kill her to take the appearance of a respectable witch? Yes, he appreciates the proper footwear in a way only serious potioneers could, but the trousers and sleeveless tunic cut in a way that hugs tight to her torso look suspiciously akin to the kind of clothes worn by those two free-duellers Caelum had caught sight of when they'd made for that low-life pub in the last loop.

He eyes Potter again, lips pressing into a thin line as she eyes him back.

"You're not going tomb-raiding in your Sunday best, are you?" she asks sceptically.

"For your information, Potter, greasing the wheels of bureaucracy requires a respectable appearance."

"Uh huh. How long until the Portkey leaves?"

"Five minutes."

They don't have time for him to go and change, nor to seriously shop for clothes that would be appropriate for the kind of trip they are about to undertake. Oh-so-luckily enough, Potter has apparently bought four different sets of clothes for him and he dreads to think what she will classify as 'appropriate clothing'. While he doesn't doubt it'll be practical… well, he's seen old photographs of James Potter and Sirius Black in the society pages back when he was young, growing up and building his own little black book for blackmail, as encouraged to do so by his great-great aunt Cassiopeia.

Then again, Potter hadn't been a complete quidditch-pile-up at the last Gala she'd attended, so perhaps she might have some sense about her. Maybe.

.

The portkey deposits them in the Valley of the Kings, on the magical side of it that is sealed off from muggles. The mudbloods always get so offended when they learn wizards have sealed off more than three quarters of the tombs but, given that the last cursed object the muggles got their hands on had killed off nearly the whole expedition party in the short span of twenty years, Caelum doesn't get why they're complaining. If the muggles want to risk life and limb like that, why should he care? The wizards can just pick up the artefacts once the filth is dead.

"How will we even know which pyramid has these stupid waters?" Caelum grunts, waving his wand to anchor a charm to his body, keeping the sand from blowing into his eyes and, almost as an afterthought, he throws one onto Potter too. Or, he tries to. The girl's magic fights him, batting the charm away like it's sentient or something. "Tch. See if I do anything nice for you again, Potter."

"What?" She blinks, acting as if she genuinely hasn't just turned down his offer of help but fuck that. If she wants to play ignorant, that's fine with him. "And it's the fifth pyramid on the left."

"How do you know what?" He'd read the same piece of text that she had and not anywhere on that sheet of parchment had there been a precise location for the Waters of Iah. Only three of the nine pyramids before them have been thoroughly explored by the curse-breakers of Gringotts, working in tandem with the Egyptian wizards. They've only just started work on the fourth on the left, not the fifth, so Potter can't have gotten her information from an insider source there because there isn't one. Fuck, the whole thing about the Waters of Iah had read more like a fanciful 'this is where it has to be' statement than something actually confirmed.

"Because it's the last pyramid that was built. I'm not sure how involved you are with the SOW Party's shady dealing, but two years ago, they were after a jewel that'd just been uncovered in the tomb of the fourth pyramid here. It was said to be the thing that helped build Ancient Egypt into the powerhouse that we know it as, but obviously something went wrong for it to be buried in a tomb. The fifth pyramid in this line was the last of the nine pyramids to be built and it's not as grand as the others so, if the Waters of Iah are going to be anywhere, they'll be in that pyramid." That… that doesn't correlate at all. Why does this gem that the SOW Party had apparently wanted link to the knowledge the fifth pyramid in this line was the last built?

Potter lies. She'd admitted as much right at the conclusion of their internships. And it's becoming increasingly obvious that she's lying about more than just what fish mean to the Chinese. Every last one of these time-loops has only proven that there's more going on with her than just an uppity halfblood determined to make it big as a potioneer in the British Wizarding Community. He's got all the time in the world right now, perhaps he should be trying to ferret out some of Potter's secrets. Enough things aren't adding up and, as much as he dislikes admitting it, the girl is talented. She's going places, that much is already obvious given she's working alongside Master Snape. It'd no doubt serve him well to at least put a bit of effort into maintaining ties with a talented halfblood; isn't that what Lucius Malfoy does with Master Snape? And Malfoy's still the right hand of Lord Riddle himself. That's a double-standard right there but, with the whispers of how halfbloods are going to be brought into the fold (failed marriage law or not), Caelum suspects it's in his best interests to get started on this now.

"Alright, Potter. If you're so sure, lead the way then."

Nineteen

It's taken them nearly four whole loops to strip the correct pyramid of the protective enchantments necessary to get inside. And that's with the great big cheat code that is Dom lodged in her head.

They're on the third day of this loop, though with Egypt being in a time zone an hour ahead of England; it'll be at just past eleven o'clock local time that their loop resets itself again. Nonetheless, they've finally figured out how to gain entry to the pyramid before them so they'll be able to get straight in on the next loop.

'- gone completely backwards. I told them that linking a four-tier sealing curse wouldn't be as strong as a seven tier but did they listen? No, the obsession with matching the amount of seals to the faces of the pyramid had to be more important than common sense; this is why I needed to rule them. '

'I get it, the Egyptians didn't listen to you, ' Harry gripes with a frown, squatting down in the sand beside one corner of shimmering white limestone. Unlike the muggle pyramids, the ones sealed by the Egyptian wizards that Dom had been in charge of have retained their original appearance, pyramidion cap an' all. The only reason that the fifth pyramid in, the one that'd been constructed after Dom was sealed in that tomb, hadn't been exposed to the muggles like the Pyramids of Giza is because it'd been nestled in the middle of the protective seals that supported the other tombs already built. That also meant the only wards to break on the pyramid they needed to be in were wards created by Egyptian wizards, not an Egyptian wizard possessed by a self-important red gem with a few centuries of accumulated knowledge and megalomaniac tendencies. No matter how much he would calm down during enforced imprisonment a few thousand years later, even to the point of becoming helpful, it doesn't change the fact that breaking through Dom's older wards would be difficult.

Not to say they don't have all the time in the world, but being forced into what amounts as a very elaborate cage in which time-travel is a key element is stretching Harry's patience. Oh, she can still keep working, can still march onwards with her usual determination. But that doesn't mean she enjoys being stuck in this time-loop.

It's easier, with company. When she and Caelum call it quits for the night, they end up sitting in the living room of the tent and debating. After the first two loops in which they'd lived in the tent, Caelum had given up on sitting prim and proper. Instead, he seats himself cross-legged on the sofa, hair combed to a side parting with his standard easy-going curls looking a little more natural than usual, and he doesn't bother to force a bitter tone when she disagrees with something he says. Just laughs, short and sharp but painfully genuine before the debate begins in earnest.

It's been nearly two months of time-loops now and Harry cannot recall the last time spent so much time in one consecutive sitting with somebody else. But, being able to talk potions, ingredients substitution and advancements in the field, and share some of the ideas she's been turning over but hadn't yet considered refined enough to bring before Professor Snape... it's nice. During the day, they slather themselves with sun-blocking charms (and yes, she does feel a bit guilty that her magic had instinctively blocked Caelum's first attempt to place the charm on her but how was she supposed to know the difference between that and an Egyptian curse without warning?) and spend the daylight hours poking and prodding at the different enchantments encasing the pyramid.

More than once, Harry has been able to strip a protective layering thanks, in part, to Dom's helpful guidance. The majority, however, she has just brute-forced her way through with her magic, using Dom's knowledge to poke a tiny hole and her own violent magic to tear it wide open so that the whole thing destabilises. Egyptian wards are so different to what she's dealt with in the past and most of them are based on hieroglyphics, not runes which makes it even more difficult to unravel them. Or, it would if she didn't have Dom.

Admittedly, it'd made for an awkward first loop when Caelum had caught her blasting through a ward without the hieroglyphic translation book beside her and then he'd spent a good hour ranting over what the 'slum of a school' she attended was teaching her. He'd promptly shut his gob when Harry had pointed out she knew enough to help them out here, didn't she? He'd spent a half hour in a mood after that, forcibly dragged out when Harry needed him to pitch in with a pincer technique that called for two.

"How's it coming, Potter?" Caelum comes to a stop beside her, holding out the wrapped package of their sandwich for lunch. If they didn't need to maximise all the time they could in order to spend it unravelling these wards, then she'd have popped by the Phoenix for a few takeaway meals to take with them. However, that's not the case, so this is their seventh sandwich of the loop. It's gotten to the point that, upon exiting Potions Lab 17 this time, Harry had bought the weirdest variety of sandwiches that'd been available. She's actually surprised by how much she'd enjoyed the chicken and waffles sandwich, but that'd been the only one of the lot she'd actually eat again. The others really weren't worth mentioning.

"It's going well; I'll get this one down before the loop resets and then we'll be able to get right in on the next one."

"And by right in, you mean?"

"I mean I'll need three hours and your help in the first hour of it for those wards that require a pincer movement but, other than that, they should come down neatly now that I know what I'm doing." Admittedly, they're cheating outrageously given they have Dom's help, but Caelum doesn't know that. He also doesn't know that she could probably break into any of the other pyramids around them in a single loop, simply because the presence in her head actually recalls building those wards. It's about right that the one pyramid they want to be in is the one Dom didn't help construct.

Caelum sniffs, tossing his head back and sweeping the thick curls of his hair off his forehead, unwrapping his own sandwich as he peers down at her. After the first day of this loop, he'd given up inspecting the sandwiches and just left it all to chance. Luckily enough, he isn't allergic to anything that could be found outside a potion, though he hadn't said exactly what it is he can't consume. Regardless, Harry's not exactly in a position to ask.

"Well, once you get kicked out of the Potions Guild for malversation, I suppose you could have a spell as a tomb-raider."

"Imagine all the ancient potions recipes I could excavate," Harry chirps, refusing to rise to the bait and instead smirking as Caelum splutters over her shoulder. When she flicks a quick glance up to look at him, she finds the pureblood biting mulishly into his sandwich, looking out towards the very first wizarding pyramid, the one that is actually open for tours, if one can pay the price tag. "Besides, I'm not the one who's bribed an official. If anyone is getting kicked out, it's you."

"Dream on, Potter. Master Whitaker has invested too much time in me to allow such a thing to occur." Harry doesn't listen to whatever reply Caelum snaps off, instead encouraging her magic to go forth and widen that last hole in the wards until they can pass through. They flicker into existence before her, a shimmering dome of glittering golds, blues and reds. It's a pretty sight to see, one only she and Caelum get to witness. Having a friend from a shady family who doesn't mind showing off does make things easier, especially since Caelum isn't too bad at throwing up a supercharged version of 'notice-me-nots'. Having to work under the invisibility cloak would have been in a pain in the ass, as would having to come up with an excuse as to why they had a tent pitched outside a sealed pyramid.

As the opening in the wards widens, propped open by Harry's magic, she turns to look at Caelum and grins.

"Would you like to take the first step, or should I?"

.

Caelum insists on taking the first step. It doesn't make much of a difference; they still approach the pyramid together, the sun glimmering off of the immaculate white limestone in a way that is almost blinding. There are steps leading up to the entrance that's situated about a fifth of the way up the pyramid and they both stop before the first step.

"This wasn't how I was expecting to spend my summer," Harry confesses, even as she can feel Dom stretch like a cat bathed in sunlight, purring into her mind in a wordless encouragement to continue onwards, and a not so wordless encouragement to build her own damn pyramid back home. The Egyptian sunshine hangs heavy in the sky, still working its way up to the pinnacle of the sky and Harry casts a silent Tempus charm. They have a short twenty minutes left until the loop resets; it should be enough time to climb the stairs and get a look at the door.

"I was hardly planning on spending such an excess of time in your presence too, Potter." Caelum's too much of a pureblood to jam his hands in his pocket, instead angling his head up and working the muscles of his jaw as he considers the stairs before them with the same eyes that Draco had once viewed exertion with; 'physical exercise? Ew. '

It's perhaps that what makes Harry turn on her fellow potioneer with a challenging leer, giving his tall form a once over. He's skinny, but the little muscle tone he has is more to do with good genetics than any actual exercise, that much is clear. "Race you to the top!"

She doesn't give him a chance to respond, already darting for the stairs and taking them two at a time. If this were Hogwarts and a race to the Room of Requirement, she wouldn't do that, would take each step one at a time because that'd just be too much of a risk, missing a trick step. But Dom has reliably informed her that the pyramids were built with perfectly normal steps; the last thing you wanted was for the pharaoh to get caught in said step while visiting a dead relative and then lop off the heads of all the builders.

'I'd have had no workforce left, ' Dom agrees. ' Though that is to say nothing of the traps you will encounter within. '

.

It takes Harry a comfortable three minutes to climb the one hundred and fifty-nine steps (she counted) at a very light jog. She could have gone faster, but in the heat, she hadn't thought that a particularly good idea. She can feel the burn in her thighs from the exercise, the sweat beading on her brow, but it's the good kind of sore, the kind that lets her know she's accomplished something because of the effort she's put in.

Of course, then she turns around to see how far Caelum is behind her and has to physically smother the laugh that wants to escape. He's half-way up the stairs, half-hunched over and totally exhausted. Harry's not exactly perfect, but she has more than enough breath to call down to him.

"Tired already, Caelum?"

He can't quite manage a verbal response, but the hand gesture he flings her way is more than enough and Harry laughs, leaning against one of the smooth white pillars as she waits for him to finish the rest of his climb.

Only once Caelum has reached the summit of the stairs does Harry allow herself to make eye contact, her own breathing now back to normal after having spent the duration of his climb waiting and trying not to laugh as the pureblood forced himself not to stop. He's entirely out of breath, cheeks red with exertion. Harry offers him a water bottle and, clearly incapable of putting up his usual I don't need your help act, Caelum accepts it and downs half the contents. His once pretty curls are slick against his forehead and finally, finally his face looks anything other than drop-dead beautiful. Oh, he's still pretty, but it's waylaid by the obvious exhaustion and cheeks that're red in a way that has nothing to do with the sun.

She waits for him to get his breath back, reaching out with her magic in the meantime to poke and prod at the door. She can't sense anymore wards on it; all in all, it seems like it's just a good old stone door waiting to be moved out of the way, though she hopes the opening mechanism will have aged as gracefully as the rest of the structure. It looks heavy, though her magic will easily deal with that. It's still one more thing they'll have to deal with though.

"Why," Caelum gasps, still hunched over with both hands on his knees and greedily sucking oxygen into his lungs, "are you… so freakishly… fit?"

She leaves that loop with laughter still bubbling in her gut, even as they find that the not-so-secret button for opening the door still works.

Twenty

"Sorry?"

Given this is the fifth run through of the same scenario, he doesn't even need to pay attention to successfully bribe the official over the portkey, though he does get it set to leave ten minutes later than normal. After the last loop and choking down what Potter considered 'acceptable food', he's already made it abundantly clear that he'll be acquiring their breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for the next three days. He's already called for Hestin and gotten the elf to head off to the usual catering company, requesting three days' worth of meals for two people, doing his best to ignore the suspicious look he'd gotten from the servant.

It'd gone exceptionally well at the Ministry, to the point he'd managed to get out of the office early enough to avoid James Potter in the elevator this time. Merlin knows it's been getting harder and harder to not squirm beside the man; it was as if he could sense Caelum had been in a tent for three days straight with his daughter even though, logically, there's no way he could know. It doesn't help ease his 'not-a-guilty-conscience' (because it's hardly like he's kidnapping Potter, is it?) that every second day so far in Egypt begins with a howler from the Head Auror who always seems to figure out it's Caelum who's whisked his daughter out of the country.

Hopefully, given he's not bumped into the Potter Lord in the elevator this time, the suspicion won't fall squarely on his shoulders this time around.

.

Regardless, that leaves him here, in the usual catering company his mother and aunt both swear by. Coincidentally, said aunt is standing by the counter with his brat of a cousin, looking just as surprised to see him as Caelum is to see them. Well, it explains why the Malfoys arrive late to his mother's dinner party, something that had been excused because Narcissa had a Gala to sort for the following day. Caelum, however, has absolutely no feasible excuse that he can give to explain why he needs three days' worth of food for two people to go. As such, when asked, he'd just told the truth (partly).

"Potter and I are going on a expedition to Egypt for a potions related investigation," Caelum repeats steadily, not quite looking down his own nose at Narcissa Malfoy (he doesn't think there's a single person in society who would dare ), but he's taller so he still has to tilt his head ever so slightly.

"I see," his aunt says in a tone that makes it abundantly clear that she, in fact, does not see at all. "It is a shame that we won't be seeing you tomorrow then."

He very determinedly does not sneer because the only time Caelum will ever be seen at an event for which the Black Heir is a pivotal member is if the little bastard croaks and Caelum's listening to his eulogy. As the Malfoy Heir is a close friend of his second-cousin he very wisely does not say this aloud. It doesn't matter that Narcissa is so clearly going to be reporting this back to his mother the second she's out of this establishment; it's not like Bellatrix will be able to wiggle through the wards on the pyramid like he and Potter can. At worst, they'll both be treated to the sight of her throwing a monumental fit outside the boundaries. That's if she can even be bothered to come after him.

"I'm afraid we're on a time limit," Caelum says truthfully, unable to help the not-quite-smirk, not-quite-smile that spreads across his lips. His idiot of a cousin (because he can hardly be smart if he's so attached to the Black Heir) is scowling at him, lips pressed into a hard line as if Caelum's the unpleasant one in this situation. The bell over the door chimes gently but none of them look away from the other, Narcissa too busy trying to dissect whatever his real reason for avoiding the party is, her whelp of a child being too insufferable to keep his nose out of Caelum's business, and Caelum shrinking down the food parcels before to be stored in his pocket.

"Got everything?" Potter's voice, however, shatters the calm between them, even if she remains standing by the door looking far too amused with herself. As the only person at present who can even remotely hold his interest (both for their shared circumstances and the sheer amount of questions these loops are now generating for him about her), Caelum dismisses his extended family with a slight nod of his head.

"As long as you have the rest of the supplies," he drawls, watching the girl roll her eyes and push off the doorframe, making her way over to stand beside him. She is, as always, in her tunic and tight trousers, sensible boots that are quite possibly the very same make as his own on her feet.

"I can't believe you insisted on picking the food; there was nothing wrong with the sandwiches we had last time."

"I'm sorry I don't believe peanut butter, bacon and bananas all belong together in a single sandwich, Potter. If we are to camp, we shall at least do it without risking food poisoning." He knows he's being over dramatic, knows that Potter finds the very complaint laughable but, by this point, it's habit to fall into banter with her. Evidence that they need to break this time-loop situation as soon as possible. Having shared habits with a halfblood will ruin his reputation. Thankfully, the wide-eyed Narcissa and the open-mouthed Draco will not recall any of this in another seventy-one hours.

"It's nice to see you again, Mrs Malfoy, Draco," Potter says, reaching for the portkey Caelum is now holding out to her. They're whisked away before either of the two Malfoys can comment.

.

Landing on the familiar sands before the pyramids, Caelum straightens out his robes and casts the usual spells; sun-block, notice-me-nots and some cooling charms. Beside him, Potter adjusts the backpack she once again has slung over both shoulders and then proceeds to stride right past the 'no trespassers' sign that they have ignored on every visit so far. It's not like anyone is around to judge them for it. The Egyptian wizards are slacking; it's no wonder someone managed to steal something from the tomb they were excavating two years ago.

Something Potter has a bit too much information about, Caelum recalls, eyeing the girl's thin shoulders as she comes to a stop by the edge of the wards, dumping her backpack on the ground with a heavy thump. Displaced sand rolls out and away from the impact, not quite settling again given the low wind that is constantly carrying the topmost layer of the granules westwards.

"Maybe you should work on your cardio as I do the wards," Potter quips, seating herself comfortably in a crossed-leg position upon the sand, one hand reaching out to rap against the once again very physical wards preventing their entry.

"Don't get cocky, brat. Not everyone has capriciously large reserves to blast through ancient protections." And isn't that something of note? He's been aggressively ignoring the fact Potter's crystal had been well into Lord level, a purple so dark he'd mistaken it for black at first. It's not a colour he's ever heard anyone else achieving, yet this little slip of a halfblood had made it look easy. She's not much to look at, far too alike to Black in appearance, or is it more appropriate to say Black's more alike to her, given the rumour about his metamorphmagus talents that's circulating society? About right that it's something he can't control, though it makes fuck all sense for the little weasel to have two blood-talents. And for one of them to be Parseltongue. That's just ridiculous.

Nonetheless, he was clearly in the right to allow Potter to drag him out that day after the internships; how else would he have uncovered the fact she has Lord level magic if not for this cock-up of a potions experiment?

.

The hours pass. Caelum does exactly as Potter instructs, trusting in the girl to know what she needs to do. After all, they've taken these wards down once already and she did most of the work. Once she's gone scuttling off to the back-water school that seems to be teaching her anything and everything other than proper manners, he's going to do his own damn research on what the bloody curriculum is over there. It can't possibly be so broad as to cover wards, Ancient Egyptian runes and healing in addition to all the other fundamentals a witch or wizard needs to know. There're just not enough hours in the day.

He is, however, coming to develop an appreciation for the trousers that Potter persists on wearing without robes. While the fact she can bounce up the shit-ton of stairs is infuriating, as if it's nothing more than a lazy afternoon flight as opposed to the quidditch match at a World Cup that it feels like to Caelum… well, even if he were as freakishly fit as Potter, he'd still let her win this particular race. Watching that tight little arse power up those stairs is good motivation, if nothing else. But it's fucking hard to appreciate it when he actually gets to the top and it feels like his lungs are getting boiled alive in his chest. His blood must be in the same state; it's the only reason why he'd even, for a moment, consider Potter in any way, shape or form, attractive. She looks far too much like Black to even think about it, and she's a halfblood on top of that.

Shaking the thoughts from his head, Caelum forcibly calms his breathing, inhaling long and slow as Potter hits the release valve or whatever it is that opens the door. It's an excellent example of ancient engineering; the grandeur of white limestone, the opulence of the golden gap at the top glimmering within the sunlight. This is how the purebloods of old were buried, just more evidence that their placement in society is correct and always has been.

"Any idea of what to expect?" Potter asks, taking off the glasses she normally wears and donning a pair of goggles instead. They look utterly ridiculous. Just when he thought she couldn't possibly get any further from how a true lady should look, she comes along with another accessory. Admittedly, these are far more likely to remain on her head if they have to make any sudden movements.

"Traps? Death threats from the long dead? A sphinx or two, given our current luck so far."

Potter laughs, as if he'd been telling a joke and hadn't been speaking seriously. He's near certain they'll be running into a sphinx or two; their luck is downright horrific and it's taken them this many loops to investigate their second serious lead. Caelum's been thrown into prison three times, has received a howler from the Head Auror exactly once (after that loop, he'd ensured Potter sent her father a letter first to imply she was off on her own so that the Howlers Potter Senior sent were directed to her rather than him); somehow, the man had made the correct leap in logic that his daughter running away to a foreign country had everything to do with the fact she'd met up with the Lestrange Heir in the morning, though he'd been way off base with his assumptions as to why they fled.

As if he'd ever elope with Potter; what the hell would they even do together? Tight arse aside, she's a squirt who doesn't know anything other than potions and has more magic than she has respect for her betters. No, wait, that's not an appropriate scale; she could be squib level and still have more magic than respect for her betters. Ah, he doesn't have the time to be thinking up an appropriate phrase with which to describe the sheer potency of Potter's magic, nor does he wish to. They've got more important things on their plate, after all.

Stepping into the tomb after Potter, Caelum gives a smooth flick of his wand to summon up a lumos. True, he could use wandless magic for a floating orb to give them light but, as they do not know what they will be encountering within the pyramid, it's in their best interests to preserve their magic. So, a wand-tip lighting charm it is. There's a thin trickle of water falling from the ceiling, creating a translucent curtain between the two of them and the rest of the corridor. Potter fires a series of spells at the water, her lips slowly twisting into a frown as she evidently doesn't get the readings that she wants.

"Well? What's the holdup Potter?"

"The Egyptians were big on the body being pure for the afterlife, so I think any visitor to the tomb had to be purified before entering," she mutters, flicking off one last spell and grimacing when the water glows a soft gold. As far as Caelum's concerned, gold usually means that it's no danger; of all the poisons he's heard of, potions too, not a single one is golden in colour. There's just something about the intent to harm that prevents a potion from holding the golden colour. There are still studies trying to understand just why and, until now, Caelum hadn't once considered it worth his time to investigate further. He still doesn't, but it'd be nice to know if gold equals harmless translated across the other disciplines of magic.

Potter pulls a single newt's eye from her potions bag, transfiguring it into an actual newt and sends it scampering through the water. It comes out just fine on the other side but there's something tickling at the back of Caelum's mind.

"My magic isn't reacting badly," Potter says, sucking in a breath and squaring her shoulders, "so it shouldn't instantly kill us. At worst, it's enchanted water to purify us. Can't be any worse than the decontamination mist, can it?" She quirks a grin, stepping forwards and that's when Caelum remembers where he's seen this particular enchantment before. Back when he'd hit his majority, his father had taken him down to the Lestrange family vault to formally give him the ring declaring him the Heir to the house. On the way, they'd passed under the Thief's Downfall; he recalls the water that raced over his body and disappeared just as quickly.

It sure as fuck hadn't changed his face like it's done Potter's.

Caelum steps through the waterfall, unsurprised when it doesn't so much as dampen his clothes. Potter (if that's who it really is) is soaked through, grimacing as she flicks her wet hands about, sending a spray of water droplets everywhere.

"What the fuck happened to your face?"

The Thief's Downfall strips away enchantments, he knows that. He can remember learning it's one of the few things capable of divesting Polyjuice from the user and Caelum would say that's exactly what has happened here. Only, he's been with Potter for days (weeks) worth of time; he can say with the utmost certainty that she hasn't been drinking from a flask every hour, can confirm that she hasn't even drunk anything at all in the last hour because they'd thrown all the canisters into the backpack for their last bit of ward breaking.

And yet, the Thief's Downfall (or whatever ancient variation the Egyptians employed) has indeed removed something.

The person before him is a stranger, no matter the slight hints that there are to the face he thought he'd known. The hair is the same black, just messier. The features are softer, the body slightly shorter and, Caelum hates that he notices it, there's more feminine curves than there'd been before.

And Potter's eyes certainly hadn't been that vividly vicious a green beforehand. From the look on her face, how she runs one hand along her cheek and wears an expression of pure panic, it's obvious that the face she'd been wearing before is an intentional disguise. Right now, she looks nothing like Rigel fucking Black anymore.

But then, why the fuck would she want to look like Black anyway? She's already got Master Snape's attention off her own back, but that'd been after their internship at the Guild, their first meeting when he'd mistaken her for the Black Heir. Why the fuck would Potter want to look anything like Black? Everyone knows she's not a pureblood, no matter how much she can apparently permanently change her looks to match his appearance. The only use for them to look near identical would be if they wanted to fuck about and pretend they were each other. But that'd be bloodline theft; what the fuck would be worth that for Potter to risk it?

Then, Caelum's brain makes a lightning quick connection, consisting of 'Master Snape – Hogwarts – pureblood only'. And, and it takes a moment.

But he'd been watching the Triwizard fuckery. He'd seen the fucker Black and everything his magic seemed to do, going above and beyond for him. Magic that would be unnaturally strong – just like the girl before him has proven herself to be.

No. Fucking. Way.


She shouldn't be surprised that Caelum recognises that she's been under a variation of Polyjuice; he's a potioneer, of course he'll recognise the distinctive bubbling-melting combination that is a typical characteristic of the potion being removed. In retrospect, a protection to purify stripping people of their enchantments and disguises is a perfectly reasonable thing to expect in the tomb of important people, but she'd been foolish enough to rely upon the gemstone residing in her brain to predict the traps ahead.

'You cannot expect me to know the inventions that are discovered during the time of my imprisonment, ' Don sniffs, though she can tell he's just as thrown, just as jarred from the sudden reality of the situation as she is. She's going to have to halt the progression towards their goal until she can secure Caelum's silence on this, Harry realises with a stone sitting heavy in her stomach. She can recall reading about the different things that could remove Polyjuice, but she'd never looked into them outside of recognising they were incredibly expensive and/or time consuming to make with an array of difficult to acquire ingredients.

She hadn't thought it'd ever be a problem.

But, then again, she hadn't thought she'd get trapped in a time-loop with Caelum Lestrange, steal from the Ministry, or break into an Egyptian tomb and have her biggest secret ripped out into the open for her arse of a friend's viewing pleasure. Though he looks far from pleased about it all.

"Potter, what the actual fuck. This is blood identity theft!"

Her wand is levelled at Caelum in an instant, the tip not quite glowing but she can feel her magic gathering, responding to the threat even as she fights to keep her head above water, to keep drawing breath into her lungs and think this through. She has to stop Caelum from spreading this around. The best way to ensure this is to make it abundantly clear that he can't get out of this without her and that she isn't going to go on until she has his word that he'll not spill her secret. All that planning, developing the backup plan – useless. She'd never once considered her disguise would be ripped from her like this before an audience.

It's a bloody good thing Riddle didn't decide his shimmery shiny tourney needed one of these enchanted waterfalls.

There's always been a worry in the back of her mind, distant in a way that makes it clear she's never really wanted to think about it, of how her friends would react should the ruse be revealed. Leo, Leo would accept it, she thinks, if it was exposed to him. Would probably even help her hide it, though she doesn't doubt he'd be furious with her for taking the risk.

Her Slytherin friends, however? One only needs look as far as Daphne formerly-Greengrass to understand exactly how they would react. Theo and co would be furious, even more so given the fact that she has knowingly and intentionally deceived them.

Draco and Pansy? She doesn't even want to think about the kind of fallout that would come from that situation; the very thought of it has her heart giving a terrible clench, suffocating in her chest and burning out, all at the same time.

If their faces look like even a tenth of the horror-fury-betrayal that resides upon Caelum's beautiful features, she'll never be able to continue living with herself (only she will, because that has always been the plan).

He's still staring at her, his wand held in a loose grip that would ensure it was lost to him in a duel, as if the shock is making it too much to process but he can still think, can still reason, because the next words out of his mouth are, "You'll go to Azkaban for this."

Her magic registers the threat before her brain does. It's just the same as when she was in the tomb with Pettigrew; her magic rises like a primordial force and strikes, blasting Caelum against the wall of the corridor and holding him there. He can't move his limbs, can't lift his wand to stop her and whatever wandless magic he has, it pales in comparison to what her own can achieve.

'whichNo! Stop it! ' The fear in his eyes is a barb. How is she ever going to be able to leave Draco and Pansy, leave her life as Rigel when she'll inspire a reaction like this? And yet, how can she ever hope to continue with that life?

Her magic slowly recoils, not dropping back completely, but it only keeps Caelum boxed up against the wall. Not pressed and grinding away at the stones beside his head in a clear warning as it was once doing.

"Wh-" a choked breath as he tries, desperately, to draw oxygen back into his lungs. "-what the actual fuck, Potter. Why the- have I ever actually met Black?!"

"No… not really," Harry croaks out, her voice raw in a way she doesn't like. There's a lump in her throat, though it's no disease, not an ailment a potion can cure. It's her own torrid emotions, reacting to a situation she does not want to be in and it's taking everything she has to keep her magic clamped down, to stop it from lashing out. Because Caelum is not a threat but the thought of what he could do is.

"That time at the Gala-"

"Me," Harry croaks, allowing her magic to push Caelum now, but from his back, forcibly scooting him forwards exactly six feet, just like it had done that one time. Only this time, it brings them closer together and Harry steels herself, looking up into those hoarfrost eyes and she probably shouldn't even be surprised that she's lost an inch or two now that the Polyjuice is gone.

He has no right to look that devastatingly beautiful when every line and curve of his face is a clear exhibition of his feelings. Like she's ripped something intrinsic away from their friendship and burned it in front of him. Something he hadn't even been aware he cared for until it's already ashes on the floor.

"Archie wants to be a healer," Harry says, fighting to keep her voice level, fighting to keep it even, "and I want to be a potioneer. AIM has the best healer track. Hogwarts has Master Snape. We were supposed to just go and study, seven years and then we'd switch back forever. It wasn't supposed to get out of hand like this- the Sleeping Sickness wasn't supposed to happen- it nearly killed Draco!"

She loses her battle of keeping quiet, her magic lashing out and striking a laceration into the stone work, shaking the wall but she continues because she needs to make Caelum understand. "And for what? So Riddle could pass a fucking law! And then there was the basilisk! Then everyone was looking for the fucking Dominion Jewel and the Triwizard Tournament and he kept dragging me into it! I didn't want friends; I didn't want to stand out! I just wanted to learn potions!" Her fists are clenched, drawn up to her chest and Harry throws them away from her, towards the floor and her magic strikes the corridor again, slicing deep grooves into the stonework that sizzle and burn as if it had been cut by a laser instead.

"So, you just went to Hogwarts as Black?!" Caelum chokes out, looking at her as if he's never seen her before. And he hasn't. Nobody else has seen this face since her second year at Hogwarts, no one other than Archie knows that her eyes are still the vivid, burning green her mother's magic gave her. Only Archie knows the Potter mess is still just as untameable atop her head; only Archie knows she's had potion corrected vision for the past three years. Hell, she can only see now because her goggles are automatically adjusting for it right now. "You've lied to everybody! What the fuck is stopping me from telling everyone?!"

"The time-loop," Harry says, drawing all of her emotions back in, locking them up in a box that she presses down, down, down . "You can't break the wards on this pyramid without me; you don't have the magical strength on your own." Oh, he could team up with other people, but they'd never be able to decode the Egyptian protections in three days. She could only manage it because of Dom and that took her several loops. Loops anyone else won't have access to.

Harry stands perfectly still as Caelum, pretty face still hauntingly beautiful even as he looks utterly devastated, stares at her for just a moment longer. Then, he gingerly picks himself up and walks back out of the pyramid without a word.

.

Harry breathes in the stale air of the tomb, leaning back against the wall her magic has taken a chunk out of before she slowly lowers herself down, back sliding along the smooth stone. She keeps her legs tucked up tight to her torso, arms wrapped around her knees and head near enough ducked between them.

Their easy going, potioneering friendship is never going to be what it was. Oh, Harry had admitted in the past that she told lies, that everyone lied. But she doubts Caelum could ever have predicted the sheer scale of what she'd done. In truth, it's all Riddle's fault. If the SOW Party had just kept their nose out of things, if they hadn't interfered with Hogwarts, then there'd have been no Sleeping Sickness. There'd have been no Malfoy life debt. No basilisk, none of the events leading up to her gaining Dom. There'd have been no Triwizard Tournament. She'd have just been another student, one who impressed Master Snape and spent her time learning everything she could of their shared passion.

Instead, she's gone and gained a reputation for Archie of achieving the impossible, of rewriting the laws of magic and her poor cousin is never going to live up to the hype.

There had been a way out though; the third party they'd reveal to be Rigel, the one who would disappear into the wind upon the end of the ruse because it was too difficult to keep it all up. Only, that's ruined now because Caelum knows. He knows about her, knows about Archie. He knows it all. And she doesn't know what to do.

It's not like she's planned for something like this. Oh, she'd cut it close in Third Year, that day at the Quidditch pitch when the Polyjuice had failed. But… that'd been something she was capable of sorting out. There is no quick fix here, no easy answer that won't hurt. She doesn't know how to obliviate someone. She doesn't know how she can go about ensuring Caelum's silence without festering whatever growing resentment is bubbling in him, if not already frothing over. When she pictured someone figuring out what she and Archie had done, she'd never once thought it would be Caelum who learned the truth. He'd always been Harry's friend, had always had little to do with Rigel and it was supposed to stay that way.

Tilting her head back until the wall cradles the curve of her skull, Harry stares up at the smooth white ceiling, illuminated only by the light spilling in from the open front of the tomb. Her lumos has long since gone out, Caelum's lumos gone with him. The truth of it is, this isn't like planning for the ruse with Archie. Archie's equally invested, just as desperate for their little play to succeed and he cares so ferociously about the outcomes, about her safety, that he'd even offered to stop it last summer, despite how he so obviously wants to continue. All because of the threats to her safety.

She doesn't have those reassurances with Caelum. She can demand an oath, can bully him into a corner with the might of her magic and force him to comply. But she doesn't know if she can live with herself should she take that path. Only, that's not true. She could live, could continue on, but it would be a weight on her mind, one she could never forget. And, if she's honest, Harry doesn't want to lose what relationship she has with Caelum. When they work together, she doesn't need to pull any punches, doesn't need to watch her words because he gives back as good as he gets (or tries to, at least), and he respects her as a potioneer, in his odd little way.

Sitting back and trying to plan, to organise a method of attack with which to deal with this problem isn't going to work. Because she doesn't know what Caelum is thinking and, though she can very well remove her help in regards to the time-loop problem, that's not progressing. That's just freezing them at a moment in time to relive again and again. Though something would have to give, that long delay could fester a resentment that could never be dislodged. Harry doesn't want that.

So, after a few more moments to collect herself, she pushes to her feet, heads to the door, and leaves the pyramid.

.

Caelum's sitting on the second to last step, his booted feet resting on the shifting sands with both his elbows balanced on his knees, head in hands. Harry doesn't hesitate, per se, but she does remain quiet as she sits herself down beside him. Her own legs aren't long enough to stretch all the way to the ground from the second step, not without leaving her awkwardly leaning forwards and placing more weight on her feet than would be comfortable. Instead, she settles for having them folded up a little tighter by placing her feet on the first step. She's within arm's reach of Caelum, but only to the point where her fingers would graze his shoulder if she were to reach out.

He doesn't say anything, doesn't even look at her. Instead, he keeps his eyes on the horizon, though the glaze to his eyes indicates he is not watching the distant tourists bumbling about on the other side of the wards. The sun is almost uncomfortably warm and Harry asks her magic to shield them from sunburn, feeling her core all but purr in agreement to the request. If Caelum feels it enveloping him, he makes no mention of it.

She's not sure how long they sit there, not sure how much time passes in which they watch the distant people, no more than blurry figures really, go about their day. It's long enough that the tight pressure of her goggles is starting to leave an imprint within her skin from the suction and Harry pulls them off, planting them atop her forehead even as the world around her descends into a blurred mess. The fake glasses go back in her potions bag, replaced by the charmed pair she used to wear that automatically update to the correct prescription.

"So, what now?" Caelum asks, his voice void of all emotion, not once turning to look at her. "You're going to stop trying to get out of this fucking loop, just like that?"

"Unless I can get assurances you won't go telling everyone my secret-"

"That you're actually Black, the SOW Party's wonderchild who is also secretly a halfblood pretending to be a pureblood… no wonder you found it so fucking funny when you suggested it." Back when she'd told him to pretend she's a pureblood if it makes it easier for him to stomach her presence, Harry recalls. She can't remember ever showing that she'd found it amusing though. "You're fucking over the whole SOW Party and you just, what? Expect me to keep quiet about it?"

"Does the fact I've accomplished so much not prove the SOW Party wrong about everything?" Harry says before she can help it. She hastily continues before she and Caelum can get into an argument over politics, of all things. "I didn't set out with the intention of doing any of that. I… I just wanted to learn. It was just unfair- can you honestly say I'm inferior to any of the purebloods you know?" She already knows the answer to this, knows she has the magic and the knowledge and the skill to back it all up. She knows she's on even ground (if not better in some cases; she's hard pressed to think of anyone in her age bracket who could beat her in a duel, barring Leo).

But she needs Caelum to see it too. She needs him to open his eyes and realise that the world isn't all black and white, isn't pureblood is good, muggleborn is bad. She needs him to look at her and see she is exactly where she should be, that so much could have gone wrong if she hadn't been at Hogwarts. Hell, the Construct is still out there with a vendetta against Rigel Black, Tom Riddle is still preaching pureblood politics despite his muggle father, and it doesn't seem like anyone other than Harry is really ready to take a stand and actually make a difference.

Silence falls between them again, the afternoon sunshine still lighting the desert, reflecting harshly off of the white limestone pyramids that surround them. Only after a few breaths does Caelum speak again.

"Say something in Parseltongue." It's not a politely worded request, though Harry wouldn't have expected a politely worded request from Pansy if the other girl had found out the truth, never mind Caelum. That his request doesn't come with a derogatory insult is perhaps the biggest surprise.

" Chimera eyesss are a dangerousssly volatile ingredient. " Caelum watches her mouth move now, his head turned towards her despite the fact he remains half hunched over on the steps. His eyes are a thin band of blue, ringing the larger than normal pupils that are utterly fixated on her. Harry continues, " Ssskele-Gro isss alwaysss a ressstorative potion becaussse you have to vanisssh the bonesss firssst. "

"Fucking hell," Caelum grunts, twisting to look away from her, running one hand through his hair and displacing the artfully tousled curls. She can't see the expression on his face, but dutifully listens as he asks her just what she had been saying.

"Chimera eyes are a dangerously volatile ingredient, and Skele-Gro is always a restorative potion because you have to vanish the bones first."

And he laughs. It's not the mocking chuckle he always threw out during their intern days in order to prove himself as the most infuriating thing in the room; it's not the bitter laugh he's taken to using during their time-loops so far, more common whenever they hit a roadblock or stumbled across something that was preventing them from making any progress. No, this is a genuine laugh, a sound that showcases he's found her amusing, for some unfathomable reason.

"Trust you to recite potions knowledge." Caelum shakes his head, planting both his forearms on the step behind him and leaning back, staring up into the sky. With the sun to their left, it's difficult for Harry to really look at him, so she doesn't try. Just relaxes a bit more herself, shoulders rolling and she forcibly sheds some tension.

"Say something else. Not potions related this time."

Harry blinks, kicking one leg up so that it sits crossed over the other, knee over knee. There's no fear in speaking this truth though, because it's not like Caelum will ever understand it, even if she's not particularly ashamed of it.

" I don't want to lossse our friendssship. " As she speaks, Caelum doesn't look at her, just waits for her to translate. And Harry does as she is often wont to do. She lies. "Fish aren't lucky in China."

Caelum's offended huff does manage to draw a laugh from her chest though. Things aren't okay, things will never go back to normal between them but… Harry doesn't think all is lost. Not when Caelum seems willing to sit beside her here and, just maybe, he might even be willing to keep her secret. After all, Flint had. And she has more to offer Caelum than she did Flint.

"What will it take to keep you quiet, Caelum?"


He can't tell if he's genuinely happy his fool of a second-cousin (who he's met exactly once for no more than a minute, it turns out) isn't as awe-inspiring as Potter's made him out to be, or if he's begrudgingly amused and infuriated that every single achievement Rigel Black has to his name is actually Potter's own doing.

He's also trying to aggressively ignore the memory of Potter speaking Parseltongue. It has to be a genetic failing from his mother's side of the family; Bellatrix's adoration for Lord Riddle isn't exactly a secret and, though Caelum has never heard the man himself speak the serpent's tongue, more than enough people have mentioned it for him to be secure in the knowledge that Lord Riddle is indeed a Parselmouth.

Just as Harriet Potter is.

Caelum bounces her question back and forth in his mind, only now just calm enough to even truly consider it. What would it take to keep him quiet? The instinctive urge to bite back that nothing would keep him quiet, that he'd rat her out doesn't flare up as he'd expect it to. Because, as much as he hates to admit it, Potter is his friend. She'd forcibly bullied her way into his life, with sharp elbows and the sweet promise of a new potions discipline to explore. He's one of only three brewers in the entire world to be capable of shaped imbuing, something the halfblood beside him invented. It's outrageous, but it's so bloody useful and it's new with untapped potential and he won't give that up.

He doesn't want her discoveries to claim in his own name, though he could quite easily name that as his price. Potter's a wealth of potions knowledge and she has more magic than should be possible, especially for a halfblood. She shouldn't be able to do half the things he's seen her do.

And that's not even taking her time as Rigel Black into account. By Merlin, all the shit that she's done should be impossible, according to his mother. He'd not paid much attention to the sleeping sickness, bar developing a smug reassurance that he was safe over in Durmstrang. The slaying of a basilisk was something he'd taken note of, if only because a great deal of the ingredients had been shoved into the Guild he'd been about to intern at. Set aside for people to experiment on if they could prove their credentials in order to research them. He could stake a claim for some of those parts; Potter's no fool, she'd have gotten a share of the ingredients put aside for herself once she was a fully qualified Potions Master.

He knows the SOW Party had been looking for something during his final year at Durmstrang (what had Potter called it? A something jewel?), but it seems even that worked its way into screwing up Potter's life, somehow.

The Triwizard Tournament – well, even he hadn't been able to ignore that. At first, he'd watched it only in the hopes of Black failing to qualify. He hadn't been expecting the naïve whelp to outdo the other purebloods, purebloods who should have been superior to him by age alone. And yet, Black'd beaten them all to become the pureblood representative. Which is fucking funny because Potter's not pureblood. It's all been a fucking lie.

The point is, he doesn't know what he wants from Potter in exchange for his silence.

What he does know is that she's immeasurably resourceful, a masterful liar and has more skill in her left hand than anyone has any right to.

"Two things," Caelum says, holding up his hand with two fingers up. He waits until Potter turns to him, squinting against the harsh sunlight now to his back as he's facing her, then he continues. "One, I want to know what you've been up to at Hogwarts. I want the tale, and I want to ask questions. Two; I want a favour."

"What type of favour?" Potter asks, unable to squint any further to showcase her suspicion, otherwise her eyes would be closed. They're a poisonous shade of green, brighter than they have any right to be, even behind the ugly looking glasses she's wearing. She needs new glasses; they don't suit her face shape at all. Giving her another look over, Caelum thins his lips. Won't need to refer her to the permanent transfiguration specialist after all.

"I don't know yet," he sneers, only one finger held aloft now. "A favour for later."

"As long as it doesn't include my family getting hurt. And that includes my parents and Addy, Archie, Sirius, and Remus."

And so, Potter begins her tale.

.

It starts with her first year, how she'd struggled with performing any magic correctly (something he finds highly unlikely) and her determination to avoid forming any true friendships. Apparently, the Parkinson Heiress and his cousin hadn't cared for what Potter wanted. There's an attempt on her life by a competitor to her father's business that ends with the other expelled from Hogwarts. Then, it's the sleeping sickness; how she gained Master Snape's attention with her ability to imbue multiple high-level potions, how she took over brewing the potions when they ran out of a key ingredient and Master Snape went looking for it. How, in a desperate attempt to save her friend's life, she'd broken the known laws of magic.

Her second year is hardly any calmer; the opening of the Chamber of Secrets, a basilisk on the loose and controlled by an enemy, though she cannot say who.

"It ordered the basilisk to kill itself, then it tried possessing me," Potter admits, her gaze focused firmly on her feet. "But everyone is under the impression I killed it, so I got to assign who got what parts of the body otherwise the school would be culpable. But I got-" she pauses all of a sudden, one hand rising to her neck, a look of distress flashing across her features. "Well, I made sure the one who started those two incidents won't be sticking his head in at Hogwarts anymore."

She doesn't need to say who that is; Caelum isn't an idiot. A basilisk, the Chamber of Secrets... there's only one person who could be involved in Slytherin's legacy.

Her Third Year isn't any better and Caelum listens with some cross between disbelief and numb acceptance as she talks about Pettigrew and his attempts to control the Dominion Jewel. Her kidnapping is an event hastily glossed over, but Caelum is the godson of an Unspeakable; she doesn't need to say a time-turner was involved for him to understand it. No fucking wonder she'd been so hesitant when he'd held it up back in Potions Lab 17.

Fourth Year, well, he thought he'd known what was coming with this part of the tale; he'd watched it on those grand big screens after all. What he doesn't expect to hear is the reason why she entered the Tournament, despite aggressively refusing in the beginning.

"You're the reason they're not passing laws anymore," he realises, scrubbing a hand through his hair again like some kind of commoner but quite unable to help himself. Well fuck. It had been suspicious that Lord Riddle had suddenly backed off from passing laws in only certain sections of the Wizengamot. As it turns out, he hadn't decided at all. That'd been Potter's price for entering the Tournament, that and the murder of the Marriage Law, thank fuck. Still, she'd done that without expecting an ounce of recognition– what the fuck is wrong with this girl?

Sitting up straight, Caelum looks, really looks at the other person sitting beside him on the stairs of an ancient monument, one they'd been in the process of breaking into. Potter's hair is still tragically short and there's something about it that reminds him uncomfortably of Potter Senior, who he has seen far too much of recently. Her face doesn't look right, though he knows logically that is due to his familiarity with the mask she's been wearing for years on end. It's pretty enough, he supposes, nothing to write home about, if one discounts the eyes. That's the thing that really elevates her; they're ridiculously bright, unnaturally so, to the point he'd assumed they're bespelled had they not already passed under the Thief's Downfall. She's... not an eyesore. Her physique seems to have carried over, if offing an inch from her height and injecting a few more curves into her body. Not to be completely unexpected given she's, by her own account, probably a year and a half or so older than she should be due to her Third Year. At least sixteen and a half now, if not approaching seventeen.

He refuses to consider why the thought of their age gap being reduced comes as a comfort.

"You're directly opposing Lord Riddle," Caelum points out, watching Potter's jaw work, the muscles jumping as she grinds her teeth and he tries not to pay too much attention to it. She's a halfblood and a liar and destined for Azkaban and he's never met anyone with such unwavering courage and sheer fucking nerve.

"He's opposing my mother, my sister and me. Someone has to stand up to him. He runs roughshod over everyone else."

That's because he's got the magical power to do it. The only one who can stand against him is Dumbledore. Dumbledore... and maybe the girl before him, Caelum realises with what feels remarkably like awed horror. He's seen the level of magic she has, knows it's solidly Lord level, and the girl has already backed the SOW Party leader into a corner once already, perhaps twice, if he's reading what she said about her Second Year correctly. Part of him is glad that he never attended Hogwarts as having to put up with all this bullshit Potter seems to attract would have been headache inducing at minimum.

He refuses to acknowledge the near insignificant piece of him that is glad to have not attended because it means he's had less interaction with Rigel Black than Harriet Potter. No doubt the embers of betrayal still being fanned within his chest would have been a blistering wildfire if not.

"Potter, that's dangerous!" He can't even describe just how dangerous it is to even contemplate standing against Riddle. Does she not realise just how many political opponents have mysteriously vanished? How many of those opposed to his ideals have been summarily squashed under thumb within the Party itself? Hell, the only reason there's a Light faction at all is because Dumbledore heads it. Once that old man croaks, that'll be it.

Unless Potter suddenly decides politics is for her; given her potions obsession, he doubts it. Probably for the best. He can say with complete confidence that Potter is the best liar he has ever met and perhaps the most devious one too. For Merlin's sake, it's taken twenty time-loops, stealing from the Ministry, an illegal trip to Egypt and the breaking of five thousand-year-old wards (if not older) to expose her deception.

Were she not spitting on everything he's been brought up to believe, he might have even been in awe. Well, he is, but it's more geared towards the sheer audacity the girl has to do such a thing.

The thought of her directing that terrifying level of determination towards politics is somewhat scary, not that Caelum shall ever voice that thought aloud.

Instead, he leans a little further onto his forearms, already beginning to feel the sweat accumulate upon his brow from the uncomfortable heat of the desert but quite unable to bring himself to deal with it. His sleeves are rolled up to the elbows, exposing his forearms to the dry desert air. No doubt once they get further into the tomb, he'll have to don a heavier robe to preserve heat. Merlin knows what they're going to find in there as they venture inwards; no doubt there'll be all sorts of traps and curses to deal with unwanted visitors. The Thief's Downfall will be just the start of it.

Potter, at the least, is a frighteningly resourceful little thing. She's managed to fool everyone, including the two most powerful people in the country. Whatever else he may feel in regards to this secret she is keeping, it at least fills him with confidence that they will escape the time-loops.

"Still willing to work together?" Potter asks, her own head tilted back to look up at the clear blue sky above their heads and Caelum stands, stretching his arms over his head.

"We're having a break first. All this shit you've pulled, Potter, I think it's time you treated me to a real meal. And no, your pitiful attempts at cooking don't count."

.

They make for the little tourist trap situated at the entrance to the magical side of the Giza Pyramids. In addition to the separate camping site for the visiting witch or wizard, there's a poor imitation of a gift shop and a restaurant of questionable quality. Nonetheless, it's occupied by a few tourists, despite it's shady exterior. Potter, with one hand wrapped around the handle of the potions bag she never puts down (the rucksack with their tent has been left at the base of the pyramid they'd been breaking into) and the other stuffed in her pocket, eyes it warily.

"Are you sure you wanna eat here?"

He's not, but he certainly doesn't want to sit on those steps any longer, nor is he in the right frame of mind to be looking for traps and tricks, of which there are no doubt plenty in these tombs. Plus, spending money that isn't his own always soothes his temper.

"I'm sure, Potter. I've had enough loops of your terrible cooking." That isn't particularly true; Potter's cooking isn't terrible. No potioneer can be a terrible cook, not when the activity is so closely related to potions. The only difference is the chance of a pot of food blowing up in your face is miniscule compared to that of a potion imploding and taking a good chunk of your body with it.

"If you're sure," Potter grumbles, stepping forwards and pushing the door open. Then, she stops. She stops so quickly that Caelum walks into her back, the two of them stumbling into the restaurant and almost falling to the floor in an undignified heap. Perhaps that would have been preferable; that way, he would have an excuse for not meeting James Potter's eyes the moment he spots him.

For fuck's sake.

Twenty-One

"You never said the portkey could be traced."

"We've never run into your Head Auror father over here; how was I supposed to know he'd find us so quickly!" Caelum's waspish reply is, unfortunately, the truth. This time, they've resolved to remain behind the pyramid wards as soon as they're under them. Every other time, they've been under their own little wards while cracking the protections on the tomb; the Aurors must not have been expecting them to be hiding under such a thing. After all, what pair of teenage runaways would escape the country for something other than a holiday at the tourist hot-spot? Certainly, they wouldn't be expected to set about breaking into a pyramid, nevermind successfully accomplishing what the last hundred years of curse-breaker teams have failed to do.

"It's going to be awkward explaining why the two of us are in Egypt once we break the time-loop," Harry says, trying to imagine what her father will have to say about her vanishing off to another country, with an older boy no less, without anything other than a quick letter of explanation. This time, she hasn't said which country she's heading to, only that it's potions related and that she will be 'really careful and honestly, it's not that different from Archie's internship last year'. She knows that's a total lie, but what else could she say? 'Oh, Caelum Lestrange and I have been trapped in a time-loop for two months now, you've arrested both of us three times, we've stolen from the Ministry and bribed officials, and now I'm going to have to trap Caelum in a vow and give him an IOU to be cashed in at a later date, and it's related to why I suddenly look very different'. Yes, she's sure that'd go down very well.

"Let's worry about that after we manage it, Brat." Yes, Caelum does have the right of it, she supposes.

Once again standing at the entrance to the post-Dom pyramid, Harry steps through and progresses under the Thief's Downfall, feeling it strip the Polyjuice from her. She'll have to apply some glamour charms, or maybe even sneak back into the Ministry in order to 'borrow' a time-turner so she can re-brew her modified Polyjuice ahead of time. Hell, she's had enough practice that she'll be able to get in and out without a problem now. Even if the thought of having to use a time-turner again makes her feel sick.

"You look better without Black's face," Caelum grunts, not even needing to shake the water free from his face as it passes right off him. It's only her, the one who'd been in disguise, that's soaked to the bone.

"It's actually our merged face," Harry says, scrubbing a hand along her chin to collect the excess residue, the goggles on her face stopping the water from clinging to her eyelashes. "But thanks." She's not quite sure what she's saying thanks for, not sure why it soothes something in her chest to hear someone acknowledge her actual face. Though it may stem from Caelum's leftover anger at Rigel Black for the upset during her second year. She wonders if he still dislikes Archie now, or if he's always disliked Archie as a result of Bellatrix no doubt spewing poison into his ears about Sirius from a young age.

She doubts Draco getting a starlight and Caelum not being given one helped matters. No doubt Bellatrix wasn't happy about the snub but, then again, what else could she expect when she does her damn best to lock horns with Harry's uncle whenever they see each other.

It doesn't seem fair that Caelum suffered for it though.

"I don't want to know." Lighting the tip of his wand, Caelum inspects the three passageways that the corridor splits into, his eyes lingering on the now smooth stone walls. There are no chunks missing from Harry's panicking magic and, tellingly, there are no torch holders to light the walls. They're wizards, after all; why would the Ancient Egyptians have needed torches when they could cradle light in their palms?

'Which way, Dom? '

'If it follows the traditional pattern of my pyramids, it'll be right, then take whichever path descends. The waters are most likely to be at the bottom. ' She can feel the presence in her mind all but preen under her gratitude.

"Let's go right," Harry says, summoning up a lumos to the tip of her wand and heading over to the corridor in question, letting her magic roll out of her to sense any potential traps that lie in wait for them. She's adorned in her best free-duelling gear, the tight breeches tucked into her potion boots, a sleeveless tunic that's tight at the waist with no trailing hem to get caught in anything. She's even managed to bully Caelum into a pair of trousers and shirt, though the sleeves are long. Like her, all excess material that could potentially be grabbed or get caught on something is gone, leaving them about as prepared to face the incoming dangers as one can be.

"Do you have a grand plan if we come up against some curse we don't recognise, Halfblood?"

"I'm hoping I'll be able to sense it first, though I suppose we can test it with some of my volatile potions ingredients. I always have a few chimera eyes to hand." They'd proven invaluable in the Triwizard Tournament and she wouldn't be too surprised if they proved to be just as useful here.

"Why are chimera eyes your first thought?" Caelum asks, his expression serious and Harry dallies over whether it's worth telling him. Only, she supposes, there's no issue with it.

They progress down the corridor, Caelum scoffing and commenting how he would most certainly have noticed such a 'cock up' on an unfamiliar recipe. Looking back on it now and knowing what she does about chimera eyes as an ingredient, Harry can admit she'd be able to spot it a mile off. But that is only a result of Professor Snape's dedicated teaching and she says as such to Caelum. This then inspires her fellow potioneer to go on a spiral of how Durmstrang's Potions Master could certainly learn a thing or two from the man, recounting his failing to prevent several NEWT students from blowing up their own potions while Caelum was left to make do on his own.

"Of course, my Potions NEWT was completed long before I'd even approached my OWLS for all other subjects, but that's to be expected with my level of skill, is it not?"

Harry hums in agreement, stopping when her magic catches something dangerous lurking beneath the stone flooring in front of them. "I agree; Professor Snape has me on a different schedule to everyone else. We started on NEWT level potions when I was in third year. There's something under the paving stones in front of us."

What follows is Caelum casting several revealing charms, exposing a series of sharp spikes that rocket up from the floor and would have unquestionably speared them both. The purple hue to the liquid they're coated in indicates that, had they not bled to death, the poison would have finished the job.

"Fuck," Caelum grunts, twisting his wand and pulling a small sample of the fluid from the nearest spike, bottling it in an empty vial. It's a good idea; when else will either of them get to experiment with Ancient Egyptian poisons? She wonders if the potency of the concoction will have waned or strengthened with time.

Harry gives a flick of her own wand and the spikes transform into icicles, melting away under a quick heating charm as they continue down the corridor.

.

And, so it goes. There's an antechamber at one point with a plague of locusts inside that they're forced to cremate before they have any hope of walking forward, hematite powder coating the floor of the next corridor (dealt with via a simple vanishing charm), and the last thing they'd come across had been the reanimated corpses of a few hundred snakes. They hadn't answered to Parseltongue, Harry had tried it and ignored the look Caelum shot her when the serpent's tongue came from between her lips, so they'd settled for dealing with the issue via more fire. In fact, a lot of what they've dealt with so far had required fire, barring the handful of old curses that must have been picked up by visiting Romans, because they're curses both she and Caelum know how to handle.

Perhaps then, Harry should be concerned by the fact that their latest obstacle is fire itself. No water appears to be capable of extinguishing it and the flame-freezing charm had done nothing to stop the fire from burning Caelum's finger when he'd tried testing it.

With no other option, they'd set up the tent inside the corridor and retreated inside in order to brew the Fire Protection Potion.

.

Her potions gloves don't seem to fit her fingers properly anymore, they're now a little loose around the knuckles. Harry hadn't realised the Polyjuice changed her body that thoroughly. Not until she's found herself back in all her gear and utterly unable to help but notice the fact the seams press awkwardly against her hips, or that the collar of her robe sits differently because she has a bit more of a chest now. It's discomforting but she refuses to let it throw her off.

"What are the chances this potion'll work?"

"No doubt low," Caelum sneers, adding the salamander blood and beginning the anti-clockwise stirs, his eyes fixated on the cauldron as the liquid within slowly begins to turn an acidic green. "But there are no more obvious answers after this."

"We'll imbue another batch of this with a flame-freezing charm next," Harry offers, inspecting her own cauldron with a hard frown. It's exactly the right shade of green but her hands are gripping the stirring rod in a way that is both familiar and uncomfortable. It's the gloves, she concludes. She'll have to remember this for the end of her Seventh Year, will have to set aside funds in order to stock up on new gear so that it is exactly as it should be.

"You can't just make a new potion up on the spot, Potter. That's not how it works and I won't have you blowing us up with your first attempts at free-brewing."

"Please, Professor Snape already taught me free brewing; I haven't had a cauldron blow up on me yet. Don't worry, Caelum, you'll keep your pretty face once all this is over."

Were he not adding his crushed Wartcap powder to his potion, Harry rather thinks her fellow potioneer would have been sneering at her.

"Besides," she continues, working over her own powder with the pestle, "we're not making a new potion. We're making this potion again and imbuing a spell into it. I was doing it before I even realised no one else was. Don't you want to invent a new potion, Caelum?"

His shoulders go stiff as she continues to persist with the use of his given name, though he doesn't acknowledge her further until his potion has turned a rich red. Then, Caelum removes his stirring rod, placing it down on the tabletop once it's clean and waits. Still no response. Ever so slightly worried now, Harry completes her final clockwise stir and copies Caelum's motion of cleaning the rod and placing it down, extinguishing both fires with a casual flick of her wrist. Then, and only then, does she turn to look at the boy, waiting for an answer for his odd behaviour.

There's a funny expression on Caelum's face as he looks her over, eyes sharp beneath the press of his goggles. Her best comparison is perhaps the look Professor Snape once gave her after she'd finally had a chance to showcase her talents as a potioneer, back when she'd proven she was worth his time. But, even then, the looks aren't the same. There's something else to Caelum's eyes that's unfamiliar, something that makes her stomach squirm like she's downed a vial of Caxambu Style Borborygmus Potion but there's no audible growl to it.

When Caelum speaks, his voice is low and the frustration in his tone wars with something else that she can't quite put her finger on. "Potter, you can't keep creating potions on a whim."

"It's hardly a whim," Harry retorts, quite unable to raise her voice, not when Caelum's keeping his at a whisper. "We need a potion that can let us walk through the ancient, magical fire."

Shaking his head, Caelum turns back to his cauldron long enough to pour his potion out into separate vials, stripping himself of his gloves and goggles once she's copied him. He's got the right idea of it; they should test these potions before creating a new one as there might not be any need for it if the Fire Protection Potion works.

Leaning against the workbench, Caelum continues to eye her with that strange look in his eyes, prompting Harry to fold her arms across her chest and frown.

"You're not feeling jealous, are you?" Now that does inspire a reaction; Caelum huffs and looks away, running one hand through his hair in a gesture she'd thought him too well bred to indulge in. The tips of his ears are red.

"Don't be ridiculous, Potter. I've got the hang of your little shape imbuing trick; how other potion masters are struggling, I don't have the slightest idea. Clearly they're not as gifted as they believe themselves to be. Perhaps you should go into teaching once you graduate, Potter. That'll free Master Snape up for the good of the country and you can ensure the future potions masters actually know their shit."

"You think I'm good enough to teach?" Harry purrs, a smile slipping across her face as she reaches for Rispah's lessons, widening her eyes and letting them shimmer with a flood of admiration and just the slightest hint of longing. It's untested on her actual face but, given her disguise is actually fifty percent Harriet Potter, she can't have messed it up too badly. Caelum stares, head twisted ever so slightly over one shoulder to look at her given he's still resting against the workbench and his lips are parted ever so slightly. He looks just as damningly beautiful as always, even more so without the sneer. It turns out the Lestrange Heir isn't genetically dispositioned to a default sneer after all, she's spent enough time in his presence to see it. The near innocent shock on his face at the moment is a new expression though.

Harry allows her own face to relax back into the flat base she normally affixes, allowing the boy a moment to gather his wits. She can't blame him, not when Rispah's variation had knocked her own mental thought process off course for a few seconds.

"Fu- Damn it, Potter! How the fuck do you do that with your face?"

"Practise."

"Well maybe you should practise a little less on that and a little more on potions. Then you could be working towards your mastery now, like me."

"I'm pretty sure you're only ahead of me because you were born earlier."

Caelum very pointedly ignores her retort, selecting a vial from his collection and sweeping outside, no doubt to go test it. Harry watches him go and wonders what in Merlin's name his current problem is. He's already demanded one undisclosed favour for the future, agreeing to not ask something that would bring harm to her immediate family, uncles and cousin. He's listened to her whole tale (even if she'd left more than a few strategic things out, such as what actually happened to the Dominion Jewel) and seemed to be relatively accepting of it (by Caelum Lestrange's standards, that is).

Could it have been her father arresting them both for the third time during the last loop? But no, he'd been alright when they arrived back this time too (if a little peeved that they'd been caught yet again and, truth be told, he wasn't the only one).

With a sigh, Harry writes it off as another mystery to be explored at a later time and follows Caelum out of the tent, her own potion in hand.

.

It doesn't work. That'd be too easy.


An hour and the invention of a brand-new potion later, sees both Caelum and his halfblood companion on the other side of the inexhaustible fire, both wondering just what the hell the Egyptians did to get through that dreadful obstacle. And another thing-

"Why didn't you use that potion that spared you from the dragonfire?"

"That was the jacked-up version the Marauders line created; I don't have the recipe or any of it in my bag," Potter confesses, slipping one finger beneath the strap of her goggles to adjust how the band sits against her skull. She looks ridiculous, still wearing them after several hours but he recalls Potter Senior's glasses; probably a hereditary thing then. At least what she's wearing is serviceable, even if Caelum would never dream of being seen out in public with her wearing them. They're utterly ridiculous and the only thing that saves them from looking like a complete disaster on her face is the fact they draw attention to her brilliant green eyes. She had to have been using a glamour spell or something to hide the colour; the vividness of them would have given her away in an instant. It's ridiculous how very green they are. Probably a potions accident when she was first starting out, playing with recipes she was too young to be able to handle.

He admits, if only to himself, that Potter can probably handle most of the potion recipes out there in the world now, what with the ludicrous amount of magic she has. But she can't possibly have been born reciting a potion encyclopaedia. Not even Potter is that odd.

"At least we're heading downwards now," she muses, rapping one knuckle against the stone walls that have steadily become more and more decorated as they descend. There're Egyptian hieroglyphics all over the walls, paintings and murals of different people who'd probably been of some importance during their lives but Caelum doesn't care to learn their names. Not unless they're potioneers and he doesn't exactly see any cauldrons depicted on the walls around them. Ergo, nothing for him to bother taking note of.

Perhaps that's once again why his eyes turn to Potter, scanning her form a second time in Merlin knows how many minutes. It's embarrassing but, given she's actually older than she should be due to blatant time-turner abuse during her Third Year (for potions related knowledge; of that, Caelum approves), it's difficult to not notice how long her legs are, how shapely her rear is. Which, fuck. That's hardly something he's taken note of before because all the good pureblood women at the SOW parties he bothers to attend wear robes that cinch in at the waist and that's about as good as it gets for form fitting.

These trousers of Potter's are downright sinful and his mother will throttle him if she so much as catches a whisper of his thoughts.

Because it's not just that Potter's physically attractive (fuck knows what Potter meant about merging faces, but he shouldn't be surprised that stripping away any of Arcturus Black's DNA makes a person prettier, halfblood or not). She's a bloody good witch and she's serious about her potions in a way no other person he's ever met is. To the point of risking Azkaban to learn from the best. Caelum can respect that. Think she's fucking crazy, yes, but also respect it.

Crazy halfblood.

.

They arrive in a dark chamber with an unnatural glow that leaks out from something in the centre. Once they've both dismantled what appears to be the final trap at the entrance to the room, Potter drops the bag she's been carrying without so much as a grunt, wand out, and makes her way over because she's a sensible witch who assumes all is not said and done yet. Caelum steps after her, going right as she goes left, inspecting the pool of water that resides near dead centre of the chamber. Why in Merlin's name would they not make sure it's exactly in the centre? Clearly this water was here before the pyramid was built; when he leans over the edge, it appears like the glowing water has no depths at all to it.

"Is this it?"

"I… I don't know. There's certainly some magic coming off it that isn't like anything I've felt before."

His brow furrowing, Caelum focuses on expanding his own magical sensitivity, a sense he has only just begun to flex under Master Whitaker's instructions. He has every intention of learning free brewing, even more so now that he knows Potter can do it. Ridiculous bint. And fuck if that isn't said fondly. His mother really is going to kill him.

At the very least, Lord Riddle will probably pat him on the back and say he's taking one for the team. As if anyone could go two months being the only person Potter can honestly talk to without them forgetting the conversation three days later and not come out of it with some respect for her. Only, it's not just respect he has, is it? It's admiration for doing the one thing he'd considered himself at eleven; sacking off his parents' expectations and going to Hogwarts anyway. That's where he should have been, it's where every Lestrange and Black before him has gone and that should have been exactly where he studied. Only, he hadn't had the guts.

Not like Potter, apparently, who has more guts than the rest of the British Isles combined.

Turning away from the luminous waters and the halfblood inspecting them, Caelum turns his attention to the walls, scanning the paintings made long ago. In the traditional Egyptian style, what could almost pass as instructions are portrayed on the wall, with witches and wizards climbing into the waters. A moon that will never touch the water again now that the pyramid is built shines down upon it, the water glowing in return- ah. The moon isn't needed. The waters were granted this gift by the moon. Hadn't Potter said something about the God having something to do with the moon? It was a few loops ago and, barring the Waters being in Egypt, he hadn't exactly paid attention to what the god represented.

Caelum inspects the wall one last time, grateful that they're not going to have to drink water that's thousands of years old, but getting into it is hardly going to be much better. He certainly didn't bring a bathing suit and, given Potter is very much present, he's hardly about to strip down naked and climb in either. Which is horrific because wet cloth pressing against his skin is never pleasant.

Fuck this. He's never touching time-sand again.

.

"I always thought the most awkward things I would do would be as Rigel," Potter muses, keeping her head afloat with ease as she treads water, goggles still on and the collar of her shirt exposing more of her left clavicle than the right. Across from her in the water, Caelum forcibly keeps his eyes on her face, though it's hardly like he'd be able to really appreciate the way her clothes will no doubt stick to her body given the movement of their limbs keeps disturbing the surface.

"Don't get used to it, Brat. After this, we're never having another adventure." He's had his fill, enough for a lifetime, quite frankly. He has absolutely zero desire to ever work with mysterious potions ingredients again in the next five years and he doubts he'll ever manage to stomach doing so with Potter in his lifetime; she must have a terrible streak of bad luck, some kind of curse some lucky sod managed to slip over her before her wackjob magic could stop it.

"Let's stick to brewing together."

"Eating out would be fine too," Caelum states with a presumptuous sniff, watching Potter's lips twist up into a smile.

"Told you I grow on people." And fuck it, she does. He's still pretty pissed over the whole 'I'm actually Rigel Black'. He'd probably be more pissed if she'd actually begun the deception after meeting him though; at least she'd had this farse going before they even knew the other existed. It's a good thing they didn't really meet until two years ago.

Though, if Potter had gotten her internship any earlier, he'd probably have hated her outright and never given her a chance.

"Alright, you little fungi. Why the fuck haven't we broken the time-loop yet?"

"Maybe we have. Time is only supposed to move one way and we've got two days until the usual loop reset. I think we should get in the waters when it's about to reset, just in case." But that leaves them two days stuck inside a pyramid, calling a tent home and living off the takeout food that Caelum secured yet again in this loop.

"Come on then, Potter. Let's go brew while we wait."

.

The rest of the loop passes rather nicely after that. Potter does a ridiculous morning exercise routine that involves running around the Waters of Iah far too many times and Caelum watches her the first day. He only joins in on the second day because Potter had commented on how he'd probably not be able to complete even half her routine. Which, the joke is on her, he does manage it. He's struggling like hell to move on the third day, but he's not about to admit that. Or prove Potter's point. Besides, they brewed a muscle relaxant the previous day, coupled with a spell that forces the potion to work on anything that doesn't classify as a respiratory or circulatory muscle. They don't want to accidentally stop the drinker's heart or suffocate them.

Now, with only five minutes to go until the loop is supposed to reset, Caelum once again finds himself in the Waters of Iah, across from Potter with only their heads above the surface. The waters are deep; Potter had used the Liberespirare potion they'd brewed last year and had gone down for a look yesterday. She'd been gone ages, surfacing dangerously close to the time-limit on the potion to report back that it probably went down for a mile or two, deeper than any natural lake. Then again, there's every chance that the Ancient Egyptians had charmed the waters deeper than they actually were, though Caelum can't think of a reason why they would do this. Even more suspicious is the fact that the sides of the water remain the same width all the way down, right up until Potter'd hit the actual bottom, which was a perfectly flat surface. If this had ever been a natural oasis in the desert, the ancient wizards had ensured it would never be considered as such with all the changes they'd made.

"I expect you'll be far more pleasant company when you return, Potter."

"Because I'd have been trapped in Riddle's company for weeks on end?" she drawls in return, rolling her eyes with a look about her that seems almost fond. Well, that's what he expects a regular person looks like when they're feeling fond of someone.

"I was under the impression from a know-it-all halfblood that the more of the world you see, the wiser you become," Caelum grumbles with a sniff, drawing a smile to Potter's face as she no doubt recalls that half-faded conversation between them.

"I'll only have two days between getting back and going back to my schooling, so I'm not sure if we'll be able to meet up."

"Well I want a vow for that future favour," Caelum declares, his mind bouncing back and forth between all the different things he could demand of her; basilisk parts, potions related collaborations, her aid in whatever ventures he undertakes that requires her ridiculous levels of magic… he'll wait before he decides. He's only got the one favour and he wants to use it well. "So don't go getting yourself caught before I can cash it in."

Potter laughs, her head tilted ever so slightly back to avoid getting a mouthful of ancient mystic water before she looks at him again, grin a little lopsided and he hates that he notices that. This time-loop business has ruined him and in more ways than one.

"I'll try my best, Caelum." Merlin, he could really do without her saying his name like that. He's trying to keep some semblance of distance between them but she's not making it easy in the slightest. With water dripping from the short hair plastered to her forehead, Potter's face is a sight to see. Not the face he's used to, this is actually Harriet Potter before him, in all her stupidly potent green-eyed glory and her even more potent magic.

And then the face is gone.

Twenty-Two

They're in Potions Lab 17 again. Harry isn't sure what she wants to do, isn't sure if she can even drum up the energy to scream in frustration because it's not something she's ever done before. This is hardly a hopeless situation, there'll be more leads. She'll just have to swallow her pride for one loop and go ask Riddle. Even if such a thing will physically hurt.

"Potter!" Caelum clinks his fingers in front of her or, at least, tries to. But they slide over each other without much of a sound, water droplets bracketing his eyes as he stares at her. He looks different in the light of the Guild's rented room, like a normal potions apprentice and not the boy she's worked alongside in order to break into the Ministry and an ancient Egyptian tomb. He'd looked different in the Waters of Iah, though that's to be expected when the only 'natural' light source in the room came from the waters themselves. It'd cast his face in a sharp relief, creating a setting in which he was even more unbelievably beautiful than ever before and she's rather irritated she'd even noticed that to begin with.

Wait-

"We're covered in water," Harry breathes, looking down at herself to find, for the first time, something different at the start of these damn loops. Unlike every other time, the contaminated sand isn't present. Instead, they're both dripping with water, soaked through to the skin with a liquid that is glowing ever so faintly. Harry dutifully bottles up a sample for later consideration. Things are looking… promising though.

"Do you think we've broken it?" Harry asks, flicking her wrist absentmindedly to close the door on the still gaping intern. It slams shut in its frame, leaving the two of them still dripping wet, fluids of questionable qualities slowly beginning to pool at their feet but Harry's too busy focusing on the possibility that they are almost free. Could quite possibly be completely free. Maybe the waters send them back to the start of the loop as a final reset, like the completion of a lap before you're allowed to continue onwards.

"Harry."

Startling at the blunt call of her name, she looks up to find Caelum standing a little closer than he had been before, forcing her to tilt her head ever so slightly back to keep her gaze focused on him. He's pale, though not the stark white he'd appeared in the pyramid.

"I think we should go about the next few days as if we've not been stuck in a time-loop," Harry decides, reaching up to remove her goggles and wipe the water that has somehow managed to work its way under the suction of the lenses. "We should meet up when the loop is supposed to reset."

"Done," Caelum grunts, looking over the table but all of the time-sand is gone; there's not a trace of the stuff left. She wonders what pushed the other into saying her first name; it's always been 'halfblood', 'brat', 'Potter' or even 'Harriet' that one time. This is the first time he's used her nickname. "I'm picking the restaurant this time."

.

Once she's decontaminated (hopefully for the final time this summer), and she and Caelum have performed a vow, Harry heads home to regale Archie with the full tale, enjoying the blatant shock on his face as she describes it all. Absolutely everything, down to Caelum's inability to climb even half the steps of the pyramid they'd broken into. The vial of water acts as excellent evidence here and she places it in prime position in her room to be experimented with next summer. She has absolutely no desire to go poking anymore substances that are related to time magic for the rest of her holidays.

So, she goes to the Malfoy Gala as Rigel, makes nice with her friends and avoids Riddle like the plague, even when he tries to corner her. She sits down with Addy and goes through her flashcards with the girl. There's a fresh ache to spending time with her family now, even though there shouldn't be. But she's had two months pretty much separated from them, two months they don't remember (a good thing in her father's case) and it's… discomforting to have had this experience that no one else will remember. No one else other than Caelum that is.

On the third morning, an hour or so before the loop is due to reset, an owl swoops in through the window and deposits a letter in her lap, leaving just as quickly. All four of the Potter family are sitting at the table, as Sirius' off with Archie and having a final good-bye before 'Rigel' leaves for his world-tour in the afternoon.

"Who's the letter from, Harry?" Lily asks with a smile, mopping up Addy's latest attempts at feeding herself. The mashed banana is splattered across her highchair, parts of the table and it's worked its way into the younger girl's hair too.

'Meal is booked in for ten o'clock exactly. Meet me at Morel - C. Lestrange '

"Caelum. We're going to meet up for a meal in an hour or so," Harry muses innocently, just to watch her father splutter and cough over his bacon and eggs, eyes wide and mouth twisting with horror.

"You're meeting up with Lestrange?" James whimpers, placing his fork down to instead grab his orange juice, downing two mouthfuls before he decides he's not yet finished with his questions. "Why are you meeting with Lestrange? Didn't you see that boy the other day?"

"Yeah, but we've got a bit of potions related academia to cover before we can call it quits for the summer. It's why I'm only having a slice of toast now."

.

Harry leaves her father half-slouched over the table, grumbling under his breath about looking for a reason to arrest certain bad influences and, somehow, Harry manages to keep a straight face through it all. There's no evidence of their wrong doings, what with the whole time-loop thing going on, so she doubts her father will actually be able to arrest Caelum. The first three times have been enough for Harry; she has zero intention of ever being caught again. Speaking of which, she needs to look into acquiring a sample of the Thief's Downfall so that she can come up with a way around the enchantments. If she asks Archie nicely, he might even send 'Rigel' some books from his dear cousin Harry who has found out about the potion stripping enchantments.

Stopping outside of Morel, Harry very determinedly doesn't roll her eyes, instead pushing open the door and making her way inside. She's made good time, catching Caelum just as he's about to be shown to a table.

"A little on the nose, isn't it?" she calls in greeting, striding to fall into step beside him as the waitress shows them to a table. "And a little early for lunch."

"I was under the impression a little fungi like you would appreciate a restaurant that specialises in serving mushrooms," Caelum drawls, nodding to the waitress before sitting himself down. "And it's not like I control the moment we loop. Hence, brunch."

It makes sense. Like her, Caelum looks a little calmer, a little less like 'I'm stuck in strange magic that I do not understand and am struggling to get out of'. His hair is even spelled neat again, something he hadn't bothered to do in the last seven or so loops. Compared to how he looked at this time during their last loop, there's a world of difference.

"Is this where you tell me what you want your favour to be?" Harry asks, reviewing the menu as she does so.

"No. I'm going to hold that over your head. No doubt it will take extraordinary circumstances for me to call in a favour from a halfblood."

Harry snorts, rolling her eyes before she gives the waitress her order.

They make half-hearted conversation over the three interns at the Guild (apparently, Caelum hadn't put a thought to submitting a complaint, too busy with dealing with this potential last loop, just like her so three it remains) and he promises to grab the papers the trio submit for their presentation at the end of it all.

"Though I doubt any of them will have a project half as interesting as yours was."

"We can't all be crazy halfbloods with wild ideas." Harry takes a sip from her glass of milk, ignoring the way Caelum eyes the beverage in blatant disbelief. It's too early for him to be 'drinking' wine, but honestly, water? For brunch? He could have any sort of juice and she wouldn't give him such a strange look in return.

Caelum looks her over again, just once more, before he shakes his head in disbelief and determinedly squares his jaw. There's some kind of mutter under his breath, though she only manages to catch something about 'crazy idea' and 'infecting'. Then, he's setting up silencing wards.

"Potter." Looking up, Harry tilts her head as a silent show of acknowledgement, waiting for Caelum to continue. "You don't have to be engaged to Black, even if you're wearing his stupid face. The marriage law never passed, which you obviously know."

"I wouldn't put anything past Riddle. He's been trying to sever Rigel from Harriet Potter for the entirety of my fourth year."

"… I'm going to ignore how ridiculous that is because it's all down to the bullshit you've pulled with this bloody ruse. But, if Lord Riddle really does intend to see those of us who are pure matched off to… the lesser half, then I'm willing to collect a second favour off you." A second favour? What in Merlin's name – wait.

"Are you suggesting I marry you?" Harry asks, well aware the surprise and, well, the surprise is vociferous in her voice. But, well, how else is she supposed to react?

"Please. If Lord Riddle intends for this to happen, he'll get his way eventually. You just need to look at his track record. At least if we're paired off, we can just go about our lives as usual. Experimenting, researching, occasionally brewing together."

Harry laughs, though it's not at the idea. On paper, it makes sense. If Archie really does go through with his intentions of chasing a life with Hermione, chances are good he'd sooner leave Britain than be told what to do by Riddle, something Harry completely understands. Oh, sure, her father would probably blow a gasket given that it's Lestrange, but in terms of a match, it's not bad? Caelum certainly wouldn't disapprove of her ambitions for potioneering and he'd understand her need to always be inventing, to be exploring new options and the drive to get better. And it's not like there's anything wrong with him aesthetically either.

That he put the idea forwards as if he were looking to snatch a second favour from her is definitely on brand.

"I'll keep it in mind," Harry promises, knocking her foot against his under the table just to watch him puff up with indignation. "Thanks for the offer."

"You should be thankful. Even if you're clearly an exemplary halfblood, I'm certainly outside your weight class."

"You're right," Harry easily agrees, thanking the waitress that presents her with her meal. "Keep working on your wandless magic and you might get a little closer to matching me." Caelum scowls and that's when Harry looks to the clock, lips cracking out into a grin. Without really thinking about it, she jumps out her chair, summoning the clock to her and ignoring the startled cries of her fellow diners.

Only once it is in hand does she twist it around to show Caelum, grinning all the while. "Caelum, look!"

"Ten past ten," he reads, having also risen from his chair, as if that'll let him see the handles of the clock any better. They both stare at a time neither of them have been able to reach on this day for near months and Harry lets a low laugh escape her lips, small and controlled but genuinely pleased.

"We did it," she whispers, turning her head to Caelum and startling when his lips find hers. It's quick, but nothing like when Draco had pressed his lips to hers. Then she'd had fair warning, had the choice to pull away if she so wished it. Whereas Draco's kiss had been the barest pressure, whereas he'd tried to be romantic about it by reaching to cradle her neck… it's not like this.

It's a kiss from someone who knows her biggest secret, who knows she's a liar who's lying to everyone and still doesn't seem to care, who's put forward an offer to spend the rest of their lives tied together, even if they'd only enter the agreement under duress. It's a kiss from an older boy who knows what he's doing because his lips work against hers, his teeth nip at her skin before he pulls back and leaves Harry unsure of just how to react, how to respond. Because… it's okay for Harry Potter to like getting kissed, isn't it? It's okay for her to not instantly push the other person away; Caelum knows about the ruse and he still, for some inexplicable reason, wanted to kiss Harriet Potter the pureblood pretender who lies like she breathes.

Harry doesn't have to push it away for any other reason than she doesn't want it. And she can't say that she doesn't want it.

"Just consider it, you little fungi."


This was written for Rimenorreason for the Rigel Black Exchange, Part 2. Now that authors are finally revealed, I can share on here :)

Tsume
xxx