Actions

Work Header

i never did believe in the ways of magic

Work Text:

It starts the same way any other day starts, with the persistent pale wash of new dawn light and the chime of his alarm which hooks into the fabric of his dreams and wrenches their cocooning cover from him. Mornings are always a struggle for Louis, no matter how long he’s had to deal with them in his profession. Before he had made his big debut off of The X-Factor USA, he’d thought he would be trading in early mornings for late nights as a singer—more than fine by him—but it turns out singers have the unique pleasure of both. In his half-asleep haze, Louis wonders if he can sue for false advertising, or if he can re-negotiate his contract so he doesn’t have to be subjected to such a unique brand of torture. Puzzling out his legal rights takes more energy than he has at the moment, though, so he opts for pulling his blanket over his head and burying his face deeper into his pillow. A few more minutes won’t hurt anybody.

He’s just about to surrender himself back into the arms of sleep when he hears his phone chime again. He groans and reaches blindly for his night stand, eyes blinking blearily as he tries to read the message. Rubbing sleep-sand out of his eyes, he sees that the text is from his manager. Typical. Liam has graciously informed him that if he hasn’t gotten himself out of bed five minutes from receiving the message, Liam is going to drag Louis out of bed himself.

Harsh, Payno, Louis texts back and stumbles into the shower. So much for an extra few minutes of sleep.

Liam is waiting for Louis in the back seat of their designated vehicle with an Egg McMuffin, a hash brown, and a travel mug filled with tea—strong Yorkshire with a splash of milk. He’s spent his entire life in the United States, his family having moved there for his parents’ work when Louis had barely started primary school, but both his parents had strong northern blood in them, as they liked to say, and he had been unable to escape their influence as far as his caffeinated beverage of choice went. He’d tried not to let his parents turn him into some kind of tea snob but, well. There’s a reason Liam brings him his tea instead of buying it from McDonald’s with everything else. And it’s normal, too, when Louis scarfs down his breakfast while Liam rattles off Louis’ schedule for the day. It’s how they’ve begun their mornings together since Louis’ life as a singer began.

Apparently, Louis has some meetings to attend this afternoon after he carries out the last leg of his radio tour. Today he has a few live shows to do, and the ones he has pre-recorded will come out over the next couple of days. This will be the first time he’s taken an extended hiatus, and his management has decided it’s in everybody’s best interests to reassure his fans that he’s actually going to return by the end of it. For the past five years his life has been gogogo, Louis getting caught up in his explosive success, and neither he nor his management wanted to risk losing the momentum which rocketed him to stardom. Now, five years in, Louis finally feels he’s at a point where he can step back and just breathe for a minute. If he’s being honest, he knows he needs the break, that his music will suffer if he tries to keep up this schedule any longer.

And, well. He needs some time to figure out who he is outside of his relationship. He’s not the same kid he was when he met Ryan all those years ago, fresh-faced and wide-eyed and new to both the music industry and the gay dating scene, having only barely come out to his family before his life changed forever when he auditioned for X-Factor and got put through round after round after round.

Things between Louis and Ryan had moved as rapidly as his ascent to fame had, the two of them hurtling past relationship milestones at three times the speed of regular couples. First dates filled with passionate, desperate kisses fell into nights together more often than not, which slipped into big and expensive vacations to exotic locales that saw them returning to a house filled with their shared belongings. It leaves Louis dizzy to even think about it. He doesn’t know how he managed to stay afloat for so long, just that somewhere along the way, the buoyant, breathless feeling of excitement that had been lodged in his chest started to feel more like drowning and that he needed to get away. He wonders now if maybe it had always felt like drowning, but he had so desperately wanted to match the pace of the world around him, wanted to prove that he could, that he convinced himself he didn’t need to breathe.

He thinks, too, that he needed something to cling to, something that anchored his self and his burgeoning, trembling identity, so ill-fitting on someone who had yet to grow into its crooks and crannies. Louis needed to feel like Louis-from-Los-Angeles wasn’t about to be ripped from him and lost to the glamorous, piteous, whirling hurricane of Hollywood. So he anchored himself to Ryan, to their relationship. But as he adjusted to his new life, as his roots took hold, Louis began to feel less and less like he could be lost to the wind at any moment, and less like he needed that anchor to keep him grounded. Naturally, his relationship with Ryan suffered. He likes to think they had had a genuine connection, had honestly shared things in common, had made some beautiful memories together, but by the end of last year Louis knew it was time to close that chapter of his life. Needed to.

He likes to think that the breakup had been a mutual agreement, too.

✩☽✩☽✩

It’s when Louis tries to finish up the vocals on a few more songs later that afternoon in the studio before he takes a break in earnest that his day, which had started out like any other day—even pleasant in its normalcy—goes wrong in more ways than he could even understand at the time.

The doctor tells him his vocal chords have finally given out, the high-intensity schedule he’s been keeping finally catching up with him. She might also say something about smoking, but Louis pretends he doesn’t hear that bit. He’s allowed to have this one vice. He’ll quit, one day, he swears. But not just yet. Maybe he’ll give it a shot over his hiatus, when he finally has the time. He’s sure it would make Liam happy, although his manager isn’t any better, joining Louis on his smoke breaks and turning them into veritable social events. He wonders if Liam will quit with him. It could be a bonding exercise. Liam is always interested in doing those.

“You’re heading into your hiatus now, correct? If you make sure to keep yourself on strict vocal rest for the next week or so your vocal chords should be able to make a full recovery,” the doctor says. “Of course, vocal rest works best in conjunction with a change in the habits that created the need for it in the first place.” She eyes Louis deliberately, and Louis offers her an abashed grin.

Except.

He takes the doctor’s advice, stringently follows her guidelines about vocal rest, but when, determined to properly check off the last few tasks on his pre-hiatus to-do list, he goes back to the studio to re-record his vocals on the tracks, he’s met with the painful surprise that his vocal chords seem not to be in any better shape than they were before he went on rest. The first time, Louis figures his vocal chords just need a bit more rest than the doctor had originally thought. So he waits another week, just to be safe. And then it doesn’t get any better. Louis still can’t sing without feeling like his throat is being pulled taut and shredded by fiery claws.

Except.

Louis tries talking at a regular volume, to figure out just how badly he’s managed to damage his vocal chords, and there’s no tension in his voice, no blinding pain. It had been so bad that he’d been worried he’d somehow hemorrhaged his vocal chords. It’s not the first time he’s been put on vocal rest, but his senses had never been flooded with such paralyzing, jaw-clenching pain as he had felt when he’d previously tried to sing after his first week of rest. And to be honest, it scares him a little. He doesn’t know if it’s too late, if he’s waited too long to give his mind and body this long-overdue extended rest. He doesn’t know if whatever damage he’s done to his vocal chords is permanent.

Except.

His doctor tells him she still doesn’t see any evidence of extensive and irreparable damage to his vocal chords. They’re not in peak condition, of course, because Louis does truly need this break—“And the smoking,” the doctor adds, which Louis continues to guiltily ignore—but they’re nowhere near the shape they’d have to be in to cause the kind of pain Louis has experienced.

“It’s likely there’s something else responsible for the pain you’re feeling that we haven’t caught yet. We’ll have to do some more tests, however, to figure out exactly what that might be. I’ll consult some of my colleagues to see if they have any answers and make sure to refer you to a specialist who might have a better idea of what’s going on than I do.”

She recommends he avoid trying to sing for the time being, lest he exacerbate the issue that’s leaving him in such agony. Talking doesn’t leave Louis in the same pain, though, so his doctor tentatively advises him that he should be okay to talk “So long as you don’t take the time to brush up your theatre skills or try your hand at any speech contests,”—and to go back on strict vocal rest the instant regular speech starts to cause him any trouble, as well.

“Right, of course,” Louis says, “Thanks,” and the knot of anxiety coils tighter, tighter, in his gut. He might have allayed the fear that his vocal cords had hemorrhaged without him realizing, but he’s still no closer to finding the cause of the problem, and he wonders if the staggering uncertainty which has settled on his shoulders isn’t worse.

✩☽✩☽✩

When the doctor tells him that every expert she has tried to contact has no answer for him, but that she promises she’ll do her best to get to the root of his problem, though it might take a while, he takes it in stride as best as he can. He changes his plans, switches his studio time for home sessions with his notebook and pen and keyboard. He tries writing. Lyrics. Melodies. A beat. By the time the sun bleeds fire onto the horizon, the open-face of his notebook is as snowy and unmarred as it was earlier that day when the sky was still blushing a fresh peach. A frigid fear thrills up Louis’ spine and his world spins sideways. His hand is trembling, and for some reason he can’t seem to suck in enough air. He doesn’t know where the time went, or how he managed to spend twelve hours in front of the page with nothing to show for it come evening. He thinks, maybe, that he must still be rattled by the uncertainty surrounding his vocal chords issue, and that perhaps it might be time to listen to his doctor and let himself get some proper rest. A few days, anyway. Maybe. Tentatively, he shuts his journal and flips on the tv, surfing channels until he finds one playing Friends re-runs. Settling back into his couch, Louis feels the tension in his chest ease a little. There’s nothing like peak 90s sitcoms to lighten the heart.

So when Louis settles in a few days later one warm Sunday morning to try his hand at writing again instead, his mood just this side of manageably tumultuous, he expects to leave this writing session with something. A few lyrics. A piece of a melody. The bones of a beat. But he’s left once more with a blank page, cold and mocking. There’s a lump in Louis’ throat, and his tongue is dry. He swigs down the glass of water staining a cold ring onto his wooden table and hopes it will help him swallow down the harsh reality: for an undetermined length of time, Louis cannot physically sing, and somewhere along the way he has become entangled in a nasty net of writer’s block. Louis knows it’s possible to work past it, of course—he’s been in the industry for too long to presume an artist has the luxury of just stopping when they aren’t feeling it—but it’s another straw on the pile that is dangerously close to breaking him.

The spots of sun filtering through the tree outside Louis’ window dance across the dark surface of Louis desk, shifting as the wind presses through the branches. A surge of nervous energy courses through Louis, and he can’t stand to be sitting down here any longer, willing his hand to start writing something, anything, down on the page. He jumps up from his chair, and decides that he might as well make himself lunch. He knows himself, and knows that his mind is too scattered to be able to come up with anything. He still has some leftover spaghetti from last night that’ll do. As he places his dish in the microwave and punches in the time on the clock, he can’t help but pick at his nails, and decides that it might be a good idea to call Liam to share his concerns. At the very least, Louis thinks it would make himself feel a little better. Hopefully.

“I wouldn’t worry about it too much, mate,” Liam reassures him, “You’re probably having difficulty getting the creative juices flowing because of all the added stress in your life just when you’re supposed to have begun taking it easy. As if dealing with a break-up of a long-term relationship isn’t enough, your body isn’t too happy with you, either.”

That brings a small smile to Louis’ face. He’s not sure what he would do without Liam. Even just calling him has helped to soothe Louis’ frayed nerves. Somehow, Liam always manages to be the one voice of reason that can get through to Louis. He supposes that’s why Liam is his manager and still one of his best friends. “Thanks Liam. You really think so?”

“I do. But actually,” Liam pauses and Louis can hear some shuffling on Liam’s end and then the tapping of a keyboard. Louis takes a moment to blow on his pasta and check that it’s cool enough to eat before taking a bite. “If you’re still worried, a mate of mine has a place, up north in eastern Canada, the Laurentians, and he was looking for somebody to stay there while he travels on business. He had asked me if I was interested, thought I might like to have a proper cottaging experience in the great North American wilderness. He said it’s nothing like visiting the summer homes back in England. It’s in a small town, not one of those touristy ones, all quiet and surrounded by nature. You could give it a look, see if any of it interests you, and spend some time there on your own. He sent me some pictures if you want to have a look. Maybe a change of scenery will help. Get away from the distractions.”

Louis wants to protest, wants to say he needs to be in LA or at least in New York so he can keep in touch with the important people in the industry—being successful is as much a part of knowing the right people in the industry as it is having talent, if not more—and to stay in touch with his family, but. He is officially on hiatus. And his sisters, well. They’re not little girls who need their big brother around anymore, and they have Louis’ parents, anyway. Really, there’s nothing stopping him.

Liam continues, “I’m told the town is pretty sparsely populated, the kind of place where people don’t care so much about what’s going on in the world. Older couples, families who want to stay as disconnected from modern life as anybody can reasonably be in twenty-seventeen. I think it would be good for you.”

Louis takes another bite of his spaghetti and spends a moment turning idea around in his head. “Yeah. Yeah, I think so too, Liam.” And Louis goes to grab his laptop from the living room table and opens it on the sleek black marble surface of the breakfast bar. “Let’s see this place, then. Send me these pictures.”

As Liam walks Louis through the pictures and all the details of this tiny Canadian town, a small bubble of optimism builds between Louis’ lungs and he lets a tiny, cautious voice whisper behind his heart that, for all its rocky beginnings, this hiatus might still be a good thing yet.

✩☽✩☽✩

Louis can barely see through the rain pelting down from the dark blue-grey clouds which have curled across the sky. This far into the Laurentians, there aren't any streetlamps to line the cracked and broken road, and though he has his headlights on high and he's travelling at a much decreased speed so as to avoid an accident, the rainfall still proves too thick to give him any good idea of how close he might be to his rental property. Driving at his regular speed of eighty kilometres per hour, the journey from town should take him about forty-five minutes, but he's sure it'll take close to twice that at this rate. Louis sighs and squeezes the wheel tight in frustration. He should have listened to his gut and taken a room for the night, already reluctant to make the trip back so late even before the storm. He'll certainly be thinking twice the next time he decides he'll have time to run some last-minute errands before dinner. What's done is done, he supposes. He'll get back eventually. Assuming he took the right turn, of course. He doesn't want to think about what kind of night he's in for if he didn't.

Blurry in the distance, Louis thinks he can see the path he needs to turn onto to get to the house. He wonders how long he's been driving, hasn't been keeping close count so as to avoid agitating himself further, but he thinks it's been long enough. In any case, he's bound to be turning onto somebody's property, and he hopes whoever they are will be sympathetic enough to his situation that'll they'll let him wait out the storm under the warmth and safety of their roof. The people in the town and the surrounding area have all been endlessly accommodating to him—they don't exactly get many new semi-permanent residents in the area—so he's cautiously optimistic.

Sure enough, he finds that he's managed to get himself lost and drive up somebody else's pathway because the one leading up to his house definitely doesn't stop so far from the home; Louis is able to drive his car right up to his front door, but he has a feeling if he tried that here he'd do quite the damage to his car. Louis sighs once more and rests his forehead on the top of his wheel for a moment, bracing himself for the inevitable drenching he's about to get following the trail further. Because it does obviously continue, lined on both sides with large stones and tiny solar lamps that offer what light they can to guide one up the trail. Louis doesn't really have much of a choice but to follow their light; he can't exactly stay in his car all night. He just hopes whoever owns this property is home.

So Louis stuffs his wallet and phone as deep into his jacket pockets as possible to keep them dry and buttons up the front, ready to make his way up the trail as fast as he possibly can. It's not going to be pleasant, he knows, can already feel the cold press of denim on his arms and the wet squelch of his socks in his shoes. At least his baseball cap should keep the rain out of his eyes. With one last check in his car for any valuables, Louis forces himself out of the vehicle, sparing a moment only to lock the doors behind him before running as quickly as is safe up the trail.

Louis isn’t sure if it’s the heavy rainfall and dim lighting that’s affecting his vision, but his sense of depth seems to warp as he makes his way up the trail. The walls of trees on either side of him seem to curl forward under their own weight, enclosing Louis in a tunnel that nevertheless does nothing to keep the rain away. It drenches the ground, makes it difficult to walk with the way his feet keep slipping on the wet muddy incline. The more he walks, the more it feels like the trail is only getting longer, like the space is stretching further, and the tree which should only be a few feet away is actually a few yards. Other times still, he seems to underestimate just how far away an obtruding root is, and he’s already muddied his track pants and skinned his hands from his many falls onto the ground as a result.

All the while, Louis can’t shake the feeling that there’s something in the woods, pressing close and watching him with a heavy gaze. It makes him antsy, fills him with jitters. He wants to run, or scream, but he knows to do so would only put him in danger if there’s actually something out there after all. He’s sure he’s just imagining it, but his heart nevertheless pounds in his throat. The taste of something like electricity is in the air, and Louis hopes he shouldn’t be expecting this downfall to turn into a storm, not when he’s stuck outside in the woods like this, with no idea how much farther the property-owner’s home is—let alone if there’s anybody there willing to let him inside—and especially not when he’s not sure if he’d even be able to make it back to his car at this rate. Fuck, he really should have thought this through, but he felt like he’d had no other choice, felt like walking up this trail and seeking out the homeowner was what he had to do. Well, Louis resolves, there’s nothing to be done about it now except to keep trying to move forward.

Finally, further up the trail, Louis all the while silently cursing the way the forest has grown around the track and made it impossible to drive his car up instead of walking, the soft yellow blur of what he can only assume is the lights of the property-owner’s home fades into view. Louis squints his eyes in the direction of light as he approaches what he soon realizes is a small cottage sitting further into the property, nestled near the treeline of the clearing he’s entered, and feels relief course through his body. There’s smoke coming from the chimney; somebody is inside.

Before Louis can knock on the door, however, somebody is opening it, letting a rectangle of light wash out of the house. Louis jogs over to the home, trying to make out the figure standing in the doorway. It seems to be a man, and Louis' guess is confirmed when he is finally standing underneath the stoop at the front door. And. Well. Louis is met with the most attractive man he's ever seen—and, being in the entertainment industry, he's seen his fair share of good-looking people, the kind who make a profession out of being attractive, but this man still beats them all by miles and miles and miles.

His hair is long and curly, framing his face like some kind of lion’s mane. In the light of his cottage, it's a deep chestnut brown, with what looks to Louis as having some lighter, bronze hues mixed in. He’s tall and broad-shouldered, looks strong, and Louis should probably be afraid of him with the way he rests with such easy confidence against the door frame, body loose and open, despite residing more or less alone in the Canadian wilderness. Yet Louis can’t bring himself to be afraid. There’s something about this man—about this part of the forest, this small stone cottage—that, though it buzzes in his blood and licks up his spine, doesn’t set off warning bells. Silences them, even. Maybe it’s the way the light seems to dance in the man’s eyes, which are a piercing, fiery, shimmering green. Maybe it’s the way the hum of energy seems to cling to the man like a second skin, like it belongs to him, is part of him. Louis just doesn’t know, but he thinks maybe he’s simply truly, finally, lost his mind.

In any case, he refuses to let himself be too troubled by it for now, not when he has more pressing concerns, like convincing this man to listen to him and, hopefully, take pity on him. So, before the man has second thoughts about talking to some stranger who has just shown up on his property in the middle of a storm, Louis launches into his tale, praying it will be enough to convince the stranger to open his home to him, at least for a bit.

"Hi," Louis says, "My name is Louis Tomlinson and I've found myself in a bit of a pickle. See, I'm not familiar with the area, and I was trying to make my way back to my place before night fell and, well. This storm decided to crack down before I got there. I think I made a wrong turn on the way and found myself here, instead."

"Oops," the man says, but Louis can see in the warm glow coming from the house that the man is just teasing him, that there's a shadow of a smile tugging up the corners of his mouth. Louis can't help the laugh that slips from his lips. He's sure it’s tinged with exhaustion and an edge of hysteria.

"Yeah, oops," he agrees. "Don't suppose you might be able to help me out of this mess?"

"Hmm," the man hums, taking in Louis' bedraggled appearance as he considers Louis' question. Louis doesn't blame him. He'd be suspicious too of a stranger showing up out of the blue like this. "Yeah, I think so," the man finally says, "I'd be happy to." The shadow has turned into a full smile, now, and Louis can't help but offer him a grin in return.

"Thanks so much. You're really saving my ass. I don't know what I would have done without you..." Louis trails off.

"Harry. Styles. Harry Styles," Harry offers, and steps back from the door. "Come on in and out of the rain so we can get you dried off. I was just in the kitchen uh," Harry pauses and clears his throat before continuing,"Cooking. Dinner. Do you want a warm shower while I finish up?"

Louis has no idea how he managed to luck out like this, but he's not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. "That would be absolutely amazing,” he says with a grin he hopes conveys just how much he appreciates what Harry’s doing for him.

Harry nods, offering Louis a smile in return, and says, "Perfect. I'll show you to the bathroom. I won't have you getting bedridden on account of this weather on my watch."

The cottage isn’t all that big on the outside, and at first glance it seems just as small inside as it appears, but there’s something about the way the corners of home seem deeper than they should be, about the way the crossbeams in the ceiling seem higher than would be normal, that makes Louis feel like he’s walking through something of an optical illusion. Nevertheless, the cottage is homey, with the wood-burning fire casting a warm flickering light through the space. There’s something of a sitting room almost immediately after the front door where a small coffee table resides, surrounded by a comfy-looking loveseat and a comparably more worn-out armchair. Flush against one wall Louis sees a moderately-sized table, on top of which sits some sort of raised platform covered with a collection of what seem to be randomly-chosen unrelated objects, including some oft-used white pillar candles.

What strikes Louis the most about the room, however, are the towering bookcases filled with all sorts of books in varying conditions and, Louis realizes, in various languages as well as the extensive collection of plants in every corner of the room. Some are nestled on the bookshelves, alongside what seem to be decorative stones, sticks, and crystals like the ones along the mantle of the fire, while others hang from the ceiling next to the countless thick bushels of herbs dried and fresh or sit on the floor next to stacks of yet more books. Louis can’t name even a third of the variety of greenery in the cottage, but every single one of the plants, as far as he can tell, looks healthy—look like they’re thriving, even. Well, he supposes, anybody who lives this close to nature probably knows a thing or two about growing plants. With the amount of clutter in the home, it should probably feel cramped, or too small, should make anybody feel at least a little claustrophobic, but everything just feels like it belongs in the space, like there’s room for everything here and maybe even a little more.

The bathroom is beside what seems to be Harry’s bedroom, down a hallway and past the sitting room which is across from the kitchen on Louis’ left. Louis can indeed smell that something has been cooking in the kitchen, though he can’t place what.

When Louis leaves the steamy confines of the shower and meets Harry in the kitchen, Harry appears to be putting the finishing touches on dinner. The kitchen is as homey as the rest of the cottage, with wooden cabinetry and unenclosed wooden planked shelves spanning much of the walls. Some of the cabinet doors have glass windows, and Louis can see a mixed collection of crockery within, guessing that Harry's collection is a mismatch of copper, iron, steel, wood and the odd porcelain or ceramic. Next to the entrance of the kitchen, he sees a wall where Harry's skillets, cast iron, hang at various levels on hooks. And just like in the living room, there are yet a few more narrow bookshelves filled with books, crystals, and this time a few different kinds of jars, including mason, steel, and ceramic ones which Louis can only assume are filled with spices and other dry cooking ingredients. Here, too, there are bushels of herbs hanging from the rafters alongside some wicker baskets, and Louis can't help but wonder what on earth Harry could possibly need so many different kinds of herbs for.

On his right, underneath a window beside what Louis assumes is an entrance to the back of the property, Louis sees another smaller table on which sit more ceramic jars, the largest of which holds Harry's wooden rolling pins. Harry is on the far wall, stirring the contents of the red pot, also cast iron, which sits on the surface of a large black wood-burning stove. Next to it sits a pile of logs on a rack as well as a broom, pan, and jar which Louis assumes is to collect the ashes, and there are some hooks hanging above on the wall that hold various spoons and ladles, easily accessible from the stove. The only modern appliance Louis can see in the kitchen is a retro mint green fridge sitting in a corner, separated from the stove by open counter space, under some more windows, that Harry seems to have used as a prep area of sorts. Like the rest of the house, it's filled to the brim, but not overwhelmingly so, and Louis can tell everything in here has its own sort of place, its own order—even if Louis can't quite figure out what that order is. It's not a top-of-the-line modern kitchen by any means—not that Louis had expected one, given the exterior of the cottage and how the rest of its interior has looked so far—but it's a well-supplied and, if the smell of whatever Harry's cooking is any indication, more than adequate. Over the years, Louis has become proficient enough in the kitchen out of necessity. He’s by no means an amazing cook, but it gets the job done with the occasional surprisingly good dish. Harry, however, is apparently also some sort of secret genius in the kitchen because truly, the tantalizing smell of what appears to be a stew is something else.

“Hey, I hope you’ve warmed up and dried off,” Harry says when he catches sight of Louis entering the kitchen. He ladles some stew into a hefty wooden bowl and passes it to Louis, continuing, “But here. It seemed like a stew kind of evening.” He nods in the direction of a large wooden table next to the far wall of the kitchen. “Just grab a seat anywhere on the benches and I’ll bring some bread over in a second.”

Louis gives Harry his thanks and settles off-centre on the bench that sits between the wall and the table. The bread Harry brings is something dark and dense, with all kinds of seeds and grains baked into the dough. Harry has even brought a spreading knife and a dish of butter along with him, and Louis can tell just by the look of their meal that he’s going to be feeling pleasantly full afterwards, warm and sleepy with the heat of the food in his stomach.

Settling in on the bench across from him, Harry gives Louis a small smile—shy, even, to Louis’ surprise—gesturing to the food and says, “Go ahead, then. Dig in. I hope you enjoy.”

So Louis does, after a beat to make sure Harry is following suit and, well. If he thought Harry was a genius before based only on the smell of the food, he thinks he must be some kind of cuisine and cookery demi-god now that he’s had a taste. The broth is salty, and the mix of vegetables and meat—of what kind, he’s unsure, but it tastes gamey, which makes sense given where they are—is perfect. It’s filling and soothing and Louis can tell it’s nutritious. Coupled with the bread, which is just the right mixture of crunchy and chewy, Louis thinks he might be in heaven.

“Witchcraft,” Louis says suddenly, because it’s the only explanation for how something so simple could be so incredible.

Harry stiffens suddenly across from Louis, hand squeezing tight enough around his wooden spoon that Louis can see his skin turning white. “What?” Harry says, voice low and hoarse.

And okay. That’s a bit weird, Louis thinks, but figures Harry must be superstitious or something. Louis has only been in these mountains for a short while. Who knows what sorts of things Harry has seen or experienced here all by himself. But he makes note not to mention it as much as he can. He has no desire to make Harry uncomfortable when he’s already done so much for him.

“Oh,” Louis clears his throat. “I just meant that this soup is like, so good—ridiculously good—but so simple that there’s no way that you didn’t use some kind of magic to make it taste so delicious.”

The tension leaves Harry at that, and there’s a sparkle of mirth in his eyes and the quirk of a smile on his lips when he says, “I’m not sure whether to be flattered you like it so much or insulted that you think my cooking ability isn’t good enough to make something delicious without the help of the occult.”

“Mm,” Louis hums, “flattered, I think, that your cooking skills are so great they can be mistaken for occult knowledge.” Louis nods. “Yes, flattered.”

Harry snickers. “Well, thank you for the compliment, then. But really,” Harry continues, “It’s not that hard. You just need to know your ingredients and make sure you’re cooking with the right intent and energy.”

Louis scoffs. “Please, don’t undersell yourself. I could never get anything as good as this with the same ingredients you used, no matter how simple they are.” Louis pauses, and adds, “Intent and energy, huh? I’ve never thought about that. Like how your mom’s home-cooked food always taste better because it’s been made with love?”

Harry grins and, wow. Those are some dimples. He’s kind of unfairly cute. Louis wonders what explanation Harry has for that. “Something like that,” Harry confirms.

“Maybe that’s my problem,” Louis muses. He’s definitely never focused on intent and energy while he’s cooking. Mostly, his attention is all on making sure he has the right measurements and on not burning his food. “You’ll have to teach me some time,” is what slips out of Louis’ mouth before he realizes.

Well, fuck him.

Harry blinks, staring at Louis before his eyes warm and his grin softens. And Louis doesn’t know what to do with that. His face grows hot when he flushes. How is Harry so friendly and welcoming? Louis is genuinely growing concerned for his safety if Harry’s this open with everybody. “I guess I will,” Harry says. Louis blinks, tries to process that, because that’s unexpected.

“Thank you. I’d really like that,” Louis finally says.

“Yeah, I would too. Might give you something to do if you don't have any other plans. I mean," Harry, flustered, adds, "I've lived here for a long time now, and I like to think I know most of my neighbours and certainly a lot of the regulars who live in the town nearby, but I've never seen you around. I'm sure we would have crossed paths before and I would have remembered you if we had." By this point, a red flush has crawled across his cheeks and up his ears, and he's trailed off. "Anyway," Harry clears his throat and continues, with more confidence, teasing, "It’d be fun, I think, especially if you’re as hopeless as you seem to think you are,” and somehow Harry has managed to dissipate the tension that had been steadily growing between them. Too fast, too fast.Slow down you've just met each other, Louis thinks. And Harry's adorable, he really is, but Louis is nevertheless filled with relief now that they've managed to steer themselves away from what was rapidly turning into an awkward situation. Louis offers silent thanks to whatever force took sympathy on him.

"Yeah," he confirms, "I'm new around here. I'd like to think I wouldn't get myself lost if I actually lived here permanently, but I'm not so confident about that," he jokes. "I'm staying in a friend of a friend's property for a year or so."

"Well then, welcome to the neighbourhood, Louis. It's a pleasure to meet you and to have you over." Harry offers him a smile, and Louis knows they're well into the clear.

There is a comfortable lull in conversation when they turn their focus back to the food after that, and Louis muses on the situation he’s found himself in. He’d met Harry maybe an hour ago, and they’re already sharing a meal like close friends at Harry’s kitchen table. Before he realizes what he’s doing, the words fall out of his mouth, “Do you get many visitors? I mean, besides people like me rudely dropping in unannounced and then taking advantage of your hospitality. I can’t imagine many of my friends or family would be willing to make the trip all the way up here to visit. It’s quite the out-of-the-way place.”

Harry meets Louis’ gaze, before he snorts lightly and says, “You aren’t taking advantage, I promise. This storm is no joke, and you needed the help. Besides, I enjoy the company. Honestly.” The corner of Harry’s mouth curls into a smirk when he adds, “Especially considering you haven’t given me any indication that you’re here to murder me in some strange and gruesome way, only for my body to be discovered ages from now when then people in town realize they haven’t seen me in a while.”

Louis chokes on the water Harry has fetched them when a burst of laughter escapes from his chest. He splutters, coughing and laughing in an airy mixture as his body tries to recover from taking water down the wrong way. Finally, Louis has settled down enough after Harry’s frantic questions about whether or not he’s okay to say in return, “Honestly, I’m the one who should be worried for his life. This is your home and your territory. I’d probably get lost just running circles in the clearing, totally at your mercy.”

At that Harry lets out a bark of a laugh, slapping his hand over his mouth and flushing to the tips of his ears in embarrassment, though his shoulders continue to shake in mirth anyway. Finally, he says “It’s a good thing neither of us are secretly serial killers, then.”

“What a relief.”

They finish dinner shortly after that, with Harry adamantly sending Louis to get settled by the fire while Harry finishes up the dishes. Louis feels guilty, and more like a freeloader than ever, but Harry insists that he’s very particular about the way his dishes are done, and that it’s easier all around if Louis just lets Harry do the dishes the way he wants them done. Not wanting to complicate Harry’s life any further, Louis begrudgingly listens to Harry and makes his way to living area where he idly flips through the book Harry has left on the low-sitting naked wood coffee table. To his surprise, it’s in a language Louis cannot read nor recognize and, unfortunately, the pages lack in images of any kind.

In any case, Louis doesn’t have to wait long before Harry joins him, leaving the two curled up on the couch, nestled near the cottage’s wood-burning fire, and cradling mugs of hot tea. Somehow, Louis has managed to stumble into the house of the only person on this continent who knows how to brew tea properly and, with the downpour outside drumming against the cottage, Louis is unspeakably grateful. He wants to say something, feels like he should, but he has no idea where to even begin. Does he thank Harry, a veritable stranger though he doesn’t feel it, for being kind enough—or maybe naive enough—to welcome him into his home? He’s gone above and beyond as a host, and Louis almost feels like he should lecture Harry about stranger danger. But, he reminds himself, living alone in the woods like this probably means Harry is more than capable of taking care of himself. At least, he hopes so. Before Louis gets the chance to say anything, however, Harry speaks up.

"So," he says, "How did you find yourself this far north? You're obviously not from around here, and your accent is American." He takes a sip of his own tea, some fragrant earthy concoction, and fixes his intense green gaze on Louis as he waits for Louis' response.

Louis doesn't know if it's the hushed atmosphere the rainstorm brings with its weighty cover, the encouraging pops and crackles of the fire, or the languor that has steeped into his bones from the warm shower, the soft clothes, and the filling meal Harry has kindly offered him, but he feels a strong compulsion hooked in his gut that sets the truth at the tip of his tongue, eager to be shared in the space between them even though Louis has only just met Harry. And Louis, well. He's only human, and the day is starting to catch up to him, so before he even realizes what he's doing, every detail that lead to how he's come to find himself here spills out of his mouth.

Harry stays quiet the entire time Louis speaks; his attention is focused on Louis but Louis can’t help but notice Harry’s fidgeting as he talks. Finally, once he’s shared his piece, Louis asks, “Forgive me if I’m overstepping, but is everything alright? You seem agitated.”

Harry can’t meet Louis’ gaze, eyes fixed on the floor off to the side while he worries his bottom lip. His fingers twitch from where they’re wrapped around his warm mug of tea. He reminds Louis of a bird, fluttering with the need to take off. Harry’s mouth opens a couple of times as he tries to find his words. When he finally meets Louis’ gaze again, his brow is furrowed with determination.

“Louis,” Harry says, “are you superstitious?”

Louis pauses where he’s lifting his own mug to his lips, taken aback. So they’re going there.“I wouldn’t say I am particularly, no, but I have an open mind. If there’s evidence that something is obviously supernatural I’m not gonna say it isn’t.” He’s not sure what brought them to this area of conversation, but he’s curious where Harry is going with this. Maybe Harry really is superstitious.

Harry nods, taking in Louis’ answer. “What about witchcraft?”

This time, Louis’ own brow furrows and he tilts his head, bemused. “You mean like the Harry Potter stuff? Or that religion where people worship the moon—Wicca, I think?”

That brings an exasperated laugh out of Harry. “Yes. No. A bit of both, maybe.”

Louis frowns. “Well, I don’t think people who practice witchcraft are devil worshipers or anything, if that’s what you mean. They just practice another religion, don’t they? None of my business as long as they aren’t hurting anybody. And Harry Potter, well, that stuff doesn’t exist. Would be pretty insane if it did, wouldn’t it?” Louis shrugs. “Great movies, though.”

Harry’s hesitation is back briefly before he takes in a steadying breath and says to Louis. “Except it is real, sort of.”

Louis shoots Harry an unimpressed look and snorts lightly. “No way. I don’t believe you. You’re gonna need more than that to convince me.”

Harry nods, like he expected it, and says, “I can do that. I can give you proof.”

Louis is getting a bit concerned now, wonders if Harry is feeling okay or if he really had stumbled upon the house of somebody who isn’t quite as stable as he’d first thought. Louis’ doubts and concerns, however, are put to rest when Harry does, in fact, start performing witchcraft right in front of his eyes.

“No way,” Louis breathes, “This isn’t happening.” He’s having trouble believing his own eyes, wonders if maybe the food or drinks have been spiked, because what Harry is doing defies the laws of nature as Louis knows it.

With a flick of his wrist, Harry has levitated his mug of tea so that it floating in the air beside him while he manipulates the crystal gems, stones, and books in the room of all sizes so that they bob and dance around the room. Harry stands up, then, and scans the room briefly before he walks over to one of the many plants. It is as healthy as all the others, but when Harry whispers to it—something unintelligible to Louis—the buds that had just begun to sprout bloom into full, blossoming flowers. All the while, Harry’s various books and baubles drift idly in the air, nevertheless pointedly being kept out of both Harry and Louis’ ways.

“Oh my God,” Louis whispers.

“I’m a witch, Louis.”

“You’re a witch.”

“I’m a witch.”

“This kind of thing isn’t supposed to exist, Harry,” Louis hisses. He’s not scared, not exactly, but he feels off-balance, light-headed. Something inside him has flared up in response to Harry’s display, rushing down to the tips of his fingers and licking heat through his hands. The crackle of energy is in the air again. Vaguely, Louis can taste burnt sugar, and a glance at Harry shows Louis that he’s humming with energy again, that same glassy shimmer faint in Harry’s eyes as when Harry had first greeted him at the door. It’s magic, Louis realizes. It’s magic that is thrumming through Harry as he casts spells.

“You weren’t cooking dinner earlier when I turned up, were you?” Louis realizes.

“No,” Harry confirms. “I was brewing some potions for later. The stew was finished for some time already when you found me.”

Louis swallows, throat dry. This is insane, absolutely insane. “Why are you telling me this?”

Harry sighs, and directs the floating objects back to their rightful places with another flick of his wrist. “Your musical ability. It’s not gone because you’ve injured your vocal chords or gotten stuck in some kind of artist’s rut. I think...No, you’ve been cursed. I’m positive of it.”

Louis’ world tilts on his axis and all of a sudden Harry’s there, next to him, one hand pressed to the small of his back and the other gripping his bicep to steady him. He’s been cursed. Louis can barely even wrap his head around what that means, like it’s something in a foreign language, but Harry’s words settle in his brain and Louis knows he’s right, can feel it resonate in the core of his body. He’s been cursed. A thousand new questions slip into his head: by whom? Why? When? He pushes those thoughts aside for now. Processing this new information is enough to deal with.

“I could feel the negative energy clinging to you when I first met you. I thought maybe it was down to you having some bad experiences recently in your life that were weighing on you, but I hadn’t realized the real extent of it all until you explained everything. There’s no question in my mind somebody has cursed you.” Harry takes Louis’ mug from him and places it on the coffee table in front of them, helping Louis to settle back as he takes the news in. “And,” Harry adds finally, “I want to help you break it.”

Louis breath catches and his head whips to meet Harry’s determined look. His jaw is set and there is a burn of resolve in his eyes. “Why?” Louis asks, because he can’t fathom why Harry would offer to do this for him.

“I like you, Louis. More than I should for having just met you,” Harry says. “There’s something about you that I feel connected to. I can tell you’re a good person, and you don’t deserve to be cursed like this. It’s something I feel like I need to do for you, and I’ve long since learned to always trust my instincts. I want to do it. Will you let me? Help you, I mean.”

And maybe Louis is just as naive as Harry, but he can’t help but feel the same. He feels drawn to Harry, too, improbably feels like he can trust Harry intimately and that Harry isn’t lying to him. That Harry won’t lie to him. And Louis wants to let Harry help him, he does, even without the possibility of getting his musical ability back. He wants to let Harry try, wants to give that to him, maybe in return for everything Harry has done for him tonight. Louis’ not sure, but it feels like it’s what he’s supposed to do, what he needs to do, and so he decides to follow Harry's lead and trust his own instincts.

“Okay. Okay, yeah, of course I’ll let you. And I’ll help you as much as I can,” Louis says finally. He knows next to nothing about witchcraft, but he figures the more hands Harry has trying to tackle the problem the better.

Harry grins and says, “Perfect. We’ll get started in a few days. I’ll need to do a bit of preparation before the ritual. For now, I think it’s probably for the best that both of us get some decent rest. It doesn’t look like the rain has any intention of letting up tonight, and there’s no way I’m letting you out of this cottage to try and find your way back in this weather and especially not at this time of night.”

Louis can feel hope and excitement skitter through his veins, and he hopes Harry will be successful. “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.” Within a few days’ time, he might have his musical ability back, and he does his best to hold in his enthusiasm. There’s still the chance that it’ll go wrong and it will change nothing or—God forbid—make his situation worse, but it’s the only option he really has left.

“I’ll see you in the morning, Louis.” Harry says to him when he’s finally ready to return to his room, after their conversation has petered out into slurred words and wide yawns.

“You too, Harry, and thank you again. You have no idea how much you’re helping me. If there’s anything I can do to return the favour, please let me know, okay?”

Harry chuckles, “Sure thing, Louis. I’ll remember that. Sleep well,” Harry says when he bids Louis goodnight. And, for the first time in a while, even though he’s asleep on the couch in a virtual stranger’s cottage, with thin blankets and musty pillows, it ends up being one of the most restful nights he’s had in a long time.

✩☽✩☽✩

Louis returns to Harry’s cottage a few days later at Harry’s request. The witch had had some other tasks he’d needed to complete, duties he’d needed to fulfill, before he could spend what he had said could easily be a surprisingly lengthy and intensive amount of time and effort breaking the curse depending on its complexity. Louis had agreed easily, just grateful that somebody finally had a solid, promising idea for how to fix his problem. Or specifically, he supposes, as he had learned recently, how to break the curse that has been put upon him.

Just as he had a few days ago, Louis walks the last length of the trail leading up to Harry’s cottage. Today, the weather is nicer than it was the other night The sun is warm against Louis’ skin. The walk is pleasant when he doesn’t have to worry about seeing where’s he’s going or losing grip and slipping in the mud. The trip feels shorter than it did last time, but Louis’ not sure if that’s because he can see where he’s going and knows the way this time, or if Harry’s magic may be making the way easier for him this time. If that’s the sort of thing it can do. Now that he knows what it is he’s feeling when the forest presses against him, Louis can identify the threads of magic drifting through the woods. It’s the same feeling he gets being in Harry’s cottage, and knowing it’s there in the woods around him makes him feel a little less lonely, a little less vulnerable.

When he arrives at Harry’s cottage, he knocks on the door, expecting to be greeted by the witch. Instead, the door swings open on its own, and Louis spots a trail of herbs and books bobbing through the cottage. The taste of burnt sugar is in the air again, and even if Louis hadn’t run into the floating objects, he would have been able to tell Harry was casting spells based on that taste alone. Figuring the open door is invitation enough, Louis follows the trail of books into the sitting room-cum-library, where he spies Harry leafing through several books at once, hair done up in a bun and brow furrowed in concentration.

“Good book?” Louis teases, and Harry’s head whips around in the direction of Louis’ voice.

“Louis!” Harry grins. “It’s good to see you again. I see you managed to find your way back after all. I’m glad that the lack of rainstorm didn’t throw off your sense of direction. I had wondered,” he jokes.

Louis laughs at that. “It’s good to see you, too. Honestly, it wasn’t all that much easier to find your cottage again this time. Your place is really hidden well up here. Although,” Louis pauses, “I suppose that’s the point. I’m surprised I even managed to find it the first time, to tell you the truth. I guess I got lucky, huh?” Louis says, and walks further into room, ducking under a couple of books on the way.

“Mm, I wonder about that,” Harry muses, mostly to himself, before he continues, “I was just looking into some things before we try breaking your curse. I’ve got everything ready in the kitchen.” Harry waves his hand, and the books all drift to their proper places in the shelves and around the room. As they head into the kitchen, Harry explains, “Now this form of curse-breaking I’m going to do first is fairly weak. If it doesn’t end up working, it’ll be unfortunate, but not a problem. It just means the curse or the caster was stronger than expected and we can try something stronger in return.”

Louis nods. He trusts Harry, especially because he seems to know his stuff. Just as they enter the kitchen, however, a large black blur darts between Louis legs and he shouts in surprise, flailing a little as he’s caught off-guard by the sudden movement. “What on earth was that?” Louis asks, eyes looking rapidly for whatever it is that darted past him. Harry laughs at his reaction—Louis doesn’t blame him—but ignores Harry when he spies the black form sitting on the kitchen table.

“You have a cat,” he says, surprised. Somehow, though he’d spent the night in Harry’s small cottage, he had missed the presence of the animal.

“I do not,” Harry says to Louis before addressing the animal, “If you could please get off the table, darling, I need to use it. I promise you’ll be welcome to climb all over it again once I’m done with it.” The thing meows, butting its head against Harry’s hand before jumping to the floor. It’s big, probably the biggest cat Louis has ever seen, and it’s beautiful, striking. Its coat is a deep, inky black, but its eyes are a luminescent green, like cut emeralds. It’s fluffy, and if the creature didn’t seem like it was giving him a curious but unimpressed look, he might have tried to approach it. Instead, he turns his attention back to Harry and frowns.

“That’s not your cat?”

“She is not. That is Hedwig and she belongs to nobody but herself. She most certainly does not belong to me. We have an equal partnership.”

Louis blinks, thinks he should probably wonder more about Harry’s perspective on his relationship with the creature but, “You named your cat...Hedwig.”

Harry sighs and says, “Familiar. She’s not a cat.”

And oh, that make sense. Except. “You named your familiar Hedwig.”

“I did,” Harry’s grin splits his face and dimples carved into his cheek. Harry thinks he’s being absolutely hilarious, Louis can tell. Somehow, this more than anything makes Louis wonder how Harry is an actual, real-live, breathing person.

“And how does Hedwig feel about this?” Louis can’t help but ask. Even though Louis has just met Hedwig, with the way Harry treats her it is apparent that she is not only exceptionally smarter than the run-of-the-mill pet cat, but that she and Harry are quite competent at communicating with each other—however it is they accomplish that. The bond between a witch and his familiar, Louis supposes. He’s still trying to wrap his head around the fact that magic and bonafide magical witches exist, to be honest.

“Doesn’t bother her. She’s a vain little thing so she likes the attention it gets her when people find out,” Harry jokes, scratching Hedwig under her chin when she presses her head against his hand. Louis thinks she doesn’t look bothered by Harry’s comment, either. Cheeky.

“Like witch like familiar, then?” Louis can’t help but joke. He know he’s being overly familiar for having just met Harry, for somebody who’s supposed to just be another passing stranger, but there’s something about being around Harry that makes Louis forget how to behave properly. Something about him that makes Louis feel like he’s known Harry for ages. Something, a shadowy corner of his mind whispers, that makes Louis feel more at home with him than he ever has with pretty much any of his friends back in LA.

“Heeey,” Harry whines, but the curl of his smile hasn’t fallen from his lips, and his eyes still sparkle with mirth. And in the kitchen, with the light of the sun filtering through the wide windows and Louis’ mind clear of any of the worries he had the night he first met this witch, Harry glows in a way that Louis has never seen anybody glow before. He wonders if it’s the magic that burns like a supernova at the core of Harry’s being, or if Harry just naturally radiates warmth and light. He thinks that even if he didn’t know Harry was a witch, he’d still think he was ethereal and otherworldy. Beautiful, his mind supplies. Harry is beautiful. And even though Louis has just met him a few days ago, he knows he wants to keep that beauty in his life. It should probably scare him, how quickly he’s grown attached, how fast he knows he’s falling, plummeting. It doesn’t. That should scare him, too. It doesn’t.

“You know it’s true,” Louis teases. “Why else would the both of you have thought that the only name a witch named Harry should have for his familiar is Hedwig? Absolutely terrible.”

“We agreed it would be a cosmic crime to not take the opportunity,” Harry says seriously, and Hedwig lets out a meow of support. “I can’t have that kind of bad energy following me around as a witch.”

Louis snorts, and smiles. “Of course.”

“Of course.” Harry agrees, and Louis’ own smile widens into a grin to match Harry’s. “But as I was saying, I’ve got all the components ready here,” Harry gestures towards some plants, herbs, and oils sitting on the table next to a round stone bowl.

“What are you going to do with all of it?” Louis asks. He figures Harry will mix it into the bowl, but he’s not sure what else he might do beyond that. He wonders if he’ll have to ingest the mixture.

“I’m going to mix it all together and then I’m going to burn it while I perform something called an uncrossing spell. If all goes well, it should break the curse, and you’ll be able to sing and compose music again once the spell has done its work. I can’t say for certain how long it will take, but it should happen fairly soon after I perform the spell.”

Louis nods. “Let’s get to it, then.”

All things considered, the spell doesn’t take very long. The scent of what Harry explained as a mix of rue, hyssop, salt, sage, and frankincense is pleasant on Louis’ nose when it burns, and Harry recites the short spell with confidence, wafting the smoke in Louis’ direction as best he can. It mixes with the burnt sugar smell of Harry using magic, which Louis is very quickly growing fond of. The air around Harry is starting to feel charged again, and Louis can see the telltale glassy shimmer appearing in Harry’s eyes. This close to Harry, the bright sunlight lets Louis see that Harry’s normally green eyes have taken on an iridescent, rainbow quality to them as a result of his using magic. He can’t help but think that Harry is beautiful like this, too, humming with energy, and almost transcendental, simply from a small spell. Harry’s magic even affects Louis, as well, if the sympathetic buzzing under his own skin is any indication.

Before he knows it, Harry has finished casting his countercurse. “That should do it, hopefully. The only thing left to do now is wait. For now, you’re good to go.” Harry walks towards the back door heading out of the kitchen into the garden that sits behind the cottage and scatters the ashes across the garden with a flick of his wrist.

Louis holds his hands out in front of him, trying to determine if he looks or feels any different. He doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean anything. He didn’t feel any different when he was cursed, either. Harry watches him, amused, and says, “You won’t be seeing any physical differences. Not with this kind of curse.”

Louis clears his throat, embarrassed at being caught. “Right. Of course. Thank you, Harry,” Louis says earnestly. Whether or not it works, Louis is grateful that Harry took the time to try.

“Don’t worry about it, Louis,” Harry says warmly. They lapse into a silence briefly before Harry clears his own throat awkwardly. “Would you, uh, like to stay for lunch?” Harry finally asks. Louis grins.

“I would love to.”

✩☽✩☽✩

A few days later has Louis back at Harry’s house. He hadn’t wanted to return again so quickly, especially because he’s certain it’s too soon for the countercurse to really have done its work—not that he’s feeling particularly inclined to test it out. He doesn’t want to risk making things worse when they’re supposed to be getting better. It’s just, there’s very little to do, way up north here in the Laurentians. That’s not unexpected, exactly; Louis had picked this place for its remoteness in hopes of getting away from everything and working on his music. Of course, that was before he found out he was physically incapable of doing such. So now he’s stuck with nothing to do. No tv, no internet, just books he doesn’t feel like reading right now. He could go pay the nearby town a visit, he supposes, but he’s not sure the townspeople would be happy to have him hanging around bothering them all day. It’s not like there’s many places to see there. He’d cycle through the entire town before dinner.

Harry’s it is.

He gives Harry a sheepish smile when he answers the door, waving meekly. Harry is surprised at first to see him so soon, but when he realizes that Louis is only looking for some companionship, he welcomes him in.

“I’ve lived here for so long I forget how lonely it can get, sometimes.” Harry says, leading Louis to the kitchen where he’s apparently working on some task. “It helps that I have Hedwig to keep me company. Don’t worry about dropping by,” Harry shoots Louis a reassuring smile. “You’re no bother. Besides, it’s nice to have some human companionship, for once, much as I love Hedwig.”

When they enter the kitchen, Louis sees a bunch of beads, stones, strings of leather and twists of metal strewn about the table, as well as a bracelets, rings, necklaces and earrings of various degrees of completion pushed to the side.

“What’s all this?” Louis asks, dragging a stool sitting in the corner of the kitchen to the table so he can be near Harry when they chat while also remaining out of his way as Harry works. Harry settles back onto the bench, grabbing a stone and a small knife Louis hadn’t realized was there, and begins to carve something into the stone, though Louis doesn’t have the faintest idea what it might be.

“My sister runs an occult shop in London called Sweetest Moonlight. I don’t usually work there, but I make a lot of the trinkets she sells,” Harry explains. “Charms, spelled jewelry, potions, and sometimes even some baked goods. That sort of thing. I’m working on the latest batch of jewelry. They sell well, so the stock needs to be refilled pretty often. It’s just something I do on the side.”

“That sounds like it’s more of a joint venture than you occasionally helping your sister out, you know,” Louis teases.

Harry huffs a laugh. “Well yes, I suppose it is. We run an occult shop in London called Sweetest Moonlight, then. I’m something of an absentee owner. My sister likes to handle the day-to-day.”

“There you go. Don’t undersell yourself, Harry. You’re just as successful a businessman as you are a witch and a chef,” Louis’ eyes sparkle with humour. “Even if you are too attached to your precious plants to go visit your place of business,” Louis teases.

Harry gasps, “You are rude Louis Tomlinson. I can’t believe you just made fun of my plants. They are important and they need me.”

Louis snorts. “Only you would worry about your plants’ feelings, Harry Styles. Only you.”

“Of course I do,” Harry says, seemingly serious, and Louis can’t tell if he’s joking or not. He wonders, again, how Harry Styles actually exists.

“Whatever you say,” Louis finally says, and Harry shoots him a wink, the tip of his tongue poking from between his teeth where he’s biting it lightly, good-naturedly.

“Anyway,” Harry continues and a smile crawls across his face. “She likes to mess with the mundanes who are drawn into her shop by the aesthetic. Sometimes they leave with a useless kitschy bauble and sometimes they leave with more than they asked for, like with these things,” he gestures to the various pieces of jewelry and carved stones he has laid on the table. “It’s part of the fun.” Harry quickly amends, “She would never do anybody any actual harm just because, of course. She’s not like that. Neither of us would. But you know, we’ve got to keep the mystery alive somehow. Is magic real? Is it not? It keeps life interesting.” He adds, more to himself than anything and as an afterthought, "And us safe." Louis' eyes widen at that, but decides that's something he won't press about, knows it's not exactly his place.

Instead, Louis thinks back to his life before he met Harry, to all the times he found himself in situations or witness to situations that he was hard-pressed to explain without the use of the magical or the supernatural. He thinks back to the fear and the wonder at being exposed to something that he just can’t explain. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah it does.”

Louis hears Hedwig meow at his feet, and he smiles at her. “Hello there, sweetheart. How are you today?” She lets out a happy chitter, which Louis takes to mean that her day has gone well. “Good, then?” Another meow. “Good. I’m glad.” She rubs her head against his leg, and he watches her saunter out of the house, feathery tail held high. He looks up to see Harry watching him with a smile.

“She’s really taken to you, you know. She’s not usually this friendly with people. If she’s not ignoring somebody, she’s usually outright hostile to them.”

Louis blinks, surprised. Sure, she’d come off as quite aloof when he’d first met her, but she had warmed up to him so quickly. “Well,” Louis finally says, mouth curled into a teasing smirk, “She has good taste, then.”

Harry lets out a spluttering laugh. “You’re ridiculous. I cannot believe you.”

“You like it just as much as she does. You know what they say, like witch like familiar.” Louis’ smirk widens.

“Oh my God. You’re the only one who says that, Louis,” Harry says and rolls his eyes, but there’s no heat behind it.

“Doesn’t make it any less true,” Louis says in a sing-songy voice.

Harry’s ears flush red at the tips and his cheeks pinken. “Shut up, Lou, and come help me thread these necklaces and bracelets,” slips out of Harry’s mouth. That’s new. Harry doesn’t seem to notice, but Louis thinks he likes the way it sounds. Lou.

“Oh, so now you feel like behaving like a boss?” Louis tuts.

“I will kick you out of this cottage, don’t think I won’t,” Harry responds, and Louis bursts into laughter.

“Right, right, I’m sorry. No need to fire me. I’ll come and help,” he teases, but moves onto the bench anyway.

“Louis!” Harry groans, and complains, “I can’t believe I agreed to help you.”

“A bit late to go back on that now, don’t you think?” Louis says drily.

“Thread the jewelry, Louis.”

“Yessir,” Louis snickers, but happily complies. It’s soothing, the repetitive movements, once Louis gets the hang of it. Harry is a patient teacher, however, and helps Louis until he’s sure he understand and can handle it on his own. They make idle conversation, but otherwise work diligently. It feels nice to be productive again.

“You know,” Louis says, “I think my sisters would really like this stuff.”

“Oh yeah? I didn’t know you had sisters, too.”

“Yeah,” Louis admits, knotting the ends of another necklace and placing it with the rest. “I’ve got five of them and one little brother. Honestly, he’d probably love these things too. Some of these look pretty sick.”

“Thanks," Harry smiles, cheeks dimpling. Seriously, Louis is still waiting on an explanation for those. They're absolutely ridiculous. "But wait, hold on. You have six siblings?” Harry asks, eyes wide in shock when he realizes what Louis has said.

“Yeah, quite the bunch,” Louis chuckles. “They’re all younger than me. I’m the big brother.”

“That’s incredible,” Harry says, in awe. “I’d love to have a big family. It’s just me and my sister. Well,” Harry adds, “and my parents, of course.”

Louis hums. “It was a noisy house growing up. Lots of love, but very chaotic. I miss it,” Louis admits. “Even now I have trouble staying in an empty house. I’m used to having people around.”

“I bet,” Harry says. “I’m honestly surprised you agreed to rent that property here at all.” He passes Louis the beads he has just finished carving.

Louis shrugs, and begins to thread them onto a strip of leather. “Most of my siblings are old enough to take care of themselves, or otherwise they have my parents around. I needed to take care of myself. It’s what my mom would have wanted me to do, so I did. Still wish I could see them, though. Maybe I’ll pay them a visit soon. Although, I don’t think my manager would be very happy with that. I’m supposed to be here to work my way out of the artist’s funk I am apparently in.” Louis sighs, “If only he knew the half of it.”

Harry takes in Louis’ appearance a moment as he threads the beads. “Let’s make your family some spelled jewelry. You can send it to them as a gift with a note. I’m sure they’d love to hear from you,” Harry declares.

Louis stares at Harry, blinks, and then his face splits into a grin. “Yeah? You’d do that with me?”

Harry grins back. “Of course, Louis. It’s obvious how much they mean to you and how much you miss them. It’ll be fun. You can help me come up with the sigils to place on each piece.”

“Is that what you’re doing to them?” Louis asks. He’s heard of sigils before, but he’s not entirely sure how they work. The only place he's known them to exist is in fantasy novels, after all.

“It is. I carve these sigils into the stones and imbue the jewelry with magic of some kind. Mostly, these are sigils for protection or good luck, but those aren’t the only ones I can do.”

“Like a portable spell,” Louis realizes. That’s incredible.

“Yes, exactly like that. We can personalize them for your family.”

Somehow, Louis’ grin stretches even wider. “Let’s do it.”

They spend the rest of the afternoon picking stones and sigils for Louis’ family, and by the end of the day Louis has some incredible gifts he has Harry to thank for making possible, as well as individual notes to send with each of the pieces. Harry promises that he’ll make sure they get sent to the right people when Louis gives him his family’s postal addresses. There is a post office in town, but neither Harry nor Louis want to risk the jewelry getting lost in the mail or sent to the wrong people. They even manage to finish the original stock of jewelry Harry had meant to complete with time to spare for a relaxing dinner. It’s late when Louis finally heads home, but the weather has remained clear, and his path is lit by pale light of the moon and the twinkle of the stars. It’s beautiful, but Louis can’t help but wish he was still up the trail in Harry’s cottage, talking away the night with Harry on his couch in front of the wood-burning fire.

✩☽✩☽✩

Louis is over at Harry’s cottage again. Their first attempt at breaking Louis’ curse was, undoubtedly, a resounding failure, and Louis has since given up trying to compose. For now, Harry is taking the time to do more reading on curses and how to ensure the next attempt will be a success, but Louis’ curse leaves him a lot of free time, and he’s found that he spends it here in this home—and especially this kitchen. It’s become something of a routine for the two of them, and Louis is eternally grateful for the companionship. He’d tried to engage some of the locals at the grocer in a conversation when he was down there running groceries, but they had seemed busy going about their daily lives and he'd felt rude disrupting them purely for the sake of alleviating his boredom, so he quickly gave up on that pursuit.

Like last time, Harry happily welcomes Louis into the cottage. He doesn’t yet seem to have started on any projects this morning, and Louis wonders what Harry has planned for the day. Or well, their day now, he supposes. Hedwig is there to greet him again, too, rubbing against his leg and giving him a mrrow of greeting before she goes to settle in a patch of sun on the sitting room floor. Louis is almost tempted to join her. He has come to realize over the years that there's no such thing as a bad time or place for a nap. However, his curiosity at what Harry might be doing today wins out, and they settle in the increasingly-familiar kitchen.

“You want anything to eat or drink?” Harry asks Louis as he begins to rifle through the cupboards. It’s probably around nine-thirty or ten o’clock and Louis suspects Harry must be feeling a bit peckish. Honestly, he can relate, and it makes him unreasonably pleased that Harry shares his same propensity for mid-morning snacking.

Louis says he could go for a drink, though he's not particular, and Harry declares, “Tea it is, then.” He glances back at Louis. “Just a splash of milk, right?”

Louis grins, “Very good, Harold. Colour me impressed at your memory.”

Harry huffs a laugh and rolls his eyes in good humour. “Not my name, Lewis,” he responds back.

“Not mine, either.” Louis shoots back.

“Well, we sure have gotten ourselves all mixed up, then, haven’t we?” Harry teases.

Louis responds in turn. “It sure seems like we have. I’m surprised you remember my tea preferences before my name. Am I so forgettable?”

Harry laughs, flushing when he says, “You know you’re not.” And well. Louis hadn’t expected him to say that, and he feels his own cheeks redden when his heart skips a beat. “Besides,” Harry continues, clearing his throat. “I’m a witch. My entire life up to this point has involved learning about and memorizing spells, rituals, and all manner of herbology, geology, botany, astrology, and whatever else was relevant. Memorizing the way you take your tea is hardly difficult. Or,” he adds softly, “any trouble.”

Louis’ flush darkens at that and he feels his heart skip another beat but he doesn’t call Harry out on it, unsure if he was supposed to hear that part. Instead, Louis tucks the words into the back of his mind, and focuses on what Harry said before that, eyes wide and eyebrows raised when he asks, impressed and a little scared, “You had to study all that and a little more besides to become a witch?”

Harry laughs at Louis’ reaction, “No need to sound so horrified. It’s not that bad. But yeah, I had to do a lot of studying to get where I am today—and I’m still learning every day. What?” He raises an eyebrow, amused, “Did you think all my books were for show or something?”

Louis bites his lip and this time when he reddens it’s in embarrassment. Harry, of course, catches it immediately. “You’re awful, Louis Tomlinson. Absolutely awful. I’m shocked and offended you would think so little of me.”

Louis pouts and says petulantly, “I thought you might have had them for aesthetic purposes.”

“For...aesthetic…” Harry bursts into laughter and it’s infectious, because before he can help it, Louis is laughing along with him.

‘Probably should have thought about that one a bit harder, huh?” Louis says, laughter easing into snickers at the temporary brain short-circuit.

Harry giggles, and it’s one of the cutest and most endearing things Louis has ever heard. “Mm, probably,” he agrees.

“I guess it makes sense,’ Louis says more seriously, “You have to know a lot about a bunch of different things to put them together and make a spell or ritual work, huh?”

Harry nods. “Yeah. There’s a lot of trial and error involved.” He pauses, and adds, “Although, it’s not exactly accurate to say I’m the witch I am today just because I studied a lot.”

Louis frowns. “I’m not sure I follow what you mean.”

Harry chews his lip while he collects his thoughts. Finally, he says, “I guess the best way to explain it is that there are two ways you can become a witch.”

That surprises Louis, though he hadn’t exactly spent much time thinking about magic, witches, and witchcraft before he’d met Harry, and he arches an eyebrow. Certainly, he hadn’t ever thought about the practicality of being a witch. Witches had always sort of been something Louis viewed as belonging in fiction or existing only during the days surrounding Halloween. Here Harry is, proving not only that witches are, in fact, very real, but also that it’s possible to become one in more ways than one. It’s something Louis expects he’ll have to spend some time wrapping his head around.

“The first way,” Harry begins, pouring Louis tea from the now-ready kettle on the stove and adding a splash of milk for him before he sets it on the table, “is to be born into it, like my sister, Gemma, and I were. We come from a long line of witches, and we grew up in that world and culture, surrounded by other witches. We learned our traditions from our family and coven as we grew up because that was our life. Still is.”

This doesn’t surprise Louis; he had suspected as much. The way he figures, if witches weren’t reclusive and didn’t keep to their own, people wouldn’t so quickly dismiss their existence the same way Louis had.

“The second type,” Harry continues, as he settles himself with his own tea, just water, at the kitchen table across from Louis, “are the witches people tend to run into more often.” He tilts his head a moment in consideration and says, “They make up the majority of witches, I think. They weren’t born into witch families and communities like Gemma and I were. The Olde witch community, that is, with a capital ‘O’ and an ‘e’. They’re just as much witches as we are, of course, but their magic tends to be less naturally strong, and they’re often less connected to it. That doesn’t mean they can’t get to the same level as Olde witches, though. Just that they have to work a bit harder for it and nurture their magic through lots of practice and even more study.”

Louis takes a sip from his mug, and satisfaction curls in his stomach. Harry has once again made his tea perfectly. However, he has difficult wrapping his head around what Harry’s telling him. “So you’re saying anybody can do the kind of magic you do if they get enough of the right amount of practice.”

“Yup.”

“Even the thing, where you can make objects float around like gravity doesn’t exist, or the bit where you can speed up natural growth by making flowers bloom?”

Harry laughs, “Yes, even that.”

Louis frowns. “No way. You’re lying.”

That only makes Harry laugh harder and he says, “I’m not, I promise.”

“Are you seriously telling me any random person on the street has the kind of magic you do to make that happen.”

“Maybe not the amount I do or its strength, but yes, with the right studying and practice pretty much anybody can nurture their magic enough to make it happen.”

“But how is that possible?”

Harry gnaws on the inside of his cheek before he finally says, “Well, it’s because everything has some amount of magic in it.”

And of all the things Harry could have said, might have said, that was not one Louis was expecting.

He almost can’t bring himself to ask, though he pushes through anyway, and questions, “What exactly are you saying, Harry?” If it’s what Louis thinks it is, Louis is going to seriously have to reevaluate his worldview. To think he’d only stopped by to spend a fun day with Harry.

Harry is silent a moment, taking in Louis’ appearance, perhaps sensing just how much his next words could affect Louis. Finally, he says, “I’m saying, I think, the same thing that’s running through your head right now. Everything, at the core of its existence, is rooted in magic, regardless of how much that magic manifests in the world at the end of the day. The trout in the river, the maples in the forest, the wind in the sky, the rock in the mountain, the fire in the hearth. And you.” Harry’s tone is light, flippant, even, like he hasn’t just forced a fundamental change to Louis’ understanding of how the universe works. Although, he supposes, for somebody who grew up with this sort of knowledge, it probably doesn’t seem that revelatory.

“I just...I have no idea what to say or think anymore. Me? Magic? I don’t feel very magical,” Louis finally admits, after they have lapsed into a silence while he tries to process the bomb Harry has just dropped on him. He wonders if this is how Eve felt when she finally bit into the apple and was suddenly made aware of the reality of her existence.

“It’s a lot to process, I imagine. Should I apologize?” Harry says, and his tone is sympathetic.

“No, it’s fine,” Louis says, “I probably would have figured it out eventually, spending time with you.” Louis adds, drily, “But yeah, it is a lot to process. Just a little.” He racks his brain for a topic that won’t shift his grasp on the way the world works yet again.

Harry, ever-courteous, gives Louis time to work through his thoughts, bringing his own empty mug to the sink near the fridge before he grabs his broom from where it’s leaned against the kitchen wall by the stove and begins sweeping. The movement catches Louis’ eye and a question suddenly comes to mind.

“Your magic, the witchcraft, you learned it growing up with your coven, right? Do the rest of your coven also live in remote cottages in forests and mountains around the world? I can’t imagine you learned much with everybody so far away.

Harry laughs at that and gives Louis a smile, seeming to be happy that Louis isn’t so caught in his head now. “No,” he says, “not all of them. I mean, I’m sure some of them do, but it’s not like, a requirement. I like living here because I’m what would be called a nature witch or a green witch. My magic is rooted in the earth, so my craft is focused on nature, as well as the odd consultation with the Good Neighbours. And, of course,” Harry gestures to the oft-used kitchen space, “I do some kitchen and cottage witchery, too, which I learned from my mother. The nature witchery is all me, though. I’m the only one in my immediate family who practices it.”

Louis’ not sure where to begin unpacking all that, but he makes the choice to avoid further discussion about neighbours Good or otherwise, if Harry is referring to what he thinks he is. He’s had quite enough world-altering revelations for one day.

“And Gemma?” Louis asks. He expects it’s not also nature witchery, or she probably wouldn’t be living in the city running Sweetest Moonlight.

“She’s all about astral magic,” Harry laughs. “Very much a hedge witch. As well as anything related to space, the stars, and the moon. We both have experience with sigil witchery, too, but she was always better at it than me.”

“Between the two of you, you seem to have all the bases covered.” Louis says, impressed.

Harry shrugs, a little sheepish, “Well, we both like learning. Just a couple of nerds, really. Besides,” he adds, “we had plenty of time to explore these things, growing up surrounded by the witches of our coven and all their craft.”

Louis laughs lightly at that. He can just imagine a little Harry and his sister sticking their noses where they probably shouldn’t be just because they were curious. He hums and says, considering, “So is a witch’s craft something they choose that interests them, then?”

“Sometimes,” Harry agrees. “People take up specific branches of witchcraft for a variety of reasons.”

“How about you?” Louis asks, “What on earth was the reason you had to find yourself in a cottage like this way up in the Canadian mountains, practicing witchcraft?”

Harry rolls his eyes and complains jokingly, “If you say it like that it just sounds weird, like I’m some sort of social recluse who does nothing but cast spells and cook up brews in his cauldron all day.”

“That’s because it is and you are, Harold.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever you say, Lewis,” Harry snipes back. There isn’t any heat behind it, but instead an underlying fondness.

“You know it’s true,” Louis teases.

Harry doesn’t bother responding to that, rolling his eyes again while he tries to fight a smile, and answers, “I just wanted to find a place that was as deep into nature as was reasonable. I like it here. It’s soothing, and makes practicing my craft easier. That’s all there is to it, really,” he shrugs again, and continues to sweep dirt from worn wooden floorboards.

They’re silent for a moment, content to let the sounds of the forest and Harry’s quiet work fill the air between them. The rhythmic scratching of the straws of Harry’s broom in the kitchen and the trill of morning birdcall drifting through the forest is familiar and soothing. Louis’ hands are are warm, wrapped around the mug Harry prepared for him just the way he likes. Louis tries to remember what his mornings waking up in the city used to be like, but they’re getting blurrier the longer he spends time away from his property there. His memories almost don’t feel right, strange and not quite fitting around the edges. They feel like they belong to a different person.

Louis lifts his mug to his lips and takes a tentative sip. The tea is the perfect temperature, not too hot or cold, and Louis wonders if Harry’s magic has anything to do with it. He watches Harry, having begun to sweep the dirt towards the door, continue to clean the kitchen. “Why do you bother sweeping the floors by hand,” Louis asks suddenly. “You can just spell your broom, can’t you? Or why bother with a broom at all? I thought you could move things around with your magic alone.”

Harry lets out a soft huff of laughter and pauses his task, turning to Louis with a smile. “Sure, I could if I wanted to. Might do if I was just trying to clean up. It’s certainly not difficult.”

Louis furrows his brow in confusion, taking in Harry’s appearance—his brown curls pulled back in a bun, the gnarled broom in his hand—and attempts to see it in a new light. His tongue darts out to lick his lips and he opens his mouth, hesitant, as he formulates a response. “Is that...not what you’re doing?”

Harry’s smile deepens, and his cheeks dimples. “I mean yes, on one level I am just cleaning up the floors, but that’s not all I’m doing. The sweeping, it’s just a bit of kitchen and cottage witchery. It’s one of the ways I cleanse my space.” Harry pauses and adds, grin curling into a smirk, “I’m a witch of many talents.”

Louis lets out his own huff of laughter and replies, blue eyes twinkling like crystals in the early morning sun, “Yes, I can see that. So then, you’re doing what you did to me the first time when we tried to break the curse,” Louis surmises.

“Yes, very similar, actually. They’re both ways of cleansing, although the spell we tried was specifically to dispel negative energy and break curses, while now I’m just trying to get rid of any residual energy, negative or otherwise, since I’m going to be using this space to make some more spell-intensive goods than just the jewelry from last time.”

“Oh,” Louis frowns, “Will it be okay for me to be in here?”

Harry pauses in his sweeping, and takes a moment to consider Harry and, Louis assumes, the energy that he’s giving off because of his curse. That’s going to be weird to get used to, he can tell, the knowledge that he even has a magical signature that can give off energy, negative or otherwise.

“Yes,” Harry decides finally, “It seems like whoever cursed you was very particular that the curse affect you and you alone. I don’t feel it leaking or lashing out. It’s just braided through and around your magic.” His face contorts into a grimace. “It’s terrible. I can’t believe anybody could ever do that to you, Louis.”

Louis shrugs. Sure, he doesn’t have the words to accurately describe how devastating it was to realize his musical ability was gone, how devastating it still is, and how much it stoked a frustrated, burning fury in him at the beginning, but he can’t see the point in getting himself worked up about it anymore. He has faith that he’s doing the best he can to solve the problem. “Can’t be helped. We’re doing everything that can be done right now.”

Harry sighs, “Still.” Louis takes another sip from his mug. It’s almost empty, now. Harry continues to sweep for a while longer before he declares, “Right. That’s that space cleansed and ready for use.” He leans the broom against the wall where he found it and turns to Louis, smile sliding onto his face. “Care to help me get down and dirty with these goods for Gemma?”

And well, Louis certainly can’t say no to that, so he downs the rest of his tea and moves to put it in the sink with Harry’s. “Absolutely. What’s the plan, then?”

“Today,” Harry declares, pulling with a couple waves of his hand various ingredients from around the house and setting them onto the counter space beside the stove and directing several black iron cauldrons of varying sizes onto the stove top, hot from the fire burning in its firebox, “we’re going to be brewing.”

Louis frowns, “I’m guessing you don’t mean tea.”

Harry laughs, “No, not this time. Magical teas don’t sell so well in stores.”

Right. Of course there are magical teas. Louis decides to file that under things he’s going to think about at a time that isn’t now.

With one last flourish, a hefty black book thuds into Harry’s hand. There are some kind of runes on the cover, which features a gold pentacle in the centre. Louis can see a whole host of loose leafs of different coloured papers, as well as what seem to be various dangling bookmark charms of stones, feathers, and inscribed bits of wood. The book is obviously well-worn, but doesn’t seem to be close to falling apart. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen a book with more character in his life.

“What is that?” Louis can’t help asking. He’s intrigued, and Harry obviously intends to use it today.

“It’s my Grimoire. Maybe you've heard the term Book of Shadows before? It's the same thing. The recipes we’re going to be using are in here.” He grins, “I’ve had this thing forever.”

“So like a spellbook, then?” Louis says contemplatively.

“Yeah, one of my own making. Sort of like a reference book for my own practices. It's filled with notes, journal entries, the spells I use often, diagrams. That sort of thing. Whatever I feel like recording in it, really. I don’t think I’ve ever met a witch without one.” He hands the book to Louis for a closer look.

“It’s beautiful,” Louis says, running his hands along the covers and taking in its appearance. Even if he hadn’t known about magic, he would have known this book was something special, with the hum of magical energy he can feel running through it under his hands.

“Thank you,” Harry smiles, “I do my best to take care of it. It’s very important to me.” He takes it from Louis, who has handed it back to him and lightly flips through the pages while he finds the right one. “So I think we should start simple with this luck potion. Sweetest Moonlight is always running out of them and the crystals we need were charged recently.” At Louis’ confused look Harry clarifies, “After the magic in magical tools like crystals has been depleted, they need to be charged again with energy, usually from the sun or moon, for them to work.”

“Oh,” Louis says. That makes sense, he supposes. He hadn’t realized so much effort went into practicing witchcraft. The more time he spends with Harry, the more he’s come to realize that, even though magic exists, there truly is no easy magical solution to go with it.

Harry sends his Grimoire floating with a twitch of his fingers, directing Louis to help organize the ingredients so they're easily at hand.

“I've never seen you use these cauldrons before," Louis muses. They're cast iron, like the rest of Harry's crockery, but they've got handles and three pegs to stand on so that the bottom of the cauldron isn't totally flush to the stove top, though it is close.

"I don't use them for cooking. I normally brew potions in these in the sitting room where I can hang these directly over the fire," he gestures towards the handles, "but because I need to situate the crystals around the cauldron I need a flat surface where they won't be engulfed by flames," so the stove top it is. He shrugs, "It doesn't make a difference in the outcome, it just makes it easier to brew."

Louis nods before he jokes, teasing, “I feel like I’m in Harry Potter. Should I turn to page three-hundred-and-ninety-four?”. He can’t believe he’s helping to brew a bonafide potion in a genuine cauldron. That’s another item on the list of things Louis never thought he’d do in his life.

Harry snorts. “No, but you can help by grabbing those aquamarine crystals and sunstones and placing them around the cauldron,” he says, gesturing to a mixed pile of pale blue and rusty orange chunks of crystal. "Careful, it's hot," Harry cautions, and picks some sprigs of spearmint and tosses them into the cauldron. It doesn’t seem to be too complicated, but Louis doesn’t doubt that a portion of his confidence comes from doing this with Harry, for whom this is all old hat.

“Generally speaking, this is a pretty basic elixir, but it’s effective, and people are always looking for ways to improve their luck, so I keep brewing it and Gemma keeps selling it.”

“And people see results after using these?” Louis knows Harry isn’t lying about his magical ability, has seen it for himself, but he can’t help but be skeptical. Old habits are hard to break.

Harry nods. “Maybe not the results they expected, because luck magic doesn’t work that way, but they do see results.”

“How does it work?” Louis asks.

Harry eyes the water before deciding it’s warm enough to put the spearmint in. “It’s pretty simple. You just pour the elixir into the bath while picturing the outcome you want and then bathe in the water. In theory, that core of magic everybody has? It should activate the latent magic of the elixir when somebody focuses the magic, though people don’t normally know that’s what they’re doing. Saying an incantation helps, but it’s not necessary. Then, if it all goes well, some good luck should come your way.”

Louis, needless to say, is impressed. Harry is talking about influencing cosmic odds here. It might not seem like anything too revolutionary to him, but Louis can see why people are drawn to these sorts of things if they promise—and actually deliver—these sorts of results.

“So why isn’t everybody brewing these sorts of things in their kitchens? As far as I can tell, if you can find the ingredients and the right recipe, you’ll be doing yourself a favour and saving some money to boot if you do this at home. Why buy from you guys if they can do it themselves?” Louis asks. He knows a bunch of people who would kill to have regular access to this sort of thing.

Harry hums. “Some people do. Others don’t believe they have the ability to make something like this and prefer to put their faith in buying it from somebody who hopefully does have that ability. The thing is, though,” Harry continues, and Louis can feel him drawing magic into the air—there’s the burnt sugar again—can feel the crackle of energy, “the more experienced and powerful the witch, the more effective the elixir because the last step to brewing this thing is to seal the magics from the crystals and spearmint all together with the witch’s own magic. Like this.” There’s a curious snap in the air, and Louis can tell it’s Harry’s own magic finishing the elixir. He hadn’t noticed it before, because the change had been gradual, but now that it’s gone, Louis definitely realizes there had been a buildup of magic coming from the cauldron.

“Oh,” is all Louis can manage to say, because Harry’s magical ability is really starting to hit him. “That’s seriously amazing,” he says honestly.

Harry blushes at the praise. “Thank you. I’ve had a lot of practice.”

“So now what?” Louis asks. “What do we do with this?” He nods to the elixir.

“Now,” Harry says, “We pour it into flasks, label them, then put them away to be sent off to Gemma later.” He grabs a wooden crate from under the kitchen table that is filled with small glass flasks and puts it in front of the counter top, closer to the fridge than the stove. “And once we’re done with this batch we make another. The elixir doesn’t have an expiration date, so even if we make more than we need there’s no problem.” Once they’ve divvied up the elixir evenly into all the flasks, Harry fills up the cauldron with more water to begin the second batch while they continue attaching labels to the flasks.

At first, things progress much as they had the first time through. Though they’re busy labelling the flasks, Harry keeps an eye on the cauldron, putting in the spearmint when necessary and then letting the elixir brew. They run out of labels and twine for the flasks, however, with Harry having thought there was more in the crate than there actually was, and it’s not supposed to be a problem when Harry waves his hand to pull some extra paper and twine into the kitchen. Except, nothing comes. Harry frowns, and tries again.

“I think it’s gotten stuck,” he says, “I’ll be right back. I know where it is. Keep an eye on the cauldron to make sure it doesn’t boil over, okay?”

Louis nods, and moves closer to the cauldron to keep an eye on it. The cottage isn’t that big, so Louis doesn’t think Harry will be gone long enough for a problem to arise, but Louis grabs the tea towels hanging off a hook just in case he needs to move the hot metal, after all. He bites his lip and wonders if it would cause some sort of magical backlash if he moved the cauldron. Although, he reasons, if the elixir boils over the potion is probably ruined already, and he doesn’t think Harry would have invited him to brew potentially dangerous concoctions with him, let alone leave him alone with them.

It’s then that everything takes a turn for the worse, of course, since the only one with any magical experience is out of the room.

Louis almost misses it when it happens. He probably would have if he hadn’t experienced it maybe half an hour ago. The hairs on his arms have begun to stand up, like he’s cold or like there’s electricity in the air, and the kitchen is beginning to feel heavy. The magics of the elixir, Louis realizes with a curse, are ready to be sealed, and Harry is nowhere in sight.

“Uh,” Louis begins tentatively, because he has no idea what to do. The elixir is rapidly approaching the point where it needs Harry’s magic to finish it off.

“Harry!” Louis calls into the house, because Harry needs to get in here like now.

“I’ll be there in a sec, Louis!” Harry calls out from the other end of the cottage. “The twine and labels have gotten themselves wedged in between a couple of things!”

“Harry, the elixir!” And shit, they really don’t have a second.

Louis reacts without thinking, the only thought ringing in his head what Harry had said earlier, about people picturing what they want to happen in order to activate their natural magic. About incantations.

Louis’ hand hovers over the cauldron and he thinks back to the feeling he got when Harry had done this, of the feeling of magic flowing to the surface, of sealing the magic brimming in the cauldron, and says, “Be sealed, be contained, be tamed.”

To Louis’ ears, it sounds like a desperate plea, and he isn’t optimistic about the odds of it working, but he figures there’s no harm in trying. Distantly, he can hear Harry running into the kitchen, and Louis spots out of the corner of his eye that Harry has even managed to find the extra twine and labels.

When Harry enters the kitchen, Louis feels the same telltale snap of magic and the fading presence of the magic spilling from the cauldron that means it’s been sealed successfully.

And well. That’s unexpected.

Louis can’t move his limbs, and he wonders a little hysterically if he’s somehow managed to do some sort of freezing spell by accident instead that has locked up his body. There’s an undercurrent of energy rushing through his bones, like maybe he’s been tazed, except instead of pain there’s heat. It feels like there’s some kind of blurry haze surrounding his body, but he can only see it out of the corner of his eyes.

It smells like spiced chocolate.

Harry is stuck at the entrance of the kitchen, and when Louis finally turns his head to look at him, Harry’s eyes are wide with shock, and he keeps opening and closing his mouth like he’s trying to find the right words to say but nothing’s coming to him.

When he meets Louis’ eyes, Harry’s own, somehow, comically, widen further before they snap back to the cauldron where Louis’ hand is still poised, unmoving, in the air. Finally, Harry enters the kitchen and walks over to Louis and the cauldron, using the tea towels to take it off the heat. He stares intensely at the cauldron a moment, brow furrowed in concentration before he swallows and sets the it aside, turning back to Louis.

With Harry’s reappearance, Louis feels like he can finally move again. He drops his hand back to his side, clenching it and unclenching it, unsure what to do with it. The tension in the room is thick. Neither Harry nor Louis knows where to begin.

Harry speaks up first, stating quietly, “Your eyes look like mine.”

“Shit,” Louis says.

“Yeah.”

“I finished the elixir, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, Louis. Yeah you did.”

Louis sighs. “Shit.”

Harry eyes the cauldron again, running his hand along the side lightly, just above the black surface of the cauldron so he doesn't burn his hand. “And you did a pretty good job, too. Better than I would have expected from somebody who’s never been exposed to witchcraft before.” Harry frowns, “Are you sure this is all new to you?”

“If I had known anything about witchcraft I wouldn’t have travelled all the way to the mountains of Canada to find a witch to tell me I’ve been cursed, I can promise you that. Believe me, this is as new to me as I said it was. I just followed your example about picturing the outcome you want.” Of course this would happen to him, Louis thinks, nothing about him or his life is ever normal.

Harry’s eyebrows shoot to his hairline in shock. “That’s all you did?”

Louis frowns. “Yeah? What on earth was I supposed to do? Like I said, I have never in my life ever been anywhere close to all this witchcraft stuff.”

“No, no,” Harry soothes, “You did exactly what you should have with the experiences you’ve had. It’s just,” Harry chews his bottom lip, continuing with some hesitancy, “Most people don’t ever get as strong a reaction as that. And Louis,” Harry says earnestly, “You really did a good job sealing the elixir’s magic. I mean, it’s definitely amateurish, but it’s a really, really strong first effort considering you’ve never done this before. Like,” Harry takes Louis’ hand, which has begun to tremble, “We could sell this batch at Sweetest Moonlight no problem.”

Louis doesn’t know how to feel. There’s a rush in his ears, and Louis feels lightheaded. It’s hard to breath, and his limbs feel like dead weight. He tries to focus on the feeling of Harry’s hand holding his own, feels how it’s rough from years of work with his hands, feels how it’s big and warm around his own. He tries to focus on Harry’s voice, too, how it’s rich and raspy and slow, how it washes over his ears and replaces the rush, how it soothes his frayed nerves. Louis thinks that it might be this moment that, more than anything, proves Harry’s a witch because the panic that had been building and building and building in his throat is slipping away. Like magic.

“You don’t need to do anything about this if you don’t want to, Louis,” Harry continues lowly, somehow managing to pinpoint the source of Louis’ surge of anxiety on the first try. Magic, he’s telling you, Harry is magic. “You don’t need to rush out and find yourself a Grimoire or buy some kind of witchcraft starter kit from your local discount occult shop.”

That coaxes a weak laugh from Louis.

“You don’t even need to make the decision to decide now either way if you don’t want to. If you’re still up for it, we can continue brewing things for the store.” Harry squeezes Louis’ hand. “And if you want to head back to your place and just get away from all this for a bit that’s okay, too. I’ll happily walk you back to your car. It’s up to you.”

Louis gives Harry an equally weak but grateful smile, and squeezes Harry’s hand back. “I think...I think I want to stay here with you. No sense in ruining a perfectly good day over a little surprise magic, right?” He tries to joke. It doesn’t quite land, but Harry gives him a warm, reassuring smile, anyway.

“Of course, Louis. Whatever you want. And,” Harry continues, cautiously, “you’re welcome to try your hand at the magical components of the other brew we’re going to do, if you’re interested. But only if you’re interested.”

Louis considers Harry’s offer before he gives Harry a more sincere smile. Now that he initial bout of panic and anxiety has almost disappeared completely, Louis is feeling a little more confident and adventurous. He definitely hasn’t made a decision about how he wants to proceed with his...newfound magical ability, but a few simple spells under the supervision and guidance of Harry, who’s been doing this his whole life, won’t hurt anybody. And, if Louis is being honest, might actually be pretty fun.

“Yeah, okay. I think I’d like that,” he says finally.

Harry grins, and Louis doesn’t regret walking up the hill to Harry’s today, not one bit.

✩☽✩☽✩

The longer Louis spends here in the Laurentians, the more he comes to appreciate the variation in the seasons here. It had been cold when he first arrived at the rental property, with winter reluctantly loosening the hooked hold of its talons to make way for the gentler touches of spring. Louis had enjoyed spring here, had enjoyed watching the forest tiptoe to life, blushing delicate green and pink and new. Having grown up in LA, he hadn’t experienced firsthand the cycles of nature like he has here, and he thinks just being here in the thick of it helps him understand Harry a little better. Summer, however, comes creeping in just as hot as he remembers in LA, although considerably more humid. Before he knows it, the many days he spends with Harry are rushing by and summer is now roaring in at full speed.

Over the past weeks, Louis has spent a lot of time with Harry, who has quickly become, Louis can safely say, his closest friend. The nice thing about Harry is that as Louis has come to know him better and better, he realizes that he and Harry would have been just as close if they’d met under different, less extenuating circumstances. It’s comforting to know that their relationship has a solid foundation, because at this point he’s gotten so used to having Harry around he’s not sure what he would do with him gone.

The thing is, though, in the time that Louis and Harry have known each other, Louis has never spent any esbats or sabbats with Harry—witch holy days, Harry had explained when the terms had first come up—though there had been a few since he had first arrived. And Louis gets it, he totally does. People spend these sorts of days with their loved ones or carrying out whatever traditions they have for the day. Louis gets it. Traditions and rituals are important—he’s only become more aware of that fact since spending time with Harry.

It’s just, he has no experience with these things, and Harry has finally invited him to spend a holiday, Lughnasadh, with him and Louis is nervous. Sure, Harry had said he was going to try to use the day to start the next attempt at breaking Louis’ curse, which involves a twenty-eight day long nightly ritual cleansing bath, but Louis’ nerves persist at being frazzled nonetheless. He just wishes he knew what to do. He doesn’t want to make a fool of himself in front of Harry—he wants to actually make a good impression and reassure Harry that he didn’t make the wrong decision to invite him to the celebrations.

Harry had been supremely unhelpful, of course, telling Louis the only thing he needed to prepare and bring was himself. Louis hates when people tell him to bring himself.

So here he is, woefully empty-handed, and knocking before letting himself into Harry’s cottage, as has become custom (“I really don’t get many visitors. Usually it’s me visiting other people. It’s kind of fun to have the roles switched,” Harry had confessed.) He runs into Harry pretty quickly, setting up the Lughnasadh altar on the table Louis had assumed simply showcased some of Harry’s knick-knacks months ago when he first set foot in the home.

Hedwig is sitting on the plush arm of the armchair, tail twitching as she watches Harry. At Louis’ entry into the sitting room, she angles her body towards him to meow him a greeting before she comes to rub against his legs in greeting.

“Hello to you too, lovely. Has Harry been boring you?” He asks, and Hedwig lets out a meow that sounds closer to a frustrated yowl. Louis tsks. “That’s terrible. I can’t believe he ignored such a beautiful thing as you,” he says, and laughs at the way she preens at the compliment.

“She’s being dramatic,” Harry says, grunting as he gets up from his knees to go and greet Louis. “I haven’t been ignoring her at all.” Hedwig grumbles in protest and Harry hushes her. “Come on, you’re just being ridiculous now you drama queen.” Hedwig glares at him, huffs, and leaves to, presumably, go sulk for a bit after she presses against Louis’ legs one more time in affectionate greeting.

Harry rolls his eyes before turning to Louis with a smile. “Hey, you made it! And you listened and only brought yourself. I’m glad. How are you doing?”

Louis scowls, “Still not impressed you wouldn’t let me bring something, but otherwise I’m well.”

Harry grins. “Good. There was honestly nothing you needed to bring, no matter how much you wanted to.”

“That’s what you think,” Louis mutters, though he knows it’s just to be a brat.

“It’s what I know,” Harry says. “How about you? Know anything about Lughnasadh?”

Louis shrugs, not afraid to own up to his ignorance on the subject. “Nope, not a bit beyond anything you’ve mentioned to me.”

Harry nods, “That’s okay. That’s why we’re doing this together.” He goes on to joke, “I should probably start with the basics, huh?”

Louis snorts. “Yeah, probably.”

Harry hums, “Well, it’s one of the last esbats of the Wheel of the Year. It’s traditionally a celebration of the life and bounty of the last year, but also the recognition of the end of harvest and death as the natural and inevitable conclusion of all life.” Harry nods to the altar he has set up, and says, “That’s why you’re going to help me bring in some vegetables from the garden to leave in offering,” before Harry hands him a basket and they head out behind the cottage.

Louis goes easily but frowns as he digests Harry’s explanation. “Not to question your authority as a witch, or anything, but how is this supposed to help with the cleansing ritual?”

“Oh, no, don’t worry about it.” Harry reassures Louis, “You know I don’t mind you asking me any questions about this stuff. I’m happy to answer any of them.”

Louis huffs a laugh, “I don’t know why when I have so many. I can’t believe I haven’t annoyed you to death yet.”

Harry sends him a fond smile, “You don’t annoy me, Louis.”

Louis flushes at that. “Well, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

“But to answer your question, Lughnasadh is as much about celebrating the bounty of the past year as it is about acknowledging the inevitability of death and the very real possibility of struggle in the coming months in the absence of harvest. So it’s also a day for people to face their fears, develop their abilities, and take the time to protect their home in light of the possibility of struggle.”

Louis is silent a moment as he takes in Harry’s words, turning them over in his head while he sorts what Harry is saying. The festive mood from earlier has sobered some, and Louis says, “It’s not looking great, then, huh?”

Harry sighs. “It’s not that it isn’t looking good, exactly. It’s just…” Harry bites his lip and says, “If this doesn’t work, I don’t...I don’t know of any stronger cleansing rituals that could break your curse. It took a while just to research and figure out this one.”

Louis’ gut gives an anxious twist and he squeezes the handle of the basket to stop his hands from trembling. Harry’s not saying that it isn’t going to work, Louis reminds himself. They haven’t hit a dead end yet, and he refuses to let himself act like it’s over before the end. He didn’t let himself think like that on the X-Factor and he certainly won’t let himself think like that now. “It’s just a precautionary measure.”

Harry nods and says sincerely, “Yeah. Just a precautionary measure. I really want this to work for you, Lou.”

And there that is again. Lou. He’s still not going to mention it, but it makes him feel warm and helps to ease some of the knot of tension in his chest. He really likes Lou. “Okay” Louis says, and he’s grateful Harry cares so much, he really is. Directing the conversation back to lighter topics, Louis asks, “So what vegetables should we be grabbing for the altar? And how much?”

Harry’s shoulders seem to relax a little at the change in subject, and Louis is happy he was able to do that for him. “We don’t need much. The gesture in and of itself and the intent behind it matter more than the specifics. Probably some of the yellowish vegetables, though. I’ve already placed some wildflowers and some walnuts and pinenuts on the altar, so we don’t need much.”

Louis hums, and makes his way to the garden from where they’d been standing under the back stoop. Louis never ceases to be amazed at Harry’s rich garden. Like the plethora of plants he has inside, the ones in his garden are flourishing. Louis isn’t surprised; Harry is meticulous about taking care of them, and he’s as doting towards them as he is to Hedwig. Of course, Louis has no doubt that Harry’s magic helps to keep the plants happy and healthy, but it doesn’t make the colourful, leafy sight any less impressive whenever they’re out here.

“Some squash, then?” He calls back to Harry, who responds in the affirmative. He’s helped Harry harvest some of his vegetables before, and he does his best to extricate a squash gourd without damaging the rest of the plant, brushing off some of the dirt before placing it in the basket. “What are you thinking?” He asks Harry as he approaches him, contemplating the garden in front of him.

“I’m thinking some of the sweet corn,” Harry muses.

Louis nods. “I think for a celebration of the harvest that would be a good choice.”

Harry nods decisively in return. “Sweet corn it is,” he says, and goes to twist the corn off its stalk, placing it into the basket next to the squash.

“Anything else?” Louis asks, and Harry shakes his head.

“No, now we head back inside, place these with the rest of the offerings, light some candles, offer our prayers, and hope for the best. Later,” Harry continues, “we can have a bonfire. We’ll toss the offerings in there and hope they find their way to wherever they need to be.”

So Louis follows Harry inside and helps him to prepare the altar. He’s never been particularly religious, but he appreciates the ritual of it, the meticulous nature of finding all the right things to place at the altar and arranging them the way they’re supposed to be.

Hedwig has joined them again, sensing that they are just about ready to offer their prayers and, Louis presumes, wishing to be present to offer her own support. He wonders if the witches’ familiars also worship the same things their witches do or if they are wholly belonging to nature. He wonders if there’s a distinction for Harry.

Louis clears his throat, the awkwardness from when he’d first arrived coming through when he confesses, “I’m not sure who I should be praying to. Or how, for that matter. Is there something specific I need to do?”

Harry smiles reassuringly at Louis’ nerves and says, “You can offer prayer to whatever divine force or entity you wish. There’s no one deity we’re praying to, and there’s no right way to offer prayer, either. However feels most natural to you.”

Louis stares at the altar for a moment as he contemplates what he wants to do before he says, “Okay. I think I have something.” Best to just keep it simple, he thinks.

Harry smiles. “Good. Just make sure to clearly visualize what it is you’re praying for and you should be fine.”

Louis nods. “Okay.” Simple enough.

He settles next to Harry at the altar. He’s clasped his hands together, fingers interlocked, and pressed against his lips. Harry’s eyes have fallen shut, but Louis can’t see any evidence of strain on his features while he, Louis presumes, visualizes what he’s praying for. Gingerly, Louis presses his own hands together, palms flat, and also brings them up to his lips. He’s not as confident in his ability to visualize his prayer, and his mind drifts back to when he first used magic. He’d used an incantation, then, to help focus himself, and he decides then, hesitantly, to mouth his prayer soundlessly into the grooves of his hands.

Let Harry’s faith in his own ability guide him to success. Let the powers that cursed me be defeated. Let us come out of these next twenty-eight days seeing triumph and victory. Success. Defeat. Triumph and victory. Louis’ lips form over and over; a mantra, a prayer.

It feels like an eternity and a second when Harry gently shakes his shoulder. Louis’ vision is blurry, like he’s just come out of a trance. He wonders how much time has passed. Dimly, he can feel the lingering hum of electricity in the air, the faint scent of spice and sugar. Louis feels stiff, like he’s recovering from running a marathon, but there’s a deep sense of satisfaction settling in his bones.

He’s relaxed, and his voice is a little slurred when he asks Harry, “Now what?”

Harry’s grin is wide and his excitement is palpable when he says, “To start the bonfire.” Compared to the haze that is clinging to Louis, Harry is twitchy, seeming to vibrate in skin too tight. Even Hedwig is antsy, loudly meowing her own excitement, pacing along the floor and around their legs.

Their reactions, as Louis finds out later, are entirely justified. Watching the bonfire blaze and crackle orange-hot, licking at the darkening sky, there’s a frenzy in the air that had escalated when they had burned their offerings in the flames. Louis thinks back to Harry’s explanation of Lughnasadh, of it being a celebration of life and death, and he thinks he gets it. A charge has enveloped the forest around the cottage, like the hours before a thunderstorm. He doesn’t think there’s going to be any kind of magical storm, but Louis can’t help but think he’s starting to understand the wariness mundanes have towards witches. He can’t imagine the atmosphere of a Lughnasadh celebrated with a coven, the overwhelming presence of magic and the power of the festivities. He thinks somebody could get lost in that kind of environment, even a witch who knows what they’re getting into. For mundanes without even the faintest idea of what they might be witnessing, it must be unsettling at best and terrifying at worst. Even for Louis, being here just with Harry is a lot.

Tonight, however, he’s no longer an outsider looking in. He’s here, celebrating with Harry the night before they attempt the second cleansing ritual, and he’s going to let himself be carried away by the beguiling magic of the night, under the watchful eye of the moon.

✩☽✩☽✩

Louis doesn’t return to his rental property that night. The hours pass quickly, and before long, Harry just invites Louis to stay over. The energy of the night is still buzzing under Louis’ skin and Harry must notice, if not feel the same buzz himself, and they mutually agree Louis probably shouldn’t try to get home like this. Louis is grateful.

So Louis finds himself crashing on Harry’s couch once more. He’s just as comfortable as the first time—more so, even, since he and Harry have gotten to know each other pretty well over the last months—and it takes no time at all for Louis to fall into a content slumber. As his mind drifts to sleep, he vows to return to the property in the morning, at least for a little while, if only so Harry can get some time alone.

Except, somehow, he doesn’t leave Harry’s cottage the next morning, either.

Louis suspects it starts with breakfast. While Louis typically doesn’t rise early if he can help it, he isn’t the sort to sleep overly late, either. The events of the previous night must leave him more exhausted than usual, however, because when he finally awakens, Harry is firmly underway with breakfast preparations for what looks to be quite the meal. And, well, Louis can’t exactly say no to that, not when Harry greets him with a wide grin, hair pulled back in a ponytail that doesn’t do much from hiding how his hair is mussed with sleep, and after he’s already gone through all the trouble to make breakfast.

He means to leave by noon, then, except Harry ropes him into helping him weave witch’s ladders for both the cottage and to sell at the store. It’s a type of knot magic, Harry explains, and people buy them for much the same reason as they buy the sigil-inscribed jewelry, though witch’s ladders are typically hung up and used in a single location, instead of ported around. (“No need to weave any particularly complicated spell into the ladder when you’re constructing it,” Harry had advised, “Just some basic protection spells, or spells to encourage positive energy and discourage the negative, basic stuff like that.”) And while Louis enjoys learning how to weave the witch’s ladder, it takes a considerable amount of time to both teach Louis how to make them and then to actually make the things.

By the time they’re finally done, it’s nearing dinner, and there’s not really any point for him to head back. He’d only have to turn around almost as soon as he gets to the rental property to make it back to the cottage so they can start the first day of the cleansing ritual, which they had agreed was best carried out with Harry around just in case. After all, though Louis could do the ritual himself, he’s nowhere near confident enough to do it without some kind of supervision from someone like Harry who has more experience.

So Louis finds himself once again sharing a meal with Harry, just like when they’d first met. They’re not eating stew this time but instead an equally nutritious vegetable skillet. Unlike the first evening, however, there’s an underlying tension that, truth be told, has been steadily building all day as he and Harry get closer to the ritual. Though the meal is delicious, Louis can barely savour it, and it seems like Harry is feeling the same way. Conversation between them that is usually free-flowing is stilted, and Louis hopes they’ll be able to work past the tension soon. By the time they’ve nearly finished the meal, they both feel that they’ve waited long enough to begin preparations for the ritual. The tension both skyrockets and becomes more manageable after that, their nervous energy finally being directed towards something productive, if somewhat frightening.

The ritual, they had decided, was best carried out at night, after the moon has risen, so they can take advantage of it and the magical power of its light. Fortunately for them, Harry’s bathroom has a skylight built into it, so the moonbeams have no trouble filtering in and washing over the metal tub, wedge-shaped, which sits in the corner of the bathroom across from the shower. It's fairly deep, and one end of it slopes for comfortable reclining. There's a metal hanging rack screwed into the wall between the shower and the tub, meant for hanging towels, and soft white bath mats sit in front of both the shower and tub. Just at the end of the tub on the adjacent wall is a low-sitting window, hung with wispy white opaque curtains, its sill ending just above the edge of the tub. On it, like everywhere else in the house, are a few small potted houseplants as well as some candles and smooth stones and crystals, and more, larger and leafier plants are situated throughout the bathroom and nestled near the tub. There are a couple more candles sitting on the lips of the corners of tub, as well. Stone tiles climb the walls surrounding the tub and the shower cubicle, and though Louis hadn't paid much attention to the decor when he had first used Harry's shower, he appreciates it now. Across from the shower and tub both are the sink and toilet, also metal. The bathroom isn't extraordinarily large, but it's enough. It's designed to be snug and enveloping in a way that's soothing, and fits the relaxing atmosphere Louis figures Harry usually tries to achieve when he takes the time to unwind in the bath.

As he briefly takes in the room, Louis holds the salt scrub they had made earlier with uncrossing oils, while Harry holds the sage and silver candles they intend to light and place around the tub for the duration of the ritual. Harry had explained the process to Louis earlier, telling him how he should wash himself with the scrub and how he should focus with both his mind and magic on cleansing his body and his magic of the curse. Louis thinks he’s prepared, but he’s definitely grateful to have Harry sitting just outside in case something goes wrong.

Except Harry still hasn’t left yet, seems reluctant to do so, and Louis doesn’t know why, not when the sage and candles have been safely lit and the hot bath drawn. For all intents and purposes, Louis thinks they’re ready to go. He figures Harry must be worried that Louis is feeling overwhelmed, so he tries to reassure Harry by showing he’s more or less comfortable with the ritual when he says, “Just get in there, wash myself with this scrub, and visualize, right? No problem. Something even I can manage all by myself.” The tone he tries is teasing, but it doesn’t seem to land well, and Louis can feel the awkward tension returning.

Harry worries his lip between his teeth. He has something to say, Louis can tell, but he doesn’t want to say it. Harry runs a hand through his curls, moussing them more than they already are from when he’d done the same thing earlier, and lets out a sigh before he says, “You...Could do the ritual bathing on your own, yes, but I was thinking and the thing is,” Harry trails off, trying to find his words before he continues, “I’m not sure if it would be as effective if it wasn’t me doing the cleansing.”

Louis frowns. “Because you have a better handle on your magic?”

Harry nods. “Yeah. I just want you to have the best odds of beating this curse as you possibly can.” Harry sighs and mirrors Louis’ frown, “But I understand if you’re uncomfortable and would rather handle it yourself.”

Louis isn’t going to lie. The idea that Harry is going to have to help bathe him is less than ideal and, honestly, a little humiliating, like he’s some kind of child who can’t do anything for himself. But if it means they can break the curse by the end of this he’s more than capable of quelling his pride. He and Harry will just have to get over whatever hang-ups they have. What’s a little nudity between friends?

Fuck.

“No. It’s...It’s fine. You’re right. We should stack as much of the odds in our favour as we can.”

Harry nods. “Yeah, that’s the idea.” There’s a beat of silence before Harry says, “I’ll just, uh, turn around while you get undressed and climb in the bath, then.”

Louis clears his throat. “Right. Yeah. Uh, okay.”

When Harry’s back is turned, Louis strips as quickly as he can, testing the water to determine it’s okay to enter before he steps in.

“Okay we’re, uh, we’re all good,” Louis lets Harry know and Harry turns around, approaching the bath. He rolls the sleeves of his shirt up to his elbows, and Louis tries to find amusement in the way Harry studiously avoids dropping his gaze from Louis’ face. It doesn’t work all that well.

Harry clears his throat. “Right, I guess we’ll just get started, then.”

Louis nods. “Please.”

Harry waves his hand and a soft-looking washcloth and a stone pitcher come floating at his call. “Just to help rinse you off and make sure your skin is ready for the scrub,” he explains softly. And Louis hadn’t expected Harry to go to that length, but he appreciates Harry’s conscientiousness. Maybe if he pretends this entire thing is some kind of unusual spa appointment it’ll be easier to make it through the month, though Louis knows that’s not going to work in the end.

If he doesn’t think about it too much, the hot water Harry is pouring over him from the pitcher is actually pretty nice. Harry doesn’t linger with the washcloth, but he is gentle with it and it’s just as soft as it looks. The thing is, it’s hard not to think about the fact that he’s sitting stark naked in the tub, that Harry is literally bathing him, when Harry is so carefully manoeuvering his body or asking Louis softly to do it when Harry doesn’t want to get too far into his space. And beyond Harry’s instructions for Louis, they don’t talk. Louis wishes he could say something, but it feels like his tongue is made out of lead, too heavy for him to form words.

When Harry is ready to use the scrub, the tension in the room rockets higher, and Louis is honestly waiting for it to physically manifest, soon, with how thick it’s coating the room. Harry is going to have to apply the scrub directly skin to skin, and Louis wishes this was all over already.

Harry scoops some of the scrub into his hands, whispers an incantation into it, and looks to Louis for permission before he begins. His eyes are starting to take on that familiar, glassy shimmer, again, and a hint of burnt sugar wafts past Louis’ nose.

He bites his eyes, and says, “Might as well get on with it, then.”

Harry nods. “Right.”

And if Louis thought the washcloth and pitcher were bad, Harry’s bare hands working into his skin are definitely, definitely worse. Louis has to not only fastidiously not think about the fact that he’s naked, but now also that Harry’s hands are all over his body, no matter how chaste—though blessedly nowhere near his groin. This time, at least, Louis can focus on the heat of the scrub, charged with Harry’s magic as they are. They leave his skin feeling tingly where Harry has worked the scrub in, just this side of painful. It feels reassuring, like he really is being cleansed, and he tries not to let the flicker of hope in his chest burn too brightly just yet. It’s difficult. Of course, the ever-present tension heavy in the room helps with that.

Twenty-seven more days. He and Harry can do this. They’ll get past this.

Except, the second day? Well, it goes much the same way, and day three isn’t much better. It’s going to be a long four weeks, to say the least.

✩☽✩☽✩

It’s only on day four that things go a little differently.

At first, it seems like today’s cleansing is going to go about as well as the first three did. Harry and Louis are just about ready to go through an equally awkward, though gradually more clinical cleansing bath. Louis would have been okay with that, he really would have been. He’d rather he and Harry work through this month with clinical efficiency, rather than overwhelming awkwardness. A degree of clinical disconnect, he muses, would even be desirable. It would ensure that they’d be putting all their efforts to aiming for a successful ritual.

It’s Hedwig, of course, who decides to do what she wants and destroy any kind of routine they’ve fallen into.

Neither Louis nor Harry are ever able to figure out what it is that sends Hedwig rocketing into the bathroom, though from what they can see when it happens it seems to be some kind of bug or small bird which has snuck into the cottage. Whatever the case, the events which follow them catching sight of some kind of erratically fluttering blur happen all at once. The door, which has almost swung shut behind Harry, nevertheless remains open long enough for Hedwig to rush in. She darts between Harry’s legs, causing him to stumble forward, sending the stone pitcher and washcloth in his hands flying. Louis is turned away from the door, so when Harry falls forward after losing the battle against gravity, Louis doesn’t notice. As a result, fortunate as he truly is, Harry slams into his back as he tumbles down, sending both of them into the tub. Miraculously, they don’t tip any of the surrounding plants and candles over, but a considerable amount of water sloshes over the sides and onto the floor.

“Fuck,” Louis curses, “that hurt like hell.” He twists to look at Harry and glares. “What was that for?”

Harry, who hisses at his own aches and pains, says to Louis and glares at Hedwig, “Ask her. She’s the one who came hurtling in here like her tail was on fire. She tripped me.”

Louis shifts his glare to Hedwig, who has taken up residence on the bathroom counter around the sink, looking unruffled, and giving herself her own bath. “That was quite rude of you, you know,” Louis chastises her. She gives him a meow in response, but she doesn’t sound all that apologetic to Louis and he sighs. “Fine. Just try to be more careful in the future, please?” Another meow, although this one seems to be more sincere.

Like the floor, Louis and Harry are soaked, but when Louis takes in their appearances he really can’t hold on to his irritation. Harry’s bun is askew, and he has some sage leaves stuck to his knees where he’d accidentally kneeled in them when he fell. And honestly, Louis isn’t all that much better off. His shirt is stuck somewhere between on and off his body, and his own hair—as well as the majority of his clothing, as he’d been closer to the tub—is sopping and plastered awkwardly onto his body. At least, Louis muses, the water is warm.

Fortunately, Hedwig’s inadvertent destruction has completely evaporated the lingering tension in the air. Harry finally feels like somebody Louis can actually talk to, now, just as he was before they’d begun this second ritual. It’s when they both burst into laughter at the sight of each other that Louis knows the tension finally, finally, won’t be coming back any time soon.

He wonders what kind of gift basket a witch’s black cat familiar would like. Maybe Gemma will know. But for now, Louis relishes in the newly-returned bond between him and Harry. He is more than looking forward to a night not mired in suffocating tension, isolating clinicalness, and stilted conversation, at last.

✩☽✩☽✩

Louis thinks he seriously needs to special order some kind of thank you gift for Hedwig, or something, because the mood in the bathroom compared to the last few days has completely changed—and it’s apparent. It’s lighter, easier. Louis doesn’t feel like he’s choking, no awkwardness or fragmented conversation. They’ve finally accepted the reality of the situation, all of it, as just facts of life, and moved beyond it. That helps to dislodge a little bit of the stress clinging to Louis.

“You know, I feel like I should get you to pay me for this, or something,” Harry jokes as he carefully pours the pitcher of water over Louis, following it with another soft washcloth.

“What?” Louis laughs after the water is no longer washing into his mouth. “What are you talking about?”

“Here I am, pampering you every night and bathing you. I feel like I’ve become some sort of personal attendant. Like your exclusive beauty therapist.” His tone is playful, leaving no room for Louis to consider that he might secretly harbour negative feelings after all.

Louis lets a smirk curl onto his features and he peers up from under his eyelashes at Harry when he tilts his head to give him better access to his neck with the washcloth, teasing, “Well, you’re obviously not very good at your job if you’re giving your employer this much lip.”

“Mm,” Harry hums, and his own lips twitch into a smile when he responds, “Well, you’re acting like a proper pop star now, threatening my job because I’m not catering to your every whim.”

“That’s because I am a proper pop star, Harold, and don’t you forget it. There are plenty of other people who would actually listen to me and would take your place in a heartbeat,” Louis says snootily, though the effect is somewhat diminished by the twinkle of mirth in his eyes.

“Oh? Know many other green-eyed, brown-haired witches who have a black cat named Hedwig for a familiar and who can break your curse?” Harry says, moving to the scrub.

“Sure. Dime a dozen.”

Harry snickers. “Guess I’ll have to work harder to keep my job, then, what with all these other equally qualified candidates vying for my place.”

“Nah,” Louis says, turning so Harry has access to his back when Harry asks. “I like you best. Your job is safe.”

Harry huffs a laugh and squeezes Louis lightly. “Well thank God for that. I like you best, too.”

✩☽✩☽✩

The only sounds in the bathroom are their soft, slow breaths and the slosh of water as Louis moves in the tub. The moon is bright tonight, and its wan light bounces off the walls and gives the room an otherworldly glow. There’s something slow about the evening, and it’s pulled Louis gently into drowsiness. He’s close to falling asleep, and Harry’s gentle touch isn’t helping matters any. He’s not sure he won’t be asleep before the end of the ritual. He hopes it won’t disrupt the ritual if he does. He hopes Harry won’t mind.

“You know, I really don’t mind taking care of you,” Harry confesses softly to Louis on day six, covering his eyes with his hand when he pours the warm water over his hair.

Louis frowns lightly, and blearily says, “Hm?”

“I mean, I’m pretty sure it was obvious yesterday that taking care of you like this,” he nods to the scrub in his hands, which he’s just grabbed, that’s charged with magic, “isn’t something I consider to be a job, but.” Harry shrugs. “I just...I wanted you to know that.”

“Oh,” Louis says, “I, yeah, I mean you’ve never treated this like it was a job to you—although if it was I hope you would have told me by now—but thanks for letting me know just in case. I appreciate it, really. And thank you again for doing so much for me, honestly.”

Harry smiles, moving some hair out of Louis’ face, almost without thinking. Louis lets him. At this point, it’s really not crossing any boundary that hasn’t long since been crossed by this entire situation. Although, that’s not to say Louis doesn’t like it. Because he does. He’s carefully not going to mention that to Harry. Or think about it, really.

Harry says, “It’s really no trouble, Louis.” He bites his lip and says in a breath, as if he’s not sure whether or not he wants Louis to hear him when he adds, “I like taking care of you.”

And Louis doesn’t know how to respond to that. But it’s…well. Louis can’t say he’s surprised, exactly, because he can feel it, can see it, in all of Harry’s actions. He can see it in the way Harry always happily invites Louis over for lunch, dinner, the night—which, really, happens way more than it should— and keeps Louis’ favourite foods stocked in the fridge. Can see it in the way Harry always makes sure to explain in detail the parts about witchcraft that Louis doesn’t really understand when he’s teaching him. Can see it now in the bathroom with the way Harry is always so, so, so gentle with him, always makes sure these evenings are as relaxing and soothing for Louis as they can be, given the circumstances.

All he can say is, “I know. Thank you,” and hope one day he’ll be able to give Harry something in return that will be enough.

✩☽✩☽✩

The sense of quiet comfort Harry and Louis had settled into the day before continues into day seven. Distantly, Louis can’t believe they’ve already been doing this for a week. It feels like less and more than that at the same time, the moonlit evenings blurring together. Louis feels relaxed, and Harry seems to echo this sentiment. It loosens Louis’ tongue, sends the urge flitting through his frame to share parts of himself that Harry doesn’t know, to fuel the vulnerability they’ve been courting these past seven days.

“At the risk of sounding like a tired cliché,” Louis starts, thinking back to their conversation a couple days ago.

“Hmm?” Harry encourages him, massaging the scrub into Louis’ skin while Louis moves the way Harry wants him to without having to ask.

“At the risk of sounding like a cliché,” he says again, “stardom really isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Don’t get me wrong,” he quickly corrects, “it affords me a lot of privileges which I’m grateful for and, when I still could, it was incredible being able to do something I love for a job, but.” He says. “I’ve realized recently, now that I’ve put some distance between myself and that life…” Louis trails off and frowns, lost in thought. Harry is silent, quietly supportive as he waits for Louis to continue.

“I was really lonely a lot of the time, and it was hard. To be purely and simply happy,” Louis finally says, voice quiet.

“Oh, Lou. I’m so sorry,” Harry responds, and his voice is genuinely remorseful, as if he could have done something to improve things for Louis. Stupid. It’s absolutely charming and it sends warmth curling through Louis’ body, but Harry is truly, absolutely, stupid.

“Hush,” Louis says fondly. “I’m not looking for a pity party. There’s nothing you would have been able to do anyway. I just...I wanted to share that with you. We don’t just, talk, enough.”

That brings a small smile to Harry’s lips. “You’re right, we don’t.” Harry hesitates a moment before he grabs Louis’ hand and link their fingers together, giving them a squeeze before he says, “I’m still sorry you had to live through that.”

Louis gives Harry a grateful smile in return. “Thank you.”

They hold hands a moment longer before Harry returns to working the scrub into Louis’ body. He works in silence for a while, with Louis and Harry allowing themselves to just exist around each other, for a bit, in comfortable silence.

Louis continues, “I even had a boyfriend. Ryan. We were together for five years, before I ended it and came here. Five years, and somehow I couldn’t escape the loneliness. Couldn’t just be happy without something colouring it.”

Harry sucks on his bottom lip and frowns, eyes sad. He says, “God. I’m so sorry Louis. You deserve to be happy, you know?”

This time, Louis loosely grips Harry’s forearm, tracing his thumb lightly across Harry’s skin when he says, “I know. Like I said, you don’t need to be apologizing to me. In fact, I should be thanking you.”

Harry’s frown this time is one of confusion. “Why?”

Louis’ smile to Harry is small, but his eyes wrinkle tenderly. “Because you’ve helped put me on the right track to finding my happiness.”

✩☽✩☽✩

On day eight, Harry tells Louis about Jeffrey.

“He wasn’t a witch,” Harry explains, “not even somebody like you who was unusually sensitive to magic and had a proclivity to it. Just a regular mundane.”

He says this to Louis as he’s washing his shoulders with the washcloth and Louis frowns. Harry lives and breathes magic, is magic, down to the bone of his essence. He burns with magic, and Louis can’t fathom someone who blazes so brightly ever becoming involved with somebody who would never keep up with the intensity, if not match it. Harry is the sort of person who deserves to be the centre of attention, whose energy and entire being should be allowed, encouraged, to flourish. He’s the type of presence that deserves to be admired and loved in all his raw, powerful, stunning, all-encompassing inferno.

As if he can sense Louis’ confusion, Harry explains, “I was attracted to his mundaneness. Everything about him was so different to me—the way he was raised, the work he did, the place he called home. He didn’t even know about magic. He didn’t believe in it. There was something about that unique simplicity that I wanted to know. It drew me in.”

And Louis suppose that makes sense, but he won’t pretend it doesn’t twist his gut and leave a sour taste in his mouth.

“He came into Sweetest Moonlight with a friend of his who was more amenable to the occult. He spent his entire visit in the store making sure his skepticism about the entire thing was quite clear.” At that, Louis’ features twist in distaste. What an asshole. He says as much.

Harry laughs. “Yeah, he was. I mean, I can kind of see where he was coming from. I forget how insane all of this must look to people on the outside. But he was really funny, and when we got to actually talking, he was actually really nice, and it sort of became water under the bridge. Somehow, talking turned into a coffee date, then a dinner date, and before I knew it, we had been dating for five months.”

The sour taste still hasn’t left Louis’ mouth, and he can barely swallow around the lump in his throat. “A real whirlwind romance.”

Harry laughs, but there’s something harsh that underlies it, and he says, “Sure was. And then I decided to come out of the broom closet, so to speak, by inviting him to celebrate Bealtaine with me.”

Louis’ breath catches, and he suddenly aches with want to protect Harry from what he’s about to say, though he he knows it’s already happened and there’s nothing he can do. He hates it. He hates it so much. “And then?” He says, voice hoarse. The only thing to do is push forward.

“And then he called me a disgusting devil-worshiper, said I was going to burn in hell for all of eternity for selling my soul to Satan, and told me to never contact him again. I have no idea where he is or what he’s doing now.”

Louis wants to throw up. There’s a tremble to Harry’s voice that he’s trying to cover up. Louis doesn’t know how long ago this happened, but it clearly still troubles Harry. Louis isn’t surprised. Without closure, a sudden unexpected break like that would take a long time to heal—if it ever does.

“I thought I loved him,” Harry whispers, barely audible, and Louis’ heart shatters.

Without thinking about it, he twists in the tub and pulls Harry into a hug as best as he can, running his hands through Harry’s hair soothingly and holding him tight. Harry lets himself curl into Louis, nose tucked under Louis’ jaw, obviously grateful for the comfort. Louis doesn’t know how long they sit there like that. It’s the only thing he can offer Harry.

He doesn’t return to his rental property that night.

✩☽✩☽✩

Something is wrong with Harry on day nine.

Somewhere between having breakfast that morning, Louis heading back to the rental property for the afternoon when Harry goes to help Gemma in the shop, and Louis returning that evening for the ritual, a weariness has settled onto Harry’s shoulders. The energy that always seems to follow Harry, magic or otherwise, has dulled, and Harry is unfocused, continually losing track of his words in the middle of sentences when he’s speaking, and beginning a task only to forget halfway through what he was supposed to be doing.

Hedwig, Louis notices, is hardly any better. Her normally sure, decisive strides are slow and dragging. She spends even more time than usual sleeping, curled on the couch and in the open, where normally she took her catnaps in corners or cloistered patches of sunlight. She doesn’t even react when he enters the cottage that evening, and it’s only the steady rise and fall of her flank that lets Louis know she’s even alive because she’s more still than he’s ever seen her.

Harry, nevertheless, welcomes him in warmly, though mustering up the energy to be happy about his arrival clearly is a demanding task. Louis frowns. There are bluish-purple bruised circles under Harry’s eyes, and his face is paler than normal. If Louis hadn’t seen Harry that morning, well-rested and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as he always is in the mornings, he would have assumed he’d had a sleepless night—or week, frankly. The difference between Harry-from-the-morning and Harry-now is shocking.

“Are you okay?” Louis finally blurts out.

Harry’s eyebrows furrow and he looks at Louis quizzically. “Pardon?”

“Are you okay?” Louis says again. “You look exhausted. Like you haven’t had a full-night’s rest in ages. Believe me, I know the look.”

Harry frowns, heading to the bathroom with Louis trailing behind him. Louis frowns as well. Normally, Harry would have just conjured some sort of hand mirror. He knows Harry owns them. Another sign that something is wrong. It sets off alarm bells in Louis’ head, and he worries for Harry.

“Oh. So I do,” Harry says, an absent sort of amusement colouring his voice.

Louis’ frown deepens, and he grabs Harry’s shoulder and gently turns Harry so that he’s facing him. “Harry, what the fuck happened to you? You were fine this morning and now you’re barely coherent.”

A yawn that Harry barely manages to cover in time stretches his mouth, and rests his hand over Louis’ where it’s still squeezed on his shoulder. “Sorry. Just magical exhaustion. I didn’t mean to worry you,” Harry says.

“Magical exhaustion?” Louis’ brow furrows. “That’s a thing?”

“Mhm,” Harry says. “Was busier with Gemma than I thought we were going to be. Warding magic is no joke.”

“You know I would have helped you,” Louis scolds.

Harry offers him a weak smile, moving Louis’ hand from his shoulder before he goes to set up the tub for the nightly cleansing ritual. “I know,” he tells Louis, “and we would have asked you if you could have helped. Warding magic is ridiculously complicated. I’ve been studying it my entire life and I still struggle with it. I should teach you about it sometime,” he adds to himself.

“You should,” Louis says, “then next time I might be able to help you so you don’t exhaust yourself like this.”

Harry rolls his eyes fondly at Louis’ clucking. “I’m okay, Louis. I promise. This happens, sometimes. It’s nothing to worry about.”

“Too bad. I’m going to worry about it anyway.” Harry manages to huff a laugh at that. When it catches up to Louis what Harry is doing by preparing for the ritual, he says, voice sharp, “Hold on. What are you doing?”

Harry turns the faucet on, adjusting the heat to the appropriate level. He had asked Harry once how he manages to have water pressure and electricity in the Canadian wilderness, but he’d only gotten a wink and a response of “Magic, of course.” He wishes the Harry now was as lively as that Harry because this one is really starting to scare Louis.

“Getting ready for the ritual?” Harry responds, turning to Louis and offering him a confused look.

“Getting ready for the ritual my ass,” Louis bites back. “There’s no way you can do the ritual like this.”

At that, Harry’s energy seems to return—marginally, at least—because the glare he shoots back is stronger and more lucid than he’s been for most of the evening. “I can and I will do this ritual, Louis. We can’t skip a single day, and don’t take this the wrong way—because I’m grateful for your concern, I promise—but I think I know my own limits better than you do. This ritual needs to be done and so it will be. I will be fine.”

Louis’ gaze falls to the side and he bites his lip, gut wrenching unpleasantly because Harry’s right, of course he is, but that doesn’t mean Louis’ protective instincts are going to flare up any less. Louis can’t stand to feel helpless, absolutely despises it, but lately he can’t seem to escape it around Harry.

Louis sighs. “Okay. I’m sorry. You’re right. I trust you.”

Harry offers touches his arm lightly and gives him a smile. “Thank you. For trusting me.”

✩☽✩☽✩

There’s music playing faintly throughout the cottage today.

Louis tries not to think about it too much, but he’s definitely spent more time here at Harry’s than his own rental property, coming over early in the morning and returning only for the night. With this nightly cleansing ritual, even Louis’ time spending the night at the rental property is shrinking. As such, he’s constantly having to throw out food that has spoiled because he hasn’t eaten it quickly enough—he wonders if it might not be better for him just to bring the food over to Harry’s—and discovering things about the property that he hadn’t noticed before, though he probably should have. It was only today, for example, when he’d popped in to do a bit of tidying up while Harry visited with his mother, that he discovered the extensive record collection of the house’s owner in what Louis had thought was just another spare bedroom.

In a fit of impulse, Louis had snatched some of his favourite rock albums that he had spotted in the collection with the intention of bringing them to Harry’s, along with the record player, and spending the day listening to music just lounging around. Even if he can’t create music right now, he can still appreciate it. And if it helps to get Harry to spend the day relaxing and recovering, well. That’s for Louis to know and Harry to never find out. So that’s what they had done, and Louis thinks it’s one of the nicest days he and Harry have shared together so far.

Bella Donna is playing on the record player right now, and Louis can only barely hear Stevie Nicks’ voice from where they’re carrying out the ritual. Harry had assured him that leaving the record player on wouldn’t adversely affect anything and so, reluctant to disrupt the spell, so to speak, that the music had cast on the day, they had decided to keep playing the records.

“She’s a witch, you know.” Harry says to Louis, working the scrub down Louis’ arm.

Louis frowns at that, and he thinks he must have missed something Harry had said, though he’s pretty sure they’d lapsed into a comfortable silence as Harry worked. “Excuse me?” He says finally.

“Stevie Nicks. She’s a witch.”

“No she’s not,” Louis says, tone flat.

“She is. She’s attended some of the big sabbat celebrations before. I’ve seen her there,” Harry nods sagely.

“You definitely just saw somebody who looked like her.”

“People don’t just look like Stevie Nicks, Louis. She’s one of a kind.”

Louis frowns. “Obviously, but she’s not a witch. That was just some rumour that never went away. She denied it in the eighties and tried really hard to dispel it, though she obviously wasn’t very successful. Last I heard she was just rolling with it, now,” Louis muses.

Harry grins, moving to scrub across Louis’ shoulders and down his back, and says, “Why do you think that is? She’s a witch. I’m serious.”

Louis eyes Harry over his shoulder, eyeing him skeptically. There’s no mischief in Harry’s eyes, however, but an unwavering certainty. Louis cocks an eyebrow. “Well, shit,” he says.

“Yeah,” Harry grins. “She’s amazing, absolutely incredible. I love her to bits. One of my favourite people ever. I have no idea what I’d do if I ever met her. Might die. Probably would do.” Louis smiles fondly at Harry’s excitement and files that information away for later use.

He never figured he’d be learning things on day ten but here he is.

✩☽✩☽✩

Day eleven comes hot and angry.

Louis isn’t sure why seeing Harry happy and energetic today of all days had triggered it when he thought he had gotten over it a couple days ago, but he knows his anger is rooted in the fact that his stupid luck, his being cursed, pushed Harry farther than he should have been pushed that day when he’d already exhausted himself. He hates that it’s out of his control, hates that Harry can’t honestly tell him what caused the curse, no matter how much they both wish he could. It’s an endless sea of uncertainty. The best they can do is what they’re doing now, trying different curse-breaking methods in hopes that it will solve the problem, if not at least alleviate it, as well as ensure that Louis doesn’t push himself farther and do more damage than is necessary and has already been done to himself because of the curse. Louis wonders if Harry can see the irony in that.

By the time they’re setting up for the cleansing ritual, Louis has been tetchy all day, he knows. He feels terrible about it. Harry is the last person to deserve this kind of behaviour from him, but he can’t seem to help it. Nothing seems to snap Louis out of his mood, instead adding momentum to this downward spiral he finds himself in. Louis just wishes he’d hit the bottom already, so he can start making his way back up.

As it is, he hits the bottom when he and Harry are just about to begin the ritual. Louis has just clambered into the tub when Harry asks him if the water is too hot or cold, and something in Louis breaks.

“God, why don’t you ever just leave me the fuck alone? I can check the damn water temperature myself.” He snaps, and Harry jolts back, like he’s been hit. There’s a part of Louis that is mortified at his saying that but any ability he has to filter himself seems to have disappeared. Christ, why can’t he just shut up.

“What the fuck Louis?” Harry frowns, and the hurt is so open on his face Louis wants to die. “If I did something to you I’d rather you tell me instead of lashing out. At least that way I can fix it or stop whatever it is I’m doing,” he mumbles.

And there it is again. Harry is always so fucking nice Louis can barely stand it. Louis is being completely unreasonable but he can’t seem to stop and Harry keeps on being nice. “You couldn’t stop it any more than the sun could stop rising and falling every day or gravity could stop keeping us grounded.”

“Well I won’t know if you don’t just tell me what I did to get you this angry. And besides, if it’s something I can’t change why are you lashing out at me for it?”

“It’s you,” Louis bites out. “All of you. You’re always taking care of me and being so fucking nice all the damn time. For God’s sake, you didn’t even know me when I first showed up at your door and you still let me inside, fed me, and let me stay on your couch for the night. Harry, it’s been eleven days since we started this ritual—the second attempt at breaking this fucking curse—and you’re still here, helping me every night and it’s driving me insane. Why don’t you just leave me alone already? You’re not getting anything from this. And actually,” Louis mutters darkly, “you’re pretty much always the worse off for it.”

Harry’s cheeks have flushed, whether from anger, embarrassment, hurt or some mixture of all three. He’s about to say something, mouth opened, when his frown softens in realization. “This is about the other day, isn’t it.”

Louis’ own cheeks have flushed now at how easily Harry reads him and he says stubbornly. “It’s not about the other day. I don’t understand, Harry.”

Harry hums, and looks at Louis, considering. “Maybe not entirely, but it is, a little. Why have you been snippy all day, Louis? Why are you so angry?”

For the second time that evening, Louis feels himself break. He says, voice trembling with sorrow and fury both, “Harry you were dead on your feet. You shouldn’t have been doing anything besides taking care of yourself, but you went and helped me with this damn ritual, anyway, because I’m too useless to fucking do anything about this fucking curse. You take care of me and help me and help me some more and I can’t do anything for you in return. I’m powerless, Harry, and I hate it.” His voice cracks on the last words, and he curls forward, arms curling back around his shoulders as he digs his blunt nails into his skin. He sniffs, and his face is hot. Distantly, he realizes he must be crying now. “Why? What did I do? Why me?”

Harry settles one of his hands in Louis hair, running his fingers through it and doing his best to soothe Louis. Louis appreciates the gesture, and he thinks it might help, even just a little. Harry presses a kiss to the crown of Louis head, but it isn’t so distracting that Louis misses Harry when he says, his own voice thick, “I don’t know, Louis. I’m sorry. I just don’t know.”

✩☽✩☽✩

There’s something about day twelve that feels different. Louis’ not sure if it is because of his outburst yesterday or what, but something else between him and Harry has shifted. He thinks about seeing people when they’re at their worst, seeing them when they’re raw and chafing and ugly. He thinks there’s something more permanent settling in him and tying him down to this place here, deep in the Laurentians. He thinks there might be something in Harry doing the same.

Harry is soft with him, today, sweeter and gentler than he’s ever been before. Louis knows it’s because of his own behaviour yesterday, but the impotent anger that had been bubbling in him has vanished. They’re doing what they can, he tells himself again, and that’s all they can do. It’s more important to put his efforts towards breaking the curse than it is being angry it happened in the first place.

Still, he’s grateful that Harry’s hands are softer today, careful with him. Louis still feels exposed, nerve endings frayed, and as much as he hates feeling powerless, he thinks he might be okay feeling like that around Harry.

Harry has decided he’s going to wash Louis’ hair today, too, as a way to soothe Louis’ raw edges after yesterday, hushing Louis’ protests with a look and a simple declaration of, “Quit while you’re ahead, Lou, because I’m going to have my way and you’ll just have to let me.” Louis knows that look, knows that tone, and knows that any fight he might have fought was lost before he began. And, well. Harry’s not wrong to think that Louis would appreciate some attention. He’s just...not great at seeking it out or asking for it.

So Louis lets himself get carried away by Harry’s careful ministrations. They’ve already performed the ritual for the night, and Louis’ skin is still buzzing with the residual magic of the scrub. They’ve refilled the lukewarm water with hot, and Louis is starting to feel the day catching up with him. He doesn’t think he’s going to make it back to the rental property that night, but that’s pretty much expected at this point.

Harry’s hands in Louis’ hair are lulling, and his idle chatter, slow and low, washes over them. Louis has been offering his own non-committal responses when appropriate, but otherwise he’s been letting himself unfurl and lose the lingering tension from the day before as Harry works. His thoughts are drifting, and he’s struck by a melancholy that he’s sure has been brought on by last night’s events.

His eyes flutter open, and he bites his lip, glancing at Harry. There’s a request threatening to fall from the tip of his tongue, and before he can think things through it slips out. “Can I ask you for a favour?” Louis requests quietly, timidly.

“Of course, Lou,” Harry responds, just as quiet.

“Do you think you could sing, a bit? I don’t care what but I...I miss the sound of somebody’s voice, without all the rest of the production. I, uh, I’ve heard you around the cottage before. You’re pretty good.” He bites the inside of his cheek, hoping he hasn’t overstepped some kind of boundary.

Harry is silent a moment, and a lick of anxiety curls in Louis’ stomach. Maybe the request was too weird? He’s just about to tell Harry to forget he said anything when he responds, voice fond but undeniably sad. “Of course I’ll sing for you. Whenever you want.”

The tension bleeds out of Louis and he leans back into Harry’s hands, overcome with thankfulness.

When Harry sings, a warmth burns fiercely in Louis’ heart, and he feels something else, something heavy, blossom within and lock into place in his bones. It feels like it’s something meant to last, like a piece of forever.

✩☽✩☽✩

The pensive, intimate mood continues into day thirteen, with the sky covered in a coat of clouds that makes the world feel smaller, and Louis feel closer to Harry. It feels like they’re wrapped together under blankets, with their world having shrunk down to just the two of them—and Hedwig, of course. He thinks this prolonged intimacy would have been stressful, once upon a time. He doesn’t open up to many people, used to speaking of the deepest corners of him through the lens of music, more than anything. Even when he was with Ryan, they’d avoided too many deep conversations. They’d agreed that being in the music industry was intense enough, and that personal time should be spent appreciating the many joys and pleasures in life. Of course, Louis thinks now that that was probably to avoid looking too closely at their relationship because, if they did, all the holes and jagged edges would have very quickly become apparent.

Nevertheless, Louis finds himself confessing things to Harry he hadn’t dreamed of ever even joking about to Ryan. He’s not worried about what Harry might say, certain in the knowledge that Harry won’t judge him for it. But he’s not looking for validation, either, is what puzzles him. He’s just taken with the urge to share himself with Harry, wants Harry to know Louis, all the little bits and pieces and jealously-held secrets.

“I wonder, sometimes, if it wasn’t Ryan who didn’t fit, but me.” Louis whispers, and Harry pauses.

“What do you mean?” He asks slowly.

“I wasn’t happy. I was lonely. Nothing seemed to fit, like my life and my relationship weren’t mine. I thought maybe it was the music I was making, so I developed and changed my sound. I thought maybe Ryan and I just needed to work on our relationship, so we tried as best we could before I decided it was better to just end all of it altogether. Except then it didn’t help. I still felt like my life and everything in it wasn’t mine, like it belonged to somebody else, or that I hadn’t earned it. Hadn’t deserved it. So maybe it wasn’t that the things in my life weren’t right for me, but that I wasn’t right for them.” Louis’ tries to smile, but it’s a bit twisted, not quite right. “I ended up here, didn’t I? Cursed and as far away from my old life as possible. Must be at least a bit of truth to it.”

Harry’s face falls. “Louis, no. That’s not true. Fate, she’s not kind. Even when she gives you the world, she always makes sure to colour your life to remind you she played as big a role in your life as your own actions did. She is not a gracious goddess. Nothing that happened to you was your fault, I promise.”

Coming from Harry, the words are surprisingly comforting. As a witch, Harry is intimately familiar with Fate and Destiny, as a lot of magic focuses on influencing both. Louis is starting to learn this, too, and he’s grateful for Harry’s reminder. It helps to alleviate some of the tightness in Louis chest, though he knows he’ll have to go the rest of the way himself.

They’re silent a moment before Harry confesses, “I understand, though. I don’t...I don’t know if I’ve ever felt like I’ve ever been good enough. I feel like there’s always something more I can do, should do, and even then it doesn’t feel like I’ve ever done enough. No matter how much I learn, how much I practice my craft, or how much time and effort I put into anything the hours will never add up right. It makes me want to stop trying altogether, honestly, but even just the thought of not making an effort sends my heart pounding and breath racing.”

Louis’ heart hurts at Harry’s confession. He hopes he hasn’t caused any undue amount of stress for Harry, but he’s never seemed troubled by Louis’ presence. Nevertheless, he resolves to be more considerate of him in the first place, as best as he can. He knows Harry wouldn’t want Louis to treat him like glass after telling him this any more than Louis would want Harry to do the same to him. So he lets himself laugh, and says self-deprecatingly, “A couple of pieces of work, aren’t we? One baby witch of a pop star with imposter syndrome and a seasoned hermit of a witch with anxiety and a mean streak of perfectionism.”

Harry barks a laugh at that, and the mood is lightened. “Yeah, we sure are.”

✩☽✩☽✩

The next day, Louis is resolved to return the favour. It’s been two weeks since he and Harry had begun this ritual, and he thinks it’s about time Harry has somebody pampering him and bathing him, for once. Sure, the only reason this had started in the first place was to carry out the ritual, but Harry has gone above and beyond that by trying to make it at least a comfortable, if not enjoyable, experience for the both of them when he didn’t have to.

Once the ritual is completed for the evening, Louis tries his own hand at summoning a clean washcloth from the cabinet in the bathroom. It works, just, and Harry’s eyes widen in surprise, impressed.

“That’s amazing, Louis! I didn’t know you’d learned to do that yet.”

Louis shrugs. “Barely. It’s a work in progress. Right.” He begins filling up the tub with clean hot water before turning back to Harry. “It’s time for you to strip down.” Louis himself has changed into an over-sized tee worn over some black boxer-brief Calvins. His skin is still warm from the water, and he’s feeling loose and playful.

Harry frowns, bemused, “Excuse me?”

Louis says again nodding to the tub that’s filling with water. “It’s your turn to strip off and hop in the tub. That’s what the washcloth is for.”

“Uh,” Harry says, out of sorts with the change in routine.

“Only if you’re comfortable, of course,” Louis quickly adds. Of the two of them, Harry is the more shameless, but he doesn’t want to push him to do anything he doesn’t want to.

“No, no, that’s not the problem,” Harry says. “Just...Why?”

Louis sends Harry a fond, if exasperated smile and says, “It’s been two weeks, Harry. You’ve been doing this for me for two weeks when you don’t have to. Let me do you this favour in return. I promise I’ll make it enjoyable. You deserve to be pampered too, you know, especially with the way you’re so fond of pampering me,” he teases.

Harry flushes and gives Louis an embarrassed smile. “Sorry?”

“Not something you need to apologize for, H,” Louis says. “Seriously. So will you? Let me, that is.”

Harry sighs, but smiles at Louis. “If you insist.”

“I do.”

It’s Harry’s turn, then, to strip his clothes and get into the now full tub. Louis affords Harry the same courtesy of turning his back when he’s stripping, but he’s dizzy with the reversal in their situations. When he turns around and is confronted by Harry’s bare, broad, shoulders, he thinks his heart stops. Probably should have thought about this a little harder before you offered, Tommo, he thinks.

Louis takes a breath, firmly blocking any other thoughts about Harry’s back and shoulders. Jesus. Harry does this every night without making it weird and Louis knows he can do the same. It’s the least he owes Harry.

When he finally begins washing Harry’s hair, however, any awkwardness that might have been building in Louis quickly fades as he focuses on taking care of Harry. His hair is longer, and thicker, so it takes more time to get it thoroughly wet and lathered, but Louis enjoys it, enjoys the way it makes Harry loose and languid. He enjoys giving back to Harry like this. For a witch, Louis observes while he’s running the washcloth over Harry’s body, Harry is surprisingly built, a mix of hard muscle and softer, lingering chub. He's never seen Harry working out, but, Louis supposes, Harry does live pretty well in the middle of nowhere, so he can’t say he’s completely surprised. At least some of it must come from just making his way through day-to-day life.

By the time Louis is working the scrub he had snuck into town to buy earlier that day into Harry’s skin, not quite confident enough in his own ability to make a scrub himself, he’s positive Harry has fallen into a light doze. His head is lolled to the side, and his breath is slow and even. He looks younger when he’s asleep, vulnerable, and Louis’ protective urges flare up again at the sight. Nevertheless, his plan to pamper and spoil Harry seems to have worked, and he’s glad. He wants to let Harry sleep, but now that he’s done with the scrub, it’s time to get Harry out and, if the yawn Louis lets out is any indication, the both of them to bed.

“Harry,” Louis says softly, brushing some of Harry’s loose hair behind his ear without thinking, “it’s time to get out.”

Harry blinks blearily up at Louis, rubbing at his eyes before nodding. “I think I was falling asleep. Sorry.”

Louis hushes him. “Don’t be. The whole point was to do something nice and relaxing for you. I’m glad to hear it seems like I accomplished that goal.”

Harry smiles warmly. “You did. Thank you. Haven’t had somebody look after me like that since...Well. In a long time.”

“No need for that, either. I wanted to do it,” Louis says, returning Harry’s warm smile and echoing the words Harry had said to him. “I liked doing it. And now,” he offers Harry his own soft sweatpants and loose shirt, “I’d like for both of us to get some sleep.”

Harry grins and slips on the proffered clothing. “I think I’d like that, too.”

✩☽✩☽✩

Louis finally, truly sees Harry angry the next evening. Harry had been busy all day, away on coven business that Louis didn’t quite yet qualify for, though Harry had told him he was technically part of his and Gemma’s coven because he was learning from and working under them both. Louis can tell pretty quickly that Harry’s mood is off, and he doesn’t know how to broach the subject, or if attempting to do so would even be welcome. He’s inclined to think not, with the way Harry studiously avoids any talk apart from what’s necessary to get started on the ritual—which, at this point, is fairly minimal.

Louis would have been content to leave the topic alone. Unlike when Louis had had his bad day, Harry has kept his emotion fairly internalized. He tries not to think about the comparison too much because it only puts his poor behaviour in an even worse light. Except, just when Louis thinks Harry will go the evening without saying a word that night about what has fouled his mood, despite Louis’ frequent, searching glances, one of the mason jars filled with bath salts sitting on the bathroom counter shatters as that night’s ritual comes to a close. It nearly gives Louis a heart attack, and his gaze snaps to Harry, whose jaw is clenched. He’s practically shaking he’s so furious, and if Louis didn’t know him better, didn’t trust him as much as he does, he might have been scared.

“Okay,” Louis says, climbing out of the tub and wrapping around his waist the towel hanging beside the tub and settling in beside Harry, “I think you need to tell me what has made you so furious that you just did that.”

Harry closes his eyes, swallows, and nods, waving his hand and repairing the jar like it had never been broken in the first place.

He doesn’t speak for a moment, so Louis prompts, “Did something happen at the coven meeting today?”

Another nod. Harry links his fingers together, looking down at them when he takes a shaky breath to find his words which rush out a moment later. “A couple of them wanted me to stop all interaction with you and make you forget everything about us and witchcraft.”

It feels like Louis’ been splashed with ice water, and his stomach drops. “What?”

Harry grabs Louis’ hand and squeezes it before he says, “It was some of the older, more traditional witches. The kind who believe we should belong to a closed society, and that witchcraft should only be practiced by those born into it or those select, paltry few who have been approved by the coven.”

Louis frowns. “But I thought the coven had no problems with you teaching me or my working at the store?”

Harry sighs frustration evident in his voice. “They don’t, normally. Definitely not enough to propose something like this, though there are always going to be witches who are leery of outsiders.”

“So why did this happen now? Did I do something?”

“No, of course not, Louis. You’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. Another witch in the coven got involved with the wrong person and nearly got herself and the rest of the coven exposed. And with my own history of close encounters…” Harry trails off, running his free hand through his hair and letting out another frustrated sigh.

“People were getting anxious and jumping to conclusions,” Louis finishes.

“Yeah.”

“I mean that hurts, I’m not gonna lie, but it kind of makes sense?”

“I know,” Harry says, “I’m not saying they didn’t have a valid reason, it’s just. The amount of time they spent seriously considering doing that to you—it infuriates me and makes me sick. They were so close, Lou. So fucking close.”

Louis is struck with a realization, and he says, delicately, “You were afraid of losing me. And you’re furious that they came so close to making it a reality without you being able to do anything to prevent it.”

Harry inhales a shuddering breath. “I was terrified, Louis. You’ve become so important to me. I have no idea what I’d even do around here without you.”

“C’mere, Harry.” Louis beckons, pulling Harry to him and into his shoulder despite the size difference. “I promise I’m not going anywhere if I have anything to say about it. And,” he pauses, “if something did happen, I know you could find me again and make me remember. You’re stuck with me, now, whether you like it or not.”

Louis can feel the small smile that brings to Harry’s lips. Harry says then, muffled, “I damn well better be, because there’s no way I’m letting you get away from me, either.”

✩☽✩☽✩

Something about how close they’d come to being separated leaves Louis and Harry more subdued, wanting—needing, even—to just take in each other’s presences and remind themselves that they’re both still there.

Day sixteen is a quiet day. It’s a day fueled with lingering touches and hesitant parting. Harry and Louis are reluctant to leave one another, and even Hedwig is around more than usual. They don’t do much that day, neither of them up for more than muted conversations about nothing in particular that carry through all the way to that night’s ritual, which takes longer than the other nights have, with Harry spending more time than normal just making sure Louis is there. Louis can’t say he’s complaining, knowing he’d do just the same of their positions were reversed.

Needless to say, Louis doesn’t go back to the rental property that night, either.

It’s remarkable, Louis thinks, how quickly you realize how much something means to you, how much you stand to lose, when you almost don’t have it anymore.

✩☽✩☽✩

Louis is struck the next day while Harry is running the washcloth over his body, gentle and conscientious of Louis as ever, that he’s become completely and utterly comfortable around Harry. It doesn’t phase him when Harry takes it upon himself to move Louis’ limbs without asking and, at this point, he’s as used to being around Harry naked as he is clothed. Although, he supposes that last bit is a byproduct of their hands being forced because of the ritual. However, Louis thinks he probably would have reached that point by now, anyway, even without the ritual.

Because the thing is, from that first stormy night they’d met, there has been an ease to their interactions that Louis knows he’s never had with anybody else before. He and Harry had so quickly settled into a level of comfort around each other that shouldn’t have been possible with how recently they’d met. At the very least, it’s highly unusual, and Louis isn’t so unaware as to not realize it. He’s often wondered if it might have something to do with the fact that Harry is a witch, like some sort of byproduct of all the ambient magic surrounding him, but the more Harry teaches him about magic, the more Louis comes to realize how untrue that is.

While Harry’s charging the scrub with his magic, these thoughts swirl around in Louis’ head as he considers the past few days. Louis and Harry move in sync as Harry begins to work the scrub into Louis’ skin and he muses aloud to Harry, “You know, as much as the ritual these past two weeks has brought us closer together, I feel like we’ve always had a strong connection right from the beginning. I don’t know why, frankly—especially that first night. Am I crazy for thinking that? Is it just me?”

Harry pauses, glancing up at Louis before gathering some more scrub in his hands. “You’re not, actually. I was curious if you’d felt the same but I didn’t know how to bring it up,” Harry admits a tad sheepishly.

“Is that like, a thing, when it comes to witches or like, people with strong magic in general?”

Harry hums. “I’m honestly not sure. I’ve never looked into it before.” His eyes dart up to meet Louis’ gaze a moment before he flushes and drops them back down. “I’ve never had a reason to,” he mumbles.

Louis feels his own cheeks burn at that. So this is all new and unusual for Harry, too. He’s glad he’s not alone in this.

Louis sucks on the inside of his cheek and frowns slightly as he tries to find the right words. “It’s like...It’s like there’s something fundamental pulling me towards you. So fundamental that I don’t even realize it most of the time. Is it like that for you?”

“Yeah,” Harry breathes. “Yeah, it’s exactly like that. Like it’s something that’s part of me pulling me to part of you, right from the beginning.”

“Yeah. Right from the beginning.”

Harry gnaws on his lip, making to say something, and Louis watches him and waits. “Does it scare you?” He asks quietly, hesitantly, like he’s afraid of what Louis might answer.

Louis is silent a moment, considering, before he answers, “No, it doesn’t. Does it scare you?”

Harry relaxes at Louis’ answer, and when he responds his voice is light, satisfied, with no more hesitation than Louis had shown. “No. It doesn’t scare me.”

They fall into silence after that, considering the implications of what they’ve just confessed. They don’t speak any words for the rest of the ritual. At this point, they don’t need to. It feels like they’ve just shed light onto a secret they’d both shared but hadn’t yet addressed. It doesn’t quite feel like a burden has been lifted from their shoulders, but it does feel a bit like they’re firmly on the same page now, like they understand each other a bit better.

✩☽✩☽✩

On day eighteen, a lighter atmosphere has returned to Louis and Harry, and Louis will admit that he’s more than a little relieved. He’s grateful, of course, for the opportunity for him and Harry to get to know each other better and more intimately—there’s a part of him, sizable and growing, that greedily wants to know everything about Harry—but he had missed the easier side to their relationship, the part that draws laughter and grins out of Louis, makes him dizzy at the sound of Harry’s own happiness and the sight of his own grins.

Today, Harry is rambling on about sympathetic magic (“Magic you cast on an object which has an effect on a specified individual, rather than magic you directly cast on someone or something,” Harry had explained to Louis at his confused look and, God, Harry wasn’t exaggerating when he said there was a lot to learn about the whole witchcraft thing. Louis feels like he’s back in school.) and the pros and cons of different kinds of mediums when working with sympathetic magic. His voice is slow and meandering as usual, but there’s an excitement there that’s infectious, and Louis has long since grown accustomed to Harry’s unique manner of speaking.

Harry is quite gesticulative when he talks, so their nightly ritual is taking longer than usual again, with Harry often pausing in his task to wave his hands around as he makes his points. It’s hopelessly endearing, and Louis is half expecting random objects to start floating through the room the longer Harry goes on. Although, Louis isn’t sure if he’d even notice if it happened because he’s honestly just as interested in hearing what Harry’s saying as Harry is in sharing it.

“So the jewelry we sell in Sweetest Moonlight is a kind of sympathetic magic, then?”

Harry nods. “Yup, though the effect of those come from the sigils we carve into them, rather than a mixture of components activated and bound together by magic like you find in poppets,” Harry explains.

“And poppets are like the voodoo dolls you find down south?” Louis asks. He’s trying to wrap his mind around the idea, his mind insisting on very unhelpfully conjuring up images of Victorian porcelain dolls at the sound of the word.

“Sort of,” Harry says. “The concept is similar. They have different roots, though. Voodoo dolls are unique to the Hoodoo magic of southern USA and some parts of Africa. I’ve met some Hoodoo practitioners in my life, but that magical culture and their magical practice are entirely different from my own. Our own,” Harry amends with a smile.

Louis returns the gesture. “Our own,” he confirms before he frowns pensively. “So poppets are just like, simple soft dolls made of natural materials, then?”

Harry nods. “Yeah, typically linen or cotton, so they’re easy to get rid of when you want to, but I’ve seen them made of all kinds of material. Could even make them out of aluminum foil in a pinch if you need to.”

“No way,” Louis says, and he giggles at the thought of reaching into his kitchen cupboard for the roll of aluminum foil, running late to a shoot or interview but urgently needing to make a poppet.

“Seriously. It’s a great, diverse little area of magic. I like making some for my family and giving them as gifts, just little spells for luck or happiness or things like that. They’re great because the spell doesn’t wear off unless you deliberately destroy the doll, and you can tailor them to specific people. We sell them sometimes in the store, though they’re a little less effective because we can’t really tailor them to any one person.”

Louis hums as Harry finally moves on to the scrub before he says, “And they work better than the spelled jewelry because you don’t need to recharge them when the magic depletes, like they do with the sigils?”

“Exactly,” Harry says, and there’s hint of pride in his tone that makes Louis want to squirm happily. Harry grins at Louis, then, leaning closer as he reaches to work the scrub across Louis’ chest. The apples of Harry’s cheeks are flush with happiness and excitement, and there’s a warm sparkle of mirth in his eyes. Louis loves how much Harry loves talking about magic, loves the way it makes him glow like a thousand stars. He wants to listen to Harry talk about things he loves, things that excite him, for the rest of their lives. It’s a realization that leaves him a little shaken at the intensity, makes his stomach swoop.

Louis inhales shakily and takes in the straight bridge of Harry’s nose, the sharp angles of his jaws and cheekbones, the downward slant of his dark eyebrows, and the plump red of Harry’s lips. He’s close enough that their breaths mingle, and when Louis breathes in again, his nose his filled with Harry’s earthy scent, the one that has become so familiar and comforting.

Louis licks his own lips as his gaze darts about Harry’s face, drinking him in. He really, really wants to kiss Harry right now, feels like if he doesn’t some part of him is going to burst. And, well, Louis has never had the best impulse control, so he reaches forward, tangling his fingers in the hair of Harry’s loose bun, and pulls Harry towards him for a kiss.

When their lips meet, it feels like absolution. Harry’s lips are as soft as they look. They’re also just as chapped, but Louis can’t help feeling anything but fondness when he thinks of Harry’s habit of biting and tugging at his own lips. It’s not a chaste kiss by any means, but the promise for more isn’t a promise for soon. For now, they’re both content to bite and suck and tug and taste without wanting for more just yet. Harry’s mouth is sweet, like summer-ripe strawberries, and with one taste Louis is addicted. He’s addicted to the way Harry tastes, to the way their noses bump and brush as their lips move, to the way Harry groans when Louis tugs on his hair and digs his blunt nails into the skin of Louis’ back when he presses in for more.

When they finally disconnect, Louis’ fingers still tangled in Harry’s curls and Harry’s hands clinging to Louis’ shoulder, they’re flushed and panting. Harry’s lips are bruised and swollen, and Louis expects his own aren’t faring all that much better. Nevertheless, they both come together for one last, lingering kiss, slower than the first, but burning with passion all the same.

“I didn’t realize how badly I wanted to do that until now,” Harry confesses, voice soft. It feels like they’re in a bubble, and any loud noise will burst it.

“Didn’t quite realize myself until a few minutes ago, either,” Louis says, voice light. He’s scratching lightly at the shorter hair on the base of Harry’s neck. “I’m glad I did, though.”

Harry bumps his head lightly against Louis’ hand and sighs contentedly. Louis can’t help the giggle that escapes from him at the sight. Like witch like familiar, indeed. “I’m glad you did, too, Lou. It needed to happen, I think.”

Louis nods, “Yeah, it did. Although now that it’s happened, I’d like to make sure it keeps happening, if that’s alright with you.”

Harry rolls his eyes fondly and he smiles warmly at Louis. “More than alright.”

Louis smiles, angling to press a light kiss to Harry’s wrist. “Good.”

Harry’s nose scrunches and his eyes crinkle as he tries to grin a little less embarrassingly dopily, though it doesn’t help much. God, Louis is so grateful for Harry. He doesn’t think he’ll ever stop being grateful.

The ritual finishes with fond, surreptitious glances that are even less subtle than usual, and is marked by plenty of quick, clumsy kisses that are more presses of lips on hot skin than they are anything else.

Louis and Harry fall asleep sharing the bed, this time, exchanging sleepy goodnights, limbs tangled where they’re curled around each other.

It’s the best sleep Louis has ever had.

✩☽✩☽✩

On day nineteen when Louis goes through the ritual cleansing again, it’s not Harry-the-green-cottage-witch who helps him, but Harry-Louis’-gorgeous-boyfriend. They’d discussed it over breakfast, and mutually had agreed they were both serious about being exclusive to each other. Not that it feels like that much of a change, if Louis is being honest. Looking back on it now, they were practically dating, anyway.

It feels like they’re doing the ritual for the first time again that night. They’re both giddy, smiling and fumbling like they’re drunk. Louis thinks they probably are, though not on any alcohol. Harry is intoxicating, and being near him makes Louis feel heady. He has no idea why, doesn’t really care, but he never wants to lose this, this punch drunk attraction.

Louis and Harry’s hands drag tonight, consumed with the compulsive desire to touch feel touch. Now that Louis’ allowed to, he never wants to stop, and warmth curls into Louis’ stomach at the knowledge that Harry feels the same. They complete the ritual without a hitch, of course, they’re both old hat at this by now, but both Harry and Louis are left with admirable collections of red and bruising love bites wherever there’s a flash of easily accessible bare skin. It makes Louis feel like a teenager, but if he were visually inclined, he’d make art out of the words they’ve marked in each other’s skins.

✩☽✩☽✩

The urgency Louis and Harry had felt these past couple of days has died down somewhat, though Louis can feel it simmering in the background, ready to spill over at a moment’s notice. Louis wonders if the all-consuming intensity between them will ever fade, or if Louis and Harry will forever burn with it. If he’s being honest, he can’t say he would be altogether displeased about going in a blaze with Harry if he must. He tries not to think about that too closely, knows he’ll probably be unsettled by the real weight of his words if he does.

“So you intend to head back to Los Angeles after all this is done?” Harry asks, gesturing towards the ritual set-up and the cottage more generally as the tub fills. His tone is guarded, like he’s bracing himself for an answer he doesn’t want to hear but needs to know anyway. Louis thinks he can hear an underlying plea in the question, and his heart twists.

Louis is perched on the edge of the tub in only an over-sized tee, and he bites his lip before he says carefully, “Probably eventually, but I’m not—I’m not in a rush, or anything. I’m on an indefinite hiatus right now, and I only need to go back when I feel like I’m ready. And besides,” he adds, “I’ve grown pretty fond of this guy I met, and I’d like to keep spending time with him.” Louis sends a smile to Harry at that, hoping to brighten the mood a little.

It seems to work, at least somewhat, because it puts a smile on Harry’s face and he replies, “Anybody I should be worried about?”

That causes Louis’ smile to curl into a smirk and he gets up, moving into Harry’s space where Harry wraps his arms around Louis, caging him in an embrace. Louis presses a firm kiss against Harry’s lips, giving his bottom one a nip before he says, “Nah, you’re good.”

Louis lets himself be held in Harry’s arms a moment, rocking side to side with him, enjoying the feeling of their bodies, solid against each other. “Besides,” Louis continues, “there’s a lot I could do from here with my own property and home studio, anyway. Wouldn’t have to travel all that much more than I would have to living in Los Angeles. To be honest, I’ve gotten used to living away from all the hubbub and chaos. The idea of moving back to the middle of that mess really isn’t all that appealing. You’ve ruined me, you recluse,” he says to Harry, tone teasing and eyes and grin warm.

Harry huffs, but his worries seem to be soothed, and Louis reluctantly extricates himself from Harry’s arms and toes into the now ready tub.

There’s a frown on Harry’s face, but it doesn’t seem to be an upset one, just thoughtful. Grabbing the pitcher, scrub, and washcloth with a wave of his hand, he says to Louis, “I know you probably have quite the sizable bank account, being a world-famous pop star and all,” his tone is teasing at that and Louis lets out his own huff, “but,” his tone then takes on a hesitant quality now, unsure, and he gnaws on his lower lip before he says, “if you’re going to stay in the mountains anyway, why spend the money on a new property? You could just live here.”

And well, Louis doesn’t know what to say to that. To be honest, he’s kind of floored. It’s true that he’s pretty close to living in this cottage anyway, but it’s the principal of the thing. Louis isn’t sure what to make of the fact that his first instinct is to say yes and accept Harry’s offer. The phrase, ‘going too fast’, should probably be coming up somewhere in his thoughts as the right answer, but it’s nowhere to be found, and he probably shouldn’t be so surprised. Things have never been normal between the two of them. It’s one of Louis’ favourite things about life with Harry in it, but it also means he needs to take a step back sometimes and consider the situation without his admittedly overwhelming emotions influencing him—as much as he can, anyway.

As Louis settles into the tub and Harry fills up the pitcher with water in preparation for pouring it on Louis, he tries to formulate an answer. Harry seems to understand, because he doesn’t press Louis for anything right away. Finally, Louis says, “Harry, that’s so much.” He hopes Harry won’t take it the wrong way, doesn’t think he will, but is apprehensive about Harry’s answer nonetheless.

He doesn’t expect the giggles, but he’ll take it.

“Lou, sweetheart, you know you practically live here anyway, right?” Harry says, echoing Louis' thoughts, while he he tries to keep a straight face, but the smiles and laughter he’s suppressing keep twitching the corner of his mouth up.

Louis grows red at that, flustered, and his mouth opens and closes a few times as he tries to come up with a response. Absently, he wonders if he’s been caught up in one of Harry’s spells because he can’t seem to speak at all tonight. Or, he considers darkly, perhaps the curse is beginning to progress further, knowing his luck.

Seeing Louis’ uncertainty, Harry offers him a warm smile and presses a reassuring kiss to the corners of Louis’ mouth. “Hey now, no need to get yourself worked up about it. If you aren’t ready, that’s fine by me. There’s no need to rush into anything if you aren’t comfortable with it just because I would like it.”

That helps to ease some of the tension building in his chest and Louis returns Harry’s kiss in thanks. “I know, H.” Except now that the idea is sinking in, it really does make sense. Louis sighs and smirks a little self-deprecatingly, “I would probably end up using any property I bought out here exclusively as a recording studio and spend the rest of the time here, anyway.”

Harry chuckles at that. “Yeah, probably. Expanding the cottage is easy enough to do with witch’s space, anyway. No need to own a separate property unless you decide you’re over the music industry and would rather be a realtor, instead,” he says, teasing.

Louis can’t help the shock of laughter that pulls from him. “Yeah, dream job right there.”

“Oh, absolutely,” Harry agrees, nodding sagely.

There’s a lapse of silence as Louis lets Harry pour the water over his head, covering Louis’ eyes with his spare hand as has become the norm. Louis says then, “Could you really do that? With witch’s space.”

Harry nods. “Yeah. It’s not exactly a difficult area of magic, but creating permanent fixtures of witch’s space can be quite lengthy to cast and will draw a sizable chunk of your magic and energy. I, uh,” he coughs in embarrassment, “I’ve looked into it before when I was thinking about what kind of future I wanted with this cottage. I figured it would be useful, make sure my future kids all have their own spaces, you know?”

Louis takes in Harry’s words, struck yet again at the versatility of magic. When his brain finally fully comprehends what Harry’s saying, his eyebrows shoot up to his hairline. “You want kids?”

Harry’s flush worsens at that, ears staining a hot red, and says, hesitant, “Uh, yeah. I have. Always.”

A grin splits across Louis’ face and he says, “Me too. I want a whole brood of little ones.”

That sends the tension out of Harry’s shoulders and he returns Louis’ grin. “Me too,” he says. “I don’t care about whether they’re girls or boys or whatever else, but I’ve always wanted to name a daughter of mine Darcy.”

“Darcy,” Louis repeats, tasting the shape and sound and texture of the name on his tongue. “I love it. I’ve always liked the name Clifford, but I don’t know if I like it better as a name for a fur-baby of dog or a human-baby of a child.”

Harry cackles at that, but says, “That’s a great name. I love it, too.”

Louis grins, and for the rest of the ritual and, if Louis is being honest, late into the evening, they talk about children, raising them, parenting, and what feels like any and all related topics under the sun.

And for the rest of the night, Louis tries not to think too much about how he can feel himself falling ever further for Harry with every hour that passes.

✩☽✩☽✩

Even though Louis knows Harry isn’t impatiently waiting for an answer, doesn’t want Louis to give him one unless he’s sure and ready, Louis can’t help but turn Harry’s offer over and over in his head. He hadn’t been lying when he’d said it felt like a big, important step for them, but what has caught him off guard is how quickly and firmly the idea has lodged into his head, like it belonged there, like there had already been a place for it in his thoughts. He supposes it might have to do with, as Harry had mentioned, all the time he spends here, but Louis isn’t sure that’s entirely it.

For a long time now, Louis thinks he has grown used to life away from the city. He realizes, with a sudden clarity, that even from the first day he had arrived at the rental property, even from before he met Harry, there was something about this place that helped to comfort him in a way he’d never been comforted before in Los Angeles. Seven years caught in the maelstrom of the industry will do that to a person, he supposes. Stripping his shirt off now, Louis understands that even if he hadn’t let his roots plant so deep here, he would have moved out of the city to somewhere more remote, anyway. Harry’s proposal, sudden as it had been, had clarified Louis’ own thoughts, had revealed to Louis that, for a long time now, his plans had shifted away from returning to city life.

That’s not, Louis had realized, the life he wants for himself anymore, and hasn’t been for a long time. And if his new life also happens to involve a particular green-eyed curly-haired witch and his fluffy feline familiar, well. He’s not one to deliberately deny his own feelings.

Louis settles into the tub, head lolled to the side as he looks up, considering, at Harry, who is filling the pitcher with water, and says, “So, witch’s space, huh?”

The grin that bursts on Harry’s face feels like a supernova, and Louis’ heart twists and swells, overwhelmed with the sheer unadulterated fondness—and maybe something else, something tinting the edges deeper and stronger—he feels for the man. He wants to keep making Harry smile like that for the rest of his life, wants to be that person for Harry so much he aches down to the bone for it.

“As much as we could ever need, Lou.”

✩☽✩☽✩

There’s something about day twenty-two that leaves Louis feeling drunk around Harry the entire night, like the world has blurred around the edges that surround them, and like the air is so thick it sends Louis and Harry falling to meet each other at the bottom. They’re carrying the ritual out the same as usual, but somehow everything is different. If they hadn’t done this twenty-one other times already, Louis might have worried. Sound seems to be muted, coming from far away, except for the sound of Harry’s voice which is as clear as ever, a beacon in the surrounding haze. Louis’ body is oversensitive to touch, and it feels like Harry is trailing fire across his skin wherever he touches him, leaving jagged shards of ice at the absence of his touch. Louis feels hot, feels electricity crackling between him and Harry even though he knows neither he nor Harry is using more magic than normal.

And Louis wants. He wants so much. He wants to keep touching Harry, wants Harry to keep touching him. The fire and ice, the burn and chill, it’s addictive, all of it. Harry feels it too, he knows, because he hasn’t stopped touching Louis in some way since they began the ritual for the evening—wet, open-mouthed kisses, the drag of fingertips, the press of a shoulder, a nip to the neck. Louis returns the best he can, and the entire thing is dizzying, sends his world spinning and full of nothing but HarryHarryHarry.

Harry’s gaze is hot, dark, when their eyes lock, and Louis is sure his own normally clear eyes have blown stormy, too. When Harry works the scrub into Louis’ skin this time, the ritual doesn’t feel like it’s winding down like it usually does, but like they’re building up to something instead. They’re climbing higher and higher together, and Louis shivers in anticipation of the fall.

Since they’d kissed each other for the first time a few nights ago, Harry has changed their routine to including him toweling Louis off with the soft, fluffy towels Harry has. Louis suspects it started with Harry wanting to prolong the contact and the intimate space they get to whenever they carry out the ritual, but Louis can’t say he minds. There’s a need they both share to be close, to reaffirm that their relationship, delicate and new as it is, is real, and solid, and there—especially considering the surreality that surrounds the rest of their lives. It’s not often a witch and a pop star come together in the Canadian wilderness. If letting Harry dry him makes the both of them feel closer, safer, Louis’ not going to stop Harry.

Today, when Harry towels Louis’ hair, runs it over his shoulders and arms and down his back, his eyes barely drift from Louis’ lips. Soon, Harry is pressing hot, heady, kisses into his body with the help of his grip on the towel. Their bodies are flush against each other, and Louis’ arms have moved to wind around Harry’s neck, fingers coming to tangle in his hair while Harry’s hands curl around Louis’ shoulders, digging into his shoulder blades.

There’s heat, so much heat, it feels like Louis is on fire and burning from within. Their kisses are hot, messy, and wet. There’s tongue and teeth, and their lips are bruised and swollen from their biting and sucking. When the pressure in Louis’ lungs let him know he needs to breathe, Louis pulls back to suck love bites into Harry’s neck instead. Somewhere along the way, they’ve moved to press against the wall, and Harry’s head falls back and hits it with a thud. Harry lets out a groan, low in his chest, and Louis can feel the vibrations of it. Louis moans in response. They’re both panting, breath hitting their skin and sending their bodies even hotter than they already were.

Arousal is thrumming through Louis’ veins, and it has him hard against Harry, who is in the same state. They’ve begun grinding against each other, and it sends zings of pleasure up Louis’ spine and curling in his toes, but it’s not enough. He’s palming at the front of Harry’s underwear, which was the sole article of clothing he’d chosen to wear this time to carry out the ritual. It makes things both easier and more difficult, leaving fewer barriers between them, but making it harder for Louis to not just pull the boxer-briefs down and sink to his knees in front of Harry right here. Because Louis can feel that Harry is big, and his jaw aches with want for the stretch of Harry in his mouth, the taste of him on his tongue, and the scent of him in his nose.

His hands have just hooked into the waistband of Harry’s underwear when Harry’s hand lands on Louis’ own. Louis pauses, and looks up at Harry questioningly.

“Not here,” Harry says raspily, and Jesus, Louis didn’t know his voice could get any deeper. Louis wonders what Harry’s voice would sound like after he’s had Louis in his mouth, and a throb of arousal rushes through him at the thought. He wants to try that with Harry someday, too. Harry looks wrecked already, cheeks flushed, hair sweaty and tangled, and eyes blown black. His lips are puffy and red-bitten, hanging open as he pants, and Louis can’t wait to ruin Harry.

Louis nods, swallows hard, and clumsily follows Harry into Harry’s bedroom. Harry strips out of his underwear, and Louis lets the towel fall to the ground, forgotten. Harry has tangled their fingers together and is pulling Louis backwards towards the bed. The back of his knees hit the edge of the mattress, and Harry falls back onto it, squirming up the bed while Louis follows suit, crawling over Harry until they hit the pillows and the headboard. They don’t take their eyes off each other the entire time, can’t bear to, and Louis surges forward to press another kiss to Harry’s lips, attempting to convey the overwhelming emotions he doesn’t have the words to express.

His forearms are planted on either side of Harry’s head, caging him in. Below him, Harry’s arms are pressed up by his head against the pillow, hands curled inward, surrounded by Louis own arms, and Harry’s hair fans out around his head like a halo. He looks unreal, like a vision, like a precious gift, like salvation, and Louis knows he’s never seen anything more beautiful in his life.

“What do you want from me?” He asks Harry, voice low and hoarse and raw.

“Anything. Everything,” Harry breathes. “I want you to give me everything.”

Louis surges forward, pressing flush against Harry and kissing him until it feels like they’re blurring together at the edges and Harry becomes the centre of his universe.

“I want that too. I want to give you everything. Always.” Louis says, and he feels close to tears he’s so overwhelmed. They’re rocking against each other, bare skin against bare skin, and Louis could do this forever.

“Always,” Harry echoes, and his voice is just as wet.

When they reach their peaks together, hours later, the fall is everything Louis anticipated and more.

✩☽✩☽✩

Louis doesn’t leave the next day, can’t bring himself to. There’s something about him that feels vulnerable, exposed, and even the thought of leaving Harry after being so close to him the night before is one he violently shies away from. Harry for his part doesn’t even mention Louis returning to the rental property, and Louis assumes the notion is just as unthinkable to him.

All day, Louis and Harry cling to one another, at all times maintaining contact, even if it’s only the brush of shoulders or the whisper of fingers. It’s barely conscious, something at the cores of their essences pulling them together emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It feels like Louis has given Harry a part of himself permanently, and like Harry has given Louis the same. Something fundamental about them has shifted, and deep down Louis suspects there’s more to it than just sharing the first sexual experience with his partner.

That night, when Harry infuses magic into the scrub, Louis smells spice alongside Harry’s regular burnt sugar, and the part of him that had needed him to spend the day clinging to Harry finally, finally settles.

✩☽✩☽✩

Some time in the past few days, Louis moving in with Harry has become an inevitability. When they talk about sharing a home while Harry runs the washcloth over Louis’ body, their plans aren’t for some distant, unclear point in the future; they’re not vague plans to do this or add that. They’ve begun making a list of all the things that need to be done, what Louis needs to bring and what he’ll leave behind, what Harry needs to add and what things will need to change. They haven’t figured out a date yet, but they know it will be before the end of Louis’ hiatus. Louis knows he’ll have to contact Liam soon, and Harry knows he needs to figure out how involved with Louis’ professional life he’s comfortable being.

It’s nice, feels like they’re finally laying out a solid foundation for the future of their lives which have already become inextricably interwoven. Even though Louis had been with Ryan for years, they’d never made plans like this, content to let their lives and relationship go as they will, and Louis wonders if he would have ended things with him sooner if they’d tried, because he’d never so clearly pictured a life together with him like he does with Harry.

“We’ll have to invite our families over when you’re finally moved in. Like a housewarming party, even though only one of us is moving somewhere new,” Harry says idly. “Although, with all the changes we’ll be making to the cottage, it might count as a move into a new place for the both of us,” Harry muses, humming in consideration.

Louis tilts his head and, working the question over in his head says, “No, I think you’re right. Even if you’re not moving to a new location, you’re moving into a new home. I think it counts. A metaphorical move, instead of a literal one.”

Harry grins, switching to the scrub, and says, “Then we’ll need to have a housewarming party to celebrate moving into our new home together.”

Louis returns the grin. “Yup. The newly-minted Tomlinson-Styles home.”

Harry’s eyes soften, glimmering with happiness and he says softly, “Yeah. The Tomlinson-Styles home.” All of a sudden, his eyes widen in realization and he says, “Wait, you’ve never actually met my family, have you? Just Gemma.”

Louis nods. “Yeah, they’ve never been at the shop when I was there with you dropping off the stuff we make here, or the odd times we helped out in the store. Just your sister. To be honest,” Louis frowns, “the thought makes me nervous. Should I be worried?”

Harry laughs at that, tapping Louis’ nose and pressing a fond kiss to his lips. “Of course not. You’ve got Gemma’s approval, and she’s the hardest to win over. Besides, I’ve been telling them about you when I see them and they’re halfway to just adopting you into the family already.”

“You what?” Louis splutters, and turns to Harry, horrified.

“Oops?” Harry grins sheepishly and shrugs apologetically. “I promise it wasn’t anything bad or embarrassing. It’s just hard to not tell everybody about how wonderful you are, you know?”

Louis sighs and rolls his eyes fondly, a small smile curling his lips. He would have done the same if he had any reliable way to contact his family. It’s hard enough to try and get a call through to Liam as it is. “Fine, fine. I forgive you, but only because you’re cute and spoil me rotten.”

Harry grins and leans forward to steal another kiss from Louis and Louis can’t help the way he smiles into it. He’s just so, so fond of this man. “I’ll take it,” Harry says, before returning to working the scrub into Louis’ skin.

“You know,” Louis says after a moment, “You still haven’t met any of my family, either.”

Harry groans. “Don’t remind me. It feels like I know them because of how much you’ve told me about them, but I know that’s not true. They don’t even know I exist,” he falls forward onto his arms, crossed on the edge of the tub, and buries his face into them.

Louis coos, and runs his fingers through Harry’s hair consolingly. “There’s no need to worry about it, darling. I know they’ll love you. Honestly, they all hated that I was with Ryan, so you’re already ahead. They’ll be thrilled to bits to meet you.”

“But what if they aren’t? What if they hate me?” Harry says, muffled into his arms.

Louis scoffs, and says fondly, “Please, I don’t think it’s possible for anybody to hate you, let alone a Tomlinson if I know my family at all—and I’m pretty sure I do, quite well.”

Harry sighs, but nods, and returns to working the scrub into Louis’ skin, biting lightly on his lip, obviously not yet convinced.

Louis squeezes Harry’s wrist lightly and offers him a teasing smile. “You could always do what you did for me and ply them with food. Your baked goods are honestly the best I’ve ever tasted, Mr. Kitchen-Witch.”

That brightens Harry’s face, amenable to the idea. “Yeah? You think they’d like my baking?”

“Definitely,” Louis grins, and with that they’re back to the light, comfortable mood they’d had at the beginning of the evening.

And Louis, well. Louis thinks this is the happiest and most excited he’s been about his future in a long time.

✩☽✩☽✩

Another thing Louis notices that’s different with Harry from his previous relationship with Ryan is that he and Harry never stop flirting, that there’s always an underlying current of attraction that they can ignite at any moment. There’s still butterflies when he and Harry unexpectedly lock eyes, and the thought of spending the day with Harry, learning everything about him—the good, the bad, the ugly and the admirable and the shameful—still leaves him giddy. He knows for a new couple that’s normal, they’re still in a honeymoon phase, of sorts, but something in Louis tells him the honeymoon phase isn’t going to end, is just going to bloom into something strong and sturdy and dependable and permanent.

And well, with honeymoon phases comes sex, and the thing about sex, especially when it’s as good as it is with Harry, with each other, is that they want to have a lot of it and as often as possible, so Louis can’t say he’s surprised when on day twenty-five, their regular flirtation and banter takes on an extra edge. He’s just thankful they aren’t doing some kind of sex magic, because he’s sure the near-palpable levels of sexual tension between them would have long since thrown the entire thing off.

To be honest, Louis can’t even remember what he and Harry had been bantering about, but he can’t say he cares when, after the ritual, Harry forgoes wrapping Louis with the towel altogether, instead whisking the water away with a flick of his wrist and hiking Louis, naked, up around his waist and carrying him to the bedroom.

The sex that night is just as good as the first night—better, even. When Louis gets to ruin Harry’s voice, it’s just as beautiful as he thought it would be.

✩☽✩☽✩

The morning of day twenty-six, Louis and Harry realize they only have approximately seventy-two hours until they’ll have completed the ritual. Four weeks, and it’s almost all over, just like that. Louis thinks that if he and Harry hadn’t become involved with one another, the sense of loss echoing in between them would have been much stronger. As it is, Louis can’t help but feel they’re reaching the end of a chapter together. Louis is optimistic about the next one, but he’s nervous anyway. The nightly ritual cleansings have been part of their lives for so long he’s going to have difficulty adjusting to life without it—they both will, he knows, because Harry was just as much a part of this as Louis was, and Louis is thankful for that. He wouldn’t have wanted to do this with anybody else.

The atmosphere between Louis and Harry tonight is sedate, closer to the way it was at the beginning, though blessedly without any of the awkwardness. Louis suspects that Harry’s feeling just as contemplative as he is. In the grand scheme of things, a month really isn’t all that long, but they’ve been through a lot these past few weeks, both together and individually, so last month feels an age away.

There’s a hesitancy now to both Louis and Harry’s actions. Louis is slower to strip off his clothes, and Harry physically moves to grab the pitcher, washcloth, and scrub instead of just summoning them to him. Though intellectually they both know that the end of the ritual is a good thing, that Louis will, hopefully, be able to create music again, they are reluctant to relinquish the closeness it affords them. They know it doesn’t make sense, know that the end of the ritual doesn’t also mean the end of their time together, the end of intimacy, but matters of feeling and the heart never do.

Louis notices Harry has paused his actions, squeezing the washcloth tight in his hand and staring at the mason jar filled with the scrub, reluctant.

Louis can’t help the small smile that curves his lips, sympathetic to Harry’s difficulty. “You too, huh?”

Harry’s attention flicks over to Louis and he returns the smile. “I feel like an idiot.”

Louis huffs a laugh. “You and me both.”

Harry sighs, frustrated. “I just, I don’t want to lose this time with you, you know? I like being able to have evenings like this. I know we can be close in other ways, I know—and we are—but I’ve said it before, Lou, I like taking care of you like this. I like it a lot.” His voice grows shaky towards the end, and Louis reaches out to link their fingers, squeezing them in comfort.

“I know, H. Believe me, I feel exactly the same way. I’ll be glad when this ritual is finally complete, but not that it means we won’t be doing this anymore.” A thought creeps to the front of his mind and Louis chews on the inside of his cheek, licking his lips once before he says, carefully, “I mean. We could...We could keep doing this anyway.”

Harry frowns. “But that would be pointless. And at worst, it could inadvertently affect the success of the ritual in cleansing you of the curse.”

A laugh shocks out of Louis’ chest at that. “No, darling, I don’t mean continuing the ritual. I mean this,” he waves his hand about the room in general. “Taking care of each other like this. You washing and pampering me, me washing and pampering you.” Another idea flashes through Louis’ thoughts, “Or even at the same time.”

Harry frowns. “I don’t follow.”

Louis nudges Harry’s arms before nodding his head at the tub. “This thing isn’t exactly small. There’s enough room in here for the both of us.”

Realization dawns on Harry’s face, and Louis watches the tug of a smile at the corners of Harry’s lips. They’ve gotten so used to the way they had been doing things these past weeks that they’d forgotten there were any other alternatives. “Louis, you’re a genius.”

Louis flushes at the praise. “I’d hardly say that.”

The two share a fond gaze before Harry says, exasperated, “I can’t believe we didn’t think of this sooner. Complete idiots.”

Louis laughs and says, “Yeah, we really were, but,” he shrugs. “You’re very distracting to me,” he teases, bringing Harry’s free hand up to his lips to press a fond kiss there.

Harry’s nose scrunches and he returns, just as fond, “You are, too.”

Louis’ eyes are bright when he says to Harry, “After we’re done the ritual, let’s pamper each other properly. With those potions we were brewing this morning, I think both our heads could use a real washing.”

Harry snorts, “Yeah, to put it mildly. My scalp won’t stop itching and I’m sick of the oil coating my fingers any time I run them through my hair. At least you’ve just been washed with warm water,” Harry pouts.

Louis laughs again at Harry’s petulance and says, “Yes, darling, and I’m very grateful for you doing that, but I don’t think it did any good.”

Harry’s face twists in displeasure. “It’s not going to be fun to get this stuff out of our hair.”

Louis nods. “Nothing can be done about that. At least if we suffer, we suffer together.

Harry returns the nod. “Together.”

After the ritual, they drain the tub and run fresh hot water into it, cleaning the bathroom of unnecessary ritual tools as they wait for it to fill. When they finally toe into the tub, it takes a bit of manoeuvering to get settled comfortably, but Harry is soon making himself comfortable in between Louis’ legs, leaning back against his chest. Harry’s quite broad and muscular, so it takes a bit of getting used to, but Louis wouldn’t have it any other way. He likes having Harry in his lap, feels content and safe, and it is with great reluctance that Louis shifts Harry so he can take the shampoo and conditioner and work it into Harry’s long curly hair.

It’s worth it, though, to witness how Harry melts in his lap, how he slides deeper into the tub, how his broad shoulders fall, how his head lolls and eyelids droop. When Harry turns in Louis’ lap so he can return the favour, he’s having trouble controlling his limbs, loose in relaxation. Louis loves it, loves knowing that he did that to Harry as well as for him. Of course, by the time Harry is done with him, he’s not in much better shape, so they sloppily move themselves back to the way they were originally. Harry’s back against Louis chest, Louis’ hands now settled on Harry’s waist, and they’ve tucked their faces into each other’s nooks and crannies—the back of Harry’s neck, the crook of Louis’. They’re languid, taking in each other’s presences, hands softly stroking warm skin.

And it’s nice, so nice. Harry means everything to Louis, he really does. Louis feels like he’s going to explode with how much his fondness for him burns to his bone. It’s too much. Too much.

“I think I’ve fallen in love with you,” Louis admits, no louder than a whisper, into Harry’s neck, gut swooping with anxiety when Harry’s once deep, slow, even breaths halt.

Carefully, so carefully, Harry turns in Louis’ lap, resting one hand over Louis’ chest and the other on his shoulder, pulling himself even closer to Louis. Harry’s eyes are wide, taking in Louis’ expression, seeming to search for whether or not Louis means it. As if Louis were ever capable of lying to Harry. As if Louis could ever not fall in love with him.

Harry seems to find whatever it is he was searching for, because he leans forwards and presses a fierce kiss to Louis, hands trembling, but filled with passion and happiness and relief and coming home.

“I think I’ve fallen in love with you, too.”

✩☽✩☽✩

Day twenty-seven, they decide, is going to be a day for them to forget about anything outside their relationship, for them to reaffirm their feelings for each other, for them to be indulgent and let the waves of their recent declarations just wash over them. Though their relationship is still new, Louis knows they’re in for the long haul, knows that Harry is it for him. He feels it in his core, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer to him every day that these feelings he gets are more than just guesses, just wishful thinking or suspicion. He assumes Harry has come to the same conclusion. Louis is great at picking up clues about other people, about situations beyond him, but sometimes he has a bit more trouble catching what’s going on with himself. Harry, of course, has no such trouble when it comes to understanding Louis, but that’s why they work. Like jigsaw pieces, the two of them.

And just like jigsaw pieces, they slot together, they match, they understand each other, understand what they want for tonight—what they need—and it’s effortless to give it to each other. In fact, Louis and Harry make sure to give each other anything they could possibly want, anything they could possibly need, that day, as a reminder to themselves of the fact that, no matter what happens after the ritual, they’ll still have each other and the relationship they’ve nurtured together—one that will, regardless, continue to grow after tomorrow.

So on day twenty-seven, they show that they love each other in all the ways they can.

For breakfast, they make each other their favourite foods: a fried egg on pan-seared toast for Louis, and granola, chia seeds, Greek yoghurt, and fresh fruit with honey for Harry. If the dishes don’t quite turn out the way they’d wanted them to because they’re distracted by furtive glances, bitten giggles, and playful hip-bumps, well, neither of them can say they’re bothered all that much by it. It’s a bit difficult when the easy happiness of the early morning light sparkles in their eyes and tingles in their fingertips whenever their hands ghost past each other.

In the afternoon, they while away the midday hours under the warmth of the sun, its dappled light filtered through the leafy branches of the trees. Sometimes, they walk hand in hand, fingers latticed together, silent as they bask in the sights and sounds and smells of the forest as much as they do each other’s presences, solid and steady beside each other. Other times, they take off into the forest after one another, breathless, possessed by laughter, the buoyancy of their emotions, and the feverish energy of the summery wilderness.

That evening, they curl into each other on the couch, eating a simple meal they’ve prepared together. Dinner is quiet—even Hedwig is curled up, dozing on the plush seat of an armchair instead of snooping for scraps though she is perfectly well-fed. Their conversation is hushed, but light. They have plenty of time to discuss whatever serious matters they wish when they need to, but that evening, content as they are just being close to each other, they only need to worry about listening to the rhythm, the peaks and falls, of each other’s voices, instead

And when they do the ritual, they let the words fall out of their mouths, honest and unfiltered, confessing their thoughts as they carry out their nightly routine.

It starts with Louis’ joke, fond if a little self-deprecating, hiding whispered insecurities because he still doesn’t understand how he’s managed to have Harry fall in love with him, doesn’t understand how this can be his reality. It still seems too good to be true. “You know, I don’t know what it is about me that made you fall in love with me, but I sure am ridiculously lucky.”

Harry pauses, taking in Louis’ face intensely before he shakes his own head in fond exasperation. “What isn’t there to fall in love with?” Harry says, like it’s an absurd question.

Louis stares at him blankly, unsure how to answer. The only thing he’s is able to come up with is an unhelpful, “Uh…”

Harry snorts lightly, takes Louis’ hand and brings it up to his cheek, nuzzling it fondly when he says, “How about I count all the ways?”

Louis licks his lips and his mouth opens and closes a few times, but Harry doesn’t seem to be looking for an answer because he launches into his list without waiting for Louis to respond.

“When I first saw you, I fell in love with the way your eyes burned with a blue crystal fire in the light of the doorway,” Harry says, and brushes his knuckles lightly against the corner of Louis’ eye before he runs the pads of his fingertips over the skin there. “I fell in love with the crinkles of your skin when you smiled and laughed at my bad jokes over dinner. I fell in love,” Harry continues, “with your patience and openness to the craziness of the magical world, of my world and now of yours, too. I fell in love with the sound of your voice, light like spring, and the way it changes when you wake up next to me in the morning and when you fall asleep next to me in the evenings.” Harry’s hand trails down over his lips and across his neck, gentle and light and reverent. “I fell in love with your curiosity and understanding and humour. I fell in love with your hands, how they’re smaller and finer than mine but just as strong, and I fell in love with the curves of your body. I fell in love with your smile and your laugh, your sorrow and anger, and your light and your life. I fell in love with you because you’re the most incredible person I’ve ever met, and everything about you fits with everything about me.”

Louis swallows, lump thick in his throat and eyes wet-hot. God, he loves Harry so much he can hardly bear it. “You’re such a sap,” he tries to tease, except he’s overwhelmed and it’s weak, without bite. “But I can’t say I’m any better, because Harry, you inspire me, make me practically vibrate with it, with the desire to write a thousand songs for you. It drives me crazy that I can’t.” Louis’ voice hitches, and he’s sure he’s about to start crying any minute now. He blindly reaches for Harry’s hand, tightly lacing their fingers together and bringing them to his lips, murmuring against them.

“I wish I could write about how much I love that your happiness radiates off of you to everyone and anything around you. I wish I could write about how much I love watching how gentle and attentive you are to anybody and anything you care about. I wish I could write about how much I love the sound of your laughter and,” Louis lightly taps Harry’s nose with his free hand before moving to run his thumb along Harry’s lower lip, “how it scrunches your nose up, about how much I love the way you try to hide it and your grins by biting your bottom lip, how it never works.” He gives Harry a fond smile at that. “I wish I could write about how much I love the dips of your spine and the angles of your shoulder and how they feel so solid underneath my hands, and how soft and vulnerable you look in the mornings when you’re still lost to sleep. I wish I could write about how much I love your honesty about everything, good or bad, joyful or joyless, and how much I love your relentless optimism, how important you are to me, how much I need you sometimes.” He takes in a shaky breath. “I wish I could write about all the things I love about you, but I promise if I’m never able to write again that I’m going to keep reminding you until you’re sick of hearing about it.”

Louis can see that Harry’s own eyes are misty now, and Harry says, voice wavering, “I’ve told you already, Lou, nothing you do could ever make me sick of you. I’m never going to get sick of you and, for the record,” he adds, “I’m going to keep loving you, all of you, with my breath, my smiles, my tears and my entire life—until death, and I’ll love you even better after that.”

Louis thinks he’s actually crying this time, but is consoled by the fact that Harry isn’t in any better shape. “Until death and everything after that, I’ll love you too.”

✩☽✩☽✩

On the final day, Louis feels sick. His throat is dry, and he can’t focus on anything no matter how hard he tries; his attention is shot. He wants to run as far as he can until he collapses from exhaustion and he wants to bury himself under layers and layers of blankets until he can’t breathe, can’t move, can’t even imagine the world outside his shelter. They’re at a crossroads tonight. Either Harry will manage to complete the ritual and break his curse, or the entire thing, the last four weeks worth of effort, will all go to waste, will have been for nothing. Louis has the utmost faith in Harry’s ability, but he can’t help his anxiety. Even if Harry has carried out the ritual perfectly—which Louis has faith he has—it doesn’t mean they’d picked the right course of action to solve the problem in the first place. Harry has made no effort to hide that he still has a lot to learn, will always have more to learn, and though he has dug up as many relevant notes and tomes and books of all languages and ages as he can, he won’t know what it is he’s missing, just that he could be—likely is—missing it. Louis doesn’t begrudge him for it, but the reality of the matter doesn’t do much to ease his anxiety.

Harry is anxious too, Louis knows. Louis can see it in the way Harry’s hands have been twitchy all day, how he can’t seem to sit still. He’s been handling household tasks all day in an effort to manage his nervous energy, dusting and sweeping and arranging and rearranging the cottage before returning it right back to how it was in the first place. His magic has been crackling all day, just under the surface of his skin, and Louis can feel the hum of it when Harry brushes close to him. Hedwig isn’t much better, having been pacing through the house at all hours, meowing quietly to herself. They’re all buzzing with anticipation, quivering with nerves, and none of them are handling it all that well. They can’t really be bothered to do anything about it, however; they know that the only thing that will chase away the anxiety is the completion of the ritual. So they wait.

For all the anxiety that leads up to the ritual that evening, things go much the same as usual. For the most part, Louis and Harry let themselves get caught up in the familiarity of the routine. It helps to soothe some of their raw edges, and soon the light-heartedness that has become typical of their evenings returns, though the weight of the evening’s ritual doesn’t ever totally leave.

“What on earth are you going to do when you no longer have me waiting on you like this every night, Lou?” Harry teases as he runs the washcloth, soft as ever, over Louis’ body.

Louis lets out a dramatic sigh, throwing his forearm across his eyes as he leans back into the wall of the tub. “I don’t have the faintest idea. Die, probably. It’s absolutely inhumane that I’m being subjected to such injustice. You owe me an apology at the very least,” he sniffs.

A bark of laughter leaves Harry at that and a wide grin splits his face. Louis’ own face hurts just looking at it. “Right, of course. It’s a gross carriage of injustice. Absolutely horrible. I’m sorry, love. You absolutely don’t deserve to be subjected to this treatment. What can I do to make it up for you?”

Louis pretends to seriously think about it and says, brattily, “Nothing except to continue on as usual whenever I demand it. I simply can’t live without my evening bath.”

Harry huffs a laugh, rolling his eyes fondly. “Of course, sweetheart. Whenever you ask. Can’t have you live without your evening bath.”

Louis nods sagely. “No of course not. That would be completely unacceptable.”

Harry takes the moment to flick water into Louis’ face, a devious smirk lighting his lips, and Louis’ mouth drops in exaggerated offense. “How dare you—” he motions to return the move, but Harry’s hand light on his arm stops him, not wanting Louis to accidentally ruin the ritual with stray water on the surrounding sage and candles.

Louis sniffs but listens, settling back in the tub. “You’ll pay for that later.”

Harry offers him an easy smile. “Oh, I have no doubt.”

Harry moves the scrub after that, and he spends longer that night than he did any of the other nights working the scrub, charged warm and electric with Harry’s spiced burnt sugar magic, into Louis’ skin. He makes sure it gets in deep, almost leaving Louis’ skin raw with the result of Harry’s determined ministrations. Whether Harry takes his time because he’s reluctant to let the night end or because he’s making a last-ditch effort of sorts to ensure as best he can that the ritual will work, Louis isn’t sure. He thinks it’s probably a mixture of both. All the while, Harry presses soft kisses into Louis’ skin, reassurance for them both. As they approach the end of the ritual, the very end, the mood sobers again, and Louis and Harry are grateful for any and all comfort they can get from each other.

Before long, Louis is stepping out of the tub for the last time, at least within the context of the ritual, and he feels disconnected from reality, like none of it is actually happening. He can feel Harry wrap a towel around him, gently drying his hair before he continues down the rest of Louis’ body. The touch of the soft material and the distant heat Louis can feel emanating from Harry’s hands helps to ground him, and he focuses on the sensation to anchor him, to make him more connected to the world around him.

Bundled snug in the towel, Louis’ eyes find Harry and he asks, voice quiet and weak, laced with those ever-present nerves, “And now?”

“Now, we wait,” Harry responds. Still more waiting. There’s an uncertainty lingering in his eyes. This is new territory for both of them, and they’ve done what they can. The rest is out of their hands. Louis hopes Fate decides to be kind.

“What else?” Louis says, because he doesn’t think he has the resolve to just wait to see any kind of results.

Harry seems to understand his need for activity, so he says, “Personally, I’d very much like to slip under the covers and cuddle the love of my life while we watch movies or read some books and wait for sleep to find its way to us. I’ve had enough ritual magic for quite a while. Let’s just enjoy the rest of the night together.”

And that...sounds like everything Louis could ever need right now. With the ritual finally completed, Louis is more than ready, he realizes, to move on and spend his evenings—still with Harry, of course—doing something else for once, though the past four weeks will always have an important place in his heart, despite the surrounding circumstances which prompted the necessity of the ritual in the first place.

“I want nothing more,” Louis says, smile fond.

After all, they have nothing left to do but wait, and Louis has had quite enough of the curse charting the course of his life. Realistically, he knows the knot of anxiety won’t totally leave him until he knows if the ritual was a failure or success either way, but he’ll be damned if he lets the uncertainty, the wondering, consume him.

So he’ll wait, wait for as long as he needs to, but he’s going to live. However he pleases, and on his own terms, he’s going to live.

✩☽✩☽✩

It hits Louis one morning in the days after completing the ritual as he’s curled around Harry, feeling the steady in-out of his back while he breathes and listening to the quiet snuffles he makes in his sleep, that he hasn’t been back to his rental home in almost a week. His belongings have crept into the cozy corners of Harry’s cottage; he can see traces of himself here now, too. His denim jacket slung over the back of a chair, his sneakers sitting in a corner, his sweaters tucked alongside Harry’s own in the drawers (Louis is gradually losing the ability to distinguish whose is whose with how often Harry and Louis steal them from each other, and he can’t say he minds). He and Harry share almost all their meals; Louis has long since stopped stocking perishables in the fridge at his own place, instead buying them and bringing them to store in the kitchen here. Without thinking about it, Louis looks after the cottage as if it’s his own, settling into a household routine that comes naturally to him, to the both of them. Harry’s space, somewhere along the way, has started to become their space, and the only things Louis feels are relief and contentment. Harry is Louis’ inevitability, and his life is finally slotting into the place it needs to be. Is meant to be.

✩☽✩☽✩

The thing is, it’s been several weeks since the last night of the purification baths.

The thing is, when Louis sits down, curled on the armchair with his notebook open to a fresh page, his mind remains blank, and by the time Harry runs his hand lightly through Louis’ hair, calling him to bed, the moon is high in the sky and his page is as white as fresh-fallen snow.

The thing is, when Louis tries to sing some of his old songs, start off easy, his throat seizes and it feels like he’s just swallowed sharpened shards of glass, and he can’t speak a single word for almost a week.

The thing is, the ritual didn’t work.

And Louis doesn’t know what to do. He’s washing his face before bed, watching the water swirl down the drain in the sink, around around around like his thoughts. It didn’t work, it didn’t work, it didn’t work. Louis can see Harry out of the corner of his eye enter the bathroom, dressed in comfy boxers and hair pulled back in a ponytail, ready for bed.

“Lou,” Harry, eyes squeezed shut and voice tight, presses his forehead against the side of Louis’ head and rubs gently into Louis soft hair, wrapping his arm tight around Louis’ shoulders. “I think...you need to start preparing for the possibility that you won’t ever create music again.”

The thing is, there’s probably nothing that will work.

And Louis had seen this coming, had seen it in the way that Harry slipped under the sheets later every night, had seen it in the way Harry changed his spellbooks out for older tomes written in dying languages, had seen it in the way Harry’s once vibrant plants began to curl and brown around the edges from neglect. He had seen it, but had pushed back the knot of anxiety choking him by letting himself be blinded by sweet, seductive, naive, optimism. Louis had seen this coming, but the breath has still been stolen from his lungs and he has still lost the feeling in his fingers. His limbs are heavy, and his head is light. He feels disconnected from his body, and his voice is hoarse, distant, when he says, “Yeah. Yeah, okay.”

✩☽✩☽✩

Before Louis knows it, the green leaves of the trees have flushed red, yellow, and orange on the way to curling into a brittle brown that crunches and crackles underfoot when he and Harry walk the now-familiar trails surrounding their woodland abode. Somewhere along the way, before Louis knew it, he had come to consider Harry’s cottage to be his home, too. He doesn’t stay in the rental property anymore. What’s the point? His place is here. The day Harry had finally asked him why he doesn’t just bring the rest of his clothes over from the rental property so they can organize their closet, already, and see if they need to use modified witch’s space to expand the interior, Louis knew it was time to give Liam’s friend a call and return his house key.

✩☽✩☽✩

Sometimes, when Louis stops to think about the odds of him finding his way here, to Harry, how the cosmos had to have aligned or how the earth magics had to manifest to draw them together, he forgets how to breathe. He can’t remember what his life was like without Harry, can’t bear to think of facing a future without him in it, and it stokes in him a raw, unprecedented, burning desire to follow Harry’s lead and dedicate his own offerings at an altar to every divine power involved in such a miracle. Louis has been blessed, and it overwhelms him to think about it too closely. So he doesn’t, and continues to whisper prayers of gratitude into the creases of his hands, and hopes they lead his words to fall upon the entities he has to thank for gifting him with his own blazing star.

✩☽✩☽✩

Louis’ eyes flutter open briefly to a room dimly lit by the grey light washing through the window. His mind is still hazy with sleep, and he’s struggling to remember where he is. His brow furrows and he nuzzles deeper into the pillow around which he’d wrapped himself, warm from the heat his own body had radiated, and inhales its spicy, earthy scent. And then he’s hit with with the memories of last night. A fleeting, burning caress across his shoulders; hot, heavy breath against his cheek; the sharp pain of nails down his spine; whispered declarations of love into his mouth; choked cries into his neck; the heady cocoon of of intimacy keeping out the world, lingering still in this hushed early hour. He’s at the cottage, he finally remembers, and quickly realizes it’s actually Harry, breaths slow and deep in sleep, around whom he’s wrapped. Louis presses a kiss into the dip of Harry’s shoulder blades, sliding his hand down the dips of his spine in a lingering caress, reluctant to leave the warmth of the bed. He’s not sure what woke him, but now that he’s awake he’ll be hard-pressed to find his way back into the arms of sleep.

Anyway, it’s time he made a phone call.

Louis carefully extricates himself from the embrace he’d been sharing with Harry, pulling the sheets over Harry’s shoulders to make up for the loss of Louis’ body heat. Louis can hear the pitter-patter of raindrops across the roof of the cottage, and his eyes scan the room in hopes of finding slippers of some kind he can borrow from Harry now that he’s left the warmth of the bed. The damp chill of the rain has snuck through the old cottage walls, and Louis’ toes are cold. He hates when his feet are cold, can’t seem to keep any kind of warmth in his body if they are. He spies a pair of slippers tucked under a chair in one corner of the room. They’re fuzzy, pink, and very Harry, but Louis can already feel his toes defrosting when he slides into them. Idly, he wonders if Harry has charmed them to be particularly toasty. Wonders if that’s something Harry is capable of doing.

“Right,” Louis whispers to himself, “Focus, Tommo. Where did you leave your phone last night?” He shuffles out of the room, shutting the door lightly behind him to let Harry rest undisturbed a while longer. “Phone, phone, phone,” he mumbles, casting his eyes around the cottage as he makes his way through the sitting room and into the kitchen. Thankfully, the cottage isn’t all that big, and there are only so many places he could have left the thing. As luck would have it, however, he spies the phone sitting on the wooden kitchen table, right where they’d had dinner last night. He scoops it off the table and unlocks it, scrolling through his contacts until he finds the name he’s looking for. A quick glance at the battery level shows he’s at fifty percent. Enough to ensure his phone won’t die in the middle of the conversation, even if it runs a little long. Good.

He settles onto one of the benches at the kitchen table, listening to the dial tone ring on the other line. He’s glad it connected this time. He doesn’t think he’ll have to wait long, would be surprised if the call went unanswered. Sure enough, he counts only two rings before a groggy voice answers.

“Hello?”

“Hey Liam.”

“Louis, hi. I didn’t know it was you. Just picked up the phone without looking,” Liam says, trying to muster up some enthusiasm while he stifles a yawn. “Everything okay up there? Do you have some good news for me?” Liam’s tone is light, but Louis can tell he really is hoping that Louis has called to tell him that he has finally been able to make music again. His gut twists in guilt and he tries to swallow around the lump in his throat. Louis thought he had finally started to come to terms with his fate, but he guesses he was wrong. Hedwig jumps onto the table, pressing her cheek into Louis hand, the force of her purr vibrating through her frame. She knows what Louis’ answer for Liam is going to be, and he runs his fingers through her fur, grateful for her comfort.

“I...no. I wish I did, Liam,” Louis confesses barely above a whisper. “I haven’t been able to write anything. It’s like I never even learned how. Trying to write a song at all—whether I’m trying to come up with lyrics or to compose—is like trying to send a shuttle to Mars without any of the background in science or math. I can’t do it, Liam, no matter how hard I try. It’s become completely foreign to me.” And Louis hates it. Hates it so much he absolutely shakes with it. So much he wants to be sick. It’s like somebody has cut off a limb, or stolen a vital organ. He doesn’t know how he’s supposed to function, is barely managing as it is.

“And your voice?” Liam asks, his own light, like he’s getting ready to roll with some kind of blow. Louis wishes he wasn’t about to deliver it.

“I still can’t sing. It leaves me in as much pain as it did when I saw the doctor in LA.”

“Okay,” Liam says, “That’s okay. You still have some more time before we really need to be worried. I can even start shopping around for songs other writers are looking to sell. I’m sure your voice will heal. We’ll find somebody who knows how to help you. It’s just a matter of finding the right medical professional. And you’ll get out of whatever creative funk you’ve fallen into eventually. All artists do. No worries.”

“Liam,” Louis says, cutting Liam off before he can go on any further. “I don’t think...I’m not going to get better. My voice won’t heal enough for me to sing again and I’m not going to get out of any kind of funk. I just...I just have a feeling. I can tell.” Louis bites his lip as he waits for Liam’s response, pulling his sleeve down over the hand not holding the phone. His fingers are starting to feel the chill, too.

Finally, Liam sighs and says, “You’re sure about this, then.” His voice is heavy, and Louis hates the underlying weariness Liam’s words belie.

“I am. I’m sorry.”

“Okay. We’ll figure it out. I guess...I guess we’ll just treat this like your retirement from the industry, then. I’ll look into your remaining contractual obligations and set up some meetings with your lawyers. If everything checks out we’ll start making preparations. It’s a little premature, but I think we’ll be able to swing it.”

Louis can’t help the stinging tears that well up in his eyes. He hates this. His life has been stolen from him by whoever cast the curse and he can’t even be honest about it to Liam. Liam, who’s done nothing but help him ever since he signed him as his manager, since all this stupid curse stuff began. Louis feels like he’s letting everybody down—his fans, his family, his colleagues. He feels like he’s letting himself down. He wants to say more to Liam but can’t seem to push any words past the lump in his throat. Doesn’t know what to say, anyway, so he just says, “Thank you. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“We’ve done what we could. You’ve done what you could. Don’t worry about it, Louis. I’ll talk to you soon, okay? Take care of yourself.” Liam’s line goes dead when he hangs up and Louis is met with silence. It sounds a lot more final than it’s supposed to.

Louis is frozen in his spot a moment longer, jaw clenching and unclenching, and hands trembling before he finally curls into himself where he’s seated on the bench, burying his face into his palms. His eyes burn and his body heaves with barely-suppressed sobs. The rain continues to pour outside the cottage.

Louis doesn’t know how long he sits there, the grey of the early morning valiantly trying to brighten as the day goes on, though it is never fully able to shake the cloud cover.

Louis doesn’t know when Harry gets up, either, but as soon as he finds Louis in the kitchen, he rushes to his side, rubbing Louis’ back, trying to figure out what happened and if Louis’ okay. He’s barely awake, Louis can tell from the way Harry’s hair is pushed up in a loose bun, the way sleep-sand sticks in the corners of his eyes, and the way Harry crookedly threw on a soft, holey white tee and loose sweatpants, but his attention is entirely focused on Louis.

“I called Liam, my manager.” Louis says, and his voice is hoarse.

Harry frowns, unsure what to make of Louis’ confession. “Did something happen? Did he say something to you?”

“I told him I can’t make music anymore.” Louis swallows. The words feel chalky and clumsy in his mouth, even now.

“Oh, love,” Harry whispers, wrapping his arms around Louis and pulling him into a hug. He presses into Louis’ hair and rubs his hand some more along Louis’ back, comforting him. “I’m sorry. That must have been a difficult conversation to have with him. Did he at least take it okay?”

“Of course,” Louis laughs, but there’s no humour in it. “It’s Liam. He would never get mad at me, especially not over something like this beyond my control. That’s why it’s so hard. I wish he had gotten mad. He was good about it—so good about it. He’s too good to me.”

Harry doesn’t say anything to that, just pulls Louis even closer into his arms, holding him there for Louis to take comfort. Louis appreciates it, appreciates having a physical reminder of Harry’s support. They stay that way for a bit until Louis’ stomach lets out a grumble of hunger, and Louis can feel Harry smile against him in response.

“How about I fix us some breakfast?” Harry suggests. Louis wants something to distract him from thinking about his conversation with Liam any longer, and breakfast sounds good. More than good.

“That sounds like a great idea,” Louis responds. “I’ll get a brew going.” Harry nods, and gives Louis one last peck to his temple, and then they’re both bustling around the kitchen.

They come to the agreement that the best way to turn the morning around is to start it again with a full breakfast, so Louis helps Harry prepare wild turkey eggs, venison bacon, and Harry’s dense homemade bread. With autumn well underway, Harry’s garden is a little more limited in growth, but Harry nevertheless sends Louis to fetch some for them to have along with breakfast. When Louis returns with a basket of blueberries, raspberries, and another with apples and even peaches that are still in bloom, the tea is just about done steeping. By the time Harry finishes cooking and Louis finishes washing and plating the fruit, their breakfast will be ready to come together. Louis is grateful for it. He’s not sure what he would have done if the rest of the morning had been a failure. Camels and straws, he thinks.

Their conversation over breakfast is light, with Harry studiously avoiding any mention of the call with Liam or Louis’ curse. Even Hedwig appears to be in on it, slinking into the kitchen and hopping onto the table. She makes sure to keep a respectable distance away from their food—and Louis loves Hedwig, really he does, but she has a lot of fur and it gets into absolutely everything—and Louis makes sure to thank her for her considerate behaviour by offering her several generous rashers of bacon on her own plate, to which she meows in thanks.

“Remember a couple of months ago,” Louis finally says when they’re on their last bites of food, “When I first did magic and you said I didn’t have to make a decision on what I wanted to do about it then?” Hedwig has curled up on her end of the table, aptly catnapping off her rashers of bacon. Upon bringing up the topic to Harry, however, Louis notices her ear twitches, and he knows she’s listening for what he’s about to say.

“Yeah, of course,” Harry says hesitantly.

“I’ve made a decision,” Louis declares.

“Oh?” Harry responds, and Louis suspects he’s trying to not let his expectations get the better of him either way.

“I want to learn about witchcraft, Harry. Properly. And I want you to teach me. I...I’m not sure what I’m going to do, to be honest. I can’t make music anymore. My career as a musician is over. I have enough money saved to last me for a while, and there’s always the business side of the industry—or acting, too, I guess—but for now, this is something I want to pursue. It’s just as much a part of me as all the rest is, I’m coming to accept, and I owe it to myself and to you to not pretend it isn’t.” Louis squeezes the cutlery in his hands a moment before he puts them down on his plate and gives Harry his full attention.

“Lou…” Harry says, “Are you sure? I mean, I’d love to teach you and share this part of my life with you in a different way than I already do, but like I said to you then, you don’t have to do anything about your magic if you don’t want to. It doesn’t matter that it’s stronger than most people with your background.” Most mundanes, Louis thinks.

“I know,” Louis says, “I’ve thought about it, believe me. You’re always telling me to trust my gut, because chances are it’s right, so that’s what I’m doing. My gut is telling me now that this is something I should pursue, and my head agrees. I would regret it if I didn’t.”

Harry reaches out and takes Louis’ hand in his own, running his thumb over the ridges of Louis’ knuckles. “Okay. Whatever I can do to help you I promise I will.”

Louis smiles and leans forward, giving Harry a lingering kiss. “I know, darling. I love you, you know that?”

Harry smiles, eyes fond, and says, “I love you too.”

“But,” Louis says firmly, “I refuse to let you baby me.”

“Of course not,” Harry agrees, “I was actually thinking you could finally help me and Gem run Sweetest Moonlight in a more regular, official capacity.”

Louis feels a grin spread across his face and he says, “Are you offering me a job in your store, Mr. Absentee-Boss?”

Harry lets out a groan at that and Louis can even hear what sounds to be a huff come from Hedwig. “I can’t believe you’re still going on about that.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Louis says, not at all apologetic.

“Yeah, yeah. I know your apologies don’t actually mean anything. Don’t know why you pretend like they do,” Harry teases back. “Humility isn’t a good look on you, Louis Tomlinson.”

“It’s because my mother raised a well-mannered gentleman, unlike you, Harry Styles.”

“Don’t think a gentleman would invite himself into a stranger’s home in the middle of the night.”

“And yet you’re the one who welcomed him inside, in the end,” Louis shoots back.

Harry laughs, “Fine, fine, fair enough. So you want the job? I think you would learn a lot. You’ll definitely get practice.”

“Of course I want the job, Harry. It’ll be good to finally officially be doing a lot of the stuff we’ve been doing for months already.”

Harry grins. “Good. I’m glad. I think it’ll be a lot of fun.”

“I think it will be too,” Louis returns the smile. He pauses, and says more seriously, “Thank you, Harry. I don’t think I say that enough. You always do so much for me.”

“This isn’t some sort of zero-sum game, Louis,” Harry says gently, “You don’t need to pay me back to make things fair and equal between us. I do this stuff because I want to. Because I love you.”

“I know. I just...You know it means a lot to me, right?”

“Of course I do.”

“Okay. Thank you. Really.”

“Always, love. Always.”

✩☽✩☽✩

Despite experiencing the most monumental and life-changing event of his life second to his decision to audition for X-Factor, life for Harry and Louis continues on much the same as it has the past eight or so months.They spend their days together at the cottage, carrying out whatever tasks need to be done and enjoying time with each other. They take a lot of walks through the forest, bundled up tighter now that the weather has grown cold. They still harvest fruits and plants from the woods, but there are fewer available to them now as they edge into winter. Harry says that they can expect snow any time now, and he promises to put sigils for warmth on all of Louis’ clothing—which, Louis had discovered, is something that Harry can do after all. “The winters this far north are long and cold,” he tells Louis, “I’m used to it, and you hopefully will be too, eventually, but you spent your entire life in southern California. You’ll need as many warmth sigils as you can get, believe me. Even I need them, sometimes, with these winters.”

When the weather is too cold for either of them to feel up for a walk in the woods, they spend the day inside, housekeeping when they’re feeling productive or reading when it’s a quiet sort of day, the fire crackling merrily in the hearth and Hedwig curled in somebody’s lap, purring as she sleeps the day away. Louis has a soft spot for these days. In the five years he spent in the spotlight, recording and touring and recordingandtouring, he seldom had the luxury of days like this, days where he could just exist and be. Even when he had days off to spend with Ryan, they typically spent it out and about travelling, clubbing, or going to parties. It’s just the way it was with them; Ryan had felt like time spent in was time wasted, and thanks to oppressive management and a grueling work schedule, Louis had felt like he needed let loose when he was given the chance. It had been strange, at first, spending days in with Harry like this, but now he can’t imagine life without them, can’t imagine living life at the same pace he used to before his hiatus. If Louis’ curse has done him one good thing, it’s that it forced him to really, truly, take a break and rest because Louis can admit, now, that if he hadn’t been cursed he probably wouldn’t have given himself the break he really needed, too used to a packed schedule and antsy to get back to work.

Breaking the curse has been pushed to the backburner, with both Louis and Harry accepting that, in all likelihood, Louis won’t ever be free of it. They’ve asked Gemma to see what she can find on the astral plane, as she might be able to find the source of the curse and even break it from there, and neither of them have the skill required to carry out such a task. Truthfully, however, they aren’t expecting her to find much. So Harry teaches Louis about witchcraft, instead. He teaches him about being a witch, being part of the witch community and, after some experimentation, Harry does what he can to teach Louis about his own magic.

His elemental affinity is water, apparently, and he has a propensity for divination magics (I’m not at all surprised about that,” Harry admits when they find out, “I had suspected that some divination might have been involved for you to find me that night when you needed me, even if you weren’t doing it consciously.” Louis isn’t surprised, either. He can recall plenty of times in his life where he held an unfounded certainty about something or other. Like auditioning for the X-Factor. Like the song that helped him break America. Like renting the property here. Like meeting Harry.) Louis and Harry’s magic is also apparently highly compatible and, well. Louis had wondered. It’s nice to have that confirmed.

Harry notes Louis’ lack of reaction and says, “You too, huh?”

Louis huffs a laugh. “Yeah. I just sort of figured that was the case. Pretty obvious, isn’t it?”

Harry smiles and lets out his own laugh. “It is.”

Louis threads his hands through Harry’s hair, and pulls him closer to Louis’ end of the couch where they’ve sat to examine the results of their experimentation. He presses a firm kiss Harry’s lips, and says, “It’s nice to know for sure, anyway. I’m glad we fit.”

“Me too,” Harry admits, and pulls them into another kiss, deeper this time and with the underlying promise of more.

So life goes. And it’s nice—really nice.

✩☽✩☽✩

It feels like Louis and Harry have barely established a routine when Gemma shows up at the cottage in a flurry of glittery gold dust and navy smoke. Harry has tasked Louis with sweeping the porch clean of dirt, encouraging him to practice his cleansing while he’s at it. They’ve just finished spelling some jewelry they made to send off to Gemma at Sweetest Moonlight, and as there hadn’t been an excessive use of magic, Harry figured it was well within Louis’ ability to cleanse the space of any residual spellwork (“You always, always, always need to make sure you have a cleansed space before you do any spellwork. You never know how the residual magic might react with the magic you’re using to cast the spell. It might go really well, but it’s equally likely to go very wrong, and either way you’ll have difficulty finding out what it is you even did to get yourself from point A to B in the first place.”) and Louis is grateful. He knows he needs the practice, wants it so he can coax the flare of magic he knows he has.

He’s even more grateful that he wasn’t casting any kind of spell when Gemma arrives, dark oak broom clutched in one hand, because he knows he would have messed it all up, judging by the clatter of his own broom as it hits the floor and the way Louis jolts in shock at Gemma’s spontaneous arrival. Louis wonders if one day he’ll stop jumping at the liberal use of witch’s space. He hopes so.

As usual, Gemma is dressed to the nines, with a matching indigo witch’s hat on her head and cloak draped around her shoulders that flutters in the slight breeze her arrival has kicked up. She’s brought her ash staff with her in her other hand, and her familiar, an eagle owl named Dante, is perched on top of it. There’s a flush and an excitement to Gemma independent of the lingering effects of her magic, and Louis feels a stir of nerves in his gut when he realizes that whatever brought her to their home in such a hurry must be important.

“Hello Louis, I hope you’re doing well? I’d love to have a chat, but I’ve something I urgently need to tell you both. Do you know where my dear baby brother is?”

“I figured. He’s just inside. I can go grab him,” Louis says, turning to go inside and fetch Harry.

“No need,” Harry says, as he walks onto the stoop. “I felt Gem’s magic when she popped in and came to say hi.” He beams at his sister, pulling her into a hug. “You look wonderful, as usual. But,” he frowns lightly, “What’s this about having something urgent to tell us?”

Gemma lights up, slinging her staff along her back and leaning her broom along the stoop’s banister where Dante has gone to settle, and she grabs one of each other their hands in her own and squeezes them tight. Her eyes flicker back and forth between them when she says, voice breathless with excitement, “I’ve found it. I’ve found the source of your curse. It’s a poppet.”

The air feels like it’s been punched out of his gut, and Louis squeezes Gemma’s hand back just as tightly. A poppet. No wonder their efforts had been resounding failures. There’s no way they would have been able to cleanse him of a curse when the curse wasn’t cast on him in the first place, not exactly. Next to him, Harry has similarly stiffened. “You’re sure?” Louis says, voice breathless.

“One hundred percent,” Gemma confirms. She frowns and her lips curl in disgust when she says to Harry, “You’ll never believe who’s involved.”

Harry frowns, “Who?”

“Eleanor Calder.”

Harry’s own face twists into a mirror of Gemma’s and he spits out, “Why am I not surprised?”

Louis frowns. “Eleanor Calder?”

“She’s a witch who’s fond of all sorts of magic our coven refuses to touch. Cursing, poison-brewing, blood magic, and necromancy, among others. She owns her own shop where she sells all sorts of awful things and she has no qualms about selling those magical services to people,” Harry explains. He frowns, confused. “I’m not sure what her problem with you is, though, or why it mattered so much she cursed you for it. She wasn’t some sort of anti-fan, was she?”

Louis gut twists and he feels sick, whispering, “Ryan. My ex, Ryan,” he clarifies for Gemma when she looks at him, confused. “He must have hired her to curse me. He and I had just broken up before I came up here, even though we were on our way out for a while already.”

“Fuck,” Harry curses. “I swear if I ever meet him he’s going to be sorry he ever even heard about witchcraft.” Louis gives him a grateful smile, but can’t do much more than that.

Gemma nods, and says, “That makes two of us,” before continuing, “She’s definitely the one. I followed the curse’s trail on the astral plane back to her shop. I tried to destroy it for you there, but something was stopping me. She probably has some protective wards on her shop like we do. I’m sorry, Louis”

Louis nods and squeezes Gemma’s hand gratefully, giving her a smile. “There’s nothing to be sorry for, Gemma. You’ve done more than enough. There’s no way I’ll be able to thank you properly. We wouldn’t have been able to locate the poppet without you.”

Gemma smiles back, and turns to Harry when he says, “Louis’ right. We couldn’t have done it without you. I wouldn’t have been able to find it on the astral plane. You know I’m useless at astral magic.”

Gemma laughs and slips her hands from theirs to gently pokes Harry in the forehead, “That’s true, you’re too grounded on the earthly plane Mr. Nature-Witch.”

Louis smiles. Their banter makes him miss his family. He’ll have to pay them a visit when this is all finally done. “So then. How do we get to this Eleanor’s shop and get the poppet back?”

Gemma tilts her head in thought and Harry chews his lip in contemplation. Gemma speaks up first and says hesitantly, “I’m not condoning this kind of behaviour, but I don’t think there’s anything else you can do besides break in before she opens shop for the day, grab the doll, and then get out as fast as you can. She won’t give you the poppet willingly, of that I’m certain.”

Louis scowls, “No, she wouldn’t. Not if she happily accepted payment to cast the curse in the first place.”

Harry sighs. “Exactly. And there’s no way we’d be able to snatch it from her while she’s in the shop. She’d stop us before we got the chance. So. Breaking and entering it is. How fun,” he says drily. “Say, Gemma,” Harry adds, “Do you have that stuff I asked about?” Louis looks at Harry, confused. Stuff?

Gemma scoffs. “Of course I do baby brother. Who do you think I am?” She waves her hand suddenly, and conjures what looks to be a pile of clothing as well as a witch’s hat. “It’s all finished. The basic sigils and spells have all been woven in. You just need to add any others you might want and they’ll be good to go.”

Louis frowns, still unsure what it is exactly Gemma has brought when Harry grabs the bundle from Gemma, turning to Louis and passing it to him. “These are for you.”

“For me?”

“It was supposed to be a little surprise gift for when we finally broke the curse, but it looks like you’ll be needing them sooner than that,” Harry explains.

Louis picks up the hat from the top of the bundle, hesitantly placing it on his head at Harry’s nod of encouragement and unfolding the cloak in front of him to inspect it. The hat and cloak are both a midnight blue, and they both shimmer with threads of gold and silver, which Louis assumes are the sigils and spells Gemma mentioned were woven in. “It’s beautiful, thank you,” Louis says, “but you guys didn’t have to do this for me.”

“Nonsense,” Gemma says, “Every witch needs a hat and cloak.”

Harry nods, “It was about time you got some proper witch’s clothes. You’ll have to meet the rest of the coven eventually, and it’s required attire. Think of it like something of formalwear, although that’s not exactly right, either.”

Louis looks to Harry, eyebrow cocked as he waits for Harry to continue. “The sigils and spells,” Harry says, “They’re for protection. Witches add any others they think they’ll need, but what you have woven in there are the basics. We often use the hats and cloaks for protection when we’re doing dangerous or difficult witchcraft. Or,” Harry adds, voice low, “when you’re heading into a potentially dangerous confrontation with another magical creature.”

“Like another witch.” Louis realizes.

“Like another witch.” Harry agrees.

Louis sighs. “Okay. Thank you, really. It would have been nice if the circumstances for giving me the gift were better but it is what is is.”

Gemma nods. “But at least you’ll be safe, now. We’d rather that than wait until later. Now,” Gemma straightens and grabs her broom, motioning for Dante to settle onto her shoulder. “I’ve actually got to get back to the shop. I closed it for the morning to try and trace the curse, but I’m expecting some customers to come pick up their deliveries in the afternoon so I must be off. Be safe, you two, okay? I’ll cast some good luck spells your way. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to scry me, okay? I know you’ve been practicing, Louis.”

“I promise we will contact you, Gemma,” Louis smiles, while Harry tells her they’ll do their best to be safe.

“Good,” She says and hugs both of them before heading off to the stoop, casting her own spell to open up witch’s space and floating up off the ground on her broom.

They wave to her as she leaves. When she’s gone, Harry turns to Louis, takes in his appearance, and says, “Right. Let’s weave some extra sigils and spells into your set. Then, tomorrow, we’ll go get your poppet.”

Louis nods in agreement. “Yeah. Tomorrow.”

 

The air in Eleanor’s shop is heady and foul. It clogs Louis’ senses and is very rapidly giving him a headache. Normally, he’s not one prone to claustrophobia, but the only natural light that is able to filter into the store is coming from two small grimy windows by the front door, and the resulting darkness of the cramped store and the way baubles and trinkets and all manner of witchy books and tools are stacked from the floor to the ceiling is making his chest feel tight. There’s a thickness to the air here, and Louis wonders what Eleanor cleanses her space with, if there’s anything she could use to cleanse the space and eliminate the bad energy here. Because, boy. Even as a fledgling to the craft, the bad energy that drips sticky from every object and surface in Charmed Life is enough to make him want to throw up.

He can’t help but wonder how this is for Harry, so far from his natural element and surrounded by magic which is the antithesis of his own, compared to Louis’ own marginally more flexible magical alignment. He’s so much more sensitive to magic than Louis is, being born a witch, and Louis hopes Harry’s okay. Of course, he doesn’t think spending any length of time in this place will do either of them any good, even if they manage to get out without running into Eleanor herself. A surge of emotion courses through Louis, then, because, God, he loves this man, loves him so so much, and will never be able to express just how grateful he is to Harry for being here with him through this every step of the way.

Dimly, he can feel an especially strong pool of bad energy swirling in the back of the store, and he tries not to focus on it too much because it makes him feel like there are spiders burrowing under his skin, like he’s been drenched in ice water, like he needs to scream and claw his skin and run all at the same time. It’s his poppet, he knows, and he can’t decide if he wants to sob in relief at finding it or yell until his voice has gone hoarse in anger that this was ever done to him in the first place. Louis’ hands curl into Harry’s own dark green glittery cloak and he nudges Harry in the direction of his poppet. “It’s back there somewhere. I can feel it.”

Harry nods, and presses a quick kiss to Louis temple. “Okay. Let’s grab that thing and scram before that awful woman gets here.”

Louis lets Harry’s comment bring a small smile to his face, not able to offer him more than that before they cautiously weave their way around precariously stacked piles of merchandise on the floor and attempt to avoid jabbing their sides on the sharp edges of the display shelves.

“I hate this place. I hate everything about it,” Louis whispers.

Harry’s face twists in distaste. “I do too. You can feel all the negative energy in here.”

“Let’s just get out of here as soon as we can.”

“Yeah,” Harry agrees, “but it’s almost over, don’t worry.”

Of course, that’s when they hear the tinkle of the bell above the door and the slam as it’s shut. It’s a female voice that says, “Excuse me? What are you two doing here? This shop isn’t open yet. You aren’t supposed to be in here.”

Harry and Louis freeze. Louis can feel his heart hammering in his chest and he curses up a storm in his head. Just his luck. They were so close, too. Harry is the first to react, turning slowly and pushing Louis behind him, pressing the linen string bag they’d brought to transport the poppet into Louis’ stomach and nudging him in the direction of the object as he silently indicates for Louis to keep edging towards the thing.

“Eleanor,” Harry says, voice cold, “pleasant as always to see you. How have you been?”

“Well,” Eleanor responds, just as icily. Out of the corner of his eye, Louis can see that she is similarly dressed to Harry in formalwear, adorned with a violet witch’s hat and cloak. She seems to be carrying something in a basket, and though Louis can’t see it, he can smell its foul stench from here. “What brings you to my neck of the woods? You and your lot were never ones to indulge in cursing or blood magic. I can’t imagine that there’s much of anything I or my shop can offer you. Unless,” she continues, interest colouring her voice, “You’ve decided to try other branches of magic?”

“I have not,” Harry responds, and Louis is caught off-guard. He’s never heard Harry sound so frigid, and it’s obvious that Harry’s barely holding back his anger.

“Shame. You’re limiting yourself, you know.” God, Louis has only just met her and he hates her. “You here for your friend over there, then?” Louis’ heart rate picks up again at that. He’s so close to grabbing the poppet. He’s managed to get his hand, shaking from nerves and the negative energy emanating from the doll, on the wooden box sitting on a shelf just under the counter. He just needs Harry to distract her for a bit longer while he flips open the lid and slips the poppet into the bag.

Except the box has been locked, with a key or magic or both. Fuck.

“Harry,” Louis says, voice tight, drawing Harry’s attention from Eleanor to Louis’ own face which has gone pale white. “It’s locked.”

Several things happen at once, then. Harry’s eyes widen and he whips his head back to Eleanor, whose own eyes have gone wide in realization of who Louis is and whose teeth have been bared in rage at the understanding of what he and Harry are trying to do. Eleanor lurches forward as she tries to make her way across the shop to stop Louis. In response, Harry sends as many of the goods lying about as he can hurtling towards Eleanor and then spins around, lunging towards Louis.

“Just grab the entire thing and get ready to go!” Harry shouts, and so Louis does, clutching the box under his arm as Harry takes Louis’ free hand and pulls them out of the shop, vaulting past Eleanor on their way out.

Behind them, Louis can hear Eleanor scrabbling to get herself out from the pile she’s been buried under, and Louis’ jaw clenches with anxiety. They’re so close now. Harry snatches their brooms from where they stashed them in some bushes out of sight earlier and presses Louis’ firmly into the palm of his hand, gripping Louis’ arm tightly when they begin to rise after Harry has opened a path back to the cottage through witch’s space.

Below them, Louis can see Eleanor finally get herself from under the pile and scream in frustration when she sees Harry and Louis on their way out. She won’t make it back in time from finding her own broom to follow them, and there’s no way for her to know where Louis and Harry are headed. They’re in the clear, now, but Louis knows he won’t be able to truly relax until they’ve gotten rid of the box and destroyed the poppet.

Still, his heart only stops racing quite so fast and the tension fades from his shoulders when Charmed Life disappears from sight and they reappear in front of the cottage.

“I never want to see her again,” Louis says, limbs still trembling with adrenaline. “I’m ready for this all to be over.”

“Soon, I promise, love,” Harry reassures Louis with a hug and a kiss against the corner of his mouth. He seems to be in slightly better shape than Louis, but he knows Harry is shaken, too.

“I can’t believe we just did that,” Louis says.

“I know.”

“I can’t believe we got away with it.”

“Neither can I,” Harry answers, a small relieved giggle escapes his throat.

A thought hits Louis and he says, “We stole from her and vandalized her shop. Are we criminals now? We must be. God, Harry, I’m so sorry I got you involved in all of this.”

“Shh, it’s fine,” Harry says, grabbing Louis’ broom from him and leaning it against the cottage with Harry’s own. He links Louis’ fingers with his, presses a kiss into Louis’ knuckles, and brushes some hair out of Louis’ face with his other hand. “I don’t care, Louis, you know I’d do anything for you. I love you. Besides,” he continues, “she’s a solitary witch. If she wanted to take some kind of counteraction against us, she would have to go through the coven which,” Harry smiles and taps Louis’ nose, “you belong to now, too, may I remind you. They’d never begrudge us stealing back a poppet to break a curse that’s been put on you.” Harry’s face twists again in distaste at the thought of the doll. “That’s not the sort of magic we like to get involved with.”

Louis takes in a less shaky breath to calm himself, fears allayed thanks to Harry’s reassurance. Even now, he’s still learning, still getting used to his new life and how he fits into all of it. “Okay,” Louis says, “Okay, that’s good. I’m glad.”

Harry presses another kiss to Louis’ cheek and says, “There’s no need to worry, love. I promise. Now,” Harry says, “I think it’s long past time to destroy this damn thing and break that curse.”

Louis nods, “Long, long past time. But how do we undo the spell on the box?”

Harry takes the box from Louis, twisting it in his hands as he examines it. “She’s definitely hexed it shut. Lucky for us, whatever spell she cast on this thing doesn’t seem to be too strong. I guess she didn’t expect to have it stolen from under her nose,” Harry shoots Louis a wry grin.

Louis hums. “A salt bath, then?”

Harry nods. “Yes, I think so. Could you go grab the wash basin and fill it with salt water? I don’t want to risk bringing this thing inside. Who knows what kind of bad energy it’ll bring.”

Louis’ own face twists in distaste at the thought. “I agree. Good idea. I’ll be back in a sec.” So Louis goes and grabs the metal wash basin from the kitchen where they store it for similar situations and fills it with water, making sure to pour in salt proportionate to the amount of water he’s using. While he waits for it to fill with water, Hedwig strolls into the kitchen, twining through Louis’ legs and rubbing against him in greeting before she hops onto the counter and eyes the basin in curiosity. She chirrups in question, looking to Louis for an explanation.

“It’s for a salt bath. The poppet is locked in a hexed box and we need to remove it before we can destroy the damn thing.” He sighs, but says, resolute, “Almost there, Hedwig. Just a little more.” She bumps her head into his arm, encouraging, and purrs. He’s grateful for her support. The basin is heavy when he’s finally ready to bring it out to Harry, Hedwig following him outside presumably to watch or go hunting, but he’s not quite confident enough in his own ability to lighten its weight with magic like Harry could.

“Here,” Louis says, and places the basin at Harry’s feet.

“Perfect, thank you.” Harry drops the box gently onto the basin, careful to ensure the water doesn’t spill over the edges. It’s not long before Louis and Harry can feel whatever magic Eleanor has placed on the box dissipate, and immediately the air feels a little lighter, though the negative energy from the poppet remains.

“And now we just bust the box open?” Louis asks.

“And now we just bust the box open,” Harry confirms.

Louis grins. He’s ready to break something, just to let out the anxious energy.

“Hmm,” Harry hums, scanning the clearing. “Aha!” He exclaims, and pulls a rock sitting at the treeline to him. “You’ll do just fine,” he says. The rock isn’t all that big, but it has sharp edges, and Louis thinks it’ll do more than fine.

“You still have the linen bag?” Harry asks. Louis nods and pulls it out from his pocket.

“Right here.”

“Good,” Harry says. “Now, do you want to do the honours or should I?”

“I’d like to,” Louis says, and Harry chuckles and shoots him a grin.

“Have at it, then.” Harry steps aside, giving Louis some space.

Louis plucks the now-cleansed box from the water, pushing the basin out of the way. “Here we go,” he murmurs, lifting the box high above his shoulders and slamming it against the rock. It lets out a loud, satisfying crack upon impact, and pieces of wood and splinters launch in all directions.

And there’s the poppet, sitting among the remains. It’s innocuous looking, made of white cloth and stuffed with whatever filling would make Eleanor’s curse most effective. Louis doesn’t want to know. Around the doll’s neck, however, is a black twine of string. The cause of Louis loss of musical ability, he notes darkly. Now that it’s out of the box, Louis and Harry can feel the full brunt of negative energy, and it coats the back of Louis’ throat. His stomach lurches and he feels himself heave. He wants to throw up.

Quickly, he stuffs the poppet into the linen bag and ties it shut, effectively binding it for now and muting some of its negative energy. He’s not sure how long his binding will last, but it doesn’t really matter so long as it’s long enough for them to get to where they need to take it. “Okay,” he says, “let’s go destroy this thing.”

After they’d found out the root of Louis’ curse was a poppet, Harry and Louis had discussed the best method to destroy it. Harry had explained that there were several ways to destroy a poppet, depending on the circumstances of its existence. For their purposes, they could burn it, bury it, tie it to a tree or, most popularly, toss it in a river. They’d contemplated burying it in the woods or tying it to a tree, since Harry’s magic was rooted in nature, but they’d both agreed they didn’t want to leave the poppet lying around for anybody else, however unlikely, to find it by accident and remove it before it could finish decomposing, so they’d decided it would be safest and most effective to throw it into the whitewater rapids of the nearby river.

The walk to the river from their cottage isn’t long—approximately thirty minutes—but it feels longer. The air is heavy with anticipation. It’s been just under a year and a half, and Louis is finally going to be free of this curse. He’s lived with it so long he’s not sure what he’s going to do when it’s finally gone. He’s almost forgotten what life is like without the curse.

No matter how long it feels like they’re walking, however, sun filtering down through the trees and birds chirping in early morning light, they arrive shortly at the river. The rush of the rapids fills Louis ears and he inhales. His hands are shaking again. This is really happening.

He pulls the poppet out of its linen bag, and Harry places his hand on the back of Louis’ neck, calming him and grounding him. “Remember, you just need to unmake the doll and then toss it into the river. Then it’ll all be over.”

Louis nods and tries to swallow. His throat feels dry and his tongue thick. “Okay. I can do this.”

“You can do this,” Harry nods and squeezes his hand lightly.

Louis takes in a deep breath, and focuses his attention on the poppet. “You are not Louis William Tomlinson,” he declares to the doll, and he feels some of the curse loosen and chip away, releasing the rest of magic in a stream along with it. Louis eyes widen. It’s really working. His eyes flicker to the river, then, and he brings his arm back before he hurls the poppet into the river and all of the pain, anger, frustration, fear, sadness, hurt and despair he's felt since this all began with it. When it hits the water, it’s quickly yanked under the surface by the current and ripped out of sight in seconds.

Gone, Louis realizes, it’s finally gone. If everything goes well, Louis and Harry have finally broken his curse. Without meaning to, Louis’ knees give out underneath him, accidentally taking Harry down with him. Louis’ shoulders are heaving, and he can taste salt in his mouth. He’s crying, sobbing, he absently notes, overcome with emotion. It’s over, finally, finally over.

Harry holds him close, rubbing Louis’ back and pressing kisses into his hair. “It’s done, love. It’s done now.”

✩☽✩☽✩

They wait for a while before Louis attempts to create music again, giving the poppet time to decompose. The first time Louis tries to sing, his throat feels like it’s on fire, and he can’t speak above a whisper because of the pain for several days after, no matter what kind of healing tea Harry offers him. Harry’s face is apologetic, but Louis shrugs it off. He’s a bit shaken at the pain, but he’s not surprised that it seems like it’ll take a bit more time. So Louis tries to compose, instead, while he gives his voice time to heal. Harry has taken a shift in Sweetest Moonlight and taken Hedwig with him to give Louis some space to write after so long. When Harry returns that evening, he finds Louis sitting at the kitchen table, hands wrapped around the warmth of a mug of tea and eyes fixated on the knots in the table. Louis’ notebook sits empty on the coffee table in the sitting room.

So they wait and they try again. And again. And again.

Slowly, Louis begins to adjust to the idea that, despite their efforts, the curse has ultimately had a permanent effect on Louis. Harry quietly admits to him one evening, when Louis has finally plucked up the courage to voice the growing concern, that sometimes curses, if strong enough and cast for long enough, can become permanent. “The curse poisons the core of your magic and fundamentally alters it. It becomes part of you. It’s not common, but it’s happened before.”

It hurts, but he’s had a long time to get used to the idea, been down this path before, and he knows that he can and will keep going down it, healing. It might take a while, but he’ll get there.

Except that’s not quite what happens.

When they find out they’ve managed to break Louis' curse it's completely by mistake and, truth be told, pretty underwhelming in all its mundanity. Without consciously thinking about it, Louis finds himself plucking at the guitar strings of the well-worn acoustic Harry keeps in the cottage—"I am allowed to have non-witchcraft-related hobbies, you know."—and jotting down some notes on a pad of paper sitting beside him. He's not sure how long he sits there, fiddling and writing, before it becomes apparent that the haphazard notes he's recorded are shaping into a song. When he realizes what’s happened, Louis does the only thing he can think of: he screams for Harry.

Louis isn’t sure what Harry was doing before he came hurtling into the room, Hedwig close on his heels, but he knows based on the loud crashes that follows his own outburst that Harry must have been levitating some items around with his magic. He hopes it wasn’t too important; putting back together something that has shattered is no trouble for Harry, but delicate magical brews or experiments are another story. He thinks Harry will probably forgive him when he sees what’s happened though because it’s been, God, Louis is struck in realization, just over a year and a half since he was cursed. And sure, he and Harry had found the poppet Eleanor had used when she cursed him, had done what they could to break the curse, but until now they hadn’t thought it had worked; even after they had destroyed the poppet, Louis was unable to sing or create music. And yet here he is, composing once more like he’d never lost the ability.

“What happened? Is everything okay? Are you hurt?” Harry has crowded into Louis’ space, eyes darting around the room in search of a threat before he turns his attention to Louis, scanning his appearance in search of any obvious injuries. Harry’s hands skim over Louis’ body and they feel warm, electric, with energy. The air around Harry is charged, and the smell of spiced burnt sugar lands on Louis’ tongue. Hedwig, who has settled herself onto the arm of the couch Louis is sitting on, is similarly twitchy, her tail sweeping in wide arcs behind her though her own luminous green eyes are fixed on Louis.

Louis will have to make it up to Harry somehow, then, if he’s ruined something Harry was working on. But that can be handled in a minute, hopefully, Louis thinks, and meets Harry’s glassy, shimmering eyes with his own before he says, “It worked after all.” His voice is quiet, barely above a whisper. He feels like if he speaks any louder his newly returned ability to compose will disappear just as suddenly as it had reappeared.

“What?” Harry’s brow furrows, “What worked?”

“Harry,” Louis says, awed, “I can compose again.”

Harry’s eyes widen, and he throws his hands up to cover his mouth. His voice drops to a whisper in turn when he says, “Oh my God.”

Louis passes Harry the scrap of paper he’d been recording notes on. “I had the urge to play around with the guitar and got this.”

“A song.” Harry’s voice is tight, and Louis thinks he can see tears building in Harry’s eyes, thinks he can feel them prickling in his own, too. Beside them, Hedwig settles at the news, a loud purr stirring in her chest that Louis can practically feel though her body isn’t pressed against his.

Louis briefly rubs Hedwig’s cheek and nods in confirmation. “The beginning of one, anyways.”

“I can’t believe...We actually—we did it. We broke the curse. We actually broke the curse after all. God, Louis. I was so sure we had failed. That I had failed you.” Harry pushes the guitar away from Louis and pulls him into a tight hug, pressing his face in Louis’ neck.

Louis squeezes Harry back and buries his own face into Harry’s hair, inhaling, taking in the way Harry’s naturally earthy scent mixes with the scent of magic. And though Louis has long since settled into his life here with Harry, is more than happy with it, he feels himself at last settling into his future here, because he’s finally, finally getting closure.

“Even if destroying the poppet had done nothing,” Louis reassures, “You wouldn’t have failed me Harry, love, you’ve given me so much. More than I could have asked for. More than I could have hoped for.” He presses a kiss into Harry’s hair and he can feel Harry smile into his neck.

Harry’s voice is thick when he responds, “Sap,” and reluctantly pulls away. He rubs his arm against his wet eyes and asks, “And your voice? Have you got that back, too?”

Louis pauses and tilts his head in consideration. The thought hadn’t occurred to him to check his voice—he’d been too excited by the return of his compositional ability—but there’s a niggling feeling at the back of his mind and, if there’s one thing he’s learned the past year and a half from Harry, it’s to trust those feelings. He licks his lips, mouth hung open a moment as he collects his thoughts before he says, finally, “No, it’s not. I don’t think...I don’t think I’ll be getting my voice back. I think the damage Eleanor’s curse did was too much to ever fully recover from.”

His voice is a little shaky, a ring of finality to the statement that he hadn’t felt last time when he’d talked to Liam. Somehow, Louis knows. Knows in a way that’s cut deep in his bones he’s right this time. He won’t be getting his voice back. And even now it’s hard to wrap his head around it, that for the rest of his life he’ll never again sing a single note. He’d expected it for a long time now, had already begun the healing process, but now that he’s certain, he can heal in truth, without the possibility that the dangerous and persistent edge of hope will cut open his wounds once more. Besides, being able to compose music is more than he had ever thought he’d be able to do, and he can’t seem to muster any lingering anger or regret over his situation. For the first time in a long time, Louis realizes, he knows to the core of his being that everything is going to be okay. That he’s going to be okay.

Despite Louis’ optimism, however, Harry’s face falls, and he says, “I’m sorry, Lou. It’s not fair that you’re so close, but not there.” Hedwig chirrups in agreement, rubbing her cheek against the back of Louis’ head, having moved to curl around behind him on the back of the couch.

Louis takes Harry’s hand in his own a presses a fond kiss on the back. “It’s really fine. I’m...I made peace with never being able to create music a long time ago. The reality of that is just hitting me now, but it’s okay. I’m okay,” he says, repeating his own words to Harry. “Considering I thought all music had been lost to me forever, even being able to compose is more than enough. And honestly, Harry,” Louis continues, “I’ve made a new life here with you. You helped me do that. I...I don’t think I’d go back to doing exactly what I did even if we’d managed to break the curse the way we’d intended. I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t go back to the life I had before. Just...you make me so, so happy, Harry. Happier than I’ve ever been. Happier than I think I could ever be without you in my life.” Even though Louis is telling Harry all this, he can’t help but be taken aback by his own words, how deep and strong the sentiment is, and how much he means every bit of it. He doesn’t mind giving up his old life if it gets this one in return, he realizes. Somewhere along the way this became his forever.

Harry smiles at that, and interlaces their fingers together where Louis is holding his hand. You make me happy, too. So happy, Lou, you don’t even know.”

Louis grins, and laughs softly. “I think I have an idea,” he says, remembering all the times Harry’s magic has flared up as a result of his emotions: all the bursts of flowers, curls of lush vegetation, pops of colour and sweet fruits and baked confections.

Harry must have his own idea of what Louis is thinking about because he rolls his eyes and huffs good-naturedly. “Yes, well, your magic flares up and does somersaults too, even if it doesn’t manage to manifest physically like mine does. We’re both equally embarrassingly stupid for each other and you know it,” he teases, and nips good-naturedly at Louis’ nose.

“Never said it didn’t, dearest. But you know,” Louis continues, his tone taking on a more serious tone, “I’m glad I finally know for sure. It felt like I was being held back, stuck, and couldn’t move on. Like I was trapped in some sort of limbo. I can finally move forward again to whatever life has in store for me. For us.”

Harry looks at Louis for a moment, taking in his words before he says, “I think, then, it’s time for a celebration. In the name moving forward.” Hedwig, whom Louis had nearly forgotten was still sitting behind him, lets out a mrrow of approval. Louis grins.

“In the name of moving forward. Together.”

“Together.”

✩☽✩☽✩

It’s summer in the Laurentians, again. The forest is flushed green, and all its creatures are firmly out of hibernation, nudging along all their wide-eyed and wobbly-limbed young ones. It’s hot, and humid, and Louis is honest enough to say it’s one of his least favourite things about living here, especially with all the bugs the weather attracts. Of course, there’s so much else that he does love so dearly about this place that he can’t complain too much. Though, if Louis from the beginning of last year saw the life he’s living now, Louis wonders whether he’d feel the same—it all seems insane. Moving from a city like Los Angeles to the Canadian wilderness, ending his career as a singer, and on top of that not only getting involved with a witch but learning to practice the craft himself? Sometimes even he can still hardly believe it, though he’s living it. He doesn’t ever want to think what his parents might say if they knew everything.

And yet here he is, set to spend this warm summer day celebrating Litha with Harry. Slowly but surely, Louis is becoming familiar with the various traditions Harry has grown up with—traditions Louis is weaving with his own in this shared life together. It warms Louis’ heart, softens his eyes and pulls a smile on his face to see the way their lives thread together.

“Litha,” Harry had explained to him last night as they had organized on the kitchen table the considerable pile of magical tools shared between them, “is a celebration of midsummer, the summer solstice. From tomorrow onward, the days will continue to grow shorter and darker until Yule. So we’re going to celebrate life and nature as it exists right now at its fullest. "And, of course,” Harry had grinned, “take advantage of the long hours to be productive. These all need to be charged.”

Louis had eyed the collection on the table, their athames and their pentacles, their brooms and cauldrons and spelled jewelry. Louis had gathered his own tools, too, at Harry’s instruction: his tarot cards, his runes, his scrying glass, and his pendulums and tassomancy cups and lithomancy gemstones. He had been shocked at how much he’d accrued in such a short time, could barely remember when and where he’d acquired all of it. With Harry’s own extensive collection of crystals, candles, sticks and stones and herbs dried and fresh, Louis had thought they could give Sweetest Moonlight a run for its money. Harry, too, had taken in the tools on the table, considering, before he had nodded decisively.

“That’s all of it.”

“That’s all of it,” Louis had repeated.

“Yup.”

“We’re going to charge all of that tomorrow?” Louis had eyed the pile skeptically.

“That’s the goal. Whatever is supposed to be charged. Although, we won’t be in bad shape if we only get through some of it. We can always charge them another time. It’ll just be easiest tomorrow since we’ll have so much daylight. Besides, some of these things are in greater need of a charge than others.”

Louis had hummed in agreement. Sweetest Moonlight has been busy lately, with the London summer bringing in a whole host of locals and tourists alike to the store, and he, Harry and Gemma have all been working their tools harder than usual. Though Louis still mostly helps Harry in preparing potions, spelled jewelry, and other goods and trinkets, he’s been getting practice with his divination skills with Harry and Gemma’s encouragement, and as a result even his own less-frequently used tools had been in need of charging.

“Right,” Louis had said, “Then I think it’s about time we headed to sleep to get an early start on tomorrow, huh?”

Harry had shot Louis a smile which was quickly stifled with a yawn. “Yes, I think that would be a good idea.”

With their tools most in need of charging sitting on the stoop outside in the sun, Louis and Harry have set off into the woods to harvest some of the natural plant life in the region.

“It’s always best to get things locally,” Harry had explained. “It’s better for the earth and, as a nature witch, it’s also better for my craft if the components are local. My magic is tied to my natural environment.”

Today, they’re not looking for any one thing in particular, just letting their feet guide them through the trees. They’re out here to appreciate and enjoy the weather and wildlife as much as anything. And, well, if Harry seems to glow with happiness and vibrate with giddy energy when he’s in his natural element, Louis isn’t going to complain.

Over the course of their walk, Harry and Louis have gathered a variety of plants, including wild asparagus they’ll have for dinner, catnip as a gift for Hedwig, dandelion for boiling and brewing, and even some mountain sorrel for some sweet treats, among others. Harry ensures that they’re careful not to take more than the plant can stand to give while still making a full recovery, and he and Louis offer prayers of thanks after they’re done harvesting.

“Even if you don’t pray to any particular god or goddess, there is still magic in prayer and giving thanks,” Harry explains, “and we rely on a lot of these plants for our life out here. So I try to offer them whatever I can.” It’s an understandable policy, and it quickly becomes second nature to Louis, too.

They’re on their way home, now, biting into the sticky sweet skin of mayapple fruits they’d stumbled upon. Louis’ face is warm, probably burned from the hours in the sun, and he knows his feet will hurt when he’s finally off them that night, but there’s a deep satisfaction in his muscles that only comes from a day of busy activity. When they return to the cottage, they have to switch out the tools sitting on the stoop for the ones that still have to be charged, and they need to get started cleaning the cottage out, but even Louis has been rejuvenated by their time outside, and he feels ready to tackle the rest of their Litha activities head-on.

Tonight, once the sun has begun its descent into the horizon, and the day has started to hush, Louis and Harry will set up their altar. They’ll place the gold swatches of cloth they’d acquired recently on the altar’s raised surface, light some candles, and arrange some of the plants they’ve harvested in a wood bowl. They’ll offer prayers of thanks for the prosperity and good fortune they’ve experienced over the past months, and they’ll offer wishes for a gentle autumn and a kind winter.

Before that, though, Louis knows there’s one task he needs to do himself, knows that it’s time, so when they arrive back at the cottage, Louis determinedly heads inside and grabs his phone, scrolling through his contacts until he finds a once-familiar number, and presses the green call button. While the call connects, Louis takes a glance at the folder full of scribbled notes and the curled handwriting of his lyrics and takes a steadying breath. He’s nervous, more than he thought he’d be, but he can do this. He knows it. The call goes through, and the dial tone on the other end only has the chance to ring once before the line is answered.

“Hey Liam. It’s, uh, it’s been a while. Listen, I’ve got a some good news…”